Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

So you want to be a consultant

What is your concept of what a consultant does? They consult with businesses, but what is it that they offer that the business can’t handle itself? Generally they have a specialty that the business lacks, or a specialty that is in short supply.

The specialty is often called the consultant’s “niche.” Can you identify your niche? It is important that you be able to describe this niche to the prospective client so that they are clear about what you have to offer.

Specialties include business services for the self-employed. One such company offers “a suite of services for the self-employed” that consists of:

  • Use of our Comprehensive Business Management Software
  • Up to $10 Million in Liability Insurance
  • Contract Review and Administration Services
  • Automated Invoicing and Payroll
  • Expense Compliance Review and Processing
  • Payroll Tax Administration

The list gives you some sense of the areas in which business services for the self-employed would compete. You need not offer all in this list, but the more the better.Another specialty is business strategy planning. Despite the widely held belief that a written strategic plan is vital for business success many companies, if they even write a plan, only give it lip service. A recent survey shows that:

  • 60% of organizations don’t link strategy to budgeting
  • 75% of organizations don’t link employee incentives to strategy
  • 86% of business owners and managers spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy
  • 95% of the typical workforce doesn’t understand their organization’s strategy.

Business strategy planning must include implementation of the plan to be effective. On Strategy defines implementation:“Implementation is the process that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals. Implementing your strategic plan is as important, or even more important, than your strategy.”

Entrepreneur Magazine defines the difference between a good consultant and a bad one:“… what separates a good consultant from a bad consultant is a passion and drive for excellence. And–oh yes–a good consultant should be knowledgeable about the subject he or she is consulting in. That does make a difference.”

There are some questions that we need to ask ourselves before entering the field:

  • Am I sufficiently qualified to add value to my clients?
  • Am I organized enough to handle multiple clients?
  • Do I have the necessary certifications and licenses?
  • Am I comfortable selling my services?

Good luck!

Mining Market Data

With a heightened awareness of opportunity, ideas can often be generated by market research. The National Women’s Business Center (NWBC) defines market research as “a systematic, objective collection and analysis of data about your target market, competition, and/or environment with the goal being increased understanding. Through the market research process, you can take data–a variety of related or non-related facts–and create useful information to guide your business decisions.

For example, in recent years data has indicated the shift of the U.S. to a service economy and away from manufacturing. Service industry growth is good news for prospective entrepreneurs. Service businesses are relatively easy to start, and economies of scale are not generally sufficient to give larger companies a significant competitive edge.

For an indication of the products and services that people will need in the near future, we can look at projections of those industries which are expected to produce the most new jobs in upcoming years. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that eating and drinking places will create the most new jobs in the early 21st century, followed by health care, construction, and personnel and supply services.

More specific ideas are often suggested in the business and entrepreneurship literature. Food and recreation opportunities could include family entertainment centers, tea salons, and brewpubs. Services you might offer could include children’s learning centers, unique travel experiences and specialized staffing agencies.

Other useful sources of ideas include the business section of the local newspaper and the local business weekly. Broad trends can be tracked merely by being a reasonably well-informed observer of the popular culture.

Are opportunity listings useful? Some believe that it is already too late to enter a business by the time it is publicly acknowledged to be an opportunity. Many suggest that it is better to wait for the “first movers” to clarify exactly what services consumers want, and then to enter with a more focused product.

We also have the choice of moving into “hot” new businesses, or developing better approaches to well-established industries. While leading edge ventures are generally more exciting, more fortunes have probably been made with well run versions of fairly common businesses.

Scan the current literature for opportunities that fit your strengths and interests. Describe a specific business that would take advantage of one of these opportunities. Identify how your strengths and expertise would contribute to the success of such a business. Visualize yourself as the owner/manager, and project how you would get the venture off the ground.

For example, a coffee shop fits within the fastest growing industry, eating and drinking places, though in competition with national franchises. Is it in competition only with other coffeehouses, or with other casual dining or snack-food places?

Many services are highly localized. Is national data useful to consideration of a neighborhood coffee shop? Can we acquire meaningful data on just our market area, the northeast corner of a metropolitan area, serving 18% of its population? This would almost certainly require gathering primary data, that is data that we gather or commission specifically for this purpose, rather than secondary or published data.

The NWBC stresses that information gained through marketing research isn’t just “nice to know.” It is solid information that can guide your most important strategic business decisions.