Running an internet business can be tricky. Wherever your “home” is – be it the beach in Thailand or Miami, the villages of India, the forests of South America, the vineyards of Southern France, or the cruise ship in Alaska, you need to have the right tools in place to manage your motivated team to create world-class work.
Thankfully there are new tools designed to help small internet businesses manage their companies from literally anywhere in the world – so long as you have that trusted internet connection.
After years of trial and error with many services, programs, software and products, I have begun to rely upon a dozen great tools that have served me and my business well.
Since I get asked about the tools I use, I thought I’d create a list and share with you exactly how and why I use them. Before I get into the tools, you should know that here at Insider Internet Success we are indeed a truly virtual team.
Each one of us is driven and determined to reach our collective vision of empowering small business owners to step up and use their passion and courage to create vehicles of transformation that serve who they truly are and the people they support, making society a sanctuary of peace, love and fulfillment.
Although my base is in London, I’ve spent between 6-8 months each year, for the last three years, traveling on the road. I’m an avid explorer so I like to go where I’m inspired. I have a Mac-book Pro, iPad Mini and my trusted iPhone, which basically along with 3 Moleskine journals that help me run my growing empire.
Then there’s Amanda who is a great asset to the team. She’s been a real blessing for the mission that we’re on. Our clients love her. She’s relentlessly dedicated to doing the highest kind of work. She’s based in Florida and supports the empire at a very deep level, managing the entire content marketing, Facebook strategy and taking care of my clients.
Lacey is in the States too. She helps me research and craft beautiful content on a weekly basis which forms much of what you read on the blog each week.
There’s also Dave who’s responsible for recording, fine-tuning and editing all of the webinar type training I offer on a regular basis. He’s really an exceptional pro at what he does.
Over in Europe we have at least five people.
Luke, my secret weapon, is the incredible talent behind any kind of visual design work and artistic branding. Luke travels the world and works too, most recently spending the best part of the last 18 months in the Far East Asia.
Mani is the whizkid who makes everything real on the web. He’s in London. Everything works because of his integration and understanding of the techy language.
There’s Stefan, too, when it gets really, really complicated. I forget where he is, but it is somewhere in Europe, I think Italy.
And then we’ve got Jamie. In our business, customer service hasn’t always been that great, but it’s now heading to become world-class, thanks to Jamie, our expert in the Philippines.
The team continues to grow when we need specialist skills – but the one main thing that is fostered is for everyone to step up and be a leader, giving their own inspiration and vision instead of being led or simply tasked.
So now you know a little behind the people that make this amazing portal tick, let’s talk about the 12 nifty tools that make us produce world-class work.
Here we go:
If you own a business of any sort, Asana is a great tool for project management. There are so many features that make management easier. You can add new tasks as they arise and assign tasks to members of your team. It takes the traditional business setting and brings it to your virtual one. You can create individual project work-spaces for the exceptional work you’re doing and tag people in conversations or projects as you add them to the assigned task.
For every task you create, due dates can be added for the people assigned. You can create sub-tasks and every change that is made or addition or communication all stays in the same area so that it is easy to navigate. This has become a truly invaluable tool for myself as well as every member of my team. We can all see exactly what responsibility everyone has and what projects are coming along.
I even use them to manage and host weekly meetings with my team. If you manage a remote team from around the world you can take advantage of the new translating feature. You can delete tasks that you no longer need and bring them back when the need arises again. One of their latest features allows you to track your time which makes billing clients much easier. When you use this nifty tool, your business will thank you.
Skype is the most popular method of communication for small business all over the world. It offers inexpensive international calls for those with a large global reach as well as video calling that will reduce your overhead costs.
Skype has been an invaluable tool for my business as I work with people around the world. It has really let me work smarter and not harder. The first way it did this was cutting the cost of my business calls. I had a particularly busy month once as my company got up and running and it wasn’t until I receive my $500 phone bill that I realized I needed a new method of communication.
Because a small business spends most of its time reaching out to partners and customers it is vital to keep costs to a minimum and improve the bottom line for your company.
