I’ve always been a big fan of eliminating, automating and delegating my tasks to allow me to focus on the projects that I like the most and add the most value to my business. Along my entrepreneurial path I’ve discovered a number of tools to help me be more productive and work smarter instead of harder. I’d like to share them with you so you can also benefit from them!
Planning Your Business
Entrepreneurs usually don’t put enough time into planning their businesses before they launch. It’s no wonder up to 80% of new startups fail! A great place to start is by picking up a few business books. Here’s a picture of me with some of my collection (full size picture here). They’ll also keep you motived when times get tough!
Take the Free Business Plan e-Course
This is a step by step plan sent over 7 days to help you create your business plan. It includes: The 6 Steps to Get Your Business Plan Started, The 8 Common Business Plan Mistakes You Want to Avoid, and The Worst Executive Summary I Have Ever Read. Cost: free! Learn more.
This worksheet will help you find a business idea that will excite you, challenge you, and give your life a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Oh, and it can also help make you a lot of money too. Fill it out and if you have any questions just let me know! Learn more.
Launching Your Business
Launching a new business is exciting and scary all rolled into one. Here’s a picture of me shortly after launching my Facebook Page (full size picture here). I’m going to share some of my favorite resources online and offline for getting your business launched! Leave a comment below if you have others to add to the list.
Buy a Domain Name: GoDaddy
Low cost, good service, easy to understand interface. They also provide suggestions for domain names if the one you want is taken. They try to upsell you like crazy though. I only use them for domains. Cost: depends on .com versus other extensions but they are always very price competitive. Learn more.
Host Your Website: BounceWeb
I struggled with bad hosts and had my server go down many times on one of the world’s ‘best’ hosting firms. I switched to BounceWeb and have had a stellar experience – they have shared and dedicated servers. Cost: depends on how much you need. What I use: I spend $500 / month with them. Learn more.
Outsource Your Graphic Design: 99designs
Outsourced low cost graphic design for your logo, website, business cards, etc. People from all over the world submit their designs (not portfolios, actual finished designs for you!), you give them feedback, and pick the winner. Cost: starts at $95 for some designs and goes up from there. Learn more.
Outsource Everything Else: oDesk
Outsource almost any business task. See people’s ratings from previous contracts & look at their test scores to see how they rank. oDesk will also track their time for you and take screenshots of their computers as they work. Cost: starts at $1 / hour. What I use: I’ve hired people for computer work and marketing support. Learn more.
Form or Join a Mastermind Group
I created 2 groups of entrepreneurs that meet once per month to discuss our businesses, share ideas, and help each other grow. Try to start one or join one in your community. It’s a great motivational boost every month. Cost: varies from group to group. What I use: My groups are $500 / year for Toronto entrepreneurs. Learn more.
Running Your Business
Here’s what my desk looks like (full size picture here). I run my business completely through online tools and software which keeps my desk clean (apart from the occasional book). Below are my favorite tools that I use to run my business. I hope you find them useful and make a few new discoveries!
Automate Your Admin Tasks: QuickBooks
Stop spending your time on admin and focus on what you do best. My favorite feature: ability to download VISA and bank statements right into the software – bookkeeping / accounting now takes me just 20 minutes once per quarter. Learn more.
Sync,Share, and Backup Folders: DropBox
Awesome tool to help you share folders with colleagues. I also use it to sync files between my home PC, office PC and iPad. Everything is stored in the cloud too so it’s a great way to keep your files backed up automatically. Cost: 2 Gigabytes of data for free. What I use: I upgraded to 50 Gigabytes for $9.99 / month. Learn more.
Co-ordinate with your Team, Run Surveys: Google Drive
I’ll use Google Drive to create task lists with my team that we can both access and edit. It’s like having a shared Excel file that you can all have open at the same time. I found it much easier than programs like BaseCamp. I also use it to run surveys from my newsletter list. Cost: Free! Learn more.
Automate Your Scheduling: TimeTrade
Time saving tool to book meetings / calls. It syncs with your calendar to see what times you have open and lets people book it with you. It’ll also email them the day before to remind them about the appointment! Cost: free 30 day trial. What I use: I upgraded to $29.95 / year professional license. Learn more.
Go paperless and have all your receipts, contracts, and agreements available via full text recognition searches. Everything is synced and stored in the cloud through Evernote. Cost: Evernote gives you 60 megs / month for free. ScanSnap pricing starts at $199. What I use: Free Evernote account, portable ScanSnap S1300. I bought both after I watched this video on YouTube. Learn more about ScanSnap. Learn more about Evernote.
Save Time by Creating a Homepage Dashboard
Customize your homepage to have all the essential resources you need to manage your business (and life). Here’s what mine looks like (full size picture here). I customize it as I discover new tools and websites. As soon as I load a web browser this page pops up and my day can begin.
Never Forget Any of Your Passwords Again: LastPass
Automatically remembers all the passwords you have for any website. When you’re signing up for a new website it’ll generate a random, secure password (so you don’t have the same password for everything) and remember it for you as well. It also auto-logs you into sites saving you even more time. Cost: free! Learn more.
Automate Even More Admin Tasks: Online Banking
Everyone gets paid on my team by direct deposit – we’re all at the same bank. I only write a couple of checks per year and that’s to the government. Sync with your Simply Accounting to export all your data quickly. Cost: varies depending on your bank. What I use: TD Canada Trust.
