By Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail

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One big headache for small business owners doesn’t involve a shortage of energy or effort – it’s the lack of enough time in each day to get everything done that needs to get done.

Small businesses are often constrained by tight budgets and limited staffing, stretching them too thin to hire full-time secretaries. One solution is to combine productivity apps on a smartphone to create a kind of personal digital assistant.

A wide range of productivity apps can help simplify busy work, freeing entrepreneurs to concentrate on more critical tasks that will increase business value for customers. Here are a few suggestions for how to build a digital assistant that manages your voicemails, calendars, files and daily tasks.

Better Solutions for Handling Missed Calls

In many ways, phone calls can be the lifeblood for small businesses by keeping companies close to their clients and building connections to new prospects and sales leads. Unfortunately, small business owners are often spread too thin to pick up incoming phone calls, causing them to forfeit new business or waste time playing back lengthy voice messages.

There are two ways to tackle this. One is to get “secretaries on demand”, like Ruby Receiptionist (CallRuby). These are often pay-by-the-minute or pay-by-the-month services that have live people to answer the calls you can’t.

A more cost efficient alternative are services like YouMail, which replace standard visual voicemail with more intelligent tools that simulate key aspects of a professional answering the phone, like greeting by name, transcribing messages, and automatically replying, but at significantly lower cost.

By applying these personal touches to a voicemail response, small business owners can enlarge their company’s presence to clients and prospective customers. Voicemail management apps can also help free up time by blocking unwanted cold calls and stopping prerecorded robocalls.

Bringing Order to the Chaos of Files and Tasks

A popular file-sharing app is Dropl, which allows you to quickly capture and send screenshots, videos and other files with a simple web link. Dropl also lets users record screencasts in minutes and distribute them instantly. Dropl is free to download, but every file that’s shared is automatically deleted after seven days. To store files longer, users can upgrade to Dropl Lite for $4 per month or Dropl Pro for $8 per month.

Another helpful app for busy entrepreneurs is Captio, which allows users to capture their thoughts and send reminder notes to themselves by email. You simply open the app and start typing. When done, just hit send and the note is immediately delivered to your email inbox. You can also send photos and screenshots to yourself. For forgetful people, this is a great tool to quickly capture everything you need to remember.

Agenda Calendar 4 by Savvy Apps is an iPhone calendar application with a minimal design, fast event creation, and intelligent recognition when you tap on links and email addresses. Agenda makes it easy to set default alerts, and it even includes a “status taps” feature to keep in touch with fellow attendees at events.

Another powerful productivity app is the appropriately named Things by Cultured Code, which keeps track of all kinds of things. It’s an easy-to-use task manager that helps organize to-do lists, activities, appointments, meetings and other deadlines.

Taking App Productivity to New Levels

These are just a few examples of the many productivity apps out there today. For instance, HipChat offers a basic hosted IM and group chat service, while Hipmunk is a travel app that integrates data from nearly all of the online hotel and airfare booking sites.

Small business owners need to analyze which tasks and processes are draining most of their precious time, and then decide which productivity apps they should apply to save time and effort. Creating a digital assistant can simplify less important tasks and allow you to focus on mission-critical duties. In so doing, you can enlarge brand awareness and enhance customer satisfaction.

About the Author:

Alex Quilici serves as the Chief Executive Officer of YouMail, Inc. Previously, Quilici served as Vice President of AOL Voice Services, where he played a major role in growing the unit to over 1 million paying customers. He has significant start-up expertise as the co-founder of, which was successfully sold to AOL in August 2000.

The image above from Flickr Creative Commons (via user at ) is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution license. Some rights reserved.

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