20 Tools and Resources You Didn’t Know You Needed as a Business Owner

Starting a new business can be overwhelming. So can operating one, even after you feel like you can breathe again. 2020 has seen a whole lot of upsets, setbacks, and challenges for all small business owners. As we start to navigate our new “normal,” we thought we’d offer some insight into tools and resources that can help you get back on top. Some will seem obvious and some might be new to you, but hopefully you’ll be inspired to renew (or start) your business.

1. The Small Business Association (SBA). The SBA exists specifically to help small businesses. Many of you may be familiar with SBA from hearing about the COVID-19 relief package implemented by the federal government or from securing funding for your new enterprise, but they are much more than that. The SBA’s suite of tools can help small businesses in any stage of growth.

2. Analytics. Every business owner knows it’s important to track and understand statistics. How many people are visiting the website? Who is ordering the product? When are you seeing the biggest surge in interest? Options like Google’s statistics tool, Google Analytics, and others like Open Web Analytics and Clicky are options to help you understand your information in order to be as successful as possible.

3. Cloud Storage. This tool falls into the category of being so fundamental these days we just don’t think about it. Cloud storage allows for digital storage and organization of large amounts of data that can be available at the click of your mouse. The increasing need for secure digital storage is also being addressed by some of the biggest names in computer technology. From free to paid subscriptions, there is a cloud solution perfect for you. Now is a great time to reassess your cloud storage provider.

4. Website and Blog Creators. Have you been wanting to create or revamp your website? Are you interested in starting a blog related to your business? Not a “code” person? No worries. Easy website and blog creators such as Wix or Medium exist just for you. Want a more human touch? Consider reaching out to your local college or university. They probably have web design or computer science majors who would love to help for free or for a very reasonable wage in order to gain experience and/or your recommendation. Don’t forget you can always contact Powerhouse and we can help too!

5. Video Conference Options. Since the arrival of COVID-19, we’re all pretty savvy about video conference options these days. Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Slack—it seems like there are a plethora of options out there. As we return to work, in-person meetings are probably going to be one of those things that fall under the “new” in “new normal.” Take some time to figure out which video conference options will work best for your new normal because they may not be quite the same as the ones that worked best when we were all at home.

6. Digital Document Signers. As we move more and more into the technological age and further and further away from the traditional pen-and-paper business models, digital document signers are becoming more prevalent. Options such as HelloSign and DocuSign provide ways to sign documents digitally and will save you time and money. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can update any contract and have it signed and filed away.

7. LinkedIn. This definitely falls into the “well, duh” column. However, small business expert and entrepreneur Nick Loper of SideHustleNation.com admits to being surprised by the results of a study showing LinkedIn to be the “most recommended social media resource.” Besides exceling at professional networking, LinkedIn offers talent searching and can match companies with individuals seeking positions. If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile lately, now is a perfect time to do so.

8. Facebook. Similarly, Facebook for Business has several free resources to offer small businesses. From help in creating ads to perfecting video content to managing appointments, Facebook has free resources to help you bring your business to the next level marketing-wise. Their resources are very Facebook-specific, so keep that in mind as you check out what they have to offer.

9. Document Scanning Apps. Feeling the need to go greener? Consider installing a document scanning app on your smartphone. Scannable and Evernote are both free apps that can help keep track of everything from business cards to meeting notes, not to mention any kind of document you can imagine. Never worry about losing a business card again with one of these apps. Evernote even connects with LinkedIn for your convenience. Just type “document scanning” into your app store of choice and be amazed at the choices you have.

10. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tools. The technology age is definitely here to stay. Everyone jumps on their favorite search engine to find just about anything. Tools like Yoast SEO, Sumo, and Moz Pro can help you make your online presence attractive and easily found. So once you’ve used one of our previously mentioned resources to help you build your online presence, use one of these SEO tools to ensure the right people see it.

11. Virtual Private Network (VPN). Speaking of your online digital presence, security is a growing concern among businesses worldwide. Many VPNs cost money, but there are some that will offer minimum protection for free. So even if you’re not at a point yet where you can afford to ensure security with monthly subscription fees, you can find options like CyberGhost that will offer some protection for free or for a modest fee, such as $3 per month.

12. Chrome Add-Ons. Simple. Free. Easy to install. Perfect for any small business, right? Chrome offers things like TextExpander, which allows you to create custom keyboard shortcuts to optimize your time and efficiency, as well as Awesome Screenshot, an add-on that allows you to take and edit screenshots.

