All posts by John

Evaluating an Opportunity

A brief case study in entrepreneurship is presented to demonstrate how opportunities can be evaluated.

Business opportunities are often based on broad trends, such as:

  • Demographic, such as the “graying” of America (creating opportunities in health services, for example);
  • Sociological developments, like the “green” movement, with its emphasis on recycling and environmental sensitivity, and;
  • Cultural changes caused by changing economic conditions and technological developments.
  • Opportunities can also frequently be found in current and developing business trends such as:

  • The globalization of business,
  • The need for outsourcing created by downsizing, and
  • The burgeoning service economy.
  • The Internet and rapid growth of e-commerce have certainly created changes in the process of buying books and CD’s, trading stock, delivering information, and bidding on collectibles. Where do you see the next process to be transformed in a major way by the Internet?

    Let’s do a brief case study in opportunity:

    Neighborhood Coffee Shop

    I live in the eastern section of town, which is growing rapidly, and food and business services are not quite keeping up. The “East” is fairly isolated from the rest of the city by water, an interstate highway, and an industrial park, forming a separate and distinct market. “People” are saying that the East desperately needs a good coffee shop. (Who are these people? Are they just in our immediate circle? Are they representative enough of the area to extrapolate from?)

    Let us analyze some factors which indicate the opportunity potential of an idea:

  • The “window of opportunity” is opening, and will remain open long enough.
  • We cannot be the only entrepreneurs that perceive these opportunities. How long before the need becomes compelling enough for others to jump in?

  • Entry is feasible, and achievable with the committed principals.
  • Two friends want to be partners with me in a venture; one is managing a coffee shop across town, and willing to manage a startup. Between us, we could muster the capital for a coffee shop.

  • The proposed venture has some competitive advantage.
  • We were among the first to locate in the new area, and are very active in the local business community. We know of an ideal site, and the building manager is a friend. She is willing to sub-contract the beverage and light-meal/dessert services the building provides tenants.

  • The economics of the venture are “rewarding and forgiving.”
  • Materials costs are a small percentage of revenues; site preparation and equipment costs are minimal.

  • We can break even at what seems to be an easily achievable volume.
  • We may even want to consider a more upscale atmosphere based on what some say is the difference between a “coffeehouse” and a “coffee shop:” About two bucks a cup… A coffee shop is a place to grab a quick bite and a cheap cup of coffee.

    Eric Gerber of the MSN Network’s Sidewalk suggests that “A coffeehouse is a place to wax philosophical –
    Mozart or Bach, Faulkner or Fitzgerald, Xena or Hercules? – while seeing just how complicated you can make a simple drink like coffee: double latte espresso-chino with half decaf Jamaican Blue Mountain dark roast, extra low-fat foam and a Frangelica drizzle, please.”

    The conditions for starting a neighborhood coffee shop seem favorable, but there must be more that we can do to critically evaluate the venture while improving our chances of success. That “more” is market research, and do not leave the business launch pad without it!

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” and “The Entrepreneur’s Fieldbook” and co-author of “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital,” now in its second edition.

    Business Ideas

    The process of creating or
    seizing an opportunity is less the result of a deliberate search than it is a
    mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to business
    opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity while it is still
    taking shape.

     

    Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records and
    Virgin Atlantic Airlines, may be better known for his efforts to circle the
    globe in a hot-air balloon than for his business successes. He suggests that
    “Being an adventurer and an entrepreneur are similar… You’re willing to go where
    most people won’t dare.”

     

    But it is still generally accepted that entrepreneurs are
    skillful at knowing which risks are worth taking. “In everything I do, I examine
    the downside, the danger, what can go wrong,” says Branson. When he started his
    airline, he only bought one plane, with an agreement with Boeing to take that
    back “if things didn’t work out.”

     

    Are there any safeguards against failure? No! Even the best
    conceived and implemented business ventures can become market experiments that
    simply did not work. Our goal here is to follow a planning process that can
    minimize risk. That is the best that we can do, and the degree to which we can
    enhance our confidence about a venture must enter into any decision about its
    pursuit.

