10 Best Tools Every Small Business Should Use

10 Best Tools Every Small Business Should Use

Tools help us to organise and manage work effectively and efficiently, and as many small businesses and entrepreneurs use them, there are an increasing amount available. From CRM systems and project management, to email marketing and workflow automation, there are hundreds of tools to choose from. So, how do we know which is best for the job? Here’s a quick guide to ten of the best tools every small business should use.

Project Management

  1. Asana – a tool that allows multiple teams to work on multiple projects. Tasks can be viewed as lists or scheduled into a calendar, and messages or updates to do with tasks are clear to see. Asana can email your team each day to remind them of their daily goals. Its intuitive interface makes it one of the most popular management tools in use.
  2. ClickUp – an effective tool for teams to collaborate on multiple projects. There are some cool features that make it different from Asana, such as being able to turn comments in to tasks to assign to others, plus its Forever Free plan means you can use it for unlimited projects and unlimited users.

Email Marketing

  1. MailChimp – with MailChimp, you can manage your email subscribers, set up auto-responders, send lead magnets, and split-test campaigns to see what works well. You can also create templates to save you time writing emails, plus it provides excellent real-time tracking of how people respond to your emails, such as who opens them, what links are clicked, who unsubscribes and what email addresses bounce. This popular email marketing platform has a free plan to get started with.
  2. InfusionSoft – this tool is great if you want everything that MailChimp does, but combined with some awesome customer relationship management (CRM) features. Use InfusionSoft to help convert leads into sales, segment your subscribers to send specific emails to different groups, and use the built-in ecommerce platform to sell to them directly.

Social Media

  1. Hootsuite – a useful tool that manages all your social media platforms in one place. You can pre-write and schedule your tweets and posts in advance, respond to new comments, see your feeds and new followers all within Hootsuite. This saves you hours of time going between social media platforms and makes it easy to engage with followers.

Files and Documents

  1. Google Drive – Google Drive makes it easy and convenient to share and store files. This cloud-storage platform means that anyone can view a file provided they have internet access and an invite. For business owners, you can allow team access so people can work in collaboration on documents and spreadsheets, and they are synced in real-time. That means that anytime someone views a file, it is always up-to-date. In addition to file sharing, it is also easy to connect with your team through chats and video using Google Meet.

Scheduling

  1. Calendly – an absolute time-saver when it comes to arranging meetings and calls, Calendly allows you to communicate your availability through a link, and customers or clients can book a call when it is convenient for them. This simple scheduling program syncs with your calendar, so you always know who is booked in and when. It also integrates with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The free version is ideal for one user, and the price is low for other plans with more features.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

  1. HubSpot –a marketing and sales platform that is full of features to help attract customers, sell to them, and turn them into repeat buyers. It has the tools ready to create a fantastic customer experience as they journey through the sales process and learn more about your brand. It includes features such as email marketing, advert software, website tools and a service hub where you can collaborate with your team. HubSpot is an all-in-one solution to scaling up a business.
  2. Zoho – this CRM platform is similar to HubSpot, however it is more streamlined in terms of features. For example, it does not have the team collaboration ability that HubSpot does, but not all business owners want an all-in-one solution. Although the CRM part of HubSpot is free, Zoho offers cheaper pricing plans overall.

Workflows

  1. Zapier – this platform allows for easy sharing of information between apps, helping to automate workflows. Connect two or more apps to create a ‘zap’, which then triggers more actions that you set, automating those repetitive tasks and saving you time. With over 3000 apps to choose from, there is not much that Zapier can’t connect!

Using the right tools for business is a must, as working efficiently saves you time and money. When you are not chasing to keep up, you can put your energy into developing and scaling your business further. If you are looking for advice on setting up systems to help you work smarter, or would like help to implement the right tools for your business, feel free to get in touch!

How Automation Tools Can Boost Your Business

How Automation Tools Can Boost Your Business

When you run a business, there are always ongoing jobs that take up precious time. It can be frustrating to spend hours on tasks that need doing, yet which don’t necessarily push your business forward, bring in money, or drive growth. Luckily, there are some ways to make life easier and free up more time to focus on other areas of your business, and that is by using automation tools. Here’s a quick guide to some business processes and workflows that can be automated, and some of the best tools to use.

