As a freelance photographer and fishing guide, I do business online and in person. There aren't any tools I can use to take client photos for me or show a group where the biggest bass are hiding that day (yet), but there are several I can use to run the other side of my business - what I like to call the nitty gritty.
That's the part where you're finding clients and customers, handling finances, managing and updating the website, collaborating and keeping up with remote teams of freelancers, and more. It's the behind-the-scenes work that turns out to be the most difficult, but getting help from a trustworthy tool can be a major time saver and efficiency booster.
That's why I rely on a set of innovative tools to help me run my business. They won't necessarily do the work for you, but they'll make it a lot easier to get things done and give you peace of mind as a business owner. I have three tools I use almost daily. Check them out!
For creating 'internet recipes'
Short for "If This, Then That," IFTTT is an amazing tool that enables you to create what some call internet recipes. IFTTT is like a Rube Goldberg machine for businesses and freelancers.
It allows you to specify an action - say, when someone subscribes to your newsletter - and choose an automatic, useful reaction to occur each time that happens. For example, I created a 'recipe' that automatically sends an email containing a special discount code when someone signs up for my newsletter. Now we're cooking!
MakeUseOf's Craig Snyder said it best: "IFTTT's ability in allowing the user to automatically associate all interests and priorities to their relevant web-based services is a luxury that will save you a lot of both time and effort."
IFTTT recipes have two parts: The trigger and the action.
When you set the Trigger, you're choosing the action that you want to set off, or trigger, the automated IFTTT reaction.
What happens automatically upon the Trigger being activated is called the Action. Actions can be things like sending an email or text to notify you, posting a status update on a social network, sending information to a spreadsheet, etc.
What I like about IFTTT the most: You can easily create your own recipes by picking your own Triggers and Actions, but you can also benefit from the creativity and genius of millions of other people by searching for cool IFTTT recipes online. I've found some really helpful Trigger/Action combinations that way.
For client trust and security
Forming trust with potential clients is important in my industry. Most of them find me online, and the impression I make in the first tenth of a second - see quote below - is the deciding factor of whether or not they'll use my services.
"A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don't significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments)." - Eric Wargo for the Association for Psychological Science in How Many Seconds to a First Impression?
You can't wait until customers are ready to purchase to establish trust - in my experience, it needs to start as soon as they come to your website. An easy way to do this is by using an HTTPS certificate. People know they can trust a website (and it's owner) with an HTTPS certificate. The process sounds complex, but these industry experts break it down in a clear explanation of extended validation HTTPS.
"You might picture the stereotypical scary images of teenaged hackers in hoodies, manipulating glowing geometric shapes on a semi-transparent screen, when you think of the 'cybersecurity industry,' but that's not what we're about. We match real world companies to public keys so people know who controls websites and can see that a site is secure and trustworthy right away." - CertSimple founder Mike MacCana on security misconceptions in EV HTTPS Provides More Than Security
In layman's terms, it gives your website the little green padlock of security with the "https" on the left of the URL bar on your browser.
For time tracking, invoicing, and payments
Keeping track of hours worked, invoicing my clients and making payments could easily be the most difficult part of being in business, but fortunately, tools like Harvest, FreshBooks, and Harpoon exist to take the edge off.
Time tracking tools might be one of the best decisions you'll make in the name of productivity and efficiency. They let you see exactly where you're spending the most time, where you're not spending enough time, and whether or not you're managing to get everything done.
It's easy to get distracted and begin "working" on things that aren't on my to do list, but since time trackers like Harvest work from your web browser, it will automatically track when you navigate away from work and when you return to it. Invoices, payments, expense tracking, and more can be done directly from most time trackers, so do a little research and find the right one for you.
Those the are tools you'll find me using to run my photography and guide business more efficiently. I would love to know the tools other business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs use to make work easier. Leave your favorite tools in the comments!