I’m going to save you all the head banging I did when I first launched my business. I had my craft down – I mean I was cranking out projects left and right, building my client base and my skillsets, but I was struggling from a business perspective. I was spending too much time trying to organize my business, from to-do lists, to spreadsheets to account logins. It was exhausting!
So, because I’ve had to learn the hard way and have now finally gotten into a groove, I’m sharing the love. Here’s my own personal list (nope, nobody is paying me to talk about them) of five must haves every entrepreneur today should have before launching their business.
Accounting software: When I first started my business, I had a Paypal account and would bill my photography clients that way. I also had a Square account, and used it occasionally to run a client’s credit card in person. I also received snail mail checks from several of my local clients and nonprofits. And, if you’re not exhausted yet from reading this, I had an ETSY account that was directly connected to my bank, and eventually moved into an online photo gallery service that used Stripe. If there was an award for trying out EVERY type of payment method on the market, I think I’d have won. But I was totally losing as a business owner, because I spent so much time and energy checking and double checking my Excel spreadsheet (yes, I was using Excel) to make sure I was accurately tracking all of my business income and expenses.
This doesn’t have to be your life. Please don’t let this be your life. There are tons of cheap, if not, free accounting software options on the market perfect for the small business owner. In fact, my new go-to system is Wave Accounting, which I now use 100% to handle all of my business transactions. Wave is specifically targeted to small business owners who sell their services, and it’s FREE. Two reasons it fits my specific needs. Other quality accounting programs worth looking into are Freshbooks and Harvest. Both have monthly subscriptions, but the cost is minimal for the features they offer.
So, why Wave? It’s free. It integrates all my other accounts (meaning that I can add ETSY and my business credit card to Wave, and it will automatically add and track any credits or debits on those accounts). It allows me to invoice, so once a client pays an invoice, that income is now added and tracked in Wave. This keeps me from having to create separate PDF invoices to send clients. It offers payment by credit card, and only takes the standard fees for each credit card transaction. Even if I send an electronic invoice to a client, they can still choose to mail me a check, but I have the ability to track that invoice in Wave and manually mark it as paid once that check hits my mailbox. Best of all, come tax season, I can pull reports for my accountant or even give her access to “view” my account, which is such an awesome and time-saving feature.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve closed my Paypal and Square accounts, and no longer rely on Excel to manage my finances. I kinda feel like I’ve put my big girl panties on and am rocking this finance thing.
Business credit card. I thought I didn’t need one because I’m so good at paying attention to details. Yeah, I got that one wrong. Managing business transactions on a personal credit card starts out easy enough – as long as you are tracking them immediately. In my defense, I was good about entering an expense in my spreadsheet at the very beginning, but then life happened. I had a second baby, moved into a new home, started a new day job, and got behind. So when I did have the time to go over my expenses for the month – or months – it took double the amount of time to make sure I was capturing all my legitimate business expenses.
So, in true Jenna, fashion, I arrived to the party late, but finally signed up for a business credit card. I honestly have no idea why I put it off for so long…it was free and painless. And guess what? My business card links to my Wave account, so when I spend money, it automatically appears as a debit in Wave. So freakin’ cool.
My personal card of choice. The American Express SimplyCash Business Credit Card. No annual fee. Cash back. Enough said.
Task management app. I’m naturally organized, but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t need really cool ways to stay that way. I have a dozen task management apps on my phone, but there’s only one that I would ever use. Asana. It’s free. Awesome. And very user friendly. I’m able to create tasks, assign due dates and then assign those tasks to projects. And, I can color code those projects. Seriously, I’m in love. I’m a solo boss, so the team sharing aspect doesn’t matter to me at this point, but it’s there. So if you do work with others, you can delegate tasks and follow along to see their progress.
So, why is task management so important? Because you don’t want your email to become a task management black hole, where to-dos and attachments and important convos go to die. Email should be left for conversations. You should try to have a clean inbox every day. Asana allows you to attach supporting docs to all your tasks, so you can upload a pdf of your web sketch or client notes and have everything all in one place.
Branded docs. Think invoices, proposals, estimates, tip sheets – you name it. These don’t have to be fancy, although I tend to go overboard when designing my own. But the point is, you’re not doing your brand any favors by sending a client a proposal in a Word doc without any visual reminder of you. This is what logos and fonts and color schemes are for. Take the time to incorporate those into your business docs, so that when you communicate with clients and potential customers, you truly look like a boss.
Make them all coordinate with your brand. Make them easily identifiable. Make them consistent with your message. The more you own your identity and the more confidence you show in your brand, the more clients will take you seriously. And recommend you to their friends. Which means more clients.
So, own your brand. Use it. First impressions are everything.
Work email. And I’m talking a legitimate work email. If you’re not quite ready for a real website, which should also come with a real email at your business domain, no worries. While I totally recommend going big or going home, it’s not for everyone.
What you can do? Create a work email through gmail or yahoo, something like firstname.lastname@example.org. Because you will need a way for clients to contact you and a means to set up all your other necessary business accounts. You’ll have more subscriptions and accounts than you can keep track, and you don’t want all that tied to a personal email.
It’s also why I recommend just starting with a real email. It’ll keep you from having to relink all your accounts later when you finally decide to move to a self-hosted website and email.
My point. Just start with the right email, and save yourself all the trouble later.
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