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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
How You Can Use Scrum to Get Organized
I know what you’re thinking. What the heck is Scrum? Stick with me here – I promise it will be worth it. Scrum is a management and control process that software developers use to break complex projects into incremental pieces, driving focus and productivity with more effective, higher quality results. I came across it in the corporate world and quite frankly, didn’t give it much thought. Since Scrum was designed for software developers, which I most certainly am not, I figured it didn’t apply to me.
Then Somer and I ran into a problem with our brand management. As you know, we have The Studio Hampton Roads, Modern Femme Movement and the Hampton Roads Creative (plus this blog!). Sometimes our to do list is so long, it can feel incredibly overwhelming and even harder to prioritize. We do our best to Think Big, Focus Small, but sometimes the sheer volume of work has us wide-eyed and frozen.
It occurred to me that we needed some process management. Something definitive that detailed our workflow and developed our priorities and set our intentions. Something like…Scrum. Scrum works with these ideas, called sprints, where you focus the team’s energy on selected projects and selected projects ONLY. That’s the key. Software developers have to get to the end goal, but all of the code necessary to reach the end goal can leave developers overwhelmed, and hopping from one project to the next and back again, producing stress and lower quality work.
Once a sprint has been defined, the team must stay on the specified work for the duration of the sprint. They cannot be pulled to other projects, redirected or given more work. They are “in sprint” and any additional projects or adjustments are to be assigned to future sprints.
BINGO. Well, I guess SCRUM is better here.
We reviewed our projects lists for each brand and broke them up into sprints. Once we assigned the sprints, we were off and running. While we were in one sprint, we were 100% focused on the work assigned to that particular sprint. We couldn’t veer off course, swap to another brand, or take on new work. Before we knew it, more was being accomplished with less stress and less mistakes.
For the software development world, sprints are usually two weeks in length due to the complexity of their work. For us, a week long sprint worked best. In a pinch, we’d break into three day sprints. You can choose what length of time works best for you. The important piece is to stay focused on what is in the sprint and embrace the peace of mind that comes with knowing other work that must (and will) be accomplished is assigned to future sprint.
This can apply to small business, blogging, school work, just about anything! Focus your energy, organize your workload, and accomplish a larger volume of higher quality work. Don’t get lost in the busy of bouncing back and forth between everything you have to get done, accomplishing nothing well or maybe not even at all. Scrum can be your key to focused professional energy and long-term small business (or life!) success.
Social Media Scheduling 101: The Basics
Why is social media scheduling important?
Today’s culture, both personally and professionally, is driven by real time transparency. There are any of a million ways that we can interact with the world and share our life journeys, which has been the doorway to maintaining friendships, keeping family from afar close and celebrating life with like-minded individuals. But on the other hand, every time that phone blips that a new message has popped up, we’re driven by madness to look. It’s exhausting!!!! And ultimately incredibly time consuming. As a small business owner, the drive to build a following can be intoxicating and the pressure to be available to your clients 24/7 is crippling. How do you actually “do” your business if you’re always distracted by social media? Social media scheduling is the very best way to continue to curate and share content with your audience, while allowing yourself to focus on higher priorities in your personal and professional life.
If I schedule social media am I lying to my followers by “pretending” to be online when I’m not?
Any way that you can automate your workflow to save time and develop a routine, you are being true to yourself, your clients and most importantly, your family. The key is to appear to be accessible during high traffic times, but not actually be sitting there glued to your phone or computer hanging on every word uttered to the social media gods. Social media scheduling allows us to cater to multiple audiences at their individual peek times, gives us the opportunity to stay active and engaged while on the go and makes sure we have time to focus on what really counts.
Where do I start?
I have two go-to programs that can work for even the most basic new learners (and have lots of advanced features for those in the know). And bonus…they’re FREE! What we’re moving towards is organized strategy. Social media scheduling allows you to develop a marketing strategy for your business and then execute it. You simple couldn’t do that properly on the fly and would get lost in the weeds. These next two tools can help put you on the path to a social media presence that translates to growth and long-term sustainability.
If you’re just digging into the social media behemoth, let’s put a simple tool to work for you while you get your bearings. Similar to how Instagram can cross post to Twitter and Facebook, Friends + Me can take your Google Plus posts and push them to several other platforms. I personally post to Google + and it carries over to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. One action = 4 social media networks.
I’ll admit, this tool can be visually tricky and take a little getting used to if you’re heavy handed with links and tags. Once you get comfortable with how your posts will appear in the different feeds, you’ll tailor your original content to work across the board. It’s a fantastic way to save time by not having to manually cross-pollinate your content to each and every platform individually. It’s a great way for new learners to “phone it in” while you up your social media knowledge and a stellar way for a seasoned social media vet to knock out a task list for simple content shares.
Hootsuite is the other tool I rely heavily on. In short, it’s a one-stop shop for me to manage all of my profiles on the various platforms that I use. In its most basic form, I schedule all Twitter activity (content sharing) in here or via their Hootlet (content curating). I can tell you it’s really the Hootlet that is life changing. This little plugin is ridiculously awesome. It allows me to wrap up items of interest in a nice little box with a beautiful little bow instantly and schedule directly from my point of interest. I can open it up from any source and schedule a tweet/share from any of my accounts instantaneously without having to copy/paste links or images into Hootsuite itself. That save of a few clicks is amazing!!!
