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10 Small Business Items that I Can’t Live Without

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Small Business Items I Can't Live Without

Everyone has their workflow and hot shot list of go-to applications, short cuts and processes to accomplishing daily tasks. Some work better than others and over time you develop your best practices list. These 10 small business items that I can’t live without have truly been the keystone to my professional clarity, customer service and process management as a small business owner.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without

My number #1 response to “I Don’t Know How You Do It” is “Use your resources.” Putting available technology to work is a key element to staying sane and organized, both personally and professionally. Your tools should be effectively removing some work burden from your immediate plate. Any tool that takes you one step closer to efficiency in your workflow is a keeper. Having said that, don’t go crazy with too many tools. There are so many available applications out there, it’s easy to get lost in all of them and that effective efficiency turns backward into time wasted. Identify your star players and stick to them (as long as they continue to work well for you).

Here are my go-to, must haves for my small business ventures.

1. IssueTrak: I am very proud to work for this company. Not only because the leadership and values line up with my own standards and ambitions, but because the software they produce has single-handedly streamlined the workflow at The Studio Hampton Roads. This product allows me to see the big picture as it relates to open bookings, report on overall activity, keep track of customer progress and itemize a task list that follows our policies and procedures. No more “I have to remember to send so-and-so an email on Thursday” or “So-and-so hasn’t submitted their contract.” I know exactly where I am in the transaction with each individual client. I can keep notes on bookings, attach important documents, and store key files that both myself and my partner can access at our computers and on-the-go. When we were managing over 30 bookings at one time…I seriously thanked baby Jesus that I had IssueTrak. Without it, our organization, consistency and ultimately the care of our clients and studio would have suffered significantly. Anyone looking for software that can streamline your business operations, track your customer support or specifically define your workflow…you need to start here.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - IssueTrak
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - IssueTrak

2. Google Calendar: Seriously. I would die. A million painful deaths. It is my lifeline. It’s color-coded, jam packed with reminders and pop ups and I can share calendars with family, friends, business partners, etc. as needed. We even use Google calendar to populate the calendar on The Studio Hampton Roads’ website. One stop shop for entering bookings and knowing it is translating to both of our personal calendars and the website. It coordinates with my Gmail, my Google + profile and events, and is extremely mobile-friendly.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Google Calendar

3. Google Drive: This is another big win for small business partnerships where work is done remotely and not in an office setting. I’m able to create and share spreadsheets, documents, forms and other presentations that can be modified by multiple parties from multiple locations. Files can be accessed from anywhere, on mobile, and our most important stats and legal docs are filed away safely for easy access and attachment to correspondence as needed.

4. Dropbox: This might seem out of place given I just sang Google Drive’s praises, but for me, I like to have my daily docs for business ops in Google in a specifically organized fashion, and then save Dropbox for when I’m passing temporary files to other vendors or peer relationships for download. This is especially handy for passing raw image files for processing and to deliver edited images to vendor contacts. I upload to Dropbox, they grab, I delete. Dropbox can also be accessed from mobile devices, which is super handy, especially when using in tandem with others apps, like IFTTT and Instagram.

5. Hootsuite/Hootlet: This program already got a shout out in Small Business: Social Media Scheduling, but it deserves another shout out here. If you have a small business of any kind these days, you have to run an effective social media marketing campaign. And if you’re running a social media marketing campaign, you absolutely must have a scheduling tool that allows you to organize and execute your strategy ahead of time so that you are not chained to your social media profiles 24/7. Hootsuite is that tool for me. I can schedule posts hours, days, weeks, even months in advance and then walk away. The Hootlet allows me to share instantly when I come across awesome content, so it gives me the option of that real time engagement in a quick and easy fashion.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Hootsuite and Hootlet

6. Blogstomp: You’ve probably never heard of it and you need it. From a photographer perspective, it is an absolute must-have. But bloggers and other small business owners can get great mileage from it as well, depending on your needs. You are able to batch brand images with your logo, designing custom frames, stomp images together and share on social media. It allows me to beautifully brand images quickly and consistently.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Blogstomp - Kathryn Blevins Photography
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Blogstomp - Kathryn Blevins Photography

7. Canva: This program is amazing. It allows me to make all of my pinnable graphics for blog posts, social media headers, and any other image with text or design that I may need. With about a million free options to add graphics, text, pictures and use pre-made, fully customizable templates, the creative opportunities in the free mode are virtually endless. It saves and downloads the finished files, which can be easily uploaded as image files to my blog, and also keeps them in my account for future edits, so I can keep my style similar across the board.

