The best software tools for your small business

No need to be confused, just follow these recommendations

We all get bombarded with the latest software and apps that supposedly will make our life easier.

There’s a new bookkeeping, productivity, marketing, CRM, workflow management, project management, event management, communication, note taking, SEO, inventory management, social media management, or doodling software application that promises to transform our lives as business owners every week.

It’s impossible to keep track and it’s impossible to know which of these amazing apps actually will improve our lives and which are simply going to make us pull out our hair.

I have been losing hair over small business IT and software in particular since the mid eighties, and you should see how little hair I have left.

We’re all beta-testers these days

To make the situation worse, 90% of the software we’re bombarded with isn’t actually finished yet. In these days of “Lean start ups” and venture capitalism, the pressure to get new software out into the market to start earning back some cash, is ever increasing. Where in the eighties and nineties, the big software developers would go through various versions of pre-release software, tested by engineers and selected enthusiast users in “Beta-test”mode, these days we’ve all become “Beta- testers”. Software that only barely holds together and hasn’t proved itself in  real life yet, is let loose on us unsuspecting small business owners, leading to endless frustration.

So what I’m going to give you here is a bunch of my favorite software apps that have stood the test of time and that simply work. They may not always be the latest and the cutest, but they work (generally).

There will be a lot I’m missing and I have no doubt that many who read this will take issue with some of the ones I mention. I’d love to hear, and I won’t take it personal if you believe my list is not worth the screen it’s written on… Feel free to comment, below.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

First of all, I need to mention that I am not going to nominate a CRM tool, for the reason that CRM is such a minefield that I wouldn’t know which one to pick. There’s the big behemoths, like SalesForce and Sugar CRM and Microsft Dynamics, but they’re much too bigh for most small businesses and cost a fortune. The old sledgehammer to crack a nut syndrome. And on the next level down there are literally hundreds: Insightly, Nudge, Contactually and Zoho (I do have a soft spot for ZOHO, they’ve been around since the year dot and they’ve always had an innovative business model), just to name a couple, I wouldn’t know where to start… What you need to do is try a couple and ask for referrals from others who use a CRM…. Sorry that one is too hard.

Email marketing

Mailchimp is the gold standard, sure there’s Constant Contact and  Awebber and a bunch of others, but Mailchimp just works beautifully, it does what you need it to do, easily, and it’s one of the few responsible and well managed small software companies out there. (the only gripe is that it gets quite expensive as soon as you get over 5000 subscribers, I find)

SEO

Yoast... Hands down, safe, good, solid, good value. What else can I say?

Popup forms on your website

Sumo. I’ve tried a number of them, and Sumo is just great, and really clever. I’ve seen nothing that comes close

Marketing Automation Systems (MAS)

If you’re not sure what MAS is, go and find out. But it’s like email marketing on steroids. I use Active Campaign and have done for a couple of years after testing and discarding (with great frustration and gnashing of teeth) various other ones. Active Campaign is significantly cheaper than competitors like InfusionSoft, Ontraport and Hubspot.. Active Campaign is easier to use, is pretty well just as good as those others for 90% of small businesses, and if you really must be able to do more than AC will allow you to do (in event management especially) than go to Hubspot… it’s the Gold Standard for small business systems (and it costs about 4 times as much as AC)

Bookkeeping and accounting

It’s a toss up to me between Xero and QuickBooks Online, there’s a case to be made for both of them and I wouldn’t know how to choose between them. QuickBooks Online does have the ability to do inventory management and track time for which Xero is not useful, and QuickBooks online accounting is about half the price of Xero, so that’s certainly worth looking into. Xero integrates with a lot of other software and I think it beats QuickBooks on that front at this stage of the game though. Both programs work really well and are all over the older style programs such as MYOB.

Workflow management

This is another area where it’s hard to keep up. I recommend two programs only, because I know they work and can be applied to many different businesses. One of them is Workflow Max, and the other is Acello . Acello is the pick for consultants and customer service management and Workflow MAx is the bees knees in my experience for Builders and such like, where the business creates estimates for material, labour and other costs and wants to be able to compare the actual cost of a project against the budgets for each of the components.

