My Top 9 Online Organizational Tools for Business in 2012

It’s no secret… organization has never been my strong point. For a long time, I’ve been able to try and convince myself I just need to “accept” that I’m not “the organized type”.

But, during 2011, as my businesses kept continually increasing in size, I no longer could look the other way when it came to my organizational dysfunction.

It was time to take some action. Luckily, I figured out that a lot of my disorganization was curable – with the right apps and services.

Below are the business productivity and organizational tools that I find to be not simply good – but incredible – in helping me keep myself (and my businesses) organized, in no particular order.

Skype Premium

skypeI know, I know. Skype. How “groundbreaking”. But as an virtual employer of multiple telecommuting employees, I find Skype to be invaluable. One on one video and audio calls and audio conference calls are free with the service – in addition to the obvious text based chatting.

But, Skype Premium also includes group video conferencing (with up to ten people), which I use to hold company meetings with all of my staff. I pay for the service annually, which gets me a 50% discount, making my cost of Skype Premium for the year less than $55.

This allows me to have group meetings with my staff based in Texas, Florida, New York, Michigan, Canada and everywhere in between. It saves me time because I only have to go over everything once and gives my employees a sense of “company unity” even though they’re based all over North America, because they get to “see” each other regularly on calls. Skype Premium also allows group screen sharing as well, so I know we’re always on the same page when covering the meeting agenda – literally.

*Edited to add, for more in depth information, you can check out my review of Skype Premium on It’s a WAHM Thing.

Dropbox

dropboxDropbox is an online storage solution that allows you to share documents and transfer large files with anyone, anywhere, as long as they have a Dropbox account. And in spite of their horridly inept and uninformative splash homepage, Dropbox has become an incredibly useful part of my business in the last year.

Their base plan allows you up to 2GB of storage – and it’s FREE. If you eventually find that 2GB is not enough storage space for you, they have paid plans starting at 50GB for $9.95 a month.

I especially like that I can segment everything into folders and choose to give other Dropbox users access to only specific folders. My infographic designer and I share one folder, my employees and I share another, my new transcriptionist and I share yet another. I even share a folder with my husband to aggregate our pictures of the kids for easy access.

AND any changes you make to files can be undone or undeleted (I found this out when I accidentally deleted a file – and was thrilled when I was able to get it back). Additionally, I love the fact that I get a little pop-up notification anytime someone has edited or added to a file that I share access to.

I was admittedly a bit nervous about storing files “in the cloud” in the beginning. My infographic designer was who first caused me to sign up for the service. But I’ve found it to be secure and have yet to experience any downtime. It’s been a huge time saver and kick-ass organizational tool.

TripIt

tripitI admittedly just recently discovered TripIt. But I honestly don’t know how I ever traveled without it. It’s well known that I am likely one of the most disorganized travelers on the planet. I book my airfare with less than two weeks until the date I need to leave.

I never know what time I’m speaking at the latest conference I’m attending, can never remember when and where each conference party is being held and have been known more than once to tweet “anyone know what the conference hotel is?” as I’m in a cab line at the airport – only knowing that I’m booked at “the conference hotel”. I’m constantly digging for emails and texting friends to try and get pertinent details I need when traveling. And then I found TripIt.

As an example, I’m headed to Last Vegas next week to speak at Affiliate Summit (sold out). I booked my travel on Expedia and then forwarded my Expedia confirmation for my flight and hotel to TripIt’s email address. They automatically input all my flight and hotel details. I then took a look at the Affiliate Summit Parties Schedule and decided which events I would be attending and entered them into my Las Vegas trip screen – complete with times and addresses of the events. I then added in my session and two dinners I have scheduled with friends.

Now I simply open my TripIt app on my BlackBerry Torch, click “Las Vegas” and BOOM. My entire trip schedule is right there. And it took me 15 minutes to input it all and will likely save me (and anyone traveling with me) hours in aggravation. And I didn’t even get into the cost calculating it does for the trips. Best of all? It’s free. FREE!

Amazon Gift Organizer

amazon gift organizerIf I was organized enough to file something (baby steps people) I’d file this one under, “Who knew?” Basically, the Amazon Gift Organizer allows you to add people you’d like to send birthday gifts to via Amazon. I use this in a customer/business contact relations aspect.

I click on “Add New Recipient” and it presents me with a screen that allows me to add their name, birthday (or to apply it to more generic uses, you could add the anniversary a client began with you, an employee’s anniversary with the company, etc), gender, their relationship to you and tick off things “about them” that will help generate gift ideas and any applicable notes. You can also edit their profile to set a reminder to remind you about their birthday (or other special occasion you designate) anywhere between “the day of” and 30 days before (or all of the above).

