Welcome to the next installment of Solo PR Pro’s Tool School series! Designed to fight overwhelm, all this month we’re offering specific recommendations for services that are cost-effective for indies, and aren’t enterprise-focused or overkill for our needs.
Last week, we talked about the tools that can help you with your client work, but don’t neglect your own business! Enhance your profitability with the tools below.
Most of the tools listed here are free, though some are paid and a couple (noted with an asterisk*) are affiliate links that earn Solo PR Pro a commission, which help support the operations of Solo PR Pro if you purchase through them (my techie guru thanks you! J). We only recommend products we use and love, and those in the Solo PR community have heard us recommend these tools for years.
Most communications consultants don’t love dealing with the backend financial stuff. These tools can help immensely:
1. Freshbooks* – If you haven’t given Freshbooks a try, you should at least give the free trial a whirl! One of the most popular invoicing solutions among Solo PR community members, Freshbooks also offers a multitude of additional services and integrations to make time tracking, bookkeeping, accounting and even customer relationship management easier.
You don’t have to ask clients to view/access your Freshbooks invoices within the system – you can save the invoices as PDFs with one click and submit to clients as you normally would (this is what I do with my enterprise clients). Super easy!
2. Xero – Quicken and Quickbooks are well-known accounting solutions, but if you’ve never gotten the hang of them (this is me!), you may want to give Xero a try. I find Xero to be super easy and intuitive (you can download all your bank and credit card transactions into the system and classify/reconcile them with a click), and if you’re a fellow former fan of the now defunct Microsoft Money, this is closest tool you’ll find to that system.
3. Paypal– With economic times being strange as they are, some clients may want to pay you with their business credit card. The premier online payment system can offer an easy way for you to accept these credit card payments.
4. MilelQ- Do you always forget to record your business mileage? If you haven’t taken advantage of the mileage tax deduction, you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up! MileIQ automatically remembers your drives and allows you to classify and generate reports after-the-fact for mileage reimbursement or taxes.
Make sure you have a professional visual identity with these services:
5. 99designs* – Need design help for a logo or other deliverable and don’t know where to turn? 99designs is the premier marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design – it’s easy, fast and inexpensive to get what you need. Off-the-rack logos start at just $99, or you can host a contest and have designers submit their ideas for your logo, website, business card and more – just choose the one you like best!
6. Overnight Prints* – On the recommendation of Solo PR PRO Premium member Greg Brooks, I tried Overnight Prints and put its moniker to the test. The result was an on-time shipment of double-sided business cards that make recipients say an approving “oooh” every time I hand them out. The kicker? I designed them myself using the site’s DIY tools. As you’d expect, you can also provide them with your designer-created artwork and pay less for more lead time, and get a good finished product no matter what.
7. Moo* – If you’ve ever been handed a super-cool mini business card at an event, it likely came from Moo. They also have full-sized business cards, post cards, flyers and other printed items – available in small quantities – that allow you to have a unique, professional presence (useful for clients, too!).
These days, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to get a basic website and/or blog up and running. Use the tools below to get a beneficial online presence – that’s exactly what you want – for less:
8. Bust A Name– The easiest way to find a domain name for you or your client. Type in the words you'd like included and see what's available.
9. Hostgator* – After an exhaustive search to find the best low-cost – but robust – hosting solution, the Solo PR Pro site spent most of its life on Hostgator (we now have so many features for Premium members my techie guru hosts the site himself). If you’re looking to get a website up and running at minimal cost, shared hosting plans start at less than $5/month, and VPS (Virtual Private Server) plans – which are something to consider if you’re planning a well-trafficked blog – are less than $20/month.
»»Bonus discount! Receive $9.94 off your hosting package purchase with coupon code SOLOPRDISCOUNT. If you want to try a less expensive package (for example, the “Hatchling” plan for one month), this coupon will make it one penny. Even bigger discount: if you happen to be reading this post on August 19, Hostgator is having a 24-hour sale today – 45% off all new hosting packages.
10. Namecheap*- If you prefer to handle your domain registration and site hosting with two different companies (I do), Namecheap is my top choice for domain registration. Many of the most popular registrars frequently come under fire for unethical practices, but Namecheap has an excellent reputation for being affordable, reliable and trustworthy.
