“An application is a type of software. All applications are software, but not all software are applications.”
Nigeria barely identifies as a digital country. Paper shuffling and antiquated techniques are still very much how work gets done in many places. If we are being totally honest, we are the Flintstones in a generation of Tony Starks. Things however are slowly changing as millennial are assimilated into the workforce. These cutting edge youngsters bring with them the force of the app age and are gradually influencing the way work is done – for better or for worse.
The world over, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are constantly looking to new technologies to create a more productive, more efficient and more innovative workforce. In addition, the rising trend of remote work and co-working spaces has led to an increase in on-demand data – data that is accessible at any time and anywhere. Here and some free and affordable apps and software many small businesses can deploy to help increase productivity and improve the efficiency of their team.
Email has widely been accepted in businesses as a key part of the ‘e-revolution’ in workplace communication. Having a business email address (that you should check often) can make all the difference to your bottom-line. It is one of the most convenient means of communicating with employees, contractors, leads etc. A plethora of email service providers exist and as a business it is recommended that you subscribe to a paid customized email plan – ending with @’yourbusinessname’.com as against using a free plan e.g. ‘yourbusinessname’@outlook.com or ‘yourbusinessname’@gmail.com. This helps validate your business to most potential customers.
Recommendation: Gmail for Business (GfB).
Gmail for Business allows you to host your customized business email account with Google and provide access to Google’s entire business suite that boasts of robust functionalities. In addition, there are a ton of useful plugins you can download to enable functions such as:
Mailmerge: It allows you input contact information such as name, email address and anything else you’d like into a spread-sheet. You can then send an email to all the addresses at the same time, complete with personalization.
Read/open function: This lets you know if the recipient of your email has opened your mail and is great for marketing campaigns. It also lets you know who has opened your email – great if you communicate with a team and need to monitor the responsiveness of team members.
Contact bio: A side bar that shows you the bio of your mail recipient after you type in the email address. Very useful if you deal with a ton of email addresses and cant keep up with people’ designation or titles in various other organizations.
There are other great plugins and tools not available to traditional webmail clients that you get for free (or paid) with Gmail.
Accounting and Invoicing
Managing your books effectively may require a full time accountant. Proper account management (and not bank account balance) allows business owners observe how well their business is performing with up to date profit and loss statement.
The digital age (as well as climate change) encourages businesses to go paperless. Printing invoice booklets means higher overheads. There are several apps and software that take care of your business’ accounting. These software show fancy graphs and tables of growth – invaluable information if you ever need to get an investor. Furthermore, some of these software offer additional functionalities like inventory management, daily expenditure, salary record etc.
Recommendation: Waveapp (free). Xero (Paid)
Both offer similar services with Xero having a more robust functionality and reporting. They have beautiful, professional customizable invoice templates allowing you to send your customer via email an invoice for an order, a receipt after payment has been confirmed, or a payment reminder for pending payment.
Do you remember those days that inventory management was done on A4 sheets and if a sheet went missing, heads would roll with some staff re-introduced to the long arm of unemployment? There was also the case of your physical records being subject to accidents, from careless handling to fire hazards. These days, inventory can be managed with (mostly) simple cross-platform apps accessible on mobile and PC that are cloud-based. So for example, if you run a fashion outfit, at a glance the software can tell your best or worst performing products. It can also send you email alerts when the stock levels of different items are running low.
*Both recommendations can sync with Xero. However, Vend has the additional advantage of being a multi-store Payment of Sale (POS) option.
It is hard to take a business serious if it lacks a website especially in Nigeria where unprofessional people looking for a quick buck run amok. A website acts a repository of information for potential clients, a means of communication to customers and/or a medium of sale.
For some budding entrepreneurs on a budget, hiring a website developer may be rather expensive, especially if one just needs a landing page describing the services one offers.
Recommendation: Wix (Paid)
Wix is by far one of the easiest means of developing a website using a drag-and- drop method. You don’t have to be skilled with codes or html; all you need to do is drag and drop content in preferred location and you have a website. Wix however possesses so much more functionality as you can design even complex e-commerce site with their tool but where it shines is in keeping things simple and easy.
Note, Word Processing/Presentation Programming
While Microsoft Office pretty much rules in this category, there are many other free solutions that are cross platform and compatible with Word document extension.
If however you work with documents and files that require accessibility to multiple users, then you are much better using an online option. To illustrate how effective an online solution is, Nonye Adiba runs a juice bar and depends solely on Google Sheet to manage her orders.
Her customer representative populates the sheet with orders as they come adding delivery time, her production team based in a different location immediately starts preparing and bagging the order while her delivery agent prints out the order detail, codes the order to ‘dispatched’ and heads out for delivery. After successful delivery, dispatch tags the order ‘closed’. Nonye only ever has to look at the sheet to know what her staff is up to at any point. Seamless; right?
Cloud storage provides a unique convenience to productivity that one has to wonder how we managed when the industry standard was diskettes. Documents and files can be remotely accessed anywhere in the world on a mobile device or a PC. Multiple providers offer different cloud storage plans.
Recommendation: Google Drive (Free/Paid) Dropbox (Free/Paid), Microsoft (One drive). Google and Microsoft offers free storage of up 15GB for a free account. These services have the added advantage of seamless sync to each service providers other products like Gmail, Google doc (for Google), and One Note, Words, Flickr (for Microsoft).
As a business owner, you need to keep in touch with your team wherever they are and be able to communicate seamlessly without much fuss. Depending on the nature of your business or the team you need to get in touch with, there are various communication solutions you can adapt to fit your business for example, if you need to keep in touch with a remote team that is constantly on the move then a mobile-friendly or mobile-first software would be ideal.
If your business is service/product based, chances are that you have experienced hiccups at some point with receiving payment online from your customers. In the past, payment gateways were pretty much unavailable and then the ecosystem matured to being unreliable but these days, we have local players that have vastly improved online transactions making it as stress free and seamless as possible for both merchant (service providers) and paying customers. Unfortunately none of these options are free as a deductible service fee is attached to each. Most payment gateway providers offer simple means to collecting cash payment in the form of unique url which you include in your electronic invoice or integration to your website.
Recommendation: Paystack (Paid), VoguePay, Paga.
So there you have it. This list and its categories are by no means exhaustive, as we were largely focused on core business functions while only selecting affordable app and software solutions. In some cases (like Xero), some can double as an inventory/invoicing and accounting software in one.
This year, take your business green. Go paperless. Go digital. Use apps and software. Doing so will help you get rid of duds and create a more effective working environment. It will likely reduce your overheads and boost your bottom line too.