Service and mobile workforce management

GeoOp. If you have a workforce that spends it’s day on the road travelling from job to job, fixing washing machines or unblocking toilets, GeoOp is going to allow you to keep your finger on the pulse. Again, there are others but GeoOp is solid and reliable and it does what it promises.

Project Management

In the old days we had Microsoft Project and that was it. These days you could find a hundred different options with looking too hard. Several of my clients use Asana It is quite brilliant, easy to use and it seems everyone just loves using it… very accessible.

Productivity tools

Many people love Evernote, others swear by Trello, I am hooked on MSOneNote. It’s wonderful. There’s not much software of which I can truly says it has changed my life, but MSOneNote has. I have been able to become entirely paperless and significantly more efficient. And the best part of it MSOnenote is that it’s actually entirely free. It is part of the MSOffice 365 suite and that’s not free  (but surprisingly god value to be honest) but you can use MSOneNote for free even if you don’t have a MSOffice 365 subscription. I use it on my computer, my laptop, my phone and tablet seamlessly. I tryuly think it’s one of the most useful things Microsoft has ever done for me. But if you really hate Microsoft, have a look at little known Google Keep…very cute too.

Social Media management

Buffer… No contest… super easy to use, effective and good value… I’m hooked on it.

So there.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about my omissions and errors of judgement.

Ten Priorities for Change: Foundations for building a Great Business and Life

foundation change business life

Foundations build a great business

How to make your business take off

This is the first is a series of 12 posts on Change (with a capital “C”) and laying the foundations for building a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time. The following 11 weeks will see one post each week. Please also read last week’s post about Entrepreneurial Types, here.

As a Business-Life Coach (Principles of Business – Life coaching), I believe that your business is built on you. You, personally, are the foundation your business is built on, and if you want to build a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time, you better make sure the foundation is as solid as you can make it. Hence, I believe that effective business coaching and development programs should focus as much on Change of the person of the business owner, as they are on Change in the mechanics of the business. (Read about my explanation of the different forms of coaching, guidance and business support here). As a Business-Life Coach, therefore, I want to help you turn yourself in the very strongest foundation for your business you can be. To do so, we must Change, with a capital “C”, ourselves. See also articles about personal and business Change in the Guardian here, in Success Magazine here, on Medium.com here , and in LinkedIn Pulse here.

The  very strongest foundation for a great business

To become the very strongest foundation for your business, I believe you must learn to focus on 10 Priorities. They are:

  1. Yourself
  2. Doing Nothing
  3. Having Fun
  4. Saying NO
  5. Guessing
  6. Asking for Help
  7. Managing Money
  8. Managing People
  9. Managing Product
  10. Managing Publicity

Over the next 10 posts I’m going to explain each of the priorities in more detail. The 10 posts are quite short (about 200 to 250 words each) and practical. I hope you’ll take the simple messages of each one to heart and experiment with them in your own life as a business owner. You can do a simple search and read all of the Priority posts at once, by clicking on the category: “Ten Priorities” in the category box in the right hand column.

The life of the harried business owner

First, let me sketch a picture of the life of a typical small business owner for you (BTW, I’d love to hear if you recognise yourself in any part of the picture):

You’re the first one in the door in the morning and the last one out at night. You run around from crisis to crisis, extinguishing brush fires all day long. You feel guilty that you don’t do the stuff you know you ought to do to develop the business. Your staff don’t seem able to tie their own shoe laces without your supervision. Customers expect you, not your staff, to be the one who personally does all their work for them, yourself. You actually made more money before you started employing all those people anyway. And finally, you have to do your admin and catch up on your email after the kids have gone to bed.

Sucked into a sea of mud

Recognise any of that picture at all? Even if you only recognise 25% of that picture, you’re most likely on first name terms with overwhelm. Overwhelm is no fun anyway, but worse is that human brains in overwhelm are ineffective, they focus on the wrong things and make the wrong decisions and that leads to more stress and overwhelm and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle. Overwhelm affects your health and well-being and that of your families and besides, your business gets sucked into a sea of mud as well.

