Using a Rolodex of contacts, a handwritten invoice or wage book, and manually adding up columns all belong in the past. Computers and technology have introduced a range of time- and labour-saving options that your small business should be using to work more productively and efficiently.
This article looks at a number of areas where technology offers options for you to work smarter, not harder.
In today’s computer age, there’s no need to continue your manual accounts with a double-entry system and tonnes of paperwork – and there’s no need to have your business accounts locked into one or a few desktop computers if you need to invoice, make a payment, or access information on the go.
Popular business software packages such as Quick Books Online, Freshbooks and Xero offer easy-to-use accounting solutions (and the support to help you use them if needed), with information you can access remotely. This makes accurate and up-to-date record keeping easy and gives you real time information about your business whenever you need it – and real time access to processing invoices, quotes, and more.
Whether accessed remotely or linked to a PC, most accounting programs offer a range of options to suit your business needs, with integrated payroll, point of sale, and stock control, production management or customer relationship management add-on options if you need them. In addition, a number of programs have evolved with technology, allowing you to access information from mobile phones or providing valuable add-on services and reports at the push of a button.
Choosing an online accounting solution
Before you decide on which software program to use, draw up a list of the features you need to have and the ones you would like to have and then do a feature and cost comparison to see which option best suits your business. You might also want to check which programs your accountant supports – using a program they support could save you time and money at your financial year end. It also pays to make sure that your service provider is putting sufficient investment into R&D, to ensure the product you’re investing time in setting up remains relevant as technology develops further.
If in doubt, trial a few options with real or dummy information. MYOB offers a free 30-day trial for LiveAccounts (online version) for sole traders, start-ups and smaller businesses. Xero also offers a 30-day trial for personal accounts and up to 180 days free for business accounts, as do most other online accounting programs. If you don’t want added features, frills or monthly bills, try the free open source accounting package GnuCash, which allows you to track bank accounts, stock, income and expenses.
Be aware that some companies have been researching and developing this technology for a couple of years, while others are just starting to explore online accounts solutions as an option. The functionality is likely to vary according to the time invested.
Find out more about Inland Revenue’s requirements for electronic records before you decide to move from manual or spreadsheet-based accounts, or from older accounting packages, to an online accounting solution.
Online banking makes it easier and faster to do your banking, offering instant access to check whether you’ve been paid and the ability to quickly pay a new supplier. Apart from the convenience of no longer needing to stand in a queue for many of your transactions, online banking also makes it much easier to do your bank reconciliations and keep track of the amount you’re paying in bank charges. A number of accounting packages can now integrate with your bank account, making bank reconciliations even easier and faster.
A big step up from index cards or your tattered plastic folder of business cards, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs help to organise, automate and synchronise sales, customer support and promotional activities. These programs effectively combine your customer database with useful information such as products customers have bought, when they last purchased, communications you’ve sent and more.
CRM allows you to track activities and manage and automate communications. If you want to email a special offer to customers who have not bought from you within the last six months, or to offer a promotion on ink cartridges to people who have bought a certain make of printer this year, then CRM makes this easy.
Choosing a CRM program
There is a wide range of CRM options leaving you spoilt for choice. Your options range from Microsoft Dynamics CRM to Salesforce, with a range of options depending on the size of your team. They have varying levels of functionality and complexity, and price tags that vary just as much. Decide what features you’ll need and compare your shortlisted options before you make a decision.
Make sure that the program you choose will be able to integrate with the other systems you have in place. There’s little point having automated emails if your CRM can’t integrate with your email program, or if you can’t pull though your stock list from your accounting suite and have to input that data twice.
You won’t know how much to charge for certain jobs or services if you don’t keep track of how much time they take you or your team to complete. You’ll also need to know how much extra to charge to cover non-productive or non-billable time such as administration and staff meetings, and time spent answering emails or chatting at the water cooler.
Some accounting packages offer time tracking solutions allowing you to integrate this into your accounting information. There are also free and paid-for standalone time-tracking tools or integrated packages such as Toggl, Harvest or Tick. The more advanced options allow you to track time online from a desktop or laptop, or from a mobile phone when you are on the move.
The ability to synchronise your calendar and appointments across devices such as your PC, tablet and mobile phone, as well as over the Internet, makes it much easier to control and review appointments. The ability to share calendars with your team enables them to see when you are busy and to schedule new appointments when you are available. There are a large number of calendars to consider – popular options include Microsoft’s calendar in Outlook, iCal on Mac and the free calendar from Google, Google Calendar.
These calendars are all able to integrate with email, enabling you to email an invitation to a meeting or accept an emailed invite, which is automatically updated to your calendar. They can also be synchronised to mobile devices to be accessible at any time you need them.
A growing range of programs and applications have been developed to allow you to generate your own and collaborative task lists or to do lists. This allows you to keep track of what needs to be done wherever you are and means you can assign tasks for colleagues at any time. Your options range from fancy project management software such as Basecamp to options such as MyLifeOrganized.
Collaboration and discussion can be improved by using online chat solutions ranging from video conferences to live chat sessions (using options such as Windows Live) or other collaborative tools such as .
Skype offers free Internet-based calls and cost-effective calls to landlines and mobile phones, and enables you to send files or type-chat. There are a number of instant messaging solutions that you can harness to increase productivity and get input and feedback when you need it. Most of these options keep a trail of your communications so you can refer back to them for relevant information when needed.
The advances in technology mean you can store all your contacts electronically and synchronise your contacts across the platforms you use. This means you’re able to access your contacts, email addresses and phone numbers on the go.
Consider using QRCodes that allow people to use mobile devices to scan the codes and automatically upload your business or personal contact details into their electronic address books.
It makes sense to use accessible cloud solutions to enable you to access data such as contacts, emails, documents, videos or images. By storing data on the cloud, you can access information from wherever you are as long as you have an Internet connection. Consider using web-based email options such as Picasa and Flickr or YouTube for videos are other options to consider. Find out more about using cloud computing in your business., a solution such as to store documents, and templates or for documents and images. Image storage options such as
Be aware that the convenience of Internet solutions does come with an increased risk, and you’ll need to take the appropriate Internet security measures and use secure passwords. Consider using Keepass to help you manage you various passwords.
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