– Google Plus (2 business profiles)
So. How does this ultimately save time? Have I just traded time spent manually posting for time spent scheduling automation? The key here is to carve out time and stick to it. Don’t be scheduling all day! It defeats the purpose. Here are some quick rules to keep in mind:
- Set a specific day each week (or even an hour each morning/night if that’s better for you) that is devoted to scheduling the next weeks’/days’ tweets/posts/etc. Make that a calendar time in your routine. Stick to it! I do all of my scheduling first thing in the morning. That way my social media profiles are working in the background while I am completing my normal business day and any activity can just be responsive.
- Commit to a time each evening that the phone/computer gets put away. For example, clients at The Studio now know that our business booking hours are Monday – Friday from 8AM – 5PM. If they email us during that time, they expect a response. But if they email outside of that time, they know they’ll hear from us during the next business day. We’ve educated them and we’re training ourselves. Now, when that email dings with a new inquiry, I don’t look at it if it’s after hours. They know, and I know it will be there tomorrow.
- Give yourself a break! Cut yourself some slack! It’s ok to take a break from time to time on social media. It’s ok to not post every meal, every night out, every stylish outfit. Let go of the pressure to perform. Focus on enjoying the interactions with people and sharing your heart. You’ll find it not only comes more naturally, but more purposefully. Be IN your life.
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Did you like this post? Check out How to Create Hyper-Linked Email Signatures in Gmail!
How to Store and Prepare Your Used Items for Resale
Using Your Resources: How to Resell Your Used Items and Buy Second Hand was the first post in this “series,” and hopefully, by now you’ve had an opportunity to read through that and determine where you want to attempt to sell your used items.
The next logical step is how in the world to keep yourself organized so that you have a steady flow of items ready for sale and can keep product “moving through the pipeline” without sucking hours from your already jam-packed schedule. The key here is ambitious preparation and forethought. A little “do it now!” vs. a “I’ll do it later!” can make staying organized a breeze.
Here are some things that I do to stay organized with my sale items. Note: These particular steps make the most sense for consignment sales, yard sales and/or mommy swaps. Consignment stores are a bit different, but you can glean some useful tips for how to store for those too!
1. NEARBY STORAGE: I have available storage bins at the ready for new additions that no longer fit the boys in their bedroom. The most recent size(s) or season are stored under their train table so that if they try something on and it doesn’t fit, it immediately goes into the boxes. This keeps our drawers full of clothes that fit and prevents me from having to do massive sorts constantly. I try not to mix sizes and keep like items together, especially pajama sets or coordinating sets, so no hunting for missing pieces later and I know with a glance what size/season is in each box.
2. BE THE OVERACHIEVER: Yup, I am that person that starts prepping for the next consignment sale the day after the most recent consignment sale is over. As soon as the hosting group’s ticketing system is cleared out and released for the next event, I start entering my items for the next sale. I print and apply tags and even hang items on hangers if required. If things need to be zip-tied or put in plastic bags and taped closed, I do it right when I am moving items from the nearby storage in #1 to the long-term storage I’m going to describe here shortly. By the time those items hit the long-term storage bin, they are prepped and ready for sale and I don’t need to see them again until I drop them off to be sold. Similar can be done for yard sales too. As you are going through items to sell, stick a price tag on them and box them up. When your next yard sale comes around, you get out the box and you’re good to go! This prevents the brutal all-nighters trying to price items or get them entered into a consignment system before the deadline. (BONUS TIP: If you are selling items online, a great time saver is to list all of your available items on a spreadsheet with their price tag and where you posted them so that you can track what is sold and what is still available. This also helps you compare which online sources are producing the best results for you!)
3. LONG-TERM STORAGE: I have a gigantic bin in my garage that stores all of my “ready to sell” items. It’s easily moved from the garage to the car (by the husband) and easily stored out of the way until the next event. Anything that is in that bin has been itemized, tagged, priced, etc. etc. and is literally ready to come out of the box and onto the sales floor, wherever and whatever that may be. In that box I keep everything I need to get items sale ready. I have safety pins, ticket paper, plastic bags, zip ties and hangers (which you can get free usually at your local dry cleaners or keep an eye out for the super cheap ones when they go on sale!), pens and markers. And tape! I don’t have to hunt for anything. Super efficient and super fast. A great tip for those items getting shipped would be to have packing envelopes in there too! If I have items in there that cross seasons (this can be tricky with consignments sales), I keep the furthest away season on the bottom and layer a trash bag on top to separate from the next upcoming sale items. That way I know when I deliver my items, I empty the bin until I hit the trash bag and the know those items underneath are for the next, next sale. (See!! Crazy overachiever!)
4. CAR QUICK STORAGE: If I’ve posted an item online that I am sure is going to sell quickly locally, I pop it in my car so I have it with me in case someone contacts me to buy while I’m at work. That gives me the instant opportunity to meet at a public place during my lunch hour or right after I finish up for the day, rather than having to schedule a time/location later in the week. Get it gone!