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Canva

8. Pixifi: Major business operational win, right here. Pixifi has allowed us to automate almost the entire client experience with customizable client portals, invoicing that links with PayPal (woot! woot! another small biz win!), and can even link events/bookings with our Google Calendar (yay! friendly app!). Our clients can choose their package and sign their contracts online, and we can track their progress and our overall financial standing with very little effort, even down to what we should be reporting on our taxes! We were able to connect with a fabulous custom profile designer who built out all of our contracts, questionnaires and pricing pages for each of our individual brands. With a little bit of training, a perfected and finished product was handed over to us and we were off and running!

Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Pixifi
Small Business Items I Can't Live Without - Pixifi

9. A Good Accountant: This one really should go without saying, but it’s the one very important element that many small business owners totally overlook. With today’s technology and so many programs claiming that you can manage taxes yourself, it’s easy to think you’ve got it handled. In reality, most of the time you’re doing it wrong and the only person that’s costing money is you. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold. We are confident knowing our business is well-managed, profitable and legal, and at peace knowing our finances are working in our favor. Don’t make the mistake of not seeking professional help here.

10. A Good Lawyer: Another glaringly obvious, no-brainer that often gets tabled in the name of a thin pocketbook. BIG. MISTAKE. Rule #1 for starting a small business is to get your legal ducks in a row. Protecting yourself, and your clients, legally, is absolutely paramount to a successful and legit business operation. A lawyer should review all contracts, advise on insurance, oversee any operating agreements (especially if you have a partner – good friends become enemies fast when the legal stuff got set aside), and make sure your business is well-protected and well-designed. It’s a necessary investment. Don’t skip it and shortchange yourself.

What small business items can’t you live without? 
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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Jeff

    November 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Useful article! Can you comment a little more on your use of IssueTrak and Pixifi specifically? Is there a lot of overlap between the two? What does IssueTrak have and do for you that Pixifi can’t?

    • Katy Blevins

      November 16, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Hi Jeff, thanks for a great question! I wouldn’t say there is a lot of overlap between the two tools, as Pixifi is workflow management designed specifically for those in the photography/design field, so it’s built to model a typical operational need for those industries. IssueTrak is custom-designed software that caters to a much broader audience, larger companies with a multitude of potential uses, models, industries and the like. Pixifi is fantastic as the overview and central hub for the small business owner. IssueTrak is a full-service software that can cross organizations, departments, etc. for multi-level operations with a large employee and/or customer base. Having said that, both are incredibly fantastic tools, each with their own strengths and purposes. The task management is probably where they overlap most, with Pixifi being a much simplified task list and automation and IssueTrak having more complex branching strategies. IssueTrak can manage assets, incoming email, help desk, customer support, surveys, billing and more. Pixifi can manage multiple brands, contracts, automated emails, payments and expense tracking.

      I use Pixifi as the keystone to our online booking process for studio rentals. The process is fully automated, the contracts are delivered and signed online, and invoice management is triggered via Pixifi due dates. I use IssueTrak to moderate the entire business across our different brands as a whole. I track our responsibilities in the process, any relevant communication, images, etc. and have a more complex workflow in place to keep our policies and process standardized.

      Ultimately, it depends on what type of business you are in and what you are looking to achieve!

      • Theresa Ann Marcotte

        June 6, 2015 at 6:35 am

        Hi Katy, I’m kind of new in the Direct Sales Business Feild. I am currently in the process of starting my own small Craft/Gift Boutique Biz. I don’t have a website and I am not too technology savvy. However, I already use & Love Dropbox and find it mostly useful for me for saving pictures and my images that I post or share on Social Media.

        I am looking for an easy program/resource to help me keep track of my vendor shows, Customer info database & their purchases and my own sales, goals, etc.

        As a small business owner just starting out, would these other resources you suggested be of help to me? Or what can you suggest?

        Thank you in advance for your time. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  2. Pingback: The Hampton Roads Creative Joins the Hootsuite Ambassadors Team! | The Hampton Roads Creative

  3. Kristen

    August 14, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Wait BlogStomp? Wait how do you use Google Calendar? Wait how have I lived without your blog???!!!

    • Katy Blevins

      August 29, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      Ha ha! You are too funny. BlogStomp is a game change for photographers. Canva is where most bloggers are comfortable, but BlogStomp really is a better option for photo collages, especially if you have a blog logo. Check out my google calendar post! http://chaosandkiddos.wpengine.com/google-calendar

  4. Jesse

    December 11, 2015 at 4:38 am

    Hi! Thanks for posting the list. I’m going to try some of these. Over time an email marketing tools is also a must have. Lately, I’ve started using GetResponse. It has some really nice features.

