10 Tools to Organize Your Small Business

© Amy Donohue Photography

If you’re like me, January is a time to set goals for the year, clean out the old and get organized for a successful year. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a local group of small business women entrepreneurs about how I use innovation in my photography business. In speaking with this fabulous group of women, I realized this was something I was very passionate about, sharing information that has helped me along the way. So, this is the first of many posts to come related to business talk, where I share insights that I’ve gained in running a small business the past few years.

Let’s face it, we’re all stretched beyond our limits a large percentage of our time these days. We have more distractions than ever pulling us in many different directions. I know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed trying to live a work-life balance. I’m a mom, wife, part-time business student, community volunteer and solo entrepreneur who doesn’t outsource any part of my business at this time. I’ve found it necessary to rely on tools and systems that I’ve established through the years to keep me organized and able to manage the various aspects of my business and personal life.

Below are some of the tools I have found to be most useful in keeping me organized.  Please know they are not the only option and may not work for your particular business depending on what industry you are in, but they have helped me significantly in my photography business.

I am not an affiliate with any of the companies whose products are recommended below. My opinion is based solely on my personal experience using these products.

  1. 17Hats – I started using 17hats a few years ago for client management software which has been a huge help in keeping all my clients organized. It allows me to create quotes, contracts, and invoices all electronically lowering my businesses’ carbon footprint. It works seamlessly with Stripe and allows me to create workflows for the different types of clients I have so that every client gets the attention they deserve.
  2. Quickbooks – When it comes to finances, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Sure, it’s one of my least favorite things to do, but checking in on your business numbers at least twice a month is a really important habit to get in. How do you know how your business is doing if you don’t have a pulse on the finances?  Quickbooks makes it easy. It allows me to track expenses and categorize them so that when it’s time for taxes I can pull the information I need painlessly. It also syncs with my bank accounts, so reconciling statements is a snap.
  3. G-Suite – This is one of my favorite collaboration tools from Google Sheets and Pages to Google Calendar. I made the switch from a pen and paper calendar a few years back, and although it took a little getting used to, it has made my life so much easier. My husband recently jumped on the Google Calendar bandwagon so we could share one another’s schedule making it easier to plan things such as vacations and doctor’s appointments. Google Sheets makes it easy to collaborate with brides and grooms on finalizing their timelines and formal portrait list.
  4. Boomerang for Gmail – Gmail is the best email platform, but even better when paired with Boomerang. Boomerang is a third party plugin that allows you to schedule emails. It also allows you to filter incoming emails by scheduling when you want to see the message again. For example, if you’re out running errands and see that a client emailed you but you don’t want to forget to respond you can set the email to come back to you at a later time when your in the office. For me, I like to use the feature to schedule outgoing emails. If I need to send an email in the future, but I’m afraid I’ll forget, I can draft the email and set Boomerang to send it out when I schedule it. It allows me to get things off my plate while they’re fresh on my mind. It also helps if you a have a re-occurring email that you need to send out regularly. You can set it and forget it.
  5. Mailchimp – If you aren’t building an email list, you should be. Social media is great for reaching the masses, but social media is rented space. If Facebook and Instagram went away tomorrow how would you share content with your target clients? Email has been around longer than any other media platform, and it’s the only sure way to deliver the content to your target audience. Mailchimp makes the process easy by embedding subscribe forms right on your website (see below!). This way your clients, or potential clients, don’t miss out when you’re offering exclusive deals or have valuable information to share with them.
  6. Skype – Skype not only allows me to chat with the hubby when he’s traveling it allows me to chat with potential brides and grooms. The majority of my wedding clients don’t live in the area so chatting through Skype when we can’t do it in person, allows us to get to know one another a little better before the big day. Choosing a wedding photographer is one of the biggest decisions during the wedding planning process, and I think it’s important for couples to feel comfortable with who they choose. Skype allows both myself and potential couples to get a feel for one another to see if we’re a good fit.
  7. Mile IQ – This app is on my phone, and because my phone goes everywhere with me, it tracks all my mileage for tax purposes. It’s easy to use and allows you to categorize your drives as personal (charity, medical, etc.) or business (between offices, customer visit, meeting, errand/supplies, airport/travel, etc.). The app paid for itself the first two months I had it.
  8. Wunderlist – This app is on my phone and computer, and I use it for both my business and personal life. Because my work is seasonal, there are some things that I do during the “off-season” but need to keep those to-do lists stored somewhere so I don’t forget, and this is where Wunderlist comes in handy. It allows you to create lists for everything, set reminders and due dates and even invite others to collaborate and join your lists. Often when I am out, I will think of things I need to do and will add it in the app, so I don’t forget. I use it for my grocery list and have my husband as a collaborator so he can add items too. This way either one of us can swing by the store when we’re out and pick up what we need without having to run home and grab the list from the side of the refrigerator. We also have started a list of movies to watch, places to travel and a house list of things to do.
  9. Grammarly – I just started using this plugin and then purchased the app this year since going back to school when one of my business instructors advised the class to use it on our work. Since it is installed on my computer it works with pretty much all the programs I use. It basically allows me to type as fast as my fingers will go, getting all content out there, but then acts as a proofreader. It catches many things that I would otherwise gloss over after staring at my computer screen.
  10. Evernote – I started using Evernote before I started my business to take notes when I was at meetings. Now, I use it to organize web pages, notes, and thoughts when doing research for blog posts and for my classes.

While all these things help me stay organized, I still rely on a good old spiral notebook and pen for a daily list of items to do. I have lists within Wunderlist and also within 17hats of what needs to be done with my clients, but writing down in a plain spiral notebook what needs to be done each day the night before helps me stay focused and productive during the day. I don’t always get through the list, in fact, I don’t believe I have ever gotten through a list in my notebook, but if I can check off a few things, I’m feeling like it was a productive day. It’s the one thing that I don’t think I can give up, even with all the innovative digital tools I’ve listed above.

What about you? What tools do you use that have helped you in your business or personal life? I welcome you to share in the comments below what you have found most helpful along the way. And, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter if you don’t want to miss out on more chat about running a small business.

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