When it comes to running a small business effectively (both in terms of time and cost), business productivity tools are a MUST-HAVE. It’s so tempting to want to keep costs low and ‘do it yourself’, but think about how much time you spend on the day-to-day running of your business… is it hours per day or week? How many days per year do you spend on time-consuming administrative tasks in order to save a few pounds here and there? Wouldn’t you rather be using that time for glorious billable client hours? The answer is probably yes, with even the most awe-inspiringly efficient freelancers amongst us likely to admit that there is always something you can do to help you work more productively and efficiently, whether for your own business or for a client.
So what are the ‘bare necessities’ when it comes to business productivity tools/apps?
*Time Tracking Software – Even if your customers don’t want a breakdown of hours (or parts thereof) spent on their tasks, it’s really helpful to understand how long activities and processes take you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to do a simple task and emerged from my office 8 hours later, wondering where the day has gone! It could be that you think a task will take you about an hour, but find that it consistently takes you twice or three times as long – time tracking software will allow you to identify this and take steps to address the issue, either by encouraging you to look closely at your working habits and tools to see whether or not the process can be made faster (though retain the same quality!) or reconsidering your package rate for a particular task to ensure that you are fairly compensated for the time and effort it takes you to complete it.
*Invoicing – manually creating an invoice in a WORD document from a template, issuing it to the relevant customer and monitoring payments received are an essential, if time consuming, aspect of day to day business life. Tools that automatically generate templated invoices (pre-populated with your logos and essential business information) can really help to speed up the invoicing process, and tools that enable you to save customer contact details and use this information to generate new invoices can make the process even faster, giving you back valuable hours every month to spend on activities that can make those invoices larger!
*Social Media Management Tools – whether you are creating content for your own business or for a customer, if you are posting manually to multiple platforms, it’s likely that you could be working more efficiently and saving valuable minutes and hours per day! I’ve heard some people express concern about social media platforms ‘penalising’ them for using a scheduling tool and reducing the reach of their posts, though the only platforms that I have found this to be a significant issue on are Twitter (where posting the same content to multiple accounts, or as recurrent posts, is no longer permitted: https://bit.ly/2BGoGIh) and Pinterest, which requires a different approach to sharing content entirely. We have run tests on the issue, posting natively and via scheduling tools to a range of platforms, and have not experienced a significant difference in the results returned. As a result, I would definitely recommend using a scheduling tool – even a free, ‘basic’ tool with limited functionality – but ensuring that you set aside a little time every day or week to actively engage with your social media channels to make your efforts as valuable as possible!
*Brainstorming – thinking about ideas for content marketing? Setting out a plan for your business in 2019? Scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes make great doodling space, but aren’t quite so great if you want to refer to those doodles in the coming weeks, months, or years and find that your masterpiece has been inadvertently shredded or recycled. Save time and effort by using an online brainstorming tool to keep all of your ideas (the good, the not so good, and the downright crazy) in one safe place!
*Messaging – need to communicate with your team of associates/customers? Rather than having to check every single messaging platform on a daily basis, why not insist that all communication is sent via a single platform, so you only have to monitor one? It also keeps you away from the dreaded Facebook Messenger, where it is far too easy to accidentally press ‘play’ on a kitten video, and be sucked into multiple hours of procrastination (though it is lovely – and beneficial – sometimes!
*CRM – store the contact information of your customers in a single place with CRM software, rather than in a paper diary or on your phone! Certain CRM tools also allow you to save relevant notes to contact records, send emails or raise invoices quickly and easily, keeping all your important customer related information in one safe place!
*E-Signing Documents – sending out/receiving a lot of client contracts or associate agreements? The process of printing out documents, signing them and then scanning them back into the system is long and tedious, so why not invest in some e-signing software to speed up the process significantly! Just don’t forget to read the documentation carefully before signing – it’s tempting to simply open and sign when you’ve got the convenience of an e-Signing tool at your fingertips, so make sure you read, understand and agree with the contents of any contract prior to signing!
These are just a few of the tools that the majority of freelance business support professionals we know use on a day-to-day basis to work more efficiently. What tools do you rely on to help you work more resourcefully in your business? We’d love to hear them – feel free to share them on our Social Media channels!