     

    The best approach requires patience, and to a commitment to
    preparation well in advance of start-up. This could be a long-range process of
    getting to better understand one’s strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, and
    setting about filling knowledge and experience gaps. During this period, we
    should constantly generate ideas with the potential of becoming real business
    opportunities.

     

    Where do business ideas come from? The best source is what
    you know. Often, ideas come from work experience or from personal interests,
    such as hobbies; other ideas can come from friends and relatives, and our
    educational background. Ideas may be easy enough to generate, but an idea is not
    necessarily an opportunity! Building a "better mousetrap" does not insure
    success; other factors include fit, timing, and resources.

     

    Jeff Timmons, in his book
    New Venture Creation, suggests that “An
    opportunity is attractive, durable, and timely and is anchored in a
    product or service that creates or adds value for its buyer or end user.
    Opportunities are created because there are changing circumstances,
    inconsistencies, chaos, lags, or leads, information gaps, and a variety of other
    vacuums, and because there are entrepreneurs who can recognize and seize them.”

     

    The process of creating or seizing an opportunity is less
    the result of a deliberate search than it is a
    mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to
    business opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity while it
    is still taking shape. This frequently relates to the prospective entrepreneur’s
    current profession or interests, where he or she perceives:

     

    *
    a process that can be more efficiently performed,

     

    * an attractive new service or improvement of an existing
    service, or

     

    * some business or geographic "niche" that is being
    underserved.

     

    There are often localized opportunities, based on
    geography, natural resources, human resources in local abundance, and the like.
    Can you think of any for your area?

     

    Once an idea is thought to represent a real opportunity,
    one must be able to research the market, know what data is important and how to
    gather it meaningfully, and know what actions this information indicates. This
    can then be worked into a rather detailed plan, and then refined into a
    blueprint for success.

     


    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than
    40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He
    founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “
    8 Steps to
    Starting a Business
    ,” and “The Entrepreneur’s Fieldbook”
    and co-author of “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital,” now in its second edition. 


     

     

    A Guide on How You Can Use Websites to Pay the Bills

    In the golden age of ecommerce, it has never been easier to set up and start generating a profit online. If you have a product to sell, or you’re looking to make money from your blog, this post will tell you how you can use websites to help you pay the bills.

    Step One: Choose a Niche

    As the range of goods and services available online is extensive, you should start off approaching your home business idea with your interests at the forefront. If you have a passion for dance, for example, consider setting up an online store for dancewear and accessories. This will help you solidify your brand messages, as you will already know the kinds of products and ads your audience wants to see.

    If you have no particular hobby or interest in mind, and you just want to make a profit as quickly as possible, set up a general store with a generic name. Buy a .com domain name, as these sites carry the most authority with consumers.

    Step Two: Research Your Audience

    This is arguably the most crucial stage in making money online. You need to make sure you have the market for your business idea. There are many tools you can use to research things like audience demographics, preferred social media networks, even the types of posts audiences prefer.

    Collect insights such as the influencers people follow, the publications they read, the products they buy, how much income they have, etc.

    Collate this data into one large document and divide your customers into suitable segments. This exercise is essential because not all customers are created equal. Some audience sections will spend more with you than others. Therefore, you must be able to differentiate and encourage buying behaviors that meet your customers where they are in the buying cycle.

    Step Three: Set Up Your Site

    The number of channels you can sell through is ever-expanding, so you should consider your customers’ needs and your ability to deliver. For example, if you are selling digital products, you can set up on Etsy, or you can self-host through your own store – or both!

    You will also need to consider your abilities when setting up. ‘Plug and play’ ecommerce hosts like Shopify can help you get up and running quickly. Platforms like Magento can also be a good option for those with web development skills who may be looking for more customization.

    Step Four: Choose Your Products

    Once you’re all set up, it’s time to get your shop stocked. You can use a wholesaler (where you buy in bulk and resell), or you can use a drop shipping model. Drop shipping is an excellent option for those starting a business from home. Under these plans, you make a subsequent order, and your supplier handles the inventory and shipping.

