Running a business requires investment.
You have surely heard the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.”
But if you have an online business, your level of required investment is likely a lot lower than those who run brick-and-mortar establishments for several reasons:
- If you’re a service-based business, you don’t have to worry about inventory.
- If you’re a solopreneur, you don’t have to worry about payroll or benefits.
- If you’re a product-based business, you have greater control over supply and demand because you don’t have a storefront to maintain.
Online businesses are easier to bootstrap because the minimum overhead startup costs are super low and you, as the owner, can determine your rate of growth based on available cash.
Still, investment is required and every entrepreneur makes costly mistakes at least a handful of times in their lives. That’s why it’s important for all of us to talk with one another and share our experiences. You telling me what works for you can save me hours of time and energy compared to me having to do all the research on my own.
In this article, I’m sharing my best business investments of 2021, which include a mix of services and service providers.
My 5 Best Business Investments of 2021
I hired a lot of help this year, but not much in the way of staffing. A mentor told me years ago that, when you’re feeling overwhelmed as an entrepreneur, the support you need isn’t always an employee or contractor for the business.
“Everyone thinks the answer is a virtual assistant,” I recall him saying. “But usually, especially in the case of women in business, the best support staff they can hire are professionals to help around the house. Most business owners need a housekeeper long before they need an executive assistant.”
Since that conversation, I’ve always been critical when considering my true needs as my business grows.
Do I really need a Pinterest manager or do I need a meal service so I can use the time I would typically spend cooking to manage my own Pinterest account?
Do I really need a paid writing coach or do I need a free writing partner to hold me accountable to my word-count goals?
These are the kinds of questions I’ve grown accustomed to asking myself when thinking of increasing my productivity and reducing my burdens.
And the two questions above are ones I asked myself in 2021.
I hired a Pinterest manager, and in six months, I have yet to see any return on the investment. I’m considering putting that visibility strategy on hold for a while. As for the question of writing coach vs. writing partner, I found I needed both. The coach helps with brainstorming, outlining, and organizing my content. The writing partner keeps me writing when I say I’ll write. So, the words actually make it onto the page.
But when I stop to think about the business investments I made in 2021, there are five that stand out as the best. Here they are…
Best Business Investment: Hire an Accountant (CPA) Who Understand Online Business
When creating a financial structure for their business, most people start with an accountant because they are terrified of making mistakes on their taxes. Nobody likes to pay more than they have to, and a lot of people fear getting audited more than public speaking or root canals.
They are happy to do their own bookkeeping, trusting that a good accountant will find and fix any mistakes they might make before filing their taxes.
I am not most people.
A bookkeeper was my first “big girl” business investment because I was doing way too much mental math and it didn’t paint an accurate picture of how much I was making or keeping. I chose to start with a bookkeeper because I wanted solid records that would show how solvent my business was. I also wanted to pay myself consistently, and learn how to decide how much I could afford to spend on supporting my online business efforts.
Having a bookkeeper made tax time a breeze, but I knew I’d need to add a CPA to the mix eventually. “Eventually” turned out to be June of this year. And I took the plunge at almost exactly the right time because the tax authorities came calling just a few months later, asking questions that I didn’t know how to answer.
Do you know what the best feeling in the world is? Calling your CPA and having them say, “I’ve got you,” and then having the situation taken care of while you focus on more important things (like thanking God you didn’t put off hiring an accountant until 2022).
My accountant might not be the right accountant for you, but I highly recommend seeking out a professional who understands the unique traits of online business because it’s vastly different from other business models.
As a creative entrepreneur, it’s not uncommon for your revenue to come in fits and starts based on when you launch programs or bring on new clients. A book advance or course launch might bring in more than half of your annual revenue in just a single month. Traditional financial professionals who look at cash flow on a weekly or monthly basis might cause you angst, while someone who understands online-based creative endeavors will help you understand how to work with your particular revenue rhythm.
Best Business Investment: Hire an SEO Team That Understands Your Online Business
If you know me, you know I’m a super-fan of the Love at First Search team. I participated in their SEOctober challenge back in 2019 and enrolled in their Attract and Activate course in the spring of 2020. I was fortunate enough to score an SEO strategy session with Founder/CEO Meg Casebolt as a bonus that year. I’m still in awe with how much I got from that single session with Meg.
So, this year, when I met with a publisher about writing a book on how to handle conflict online and they gave me targets to aim for in the areas of website traffic, email subscribers, and social media followers, I knew I needed Meg’s team to help me make it happen.
I could have dug back into the material from the Attract and Activate course or joined the Love at First Search membership program, but I didn’t feel like I had the time to dig in and create my own plan.
Instead, I opted to invest in a strategy session with Meg’s team. After a 90-minute meeting, I received a report containing:
- Key page improvements for 5 pages (Home, About, Services, etc)
- Keyword research & SEO suggestions for 5 existing posts
- A new content plan for 12 blog posts
- 30 days implementation support in a private Slack channel
For a little extra, I had the Love at First Search team update my existing pages and posts and create a dashboard for me so I can track, measure, and analyze the results of my efforts in 2022.
It took a couple of weeks to get my SEO plan in hand and another week for my site to get updated by her team, but it feels so good right now to know it’s all done. Now, all I have to worry about in the coming year is writing content that serves my existing community well and offers resources to attract new readers.
