The Essential Guide to Increasing Productivity and Saving Time for the Small Business Owner

The Essential Guide to Increasing Productivity and Saving Time for the small business owner
It’s no secret that the small business owner works harder than most.

A larger company will have staff employed to handle all the different elements of the business but a small business is often run by just one person who is tasked with doing the work of a whole company on their own.

Whilst going it alone can be tough we believe that being self-employed and working for something you are truly passionate about is worth every drop of sweat that goes into building a successful business.

After 5 years of running StorSafe we have found lots of ways to help us get the most out of our day and we want to share these secrets with you so that you can start to enjoy the success that you have worked so hard for.

Running a business still isn’t easy, but with these tools in your pocket you can start to get some order back to your day and rekindle your passion for your business.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to find cheap freelancers and offload some of your work
  • Organise your digital documents
  • Handle documents and and signatures with ease
  • Plan your time effectively on social networks
  • Keeping your ideas and plans organised
  • Get your finances in check and get paid easily
  • How to get a professional email address
  • Conduct meetings and connect with clients
  • Never experience data loss again by backing up easily
  • Increase your password security and keep them safe
  • Protect yourself and your business with the right insurance

Find cheap freelancers and outsource some tasks

Okay, you might not be able to employ a team of staff right now but that doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap, short term help to do some of the jobs you don’t have time for.

oDesk - Find cheap freelancers online

oDesk is a website dedicated to connecting freelancers (people who work for themselves) with business owners who need some help. You can find anything from personal assistants to accountants, researchers, app developers and many other online services on here and hourly rates are low.

As a general rule when you list a job be very specific about what you require from your freelancer and leave no room for confusion. Here is a sample advertisement you can use to advertise your job:

Hi,

My name is Glen and I’m looking for a graphic designer to help design a logo for my new website.

The website is focused on selling garden ornaments such as bird houses, wooden signs and accessories to encourage wildlife in the garden.

The logo will need to be fun and comical using greens and browns and must look good in colour and black/white. Full specifications will be sent to short-listed applicants.

No stock logos. Only originally created logos will be accepted.

To apply for this job, please submit a letter of application and quote the word “zebra”.

Thanks

Glen

You will notice here a polite introduction and a simple yet specific requirement of what the job is followed by what will not be accepted.

You will also notice the following – quote the word “zebra” – this is there for a reason…

Unfortunately there are bots or “serial applicants” on oDesk due to it’s popularity and this means that people blindly apply without reading the job spec properly. Any applicants that do not quote the key word are immediately denied. If they cannot read a job spec then they will not take the job seriously.

Don’t hire this guy:

I have no idea what I'm doing dog meme.

Only you know who you want to give the job to. Go with your gut, read their previous reviews, take a look at their previous work and go with the best applicant. If you can’t find anybody you like then you don’t have to choose anyone. Just go and look elsewhere.

Always choose someone who has received several 5* reviews and keep in regular contact to make sure deadlines are being met. You may find the initial response overwhelming but by checking out their previous work and ensuring their application is specifically written to your job then you should be on to a winner.

Always ensure you short-list the freelancers you like the look of and contact them. You can ask further questions and even have a Skype conversation before hiring them.

Give it a go, you might just find that you are able to unload a job that you hate for a very small price leaving you time to focus your time and energy in other, more important areas of your business.

Alternatives to oDesk:

eLance – Practically the same thing as oDesk (since they merged in 2014).

Fiverr – Hire someone to do pretty much anything for you at cost of… umm, a fiver. Quality may vary.

Create your own e-filing cabinet

How easy was it to keep everything in order when you had an actual physical filing cabinet?

Well, we can’t give you one of those, but we can tell you about something even better.

DropBox

We store all of the files related to our business on Dropbox. This glorious file storage website allows you to create as many folders as you want so that you can easily file away documents, notes, photographs or anything else in one easy to manage place.

We have a StorSafe admin folder which holds our client information, our accounts and everything in between. We also allocate each of our clients their own folder in which we store everything related to them so that we can easily access the information when we need it.

The best thing? Unlike a filing system specific to your computer, Dropbox is also hosted online. This means that as long as you can remember your username and password you can log in to your account from anywhere. Do you know what a life saver this is? Never be without a file again and get organised with Dropbox. We would be nothing without it.

It works by taking the files and folders in your Dropbox folder stored on your computer and synchronises them to the “cloud”. You can then install Dropbox on your phone, laptop and tablet to have access to your files on all your devices.

