As educational businesses, we often start out as a one-man band, an everyman.
Your org chart?
Looks something like this:
So, with so many hats to wear, and so many job roles to fulfil, it’s inevitable that we’ll need systems of one kind or another to help us, or things will begin to fall between the cracks. (Sound familiar? Hitting a nerve? You aren’t alone…)
From my experience, there are four kinds of system that an educational business needs in order to stay on top of things.
For clarity, by the way, I’m talking about software here, not a written S.O.P.
You DEFINITELY need LOADS of SOP’s, but that’s a story for another blog. I really love SOP’s.
Anyway, 4 business systems you’re going to need at some point to stay on top of things, keep the wheels running and make yourself look DAMN good.
In a hurry? Here are the shortcuts...
Spoiler alert: One of them is actually two. So, really five.
Something contact managey.
I’ve avoided calling it a CRM, because it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be an honest-to-goodness one of those, but you DO need to have some kind of system in place to manage your relationships – both with customers, clients and suppliers in whatever combination your business uses them. If you also have other freelancers on board, it's helpful to have something to manage that too.
What does it need to do?
A few different things. It needs to manage a client/customer journey from lead to honest-to-god booked jobbery. It should also involve customer service, if that’s the sort of thing your business needs – which is why you might end up with a hybrid CRM/email/project management affair.
It’s simply got to be something that works for your business, means that you have contact details and communication history at your fingertips and means that you don’t forget to do important things (like following up leads. Yep, I’m looking at you. I *know* you’ve forgotten one or two…or ten…before.)
One of the businesses I work with presently uses a combination of Outlook, ActiveCampaign and Trello as their relationship management system and it works a treat. Another uses Hubspot primarily alongside Outlook. ActiveCampaign has serious CRM cred – but it’ll cost ya. For service-based education businesses? Dubsado is my personal favourite.
Something to keep you organised.
Basically, you need a big fat to-do list, and you need to be able to both separate it out to look at individual areas of your business or to squish it all back together again like delicious s’mores* to get a good overview of the business as a whole.
*Author may have been hungry at time of writing
You could do this with something as simple as a spreadsheet. Hell, you could use a pen and paper. If it works for you then that’s ok. But both spreadsheets and notepads are difficult to share, so when other people are working in your business (either as employees or as freelancers), you may find that the system kinda sorta implodes – so my best recommendation is to start as you mean to go on, and invest as early as possible in a project management software.
There are loads of them about. Trello is a good free option, Monday and Asana are paid but solid. Basecamp is expensive (and their CEOs are slightly problematic in ethos – it’s a whole thing which you can look up). My personal absolute A1-gold, double-thumbs-up fave at the minute is Click-Up. There’s a free option which is good, a paid option which is much, much better and lots of integrations that make it work nicely alongside other tools. The collaborative potential is out of this world, and (this is my favourite bit) you can personalise your task views – great, because what works for one person won’t work for another.
Dull but necessary. This falls into two categories. You need a way of taking payments, and a way of recording them. This can be as cheap or as expensive as you choose. One of my clients uses a spreadsheet, a Word template and bank transfer details. Another who sells resources uses a combination of Stripe and Shopify. There are tonnes of shopping cart-type softwares out there to use.
My own personal preference as a sole trader? Mettle Business Bank Account (from Natwest and free), and FreeAgent (accounting software that came free with the business bank account).
Something to handle your marketing.
At present, content marketing seems to be king – providing value-laden content to contacts via various mediums is where it’s at. List building is the thing to do. Sales funnels are sexy!
You don’t have to have anything fancy. You’ll probably want to do some social media – there are fancy schedulers out there (I use SmarterQueue and quite like it – not that I *ever* remember to social media-ize people). Equally, Facebook provides it’s own social media scheduler for itself and Insta which works really well. Canva also has a scheduler, so if you’re paying for it already, you might as well use that.
You’re also going to want a list building tool. Email marketing software comes in many guises. My personal favourite is ActiveCampaign, but MailerLite also has a good free offering for those who still don’t have a big enough list to be worth $9 a month. I wrote a blog comparing them the other day – it could be worth a read if you’re in the choosing stages.
With your email marketing system, integrations are going to be incredibly powerful, especially deep data integrations. A system that knows which of your contacts has purchased from you before in Shopify is going to be *very* helpful. One which will let you send content based on *what* that client has purchased (or even just viewed) in the past is going to be the foxes sockses!
So, that's my overview of the 4 (but really 5) business software that every educational business needs. Of course, the trick is a) setting them up so they work for your particular business needs and b) maintaining and updating them so they continue to do the job you need them for - and changing them if needed!
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