    With a few clicks, you can import goods into your store to start selling. Make sure you provide detailed descriptions with all of the benefits listed. Use keywords to help you optimize for the search terms your audience will be using to find you.

    Don’t forget: it’s worth going to the effort of shooting original product photos. You need to make your shop unique from the rest, so give this step some thorough consideration.

    Step Five: Advertise to Your Segments

    Regardless of what you’re selling and on what channel, you will need to invest in some paid advertising. Facebook is a great place to start, as the engagement figures are enormous. From your research, refine your ad targeting. Instagram is another excellent platform to use.

    With both Facebook and Instagram, you can find apps that allow you sell directly from your social media account. You can also take advantage of the top influencers on these sites and approach them with a personalized pitch and sponsorship opportunity.

    The more effort you put into getting the word out, the better off you’ll be. Set a daily budget for paid advertising, research your channels, and look for forums and guest blogging opportunities in your niche.

    Step Six: Automate Your Processes

    You want to make money as quickly as possible, so make sure you automate things like sales tax collection, record keeping and social media posting using whatever apps and plugins are available through your ecommerce host.

    Alternatively, you can choose to hire a virtual assistant to help you post and process orders from your store. Take advantage of the automated help available and concentrate on making engaging marketing content to draw in buyers.

    Making money online can be easy, provided you take some time to research your niche thoroughly. Automate the processes as much as you can, and you could start generating a healthy profit in no time.

    Victoria Greene

    Victoria Greene is a branding expert and writer. She runs a blog called Victoriaecommerce. Here, she likes to share tips to wannabe entrepreneurs looking to start a business from home.

    We are all self-employed

    We are all self-employed; even as employees of a firm, we are still primarily personal career managers.

    Many people equate being self-employed with being an entrepreneur. We suggest that few of us are entrepreneurs, but all of us are self-employed. To make the distinction, let us explore the requirements of entrepreneurship.

    Entrepreneurship is generally characterized by some type of innovation, a significant investment, and a strategy that values expansion. The entrepreneur is often quite different in mindset from a manager, who is generally charged with using existing resources to make an existing business run well. The roles of entrepreneur and manager are not necessarily incompatible, but entrepreneurs are seldom patient enough to be good managers.

    Mindset of an entrepreneur

    It is often instructive to analyze the experiences that have formed our attitudes toward entrepreneurship. A recent study showed that 70% of business startups were by a person who had an entrepreneurial parent.

    The U.S. Small Business Administration has developed a Checklist for Going into Business that leads the prospective entrepreneur through a skills inventory that includes supervisory and/or managerial experience, business education, knowledge about the specific business of interest, and willingness to acquire the missing necessary skills. A commitment to filling any knowledge or experience gap is a very positive indicator of success.

    Personal characteristics required, according to the SBA, include leadership, decisiveness, and competitiveness. Important factors in personal style include will power, and self-discipline, comfort with the planning process, and with working with others. Can you objectively rate yourself in these dimensions?

    Peter F. Drucker, author of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, says that anybody from any organization can learn how to be an entrepreneur, that it is “systematic work.” But there is a difference between learning how to be, and succeeding as an entrepreneur. “When a person earns a degree in physics, he becomes a physicist,” says Morton Kamien, a professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University. “But if you were to earn a degree in entrepreneurship, that wouldn’t make you an entrepreneur.”

    Why we are all self-employed

    The reasons commonly given for people going into business for themselves are: freedom from a work routine; being your own boss; doing what you want when you want; boredom with the current job; financial desires, and; a perceived opportunity. Which of these might be sufficient to get you to take the risk?

    Several “yardsticks” have been proposed for measuring whether a person is a likely candidate to be a successful entrepreneur, but the real challenge is in accurately applying them to ourselves.

    We are all self-employed; even as employees of a firm, we are still primarily personal career managers. Trends toward downsizing and outsourcing will almost certainly lead to smaller companies utilizing networks of specialists. Fortune magazine suggests that “Almost everyone, up through the highest ranks of professionals, will feel increased pressure to specialize, or at least to package himself or herself as a marketable portfolio of skills.”

