Business apps – Making it easier to run your business

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!

4. LastPass

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

TED Talk ideas

TED (Technology Entertainment & Design) Talks started in 1984 and is a not for profit organisation dedicated to spreading Ideas Its remit now expands way beyond technology entertainment & design. At the core of the TED website are the TED Talks videos, all less than 18 minutes long, and generally presented by excellent speakers. They are both entertaining and inspirational. As this is one of our last posts before our Summer break, I thought we would leave you with a few of my personal favourite TED talks. You might like to check them out whilst relaxing by the pool or on the beach.

1. How I built a rocket suit

https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_browning_how_i_built_a_jet_suit  Whilst this is not directly business-related, I think its a great story, and tells us all that sometimes, we should just Go for it, no matter how crazy the idea!

2. Do schools kill creativity?

https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity This is a talk from back in 2006, and whilst things may have changed, I think this is a very relevant talk, and one that really got me thinking the first time I watched it. It also still holds the prize for the most popular Ted Talk ever.

3. The history of our world in 18 minutes

https://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history Someone willing to take on that challenge has to be worth listening to. He does a great job too.

4. The secret of great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet

https://www.ted.com/talks/tanya_menon_the_secret_to_great_opportunities_the_person_you_haven_t_met_yet In business, it is common for leaders to surround themselves with people like them. Whilst comfortable, this is not usually the best option. This talk again got me thinking about this and what it might cause us to miss!

5. How great leaders inspire action

https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?referrer=playlist-the_most_popular_talks_of_all Similar ground to number 2. One of the things that technology has brought us is information, and the ability to measure everything. However I have always thought that whilst very useful, this can stifle creativity, stop us doing something because it “feels right”, or going on a gut feeling. This talk suggests that often great things come from these actions, so maybe we should be more willing to embrace them. These are some of my favourites. You will find hundreds more Ted talks on a full range of subject at www.ted.com

Summer SWOT. A solid platform is a great way to build your business

Summer SWOT AnalysisAs we all bask in the warm weather, it can be easy to slip into thoughts of holidays and time off rather than work, yet this time of year is also a great opportunity for reflection and planning. September to Christmas is the longest continuous slice of business time. With Easter, bank holidays and summer vacations peppering the rest of the year, the Autumn is a great chance to really drive your business forward. But you need to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as the school holidays are over. If you aren’t prepared, before you know it it’ll be October and ‘Strictly’ will have started! Don’t get me wrong, time off is great, but if you are anything like me, it doesn’t take long to start to get bored. Use your free time to think about aspects of your business that maybe get overlooked in the hurley-burley of day-to-day work – the fundamentals. Think of the fundamentals of your business. Analyse where you are up to with a tried and tested S.W.O.T. Analysis

What’s a SWOT?

The SWOT analysis has been around for over 50 years. Its origins are lost in the mists of time – even Wikipedia isn’t sure! – but there is no doubt that it is a great way to take an objective look at your business to help identify the good, the bad – and the ugly! SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats The analysis is a holistic approach to look at both internal and external factors in your business. The Strengths and Weaknesses primarily focus on the internals while the Opportunities and Threats look out into your markets and competition A SWOT analysis can be used in many different ways depending on your objectives. Here are some examples:

  • Explore new solutions to a problem 
  • Identify barriers to prevent achieving objectives
  • Decide on the best direction to take 
  • As a structured brainstorming session

How to SWOT

Doing a SWOT analysis is simple. You just write the 4 headings on a piece of paper and then, under each, make relevant notes. If you are doing an overall business review then simply work through what you think and feel about your business, good and bad! If you prefer a more visual approach, something like framework this may work for you: SWOT Analysis FrameworkThe important thing is, to be honest with yourself. Ideally, work through the SWOT analysis with someone else to help keep things objective.

Don’t Forget to Do Something!

Analysis and planning are important and can be very useful – but only if you do something with them. Doing a SWOT analysis is only half the job. Once you have written down and organised your thoughts and ideas you need to take the next step. Make some decisions about where you are going and formulate an action plan to get there. When you run your own business, the lines between work and leisure certainly get blurred. This said, working on your business on your own terms, without the phone ringing every 5 minutes can be enjoyable and a great way to clarify your thoughts. Taking some time out across this summer to work on your business with a SWOT analysis gives you chance to create a solid platform for planned development activity through the Autumn and on towards December when you will undoubtedly find yourself being dragged to working in your business more than you might prefer. If you’d like some help with a SWOT analysis for your business, give me a call