Recently I have been approached by quite a few other people interested in starting their own businesses. I say…GO FOR IT! Whether you want to start your own organizing business or kitchen design business, I’ve learned to use a few basic tools over the last few years that have become a critical piece of my solopreneur sanity. Just a word of caution before we begin though - tech tools can control us if we don’t control them.
Digital Devices: Tools or Masters?
Do you check your phone every time it dings? Technology can interrupt the tasks essential to running your own business. Ask yourself: Are you obsessed with your tech? Is your device controlling you? Establish yourself some protocols about when you will check email, social media, notifications, etc. You could also follow the advice of Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain’s method and have a “Tech Shabbat” on a set day each week. That means no screens at all for 24 hours: no phones, no computers, no tablets, and no televisions! And guess what - your business will survive.
There are so many apps and services out there, it can be hard to choose one and stick to it when it comes to being productive and getting (and staying) organized. In general, I prefer cloud-based services so I can access my information from my computer or a mobile device. Here are a few I use to great effect:
Evernote - I use Evernote to keep track of active client and project information. You can use it for things like:
Client or project notes and photos
Collaborating with other on shared projects
Keeping track of receipts with your accountant or bookkeeper
Dropbox - Dropbox is a cloud-based services for accessing your files from almost any device, wherever you have Internet. I use it as a file repository to share with my virtual assistant and accountant; you can use it for all sorts of things, like:
Photos to share with friends and family
Final versions of documents (such as DOCs or PDFs) with people you collaborate with
Access to any file on the go, from devices like smartphones and tablets
Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 - There are two versions of this scanner - one ‘regular’ and an Evernote Edition. Both are great for going paperless and getting all those piles of papers around the office organized. (In truth though, as much as I love Evernote - I did NOT go for this version. I want the flexibility to send my scans other places, too. The Evernote edition doesn't have this function turned on by default; you have to enable the option to save a copy elsewhere to edit. This means when you do want to scan to Evernote, you have to go back into the ScanSnap preferences and turn the option off again)
Regardless of which version you use, the ScanSnap is great for:
Keeping track of your expenses; you can easily scan receipts and put them in a dedicated Evernote notebook just for this purpose!
Scanning business cards of people you meet— keep track of everyone you network with, along with when, how, and where you met them
Photos — don’t let your old photos linger in boxes only to get wrinkled, warped, or faded.
Other client and project documents — anything paper can be scanned and turned into an instantly-available, searchable, and shareable document anywhere you can access Evernote.
To Do Lists
Part of being productive means keeping track of what you have to do and when. For that, there are a number of apps and services available. Personally, I use iCloud’s Reminders app, which syncs your lists and to-dos between all your Apple devices like iPhones and Macs. You can create multiple lists to better organize your tasks and check them off as you go.
Other folks use services like Workflowy; I personally know people who love this one. Workflowy says it's a “notebook for lists.”
Another option is Wunderlist, a collaborative to-do list platform to help a team of people get things done. In 2015, Wunderlist joined Microsoft; its apps continue to work on the web, on iOS and Android mobile devices, and Windows Phones. Their Mac version won the “App of the Year” award in 2013.
And if I fail to mention Todoist, then I just wouldn’t be cool. This is a favorite of many people I know, too.
Sometimes your projects are more complex than what a list can truly capture. For those, you can use tools like Asana, which I’ve used for virtual project management. Asana lets teams have lists organized by members of a given group, conversations, and progress tracking.
If you have to keep track of a budget or other financial concerns, you can use accounting tools like Intuit’s QuickBooks Online. Other popular options include Fresh Books, geared especially for small businesses, and HubDoc or FileThis for organizing your financial statements and making sure you stay on top of payment deadlines. (FileThis is great - it automatically downloads all your bills, statements, etc. into Dropbox for you…goodbye email!)
Small businesses need to market themselves, or else they’ll die. You can use tools like MailChimp for sending out periodic newsletters, or Wufoo, which lets you build online forms (including things like contact forms, surveys, and invitations) and then easily sort through the data. Then, stay on top of your social media profiles (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn) with tools like Hootsuite for making cross-posting on a regular basis easy.
These digital tools assume you’re using a computer and/or a tablet or smartphone. In order to use them effectively though, you’ve got to keep your device organized and healthy. Here are a few great tools for keeping your digital house in order:
MacPaw’s CleanMyMac - You can maintain the health of your Mac with this easy-to-use tool. It can find trash cans you’ve forgotten to empty (when was the last time you emptied your Photos app trash?), outdated iTunes Library files, Mail attachments you don’t need anymore, and more. Just make sure you review what it finds before you delete it for good!
Unroll.me - Save time on your email with this handy tool that “rolls up” your emails into one convenient digest, and lets you quickly and easily unsubscribe from those mass-marketing emails you never read. Another great email tool is Mailstrom, which groups messages in your inbox by Sender, People I’ve Emailed, Subject, emails you can easily Unsubscribe from, Time Received, Social Media, Shopping sites, and Size. You can delete or archive messages in bulk, or even reply, “chill” messages for later, or “expire” messages by only keeping them for a set period of time.
LastPass - Are you still using the same password for every website you sign up for? Do you write your passwords down in a little notebook or pad of paper— and then lose track of it? Use LastPass to save and fill passwords on sites for you. It works on the web, plus mobile devices, and is available for free, with Premium and Enterprise subscription options with more features. If you’re looking for a one-time purchase for multiple computers (Windows or Mac) or a subscription for your family, check 1Password, which has a one-time purchase for all desktop apps, plus a reasonable cost for their mobile apps.
Backblaze - Back up your data. No, really. BACK UP YOUR DATA! It’s not enough to have your important files “on the cloud,” online somewhere where you can access it even if your computer or mobile device is lost, stolen, or damaged in any way. You need a backup— preferably an offsite one like Backblaze. That way, if your onsite backup option (because you’re using one of those too, right?) falls through for whatever reason, you can either download the files you need to get you back on your feet, or order a hard drive with everything on it. It runs in the background and excludes what you select so you only have to worry about the backup if and when you need it.
UberConference - Screen sharing is a pain. What works for one person might not work for another. Options can be expensive and confusing. Enter UberConference, which is the PIN-free option that lets you share screens, always know who’s talking, and even have conference calls through your mobile device. Quick heads up on this: it won’t run on Safari. Chrome is the best for this service.
Google Apps - I’m referring to Google Apps here, but what I really mean is Google’s offering of services, including Gmail for Mail. It’s integrated with Google Calendars, Tasks, Hangouts, Drive (another kind of cloud storage), and Docs/Sheets/Forms/Slides (an online, collaborative office suite). It’s easy to send information from one service to the other so nothing is ever hard to find or out of place.
Appointlet is an online appointment-scheduling app for Google Calendar, for customers that need to book your services. Connect your existing Google Calendar and Appointlet will immediately identify when you’re busy. Appointlet sends automatic and customizable reminders to your clients. Collect payments when clients books appointments. Appointlet can be added to your website, emails, or social media profiles. Plans start at $10 per month.
I hope this info can be helpful! Let me know how your business set-up goes. And of course, I’m happy to help you at any time, too. I’m not a business coach, but I have already skinned my knees learning these tools, so I’m happy to share my knowledge.