5 Useful Tools For New Small Business Owners & Solopreneurs

Venturing off on your own to become a small business owner or self-employed is a big step. You’ll find there are hundreds of people ready to offer you advice and just as many companies trying to sell you their latest product. Breaking off on your own professionally is already a challenge, all of those added decisions and complications don’t need to get in your way. I broke off on my own just over two years ago to become a freelance consultant and take this blog to the next level. The journey has had it’s ups and downs but through it all, there are several tools that have really helped me in terms of productivity, organization and just keeping my head above water. Everyone eventually finds their own process and systems that work best for them but if you’re just starting out on a solo career, consider these tools to help you get going.

I originally used Asana to organize and edit the content calendar for this blog. Prior to Asana, everything was on paper and making changes was always a mess. A friend of mine introduced me to Asana a few years ago but it took me almost a year to actually start using it. Asana is a fantastic tool but it can be overwhelming at first if you’re not particularly tech savvy and/or open to change. There are plenty of tutorials and information to get the hang of the platform and after playing around with it for a few minutes, you’ll notice that it’s not as challenging to use as you might have thought. Once you start using it and organizing whatever you need to in Asana, chances are you’ll be a devotee like I am now.

A few “projects” I have in Asana are the editorial calendar for Lattes, Life & Luggage, recurring administrative and management tasks that I need to stay on top of regularly, training for interns, travel planning, public relations and marketing plans, newsletter management and planning, research projects and all of my deadlines for clients in my freelance consulting. It’s accessible via your computer, mobile device and tablets. There are several different formats so that you can organize things in a way that best fit your needs. It’s also a great way to track progress on assignments whether you work solo or with a team.

File sharing is essential in most careers it seems. Google Drive (as I’ll discuss in a moment) is a great option to share internally but if you need to share documents externally or for viewing only, Dropbox is the way to go. Dropbox Pro gives you one terabyte worth of space and costs $9.99/monthly or $99/annually. I very quickly upgraded to Dropbox Pro simply because I use it with all of my clients and 2 gigs stopped being enough space very early into my venture of being a solopreneur. That extra space is also necessary if you have to save a lot of photos, especially high resolution. Leave the space on your Google Drive for internal documents and let Dropbox be home to photos and client shared folders.

When I rebranded to Lattes, Life & Luggage nearly one year ago (wow, time has flown), one of the first things I did after buying the domain was create a Google Apps account. I think it’s important to have a business email (ie. name@company.com). It gives you more credibility as a professional, no matter the career choice, and also helps keep you out of spam folders. Google Apps is a great resource because it comes with the ability to add other users in case you’re looking to expand your team. It also has more than just email services. You have access to a company Google Drive with 15GB of space per user, Google Calendar, Google AdWords, Google Hangouts and more all dedicated to the company.

While Dropbox is one of the best resources for external file sharing, Google Drive & co. is one of the best for internal sharing. Google Docs, Google Sheets & Google Slides are easy to adapt to which make them user-friendly plus you can have multiple people editing them at the same time. This is really the selling point. Rather than passing documents back and forth or waiting on someone to leave a document, several people can be in a document and working in it at the same time. Game changer!

STAYFOCUSED (or any other site blocker)
According to an infographic published on The Muse, the average worker wastes 3 out of 8 hours in the workday not including lunch and scheduled breaks. That same infographic pointed out that 44% of the time wasted is spent on web surfing. Inc. also published an article regarding time being wasted in the workplace citing the top distractions as Google and Social Media. I’ve read about digital distractions plenty and this past fall, I actually timed every single thing I spent time on. While emails ranked high on my list of time sucks, mindless Googling and social media scrolling were also culprits.

Being a social media consultant, it’s hard for me not to be on social media. There’s usually something I need to be doing for a client on at least one social media channel each day but there are ways to control the time-wasting scrolling. StayFocused is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to block selected sites. Set the hours in which you’d like to block the sites and a time limit for how long you’ll allow yourself to be on those sites. For example, say you want to block Facebook but still be able to go on and scroll for a few minutes during your afternoon coffee break. Allow yourself 10 minutes per day in your “working hours.” Once you hit that time limit, the extension will completely block access to all of your blocked sites. So, to be clear, if you have a total of five websites blocked you only get 10 minutes for ALL of those websites. Not 10 minutes each. You’ll find it sobering when you realize how much time you get back by avoiding unnecessary sites.

Embarking on a solo career, you’ll need to decide whether you want to work on an hourly contract agreement, in a retainer or project-based agreement or both. If you’re decision is both or hourly, you’ll need a solid system to track your time. Even if you’re working on a retainer or project-based method of payment, I still think it’s important to track your time because it gives you an idea of what you’re spending your time on and how long it takes you to complete any projects. Toggl is a free tool that makes it easy to track your time. The Pro Plan has more features like adding in rates but I’ve found that the free version works just fine.

If you’re interested in marketing your business or you’re in the business of content marketing, Buffer and Squarespace are my top two recommendations. Buffer makes it easy to organize and schedule social media posts. The Buffer Awesome Plan gives you up to 100 posts queued for each profile and up to 10 profiles. It’s also incredibly affordable compared to other social media scheduling platforms out there. Squarespace is my web hosting platform of choice. I’ve used Blogger and Wordpress as well but Squarespace by far is the easiest to manage as a non-designer and their customer service is incredible. There are obviously plenty of tools and programs out there for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small business owners. It just takes a little trial and error to find out what works best for you.

Tell us in the comments below which programs you find helpful.