Tools for Running a Successful Service Business Online
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There are a lot of things that go into running a service business online beyond finding clients and building things for them. You’ve got to manage contracts, invoices, estimates, proposals, and more. You need to keep clients informed on progress, collect payments, and follow up on those payments that are invariably missed. On top of all of that, you need to have some sort of repeatable process to make projects run smoothly and keep getting in new work.
In the following article, I’m going to share a few of the tools that I use for managing my client services business online. I handle ongoing maintenance and support for WordPress at FixUpFox, and I’ve tried out dozens of tools to make it easier to keep the business running smoothly. Whether you use WordPress or not, my goal is to help you to manage your business with ease online and focus on the most important part: keeping your clients happy and successful!
As I use Trello for all of my project planning, it makes sense for me to track leads there as well. I use the Custom Fields power-up for Trello to add details from my form to individual cards. I display the name, email, and phone number of the lead on the front of the card. Links and files attached to the form go into the card as well for me to review. I also put when the form was filled out as first-contact, and then set a due date of the first non-weekend day after it was received to remind myself to contact the lead. I can use the comment section here to keep notes, making this a simple and flexible CRM. Trello lets you use one power-up per board on their free plan, so you can set up this whole workflow for free with your current WordPress site.
If you’ve never heard of Zapier, it’s the tool that will supercharge automation between your other tools. Zapier is a tool that lets you take two online services and connect them together. For instance, you can tell it to watch your company Twitter account and send you a message when someone responds. Or perhaps you want to update a spreadsheet when a sale is made on your site. Zapier has a free plan available for up to 100 “zaps” per month, which is a good starting point to determine if it can fit your needs.
You can also set up an integration in Zapier to send the output of one of our contact forms to another service to track leads. Zapier already supports Gravity Forms, WP Forms, and Ninja Forms. I use Gravity Forms, and I send leads from my website to a Trello project planning board to keep organized with all of the leads that come in. If you decide to use WP Forms, which can also be integrated with Zapier, and you’re a SiteGround client, you can get a 50% discount for their Pro version by visiting the Perks section in your SiteGround Customer Area. You can also set up other form plugins that you have manually, though they will take a bit more work.
Invoicing and Estimates
I’ve been using Sprout Invoices for years to handle invoicing and estimates for my business. The paid business plan of the plugin allows you to handle recurring invoices and payments for clients, with payment data stored at the payment processor of your choice. This allows you to set up a recurring billing system that you don’t need to constantly bother clients about getting paid while keeping their payment information secure. I also like that clients can have users created on my site, allowing them to view and print past invoices, as well as change contact and payment information themselves.
If you already have an invoicing system that you like, I’m not suggesting that you should switch. I am suggesting that if you don’t already have a system to handle invoices, you should find one. Most of the differences between major providers are surface level, and pricing on basic plans is usually low enough to warrant for a business that wants to ensure that they have a repeatable process for collecting payments from clients.
I use WP E-Sign, also known as ApproveMe to handle maintenance agreements for my clients. As with the other tools that I suggest, it offers a repeatable process to handle an important task in any business: having contracts and agreements signed digitally by clients and vendors in a UETA/ESIGN compliant way. I have a maintenance agreement that was created and vetted by an attorney which I use for all of my clients.
WP E-Sign allows me to make a template, which I can then customize as needed for each client. This lets me enter their contact information for them, or lets them fill it in when signing the contract. Each document is at a custom URL and can only be accessed by the people who should be seeing them. I can get notified of when the document is viewed, as well as when it is signed.
If you choose to use Sprout Invoices, it also integrates with WP E-Sign to let you have clients sign off on invoices and estimates as well. This lets me create a workflow for onboarding new clients that have them signing a contract, receiving an invoice, and paying, all without me having to do anything beyond initial setup. When this is complete I get notified so that I can start working.
My support workflow starts out similarly to my lead tracking system. I have a Gravity Form setup on my site that feeds information to a Trello board which clients can use to ask support questions. I don’t expect all clients to use this though, and I allow them to send support requests via email or directly on the Trello boards. This grants some flexibility for them while limiting places to check when it is time for me to work.
Since I’m working with WordPress, I have a wide selection of tools that I can use to help manage the maintenance of these sites. I use InfiniteWP, which I use to help with regular backups and updates of sites. It also lets me send reports directly to clients with some of the changes that have been done on their sites.
Whatever tools that you use to power your business online, there are a few tips that I have that apply to all of them:
- Don’t overcomplicate. Find a tool that fits your needs and use it. There are so many options out there that it is easy to feel like you are doing real work by endlessly comparing them, but that doesn’t move the needle on your business.
- Make repeatable processes. The less that you have to think while doing routine tasks, the more time and energy that you can save for real work.
- Take notes. You will forget things. You shouldn’t be juggling all of your due dates, tasks, or client requests in your head. Making some time to plan will save you countless hours and headaches in the future.
I hope that you find at least one new actionable item from this article to improve your business. You should always be striving to make your business work for you as opposed to the other way around. These tips are intended to help you get there and to make it more enjoyable to start your day.