April 30, 2015 By Vicki

All Systems Go –  Business Apps We Use To Maintain Our Sanity

4 minutes Business
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Systems are the heart of the operations of any business.

They help simplify, automate and generally make life easier for you and your team. When work gets busy, the last thing you want is operational mayhem to occur!

With my first design business, I started off just by myself. I had everything from project details, to client and supplier information all in my head and my messy notepad.

My little on-the-fly system worked pretty well for a while, because I knew where everything was. Problems started showing up when I hired two designers as the business grew. I would be out most of the time for meetings and networking.

My designers often had to call me up asking for this and that — it just wasn’t a very productive way to work.

It was time to automate as much as I could, and to create an archive of information to be shared within the team. I found it very difficult to find time to research what platforms/apps to use. Harder still, was to consolidate all the data and to input it into the apps I had decided on using. Some things I could assign to a part-time admin assistant for data-entry, but most things had to be done by me as I had to extract it out of my head!

When I started Brew Creative with Gobbs, my business partner, I paid special attention to implementing systems from the very beginning. I had learnt my lesson the hard way with my first design business, and I certainly didn’t want to face the same old issues with the second.

Fortunately for us, there are so many cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps to choose from these days. There’s an app for almost everything at affordable prices, so there’s really no excuse not to implement them into your business operations.

Here are some of the business apps that we use to run operations at Brew Creative:

Customer relationship management (CRM)

A CRM’s most basic function is to act as a central repository that stores all the details of your general contacts, clients and suppliers. Depending on which CRM you pick, other functions include tracking of correspondence, task assignments, reminders, notes about each contact.

What we use: Contactually (Paid)

Other recommendations: Highrise (Free & Paid), Zoho CRM (Free & Paid)

Project management

Emails alone just don’t cut it. Keep all project details, assigned tasks, files and correspondence archived and organized — whether you use it internally within your team, and/or externally with your client. Using a project management app with your clients also elevates your professionalism.

What we use: Asana (Free & Paid)

Other recommendations: Trello (Free & Paid), Basecamp (Paid)

Email marketing

Outlook mailing lists are so 1990s. Plus, it’s hard for recipients to unsubscribe (which is really annoying for the recipient). Manage your email newsletters and lists easily and safely with an app that was built for this sole purpose. It will also handle subscribes and unsubscribes, and track the performance of your email campaigns so that you can create better marketing strategies.

What we use: Mailchimp (Free & Paid)

Other recommendations: Smore (Free & Paid), Get Response (Paid)

File management

Don’t be one of those people who lost all their files and data because your laptop died. It’s almost impossible for that to happen if you are using a cloud-based file repository. It’s great for when you need to share files with team members too. For added reassurance, backup a copy of the files in the cloud to an external hard disk like we do.

What we use: Dropbox (Free & Paid)

Other recommendations: Google Drive (Free & Paid), Box (Free & Paid)

Bonus: We came across this in-depth analysis of 3 Dropbox competitors, if it’ll help you make a decision.

Billing & accounting

There are apps for billing alone, but we’ve found it better to have an app that can do both billing and accounting management. It creates estimates, invoices and track payments/expenses/profit and loss. It’s tons better than dealing with paperwork and paper cuts! Plus, it’s a great way to reduce paper wastage and save the trees.

What we use: QuickBooks Online (Paid)

Other recommendations: Xero (Paid), Freshbooks (Paid)

HR management

Track leave, benefits and store employee records and employee handbooks — it’s definitely easier than leafing through hard copy documents! Most apps will support a self-service feature for staff to apply for leave online, rather than filling in a paper form.

What we use: Zoho People (Free & Paid)

Other recommendations: Kin HR (Paid), Natural HR (Free & Paid)

Apps data sync/automation

If you’re using several apps for different purposes, you might face the problem of lack of integration, or duplicated data. App integrators help your different platforms to ‘talk’ to one another for a more seamless process.

What we use: Zapier (Free & Paid)

Other recommendations: itDuzzit (Free & Paid)

Bonus — Sleep tracker

Don’t forget the most crucial system of all — your body! A lack of sleep and rest means a breakdown in your performance. If you’re spearheading your business, you can’t afford that. Personally, I use the Mi Band to track my sleep, but if you don’t want to wear an actual device, you can always download apps like Sleepbot (Free) or Sleep Cycle(Paid) and use your phone instead.

It doesn’t matter if you are a solopreneur or a business owner with a team — I strongly encourage you to get some form of operations infrastructure set up. In fact, if you are just starting out, or running a one-person show at the moment, this is the perfect time to get it sorted.

It will only get more difficult and complicated when your projects and clientele grow, and more team members come on board. Setting up your infrastructure from the get-go will save you a lot of backlog and frustration.

Just remember that systems must work for you, not the other way round. If it doesn’t make your life easier, it’s time to make adjustments.

PS: If you qualify for the IRAS Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme, you’ll be able to get reimbursed for most of these app subscriptions.

This post is also published on ExecutiveLifestyle.sg

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