Business

16 Free Must-Have Tools For Small Businesses

Over the many years I worked for big international organisations I never had to worry about software. It was always provided and paid by the company and all I had to do was to demonstrate I could use it.

During all these years I got so used to working with different virtual tools that they became essential to do my everyday work.

But when I started my own business, software became an expensive cost that I couldn’t always afford. Therefore, I needed to find similar solutions to the ones I used to use in my job, but at a minimal cost.

Last week, as I was organising my bookmark folders, I realised over the last couple of years running my business I managed to find a good set of free tools that I couldn’t do business without. These tools might be equally useful for many other freelancers and small business owners, so I collected all of them in this post today to tell you how I replaced expensive software with free and open-source solutions saving a huge amount of money to my small business.

free-must-have-tools-for-small-business

 

Time-management Tools

1. Trello

I used to work with a notepad next to my desk to organize my daily tasks and a desk full of project plans, calendars and post-its. But when I started to work from home – with a 3 years old constantly around – I had to keep my desk completely empty. So I found Trello.

Trello is a free web-based project and task management tool to make to-do lists, checklists, workflows, deadline reminders, etc. Trello has replaced all my sticky notes, notepads, planners and workflow charts with a simple and very easy to use tool, where I keep all organized in just a virtual dashboard. I can connect from any computer, share dashboards with others and work collaboratively online.

2. Evernote

This tool has replaced my ideabooks with a simple virtual workspace. I find Evernote really useful for blogging or developing creative projects. When an idea comes to my mind I take notes in Evernote, when I see something inspiring in a book or magazine somewhere I scan the image and take it with me, when I’m researching online I’m constantly clipping websites and articles and save them in here too, etc.

 

Finance and invoicing

3. FreshBooks

When you work for an external company, there is usually a finance accounts team looking after everything that has to do with payments. When you work for yourself you’re your own accounts team. Invoicing my clients used to be a daunting task for me, until I found FreshBooks. This tool allows me to create, send and manage invoices online and even collect payments online by credit card, Google Checkout or PayPal.

If you work with others (employees or contractors) it’s also a great way to track the time that each of them time dedicate to their projects and pay them accordingly.

Even though this app has a small monthly fee, it saves me a lot of time, and in business, time is equal to money.

4. Wave

I also love Wave as it’s similar to Freshbooks but 100% free! However, if you work with employees or contractors, Wave has some limitations, like for example, the payroll feature is only available in US and Canada. But it’s still a great way to invoice clients and keep accounting books up to date, and it can also be integrated with credit card payments.

 

sale tracker

5. Square Up

As I also sell digital products, I used Square Register to tracks my sales and inventory, send digital receipts, access analytics and create reports for me to analyse what’s working and where to improve. Their card processing feature is currently available in the US, Canada Japan and Australia.

 

Document Sharing

6. Dropbox

This popular cloud storage service allows me to store my documents in the cloud instead on my computer (saving a lot of space), share them with clients and collaborators and access to them from any computer, so I can travel light! Dropbox is free up to 2GB of storage.

7. Google Drive

This is the other popular cloud storage service, that offers up to 5GB of free storage, but as everything with Google, you need to access through a Gmail account.

Both are very similar and I use one or the other depending on the client’s preferences.

8. WeTransfer

One of the most common problems that many of us usually have is that we work with very heavy documents that need to be sent to by email and we end up constantly getting notifications of quote limit reach from our email provider.

Many email providers also limit the size of the attachments to 10 MB, so here is where WeTransfer saved my life. It allows me to upload heavy documents and send a notification to their receptor to download them from his end. There was a time where I had to constantly send CDs and USBs by post, that’s not necessary anymore.

Even though WeTransfer doesn’t allow you to store the document for longer than 48 hrs, it’s still my favourite to send big files that cannot be sent by email.

 

Communication tools

9. Skype

In my old company I used to have a videoconference room with a huge screen and an audio system to meet and work with virtual teams all around the world. Now I have Skype at home and love it!

This free video conferencing system not only saves me a lot of money in international calls, its instant messaging feature is a great way to be connected with clients or collaborators, send quick messages and share files, making me less dependant on the email.

