If you’re like most entrepreneurs out there, you’re a go-getter. You didn’t decide to start that small business or strike out as a freelancer because you were only looking to work Monday – Friday, 9 – 5. No. You chose this path because you’re passionate about something and willing to work seven days a week turning that passion into a lucrative profession. You’re really into whatever it is you do, and you do it well.
Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Sage advice that someone wise as Yoda once said. But if you’re in business for yourself you know it’s only half-true.
There’s another side of running a business. And basically it’s everything outside of the actual passion that brought you into this world of self-employment. Things like managing customers, accounting, creating promotional materials… UGH.
How does one tackle the job of doing business with enough time and budget left to do the actual work? Luckily, the glorious Internet is full of resources for small business owners struggling with that very problem. While we could fill an entire website dedicated to the various tools available for assisting with everyday, admin-type stuff, we know you’re short on time so we’ll keep this brief.
Here’s a list of 35 free, free, tools and resources to help you just get it done so you can get back to work.
The rest of this post focuses on specific types of tasks, but to start of it’s helpful to think about the bigger picture. Project management may sound like something you don’t think you need, but you probably do. If that term is too intimidating, think about it more as general organization. You don’t have to be a huge corporation to benefit from having all of your tasks, team communication, and files in one place. Even if you’re a one person operation, just keeping everything job-related together can go a long way.
Don’t skimp out on organization. Ditch the sticky notes here, messages there, files everywhere system you have now and upgrade to a clean, centralized, digital task management hub. Check the following options out, pick a favorite, and sign up. You’re going to need a place to start collecting to-dos based on the rest of this post.
Digitize Your Rolodex
If you’re in business for yourself, it’s likely you don’t have a full-on sales department, or even a salesperson (if you do – shoot them this link!). But that shouldn’t mean you have to default to a haphazard sales process. Whether your business is powered by word of mouth, online leads, or both, you need a tidy place to keep track of everyone. Enter the CRM.
STOP – please don’t run away! These three letters (which stand for Customer Relationship Management) don’t have to be scary, nor expensive. Here are some free CRM systems (or systems that offer free options) you can use to keep things in order and make sales easier:
Send that Email (But Not Right Now)
If you’re like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you’re too busy working during the day to stay 100% on top of your email. By the time you sit down to reply to that message in your inbox, it might be 11PM, or worse… 4AM. Do you reply now and hope the client doesn’t look at the time stamp? Do you wait until morning and rush out a response over breakfast?
For those of you that burn the midnight oil, there are free email scheduling tools that let you write the email on your time, and send it on their time.
If you’re using Outlook, delaying emails can be done easily in the message options menu (if you’re not sure how, get help here). But if you’re on Gmail, you’ll need to download an extension. Here are a few awesome email scheduling tools to choose from:
Don’t have dedicated phone service for your business? Whether you need to call someone far away (AKA make a long distance calls), or simply want a business number that forwards to your personal phone, free options are out there! You’ve probably heard of them, but let’s lay it out just for the sake of formality:
Send a Fax
You’re probably thinking to yourself “I’ve never sent a fax in my life, skip this section.” But don’t; that’s the exact reason why you need to keep reading. You didn’t buy a fax machine because you’re a smart businessperson and know full-well that there’s a better use for that money. However, once in a great while, a client, outside vendor, or government agency will come along and claim the only way you can send them X document is via fax.
Well now what? Ta-da! You can send a fax online for free (there may be a small fee if your document is huge or you’ve got to send it internationally). The internet really is that wonderful of a place. And you’ve got options:
Post to Social Media (Regularly)
A solid social media presence for your brand is easy to establish/maintain, right? Wrong (sorry). Most people think that running the social media accounts for their business is as easy as their personal account, but it’s just not. If you don’t post a picture of your cat for over a week, your mom will still be your friend and she’ll still be pumped when you pop back up in her feed with a fresh new pic of Ms. Snugglepuff.
What happens if you stop posting on your brand account? You. Lose. Eyeballs. And they, well, they lose interest or worse, completely forget about you. You need to actively post to stay top-of-mind and remind your followers that you’re here, you’re awesome, you can help.
So how do you stay on top of posting to social media regularly? There are some awesome tools out there that let you schedule multiple posts, across multiple networks in one sitting. Gone are the days of having to manually post in real time individually across each network. This is the era of sitting down for 20 minutes a week and getting all of your posts set up and ready to fire. Yes, it’s that easy. And really, with free options available, you need to be doing it.
Track Your Mileage
How many times have you sat down with your accountant and had a face-palm moment when asked about your mileage? This may be the single most annoying to track/easiest to forget tax write-offs in the book. Why? Simply put, tracking mileage for business use is just a pain in the butt!
But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re one of those people with piles of scribbled-on scrap paper in the glove box, calendars dedicated just to logging comings and goings, or no system in place at all, you’re in luck.
MileIQ is a mobile app that captures and records your trip as you drive, compiling a mileage log for you. It’s that simple. Folks with a driving-heavy operation may want to consider the paid plans, but if you’re low volume (up to 40 drives per month) there’s a perfectly free option.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “Boy, I’d really like to have a newsletter for my customers, or email them offers. But that can’t possible be free…” you were thinking wrong. There are tons of email marketing platforms out there offer free plans, so there’s no excuse not to send those marketing-y emails that will make your competitors jealous…
Design It Yourself: Edit Photos, Create Graphics & More
Need a little design work done but don’t want to hire a designer? Not only do you not need a designer, but you don’t even need Photoshop! As long as you’ve got a computer in front of you, the Internet is your oyster. Granted, you need some sort of an eye to “make it pretty” but the good news is, the tools are there.
More robust design software:
Bonus time! Need images to work with? You don’t even need a photographer… here are some really solid (free) stock photo/video libraries where you can find beautiful, non “stocky” materials to work with:
Document Creation & File Storage
You’re probably familiar with Microsoft Office. You’re likely also familiar with the fact that it’s not, well, cheap. That’s not to say the software suite isn’t worth it, but the truth is many entrepreneurs are operating on limited budgets and it’s just not a practical investment for a business whose primary function isn’t word processing, presentation, or reporting-heavy.
So what happens when you do need to throw a snazzy report together? Try one of these awesome web apps/software downloads that let you create, and save, documents that are not only professional, but free!
Get Press Coverage
If you’re doing something groundbreaking, or even if you’re not, chances are there’s a story there. But how do you get the word out about what you’re doing? The answer is HARO (Help A Reporter Out).
How does it work? HARO is a service that connects real people to journalists looking for a story to tell. Every day, these reporters submit requests for sources on stories they’re looking to write, and if you subscribe (yes, there’s a free option) you’ll receive these media opportunities right in your inbox, daily. You may not qualify for every opportunity that comes in, but with little effort at all on your part, this is a great way to put your business out there and hopefully gain some well-deserved media coverage. Not bad for $0, right?
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There’s no commitment or credit card required. Sign up for free, and use it for free – into perpetuity! If you think you need a little bit more, we’ve got some paid plans (all of which are under $10) and you can upgrade/downgrade any time you want.
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