“Streamline your scheduling! … for companies with 500+ employees.”
“Manage your customer service! … for just eleventy billion dollars per month.”
“Project management software for free! … unless you have more than one project to manage.”
Sound familiar? If you run a super small business—say, 1-5 people—then you’re no stranger to these types of services. They’ll offer you a great way to manage customers, or they’ll offer a great SaaS program…only for you to find out that their solutions are tailored to mid-size companies with huge budgets and monstrous employee counts.
There always seems to be a catch, and no one knows that better than the super small business owner.
Fortunately, not all tools and solutions have a “catch” like the ones referenced above. You don’t have to have the revenue of a major corporation to have access to great software and online tools, either.
If you’ve been having trouble keeping up with all of your customers, delegating workload, and managing each task in front of you, the solutions are out there. You just have to know where to look.
Coordinating Time and Scheduling
The first thing you need to do is get your team on the same page. Heck, it would be nice if you could get your team on the same book. That starts with time management.
Unfortunately, managing your time as a team can be difficult. It seems as though every new team member adds an exponential complication to setting new meetings or coordinating project deadlines. Here are a few tools that will immediately cut your frustration in half:
- Doodle. Doodle offers a $39/month account for multiple professionals featuring a built-in calendar for easy time coordination. The result? You end up avoiding entire chains of back-and-forth emails wherein each team member says “I’m available at X and Y” and another says “Sorry, can’t do anything before Tuesday.” There is also a free account for individuals if you’re running a sole proprietorship.
- Basecamp. You can try Basecamp free for sixty days, which is certainly affordable for businesses as small as yours. What’s more, Basecamp allows people to coordinate more than time—they can coordinate documents, roles, tasks, and more. There may be no better way to organize yourselves with one single tool.
- Producteev. Producteev is one of those apps that works great for individuals and small groups of teams. Not only does Producteev integrate with tools like Google Calendar, but they offer a free two-week trial and free plans for trying out on a long term basis. So what does it do? It integrates email, calendar, and tasks into one source, giving you and your employees one thing to check in the morning rather than three. It also helps you delegate tasks to the appropriate people so that there are no mixups along the way.
- Flow. If Producteev isn’t your thing, you might want to try Flow instead. It has many of the same features and a simple interface that’s easy for even the technologically-challenged among us. You can handle everything from task priorities to task creation to scheduling and sorting tasks by the person each task is assigned to. There may be no better way to manage your priorities than with Flow.
These tools are built for small-ish businesses, but have pricing tiers that are more than reasonable for the business of 1-5 employees. We highly recommend checking them out.
Tools for Customer Service and Tracking
You’re not a 500-employee company, but managing your customers can still be difficult—especially if there are only a few of you to coordinate customer service. That’s why it’s critical to use the right tools and strategies for tracking each customer issue.
We recommend starting out with ZenDesk, a software solution that features plans as low as $1 per month. ZenDesk allows you to track time, coordinate satisfaction surveys, organize communities, and handle email ticketing. The first 30 days are free, as well, so there’s really no excuse not to use ZenDesk at least on a trial basis.
Another effective strategy is to get your website to do the work for you so that your employees don’t have to handle every single customer case. SmartInsights.com provides 15 website personalization features that help make every new customer feel welcome.
Of course, the tools will only get you so far. You also have to utilize customer service strategies if you’re going to cut down on the amount of time you spend with customers each day. This infographic from Entrepreneur.com has a lot to offer in terms of identifying the problems and focusing on the solutions. Some highlights:
Customers are most likely to be dissatisfied with a product or service if they feel they’ve been deceived. Other top reasons include rudeness, perceptions of incompetency, and inflexibility. If you want to earn more universal customer appreciation, focus on the opposite: being direct and upfront, polite, and, well, competent.
What’s more, the easiest way to give customers what they want is ease of access. If they feel that their problem is being addressed by a real human, they’re more likely to believe that you have effective customer service. ZenDesk is a nice tool for giving customers easy access rather than a simple “contact us” form that they can’t trust is getting in the hands of the right people.
Four Strategies for Managing a Small Team
Of course, your tools aren’t going to do a whole lot unless you have the strategies to make them work.
Set an actionable, definable goal. How are you going to define better team management? If you run ten meetings per week, maybe you can aim for three—or one—instead. The key is that you want to set actionable, real, specific goals. With a realistic number to shoot for, you’ll have a barometer to gauge your progress in managing the team.
Make the changes now, not later. It’s important to be decisive, particularly when the tools are so easy to implement and so affordable. If there’s a free trial for a software solution out there, let your team know that you’re going to be using that program now—not a week from now. The sooner you get to work solving your management problems, the quicker you’ll get results.
Build over time. You don’t have to do it all in one week. Make one change this week, and then set a goal for incorporating a new change next week. No one understands that it’s difficult to change someone’s behavior better than a small business owner who knows one to four key people very well. So don’t be afraid to work in incremenets. The results will add up by the end of the year.
Cut out what doesn’t work. Did one tool not work out for you? Does one strategy not seem to be changing things? Then ditch them. The only real failure is the failure to take action; everything else is just feedback. So don’t be afraid to cut out a new program that isn’t having the results you wanted. View it all as part of an experiment to better managing your team, your time, and your company.
** Your Turn:** What solutions do you use for your super small business?