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.
I 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.
Dropbox 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.
I 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!
If 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. ;-)
I 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 SEO 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).
Michael 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. ;-)
[*Note in the years since this post was written, I found Teamwork and ditched Basecamp for it. I've never regretted it.]
I 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? 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.
Fist 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. ;-)