That’s the general state of things for many small business owners in my experience and some of the reasons many small businesses never develop to their potential.

Hence I’ve written The 10 Priorities. Accompanying the 10 Priorities are also a series of videos as as seen on Kochie’s Business Builders on national TV, Channel 7 in Australia, the first video can be seen here and others will follow as they are broadcast. I have also created a survey tool to help you find your own Entrepreneurial Type, you can complete the survey here and you will receive a report with your Type and an explanation of the Types and your strengths and challenges as an Eentrepreneur, by email in 24 to 48 hrs emailed to you.

If you make it your absolute commitment to focus on The 10 Priorities in the coming year, you will create a foundation on which you truly can build a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time, and your life will never be the same either… I promise you.

For more resources, and reading on strategies for growing your business follow this link to the first of The 7 Big Questions that all small business owners want answered

For more information about to how to step out of overwhelm, get unstuck and start having Fun in Business again, click here

More about Personal Development and Leadership here

Next week, Priority #1: You

Would you like to download my free 12 Question Cheat-sheet to help you find your next Coach? Click here.

How to get paid in your business

angry eyes

This is a guest post by Liz Parsons more details at the end of this post

angry woman

Don’t let unpaid invoices cripple your business

Having provided goods or a service to a customer, you’d think that getting paid would be the most logical thing to happen next. Sadly this isn’t always the case, and each year small businesses struggle to get the money they are owed – causing huge problems with paying for materials, future planning and ensuring staff get their wages.

This is a bigger issue than many people realise. Although this is a problem throughout the world, in Australia, research has estimated that an average small business is owned up to $13,200 in unpaid invoices.

However, there are ways in which you can approach business to ensure that unpaid invoices don’t cripple your business. Here are just some of them…

Ensure that there are consequences for late or non-payments

For a small business, it can be difficult to find the balance between wanting to chase to ensure that you get paid, but also not wanting to drive your customers away by harassing them. However, if a customer is not paying you, then perhaps they are not the type of customer that you want. As a business, you need to be firm in your belief that you deserve to be paid, and you should do all you can to make sure this happens. One way to encourage prompt payment is to have consequences for late payment, such as adding on an interest charge for each day over the invoice due date. We recommend using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s base rate (1.5% at time of writing) to set a daily amount which will be added onto the total bill until payment is made.

Find out as much as you can before you agree to do business with someone

This can be dependent on what sort of industry your small business sits in, but if it’s possible to find out more about your customers before agreeing to work with them then do so. Try to find out if they have a good reputation, or if there have been any concerns raised about them in the past. Also, depending on the size of their business, look to see if they have a finance department or at least a person dedicated to paying the bills. This can indicate if they are formal in their approach to invoices, or if it’s all a bit ad hoc which can lead to missed payments. If alarm bells ring when you do your research then consider if this is the type of customer you want, particularly if there is a risk they won’t pay at all.

Put in measures to help when selling to overseas customers

Selling overseas has many challenges, including ensuring that you get paid. The lag between the time it takes for someone to receive the goods if they don’t live in Australia naturally adds to the time you can expect to get paid, so if an invoice is then late it can cause some real problems. If your business buys and sells goods overseas, then you may wish to consider using trade finance. This is a way of taking out a loan which can act as a bridge helping you to pay for the goods, while waiting to be paid by your customer.

Don’t give up

Chasing payments can be a thankless task and one which, as a small business owner, you might think you simply don’t have time for –  but it’s important to not give up. You’ve done your job, so you have every right to be paid. Ensure that you chase as soon as the invoice is overdue, and then chase again every week after that. Set yourself a time limit, say eight weeks, after which time you will go further – contacting a debt recovery agency to seek the money you are owed.

Guest post

Unpaid invoices are more of a problem than most people realise. If unchecked, these can lead to financial loss, redundancies, or even bankruptcy. To discuss the issue, Liz Parsons – working with World First – states how to prevent these from occurring.