The Gift Organizer will then make recommendations to you based on the information you’ve provided. See something you like in the recommendations or already know what you have in mind for the recipient? Just visit the product page and click “Add to Wishlist” and choose the person you have in mind.

On the dates you specified to receive reminders, you’ll get an email doing just that – reminding you – that the event is almost here complete with the gift ideas you’ve specified along with a list of recommended gift ideas based on either the gift ideas you’ve specified or the boxes you ticked about the person’s personality when creating their profile (or both).

I was able to take an hour or two (after that initial input I just update it whenever the need arises to remember a new occasion), add everyone I needed to and now the Amazon Gift Organizer acts as my personal “important occasion reminder” secretary. If you receive gifts from me this year from Amazon? Totally ignore everything in this section. ;-)

Raven Tools

raven toolsI run multiple affiliate based websites, as well as an SEO agency. If you don’t do either, you can skip this section. I’ve been in love with Raven Tools since the day I first used them. I reviewed Raven Tools in regards to how I used them as an in my link building efforts for the affiliate sites produced by my website publishing company. But once I began to use them from an agency perspective, especially to organize our link building services clients? I loved them even more. And my Marketing Specialists do too.

We often have anywhere from 3-5 people working simultaneously on the same link building campaign and it quickly became obvious that we were going to step on each others toes – and a lot – unless we found a way to make those simultaneous efforts as rigidly organized as possible. Enter Raven Tools. We use the Link Manager all day, every day. Forget the ranking reports and SERP trackers. The research tools, the Link Manager and the ability to integrate Google Analytics and compare that data to our link building efforts to measure campaign success – THAT’S where it’s at.

While Raven may not be the “cheapest tool on the block” (plans start at $99 dollars a month), you get what you pay for. And I gladly fork over the money for my Raven subscription. My publishing company utilizes the Pro account while The Sugarrae Agency side of things uses a white-label of the Agency level account. They also offer a 30 day free trial and will also give you one month free if you pay for your service a year in advance (which I do for both accounts).

Shoeboxed

shoeboxedMichael Gray loves when I have to say he’s right about something. Well, he was right about Shoeboxed. I am an accountant’s worst nightmare when it comes to receipts. Horrible. But even I can keep receipts organized with Shoeboxed. Why? Because it’s painless and requires almost zero effort. Whenever a receipt comes in, I simply forward it to my unique Shoeboxed email address and they scan it into my account.

They also attempt (with about 60/40 accuracy in the beginning) to categorize the receipts for me (but their accuracy is improving over time and as they learn what I classify certain receipts as). I can email forward receipts, upload receipts, mail in receipts… whatever works for me. Being online, most of my receipts are emails, so forwarding works best for me. My only gripe is that every PayPal receipt is classified as PayPal and I have to manually change them to the actual vendor that I paid via Paypal.

They have a free DIY version, but I have no experience with that, so I have no idea if it is as awesome as the paid plans. Paid plans start as low as $9.95 per month and they offer a 30 day free trial. I started on the Lite plan but quickly updgraded to the Classic plan (which is $29.95 a month). They also offer discounts if you pay for your plan annually. I never knew how many receipts I had slipping through the cracks before Shoeboxed.

As an aside, I think my accountant nearly cried when I informed him I’d signed up for the service – and because it was so easy, I was actually USING IT. ;-)

Basecamp

basecampI don’t know exactly when I started using Basecamp, but I’ve been using it for years now. While Raven Tools tracks our agency clients and all of the link building efforts for my publishing company, Basecamp helps me track pretty much everything else when it comes to my affiliate marketing sites.

Plans start at $49 per month (they offer a free 30 day trial so you can test it out), but I’ve found it to be money well spent. Each of my sites is listed as a separate entity and I’m able to pick and choose which employees and contractors have access to each. We store everything pertinent to each site via Basecamp.

We’re able to set deadlines for site tasks (such as implementing a new design or uploading new affiliate creatives) via their calendar and keep tack of WHAT needs to be done (and by who) to meet those deadlines via their “Todo” list function. And the Writeboards allow us to keep listings of information everyone working on the site might need access to.

A lot of things that used to “slip through the cracks” when tasks were being emailed back and forth no longer do. There’s no question as to who is responsible for getting each task completed. And the Basecamp “reminders” feature makes sure we all keep on track with getting it done – on time.

Gravity Forms

gravity formsGravity Forms? An organizational tool? For me, the answer is hands down yes. I went pretty in depth about this WordPress plugin in my Gravity Forms review so I will try and keep this short and sweet and let you read the review if you want more in depth information.