It’s worth noting that Dropbox is protected by the Safe Harbour Agreement which means that it complies with the European Data Protection Act, keeping your clients’ information nice and secure.

Alternatives to Dropbox:

OneDrive – OneDrive is Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox and is an excellent file storage/synchronisation solution. It’s usually pre-installed with new Windows laptops and comes with an impressive 15GB of space for free. The paid plans are stupidly cheap starting at £1.99 for 100GB. You will also get access to basic Microsoft Office Online apps such as Word and Excel.

Google Drive – Google Drive is (you guessed it) Google’s answer to Dropbox. Again, this is an excellent solution providing a very similar service to OneDrive. It will come pre-installed with Chromebooks and also comes with 15GB of free space. Paid plans start at $1.99 for 100GB. You will also get access to Google Apps such as Docs and Sheets.

Sign documents digitally without pen and paper

Every business at some point is going to need to sign their name on a document and many of us now work without pen and paper. We in fact have this issue regularly as all new clients of ours are required to sign a Terms of Business Agreement and if we had to post out a document and wait for it to be returned we’d have to delay starting work on their account which is unacceptable to us.

HelloSign

We cover this by using HelloSign. We are easily able to upload any document and HelloSign will send it off to our client by e-mail for them to sign via their computer. Condense a 1 week job into a 1 minute job and see your productivity shoot through the roof. The free plan gives you 3 free documents per month.

Alternatives to HelloSign:

SignNow – Free plans include up to 5 documents per month and provides a ton of features.

RightSignature – Very popular and one of the best digital signature services out there with a LOT of integrations.

Scan documents without a scanner

On the subject of the paperless office, sometimes you will need to send a document to a client but as a small business you may not have a scanner (we certainly don’t and we’re a tech company!). Don’t waste money on stamps and envelopes, you can simply send your document via e-mail…. With your phone.

Yep. You did hear that right. With a fantastic app called Scan to pdf you can take a picture of the document on your phone, the app converts the picture to a PDF document and you can then attach it to an email. Who said being a small business had to be hard? Actually, I’m sure we did at the start of this post…

There are probably better apps out there that do this. Feel free to recommend any!

Alternatives to Scan to PDF:

CamScanner – Scan various documents, smart crop, organisation. App for Android.

Evernote Scannable – Scan and organise your documents with ease. iOS app.

Climb out of the social media pit hole

Social Media Management

Have you ever spent the whole day at your computer and achieved absolutely nothing? Yeah. Us too.

We became so fed up of wasting days at a time scrolling through social media feeds and ‘liking’ funny pictures that, come to think of it, really weren’t that funny (they certainly didn’t pay our rent that month anyway) that we decided to put a full social media plan into place.

We now have set times in the day where we e-socialise and once the time is up, we log out and don’t get drawn back into it every time a new notification pops up. We’ve found that not only have we escaped the massive time drain that is social media, we are actually much more productive when we do log in because we are spending dedicated time networking and promoting. Though we’ll still spend time watching stupid videos that pop up in our news feed (what? We’re human!) It doesn’t get in the way of everything else.

Try setting yourself an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening of social media time and see if you get the same benefits.

If you need a little helping hand, then apps like Anti Social and Cold Turkey will actually block those distracting websites and force you to work! No, you cannot look at one more cat meme!

Schedule your Social Media

On the topic of social media, are you one of those annoying business owners who logs in once a day and spams their social media followers with a train of 5 status updates because you know you’re not going to be able to update any more that day?

Newsflash: EVERYONE HATES THAT.

Unfortunately, more often than not we have all been guilty of doing it.

There is nothing more annoying than having your news feed hijacked by an overzealous updater and if it happens often enough, you’ll find that even your most loyal followers click that big tempting “unfollow” button.

Buffer App

Remove that risk by signing up for social media scheduling app Buffer. This website lets you schedule your status updates to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn throughout the day(s) so that each update is released at a different time. This keeps you appearing in news feeds regularly enough to not be forgotten but staggers the updates to stop you from irritating your followers. You are welcome!

Hootsuite Social Scheduling Tool

Also if you manage several social media accounts you can control them all from one platform – HootSuite. This can take away some of the pain of dealing with lots of accounts and should save you time. HootSuite has a ton of features and integrations that Buffer doesn’t and you can manage social sites galore. Give it a go to see what you think, they have a free account too!

