What are five things you can do today that will make your business more efficient?
As your business grows you will encounter new challenges with clients and staff that may seem overwhelming. Fortunately you are not alone, using the right tools for the job will help your business become scalable so you can grow as much as you need.
Let’s tackle them right now:
1. Task Management (Collaboration)
Are you constantly sending and receiving e-mails? Does cleaning your inbox take a big bite out of your day? There’s a better way!
Most people use e-mail to tell other people what to do: “Sally, Please revise the first draft of the document”. People also use e-mail to check on others’ progress: “Sally, How’s it going with the draft I asked you to revise?”. Finally, they use it to send files around: “John, here is the edited version of the first draft as an attachment”.
What is wrong here? The main issue is that these actions get lost in a pile of all kinds of messages, important and junk. There is no easy way to follow up on progress and searching for the correct file version in attachments becomes a mess.
A better alternative is to use Task Management Software (Asana, Todoist, Podio, etc). With these kinds of platforms you have the ability to actually assign tasks other people. You can give someone things to do, choose a deadline, and even follow up without having to ask them how they are doing. Everyone has their public and private tasks that they can choose to prioritize in their own way.
Some of these platforms like Asana and Podio have a “files” area where you can keep different versions of files available for your team to use at all times. Best of all, they’re free.
2. Accountability (Quotes and Contracts)
You presented a proposal to a client, they accepted and you started working right away. A few weeks into the project you realize they have changed the requirements and are now expecting much more from you. You feel uncomfortable but decide no to talk to them about it because “well, you are almost done”. The time comes to send them the bill for the extra features/time/work and you get stonewalled. They refuse to pay anything extra and you feel betrayed. Sound familiar?
This is more common than you think and happens to both sides (client and provider) if they’re not careful.
Make sure you send every customer a quote or estimate clearly explaining the scope of the work and have them accept it. Once you have proof of acceptance, send them a contract with all the specifics: deliverables, timeframe, payment schedule, additional expenses, etc. and have them sign it. Although this may seem like overkill, it will save you time, money and most of all stress.
There are great tools to handle this and make it easy for you and your customers. You can create your own documents in your favorite word processor and then simply send them out for electronic signature using Adobe Echosign, RightSignature, Docusign and others.
You can also use tools like Harvest to quickly create quotes to send to clients for acceptance and then have them pay directly on the invoice using a credit card or PayPal account.
Quote Roller is another web-based tool that allows you to create full proposals based on existing templates to make things faster. You can track your customers’ time spent viewing the proposal, get notifications when they read it, and receive an electronic signature to verify acceptance.
3. No More Spreadsheets
I could easily say the one common aspect of all the businesses I have worked with is the existence of spreadsheets. Excel is a great program and it helps the majority of people do what they can’t do by hand or even what their “business software” won’t do for them.
I’ve found spreadsheets to be the savior of many a small business because – let’s face it – most companies won’t pay for the development of a custom software to keep tabs on the bank loans, credit cards, employee assistance, bonuses or any other little aspect of the business that is not generic.
Fortunately for you, there is a hidden little “gem” called Podio that can turn your business around in a matter of minutes or hours. Podio is a web-based tool that lets you create templates for anything you want to keep track of. Instead of having static rows and endless columns of data, you can simply create a template with the fields you need and then use that template to create as much items as you want.
For example, if we wanted to do a template for expenses, we would create the fields: “Amount, Creditor, Date, Category, Status and Description”. Then whenever we want to add a new expense, we click “add” and fill out the data – that’s it. Fields are customizable so you can decide to add/remove any number of fields at whatever point in time. You can even add an image field to keep a reference of the receipt.
The best part of Podio is that it is accesible from anywhere in the world via web browser and mobile app and it is free for up to 5 users. No more relying on one main computer where the file is stored. The ability to add users is great because you can collaborate with all of your team and know who modified each field and when.
Another important aspect of Podio is that you can make relationships between templates so that an expense can be related to a project, and that project related to a client. This gives you unprecedented visibility and control of your information.
4. Client Management
If you read the last point, you probably are thinking “well, I also use a spreadsheet for customer information”.
If that is the case, you are at least part of the way there. Many businesses do not keep track of their current and previous customers and a big part of them have no lead management whatsoever. So, after a sale is made – that is it.
Customer management is a key part of business. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to someone new is 5-20%. If you keep track of the people who buy from you, it is much easier to have them buy from you again.
Using a CRM Software (Customer Relationship Management) can help your business grow. You should keep information on what certain people have bought, what they were interested in, how they got to you, why they decided not to buy, next time to contact them, etc. All this can help you create better marketing and close more sales.
There are many free tools out there like Insightly and ZohoCRM but I usually recommend creating your own custom templates in Podio. That way, you decide what information you want to capture and how it relates to the rest of your data. You can also download existing templates that have all the usual fields already in place.
5. Time Tracking
Many of you are developers, designers, contractors, lawyers, etc. and as such you have to make the most out of your hourly rate.
Various tools have existed along the years to help people take time but they are usually cumbersome and not practical at all. Having to export data from one system to another is a pain.
With web-based tools like Harvest and Timecamp you get all the features you need to run and maintain a time-based business. In Harvest you can track time using either the website, a desktop app, or even a mobile app for when you’re on the road. You can set the specific rates for each customer and/or project so when you are ready to bill someone, you simply create an invoice and it will add all the time and cost automatically. This same invoice is sent from Harvest to the customer where they can pay via credit card or PayPal.
The Right Tools
There is always a right tool for the job and having those tools will increase your performance greatly. Are there any particular tools you have found useful? Feel free to include them in the comments!