5 Types of Tools Every Solopreneur Should Master to be Successful
As a solopreneur, it’s important that we use our time as efficiently as possible. Times have changed and it’s important to recognize that technology plays a huge role in the success of any business; big or small.
Luckily, this new digital age we’re living in provides a multitude of options to help us simplify our lives as well as run our business smoothly and effectively.
As a result, small business owners are likely to find they have more time to work on projects they have been putting off because they didn’t think they had any more room on their plate.
Master the tools below and learn how today’s technology makes it super simple to share files, communicate and collaborate better with your clients, while also increasing productivity and organization.
Those of you who know me know that I really love Evernote. It’s one of my all-time favorite tools for a lot of reasons; one reason being how it works perfectly with other digital tools like IFTTT (stands for ‘if this, then that’) and Zapier (think of Zapier as the older, more sophisticated half-brother of IFTTT).
When you sign up for IFTTT or Zapier, you’ll have access to hundreds of “automation recipes” that you’ll be able to implement right away. This will immediately free up time to work on important projects you’ve been putting off or just give you free time to spend with family and friends.
Have you been trying to spend less time on social media sites like Facebook or Pinterest? Rescue Time may be just what you need. This tool attempts to understand your daily habits so that you can focus and be more productive. Once you download and install the tracker on your computer it will monitor almost everything you do and then provide detailed information based on websites you visited during any particular period of time. One feature I particularly like is the goal setting options for each day. Rescue time lets me know immediately when I reach my goal (example goal: spend a maximum of 2 hours on Facebook daily) or if I miss it. You also have the option to receive a weekly status report via email detailing online activities.
The free plan is packed with features but the pro-plan takes it a step further by offering the ability to block certain sites and the ability to track off-line activity by logging it manually.
One of the most important tools that a solopreneur can use to increase their productivity is an online calendar and appointment system. Most people use the calendars that come pre-installed on their computer systems or a calendar that is widely available such as Google Calendar or Outlook. When it comes to scheduling systems, there are several free or low cost options available for you to choose from. Google calendar use to offer a feature called “Appointments” that gave you the option of publishing your availability and allowing others to schedule time with you. To my knowledge, that feature is no longer available. The best scheduling system will be web based and integrate with your main calendar so that you can easily see your schedule at a glance on any of your devices (cell phone, tablet, etc.). The system should allow you to block out times of availability so that there is no back and forward when trying to schedule a meeting with a client whether online, in person or over the phone. I chose Time Trade. I’ve been perfectly satisfied with the free plan which is fully automated and also includes a scheduling tab for your Facebook page. When someone requests an appointment, I receive an email with all the details and then I decide to accept or not. There is also a business plan that comes with a few more features.
17Hats is another great tool I discovered a few months ago. At first, I had a hard time deciding which section to add this tool to, but the more I think about it, I think it’s definitely a productivity tool. Actually, it’s an “all-in-one” business system for entrepreneurs. 17Hats manages the entire client booking process, including sending quotes and invoices, scheduling appointments and managing projects.
Project Management Tools
Every solopreneur, should have a solid strategy in place to keep track of client projects, as well as, monitor your progress toward reaching your goals. For a long time, small-business owners had very few options when it came to project management software. Now that anything and everything can be saved to the cloud, small business owners have lots of great options to choose from. Project management tools will help you keep track of all your projects including client deliverables, important milestones, and documents, as well as keep track of your daily tasks.
Project management software like Basecamp and Teamwork offer extra ‘perks’ like discussion boards, detailed reports, tracking of file uploads and more. These tools make it easy to stay on point with deadlines and keep track of who does what with your project.
Screencasting is not something everyone is familiar with but lately I’ve discovered that it can be a very useful project management tool when used correctly. Basically, a screencast is the recording of your computer screen usually with voice narration. Record formal presentations, tutorials for your client or assistant, walk your client through an idea, or prepare a video status update on your project so that everybody is on the same page.
