Tech Tools to Automate Your Small Business

small business, tech tools

As a small business owner, you have to be good not only at what you do professionally, but also at running the business end of things competently. Your business depends on this just as much as on your professional skills – if your business isn’t run right, it won’t succeed. As solopreneurs or small business owners, we don’t have a staff of people at our beck and call to do our accounting, invoicing, marketing, client relations or any of the other multitude of things that need to get done to keep our companies going strong. But we do have the Internet and the power of web based solutions to help us manage many of these areas, especially our money, time, tasks, and clients. In this post I’ll review these four areas and discuss why they are essential to the efficient and productive operation of your business, as well as highlight my favorite digital and tech tools that you can use to address these issues effectively.

Money

No matter how much we love what we do, we are all in business to make money. You’d be surprised at how many business owners don’t actually know how much money they make until the end of the year at tax time! Fortunately accounting, which does not come easily to many of us, has been made very easy by some great tech and web based solutions over the past few years.

At the most basic level, you should:

  • Record your income and expenses and track them by client and IRS category.
  • Get a separate credit card for business expenses – YOU are not YOUR BUSINESS. They need to be kept separate!
  • Pay your estimated taxes quarterly – so you don’t have penalties and a huge tax payment on April 15th.

There are many great invoicing and accounting software products available, but my favorite is GoDaddy Bookkeeping (formerly Outright) which I have used since I started Order Your Life in 2009. Among other features, it:

  • Captures and categorizes business expenses and income automatically by syncing with credit cards, e-commerce sites and banks.
  • Has great invoicing features with an automatic reminder to let your client know when they haven’t paid it within the terms you’ve set.
  • Takes online payments from PayPal, credit cards or online banking systems.
  • Tracks project time by client and task.
  • Gives you instant and upfront access to your essential numbers – how much you’ve earned, who’s paid you (and who hasn’t paid you!), sales tax due, P&L, spending, and more.

Time

Just as you need to know where every dollar goes, you need to know where every hour goes. If you’re selling a service and charging by the hour, then time-tracking is essential so how you know how much to charge your clients.

The best app I have found to track time while I am with clients is HoursTracker, which I have been using as a simple app on my iPhone for over six years. (There’s also an Android version.) With this app, you can:

  • Track hours billed, and set up jobs for different clients.
  • Clock in and out of jobs, or enter time manually.
  • View time and earnings by day, week, month, or client.
  • Use the comments section for notes on the job.
  • Export to Excel in CSV format.

You can set up as many jobs as you need, and enter all the essential information about each job, including client name, hourly rate, and how your time should be rounded (to the nearest hour, half, quarter, or even minute). You can then clock in and out of jobs and when you’re done, HoursTracker will calculate the billable total for you (good for me since my math is so bad!). You can also manually enter time worked in the past (if you forget to clock in) quickly and easily. You can view your time billed and earnings by day, week, month or client, and you can add comments in each section (to record in more detail what you did for each client) if you want.

Tasks

Tasks can come in many forms. There are:

  • Tasks for clients/customers
  • Overhead tasks to keep your business running
  • Team tasks – who’s doing what?

I’ve tried a lot of task management apps, and my favorite by far is Wunderlist. It has the following features:

  • Web, desktop, IOS and Android versions
  • Personalized user interface
  • Unlimited task lists
  • Printing capabilities (for lists and tasks)
  • Ability to share lists and tasks with others
  • Free basic version

Clients

Finally, you need to be able to manage your customers or clients, as well as your pipeline of future clients. This is where a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software comes in. You need a systematized, efficient way of gathering leads, converting them into sales and turning first-time clients into loyal customers. A good CRM tool will:

  • Help you keep track of the people, conversations and tasks that are the lifelines of your business – including keeping all related emails together as well as specific tasks pertaining to clients and prospects / opportunities.
  • Allow you to collect and manage all the data and information on your contacts and clients in one place so that valuable info doesn’t fall through the cracks.
  • Let you view the status of any pending deal or relationship between clients or contacts instantly.
  • Have a mobile app to allow you to access and enter vital information on the go.

The key is not to get more than you need – most CRM tools are too technically complex and have way too many features, including some that very small businesses will never use or need. You need to get what really works for you – start simple if necessary, and work your way up as your business grows. I really like Insightly because it’s simple to set up, has a great user interface, and has all the features I need for both contact management and project management, and it’s really built for solopreneurs or very small businesses without a lot of extraneous complicated features I will never use.

Use these tools effectively, and your business will soar!

Want to get your small business in order? Learn how Order Your Life can help!

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Disasters don’t plan ahead – but you can!

Disaster planning
Hurricane Harvey and its subsequent catastrophic flooding in Houston and the surrounding areas make the theme for this year’s National Preparedness Month – “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead – You Can” – all the more urgent. As people in Texas fled their homes to escape the rising water, usually with no more than the clothes on their backs, they risked losing not only their physical possessions but also important papers that can be difficult to replace. While there are many steps you can take to prepare for an emergency – as outlined on Ready.gov’s Make A Plan Checklist – I am highlighting two of the items featured on that page (under “Shareables”) that are especially relevant for my organizing clients.

