Thursday, May 1, 2014

Small Business Infrastructure

I just talked to a friend who left her company to start her own business, so we shared on the joys of incorporation.  I gave her some advice that I've learned over the last couple months. And a lot of that was on tools. Why cobble together your own systems when you can use real tools? Plus there are a lot of services that cater to the small business.

Here is a list of the services we're using and have been happy with, and a couple that we haven't.
  • GoDaddy - Yes, they're everywhere, and yes they tend to nickle and dime you on new features. But I do have to say that I've been really quite pleased with their hosted account and the plethora of options you get for free. And for the couple of support questions I had, very prompt service. 
  • Assembla - Easy peasy source code management. I don't need this for much, but I used it for ByteBlacksmith when I was writing Ablative Air, and I'm using it for CX3 to maintain a shadow of our website.
  • DropBox - The king of file sharing. Need I say more? Yes I do. Many people don't realize you can get backups of old files. This is a lifesaver if you accidentally overwrite your master copy of a file or if you're working with someone else and you're not in sync. That "pseudo-version control" has come in handy twice already.
  • Toggl - Time management. All online, free, can deal with multiple people and gives you lots of options for reporting where your week's efforts have gone.
  • Doodle - Are you trying to find a good conference time between a number of people? Doodle to the rescue: it sends an email to the participants and everyone can pick their favourite times.
  • Sugar CRM - CRM management, it’s free (you can pay for more features as you grow, but right now there’s already way more than I need). If you're using GoDaddy, they have a simple one-click installer to get it up & running. Handles contact lists, email blasts, prospect management, history/notes, etc.
  • Expensify - Makes expense reports almost pleasurable. Okay, maybe not, but certainly way better than any of my previous company's expense "systems". Plus it automatically hooks up to QuickBooks.
  • Quickbooks - Online hosted, quite easy to use (other than I don’t understand accounting, but I’m learning) and relatively cheap.
  • VistaPrint - For traditional paper business cards, I used VistaPrint—it’s easy to do, fully automated & online, and inexpensive. The card quality is good, but I’ll warn you that we had two boxes of cards printed, and the color registration wasn’t identical. If you only need one box, it probably won’t matter. It really helps color registration if you select the same cardstock. Doh! New cards are on their way...
  • OverAir - They're a little more pricy than plain paper, but I also got NFC-enabled business cards printed. Our business is high-tech marketing, after all :-) There aren’t a lot of places that do it yet--this one is "local" for us in Canada. I’ve been quite pleased with the result. It’s a little more “hands on” as they’re not yet fully automated (despite their online store), but we got quality PVC business cards that look like a Visa card and have our info baked into the NFC. You can slap it on the back of a Android or BlackBerry phone (won't work on Apple phones yet) and enter all your contact info automatically. Since they’re not widespread yet, they make a very cool impression!
  • Envato - Tons of options for creative resources: web templates, graphics, photography, audio, video, etc. It's like an open source/open community iStock or Veer.
  • United Conferencing - Free world-wide conferencing. Sounds awesome, but my experience on this is hit & miss. First time it worked great. Second time all the participants had the same conference bridge #, but different countries appeared to log into different servers so we never connected. You get what you pay for. I'll probably be using webex or some other "real" conference bridge next time.
  • TimeAndDate - I'm sure everybody already knows about this, but still--handy tool for dealing with world-wide meetings.
  • WorldCard Pro - Little (and portable) business card scanner for $150. It went through my boxes and boxes of business cards in a few hours. It gets great online ratings and is one of the very few business card scanners that works on either Mac or Windows. I had a few highly designed or unusual texture/finished cards that it really couldn't deal with. The OCR usually works pretty well, but in the end you'll have lots of cleanup to do. Thankfully it keeps the images of the cards in the database so the cleanup can be done all on the Mac. Overall, it saved me huge amounts of time compared to entering 2000+ business cards manually.
If I come across any other great small business timesavers, I'll share.