13. Scheduling Apps. Apps such as ScheduleOnce allow you to create a personalized calendar URL that synchs with Google Calendar. Perfect for start-ups and small businesses that need to keep track of meetings, deadlines, etc., but don’t necessarily have space or money to hire an assistant or office manager. For a modest $5 per month, you can grab additional premium features. Need a different format? Your favorite app store will have you covered.

14. Spreading the Word. It’s all about who you know, right? Or who you know and when you know them. Companies like Web FX and Ignite Visibility offer one-step marketing shops to help small businesses get off the ground and/or get recognized. They know the markets you’re hoping to reach and operate with the best possible technology. These comprehensive marketing strategists will cost you, but they deliver proven results.

15. Social Media Tracking. This has been incredibly important in 2020, as we’ve had to rely fairly heavily on online opportunities. Hootsuite and others offer free versions of their products that will help you manage all your social networks as well as allow you to schedule posts and interact with followers. Need more? They offer upgraded versions with premium features for a reasonable monthly fee.

16. Project Management Programs. Trello, Wrike, and others offer free versions of their project management programs as well as premium, paid versions. Easily track projects across your business and have a handy tool that everyone in your company can use to track and update progress. This resource is especially helpful for project-based businesses that manage multiple clients.

17. Gratitude Journal. This tool might be one you haven’t thought of before. Whether you choose a digital option or a traditional pen-and-paper route, consider starting a gratitude journal. Not only will it help you focus on the positives in everything that’s happened this year, but studies show that the happier you are the more productive you are as well. Happiness starts with gratitude. So find a way to reflect on the things that go right in your day.

18. Inspiration. Need some help with finding your happiness and success? Consider subscribing to inspirational websites, blogs, and podcasts that speak to you. Set reminders on your calendar assistant to schedule time to indulge your inspirational needs. Whether you take your lunch break or have time you can build into your day, feed your need for inspiration, kind words, or just whimsy that allows you to forget what’s stressing you. You never know what might help you past that stumbling block, and you just might be inspired to create your next Big Idea.

19. Website Freebies. Many websites exist solely to provide free resources, tips, and interactive guides to help you no matter where you are in your business journey. A great one for those just starting out or in need of a refresher is Visme. It’s a one-stop shop for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

20. Powerhouse Resources. Not only do we have free resources to help you in business and life, but we also have that human touch that can be lacking in an increasingly digital world. Maybe you don’t want to outsource everything to a digital option, but you aren’t in a place where you can afford to hire more people. Powerhouse exists just for you. Get the high-quality, human-inspired options you want at a significantly lower rate than if you had to hire someone part- or full-time. We offer a wide variety of services to help you grow your business and meet your goals.

 

2020-06-11T20:14:15+00:00August 1st, 2020|

New Powerhouse Team Member

Anna Reed is a mom of three, along with holding many other titles. She grew up in a small town in Wyoming, which gave her a unique perspective on life. She comes from a large family and grew up learning to work hard for what she wanted. Anna has always been a creative at heart and sought ways to channel that passion, from selling her art and creations around her neighborhood as a kid to designing and modeling her own clothing. She has worked in many career fields, from medical to entertainment, and is frequently (and probably jokingly) referred to as a jack of all trades because she is not afraid to try new things. Moving around the country with her family has created challenges and learning experiences not only with family but also with employment, requiring her to reinvent herself in each new location. She loves learning new things and adding skills to her repertoire, and she is grateful for each new opportunity. The biggest lesson she has learned through it all is to think outside the box and never give up, even when it seems like all options have been exhausted. Her hope is to always share her heart through her art and challenge others to see beauty in every situation.

Anna will be joining the Powerhouse team as a product model for one of our clients.

2020-07-16T16:36:00+00:00July 16th, 2020|

CEO SPOTLIGHT

From Mermaid to Tent Keeper, One Small Business Owner’s Hope to Bring Joy to Women Everywhere

By: Meredith Flory

Military spouses often find themselves needing to use their degrees, job training, and career experiences creatively. Aj Smit, the Armed Forces Insurance 2020 Lackland Air Force Base Spouse of the Year, certainly found a way to use her theater degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a dream from childhood to spread joy wherever she is stationed.

Smit has been a military spouse for eight years, living in Hawaii, Germany, Mississippi, and now Texas, but growing up in Northern Iowa she dreamed of the ocean. She remembers, “I always wanted to be a mermaid growing up, like people want to be a teacher or astronaut.” While she knew it probably wasn’t possible, she says, “[I] saved my birthday wish each year for this absurd thought, that I could be a mermaid someday.” She remembers wishing each birthday from ages 4 to 22, “Dear God, please let me become a mermaid. I don’t even need to breathe underwater, just the fins would be fantastic.” Then on her 23rd birthday, while looking for mermaid books, she “came across another article about a professional mermaid” and was immediately excited to find that, yes, in fact, people will pay you to be a mermaid. Soon after she got a monofin—a fin that both of your feet are attached to—and later added a tail, beginning her career as a professional mermaid.