I also use constantly the sharing screen feature as it offers the possibility to run virtual training sessions and assist my client with technical issues not matter where they are (or where I am).

10. Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts used to offer something that Skype didn’t offer for free: group video calls. Now Skype also offers this feature. Google Hangouts does the same than Skype but it requires every account to have a Google Plus account, which adds an extra task in the registering process.

 

Client MANAGEMENT

11. Zoho

Since I started my career in Marketing and Communications, InterAction seemed to be the standard CRM for big corporations. Now I use Zoho to manage my clients and love it. It has so many features: account management, lead management, sales tracking… and yes, it’s totally free!

12. Really Simple Systems

Before finding ZoHo I used to utilised Really Simple Systems, a web-based customer relationship management solution with full suite sales, marketing and customer support platform. It has a lot less features and functionalities than ZoHo, which it’s not necessary a bad thing, as it’s actually much more simple and easier to use, and provides enough features for freelancers and small business owners.

 

Marketing

13. MailChimp

Although both Zoho and Really Simple Systems have an email marketing feature integrated, MailChimp is the most popular email marketing system. What I love about it is that is integrated with SquareSpace and many Wordpress pluggings, making the entire setup process much easier.

MailChimp allows me to collect email subscribers, design e-newsletters and email communications, send them to my email lists and track statistics.

 

Social Media

The most common problem in social media marketing is time management, as having a strong social media presence requires time and skills to engage, listen and respond to your audience.

14. Hootsuite

This social media monitoring tool allows me to schedule posts, manage all my social media activities and track analytics in just one platform.

15. Buffer

After using Hootsuite for a while, I found Buffer who does exactly the same than Hootsuite but with a much user-friendly interface.

Although both systems support Facebook, Twitter, Google + and Linkedin if you also have Pinterest or Instagram you will need Viraltag - for Pinterest scheduling - and Schedugram - for Instagram - to manage these other platforms.

 

Image editor

16. Gimp

As a multimedia designer for me it’s a priority to buy design software like Photoshop but there’s a great open-source image manipulation software that does photo retouching, image composition and image authoring too, and that software is Gimp. So unless you are a designer and need Photoshop integrated with other design tools (like Illustrator, InDesign, etc…) you can save a good money downloading this other software for free.


You turn

Which free tools do you find essential to manage you business and why? Do you know any other great tool for small business?


 

Common Problems Of Marketing Design Services

Something I learned from working with designers and creative businesses is that many of them usually share similar challenges marketing their business. In this post today I’m bringing five common challenges shared by many clients and industry professionals.

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Challenge 1  /  Finding Your Uniqueness

One of the biggest problems in the design industry is the over-saturation. There are so many designers out there that makes it really hard to get noticed.

People always have the same question about your business: “why should I hire you over thousands of other businesses in your industry?” Having an answer to that question is vital to your business.

Solution: If you want to stand out, find a specialisation

There two simple ways to find what makes you unique and different to everyone else:

  • Find a niche – take a look at your clients and see if you can identify anything in common, at least in some of them. It could be the same age range, same interests, same lifestyle, etc. If you offer services to other businesses, see if some of them belong to the same industry. If you find a pattern you can claim a specialisation in a particular niche and focus your marketing efforts on it.

For example, I focus on designers and creative businesses, as many of my clients belong to that industry. Having experience on that particular niche offers an immediate competitive advantage to new clients: they can benefit from the lessons I learned working with other similar businesses.

  • Find an area of expertise – As you cannot be an expert for everything narrow your offer to only those services that you know best. This focus will bring clarity to your business, and help you identify the skills you need to develop and master that particular area of expertise.

When I talk about specialisation, many clients get concerned. They think by claiming a specialisation they may lose business opportunities. Specialising yourself doesn’t mean that you wont be able to provide other services or work with other industries, but it will help you stand out in this over-saturated market.

In this other post I explain how offering a wide range of services was one of my own first mistakes and specialisation was one of the lessons learnt from my first year in business.

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Challenge 2  / Finding New Clients

Another common struggle for many small businesses is finding new clients. Again the market oversaturation makes it difficult for many new businesses to build a portfolio of clients. Tight start-up budgets makes it hard to invest in marketing and advertising which also minimises the opportunities to gain new clients.