Between the Sugarrae blog and the agency, I used to get a lot of contact emails. A LOT. So a while back I moved to having a contact form instead via Gravity Forms. Now, not only do emails not get lost in my massive inbox (because I can view them in an online dashboard at any time) but I also set up the form to categorize them and give users conditional messages as they’re filling out the form before they even hit submit.

Plus, the dashboard allows me to enter notes about contact forms if I want, so I know which ones I’ve replied to, referred to other people or still have to get to. What used to sink into the heap known as my inbox now remains segmented and available for easy access when I have time to sit down and sift through them. And it’s cut way, way down on the spam thanks to the Captcha feature.

Quickbooks Online

quickbooksFist things first, Quickbooks is confusing as hell. It definitely does not win any awards with me for usability or simplicity. But, the fact is that Quickbooks is used by most accountants, integrates with most banks and can collaborate with Shoeboxed. And all three of those things are extremely important aspects for me.

However, unless you’re into reading technical manuals, I’d highly suggest that if you use Quickbooks Online, that you schedule a “Quickbooks set up and training session” with your business accountant (or you can search for a Quickbooks ProAdvisor here). It’s not super expensive and will save you a ton of time and heartache.

Now the good news is that once your Quickbooks Online account is setup and you understand how to use it, it will seriously streamline your business finances. And you’re able to give your accountant their own access and login to your account for free.

Plans start as low as $12.95 a month, but if you’re looking to integrate with your bank, you’ll need to sign up for the $26.95 per month plan at minimum. I personally use the “Online Plus Plan” ($39.95 a month) because I wanted access to all the cool budgeting features Quickbooks has.

At this point, I couldn’t do without Quickbooks (and heads up, they also offer a free 30 day trial). While my accountant does all management for my account, I’m able to log in at any time and check pretty much any financial aspect about my company, run budget reports, see who owes me money, see who I owe money – everything related to my company financials – with ease.

Organize Your 2012

It’s the beginning of the year, so it’s the perfect time to up your organizational business game in 2012. What products do YOU find indispensable when it comes to your business organization and productivity efforts? I’m definitely open to adding to my new-found arsenal. ;-)

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. We have a lot of the same tools (not surprisingly) – Basecamp, Raven, Dropbox, Skype Premium, Gravity.

    I don’t use Quickbooks or Shoebox though; for me, I find that Quicken Home and Business works really well for me for keeping track of accounting. This particular version allows you to maintain separate accounts for personal and business, and I can just dump everything out at the end of the year and hand it to my accountant, and she has it all nicely categorized for my tax returns.

    I love Evernote. I particularly love it with Google Reader, as I monitor a lot of alerts and I can very quickly sort them into where they need to go by forwarding them to the appropriate Evernote folder. There’s a free version and a paid version.

    I’ve started playing around with IFTTT (www.ifttt.com) which stands for “if this then that” – it looks pretty powerful. Also free.

    Those are a few of the ones I’m using.

  2. It pains me to say that your New Year’s post is way better than mine : )

    Solid stuff here. I use about half of the tools you listed, and I’ll be checking out the other half ASAP.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Ah, I love Dropbox, Trip.it, and Basecamp! Haven’t used many of the others, but worth a look.

  4. Very good list. I think you’ve given me a reason to check out TripIt – because I often forget all of that crap when I go to conventions. I think it may be the Jager …

    That, and shoebox’d I’ll have to check out. Have you tried doing the cell phone picture upload feature for it yet? Wondering how the auto-classification and OCR treats those when trying to figure out what they are, heh.

  5. Nice one, I will have to give some of these a try, For me Dropbox, Basecamp and Skype are my daily necessity. I would also say Evernote is a life saver :), once you have it all set-up the way you want it, it makes life that bit easier.

    Happy New Year

  6. Great list you got there.

    I also use many of the tools on the list. I love using Dropbox, and also use Google Docs quite often, it makes collaboration on a document pretty easy.

    I absolutely cannot function without Raven Tools – it makes my job so much easier.

    As for quickbooks, it is actually on my list of thing to get.

    You definitely need to check out Evernote though, it is the most useful tool I’ve ever used.

    Oh, and I also use harvest for time tracking and invoicing.

  7. Great post, and I use many of the same tools. My main gripe with Quickbooks Online is that there is almost NO training online available for the “Online” version, which is appreciably different from the desktop version. Still, once I learned through the school of hard knocks, I like it fine.

    To add you to your list – Zoho CRM. My team and I track all of our client conversations and tasks in this tool, in addition to myself and my biz dev team tracking all our efforts with prospects. Great tool and extremely easy to use and learn.