    • Katy Blevins

      February 4, 2016 at 7:07 am

      I’ll have to check out GetResponse. We’ve used Mad Mimi in the past, but are quickly outgrowing it. We’re about to test out Constant Contact!

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Organizational Tips

Top 10 Family Safety Tips from @GetReadyNowPack

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Family Safety Tips

Life as a busy working mom is more than hectic! The best way to combat the crazy and chaos is to do our best to prepare in advance whenever possible. Emergency preparedness is one area we often skimp in, leaving us stressed and scrambling when disaster strikes (sometimes even by our own doing!). Our friends at Get Ready Now have a few simple routines, habits and family safety tips that will keep us in control when life strikes back.

Family Safety Tips

Regular Car Check Ups

We’ll admit, guilty as charged! We often overlook the basic maintenance that keeps our car running and in tip top shape. Then, when our car decides to bite back with a little reminder about how much we’ve been neglecting it, we’re stuck in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. If you have trouble remembering to give your car some much needed love, be sure to download our Google calendar reminder list!

Keep Your Phone Fully Charged

Oops…guilty as charged again! We hate hunting down our phone chargers and have a really bad habit of tossing our phones under our pillows instead of plugging it in at night, which usually means it’s teetering near death right when we want to make an important call the next day. Invest the few dollars to keep phone chargers handy. One in the kitchen, one in the office, one in the bedroom, one in the car. Do your best to stay charged up so you have some mileage on your phone’s battery when you need it!

Stay Tuned to Weather and Disaster Warnings

We all have our phones within reach around the clock, so be sure to sign up for phone alerts or download your favorite weather app to stay in the know and be ready to move and take action when regional warnings are issued!

Have an Evacuation Plan in Place

This is a big one. Whether it’s talking about your family plan to exit the house in the event of a fire or learning your local evacuation routes and shelter locations, take time to sit down with your family and make sure everyone, young and old, understands exactly what you’ll do, where, when and how should you need to evacuate your home for any reason. This can feel like a scary conversation, especially for little ones, so we often avoid it and then reality is much, much scarier when emergency strikes and we are not prepared. Bite the bullet, map out your routes and practice it as a family!

family safety tips

Know How You’ll Reconnect With People Who Matter

If your phone died right now, would you know how to reach the most important people in your life? Yup, us too. Busted. Memorization not your thing? Make sure you store contact information safely in a few different places so you can reach out to friends and family in the event of an emergency from wherever you are. When it comes to evacuation and fire escapes, set up family meeting points where you will all head should you get physically separated. Plan for the worst case scenario!

Learn What to Do if You’re Caught Away From Home

This is more about having a plan A…through double ZZ. Emergencies breed fear and fear breeds panic, so our best defense is a good offense. Spend some time thinking through the different scenarios that might result in your being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, unable to get somewhere you do what to be. What will you do? Where will you go? Confronting your fears, establishing plans and considering your options will empower you to act with clarity and purpose when life goes awry.

Have an Emergency Kit (or Ten) and Know How to Use Them

An emergency preparedness kit is only helpful if you know where it is, can easily get to it, know what’s in it and how to use it. Thankfully, our friends at Get Ready Now can help us there. They have vehicle packs, grab and go packs and have thought about everything you’ll need in an emergency from start to finish. Their bags are waterproof (win), clear (double win) and the supplies inside are good for 5 years (triple win!). Their website has complete lists and even videos detailing exactly what is in your pack and why it’s important. Use the code FREESHIP for free shipping! Woot! Woot!

Don’t Forget to Plan for Your Pets

Many of us overlook preparing in advance for what will happen with our pets in an emergency. We adore these beloved family members and can hit a wall of panic when disaster strikes and we realize we have not accounted for their needs along with our own. Make sure your emergency kits have extra pet food and include your pet care in evacuation planning and practice.

Stay in the Know and Sharpen Up on Your Emergency Skills

Are you CPR certified? Do you know how to safely perform the Heimlich Maneuver? Do you know how to start a fire outdoors? Consider signing up for a local safety or survival skills course. When disaster strikes, our knowledge base fuels our ability to stay calm and act effectively, which can save crucial time in an emergency or even save somebody’s life!

No Cheating! Check Those Smoke Detector Batteries Regularly

Admit it. We’ve all done it. It starts beeping, out of love to let us know that something’s up and it’s not in prime shape to save our lives. And we beat it to death with a stick, rip out the batteries, and cuddle back up in bed. And then leave it. And then leave it. And then leave it some more. NO MORE. Get those batteries in, set calendar reminders to test all smoke detectors regularly and keep your family safe, starting in your home, today.

