Today I’m feeling generous, so I’ve decided to dedicate this blog article to sharing the main tools and resources that I use everyday in my business. Now, I should say that as an expert in business strategy and operations, I almost knew nothing about social media, online marketing and photo editing when I started. I had to learn this from the ground up. But with some great e-learning resources, blogs and a little help from my (business) friends, I’ve become a (sort-of) pro in no time. These are just some of the resources I’ll be sharing with you today. So keep reading…
Oh, and just two more things before we begin… First, I have no affiliation with any of these sites or organisations. I’ve just found them to be great and wanted to share my experience. Second, these are what worked for me. It isn’t to say that there aren’t better resources available. So if you have other suggestions, I’m sure we’d all love to hear about them, so please comment below.
OK here goes…
Business planning & strategy templates and guidelines
Business.gov.au is an excellent FREE resource for all businesses. They have a wealth of guidance on business topics, with dedicated pages for starting up, business planning, business structures and many more topics. I found their business plan and marketing plan templates to be fabulous and in fact, I have adapted most of the templates I use for clients from those found here.
Flevy is a marketplace for premium business documents. They have business strategy frameworks, financial models, PowerPoint templates, market research reports, and more. These resources are not free, and some of them are fairly expensive, but the range of documents is massive. As a business consultant, I find this site very useful for my medium and larger client projects, and not so relevant for startups and small businesses. Nevertheless, an excellent resource.
Client management and email marketing
My recent quest to find a good CRM led me to this nifty little app. I tried out all the major ones: Salesforce, Zoho, Sugar CRM, Insightly and Nimble CRM, but found they were either too complex for my needs or didn’t treat lead generation and the sales process the way I see it. To me, Capsule CRM is the only one of these that does what a CRM should do without re-inventing the wheel and overcomplicating the whole process. It also allows integration with Mailchimp, Xero and Outlook/Gmail. And all for only US$12 per month.
For all the complaints I’ve read about Mailchimp, you can’t deny that this is a powerful application. I use it to create and send my digital newsletter and regular email blasts to clients and prospects. I find it excellent and have had a lot of very positive comments about the look, layout and content of my email marketing collateral. It also integrates with a lot of other applications, e.g. WordPress, Mailmunch, Capsule, Xero, as well as social media, so it’s pretty portable.
Online marketing and social media management
Without Buffer, I wouldn’t have the remotest hope of managing my social media posts. I use this app on a daily basis as a key part of my social media marketing strategy. Buffer allows you to schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Pinterest, including profiles, pages and groups. With a combination of research and trial and error, I found the best times to post on each platform, and the best types of posts that work for each platform, and as a result have grown my following and engagement on all my platforms.
Crowdfire (formerly JustUnfollow)
With this app, I grew my Twitter followers from 10 to around 2000 in about 4 months. Given that I am not a celebrity and don’t have any interest or intention of tweeting pictures and videos of cats juggling (which is what usually attracts thousands of followers in a short period of time), I think this is pretty good. It’s a free app which allows you to track who follows and unfollows you, and allows you to send an automated message to new followers. It’s much easier to do this in bulk through the app than individually on Twitter.
Stock Images and photo editing
My favourite FREE stock image sites
When I started out, I was clear on one thing. I wanted to create an online presence (through my website, social media and blog) that not only had useful content but also looked good. Without quality images, this was impossible. Over the last year, I have found a range of excellent free stock image sites. With some of them you can subscribe to their mailing list and they send you a batch of new photos every week or month. My favourites are:
These are all pretty editorial in nature so perfect for things like abstract concepts or for your blog feature images. I haven’t found a lot of free sites for the more traditional stock images of people or workplaces that also look good, or for vectors and illustrations. For these, I believe Shutterstock and iStock (not free) are the best.
Every time you need to resize or crop a photo, us small business owners can’t go running to our graphic/web designers, so I learned how to use Fotor. It’s easy to use and most importantly, maintains your image quality as you edit it (unlike standard photo software on Windows, etc).
Canva does some of the functions that Fotor does but I mostly use it to add quotes to images for my Facebook posts and create fabulous infographics. I believe Canva is the best tool for these. You can create them from scratch with PowerPoint or Photoshop but Canva is much easier to use (especially for non-graphic designers like myself) and has a range of templates that are super useful, including pre-setting your pdf/jpg size and dimensions.
Project management and task tracking
As an ex-project manager, I love Microsoft Project, but if you’re after a cheaper solution, Teamwork is a great alternative. It gives you most of the functionality of MS Project with the added benefit of being on the cloud and enabling project and file sharing. The free subscription allows you to create two projects at any one time. This doesn’t sound like much but I’ve worked around this limitation by creating two top level projects, one for my Business Priorities and one for my Client Projects, and then through the use of “task lists”, “tasks” and “subtasks”, I’ve made it really work for my business. An added feature is the ability to log time against each project and task, and assign time as billable and non-billable. Super useful.
If you want to be able to create project plans but don’t need all the extra functionality that Teamwork provides, SmartSheet might be for you. With a bunch of pre-made templates, you can create project plans and task lists in no time at all and then print, email and save them as needed.
Financial management and file sharing
When I first tried Xero, I hated it. I found it too complex and convoluted, even though I am financially literate. But then my accountant insisted I try it and got me set up. With a bit of training from her and a little bit of patience from me, I can now truly say I love it and can recommend it for all business owners. I would advise however (and I am mostly talking to you sole traders and partnerships out there) that you ensure your business bank accounts are separate from your personal bank accounts before you attempt to set up Xero.
Dropbox is great for sharing photos and files with your friends. Dropbox also has a desktop sync functionality, which I find awesome for sharing and collaborating with clients as well. I know there are lots of other software such as Sharepoint that do this, but they are super expensive to set up and use. Dropbox is free, simple and works. Just remember it is on the cloud, so exercise discretion on the types of files you share with your clients.
Other useful resources
Great blogs to follow
- Millo (formerly Graphic Design Blender) – business advice for freelancers (focussed on the creative industry but applies to anyone);
- Freelancer.com – advice on all aspects of running a freelance business;
- Buffer Blog – mostly social media and online marketing advice and information;
- Expert360 – advice on many topics for SMEs and entrepreneurs, written by Expert360 consultants; and
- Flying Solo – advice on many topics for the solopreneur.
Great video channels to follow
My two favourites are Brian Tracy and Jeff Walker. Both are inspirational and interesting. Brian is a lot more old school but as a super successful speaker, sales and personal development coach, what he says definitely works! Jeff is more of an online guru and has a more casual style, that is still very helpful.
So there they are. The main tools and resources I use daily. I hope you find them useful. Write in and let me know what you think? Have you got other tools that you’d like to share with our community? Let us know all about them in the comments below.
* Image sourced from Death to the Stock Photo.
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About the Author: Angeline Zaghloul is an expert in business strategy, client management and business processes, and is the Principal of Peer Business Consulting, a Sydney-based consultancy providing strategy and operations support to startups and SMEs. Angeline also publishes a weekly blog which provides research, advice and tips on key issues facing businesses.