Running Your Small Business: Tools That Work
Running a business is challenging. I’d argue it’s also a lot of fun. Some of the activities I enjoy most about running my business are areas that were new to me when I launched in 2015. Marketing, web design, bookkeeping, timekeeping, tracking mileage and expenses, and social media are all areas where small business must excel with easy-to-access and affordable resources. We don’t have the luxury of expensive tech solutions and teams of employees to implement the day to day requirements of making business work. Luckily, being an HR professional, that area is a snap for me-but it isn’t easy for other small business owners and startups. More on that later!
When I get together with other professionals, often the first questions they ask me are about the nuts and bolts of running a business. That’s something that the most Rockstar internal professional likely hasn’t had experience with. I always start at the beginning. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel in today’s age of easy (and often free) online tools. But since finding the best ones that worked for me has taken some trial and error (not to mention research and time) I’ve decided to save my readers the trouble and share my favorites!
My favorite: Toggl
Toggl is a super easy and free web-based tool to track time spent on projects. I use it to document hourly work for my clients, but it’s also a good way to organize your time and recapture wasted segments, if you want to use it as an organizational tool. Toggl allows me to track in real time or manually, entering as detailed a description as I wish, and to allocate that time to a client and project. I then can download my entries by different time periods to provide my clients with a detailed outline of how I worked to advance their projects and needs. I’ve found that it not only builds trust and maintains transparency, but it also provides clear evidence for the return on investment in retaining my services.
My favorite: Wave
Bookkeeping is a very important part of running a successful small business. Not only is it required for me to keep up with requirements like taxes, accounts payable and payroll, but it also helps me capture expenses, bill my clients in a timely manner, and collect money that is owed to my company. As I have grown, I’m not as much in need of the free online service Wave provides. You may be in need of a more robust system like Quickbooks, especially if you manufacture products or have a more complex business than straight services. But Wave has allowed me to put together professional-looking invoices, review my balance sheet, and provide year-end reports for filing my taxes. It’s a great choice for a simple business that is trying to save money.
Email and Documents
My favorite: Microsoft Office 365
While I have colleagues who utilize Google Docs and Gmail for their solutions, my perennial favorite is Outlook 365. That doesn’t mean that I can’t play nice with the Google folks. I have found ways to use Microsoft’s Windows 10 apps to track multiple email addresses in one place, since I often have email addresses for my clients that are in all different hosting scenarios. I enjoy the predictability of the Microsoft suite, and after a laptop failure last summer, am utilizing cloud storage for more of my data. Along with my significant experience with these Office programs and ability to work quickly within them, there are some new improvements like in-document translation that I have been exploring. Outlook 365 is affordable and reliable. For now, it remains my choice.
My favorite: Zoom
Others have pointed out how Zoom is basically just like Skype. But I would argue Zoom has a more user-friendly interface and provides a better experience. Skype has different iterations, like Skype for Business and regular Skype (which no one can ever find my Microsoft username for) and can be clunky to use when it is set up on someone else’s Outlook account (as I mentioned above, I often use several for different clients) and has legacy users with usernames as well as newer users with Microsoft account names. They don’t talk well with each other. If I can’t find someone by searching with several different pieces of demographic information, there’s something wrong.
Zoom is easy. Easy, easy, easy. Did I mention it’s easy? All you do is provide your link. It is the same link every time and for every meeting you have, if you want it to be set up that way (I do). I opted for the professional plan because on the free plan if you want to meet with more than one person, you can only do that for 40 minutes. I use Zoom all the time and have had great results. It’s not as good as meeting in person but much more high-touch than a phone call.
That said, some people complain about it. They are usually people who don’t have video available or who are skittish about having to open a new solution (the first time you use it, you will have to set it up, just like GoToMeeting or other similar platforms). The easiest way to use Zoom is to download the app into Windows 10. I have it pinned to my taskbar. Some people just don’t want to be involved with new technology. Since I tend to work virtually at least some of the time, it’s best if my clients are at least open to exploring how a video conferencing platform works. If they are truly wedded to only in-person or phone conferences, it will be difficult to be on site for every meeting, and on the phone it is more difficult to share my desktop or documents on the fly during our discussion. It does limit our collaboration to a certain extent.
My favorite: Acuity
My newest favorite tool is the Acuity scheduler. It’s a free service, and I can easily integrate it into our website onto a hidden link and share it with those who need to schedule a meeting with my company. You can set up availability, either manually or with a set schedule. It’s also possible to block off time when people are out of the office. Scheduled meeting types can also be created, with cushion times in between so there’s time to prepare for the next meeting. My Acuity schedule is set up with a virtual default, using my Zoom link. When you make an appointment on my page, you receive a calendar invite with my Zoom link, and I receive a notification. You also will get a reminder from Acuity the day before your meeting, and you can reschedule if you need to, all right on the scheduling platform.
While I like Doodle when I am scheduling with a larger group, the Acuity scheduler avoids several of those emails: you know, the ones where you say I can make it on blah blah blah and the other person gets back to you a day later saying “sure, blah works,” but then that time is already booked. It truly saves time and I believe people scheduling appointments appreciate the easy and convenient platform. I always let folks know that if they can’t find a time, we can work out something else.
HR and People Strategy
My Favorite: Internal leaders teamed with HR consulting expertise
For small businesses, often internal professionals who are handling HR are office managers, accountants, and even owners. Good people strategy begins with an understanding of HR and how it can help you and your team be successful and compliant at the same time. Strategic HR support also takes away the burden of handling complex employee issues and provides leadership support for your executive team to help you take your business to the next level. For most small businesses with under 100 employees, it may not make sense to employ a full-time HR leader with significant expertise and experience, so consultants like Solve HR can provide that support, troubleshooting, training and mentoring for internal staff members like generalists and coordinators. Not sure what you need? Contact us and we will talk it through with you, free of charge.
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