In this article, I’m going to share the tools I use to help in the day to day operations of my business.
Whether you’re just getting started or you have some time under your belt, you know there are a lot of tasks to running a business. Sometimes things are forgotten or you’re glancing at your bank account thinking that’s good bookkeeping, or worse, you’re still writing passwords into a notebook (yikes!). Let’s look at some tools that you should start using to streamline your business practices.
Let’s start with that password notebook… toss it! No wait! Not literally. Once you get started with a password manager and input all of your passwords into it, then shred and burn that notebook. A password manager takes all of your login credentials and puts them into one, organized place. It then hides all of them behind one master password, the only one you need to memorize. When you are creating an account with a new website, the password manager will also help in creating a password. Not iLoveCoffee, that’s a terrible. It’ll create one of those 18 character alphanumeric monstrosities you’ll never remember. And that’s the point. You’ll save it with your username and the login URL of the website in the manager. When you return to the site and need to call up your credentials, you’ll simply open the app with your master password, copy the password you need, and paste it into the form. Voila! You’re logged in.
There are a handful of password managers out there, but I recommend LastPass. It is easy to use, keeps my logins organized, and even provides a secure place to keep sensitive notes.
Let’s face it, keeping the books is not fun (unless you’re a bookkeeper). Receipts get lost, bills are forgotten, and you have no idea where your money is going. Not to mention, you have nothing ready when tax time comes making it difficult to file them. It would be nice if we could all afford a bookkeeper when starting out, but often small business owners need to don the bookkeeping hat and get down to it. There are a lot of solutions out there and I recommend consulting your accountant first. Quickbooks and Xero are the heavyweight champions, but when starting out you might be able to get away with something a little smaller and more simplistic.
I recommend starting with FreshBooks. It is hosted securely online, so you’ll have access to your books no matter where you are. It allows you to scan in or save receipts and attach them to transactions and they even have an invoice system to easily send to customers which can be paid online.
Email & Document Hosting
In this day and age, mostly everything is done online. A lot of customer communication is handled over email and using a good system for that is essential. One thing that is equally important is moving your communication away from personal email addresses and using a professional email specific to your business. On the same note, keeping all of your documents in a central location can be difficult. Especially when it comes to producing those documents in a word processor or spreadsheet that you can’t access unless you’re sitting at your desk. Well, there is a solution that can handle it all!
Enter, G Suite. This is a product from Google and for a low monthly fee, you get email, cloud storage, document producing apps, calendars, and plenty more. For some reason I didn’t sign up for this when starting my business, but I wish I had. You should and you won’t regret it.
Thought Organization & Task Management
There are times when you need to get your ideas or thoughts down on paper to help you plan. Wrapping your head around your operations can sometimes make you dizzy. Having standard operating procedures in place is important, but maybe you don’t have them written down or you need to refine them. Or maybe you have a new product, service, or even a blog idea you need to hash out before getting started. That’s where these next two tools really shine!
Trello is a vision board, brainstorming tool, task manager, project manager… you name it tool all wrapped into one awesome interface. Starting with a virtual board, cards are created under categorized lists. The cards can be dragged and dropped from each list. For example, I often have To Do, In Progress, and Complete lists that I drop task cards into as I move along the project. Each card can be further customized with comments, attachments, checklists, and due dates. It is an amazing tool and I cannot recommend it enough.
The next handy tool for this category is Dynalist.io. As the name suggests, it is a dynamic listing tool. Basically you can create ordered, bulleted lists with nested items. Its interface is very minimal and clean, allowing for maximum efficiency in creating organized lists. The lists and bullets can all be minimized or expanded as you create longer and longer lists. There are also many formatting options, each with keyboard shortcuts.
Customer Relationship Management & Email Marketing
I combined this category because CRM and email marketing go hand in hand. Some tools even offer both in one convenient package. A good CRM will help you in organizing your customers, their information, and your communication with them. It will also help you handle your current projects with your customers and where you are with them in the project timeline. Some CRM services will even help with automating your processes and communication. It is essential to keep track of your leads, current and past customers.
The big daddy CRM that I recommend is ActiveCampaign. It will actually handle marketing including email, sales, communication, automations, and really everything you need out of a CRM. However, this one may be overkill if you’re getting started and don’t need something so heavy. In this case, I recommend Capsule CRM. Capsule is light weight and offers a lot of features and functionality in their beginning, free tier. It may not have big automations or email marketing services, but it can definitely help in handling all that customer data and your projects.
Email marketing is one of the best and most basic ways to promote your business. It is also important for current or past clients in that it keeps your business top of mind, especially if you offer ongoing services or upgrades. A consistent email campaign will help not only communicate your brand, but can also add value if you tie in blog posts or shared articles that might interest your customers. Its the gift that keeps on giving to your business.
There are many services out there that can help with email marketing, but a great one to get started with is MailChimp. MailChimp helps you build professional looking emails and automate your campaigns. You may find you like it so much and its powerful enough that it will grow right along with you.
Besides email marketing and social media, blogging is a great way to further promote your business and drive traffic to your website. While blogging about your business and what you do is great, your website is actually for your customers. Try blogging topics that will interest and help your targeted niche. Link an article on social media and the traffic to your website will most certainly increase. A good blogging tool will allow you to write your articles within the system, have formatting tools, and allow you to schedule your posts.
The best way to handle your blog content is through WordPress. It not only runs your website, but it displays your blog like a champ. In fact, WordPress started as a blogging platform and has since scaled to the largest content management system hosting 31% of the web as of this writing. This website and blog is proudly run on WordPress.
Now go after the world!
These tools will most certainly help you and your day to day operations with your business. They’ve helped me immensely and continue to do so every day. I hope to one day hear that these tools have helped your business grow exponentially. If you have some tools you’ve been using, which tools have you used and recommend?