by Andrew C McElhannon, Owner, CPCS, Association Project Management
I recently started two home-based businesses, and one of my first concerns was keeping all my work organized, keeping my client database readily available, and would I be able to bill out all my work timely and accurately without any hiccups? So, I started researching office automation systems and, while there are many excellent choices out there, some were out of my price range for these new start-ups which hadn’t yet generated any substantial income to off-set the operating expenses. Instead, I chose one that had a low annual fee, but would still meet all my needs day-to-day.
Then, as I began doing the particular work I had set out to pursue with my businesses I began to find other applications which assisted me in streamlining the work while offering me the technological advances that put me ahead of competitors. They’re all super-easy to use, and several of them are even FREE! So, today I want to share them with you, because so many of you are looking for ways to make your new, entrepreneurial venture the best it can be, without having to be a computer whiz, and without breaking the bank.
I love Evernote. Since I discovered it about a year ago, I’ve begun using it extensively in my work, and just for fun too! I use it mostly with my cell phone, because I can dictate writing on the go, and then when I get back to my office, its already synced up on my laptop – I just have to edit it. Best of all – it’s a free download. Expanded levels of service do carry a subscription fee, but at most – $7.99 a month – it’s still paltry compared to other apps.
When you Google Evernote, it says: “Evernote: Get organized. Work smarter. Remember everything.” That pretty much says it all, but then the meta-tag goes on to say: “Organize your work and declutter your life. With Evernote on your desktop and mobile devices, your notes are always with you and always in sync.” That’s Evernote in a nutshell, but it does so much more: (and here’s a great article all about these points)
There are many other ways to record information, but perhaps really none as feature-rich and universally accessible as Evernote. There are tons of plugins for Evernote too, so you can pretty much mold it to your exact needs.
- It’s a Universal Inbox: Store Anything You Can Imagine in One Place
- It’s Digitizes Your Physical Notes and Backs Them Up in The Cloud
- It’s Great for Task/GTD (get this done) Management
- It Rocks for Note-Taking, Whether Simple or Detailed
- It Works as a Digital Reference System, Great for Research Work or Archiving Material
- It Allows for Multiple Special Notebooks
Others use Evernote to preserve their:
- Meeting notes
- Client/project notes
- Home contractor phone numbers
- Songs (chords, tablature, etc.)
- Technical knowledgebase
- Travel plans
- Motivational quotes
- Usernames and passwords (I might think twice about that)
- Important (e.g., kids’ medical) documents (another thinker)
- Bucket list
Those are the main reasons / ways many Lifehackers are using Evernote.
This is the one that I was telling you about in the beginning. Their positioning statement is: Chaos. Simplified. When you first begin planning your new venture, you will say to yourself more than once “How am I going to do all these tasks completely and consistently – every time?” Well, my friend, 17Hats is the answer for that. Apart from the catchy app name – which obviously comes from the feeling all business owners ultimately have of wearing many hats to get the job done – 17Hats will make you feel and look professional right out of the gate!
17hats is the ridiculously easy, complete system that helps automate, organize, and optimize small business management for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Honestly, it’s not as intuitive to use as I think it should be, but once you get the hang of navigating around the system to do what you need, it’s really quite the bomb! And, they have an excellent Knowledge Base with Tutorial videos, articles, and walk-throughs.
You can sign up for the Free starter account here, but you’ll want to invest the full $299 annual fee to really take advantage of everything 17Hats allows you to do:
- Get your Money – Their library of templates helps you customize Professional Invoices, E-signable contracts, Custom proposals, and with bank account or payment processing app (like Square) integration, you can collect money from clients electronically, instead of waiting for the US Postal Snail to deliver their check.
- Do less Work – Automate project processes, create a library of templates, and generate automatic payment reminders.
- Add more Clients – Create lead capture forms, client questionnaires, and new client notifications
- Keep it Clean – 17Hats offers a client dashboard, allows you to sync multiple email clients and calendars, has Time Tracking* and task lists, and the overview dashboard lets you view your daily priorities at a glance.
*The Time Tracking feature is especially handy if you need to get paid by the hour, and keep up with how much time you send on a project, or even individual project segments. You can even print out and attach time reports to itemize your invoices if you need to.
- Handle Scary Accounting – Super-simple bookkeeping tools, integration with QuickBooks online, Tax reports and P&L statements, and the ability to connect to over 200,000 financial institutions electronically!
