Gift guides are very popular, and for good reason. But I want to approach the gift guide a bit differently, focusing on the gifts an entrepreneur can give themselves to prepare for 2016. Here’s how you can get ready for the great year ahead.
How much time do you spend thinking fundamentally about your business? If you’re like most of us, you’re trying to balance your time, money, and resources across short-term needs and longer-term goals, and probably struggling to create the time to plan for the bigger, longer-term opportunities that could have the big impact on your business. Making the time to work on the long term matters. I like to start long-term business planning by refreshing my perspective on my value proposition and how it’s changed over time, re-evaluating the priorities and goals I set at the beginning of the year. If you’re looking for structures to help you refresh your thinking on your business, the business model canvas download here from Strategyzer is a great tool to start with.
After I’ve refreshed my strategy, I then convert that strategy into impact, and I do that by using numbers to create logical, insightful decisions about how the strategy will work. My financial model templates at Foresight are essentially created to help entrepreneurs do this - convert a business strategy into a set of operational and financial projections that I can use to think about my business and make big decisions on what I should be doing. It’s something that’s hard to prioritize but critical to setting yourself up for success. For a limited time I am offering 2016 business planning to five entrepreneurs. Try Foresight here.
Time and Invoicing Management
I depend on Harvest for tracking my time, expenses, client invoicing and payments, and use it daily across phone, desktop, and the web. There are tons of different solutions (I used Hours for a long time), and the right solution for you will depend on your specific usecase and how you like to manage your day. The key: find a solution that makes it easier for you to organize your business and get paid efficiently. Try Harvest here.
It took me awhile to get into using Evernote, but it’s become my central place to store everything: client notes, links, to-do’s, articles, inspiration, my scratch file, everything. The key: use tags. Try Evernote here.
Zapier is an indispensible tool that helps me manage data flows between platforms and automate many things that I would otherwise do less regularly, more manually, and far less efficiently. Try Zapier here.
Do you do everything by yourself? Finding ways to streamline how you get things done could be the biggest ROI move you make next year. Sunrise has made scheduling and finding mutual call and meeting times easier with their Meet feature. If you’re looking for the more "personal" touch, the AI-powered assistants X.ai and Clara are great assistant tools for scheduling meetings and reminders, and Zirtual can provide the full human-powered assistant touch.
We all use Slack by now anyway, right? The impact it’s had on reducing my email load is amazing. Email wasn’t meant to be the single box for all communication; while Slack is, yes, another box to check, it serves many communication needs far better than email. Slack doesn’t solve everything - for example, for mobile teams, I’d check out Cotap, for customer communications I’d check out Intercom, for live chat I’d check out Olark, or for help desk software I’d look at Help Scout - but it’s a platform that is becoming engrained into many of our professional lives, powering internal corporate communications as well as external forums. Paired with a file storage tool like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, and everything can easily be shared across teams and clients. Try Slack here.
You’ve probably heard of, used, or received an email newsletter powered by Mailchimp. It’s a simple, easy to use mailing list software that many of us have adapted to store details about our customers. Mailchimp is great, but to be clear, there are many other email newsletter platforms out there to use, and it’s important to use the right platform for your specific needs. For example, Mailchimp is great for sending a list of people an email, and for using some data about people to customize their messages, but if you’re looking to upgrade to better systems that enable you to use your customer data more effectively, check out Klaviyo or Customer.io. Until then, try Mailchimp here.
How much time do you spend thinking about insurance, accounting, payroll, and other management tasks that are necessary to run the business? Probably too much, but hopefully you’re looking for solutions to streamline your internal operations. Check out Founder Shield for insurance, Bench for accounting, Nomad Financial for financial management, Zenefits and others for HR, Gusto for payroll. Other solutions exist, but start by evaluating those and you’ll find other platforms that will help you manage these critical operational concerns that we often overlook.
Mindfulness is a hot topic for entrepreneurs, and many of us are looking for methods, processes, and tools to help us be mindful, present, focused, and balanced. Meditation is becoming more accessible, and the success of books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up are signals that people are looking to declutter their lives and their minds, for personal and professional gain. The way I think about it: there’s a reason so many good ideas happen in the shower. It’s one of the few times of the day where our minds aren’t typically focused on our daily tasks and has the space to roam. Meditation is one way to introduce mindfulness into our lives: there are a bunch of meditation apps out there, I’m personally a fan of Headspace. Try Headspace here.
For entrepreneurs, the holidays can be a crazy time of year. Time becomes precious as we try to close out the year strong, especially for those of us where Q4 is our biggest and busiest time of the year. But it’s also the time to start thinking about 2016, thinking about where our financials for the year will end up, for managing cash and budget, and for thinking about what happened throughout the year, how we performed versus budgets, what we want to launch in the new year, what to cut, where we want to invest our time, money, energy, and brand. Here’s to a great 2016 ahead.