If you’re new to growing your audience and authority online, you might not need an intensive session like I had. But I think everyone can benefit from Meg’s SEO Playbook, which provides guidance on how to organize your articles and website content to attract the right readers at the right time.
Best Business Investment: Hire an Enneagram Coach to Help You Better Understand Clients and Peers
Have you ever encountered the type of person who seems to be offended no matter what you say?
It happens to me more often than I like to admit. And working as closely as I do with clients in their businesses and on big goals, it can be problematic. I can’t do my best work if both the client and I feel like we have to walk on eggshells around each other. There’s a huge loss of productivity when you’re constantly having hard conversations about what you said vs. what you meant.
Even my years of experience with mediation and conflict resolution don’t always help.
But what has helped me is working with Lori Young, an Enneagram coach who specializes in interpersonal communication and relationship dynamics.
I initially hired Lori to help me develop closer relationships with my children based on what motivates their very different behaviors. But after only one session, I quickly saw how working with her could improve my business relationships.
Since then, I’ve called upon Lori to help me sort out conflict in teams I’ve worked with, and find the right words to use in contract negotiations with potential clients. I also better understand why I continue some behaviors that I know aren’t in my best interests but can’t seem to stop.
Not only has working with Lori made me better in business, but it’s also made me a better human. By understanding my own reactions to people and circumstances, I have developed a deeper understanding of other people’s reactions to words and actions.
Best Business Investment: Hire a Homeschool Coach to Help You Stay Sane
From February 2020 to November 2021, I was a working homeschool mom.
If you had told me on January 1, 2020, that, in just a few short months, I’d be a full-time entrepreneur educating my kids at home, I would have laughed at you.
And then my eyes were opened to a whole segment of the homeschool population I never knew existed: working homeschool moms.
A business friend introduced me to the Working Homeschool Mom Club on Facebook, a community hosted by Jen Mackinnon of Practical, By Default. Though I love the Facebook group, the size of the group and speed at which people participate was overwhelming for me. I needed something smaller and more intimate where I could get answers to my specific questions and support juggling a lifestyle I never imagined living.
I spent most of 2021 in Jen’s High-Octane Homeschoolers program and have made lifelong friends in that group while learning how to juggle the demands of homeschooling while running a business. Now that my kids are back in traditional school, I’ve moved into Jen’s Coaching & Caffeine program focused on work-life balance for the entrepreneurial mom or mompreneur (not my favorite word, but it fits).
And if you haven’t picked up on the theme yet, Jen’s life does run on caffeine—as does mine. We’ve enjoyed many sessions chugging coffee like we’re college kids pulling all-nighters. It just makes me love her more.
Best Business Investment: Find a Social Media Management Tool That Works with Your Online Business
Having spent years as a social media strategist, I’m hard to please when it comes to social media management tools.
When I was managing all of the social media accounts for a major research university, I had the chance to test out tools of every size and scope. I spent time with the team at Sprinklr, which starts at over $100,000 a year, before leading the university-wide implementation of Falcon.io. We also tested tools like AgoraPulse, CoSchedule, SproutSocial, Hootsuite, and Later before contracting with Falcon.
However, my own business’s pockets aren’t nearly as deep as a university’s. Where the university scored a great deal using Falcon for under $40,000 a year, $40 a month is the threshold for my own business.
I have tested tons of social media tools since starting my business, trying desperately to get the best level of service for the lowest possible price. Over time, I’ve developed a list of priorities—my own non-negotiables—when it comes to social media management.
Since I don’t mind the native scheduling features of Creator Studio for Facebook and Instagram, being able to schedule social media posts ahead of time isn’t enough to make me love a third-party application.
I need MORE.
If I’m going to pay for a social media management service, I expect it to integrate seamlessly with every platform I want to be active on. I want to be able to see how all of my channels are performing in a single location, while easily responding to comments and interactions on all of my posts.
SmarterQueue is the Best Social Media Management Tool for My Online Business
SmarterQueue does all of this and more. It allows me to schedule feed posts and stories on Instagram, timeline posts on Facebook Pages and in Groups, as well as posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. There’s a Pinterest integration, too, but since Pinterest is its own animal, I prefer Tailwind for that.
As for content creation and curation, I love that SmarterQueue allows me to easily discover content that’s relevant to my audience from all over the internet. Whether it’s news articles, blogs, or specific social media accounts, I can easily add them into my queue. The analytics aren’t incredibly detailed, but they get the job done and allow for apples-to-apples comparisons among various platforms. But what I appreciate most about SmarterQueue is how it allows you to repurpose and recycle content.
You can fill your queue with several posts and create a schedule of when you want those posts to publish according to category and channel. SmarterQueue takes it from there. If you have a lot of content already created, you can let it go undisturbed, checking in every other week or so to refresh your queue with new content or variations of content already scheduled.
If you’d like to check out SmarterQueue for yourself, use this referral link for an extended trial. And if you’re a registered non-profit, make sure to apply for a service discount.
What Business Investments Will You Make in Your Online Business?
Now that you know what I’m grateful to have invested in this past year, it’s time to look ahead. Your best business investments for your online business might be different than mine, and we’re better together.
What business investments do you have planned for 2022?
Will you hire help around the house or in your business? Will you adopt new tech tools—or maybe a new computer?
Let us know in the comments so we can all learn from each other.
And make sure to come back next week to find out our community’s picks for best business investments of 2021.