We’ve got real phone numbers for our company – in the UK and in the USA – but these are all set up via the Skype In feature and we literally forward it to our phone assistants.
I was also able to monitor my expenditures for communication much better with Skype because the tool let me keep track of my call costs. The Skype Manager Tool allowed me to manage my account, set up accounts for staff members as I added them, allocate credit, and keep track of how much was being spent.
Skype also reduces your business travel costs. In lieu of hotels, flights, and fuel bill, you can use a Skype video call to replace non-essential travel. You get a face-to-face meeting the same as you would in a traditional office setting. You can schedule it anytime and add up to ten people in a group discussion. This makes it easier to handle multi-agency meetings or project collaboration.
Another great feature is the instant message feature. This helps you keep tabs on everyone in your business and every freelancer or contractor you hire. You can send a quick instant message to inquire about progress, ask a question, or use the file transfer feature to send a document instantly.
The costs are very reasonable. My business line costs me under $40 per year to maintain. I can then add credit as necessary for local or international calls. Computer-to-computer instant messaging or video conferencing is free, which really cuts back on costs.
The service is reliable and the technology is sound. Your calls will rarely drop if you have a standard internet connection and the call quality is crystal clear. They won’t even know you are calling from a computer if you don’t tell them!
Another great tool is GoToWebinar, which allows you to expand your marketing research quickly and efficiently. When you are holding a marketing event, you can use webinars to improve the ROI for your online business without leaving the comfort of your home. Most of the time I’m hosting these webinars in my pajamas (I’ll remember to send you a pic next time!)
With a webinar, you can generate leads and nurture existing leads by holding educational marketing events for your target group. You can basically open up your business to the entire world. You can even invite a guest speaker to offer an endorsement for your product or service, and not have to pay them to travel around the world to attend; they can just click a button and join the webinar from wherever they are.
In addition, this tool allows you to streamline your communication. We don’t use this particular aspect very much, but you can essentially have team meetings, update your co-workers on new procedures or policies, and hold orientations for new customers or contractors.
With webinars you can host an online seminar for a training tool you are selling without having to reserve a conference space or pay for travel. You can include experts from anywhere in the world. Your company will also be able to reduce the cost of training any new employees or new partners by holding remote webinars, training sessions, and a hands-on training experience through the shared keyboard and mouse control feature.
Evernote is designed to help small businesses by collaborating and sharing ideas which cultivate a more productive business environment. There is even a business version that is catered to teams and organizations, and offers a variety of features.
The first feature is data ownership, which gives you the ability to access and manage any Business Notebook. You can modify it from anywhere. You can create an administrator and invite new users to view and/or manage a specific business notebook that your company created in one place.
The business account also offers a “Business Library” wherein all business notebooks can be shared with your team members from around the world. One of the biggest benefits though is the ability to capture all of your notes and research and business documents in a single location. You can use Evernote on your computer or smart phone and access the information anywhere on the web.
I really love the simplicity and it’s basically made my entire life – and business – paperless. I store all my bank statements, invoices, petrol and other work receipts, flight details, drawings, business plans, sales funnel drawings – and litearlly everything – inside Evernote.
This website lets you organize your mind. Those days when you are trying out a new idea for your company but you just can’t get your thoughts out - this is the tool.
The beauty of Workflowy is that it’s literally just a blank page. You can write whatever is in your head and make lists. Create sections, sub-sections, sub-lists. Tag ideas and people. Dump your brain and never worry about a thing again.
There is a nice zoom option which allows you to bring a task to the foreground from the main list. You can even zoom on a bullet point and then add, share or delete.
It offers basic sharing features wherein you can invite others to view your projects or edit them. Not only is this tool free but it is one of the most effective on the market.
PayPal has premier and business accounts, each of which is great for any internet business owner. The premier accounts are designed for businesses with a high transaction volume which need to be able to accept credit card payments, not just PayPal transfers. The business accounts let you accept all types of payments under your company name for a low fee.