Instagram is the exception with both of these. It has very limited management/scheduling potential due to its ethos of posting “in the moment”. Personally, we think this sucks and so we avoid it but if you do use Instagram, be aware that you can’t control it like you can other social media platforms.

Alternatively if you want to lighten your workload, why not hire us to manage your social media for you? It’s affordable and you get to work with us!

Manage your time effectively

Finding time for your work day.

It’s so easy to get distracted. Even innocent distractions that are work related can stop you from achieving some of your important goals. When you’re in the zone you can find that most of the day has passed and you even forgot to eat lunch (those Hobnobs with your cup of tea don’t count)!

Organising your day into blocks of time using a simple calendar can do wonders. Applications such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook can help to achieve this and include pop-up reminders to make sure you’re ready for your next task.

A typical day for us could look like this:

  • 08:00 – 08:30 – Plan today’s tasks
  • 08:30 – 09:30 – Catch up on social media
  • 09:30 – 10:00 – Plan today’s social media posts
  • 10:00 – 12:00 – Plan and draft amazing blog post
  • 12:00 – 13:00 – Lunch/Break
  • 13:00 – 15:00 – Website development
  • 15:00 – 16:00 – Website maintenance and upkeep
  • 16:00 – 18:00 – Research/Training/Personal Development
  • 18:00 – 00:00 – PARTY!!! (Realistically? More work…)

It’s important to take a 10 minute break here and there to give your eyes a rest and a long lunch time is great at helping to reset your mind. You cannot work hard and consistently all day because at some point your brain will just say NOPE!

A simple to-do list is extremely useful for keeping you on track. More often than not we all worry about the tasks we haven’t accomplished but getting them written down can free your mind and help you to sleep better.

There are plenty of fantastic to-do list apps out there and some of our favourites are:

Todoist – Very clean and easy to use app. Has a free plan and integrates well with Gmail and Outlook.

Wunderlist – Another brilliant and good looking app. Has a free plan too!

Outlook Tasks – You can use the Tasks feature in Microsoft Outlook if you spend a lot of time using it for email and calendar

Good old pen and paper – You simply cannot beat pen and paper (shhh, we still use this method most of the time)

Organise your ideas

Don’t you just hate it when you get a great idea right when you’re in the middle of something? So do we. That’s why we use Evernote.

Evernote

This app is the business! It’s a great place for keeping notes of all your great ideas or simply your to do list with it’s cool little tasks feature. You can add/amend/update it easily throughout the day to keep yourself on track and make sure you don’t forget anything important.

Our favourite features of Evernote are:

  • You can keep notes, pictures, lists, draft blog posts, social media notes, business notes, audio and pretty much everything else all in one place
  • Evernote Clipper – A button which plugs into your browser so if you see an interesting picture, website or article, you can press this button and it will “clip” it into Evernote so you can view it later
  • Access everywhere – Evernote is available for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac
  • It’s free!

Get your finances in order

Nobody likes the tax man. He insists on taking a slice of everything we earn which we didn’t really mind before we were self-employed, but now we have to go to the trouble of actually confessing our earnings and giving away some of it, it does kind of sting!

Whether you like it or not you’ll have to do the same. Don’t wait until self-assessment deadline day before you start thinking about your accounts. Use a good accounting system throughout the year and breeze through your tax return over a bottle (or 2) of wine. Maybe the tax man wins, but this way, so do you!

FreshBooks

Our favourite system is FreshBooks – its usability is fantastic and is easy for anybody to setup. It’s best features are:

  • Send beautiful invoices to clients
  • Get paid using credit and debit cards as well as PayPal
  • Track your expenses
  • Time tracking – Yes, another time tracking app
  • Easy to use financial reports

Alternatives to FreshBooks:

FreeAgent – This app has all the features of FreshBooks and is equally as awesome.

PayPal – Did you know that you can also send invoices, get paid and track your expenses in PayPal? Well you do now.

Professional E-mail address

Could you take a business seriously if it used a Hotmail or Gmail e-mail address?

How about BurgerKing@hotmail.com?

I don’t think so. You want to see a professional e-mail address, such as info@burgerking.com.

If it’s good enough for Burger King then it’s good enough for you. Don’t settle for less, get yourself a domain name and allocate yourself some e-mail addresses. It’s pretty easy and really cheap to do but if you need help just ask us, we do it every day!

If you don’t believe in your business then why would a potential customer? Show them you mean business from day one.

Buy your domain and set up your e-mail address with 123-Reg. Or speak to us and we can handle it all for you.

