Last Updated on December 11, 2020
Are you ready to take your business, such as it is, to the next level?
That might mean converting a freelance “side hustle” into a full-time, revenue-generating business, quitting your 9-to-5 job in the process. Or it might mean turning a revenue-generating solo business into something more robust — a fledgling enterprise reliant on a growing army of outside contractors and maybe a few paid employees to boot.
Wherever you find yourself on the road to success, and wherever that road leads on your own personal entrepreneurial journey, you’ll probably agree that you need every advantage to stay on track. Competition is fierce these days, after all, and the uncertainty of the past year hasn’t done anyone any favors.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s time to take stock of your enterprise’s strengths, weaknesses, assets, and liabilities. It’s time to assess what more you could do to gain that competitive advantage you so clearly need to navigate the treacherous waters ahead. And, in all likelihood, it’s time to add some tools to your business toolkit.
This list includes 18 tools, tips, and tricks that could give you an edge in what’s to come. Find those that you know you need most urgently, and then work backward from there.
1. A Best-in-Class MSP (And MSP Software)
You won’t grow into the need for a best-in-class managed service provider (MSP) right away. As your enterprise scales, however, you will eventually need one. When that time comes, you want to be ready to choose an MSP that has your best interests at heart — and can actually serve them with best-in-class MSP software.
Whichever MSP you wind up choosing, you’ll want it (and the software it runs on) to have some basic, non-negotiable capabilities:
- Best-in-class data protection capabilities that minimize downtime
- Software components that integrate and synchronize well with one another
- Remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools
- Professional services automation (PSA) tools
It bears repeating that you won’t need a best-in-class MSP right away. But you do need to know what to look for when the time comes.
2. A Secure Cloud Backup Solution
Nothing against mass-market cloud backup solutions like Google Drive or Apple iCloud, but your business shouldn’t settle for off-the-shelf platforms with known vulnerabilities. It’s just not a best practice to rely on the same solution that everyone and their aunt uses.
Instead, you need a secure, automated cloud backup solution built to maximize storage efficiency without compromising security. Ideally, your solution should work without any regular input from you, toiling away to ensure that a complete record of your enterprise’s work remains accessible at a moment’s notice.
3. A Reliable Disaster Recovery (Data Recovery) Solution
This solution complements and builds on a secure cloud backup platform. It’s designed specifically to minimize the pain associated with anything qualifying as a data disaster, whether that’s a literal natural disaster (a fire or flood that knocks out power infrastructure in your area, for example) or a devastating ransomware attack that would result in permanent data loss or corruption without a failsafe.
Your data recovery solution needs to be secure, redundant, and responsive. It needs to be able to kick in at a moment’s notice and always operate on the principle that any amount of downtime is unacceptable. And it needs to maintain your competitive advantage, which in this context means saving the critical data that competitors affected by the same event end up losing.
4. A Remote Notary Provider
Unless you’re in a line of work that requires frequent notarization, you probably don’t visit a notary every day or week. Here and there, a month might slip by without a trip to your local notary.
Still, like every entrepreneur…heck, every consumer, more or less…you do need notary services every now and then. When the need arises, why waste time visiting one in person when you can turn to a remote notary that efficiently and securely performs the same duties?
5. A Suite of Tools to Optimize System Performance
You can’t count on your devices to work perfectly for years to come. All good things must come to an end, as the saying goes. However, you can do your part to optimize system performance and stretch your devices’ lifespans as long as possible while making your day-to-day business activities a little bit more efficient. Invest in a system optimization solution that does the following:
- Creates, customizes and manages hard drive partitions without data loss
- Enables rapid, faithful disk cloning
- Enables rapid recovery of lost or deleted data and partitions
- Features extended hardware support that grows with your system
6. An Encrypted Email Service That Won’t Leak Your Data
Can you be certain that malicious actors aren’t reading your email? You can’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being straight with you.
You can take matters into your own hands, though. The first step is to invest in an encrypted email service that won’t leak your data, no matter who you correspond with. This service might cost a bit more than your everyday business email suite, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
7. A Reliable Virtual Private Network That Won’t Share Your Data
This is another encryption solution that’s basically non-negotiable for entrepreneurs entrusted with sensitive client data (or concerned about their own data falling into the wrong hands). It’s useful for entrepreneurs who do business internationally, as well, since one of the best features of any VPN is the ability to “mask” the user’s geographical location.
8. Anti-Malware Software That Stays One Step Ahead of Emerging Threats
Do yourself a favor and ditch whatever anti-malware software came pre-installed with your device’s operating system. It’s probably fine for your needs as a consumer, but if your business needs to be more careful with what happens to its data — and, let’s be honest, most do — then it’s just not going to cut it.
9. A Crisis Response Plan for Every Possible Threat
Let’s leave the realm of cybersecurity for a moment and dwell on another sobering thought: the likelihood that, at some point, your business will face a legitimate crisis that threatens its very existence. Or, less dramatically, a crisis that saps its revenue and forces you to make tough decisions you’d rather not make.