Quickly Learn About Your Contacts: Rapportive / Xobni
Useful plugin for Gmail (Rapportive) / Outlook (Xobni) to show you information on the people who email you. Next to each email they send you, you can see their picture, tweets, Facebook updates, LinkedIn profile, and other social media accounts. It’s a quick way to learn about who they are and what they’re up to. Cost: free!
Get Desktop Reminders for Google Calendar: Gminder
Useful if you’re making the switch from Outlook to Gmail. It’s a desktop tool that gives you pop-up reminders from your Google Calendar just like Outlook does. It’s not perfect but I don’t know if I could have made the switch without it. Cost: free! Learn more.
Productively Stay on Top of the News: Google Reader / Instapaper / Zite
Sometimes keeping on top of the news can be a huge time suck for entrepreneurs. To help me stay productive and get the information I want I use: Google Reader to subscribe to key blogs I find useful, Instapaper to save interesting articles that I can read all at once later, and Zite (iPad) to discover new news that learns from my preferences. Cost: all free!
Outsource Your Tasks: fiverr
This is a handy website where people will list what they will do for $5. I’ve used it for both business and personal reasons (beware: you can lose half your day browsing through the funny things people will do for a few bucks). Make sure you check people’s ratings and feedback before you hire them. Cost: $5. Learn more.
Growing Your Business
As entrepreneurs we’re always looking for ways to promote and grow our businesses. Here’s a picture of me filming one of my YouTube videos from my office (full size picture here). Below are some of my favorite tools that I use to market my business. Good luck and if you have any questions just leave a comment below!
Start an Email Campaign: AWeber
The best system I’ve seen for email campaigns. Start building your list as soon as possible – it’s a great way to build relationships with customers. AWeber also tells you if your emails will get caught in people’s spam filters. Cost: get started with a $1 trial. What I use: My list is now over 50,000 members. Thanks Aweber! Learn more.
Get More Referrals: Send Out Cards
Awesome way to show customers you care and get more referrals. Allows you to send greeting cards and gifts (brownies are amazing) to your top contacts anywhere in the world. He’s what one customer wrote about us after we sent him a package apologizing for an error we made. Learn more.
Get Interviewed by Reporters: PR Leads
Reporters post the stories they’re working on and you can present yourself as an expert. You get a daily list of stories and pick the ones you want to reply to. PR Leads has gotten me into the New York Times, Forbes, and other big name publications. Cost: $99 / month. Learn more.
Stay on Top of Client News: Google News Alerts
Get notified by Google anytime a specific keyword is mentioned online. I use it for my personal name, company name, top customer names, industry terms, and trends I’m tracking. It’s a great way to be the first to recognize a client for making it into the media. Cost: free! Learn more.
Get More Online Exposure: Facebook Plugins / Twitter Buttons
The online world is going more social. Make it easy for people to talk about your company and spread your message by installing these plugins. I get thousands of visitors every month because of them. Cost: free! Learn more about Facebook Plugins. Learn more about Twitter Buttons.
Manage Your Social Media Accounts: HootSuite
While we’re talking about social media, the tools I use to manage my accounts is HootSuite. It lets you update and keep track of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media accounts all in one spot – a huge time saver! Cost: free for up to 5 accounts (what I currently use). Learn More.
Create Google Sitemaps, Find Internal Broken Links: GSiteCrawler
The techies will love this one. It crawls through your website, creates a fresh sitemap that you can submit to Google (so they index all your pages) and tells you if you have any broken links to fix (which can hurt your SEO and the browsing experience of your visitors). I run it every month. Cost: free! Learn more.
Schedule / Space Out Your Tweets: Buffer
If you’re using Twitter and want to space out your posts so that you don’t bombard your audience all at once and then go silent check out Buffer. It allows you to set a schedule for what time of day you want your tweets to go out. You input them whenever you want and it will send them out for you automatically at the set times. Cost: free! Learn more.
Analytics for Your Twitter Account: Crowdbooster
This site tells you what time of day people read your tweets the most (great when integrated with Buffer), which high authority people have just followed you so you can thank them, which tweets get the more views and retweets, and more. A great analytics package for your Twitter account. Cost: free! Learn more.
These are some of my other favorite tools and gadgets that didn’t fit in any of the categories above. I might use them for my business or my personal life… or both but I definitely love using them! It would be hard to go back to a world where they didn’t exist. Here’s me holding my iPad 2 (full size picture here).
I love my iPad 2. I use it to take notes, catch up on the news, read articles I’ve bookmarked, DJ salsa parties, and the list goes on. My favorite apps are Zite and Instapaper. Both have been huge time savers for me and have got me reading way more than I used to. Being a baseball fan I also love the MLB app.
The Vibram FiveFingers shoes are like gloves for your feet. They take a little bit of time to get used to but I now try to wear them as much as possible, weather permitting. After years of lower back and knee problems and way too many orthotics I’m now pain-free and loving it!
If I’m not walking to work then I’m on my Vespa. In a city like Toronto it’s an ideal way to get around. It’s a lot faster to get through traffic, great on gas, and you can park for free in any public parking spot. I’ll usually ride from April to December until the roads start to ice up.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you leave a comment below!