11. WordPress – It’s the best platform for blogging, but did you know WordPress can also be a great way to build your own easy-to-manage Web site? Most major hosting companies, including Hostgator, can install WordPress on your domain with one click.
12. Elegant Themes*– If you’ve never used WordPress before, the terminology can get confusing – what the heck is a theme? Think of a theme as a blog and/or website template – it gives you a great design out-of-the-box, often eliminating the need for a designer (and allowing you to focus more on your content). WordPress comes with a couple standard themes, but these are widely used and most businesses and professionals choose to purchase a different theme to help differentiate look and feel (the best themes allow you to choose from different color schemes, so you can often easily match your existing branding).
There are a ton of theme options and “frameworks” (I’ve long been a fan of WooThemes, and while I still like the Woo framework, they seem to be skewing more toward developers these days). Today, I recommend Elegant Themes – they have a variety of gorgeous business options and a cool pricing model where $69 gives you access to download any/all of their themes for a full year – so there’s no buyer’s remorse after you purchase a single theme and then realize it’s not really working for you (this has happened to me – ouch). When you compare their $69 all-you-can-eat subscription with the cost of a designer, it’s a great bargain!
13. Wufoo– An online form builder, Wufoo forms can be embedded in a web page or blog for a seamless user experience. It integrates with a number of other tools and can email you every time you receive a submission. I’ve used it for everything from Contact Us forms to speaker proposal submissions.
14. Audacity– Run a blog and thinking about adding video segments? Developing a screencast tutorial, multi-media FAQ, or producing a video interview? Audacity is the go-to audio editor for recording and mixing digital tracks.
15. Pingdom– A free website monitoring tool. Pingdom tests your site as often as every minute and alerts you by email if it goes down.
If you’re looking for independent communications consultants to collaborate with, the best resource is the Solo PR Pro Find a Consultant feature. But for more administrative tasks, take a look at the following:
16. Fiverr– An online marketplace where people share the things they’re willing to do for $5, you can often find useful business services here. Warning: the site can be addictive!
17. TaskRabbit– Currently in 19 cities, TaskRabbit offers vetted “Taskers” to help with mostly unskilled tasks. Specializing in local/on-site activities, a TaskRabbit can be used for anything from stuffing envelopes to helping you with a supply run.
18. FancyHands*- For simple and quick tasks (15 minutes or less), you may want to consider FancyHands. They do best at basic activities like formatting a document, confirming an appointment, or looking up URLs for a list of companies (as an example) – once you get the hang of offloading these simple tasks, it can be a great time-saver.
19. Zirtual– I haven’t tried this one yet personally, but Solo PR PRO Premium member Kami Huyse is such a fan, I wanted to include it. Unlike the other items on this subcontractor list, Zirtual gives you your own dedicated college educated and U.S.-based assistant (which can cut down on the need for training/explanations).
20. Free Solo PR PRO ebook Get It In Writing! – If you’re looking for guidance and full examples of commonly used contracts, be sure to download Get It In Writing! The Communications Consultant’s Guide to Contracts. This widely-cited primer has been updated and expanded in the recently-released Second Edition.
21. Nolo.com* – Lawyers are best, but sometimes we need faster service. With over 500 do-it-yourself legal products, Nolo has the largest library of online consumer and small business legal products including: power of attorney, wills, living trusts, leases, promissory notes, etc. I may or may not have used this service to put together my own temporary will. J
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
The professionals in the Solo PR Pro community agree: the best way to stay top-of-mind with potential clients and gain new business is good old-fashioned networking. CRM tools can help make this process easier by reminding you to reach out, and often can help you manage your sales pipeline.
22. Contactually – I’m in the process of migrating away from my old CRM tool, and have tested a number of possible replacements. So far, this one seems to be the winner for what I need. It integrates with Gmail and the major social networks, so you can work with all of your contacts in one place.
23. Streak– Many Solo PR Pros love Streak, which focuses on your lead pipeline. It lets you keep track of all your deals within Gmail.
Did we miss your favorite tool for business management and promotion? Be sure to share with everyone in the comments! And keep checking back for more Tool School – still to come this month, How to Smartly – and Cheaply – Automate Routine Social Media Posts (coming August 26).
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Free ebook: “Get It in Writing!”