I can barely imagine life without RunKeeper, Flipboard and Evernote (not necessarily in that order!). Just makes me wonder about those dingy, dark, pre-smartphone days… How did we ever manage? Whether it’s just to say “Yo” (literally) to a buddy or tweak your elevator pitch, there’s one for every need that you haven’t even thought up yet.

However, while we as individuals install and try out new apps practically every day, I keep seeing startups fail to hit their potential in productivity, simply because they’re not automating their processes using the right tools. This isn’t due to the lack or unavailability of inexpensive software per se; rather, marketing overload makes it nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But all you’ve got to do is, keep looking until you find the tools that work for you. Once you’ve got the hang of them, productivity and collaboration tools make work a real pleasure (OK, less of a pain). So here’s my pick of the top 5 tools for that small businesses MUST check out in 2015.

(1) GrexIt

An average corporate employee has had to juggle at least three out of these simultaneously – an email inbox, a ‘work chat’ messenger app, a collaboration tool, a lead management app, a customer service platform and a project management platform. What if I told you that you could actually roll all of these into your Gmail inbox with a simple browser plugin? GrexIt adds some real muscle to your email inbox – Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird or Android – with some great collaboration, customer support, and project management options.

With GrexIt installed, you can now share “labels” that you have in your inbox with your team. Team mates can comment or add notes to an email without creating an endless chain of trail mail. Task management becomes simpler using task labels on emails – simply send your teammate an email with the task label and the task gets added to their to-do list automatically. Changes in task status updated by one team member reflect automatically in the inboxes of the others, making follow-ups and status checks redundant. A true Swiss-army knife for office communications!

(2) TrackMaven

Staying on top of your own business numbers is often an uphill task. If you add monitoring competitors and staying abreast of their latest moves to the mix, you’ll probably have to camp at your work desk permanently.

trackmaven

TrackMaven takes over as your personal detective tracking every move that your competition makes automatically. From hard numbers like traffic to their website or their search rankings to detailed information on their content marketing strategy, paid advertising, actual social media posts, to their latest email campaign, TrackMaven brings every aspect of your competitors’ marketing strategies under one roof.

It lets you compare key metrics of your business with that of competitors, as well as get notifications and updates about latest competitor activity. This competitive intelligence tool not only gives you the goods on your competitors’ business, it also helps you craft your own marketing activities for maximum results.

(3) Ghostery

In these times of near-daily data fraud and security breaches, privacy is more prized than ever before. Trouble is, it’s also tougher than ever to keep your personal information truly personal. Take all of that and place it in a business context and you have real disasters waiting to happen. Enter Ghostery.

ghostery

Ghostery is a browser plugin that tells you the various ways your data is being tracked on any website that you are on. You can opt to share or not share your data, as a conscious decision. You can even choose to block specific trackers to secure your data across all websites. Want to learn more about the companies that track you? You can now do that with Ghostery. It’s simple to use interface, availability across all the prominent desktop and mobile browsers combined with the fact that it is a free plugin, has made Ghostery an up and coming crowd favorite for users who are serious about data security.

(4) MobileDay

Telephone bills often account for a significant chunk of any organization’s monthly expenses. With mobile phones now being favored over fixed line phones for conference calls or international calls, those expenses are only rising astronomically.

mobileday

The MobileDay app saves your business a fat amount of money on your telephone bills every month using their “dynamic dialing” technology. This means, when you call a client’s number for a conference call or when you call an international number, MobileDay picks the cheapest possible route to connect the call based on your location as well as the location of the number you just dialed.

The best part? It takes away all the manual work that went into getting on a conference call. No more calling a bridge number, dialing in access codes and security codes. It goes through your calendar, picks out the dates when you have a conference call scheduled, picks out the dial-in numbers and access codes and keeps them all ready to go with one click of a button. What’s more, you get notified about upcoming conference calls ahead of time. If you’re running late, you can even send a message informing the other people on the call that you’ll join in a while via MobileDay. Perfect for road warriors and long distance call junkies.

(5) Invoice2Go

If you have tried your hand at freelancing or run a business by yourself, you’ll agree with me when I say sending out, tracking and collecting on invoices is probably the most tiresome part of your job. Creating an invoice itself can be a challenge for business owners constantly on the move.

invoice2go

Invoice2Go is an innovative invoicing tool that works on iOS, Android and the web with equal aplomb. This tool basically allows you to create invoice templates for your business, make invoices on the go and store them on the cloud for future reference. It builds reports of outstanding payments, so you know in a single click who owes you money and exactly how much. It also has some nifty add-on features like a receipts scanner and tracker, reminders that tell you about payments that are about to be due, a tool that captures customer signatures to make payments a breeze and a time tracker that tells you exactly how many billable hours you spent on a particular task.

In Closing

Narrowing down a list of small business apps to just five is always, always a tough call for me. Some honorable mentions include Ampervize and Showpad.

Got any interesting apps, plugins or tools that have helped your business grow? Inputs welcome!


Featured image by IITA on Flickr, used under CC license