Deb Lee is a Digital Productivity Coach, Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, Evernote Certified Consultant, and a self-described appaholic. She's also the woman behind D. Allison Lee LLC, a productivity consulting firm that helps small business owners and company founders leverage technology to increase productivity. Deb is currently having an intense love affair with coffee and is seriously fanatic about social media, Wordpress, and blogging.

Using tech tools to help improve productivity can be a game changer for small-business owners. Technology can also help smaller companies stay competitive with larger ones. The good news is that there are an abundance of productivity apps to choose from. Ironically, that's also the not-so-good news. There's such a wide array of apps that choosing the one (or set of them) that's best for your company can be overwhelming. 

So before you download the latest and greatest apps, take a minute to review your workflows and business processes. This is an important first step, so don't rush through it. Think of it this way — when you're setting up and organizing your physical workspace, you first spend some time clearing the clutter and creating the most optimal space plan before you purchase organizing containers and office essentials. That way, you get what you need and spend your time and dollars wisely.

  • Once you've done your review, you will walk away with helpful information, like:
  • What's working (so you can keep doing it)
  • The processes that are broken (so you can fix them)
  • The tasks you should match with specific team members (so you can get the best results)
  • Key features of apps you'll need (so you can effectively execute workflows)

It's that last bullet point that will be the main focus of today's post. Here's why: It's easy to fall in the trap of downloading a bunch of apps because they're popular and chock-full of features. But keep in mind that your small business may not need all those features. Instead, you should identify your core needs first and get feedback from your team about what they need to support their work. 

To help you get started, here are some top features you should look for when you're on the hunt for the best apps for your company.

  1. Usability. This seems like a no-brainer, right? If the application is difficult to use, you'll be spending more time trying to figure it out. As you do your research, check for apps that have a dashboard. Dashboards give you a nice overview of your data and make it easy for you to jump to the information you need. Give bonus points to those that let you customize the dashboard.
  2. Scalability. As I mentioned before, some apps are robust and can have more features than is necessary. That can be distracting and overwhelming. What you should look for — especially at the outset — are apps that give you much of what you want right now and allow you to add features as your company grows. Look for apps that have three or more plans you can choose from. Take the time to review the features of each one, especially those that you'll need in the future.
  3. Integrations. Are you already using an app that's essential to your workflow? Wouldn't it be great if it integrated with other apps you might want to add to that workflow? For example, if you're a Wrike user, you might find the integration with Gmail helpful since you can create tasks from your emails — without leaving Gmail. Wrike also works well with Microsoft Teams and lets you manage your projects and tasks right inside Microsoft Teams. As you can see, integrations can help save you time and get more accomplished.
  4. Collaboration. When you work in a team environment, collaboration is a way of life. It's not unusual for one member of a team to hand off parts of a project to someone else (sometimes several times) before the project can be completed. There may also be instances when two or more people need to work on a document, slide deck, or spreadsheet simultaneously in real-time (G Suite is excellent for this). Be sure that applications you choose make it easy for team members to communicate and work together.

    Bring project management into Microsoft Teams and transform conversations into structured work.

  5. Reporting. Reports and business processes often go hand-in-hand. Reports are basically stories about facets of your company backed by data. That data can then help you to figure out what your next step will be. That said, choose apps that give you the ability to quickly capture insights that will help inform your business decisions.
  6. Cloud-based. How accessible is your data? Can you have access to it when you're traveling? To ensure that the answer is yes, look for apps that sync with and store your data in the cloud — not on the computer in your office. This will be a huge time saver and help you save face, too. For example, if you forget to bring an important document to a client meeting, there's no need to worry. If that doc is stored in the cloud, you can easily get it just by logging in to your storage app (like Dropbox). You can even run presentations directly from apps in the cloud (Evernote and Haiku Deck are good choices).
  7. Support. No matter how easy an app is to use, you will likely have questions. Or a glitch might pop up. You and your team will need support at some point. If the developer or service goes missing in action when you have a problem, this will have a direct hit on your productivity. Ideally, you'll want various ways to get help (FAQs, live chat, phone, email, community message boards/forums) just in case something goes a little wonky.

Of course, these are not the only things you should look for when researching the best apps, but they are a great starting point. By the way, you can also give a gold star to apps that can be used across platforms and devices because they will make it easy to get everyone on your team on board no matter what type of tech they use. With that in mind, remember that the time you put in to reviewing your businesses processes and finding the best tech tools can boost productivity and help your small business be more competitive. I'd say that's time well spent.