As the Director of Operations at the Opportunity Lab, one of my first tasks this year was to figure out ways to improve our end of month financial processes and move away from employing a rather haphazard methodology. Not only did it provide a challenge for someone new to the company, but what we had been doing allowed a lot of room for error and took me away from other tasks for up to 3 days. It was a quick introduction to the bootstrappin’ world of small business and the difficult process of identifying effective and affordable tools for our team.
Many who work in small companies and small teams have to deal with similar problems: planning, budgeting and organizing can be a pain. It can be time consuming to think about planning a budget for the next year, managing timesheets, running end of month financial processes, and choosing and implementing benefits, especially when you’re wearing many hats as part of a small team. It becomes easy to leave things by the wayside that could provide clarity into what’s happening with the business and boost productivity in the future. Luckily, I am a lover of spreadsheets, but I recognize that not everyone is. Beyond that, even those of us with a penchant for Excel do not necessarily enjoy things like prepping for budget meetings and planning sessions.
Conveniently, I am not the first person to recognize this; there are now a wealth of online tools designed to take away some of the pain of the most mundane tasks - from tracking time sheets to pulling end-of-year reports for that pesky budgeting meeting. If you’re looking to take on some new tools for your team, here are a few suggestions based on my own experience:
This first recommendation is a timesheet tracking tool that the OppLab began using about 6 months ago. As a small firm that bases much of our billing on hourly activities, creating invoices can be a difficult end of month process. When I began looking for a solution, I knew I wanted a tools that would be easy to use, easy to understand and that covered the basics of what we need. So far, it has cut the time it takes to produce our invoices in half with its Quickbooks Online integration. Plus, it allows us to see where we stand with our clients at any point during the month, assuming we keep our timesheets updated. I know this tool is a popular one amongst the other small business at our coworking space, and I recommend taking a look if it’s something you might need.
Having just mentioned timesheets, I think it’s necessary for me to mention the fact that maintaining these is an ongoing struggle despite the lovely Harvest interface. For us, it is inevitable that a lot of information about client meetings will end up in our Google Calendars but not in our timesheets. For this, I use a handy tool called G Time Reporting. It is a pretty niche offering, but considering the popularity of Google Calendar and hourly billing, it can come in handy. Basically, this gadget simply downloads the entirety of your Google calendar into an Excel sheet (or a few other formats) for you to use as you see fit. In our case, that means a quick clean-up and upload to our timesheet tracker.
- QuickBooks Online
This is probably a fairly obvious recommendation, as QuickBooks has long been a go-to for small business owners. That said, if you’re not using the online version of this accounting tool--do yourself a favor and check out some of the benefits. Online access offers you unparalleled access to your financial information. It also commonly integrates with some of the tools you may use for other activities - in our case, Harvest (as I mentioned above) integrates with QuickBooks Online (QBO) and simplifies our invoicing process. Not only that, but QBO has an option for your CPA to gain visual access to your accounts should you ever need some assistance in organizing the books in between tax seasons.
Prior to arriving at The Opportunity Lab, I had never heard of Trello--but I think my subconscious had been screaming out for it for years. This is a great tool for those of us attempting to organize a million tasks. It’s essentially a list-making tool with a super flexible interface that allows for adjustment and visual presentation of your ideas and to-do list. There are options to purchase team subscriptions so that you can share Trello boards with everyone working on the same project, and allow you to communicate, set due dates, assign tasks and create alerts for your important tasks all through Trello.
Have you ever had the PDF copy of a document and REALLY needed to edit it? This can be a nightmare scenario if you don’t have the right tools - akin to being able to see your keys inside of the locked car. But fear not, there are some options to gaining some edit access to your PDF if you search hard enough. PDFEscape is one of those - just upload your doc and start fiddling with the available editing tools for free. There’s also a more advanced version available to purchase should this be an ongoing problem for your team.
- Google Apps for Work
The final tool I’ll mention is one with which you are surely familiar. That is, Google. Before coming to the Opportunity Lab, I had been using Google for years for my personal use. Now, using Google Apps for work has become second-nature and i would encourage any small business to explore it. We use Drive to save all of our documents - convenient, as we all work from home or travel on occasion and can access everything we need. Google provides our email, our calendars and our video conference calling. Basically, it is our Everything. Worth exploring if you don’t yet have a coherent system for your team. There is a learning curve, but the long-term convenience will win you over in the end.
I hope this list has introduced a new tool or two or shed some light on one you had already been considering. There seemed to be endless options available on the web. Unfortunately, our team can only start using so many new tools in a year before being overwhelmed by the effort in changing our work habits. However, there are other offerings that interest me for the future that cover things like managing HR benefits for a small team to in-depth project management. I’d love to hear any feedback on what we’ve suggested here and any tool recommendations for things you think are worth trying. Please let us know by commenting on this post or sending us a message!