Solution 1: get new leads by word of mouth

Family and friends can help promote your business by word of mouth. Also target your local community, small businesses like supporting each other. And above all leverage your existing clients.

Finding a new client is the result of many hours of work, communication efforts and meetings with prospects. It’s easier to sell a new product/service to an existing client than find a new one. Focus on giving your clients the best possible service, as chances are that they will use your services again in future or even refer some new business to you.

In this other post I explain how building relationships can help grow your business.

Solution 2: Share information and help others

Many of those who use Internet everyday are looking for answers to resolve a problem. Sharing your knowhow through your website or blog can help others resolve problems and help you build relationships with potential clients, while positioning yourself as an expert in that particular area.

Having a blog, writing a free ebook, creating video tutorials or offering free e-courses are different ways to share your knowledge with others in the Internet.

In this other post I share some useful tips to treat your blog as a business and make it profitable.

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Challenge 3  /  Keeping the cash flowing

Many small businesses constantly go from very busy to very quiet times. Unfortunately money stops coming during those quiet times and you never know when it will start coming back again.

Relying on selling only customised services to clients can be a risky strategy for a small business. Situations like not being able to find enough clients to support your business, losing some clients or needing some time off could have a negative impact in your cash flow.

Solution: Diversify your offer

If you find a niche, explore every business opportunity within it. Find other needs that this niche may have and that can be complimented with products.

Sell products, not just services. Those products can be physical or digital goods (i.e. anything downloadable), courses or subscriptions.

For example, I support my business by selling different types of digital products in third party websites. In periods of low activity I focus on producing new designs to add my catalogue.

Challenge3-Having-Cash-Flow

 

Challenge 4  /  Publishing Your Pricing

When someone looks for a design professional the first question in their minds is “how much is it going to cost me?” If you don’t have pricing in your website, many people might assume your price range is above the average.

However, quoting design services is a complex exercise that needs to take many different things into consideration. Every project has different specifications that need to be discussed with the client before you can quote their jobs.

On the other hand, charging your clients on an hourly basis can end up being unfair for the client. Experienced designers can come up with ideas quicker and can complete a job faster than a junior designer. Even if the hourly rate of a junior designer is cheaper you could end up paying more for their services.

Solution: package your services

Packaging your services as if they were products will allow you to set a fixed price. You can always re-calculate the price of any project that requires some extras or add-ons but at least the client gets an idea of how much your services can cost. It will also save you time quoting jobs and replying enquiries about your rates.

Challenge4-Publishing-Your-Pricing

 

Challenge 5  /  Being Over Capacity

This might actually be something very positive for a small business. The problem is that if you don’t have a team to support you in busy periods, you may struggle to keep up with everything on your plate.

How to manage several projects at the same time, look after existing clients, promote your own business and find new clients without losing your sanity? The answer might be ‘outsourcing’, but before thinking of hiring some extra help you can try something else more cost-effective.

Solution: build production processes

Organise your job in steps that can be repeated in every project. To do this, you can use the quiet periods to create templates of proposals, emails, etc that you can customise quickly for every new client. This way when you are overcapacity, you can save time in managing clients and projects to spend some more in providing a good service.

This other post by Lauren Hooker of Elle and Co. explains how to use 17Hats to organise your process and client workflow.

Challenge5-Being-Over-capacity
 

Here is also another interesting reading found in Mighty Deals blog with six ideas for increasing your customers to your design services.

Surely, these are not the only challenges that designers and creative business have to face, or the only solutions to the problems above, so feel free to contribute! Leave a comment and share any particular challenge that you face or/and any solution that you came up with for them.


The Business Of Creating Beauty, By Jay Crisp Crow

I'm so thrilled to bring my very first guest post to my blog this week. I had been thinking for so long about ways to connect and collaborate with other creative businesses in Perth and the idea of starting a guest post series on this topic had been in my mind for a few months already.

Then, I found Jay, of Crisp Crow Communications, through a Facebook group a few weeks ago. I visited her website, felt in love with her words and thought to myself "how amazing would be to have her as a guest in my blog". Jay, who kindly accepted my invitation to write a blog post, has put a lot time and care in creating this smart and inspiring post on the business of beauty making.