- Stop Worrying – Access your account anytime, anywhere*, have Secure Data Protection, and none of your profile or account information is ever shared with 3rd parties by 17Hats!
*Some functionality of some of the features is not available on the phone app, but you can see most everything you’d want to do a “look-over” mobilly, if you wanted to.
You’ve probably seen this one advertised on TV. This free* app allows you to take the guesswork out of your mileage logging and reporting. No more scratching down the odometer mileage when you start or finish, or mapping the mileage on Google maps and doing the math – MileIQ does it all. Best of all, it just works in the background from your phone while you drive. No buttons to press to start or stop. Your miles are automatically logged and recorded creating a complete record of all your tax deductible and reimbursable mileage (Yes, you can pause it when you don’t want to record all your mileage).
- Tailored to fit your needs
- Detailed reports at your fingertips – or your printer
- A swipe classifies every drive – categorize which drives are business and which are personal
- Mileage reporting on any device – laptop, desktop or tablet
*Basic is Free and gives you logging for up to 40 drives every month – you can upgrade at any time; Two levels of Premium offer monthly or annual billing at a discount – $5.99 or $4.99 respectively, a 20% savings for annual, and unlimited drives are logged monthly; and there’s MileIQ for Teams of drivers featuring a volume discount, single billing, premium support and personalized training.
If you have been using other social networks in favor of Google Plus, your business could be missing out on some very important benefits.
In the last few years the network has undergone some major updates—including the way it helps businesses connect with customers and prospects.
Why Google Plus for business?
Like all social networks, Google Plus, also known as Google+, presents an opportunity to connect with a community of customers and fans. Unlike other networks, Google Plus has significant impact on SEO and search traffic volume. Here’s why you should pay attention:
- Local search results – Google Plus Pages for businesses are now managed through Google My Business, a platform that makes it easy for customers to find and connect with your company.
- Long-term SEO value – Google Plus remains a key part of organic search rankings and brand visibility. As SEMrush points out, “…the simple fact is that studies of SERP ranking factors continue to highlight the influence of Google My Business signals (and therefore Google Plus) have on your organic rankings.”
The lesson? It pays to sign up for Google My Business and optimize it for your target audience.
- Influence over potential buyers – Google Plus accounts are no longer required for customers to leave reviews. That means anyone that does business with you can share their experience. You can use business reviews as a way to get more credibility, increase your organic search ranking, and influence potential buyers to check you out over the competition.
- Resources at your disposal – In addition to Google Plus, you have a ton of other Google resources at your disposal—Communities, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Hangouts, AdWords—all intended to help you maximize your marketing strategy.
- Community engagement – By strategically organizing your connections on Google Plus, you can segment key audiences and share relevant content. It’s a great opportunity to get +1s, re-shares, and replies. A study conducted by HubSpot showed that sites using the +1 button get 3.5 times more visits on Google Plus. This is a great opportunity for you to join the discussion or get engagement on your own content.
Ripl (pronounced “ripple”) is Social Media marketing for small business. Create eye-catching animated videos that help your business stand out on social media and improve customer awareness. Its FREE (yes, there’s a paid version with more features), and works really well with Facebook.
Social media has exploded with businesses and brands posting an ever-increasing amount of new content every day. However, certain kinds of posts work better than others. Research shows that compelling animated video posts provoke the best engagement rate (likes, followers, re-sharing, etc.) and customer response. This leads to more customer loyalty, stronger customer advocacy and more new customers over time.
Small business owners also need a compelling brand identity and online customer engagement in order to compete, grow and thrive. Your customers will tell your story best… if you provide them a memorable story to share and make it easy for them to show their love!
Ripl is the mobile app designed to help you do just that. The Ripl app is simple, quick and intuitive because business tools should do the work for you, not make more work for you.
I LOVE Flyp, because I do independent contract work for clients all over the Southeast, and when I need to have a local phone number (and you do, because you know clients you call at least screen numbers by caller ID before answering, and if it’s not local, it must be a pesky “sales call”, right?) Flyp gives me as many as I need for business – and on the cheap!
Flyp gives you the highest quality calling and texting from multiple phone numbers, all from your personal device. No more unreliable Wi-Fi calling. What are you waiting for? Flyp is so-o-o inexpensive – Flyp has simple, modern pricing that we can all understand. Right now, Flyp is offering a 7-day free trial on your first Flyp number, and each Flyp number is only $7.99/month or $79.99/year!!