Sadly, we saw this play out for countless businesses in 2020 amid a devastating pandemic. The next crisis will, in all likelihood, look very different. It may be more localized, perhaps even specific to your business, as individual businesses and entrepreneurs face crises of and not of their own making all the time.
But we know one thing to be true: Businesses that are prepared for a multitude of potential crises tend to weather them better. Plan accordingly.
10. A Crisis Communications Plan for Sticky Situations
Crisis response and crisis communications are related, of course, but different enough to warrant separate sections here. Crisis communications is less about how you deal with a ballooning crisis behind the scenes and more about how you show your clients, vendors, investors, and others that you’re capably, confidently addressing it. For more on what goes into an effective crisis communications plan, read this now.
11. A Virtual Assistant (Or Several)
On a happier note, growing businesses need help. Lots of help. Those not ready to hire employees of their own or manage a constellation of independent contractors who may or may not be reliable should turn to a proven source of support: virtual assistants.
Virtual assistants (VAs) can help with a bevy of tasks, from cleaning out your email inbox to managing social media to fielding interview requests. Most entrepreneurs, especially those without the resources to spend lots of time personally vetting VAs, hire them through companies that do this work for them. It’s a win-win: The client saves time and money over a traditional hire, and the VA enjoys a relatively secure gig.
12. An Email Marketing Automation Suite
One common task for virtual assistants, as noted, is email management. Whether you have a VA or not, you most likely market your services or otherwise promote yourself using email, or at the very least have plans to begin doing so as your business grows.
An email marketing automation suite makes this task a lot easier. Even if the sum of your email marketing plan consists of an occasional newsletter, your suite will save you time and help you track your campaigns’ effectiveness — something an old-fashioned, manual email list can’t do.
13. A Cloud Invoicing and Accounting Platform
You want to get paid. You deserve to get paid. Now, you need to make it happen.
Cloud-based invoicing platforms all but grow on trees, so you won’t have trouble finding an affordable one that fits your needs. The bigger challenge is finding a platform that integrates with a more robust business accounting suite, which you’ll need as your business grows (if its finances aren’t already complex enough to warrant legit bookkeeping). Some platforms house invoicing and accounting under the same “roof,” albeit at a higher price than you might be willing to pay.
14. A Social Media Scheduling Tool
Like email automation, social media scheduling saves time and frees up entrepreneurs’ mental bandwidth for more important tasks. This is one of those things that’s really difficult to part with once you’ve started doing it — try it for yourself and see what we mean.
15. An Automated Blog Writing Assistant
Hey, not everyone is the second coming of James Joyce or August Wilson or even Danielle Steel. But most of us are capable of writing cogent, engaging prose that reads like it was written by a born writer.
Yes, really, though not entirely without help from an automated grammar-and-syntax app or extension. Like social media scheduling, writing with help from an AI writing assistant is really difficult to give up once you begin.
16. Multiple Secure Payment Options for Clients
Your clients are a diverse bunch, no doubt. Why assume they all want to pay you in precisely the same way?
Offering a range of payment options (and choosing an invoicing solution that allows this) ensures that you won’t inadvertently turn off a paying customer. Before you ask: Yes, for the time being at least, “a range of payment options” does include old-school, non-electronic methods like mailed checks.
17. A Coworking Membership
You’ve been cooped up in your home office for far too long. It’s time to break free — and rub shoulders with fellow professionals who could bring new business and professional opportunities your way (or even become paying clients themselves).
The best place for most solo entrepreneurs or small teams to gather is in a coworking space. Choose one that’s conveniently located and takes networking seriously.
18. A Virtual Office or P.O. Box
If you don’t see the need to invest in a coworking membership, do yourself a favor and get a virtual office or post office box where you can receive written correspondence without revealing your home address.
If you haven’t already incorporated your business at your home address, use this office or box as your official place of business (business registration address). If your business is already incorporated at home, consider changing your registration address, as it’s visible to anyone who cares to search your state of incorporation’s business registration database.
You can always set up mail forwarding from your virtual office or P.O. box to ensure that you actually receive important correspondence (though you may need to upgrade to premium forwarding to avoid getting inundated with junk).
It’s a Digital World. Time to Make It Your Own.
This is quite a list of business-friendly tools and strategies for entrepreneurs helming growing businesses. You might even find it overwhelming.
That’s okay. You don’t need to move mountains to procure every solution on this list overnight. That’s simply not possible, anyway, as some require careful planning and comparison-shopping. You don’t want to spend a considerable sum on the wrong service simply because you’re ready to move on to the next thing.
This isn’t to say you should take your dear, sweet time working through this list. Every week that goes by without significant progress here is a week that your competitors could — and probably will, if you know them like you think — inch ahead of you in the eternal race for competitive advantage. With everything going on in the world right now, the last thing you need is to fall behind the pack. There’s no guarantee you’ll regain your position if you do.