If you’ve taken the leap towards starting your own business or going freelance, you probably envision days of flexible scheduling, self-determination, and direct dealing with clients. What doesn’t figure into this idyllic picture is the endless flow of back end accounting and communications—the turning gears of your business operations.
Luckily there are a seemingly infinite number of startups out there trying to smooth the way for this burgeoning generation of “solopreneurs” by making sure that these tasks take up as little of your precious time as possible. It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly customizable and automated world where our phones track our daily movements, supermarket checkout lanes are becoming obsolete, and email servers generate auto-responses.
Rather than shortcuts, think of automation as a set of tools that help you leverage the work of your business along the pathway towards growth. Automation allows you to streamline many aspects of your interaction with clients, leaving you more energy to devote to the things that matter— the creative work that only you can customize.
1. Accounting and Invoicing
Keeping up with your accounts and sending invoices to clients is an inescapable part of running a business. Sloppy accounting can hurt your relationships with clients and late or incorrect invoices will only lead to late or incorrect payments.
Rather than slogging through manual invoicing, you can use free online invoicing platforms such as Invoice Ninja which provides the ability to transform approved quotes into invoices and automate reminders for ongoing clients. Rather than maintaining project management, account tracking and payment processing across separate platforms, Invoice Ninja offers the option of integrating all of these functions into one.
Unlike other online invoicing platforms, Invoice Ninja also includes the option of partial payments or deposits and live PDF creation for ease of transferring data. Flexibility can be a boon to those running their own businesses, and having one online suite of apps creates ease of access for you and your clients alike.
2. Marketing Across Platforms
Social media presence has become a must for any business, and while information moves across platforms at a seemingly breakneck pace, there’s no need to strain yourself when it comes to coordinating content and maintaining your presence. Tools such as HootSuite and Buffer offer the capability of scheduling content alongside integrated analytics. Let your social media work for you by setting aside a weekly or monthly time to generate content and scheduling it to keep your accounts live and relevant.
3. Email Communications
While platforms such as Slack have changed the shape of workplace communications, email is not going away anytime soon. Email communications are essential to interfacing with current and potential clients, but they can also take up a great deal of time and attention.
The problem with email communications is that you can’t schedule when you receive them. Except...you can. Tools such as Boomerang for Google Suite allow you to snooze emails that aren’t high priority, schedule responses for appropriately timed delivery, and turn on read receipts for outgoing messages.
The free version of Boomerang only provides 10 message credits, so its usefulness is limited. More affordable options such as Gmelius exist, but the bottom line is that scheduling responses is a savvy move that ties in to effective marketing. As your business grows, platforms such as Constant Contact and MailChimp provide a comprehensive email marketing and automated messaging that can ramp up your communication capacity.
4. Backing Up Your Information
Automating backups is not only easy, it’s an essential safety measure. Keeping a backup of your digital data should be a natural housekeeping task, equivalent to locking the doors and shutting the windows of your office overnight.
If you have a Mac, it’s easy to set up backups to the cloud or an external drive in time machine. Simply enter “Time Machine Preferences” and check the “Backup Automatically” box. Windows has a similar function called (funnily enough) “Backup and Restore.”
Both functions allow you to schedule automatic backups and choose which folders and files should be included. So if you have certain files that are updated frequently, you can prioritize those. Carbonite and other services offer backups in the cloud for an added level of security that goes beyond an external disc drive.
5. Client Data Collection
A Customer Relationship Management Platform (CRM) such as Salesforce, Zoho, and Pipedrive could be the next step in scaling your business. CRMs allow you to track customer relationships on one integrated platform and generate reports based on that data.
Effective client relationship tracking is crucial to growing your business, and centralizing data collection ensures that wires don’t get crossed and clients receive tailored attention. By storing data in a digestible format, CRM software also allows you to come up with effective strategies based on real life input from your customers. Most CRM platforms offer free trials, and this automation could be a game-changer in managing your client relationships.
While there is certainly no shortage of administrative tasks associated with running a business, the good news is that there are countless startups devoted to automating these processes to allow you to focus on the relevant data you need to grow your business. What’s more, most of these platforms offer their services for free so that you can continue to grow your business at a sustainable rate without increasing your overhead.