It dawned on me the other night that an increasing majority of my readers are self employed: marketing consultants, small business owners, contractors, and startup entrepreneurs. While we focus, here, on marketing resources and tips, there are an ever increasing number of innovative resources to make your professional life easier; allowing you to focus on what you do best. Its time to graduate from spreadsheets and software and take advantage of web services, cloud computing, and shared resources to save time and money.
Collaborate and coordinate
Spend a few dollars a month and sign up with Google Apps to host your email address, calendar, and documents and spreadsheets with Google. Unlike a regular gmail account, Apps sets you up at your company’s domain name (that is, firstname.lastname@example.org) with Google calendar, chat, and address book built in. Also integrated, the accurately named, Docs, saves you money from buying Microsoft Office, putting your spreadsheets, presentations, and documents online: automatically saved and available from anywhere.
The real advantage in using Apps though is when there is more than one of you. Calendar becomes a meeting maker, chat facilitates collaboration, and files in Docs are shared across your company so everyone can access and edit important files.
Don’t worry about “social networking” or “twitter” – keep it simple and start a blog
Did you party too hard at the turn of the century and miss the change of the calendar? This is no longer 1999; businesses don’t have ‘web sites’ any more. A web site is a static, dry resource about as engaging as your listing in the yellow pages. Today, you want a blog. In this age of twitter and facebook you want an experience online that engages your customers and establishes you as an authoritative resource. Don’t worry, all the pertinent details are still available to customers through pages on your blog for your address, description of products and services, etc. It is the posts that will attract new customers and promote your talents. Spend a couple hours one night learning and setting up WordPress. I realize that, if you’ve tried a blog before with another service, you might be discouraged. Learn and use WordPress, your business will be FAR better for it.
Keep an eye on the numbers – without giving them away to do so
Have you discovered Shoeboxed yet? Perhaps so but let me go further and point you to Outright.
No, hang on… let’s start from the beginning: If you are anything like me, you have a stack of business cards and receipts filling your laptop bag, feeling neglected. Potential business languishing. Sign up for Shoeboxed and ship them off to get scanned, sorted, and returned in digital files. The contacts go into your address book (your now available Google address book)
But what of those expenses… surely there is a better way?
Automatically import them to Outright to track your income and expenses, online, with the most intuitive bookkeeping innovation available. Shoeboxed has a nominal fee, while Outright is free, so we’re saving money while making life easier.
Now, having cleaned up your expenses and related books, sign up with Freshbooks to give your revenue stream some polish. Freshbooks helps you manage blling with tools and professional looking invoices and reports. Why Freshbooks? It too is available for free and also plugs right into Outright so your books are managed end to end with no fuss.
I need help but can’t afford much!
Grab some freelancers (who themselves are probably using these tools and can help you with them). The best way to do that is not through a recruiter but web sites (hmm… not “blogs” huh?) such as Guru and oDesk. Guru is, perhaps, the best source for business support with legal, finance, marketing, and administrative folks available. You farm out the work in projects rather than as a typical consulting or contract engagement; that is, if you just want someone to set up a Google Adwords campaign or file a patent, Guru has people for you. Want help with the WordPress installation or the design of the site, your logo, or other infrastructure? Use oDesk.
Truth be told, both sites support any of the resources you might need but oDesk has a reputation with technical folks while Guru is known for others. The one exception, and it occurs to me therein that I shouldn’t have used ‘filing a patent‘ as a scenario in which you grab a legal freelance worker from Guru, is LegalZoom. LegalZoom is going to put more of the burden on you to take care of related work but as a self employed business owner, I tend to prefer keeping issue legal and financial closer to my heart.
Working from home? Create the illusion of so much more
The most turnkey solution is a Google Voice account which lets you indefinitely retain one phone number for personal and professional use, automatically routing calls to all of your phones through different voice message lines depending on the context of the call. Never miss a call; give out your one number with work related calls routed to a professional voice mail when you are unavailable to pick up from a cell or home phone. Forever: move, change jobs, get a new cell phone – you always have the same number.
Extend that professional image with a more robust virtual office through onebox. For as little as about $50 a month you get a toll-free number with extensions for a few coworkers (or services) as well as call trees, calendaring, conference calling, and more.
You might not have an office with a lobby and receptionist but you should have the next best thing.
What else…? Need IT?
I’m going to elevate our conversation just a bit and talk to slightly larger organizations. Self employed or home based business owners need not apply here; but if you have a few technical assets, you should look at Spiceworks. Combining software and hardware inventory, network and license monitoring, inventory reporting, and a helpdesk / IT portal into a free (ad supported) experience, Spiceworks is intuitive software that outsources your IT and keep that most precious of resources in your pocket.
I could keep going but if you are reading this statement, I can see that I’ve added something of value to your day, given the stamina required to keep up with my discourses to the end. Let’s not ruin that by going on and on and on, and on… and on.
If you have tips and resources of your own, please share them; especially, if you are using invaluable, intuitive tools that can make the entrepreneurs in us a little more effective.