For many indys, working solo is the norm. When adding a coworker to your team is not in your long-term plan, home office tools like phone apps and desktop software become your go-to digital assistants.
If your business focuses on tending to one client at a time, it’s much easier to keep tabs on the process — from ideation and customer preferences to project progress and invoicing. But if, for example, you’re a virtual assistant, offer a lawn care service or groom dogs, you’re probably juggling multiple clients each day. And that means you need help keeping your appointments, customer communications, billing and payments organized.
Personally, I’ve named my digital office colleagues. There’s “Google Boss,” who keeps me on task throughout the day with her calendar alerts. “Buffer Bob,” my social media assistant, sends timely information to my web audience while I’m busy writing or enjoying time away from my desk. And “Bookkeeper Bill?” Well, he sorts the invoices and creates helpful monthly reports for me to review so I can keep the financial end of my business running smoothly.
When Your Address Book Goes Online
Gone are the days of a dusty Rolodex or a three-ring address book. To keep your contacts organized, it’s best to use a CRM — AKA, a customer relationship management software or service.
When I volunteered with a local non-profit organization, we built several databases of individuals (donors, volunteers and vendors) in Salesforce. It’s a powerful tool available on desktop and mobile that not only keeps customer phone numbers and email addresses at your fingertips, but sends out routine reminders and bills for recurring customer transactions. For example, a hairdresser could automate haircut reminder emails to go out every eight weeks to lure shaggy customers into the salon. Or a snow removal service could integrate the CRM with their accounting software to auto-generate invoices on the first of each month and email them to customers to cut down on tedious office work.
CRMs also allow you to pull reports regarding your top profiting endeavors and target who hasn’t bought in a while so you can direct marketing efforts where they’re needed most. If you’re looking for additional CRMs to explore, check out HubSpot and Zoho.
Collecting Business Cards, But Better
Okay, so business cards haven’t totally faded away, but beyond the initial exchange of the clever swatches of card stock, they’re pretty pointless. For many small business owners, email is a convenient, ongoing communication method with customers and vendors. If your business website doesn’t have an email subscriber list yet, get on it. I implemented AWeber years ago. You can also explore Constant Contact, MailChimp and email list plugins for WordPress.
When a fan of your services or products signs up for your email list, they know you’ll be in contact with them. As a writer, it’s a streamlined way to get my latest articles in front of my audience. It’s easy, and the process is automated. When something publishes on my website, a friendly email notice goes out to everyone on the subscriber list without any manual effort on my end.
You can do the same for your own business. Is there a new product available on your online store? Or do you want to communicate a limited-time discount on your services? Just send an email to those who are already interested in hearing from you more often. By the way, once you’ve collected email addresses, you can easily import them into your CRM to create customer files.
Show Me the Money
Let’s be honest: We didn’t start our businesses purely for the cool entrepreneur title or cozy home office set up. We need income. Over the years, I’ve worked with several payment methods — some much more reliable than others. If you’re ready to forego hoping the check’s in the mail, give one of these options a try:
PayPal Me: Just last month I set up a dedicated URL that directs clients to send a payment to my PayPal account without sharing my personal email with them. I can customize the URL with a set dollar amount so customers have no confusion about the amount they owe. It’s simple, but keep in mind that PayPal Me does take a small percentage as a transaction fee.
Square: If your business takes you on the road, the ability to accept mobile credit card payments is critical. Do you set up booths at a farmer’s markets? Are you a tow truck operator? Do you offer on-location photography services? A Square reader can plug into your smartphone or tablet, allowing you to swipe a debit or credit card in front of the buyer, collect a signature and instantly email a receipt, keeping the payment process easy and professional.
Sometimes you don’t need an extra set of hands. You just need home office tools that help you manage your customer base more efficiently and automatically. From sending out bills and updates to organizing names and addresses, there’s software for that.