    How marketable is your portfolio of skills? Many think they have several years’ experience, when what they really have is one year’s experience several times. Are you continuing to learn, and keeping up with developments in your field? The best approach to preparing for an entrepreneurial career is often to find some aspect of your field in which you can become expert.

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in business opportunity sites www.jbv.com and myhorizontravels.com, and maintains business and political blogs. This article is excerpted from his latest book “8 Steps to Starting a Business.” Ask for it at your favorite bookstore or buy it from Amazon.

    8 Steps Education Fund

    How would you like to donate entrepreneurship textbooks to schools to encourage teaching of the topic?

    8 Steps to Starting a Business” is my latest book on entrepreneurship. It is written at a level suitable for community colleges and advanced high schools.  The book is well researched, interesting (with lots of case studies) and challenging.

    The book is self-published with a retail price of $20. The total cost per copy (printing, warehousing, shipping, sales tax …) is about $12.

    The book is for sale to you at $12. A typical school donation might be 30 books, or $360. You may designate the school to receive the books, or contribute them to partially funded schools or to libraries. A typical library donation might be $96.

    The process will be fully transparent. I will post every donation and any expense not covered by the $12 price. Thank you for your generosity. Donate now by going to GoFundMe.

    Defining your Elevator Pitch

    An elevator pitch is an overview of your business that can be conveyed within 30 seconds (30-80 words) during a ride on an elevator with a prospective stakeholder. It should leave your listener wanting to know more. Elevator pitches can be written for products, people or businesses.

    Why would you want an elevator pitch?

    There are a variety of advantages in defining your elevator pitch or mission of your small business and much of your marketing efforts will be based around this. Without one there is a chance to miss out on vital opportunities for business when you network and it’s very easy to miss the point with your marketing copy.

    Even if you don’t feel like you need to do this with your business, if you haven’t done it already, go through the exercise anyway just to reaffirm your mission. There could well be something that you learn from this that hasn’t been obvious in the past.

    Advantages of defining the elevator pitch

  • You will be fully prepared and will know what to say if for example you meet an old friend or if an unexpected business opportunity arises in conversation
  • You will be crystal clear about what you business is about – and this is at the core of all of your marketing efforts
  • Business cards, email signatures, profiles, articles and your about page will all have clarity
  • It will be easier to create your tagline
  • It will be easier to write content for your website or blog
  • Optimizing your site for the search engines and gaining traffic will be improved if you know what your keywords are and for whom you are writing
  • Media contact will be improved
  • Business partners and other bloggers will have clarity
  • How to Define Your Elevator Pitch

    Solve a problem or need – basically the internet is a huge answer machine. Which questions and needs will your business answer?

    Who is your audience – what is your demographic? Consider what they need to know.

    Why would your client choose your business or want to know about it – what will they get from you or how?

    Be clear and precise – don’t leave people wondering what you mean.

    Be passionate and convey some energy

    If possible inject some humor or personality into your pitch.

    And once you have your pitch?

    What else do people need to know – ready yourself with the next level of information so that if people ask more, you already have it ready. Here is an example:

    “Hi! My name is Jay Beavy.

    Our company Formulis has been advising clients on how to produce eye-popping custom websites and creative internet marketing since 2003. Can your website and online marketing program use a boost?”

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available at Amazon and directly from John at a significant discount. Contact John at: info@jbv.com

    Think Like an Entrepreneur

    Introduction

    Entrepreneurship is the process of creating or seizing an opportunity, and pursuing it regardless of resources currently controlled. The American Heritage Dictionary defines an entrepreneur to be “a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for business ventures.”

    These are rather abstract concepts for a person just beginning to consider whether they ought to start a business rather than take a job, or leave a secure job for a chance at greater self-fulfillment. Entrepreneurship is more an attitude than a skill or a profession.

    Who is an Entrepreneur?

    Would you consider a person who inherits a business an entrepreneur? It is their own money and financial security at risk. They could as easily liquidate, invest in blue-chips, and live off dividends.