Accounting

Even though we live in the digital era, accounting still uses many different processes and ways to gather information. It may involve data entry into numerous spreadsheets, electronic and paper invoices, filing, and using a calculator. But, using automation tools can save you time, eliminate human error, and give you the convenience of retrieving information whenever you need it. What’s more, many of the tools will merge seamlessly with your accounting software and can interact with one another. For example, payments that arrive through a gateway such as Stripe or PayPal can assimilate with accounting software, for an invoice or receipt to be created using a tool such as Zapier.

Not just for accounting, Zapier is a fantastic tool for connecting different apps and automating many business processes. It allows data to be shared from many apps you use, and passes information between them, so workflows become more streamlined.

Call Scheduling

Call scheduling tools make it easy for clients or people interested in your services to book a time slot for a call. It is then automatically added to a calendar so you can see exactly what is booked in on any day. This saves you time on sending correspondence via email to arrange appointments, and organising your diary.

Some of the best call scheduling tools are Calendly, ScheduleOnce, HubSpot and YouCanBook.me (I use this one), and most will also sync with Google apps such as Google Calendar and Gmail.

Social Media

Creating an engaged community around your business is an essential part of marketing, but posting on social media takes time. This is especially true if you have an audience on many different platforms. One great way to save time is to use social media scheduling tools. This means you can batch create posts and set them to be published at the best times of day to reach your audience, and it can be done in advance.

Tools such as Hootsuite can schedule posts across different platforms, and you can also reply to comments, see new followers and keep an eye on your timeline too. Other options include Social Sprout, Buffer and Later. The key features of many of these tools allow you manage multiple social media platforms from one place, saving time.

Lead Magnets and Email Marketing

When someone lands on your website, one of the best ways for them to become a customer or client is to offer them something, in return for their email address. Once you have a subscriber, you can then contact them directly with news of the services you provide. Lead magnets include useful resources, such as a planner or template, an eBook, a mini email course or taster coaching session.

Once you have your lead magnet created, it can automatically be sent once a website visitor has opted in. Every new subscriber will follow the same path, and receive a lead magnet and set of follow up emails over time, automatically. One of the most commonly used tools for this is MailChimp. Other options include ActiveCampaign, InfusionSoft and ConvertKit.

***

Using automation tools can be a great benefit to your business, and many are free to begin with. As your business grows, or you increase your use of the tools, you may need to upgrade to use additional features. When running a business, smooth workflows makes all the difference. If you want some helpful advice on how we can work together to streamline your processes, feel free to get in touch.

7 Time Management Tips For Coaches

7 Time Management Tips For Coaches

As a professional coach, you know how to get the best out of people. But how good are you at making the most of your own time on a day-to-day basis?

Whether you think you are good at managing your time, or know that you could do better, the tips outlined below will be helpful. Even if one of them leads to a small improvement in your daily time management, this post will have been all worthwhile.

1. Eliminate distractions

Before you can even begin to start managing your time more effectively, you have to eliminate all the daily distractions (no matter how big or small) that have a habit of consuming your time.

Whether it’s your phone alerting you to an instant message, your email program throwing up a new mail notification, or something less technology-related like a pile of boxes that need sorting in the corner of your home office, all of these things can distract you.

They even say that just having your phone in view can be distracting. So when you’re working on something important, switch your phone off and put it out of sight (and out of mind).

2. Track your time

Do you know exactly how you spend your time each day? Many coaches don’t. But how can you begin to manage your time better if you don’t even know where it’s going in the first place?

Fortunately, there are some great time-tracking apps to help you figure out what’s stealing your precious minutes and hours. Toggl, Clockify and RescueTime are all solid examples.

Alternatively, consider quickly scribbling down how many times you get distracted by someone (calling, messaging, etc.) or whenever you get sidetracked working on a random task.

The point is to record how you’re spending your time so you can identify time drains, take control of the situation and make positive changes.

