Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_Poster.svgI’m basically a one-person coaching business – I work with my partners in Small Fish, but ultimately I’m the one responsible for everything that happens.

I have lots of conversations with others who are in a similar situation – consultants, coaches, entrepreneurs, and other tiny businesses.  A common issue is getting off track – especially with the less-than-favorite tasks:

  • Marketing
  • Sales conversations
  • Billing and financial management
  • Keeping track of notes and information

Most coaches get into this kind of business because they love coaching itself – the rest of this stuff is necessary, but not usually as gratifying.

Here’s how I keep on track myself:

Marketing:  I track my marketing activities every day in a variety of areas:  writing, workshops, blogging, networking, social media, and so on.  I review this every Monday, and have kept the records since I started the business.  It’s not that I’ve used those records for much, but there’s a sense of momentum built up when I’ve done this EVERY WEEK – even for the weeks I was on vacation.

I have a wide variety of publicity activities regularly scheduled.  Thursday is my primary day for adding to this blog and the Small Fish newsletter.  Friday is for my Values Based Business blog.  I have my NCBR columns scheduled through the rest of 2013.  I have regular networking meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I have regular attendance at other meetings which fall on Wednesday mornings, Thursday nights, and Tuesday nights.

Sales:  I have an ever-current spreadsheet which is always open, tracking my open sales activities.  It tends to average between 20 and 40 people at any time, so it’s more than I can remember off the top of my head.  This spreadsheet doesn’t have all the details, so we have a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system which captures all that.  Nothing is ever thrown away, because it’s common for relationships to stay in force over many years.  I use the CRM’s reminder system heavily, as well as Outlook Tasks for non-customer-specific reminders.

Financial management:  I have a very simple list of paid and unpaid invoices, I see that every day.  I track every business expense within minutes using an app on my phone, and then once a month I’ll transcribe those into QuickBooks.  (Eventually I’d like to find a way to automate that, but I haven’t got it working yet.)  All my accounts are balanced each and every month.

Other daily tasks:  I keep an entry in Microsoft OneNote for every workday.  At the top it has the list of things I’m supposed to be paying attention to – my “nag” list – and at the bottom I track what I actually did.  I scan in written notes and attach them to the day’s page, because this greatly helps me stay connected with conversations which take place over the course of months and years.

I also have my email and calendar records going back many years, and an application (NEO Pro) which works with Outlook so that I can find email conversations in a second or two.

I rely heavily on my smartphone when I’m away from the office, which has an amazing amount of stuff synchronized through Google.  And I use Dropbox to synchronize the other things I need.

Now I admit that this sounds like a lot overhead, and sometimes I wonder if it is.  But I find that the few minutes a day I spend keeping these things updated really helps me to stay on track.  And if I’m not on track, it really doesn’t matter HOW busy I am.

What tools and techniques help YOU to stay on track?

More gory details about my environment

My computer hardware:

  • Dual monitor Windows-based HP notebook PC (although I rarely bother to take it anywhere anymore – paper works just fine for notes)
  • Web-cam and semi-professional microphone
  • Cordless headphones and halfway decent speakers
  • HP scanner and Samsung laser printer
  • Backup server (automagically backs up every PC in the house)

My work-related computer software:

  • Microsoft Office suite
  • Nelson Email Organizer
  • Firefox and Chrome
  • QuickBooks
  • Skype and GoToMeeting
  • Evernote (playing around with that because it copies between my PCs, phone, and Kindle)
  • Password-keeper application
  • Dropbox
  • Backup software is constantly running

What I have always running:

  • Microsoft Outlook calendar, 7 day grid view
  • Nelson Email Organizer as my primary email interface
  • Outlook task reminder window
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • My marketing-tracking and sales-funnel-tracking spreadsheet
  • Firefox

My phone: