Basic Business Tools Keeping Me Afloat (& They’re Free!)

Small business can be extremely overwhelming. I like to think I’ve become somewhat good at keeping it together but I owe it in (huge) part to the little pieces that rope it all in.

Small business can be extremely overwhelming. I like to think I’ve become somewhat good at keeping it together but I owe it in (huge) part to the little pieces that rope it all in.

Google Calendar

This has become my gospel on the day-to-day. It seems a simple tool but it really can do quite a lot for those of us who are feeling bogged down. It works both through mobile and desktop, so you can input meetings, deadlines, allotted work time – and occasionally a social event or two – whether you are out and about or behind your desk.

For me, I do the same work on Mondays and Tuesdays – content writing! So, it only makes sense to copy and paste the same event into my Calendar every week. Not with Google Calendar! You can actually repeat the event for as many weeks as you want or ending on a certain date. Have a recurring meeting or commitment? Try this tool out.

Google Calendar allows you to input the little details, from colour coating your meetings to location/address, to a time right down to the minute. If you have to meet someone in a specific place, it will even send you notifications at a desired time of your choice to let you know when you should leave your office or another appointment to arrive on time. My favourite part of Google Calendar is that I can invite my business contacts to meetings via email, no matter their email provider. I do this immediately after having a conversation with someone I’m meeting with and they are usually impressed by the turnaround time.

The catch: you have to have a Gmail email account to access Google Calendar.

Calendly

As a supplement to Google Calendar, there is Calendly, which syncs with Google Cal and allows others to choose a meeting time based on your availability. No longer is the hassle of emailing back and forth to find a time. They can simply look through your available times and choose one based on their own schedule. Once booked, it will automatically populate as a new event in your Google Calendar.

With Calendly, you can create a number of different events. For me, I offer a 15 Minute Social Media Discovery Session and a 1 Hour Social Media Audit Consultation. You simply link your prospects or associates to the specific event and they can decide from there. It leaves people feeling good, making it work for themselves and saving a lot of time booking.

The catch: It’s only free for a handful of event types – so for me, two types of events works just fine.

Hiveage

Although there are many invoicing softwares out there, I chose Hiveage. It is a free software, but it allows you to email invoices to your client’s inboxes. I like Hiveage because it allows me to duplicate invoices and my business structure is on a month-to-month payment system. Have a client who isn’t good at paying on time? You can send reminders.

The catch: Like all listed above, it does cost more to add features. Some useful paid features include estimate and bill creation software as well as automation in sending your invoices.

And there are many more I’m likely taking for granted, so stay tuned!

What Field Hockey Has Taught Me About Business  

 

I recently joined my local field hockey league to get in some much needed team time. I work solo for the most part – admittedly, it gets lonely. This was a great solution. We play one game a week for the summer. My favorite thing about it is the learning I get out of it (as well as the aggression!).

Full disclosure: I’m not a sports person! Please correct me on any misuse of sports jargon.

You have to adapt.

Imagine meeting your team of 15-or-so 15 minutes before the game. That’s a minute to get to know pretty well each person on your team. We used that time to practice, given we were all pretty rusty from last season. The last time I played was 14 months prior. (Also known as, ow!) However, we played really well and won with 2 goals! I was impressed. How did we manage to play so well in such little time? Adaptability: being thrown into some sort of large-scale change and pushing your way through it, with hockey stick in hand.

Small business owners are learning all the time. It’s important that we focus on learning new skills to build our businesses but these opportunities typically come out of left field.

Oh, and, get this: our team from week one was switched in week two so the adaptability continued.

Trust your instinct.

Another thing about meeting your team shortly before game one is that you don’t know who is going to play which position and who is going to play it well. We mapped out positions shortly before the game, but we didn’t know each other’s names well so we had to feel out our passes. My issue when I play sports is that I think too hard and miss major plays. Being thrown into a new team environment put pressure on trusting one’s instinct.

Business is a fast-paced environment. You make major decisions each and every day, like “should I take on that client” or “what task should I complete first?” Trust your instinct and everything will fall into place.

