I love my job. Five years ago, I was a “slave” to the corporate world – the commute, the clock, the assignments that my superior didn’t want, and, OMG, the wardrobe. Today I am a content strategist and “Jack of tech trades” in the writing industry.
The decision to go it on my own was risky, and I did eat a lot of mac n’ cheese the first year. There was always that fear of failure. But now? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A big part of my learning curve had nothing to do with my writing skills and talents. It had to do with all of the other things that running a business involves – marketing my brand, accounting and budget management, billing, taxes, managing my time, and, oh yes, all of the legalities involved.
These are all tasks that don’t bring in any income, so the best advice I can give to newbie entrepreneurs is to find the tools that are going to streamline all of these tasks (or eventually outsource them to someone else).
The following list is a set of great tools that you should consider. They have made the nuts and bolt of running my business a breeze.
First and foremost, you will need to register your business according to local, regional and state law. And don’t forget, you need a Federal tax ID number (takes 3 minutes on the IRS website). You have options – sole proprietor, LLC, partnership, S-Corp, etc.
From here, you will need to set up a business bank account and start accepting payments. My advice?
PayPal: This is by far the easiest way to set up a business account and to get paid. Just follow the simple instructions on the site. And all of your customers/clients can pay you digitally by your account username. PayPal notifies you via email every time a payment is made and every time you make a payment to anyone. Once your business is a bit established, you will also receive a debit card. That is just one of the many business benefits you will have.
An alternative is Stripe, a company that caters to internet-based businesses. It too has the same features and functions as PayPal. Still a third alternative is Payoneer, again a company that operates much like the other two.
You want attractive products for communication with customers and clients. There is no need to order business paper products anymore. There is a wealth of digital tools that will serve almost any purpose.
Freenvoices: If you want a large number of options for invoices, you will find them through these free Word templates. And this site also gives a short tutorial on invoicing for newbies.
Scannable by Evernote: This app is actually much more than just an invoicing tool. You can scan anything from receipts and payments and save, forward, etc. copies of them via your smartphone. One of the very cool features is you can scan in your business card and use it as the “letterhead” for any communication, including your invoices.
As long as we are talking money, you will need a great piece of accounting software. The beauty of most apps today is that they do far more than just keep track of your income and expenditures. Most will categorize everything, according to your needs, and they will keep the key records that you will need for tax purposes. Some will also complete your tax forms automatically – a huge plus for someone who is not familiar with business taxes and who may want to avoid the expense of a tax accountant. There may come a time when you need the advice of an accountant, but probably not in the early years.
- QuickBooks: I use QuickBooks. It’s pretty comprehensive, and it will scale as I do. If, for example, I ever employ other writers to work for me, it will generate all payroll data, withholding, etc.
- Xero: This is a less expensive alternative to QuickBooks, and it provides many of the same features and functions.
- Wave: This is free accounting software that is easy to use, but you will be limited in the integration of other apps. Plus, support is by email only, and it can take a couple of days to get a response. Still, for basic accounting tasks, it works fine.
You cannot scrimp on the legal aspects of your business. If you have big questions, get the advice of an attorney. But, there are a lot of tools that have done much of the legwork for you. Here are three great tools for any entrepreneur.
- Proposify: If your business involves crafting proposals to prospective customers/clients, this is a great tool for creating them. You can even store a library of templates and other content to reuse as you need. And if you develop a small team in your business, any one of them can access any of your proposals at any time, from any device. It even provides for digital signatures.
- Freelance Contract by And CO: This is a contract site established by the Freelancers Union in New York. It was developed by actual freelancers with lots of experience and with legal advice. If you want a contract that covers every eventuality, this is a good source. You can also cut out parts you don’t want or need, and there is the capability for e-signing.
- Hello Sign: This app is a “Cadillac” for e-signing, especially “on the go.”
This is an area that is very individualized based upon the type of business, but there are some great apps to look at to fit a variety of needs.
- Trello: Whether you have a small team or are a solopreneur, this is a cool little app for organizing everything, especially when you have several projects going on at one times. You can set up boards that will give you a timeline for completion, and will track each of the benchmarks and any communications you have had with clients, changes you are making, etc. The more you use it, the more you will be able to do with it.
- Slack: Slack is an organization of members, some solopreneurs, some teams of workers and want a collaborative environment in which to work. It’s a great online place to work and to network with others.
- Boomerang for Gmail: What a great email tool – I use it all the time. I can create an email and schedule it to be sent at a later time. I can receive emails that I don’t want to handle at the moment but do need to handle at a future time. I can schedule it to show up in my inbox again at a future date I set. I can get reminders of when I need to send follow-up emails and more.
- Rapportive: This is a bit of an investigation tool. If you want to contact someone and you don’t know their email address. This Gmail tool lets you track down an email address pretty easily. Yu list possible email addresses, and this tool will scour through social media platforms and find people who may be a match. You can then check out the profiles and see which one is the person you are looking for. A cool tool for cold emails or reaching out to a networking potential.
- VoilaNorbert: this is an alternative to Rapportive. Basically, this tool will find the company email address of someone you are attempting to “find” and send a cold email to.
We all procrastinate. And we all get sidetracked easily, especially when we are on our own, and the web is out there for our exploration. And it’s hard to really know how much time is being spent on various aspects of your business. Time management is important. Here are some apps I have found helpful. It is not a comprehensive list, by any means, but it is a start.
- Harvest: Here is a time tracking tools that will categorize how you spend your time. It will track time spent on individual project, and this is pretty key. If I find that I am spending too much time with work for a client that isn’t really worth what I am getting paid, I know it is time to re-negotiate or replace that client. There are other functions with this app, even invoicing, but I love its reports on exactly how much time I spend on each project.
- TeuxDeux: This is really “To-Do” and it means just that. You can create to-do lists just as you often do on paper, but then lose or forget to take with you. This little app lets you create your lists on a daily or weekly basis, and you can easily rearrange them and check them off when finished. Grocery list? No problem. You can enter that too. And if you have tasks that are recurring, you can enter them one time only and receive reminders.
- IFTTT: Are you a bit of a news junkie in your industry? Is your work somewhat dependent upon the weather? No problem. You can setup this app to send you notifications about any topic of your choosing. And for certain freelancers, it might be great to get a notification when a gig is posted on Craigslist that might interest you. It’s easy to use and you can add or delete notifications at any time.
- Purrli.com: OK. I am a sucker for cats. And this free app is just fun. It will provide me the sounds of cats in all different situations. When I want to work, I find the best sound for my mood, and just turn it on. Best of all? NO ads. Just the sound and the request by the founder of a donation to keep his site going. There are lots of white noise apps, if you need to remove distractions. Find one that works for you.
As you move through your first years as an entrepreneur, you will discover many things – some great, some not so great. But if you have the passion, the work ethic, and a product or service that people need, you will make the adjustments you should and come out on top. Hopefully, some of these tools will help you streamline those non-income tasks.