She loves bringing “joy, whimsy and wonder to the world.” One of Smit’s early business avenues was performing for mermaid birthday parties. She explains, “At Hickam Air Force Base we could swim out farther down from where the kid’s party would be, and I would tell the adults where my treasure chest was so they could grab it from the hidden spot.” The chest would have books and treasures for the children, and Smit would know which child was the birthday child and call him or her by name as she swam into the party. She would lead games, swimming, and songs and “teach them to speak like dolphins (a lot of high-pitched yodeling, sorry parents), and they would just glow from happiness.”

As her career choice was unique, and military spouses move often, opening her own business seemed like the best way to continue performing. Because her talents and skills were focused on the arts, Smit’s challenge was the paperwork, record keeping, and other administrative duties required when running your own small business. She shares of growing as a businesswoman, “It’s something I’m always reminding myself of, and if people can take that from the get-go and be organized and make sure to keep your paperwork straight, everything else will be easier.”

Smit’s business, In-Joy Productions, has grown to include mermaid and fairy parties, storytelling, henna, and Red Tent events.  (more…)

2020-07-06T20:38:33+00:00July 6th, 2020|

Did You Know?

Charting professional and business growth is at once one of the most exciting and terrifying parts of owning a small business. Everyone wants to ensure that they are building on their dream and successfully impacting their chosen field. Just remember there are countless parts to the professional success puzzle. For inspiration, ideas, and ways to have fun while building your small business, follow along with Powerhouse’s 20 Tips in 2020 series. Each month we’re offering 20 tips based on a different aspect of the small business enterprise. You just might find the one piece missing from completing your professional success story.

2020-07-06T20:38:55+00:00July 6th, 2020|

Ways to Measure Your Professional and Business Growth

By: Randi Cairns

It is quite easy to convince yourself that you need to be fully engaged and involved on every social media platform. That you need to follow every marketing expert out there. That you need to measure All. The. Things. There are two problems with that strategy: First, you don’t have time to do all that AND successfully run your business. And second, not every tool, trick, and measurement are relevant to all businesses—or even to your business all the time.

Of course, you want to be able to measure your business growth. But how do you do that strategically and in a way that results in useful information?

Decide what you will measure. Your options may feel overwhelming. There are metrics for pretty much everything—engagement, performance, retention, traffic, reach—you name it. Is information power? Yes. Is it also potentially crippling when you’ve got a million data points and no idea what to do with them? Also, yes.

Start with your goals. What does success look like for you and your business? How can you know if you’re growing or stagnant? Sales? Revenue? New customers? Social media fans? Your answer won’t be the same as that of others in a different industry or at a different stage of their company’s existence.

What will your key performance indicators (KPIs) be? In other words, what will you measure that tells you how well you’re achieving your business objectives? If you’re unsure where to start, begin with revenue (what you’re bringing in after accounting for discounts and returned merchandise), customer acquisition cost (the amount you spent on marketing divided by how many customers that yielded), and marketing return on investment (divide your marketing spend by your revenue). These three metrics will show you if your marketing activities are impacting your bottom line or if you need to think about another approach. (more…)

2020-07-06T20:39:08+00:00July 6th, 2020|

20 Business Etiquette Tips

By: Lindsey Stone

In business, the way you behave strongly influences how others see your level of professionalism. Doing or saying the wrong thing can negatively impact your career more than you may realize. By understanding the influence of business etiquette and recognizing what matters most, you can set yourself apart professionally.

Tip #1: Be Aware. Names are one of the first pieces of information we learn about someone, and remembering someone’s name is more beneficial than you think. If you have trouble remembering names, try repeating the name back to the individual as you interact. Writing down a name and job title with some brief notes about the circumstances in which you met can help for future connections and references as well.

Tip #2: Use Your Full Name. Introducing yourself by your full name distinguishes you from anyone else the individual may know with your same name. In addition, knowing your full name will make it easier for others to find you after the meeting or conference on sites like LinkedIn so you can stay connected and build your network.

Tip #3: Be Mindful. Do not walk into someone’s office without announcing yourself. Imagine how you feel when someone walks into your office without notice and interrupts your train of thought or important business call. Remember, the perfect time for you to talk about something may not be the ideal time for someone else. Take a minute to send an email to find out what time works for both of you.

