Tools to Run Your Business From Anywhere In The World

Tools to Run Your Business From Anywhere In The World

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

  1. The list is a bit out of date, since it was originally published in 2015, and
  2. 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!

 

Rationale

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.

 

 

(Aside – Bonus benefit – SSO increases security massively compared to multiple disparate logons scattered across individual sites/systems. Something like AzureAD gives you a “single pane of glass” to monitor and manage all your user accounts and authentication activity. AzureAD, for instance, also applies a level of malicious-behaviour detection, which is a fancy way of saying that it will automatically detect if the same user has logged into your client management system from their home in Sydney, and 5 mins later tries to log into the Financial system from an overseas location.)

 

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

Surface Pro 4 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 :

  • TPM Chip, to enable BitLocker device encryption. This encrypts the entire device so that if you do accidentally misplace/lose your laptop, no one is able to extract the confidential data off it.
  • SSD Hard drive, 8Gb of RAM. Don’t cheap out with a 4Gb machine, it’ll hurt you once you start doing multiple things at once.
  • Windows 10 Pro, for AzureAD Join. This lets you sign into your laptop using your Office365 credentials (username & password), increasing security and streamlining your life. With the new Windows Hello facial recognition, you don’t even need a password!
  • Lightweight, but powerful. If you’re going around the world (or even around town), having a lightweight companion makes you more likely to take it with you to client meetings, work on the plane, etc.
  • Expandable. For serious productivity when you’re back at HQ, you ideally want a machine that you can plug into a dual-monitor setup, speakers, wireless keyboard & mouse, etc. The Surface Pro line uses a special Surface Dock for this, other machines have high-speed USB3/Thunderbolt docks. This gives you the best of both worlds – a thin-and-light mobile rig, with the full power of a desktop workstation when you’re back at base.

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

Smartphones

Image source:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/16711219941

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

Office 365 Logo Office365 forms the foundation of the app suite that I’m going to suggest. The Business Premium subscription clocks in at $17.50/month, which IS more expensive that using a raft of free services but hardly what you’d call “expensive”.

I’m going to explain why it’s actually good value.

Office365 Business Premium gives you:

  • The full Office apps to download and install on your laptop and mobile devices. Like it or not, the majority of the world runs on Word and Excel. Can you get by without them? Sure! Is it going to be easier and quicker just to use the same tools that everyone else has? Definitely. Because everyone knows office, it’s going to help you onboard new staff as well. Having the Office apps installed on your laptop means you can work completely offline – on a plane, on a desert island, in the middle of the city in a 4G black-spot – anywhere!

 

  • Enterprise-grade email. You can associate your corporate @MyBusiness.com domain to your Office365, which nets you proper MyName@MyBusiness.com email addresses. It looks much more professional on your business card. And let’s face it, if you’re not prepared to invest in your own business, why should your customers invest in you? Office365 email comes with a raft of other benefits:
    • multi-device sync – update your calendar on your mobile, and it’s updated everywhere,
    • basic email anti-spam/anti-phishing protection (advanced email protection is an add-on option),
    • calendar and contact sync – no more “copying your contacts from your old phone to your new one”,
    • Delegatable permissions – Need your receptionist to manage your calendar? Need your virtual assistant to reply to manage your inbox and reply to emails as you? Want some team members to have access to a particular shared mailbox but not others? EASY! You might not need this from Day 1, but as you scale this gets more and more critical
OneDrive for Business
  • OneDrive for Business, and Sharepoint Team Sites. These services come part and parcel with Office365, and give you a rock-solid cloud-based file syncing and sharing system. OneDrive for Business has had a chequered past. I’m happy to report that it seems to have moved on from those days, and is now a viable competitor to Dropbox / Box / et al. Use OneDrive for Business to save and store all your personal and business documents – syncing them seamlessly up into the cloud for safe storage, and syncing them down to all your devices – you have your documents at your fingertips wherever you are. Use Sharepoint Team Sites to store project, client, team or department documents and data, all safely accessible in the Office365 cloud but also synced down to your devices for offline work. Invite your customers or clients to securely access your various Team Sites so that everyone is “singing off the same songsheet”, and avoid the dreaded “here’s the latest version of this document” email trains.By using a cloud service like OneDrive, there’s no requirement for everyone to sit in the same office to access their information – the team can be productive anywhere!
Skypr For Business
  • Skype for Business. SfB rolls a number of different collaboration features into one nifty app. Presence and IM, including integration with other corporate Skype for Business subscribers as well as the normal, personal Skype network. FullHD Video calls and web meetings are easily created, with multiple parties able to join. The people you invite don’t need a Skype for Business logon either, so you can connect with anyone. Working across multiple devices, people can join from a PC or Mac, or any manner of mobile devices so that you never need to miss a video conference (even if you’re waiting in the departure lounge). Screen-sharing and presentation mode enable easy content sharing within a meeting. You can even use the Present Desktop mode to offer support and assistance to a remote staff member! Once true PSTN Calling phone system connectivity comes to SfB, it’ll be your one-stop communications tool. Stay connected to your team and your customers from anywhere in the world.
Bookings Logo
  • Bookings. Bookings is the latest addition to the Office365 suite, and gives you an easy way to take bookings online. Once set up, your customers can book an appointment with you via your website or facebook page. You control what services are available (at what price), as well as minimum booking and cancellation times. Bookings are synced through directly to your calendar, and the system automates SMS reminder messages for your customers. No longer do you need to be waiting by the phone to take bookings during business hours – by automating the process you can free up your time whilst simultaneously giving flexibility to your clients to choose a time that suits them best. Bookings is only just coming available now, look for more information in the very near future.
OneNote Logo
  • OneNote. OneNote is your digital notepad. I was never a big OneNote fan until two things happened:
    1. I invested in a Surface Pro, with the Surface Pen to scribble on, and
    2. OneNote was integrated into the Office365 suite, specifically Planner

