The cost of running a small business professionally can be minuscule if you’re careful. What I mean is that you can use the following providers for some basic and much-needed services:
VistaPrint – A great and very inexpensive place for business cards and other promotional items. Don’t scrimp on their free offerings that include their branding (not unless you like that kind of thing). Pay the little bit extra so that it looks truly professional. I purchased cards from them in 2011 and did so during a great promotion so I still have cards and mailing labels even today!
FreshBooks – If you’re just starting out and don’t have many clients you can use the premiere online accounting and invoicing software, FreshBooks. You can get a free account which provides you with the ability to add up to 3 clients. You don’t have to pay a premium for the first paid package. This Sprout package, which costs $9.99 per month, allows you to have up to 10 clients (if you ask) and provides some additional features. I used the free account for a long time, I then upgraded, downgraded and I just upgraded again. A way to get the most of the free account is to use one of the client slots as your “general client.” This works well if you do a one-off job for someone. Plus, even if you upgrade later, it’s easy to reassign their invoice to their newly created client status. There is also an iPhone and iPad app in addition to their web interface. I’ve used them since 2011 and while Zoho’s invoicing software also comes with a great deal of bells and whistles (including their basic paid plan of $9 per month and 50 clients), I’m sticking with FreshBooks.
QuickBooks Self-Employed – A newcomer in the area of catering specifically to the self-employed, it has now become as invaluable to me as FreshBooks. I use them hand-in-hand because what one program lacks, the other has it in spades. The key thing to know is that invoicing is not yet available through QuickBooks Self-Employed but it is coming. Plus, they offer a monthly Tax Bundle price for their subscription which means that when tax time comes, you don’t have to pay to file your taxes if using Turbo Tax. Plus, it exports all the Schedule C information into Turbo Tax for you and allows you to pay your estimated quarterly federal taxes through the site. I started using the software in February 2015 and since then there have been many enhancements. Most notable among them is the mileage tracker that is now standard with their phone app. At a cost that’s easy on the bottom line, QuickBooks Self-Employed is a must have.
HelloFax – I’ve also been using this service for some time. Their free service, which I used briefly, allows you to send and receive faxes but doesn’t provide you with a fax number. At the time, I purchased the service and my monthly fee was only $4.99 per month. I still have that fee but a quick look on their site now shows that their lowest plan is $9.99 per month. There is only a web interface and works well with Google Apps. Its sister product, HelloSign is also great for obtaining signatures online. It’s quick and easy and like HelloFax, has a free plan.
HootSuite – I can’t say enough about this software. It’s extremely convenient and is full of features from scheduling posts to being able to view and post to an almost limitless number of accounts. I also did the free and unpaid back and forth for a while but am now simply using the free account. I have an older account that allows me to connect up to 5 social network accounts. Presently I use if for 1 Facebook and 4 Twitter accounts. The current free plan gives you 3. Their pro plan at present costs $9.99 per month and allows you to have up to 50 different social profiles. HootSuite is available via their web interface and apps on mobile devices. Another client I use is EveryPost. It doesn’t allow you to see your streams but it is the best at posting to multiple accounts.
Zoho Mail – Although I was lucky to have created my Google Apps account for my business before they started charging for it, I do use Zoho Mail to host the mail for my personal domain. I loved it so much that I set it up for others in my family. The cost is free (although there are paid plans) and they provide you so many additional tools and resources you can’t turn it down. So, if you’re looking for a terrific email client for your business, definitely check them out! Plus, the free account allows you to have 25 users so any small business owner can save on this necessary tool.
Upwork – If you have services you’d like to offer, for example, you’re also an administrative guru or you are a great programmer, speaker, the list goes on, I’d definitely suggest signing up for Upwork. The combining of oDesk and Elance, Upwork is free and who doesn’t like free? However, for $10 per month you get added features like being able to view competitor bids and a custom profile URL. Regardless, it’s a great place to pick up some extra jobs. Basically clients post their job (you can have both a freelancer and a client account), what they’re looking for, and you submit proposals on how much you’d charge them to do it. They then choose from all of the freelancers who apply. I’ve used it as an integral part of my business. It means that you don’t necessarily have to do the traditional “hitting the pavement” to find jobs. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get something or if it doesn’t pay a lot, the point is in cultivating relationships and fine-tuning your craft.
Owning and operating a home-based business isn’t easy, but with tools like those mentioned above, it makes it a great deal easier.