Technical Solutions We Like For Taking Your Small- to Medium-Sized Company to the Next Level
Recently, when Eric and Ilana were having a conference about social media, Eric asked if it was okay if he recorded the conversation. Ilana said, “Of course,” and after the meeting, Eric sent Ilana a copy of that recording through Fathom, a free AI tool for Zoom that records, highlights, and transcribes notes from a meeting. Ilana thought that was pretty cool. When Eric then spent the next ten minutes extolling the unparalleled virtues of Fathom (until finally Ilana asked why he and Fathom didn’t just get married already . . . also, hi Erin!), we had the idea that we should devote a blog post to discussing what technological tools we’ve been using—all of which we think have broader applications for other small- to medium-sized businesses.
Mandatory disclosure: None of these companies have offered us any money or any other rewards for these promotions (though, hey guys, if you want to…you know where to find us!)
For day-to-day productivity:
So, not to be unoriginal, but we like the Google product suite—and for bigger companies, Google Workspace. Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Meet all work very well in lieu of their counterparts (respectively: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Zoom or Skype or any of the other meeting software programs…more on those in a minute.) Google drives makes file-sharing incredibly simple, allowing multiple people to work on one project simultaneously. Everything is accessible through SSO, and everything is linked. And, for clients who don’t have Zoom or the Microsoft suite (or who only use the Microsoft suite), the ability to download and save Google docs in .docx format but then view them and work with them in Google docs as needed can be a real life-saver.
For customer management:
If you’re looking for a CRM that is great for start-ups still building their client lists (and affordable too), Eric thinks Dubsado is the way to go. Besides sales and client management tools, they also offer template forms (which can be customized with your branding) to help you save time, billing solutions, a scheduler for meetings, and tools to keep you organized such as reminders and notifications for things like recurring payments. CRMs like Salesforce and even Zoho are popular with bigger companies right now, but for folks just hanging out a shingle up to medium-sized operations, we think Dubsado offers the best value for your money.
If you have multiple people working on different components of tasks, or working collaboratively, we like Trello. It offers a user-friendly framework where little digital “cards” can have files and comments attached to them, have multiple users tagged, and then can be moved from one “board” to another as different steps of the task get done. It offers a very helpful visual representation of how far along you are with your tasks, and is designed in an accessible way, such that even people who aren’t particularly “techy” (like Ilana) can figure out how it works quickly.
For meeting scheduling:
Calendly is Eric’s preferred tool; it lets users access a calendar to self-select a date and time for a meeting with Eric during a window when he’s already told Calendly that he’s available. Then, once the user makes that selection, the meeting is scheduled (and both Eric and the user receive email notifications with a Zoom link.) This saves a lot of back and forth emailing of, “Are you free then? How about then? Oh, wait, no, I’m busy then…how about next week?” It also adjusts automatically for clients who are in different time zones. And, it has the benefit of giving potential clients full control over setting a meeting themselves, creating buy-in.
Eric likes Quickbooks Online Simple Start—it’s well-priced, easy to use, and allows you to see your income, track expenses, invoice and accept payments, and even maximize your tax deductions. This tool is best for a small shop—a single user, or small company. For these types of businesses, Quickbooks Online Simple Start is about a thousand times better than the usual spreadsheet for expenses and handmade invoice created as PDF.
For digital communications:
This is the one where there’s the most debate. For a while, Ilana was on a bit of an anti-Slack kick because she basically thought it was the tool of tools everywhere. But, since learning to use it for clients, Ilana now has come around to the idea that Slack has some excellent functions. In addition to the direct messages that probably make up most of the communication on the platform, ”threads” allow you to ask questions about subsets of conversations while they continue, without derailing the entire discussion. There are also “channels” for discrete (not discreet—though maybe that too!) topics, so that you can get all your specific information in one place. Zoom and Skype both also offer direct messages and video-conferencing capabilities, but Ilana thinks Slack has some nicer bells and whistles. And that it looks shinier.
There are a lot of options for messenger apps, and truth be told, Eric and Ilana both spend a good amount of time using the text-message app on iPhone. But increasingly, Ilana has been finding that clients like (the desk-top version of) WhatsApp, both because it works equally well on Mac or Windows, iPhone and Android, and because—more importantly—it’s end-to-end encrypted; Ilana thinks should basically be a standard security feature in all messenger apps, but alas it is not, for reasons that are too complicated to enumerate here. While end-to-end encryption doesn’t offer a panacea for 100% of privacy issues (for instance, you never know if the recipient might physically show your messages to someone else), encryption does offer a higher measure of opsec than your standard messaging platform.
A final thought:
Technological tools are great, and—with the increased prevalence of hybrid work situations and, more broadly, digitization across all industries—they’re becoming staples of the modern workforce. However, rolling out any technological tool requires a ramp-up for employees, as well as integration with existing software and hardware platforms. That upfront opportunity cost is something to keep in mind, for folks looking to build out a business using these solutions. But all in all, we think a menu of different software capabilities is something all small businesses should have in their arsenal, as well as individuals looking to make themselves desirable candidates for employment in a dynamic labor market.
The Girard Training Solutions team includes experts in Learning and Development, Management Development, Facilitation, Learning Experience Design, Project Management, and Graphic Design.