Entrepreneur.com has published a nifty Use These 24 Tools to Run Your Business From Anywhere in the World article. Have a read through it if you’re interested.
As I was reading it, I thought “This is a really good list for people who are either just starting out, or who are looking to unshackle themselves from their current systems”.
This was followed quickly by the realisation that
- The list is a bit out of date, since it was originally published in 2015, and
- I’d recommend some slightly different tools, for slightly different reasons
Based off that, I present to you the official:
Matt’s Indispensable Tools To Run Your Business From Anywhere In The World!
My recommendations here are in no way the final word in what you should or shouldn’t use. But they are tools and systems that I’ve personally had good results with, either from using myself or by integrating into my client’s businesses. They’re also tools that I know can scale up and out as your business grows – something that I feel is very important (Beginning with the End in Mind).
They’re also tools that, in the most part, are as integrated as can be. This is something that will save you time downstream.
For instance – having tools that leverage a common Single-Sign-on user directory will both:
- Streamline your day every single day. One username and password to log into all your services instead of having to remember a thousand different ones – or worse – having the same password for each of them!
- Help you onboard new staff. No need to provision and remind them of the thousand different passwords they need for each system – they have their one corporate userID that works everywhere. Reduced onboarding complexity and information overload, and lower support overhead to manage/reset/assist with a thousand different-but-similar passwords.
The tradeoff to the above is that a lot of the tools I’ll recommend here are not free, and some of them are not cheap. This is a conscious decision that I’ve made, and one that I would encourage you to think about. Free services are very tempting when you’re just starting out, however they can introduce long-term pain that requires considerably more effort to fix down the track.
Take free email for instance – Hotmail or Gmail (either one, I’m not biased against either). Why should you pay for an email account when you can get it free? Well, neither the free Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail now let you assign a custom domain to your mailbox, so you’re stuck with a BobThePlumber@gmail.com address – it doesn’t give off a very good first impression. Couple that with the lack of any business-grade support (someone hacks your password and locks you out, while your customers are still emailing you and wondering why you haven’t responded), as well as the ad-based revenue system such services depend on, and you’re starting behind the 8-ball. By spending a bit more to upgrade to a professional service, you present a much more coherent image to your clients, you protect your productivity and you protect your client’s information.
And so, without further adieu, I present to you:
The Tools You Need
1. A Business-Grade Laptop
|I use and recommend the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but there’s heaps of other good options available depending on your requirements and budget. The Dell XPS13 is a solid (albeit expensive) contender, as is the Surface Book.
Things to look for :
Leave the el-cheapo $500 at home for your kids to play with. You need a computer that can keep your data safe, keep your client’s data safe, and keep you productive from wherever you find yourself. It’s an investment that will pay dividends every single day.
2. A Good Smartphone
|I’m an iPhone man myself, so I have an iPhone 6S which power my mobile life. If you’re an Android fan, any of the high-end Android phones will (probably) do a similar job for you.
Equally important though is the carrier you are with and the mobile plan that you’re on. Mine provides great coverage in the areas that I normally find myself, as well as giving me unlimited calls within Australia, an amount of international minutes, and 4.5Gb of mobile data each month.
When you’re travelling, being able to pair your laptop to your phone and stay online is a Godsend. Likewise, being reachable via the same mobile number (regardless of where you are) gives your team, clients and customers confidence that you will be available should they need you.
Whatever you choose should have the power and the storage to run the mobile apps that you need to stay on top of your business. For me (as you’ll see below), that’s the Office app suite (inc Outlook, OneDrive and Skype for Business, naturally), the Xero mobile app, as well as all my social networks and management apps (Office365 Admin, GoDaddy Management, Google Analytics, Facebook Pages, etc).
Plus, of course, Pokemon Go.
Gotta catch ’em all, after all.
3. An Office 365 Business Premium Subscription
|Personal choice, but I use and recommend Xero for your accounting / financial needs. It’s cloud-based, so there’s no software to install or worry about. You can create multiple companies and configure your bank feeds and reconciliation rules to automate as much as possible. I use Xero for sending quotes and invoices to my clients as well – when coupled with Stripe for automated credit card payments, it’s a winning combination that saves you time and gives you a clear line-of-sight on your finances. When out and about, the Xero mobile app on my iPhone lets me snap a photo of any invoices or purchases and upload it into the system straight away, saving me time and increasing the quality of my record-keeping (something my accountant thanks me for).
If you’re wanting to get into Xero but the monthly cost is putting you off, it’s worth noting that Xero frequently has “50% off for the first 3 month” offers.
|That said, when I was just starting out, I didn’t use Xero. I used Square exclusively. I used it to email invoices (complete with online credit card processing to make life easy for my clients), as well as to (very) roughly track payments in. I have a Square Reader for my iPhone so I can take credit card payments from out on the road – something that is still useful today and would be for many other people. While I don’t use Square as much these days, I still really do like it. As there is no monthly fee involved, it gives you good options.|
6. Time Tracking – MinuteDock or Hours
|If you run a services-based practice, whereby you need to bill your clients by the hour, you’re going to quickly need a system that can help you capture your time. However, if you work on a fixed-fee deliverable, tracking the time you’ve invested against your quote is also a really good idea, since it will quickly show up any profitability problems.
