Technology is everywhere these days, and there is no doubt that the business right apps can be a boon in making it easier for you to run your company. The problem is the sheer number of options out there. Inevitably if a new business tool is going to deliver some real benefit, there is likely to be at least a bit of a learning curve. To be fair, the best apps are remarkably intuitive but if an app is going to be more than superficial, you are going to have to commit some time to it. This doesn’t sit well with our busy lives so where do you start? Personally, I am interested in options to make my life easier so I’m always looking for new ideas. In practice, most don’t really deliver on expectations, I will use them for a while then find my interest waning. However, every now and again, I come across something that makes a real difference. As we head into the summer and the hope of a slightly more relaxed life – at least for a week or 2 – here are 4 apps and utilities that I have been using for a while. They have all made a real difference to my business life, and most I find myself calling on almost every day.
1. XERO Cloud accounting
For any business that has straightforward accounting needs, I recommend looking at one of the many cloud accounts apps that are available. We switched from Sage to Xero nearly 3 years ago and it was a great move. As well as Xero there are several other cloud accounting apps available (e.g. QuickBooks, KashFlow, Free Agent) all of which are well regarded. They are all essentially the same but have different features which may be more or less suitable for your business. It is worth exploring a few. I do recommend you work with an accountant who uses the package you select. Although much of the BSA book-keeping and invoicing is now seamless, It is still useful to be able to call on an expert when something crops up! With something as central to a business as accounts, the move was a little challenging but well worth it. I reckon it has saved me at least a day a month and the way Xero works means I don’t need to clear the decks for half a day to concentrate on accounts. If I only have 10 minutes to spare it is enough time to get the bank reconciliation up to date, or even submit the VAT Return! All of our accounts documentation is now stored electronically (securely of course!) I haven’t put a piece of paper in an accounts file for 3 years now. You can read the story of our switch here With HMRC pushing more and more for online and just-in-time accounts preparation and submission, I can only see cloud accounting becoming even more time-saving in the future,
2. Microsoft Exchange
E-mail is the grandad of web services. Virtually no business can run efficiently in 2018 without some form of online messaging. Email is just so darned useful. Not only can you quickly and easily communicate, you can send and receive files. If you store these in your e-mail box, they should be safe to find when you need them – days, weeks or even months, later. Now here’s the rub. email works so well we are using it more and more. At first, it was just messages. Now, most people use their email as their main filing system. What is more, with the growth of remote working and ever more ‘devices’, we expect our email to be available from our PC, phone, tablet, This is where traditional email is starting to crack. Most mailboxes – particularly the free ones – don’t have enough storage for everything we want to save. Also, ‘syncing’ mail between different devices can cause headaches. With email being so fundamental to virtually every business, why do so many people still try to rely on ‘Free’ services? When we switched from ‘Free‘ email to Microsoft Exchange about 5 or 6 years ago, I wasn’t convinced. I’d heard stories of cost and complexity. Within a month I was hooked. No matter where or how I send/receive, my email is with me everywhere, on every device. Even after all this time, I have used less than 30% of my available storage. And the cost? Starting from less than the price of a posh coffee once a month, I think it is a no-brainer. It just works – and that is what I want from technology
3. Online file storage
The idea of working from an office is so last year! In the modern business, flexibility is key and just as email and cloud accounting (see above) allow you to access your messages and accounts from pretty much anywhere you have an internet connection, the modern business needs the same for all documents. There have been online file storage options around for a few years but some were challenging to set up while others could be difficult to integrate with your application software like Word or Excel. Nowadays, these issues are pretty much resolved, so what are the options? DropBox is great because it is simple and ‘does what it says’ It has a free option. Though the storage level isn’t huge, you can get extra storage for free by getting your friends to sign up! The most integrated services (in my experience) are GSuite from Google and Office 365 from Microsoft. We use Office 365 and I definitely recommend it. Office 365 comes in many flavours. The version we use includes a LOT of file storage and the ability to download and run the desktop version of Office Software (Word. Excel etc.) on up to 5 PCs for each user. We get automatic updates so we always have the latest version. A great feature in online file storage these days is that the files you store I the cloud can automatically sync to your PC or phone so you have access to them even when you have no internet. If you make changes, these then sync seamlessly the next time you are online. Again, once set up, it just works!
One question that inevitably comes up when talking about online and cloud services is security. In practice the sorts of apps I am talking about here live and die by their security reputation. The problem is they typically recommend using complex passwords and making sure you never use the same password twice. All very well but how do you remember everything? With LastPass, you don’t have to! LastPass is a secure Password manager. You need to remember one (complicated!) password and LastPass does the rest. Given the nature of LastPass functionality, the app’s commitment to security is unprecedented. There are other password managers available but I have been using LastPass for around 2 years and I don’t think I could manage without it now! Of course, no software is ever 100% secure but my experience has been solid. Anyway, I would rather rely on the security credentials someone like LastPass whose business is security and allows me to use complex passwords on other sites where security is just something they have to do. This is interesting: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/worlds-biggest-data-breaches-hacks/ If you’d like to know more about any of these, get in touch