Nowadays, it really doesn’t matter what field you’re in–you need to be digital. Big cabinets and stacks of paper are going out the door, and so are sloppy desktops with endless excel files. There are too many great programs out there with automated processes to warrant doing business any other way.
When it comes to running a company–whether it’s a company of one, or a company of one hundred and fifty–organization is your best friend. From freelancers to small business owners, entrepreneurs and beyond, these are tools that can help you become more efficient, more effective, and a whole lot more successful.
1. Website: Squarespace
Whether you’re starting a small creative agency, or a consulting business, or a real estate firm, etc., you are going to need to build yourself a website.
To be honest, the biggest pitfall new companies (and even freelancers) fall into when it comes to building a website is taking far too long to get the thing up. You can always edit it. You can always add or subtract. Just get something functional and professional up and running so you can focus on more important things (like generating leads and revenue).
If I were you, I would just pick a Squarespace template, make it your own (upload a few pictures and edit the copy) and then move on. However, if you have the budget and really want something unique, or envision having a big site with tons and tons of content, go WordPress. But if you just need to get up a five page brochure style website, there’s no need to make it complicated.
2. Email Marketing: GetResponse
Every business nowadays needs some sort of inbound marketing. This means creating content on your website and directing readers to some sort of download in exchange for their email address.
The big mistake companies make here is thinking that having a form that says, “Subscribe to our Newsletter!” is enough. It’s not. There is no clear Call to Action, and people are wary about giving out their email unless they know exactly what it’s going to be used for.
The single best way I have found to generate potential leads for myself is two-fold:
A) Offer a free download of a workbook, an infographic, an in-depth PDF guide, etc.
B) Offer a free email course, so when someone gives you their email it triggers a 5, 7, or 10 day email sequence teaching them something of value.
Pretty much every email storage and automation software out there is priced based on two things: how many contacts you have on your list, and features. For the best bang for your buck, look at GetResponse. It’s an all-in-one digital marketing platform that allows you to store emails onto different lists (based on interests), create landing pages for readers to click through to from the email campaigns you send, set up email and clickthrough automation sequences, and even create/launch Webinars (great for engaging potential or current clients).
The whole key here is to get potential clients into your automation funnels, and then set up triggers to move them through the sales process and convert them into paying clients.
3. Business Tracking: WorkflowMax
There are all sorts of different pieces of software you can use for internal tracking. There’s time-tracking software, task-tracking software, forecasting software, honestly the list goes on and on.
If I were you, I’d check out WorkflowMax and just keep everything in one place. The thing I like about WorkflowMax is that it allows you to fill six key elements to running an effective business:
A) Track leads
B) Organize quotes
C) Track (and measure) time
D) Job management
Truthfully, if for no other reason, this type of software is most valued in two stages: organizing and keeping track of invoices, yes, but even more so time. Nothing crushes a business more than not-knowing how much leftover time there is, how much more you could be using, or worse, how overbooked and understaffed you are (which can lead to a lot of internal fires).
If you are managing employees (or even managing yourself, honestly), time is your primary asset. Just like cans of soup on the shelf are the asset of a grocery store, your employees and the services you provide through their time is your most valuable asset.
4. Work Presentation/Prototyping: InVision
Especially if you are in a creative field, you are going to be doing a lot of client presentations–and most likely over a conference call or screenshare.
Of all the tools and ways I have gone about this process, I recommend using InVision. Personally, I found it to be the most intuitive, easy to use, clean, and organized.
It allows you to upload mockups, prototype designs, etc., and send them as Boards to a client so they can review and comment on them with feedback. There really is no one “correct” way of going about this process, but when managing a lot of different clients I always find it more helpful when feedback and comments can be right on the designs or deliverables themselves–instead of on a separate message board, thread, etc.
5. Internal Emails & Calendars: Gmail
There is no comparison within this category. For company and team member emails, calendars, and all-things-internal, Gmail is the way to go.
One of the most helpful things I have ever witnessed in terms of time management was the internal use of Gmail calendars at the agency I worked at, and people blocking off chunks of time for them to focus solely on their work.
If your team or company does not “Respect The Calendar,” then it becomes a madhouse. Everyone fights for everyone else’s time, and in the end nothing actually gets done. This is one of those things that can be incredibly annoying to implement at first, but in the end makes all the difference.
The best thing you can do is get everyone set up with a company Gmail account, have them set up their calendars, and then link everyone’s calendar so that they are all shared. When someone schedules a meeting, everyone knows about it. When someone blocks off an afternoon to work on a project, everyone knows not to bother them. Establish this habit from the onset and everyone will be more productive.
6. Processing Payments: Stripe
If you are launching an eCommerce business, you are going to need a way to process payments online. Other kinds of businesses can process payments this way too, instead of asking clients to write checks or get set up with ACH payments, etc.
In my opinion, I’d go with Stripe. I mean, there’s a reason why one of the co-founders just became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. It’s an extremely easy platform (that integrates with both Squarespace and WordPress, along with many others) that allows you to process payments for goods, services, etc. Stripe does take a small % but the convenience aspect makes it worth it, in my opinion.
Now, if you are dealing with a custom website, then check out Moonclerk as an integration option with Stripe. While Stripe works great for the actual payment processing, sometimes it can get a little hairy in terms of building the actual checkout experience through your site (especially if you’re one of those businesses that hires a creative shop to design you a great site, but now you want to make changes to it and you don’t have a developer). And if you are not very “digitally savvy,” Moonclerk also makes it super easy to set up recurring payments for your retainer clients.
Note: PayPal is an equally viable option, but from what I’ve seen most eCommerce businesses offer both, PayPal and Stripe.
7. Social Media: Hootsuite
If social media isn’t going to be a big part of your marketing strategy, this isn’t really necessary (since you can always post directly onto each platform). However, if you are going to be driving a lot of traffic via social and managing lots of different content schedules, I would highly suggest using an organization and scheduling platform like Hootsuite.
In a nutshell: The big benefit to using Hootsuite is having everything in one place. Yes, Facebook has analytics. Twitter has analytics. Instagram now has analytics. Etc. But being able to see all those analytics in one place (and with a few added caveats) can be helpful–especially when time is of the essence.
The other big benefit is the ability to schedule posts in advance. Again, most platforms allow you to handle the scheduling, but having everything in one place so you can see everything that’s going out just gives you a different level of awareness as a content creator. It can be hard to keep everything separate in your mind when it’s all over the place.
Of all the tools on this list, I’d say this is more of a luxury than an absolute “need.” But I’ll also say this: You don’t know pain until you’ve managed multiple Facebook pages, Twitter pages, and Instagram accounts, separately. If that’s the position you’re about to be in (running a digital marketing agency, for example) then Hootsuite becomes an absolute necessity.
I realize this is a lot to digest and be able to integrate, so if you need help feel free to reach out!