There are lots of options available to choose from. From the free, easy to use Screencast-o-matic to the fancy, well known Camtasia. Lots of great options in between. The all have their pros and cons, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Social Media and Blogging Tools
There are several tools available to help you manage your blog as well as your social media profiles. This feature is especially useful to solopreneurs who don’t have a marketing department to back them and follow-up with leads.
If you have been reading my blog or you are/were a client of mine, you know I am a die-hard fan of automation tools. I don’t think everything needs to be automated, of course, but I do believe routine social media updates could be scheduled using tools like Buffer, HootSuite or Gremln which would free up more time for you to focus on other critical aspects of your business. You could also outsource this task to a virtual assistant (VA’s) who specializes in social media marketing.
Marketing automation is a type of technology used to automate and measure marketing tasks. Marketing automation is becoming more and more prevalent among email marketing services such as MailChimp or Convert Kit. Automated emails can deliver specific information to your subscriber right when they need it. One way solopreneurs can use this type of automation is when creating eCourses.
Automation can also help you with maintaining your blog. Install the free editorial calendar plug-in and once installed, using the ‘drag n drop’ feature you can easily schedule your blog posts any way you choose and forget about it. The plug-in takes care of the rest.
With the right tools, you can make sure your content always stays in front of your target audience. By installing the free, Revive Old Post plug-in you can create custom schedules for all of your posts. Your posts are continuously recycled so that your older posts stay in the spotlight just as much as your newer ones. Include a personalized hashtag on your posts to make it even easier to track. You have the option to choose time between posts, choose the max number of posts and more. The Pro version of this plug-in offers even more functionality.
In addition to the Revive Old Post plug-in, use your accounts at HootSuite, Gremln and at IFTTT to make it super easy to announce new posts on all your social media profiles simultaneously. If you haven’t signed up for your free IFTTT account, make that your next priority. IFTTT is an amazing tool that deserves its own post. Click here to read my post on using IFTTT. Then hurry on over to get your free account.
File Sharing and Communication Tools
You will need a reliable and secure way to easily share files with your assistant and/or your clients.
You have a few options to choose from, including Drop Box, One Drive, Box or Google Drive. Each of these tools are free and comes with at least 5 gigabytes of free storage “in the cloud”. If you have an Evernote account, you can also share one or more of your notebooks with your assistant, as well clients. Create individual notebooks for each client and easily share the content by sending a simple URL. This process for sharing is pretty similar for any other cloud storage you choose.
You also need a reliable way to communicate with your assistant and clients. There’s no shortage of chat plugins available — Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack, to name a few. I’ve tried several tools and they each have their pros and cons. If you choose to use Google Hangouts for your client meetings, or meetings with your assistant, you will have a few unique options like sharing your screen and interactive content along with a few more bells & whistles. You should experiment with each option to determine what works best for you and your clients.
I’m all for outsourcing. It’s no longer just for big corporations. Almost any business could probably benefit from outsourcing at one time or another. My advice is to clearly identify your goals and expectations before you decide on a candidate. It’s possible to hire an assistant for as low as $3/per hour. However, some virtual assistants charge as much as $100/per hour or higher. The more ‘specialized’ the duties you need help with, the more you’ll pay. Upwork is a popular site for finding virtual assistants. You can also check out the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA).
Look at it this way: if you need help with simple tasks like internet research or mass mailings — try using the overseas option (cheap). For the more complex tasks, like helping you launch a new product or service, you should definitely consider a VA with specialized experience in that area.
Sometimes a VA isn’t exactly what you need. Maybe you need someone local to handle personal tasks like picking up your dry cleaning from the cleaner or standing in line to get those Beyonce tickets.
There’s an app for that! If you have a smart phone or iPad or anything that connects to the Internet, you can hire someone who can get you what you need. Start off by trying TaskRabbit to find someone locally to handle your ‘chores’.
Some new business owners try to ‘wear all the hats’ in their business in an attempt to save money. Taking that route usually results in disappointment.
I’ve had a several clients who realized in the long run that hiring a VA to handle their email campaigns or a professional to create their website, may not have been a bad idea after all.
What do you think?
Originally published at www.virtualshelley.com on August 20, 2016.