More, Better, Faster: Build Your Optimal Portfolio of Business Apps

By Robin Maurice Wedewer, President, The Wedewer Group and VetMEDResearch, Metro Washington, DC, robin@wedewergroup.com

Constant improvement and speed. Oh, and do more of it and cheaper too. That’s the order of the day. We’re all limited to the same number of hours in the day, but we can make better use of those hours if we have the right tools. The right portfolio of business apps can become a strategic part of your business systems, streamlining work, saving you time, and overall upping your game.

The challenge is that the array of mobile and desktop apps out there is dizzying. There are more than 1.2 million mobile apps in the Apple store, with 60,000 added each month. Even if only a fraction of those is
business-related, it’s still too many to scan through to find the one that will work for your business. That’s before we even start counting the online tools without mobile versions.

With all the goodies available, it’s easy to go app-crazy. Many are free—at least to start. Those $2.99 monthly charges seem harmless enough until you begin piling them on. Calculate fees for multiple apps by 12 months and they suddenly begin to look like a significant business expense.

The limitations of budget—and time—mean we must be smart consumers.

My approach to apps is to go slowly, onboard one at a time so I can explore all the features, try the free version and then upgrade to a premium version if the added bells and whistles seem worth it or I am using the app to the point where I exceed the free usage level. If the app is particularly involved or if the real value of the app is in customizing how it is used, then I’ll kick into student mode and scour online tutorials, including YouTube videos and the many excellent Lynda training videos that are available free through many local library digital services. I became an Evernote ninja this way and have a public notebook of Evernote learning resources you can view at https://www.evernote.com/pub/rwedewer/evernote.

Here are some of my favorites apps, along with some suggested alternatives.

Create and Track Proposals

Proposify (Proposify.biz)

With Proposify you can create and deliver professional-looking, branded online proposals using one of the Proposify design templates or by customizing your design. You can see when projects are viewed by clients, track won projects in your pipeline and use the online signature tool to get fast authorization for your project. Add standard pages, such as individual or company profile pages, to your proposal library so you can assemble proposals quickly. Customizable fee tables allow you to offer clients add-on options with adjustable quantities, both of which update pricing with the tick of a box. Service level options include a branded URL and integration with Stripe, a payment system that allows you to request and receive payments in 135 currencies.

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: Plans start at $25 per month.

PandaDoc (pandadoc.com)

PandaDoc has limited design templates but is an excellent choice if you design proposals in other programs. You can upload them to PandaDoc and add the app’s bells and whistles to your current process. It also integrates with Salesforce, Insightly, Stripe, Box, Dropbox and Google Drive, among others.

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: Plans start at $19 per month. 

Schedule Calls and Interviews

Timetrade (Timetrade.com)

In my B2B work, I usually schedule in-depth interviews myself. The back-and-forth emails to find mutually agreeable times was a huge waste of time. And there was always the potential for error in calculating time zone differences in different parts of the world. I was giddy when a consultant friend turned me on to Timetrade online appointment scheduling. Log in, connect your calendar and identify times and days that you are available. Send emails through Timetrade alerting people of your availability or get a link to share or publish on your website. Timetrade automatically calculates time zones, syncs with most calendar systems, sends email appointment confirmations and reminders the day before the call. People can click on a link in the confirmation email to cancel or reschedule.

Available: Online.

Cost: Timetrade offers four editions, including one for individuals and another for multiusers, starting at $49 per year.

Calendly (Calendly.com)

Calendly offers similar features, although the rules for identifying your availability are more complicated than for Timetrade. Because the available times are inserted into an email people can read whenever they get around to it rather than when they click on a link to schedule, Calendly is better for meetings or conference calls, while Timetrade is better for scheduling multiple interviews or appointments with multiple people at a time.

Available: Online.

Cost: The basic Calendly app is free. Premium versions start at $8 per month.

The Assistantto (assistant.to)

The Assistantto free browser extension is an alternative to Calendly for Gmail users. A version is currently in development for Outlook. Assistantto adds a widget to emails you compose. Simply click on the tiny Assistantto icon at the bottom of your email and pick available meeting times on your calendar. The app adds selected times directly to the email along with a simple message with instructions. Recipients simply click the time they choose or “none of these times work.” If they select a time, it is automatically added to your calendar and to theirs if they are also an Assistantto user.