  8. Wow, great list! I also love Evernote and use it all the time. I am going to check out Raven Tools. I’ve been using Quickbooks (for Mac) for over 10 years and highly recommend it. You can’t beat it as a comprehensive, user friendly accounting system.

  9. As I do blogging and writing with collaborators, Google Docs helps a lot. Revision history, multi-user comments, export.

    I use Google Sites for project management. Last year we created a Google Site for a project. After the project we gutted the content just leaving the structure. Now we clone that template site each new project.

  10. Nice list. not all of them are relevant for me, but love good organization.

  11. Great list, Rae. I totally agree these are some of the best organizational tools for any business. Dropbox is just too convenient to share large files and works out really great. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is being well organized is the main thing to boost productivity.

  12. What other tools do you recommend in terms of web analytic for SEO? Do you use raven tools for SEO purposes or just link building? As much as I love Google, I’m in search of a tool to replace or work along side Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools.

    Thanks!

  13. Thanks for the list Rae. I went ahead and downloaded Dropbox, love the fact that I don’t have to login online to drop the files. This is definitely an organization +1 post for me. Much appreciated article.

  14. Nice list Rae. I do use Dropbox and will check out some of the others.
    I would like your ideas on site backup’s. Do you have a program you trust or what are your suggestions?
    Thanks for the info,
    Steve

  15. SteveN Green says:

    This is brilliant and thanks cause I must be the second most disorganized person in the world. Something I love using and you left it out. Google apps.

  16. I really like paytrust.com. They open up your paper bills and scan them for you. Then, you pay everything online from ONE place instead of trying to remember 5,000 logins and passwords. And it is very reasonable.

  17. Great list of tools. I’ve been using some of these already in my business but will definitely look to add others. I’ve also found Skype to be a fantastic tool for video conferencing, and much cheaper than other enterprise-level tools.

  18. Great list. Just wondering if you’ve considered Google+ hangouts as an alternative to Skype? Seems to me that it’ll do everything you’ve mentioned, and it’s free!

  19. I’ve been using Dropbox like crazy over the past few months. One of my favorite things about it is the support across multiple devices and from a variety of programs and apps, so I don’t have to access it via browser every time. It just makes the whole thing much more useful and simple.

  20. Rae,

    Great list for sure. I also like the following tool.

    CardMunch- http://www.CardMunch.com- iPhone App for organizing your business cards & building your database, unlike other scanning technology applications they actually have a person enter the info and send it back when ready. Once you get it back you can add to phone, send follow up email and last and most important you can connect with the contact on Linked In and FYI they are owned by Linked In.

    Carbonite- http://www.Carbonite.com – backs up everything on my computer automatically, has saved me 3 times this year. Cost like $60.00 for the year. Also allows you to access your computer through an app on your phone.

  21. Sam Drake says:

    I find that as our country becomes more and more technology based, that Skype will become more important. It will allow people to work from home, and if they have kids, could allow parents not not pay for expensive daycare. Also, you can work while on a vacation or just moving from place to place with Skype mobile. There are a lot of possibilities.

    I have used drop box on a personal level to share videos with friends. I have found that it is much easier than sending it to them in an email or a text message because sometimes, the videos are too long and Facebook is not the most private place to post things.

    The TripIt application sound pretty cool. I can also get very disorganized when it comes to vacations and having all my information in one place seems very practical for me.

  22. I don’t know where i’d be without Dropbox. Emailing 8 mB InDesign files- no thanks.
    We couldn’t live without it.

  23. I only know about two out of those.

    Skype is the best for me now because it helps me to conduct interview online easily even without buying costly gadgets.

    Sheyi

  24. Great list. A must add for me is Wunderkit, for organizing your to-dos on multiple lists and share with others.

    Jaime

  25. Thanks for the list Rae! I want to add some other great tools I’m using myself for running my internet based business:

    Capsule CRM – Great CRM tool with a lot of features and integration possibilities

    Mailchimp – Autoresponder and email Newsletter

    Wufoo forms – Great forms with integrated paymant processing and conversion tracking

    Freshdesk – Support Portal and Tracking system

    Zopim – Online chat tool

    Hope, there is something from interest for you :)

  26. Hi

    just wanna mention two more tool I think are very helpul

    ZOHO invoices and book keeping
    EVERNOTE this is a great tool, save notes,pic and more

    THANKS and happy new year

  27. Thank you for your post. My favorite applications are Evernote, Hootsuite (social media management) – http://hootsuite.com and KanbanTool (task management and real-time collaboration) – http://kanbantool.com/.

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