6 Business Tools That Keep Me Organized And Productive
Building a business from home is hard. In fact, it can be REALLY hard.
As a creative mompreneur, I have found that one of the biggest challenges, in addition to the usual (marketing, creating, selling, client experience, etc.) is the simple task of planning and organizing it all.
So many days I have sat and asked myself WHY is this so hard for me? Get it together Jennifer, you can organize a few business tasks and get them completed.
Unfortunately, telling yourself you can get stuff done and ACTUALLY getting stuff done are two very different things. What I really needed was a plan, a system, and some tools to help me organize my thoughts, my tasks, my goals and my business.
These six tools have been a COMPLETE game changer for me. The best part is - so many of these tools are completely free!
1 . Asana
Asana is the task/project management system I have been NEEDING in my life for the past two years. Honestly, I don't know what I ever did without it.
Asana is not a client or business management program but rather a day to day system organizer that keeps you on track with your projects, tasks, deadlines, and overall workflow. It's like the secretary I never knew I needed.
When I first started editing, I purchased a paper planner to help organize my life and business schedule. I STILL love my planner and it is extremely helpful in planning out my weeks, months and daily schedule. However, I knew that something was still missing. Once my agenda was developed, I needed something to break down that daily agenda into actionable steps.
Through Asana, I can transfer my daily agenda into a system that keeps me organized and helps me prioritize each individual task. I no longer multi-task, trying to determine which project or idea I should focus on that day.
2 . Microsoft Excel
Microsoft Excel has been a GAME changer in my editing business. When I first started with photography, I attempted to use Excel but quickly became overwhelmed with the many different ways to use it.
Currently, I only use Excel for two purposes but along with my planner and Asana they help me to stay organized with my business and goals.
As a private editor I work with many different photographer clients. Without Excel, I would be at a complete loss on how to appropriately manage my clients' photography sessions and expected income. Thanks to Marissa Lynn and her husband's amazing skills - she shared an Excel template with her Profitable Editor's Kit that allows me to log each clients schedule onto one spreadsheet and then project my expected income and booked income for the year.
Projected income: The amount of weddings and photos each client "expects" to take on for the year
Booked income: The amount of weddings and photos each client "actually" books for the year
On a second spreadsheet, as weddings come in, I can log the actual number of images per client per wedding and project my expected income per client for the following year.
Second, as business creative I know that blogging is a fundamental part of my business. One of my business goals for this year is to blog at least once daily but I want to go above and beyond my goals so I am striving for more than that. Plus, I want to help creatives build their businesses and share what works and didn't work in my own!
In order to maintain a consistent posting schedule, creating an editorial calendar was a MUST. That's when I again, turned to Excel. Excel has pre-made calendar templates that works beautifully as an editorial calendar.
To start, I set the year for 2017 and then went through each month and designated a Blog Post Topic according to the days of the week. From there, I pull up my "Task List" in Asana where my running ideas of blog topics are stored. I scroll through each idea and assign each idea a date on the editorial calendar in Excel according to it's topic. Once my calendar is full for the month I then return to Excel and assign each task a "due date" according to the date it will be posted on my blog.
If I decide to change things within my editorial calendar, I simply change the "due date" within Asana and it automatically re-assigns that task on my to-do list.
3. Google Drive
So, pretty much ALL google apps are my friend. But google docs is an absolute must for organization. As an editor, chances are pretty good I am working "on the go" about 50% of the time. That means, I need to be able to access important information for my business and my clients both at home and on the road. I also want to make sure that all of my information is stored in a secure, easy to access location.
Google Drive is a beautiful, free storage location set-up through your G-mail account. Every g-mail account has one and while my business e-mail is based through through my website, it is accessed via G-mail.
Within my google drive account, each of my clients has a designated folder. Within that folder I am able to store Google Docs, Google Files, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. For each client, I immediately upload our initial consultation video once we have agreed to work together. This video is placed in their folder along with a designated Google Doc that contains all of the editing details and workflow information in writing.
