Being a bootstrapped startup, we always look for services that can help us be more productive. Over the years and months we have tried, kept and replaced a number of services. Here’s a rundown of the core apps and services that are crucial to our operations:
Google Apps for Business. The decision to use Google Apps was a bit of a no-brainer; we both use Google Apps for our own personal domains so the choice was simple. Syncing integration with iOS, Android and BlackBerry was a crucial requirement for us. The ability to update to Enterprise options and wirelessly deleting data was a nice-to-have list. Our decision to upgrade to the Business version was based on our past experience with the extra services such as Postini and Groups for Business. For only $50USD a year for each user, its definitely a good value for what you get.
Freshbooks. We have tried services to meet our needs; such as bloated software and lack of cloud support in Canada (QuickBooks & Simply Accounting) and lack of bookkeeping (Invoice Bubble). We even tried using using Excel Spreadsheets for invoicing and accounting. It was an unmitigated nightmare. Even with the help of Dropbox and Google Docs, it just involved far too much work to maintain. Freshbooks has been the most versatile accounting app we’ve tried so far.
We do have a gripe or 2 with Freshbooks however: the freemium version is a great tester to try it out, but the 3-client limit is a bit of a bummer. The lowest tier paid version is $20 per month and allows for up to 25 clients. It would be nice if there was a smaller starter package for $5-10 for 10 clients.
Nice things about Freshbooks:
They archive everything. We mean everything such as past data, deleted clients, invoices and estimates
It’s online. Yes, its a bit of an obvious point, but the fact that we don’t need to install anything and we can access the files and info anywhere is awesome. This was a HUGE factor in determining which bookkeeping option. All the other options lacked this or snubbed the Canadian/International Market all together (we’re talking about you QuickBooks!!)
Since Freshbooks archives everything, there are loopholes to getting around the 3-client limit for the free version: you can delete any inactive clients and add a new one. You can then just rotate and swap out the active clients with the inactive (the inactive ones are ‘deleted’ temporarily) Referral program, neat little feature that gives you 25% if you get someone to sign up for its paid services (*Begin shameless plug*: Interested in trying Freshbooks? Click here: https://meshworks.freshbooks.com/refer/www *End shameless plug*) Invoice sent by snail mail. You have the option of sending the invoices to your clients by snail mail for a very reasonable fee of $0.99 to $1.79 per invoice. Some clients still prefer being sent a hard copy of the invoice, either for it to be dropped off and/or handed off, so having an automated system to send them an invoice is quite nice.
They’re a Canadian Company! Besides the fact that we are a proudly Canadian company as well, the fact that the app is created by a Canadian company means that the app can better tailored for Canadian companies if needed.
The ability to work and collaborate remotely is a very important factor when deciding and selecting the various applications.
Google Docs: The ability to work collaboratively while remote is very important to us as we don’t have a physical office but we do meet up from time to time. Also, we use both Mac and PCs as well as all 3 major mobile OSes so the ability to open and edit docs on our phones and tablets would be nice. Google Docs definitely fits our needs and the fact that we’re already using the other products in the Google Apps Suite is definitely a nice fit. The other alternative is the Microsoft Office Suite but the cons stack up against it pretty quickly: its a paid app (and not everyone has the ‘official’ version) and sharing is done via Sharepoint (which isn’t accessible on mobile devices).
Dropbox: the ability to share files without sending via email is awesome. Dropbox allows that and even sharing files between us and our clients as well as our contractors. The service creates a folder on your desktop that is synced. You can then choose to share specific files or folders in the Dropbox folder with whomever you need. We have several shared folders for our own team and as well as separate shared folders with our clients and contractors.
The other alternative that we tried is Box.net and while it is a very worthwhile alternative that offers Google Apps and Google Docs integration, Dropbox is the better option because its simply drag and drop in a folder and it simply just works.
Basecamp: Basecamp is a project management tool that we have used on and off for the past year. In the beginning, one of us had a pretty rigorous travel schedule as part of his day job, so having the ability to see and collaborate together in a centralized zone was definitely a boon. We could see what kind of work that was being planned, worked on currently or completed. However as time passed (and day jobs change), we’ve moved away from using Basecamp on a daily basis. We do, however, still use Basecamp with one of our clients.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management):
Basic Spreadsheet. This choice might seem silly but the free CRMs that are available are, generally speaking, unnecessary unless you have more than 20+ [active/past/potential] clients. Basic information can be collected in a simple spreadsheet (in Google Docs or Dropbox for collaboration purposes) and then the data sorted by however you need them. Before you think WTF, think about it for a moment: if you only have 3-5 active clients, is it really that hard not to have their basic information and meeting notes? If you’re unable to remember when you met them and what you talked about, then it’s a minor miracle that you’re able to conduct business. Don’t get us wrong, we understand the power of CRM (one of the partners comes from a heavy sales background), but sometimes, simple is better. If you start off with a spreadsheet, and find that you need to move to a dedicated CRM solution, most (if not all) will allow you to upload a xls or csv file. Just re-organize the fields and data, and BAM, its good to go.
It is entirely possible to start a company for $10* (before the cost of incorporating and other legal/municipal/federal fees required in creating the company).