Available: Online.

Cost: Free.

Improve Your Writing

Grammarly (grammarly.com)

The free Grammarly Chrome plugin monitors your writing in real time, checking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. Download the free app for Windows to identify critical and advanced issues with your writing, such as faulty subject/verb agreement, inappropriate colloquialisms and incomplete sentences. You can upgrade to a paid version to add plagiarism checker, style suggestions, and vocabulary enhancement, among other features. The premium version’s bells and whistles are superior to the grammar functions built into the latest version of Word. Grammarly also connects with your email and social media accounts. No more sloppy social media!

Available: Online.

Cost: Basic is free. Premium versions start at $29.95/month or $139.95/year.

Hemingway App (hemingwayapp.com)

Like Grammarly, Hemingway App allows you to paste or write into the app window. With a single click the app analyzes your text for hard to read sentences, passive voice, adverbs, and phrases with simpler alternatives. While not as robust as Grammarly, it is available at a one-time bargain price. Since splurging on the premium Grammarly app, I no longer use Hemingway. But if you’re unsure you’ll use (or remember to use) a writing app, Hemingway is a good way to put your toe into the water without breaking the bank or making a monthly financial commitment.

Available: Online.

Cost: One-time cost of $19.99.

Power Thesaurus (powerthesaurus.org)

You’ll never use the measly thesaurus you can find with a right-click of your mouse once you experience Power Thesaurus. This superb thesaurus is crowd-sourced, so the word choice options are nuanced and extensive. I keep it open in a browser tab, so I don’t forget about it.

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: Plans start at $25 per month.

Manage Lists

ToDoIst (todoist.com)

The choice of task managers is overwhelming. And some of the complex interfaces and advanced features can make the task management itself a major chore. That’s why I like the streamlined design and perfectly calibrated selection of features of ToDoIst. In the free version, you can create projects and organize tasks by project. Download the apps on your tablet, iPhone, and desktop and ToDoIst keeps your lists in sync. Premium paid features allow you to flag tasks by levels of importance and create custom labels across projects, such as “telephone calls,” “errands,” and the one I created to use on Friday afternoons—“braindead”—so you can view and chunk similar tasks. I particularly like the way it handles natural language for scheduling, such as “every third Friday of the month” or “every day starting today and through March 27” or even “remind me to make my American Express payment on the 11th of every month.”

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: Basic ToDoIst is free. The premium plan is $29/year.

Workflowy (workflowy.com)

If you want to manage all kinds of lists, Workflowy offers a bare bones interface where you can add notes. I prefer Evernote—seeing as how I am an Evernote ninja—but this is an easy option for the Evernote-averse.

Available: Online and downloadable app

Cost: Workflowy basic is free. A pro version is $4.99 per month.

Read and View Productively

Pocket (getpocket.com)

Save blog posts, videos, articles, webpages, or other online content into Pocket to read later from your phone, tablet, or computer, even without Internet access.  Tags can help you organize your reading and viewing by specific topics or just general categories you can create yourself such as “work” or “not work.” It’s a productive tool to maximize the use of those few minutes waiting in line or to gather materials that look interesting for batch reading when you have the time.

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: Free.

Texture (texture.com)

I have a severe magazine addiction that, in the past, has added up to some serious cash. Now, for just $9.99/month, Texture gives me access to current and past issues of more than 200 magazines, in a wide range of categories, including business and finance, news and politics, science and technology, travel and regional, and more. These aren’t just the niche magazines you’ve never heard of; They include some of the most popular magazines on the newsstand. The interface makes exploring issues, turning pages, enlarging type, and even sharing articles easy. Many magazines optimize for the tablet format, which adds a whole new dimension to magazine reading.

Available: Online and downloadable app.

Cost: $9.99/month.

The time you spend learning and integrating app-related processes into your workflow is an investment that will reward you with more time, a better product and less stress. The app market is always changing, with new and better tools being introduced all the time. If you find a new app that helps your business, share it with your QRCA colleagues on the QRCA message board.

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