It’s truly an awesome time to be in business, especially if you market your business on the internet or use the internet for productivity within your business.
I have a close friend who has started an online business, and since she only recently left a corporate job, she has been amazed to learn about all the latest and greatest in online productivity tools. I love any tool or information related to productivity and organization. I get positively ‘giddy’ when I find something new that will enhance both my own and my clients’ businesses. If you are like me, then you will want to be sure and subscribe to my blog. I will be featuring many more tools in weeks and months to come.
Some of my clients have shared a few of these great tools with me, and in turn, I have shared them with other clients, friends, family, and colleagues, who have been thrilled. So if you follow me on any social media platforms or subscribe to my newsletter, I’m certain you will find these time-savers to be valuable as well. To further spark your interest, I also offer some ideas for how to use them most effectively. The best part is most of them are FREE!
- Sticky Notes (Microsoft Office): How many times does this happen to you? You’re working on a very important project and a thought comes to mind that you don’t want to lose. So you pull your hands off your keyboard, pop a post-it note, grab a pen, write the thought down, and stick the note somewhere on your desk. Then that very important sticky note—which has a task vital to your life—attaches itself to another pile of paperwork and ends up lost for good? The Sticky Notes tool is a part of Microsoft Office Suite and has been around for a long time, but the best version (in my opinion) is within MS Office 2010. It stays on your desktop for quick access, and there’s no need to “save” the notes, as once you type them, they automatically stay on until you remove them. You can color code your sticky notes and even re-size them. You can use different colors for each note, sorted for example by “Client Projects”, “Marketing Ideas”, “Personal Tasks”, and even “Grocery List” and “Errands”. It’s an All-In-One overview of your life, both business and personal. So spare a tree AND your sanity; make use of the Sticky Notes program. It’s likely on your computer already.
- E.gg Timer (www.E.ggtimer.com): Note the dot (.) between the E and the first g: My clients always comment on my promptness for our scheduled phone meetings, and this is the tool I credit for calling them right on the dot! Let’s say you have an upcoming phone meeting with a client and, although you’re quite conscious the time is counting down, you’re in the middle of important projects, so you’re praying the time doesn’t accidently ‘get away’ from you. Here’s what you do: set a reminder in MS Outlook for one or two hours in advance of the scheduled meeting (if it’s an appointment on your Outlook calendar, you will already have it set this way.) When the reminder pops up on your screen, go to www.E.ggtimer.com and enter the amount of time that you would like it to countdown, usually ending up 5 minutes before your appointment. This tool is very simple to use and will keep you on schedule throughout the day.
- Now Do This (www.NowDoThis.com): A very basic way to stay on track and keep focused. There’s one main drawback in that that you can’t save your list day-to-day, but it’s a simple short-term solution to map out your day. Also, since you can view only one task at a time but can re-order them any time by editing the list, I suggest listing items in priority sequence. To ensure the best way of managing your time, you could use this as your daily task list in tandem with the E.gg Timer mentioned above.
- Outlook Flags (Microsoft Office): I am a strong proponent of Outlook for your email, address book, and task list; unquestionably, with it solopreneurs and small businesses function more effectively. I recommend setting up your email box with folders for each client and then create “Rules”, so when their emails come in they will automatically sort into their designated folder. When you check your emails, you can see at-a-glance all unread emails from each client, pre-sorted according to the rules you set. You can then open and “flag” any items requiring action. The “flagged” email is now automatically an actual task on your To-Do List; if you view your task list in Outlook, each flagged item is listed under each client’s name, so you know the tasks you need to handle for each client. Brilliant, right? I know! Not only does this system work for your email inbox, but you can also create Outlook “tasks” with flags. Just set a reminder on the flag to pop open at a specified time (be it 1 hour, 3 days, 2 weeks, or a year from now) and make it recur if appropriate. The beauty of this system is that you can “dismiss” a task once it’s complete or “snooze” it to pop up again at a later date or time. This way it’s not clogging up your desktop, but it’s not lost either.
- Evernote (www.Evernote.com): Evernote is similar to One Note (MS Office), but in my opinion better. Lets’ say you want to remember something you found online. Once you download and set up your link from their site, whether email or a webpage, you can simply “Send to Evernote”. You can then tag items and sort them into folders (e.g. “Recipes to Try”, “Social Media”, “Marketing Ideas”, or as I have, sort into client folders, which also include tags for cross-referencing). You can search for a keyword to find what you are looking for too. Evernote keeps all your “stuff” in one spot and helps to bypass what I call the bookmark “dump zone.” They even have a mobile app!
