Running a business is hard. I’ve been there. When you’re wearing fifteen hats at once and it feels like you’ll never reach the end of your to-do list, you need all the tools you can get your hands on to make life easier.
I worked with my friends at Trainline (I’ve always called it ‘The Trainline’ but it’s Trainline now apparently!), whose app I love and use a lot, to put together a list of the ten apps I think every busy business bod needs on their phone. And I’ve only included the ones you’ll actually use – Trainline’s research suggests 48% of our apps are never used, and that’s just sad.
1. Google Keep
Like Post-It notes for your phone
Despite being made by one of the most famous companies on Earth, this excellent free app is something of a well-kept secret.
At the most basic level, you can use ‘Keep’ to note something down and it’ll save on its own little sticky note instantly. Once you’ve got the hang of that, it’s easy to make tick lists, colour code notes, add hashtags (which are clickable), attach reminders, pictures, even drawings, as well as adding ‘collaborators’ if you want to share a note with a colleague. It’s one of those apps that’s super-simple and easy to use, but can be as powerful as you want it to be.
And did we mention it instantly syncs notes to your laptop, tablet, second phone and so on? You’ll never forget anything again* (*not a guarantee).
Unexpected stopover? No worries.
As you might have guessed from the name, Hotel Tonight is a last-minute hotel-booking app – although you can also use it to book a little further ahead. If you get stranded somewhere or make a spontaneous trip, it’s ridiculously easy to find a hotel within walking distance (there’s a map), within your budget, with very comprehensive info about what’s on offer.
Hotels use it to shift unsold rooms, so you can get some real bargains, and check in within minutes of booking. It works in cities throughout the UK and the world, so a real lifesaver to have on your phone, just in case. Read my full review here.
Like a chat room for your team
If you ever used the old chat app IRC, this is basically that but for work. If not – well, it’s a multiplayer notepad, for work. Got it? Great.
As the business owner or general person-in-charge, you create a Slack for your team and everyone signs in. Then, you have one big main room with everyone in it, individual one-on-one chats with any particular employee that no one else can see, and you can create new ‘channels’ (rooms) for particular topics or teams. So the sales team can have a room to talk to each other, there can be one for the social committee, and you can have one for off-topic stuff. And gifs. Gifs are built-in.
It’s free at the basic level, and equally well-designed on both web and mobile. If your team works from home, or in different locations, or just has headphones on a lot – this is priceless.
Makes marketing emails as easy as a tweet
Whether it’s your e-newsletter or sales mails, sending beautiful, professionally-designed emails is ridiculously easy with this tool. There are templates to use, you just drag and drop the bits you want and edit as much as you like.
It’s free for up to 2,000 customers (and pretty inexpensive after that), and there are easy-to-use tools for adding newsletter signups to your website and social media channels to help you build your database. You can send test emails to yourself to make sure everything looks perfect, and Mailchimp holds your hand at every step, so it’s straightforward even if you’ve never done an email campaign before. Plus, you get a high five from a cartoon monkey when you send your first email – so satisfying.
5. Trainline for Business
Where did you leave your train tickets? In here!
Now with a dedicated business profile, you can use the Trainline app to book tickets on the go, save that impossible-to-remember ticket reservation number, and even get mobile tickets for some journeys – because who knows which jacket you left those orange tickets in? By going paperless and downloading mobile tickets straight to your phone, you can skip the queues and spend that extra time on something more productive – like reading Gadgette.
Trainline gives you real-time updates on train times, delays, even which platform you need to head to. You can buy train tickets up to 10 minutes before boarding, so you barely even need to break your stride as you head to that meeting you totally forgot was happening in Shepperton… And when you’re back in the office, you can access expense receipts and manage employee travel through a central, free booking tool and payment portal. Too easy.
Simple social scheduling
Constantly updating and refreshing your business’s social media channels can feel impossible when you’ve already got a billion things to do every day. Buffer makes it easy: load in updates all at once, and they’ll automatically post throughout the week. It can do Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram – though the latter is a little tricky due to the social network’s own scheduling rules.
You can pick the days and times you’d like to post, and have as many or as few updates as you’d like. Just want to tweet once a week? That’s fine. Once an hour? Also fine. Analytics are built in, too. The free plan is good for trying Buffer out, but if you’re posting lots of updates, adding multiple accounts on the same platform, or need to include team members, you’ll want to look into the reasonably-priced paid plans.
7. Google Translate Word Lens
Can’t read that sign? Hold up your phone for a translation
Everyone’s heard of Google Translate, but did you know that the smartphone app comes with actual magic built-in?
Translate has a feature called Word Lens that uses your phone’s camera to give an instant, on-screen translation of anything you can see. So if you’re in a restaurant in Barcelona trying desperately to remember your GCSE lessons, you can fire up Word Lens and hold your phone over the menu to see all the dishes in English. When you head outside and can’t read the sign through the fog of sleeplessness and sangria, hold your phone up to see instantly what it says. It’s very cool, always impresses clients, and it’s free. Fantástico.
8. Receipt Bank
Upload and access bills, invoices and receipts anywhere
Receipt Bank is the kind of app that stressed-out SME owners dream of: snap a photo of a receipt with the mobile app and it’ll be analysed and added to your books. When someone emails you an invoice, forward it to your Receipt Bank email and it automatically goes in. You can submit documents using your computer, Dropbox, Tripcatcher, even the good old Royal Mail – and they’re all saved in the cloud so you can access them anywhere. No more lost receipts.
Receipt Bank integrates with popular accounting software like Xero and QuickBooks Online, so you don’t have to waste any time doing data entry. Which is good news for everyone.
Don’t have a PA to do your dry-cleaning? Now you do
There’s nothing like a freshly-pressed shirt to make you feel good before an important meeting – and nothing like ironing to make you feel like you need an assistant. Thankfully, the app economy is here to help, with door-to-door Laundrapp coming to pick up your washing and delivering it back sparkling clean – not to mention much more fragrant.
They collect and deliver all over the UK, offering washing, dry cleaning and pressing services to make sure your business (and home) wardrobe reflects the successful entrepreneur you are. You don’t even have to separate the lights from the darks.
Guided relaxation for the app generation
One of the least-discussed aspects of starting, owning or running a SME is the toll it can take on your emotional and mental health. Late nights, early mornings, endless stress and doing the work of ten people can really take it out of you, so it’s important to make time to decompress.
Headspace is an easy, app-based way to do that. It’s described as meditation, but their analogy of “a gym membership for your mind” is probably more apt, since it doesn’t conjure images of beardy dudes in the lotus position. There are lots of programmes to choose from, but the free Take 10 one is the best place to start: it helps you learn techniques for relaxation and mindfulness in just ten minutes a day. Even you’ve got that much time.
Main image: Pexels. All app screenshots: iTunes.