   Mood board inspired by business dedicated to create beauty, from photographers, to designers, artists and fashion business. Image sources: 1.  Wild Grasses ; 2.  Peonies ; 3.  Yao Cheng's Watercolours ;4.  Ladies

 

Mood board inspired by business dedicated to create beauty, from photographers, to designers, artists and fashion business. Image sources: 1. Wild Grasses; 2. Peonies; 3. Yao Cheng's Watercolours;4. Ladies

When I was small I wanted to be a lawyer, a newsreader and a roller-skating waitress. Yes, at once. I think I wanted to be a lawyer because I loved my legal-eagle uncle most of anyone in our family but the other career options had a gloss and a glow to them that drew me in. I was a hunter of glamour and beauty from a small, suburban life and these were the most dazzling careers I could dream of at seven. My life plan did not involve children.

At seventeen I was well on my way to stage stardom. Still a beauty maker: I worked as a singer, did some plus size catalogue modelling and wrote a drama curriculum for models. I was a Musical Theatre student at WAAPA and followed glamour and beauty wherever it took me. By then I had realised that being a beauty maker was decidedly hard work but I was immersed. My plan did not involve children.

Fast forward fifteen years and my stage career is all but forgotten with the arrival of three of the most divine children in the universe. My beauty hunting is relegated to the non-priority pile with the consistent demands of homework, sport, school and a long stint of single parenting. The costume of mother – that old cardigan I thought I’d never want – had turned out to be the best fit.

But underneath, there’s something aching to be acknowledged.

My day job is valuable and I work with people I admire. No doubt it’s missing something but the grind gets the best of me for the better part of a decade. Then, I begin to tweak my job to involve more creativity. I talk my boss into changing my job description and giving me a budget for marketing, design and rewriting our promotional material. Last year I begin to help a business-owning friend who is at a loss with her online presence and she successfully relaunches her business completely comfortable with her new digital content. Finally, I realise my beauty making is back and I bite the bullet. My business is born.

Just like that, our lives change. I am no longer the frustrated artist stuck in a day job that’s mostly about paper-pushing and sales. I have morphed my days into a balance of what it was and what I love – my creativity plus family. I am exhausted, but content. My children are inspired; one is editing video, the other starts her own blog. My husband is fairly exploding with pride. Honestly, why didn’t I do it sooner? Twelve years this evolution took. If you are a closet beauty maker – I encourage you to get a move on.

Life is short. Beauty is necessary. Seek it out and sing about it.

So, let me tell you what I now know about creating every day. About being a creator and a beauty maker. My mind is alight with thought. Every minute of the day – speaking to people at a tour, salvaging someone’s porridge, in the shower (actually mostly in the shower!) ideas and inspiration whisks it way into my already amped up brain. I find this courtesy Google:

“Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain. Instead, the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification-- consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions... many of these brain regions work as a team to get the job done, and many recruit structures from both the left and right side of the brain. In recent years, evidence has accumulated suggesting that “cognition results from the dynamic interactions of distributed brain areas operating in large-scale networks.” Depending on the task, different brain networks will be recruited.” (source: Scientific American, The Real Neuroscience Of Creativity)

My concept of my left brain/right brain battle is shattered. So, instead of the understanding that I am either a beauty creator or a professional money maker, I realise I can be both. More importantly, I start to think that if our understanding is incorrect about how the brain works to create beauty, perhaps soon we will also be surprised that the soul is involved. If the brain is collaborating with the emotions and the soul then what higher calling can there be than to be creative?

I am discovered. This is my ‘why?’ This essentially soul-food motivation of creating something beautiful for someone else, or myself using my entire creative self – head, heart and hands. I am not a farmer, I am an artist. And it’s not just about being pretty. It’s about translating a message from the heart of someone’s story into something that the world can appreciate. That’s why I love to write copy. It’s not about the words and grammar for me. It’s about the singularity of a heart of a matter, carefully communicated. That’s my philosophy. That’s why people want to work with me. That’s why they trust me to guide them and to speak for them.

