As many of you MBGers will know, starting a business is one heck of a learning curve. I’d have to say it’s been one of the hardest (but also most rewarding things) I’ve ever done.
It’s been 10 years since I had a "real" job, but only a few since I’ve had something I’d call a business, with people whose wages I’m responsible for. The systems I had for being an independent contractor just weren’t up to the challenge of a growing business, and I WISH I’d know about these earlier. It would have helped me avoid so much extra work, and so many mistakes and oversights. So I thought I’d share them!
1. Squarespace (paid, but has a free trial)
Squarespace is a website-creation app, like Wordpress or Weebly. By the time I switched from a self-hosted Wordpress site to Squarespace, I was really ready for the transition.
Wordpress has the advantage of being free, and also the disadvantage of being free. Because it’s not a paid service, you can’t just email support when something breaks. Plus, you are responsible for the security of your site. Not a problem I wanted to have. With Squarespace, you have 24/7 access to tech support, the templates are beautiful, easily customisable, and the back end is very easy to use. Also, they keep your site secure. It’s like having an IT team for a few hundred bucks a year. Win!
2. Mailchimp (free for mailing lists up to 2000 people)
This one’s not in any way new, but it’s a must. Your mailing list are your customers, both existing and prospective. Build this list, give people value, and obey the laws that require people to be able to unsubscribe at any time.
It’s easier to do these things with Mailchimp than a manual system. I hope you are not still using manual email for your marketing efforts! If you are, go visit the chimps. They are awesome, and the service is free until your mailing list hits 2000 people.
3. Tula (paid, but has a free trial)
This is specific to the type of small business I own: Tula is yoga studio management software. It’s a lightweight solution that plugs into your existing site (not bouncing clients off to their site like other studio software does) and it integrates to the Stripe payment platform (see below), making it easy for me and my team to take payments while we are out at clients as well as online. Tula allows you to take recurring membership type payments too. While it has limitations, especially if you are outside of the US, the ease of use outweighs those.
4. Stripe (free except for processing fees)
Stripe is available in a fair number of countries now and makes it easy to process payments on your site. It requires less input from the client than Paypal does, which I’ve found has led to less abandoned sales. Always nice.
It integrates to the commerce part of my Squarespace site, and to Tula and to my invoicing software (Harvest)
5. Harvest (has a free option)
Still on the getting-paid theme, Harvest is a time-tracking and involving app which I use primarily so I don’t have to remember chasing outstanding invoices. The app just does that for me, till the invoice is paid. Plus, it also integrates to Stripe, so I get everything paid in once place and it’s esy for people to give me money.
Time-saver and avoider of horrible cash-flow glitches, yes thank you!
Once you’ve gotten paid, it’s really important to use your money wisely. YNAB is personal finance software (the best I’ve ever encountered) which runs on a simple but radical idea. Budget forward. Allocate the money you ACTUALLY have, right now, to do whatever you need it to do till you get paid again. It also works very well for a business with a simple structure, as long as you aren’t running payroll.
They have a blog and run free teleclasses to teach you their method. The method is probably as valuable as the actual software. Since I’ve been using YNAB, I’ve not had one incident of having to pay quarterly tax and coming up short. Or coming up short for any other bills actually.
7. Asana (free for teams of up to 9 people)
Asana is a project-management tool that we also use as a simple Customer Relationship Management tool. My team are scattered so this is a really helpful way for us all to know what needs to be done and to centralise access to info we all need. It’s made a huge difference to our productivity and engagement in big projects. It integrates with Harvest for time tracking and invoicing. And it’s free for teams of up to nine people!