What small business tools do you use an entrepreneur?
As an artist seeking to make a living, or at least generate income from selling your art and related products, you are a small business owner, and entrepreneur. This means you take on the tasks of organizing and managing your operation, and assume the risks inherent in running it. Effective use of small business tools is essential to your art career success.
You Are the Boss of You
Besides being the chief creative officer, you also are the chief marketing officer, the chief financial officer and more. It takes wearing many hats to run a successful small business. Fortunately, technological advancements allow semi-automation for many of the tasks you need to perform. We are not at the point where robots and artificial intelligence can fully manage your business operations, but we are probably closer than you think.
Just like you, I am an entrepreneur running a small business. My creative product is information presented in the form of books, e-books, blog posts, webinars, and workshops. I also provide consulting, but due to limited available time, I have never intently focused or marketed on that part of my business.
Here are nine of the small business tools I use daily.
1. Google Apps for email – my primary email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, which is powered by Gmail. For the most part, it works flawlessly integrating with Google Drive, Google Hangout and other Google related programs. Oddly, one of the things that do not work as well as possible is the search. The point of archiving the email you wish to keep is that the search function will help you find it, quickly. Sometimes finding an email through the Gmail search is very frustrating. I label everything that is truly important.
As an alternative, I have seriously considered using Zoho Email, which is free and powerful. Microsoft Office 365, is another strong choice, which, while not free, comes with the option to have the entire MS Productivity Suite available in the cloud. That option may cause me to move to Office 365 at some future point. Google offers lightweight productivity programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, but for me, the word processing, in particular, is not equal to using Word. I doubt it ever will.
Here is the last, but not least, word on email. If you have a domain for your website, then you should have an email address to associate with it. One way to scream amateur is to have gmail, yahoo, or aol as part of your email address. Even worse are the ones from your Internet Service Provider such as cox.net, comcast.net, sbcglobal.net, tampabay.rr.com, and so forth. You are seeking to present yourself as a professional businessperson. Your email address speaks volumes either positively or negatively. I agree, switching email addresses can be painful and somewhat laborious, but it is easily worth the effort in the long-range scheme of things.
2. Google Calendar – a calendar is necessary to run your business. You have to keep track of your appointments and activities. You can use your calendar as a stepped down project manager tool. I use Google Calendar because it works seamlessly with my email and my phone. If you need a project manager and customer manager (CRM) tool because you have a large database of buyers and prospects, and you have multiple projects with many moving parts running simultaneously, then look at Insight.ly, a free extension that works with Google Chrome.
3. ToDoIst – the basic premise of David Allen’s bestselling Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity book is to get things off your mind. If you don’t need to worry about when something needs to be done because you are confident you will be reminded to do them at the appropriate time, then with less clutter and worry you become more efficient. I use ToDoist.com to keep track of things I need to do. I also use it for project management.
My co-author, Dick Harrison, and I are near the finish line on a new book, How to Sell Art to Interior Designers. As such, I am transitioning from the writing stage to the promotion stage in the sequence of getting the book written, published and marketed. This means picking up new tasks to do everything possible to get the word out about the book. With new tasks and challenges, I find getting everything committed to ToDoIst for my book project is the best way to keep things moving and on track. I just could not be as effective without this wonderful tool.
4. WordPress – if you have a website, I also hope you are blogging because it is the single best way to develop an email list and pull your collectors, fans, friends and followers closer to you. You can use a blog to show your business and your personality, and snippets of your life to your readers. They don’t care what you had for dinner, but they are interested if you attended a recent gallery opening, took a museum tour, or like listening to Beethoven or Muddy Waters while you work at making your art.
Besides being a blogging platform, WordPress has evolved into a Content Management System (CMS), which allows you to create a website using it. It is estimated that nearly 20% of all new websites published in the U.S. are produced using WordPress. Because of its huge and growing user base, the platform attracts throngs of developers adding new themes and plugins to enhance its use. As such, small business owners and artists have a wealth of options when it comes to creating a unique website and blog with a plethora of available advanced features.
I use WordPress for both ArtPrintIssues.com and BarneyDavey.com. The former is purely for blogging; the latter is an informational-based website with a fully enabled e-commerce solution. I will let you in on a secret. If I could go back to 2005, when I started both of these sites, there would only be one site with a blog attached. With a do over, I would have kept BarneyDavey.com, but the blog would go by blog.BarneyDavey.com.
Back in the day, I only had one book, which was about the print market. So I focused on that in the URL and title of the blog. As years have progressed, I have found I have much more to offer than just advice on the art print market, and have found the name to have somewhat pigeonholed me. Not to the extent that I am willing to go through loss of Google rankings and other bother to rebrand the blog, but that remains a distinct possibility for a future project.
For the past ten years, I have built my small business while working at a variety of full-time jobs. The need for affordable, quality health care has kept me from jumping to full-time status. That is due to change this fall, and I could not be more excited to have more time to consider such things as overhauling and folding ArtPrintIssues.com into BarneyDavey.com
I cannot conceive of how taking on such a challenge would be possible if I were not using WordPress. In 2005, WordPress was only two years old. I chose then to use Typepad to publish ArtPrintIssues.com as a blog, and built BarneyDavey.com on an html template. The Typepad decision turned out to be a bad one because it does not allow its users an easy way to transport a large blog like mine easily. Getting posts and their associated images with them moved was a time-consuming nightmare. This helps further illustrate why having a WordPress site and/or blog is useful – you can move it to another host flawlessly and painlessly within a very short time.