    Would a person who inherited a small or marginal business, then took it to new dimensions be considered an entrepreneur? What if that person paced the business’ decline to just carry them to retirement? Is long-term success, even beyond the founder’s lifetime, an important criterion to being an entrepreneur?

    Are franchise owners entrepreneurs? Franchises are sure things, aren’t they? Is it much different from income from “passive” investments? What is the appeal of franchise ownership?

    Are there entrepreneurs in large companies? How can a company promote “intrapreneurship?” Are different qualities required of a successful division manager than of a president of a successful company of similar size? Is an entrepreneur necessarily a manager?

    Entrepreneurship is generally characterized by some type of innovation, a significant investment, and a strategy that values expansion. The manager is generally charged with using existing resources to make a business run well. Are these incompatible roles? Are most managers entrepreneurial?

    Self-Analysis

    Peter F. Drucker, author of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that anybody from any organization can learn how to be an entrepreneur, that it is “systematic work.” But there is a difference between learning how to be, and succeeding as an entrepreneur.

    “When a person earns a degree in physics, he becomes a physicist,” said Morton Kamien, a former professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University. “But if you were to earn a degree in entrepreneurship, that wouldn’t make you an entrepreneur.”

    The U.S. Small Business Administration suggests that the prospective entrepreneur begin by examining their motivation. How important to you are the reasons commonly given for people going into business for themselves? Among these reasons are freedom from work routine; being your own boss; doing what you want when you want; boredom with the current job; financial desires, and; a perceived opportunity. Which of these might be sufficient to get you to take the risk?

    Personal characteristics required, according to the SBA (https://www.sba.gov/starting-business/how-start-business/entrepreneurship-you), include leadership, decisiveness, and competitiveness. Can you objectively rate yourself in these dimensions? How much of each of these traits is enough to insure a good chance of success? Important factors in personal style include will-power, and self-discipline, comfort with the planning process, and with working with others. Are these indicators of success even for the non-entrepreneurial?

    The prospective entrepreneur should perform a personal skills inventory that includes supervisory/managerial experience, business education, knowledge about the specific business of interest, and willingness to acquire any necessary skills that may be missing. A commitment to filling any knowledge or experience gap is a very positive indicator of success.

    Former newspaper columnist Niki Scott suggested questions that could help us determine our fitness for the temperamental demands of entrepreneurship:

  • Do you routinely accept responsibility? Are you comfortable with moderate risk?
  • Do you consider yourself pro-active? Focused? A priority-setter?
  • Are you confident about overcoming obstacles? Realistic about your limitations?
  • Are you accurate? Controlled? Self-reliant? Disciplined? A self-starter?
  • Are you comfortable accepting advice? Willing to do whatever it takes?
  • Are you fair and honest? Constructive? A good delegator? A motivator?
  • Are you persevering? Resilient? Do you know when to quit?
  • Does it still sound like fun? How does the sense of intensity and personal responsibility implied by this checklist sit with you? Does this direction still seem a few years away?

    Conclusion

    The process of creating or seizing an opportunity is less the result of a deliberate search than it is a mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to business opportunity. This frequently relates to the prospective entrepreneur’s current profession or interests, where he or she perceives a process that can be more efficiently performed an attractive new service or improvement of an existing service, or some business or geographic “niche” that is being undeserved.

    Successful entrepreneurs exhibit the ability to recognize an opportunity while it is still taking shape. These are often based on broad trends, which may be: demographic, such as the “graying” of America, creating opportunities in health services; sociological developments, like the “green” movement, with its emphasis on recycling and environmental sensitivity, and; cultural changes caused by changing economic conditions and technological developments.

    Opportunities can also frequently be found in current and developing business trends such as the globalization of business, the need for outsourcing created by downsizing, and the burgeoning service economy. There are often localized opportunities, based on geography, natural resources, human resources in local abundance, and the like. Can you think of any for your area?

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available at Amazon and directly from John at a significant discount. Contact John at: info@jbv.com

    Risks of Entrepreneurship

    The “spark” for many entrepreneurs is seeing an opportunity that doesn’t yet exist. Ted Turner, for example, launched CNN because he perceived that people wanted more television news than they were being offered. It took a lot of patience on Turner’s part to realize the vision, but he had read the market in a way that few “experts” did at the time.