- Unlimited calling
- Unlimited texting
- Customize your voicemail
- Choose your area code
This app makes a great “Wine and Cheese”-type pairing with MileIQ. Especially if you’re on the road a lot with your business. Not only does it turn your phone or tablet into a portable .pdf scanner – great for saving all those meal and hotel receipts – it’s un-promoted feature of saving on Chiropractic bills as well is a life saver!: No more riding mile after mile on a wallet full of receipts – Guys, you know what I’m talkin’ about. ‘Nuff said.
One of the most impressive Free apps out there today, Prezi (short for Presentation) takes PowerPoint to the next level with cool animation and easy shareability. The presentation software uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life and make you a great presenter. Customizable templates let you create dynamic, individualized presentations. You put in your text and images and then choose a color scheme, theme and filters. Prezi is free if you don’t mind sharing your presentations with its online community or $5 a month if you want to keep them private.
Hootsuite is a Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard, allowing you to Manage all your social media in one place. From finding prospects to serving customers, Hootsuite helps you do more with your social media. The basic Premise is this: Save time by managing all of your social media marketing efforts from a single dashboard. With Hootsuite’s platform, you get the tools to manage all your social profiles and automatically find and schedule effective social content.
Features include Scheduling of Social Media Posts, Content Curation, Analytics, Monitoring, Team Management, Contests, Security of your brand, and Apps and Integrations with over 250 best-of-breed technology partners in the Social Media ecosystem.
Plans start Free for 1 user with 3 social profiles (i.e.- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and go up from $19 a-month for 1 user with 10 social profiles to customized pricing after breaching the Team ($99 mo. – 3/20) or Business ($499 mo. – 5-10/50) levels.
Guys and Gals – if you’re doing Social Media marketing on any level for your entrepreneurial, new or existing business – You need to be using Hootsuite. Period.
In addition to Hootsuite, you’ve probably heard of MailChimp but don’t know anything about it.
MailChimp is relatively new to me as well, as far as actually using it, but I am rapidly growing to love what this application does for one of my businesses – and does it for Free!
If you’ve been looking for Automation Software to do email marketing for your business – almost hands-free after setup – and you just can’t bring yourself to stroke a 4-digit check for Infusionsoft, then MailChimp (or another of your choosing) is for you.
Don’t get me wrong – Infusionsoft may be just what you’re looking for in your business, especially if you have more than 2,500 contacts and you send more than 12,500 emails (That’s 5 emails per contact, not individual emails) each month to market to them. I’m not there yet. If you need a system that does that for you, then I’d suggest you do your research – and start here. It’s as good a place as any I’ve seen.
Here’s why I chose MailChimp: It does the functions I want it to do for me in my email marketing / client follow-up processes, and I’m using the Free version to accomplish that, plus I ordered this step-by-step setup guidebook on Amazon for $10. That’s it, basically. The other thing I like about it, is it’s expandable – or, scalable – a new term I picked up this year – meaning it grows with my business with other features it already has that I may not be using yet.
MailChimp provides marketing automation for e-commerce businesses. It allows you to send beautiful emails on an automated schedule, if you like, connect your e-commerce store, advertise, and build your brand. Millions of people and businesses around the world use MailChimp, which has been around since 2001. The company started as a side project funded by various web-development jobs. Now they’re the world’s leading marketing automation platform, and they send more than a billion emails a day. They democratize technology for small businesses, creating innovative products that empower their customers – you and I – to grow.
MailChimp’s robust marketing automation makes sure your emails get to the right people at the right time. Target customers based on behavior, preferences, and previous sales. Trigger a series of emails with a single API (if “this”, then “that”) request. Use the built-in segmentation to build custom rules. Delight your fans with a free gift. And when you’re finished, get in-depth reporting insights to make every automated series you send better than the last.
Marketing automation is like a second brain for your business, a brain that automatically helps you find and connect with your audience so you can build your brand and sell more stuff. Activating your MailChimp brain is free and easy. Explore 10 of the most powerful automations that handle the marketing stuff so you can focus on the rest of your business. Then, Sign up for MailChimp. You’re Welcome.
Well, that’s it. It’s a pretty comprhensive list, and if you are in small business, you should be using at least 3 of these regularly – if not all 10 – there’s something here for everyone. If I can ever answer any questions about these, feel free to reach out to me. I’m not a professional with any of these by any stretch, but we can find an answer for you. Most all of these have fairly comprehensive knowledge bases on their product websites, or a hotline # we can call. We’ll get you there.