Are you a planner or a procrastinator? Is your productivity as good as it could be or do you spend too much time searching for information that should have been filed months ago?
Whatever business you are in, there is always a certain amount of “behind the scenes” admin-type work you need to carry out to ensure everything runs smoothly.
So, how do you organise yourself? Are you a pen and paper type or is it digital all the way?
I’m a year and a bit into running my own business and in the next couple of months will be launching two more projects, so it has become doubly important that I’m organised.
Which is fine by me, as I love a bit of planning and being organised. So, I thought I’d share some of my favourite tools and tips in the hope they can inspire someone else to get sorted or just offer an alternative to what you already do.
Pen and paper planning and productivity
For me you still can’t beat pen and paper for planning and I always have several bullet journal-style notebooks with dotted paper on the go at a time.
One is my goal planner and contains everything from my 12-week to my ten-year vision for my life and business.
Bullet Journal Planner
A second is a business “bible” containing everything from brand colours to logins that essentially allow me to run my business.
My third notebook is my day-to-day planner, which I lay out myself at the end of each week so I can have it exactly how I like it.
It includes my to-do list, separated into urgent, important and other, as well as an hourly schedule – the basics of planning my day. I also use it for daily gratitude and to note wins, lessons and progress towards my goals.
It takes a bit of time to set up but that in itself forces me to think about planning and focuses my thinking on my business.
For total transparency, these are Amazon affiliate links – if you buy one of these products from here, I get paid. But don’t let that stop you!
Planning and Productivity – let’s get digital
There are a number of platforms I use every day to keep organised and run my business.
Here’s a quick run down of my favourites.
AGILE CRM – I have tried numerous CRMs (client management systems) to keep track of my clients contact details and my sales pipeline etc, but I keep coming back to AgileCRM. It includes some excellent sales and marketing tools, such as contact management, deals, appointment scheduling, email, mobile and social marketing, landing pages, helpdesk and ticketing as well as integrations with many of your other programmes and platforms.
Even better, for small businesses there is a free option, but for more flexibility the Starter Package is around £14.99 a month.
Email productivity, calendar and cloud storage
GSUITE FOR BUSINESS – I almost forgot this one as I take it for granted, but it’s a massive part of my business, enabling me to use my own domain names for my email and giving me access to Google Drive, which is where I store absolutely every document, image and everything for my business and all my clients. This means I have access to those things wherever I am.
One of the great things about using GSuite is that most other platforms, programmes etc that I use provide GSuite integrations, so I can integrate Agile with my Google calendar for example.
All this for less than £5 a month.
QUICKBOOKS: Not my strong suit but obviously as a small business it’s imperative you keep on top of the financials. I have someone help me with the tricky stuff, but I use Intuit Quickbooks to send invoices and track expenses. It links with my bank account and is relatively simple to use. Prices start at around £12, but discounts are often available – at the time of writing the Simple Start package is available for just £6 a month.
Project Planning and Productivity
TRELLO: Trello is a new addition to my productivity and planning suite. I’ve previously tried Asana, Zoho and Flow for project management, but am currently loving the flexibility of Trello. I like the visual element of Kanban boards which allow you to create lists and move cards between them.
These boards have so many practical uses, and there is a library of templates to get you started. I have a board to manage my client projects and tasks, one to manage my business, one for goal setting and habit tracking, another to keep track of things to do ahead of the launch of my new project in Spring.
What’s great is that there is a free version for small businesses, which is great if you work alone, although if you need the paid version it is available for around £10 per person a month.
I also love that Trello integrates with a lot of my other apps and you can use IFTTT or Zapier to create all kind of automations for it.
SLACK: Another relatively new addition, but I have started using Slack to communicate with a few of my clients and we are finding it really useful to keep all of our messages in one place, as well as being able to share documents and so much more.
Again, it integrates with lots of apps, including my Google Calendar and the free version is ample for what we need right now, but if we do need to upgrade it’s just over £5 per person per month.
CONTENT STUDIO: This is another one where I’ve been around the houses and come back to. I’ve previously tried the likes of ContentCal, MeetEdgar and SocialPilot and all of them have their pros and cons. Most are on the pricey side, but I guess that’s because if you’re serious about social you kind of need one of these social media scheduling tools to do some of the heavy lifting.
Basically, with Content Studio you can set up different workspaces for different businesses, plan your social media posts and collaborate with your team using an editorial calendar, schedule to all of your channels and platforms, including your blog and Google My Business.
You can also organise content into categories and schedule evergreen content to repost on a schedule of your choosing, as well as keep track of your analytics on each platform.
It does everything I need and allows me to manage a social media calendar for a client as well. Fortunately, I signed up to it when it was just launching and got it for a one-off price and now I just pay for extra add-ons, but the starter price is now $49 a month – so it’s not cheap!
MAILERLITE: Even though AgileCRM does have built email marketing capability, I still choose to operate my monthly newsletter using Mailerlite.
I moved over from Mailchimp several months ago – although I still use it for a number of my clients – as I felt the free version had been seriously downgraded. I am pleased with how Mailerlite is working. Its free version allows you to manage several separate groups of subscribers, the templates are good and you can send up to 12,000 emails a month to up to 1,000 subscribers. More than that on your list or what to send more emails? The first level of paid subscription is $15 a month, which gives you up to 2,500 subscribers and unlimited emails.
I also use GetResponse because it integrates with the membership plugin I use on The Business Connection, and it also has good templates and is user-friendly.
CANVA: Graphic Design is one of the services I offer Red Shoes Media and Marketing clients and much of that work is still done in Adobe Illustrator (see below), but nowadays much of my own work for social media or blog graphics, I turn to Canva. I have the paid version, for £11.99 a month, which enables you to create a Brand Kit of colours etc for your business, as well as gives you access to a large library of templates. The brand kit means it’s easy to make sure that every graphic you create is “on brand” and gives everything a cohesive look. The templates mean its easy to use for beginners and non-designers while being flexible enough to satisfy more creative types.
ADOBE: In a sense I have left the biggest til last and it’s maybe one that most people won’t need unless you are in the business of design or publishing. My Adobe Creative Cloud subscription is my biggest “app” expense at over £40 a month, but that gives me access to all of the giants in the Adobe stable, including Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator – all of which I use on an almost daily basis. InDesign makes it a doddle to create newspaper or magazine pages, or in some cases brochure and leaflets. Many leaflets and other print materials I create in Illustrator, while Photoshop is the very best for image manipulation and correction.
Planning and Productivity tie-up
And that’s it. I hope you have found my round-up of some of my favourite apps useful. It’s likely you won’t need all of these to improve your productivity, but if just one shaves a few hours off the boring admin tasks you face as a business owner it has to be worth the investment.