3. Have a to-do list & prioritise

It might seem obvious, but having a simple to-do list can really improve your time management. With the tasks you need to complete each day set out in front of you, you’ll never be wondering what’s next.

But don’t just list all the tasks that need completing. Assign them a priority based on urgency and importance. Then, look to work on your high priority tasks when you are at your most effective (more on this in point number 5).

Create your to-do list the evening before for the best results. It allows you to hit the ground running in the morning and get stuck straight into your daily tasks.

The fact of the matter is a to-do list keeps you focussed and motivated, plus you get a little mental boost each time you tick a task off.

4. Focus on one task at a time

As a busy coach, it can be tempting to multi-task. After all, it’s an effective way to use your time, right? Not really.

If you have decided on a task, see it through to the end before starting a new one. Leaving a task half-finished will likely result in you being unable to concentrate and focus on the next task on your to-do list. That unfinished task will be constantly lingering somewhere in your mind, so try to avoid leaving something halfway through.

However, you should never get so engrossed in a task that you forget to take regular breaks. A nice way to avoid this happening is to use one of the various time management methods that are out there.

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular one and it basically involves spending 25 minutes working on a task without any interruptions or distractions. Then, have a 5-minute break before starting another 25 minutes on the task. Repeat this pattern until you have spent 100 minutes working on the task, at which point you should treat yourself to a longer break of 20-30 mins.

5. Hack your schedule

There will be times during the day when you know you are at your most productive or feel most energised. Take advantage of these times by using them to work on tasks that require more concentration and aren’t necessarily routine.

Maybe you are super productive first thing in the morning when the rest of your household is still asleep, or perhaps you’re more of a night owl who smashes it in the evenings. Whichever your preference, utilise it to your advantage. It’s all about arranging your day to achieve maximum efficiency wherever possible.

6. Set boundaries & learn how to say “no”

As a coach, you inevitably have multiple clients. Chances are that those clients are all pretty different too, meaning their expectations and preferences vary. The bottom line is the more clients you have, the smarter you need to be when it comes to managing your time.

That’s why it’s so important to set boundaries and learn how to say “no”. Never take on more than you can comfortably manage and be prepared to push back when a client’s requests could lead to your attention becoming consumed.

At the end of the day, there’s a big possibility that you created your own coaching business because you wanted to be your own boss and work on your terms. Don’t let assertive clients try and change that.

7. Delegate & outsource

You’re a coach, which means you spend your life getting the very best out of people. But how often do you listen to your own advice and teachings, especially when it comes to working smarter.

One of the best ways to work smarter is to spend your time on the tasks that afford the most value. So it makes sense to delegate anything that can be completed by someone else at less cost to your business, or tasks that are required but are simple, meaning they can be easily outsourced.

This will free up your time so you can focus on what you do best: bringing money in the door.

***

Not sure about delegating and outsourcing? Never done it before and aren’t sure just how easy it can be? Book a call with me today and I’ll be happy to show you.

Why You Should Consider Saying Goodbye to That Problem Client

Why You Should Consider Saying Goodbye to That Problem Client

When you first started your business, chances are you were keen to take on pretty much any client that came along — even if you weren’t 100% sure about them at the time. After all, you were more than likely still finding your feet and securing business gave you the confidence boost you needed.

But over the years as you and your business have grown, you will have come to realise that some clients just aren’t worth the hassle. And while you have now learnt how to spot potential problem clients before you take them on, you may still have a few whom you still work with.

The bottom line is that people and relationships change, and that’s fine. You just need to learn to know when to say goodbye and move on.

Now you might be thinking, why on earth would I want to actively get rid of a client, Jo!? And it’s a great question, which you’ll hopefully have the answer to by the end of this post.

Problem clients are restricting you and your business

Whether you realise it or not, problem clients are almost certainly restricting you and your business. That’s because more often than not you will be spending time satisfying their whims, instead of focussing on the stuff that matters to your business.

Then there’s the stress they cause you, which is sometimes reason enough to say goodbye. If there’s one thing that the recent coronavirus lockdown has taught me it’s that my mental health is more precious than I ever realised and it should be protected at all costs.

