I was recently asked what tools I find indispensable to the running of my business. There are many! As a busy working mum, my days are often a mesh of business and life occurring simultaneously. As such, I’ve developed a heavy reliance on some indispensable tools to keep all of the balls in the air.
1. Apple Watch
My husband got this for me for my birthday last year and its impact has been LIFE CHANGING. I'm not exaggerating. Firstly, it’s a great tool to have for fun things like running and exercise (it does a pretty good job of tracking distance and heart rate) but by far the greatest benefit has been the ability to screen emails on my wrist when I’m out and about with my kids. I can see who’s emailing and a brief summary of what it’s about and it gives me enough information to know whether to hot-foot it back to my phone and/or computer and respond. It also lets me pick up the phone which is great, even if I can just tell a client ‘I’ll call you back in 5!’. Added, and possibly the most used, feature: being able to ‘ping’ my phone from my watch, meaning I don’t have to ask my husband ‘Have you seen my phone?’ 100 times a day.
Apple gets another mention here for its oversize display which, whilst ripe for dropping and cracking (yep, I’ve done both) its display makes it easy to keep on top of creative work when I’m away from my computer. I can approve print proofs and view changes from web developers when I’m away out and about and keep things moving along.
Toggl is a fantastic time-tracking app that allows me to easily track the time I spend on each job. For clients on monthly retainers, I can then export the data visually via a monthly graph and they can see where my time is being spent. It takes me just 30 seconds to do so and provides real value to them when received alongside my invoice. This guy here wrote a great piece about the ins and outs of how to use it most effectively, including some handy Chrome extensions and even a desktop app; well worth a read if you're looking to start using Toggl.
4. Invoicing software
I’ve used a few options, and it took time to find my feet with this one. I started out using an Excel spreadsheet, which wore very thin for obvious reasons (inability to format nicely being the primary one)! I opted initially for Xero, which was an absolute joy to use, but down the line they changed their pricing structure which meant I was going to be paying around $50 per month, which didn’t make sense for a fledgling business.
I hunted around for some free options, like Wave, which is really easy to use and gives the option for clients to pay via credit card and also set up recurring payments. I've recently come across QuickBooks invoicing software, who have a much lower monthly fee (starting at around $5) and allow you to setup payroll for staff if you have employees or contractors working for you regularly.
Again, it took time to find my feet with templates for my business and I still find myself tweaking ones that I’ve created to get them just right. But if you’re a consultant like me, chances are you’ll often be pitching for work both on the creative and financial fronts, and it’s important that you establish a system where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. I’ve actually landed on a good old Word document for a reverse brief and cost estimate all in one, where I outline my understanding of the task at hand, the deliverables and an estimate of my costs. I then PDF this and send it to my client. It’s simple, but very clear and with the right formatting, I’ve been able to produce something that I can replicate without difficulty every time.
Other templates include my brand strategy output, creative options and style guides. These have been created in InDesign and I can now replicate these easily for each job, freeing me up to concentrate on the strategic and creative elements of the job.
Duh, no surprise here. InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat are my daily go-tos to produce creative work that has become the industry standard. What I love most though is the CC functionality between each program, such as ‘Libraries’ where I can set up colour palettes, typography styles and even graphic elements for each brand, and these can then be accessed across each program without having to plug them every time. They stay stored there forever and even if I haven’t worked on a brand in a while, their brand suite is still there at a click of a button whenever I need it. Newer features such as Typekit is also great, and makes font acquisition much more affordable.
I written before about why I love Canva. Some creative folk despise it, fearing that it has the capability to turn mere mortals into wannabee graphic designers. I personally can’t go past it for it’s ability to keep a brand really tight and enable my clients to execute their brand long after my work is done. I can set up the branded fonts, logos and colour palettes, and upload brand-approved imagery and different style templates for them to use, knowing that each element is on-brand and speaks their messaging clearly.
I recently told a client that stock photography can be used for good or evil, and I’m here to make sure it’s the former! In a marketing sphere that is increasingly becoming highly visual, imagery has never been more important. While there are certainly places on the web where you can access very cheap, or even free, stock imagery, I find it’s a false economy when you spend hours looking for a decent shot. iStock has hundreds of thousands of good quality shots, and with a few techniques I’ve developed, I can invariably find good options within minutes.
I've said it before, being a small business is a marathon, not a sprint, and I'm constantly learning and tweaking new ways to do things better. Do you have any productivity tools that you swear by? I'd love to hear in the comments below!