You can’t play every position.

Field hockey is played on a large field with 12 players per team, including the goalie. It’s hard to be everywhere on the field. You need to stay within the confines of your position. The confines will move around a bit, depending on where the ball is on the field, but for the most part, you need to be nearest to the positions beside your own and try not to leave your nook.

In business, I’ve learned that I’m horrible at taxes and I can’t read legal jargon, so it’s important for me to outsource these things. You can’t play every position and you can’t do everything in your business on your own, unless you want to muddle up the game … or the business.

Short corners can happen in business.

In field hockey, a short corner is a penalty given to the defending team in the penalty corner. It also poses as an opportunity for the opposing team, allowing them close range to the net to score. If you play it right, you can have 2 or 3 short corners in a row. It’s basically like watching time repeat itself – pretty cool. In business, you get short corners when mistakes are made or errors occur. Short corners allow businesses to pick up where they fell down and make things better.

What sports rules apply to your business routines and structures?

Start Hanging Around the Water Cooler

If you’re like me, you don’t have a water cooler to hang around – just house cats who wrap around your legs as you trudge through the house to achieve the first goal of the day: chugging your morning coffee. It gets kind of lonesome talking to cats all day. Last week, I took a strategic approach and tried to make my working days (which is well, all 7 days of the week), more social.

Network to get work.

If you aren’t out networking, you should be! There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people in business across the GTA. Use Meetup, Eventbrite or Facebook to find events and this will begin to open up your realm of networking activities as well as build your network. Attend at least one networking meeting a week in order to stay on the scene.

Hold a mobile meeting.

It is great to see people face-to-face even if there’s a screen between you on Skype or Google Hangouts. Try to have a couple of these a week in order to keep your communication skills fresh.

Find a work buddy.

Perhaps a fellow friend or colleague is in the same boat as you are. For me, I consult my writer friend who is always brainstorming new book ideas or has her head glued to her latest screen play. We usually end up at the library or a café near us.

Join a team.

In the absence of having a team element in my life, I decided to join my local field hockey league. I like the idea of working together to achieve something you could not do on your own. It is a once a week commitment and it satisfies my need for group progress.

Consider hiring.

Eventually, I’d like to rent an office space where I can work alongside a small team of social media strategists. For now, I will continue haunting my go-to local cafés throughout the week until they throw me out! However, if you’ve considered contracting someone, perhaps you can work in the same space together.

Stay social.

Plan an event with friends once every week or so. You need the down time and your friends will want to see you just as much.

Enjoy the silence.

There’s nothing wrong with being on your own. Once the initial realization that it is possible to work on your own every day kicks in, it becomes a lot easier to get things done. Just don’t get too introspective about it or lose sight of your initial tasks. There are many great tools for that, such as strategic alarms or time management apps to help get you going.

Local Ajax-Whitby Cafés that Promote Productivity

Working from home is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t always work. You get caught up with household chores or maybe someone else is watching Turner Classic Movies and you just can’t resist Cary Grant’s charm and wise cracks or you decide that the weather is so lovely, you’re going to sit outside and read. A small number of those given scenarios have happened to me, though I won’t say which ones. It’s not that I can’t work from home, it’s just sometimes, I have to get out of the house and into a new, fresh space that may smell similar to a Starbucks, but isn’t a Starbucks. So, I’ve begun to seek out unique, small businesses to support local Continue reading “Local Ajax-Whitby Cafés that Promote Productivity”

When Illness Strikes, the Entrepreneur is Ready to Fight

How do you get back to work when sickness strikes down upon you – or, in this case, springtime allergies? As a solopreneur, I’m feeling the weight of the workload as is, but when you throw in the sickness factor, things get a little out of hand. Here are my suggestions for those trying to conquer workloads while battling sickness. Continue reading “When Illness Strikes, the Entrepreneur is Ready to Fight”

In An Ever Changing Industry, You Need to Change Too

When I announced I’d be taking a night course in the winter of 2015, a colleague of mine said, “Why are you studying social media? Don’t you know it already?” I took a step back, held my tongue and said, “Well, you never stop learning.”
After completing the Foundations of Digital Communications course at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, I refreshed some viewpoints and learned quite a few new things too.