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Use the code FREESHIP for Free Shipping on Your Order!

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Blogging Resources

How to Add Custom Facebook Tabs to your Business Page

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Custom Facebook tabs are a great way to spiff up your business page with touches all your own. In a visual flow format that’s mostly controlled by the social media platform itself, making the most of these tiny advantages and calls-to-action can be pivotal to expanding your reach. Take steps to prompt your audience to actively engage and direct visitors on your business page to your areas of greatest interest (i.e. subscribing or following you on social media). Custom Facebook tabs give you the opportunity to plant a tiny seed of interest by highlighting applications that otherwise tend to be ignored.

Implementing custom Facebook tabs starts with activating the appropriate applications on your business page. Connect your TwitterPinterest and Instagram feeds directly to your business page (Did you know you can set up your Instagram to post directly to your Facebook business page?). Explore your email subscriber tool for Facebook integration. If you’re using LeadPages via WordPress, activate the auto-Facebook tab (amazing!).

Search Facebook for App

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Your next step is to order your Facebook tabs so that your top 3 (the ones you plan to create custom Facebook tabs for) are at the top of the list. You can do so easily by navigating to your business page, clicking “More” on your top tab bar, and then selecting “Manage Tabs.” From there you can drag up or down to order your list and even delete tabs that serve no use for your page.

Click -More- and -Manage Tabs.- Then

Now we are ready to create your custom Facebook tabs. This feature is kind of hidden…which is why most people don’t customize their tabs! The phrase we hear most often when introducing this to our clients is “Wow! I never even knew that existed!” Click on your page Settings and then navigate to Apps, which should show a complete list of the programs you just integrated with your page. Click “Edit Settings” on one of your apps and there it is! You can accomplish two special customizations here. You can change the tab name (i.e. from LeadPages to Free Motivational Planner) and upload a custom tab image. Yay!

The appropriate size for custom Facebook tab images is 111 pixels wide by 74 pixels high.

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Customize your Tab Name AND your Tab

And there you go. You now have custom Facebook tabs that can drive traffic to subscriber portals, other social media profiles and more. Make sure your custom Facebook tabs are in line with your brand style and message. Maybe try a few different styles to see if any convert more than others. Take the opportunity to make the page your own and entice your audience to take the next step by clicking through.

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Blogging Resources

How to Make Custom Pinterest Board Covers and Upload Pins

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There are so many little ways you can personalize your online profiles and increase engagement with your market simply by improving your visual presentation. This week, we’re introducing a few ways to sharpen your Pinterest profile. The most visual of all the social media platforms out there, and second only to Google for searching for just about anything…Pinterest is an application that no small business owner can ignore. The case for Pinterest and how to maximize market engagement could be a whole blog in and of itself. We’ll have more tips and tricks to share later, but for now, let’s start small. Today, let’s talk about how to make custom Pinterest board covers and how to manually upload and edits pins (without hitting the “Pin It” button).

Custom Pinterest board covers create a strong visual consistency in your profile that can help visitors understand your brand, intent and authority in your area of the business (or blogging) world. To create them, you’ll need to understand how to manually upload and edit pins, so we’ll start there.

Log into your Pinterest account and open one of your boards. See that nice little “Add a Pin” button? Click it!

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Once you click that button, you’ll have two options. Add from Web or from your Device. When you click from Web, it’s going to remind you that you should just use a “pin it” button (and they’re right). For this lesson, let’s click from your Device. It will prompt you to upload a photo and you’ll browse your device (in this case, my computer hard drive) and choose the image to upload. It will automatically trigger the pin box and you’ll be able to choose your board and add a pin description. Voila!

What does your head shot say about you-

You’re probably going…something is missing! Where does the newly created pin take you? And you’re right. We’ve got one more step. Once the pin has been created and uploaded. Click to edit the pin and then add the URL that you want your audience to click through to in the Source box. Now…ta da!!! Voila!! You’re done!

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The process for adding custom Pinterest board covers is 90% what you just learned and 10% PicMonkey fun. Click “Custom” to get started.

The magic dimension size for custom Pinterest board cover is 217 pixels x 147 pixels. 

Once you have your board covers created, you’ll upload each of them via the process above. You don’t have to add a source URL to click through if you’re just going for Pinterest pretty, BUT…our recommendation is to take the opportunity to link through to your website wherever you can! So, if you have a landing page on your website that relates to the items on your board, link your custom board cover through to that page! You never know who might click! To assign the new custom boards as the cover images in your profile, click “Edit” and then “Change Cover” and you’ll be able to scroll through to the new cover image. Click “Save Changes” and you’re done!

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