May 4, 2017 Operations & Technology en_US When Iliya Rezvine first started his transportation business, he had to be comfortable living without a salary. Iliya runs Northeast Metro Ambulance,... The small business stack: Essential tools for running and growing your business
Operations & Technology

The small business stack: Essential tools for running and growing your business

By Sasha Rezvina May 4, 2017

When Iliya Rezvine first started his transportation business, he had to be comfortable living without a salary.

Iliya runs Northeast Metro Ambulance, a transportation company based in South Jersey. He’s been able to scale his company from just one car to a fleet of 40, and they’ve reached an operational efficiency that allows them to transport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like for many small business owners, the journey wasn’t easy.

For the first few years, Iliya told us, he had to pour a lot of money in to grow the business. “The owner doesn’t take home a lot. Sometimes it’s nothing.” Iliya is not alone—77% of small business owners rely on personal savings to get their business started.

When you’re starting a business on your own, every penny counts. You need to tighten processes and be on the lookout to increase efficiency so that you can get more done with less. A large part of that depends on you picking the right software for your business.

Here’s the essential stack for saving you time and money, so you can focus on what you really want to be doing: building your business.

1. A product management tool

When your business is just a few people, all information is just a shoulder tap away. You can ask Jen the status of the reports she’s working on, or Dan for that one client email you need. As your business grows, however, it becomes harder to keep track of all ongoing projects. You’re not sure who to ask for what, and even the smallest task turns into a quest for information.

Many small businesses end up creating a ceiling for their efficiency because of knowledge hoarding—when individuals become gatekeepers of information that’s critical for others to do their jobs well. You can counteract this with project management software that centralizes all projects and tasks in one place.

Manage projects in one place using Teamwork Projects

Teamwork Projects centralizes all your projects in one place. The software revolves around tasks, which are visible from one dashboard that everyone on your team can look at. You can assign or leave tasks open to members of the team to pick up and assign themselves. Once tasks are in progress, you can see how far along they are and which members on your team are collaborating on them.

With a project management tool, you won’t need to ask your employees for that one email or the status of that one project. All ongoing and completed work—along with all relevant information—will be instantly accessible.

2. An accounting tool

According to a SCORE survey, 40% of small business owners reported bookkeeping and taxes as the worst part of owning a business.

The task—too important to assign a random employee but sometimes too expensive for new businesses to outsource—turns a few days of the month into a blur of crunching numbers and manually entering data into spreadsheets. And one mistake can be disastrous for your clients, your employees, or even your business.

Use cloud-based accounting software to automate repetitive tasks such as invoicing, taking payments, categorizing expenses and creating financial reports so that you can free up time and minimize mistakes.

Use QuickBooks for more efficient accounting

QuickBooks, named the #1 accounting software of 2017, helps you automate all of your accounting. It keeps track of all the money that flows in and out of your business in one place. And if you connect it to your bank, your credit card, and any accounting apps, you can have all your finances centralized in one dashboard.

QuickBooks also offers one-click reporting, which means that a profit and loss statement or a balance sheet can be automatically generated for you to see how your business is doing.

3. An email marketing tool

One-third of Americans check their email every single day and an additional 39 percent of Americans check their email more than three times a day. This is why email marketing is still the most effective form of marketing, returning about $38 for every $1 spent. If you’re just starting to get the word out about your business, email is the surest way to reach the largest number of people.

But email marketing is easy to screw up—not to mention why you also use email for customer support. Each email has to dodge the spam inbox, get opened, work on all devices, and have a modern design. Use an email marketing tool, like Campaign Monitor, to put together quick and effective, professional-grade emails.

Use Campaign Monitor for smart email campaigns

Campaign Monitor is an email marketing tool built specifically for fast-growing businesses. You can use their drag-and-drop interface to quickly put together beautiful emails that you can then send to some or all of your email list.
As your customer base grows, you can use their tool to segment your emails and target particular demographics within your list—which means your emails can still have that “personal touch” even when you have hundreds of customers.