    In realizing the promise of CNN, Turner demonstrated another facet of the entrepreneurial spirit, persistence. There are a lot of bright ideas that never reach fruition; taking a “raw” idea and converting it into a successful business model is very hard work.

    And that work never stops. No matter how innovative your idea, the competition is always just behind you. With anything less than constant creative effort on your part, they may not stay behind you.

    When small businesses fail, the reason is generally one, or a combination, of the following:
    * inadequate financing often due to overly optimistic sales projections;

    * management shortcomings,

    — such as inadequate financial controls, lax customer credit, inexperience, and neglect, and;

    * misreading the market,

    — indicated by failure to reach the “critical mass” required in sales volume and profitability,

    — usually due to competitive disadvantages or market weakness.

    In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Why My Business Failed,” Ken Elias cautions that “even if the concept is right, it won’t fly if the strategy is wrong.” Still, on being asked whether he would start another business today, he answers: “Absolutely. The experience is fabulous, exciting and the possibility of success is always there.”

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available at Amazon and directly from John at a significant discount. Contact John at: info@jbv.com

    8 Great Online Tools for the Self-Employed

    As everyone who has launched their own business knows, becoming self-employed can seem like a double-edged sword. You have all the benefits of being your own boss, choosing the direction your business takes, and selecting the team you work with.

    However, as Benjamin Parker often told a young Spiderman, “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” After all, if things do not go as planned, you are the one who will have to bear the consequences. And even when things are running smoothly, you remain at the center of the entire enterprise, which can often mean juggling several obligations at once.

     

    Intro Image small

    Credit: pexels

     

    Fortunately, the online market is already a step ahead, providing a wide range of handy business tools and must-have labor-saving solutions. The functionality of these tools covers everything from productivity tracking to accounts management, and can save you time and effort in all areas of your business.

    Naturally, there are too many to list here, but these are a few favorites that every entrepreneur should check out.

     

    1. Camcard

    In the early weeks of your business, and even during the pre-launch phase, the chances are that you will pick up a lot of new contacts, particularly if you visit trade shows or other industry events. Yet keeping track of these connections can be tough, especially if you find yourself searching through a growing stack of business cards.

    Camcard enables you to scan these cards, saving them to your phone, where you can sort, tag, and share them with ease. This means you never need to lose track of that promising supplier or prospective client.

    The app also allows you to add notes and reminders to cards, receive news about the businesses your contacts work for, and even exchange e-cards with other users by filling in your profile via the app.

     

    2. Hemingway

    Creating high quality written content can be a challenge, and it is all too easy to fall foul of your own bad habits. The Hemingway App helps you to review your work, and offers suggestions for improving your style and tone. The app also has limited word processing functionality, and allows you to include basic formatting such as italicizing and emboldening text.

    The app is simple to use, and provides a clear, color-coded key with explanations of each point, along with a dropdown displaying details such as your word count, and estimated reading time. The readability grade represents the lowest level of education required to understand your writing.

    This tool can be particularly useful for fine-tuning your copy, particularly if you are repurposing written content for a new audience. But don’t be too alarmed if your work lights up like a corrective rainbow; writing is always subjective, and you should not sacrifice your brand’s voice just to improve your “score”. After all, according to the app, even Hemingway himself had room for improvement.

    Credit: Hemingway App

     

    3. Harvest

    Hemingway himself kept a large chart on which he recorded his daily wordcount, to keep track of his productivity, or as he put it, “so as not to kid myself”. Perhaps if he were writing today, he might have used Pacemaker to save himself the trouble.

    Of course, it is likely that you need to keep track of more than just your word count each day. Fortunately, there are some fantastic time-tracking resources, such as Harvest, which enable you to record not only your own productivity, but that of your entire team.

    This facilitates invoicing, and allows you to learn more about how and when your team works best. Coupled with their companion app, Forecast, the data recorded with Harvest can also be used to improve your scheduling, and generate accurate estimates for project completion.

