During one of my coffee-and-bagel meetings with a friend and fellow business owner today (I gotta cut down on those carbs…but after living in New York for several years, I just can’t let go of the bagels) I realized there are 5 key tools for entrepreneurs to increase market reach and efficiency:
1. DropBox File Sharing and Collaboration
No, I don’t work for DropBox, but perhaps I should. I’m a big fan. I can share all of our firm’s information within the company and to our vendors (my assistant, my tech guy, my accountant) and I don’t ever have to SEND anybody anything. I don’t deal with attachments anymore. I simply grant access to the appropriate recipient, and literally drop it right into DropBox. Everybody has what they need to do their jobs, and it requires almost nothing of me – we don’t send drafts, updates or emails around anymore – no need. My favorite part: it’s FREE.
2. FreshBooks Cloud Accounting
Seamless time documentation and billing – what could be better? I know that there are hundreds of software packages designed to log time and send invoices, but I have done a lot of searching for the right tool, since our business bills hourly. I need to identify, pay for, deploy and manage a web-based system for all of our employees to document exactly what they’re doing for each client and how long it took. I also need to make sure that this information was available in real time to each of our Virtual Assistants, to the client, to our payroll clerk and to me. In addition, billing needs to be self-explanatory and quick. Found it, use it, love it.
3. EchoSign Online Digital Signatures
This one tool has made business faster, easier and more enjoyable. I did not go into the Virtual Assistant business because I love (or am good at) contract negotiation. Using EchoSign, I can save several versions of our contracts and send them out on demand, from my phone. Again, I hate attachments and I’m pretty confident that my clients hate them too. Are we so dated that we are continuing to print, sign, fax and return paper documents? My insurance company seems to think so. Me – no way – our clients receive their contract electronically, review it, sign it, return it and everybody is happy in less than 5 minutes.
Although it sounds simple, think for a second – how many times have you wanted to call someone who sent you an email or left you a message, only to search through weeks of correspondence and perhaps your CRM tool just to identify their phone number or official title? Put your contact information (and not just your phone number, I’m talking about your website, Twitter handle, blog, the works) on Every. Email. You. Send. It’s the most effective marketing tool you can use and it’s so easy. The reason I especially love WiseStamp is because our Virtual Assistants are often balancing 3-5 clients each, and obviously require a different signature for each client. Ashirah, for example, can send an email at 10am on behalf of her comparative oncology client for whom her signature indicates “Research Assistant” while at 10:15, she is sending another email on behalf of her sales training client where her signature needs to indicate “Marketing Manager.” Each of her unique signatures list not only her contact information but her client’s marketing material. She can switch back and forth between them at the touch of a button, saving her time, and our client money!
5. PhoneTag.com Voicemail-to-Text
I hate checking voicemail – the blinking icon mocks me. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to be consistently available, not only to our employees and clients but also to our vendors. I’m sure the same goes for you. When I’m in a meeting, I want to give a client 100% focus and avoid the “next best thing” syndrome, so I put my phone in my bag and turn it on silent. The voicemails begin to stack up, and I dread sitting on the phone jotting down information on which call to return and to whom I need to delegate these responsibilities. PhoneTag not only transcribes all my voicemails to email (which I can simply receive on my phone) but because they are then electronic, they are forwardable. I can simply send the email to my assistant with a note that says “Please get back to Jan at Borek Organic and get her requirements; I’m available to meet with her on Tuesday.” The voicemail has been “listened to”, dealt with, delegated and filed, all from the back of a cab.
My motto – Do Less, and Do it Faster. These tools have helped me immensely in achieving this goal, which is not easy for a Type-A, overachieving control freak. But hey, I’m working on it.
Submission by Hilary