I’ve just migrated over to MinuteDock for my time capture, simply because it has a pretty iPhone app and it integrates nicely with Xero. Once again, I’m all for anything that streamlines the process and frees me up to focus on what I do best. MinuteDock also supports multiple team members, which is important as you scale out.
Previously I had used Hours, which worked well. However, in my experience it was a bit buggy (time entries frequently just disappeared, costing me money), and some of the functionality wasn’t as intuitive as it could have been. Likewise, the integration wasn’t as good as MinuteDock. For instance, I had built a custom spreadsheet to help translate the output from Hours into an invoice in Xero, but it was still a manual process that I needed to run through for each client. I’m confident that the Hours team will get there, hopefully soon.
|Search on the internet, and you’ll find A LOT of people who don’t like GoDaddy.
As for me though, I love them.
GoDaddy runs my website hosting and my DNS, as well as all the websites for my clients through my GoDaddy Pro account. They’re very cost effective, the site performance is good, their uptime is good, and their standard features are fantastic. Their much-touted dedicated Pro Support is not fantastic, I’ll admit, with my average response time being about 3-4 days. However, there are local phone numbers that you can call up if it’s an urgent issue and you need to speak to someone immediately.
Another feather in the cap is their tight integration with Office365 – which makes it very easy when adding a custom domain to your Office365 tenant. Anything that saves me time and replaces technical configuration with a simply button-push, I’m all for.
And if you can score one of their special deals (like Managed WordPress for just $1 a month!), then you can get your business website all set up with very little investment. This is especially valuable if you’re just starting out and funds are tight.
|A potentially controversial choice, but I love the community that a Facebook company page lets you build. I love the interaction with people that’s possible, and I love the analytics tools that are baked into the system. I do a lot of engagement with my followers via Facebook, and I think it’s still a great tool for firms of all shapes and sizes to use.|
| As with Facebook, people have their preferences when it comes to email newsletter systems. I went with MailChimp myself, and I really like it. It integrates with my WordPress-based website nicely, it integrates with my social feeds (Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter), and it’s more than good enough for my needs. Some of it frustrates me, but that’s just my OCD kicking in. It’ll be a long time before I outgrow the Free tier.
Regardless of which you choose, having an email newsletter that your loyal readers can subscribe to helps to ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest developments in your world.
Obviously, if you play in a niche industry there might be additional tools that you’ll need.
- If you’re an electrician and need to program a generator control panel, you will need the manufacturer’s software and the special interface cable.
- If you’re a lawyer, you can probably benefit from a Legal Practice Management system with integrated document management, time recording and financials (especially Trust Accounting).
That said, in my experience the above list is a pretty solid foundation to build on. With a handful of cloud-based systems, you’ll have covered the critical functions for your business in a cost-effective, well-integrated manner that will free up your time now, as well as enabling you to easily scale up as your business grows without expensive re-work or expensive up-front investment in IT infrastructure (servers, power supplies, etc).
As you can see – the above isn’t a super huge list either. A lot of people put off starting their own business because they fear that there will be a whole raft of different systems and apps they’ll need. Whilst you can make it as complicated as you’d like, you certainly don’t need to.
Need some help?
Are you starting a new business?
If you’re just starting out, please get in touch. I’m more than happy to help you identify what tools would be suitable for your new venture. I’ve worked with a number of new startup businesses (including law firms) to understand their unique mix of business model and strategic vision. Based on that, we can piece together a technology plan that not just supports the business, but enables it to go above and beyond.
Anything from some quick advice to a complete new business technology plan and deployment from scratch to Launch Day and beyond. I can take the worry and complexity away, leaving you to focus on your line of business.
Have you been in business a while?
If you’re already well established, now is a good time to review the tools you’re currently using. Ask yourself “Is the technology that I have in place meeting my needs? Does it match the vision I have for how my company/firm/organisation operates in the future?”.
If there’s a shortfall, then we can fix that!
I’ve recently worked with a larger organisation to completely and holistically review their entire technology space against the desired future operating model. Working together, we identified the gaps and the business risks exposed by the current landscape. Based on how the senior leadership saw their organisation working in the future, we developed a Strategic Roadmap for technology. This gave their senior leadership and board a solid plan that not only removed or mitigated some of the (substantial) business risks, but did so in a way which moved the organisation ever-closer to their ideal “future state” operating model.
By beginning with the end in mind, we came up with a plan that minimises wasted effort or expense, takes advantage of new developments in the technology landscape, and gets them on a proactive path to where they want to be. They now have a forecasted investment schedule to avoid ad-hoc IT purchases and emergency requests.
I want to hear from you!
What tools do you use in your business that you find indispensable? Why?
What has worked really well for you? What hasn’t?
Latest posts by Matt Russell (see all)
- Planner gets a mobile app! - June 15, 2017
- See what the latest Surface devices can do for you. - May 23, 2017
- OneDrive gets its PlaceHolders back! - May 16, 2017