The problem for many entrepreneurs, freelancers and business owners though is that they hang on to problem clients because they are worried about how they will fill the financial hole that would be left if they got rid of them. I know this because it’s exactly how I felt until I finally took the plunge.

But once I’d politely informed a couple of my clients that I wanted to part ways with them, I felt a huge sense of relief and renewed determination. The best part is that I managed to secure a new client the very next day — some of that newfound determination shining through perhaps?

5 problem clients you should consider dumping

While a client can become a pain for all manner of reasons, here are the 5 main problematic traits that I and people in my professional network have come across:

Late payers

You know the ones. Those clients who always seem to have a reason for why they haven’t paid you yet this month, despite your agreed payment date having not changed for years. Clients who regularly pay you late disrupt your cash flow, cause you headaches and you simply do not need them.

Scope abusers

These are the clients who frequently expect you to do stuff outside of what you’ve agreed. For example, they’ll ask you to carry out a task, which you do, then they move the goalposts and assume you’ll be okay with that.

Confidence knockers

Having your confidence knocked in your personal life is bad enough. It’s even worse when it happens in your professional life too. Clients who constantly make you doubt your abilities and tell you where you are going wrong are not good. They’re not good for your business, your confidence or your sanity.

Wannabe bosses

There’s a good chance that you started your own business so you’d be the boss and not have to feel like an employee again. But this all changes when you’ve got a client who acts like they’re your manager. Remember, while you’re providing them with services, you are your own boss.

And clients you simply don’t get along with

As I’ve already mentioned, people and relationships change. If you find that you are simply no longer getting on with a client the way you used to, maybe it’s time to call it a day. There’s no point struggling along for either of your sakes. The connection will never be the same, unfortunately.

How to let your problem clients down gently

It’s never nice or easy sending a goodbye email or having a final telephone call, but it’s an inevitable part of business. To help you out and conclude this post, I’m going to give you a quick takeaway on how to let your problem clients down gently.

  • Give them plenty of notice — follow what’s laid out in your contract and give them as much time as possible to replace you. It’s going to be hard after all, right 😉
  • Stay professional — it’s never a good idea to burn bridges or make public any difference you had, especially in the business world. You never know when you might want a reference or similar.
  • Finish any outstanding tasks — don’t leave them in the lurch with a bunch of unfinished projects.
  • Refer them to someone else — maybe you have an associate who could help the client out. If they’re a better fit for the work or the individual, consider making an introduction.

Getting rid of problem clients might seem counterintuitive, but doing so can genuinely save your sanity, renew your sense of self-worth and end up strengthening your business going forward.

Social Media Time Savers for Business Success

Social Media Time Savers for Business Success

5 Simple Steps to Utilising Social Media
Without it Taking Over Your Life

No matter the size of your business, Social Media has become an integral part of its success. Whilst large companies have the finances to employ full-time social media managers, it’s not a luxury afforded by all. Small businesses, start-ups and freelancers are still responsible for managing their own social media presence and more often than not, the success of their business depends on it.

Using social media to your advantage and connecting with your market doesn’t need to be overwhelming, time-consuming or expensive. Following these simple steps can help your business succeed online without surrendering your life to social media.

Start With A Plan

As with all business models, the most important aspect is to have a strategy in place. By figuring out exactly what you are trying to achieve through your social media presence, you are better prepared to direct your time to the most useful tasks.

  • Set specific goals and objectives attainable, measurable goals based on metrics that will have a real impact on your business, like acquiring customers or increasing sales.
  • Research your competition. Save time and blunders by learning from your competitors mistakes and wins.
  • Conduct a social media audit. Step back and examine what is already working for you and what isn’t.
  • Create a social media calendar. Make sure that your content is where it should be, when it should be, with the right mix of content types for your audience.

Now that you know what you will be using social media for, you will be able to schedule how and when to use it in the most efficient ways.

Social media use is more than just posting content, you need to be engaging with your potential customers, too. Make a calendar or timesheet with allocations for creating content/graphics, scheduling, engagement etc.

