resolutions

7 Simple Tools That Build a Strong Small Business Foundation

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.

7 Simple Tools That Build a Strong Small Business Foundation

The Contract Shop

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.

When I launched my site, I knew that I needed to include all the legalese, but had no idea how to write it or what it needed to say. However, once I purchased this template, I had the terms, conditions, and privacy policy online in about 15 minutes! I've heard terrible stories about people's website design and content getting ripped off, and even saw it happen once to a client. This is an simple way to protect your uniqueness, and gives you legal standing, should you ever need it.

While there, you can also grab an independent contractor template, the conference speaker template, or nondisclosure template, if needed.

HelloSign

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.

 

G Suite

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 company@gmail.com or customerservice@company.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.

 

Freshbooks

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.

MailChimp

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 . . . 

 

Canva

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. 

 

Moo

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?

 

Read the other posts in this series:



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Here are seven simple tools that build a strong  small business  foundation. Think of this as putting your best, professional foot forward. You may consider them to be the next progression of your nonprofit or social enterprise, or you may just think of them as resetting to zero because they've been on your list for a while. Either way, they'll not only up your game, but improve people's perceptions of your organization.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

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.


Ask the Experts: Resolutions and Goal Setting

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For January, I've invited Robert Carnes to talk about resolutions and goal setting. There's no better time for a fresh start than the New Year!

Ask the Experts: Resolutions and Goal-Setting

People have been setting New Year’s resolutions probably as long as there have been new years. Nearly as frequent as the resolutions is giving up on said resolutions. There’s something intoxicating about a fresh start that makes people unrealistic about their own expectations, but even with the best of intentions, they typically don’t last.

Most people just give up making resolutions altogether—and frankly, that’s better than kidding yourself every 365 days. However, there are better ways to launch yourself into the New Year and actually accomplish something in 2018.

Let's talk about how you can realistically set and accomplish your goals this year.

 

Q. What are the latest trends in annual goal setting?

A. The most popular New Year’s Resolutions in 2017 were essentially the same as they’ve always been—eat healthier, exercise more, get organized, spend less, and travel. Basically, people are always going to seek the same things to improve their lives.

One trend I’ve heard about recently is setting smaller, shorter-term goals. Rather than trying to set a resolution for the entire year, make one for each quarter that stands alone, or adds up to a larger goal. Three months is a more manageable scale for most people compared to 12 months.

This also allows you to reevaluate your goals every quarter, rather than annually. Continually monitoring your progress helps you to be more flexible and accountable. Start small and win big.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making with New Year’s resolutions?

A. Unrealistic expectations. New Year’s couldn’t come at a worse time. Every year, it’s scheduled right after New Year’s Eve—a night everyone intentionally stays up late and indulges. No one wants to get up early and work hard on January 1—so you’re already off to a bad start.

Instead of a sweeping gesture to make ourselves feel better in the moment, it’s much better to set goals we can actually follow through on. So, set a less ambitious goal that you can expand on later. These are practices you can turn into habits, rather than burning out by February.

In his book Finish, Jon Acuff recommends cutting your goal in half. So, if you want to write 30 blog posts this year, set your expectation at writing 15 posts. Because writing 18 posts by the end of the year is better than getting overwhelmed, giving up early, and not writing any at all.

 

Q. What is your best piece of advice?

A. Make your goal something you actually want to accomplish. Are you setting goals out of guilt or peer-pressure? If so, odds are that you won’t actually achieve them. Internal, positive motivation is much more powerful than guilt.

But even goals you enjoy can lose their flavor over time. So inject some fun into the mix to prevent burnout. Celebrate small victories. Reward yourself for hitting benchmarks. Involve other people to keep you accountable and motivated.

Remind yourself why you’re pursuing this goal in the first place. If it’s something you enjoy and truly desire, that should help keep your attention focused all year long.

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve?

A. Pick one small thing to accomplish towards your goal. Instead of trying to run a marathon, start with the first mile. Instead of writing a book, write a blog post. Often, people fail to meet their goals because they get overwhelmed and can’t see any progress.

Giving yourself smaller, attainable steps builds momentum towards a larger achievement. It’s also much easier to know what you’ll be able to finish this week, rather than by the end of the year. Don’t worry about staying perfect—focus on finishing what you can do today.

 

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. The most important thing is consistency. A small habit maintained over time can lead to big things. Goals come and go, but habits stick around.

The key to making a difference in your life is creating sustainable practices that have a positive cumulative effect. Do good work that will allow you to do even more good work in the long term.

And one of the best ways to keep a good thing going is not quitting when it’s no longer perfect. If you miss writing a blog post or scheduling your social media next week, don’t give up entirely. Give yourself a pass and prepare to get back on track. You’re never going to be perfect—focus instead on being better.

 

6. Do you have any resources that would be helpful so people can learn more?

  • Jon Acuff has become an expert on achieving goals. His 30 Days of Hustle online course was one of the reasons I was able to publish my first book last year.

  • Another great resource from Jon Acuff is his new book I mentioned earlier, Finish. It’s all about ignoring perfectionism and getting real work done.

  • Jeff Goins has also got a lot of practical advice and encouragement, especially for writers. His new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, is all about making a living from work you actually enjoy.

  • If you want an example of the extreme, check out Month to Master—one man’s journey to master one new thing every month for a year. Not recommended for everyone, but definitely entertaining.

And here are a few more resources from KP:

Wishing you a joyous and prosperous New Year!


Robert Carnes

Robert Carnes is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. Carnes also works as a managing editor at Orange in Atlanta.



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Let's talk about how you can realistically set and accomplish your goals this year.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.