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Why Acuity is the Best Calendar

6 Jul

 

Looking for an online booking tool for your creative business?  Look no further than Acuity Scheduling, a mighty scheduling software that won’t break the bank.

What is Acuity Scheduling?

To put it simply, Acuity Scheduling is your new best friend if you’re a solopreneur or small biz owner that needs a better way to keep their calendar from going off the rails.

Acuity Scheduling will keep your calendar synchronized and purring, your correspondence with scheduled clients timely, and offers your clients the ability to easily schedule, reschedule, cancel, and subscribe to your meetings or classes without human interaction.

You can make meetings public or private, making custom calendars for key clients a snap to set-up.  You can create a series of custom e-mail messages to guide your clients from appointment confirmation to leaving you a review after your session.

You can event embed Acuity Scheduling into your website!

Or you can turn your custom Acuity Scheduling into a straight-up landing page.

Is Acuity Scheduling Good for Creative Business Owners?

Acuity Scheduling is an awesome solution if you schedule these kinds of meetings, online and off:

  • Discovery Calls for prospective clients
  • One-on-One Sessions
  • Studio Visits
  • Coffee Dates
  • Phone Meetings with collaborators and contractors

You can embed your Acuity Scheduling into a website, or share the direct link for folks to book space on your calendar.

How Much Does Acuity Cost?

Acuity Scheduling doesn’t break the bank at all. First, they offer a 7 day free trial to make sure it’s the right scheduler for you. The free version works well for many, but I reccomend the Emerging or Growing plans for increased functionality (of course, depending on your needs!). You can check out the full pricing chart for Acuity here.

Does Acuity Replace a Virtual Assistant for Calendar Management?

Yes and no.  Acuity Scheduling is an affordable solution to have your calendar “managed” for you after setting up your available services, payment gateways, and appointment availability.  Acuity Scheduling connects to your Google Calendars to ensure that you do not overbook yourself should you schedule other events or meetings outside of Acuity.  You will still need to set up the workflow for each appointment type to move your client through the scheduling process, but Acuity’s documentation and customer support can help you get set up in a snap.

Even though booking an appointment through Acuity Scheduling is easy-peasy, some clients may still prefer to go through a human to schedule a meeting.  Even if a few clients need a little extra attention, it still is going to save you serious time and money to use Acuity Scheduling as your main calendar manager.

Acuity Scheduling presents a smoother and more streamlined approach to getting clients on the calendar and paid ahead of time.

Acuity versus Dubsado

Dubsado is a fantastic customer relationship management software that recently received a brand makeover and a much-anticipated new feature:  The Dubsado Scheduler.  I’ll admit that I clunked around the new Scheduler Dashboard when setting up my first scheduler template (“Rolling Window what?”).

The Dubsado Scheduler allows you to pad time before and after meetings, secure a deposit using Dubsado’s Invoice feature, and customize Confirmation Messages, similar to Acuity Scheduling.   If you are using Dubsado’s proposal, contract, and invoicing features in harmony, the Scheduler will be a natural fit into your existing Dubsado workflow.

Acuity Scheduling shines as a standalone appointment scheduling software with a robust suite of customization options, payment integrations, and ease of adding varied levels of availability based on appointment type.  It integrates beautifully into exterior CRMs, and you can utilize a range of Zapier Zaps for even more functionality.

Which Calendar and Booking System Do You Use?

How to Organize Your Business Photos

29 Jun

 

As small business owners, we have a lot on our plate. There are a lot of hats to be worn, and being the main marketer is one of them.

Especially with the popularity of Instagram, marketing can take front and center in our business as we try to stay in front of the algorithm and keep Instagram useful to us.

But how do you keep the photos that you use in your business so that they are organized and ready to be used?

Here is how I suggest you organize your photos.

1) Open a Dropbox account to store your images in the cloud in an easy to access location.

I love Dropbox for many reasons, but mostly because it’s easily usable from my iPhone, my laptop and desktop and also accessible via a web browser, and it’s free for up to 2gb which is a lot of jpgs if you are only using it for your photo storage.