Would you like to download my free 12 Question Cheat-sheet to help you find your next Coach? Click here.

There are two types of entrepreneurs in this world

entrepreneur types

Let me introduce you to the Entrepreneur Type Scale:

I believe all business owners can be placed somewhere along a scale:

  • At one extreme of the scale are the Sales Entrepreneurs.
  • And at the other end are the Delivery Entrepreneurs.

scale

Few business owners are at either of the extremes of the scale, and that’s a good thing, because at either of the extremes it is very difficult to build a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time.

Being one or the other type is neither better or worse, but it is useful to ask yourself where you sit on the scale, because Sales Entrepreneurs have different challenges and build different businesses than Delivery Entrepreneurs do.

Entrepreneur Type Survey

I have created a special survey to help you find out where you sit on the Scale, it will take no more than a couple of minutes to complete and you’ll get a unique 2-page report from me showing where you sit, along with a report outlining the common challenges of each type, you might also face and some strategies to move forward with. Go and take the survey here now

This is what life looks like at the extremes:

Sales Entrepreneurs:

Sales Entrepreneurs generally build businesses that grow fast or fail fast. They chase the clients and the contracts. When they can’t meet demand for their product, they consider it “A Good Problem to Have”.

Sales entrepreneurs are passionate about closing deals, about pulling rabbits out of hats, about juggling 10 balls at once. They think quicker than anyone else around them; they have charisma; they operate on instinct; they over-promise, and trust they’ll be able to solve the problems created by their over-promising later.

When things go well for Sales-Entrepreneurs, they go very very well, and when they don’t, they DON’T. Books with exciting titles (Screw it let’s Do it”) are written about sales entrepreneurs, and the ones who make it become famous and are models of inspiration for millions (Richard Branson), while the ones who don’t are vilified (Alan Bond).

Sales Entrepreneurs are the rock stars of the business world.

Delivery Entrepreneurs

At the other end of the scale are Delivery Entrepreneurs. We tend not to hear about them as much as we hear about Sales Entrepreneurs, because they just don’t have the same “Sex-Appeal” that Sales Entrepreneurs have.

Delivery Entrepreneurs are the type who roll up their sleeves and are fond of saying: “If you want a thing done properly, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

Businesses built by Delivery Entrepreneurs grow more slowly. Their businesses might become just as successful in the end, but they take much longer to get there. And when they fail, they do so by getting stuck, rather than collapsing in a big heap. They develop lead feet and frustrate the hell out of everyone, rather than leave burning wrecks in their wake.

Delivery Entrepreneurs are passionate about the product (or service) of their business; They themselves are often experts in relation to that product or service (Think architects, designers, software developers, tradespeople, lawyers, etc). Their businesses grow, because customers get to love their product and in turn they tell their friends who tell their friends etc.

Business-Life Coaching

As a Business-Life Coach, I specialise in working with business owners who sit on the Delivery half of the scale.

I’ve always been a Delivery-Entrepreneur myself. When I owned a building company, I was a builder first and an entrepreneur second. I was passionate about building great buildings for my clients; on time, on budget and looking gorgeous. These days, I still often drive past houses, I and my building company built, and think back to handing them over to our clients with great pride. Still now, as a coach and mentor, I obsess about how to best deliver my coaching and mentoring programs, before I worry about how to sell them.

And so, not surprisingly, most of the clients I attract are of the same bent. Extreme Sales Entrepreneurs come to my website and wonder why the words “Business Growth” aren’t more prominently featured on the home page, as that’s the only thing that keeps them awake nights.

Why your business gets stuck

And that suits me fine to be honest, because if you are a Delivery Entrepreneur, I get you. I know precisely what goes on for you. I know about the reasons your business gets stuck sometimes. I know about your sense of overwhelm, and frustrations and I know how to get past them.