Keep your computer and data safe

By using a couple of simple apps, you can keep your Windows or Apple computer pretty safe and running efficiently. Make sure you install a decent antivirus and keep your system up to date to avoid potential security vulnerabilities that may pop up. For Windows, ensure Windows Update is set to update automatically and you have an antivirus such as Microsoft Security Essentials installed.

You should also think about protecting your files, your online privacy and your computers physical security.

We currently use and recommend the following:

CrashPlan

Backing up your files is probably the most important thing you can do. Backing up to an external USB drive is good but you still risk it being lost, stolen or damaged. Using CrashPlan you can ensure your files are backed up securely online.

CrashPlan is constantly detecting changes and backing up your files in the background so it doesn’t bug you to “run a backup now”. It encrypts your files before uploading them so it’s incredibly difficult for the files to be stolen and used during transfer.

Every time you change a file, CrashPlan will keep that change so you can restore it later if needed. Speaking of restoring your files, it’s super easy to restore your files if they’re accidentally lost or deleted. We’ve been using CrashPlan for years and it has saved us many times.

Tunnelbear

Tunnelbear is a VPN (virtual private network) client which helps to secure your connection to the internet. If you’re using a public wifi connection it’s very easy for others on the same connection to see what you’re doing and even what you’re typing. Can you imagine somebody being able to see your banking credentials?

Tunnelbear will encrypt (secure) your connection making it very difficult indeed for others to see what you’re doing. You can even choose which country to connect to making it look like you’re in Australia even if you’re in a coffee shop in Brixton. This can be used if you’re abroad and want to connect to a service in your home country (e.g. the UK) for example.

Prey

Prey is a sneaky little piece of software that you can install on your computer which can assist you in the event your device is stolen. It can be installed on computers and smartphones and if your device is stolen, you can activate Prey from an online control panel. When the thief turns your device on (and hopefully it will connect to the internet) it will receive a signal from Prey and activate it’s security features.

You can perform some useful tasks using Prey such as:

  • Get regular reports as to it’s approximate location using wifi, 3G and even GPS
  • Lock down your device, prevent access and even wipe the device of all information
  • Take pictures using the camera
  • Send a message to the rotten scoundrel who took your device (or if somebody found it, they can return it like an upstanding citizen)
  • Sound an alarm on the device

You can’t protect yourself against everything, but you can certainly do your best to put preventative measures in place so that you’re prepared if anything does happen.

Keep in touch with your clients for free

Skype - Free calls to Skype

Why pay for phone calls when you can make them for free from Skype (Skype to Skype calls are free, calls to mobile or land-line are chargeable).

We often use the phone call and instant messaging functions on this app and it has saved us a fortune over the years. If you do opt to find a freelancer you will likely find that they expect to correspond with you via Skype (I have no idea why, it’s just the done thing in that circle) and so you will want to have an account set up before you approach freelancers.

Manage your passwords

Password on a post-it note.
DON’T DO THIS!!!

With all these apps, social networks, laptops, tablets, phones and games consoles we have these days you might find that even the most technology shy people have to keep track of dozens of usernames, passwords and pin numbers.

No doubt somebody has invented the diet fridge where you need to enter a password to get at the snacks inside!

For small business owners you may find that you have a million usernames and passwords to keep track of.

Fortunately, this can be helped! Please DO NOT do following:

  • Write passwords on a post it note (see image above)
  • Write passwords in a notebook
  • Keep passwords stored in your phone under contacts
  • Use simple passwords such as a name of a family member, pets name or your street name
  • Use the same password on several apps/sites

It’s not too difficult to use a different and complex password for everything you use. We recommend LastPass to generate and store strong passwords for all your different accounts. Alternatively if you prefer to keep your credentials on your computer then KeePass is also a brilliant tool.

Protect yourself and your business

No matter how small your business is, the minute you start offering a service to paying customers you become legally liable to them. If a product you sell hurts or injures somebody you could find yourself in hot water. And if you’re found guilty? You could be in a lot of financial trouble.

For just a small amount of money you can protect yourself against law suits and much more by buying business Insurance. The cost of our policy is negligible and the peace of mind it gives is priceless. We recommend Simply Business who really do make everything simple. If you want more information on the topic read our dedicated insurance blog post.


We hope that this guide has helped in some way and would like to keep adding to it. If it has helped you, we’d love it if you could share it with others!

If you have any apps or amazing tips that help you run your business then please leave a comment or contact us and we will add them to the guide!

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