Once you’ve downloaded Dropbox onto your computer, you can access it as if it is just a folder on your computer and move files around like normal instead of constantly having to wait for uploads and downloads. Dropbox does all that in the background, so there isn’t a lot of time wasted in waiting for uploads or downloads.

Then download the Dropbox app for your phone, so that your images are updated and available to you on your phone and computer. Organize from the computer, then save onto your phone from the app and upload to Instagram!

2) Separate out your high-resolution images from your web resolution images

What’s the difference?

High (print) resolution images, like ones from your phone and your camera are print quality images, but you don’t want to load those on the web because it will slow everything down (and google will penalize you for it.)

Web resolution images are made smaller so that you can put on the web and Google likes it. But if you try and print from those, the quality will suffer.

It’s important to make sure you have the high-resolution images separated from the web resolution images so they are used in the right places.

You will even have duplicate images that are web quality and print quality in different folders so you know whats what.

3) Create a file structure to your folders to find types of images fast

In your dropbox, I suggest making a folder with your business name first. Then inside that folder, add [biz name] photos, then inside add folders that categorize your images into if they are high resolution or web resolution and then by smaller sections that describe the type of image.

If you take the time to organize your photos at the beginning, it will pay off in spades when you go to post something on your website, your blog, your social media or any of those needs.

4) Bonus for event specific images: Add the date to the folder

This step is great for professionals that hold a lot of in person events where images are taken. You’ll likely have images that relate to a certain event date so when you create your folder names, you should use a format like [YYMMDD_event name] on your folders so that you can always find your images related to that specific event.

How do you organize your business photos?

3 Tried-and-True Ways to Get Your Small Business Organized This Year

4 Feb
Getting organized involves a lot more than just neatening stacks of papers and dusting off the clutter you have on your desk. Organization involves creating systems and procedures for all different parts of your business; this has the potential to help you become more productive and profitable.

The ideas below include some of the best ways you can become more organized in your small business. Try just one for slow and sustained improvement or make a plan to incorporate a new organizational process each month in your business this year.

Take Control of Papers and Documents

We’ll start with paper since that is the biggest disorganization culprit for most of us. What do you do with documents after you take action on them? How do you store papers for future reference? If you don’t have a filing system and/or a digital archiving system in place, now is the time to build one. Start by taking a look at the papers you have laying around. Make a keep pile and a discard pile, then shred or recycle all of the papers, magazines, newsletters, cards, notes, etc. that made it to the second pile.

Now that you have a better idea about the type of documents you’re working with, it’s time to create — or improve — your office filing system.

If you decide it’s time to start moving toward a paperless office, then you can start by scanning in and digitizing your receipts, using online invoicing and payment services like FreshBooks, moving to a digital signature program like DocuSign, and using the Cloud for data backup and archiving. If you collect business cards at events during the year, it may also be a good idea to invest in a business card scanner so you can digitize contact info immediately and ditch the paper cards.

Use the Right Productivity Tools

We all have our favorite apps and tools we use every day, although some are probably more useful than others. In fact, for every one productivity-enhancing app you use, I bet there is another one that is just not the right fit, but you keep using it because you’ve been using it for so long and you’re used to it. This is why it is so important to — at least once a year — take stock of the apps and tools you are using in your small business and decide if they still meet your needs. This is also a great time to consider if you have some gaps and find the right tools to fill them. Below are some of the top areas where many small business owners find productivity tools useful. These should give you a solid starting point for getting your productivity tools organized this year:

  • Contact management. From keeping track of your customers to remembering people you meet while networking, every small business owner needs a system for managing contact information. You can opt for a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system like Salesforce, or for smaller scale management you can set up your existing Contacts app to work for your business.
  • Meetings and communication. Whether you conduct meetings face-to-face, on the phone or via video chat services, there is a way to make the process more organized. You can use a service like Do to get your meetings more organized — before, during and after.
  • Accounting and bookkeeping. Organize and streamline the way you invoice, take payments, and manage cashflow with tools like Quickbooks Online, Xero and Wave.
  • Travel and expense tracking. You can use apps like Expedia and TripAdvisor to make travel plans easier. Then, once on the road, apps like Expensify help you track expenses and make reporting when you get home a lot more organized.
  • Social media management. We all know how much time can be wasted on social media if you’re not approaching it in a systematic and organized way. This is why tools like Hootsuite and Buffer can be invaluable for small business owners.
  • Email management. If you use Gmail in your small business, you have access to quite a few Google extensions that can quickly get your inbox organized. If you’re using another email app, try SaneBox for automatic filtering, reminders and more.
  • Project management. A good project management app will help you track tasks, share files and collaborate with teammates all in one place and it can be one of the best tools you can use to get your work organized. Try Basecamp or Asana for an all-in-one project management solution.

Productivity is a very personal process and the apps you need will be specific to you the work you do and the way you tend to work. Take time to explore what your needs are before incorporating a new tool in your process. You may not need as many as you think.

 

Get Your Computer Organized

This is a big one for any small business owner who does the bulk of his or her work on the computer. You probably know that it does not take very long for your desktop to become cluttered with icons, your Downloads folder to get so full of strangely named documents that it is impossible to find anything, or your email inbox to get so out of control you start to think it really might explode. Not only is this horrible for your productivity, but it can also slow down your computer’s performance significantly.

Here is a list of things you can do right now to get your computer organized and back into working shape:

  • Clean up your desktop. There are a couple of ways you can go here, and it all depends on your work style and how you use your computer. You can get rid of everything from your desktop except for your trash bin (remember that the app icons on your desktop are just shortcuts — all of your actual apps usually live in your Applications folder). Or you can add a few shortcuts to your most frequently used apps and files. I tend to err toward the first option, going as streamlined as possible, but often using my desktop for easy access to files I am currently working on. Then I move them to their permanent home once I am finished.
  • Set up a digital filing system. Speaking of giving your documents a permanent home, this is where you create a filing system that makes complete sense to you so you can find the documents you need when you need them.
  • Update software. If your computer is set to automatically install the application and operating system updates, great. If it’s a manual process for you, you should check for updates at least bimonthly since many include security patches. Then, once a year, review the current versions of software you are using and make the decision if its time to upgrade.
  • Scan for viruses and performance issues. Regardless of what type of computer you have, all of them can get viruses or malware (yes, even Macs!).  Set up a regular computer maintenance plan to keep everything always running smoothly in your business!
  • Verify the integrity of your data backup. You are backing up your data, right? If not, skip everything else for the time being and do this one first. You can either use a Cloud-based data backup service like Carbonite, Backblaze or CrashPlan or you can use an external hard drive that you plug into your computer (I do both). With either option, configure the service or drive to conduct continuous automatic backups so you don’t have to do anything manually. Then, once or twice a year, go into your backup service or drive and poke around to make sure everything is there and accessible should you need to pull copies to your local computer.
  • Wrangle your inbox. Many small business owners have a love-hate relationship with their email inbox. They love it because it’s a highly productive and efficient communication tool; yet they hate it because it can quickly get out of control causing unnecessary stress. There are things you can do to keep your inbox in line, such as using automation, streamlining what you receive on a daily basis, and limiting how often you check email during your day.

The tips above will help you get your small business more organized immediately, but remember how fast things can get out of control. Pair these activities with a resolution to conduct a quick and easy review of your papers, productivity tools and computer status a few times a month so you can stay organized and prevent things from reaching overwhelming levels of disorganization.

10 Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

28 Jan

When most people hear about standard operating procedures, or SOPs, they often think about a large corporation with hundreds of employees and pages and pages of documented processes. Rarely does one hear the words small business and SOP in the same sentence and we think that is a BIG business mistake!

Regardless of the size of a business, establishing SOPs can make life simpler for everyone involved – the entrepreneur, staff, business partners, and ultimately the customers.

What Is a Standard Operating Procedure – or SOP?

