It's mid-January, and you may already be struggling to keep your New Year's resolutions. It's pretty common, and I feel the tug backwards too. Staying motivated just isn't easy when it's 20 degrees outside, am I right? But one of the best ways I've found for keeping myself focused and moving forward is to stay immersed in a subject, rather than it being a one-time lesson.
So, for the final weeks of January, I wanted to talk about "small business resolutions" that we should make and keep this year. These are things you may or may not have already thought about, but I believe they are key to a thriving nonprofit or social enterprise.
First up, I want to talk about seven simple tools that build a strong small business foundation. Think of this as putting your best, professional foot forward. You may consider the items below to be the next progression of your organization, or you may even just think of them as resetting to zero because they've been on your list for a long time, and you just haven't made the effort yet. Either way, they'll not only up your game, but they'll also improve people's perceptions of your organization, which, let's face it, is important whether we want it to be or not.
Many of us spend thousands of dollars ensuring that we have a beautiful, functional website, but after it's live, we do little to protect it and our business. Enter The Contract Shop. An ingenious way to make legal contracts easy and handy from my friend and mentor, Christina, you can stop by the shop and purchase a terms and conditions template for your website site in a jiffy.
While there, you can also grab an independent contractor template, the conference speaker template, or nondisclosure template, if needed.
Along the same lines, I use HelloSign to send contracts via email. There's nothing worse that scanning Word doc pages back and forth, is there? And do you ever skimp and send just the signature page rather than the whole doc, meaning it could really be the last page to just about anything? This is where HelloSign comes in handy.
For those of us who may only need something like this now and again, you can even get three, free uses per month. Regardless, HelloSign makes it super quick to upload or create docs, mark them for signatures, and send. It keeps the entire document together, gives you status updates, and best of all, makes electronic signatures legal. And bonus, you look like a pro and someone to be taken seriously.
If you're running a professional organization, I beg you to use a branded email. This means, avoiding "generic" emails like Gmail, Yahoo, or something similar. Those kinds of things can cut it when you're only speaking to friends and family, but if you really plan on increasing your reach, and especially taking sales or donations, this just doesn't look good.
Would you rather give a large donation or make a large purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com? With all the data breach issues we've had over the last couple of years, my money is only going to places that I can verify, and I don't think I'm alone in that mindset.
G Suite is a simple and reasonably-priced way to brand your emails. My email technically flows through Gmail, but my URL is in the address, making everything look way more legit. Plus, there are a lot of other benefits that come with G Suite, like Google Drive, which makes storing and sending large files less complicated.
Need to send invoices? Freshbooks is way to go because it's incredibly simple to use. In fact, it's so easy to use that sometimes I double-check it, thinking I missed one of the steps. Nope!
I used to create invoices in Word or Excel and they didn't look all that great, took some time to edit, and I didn't like the way they were organized. I don't have that problem anymore!
And I haven't really started utilizing it yet, but Freshbooks also has a time-tracking feature that I want to take advantage of this year. You can even store receipts in Freshbooks as well.
Note that this isn't a full accounting suite, but it does the job for me.
To be completely honest, I have a mixed relationship with MailChimp. I have used them for years at previous jobs, and currently use them for Signify's email marketing, but that likely won't always be the case. However, for the vast majority of my clients at nonprofits and social enterprises, MailChimp does a good job. If you have pretty simple email marketing needs, and just need to send regular e-blasts, you'll do just fine with them.
I bring this up, though, because I've recently seen a couple organizations that still use Constant Contact, which frankly, I'm surprised is still in business. Their templates and blasts look years behind those sent by MailChimp and it's competitors. And, again, whether you like or not, looks matter. The content and design both speak to where your company ranks in people's minds, even without them realizing it.
Like I said, if you have pretty straight-forward email marketing needs, MailChimp can do the job. And another one of the reasons so many people use them is the affordable pricing. It's even free if you have under 2,000 subscribers, so there's little excuse. Of course, at this point, I'll remind you that you have to actually send emails to your database. But we'll leave that bigger rant till later in this series . . .
Gone are the days when social media was new and we could just post some simple text online and call it a day. Photo, and especially video, are trends that aren't going anywhere. You need to get people to see what you're doing online, and graphics are one way to say, "Hey! Look at me!" And Canva can help.
Canva is another one of those genius ideas that I wouldn't have a clue how to build, but wish was my idea. It gives anyone the ability to create professional-looking graphics. And they're perfectly sized to wherever you need to post them! It's a free tool that you need to get on board with, if you haven't already. For those of us who don't have a designer on staff, or can't afford to pay someone for our regular, graphic needs, Canva is a lifesaver.
Part of your business strategy likely includes networking events. And whether you're attending a three-day conference or a two-hour seminar, you need to show up with business cards—unless you don't want to talk to anyone, tell anyone about your organization, or have anyone follow-up with you about how they can support you. Umm, those criteria probably do not fit, correct? (Hope not!)
I attend a lot of conferences and events, and am always surprised when people say they'd like to get my info, or give me theirs, but they don't have business cards. Sure, we need them less and less in today's world, but guess what—we still need them sometimes!
Moo is where I got my business cards, and I love them. They look (and feel) great, and because I originally needed them for a last-minute work trip, I also received them in just a couple of days. You don't have to order many, but I would suggest always having a few on hand.
And depending on your needs, you'll also find letterhead, greeting cards, stickers, and more on their site. I'm actually thinking of ordering some greeting cards with Signify's logo on them to use as thank you cards.
As you can see, building a strong small business foundation includes a lot of different things. Sometimes you have to think in terms of legal compliance, and sometimes you just need to get with the times. Either way, I hope these seven simple tools help you.
What would you add?
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.