If you’re a Delivery Entrepreneur, I’ve written a series of posts specially for you, called “The Ten Priorities: The Foundations of Building a Great Business and Life”. I will publish the Ten Priorities in serialised form over the next 11 weeks on the blog. You can find the whole collection of these posts by searching for Ten Priorities in the category box in the right hand column of the main blog page here

Where do you think you be on the Entrepreneurs Type Scale? I’ve created a simple little Survey to help you get clear about that. You can go and complete the questionnaire here, and when you do so I will send you a two page report showing where you sit on the Scale.

I look forward to discussing it with you. Gaining deeper insight on yourself, on who you are is the key to building a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time… I promise you.

Would you like to download my free 12 Question Cheat-sheet to help you find your next Coach? Click here.

No business without sales

car sales man

car sales man

Forget all the sexy stuff… Focus on the three S-es first

I love walking into an office supply store and getting the sexiest looking pens or clips or gadgets for my business desk. I get excited over developing more smart and beautiful stuff for my website. I can obsesses over a new design for my business cards or my logo. Many of my clients are that way inclined too. All of that stuff can be highly satisfying and give us a feeling of satisfaction… Build it and they will come… We think.

But it doesn’t actually do much for your business, does it? Ultimately the only thing that gets your business to develop is sales. The three S’s: Sales, sales and sales. If there’s no sales, there’s no business.

I thought of this maxim recently when working with my client Mark in 2009.

Mark is the owner of a small consultancy working with charities to improve their fundraising. One of Mark’s goals at the time was to double the size of his business by the end of 2011. So we developed a business plan and a marketing plan, and he got going.

Mark started blogging and sending out a beautiful newsletter. He redesigned his website and became active on LinkedIn. He joined the Australian Institute of Management and attended all their functions and networking events. He engaged an SEO consultant to improve his Google ranking and installed CRM software. In short, he did everything the modern “attraction marketing gurus” tell us to do, and he did it efficiently and consistently.

All the KPI’s are moving up

Mark’s Google ranking did go up and Mark’s database doubled and tripled in size and Mark went from 375 LinkedIn connections to over a 1000 in a year, and he got great feedback and comments on his blogs and articles and posts and newsletters and whitepapers. Exciting stuff.

Mark and I did a lot of back slapping and congratulating each other. Every KPI we measured was moving up steeply. All of them that is to say, except one… his revenue. Sales stuck more or less where they’d been for the past three years.

We’re all getting frustrated

By the end of 2009, Mark was getting frustrated, and he was ready to throw in the towel. I was pretty confused myself by this stage. Everything I knew told me that the marketing work that Mark was carrying out week in, week out, should have led to a steady increase of business by now… but something was missing.

I remember one day, asking Mark about the feedback he was getting from his potential clients. What were they telling him, how were they responding to his proposals and his quotes? Mark looked at me with a confused look in his eyes and said, “I don’t know”.

I asked, “But you must get some sense of their reaction when you talk to them, right?” Mark replied, “Well, I don’t really get to talk to them much unless they call me”. And I was silent for a while.

Picking up the phone

It turned out that Mark had a block of picking up the phone and talking to prospects unless they initiated the phone call themselves. He never just picked up the phone and called a prospect and said: “Hi I’m Mark, I saw your comments on my articles, and I wondered if you’d like to have a coffee and discuss how I can help you improve your fundraising targets in 2010”.

Nothing happens until we sell something. 

Once we identified Mark’s problem, we set about fixing it. I got Mark to identify one person every week, who had commented or engaged with one of his articles and to call that person. Because he only had to concentrate on one person and he and I customised a strategy for every one of those people, Mark was able to overcome his block.

He ended up having a coffee with a new prospect nearly every week, and Mark’s business started growing again.

No matter how amazing your website, your collateral, your service or your product, at some stage you must go out and talk to the customer, make them an offer and ask for the sale. Sales simply do not happen by themselves… I promise you.

You can watch one of my recorded Small Business Masterminds Webinars called “Making Sales Fun” HERE. and don’t forget to download the other sales resources on the same page anytime.

For more resources, and reading on strategies for growing your business follow this link to the first of The 7 Big Questions that all small business owners want answered

Would you like to download my free 12 Question Cheat-sheet to help you find your next Coach? Click here.