If you’re new to email marketing and are unsure about the best strategy, you can test different versions of the same campaign on different groups of users. Campaign Monitor’s analytics platform lets you keep track of open rates, engagement, and click-through rates on all your campaigns so you can iterate and improve over time.

4. A content management system

72% of consumers look to brands’ websites for educational content, reviews, and testimonials before making any sort of purchasing decision—yet 6 out of 10 small businesses aren’t online.

Whether you’re running a brick-and-mortar store or an e-commerce business, a strong online presence helps you compete with the big fish. Your site can pick up traction on Google or stir up a social media following just like multi-billion dollar industries can.

Luckily, you no longer need a designer or any kind of coding skills to put together a professional website.

Use Squarespace to build an online presence

Squarespace lets you build a portfolio, an online store, or a website for your business. They host and secure your site, but also provide you with the tools to quickly put together a well-designed site. Squarespace comes with a flexible drag-and-drop styling editor that lets you add and edit text modules and visuals. Over time, you can see how your website performs using their built-in analytics platform, which tells you things like pageviews, conversion, and most popular content.

Any website you create will be dynamic and work well across all devices.

5. A password-sharing tool

Using these tools and moving your management to the cloud has a lot of benefits—particularly saving money and making your company run more efficiently. But it also opens the door to security threats. Data breaches can result in loss of intellectual property, compliance violations, malware infections, and, worst of all, loss of your customers’ trust. 60% of small companies that are victims of a security breach go out of business within 6 months.

You have to be smart about who you give access to sensitive company information and how you do it. Use a tool like 1Password to securely share documents and software logins with team members.

Use 1Password for added security

1Password is a simple tool that holds all of your passwords. They keep all your data secure with AES-256 bit encryption which protects your information at rest and while it’s “in transit”— i.e, being shared.
All your data is locked away behind a Master Password, and Account Key, and a Secure Remote password. You can share different passwords with your whole team, just a few people, or keep them for yourself. 1Password also allows you to organize your passwords and provides you with a search bar so that you can get to the password that you need more quickly.

6. A time tracking tool

Tracking time is an integral part of completing projects on their expected timelines. Unfortunately, while many businesses understand the importance of a time tracking tool, 62% say capturing time and costs against their projects is their biggest project management challenge.

But tracking time doesn’t have to be the massive undertaking businesses make it out to be. By teaching their employees to track time using job codes, businesses can get a better idea of their team’s strengths and weaknesses and use those job costing results to lead more successful projects in the future.

TSheets is easy-to-use time tracking

TSheets doesn’t just track employee time. The app, built for mobile, tablet, and online platforms, is capable of assisting in multiple points of data entry, including job codes and GPS locations. Plus, thanks to the app’s easy-to-use interface, submitting time for payroll is easier than ever — a major plus for the company accountant.

Whether you’re setting up a free single-user, personal account or a paid account for multiple users, you can rest assured TSheets is the simplest, most secure way to track time. TSheets offers a variety of add-ons and integrations, so merging time tracked with your invoicing and payroll software is a breeze.

You can save private passwords or team passwords so everyone in your small business has access to your payment apps, your productivity tools, and anything else you share.

A business is as strong as its foundation

In the early days, it’s tempting to shrug off software as something that you’ll think about later—once you have enough people, or enough processes in place. You don’t want to pay money for tools that your team doesn’t know how to use nor before your business idea transforms into a business plan and then a profitable operation.

But tools are at the center of a good workflow and most software are free or very inexpensive to get started with. Just these five basic tools are enough to make running your business feel less like treading water. That way, you can step back from the day-to-day, and focus on actually growing your business.

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Sasha Rezvina is a writer and editor who writes about entrepreneurship, productivity and tech. She's currently working at a fast-growing startup in NYC. Read more