Tip #4: Know Who Pays When. If you invited the client or coworkers to coffee, lunch, etc. for a work meeting, then you should pay. It does not matter if it is a quick meeting or note, the tab is your responsibility when you invite others somewhere.

Tip #5: Limit “Thank You.” Being polite is important, but in the professional world, it is more about minding your p’s and q’s and less about making sure to say thank you consistently. One confident and sincere thank you is sufficient, but being overly thankful may make you seem insecure or insincere. (more…)

2020-07-06T21:10:36+00:00July 6th, 2020|

POWERHOUSE SERVICE & SUCCESS

Client Profile: Alpha Omicron Pi Foundation

Powerhouse Service Provided: External Communications

“Jessica Bertsch and the Powerhouse team fully exceeded our expectations by planning our #GivingTuesday social media campaign within a very short timeframe. The creative and conceptual designs were excellent, and we enjoyed working with Jess and her team. Thank you for helping us reach our #GivingTuesday goal and laying the groundwork for future social media campaigns!”

– Courtney Stafford, Director of Advancement, Alpha Omicron Pi Foundation

Print

2020-07-06T20:41:56+00:00July 6th, 2020|

BUSINESS RESOURCES

Growth Resources

Measuring professional and business growth is one of those pesky chores that can be fun, can be painful, and can really help to point out areas where we are succeeding and areas that can definitely use some improvement. Remember that small businesses will, most likely, have growth spurts followed by long plateaus, so don’t be alarmed if your business/professional growth chart seems stagnant. Just make sure you can identify areas for improvement and focus on those.

Want an overall idea of how to measure professional growth? Check out Leigh Espy’s “7 Great Ways to Measure Career Success – or Signal It’s Time to Make a Change.”

Want specific tips on how to measure small business success? Forbes has some places to start.

Looking for growth strategies? Fundera has some ideas on strategies for small business success.

If you find you need some help bolstering an area of your business to ensure you reach your growth potential, check out the ways Powerhouse can help you be the most successful you can be.

2020-07-06T20:39:44+00:00July 6th, 2020|

GIVING BACK & GETTING INVOLVED

Bunker Labs: Empowering Military-Connected Entrepreneurs

By: Julie Kirchner

Giving back and making our communities better are fundamental elements of our Powerhouse culture. Through our “Share the Goodness” program, Powerhouse gives 10% back each year to causes that are important to our freelance team members and their communities. To inspire even greater impact, we love, love, love to highlight the goodness offered by a nonprofit organization so you can learn more, volunteer, and/or donate.

This month, I was truly excited to have the opportunity to share what Bunker Labs is doing for our military community of entrepreneurs. I first attended a “Bunker Brews” local networking event a year ago, and it was then that I witnessed the true spirit of community among entrepreneurial changemakers. I can still remember the host warmly welcoming us and quelling our nerves about the anticipation of networking: “You’re at a ‘networking’ event—literally EVERYONE here is excited to meet you!” Thus, an evening filled with uplifting conversation and motivational (and sometimes hilarious) stories from successful local entrepreneurs ensued. Everyone left the brewery that night with an expanded LinkedIn network of like-minded friends and a few new great insights to power the workweek.

Bunker Labs is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to serve veterans and military spouses on their entrepreneurial journey. According to the Bunker Labs website, 25% of transitioning service members want to start a business and desire the support to help them successfully launch one. With a coast-to-coast network of local chapters throughout the United States, Bunker Labs provides the military-connected community the networking support, tools, and resources needed to successfully start their own businesses—and these services are free of charge.

We recently caught up with Kirby Atwell, CFO of Bunker Labs, who was a member of the very first cohort to go through Bunker Labs in 2014 when it had just started. Back then, Bunker Labs was a mastermind group of 30-40 Chicago-area entrepreneurs who met weekly to support each other’s work on building their businesses. Atwell shares, “This was a tremendous help for my business, so I knew I wanted to be a part of this mission in the future. I stayed involved and volunteered in different capacities for a few years and then joined the staff as the COO (and eventually the CFO) in 2017.” (more…)

2020-07-06T20:42:38+00:00July 6th, 2020|

20 Ways to Measure Your Business Growth

Management thought leader and author Peter Drucker once wrote, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Recent research has suggested that many entrepreneurs chose the path they did because they desired one thing—meaning. How can we lead our businesses in measurable and meaningful ways, without getting lost in measuring and focusing on things that don’t really matter?

