Recently, we shared tips on managing a virtual office. Today, we want to share some of the most popular sites for online collaboration, networking, and freelancer hiring. These tools are a great way to keep your small business humming along – whether you’re running a remote office or not!
Small business collaboration and networking tools
Google Drive: Collaborate on documents online, keep track of changes, and access your document from anywhere.
GroupSite: Social collaboration and networking online. Features a discussion board, group calendars, and file sharing.
Ryze: Network online and build relationships with other entrepreneurs, for free.
Websites for hiring freelancers
Fiverr: Find freelancers to help supplement your design, marketing, advertising, and other digital services.
Freelancer: Hire freelancers to help with anything from marketing to legal services.
Guru: Find freelance help with your technical, creative, or business projects.
Upwork: Hire freelancers for your projects (formerly oDesk).
What websites or apps do you like for helping your virtual small business be productive? Let us know!
But what about you? How can you keep your virtual office running smoothly and efficiently?
How to manage a virtual office
Test the waters. If you’re transitioning from employees working in the office to employees working remotely, try it out first. Perhaps you can have everyone on a trial period, or rotate your employees’ remote schedules. You might find out there are kinks to work out, or maybe even that your office needs to put remote working on the back burner for now.
Set your expectations. Working remotely involves a lot of trust. Make sure your employees know what’s expected of them as far as scheduling, meetings, reporting back to you, deadlines, and outcomes. And let them know what they can expect from you, too. Will you always be available if they need help? How will they get in touch with you? How can they communicate with each other?
Trust in your team. A huge part of running a virtual office is trusting that your team is working, and delivering on time. You can’t stroll by and chat with them like in a traditional office. Of course, you should be monitoring their overall progress and how they get there, but don’t make checking their social media and constantly asking for updates a regular part of your day.
Hold regular meetings. With a virtual team, communication is more important than ever. For both your sake and the sake of your employees, hold meetings as often as makes sense. You can either have a big weekly check-in via Skype, one-on-one meetings as needed, or some combination of the two. Go over milestones, goals, deadlines, and any issues anyone’s been experiencing.
Be flexible and understanding. Employees working remotely are like home-based entrepreneurs in some ways. While they may not be able to organize their schedules as freely as a home-based entrepreneur, they do have some of the same benefits of working from home. You may need to be a little flexible if an employee wants to schedule a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, or understanding if you call and your employee’s out walking the dog. Of course, your employee should be taking the same considerations of his and her deadlines and schedule as in a traditional office.
Unless you’re a rarely-seen prodigy of the business world, you know that “entrepreneurship” does not equal “rolling in cash” – at least, not at the start. But fear not! There are ways entrepreneurs can save money in their small business. Here are five thrifty tips we think you’ll like:
1) Consider having a virtual office location instead of paying expensive downtown rent. A virtual office location is a place where you pay a monthly fee to have your mail sent, receptionist service and access to meeting space in a downtown office suite. The difference is you and your team are actually doing the day-to-day work from home or a less expensive location. You also gain extra work time when you give up rush hour – lucky you!
Do you absolutely need a downtown office? Sharing an office – and the rent – with another small business is another good money-saving tip for entrepreneurs.
2) Many of you may not believe this, but the government can be a great source when it comes to saving money in small businesses. Investigate your local, provincial and federal programs – there may be handy tax breaks available to you or other resources to help your small business ticking along smoothly.
3) Advertising may cost a pretty penny, but public relations doesn’t have to. Free (positive) publicity is out there. Find ways to get your name known. You can offer expert advice on a local news program or write a series of how-to articles for a trade publication. Get creative and have fun with it. Of course, the best PR happens when you provide top-quality service to all your customers!
4) Network like it’s going out of style. Even if the thought of attending another industry meet and greet makes you want to hide in your basement, get out there and mingle! You never know which hidden gem in your network can recommend a good deal on business cards or knows the best graphic designer in town.
5) If it makes sense for your small business, partner with other companies that offer related services and pool advertising funds. For example, your flower shop might be the perfect match for the local spa that’s looking for a great Mother’s Day promotion. Or your plumbing company can approach local roofers, electricians and landscaping companies to co-create a “Home Makeover” coupon book. Cross-promotion can be cheaper for everyone and helps strengthen the credibility of all involved as well.
Got a few great money-saving tips for entrepreneurs? Let us know!