Document and Insure Your Property

  • Inventory the contents of your home. If you don’t have time to write everything down, then take out your smart phone and walk around the house, photographing or videotaping each room and its contents – even a basic inventory is better than nothing. Then make sure the video is backed up in the cloud and not just residing on your phone.  Vimeo.com is a free web-based service that allows you to store videos and access them from anywhere, should the need arise.
  • Review your property and casualty insurance coverage.  Be sure you know what’s covered, and for what amounts, both in the main policy and in any riders covering specific items (such as jewelry). Check to see if you’ve bought anything new that needs to be added to your policy, or if you’ve sold anything that’s still covered but no longer needs to be.
  • Do you need to add flood insurance, which is sold separately? If so, you should learn about the National Flood Insurance Program. (You can see reviews for insurance companies that participate in this program at this link.)

Protect Critical Documents and Valuables

  • Digitize important documents and store them in the cloud. That way, if your key paper files are destroyed by flood, fire or other disaster, you will still have access to their contents.  ZokuVault.com helps you do this by creating a “virtual safe deposit box” to store, organize and share the most important details of your life with loved ones and trusted advisors. This includes financial and insurance information, vital records, wills and Powers of Attorney, taxes, trusts and estate information, and even any final wishes. ZokuVault is a highly secure web based platform with mobile apps that makes your most important information available to you from anywhere, any time. If you are interested in signing up for ZokuVault, feel free to use the coupon code OYLZOKU2017 to get 20% off your annual subscription.

While one always likes to think that an emergency can never happen to you, the fact remains that one could strike anywhere, at any time.  Be prepared – plan ahead!

Want to keep your key documents safe? Try ZokuVault. Save 20 percent off your annual subscription by using the code OYLZOKU2017.

 

Never miss a bill again with our daily money management services

Daily Money Management Services

Keeping up with daily finances overwhelms and frustrates so many people, especially those who are accustomed to having someone else take care of that. All too often, we find that older women who’ve been widowed or divorced don’t know how much money they have or how their bills are paid.  Newly divorced men whose wives have been taking care of this part of their lives for their marriage can be overwhelmed as well.

I strongly believe that everyone needs to be empowered to take control of their financial situation. And during my years focusing on paper-less and digital organizing, I’ve found that helping people get their finances in order is one of the most rewarding things I do.

With that in mind, we recently became a member of the American Association of Daily Money Managers. During our eight years of providing professional organizing advice, Order Your Life has always offered daily money management services to our clients. Joining AADMM – and adding its rigorous standards (including its strict code of ethics) to our existing guidelines – assures you that you can place your full trust and confidence in the value and reliability of those services.

What is daily money management?

Daily money management is all about financial organizing, not investing. We don’t give investment advice; instead we pull all your personal or business finances together and present them in a way that maximizes your ability to understand and manage your financial situation. Both I and team member Shelly Trimble, who has 15 years of banking experience, as well as my husband Grady Catterall, who has 30 years of actuarial experience, work with daily money management clients.

To start out, we like to develop a rapport with our clients so that they can thoroughly get to know the person handling their finances, instead of having someone they don’t know doing everything off-site. It’s important for a new client to get comfortable with who we are and how we operate.

What financial services do we offer?

What tasks we perform depends on the client’s needs. We help some clients file their taxes and others to reconcile their monthly expenses. For those clients who are struggling with health conditions, including dementia, we make sure all their bills get paid on time. Sometimes people just need an objective person to come in and say, “This is your financial situation.” We can set up systems that allow people to know their money situation at a glance – with our experience, it’s easy for us to set up online banking and tracking systems that might be a bother for them to set up by themselves.

Some other tasks we perform include:

  • Receiving, processing and paying bills, including calls to payees regarding incorrect bills and preparation of checks for client signature
  • Reconciling banking accounts and investment statements
  • Setting up and maintaining personal finance and money management tools (such as Quicken, Mint, etc.)
  • Organizing and submitting medical insurance paperwork; including assistance with changing plans
  • Training clients on how to use technology to access their accounts (this service is especially appreciated by some of our senior clients)
  • And many more..

As professional organizers, we already understand and appreciate the sanctity of the trust we’re given by our clients. People can say what they’d like to a therapist, but that therapist never sees beyond the client’s front door – whereas we’re actually in our client’s homes. We bring the same level of trustworthiness that comes from that experience into our duties as daily money managers.

Helping seniors with daily money management

An aspect of our services that I’m particularly proud of is the work we do with seniors. Order Your Life has been helping seniors move and downsize for some time, and assisting them with their finances has been a natural extension of that service. My mother is 83 years old and still lives independently, and I enjoy helping her learn how to navigate and learn financial technology so that she can do it herself whenever she wants to. We receive referrals from Iona Senior ServicesAging Network Services, and geriatric care managers to provide daily money management services to their clients.

I decided to join AADMM because I get great pleasure out of this kind of work – and we make it fun! We really do try to make our financial organizing sessions enjoyable for our clients who want to be involved. And if they don’t, they can just leave the pile of bills for me or Shelly or Grady, and we’ll get them done!

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  • Did You Know…

    Getting rid of excess clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in an average home? (National Soap and Detergent Association)

  • The average employee wastes $5251 a year in time searching for information. (ARMA International)

  • 28% of adults say they pay bills late (thus incurring late fees and interest charges) because they lose them. (Harris Interactive)
  • 80% of what we file is never looked at again. (The Leader-Post)

  • Employees spend 3.5 hours a week searching for information they cannot find. (ARMA International)
  • Americans waste 9 million hours a day looking for misplaced items.
    (American Demographics Society)
  • The self storage industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the United States commercial real estate industry over the period of the last 40 years.
  • As of year-end 2014, of the approximately 58,000 self storage facilities worldwide, 48,500 of them are in the United States.
  • Almost 9% of all American households currently rent a self storage unit (10.85 million of the 113.3 million US HHs in 2013).