Check out these 20 ideas we’ve put together to help you assess your growth as a business owner and freelancer.

1. Meeting real needs.
You can be growing, but you can also be growing in a direction that no longer meets the needs of the clients you serve. One way to measure your business growth is to compare it to actual needs of your community and customers through regular needs assessments.

2. Benchmarking.
Are you growing relative to similar businesses in your field? What other businesses out there provide services like yours, and how are you different or the same?

3. Leads and referrals.
Tracking the number of new leads and referrals you have each month can give you helpful insights into patterns. Asking these leads how they heard about you is another opportunity to learn what’s working well and possibly whom to thank for referrals.

4. Ratings and recognition.
Higher customer ratings are correlated with increased business. Regularly review your ratings, whether on Google, Yelp, or any other online customer reviews. Looking at ratings and reviews over time can indicate whether you’re growing in a positive direction in the eyes of your customers. Another way to measure growth is being recognized as a leading business in your community or industry, such as applying for and achieving a widely known business recognition, distinction, or seal of integrity that you can display in your marketing.

5. New clients.
If people are knocking on your proverbial door to do business with you, chances are you’re doing something right by offering a needed service and having positive word-of-mouth marketing from your existing customers. Learn more about them and what brought them to your business.

6. Loyalty.
Repeat business and contract renewals are an important aspect of sustainable business. What percentage of your customers would you consider loyal or repeat customers? These are important relationships to nurture, as loyal clients make great (free) marketers who will often happily test-drive new products and services and can even provide the most helpful insights to improve your overall business strategy.

7. New hires.
New team members can be an indicator that you’re ramping up to meet increased demand or growing services and that your company is perceived as a desirable place to work.

8. Retention and engagement.
Measure the average length of time team members stay on board with your business. Retained team members are usually a good indicator of employee satisfaction, a great culture, and successful leadership.

9. Employee growth and development.
One sign of business growth can be found in a measure of your employees’ growth, which is now a well-known factor in employee engagement. If your team members are gaining desirable skills, that development along with their high engagement level can tremendously benefit the growth of your business.

10. Profit.
One sure measure of growth is reflected in your business’s bottom line. If work is plentiful, you should ideally see a reflection of that in your profits.

11. Diversification.
One way to gauge your growth is in terms of sustainability. For example, your efforts in strategic diversification of products, services, or geographical areas served can help you avoid localized impacts. You may also have identified opportunities for growth work or add-on services that will help further solidify your income.

12. Online reach and engagement.
Reviewing your website analytics can give you a picture of your customer reach and engagement over time and relative to certain marketing campaigns. Using trackable links is another great way to see ongoing performance of marketing efforts. If you manage social media pages, you can measure followers, post engagements, and shares. (Here’s an article with great ideas for engaging your social media followers.)

13. New partnerships.
Partnerships are a great measure of business growth because together you are working to provide more or better services to clients or to better streamline the services you provide by cross-referring customers. Tracking the number of business partnerships you have this year over last year could be a good measure of growth.

14. Shareholders.
New investors, funders, active board members, and increased employee giving or board-member giving are great ways to measure others’ confidence in your company or cause and to track growth in that confidence level over time.

15. Expanded services.
Reflect on the number of ways you successfully expanded products, programs, or services in the past year(s) to meet customer needs.

16. Focus and efficiency.
You’re experiencing a kind of growth when you’re seeing better productivity and efficiency along with a more streamlined focus—where there is decreased effort in combination with increased output.

17. Reduced costs.
If you are proactively identifying ways to reduce overhead costs or leaks from ineffective practices, that’s a measure of growth. Effective planning can also help reduce costs, and your strategic planning activities are another aspect of your business you can capture and measure over time.

18. Customer satisfaction and issues resolution.
It directly impacts your bottom line, so you’ll want to ensure systems are in place to measure customer satisfaction and seek feedback often, resolving any issues quickly. Issues resolution is another activity you can track and measure over time to look for indications of growth and improvement in that area.

19. Increased demand.
An increase in demand for your products or services may be a positive indicator that you’re meeting customer needs well and that you have effective marketing efforts in place. Taking steps to understand where the new demand is coming from can help you with future performance.

20. Charitable giving.
A positive, meaningful way to measure your business growth is in how much you are able to give back to the community through charitable acts of giving or volunteering by you and your team.

If you’re looking for ways to take your business to the next level, we have a Powerhouse resource devoted entirely to helping you achieve that. To check out all of our “20 Tips” resources, check out our Powerhouse Resources page and follow us on Facebook.

2020-06-02T20:58:42+00:00July 1st, 2020|