You’re reading this blog post and a notification pops up that you’ve got a new message from a prospect interested in working with you.
Do you stop reading and compose a reply from scratch, asking them additional questions that you need in order to make a decision to move forward and answering any questions that they’ve posed?
Or do you continue to read this post because you know that prospect is going to automatically get a response with more information about your work and instructions for what to do next?
Software and systems are not a sexy topic. I know that based on the silence and blank looks I sometimes get from my design clients when I start geeking out on the benefits.
But today we’re going to go there anyways, because I really want you to be spending your precious time on the activities that will give you the biggest impact for your business.
In case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, here are a couple definitions to get us on the same page.
Software is a program used by a computer. (Think Google Chrome for web browsing or Microsoft Word for word processing.)
A system is a set of things working together to support a larger mechanism (i.e. your business).
Software and Systems Allow You to Work Less
The right combination of software and systems for your online business free up your time and energy.
They streamline tasks for you and your staff (including your Virtual Assistant and contractors!).
A good system with the best software to support it can eliminate hours of manual work that you’d normally be doing every week just to keep your business running.
That’s more time for pitching editors, billable hours with clients, generating new streams of revenue, and so on.
Software and systems also professionalize your process for your clients and customers, influencing the way they view your brand and how they’ll describe the experience of working with you to others.
One objection that I sometimes hear is that you don’t want to integrate software and systems into your online business because you want to keep the personal touch and “closeness” with your clients and customers. You don’t want them to have to interact with an unfeeling robot program and you want to maintain control.
I get it. And I would encourage you to take an honest look at how well you’re really able to maintain that personal touch and level of service that’s so important to you, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Your time and energy is not a renewable resource—once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Software and systems are not impersonal by nature. It’s how they’re used that makes all the difference. You can insert your brand personality into your systems very easily—in fact it’s a must for a well-designed system!
Documenting Your Processes
Let me ask you something: Who is running your business right now—you or your clients and customers?
It’s a hard question, and one I’ve had to face a few times in my own business. When you document your processes and begin to create systems, it puts the responsibility for your time and business into your hands (instead of the client’s hands).
That way, when requests or changes happen (and they always do), you know how to respond and handle them. You’ll never be pulled into a different direction or swayed into something you don’t actually want to do.
So how do you get to the point where you have systems to implement in the first place? By documenting all your processes.
Processes are the repetitive tasks you perform in your business. Examples include answering emails from prospective clients, providing customer support with a purchase, working one-on-one with clients, and marketing tasks like social media posting and writing blog posts.
If you’re transitioning to an online business from a in-person or retail business, your processes are your Standard Operating Procedures. Yes, you can transfer these to your online business—your website—and there are tools to support you.
When you write out all your processes and start developing those systems, it allows you to see the bigger picture. It could result in raising your rates, changing your packages, altering the number of people you work with, hiring or firing, and more.
Grab a pen and some paper, or open your note taking or word processing software of your choice, and start writing down your current business processes.
Here are some ideas to get you going…
Online business processes to document:
- New prospect inquiry
- Onboarding a new client
- Customer purchase cycle
- New email subscriber
- New online course participant
- Blog post writing
- Holding webinars
- Generating social media updates
- New social media follower
- Interactions on social media
- Onboarding a new staff member
- Off-boarding a client
Examples of Systems for Online Business Owners
If you’ve gotten this far and are still wondering how software and systems can work for your particular business, here are three examples to get you thinking.
Responding to a client inquiry:
- You’ve determined how you want inquiries to come in—can clients automatically schedule a call with you from your website or do you want to screen them before they get on your calendar?
- Your web designer has created a form on your website for potential clients to fill out that gives you all the initial information you need to make a decision
- You review their inquiry (even reviewing at set times like the beginning and end of your day)
- If you’d like to move forward, you (or your VA) copy and paste from a template you’ve created in advance that has the next steps (i.e. a link to your online scheduler)
- If it’s a “no,” you copy and paste from a template you’ve created in advance that declines the inquiry and offers them alternative resources
Onboarding a new client:
- Client books a time to speak with you in Acuity (putting the meeting on both your calendars)
- You hold the inquiry call via Zoom (which was automatically created from Acuity)
- You use Google Doc templates for your proposal and contracts
- You both sign the contract with HelloSign
- The client makes a payment with Freshbooks
- A project in Asana is created
- The client automatically receives a welcome guide.
