When you’re starting out with your business, there’s so much to focus on, it’s easy to overlook the infrastructure. Building your website, developing products and marketing your company are likely to take up the majority of your days. But it’s also important to have the right tools in place to manage the administrative, client and financial tasks of your new firm. Here are five tools that I've learned over the past year that no entrepreneur starting a business should do without.
1. Web-based project management system
If your company is just you and one or two other people, it’s easy to assume you don’t need project management software. But when your income is directly tied to your product, staying organized is critical for delivering everything on deadline and in top form. A web based project management tool allows you to set up projects, break them down into tasks and delegate effectively. This can be a make-or-break tool for the successful management of global teams of employees, freelancers and virtual assistants.
2. Easy hiring and payment tool
Whether you’re outsourcing key tasks such as administrative work or graphic design or coordinating a team of freelance writers, the ability to easily hire, fire, make payments, and handle 1099s for your contractors will save you hours each week. Various platforms that let you hire freelancers also allow you to manage your existing teams by posting jobs, tracking progress and rendering payment. Many of them offer an escrow feature that’s incredibly helpful — new freelancers trust you more and you’re protected if they don’t deliver. Some popular companies include Elance, Guru, ODesk and Gigwalk.
3. Online billing tool
Billing clients each month is a necessity. If you’re a services provider or you offer products for sale, doing your billing by hand in Word templates takes a long time. It’s harder to do your bookkeeping and you appear less professional. A simple online tool such as QuickBooks or FreshBooks allows you to set up profiles for clients, create invoices and email them or send via regular mail with a few clicks. The cost is affordable, which might surprise you.
4. Real-time communications for clients and customers
Real-time communications with customers, prospects and your team is crucial. Often a few minutes invested in answering questions or clarifying a concern will save you hours in scheduling and attending more formal meetings. Products like Skype allow for instant messages, phone conversations and video conferencing. Many products exist in this space for both your desktop and mobile devices.
5. Automated social media posting
An active social media presence is a core component of marketing your company. Yet following all the networks, writing content and posting it each day is no small task. Luckily a number of tools on the market have simplified the process. Look for a tool that lets you manage all your accounts, track discussions, and use both mobile and computer-based tools. Two programs to consider are Hootsuite and Buffer.
When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of tasks that are in front of you. It’s important to remember that millions of other businesses face the same issues and there are tools to help you streamline your operations. A number of these programs are free or very affordable, so there’s no reason to not check them out today! Do you have any favorite productivity tools that you use that I forgot to mention?