The Solopreneur's Toolbox

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal, Feb. 5, 2016

There are nearly 22 million solopreneurs, businesses where the single owner is the only employee, in the US. These one-person enterprises account for 78.26 percent of all businesses in the US regardless of size.

I know, I was surprised too. But that’s according to the US Census Bureau. The Small Business Administration defines a small business as one with fewer than 500 employees. There are 27.2 million of those and solopreneurs are the vast majority. Large business? Those over 500 employees? There are only 18,586 in the US.

All that said, it seems like it is time we focused on some of the special needs for solos.  Here are some tech tools to add to your toolbox to help you get more done, look professional and compete with bigger businesses for clients. Most are free or near free (i.e. they can be had for less than the cost of a cup of Starbucks a month!).

MEETINGS

Scheduling meetings has always been a time suck. Make it easy for clients and potentials to meet with you and ditch the flurry of emails, using Timebridge. The newly redesigned application runs on your desktop (no mobile app as of yet) and connects to Outlook or Google Calendar. You select times from your calendar and propose them to your attendees. The app does the rest, including choosing the best time for everyone, where possible and blocking out tentative times on your calendar so you don’t overbook. If you’re on a Mac and use iCal, you’ll want to look at Doodle. Same function. Unfortunate name.

A good conference calling app, like Uber Conference, can extend the capability of even a one-to-one call.  You can use either your phone or computer, record calls (unlimited) at the touch of a key combo,view the social profiles of participants, and sends you a post-call email with a link to the recording, and other meeting details. And that’s just the free service.

CONTENT CREATION

If you’re flying solo, you are your own marketing department. So in addition to doing whatever you do, you most likely handle your own social media and creative design. Canva can help you create professional graphics for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog posts and e-vites. You select what you want to create from the large number of provided templates (or put in your own custom dimensions), then drag-and-drop design elements from the palette. There are many free photos and graphic elements you can add or you can upload your own. But if you want higher end graphics, most elements are $1.

AUTOMATION

IFTT (If This Then That) is a productivity tool that uses “recipes” to integrate different technology tools automatically. There’s a large library of recipes already built in or you can write your own using a pretty simple logic scheme. For example, a simple recipe will schedule a regular task based on day and time. So if you do your billing on the last Friday of each month, IFTT will create a Trello card for this task every month for you. It can get more complex and it may not integrate with all the tools you use. Evernote, Trello, Slack, Google Calendar, and many more have a lot of built in recipes for them. And when you’re done working, it can also track your workouts with FitBit.

PROPOSALS

Bigger companies use proposal engines to quickly pull together bids. For solos, there’s Bidsketch, an affordable ($29 per month) services that produces thorough, professional bids easily based on information you have already stored in a database. You maintain your list of services, pricing, standard language, then add your potential client’s info. The system pulls the pieces together into a branded proposal. I strongly suggest reviewing and edition anything automated very carefully before sending. There are upgraded levels that give you two-way collaboration with your clients and some other features. If you make a lot of bids and your services are well-defined, this could be a big time saver

CONTACTS AND DOCUMENT SCANNING

Created by Evernote, Scannable (iOS only) will work without it (particularly for document scanning to PDF), but it is best with the two working together. You don't have to do anything to take an image; the app detects the document and does the work. If it’s a business card, it will create fielded information in Evernote that can also be transferred into your contact manager from the Evernote card. The text recognition is near perfect unless the card is highly graphic. PDFs of documents are perfect and much easier and faster than traditional scanning.

I tried to focus on tools I haven’t talked much about lately, but don’t forget great project management tools like Trello or Basecamp; collaboration apps like Slack or Asana; and expense and mileage trackers like XpenseTracker (iOS) and MileIQ.

Have you found a great application that’s making a difference for you? Share it with the other 21,351,319 solopreneurs out there. Add a comment here or post social media with #SoloTools4Biz.