Are you still relying on whiteboards, post-its and spreadsheets to run your business?
The Must-Have and the Nice-to-Have Apps for Business
Do you know:
- How much profit you made on that job for Mrs Smith? The one the boys finished yesterday?
- How long it takes you on average to get paid?
- How much business you will do next month?
- Which of your team members makes you money and which ones lose it for you?
- How happy your customers are?
- Whether or not the new guy on the floor in the store in Newtown has completed his safety induction training yet?
- If you can afford for both Johnny and Carla to be on holidays next week?
- The top 10 key indicators of the health of your business?
Managing by keeping your fingers crossed
These are the type of questions every small business owner must know the answer to, every day, every week and every month. If you can’t answer them in your business, you’re managing with your fingers crossed, hoping everything will be alright.
It won’t be… Trust me.
And in 2017 these questions cannot be answered with whiteboards, yellow stickies and spreadsheets anymore, handy as those tools can be.
The name of the game is Apps, software in other words. So let me give you the “must-do’s”, the “general must haves”, the “specialised must-have” and the “nice to haves”
These are the must-do’s:
- Any business apps that doesn’t live in the cloud… ditch it. It’s so much more efficient to have your information synched across all your different machines and to know that if your computer blows up today, you simply log on into your data from any another machine.
- Whatever software you have, make sure it’s device independent. In 2017, all the good stuff runs happily on Mac, PC, Android, Iphone.
- Don’t ever click on any link in any email from anyone unless you know for sure it’s safe (a trick that’s saved me a few times: When you hover over a link in an email you should be able to see what the actual link is (Possibly in the left bottom of your browser window)… if it looks dodgy, run away)
The general must-haves:
- Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. Doesn’t matter which one… Get a paid account for one of them that’s appropriate for the size of your business and the number of people who have to access everything, and stick all your data in it. It’s safe and it works.
- The absolute best antivirus, malware, ransomware, firewall, general anti-nastiness software you can get… Paid version… Automatic updates every day… I have used Kaspersky for the last 4 or 5 years myself (there are others). Touch wood, I haven’t had anything truly nasty get through (also see point 3 above). And don’t think you’re safe cause you’re on Apple either.
- An external harddrive that you back your whole system up to or better yet an official “In the cloud” backup solution (paid), and test it once every couple of months or sooner depending on the business you’re in.
- Bookkeeping software: Xero, Quickbooks Online, Saasu, MYOB Live, in that order as far as I’m concerned… If your business is bigger than 20- 30 employees or it has special complications, then you may need to at other software (talk to these guys)… But most SME’s will run fine on those. I am a convert of XERO, I think the former industry standard MYOB has come too little too late to the cloud and is still lagging seriously Xero. Quickbooks Online is surprisingly good, and Saasu used to be in the fight with Xero but looks like they’ve lost the race.
- Cloud based office software, Either Microsoft Office or Google apps. It’s simply crazy not to use the latest versions by subscription, And it makes everything device independent (see 2 above)
- Document, task and project sharing apps for business: I have gone completely paperless myself recently and I know a number of other business that have as well. I use Microsoft OneNote to keep all my notes and task lists and resources and everything, combined with DropBox (see above). It’s incredibly good to use. But I know others who use Evernote with great success for the same purpose and I see that DropBox themselves have recently brought out new functionality that might compete more directly with Evernote and MSOneNote. Other great options in this area are Trello and Asana…The last two are even more useful if you need to manage projects and tasks across a team.
The specialised must-haves:
The specialised stuff is:
- Workflow/ business process management
- Customer relationship Management (CRM)/ Sales pipeline management
- Marketing automation systems (MAS)
- Project management (PM)
- HR Management (HR)
A bunch of the questions I asked at the beginning of this article, you’ll only ever be able to answer with one or a combination of these specialised software systems.
For example if your business is in plumbing and you want to answer the very first question I posed about the job for Mrs Smith, you can effectively only do so if you use a workflow management system, in which all the costs and all the income of each job are recorded, instantaneously. If you organise that the right way, you’ll be able to push a button as soon as the boys leave the job and see if they’ve made or lost money and how much.
There are many business apps out there that can be used for this purpose and it’s incredibly challenging to find out which one is right for you. Personally, I refer most of my clients in service based businesses to a program called WorkFlowMax, because I know it works. Some others to look at:
There are specialist consulting companies in this field who can advise you on various options. (If you are in the building trades in Australia, check out Tradiepad)
Workflow is the Hub
I always suggest you decide what workflow/ business management system to implement first, because it will actually become the hub around which everything else in the business turns. CRM, Marketing Automation (MAS), Project management (PM), HR all need to integrate tightly with the workflow system (as does the bookkeeping system of course, don’t forget that)
Many industries have specialised requirements, and the generic workflow systems such as WorkFlowMax won’t do the job. In those cases I have found there are often business management systems available that are specifically created for your industry. I am currently working with a removalist company and because of the complications in that industry of storage and transport, generic software is not much use to them. Luckily we’ve found a beautiful program that’s specifically created for the removals industry. Also, I worked with a mechanic, recently, and we found specialist software to manage motor mechanic businesses, that works very well.
In some cases you may actually have to create something from scratch. A client of mine who is a funeral undertaker has had to take that route recently.
Many of the workflow management systems actually incorporate some or all of the other specialised programs, CRM, MAS, PM and even HR. However, my experience is that the five functions I listed are highly specialised and software that tries to do everything, often doesn’t do any of it very well. As I said, start with workflow management and once you have that in place you can assess whether the CRM functions of your workflow software are adequate for your needs. The workflow software company will in all likelihood publish a list of CRM and other programs that integrate well with it.
Whether or not you can simply buy the business app you need from the shelf or you have to create apps from scratch, as in the case of the undertaker, the cost of doing so isn’t prohibitive anymore these days. Although I have no doubt that you’ll end up with a few more grey hairs by the time the systems are fully implemented, your life will never be the same again… I promise you.
I haven’t spoken about CRM and MAS yet, largely because this article is long enough as it is and also, because I want you to get on top of the other stuff first. Once you’ve got all of that covered… You should absolutely dive into CRM and MAS as your next project.
Check out some of these:
And there are many many others. CRM and MAS are not for the faint hearted, they will take slice off a piece of your life, chew it up and never give it back, that’s how it goes, but the two incredible opportunity to transform your business… And that’s a fact.
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