When you study enough successful businesses, you begin to notice a few themes emerging. Pundits and thought leaders will argue about what characteristics are the most important for success, but ask any mid-level retail manager and you’ll be told almost immediately that the answer lies in systems.
Remember Kmart? It had tremendous visibility, great locations and similar products and prices to Wal-Mart. However, Kmart’s executives failed to invest as heavily into infrastructure as their competitors did. Eventually the brand just wasn’t able to compete with Wal-Mart’s automated supply chains and incredibly detailed record-keeping software.
Wal-Mart’s superior internal systems made it cheaper to run, increased profit margins and provided a more economical service to its customers. They aren’t always sexy, but system tools are often the difference between success and failure, especially if you aspire to be a global chain like Wal-Mart.
Bearing all that in mind, I’m going to suggest some tools you might consider for your own business, making things faster, cheaper and more efficient across a broad spectrum of activities. A single program can do the job of multiple employees or save hours of your time, to say nothing of headaches and general stress. Let’s get right into it.
One of the biggest challenges facing business owners and managers is how to keep track of ongoing tasks. A great solution is to invest in project management software, and Liquid Planner is becoming an industry standard. The platform allows managers to assign, monitor and follow-up on tasks easily and with great precision.
Employees will always know what they’re supposed to be working on and exactly what the next step is. It’s easy to monitor tasks from beginning to end, with detailed meta-goals and checkpoints for further reference.
Are you becoming more efficient with each new project? Liquid Planner’s measurement tools allow you to see the big picture and eliminate inefficient activities. You can actually watch your business run more smoothly over time as employees and managers are able to sync with each other like never before.
Best of all, it’s very simple to use. Liquid Planner helps you get organized and detail-oriented, no matter how many loose ends you may have.
In the office, communication is perhaps the most vital skill people can develop. It’s important that colleagues are able to bounce ideas off each other, voice concerns, follow up on assignments and give constructive feedback.
In the past, businesses have relied on services like Skype or Slack for intra-office communication, but with the recent spate of high-profile cyber-attacks, many are turning to more secure options.
Brosix is a secure, private way to connect your office with chat and screen-sharing technology. You can exchange unlimited files of any size, build chat rooms and task-centric contact groups and work across multiple hardware platforms and operating systems, all while being protected by encryption.
If you’re trying to collaborate with offices in separate locations, you know how invaluable this sort of connection can be. From complicated project proposals and instructions to simple office banter, Brosix allows you to keep your business communications centralized and secure.
You almost certainly already heard of Upwork. This fast-growing freelance platform makes it very easy to find talented people to fill specific, temporary needs in your company. This is especially true for small businesses who can’t always afford to hire full-time designers, writers or developers. Upwork can be invaluable.
Even for larger businesses, there are often benefits to working with freelancers rather than trying to assemble an in-house creative team. As long as you’re organized, paying for work on an as-needed basis saves you money in the long term and helps minimize risk.
The service is free to use, too. If you’re struggling to find people in your organization to fill all the roles you need, Upwork provides a smart, simple way to dramatically expand the assets at your disposal.
Asana is another powerful resource for project management and team coordination. This very popular platform is used by teams at industry leaders like The New Yorker, Columbia University and Uber to improve productivity and streamline internal processes.
Asana is one of the most user-friendly project management platforms available. It’s customizable, beautifully designed and sports an outstanding user interface. On top of all that, it’s very affordable—even free for very small teams.
While it may not be as structured or detailed as Liquid Planner, Asana is a simpler and more user-friendly tool. Both have the same benefit: business owners are able to manage teams more efficiently and get work done faster.
An often-overlooked facet of internal systems is human relations. Thankfully, there are software solutions for those too. Among those, Zenefits is remarkable in that it’s basically free, unless you live in the state of Washington.
Zenefits is a cloud-based system that makes it easy to manage payroll and benefits across your company. The software keeps track of salaries and hours worked, in addition to expense reporting, performance management and a plethora of other helpful functionalities.
While some of the more tangential functions are behind a paywall, the majority of services provided by Zenefits are free. It’s an invaluable tool for keeping track of the money and benefits you owe employees and can take a terrific load off your current HR reps.
Like project management software, Zenefits encourages employee accountability, albeit through performance reports rather than progress reports. It’s one more arrow in your quiver as a business owner.
Tools like these can help you beat out competitors, Wal-Mart style, by driving down prices, streamlining processes and allowing for careful evaluation and improvement. And these are just a tiny sample—in every category I mentioned, there are dozens of other comparable tools that can do the same job. Give yourself and your team a break by upgrading your internal systems. Your future will thank you.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.