Now, if I, a thwarted musical theatre star with a tribe of children in the backwaters of Perth can find that bridge between beauty and business – you can too.

Of course, not everyone will love you. Not everyone will appreciate what you do. It doesn’t matter if it’s copywriting or editing or graphic design or mural art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so find the right platform to attract your perfect ‘beholders’. This is why I work with social media – I love the platform. The endless twists and corridors your art can take to land right in the lap of the right beholder for you.

And like all artists; be prepared to change. You must evolve in this market to stay current. For although you may begin this journey planning to be a childless roller-skating waitress, just imagine what you would have missed out on if you’d never considered a life full of family delight and writing.

Art makes life bearable. It isn’t a luxury. Like our capacity for understanding, and our experience of love, it is a vitally important part of life.
— Gillian Pederson Krag
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About The Author
Jay Crisp Crow is a talented copy writer from Perth, Western Australia. Through her business Crisp Crow Communications, a boutique communications agency, Jay helps other small business owners clarify and communicate their own unique message by creating content and using visuals in a way that draws potential client in with warmth and authenticity.

Lessons learnt from my first year in business

Mood-board-lessons-learnt

I like hearing stories about how new businesses were started. I always find it interesting and inspiring to hear about how intrepid start-ups chased dreams, followed their own paths and managed to do what they love for a living. Some of them succeeded, others failed, but every single one made mistakes and learned lessons along the way.

Now that my business has survived it's first year I thought I would share my own story too. This isn't exactly about how I got started, but about the mistakes I made and the invaluable lessons I learned during my first year in business.

 

Lesson 1: It takes time to build a business

My first mistake was to think I could have my business up and running in three or four months, when it took me almost an entire year. I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take.

Why did it take me so long? Because before I could even start looking for clients there was a lot of pre-work and preparation that had to be done beforehand around two essential areas:

1. Understanding my market

After working for more than a decade in marketing for large international corporations I thought I was ready to help small businesses with their marketing activities. However, just because I learned a lot about marketing and design during all those years in the corporate world, I didn’t know anything about small businesses yet.

I had to take time to research my target market and understand specific small business owner’s motivations, needs and challenges.

2. Differentiating myself from everyone else

I also had to understand how competitors were already helping small businesses with marketing/design solutions and what I could do for them that others weren’t already doing.

So by way of differentiation, I decided to target creative businesses. I studied how photographers, designers, artists and lifestyle bloggers work, the insights of their businesses, the reasons why they do what they do, and so on. And I finally found a clear direction for my own business: a design studio specialised in lifestyle clients.

Once I had a good understanding of my market and a clear direction for my business, I was ready to build a brand and a website to appeal to this market. I was also able to find opportunities that I hadn’t initially considered, like selling online workbooks and planners to help those creative businesses plan their marketing activities.

In conclusion, knowing how to “do the job” is not enough to start a business. Having a deep understanding of your market is key to avoid important mistakes that can make you waste money and time. This understanding requires a lot of pre-work before you can even register your business name.

 

Lesson 2: Simplicity is key

Over a decade I worked in different areas of marketing, covering branding, digital marketing, event management, etc, I was confident I could help small business owners with their marketing activities in many ways. So this one was my first business description on my website:

“Grafika Studio is a full service agency that provides comprehensive branding, design and online marketing services in one-stop shop so that you only have to work with one agency.”

That description was followed by a long list of marketing and design services that covered many different areas of my own expertise.

After a few months I changed my website description and reduced the number of services to Branding and Web Design only. Why? Because the wider the offer is the more confusing the business gets.

So after a few months offering help with different marketing areas I decided to focus only on the services I know best. This way I can ensure the best quality in everything I do.

Top quality restaurants usually have very brief menus; they don’t offer a bit of everything, but only their very best dishes, the ones that set them apart.

Does this mean I cannot work with clients from other industries or help them with other areas of marketing? Of course I can, but branding and design services for creative businesses are my specialties.

 

Lesson 3: Relationships are essential to build a business

When I started my business I thought about so many ways to promote myself, but I overlooked the most important one: networking and relationship building. Until I realised that word-of-mouth and referrals were actually the way in which I was finding my clients.

