As a cloud based company, we’ve been searching for the right tools for the job for a few years.
As our business has grown, our needs and requirements have changed and we’ve been pretty agile at changing with them. We’ve tried lots of different systems for different needs and we’ve passed on most or some reason or another. But we’ve landed with a few that have become pretty essential to how we operate – which makes us more effective at getting our jobs done as quickly, accurately and efficiently as possible.
Any system we use must be:
- Simple – We don’t need complicated or advanced features, lengthy set up or complicated learning curves. We need quick and easy, and to be up and running as fast as possible. It’s not that we don’t think the advanced features aren’t good or useful, but our business doesn’t require much and weighing us down with unnecessary options and features isn’t efficient for us.
- Cloud-based – Everything we do is in the cloud. In the accounting space, I like to think we are early adopters of the cloud and the power it holds. Our firm works in the cloud for everything we do. Period. We understand that requires us to be connected to the internet at all times, but in this day and age we are ok with that.
- Affordable – We are a small business too. Shelling out cash for expensive tools and software isn’t for us, and we don’t want to commit to for extended periods. New apps are being developed all the time, so we need the flexibility to move to newer tools if we want.. Most, if not all of these, have trial options that we put to the test first before we committed. All of them have low priced monthly or annual costs which, coupled with our other requirements make them very attractive.
- Integrated –Face it. No one has time to enter and re-enter, or download a file here and upload it there. And with technology these days, we shouldn’t have to. Our tools need to talk. The ones we use have integration tools which make them smart choices for us and how we operate. We have built a customized ecosystem where data entry is minimized.
- Focused – We don’t need “jack of all trades, master of none” apps. What we look for are systems that are effective at their objective (and our requirements.) It’s hard to be everything to everyone, so you can’t expect one app to do it all. When that option is available to you, it comes with a list of cons as well as pros. These apps specialize in what they do, and we think they’re the best in class.
Six apps that are always open on my desktop.
I open these first thing every single morning:
We’ve tried a few other project management tools, but none were as simple to use as Asana. Create the project, then the user, then the tasks, Link all three. Decide on user permissions and map out timelines. It was always a little bit of a learning curve that just seemed to take too much time and felt clunky. We needed a simpler project management system when most were built for hard-core project managers who needed Gantt charts and progress billing. That’s what makes Asana so great. Creating and managing projects is so easy and just a few clicks. Need to make it easier? Create templates. Add files or screen shots, forward emails directly to the project, collaborate by assigning employees or contractors to complete projects, tasks or even subtasks, with due dates or without. The shared calendar gives you a great visual of deadlines for all projects or one project. Leave comments within the tasks to let others know your progress, and receive emails alerts to keep up to date.
The drag and drop feature is probably my favorite part. I can see tasks assigned to me on my personal page and prioritize according to my day or week. The integration with Slack pushes a notification of a completed task. I love hearing that ding! And of course it’s affordable, cloud based, and mobile to round out the great features.
What can I say about Xero that I haven’t said before. Sleek, user-friendly, cloud-based from birth, and well-designed for the small business owner who isn’t an accountant, It’s beautiful accounting software, designed by an accountant, an entrepreneur and a developer. We love Xero Touch, the mobile app that allows us and our clients to maximize slivers of time. We are committed to Xero and use it for all of our clients’ books.
Yes, there are lots of timekeeping apps out there, but MinuteDock is simple, painless and pretty darn intuitive. The fanciest timekeeping system means nothing, if it isn’t getting used. Recording your time by client is nothing but easy, it’s literally a click of a button to start the timer and you’re off. I can switch easily between clients, start and stop the timer as often as needed, re-dock clients to add time later, add a short description if needed and even use hash tags for detailed reporting across all clients.
We can set up budgets and goals for each client to keep on target and monitor progress if we need to. The dynamic, real time reporting is beautiful and gives us meaningful data, and we can even drill down into the report to see the detail.
The integration with Xero allows me to literally create an invoice with just a few clicks. Add on the mobile app, the fact that it’s cloud based and affordable, makes it a fantastic tool for freelancers, professionals, and across teams. We don’t always bill by the hour but when we do, we use MinuteDock.
Un-clutter your inbox! So many emails get lost in a sea of incoming messages that it can be overwhelming. Yes, I have folders and flags but come on, it’s just too much. And if someone on the team doesn’t ‘Reply All’ then it’s an even messier can of worms with multiple emails, different conversations and ultimately someone being left out of the loop and it’s not discovered until the end. We don’t always have time to drop everything and sit through a web call -which will ultimately end up covering at least 4 more topics than planned. Enter Slack. Our communication has changed. Slack is texting from your computer. It’s ideally suited for quick messages and getting questions answered, but it also serves as a depository for notes and thoughts. Set up a channel, either private or public, and keep the conversation going right there. In that one space. We have a channel for each client as well as internal projects. It’s a team communication tool. Collaborate, update, set up RSS feeds for everyone, search channels, file share – there are so many great possibilities and integrations with this tool that I’m sure we haven’t even tapped into the power of it yet. But it’s been a lifesaver already. And guess what? Cloud based, affordable and mobile.
People need to get paid. I have other things to do. Gusto makes it easy. Simple as that. Enter hours, save, submit – I just processed your payroll. And it pushed the information to your Xero account so it’s already recorded for you. As a super plus, they’ve filed the new employee report to the state for me, so I don’t have to do that myself. The pricing is much more cost-efficient than brick and mortar payroll providers, because the subscription is based on employees per month, not the number of pay runs. That means you don’t get penalized for running extra payrolls, which will inevitably happen. Their online dashboard allows employees to access online paystubs or payroll history. And their new benefit features are a huge plus for small businesses, helping them stay in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
We needed a CRM. We just didn’t need a complicated one. We don’t direct market to potential clients, but we needed a place to capture inbound leads. We didn’t need one that took too long to learn, or had all these fancy bells and whistles beyond our bandwidth or desire to use. We needed straightforward and simple contact management. Highrise let us import our existing contacts and company information from our other systems and we were up and running in minutes.. Sending a bcc to a user-specific email inbox allows Highrise to read for email addresses that match contacts, then save the email as a note under the contact record. Our contact and client list is in a single system, our team shares access and updates it, and we can keep up with other team members’ communications with clients without asking them to search their email. We mostly use it to store emails and customer notes and files, but other features include task assignment and deal tracking, which could be pretty useful to small businesses or freelancers. And yes, cloud based, affordable, and mobile to round it out.