August 25, 2014

My Essential Small Business Tools (Part 1)


Whenever I get together with other business owners over lunch or coffee, the conversation often flows to a discussion of how to be more productive. What processes are we using? What contractors are helping? And what tools or apps are useful?

I love this sharing of ideas and found out about many of the tools I use regularly from these chats. Those listed below are ones that I use at least weekly - often daily - and consider essential to managing my business.

Google Calendar
In the newsletter business, we have to keep track of a lot of dates - reminder dates, preparation dates and issue dates - for all our clients on varying schedules. Google Calendar has been invaluable, not only as an organizational and tracking tool, but also as a communication tool because it lets me share my calendars with work colleagues. I have my own calendar of appointments and events, plus a calendar to track all of the important newsletter dates. I use the email and pop-up reminders so I don’t forget anything. It’s always with me - on my home PC, laptop, and tablet.

Dropbox
This online storage tool allows me take vacations! It also eliminates the risk to my clients of me getting sick or injured. That’s quite a claim, I know, but with it Danielle can access all of the necessary files when I take time off. It also makes sharing large and multiple files with clients and contractors easy.

PayPal
I can accept credit card payments easily and at a minimum cost. I can post ‘Buy Now’ buttons just about anywhere online. It’s also easy to use for many of the business purchases I make online, such as website renewals, stock photos, and monthly subscriptions, often paid for in US funds. I’m not sure what I’d do without it!

I resisted, but Freshbooks has definitely been worth the monthly fee. Easy to set up and connect to PayPal, I find the recurring invoices are a great feature. Since I started using it, my time spent invoicing and following up has dropped... and my outstanding receivables have also dropped. The automated reminders work like a charm.

We use this as a gallery which shows off examples of our work (enewslettergallery.com). It’s also home to all of my personal photos and scans; I've been using it for years. I no longer have to be concerned with moving big files every time I get a new computer. And they’re available to view on any web-enabled device, including my TV. It even has privacy settings for those embarrassing photos. The paid version is a bargain at $25 a year.

I've been using this tool longer than any of the others listed. I found my own and several other businesses’ brand colours with this tool. It’s easy to use - simply click on different options - and free. There’s a new version, but I prefer the one I've been using and am glad it's still available.

To be continued in an upcoming blog post...

August 20, 2014

3-Part Memos


The thing I remember most about getting email functionality at work (in 1990, I think) was that I could get rid of those 3-part memos. Some of you will remember them – usually they had ‘Memorandum’ across the top, and places to write your recipient’s name/department, your message, and their reply. They were 3 sheets with carbon paper in between - so you could keep a copy for follow-up and the recipient could write a note to return to you, keeping a copy for themselves. They even folded a certain way for interoffice mail. Yes, they were handwritten!

I used the phone a lot more back then.

When I wrote those 3-part memos, it was generally for two reasons:
  1. to communicate detailed info, and/or
  2. to have a record of decisions.
When I think of the number of emails I get daily now, and visualize them as a stack of 3-part memos... well, it would be a big stack!

Now we use email for a long list of other reasons, far beyond those two listed above. It has opened doors and provided opportunities that didn’t exist before.

I’ll admit that email is my personal preference, but I also know that using the phone is still the best choice for some situations.

originally published Work Better, Not Harder newsletter August 20, 2014
photo by cinderellasg / Flickr

Click to Tweet this Article

August 10, 2014

Regular Contact is Critical


"Other bands had mailing lists, but one of the secrets to GN’R’s success was how much time and effort we spent building and maintaining ours."
Bassist Duff McKagan describes Guns N' Roses' email marketing campaign in his book “It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)". They used some aggressive and unusual tactics to build their mailing list, including sending strippers into the audience at their concerts.
"At first we had to hustle really hard, but we grew our fan base faster as a result; as our mailing list expanded, it was easier and easier to sell tickets to our shows."
GN'R didn't just send a message when they had something to promote; they maintained regular contact with their fans. They were one of the first bands to adopt email as a marketing strategy and attribute much of their early success to building their fan base through regular contact.

Once you have gone through the hard work to build your list, don't neglect it. Maintaining regular contact is critical to making your list building efforts pay off.

Click to Tweet this Article

August 6, 2014

How to Recycle your Ideas


This is the 250th article I've written for my own blog, started way back in May 2010. Do you think each of these 250 articles is an original idea? Not by a long shot.

Even if you've been following this blog for awhile, there are many older articles that you've never seen. Some may be outdated and some may be irrelevant. But some of those articles have great ideas... and you won't know unless I recycle those ideas into my current posts.

That's the strategic reason to recycle your ideas. It's not just something to do when you're stuck for something to write about.

In order to stay a bit organized, I typically look back to what I wrote about in the same month last year. Often I'll find something I haven't written about since - a good candidate for recycling.

The goal is not to simply re-write an article, but rather to expand on the idea. Here are some ways to think about that:
  • Does the article still make sense? Or has it become outdated by changes in technology, your industry, politics, or other? If yes, write about why it's outdated - provide an update.
  • Are there details left out of your original article - on purpose or because you didn't know them at the time? Write about one or more of those details, providing further information on the subject.
  • Do you still agree with the article? If not, write about why not.
  • Can you represent the information in a different way? Try a simple infographic, a bullet list, a quick summary, or an old-fashioned graph.
  • Are there pros and cons? Benefits and risks? How else can you slice and dice the information? Try a simple table format for listing or comparing.
In all of these cases, make sure to include a link to the original article for reference. Note that this works for newsletter articles, too!

photo by timtak / Flickr

Click to Tweet this Article