In the professional service industry, people choose small businesses because of whom they know, and because they think they will make a great team working together. People want to know you before working with you.

So if you’ve just started your business, launched your website and are relying just on, for example, some SEO marketing to find your first clients, you may be about to learn the same lesson than I did: relationship marketing must be the priority in your marketing agenda.

Even if an SEO guru manages to take your website to the top of the ranking, this may lead more traffic to your site, but your website may still be failing to convert visitors into clients.

A relationship-oriented website could improve your conversion rate and get more visitors enquiring about your services. What’s a relationship-oriented website? They're websites designed to engage visitors by starting conversations – through blog comments, social media, chats, etc, and to stay in touch after leaving the website – through newsletters, social media pages, and more.

In this other article on relationship marketing for small businesses you can find more information about how to build a relationship-oriented website.

Every small business owner is in a continuous learning process since they start a new business. Learning from mistakes and improving your business on a daily basis is vital for any small business to survive.

Are you a small business owner? What lessons did you learn from your first year in business?

 

Key Relationships for Small Businesses

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People are the foundation of any business. The most successful business entrepreneurs are those who better understand people’s needs and provide solutions to them. So us, small business owners know that our success depends a lot on our capacity to build long-lasting and positive relationships with different groups of interest.

Building relationships requires time, effort and a mutual benefit for each part. As in any relationship, you must be willing to give, share and support, not just take or receive.

In today’s post I’m sharing some of my best practises to build relationships and how they impact on my business.

 

Who are those groups of interest

1. Clients. Most small business owners find it easier to sell a new product or service to an existing client than finding a new one. For this reason, keeping in touch with my clients after delivering a project is one of the priorities in my agenda.

Also a happy client can become a referral.  There is nothing I love more than someone contacting me and saying “Hi Rosa… { name of a previous client } has referred me to you to build my new brand or design my new website...” My clients are the most powerful marketing strategy to get new jobs, by word-of-mouth. Meeting and exceeding expectations and staying in touch on a regular basis quite often brings repeat business and new clients.

2. Suppliers. Good vendor relationships will carry you through challenging times or tight deadlines. As they’re also part of my business industry, they are quite often connected to many potential clients and can also refer some work to me.

Employees and business partners also come into this group. I think the main reason why I’ve seen many small businesses to fail has been due to internal issues between business partners.

3. Local community. People who are geographically close to your business could be your best potential clients. Local businesses with a similar target audience, but not competitors, usually offer great joint venture opportunities. For example, if you have a sports clothing store, you can offer exclusive discounts for members of local gyms.

4. Media and bloggers. They may not be your target market or potential clients but they can be excellent influencers. Research has demonstrated that 81% of blog readers trust the advice given by their favourite blogs, and 61% of them made a purchase based on a blogger’s recommendation*.

Getting interest or attention from this group can be challenging as their mailboxes are always saturated with press releases and feature requests. I found the best way to approach to bloggers is by giving a product for free to write a review on it or hiring them to write sponsored content on your brand and products.

5. Competitors. Sharing information, struggles, resources and best practices with other industry fellows can also be a very important factor to build success.

A few years ago, I used to attend industry events, join professional organisations and even be part of their committees. Now I’m a mum and don’t have as much time as I used to before having my baby, I found that a simple coffee with other creative entrepreneurial mums with similar businesses in the area is the best networking activity that I can do on a weekly basis.

I'm honestly surprised by the amount of emails that I get everyday from web design and seo companies asking me if I want to partner with them and outsource some projects. I feel as if someone just sent me an email asking me to marry him and I don't even know that person. I prefer a slower business approach that allows my potential clients and myself to get to know each other and ensure we'll make a fantastic team.

 

Three ways to build business relationships

1. Social Media

Social media is designed to help people build relationships of any kind, and almost every business uses these platforms for that purpose. People make friends, fall in love and stay in touch with long-distance friends and family members through social media channels. Why can't clients fall in love with your brand or your products through those channels too? They certainly can.

When you have different social media channels you can use each of them to connect with a different group. For example, I found Facebook and Instagram great channels to connect with clients and prospects, Twitter is great to build relationships with suppliers, Pinterest is excellent to be found by bloggers and LinkedIn perfect to connect with industry fellows.

