We’ve been paperless from the outset. Granted, there's a few bits that you can't avoid - incoming mail from government and banks, and the endless marketing fluff from finance companies offering you pre-approved loans and credit cards 🙄

But nothing in our day to day working requires any paper or forms, we use a suite of apps that pretty much covers everything we do. Not just for the absence of paper, mainly for the efficiency that comes with using software that's designed for purpose.

There's a heap of apps out there now that if you choose wisely, and use properly, you might even find competitive advantage. They certainly make things run smoother, no matter how big, small, old, new, or complex your business is.

We’ve listed some of the bigger players here, but keep an eye on software communities like Product Hunt, you’ll find the latest apps as they’re released. I've also added some advice at the end on how to find the best industry-specific software apps.

Back-office stuff shouldn't involve filing cabinets full of sraps of paper anymore. Please no, let those days be gone. The apps I'll list here are simple to use, nicely designed, and save you loads of time and paperwork.

Accounting

Probably your biggest saving to be had here. Accounting can be time consuming and involve a tonne of paperwork. Invoices, expenses, purchasing. There’s pretty much no excuse for not using an accounting app these days, even for the tiniest of businesses.

They are all reltively cheap and once you've got the basics under your belt you'll be amazed at how much time you save. You'll also have a much better handle on what's going on in your business.

Xero - a super popular all-in-one accounting software. Takes care of your payroll, expenses, invoicing, tax returns. It also has some neat project tracking tools. You can give your accountant access, too.

Crunch - a combination of accountancy software and accountants-for-hire, a subscription to Crunch might be a little more expensive but covers the vast majority of your accountancy needs.

Pair these with small business banking apps like Coconut (which is made for sole traders and the self-employed) or Starling (for limited companies) and you’re pretty much sorted for money matters.

Freeagent - similar to Xero, this one’s aimed specifically at smaller businesses, and we use it here at Timetastic.

We've linked in a few apps to streamline accounting further. Our bank feeds transactionss directly into Freeagent, which in turn automatically reconciles transactions and posts them to relevant expense categories. All our revenue comes from card transactions online using Stripe and we use an app called DoubleAgent to post and reconcile those revenue details.

Customer Support

No 1 rule of business - keep your customers happy.

Please please, don’t do customer support from an email inbox - things can get messy very quickly. You certainly don't want to be digging in filing cabinets to look for previous correspondence or memo's (do people still do memo's?🤷‍♂️).

Instead, get signed up to a help desk app. They cover your back and forth with customers, and keep a searchable record. They provide a knowledge base for self service, and most now include chat widgets.

Zendesk - 'support, sales and customer engagement software’. It's been around a while now, the one we use at Timetastic, and I have to admit it's gotten more  complex over the years. I wouldn't choose it now, I'd probably go for Helpscout because they're easier to get along with and have 1st rate ethics.

Freshdesk is the biggest competitor to Zendesk, and is said to be a little simpler and easier to use, with a free option so you can see if it works for you.

There's also Kayako, Zoho Desk, Intercom and a host of others. It's a busy marketplace.

UserReport - surveys and feedback widgets that plug simply into your website, so customers can tell you what they think. There’s a free version and it’s easy to set up. Alternatively, you can make really simple feedback forms with Typeform.

If you’re an agency and work collaboratively with clients, you might consider using Dubsado, Service Provider Pro, or Basecamp (another one we use at Timetastic) which let you build ‘client portals’ - really useful for maintaining collaborative relationships while keeping things professional.

Staff holiday planning

Timetastic - what else? The best employee holiday tracker you can find 😁. No spreadsheets or forms needed. You can request & approve holidays for everyone in your team, and all your staff can see their remaining allowance and bookings on a simple calendar view.

We actually started Timetastic because we too wanted to get rid of paper work and spreadsheets. For a lot of small businesses the process of organising a day off work has remained largely paper based - fill this form in please, pass it to your manager, hand it to HR, duplicate it onto a spreadsheet - eurgh!

Obviously I'm biased but it's probably the easiest win of all the apps in this article. Mainly because you won't find anyone who's not happy to be rid of the paper forms, and everyone gets a better visability of their holiday allowance.

Take a look at our reviews if you need convincing.

Communication

Slowmail is definately dead. Writing and posting letters is both slow and inefficient, but some still do it.

When we deal with any outside organsiation we always make sure they communicate digitally, be that email, collaboration, or instant messaging style app.

Email

Email is undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. The big players have stagnated a little, offering little in terms of innovation. So here’s a few services that rethink the inbox. They’re all paid services too, which means they’re not funded by selling your personal data to advertisers.

