Going it Alone, Part 3 – Tools for the Job

Now you’ve got all the gear, you might find yourself scrabbling for ideas to make sure you get the best out of it. We certainly did at first – and it took more than a few hours of research to find the solutions that worked for us.

What Tools Do I Need?

As with the kit list from Part 2, this will vary with the nature of your work. For the purpose of this blog, we’re looking at what those in more creative roles might require – although much of the advice will (hopefully!) apply across industries.

Organisational Tools

Literacy with Microsoft products is almost as much a pre-requisite of professional life as understanding the concept of smart casual attire (okay, bad example…) Luckily, the latest iteration of Office 365 is far simpler to fathom than which shade of chino is acceptable for prospect meetings.

Aside from the usual suspects (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint), OneDrive is a handy and reliable means of accessing files from any device that comes as part of the deal, while Teams – a new project management tool – really comes into its own when working with large groups of stakeholders. Throw in an ever-improving suite of mobile apps and there’s a lot to be said for the 365 package.

Of course, if you’re not a fan of the Microsoft juggernaut, Apple products come with their own equivalent of the basics (Mail, Pages, Numbers, Keynote) and there are plenty of file sharing alternatives out there, including old favourite Dropbox. Project management tools are rapidly on the rise now too. We’re big fans of Trello – which is great for those starting out small and, to our minds anyway, a little more user-friendly than Teams.

Creative Tools

When it comes to creative tools, the Adobe suite has long been the benchmark. Membership of Creative Cloud offers access to as many (or as few) applications as required – all of which are powerful and intuitive enough to handle even the most intricate projects.

Mobile apps for each of the main applications are also available – great for content creation on the move – and Adobe virgins can quickly get up to speed with built-in tutorials that are easy to follow and great fun for those keen on learning new skills.

Of course, as with all good resources, the Adobe suite doesn’t come cheap. For more basic photo and video editing, mobile tools like VSCO are a great solution (and much kinder on the wallet!)

Analytics Tools

The ability to demonstrate tangible results is an essential part of retaining existing clients and pitching to new prospects. Whatever your industry, chances are there will be hundreds of tools out there claiming to be the best thing since sliced bread. Unsurprisingly, the digital world is prime amongst those, with a multitude of options available.

The best advice we can offer is to take advantage of any free trial periods on offer to explore which solutions work best for you (and delay forking out for membership in the process!) After much deliberation, we eventually plumped for Sprout Social based on ease of use, value for money and scalability.

In Summary…

As with so many elements of starting a business, the best approach here is undoubtedly to experiment with as many options as possible in the time you can afford to spare. And don’t forget to include annual / monthly subscription fees in your budget, as they very quickly start to add up…

Stay tuned for Part 4, where we’ll take a look at what elements of running a business you might want to consider outsourcing.

And if you missed it, catch up on Part 2 right here.

Going it Alone, Part 2 – Getting Kitted Out

So, you’ve got your business plan nailed down and you’re ready and raring to go. Why not treat yourself to a shopping spree?

This is probably one of the more exciting parts of setting up a business – but be warned. You’re going to need deep pockets…

What Kit Do I Need?

This will vary enormously depending upon your industry, the size of your team and the nature of your day-to-day work.

The list below is based on experience of setting up a company that operates predominantly online (hopefully for obvious reasons…) and often in a remote working capacity:

Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro

Yes, Apple products are expensive – but they’re slick, easy to use, bulletproof and make you look the part at client meetings. Unless you’re using particularly heavy software or creating feature length films on a daily basis, a regular MacBook Pro will usually do the trick. You might want to wait until the latest model comes out to get the previous incarnation at a knocked-down price. Make sure you take out AppleCare+ insurance too. It might seem steep as a lump sum but, when you spread it out over the course of the term, it’s not too bad – and certainly not as painful as footing any repair costs!

Accessory: Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter

How much for an adapter?! The price tag for this tiny piece of kit is, quite frankly, extortionate. But chances are the majority of presentation screens you’ll be hooking up to will use HDMI leads and most of your accessories (headphones etc.) will charge via USB, so it’s a must-have.

Accessory: PLEMO Laptop Sleeve

When you’ve spent that amount of cash on a laptop, you’d be mad not to give it some protection. There are plenty of great sleeves out there and they’re all worth the investment. The PLEMO case was chosen having featured on the kit list of a previous employer. It feels well-made, it’s water-resistant, it’s great value and it comes in a range of colours.

Monitor: ASUS MB16AP 15.6-Inch ZenScreen Go

You might never have used a second screen before. But once you have, you’ll wonder how you ever coped without one. Removing the need to flick from one window to another is an invaluable time saver. The Zenscreen Go was chosen on the basis of positive customer reviews and it doesn’t disappoint. Operated and charged from a single USB C cable, it’s light, portable and crystal clear. If you travel for work or don’t have a permanent desk, this is a great piece of kit.

Smartphone: Apple iPhone XS

Everybody has an opinion on which brand of smartphone is the best. The iPhone was chosen based purely on personal preference and seamless compatibility with other Apple products. Again, it’s pricey – but the camera is great, the Apps are great… everything about it is great. Even the battery life on the newer models isn’t bad. And if you’re willing to commit to a 24-month contact, there are some great package deals to help spread the cost.

Accessory: Apple iPhone XS Case

As per the laptop sleeve, if you’re going to splash the cash on a decent smartphone, you’d be well advised to make sure it’s not going to shatter into a thousand pieces the moment you let it slip from your pocket.

Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)

More of a luxury than an essential – but these things are worth their weight in gold if you can justify a little extra expenditure. Not only do they block out noise superbly in a busy office and help you get some precious sleep on a plane journey, they double as a brilliant hands-free headset for conference calls. Highly recommended.

In Summary…

Once again, the list above is very much tailored to specific requirements and personal preferences. The main takeaway here is not to cut corners. If you go into your new venture half-hearted it will inevitably fail – and the same is true of your kit.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll take a look at the tools you might need to get the most from your fancy new kit.

And if you missed it, catch up on Part 1 right here.

Going it Alone, Part 1 – Where to Begin?

It’s a daunting prospect, leaving the security of permanent employment to start a new business. Exciting, yes. But ever-so-slightly terrifying at the same time.

Whether you’re going it alone, with a friend, or backed by an investor, it’s a risk. Fortunately, there’s plenty of great advice out there on how it all works… right?

Guidance on how to kick-start your self-employed adventure is actually surprisingly tricky to come by. Hopefully this series of blogs will help point you in the right direction.

Where to Begin?

We’ve all been asked: “So what do you do?” It might seem obvious, but if you can’t answer that question comprehensively, your business plan probably needs some work.

Although not an exhaustive list, there are a few basic questions you should really be able to answer:

  • What are your core skills? Know your strengths and play to them
  • What do those strengths allow you to offer? Nail down your service offering
  • Who are your target client base? Start specific, within an industry you know well
  • What makes you different? Know how you’re going to pitch yourself against competitors
  • What do you want to achieve? Set clear targets for income, growth and recognition

In Summary…

Of course, your answers to each of the above will evolve over time. But starting with a clear picture will, if nothing else, make you feel a little less awkward when quizzed on your career status at dinner parties.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll take a look at some of the basic kit you’ll need to get yourself up and running.