Everyone has their workflow and hot shot list of go-to applications, short cuts and processes to accomplishing daily tasks. Some work better than others and over time you develop your best practices list. These 10 small business items that I can’t live without have truly been the keystone to my professional clarity, customer service and process management as a small business owner.
My number #1 response to “I Don’t Know How You Do It” is “Use your resources.” Putting available technology to work is a key element to staying sane and organized, both personally and professionally. Your tools should be effectively removing some work burden from your immediate plate. Any tool that takes you one step closer to efficiency in your workflow is a keeper. Having said that, don’t go crazy with too many tools. There are so many available applications out there, it’s easy to get lost in all of them and that effective efficiency turns backward into time wasted. Identify your star players and stick to them (as long as they continue to work well for you).
Here are my go-to, must haves for my small business ventures.
1. IssueTrak: I am very proud to work for this company. Not only because the leadership and values line up with my own standards and ambitions, but because the software they produce has single-handedly streamlined the workflow at The Studio Hampton Roads. This product allows me to see the big picture as it relates to open bookings, report on overall activity, keep track of customer progress and itemize a task list that follows our policies and procedures. No more “I have to remember to send so-and-so an email on Thursday” or “So-and-so hasn’t submitted their contract.” I know exactly where I am in the transaction with each individual client. I can keep notes on bookings, attach important documents, and store key files that both myself and my partner can access at our computers and on-the-go. When we were managing over 30 bookings at one time…I seriously thanked baby Jesus that I had IssueTrak. Without it, our organization, consistency and ultimately the care of our clients and studio would have suffered significantly. Anyone looking for software that can streamline your business operations, track your customer support or specifically define your workflow…you need to start here.
2. Google Calendar: Seriously. I would die. A million painful deaths. It is my lifeline. It’s color-coded, jam packed with reminders and pop ups and I can share calendars with family, friends, business partners, etc. as needed. We even use Google calendar to populate the calendar on The Studio Hampton Roads’ website. One stop shop for entering bookings and knowing it is translating to both of our personal calendars and the website. It coordinates with my Gmail, my Google + profile and events, and is extremely mobile-friendly.
3. Google Drive: This is another big win for small business partnerships where work is done remotely and not in an office setting. I’m able to create and share spreadsheets, documents, forms and other presentations that can be modified by multiple parties from multiple locations. Files can be accessed from anywhere, on mobile, and our most important stats and legal docs are filed away safely for easy access and attachment to correspondence as needed.
4. Dropbox: This might seem out of place given I just sang Google Drive’s praises, but for me, I like to have my daily docs for business ops in Google in a specifically organized fashion, and then save Dropbox for when I’m passing temporary files to other vendors or peer relationships for download. This is especially handy for passing raw image files for processing and to deliver edited images to vendor contacts. I upload to Dropbox, they grab, I delete. Dropbox can also be accessed from mobile devices, which is super handy, especially when using in tandem with others apps, like IFTTT and Instagram.
5. Hootsuite/Hootlet: This program already got a shout out in Small Business: Social Media Scheduling, but it deserves another shout out here. If you have a small business of any kind these days, you have to run an effective social media marketing campaign. And if you’re running a social media marketing campaign, you absolutely must have a scheduling tool that allows you to organize and execute your strategy ahead of time so that you are not chained to your social media profiles 24/7. Hootsuite is that tool for me. I can schedule posts hours, days, weeks, even months in advance and then walk away. The Hootlet allows me to share instantly when I come across awesome content, so it gives me the option of that real time engagement in a quick and easy fashion.
6. Blogstomp: You’ve probably never heard of it and you need it. From a photographer perspective, it is an absolute must-have. But bloggers and other small business owners can get great mileage from it as well, depending on your needs. You are able to batch brand images with your logo, designing custom frames, stomp images together and share on social media. It allows me to beautifully brand images quickly and consistently.
7. Canva: This program is amazing. It allows me to make all of my pinnable graphics for blog posts, social media headers, and any other image with text or design that I may need. With about a million free options to add graphics, text, pictures and use pre-made, fully customizable templates, the creative opportunities in the free mode are virtually endless. It saves and downloads the finished files, which can be easily uploaded as image files to my blog, and also keeps them in my account for future edits, so I can keep my style similar across the board.
8. Pixifi: Major business operational win, right here. Pixifi has allowed us to automate almost the entire client experience with customizable client portals, invoicing that links with PayPal (woot! woot! another small biz win!), and can even link events/bookings with our Google Calendar (yay! friendly app!). Our clients can choose their package and sign their contracts online, and we can track their progress and our overall financial standing with very little effort, even down to what we should be reporting on our taxes! We were able to connect with a fabulous custom profile designer who built out all of our contracts, questionnaires and pricing pages for each of our individual brands. With a little bit of training, a perfected and finished product was handed over to us and we were off and running!
9. A Good Accountant: This one really should go without saying, but it’s the one very important element that many small business owners totally overlook. With today’s technology and so many programs claiming that you can manage taxes yourself, it’s easy to think you’ve got it handled. In reality, most of the time you’re doing it wrong and the only person that’s costing money is you. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold. We are confident knowing our business is well-managed, profitable and legal, and at peace knowing our finances are working in our favor. Don’t make the mistake of not seeking professional help here.
10. A Good Lawyer: Another glaringly obvious, no-brainer that often gets tabled in the name of a thin pocketbook. BIG. MISTAKE. Rule #1 for starting a small business is to get your legal ducks in a row. Protecting yourself, and your clients, legally, is absolutely paramount to a successful and legit business operation. A lawyer should review all contracts, advise on insurance, oversee any operating agreements (especially if you have a partner – good friends become enemies fast when the legal stuff got set aside), and make sure your business is well-protected and well-designed. It’s a necessary investment. Don’t skip it and shortchange yourself.