We all work differently. Your mind and method may be in stark contrast to mine.
However, I’ve just sent this list over to a friend who has recently set up her own business and had mailed to ask what tools I use to keep things running professionally.
The actual packages you choose will depend on whether you work on Mac OS (as I do) or on PC, and on whether you trust Microsoft Outlook to organise everything in your life (which I don’t), but these are the ‘slots’ in which I think you need things, anyway:
1. Mail program. Easy. Whichever one suits you, but get good at using its folders, setting up rules to file stuff, and get used to searching your mail as specifically as it is able. If you are on Mac, you have platform-wide Spotlight search which searches your mail for you anyway.
Switch your mail server from POP3 to IMAP so that all your mail-receiving devices stay in sync.
Use the Notes (or similar) function on your Mail package to save bits of copy that you need to include over and over in emails. I have about a dozen saved chunks of copy that save me a couple of hours every week.
2. Calendar. Crucial. Schedule both meetings and durations of tasks. Always set alarms for the appropriate time before something needs to happen. People do notice if you say you’ll call them on Wednesday at 3pm and then actually do.
3. To-Do app. So brilliant you can’t imagine it until you use it. I use Things on MacOS. A To-Do app is totally different to a calendar. This is your CRM buddy, managing your new business enquiries and keeping track of where you are up to and what order you plan or need to do things day by day.
4. Accounting package. Sage has the ubiquity, though I don’t use it myself. Great thing about learning to use an accounting package yourself is that it will integrate all your estimating, quoting, invoicing, buying etc, generate all the paperwork and also keep your accounts up to date. I enter my own sales and receipts, and also my purchases of services from other people or companies. I just leave ad hoc expenses to be entered by my book keeper. With this package, I need have the book keeper for just one day each quarter to tidy up and do the VAT. Even at year end, the package generates everything my accountant needs to prepare accounts.
5. Microsoft Word or other word processing package for keeping templates stored for all your key stationery items, (including 4-to-a-page Avery labels!) Learn how to save a file as a template for future use.
6. Some or all of MSN Messenger, Skype and Facebook Chat. Easy, quick and day-long contact with clients, colleagues and chums.
7. Google. ’nuff said.
8. LinkedIn. May or may not apply to you, depending on the type of business you run, but I find it good for gaining an understanding of clients’ backgrounds.
9. A blog. Store your thoughts on what you are doing whenever you have a second, and it rapidly it builds a very valuable marketing resource.
There you go.
Those 9 packages and web apps used smartly give you a very supportive virtual operation that I think is equivalent to having a staff of 3 or 4 people.