10 Small Business Items that I Can’t Live Without

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - IssueTrak
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - IssueTrak

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Google Calendar

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Hootsuite and Hootlet

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Blogstomp - Kathryn Blevins Photography
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Blogstomp - Kathryn Blevins Photography

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.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Canva

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!

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Pixifi
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Pixifi

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.

What small business items can’t you live without? 
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Comments

  1. Jeff says

    Useful article! Can you comment a little more on your use of IssueTrak and Pixifi specifically? Is there a lot of overlap between the two? What does IssueTrak have and do for you that Pixifi can’t?

    • says

      Hi Jeff, thanks for a great question! I wouldn’t say there is a lot of overlap between the two tools, as Pixifi is workflow management designed specifically for those in the photography/design field, so it’s built to model a typical operational need for those industries. IssueTrak is custom-designed software that caters to a much broader audience, larger companies with a multitude of potential uses, models, industries and the like. Pixifi is fantastic as the overview and central hub for the small business owner. IssueTrak is a full-service software that can cross organizations, departments, etc. for multi-level operations with a large employee and/or customer base. Having said that, both are incredibly fantastic tools, each with their own strengths and purposes. The task management is probably where they overlap most, with Pixifi being a much simplified task list and automation and IssueTrak having more complex branching strategies. IssueTrak can manage assets, incoming email, help desk, customer support, surveys, billing and more. Pixifi can manage multiple brands, contracts, automated emails, payments and expense tracking.

      I use Pixifi as the keystone to our online booking process for studio rentals. The process is fully automated, the contracts are delivered and signed online, and invoice management is triggered via Pixifi due dates. I use IssueTrak to moderate the entire business across our different brands as a whole. I track our responsibilities in the process, any relevant communication, images, etc. and have a more complex workflow in place to keep our policies and process standardized.

      Ultimately, it depends on what type of business you are in and what you are looking to achieve!

      • Theresa Ann Marcotte says

        Hi Katy, I’m kind of new in the Direct Sales Business Feild. I am currently in the process of starting my own small Craft/Gift Boutique Biz. I don’t have a website and I am not too technology savvy. However, I already use & Love Dropbox and find it mostly useful for me for saving pictures and my images that I post or share on Social Media.

        I am looking for an easy program/resource to help me keep track of my vendor shows, Customer info database & their purchases and my own sales, goals, etc.

        As a small business owner just starting out, would these other resources you suggested be of help to me? Or what can you suggest?

        Thank you in advance for your time. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  2. Jesse says

    Hi! Thanks for posting the list. I’m going to try some of these. Over time an email marketing tools is also a must have. Lately, I’ve started using GetResponse. It has some really nice features.

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