  • It’s okay if your opinion changes.” – Elena Yunusov

During the course, we had many chances to meet with social and digital leaders in the industry. At one talk, Elena Yunusov and three other thought leaders discussed community management and blogging. Elena stated that over the years, she has learned that your opinions do not have to remain consistent in your blogging. She stressed the importance of honesty when writing posts in order to create a connection with the reader. I mean, as I’ve said, we’re always learning – chances are, our opinions will evolve and change over time.

  • Just keep writing no matter what.

Yes, it’s hard to get going on a blog. You just have to force yourself into it and really keep up the momentum for a few months. Like starting an exercise routine or waking up early, it takes a certain discipline you need to push on yourself in order to master it. Oh, and if you don’t like the whole writing thing, try a more comfortable style. You can take up vlogging (video blogs) or voice recording your posts using speech-to-text technology like Dragon Naturally Speaking.

  • Write post ideas down when they come to your brain or they might slip away.

I keep a notebook on hand at all times to write down post ideas. Some of the best ones come to me at 3am or when I’m in transit. If you don’t like notebooks, you can use your smart phone!

  • Opinion pieces perform the best.

Whenever I make a bold or outrageous claim, people respond more. It makes sense – these can cause an uproar sometimes, but they also raise awareness and present strange and unpopular opinions on topics. People like this kind of thing. Most thought leaders come up with varying opinions from the norm. (Spoiler alert: I’d love to be a thought leader.)

  • You have to tweet every day.

I am absolutely guilty of not doing this. I tweet for the majority of my clients so when it comes down to my own Twitter, I am slacking. In order to maintain high reach, you need to tweet every day, tag people, hashtag and engage with others. You can even share new blog posts.

  • Bloggers don’t like to make the first move.

If you want other bloggers to engage with your content, engage with theirs first. Bloggers don’t like to make the first move – a comment for a comment gets the whole world talkin’.

What have you learned from blogging regularly? 

Don’t Undervalue Traditional Mediums

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Global News Studios at Yonge & Bloor with my client, Jessica Mowforth, Owner of The Bone Natural Pet Boutique. The Bone is a chic, holistic pet shop in Ajax, Ontario providing delicious and nutritious solutions for pets and offering exceptional grooming services at The Spaw. If you have a pup or a cat, they will love this place as much as you will.

Kyra the Dog at The Spaw
Kyra the Dog at The Spaw

For any of my regular readers – today I learned I have regular readers!! – you know I’m all about getting offline to share online. Getting into the storefront, interviewing customers and learning the social culture of a business is so important to your social strategy, but don’t forget the importance of investing time into traditional mediums. Continue reading “Don’t Undervalue Traditional Mediums”

Why I’d Never Call Myself A ‘Virtual Assistant’

Through networking and job postings, I’ve met a series of different people with various job titles – usually the ones they’ve coined for themselves. A term I was introduced to recently was that of a ‘virtual assistant.’ A virtual assistant helps businesses with administrative, creative and social media tasks online. Virtual assistants are typically hired on a contract basis with no employee benefits. They typically work from home and update everything through online channels.

So, what you just read sums up Continue reading “Why I’d Never Call Myself A ‘Virtual Assistant’”

Why I Stopped Unfriending People On Facebook

So many Facebook users do this annual thing I like to call the “Facebook Purge.” They go through their friend list and can anyone who doesn’t belong to their social circle any longer, annoys them or they see no real value in having on Facebook. And that’s all good and fun! To each their own! Carpe Diem?

You know what? I’m totally guilty of this and I have no shame. Continue reading “Why I Stopped Unfriending People On Facebook”

Mastering the Art of the ‘Short Break’

Let’s face it – we cannot constantly work. On the flip side, we cannot get lost in break time to the point of no return. For most of us, we’ve been down both paths of working non-stop and not working much. Either-or, it usually doesn’t end well. Continue reading “Mastering the Art of the ‘Short Break’”