Fastmail - distraction-free and minimally-designed. Speedy, as the name suggests.

Hey - a privacy focused email app that blocks all those pesky tracking pixels. This clever app organises your inbox by importance, helping you prioritise what matters and clear out the fluff. Built by the people that made Basecamp.

Superhuman - invite-only, this one comes with a lot of hype. It’s fast, minimal, and intelligent, but some say it’s not worth the high cost. To be honest, I don't know, I've never had an invite 🤷‍♂.️

Protonmail - a privacy-first service based in Switzerland; fully encrypted with top-notch security.

Instant messaging

For when an email is too formal and you need a faster way to talk, workplace instant messaging is the way to go.

Slack - the gold standard when it comes to workplace chat apps. Discussions are divided into channels (chat rooms, basically) for team talk, and you can send private messages too. If you’ve never moved past Skype or email, it can be a game changer.

We've used Slack at Timetastic since the outset. There are times it's noisy and distracting but as we've grown we've adapted and learned to switch off notifications or shut it down entirely when you need to get in the zone.

I'll say that again, because it's the most important lesson for any instant messaging app - switch off notificaitons.

Twist - a bit like Slack, but with more focus on productive collaboration, including more structured communication, rather than just an endless chat window. If you keep losing track of discussions in your other chat apps, or you find them too distracting, try Twist.

Productivity

Project Management

These tools cover both personal productivity and project management for teams. For when you need to move on from Post-It Notes.

I've worked at organisations where people are left to manage their own lists of jobs. People end up with lists of to-do's on paper, post-it notes, whiteboards, note books. It's messy and disparate.

We embraced Basecamp about two years ago and it's helped streamline development. We pitch jobs, create projects, have lists of to-do's, share ideas and designs.

The biggest tip I can give with basecamp is to read their book 'Shape Up'. It'll give you a better understanding of how Basecamp is designed to be used.

Trello - Kandan style. We used this in the early days to track development and tasks. It's both free and very easy to use. Add in team collaboration and you’ve got a great way for everyone to keep on track. Free to use, with a paid version containing extra features.

Harvest - this is a simple time tracker for teams that helps everyone stay focused. While you don’t want to get caught up in paranoia productivity, it’s really useful for keeping track of the time you spend on certain projects to stop things getting out of control and making sure overtime is logged.

Systems and automation

While this software is great to have, you'll find more savings if it all works together. Some of the big apps will have direct integrations e.g. accounts software will talk directly to your bank, Timetastic will directly update your calendar.

On top of that you have a couple of apps that can serve as a middle layer and connect your apps in some clever ways.

Zapier - connects hundreds of business apps together for automated functions. An example: you receive a customer query in Zendesk, and Zapier would add it as a task to Trello for you to log and automatically send the support team a message in their Slack channel. It's super flexible and can save you loads of time.

IFTTT - basically Zapier, but for personal use. It connects all your 'internet of things' connected home devices, allowing you to keep useful data on your house and home, and make your lights turn off when you leave the house for example. These days, it has more and more business applications.

Legals

Signing and storing loads of legal documents is another annoying and time consuming task. Far too much paperwork to and fro.

I'd be surprised if you've not come across any of the document signing / esignature apps already.

Docusign, Hellosign, SignEasy, PandaDoc and so on.

I've used a number of them and have no real preference. We use Hellosign at Timetastic if we're in control of the legal document.

Another way to save a heap of legal paperwork is by implemengting standard terms. I worked at a company where every sales order was accompanied by a 10 page set of  legal terms that needed signing 😱. We replaced that all with an online order form and standard terms. Even better, our sales increased as a direct result, "make it easy for them to buy" was the lesson I recalled our Sales Director.

Identity Verification

I'm going to finish with a bug-bear of mine. Anti-money laundering legislation in the UK means professional services such as Accountants & Lawyers have to verify the identity of their clients before doing any work.

The process is a pain in the backside for both clients and you. Getting your client to come to the office with their passport and two utility bills, for them to be photocopied, signed and stored.

There are apps that can do this for you. You want to see how slick the challenger banks verify identity, try Revolut, Monzo, or Starling to see what I mean.

Take a look at: Yoti, Veriff, Veriphy, Onfido, maybe one of them can save you some paperwork and streamline your client onboarding.


Final thoughts

There’s a huge variety of software out there made specifically for certain industries. With a bit of smart research, you might find something that’ll totally transform your business.

For example, the legal profession has an abundance of tools for case management, legislation research, and record organisation.

So for your own industry, no matter how niche you are, there’ll probably be something out there for you. Try searching for “best [industry] software [current year]” and you’re sure to find some hidden gems.