Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village.”?
Typically this statement is referring to raising a child. While I have zero experience in the child-rearing department, I do have experience in running a business and I will say this statement certainly applies.
It’s a lot of work to operate an entire business by yourself. You likely find support and advice from loved ones, mentors and peers, but ultimately you are the one who has to do the work.
You are the one putting in the long hours, and stressing over what to post to social media. You are the one figuring out how much to charge clients and how to collect their late payments. You are the one trying to stay organized and on-task without anyone holding you accountable.
I, too, share in these struggles. And yes, it can definitely be overwhelming at times.
To make it easier on myself, I started using a few resources to help my business run a little more smoothly. Hopefully, you’ll find them helpful too.
1 | 17hats
When I decided to take my business full time, I began searching for a system that could house all my paperwork and administrative tasks in one location. I wanted to avoid using 3 or 4 different sites for each task.
I found several systems great for either invoicing, contracts, time tracking or project management, but none of them had all the capabilities I needed. That is until I stumbled upon 17hats.
It was perfect for a solo entrepreneur like myself.
It was simple and straight-forward, with a great user interface. It had every single thing I needed all in one spot, and it was affordable.
17hats was the first real investment I made in my business, and probably the smartest one to date. I remember telling my husband, “There’s no turning back now.”
Every purchase is a substantial one when you’re just starting out, but some things are truly worth investing in.
It was $15 per month if you made a 2-year commitment.
*17hats has recently changed their pricing structure and prices may vary from when I purchased. To get a 10% discount on their unlimited plan, use this link: https://17hats.com?r=phhxbwrftb
17hats makes running my business so much easier.
Here's what I use it for.
1 | Project management
As a designer, the project management feature is a huge help. I enter the contact’s information and can add multiple projects per client. I can see which projects are still active, and archive completed ones so they aren’t taking up space in my que. I can easily access the archived projects if I need details from a past assignment.
2 | Time tracking
You can classify your tracked time as billable or non-billable. This makes invoicing easy since the system tells you how many un-billed hours you have per client. It’s as easy as clicking “send invoice for un-billed hours.”
3 | Contracts
I created a couple contract templates that make it a breeze to onboard new clients. You can also attach a contract to a quote and invoice so your client can sign all the paperwork in one sitting.
4 | Price Quotes
You can send quotes for the client to approve before you ever start a project, then once their project is complete, you can easily create invoices from the price quote. Quick and easy.
5 | Invoicing + Receiving Payments
17hats offers online payment through systems like PayPal or Stripe. I use PayPal and yes, they take a payment fee (like most systems would), but it’s worth it for my clients to have the “Pay Now” option. They simply enter their credit card info and it’s immediately loaded to my PayPal account.
6 | Email templates
This is one of my favorite features! You can create email templates for all your commonly-used emails. A few I use frequently are:
“You have received a contract” or “You have received an invoice”
I could talk for days about how great this feature is. The system will send automated reminders to remind clients of upcoming or past due assignments and invoices—you don’t even have to think about it.
You can also integrate with your gmail accounts.
7 | Calendar
The calendar on 17hats integrates with Google Calendar, which is super convenient.
There are many other great features like bookkeeping, workflows (I use this occasionally), lead managing, and to-do lists. 17hats has made the admin side of my business a breeze.
Here’s a look at the interface.
To check it out for yourself, click here.
2 | Buffer
Buffer is a scheduling program for social media. You can schedule posts for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google +, and Pinterest (in the paid version).
Scheduling social media posts in advance relieves a huge burden. It allows you to post at optimal times without being attached to your phone constantly.
It has the cleanest, most user-friendly interface of any of the scheduling programs I’ve tried (including Hootesuite & MavSocial).
Buffer has an app that makes posting to Instagram a breeze.
*Instagram doesn’t allow you to auto-schedule, but with Buffer you can set up and schedule your posts to be sent as a reminder to your phone at the time of posting.
Buffer does offer a free version—which I had been using for the past few months—until I recently upgraded this past week. The free version is great if you schedule your posts for the day each morning. You can schedule 10 posts at a time on up to 5 different accounts.
Benefits to the paid version of Buffer:
- Unleashes extra analytics
- Allows you to schedule 100 posts at a time.
- Allows you to connect up to 10 accounts (including multiple Facebook accounts or pages)
- Allows you to set varying schedules per week, as opposed to the same schedule everyday of the week.
- Allows you to schedule for Pinterest.
- Allows you to view your schedule in Calendar view as well as list view. (Although I prefer the free list view)
Here’s a look at the interface.