- EchoSign (www.echosign.com): You’ve just gotten a new client or landed a new deal…you’ve taken payment with PayPal or by credit card, you’d love to get started right away, but there’s that little matter of a signed contract! Though you’ve sent your contract via email, who knows when your client will get around to opening, printing and reviewing the document, let alone sign it, scan it into their computer and send it back as an attachment, or even worse, some don’t know how to scan and save it to their computer, and possibly don’t have a fax machine either. Maybe even you do the whole thing by regular mail. It’s reasonable to expect that your client wants to facilitate working together just as quickly as you do, so why not help them simplify the process of getting their signature on your contract within hours or even minutes? To obtain their electronic signature (which is as legally binding as a physical signature) send your document(s) via EchoSign. You indicate the areas needing signature or initials, and once you hit “send”, all your client has to do is click to open your document, review it, click once to sign it, and then click the big green button that says “Apply”…all this right within the email they receive. Then you will immediately receive an email via EchoSign to let you know your client has signed your document, ask you to do the same, and you hit “done”, and instantly you will both receive an email with a .pdf attachment of your fully executed document for your records.
- Share Desktop (www.Skype.com): My clients generally have specific procedures already created for their business, and once they hire me as their Virtual Administrator, I will be handling these tasks for them. Although I get up to speed very quickly, visual training is an added advantage. One very effective tool I use for online “collaborative” training is a Skype feature, where my client can share their computer screen with me, and at the same time we can talk and “walk” through their entire processes together. This way too, I can often instantly provide suggestions for improvements. (I generally follow up with the creation of an Operations Manual.)
- Jing (http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html): The dream tool when working with a Virtual Administrator! Jing “records” both your screen navigation and your voice for an audio/visual presentation, instruction, or update, of 5 minutes or less. Jing is similar to a YouTube video but on a smaller and more personal scale. The screencast link, which is uploaded from your Jing Video, can be emailed and saved within your company’s Operations Manual, so you or your Virtual Administrator can reference it at any time. If there’s a process you do for your business, which you want to hand off to someone else, or an update you want to give to a client, rather than writing out or typing up a detailed explanation, which takes much longer, simplify the process in 5 minutes or less with a Jing Video!
- Roboform (www.roboform.com): A timesaver like no other. How much time do you think you are losing in your day just filling out forms on websites? We have to provide so much repetitive information (name, address, email address, billing info, etc.), and then keep track of our user names and passwords. Even if you try to use the same passwords for most sites, it’s always questionable as to what they require (all letters with one digit; one capital letter, the rest lower case; etc.). What a nightmare! But, no worries, you created a spreadsheet on your computer, right? You may have password-protected it too. That’s good, but now each time you go to a website, you have to find your spreadsheet on your computer, open it up, look for your log-in information, and still type it in. Maybe then you can finally get back to the task at hand. Well, no more…Roboform to the rescue!!! Simply leave the Roboform toolbar turned on in your browser (works with most: Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, even AOL), and with one click, your user name and password are filled in, and for those forms with the same repetitive information, also just click and fill! If you wish, Roboform will even create encrypted passwords, and the entire program can be password-protected. My favorite feature for my business is that I have a folder within Roboform for each of my clients, so when I go to a particular website (Facebook, for example), I can select the individual client folder and log in with their information. What other program allows you to store an infinite number of user name/password combinations? You may not need an infinite number of folders for clients, but you can use the multiple folder feature for family members, etc.
Let’s face it, this is an exciting era—even if daunting for some—with the constantly arriving new technology, Social Media, and online tools. It all helps streamline our businesses, market our services or products, and communicate with clients with greater impact and less expense than ever before.
As I stay at the forefront of what’s new, my clients will always benefit from my introduction to online technology to improve their processes or expand their opportunities.
Readers of this blog are welcome to contact me for help with setting up and getting started on any of these tools. The costs will be reasonable and the benefits enormous. Remember to subscribe to my blog and be on the lookout for many more valuable online tools. And, don’t forget to post your own favorite productivity tools and organizational tips on my blog! Thanks!