5. StudioPress.com – I use the Focus theme from StudioPress.com for both sites. StudioPress is part of the Copyblogger Media family. It is one of the best premium theme providers in the business. Many of its 42 themes are mobile responsive, including the Focus theme. This means the theme will respond to smaller screens without having to have special software or a different URL, such ArtPrintIssues.mobi, or m.ArtPrintIssues.com.
The growing use of smartphones and tablets for reading blogs, and surfing websites means you must make it easy for visitors to navigate your site. If your site is not responsive, or mobilized, then you are losing valuable traffic. It is too hard to work on driving traffic to your site to lose it because it is not convenient to read your information, or move around on it.
If you are using WordPress, then using a premium (paid) theme is important. Free theme developers have no incentive to keep pace with the ongoing upgrade to WordPress. They usually provide spottier, less effective support for their themes. When it comes to plugins, fewer is better. Each plugin you activate takes resources to run and slows your site down. Only use plugins that have been downloaded many times and have lots of 4 and 5 star ratings. Otherwise, you risk your site being hacked, or crashing due to poor scripting from inexperienced developers.
6. WP e-store – These days there is no reason you should not sell your art directly. Whether in-person, at a show or from your blog or website. You should have systems in place to make selling your work on the spot happen quickly and effortlessly. I use the WP e-store plugin to sell my books, e-books, downloads, webinars and other products right from my BarneyDavey.com/e-store page.
Given the physical size and shipping needs of selling art, it is probably not the best choice for your e-commerce solutions. If you want to keep your e-store as a plugin on your WordPress blog, I recommend looking at Woo Commerce. It is free, but has ongoing annual fees of approximately $300 for the various premium add-ons you will need to make it work for you.
If you are techie, or willing to hire a developer, then you should look at free, open-source programs such as OS Commerce and Zen Cart. I have not checked recent reviews to see if these providers are keeping pace with technological advances. As always, do your own research and careful due diligence before investing your time and money in any software. Getting expert advice is highly recommended. Chris Lema writes extensively about WordPress and has excellent information on e-commerce and other WordPress functions. He is also available for consultations if you are looking at a large-scale, expensive launch.
Other options are standalone e-commerce sites such as Volusion, 3DCart, Shopify. There are many other such platforms to consider. Check around with other artists. They can be your greatest source of reliable, insightful information.
7. Mailchimp – The whole point of a website, blog, and e-commerce is to get found, get customers and create sales. Building an email list is an integral, foundational part of the process. A responsive email list is a bottom line asset to your business. Working to build an email list is critical to your long-term online success. Facebook may lose favor; YouTube may cancel your account or delete your videos, and galleries will come and go. Throughout all such predictable turmoil, your email list will remain your most valuable marketing tool.
I use Mailchimp and recommend it to artists because they offer it free for your first 2,000 subscribers. You don’t get some of the advanced features with the free version, such as auto-responders, but you can’t beat free for starting out. Other recommended email service providers are Aweber and Get Response. I see these three most often included by developers building marketing tools, software and plugins that require email integration.
There are many other email service providers for you to research and investigate. While the platform is important, it pales when compared to the task of working diligently to gain qualified, opted-in email subscribers.
For the past several years, I have championed the idea of artists solidifying their careers by finding sustainable ways to sell direct to collectors. It is the entire premise of my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Build a Bulletproof Career. Email marketing is one of the key components to making this a reality. Networking, warm and local marketing and online marketing are all funnels to help you collect names and establish personal relationships with collectors.
Email marketing is central to achieving this goal of a self-sustained career. Find the fans, friends and followers and convert them to buyers. Keep them informed, interested and entertained through social media and especially email marketing. Focus your marketing on making this happen, and you give yourself the best shot to have the career you want and deserve.
8. Grammar.ly – Most of us, including me, don’t have the time and extra income to afford a full-time copywriter. Having seen what a good one can do to polish good copy into extraordinary copy makes me wish I could. As my business grows into a full-time occupation, it might just happen.
This copy and every post I have written in the past two years have been run through Grammarly. It is an online copywriting software program that works pretty darn good. It is not perfect, but it catches many common errors, overuse of words, and helps make one’s copy shine a bit more.
If you want to use a live service, then look at Gramlee.com. I have used it many times and have never been disappointed. Its prices are quite reasonable. You can bank words. For instance, you might buy 1,000 words and use it to have several 300- 400 pages blog posts or web pages professionally edited. If you are writing a proposal, resume cover letter, or other crucial document, then turning to Gramlee.com is highly advisable.
9. Go Daddy Bookkeeping – I started using Go Daddy Online Bookkeeping before it was bought by GoDaddy.com when it was called Outright. If you are using PayPal, then I don’t need to tell you when it comes to tax time that extracting the data you need for your Schedule C and other tax reports is a monstrous pain in the patootie.
Now, I can get a Schedule C report in a matter of a few minutes. You can add your credit cards, PayPal and checking accounts to the service. It will keep track of your expenses. You can train it automatically to file certain expenses in a chosen category. For instance, it recognizes all PayPal credit card transaction fees and appropriately files them, same for purchase from my Stamps.com account. This service saves me hours of time and headaches. I recommend it without hesitation. On the other hand, if you have more sophisticated bookkeeping needs then look at Quickbooks or Freshdesk.
This is far from a comprehensive list of every tool I use to manage my business. These are among the most important. I use them personally and have great confidence when you use them you will get the highly satisfactory results I experience, or better.