To check it out for yourself, visit buffer.com.
3 | Trello
Trello is an organizational tool and can be used by individuals or teams. I’ll admit I have only been using Trello for about a month, but I love it so far. And for those of you who love lists (like me) I’m betting you’ll love it too.
The basic premise of Trello is to organize your thoughts, create lists, and jot down ideas. You create boards, and within each board you create cards, and in each card you create lists.
For example, I have a board called “Branding Packages” and on that board are 3 cards—one for each package I offer.
2. Branding + Collateral
3. Branding + Collateral + Website.
Each specific card contains a list of every item included in the package.
Each card goes into greater detail when you click to open it up. You can add items like:
- Due dates
You can even add members if you want to share a task with your assistant or team member.
I also have a board called “Content Brainstorm” that contains cards for Blog posts, social media posts, email marketing, and tutorial ideas.
It’s a great way to keep track of random content ideas when they come to mind.
Trello also has an app, so it’s easy to jot down ideas from your phone and keep all your thoughts organized and in the same place.
This works much better than my previous scattered system of iPhone notes, two physical notebooks, MacBook text edit, and post it notes. It’s been a relief to consolidate and to know all my great content ideas are in one central location.
Oh, and best of all? It’s completely FREE! Check it out at trello.com.
4 | Squarespace
Squarespace is a website building tool, blogging platform, and hosting service. I recently switched my site from Weebly to Squarespace and have been very pleased—here’s why.
1 | It’s simple to use.
The interface is straight-forward and it auto updates to your live site as you save changes.
2 | It’s easily customizable
Squarespace allows you to change just about everything you can think of. You can alter fonts and font sizes, colors, headers, footers, social media integration—the list goes on and on.
3 | Templates have a clean, efficient design aesthetic
The Squarespace templates are really well done. Each and every one is designed with a clean, sleek look. They differ from template to template—and there are plenty to choose from—but each template option is just as good as the next.
4 | Blogging platform is robust
This is in large part why I decided to switch from Weebly to Squarespace. The blogging platform is better integrated with Social media (Instagram and Twitter).
It has great features like summary blocks where you can feature things like popular posts or new posts right in the sidebar.
It offers functions like archives, categories and a search bar to make it easy for your viewers to find what they’re looking for.
5 | It’s an all-in-one website.
You can purchase a domain name, build a website, sell products, build a blog, and host your site all in one place. It makes the process simple, even for those who may not be tech savvy.
6 | Room for business growth
I felt like Squarespace offered the most potential for my business in the future. If I want to sell online products, offer e-courses, or have private galleries for clients, Squarespace is already set up to manage all of it.
7 | Analytics
Squarespace offers robust analytics to help you evaluate many different statistics. You can evaluate things like how many visitors visit your site, which pages are most popular, where the traffic is coming from (Facebook, Instagram, Google, or direct traffic), and what is your most popular content.
Here are a few images of what the website builder dashboard looks like.
You can view templates, features, and pricing at squarespace.com.
5 | Elle & Company
I discovered Elle & Company (elleandcompanydesign.com) about 8 months ago and I now reference the website on a daily basis.
Elle & Company is a resource for creative entrepreneurs. The founder—Lauren Hooker—is a designer, blogger, speaker, coach, and teacher.
On her blog, she covers topics of business, blogging, Squarespace, design, branding, and social media. All of which are very helpful for entrepreneurs in the early phase of their company.
She also offers a resource library, weekly webinars called Elle Chats, tutorials, and email newsletters. I highly recommend her site to any freelancers or creative entrepreneurs.
Check it out for yourself at elleandcompanydesign.com.
6 | Bitly
Bitly is a site used for link shortenings and site traffic management.
It is great for apps like Twitter and Instagram to avoid having a lengthy url in your post. The site also allows you to track clicks and see where the clicks come from.
For example, I can view how many clicks this link received and where each of them came from. (Instagram, Facebook, or dark traffic)
They also offer an app, which is great for accessing quick stats on the go.
To use Bitly, visit their website http://bitly.com and signup for an account (It’s FREE!). Once you do that, you’ll see a dashboard like this:
You then click “Create Bitlink” in the top right corner, copy and paste your full link into the “Paste Long URL” box and click save. It will then provide you a shortened link (which you can customize) to use across all your platforms.
I still use google and Squarespace analytics, but Bitly has made tracking my blog post traffic super simple and convenient.
I hope these tools and resources are helpful and make it easier for you and your business to thrive!
What tools do you use that aren’t mentioned here? Which of the above tools would you be interested in hearing more about?