I just got finished reading Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, which has sparked a thousand ideas. The way they talk about business is the way I think about business. That is, my little hobbyhorse operation isn’t going to turn into a multi-million dollar corporation. I’m not going to get acquired. No one will invest money in my operation (nor would I really want anyone to).
Yet what I do is a business all the same, in that it brings in money for my family. Books like Rework help me put that into perspective. This is a business just as much as any operation, and so I should treat it as such.
While the business is, and likely always will be, just me, my tools, and my hands, that doesn’t mean I can run it without a little help. Perhaps it’s not a human who will provide that help. Maybe I’ll scale to the point where I need a virtual assistant to help run the administrative side. Even if I don’t, I still need some help with that.
Help doesn’t always have to come from another human being. It can come from software that helps keep us organized. With a few easy-to-use applications, a few of which are free, I’ve been able to keep everything in order. Here are my little secrets.
We’re not all John D. Rockefeller, impeccably managing the books. I’d venture to say that the great majority of people running small businesses have minimal, at best, accounting skills. Furthermore, many of these small business owners can’t afford a full-time accountant, and might think of better ways to spend money than on a part-time one. Yet those books still need managing. A miscalculation here and an error there can absolutely screw up your business.
I’ve taken to Freshbooks as a simple solution. I can link up my business bank account, and then use the software to manage my money and send invoices. (I actually got into Freshbooks after using their free invoice template and getting hooked.) Every week I take a close look at my books and make sure everything lines up. Unless I catch some error, which to date I have not, there’s not much else to worry about.
Look, I don’t need Salesforce or any enterprise-level customer relations management (CRM) software. I don’t even need a CRM designed for small business. Typically that kind of software has too many features. That’s why I get by with a free plan on Highrise. I’m not dealing with hundreds of customers, so their contact limits work just fine for me. If I ever needed more, I’d definitely pay to upgrade to their solo plan.
Why Highrise? Well, it comes from 37signals, so you know it’s a useful product. It’s also devoid of features I don’t need. It allows me to keep track of people I’ve talked to, when I last talked to them, and what we talked about. I know when to follow up, and when to leave the situation alone. That’s the entire value in a CRM for me, so I don’t need anything that does much more.
Yes, I’m sticking with 37signals here — if they had accounting software I’d have to at least consider my loyalty to Freshbooks. Basecamp helps me keep projects managed, because lord knows I couldn’t keep them all straight in my head. Nor could I use the pen-and-paper method. What I would have done if I were born 20 years earlier, I have no idea.
Basecamp gives me great tools that help me keep my projects in order. Not only do I list my active projects, but can lay out my step-by-step plan and check off things that are done. Another feature I love is the project template. When I bring on a new project, I have some intake tasks that are pretty standard. With Basecamp I can create them every time I create a new project. It’s pretty convenient and ensures that I’m on the right track to start.
We save the simplest for last. Google Drive means I don’t have to buy Microsoft Office, or deal with all of the features they provide. Not that I don’t appreciate how powerful Word and Excel have become, but I just don’t need all that. What I need is a simple document editor and spreadsheet application that can perform basic functions. Everything gets saved in one place, and I can access anything anywhere.
The best part, of course, is that you can save in MS Office formats, so you can share with people who us that software. That’s come in hugely handy for passing along quotes and plans to clients.