As a small business owner, I’m always looking for systems that can make me more efficient or help me do my job better.
I don’t mind spending a few dollars for a really good tool that provides value or saves me more money than it costs.
As a business marketing consultant, this is a list of my favorite three systems that I use every day. Due to space limitations, I’m only giving you a highlight of the programs, and not everything you can do with them.
Each offers a free trial or free version (with limited functionality) so you can try them on for size.
You may have a different list of faves too. If so, tell me what you like to use in the comments.
TimeTrade Professional Edition
www.timetrade.com (Free trial, $29.95/year)
Setting appointments with clients or potential clients absolutely drives me batty. The e-mail or phone back-and-forth is such a time suck: “Can you do Tuesday?” “No, how about Friday?” “Sure, I have 2:00 p.m. open would that work?” “No I have a dentist appointment then.” You get the idea. Aghhh!
TimeTrade is a fantastic tool that lets people set appointments when THEY want them.
They just pick a time on your calendar that works for them, and it magically appears on your calendar. That sounds kind of scary, right? It’s actually not.
You set up the rules that you want, and TimeTrade just takes care of the rest. For instance, people can’t set appointments on my calendar:
- On that day (I don’t want to be surprised by an appointment I didn’t know I had)
- At lunch time (duh)
- Monday mornings or any time on Friday (my quiet time to work)
I have three different appointments that people can set:
- 15 minute quickie phone call or free initial consultation
- 30 minute appointment (reserved only for paying clients)
- 60 minute appointment (ditto)
My clients get the “special” links that allow them to set the longer appointments, and they love being able to just pick a time that works for them.
It 2-way syncs with Google Calendar (and thus with my Outlook and iPhone), so it knows if I set an appointment on my iPhone or PC, and at 29 bucks per year, it’s an absolute steal.
One appointment set, and it’s easily paid for itself in time alone.
Basecamp Project Management System
www.basecamp.com (Free trial, $20-150/month)
My e-mail tends to be a black hole with thousands of e-mails, attachments, appointments, newsletters (that I’ll get around to reading someday) and everything else.
Clients e-mail stuff to me, and it gets lost.
“Hey Tom, did you get that file I sent you last week?”
“Um, I’m sure it’s in here somewhere… Hm. Can you send it to me again please?”
Urgh. More wasted time and frustration on both sides.
Basecamp is a fantastic tool for keeping track of messages, to-dos (tasks), due dates, project files, milestones, and all the stuff that I need in order to help my clients with their business.
My virtual assistant sets up a work space for each client, and invites them to create their own login account.
Then all project related messages, files, and tasks go into one system. If my web designer is out of the office, I can still see everything (or manage things when she’s out of town).
My VA can assist with some of the requests, and my clients can all see when things get done, because they get crossed off the list.
It gives my clients the control they need, and gives us the flexibility to manage the myriad requests and tasks efficiently.
I’ve continued to upgrade my account over the years, and am now up to the $100/month level.
It’s SO worth the investment to have everything in one place that all interested parties can get to without sharing Dropbox folders or any of that nonsense (and I love Dropbox too).
www.evernote.com (Free or Pro for $45/year)
I just started using Evernote a week ago, and I honestly don’t know how I’ve survived without it.
They have an interface for just about every platform there is (iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, Windows, etc.), and if your favorite isn’t there, you can always use the web version too.
I have piles of paper. Scraps of paper. Notes. Contracts. Invoices. Passwords. Credit card information.
All kinds of valuable information that I need to keep close at hand.
Sometimes I spend 1/2 an hour looking for an authorization to charge a client’s credit card and can’t find it. Where is the agreement that we signed because we weren’t sure of a detail? Again, it drives me batty looking for this stuff.
Evernote allows you to store and search for everything. It’s not Dropbox. It’s so much more than that.
Think of it like a virtual notepad that you always carry with you, and then put it on steroids.
Keep notes on those ideas you have for the next greatest apple coring machine.
Store and search photos.
Upload PDF versions of your contracts, and it OCRs the content (Pro version only) so it’s all searchable.
Take notes on your iPad as you’re speaking to a client, and drop it into Evernote to retrieve later.
Find a cool web page with a recipe or snippet of PHP code you need to remember (or read) later? Just clip it into Evernote right from the browser. Click. Done.
As I said, I’m just scratching the surface of this tool as a new user, but I can see how it’s going to save me a boatload of TIME in the future.
Again, at $45/year for the Pro version it’s an absolute ridiculously cheap steal.
I highly recommend reading Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly (yes, it costs $29) that will get you up to speed quickly. I actually bought the e-book before I signed up for Evernote Pro which showed me the immense value of their tool.
So that’s my list. What are your favorite tools that you like to use?
Photo from Blue Diamond Photography
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