You can accept payment from customers or partners with a PayPal account or without. Both accounts offer a myriad of benefits including:
• The ability to send payments to customers or contractors with an email address
• The ability to request a payment via a PayPal invoice from any customer or contractor with an email address
• The ability to accept PayPal payments from an auction listing
• The ability to automatically invoice buyers
• The ability to send reminders to customers or contractors
• The ability to accept instant payments on your website through the PayPal buttons
• The ability to send payments or receive payments from 193 countries
• The ability to get a PayPal business MasterCard which is linked to your PayPal account and the money therein
• FDIC insurance
• Downloadable account history in Quicken or a spreadsheet
• Email-based customer service access
We’re currently operating PayPal as our main merchant account, through Infusionsoft (see below). It collects and stores all the income we receive and we then withdraw into our main bank account at regular intervals.
When you start a business or premier account you also gain access to special features including:
• The ability to accept unlimited payments for your services or products via credit cards
• The ability to allow recurring payments or subscriptions for your services or content
• Limited access for employees to your account
• Customer service 7 days per week
This is, hands down, the ultimate all-in-one solution for making my business tick. Capturing leads is never easy but turning them from a lead into a customer is even more difficult. The list of features is literally endless and how well you make this work your business is down to how much effort, time and work you put into it. You can literally automate 80% of your business thanks to Infusionsoft.
This software allows you to segment contact lists so that you can increase your targeting and thus increase your sales. You can create templates and auto responders for your marketing.
You can start a month long email campaign and use this tool to send a sequence of emails regularly and automatically. Once a customer purchases your product you can have them automatically removed from any follow up emails.
You can use this tool to schedule emails to go out at specific times. You can set up your campaign to better target the people who—for instance—did not purchase your training product initially.
You can manage an entire referral program. You can manage your entire ecommerce platform. You can manage your entire sales, reporting, opportunities, analytics and business from one account. If you haven’t gathered yet, I love Infusionsoft.
8. Google Hangouts
Google+ Hangouts is designed to allow one-on-one chats and group video chats for free. If you use this tool you can conduct weekly chats with customers or contractors around the world for free. You can interview potential new hires or stay in touch with existing personnel.
I have used this to keep in contact with people I hire as a freelance contractor for my business. We may not have a method of face-to-face communication and sometimes it is easier to talk one-on-one. If something wasn’t properly explained in an email correspondence I have used this tool to talk one-on-one and better explain the task at hand.
You can also use this tool for live event streaming. If your company is hosting a demo or a conference (from the comfort of your home of course) you can stream it to clients or colleagues or potential customers. This is definitely something we’re going to look into more and more as we get ready for 2014.
This social networking tool is one of the best marketing tools for any online business. It is the most reliable low-cost marketing strategy you can have. Facebook fan pages allow you to share basic information about your business or website with millions of users. If you haven’t already, check out my own Facebook fan page.
Out of everything Facebook offers, the advertising platform has to be my favorite tool. You can use Facebook to target your advertising by calculating how many people in a particular demographic have your keywords listed as an interest.
For example if your business offers cat training you can see how many men and women list “cats” as an interest. You can then develop ads which will lure new customers to your website and pay for the ads to appear only on the pages of those people who have shown an interest.
Zendesk is online help desk software that is used by over twenty five thousand organizations around the world. In short, it is a help desk where your customers can go for support if they cannot solve an issue on their own. It offers a nice support service that gives feedback to improve your products or services.
At Insider Internet Success, we manage our entire customer service through Zendesk, allowing anyone – prospect, student or client – to e-mail through and maintain a complete log of all communications, so nothing is ever lost, trashed or hidden.
Dropbox is the entire repository of my life – seriously. My entire business is stored on the Dropbox cloud. I’m literally always working in and out of Dropbox. Dropbox is free, but for just $99/year I get over 100MB of storage.
I’m creating and saving files directly into Dropbox rather than on my local machines. That way, whatever I need, or whatever resources any of the team need, are available immediately to everyone just by searching the Dropbox folder. Beautifully simple.