With the help of technology, small businesses are increasingly run by fewer people. Whereas before businesses were forced to heavily rely on an inordinate number of people to function, technological breakthroughs in office operations have allowed business owners to use programs for tasks once allocated to workers.
Dubbed "solopreneurs," those fearless entrepreneurs who choose to run a small business entirely on their own need at least a little help from others if they're going to succeed. The New York Times reports that in an effort to make their businesses look bigger and more successful than they already are, solopreneurs are using tools that help them do everything from manage client relations to pay the bills.
For example, Logan Hale, the founder of short film company YourLittleFilm, sponsored the children's dance tour Baby Loves Disco and was left with 400 leads from the promotional booths he set up at various Southern California events. The problem, however, was that he didn't "have time for that kind of follow-up," he said in an interview.
Instead, Hale used Batchbook, a customer relationship management software for small businesses, to help him keep track of the myriad leads. Moreover, Batchbook integrated seamlessly with MailChimp, an email marketing platform that automatically generates and sends a follow-up email for every lead – Batchbook even kept track of the responses. "I had a 10 percent response rate, which is great for email," affirmed Hale. "From those, I already had six jobs."
To help complete all the tasks they face every day, solopreneurs are relying heavily on software and cloud-based programs to perform the odd jobs they simply don't have enough time to get done. Here's a list of some of the best tools out there for small business owners who want a little help around the office, but aren't looking to hire any more employees.
1. Scheduling Help
David S. Garland, a business owner and author of "Smarter, Faster, Cheaper," thinks that office help tools should be "simple, functional and really help the business." Garland asserts that Tungle.me is a great way to help manage a schedule. The free calendar-management tool lets users sync the program with a calendar page, showing clients times that are available without revealing information about various other appointments; once a meeting time is agreed upon, the appointment appears in both parties' calendars.
TimeTrade is an alternative program that also helps with marketing. It attaches to either Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar and invites prospective clients to schedule consultations, conferences or meetings.
2. Email and Social Media
MailChimp is a program that has the ability to send email responses automatically, keep up with client interest and send monthly newsletter alerts to clients; the tool also comes with the option to incorporate Twitter and Facebook links in the newsletters. Like he did after the Baby Loves Disco tour, Hale puts all his client leads and contacts into Batchbook, which permits him to "pull up my contacts and find all my client's information, including social media data – like their last three tweets," affirmed Hale. "This gives me something relevant to talk about in making contact with them."
Highrise is a Web-based application that keeps track of email, helping business owners to know when they last communicated with a client and what was said. OmniFocus is also Web-Based and comes with an iPhone app that helps people capture thoughts and transform them into actionable items. Shoeboxed is yet another service that helps organize papers and receipts: The company sends a prepaid envelope that you fill with your old receipts and papers; it then receives them and digitizes them, creating an online content management system for you.
FreshBooks is often used by small business owners because it is free and cloud-based. The FreshBooks' MiniBooks app for the iPhone also lets business owners record their time on the way home from a client or send invoices while in transit. Moreover, the tool integrates with Shoeboxed so that digitalized expense receipts can be turned into invoices.
5. Offline Tools and Strategies
Virtual assistants have small business owners handle the tasks they simply do not have time for; Regus is one service that helps small business owners find virtual assistants to perform those duties on an hourly basis.