Visual aids are great for reminding us to keep on task so make sure it’s physically noted in your to-do list or calendar and kept in view. You should set a specific amount of time to each part and you can even use a timer to make sure that you stay on track.

Choose the Right Platforms

It might seem like a good idea to be on all of the social media platforms, but if your target market isn’t there then you’re wasting your time. Your energy could be focused on another more profitable part of your business. It’s important to know where your target market is so that you can be there, too. This will result in less time spent making more profit.

Don’t assume you know where they are. It might seem obvious that Pinterest isn’t the best platform if your business sells bodybuilding supplements but you can use these handy social media demographics, put together by Hootsuite, to figure out where you should be.

Know Your Audience

As a small business or freelancer, you are able to micro-target your ideal clients via social media. This is a crucial part of your time spent on social media. Getting to know your audience allows you to create content which is specifically geared towards them and in return converts to more sales/customers and less wasted time.

Twitter and Research Now reported that 93% of people who follow small and medium-sized businesses on Twitter plan to buy from the businesses that they follow.

Quality Over Quantity

Trying to post on all of the social media platforms all of the time is a sure-fire way for your social media use to spiral out of control.

It’s much more time-effective, and successful for your business, to reach out to your audience in the places you already know they are present. Providing good quality content instead of spam builds a trustworthy brand and a well managed social media schedule.

Automation

The most effective means of social media use is to take advantage of the vast array of automated management tools. These are designed specifically to simplify your workload and mean that you can be posting on social media without actually being present on it.

There are countless different software options for this and they cover everything from scheduling content posting and centralising messages/mentions from all platform accounts, to curating content and creating in-depth analytic reports.

You may not yet be in the position to spend money on such programs but there are many free options available to you. Most of them have upgrade options for paid versions, too. If you decide to pay for them, you can include the rates in the bills for any clients that make use of them in your account. Some of them include –

  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • Later
  • Tweetdeck
  • VSCO
  • Canva
  • Google Analytics
  • Followerwonk
  • Social Oomph

Utilising these will allow you to allocate just one slot per day or week to your social media use instead of being stuck on it all the time.

If there is one thing to remember about social media though, it’s that:

Automation is no replacement for organic engagement.

Social media users are always looking for authenticity and connection. This is what will ultimately drive your business success on social media. Make sure that whatever else you automate, you include time in your plan to interact with your audience.

  • Respond to comments/messages
  • Comment on blog posts
  • Like other relevant groups/pages
  • Repin images on Pinterest
  • Mention/Tag on Instagram

Whilst engagement/interaction may seem like an easy thing to omit in order to spend less time on social media, it is actually the most important part! If you choose only one thing to implement from this list, make sure it’s engage-engage-engage!

Running a business is time-consuming enough, don’t let social media marketing take up all your valuable time or cause unnecessary stress. Try these steps and let me know in the comments if you have any other tips to share!

6 Top Tips for Working from Home

6 Top Tips for Working from Home

Help Family & Friends Understand You ARE Working!

Do you find yourself having to convince your family or friends that you are working from home and not just hanging around the house?

Is your use of Social Media platforms in your online business giving out the wrong impression to your family?

Working from home opens up a lot of freedom. In many instances you can set your own work hours, you can be more flexible with when to take breaks or time off, you are less likely to suffer work-related stress… or are you?

Working from home comes with its own unique set of problems. It’s really hard in the early days of freelancing, for your friends and family to recognise that it is a job and you are working.

You don’t leave for the office, you spend so much time on your phone/laptop, you are constantly on social media. Maybe your business is in its infancy and you don’t have a lot of income to back up your claims of working.

If you’re tired of the arduous attempts at making your family or friends recognise and value that you are working at home, then you need to implement some of these top tips.

Define the value of your work

Your spouse, partner, parent or friendly neighbour may not even realise that they are interrupting your workflow. If they see you at home, on your phone or even sitting down it may appear to them as an invitation for chit chat. Meanwhile, it breaks your concentration, infringes on your time and devalues the effort you are putting into your work.

Start by having a conversation with those closest to you about what exactly your work entails. Why are you on your phone? How is Social Media important for your business success? What exactly do you do for your clients and why it is important?