Creating blog posts:
- You have a recurring block of time in your calendar every week or month for this activity
- In between this recurring appointment, whenever you have an idea (from your observations, from social media, from a client), you add notes to a notebook in Evernote or another note-taking app
- When it’s time to sit down and write, you open this notebook and pick a few topics to use
- You outline the posts, determining the subheadings, what links to include, what graphics or media to include, and any additional research you need to do
- You write the posts
- You review the drafts and edit them for clarity and grammar
- You schedule the posts according to your publishing schedule / editorial calendar
- You share the posts on social media (according to a pre-determined schedule) and with your email list
My Favorite Software for Online Business Owners
Clients often ask me what my favorite software is, and the truth is that I customize software solutions to each client’s needs. The work I do is deeply individualized and created for your unique brand, personality, and business needs.
That said, I do have favorites in a few categories! Like all tools, there is no one perfect software choice in these categories for all online business owners. It’s all about how you put the software to use in your systems.
Online Scheduling: Acuity
Before I fell in love with Acuity, every time I got a client inquiry I would manage meetings through emails. That meant: client email comes in, I respond saying we should meet and propose a couple times, client responds and none of those times works, and back and forth until we can agree on a time to meet. Then I set up a Skype or Zoom meeting and email that to them. Two days before the appointment, they send me another email saying that they have to reschedule and the tedious cycle starts again. Or sometimes they’d forget and not even show up.
Now that I’m in a relationship with Acuity, my people email me and I send a (customized) canned email response with a link to my online scheduler. They make an appointment (paying for it, if necessary), and a Zoom meeting is automatically created and sent to both of our calendars. Before the meeting, the client is sent email reminders that include links to reschedule if they need to. Both of our time? Optimized. That means more dollars in my sexy grown-ass woman wallet.
Project Management: Asana
BECAUSE INBOX OVERWHELM!!!! No, but seriously? It’s the best project management tool ever. It’s pretty and linear so both right- and left-brained humans can enjoy their experience. Plus, you can cut down on the amount of emails you hold on to because everything is neatly organized by project and due date. With reminders. Ahem.
Billing and Invoicing: FreshBooks
This small but mighty accounting and bookkeeping software has saved my life! I hate numbers so much that my system used to be a shoebox that collected dust for… a decade. The shame!! Enter FreshBooks and I’m a happy camper. Business lunch? I can take pictures of receipts with my phone and add them to my expenses before I even leave the restaurant. Trouble getting clients to pay on time? FreshBooks allows you to add late fees and automatic email reminders so you don’t have to be the bad guy. Plus it connects with other programs like Acuity, Asana, MailChimp, and more so that you can — you guessed it — automate even more. And at tax time, all ya gotta do is click ONE BUTTON to email your accountant all the things. MAGIC.
Email Lists: Convert Kit
If you want a simple system to keep in contact with your people that also connects with many of your systems and allows you to create automated email workflows, multiple sign-up forms (yay for content upgrades!), and slick tagging and sequencing, choose Convert Kit. It also plays nice with apps like WordPress,Acuity, Gravity Forms, WooCommerce, and more!
Website Builder: WordPress
I design in WordPress because of its robust options for customized development and plethora of plugins available. (Translation: I can make your WordPress website do just about anything you need it to do to support your business.) Because of the versatility of WordPress and the amazing community of thousands of plugin developers, there is rarely a time (actually, I don’t think there is any) where I will ask my people to interact with me outside of my WordPress website. Well, except for social media. But I think that’s more about ME going out and meeting you where YOU are at, right?
Form Builder Extraordinaire: Gravity Forms
Gone are the days of boring form plugins that act as a digital notepad. Name, email, message, send, snooze. Welcome to the age of forms that do evvvverything for you. Quizzes, payments, updates, check-ins, registrations, you name it, Gravity Forms does it. And if it can’t? There’s a Zap for that. Which brings me to my final recommendation…
Connecting Software: Zapier
Did you ever find yourself taking something in app #1 and putting it in app #2 and just wishing that they’d communicate so that you didn’t have to for them? There’s a Zap for that. Zapier is the mediator of Internet programs, and connects your software together in “Zaps” that you can completely customize. A total timesaver.
Software and systems give you a foundation for your business growth.
They help you streamline your tasks and improve your customer experience over time.
Software and systems are part of the support you need when you plan for success and they put you in the driver’s seat of your business trajectory.
P.S. Is it time to upgrade your software and systems? I create websites for female founders like you who are moving to the next level in their business growth.