If you told me 10 years ago that it would possible to run a business just by having access to a laptop and an internet connection – I would have believed you!
Yes, I would have.
Technology is changing at such a rapid speed that nothing should surprise us anymore.
What I wouldn’t have believed too easily, is that one day I would be writing a post detailing the online tools that I use to run and manage my online businesses.
While every online business varies in some degree from the next, two core ingredients need to be present:
1. Access to a computer or laptop
2. An internet/3G connection of some sort
In our own personal situation, we utilise a number of different online tools, programs and software to help us make money online.
Without these tools, it would be still possible to manage an online business (to an extent), but it certainly wouldn’t be as productive.
I’ve tried out variations and alternatives to the tools I’ve listed below, but these are the ones that I find the most productive and most efficient.
That’s not to say that these are the only ones to use. These are the ones that work for us, and work pretty well.
Setting up your systems
The first thing you need to do when you go about setting up your virtual office is to prioritise the main functions that your business model is based upon.
Once you have these established then it’s pretty much very easy to go from there.
If you don’t some sort of system for your business, then you waste away a lot of time, and potentially lose a lot of money.
And as the saying goes – “time is money“. Over the past year, I’ve been tweaking this system and that system, ultimately to see what works best for me.
It’s an ongoing process of refinement, and the end result is that hopefully things become more streamlined each passing week/month/ etc.
We love systems, and it’s something that should not be overlooked – especially when working online.
Tools to manage an online business
Ok, so below I’m going to list and discuss the tools I currently use either on a day to day basis, or a few times a week.
Again, keep me mind that this is just my set up and everyone has their own.
Gmail is the single most important tool that I use for my businesses.
Without the functionality of gmail, I would still be able to manage things, but it would be a complete nightmare for me.
The core of my business depends on emails – pitching to new clients and receiving work from clients.
Gmail handles all of this so easily. I’ve multiple accounts set up and linked to gmail – so much so that the only mail service I have to check now is my one Gmail account.
Having different colour filters set up gives an extra layer of functionality.
Without the diversity of Gmail, my time would online would be multiplied exponentially.
This is a Gmail extension that allows you to keep track of email follow ups and tracking emails.
Instead of keeping “unread” messages at the top of your inbox and cluttering it up, you can just “boomerang” it to return to your inbox in an hour, day, week or any specific time you want.
It’s a very powerful tool and comes with a free version and a paid version.
I’ve opted for the paid version as it’s worth more than $5 a month.
While strictly not an online tool, it’s nonetheless ultra important for me.
Excel in addition to Gmail are the two main tools that I work with every day.
What Excel allows me to do is track my business by logging in client orders, price points, outsource costs, profit margins and anything else you need to input.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with, but the only negative is that the information is not synced in the cloud.
So I’ve always had to make backups every few days.
However, with Google drive becoming more and more functional, I’ll be switching to Google sheets in a few weeks (more on that later).
But for now, MS Excel does a fantastic job at allowing us to track our businesses.
Again, like Excel, it’s not a fully fledged online tool. But in my line of work Word is very important.
As I said above, I’ll be switching to fully to Google Drive in the future, but I’ll still be using MS Word at the forefront, and I’ll just keep backups in my Google docs.
MS Word is all you need when it comes to writing articles, notes etc.
I just loooove Google!
I use most of their products which include – Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Google Apps, Google Keep and a host of others.
It really is just so powerful.
Google have also rolled out Google Sheets in the last few months, which will effectively mean that I will no longer use MS Excel as my method of tracking my business – I will use the Google Sheet equivalent instead.
The massive positive about switching to Google Sheets is that it’s all synced.
So you could be working on a doc from your laptop and then pick up your phone and the doc will be there as you had left it on your laptop.
Stuff like that is such a big deal.
I have a skype number so that if a client wants to call me and they don’t have a skype account themselves, then they can just dial the number I give them and it works just like a normal phone number – as nearly as cheap.
Skype is a cool addition to any virtual office, as it just sits there in the background and works when you need it too.
I’m beginning to think that Google Hangouts may be a better software in the long run, but for now I’m sticking with Skype. Skype has been very useful for us ringing home – we buy Skype credit and use that to ring our folks. Calls cost something like 9c per minute, which is pretty good.
I’ve used it as well to call the bank at home when I’ve run into any problems with my accounts.
The holy grail of getting paid online – at least for us anyways.
This is the easiest and most popular way to send and receive money for goods or services online.
You can quickly link your bank account to your Paypal account and off you go. There are alternatives out there, but remember if you clients aren’t familiar with the service, then they probably won’t use it to pay you.
Everyone has heard of Paypal, so that’s the standard.
LastPass allows you to easily access and login to all your favourite websites without having to individually input the username and password each time.
It took me a while to eventually get around to signing up for this service, but honestly it’s already saved me a lot of time.
The main thing to remember is that you create a “master” keyword, which unlocks all your username and password details when you click into a site for example.
If you lose this master keyword and you’ve all sorts of crazy passwords and usernames created for different accounts, then you’r kinda screwed!
But honestly, if you can’t remember a master keyword for some reason, then you’re best not using a service like this.
This is a financial accounting and invoicing system.
Up until a few months ago, I was just using Paypals invoicing setup to invoice clients. Until I made the move to freshbooks, I was none the wiser as how “unprofessional” a paypal invoice actually looks.
Nothing wrong with sending invoices through Paypal – end of the day you still get paid.
But the big difference with using Freshbooks, is that it tracks absolutely everything for you – espenses, time-tracking, sets up recurring invoices and a plethora of other things.
Clients that I’ve been working with for a year have commented on how clean and professional the new invoicing system looks and a few have said it makes me stand out that bit from every other Paypal invoice.
Small things like that can lead to more business in my opinion!
This blog is built on wordpress so in addition to managing this website, I also manage multiple websites for a few clients using the wordpress platform.
This is a one-stop-shop for all your social media endeavors.
I typically use hootsuite to schedule tweets to my personal account (@carlocretaro) and also to manage a few social media accounts for clients.
It’s a very versatile tool and makes the whole social media scenario a breeze to manage. I don’t use it for facebook or other platforms, but it’s meant to be pretty good as well for those.
This is another Gmail add-on, and it’s very handy for giving you a visual idea of who the person you’re email looks like.
It populates some very useful information about the persona including their photo, location, social media accounts etc.
Rapportive is very handy when it comes to networking and marketing.
Elance / Odesk
These are dedicated freelancer websites where you can find a VA (Virtual Assistant) to help you do a host of things from creating a logo, to writing an article to even doing your emails if you wanted.
I’ve used both of these websites many times over the past year and have found them to be very useful for certain projects.
So there you have it. The above list is what we use to manage our online businesses on a day-to-day basis.
There are a multitude of other similar applications that do the same things as those above, but these are the ones that work best for us.
That’s the most important thing as well to keep in mind – what works for you = the best solution. Anyone who works solely online will use a few of the above tools in some way, shape or form – depending on what they do.
Do you have any recommendations on alternatives to the one’s I’ve listed in this post? Comment below and let me know if you do – I’d be interested to know what they are.