3 Small Business Tools That Improve the Tools You Already Use

The odds are, as an independent business owner, you’re a mind-bogglingly busy person. It’s especially true of micropreneurs, but today, just about everybody is insanely busy. Between your responsibilities at work, you need to have a life outside of work, your clients, your car, your family, your pets, your friends and yes, even yourself, opportunities for leisure are fewer and farther between than most of us would like.

But before you reach the point of no return in the “cult of busy,” consider that there are thousands of apps and other digital tools built specifically to help you overcome at least some of the most time-consuming work tasks that you endure on a regular basis.

When Even Your Productivity Gets Overloaded

The catch 22 is, of course, that you’re likely far too busy to figure out which tools – beyond the ones you already use – might be helpful, let alone spend the time and money trying them out, seeing how they fit into your ongoing workflow systems and learning how to use them for maximum efficiency.

If it is indeed part of your job as a self-managed businessperson to keep track of the latest app releases to see what might be a significant game-changer for you, then let’s just go ahead and add that task to your unsustainably large task list for the month. So many tools, so many integrations, so many plugins, so many add-ons.

That’s what makes the three tools described below so helpful. Yes, they’re all free, and they’re all major productivity boosters, but perhaps most importantly, they all work on top of the tools you already use. No reinventing the wheel required, no redundancies and virtually no learning curves. These are simply products that render your existing suite of small business management apps instantly better.

Bump Yourself with Boomerang for Gmail

It’s hard to believe that Gmail is over ten years old now, but it is. Google’s primary email client comes in web app and mobile app varieties, and we even use it to manage our non-Gmail inboxes, thanks to Google for Work. It’s also a clear market leader. Because of its ubiquity and loyal user base, Gmail has spawned an ecosystem of optional add-ons that can enhance its functionality and interface. Perhaps the most important productivity game-changer of these add-ons is Boomerang.

Boomerang offers a few game-changing features. Want to write an email to someone now but you want it to head their way another time? With Boomerang, you can schedule sends, so no one will know you wrote that email at 4:00 AM – or better, that you didn’t write it at 7:58 AM, when you know the recipient is far more likely to pay attention to it.

In addition, Boomerang allows you to schedule a date and time for returning an email thread to the top of your inbox. Want to make sure your client replies with approval to bring the project live? Set the approval request to bump you again if they don’t reply within the week. It all makes for less inbox clutter, less slippage between the cracks and more control.

Bill Clients on the Road with Invoice Ninja for PayPal

Like it or not, PayPal is the standard, go-to platform for sending and receiving business payments. But one of the most important features of PayPal, sending invoices to clients, simply isn’t available in the PayPal mobile app. Do you often visit your clients to work at their places of business and want the ability to invoice them and get paid for your work while you’re on the premises? Sorry – the PayPal app can’t do that, much to the chagrin of “freelancer Twitter.”

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You’re in luck, though, because it’s possible to get paid via PayPal on the fly using Invoice Ninja, the full-featured, open-source, mobile-friendly web app that integrates with over 40 payment processing gateways – including PayPal – for free. So you won’t need to wait until PayPal finally rolls out this feature, you won’t need to jump through hoops to obtain merchant approval on a different gateway, and your clients can pay you instantly, while you’re face-to-face with them, using the payment platform they know and trust.

Invoice Ninja offers several additional game-changing features as well, including invoice format customization, time tracking, pro-forma invoices and a self-hosted version.

Find Publish-Ready Images Faster with Compfight for Flickr

Small business proprietors are increasingly waking up to the reality that content marketing is arguably the most effective way to attract, acquire and retain clients. The hardest part of publishing branded content is actually creating the content, according to data from the Content Marketing Institute. And the hardest part of effective content marketing is making sure that your published pages are easily digestible and generate memorable, emotionally evocative impact, so they can stand out from the noise.

Finding the perfect visual to include on your page is, therefore, pivotal, which is why so many content marketers like to plunder Flickr’s troves of creative commons-licensed photos. Flickr’s interface, however, is a bit clunky, as it’s built to provide an immersive, beautiful experience of image discovery, dominated by large thumbnails, rather than as a curation library.

But Compfight changes all that. A search engine specifically designed to quickly search for, brose and select creative commons-licensed images, Compfight is powered by the Flickr API. You no longer have to worry about making sure you’re legally allowed to publish the images you discover, and the entire experience is optimized for speed, as there’s no waiting for unnecessarily large image files to download for aggregation to the search results screens.

Tools to Make Better Tools

There are a lot of great tools out there that enhance the tools you already use. The industry standards for managing your email, payments and creative commons image curation, respectively, Gmail, PayPal, and Flickr are all probably already in your toolbox. Boomerang, Invoice Ninja, and Compfight simply help you use those platforms in far more efficient and productive ways, and at no cost to you, and with none of the hurdles associated with adopting new products.