The Top Five Business Tools for Online Entrepreneurs
When I first started my web and graphic design business I spent several months emailing clients back and forth, hand writing long to-do lists, and printing out emails to keep track of tasks for individual client projects. I didn’t offer consultation calls, neglected to create contracts, and certainly didn’t have a proper system in place. I quickly became overwhelmed and certainly lacked a professional presence, which was only hurting my business and putting sales at standstill.
Now that my second business has taken off, there are many things I’ve learned about running a service-based business that I never thought to do in the beginning. Now I use several tools that help keep me organized, hold myself and my clients accountable, and allow my business to run smoothly and efficiently.
If you are also a service-based entrepreneur, there are five essential tools you need to be using in your online business, which are all included in this free list of resources.
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This is the best project management tool I’ve ever used. As I mentioned above, early on in my design business I worked with clients via email and would always be stressed over the thought of missing important information. I’d print out endless pages of emails, highlight important information, and make notes to try to stay on top of everything. All that did was waste paper and give me a headache! I now use Asana for all of my client projects, and even goes as far as on-boarding each of my clients into their projects so they can track my progress as I work on their projects. Not only does it hold me accountable, but it looks incredibly professional, and helps my clients keep track of everything they need to give me. I don’t know how I survived all those months without Asana and would feel completely lost without it now.
Asana is also a great tool if you work with a team or have a VA (virtual assistant) helping you run your business. You can create projects, delegate tasks, keep track of important dates, upload files, communicate via the conversation tab and so much more. Even if you’re a solopreneur you can easily create projects and to-do lists for yourself. I like to keep a separate to-do lists for more personal and blog-related tasks, in addition to my whiteboard to-do list. I can easily access all of my projects and check in with my clients on the go from my phone through their app. If you’d like to learn more about Asana and sign up to start managing your business — and your life — better, you can create your account here. Be on the lookout for a full post on Asana in the future -- for now, just know it’s an essential tool, especially for all of you service-based business owners out there.
I do a lot of networking online -- in fact, most of my clients come from Facebook and Pinterest. While I found it beneficial to chat with prospective clients via messenger and email in the early stages of my business, I wanted to provide a better way to connect with them so we could determine if we were a good fit to work with each other. I quickly realized I needed to start offering free consultations to bridge that gap and close more sales.
These consultations were a much more efficient way to learn more about my clients and explain the services I offer while being able to easily answer any of their questions before committing to a package. It also allowed me to close quickly and converted to more paying clients than messaging and emailing. Consultations added a nice personal touch to my services, and allowed me to connect with my clients on a deeper, more personal level.
When my client list started to expand, I needed a better way to schedule my 1:1 consultations and virtual meetings. This is where Calendly came in and saved the day.
I love Calendly because it’s free, easy to use, and nearly effortless for prospective and current clients to schedule their appointments. You can also integrate it with your Google Calendar and receive reminders about your upcoming calls so everything is organized and runs seamlessly. Another option for scheduling is Acuity. This tool works similar to Calendly, but I find it comes with a steeper learning curve. You do, however, have the option to integrate payments for calls or meetings that require invoicing. There are also more detailed customization features in Acuity that you won’t find in Calendly, and a variety of payment plans to suit your budget and scheduling needs. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, you can take a look at Acuity here before committing to one or the other.
A massive mistake I made early on in my freelancing business was not having contracts to send over to my clients. Contracts are crucial in service-based businesses because they outline the terms of your services and payments in writing and allow you to have a plan in place should a client choose to break the contract or go beyond the expectations and agreements of the services you offer.
As my client load picked up, I realized I desperately needed to create contracts to send over to my clients before the actual work began. It wasn’t until several months in that I found Bonsai and never looked back. Bonsai helps you craft professional contracts for your business and allows you to customize various areas of the agreement before sending it off to clients to collect their electronic signature. You can also invoice clients through the platform, track time spent on individual projects, and create written proposals. If you need to legitimize your business and create contracts for your current or prospective clients, you can sign up to get started with Bonsai here.
If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I’ve talked about Tailwind many times before. If you’re new here or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, Tailwind is an incredible scheduling tool you can use to run your Pinterest and Instagram on autopilot and gain access to important insights on the status of your accounts. Most people know Tailwind for it’s amazing features for Pinterest users, but a lot of people don’t realize how effective Tailwind is for Instagram, too. One of my favorite features is their hashtag finder, which helps users identify which hashtags are ‘competitive’, ‘good,’ and ‘best.’ They also recommend certain hashtags based on your captions and any hashtags you enter in on your own. On top of that, Tailwind helps to ensure your pins and posts are published at the times when your audience is most likely to engage with your content. All you need to do is create the content, upload it, schedule it and trust that Tailwind is taking care of the rest. You can see the entire post on why you should use Tailwind for Instagram here. If you want to learn more or create a Tailwind account to schedule your first 100 pins (and/or 30 Instagram posts) for free, you can get started here.
If you were affected by the temporary social media apocalypse that sent people into a tizzy the other week and panicked when you couldn’t post or get in touch with your audience, then you desperately need to be working on your email marketing. Even if you didn’t freak out during that outage, you still need to be working on your email marketing. In this post I talked about how not establishing a solid email list at the beginning of my first online business was something I really regretted, and I don’t want you to see you make that same mistake.
This is where ConvertKit comes in. Back in the day, I used MailChimp as my email marketing platform, and while it served me well the first couple of years, I longed for something much more user friendly as my email list started to expand. If you’re currently using MailChimp and aren’t sure if ConvertKit is right for you, I highly recommend taking a look at this article. If you’re ready to jump in, you can create your account with ConvertKit and start working on building up your email list now.
While there are a handful of other tools I use to run my web design business, these are the five tools I use every day and absolutely cannot live without. I honestly don’t know how I ran my business before them! If you’re a service-based business owner what do you use to automate your business? What tools help you run an efficient business?