Now, I find OneNote indispensable. I use it in lieu of a paper notepad for the majority of the time, recording meetings and scribbling notes. Integrated with Planner, I have all my client or project notes in one spot, that’s securely synced between my devices as well as between my team members. With everyone sharing the same OneNote notebook, everyone has access to the same information and critical data. OneNote will OCR your scribbling handwriting and make it search-able, and will even OCR photos that you paste into a a notebook (for instance, photos of business cards, or photos of paper notes that I’ve taken).

 introducing-office-365-planner-1-green
  • Planner. Planner is a relatively recent addition to the Office365 platform, and provides a light-weight task management system similar to Trello. You can create new Plans (projects), and within each you create buckets and add task cards. You can add your team to different Plans, and assign them tasks. Everyone has an at-a-glance view of what the status of your projects are, and what tasks they have on their plates. Every Plan automatically has a Group created, which gives a shared mailbox for the Plan as well as dedicated online storage space for files/documents. As mentioned above, every Plan automatically has a OneNote notebook created, which the Plan’s team members all have access to.
Microsoft Teams Logo
  • Teams. Microsoft Teams is another brand new addition to the Office365 family, and it’s Microsoft’s direct take on Slack. If you’ve ever used Slack to manage a team or project, you’ll be very much at home with Teams. Create different channels for your different clients or projects, and have a single long-running team chat experience. The advantage of Teams? It’s part of Office365 Business and Enterprise plans, so you have access to it for free. It’s also deeply integrated with the rest of the Office 365 platform – think Skype for Business, AzureAD for user accounts and user information, etc.
Sway Logo
  • Sway and PowerPoint. I’m not much of a presentation person – I prefer live interaction, live demos, and scribbling on a whiteboard to demonstrate to a group of people. But the humble powerpoint slide deck still has a place. For Office365 users, you’ll have the Powerpoint app installed on all your devices (laptop and mobile), with OneDrive keeping all your presentations in sync between devices. You’ve also got PowerPoint Online if you need to log in and show a presentation from a different device. Or, for a richer, completely cloud-based alternative, Office365 also includes Sway – a next-generation presentation platform.
Azure AD Logo
  • Azure Active Directory. Azure AD is the user account & authentication platform that underpins Office365. when you create new user accounts for your team in Office365, they are created in the underlying AzureAD instance. All the Office365 apps use AzureAD for user account authentication, so the one username/password works across the entire quite. The best thing? Other apps can leverage AzureAD as well. Dropbox, Salesforce, Xero, and thousands of other systems (even Google Apps!) can now be plugged into AzureAD so that your team can log in with their one set of Office365 credentials. As your team grows, this becomes a massively important piece of the puzzle – enhancing productivity and security across your team.
…and much, much more. Microsoft is invested in Office365 as their future path for productivity apps – expect to see more and more value rolled out in the Office365 space over the coming years.

 

4. Xero

Xero Logo

 

 

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.

 

5. Square

 

Square Logo

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

MinuteDock Logo 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.

 

7. GoDaddy

GoDaddy Logo 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.

8. Facebook

Facebook Logo  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.

 

9. MailChimp

MailChimp Logo  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.

 

What Else?

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?

Matt Russell

I started MattRussell.co as a way to help business owners cut through the confusion and get real value from their IT systems. If you're a business owner who wants to improve your tools, or if you're an IT consultant helping business owners unlock their potential, you'll find something interesting here.

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