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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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Organizational Tips

24 Super Awesome Articles for Busy Working Moms

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24 Super Awesome Articles

You may have noticed a bit of feast or famine over here at Chaos & Kiddos. Why? Because we’ve been sharing the love all over! Yup, that’s right. When we’re not here actively posting, it’s usually because we have the great honor to share our voice on other platforms. We thought you might like to keep up with where we’ve been! So…check out these 24 super awesome articles for busy working moms. Enjoy!

Parenting

Need a little parenting pick me up? Look no further! Grab a cup of coffee and kick back for a good read. Pick up a few tips and tricks, and give yourself a pat on the back, because you’re doing an AWESOME job.

Am I Chipping Away at the Foundation of My Children’s Success?

Why You Need a Family Mission Statement

Want to Teach Children? Get a Family Pet

10 Tips to Get Better Photos of Your Children

Potty Training: How to Graduate from Rewards to Real Life

It Takes a Village: Today’s Isolated Mom

Working Moms

Tell the truth…We bet you’re working too hard! It’s ok. We all do. Let’s band together and give ourselves permission for a little TLC, a whole lot more community and the opportunity to thrive professionally and personally, being our best selves for those we love most.

Working Moms Get a “Free to Grow” Permission Slip from Sprout

The One Question You Should Be Asking Yourself Every Day

How I Finally Realized Being a Workaholic Wasn’t a Good Thing

Redefining Success as a Suddenly Single Working Mom

How to Combat the Working Mom Woes

Professional Opportunities for The Stay-at-Home Mom

Tips for the Working Mom: How to Excel in Both Worlds

Small Business

Our very favorite!! Sharing the tips and tricks to help your business grow, the creative ideas that are making big waves in the entrepreneurial and those little reminders that get you back on track as a motivated, focused small business owner.

Meet the U.S. Company that Beat France to the Email Ban Idea

How to Maintain a Healthy Business Partnership

The Evolution of the Social Media Management Model

With This Tweet, I Thee Wed: How to “Put a Ring on It” and Transform Your Followers Into Brand Advocates

Why I Left Corporate America

Get More Instagram Followers and Grow Your Business

The Fountain of Youth: A Childhood Lesson in Healthy Competition

The Enlightened Entrepreneur: The Best Ways to Achieve Real Success

Health and Wellness

Last, but certainly not least, the most important part. Staying healthy and being well. The journey towards balance is just that…a journey. Join us as we walk together towards a more meaningful, enriched life.

Why You Need to Renegotiate the Contracts in Your Life

Baby Steps to Balance: The Journey Towards a Better Life Begins With Your Very First Step

The Top 10 Cheerleaders You Need to Survive Your Divorce

How to Set Boundaries That Balance Your Life


Do you have any super awesome articles for busy working moms? Share them below in the comments! Let’s face it, time is a hot commodity around here, and most of us don’t have time to blog hop! So…if you’ve done us the great honor by taking time out of your busy day to stop here, then THANK YOU! From the bottom of our hearts. And if you have a resource to share, please do so! Any opportunity we have to connect a resource with a need, whether it’s our information or not, is a big win for us, and for YOU!

And that’s why we’re here. For you. XOXO

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Organizational Tips

5 Tips for Time Management

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Time Management

Let’s face it. Being a working mom can be pretty crazy sometimes. How are you supposed to fit all of your activities into one 24 hour period, and manage to get 8 hours of sleep every night?

<Sidebar: 8 hours of sleep. Every night. Wouldn’t that be nice?>

How can we keep our time properly managed in this crazy, beautiful life we live?

The internet is filled with posts about time management and how you can achieve better time management skills. Those posts are great! I’m sure they have helped loads of working women achieve balance among chaos. Instead of compiling a list of 50+ time management tips, I figured it would be beneficial to condense my most successful time management practices into 5 easy to implement tips that every mom can benefit from!

snowflake (1)

Start Organized, Stay Organized

Keeping track of your time is more than keeping an eye on the clock. Time management starts with an organized mind. A great way to keep an organized mind is to keep track of your schedule, to-dos and other objectives with a daily schedule. You can choose to use an electronic calendar, or use a traditional pen and paper method, or even a combination of the two.

Personally, I like to use Google Calendar. Google Calendar allows me to keep order amongst chaos in so many different ways. Check out this post on 10 different ways you can use Google Calendar.

Be sure to keep your workspace organized as well. An organized work space allows the mind to stay organized by focusing on achieving your daily goals without dwelling on the clutter around you.

Say No, & Mean It

As loving and caring women, we want to provide assistance to everyone and anyone. And every once in awhile that is okay! But filling your schedule with too many appointments, too many distractions, and too many favors can be a real bummer for managing your time. Especially for things that come up at the last minute.

Recognize that it is okay to say No to something that will not benefit you or your family. It is also important to embrace the fact that saying No doesn’t mean that you do not care about others, or that you feel that your objectives are more important. It simply means that you have taken the time to evaluate the cost to benefit ratio, and have found that it might not be in your family’s best interest to add one more thing to your plate. If you have trouble saying No, be sure to check out Embracing When and How To Say No.

Create A Distraction Free Zone

Distractions are the main cause of poor time management. Distractions can be spontaneous (phone calls from a client, your toddler pouring the dog water all over the floor [again], etc), or self-induced (procrastination). A distraction free zone can help you to focus on the task at hand, and benefit from the increased productivity that will result.

In order to create a distraction free zone, start by identifying your most productive space in your home; the space where you feel like you get the most done. This could be your office, your kitchen, your porch, anywhere that you feel productive. Make this space more productive by taking steps to eliminate physical and electronic distractions.

Be sure to let your family know where your distraction free zone is, and let them know it is important to you that you remain distraction free when you are in this space (unless it is an emergency). Turn off electronic distractions by keep your phone turned off when you are in your distraction free zone. Also, be sure to turn off desktop notifications that are potentially distracting (emails, calendar reminders, and social media notifications).

If you need a little extra help staying off of social media while you are working, check out the variety of apps that will curb your social media enthusiasm, including SelfControl for Apple products, and KeepMeOut.com for all platforms.

Overworked

Identify Time-Vacuums In Your Life

Time-vacuums are things in your life that suck time like a Dyson sucks spilled cheerios. Time-vacuums can including meetings, social media, work tasks, and people. Yes, certain people can be a HUGE time suck for you, and can wreak havoc on your time management abilities.

By identifying these time-vacuums, you will be better equipped to keep your time-vacuums at bay, or even eliminate them completely from your life. By managing your time-vacuums, you’ll be able to keep your distraction free zone free and clear of any impending black holes that will devour your time.

Schedule Family Time & You Time

Probably the most important aspect of time management is being able to schedule time for yourself and time for your family. Be sure to schedule a little bit of detox time for yourself every day, even if it’s only 15-30 minutes of exercise, a cat nap, catching up on the latest episode of your favorite show, or stepping out to your favorite salon to get your nails touched up. You are an amazing woman, and you deserve a little bit of time to unwind!

Family running on beach holding hands smiling
Scheduling time with your family is so important to better time management. View your family time as a reward for working hard and kicking butt! Your family loves you, and they are proud of you! Keeping up with family traditions and making time to show your love and appreciation for your kids, your spouse, and other important people in your life allows you to practice an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude for your family. Gratitude for your friends. Gratitude for your beautiful life.

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