     

    4. Receipt Bank

    Keeping track of your finances is critical for any self-employed individual, especially if you have set up an ecommerce business, where you may have no direct contact with your customers. Unpaid invoices can soon take their toll, as can drawn-out payment disputes, particularly when you have a lot of data to comb through.

    Receipt Bank cuts down on time-consuming data entry and invoice management, by automating receipt processing, sending reminders to clients with outstanding invoices, and even logging communications with clients and colleagues, for easy referencing, and improved dispute resolution.

    Not only does this help you to boost trust and relationships with your customers, but it also enables you to more effectively keep track of payments, and monitor fluctuations in your business.

    The service is also fully integrated with many leading accountancy packages, including Sage, QuickBooks, and Gusto.

     

    5. Trello

    When it comes to managing your time, and that of your team, not many business tools can beat Trello. This indispensable tool enables you to create individual “cards” for each project, and its objectives, set deadlines, and assign team members to specific cards.

    Cards keep track of all changes, comments, and interactions, and team members can upload files, making them accessible to all members of the card to which the file is attached. Even if you are flying solo, Trello is a fantastic way to keep track of your objective, organize your projects, and keep track of your progress.

     

    6. Exit Bee

    This handy little CRO tool is a simple but effective means of boosting sales, and engaging intuitively with your audience. Exit Bee tracks the motion of a site visitor’s cursor, and detects when they are about to leave or close your website. The software then creates a tailored message, which is based on the user’s behavior.

    For example, this could mean offering a discount on the specific product the visitor had been browsing. Similarly, if they appeared to have given up halfway through your lead capture form, you could provide a simplified version or suggest they create a login so they can save their progress. If the visitor has already made a purchase, it could even be a simple thank you, and an invitation to sign up to your mailing list.

    This is an excellent way to secure a few more conversions, while also gaining valuable insights into your customers’ behavior. As you learn what causes people to leave, and more importantly, what convinces them to stay, you can refine your approach, and boost the effectiveness of your website as a whole.

     

    7. IFTTT

    Once you’ve collected a few helpful tools, you may begin to find that managing all of these apps becomes a challenge in itself. If This Then That offer a platform via which you can get the most out of your apps, by activating “Applets”.

    With over 1 billion Applets across more than 500 services, IFTTT allows you to customize your experience, saving you time, and making sure you stay up to date with the topics that matter most to your business. It’s a great small business tool that can be used across a range of departments and teams.

    Credit: IFTTT

    Of course, there are countless other tools available to help you streamline and automate many of your business obligations. Don’t be afraid to try out new things, and discover what works best for you.

    The real value of these tools is that they provide you with more freedom to focus your attention on specific areas of your business, without getting caught up in trivial tasks. For example there may be areas that you do not wish to automate, or aspects of your business that you feel require more personal attention.

     

    8. Shopify

    One of the joys of being self-employed is that you are your own boss. Being your own boss means running your own business, and for many in the digital world, that business takes the form of an ecommerce store. But setting one up can be tricky. That’s where Shopify comes in.

     

    This is not just a tool, but a platform that allows your to build your own online business. It lets you manage the design, look after the difficult issue of taxes, and control the payment and distribution of your goods. It comes with a variety of tools and gadgets, a whole host of helpful training guides, an active blog with useful tidbits, and has the option three different price plans.

     

    The real benefit of using this is in the simplicity it brings to you; some of you may be experts in website building and wish to create your own online store. However, for those not versed in the language of code, this tool makes the process of setting up, running and advancing your online business a lot easier than you might think.

     

    Whatever you decide, the key to growing your brand lies in embracing the options available, and being ready to change your approach in order to maximize your potential. No one knows your business and its needs better than you, and with the right combination of tools in your inventory, you can ensure your venture achieves the success it deserves.

     

    Victoria Greene: Brand Marketing Consultant

    I’m an ecommerce marketer by trade and enjoy nothing more than helping self-employed entrepreneurs to meet new business goals. I spend my time dreaming up effective content strategies and I love being instrumental in the success of brands of all shapes and sizes.