A simple but clear explanation of how you work will help them know that you are not as available as they first thought.

Involving your loved ones in setting your goals and celebrating work-related achievements will add substance and value to what may be a far stretched concept for them.

Set Clear Boundaries

As well as knowing exactly what you do in your work, your family also need to know what you need them to do.

Set very clear boundaries about your expectations of them and what they can expect from you. What days and times will you be available to them? Is your work flexible for interruptions? Having a routine in place where you take regular breaks around the same time will help enforce that you are working.

This is also true for you. It’s easy to get caught up with sneaking in some work time when you are supposed to be with family. Keep the connection time personal and they will more easily see and respect the difference between work time and free time.

Illustrate your Financial Gain

Often the worth of a project is defined by what you are gaining from it. If your family feel like they are losing out on time with you but are not yet gaining any financial benefit from your work, it can be difficult to get them on board.

Make a graphic illustration of your work earnings and pin it on the wall so that they can see what everyone is gaining. Is your income paying for football club, dance classes, that extra holiday week your spouse is taking off? Colour code it to make it clear for them.

Job Sheets and Client Tasks

Make a list of clients and the weekly tasks that must be completed for each of them. If confidentiality is an issue then you can give them colours, silly pictures or simply client numbers.

Pin it to the wall alongside your “Daily Tasks” board so that everyone, including you, knows exactly what needs to be done on any given day, in order to get paid.

Make a Schedule

So you already have a Daily Taskboard related to your work but is that enough for everyone to know how life and work can co-exist at home?

Make a schedule with your family showing when you are working, when household chores will be done, when you will be home but available to them, when extended family or friends are welcome to stop by.

You can include any categories that make it more structured and easy to follow. This is particularly helpful if you have kids at home so that they know when you will play or stop for lunch, when they can go out with you or when they need to entertain themselves.

As an added bonus, you could make it on a dry erase board so that you can change it on the fly. After all, working from home is supposed to be flexible.

No-Interruptions Code

Sometimes interruptions are just inevitable, especially if you have kids at home. You can set all the boundaries you want, but there need to be times when everyone knows it’s OK to break your flow.

Make a system that everyone understands as to when it is OK to come into your workspace. You could pin a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your office door, or wear a set of headphones to indicate that you do not want to chat with anyone. This sends a very clear message that you are not available.

If the door is closed they cannot enter unless the house is on fire or there is a medical emergency.

The door half open means you are busy but don’t mind brief interruptions to resolve issues – does your spouse need the credit card out of your drawer?

The door fully open means you are taking a short break or you don’t mind the kids popping in to show you what they’re up to.

Come up with your own system that everyone understands.

Dedicated Workspaces

Sitting on your phone or laptop on the sofa isn’t convincing anyone that you are hard at work, regardless if it’s the truth. Let’s face it, it probably isn’t getting you into the most productive frame of mind, either.

Having a dedicated workspace is invaluable. If you can manage to section it off from the rest of the shared space, even better. It affords you some privacy and sends a clear message to everyone else that you are ‘at work’ rather than at home.

If you’re not able to have a private room dedicated to your work, it’s worth having a back-up option for days that just aren’t flowing how you need them to.

We all have a vision of our perfect environment but sometimes neighbours are renovating, noisily, visitors flock to your door, or indeed your own kids are having a particularly rough or loud day.

Life is chaotic and in these times it’s helpful to have a backup location that you can disappear to, to carry out your work with less distraction. The local library, coffee shop, co-working space or spare keys to a relative’s empty house are all considerations.

Have you implemented any of these strategies? Are they working for you or have you come up with your own innovative techniques?

However you have made it work, everyone in the family now appreciates that you’re working. They all value the time and effort that you’re putting in, and you’re all clear on the boundaries when you’re busy. Great job!

If you’re looking for some tips on how to manage your time as a freelancer, take a look at my post ‘Freelancer? How Do You Manage Your Time?

Do you know any freelancing ninjas struggling to kick out the visitors and get their work done? Share this post with them and give them some stepping stones to success!