2. Events

Social media is an easy way to connect with your audience but it's not even close to having a face-to-face conversation with someone. An event can offer the perfect opportunity to build relationships with any of the groups mentioned above by meeting and talking to people face-to-face in a relaxed context and friendly environment.

In this other post I offer some event marketing tips for promoting local businesses.

3. Relationship-oriented websites

Yes, that’s right, your website can also be a great opportunity to start long-lasting relationship with potential clients if it’s being properly designed and oriented to build those relationships.

To design a relationship-oriented website I try to think about what my clients would do if it was an event: people come into the venue – your website –, you meet and greet them and introduce yourself – your about page – , then you offer free refreshments – downloadables, discount coupons, free advise and tips – and start different conversations with your guests  - that can be done through your contact page or your blog comments - . And finally you get their business cards for future communications while in your website you can collect contact details through a sign-up form to stay in touch.

This other article on relationship marketing by Sharon Fling published on Business Know-how offers some more useful tips to use your website and email to build long-lasting relationships with your market.

* Source: Quicksprout, How To Develop A Solid Blog Outreach Strategy

Five Simple Tools to Boost Your Productivity

Time management sounds like a complex concept aimed for business executives and senior managers. Many people fill their blackberries and laptops with complex organisational tools aimed to maximise their productivity.

However, time management is a basic skill that everyone can learn and use in their day-to-day life. No matter if you are a senior executive or a small business owner, everyone needs to make the most of their time.  

Today’s post is not about advanced time management tools, but about the most simple and easy-to-use organisational systems that everyone can utilise. There is no need to use complex applications, not even technology.

Organising yourself with any of the tools below will significantly reduce the stress levels, increase your chances to success and bring balance to your personal and professional life.  

For me there are five simple ways to organise my own personal and professional time:

1. Lists

Things-to-do lists and checklists are the simplest organisational system. Before shutting down my computer and going home, every day I make a list of all pending tasks that need to be done the next day. And every day I start my morning by going through my list of things to do.

Lists are essential tools to establish priorities, and ensure you don’t forget anything important.

2. Calendars

Printable monthly calendar. Click on the image to download pdf

Calendars are used to allocate times during the day to perform tasks that cannot be interrupted, like meetings, appointments, classes, etc. They can be shared with others to let them know your availability, as well as agreeing times with someone else to do something together (i.e. having a meeting with a client).

However, calendars don’t allow you to prioritise your daily tasks; things have to be done during the time assigned, even if there are other important and/or urgent things to do first.

Printable weekly calendar. Click on the image to download pdf

List and calendars are very basic applications that any computer or smart phone has, but there are many professionals that don’t spend the entire day in front of a computer, and they may find easier to use a notepad and printed calendar to organise themselves. Paper calendars are also a much more family-friendly tool to share with kids.

3. Project plans

Project plans divide big projects in steps or tasks that need to be done in order to complete the entire project, as well as setting up timeframes and deadlines for each of them. They can also be shared with other team members and are a great tool to distribute the workload, assign responsibilities and work with other team members.

Printable Workflow page. Click on the image to download pdf

4. Workflows

Workflows help manage different projects at the same time when every project has similar tasks, making sure not to miss a step or something important. However, it’s harder to specify timeframes for each task even though you can set a deadline for each project competition.

5. Planners

A planner is a document that combines the five tools above in one. The objective is keeping all the information together in one place. If you go to a meeting you can end up writing notes on your notepad, telephone numbers on post-it’s and the date of your next meeting on your mobile calendar. If you have a planner all the information will be in the same place.

A planner can help you organise your personal life, professional activities or an important event in your life, like a wedding, a holiday, or the arrival of your baby.

As everyone isn’t the same, it’s important to find the right planner that suits your specific needs best. To do this you may want to start by buying a kit that already has general calendars, checklists, an address book, etc. and then complete the planner with other personalised pages.

Printable planners give you the flexibility to print as many pages as you need of each tool (and only the ones you really need) and put together different kits to manage different aspects of your personal and professional life.

You can see same examples of planners at Grafika shop in Etsy.