Furthermore, as an editor, I often receive sample images or may save a few for reference and these images are placed within the client folder.
Google Drive can be used in so many ways for many different businesses. The beautiful thing is that it is an easy way for organization, it's a secure and reliable system and best of all - it's free!
4. Plum Paper Planner
Technology is a wonderful, wonderful thing and as much as I love using it in a variety of ways for my business, I will always be a pen and paper girl at heart. Regardless of how many apps or tools I used to stay organized a good planner is still a necessity in life.
I have tried many planners over the past several years and the Plum Paper Planner is definitely a favorite. This little book holds all of my need to know information for both business and life and it's my favorite way to keep my household organized and still moving forward. Not to mention it looks pretty!
For personal use:
I record important dates such as holidays, birthdays, etc. I also keep a monthly calendar of both my husband and I's schedule using the monthly layout at the beginning of each month.
From there, I outline my weekly and daily agenda using the weekly layout. I also organize my daily schedule such as cleaning tasks, home projects, "to-do" list and more! In the very back, I purchased the additional meal planning section for each month - it is definitely one of my favorite features.
For business use:
As I mentioned earlier, I breakdown my daily agenda items for business using the Asana app. However, as all good business owners know, "a goal without a plan is just a dream" and so this creative mom-preneur has to have her goals somewhere!
I love this planner because at the beginning of each month is a "monthly highlights" area with a section for three monthly goals. After my yearly goals were set, I broke them down into monthly goals. Each goal is clearly recorded in this area and immediately next to that is a notes section where I can outline my business plan for the month.
Truth be told - I don't believe I would be where I am in this business without this amazing tool. Zoom is a video chat/virtual meetings program that is FREE and can be so useful for creative business owners!
When a potential client e-mails me, one thing that I mention in EVERY response is that all client meetings are held via Zoom.
I use Zoom because I want to get to know my clients on a more personal level. I have to establish a good working relationship with each of my clients and while they may be halfway across the country - it still feels so much for personal when you can see and talk with someone! Zoom allows us to video chat during our initial consultation. They get to actually put a face with a name and see who will be editing all of their work!
More than that though, we typically spend 30-60 minutes talking together and that is a pretty decent amount of time to see if our personalities and business ideas mesh well.
While I could use any video chat program for this such as Face Time or Skype, I love Zoom for it's "meeting" features. Once we are approximately 15-20 minutes into a consultation, I have all of my clients share their desktop screen and I can actually WATCH them work through some photos as they edit.
Of course, once we start working together my clients will send me their presets and any other information I need to know to get started but being able to see them edit their photos and actually talk through them together is the corner stone for imitating their style perfectly.
And the best part about all of this - I can record the entire thing! While watching a client edit their work is so beneficial, being able to refer back to it and play a video over again is just amazing!
Finally, let's talk e-mail. What would a creative business be without wonderful e-mail.
Here's the hard part - I am a work from home mom. I try REALLY hard to keep a set schedule and work "normal" hours like most "normal' people do. But reality is, there are a lot of different tasks involved in running a business and there are only so many hours in a day. Sometimes, I just do not get to e-mail during my designated "e-mail" time like I hoped I would.
I'm OK with that. What matters to me is that my time spent at home is invested in my family, my time spent on my business is invested in my business, and that e-mails are answered in a timely manner.
What I'm NOT ok with - is sending off an e-mail to a client at 4:00 AM. Because, let's be honest, I'm an early morning worker not a night owl. I needed a way to draft an e-mail to a client AND schedule it so that when I am making pancakes with my daughter at 9:00 AM I don't have to worry about opening up my computer, getting into my e-mail and firing off 30 minutes worth of responses or sending out drafts.
Boomerang is an e-mail app set up through my G-mail account that does just that. I can write e-mails during any time of day - and then schedule it to send during my typical business hours.
There are additional features as well that can be very useful for time specific messages. For example, if I send out an e-mail to a client regarding an editing question and I need a response within two days to be able to finish their gallery - I can "boomerang" the e-mail to alert me if the client has not responded within a day.