Take a break without your business going under: ten apps to run your business from afar

Apps to run your business from afar{{}}We all have a bit of the control freak in us. And when you’re running a business, it’s hard to relinquish the reins - even when you know you need to ease up

Switch off without stressing out

When you run your own company, holidays can be a tricky business. You need to balance the need to switch off with the need to stay in touch. 

Today, it's easier than ever to stay updated. Cloud computing and mobile apps put information at your fingertips, so you can keep a finger on the pulse of your business. You just have to be careful not to get dragged in too far.

To help you stay in touch while you take a break, here are ten useful apps:

1. Trello - for project status updates

Farah Redford{{}}Farah Radford of creative marketing agency Digivita uses Trello to stay up to date with what her colleagues are working on. This online project and task management tool gives you a central location to track and store the details of projects.

“I use Trello when I’m abroad,” she explains. “I can easily track the progress of different projects as my team members update the details there. This means I don’t need to send emails to make sure things are going to plan.”

Also consider: Basecamp and Huddle. These online project collaboration tools offer similar capabilities.

2. WhatsApp - for quick messages

WhatsApp is a massively popular messaging service. People first adopted it as an alternative to sending text messages (it uses a data connection from your smart phone, avoiding text message charges).

The service was bought by Facebook in 2014 and now offers a range of features that are useful for business owners. For instance, you can set up group chats to share important messages and key pieces of information.

Also consider: Telegram, another online messaging service that can help you stay in touch. You can also just use good old-fashioned text messages.

3. Google Drive - to keep documents on hand

Rich Leigh{{}}Google Drive gives you free online storage, so you can keep your files in reach from any smartphone, tablet, or computer,” explains Rich Leigh, founder of PR firm Rich Leigh & Company.

“When I’m away from the office, the Google Drive app lets me access any file from anywhere.” 

You probably won’t want to make a habit of checking company documents while you’re away, but using Google Drive means you can always get hold of something if you need to.

Also consider: Dropbox and Box. These cloud storage services provide similar functions, allowing you to save and view files from anywhere.

4. Accounting software - to check your finances

If you only keep an eye on one thing during your holiday, perhaps it should be your company accounts. If you use cloud accounting software to manage your finances, you’ll probably find that your package includes a mobile app.

Jules Quinn runs The TeaShed, which sells interesting teas. “I use Sage One accounting software to stay on top of my invoices and cash from wherever I am. Drawing up invoices and sending them through the app is really efficient.”

“It’s great that other employees and my accountant can check invoices on the go too to ensure we’re a collaborative team. It also means that someone else can access the accounts when I’m out of the office.”

Popular packages: if you’re not already using cloud accounting software, you can try FreeAgentXeroSageQuickBooks and KashFlow

5. Skype - to check in with the office

Julie Thompson Dredge{{}}

You can use Skype to make free calls to other Skype users, and to call standard phone numbers at reduced rates.

Skype places calls over your smart phone’s data connection, so if you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network then you can call home for a fraction of your network’s roaming charges.

“I have Skype on my phone,” confirms Julie Thompson Dredge from Frame PR. “It allows me to make a quick call back to the office every day or two, just to check in.”

Learn more about using Skype while abroad.

Also consider: Google Hangouts, which lets you make audio, video and group calls with other Hangouts users.

6. Slack - to see what’s happening straightaway

Slack is a team messaging app that gives you an online chat room through which you can communicate. You can also set up ‘channels’ for different topics, share files and search through your past messages.

Slack offers mobile apps for most major devices. Just skimming through the latest messages will give you an overview of what’s been happening in your absence.

Nick Katz{{}}

“We use Slack for communication internally and with external consultants,” says Nick Katz from Splittable, an app that helps housemates share bills and other costs. “The mobile app is great, so it’s easy to see at a glance what's going on in the office when I’m travelling or on holiday.”

Also consider: HipChat and Yammer, which both offer similar functions to Slack.

7. Online banking - to manage your transactions

Many major banks now offer mobile apps that work with their internet banking services. This means you can sign in from your smart phone or tablet to check account balances or arrange payments.

Even if you don’t think you’ll need to manage any transactions while you’re away, it’s a good idea to install your bank’s app, just in case. If you require any other items to log in and use certain functions (like your business debit card or a chip and PIN reader), be sure to pack those, too.

8. Hootsuite - to keep an eye on social networks

You might decide that keeping track of social media is a task too far for your holiday. After all, it’s easy to get sucked in to Twitter or Facebook.

However, if there’s nobody you can hand your social operations over to, you might have to sign in while you’re away. In that case, Hootsuite makes it easier, by combining your social accounts in one place, letting you schedule updates and keeping track of where you’ve been mentioned.

Also consider: Buffer and TweetDeck. These social network management services can both help tame your accounts while you’re on holiday.

9. Pingdom - to make sure your website stays online

Your website will keep working for your business even when you’re not — but only if it’s online and functioning properly.

Pingdom monitors your website for problems. If you use the mobile app, you can get notified in the event of a problem and view details of uptime and outages.

Learn more about monitoring your website for problems.

Also consider: Uptime Robot (no mobile app available) and Site 24x7. These similar services will also let you know when your website fails.

10. Microsoft Remote Desktop - to use your main computer from afar

Remote desktop services are less important than they used to be, because cloud computing makes it easier to access data anywhere. However, they can still be helpful if you need to access something that’s on your office computer.

When you install Microsoft Remote Desktop onto your mobile device (it’s available for Android, Apple and Windows Mobile), you can control another computer from your mobile device. You’ll see your usual desktop, software and everything.

Remote desktop software isn’t ideal for getting things done while you’re on holiday. But if you absolutely have to access software on your main computer, it’s an effective way to do so. Just remember that the computer you want to access must be switched on.

Also consider: LogMeIn or Screens. Both these apps offer similar remote desktop functions.

Do you really need to stay in touch?

Elizabeth Varley{{}}Elizabeth Varley is co-founder and CEO of TechHub, the global home for technology entrepreneurs to meet, work, learn and collaborate.

As a prominent figure in the startup world, you might expect her to be connected at all times. But, as she explains, that may not always the best course of action:

“I firmly believe that when you’re on holiday, you need to take a proper break. That means stepping away from work completely, so you can relax, recharge and return fully refreshed.”

“If you try and keep in touch while you’re away then it can spoil your holiday and affect your productivity when you get back. I’m strict on this with my own team, so there are no apps that I’d advocate using.”

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