An SOP is essentially a step-by-step guide for handling routine tasks and recurring events in business. Along with the sequence of performing an activity, SOPs also usually include a timeline for completing each step. Some examples of where you might use an SOP in your business include:

  • New Customer/Client Onboarding SOP: Steps you take as a business to add a new customer
  • Customer service SOP: Steps to handle common customer requests and complaints
  • Blog Management SOP: Instructions on how to post on your website, standard components of a post, frequency and time of posting, steps to promote new blog posts via social media etc.

As a small business, following standardized operating procedures can save you time, allow you (and your team) to be more productive, eliminate a lot of errors, and improve compliance with industry guidelines. Here are ten reasons why every small business should have SOP.

10 Reasons Every Small Business Should Be Using Standard Operating Procedures

1. Better Manage Your Team

SOPs are a highly effective tool for managing your team. Here’s how you can use them.

Train New Employees Faster
For new employees, providing SOPs allows them a start point to learn about the business. It helps them understand the frequency of each process, what is entailed in completing, and the responsibilities of each person in the business. This allows them to get up to speed much faster and relieves you, or another team member, from having to spend countless hours training.

Improve Employee Productivity
After the initial training, SOPs act as a guide for staff to ensure that they perform tasks correctly and within specified timeframes. The more they follow the SOP, the more confident employees become in their skills. Improved employee productivity means you save on work hours, and at the same time reduce chances of errors in performance.

Prepares the Business for Delegating/Outsourcing
Once you are confident that a standard operating procedure is working well, you can delegate the work to a newer recruit, or outsource to a virtual assistant. This frees you up to work on higher level tasks to build the business.

Useful in Writing Job Descriptions
It can be difficult to evaluate the contribution of employees in a small business. SOPs form the basis for listing critical business processes as well as daily tasks and assigning responsibilities for each.  Therefore, they become the baseline document for drafting job descriptions of each member of your team.

2. Maintain and Improve Quality

Ensure Product Quality
How do you deliver the same product quality consistently? One way is to have quality checks at different phrases in your process. The other is to ensure that everyone understands the specifications of the final product. Manufacturers, as well as service organizations, can use standard operating procedures to communicate effectively with their staff on how they want things done to meet desired product quality standards.

Create a Benchmark of Service
While your customers may never catch a glimpse of your internal SOPs, they will certainly know how professionally you run the business. Having ‘Service’ SOPs ensures that each member of your team has a clear understanding of the expected outcome of service interactions. This could include the way a customer is spoken to on the phone, the resolution to a customer problem, or the time it takes to complete a customer order.

Ensure Business Continuity
To ensure continuity of business, it’s essential to identify a backup staff for each task. In the absence of the key staff member, someone else can refer to the SOP, quickly get up to speed and ensure that the work is completed correctly.

Identify Areas for Improvement
Over time, SOPs becomes a source for identifying opportunities for improving your internal processes, which could save additional time and money and further improve customer experience. Ideally, you should review critical SOPs at least once every three or four months to assess if you need to make changes.

3. Reduce Business Risk

Improve Compliance
If you are in a business that is highly regulated (e.g., food business, medical billing, financial advisory), you need to ensure that you continually follow the laws and regulations at every step. Documenting these requirements in your SOP serves as an important reminder for both you and your staff on steps crucial for compliance.

Reduce Risk of Accidents
Compared to many businesses, restaurants and bakeries, and manufacturers are relatively more accident-prone places of work. As the employer, it is your responsibility to ensure a safe working environment and SOPs can help you achieve that. As an example, at a restaurant, you can create SOPs for cleaning the work area, handling and maintaining dangerous kitchen equipment, and expected handling of any accidents.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the notion of creating a massive SOP manual for every single process in your business, start small. We suggest you start by noting down the steps you take the next time you perform a work task. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate form or follow any special formatting – it’s just a recording of each of the steps that need to take place to complete the process successfully.

Alternatively, you could make a video-based SOP for sharing information with your employees or contractors on the tasks that you handle and want to delegate to others. From the video, they can take over the process and write out the steps as well, so you have an official written SOP and the video.

At Sala Social Marketing, we are BIG believers in the power of standard operating procedures for every business. Don’t get intimidated by the process, though. Just pick one task (heck – it could be how you order supplies!) and get started. You’ll be glad you did!