We are fortunate to work with a number of startups and small companies throughout the Northern California area. One of the benefits of working with a diverse number of firms is that we are able to see what third-party tools our clients are using, how those tools increase productivity, and whether we should recommend those tools to our other clients, friends, and associates.
The tools that follow are some of our current “favorites” for conceiving, launching, and operating a small business. These tools span the range of tasks from helping you develop your business plan, minimize the effort associated with expense reports, simplify collaboration, and help you find co-working or office space for your expanding business.
We have no professional affiliation with the firms that produce these tools, nor do we receive any financial benefit from recommending them. We are merely highlighting these products as tools we like and we would welcome your thoughts on your list of “favorites” that you use in your business. Feel free to comment at the end of this blog or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creating the technology for a new idea is a difficult and challenging task. Thinking through all of the nuances of how that technology will be marketed, the resources that you need to acquire, and the legal structure of the organization you’re going to create can be even more daunting. To help reduce these challenges, follows are a few of our favorite tools that we believe can help entrepreneurs and small business launch.
The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management template for thinking through the primary elements of your new, or existing, business model. The template is a visual chart with sections that describe an organization’s:
It is a favorite of ours as it requires the user to think through and describe the fundamental elements of their business model in a single page. The template serves as a foundation to foster the resources required to launch a new business or to give thought to pivoting an existing one. Each of the attributes of the business model are identified and in turn, allow for those elements to be organized and described in a logical fashion.
We also like this tool as it raises financial awareness of topics that may not be considered by a burgeoning company until well after they have started development of their product or service. For example, the tool raises questions such as:
The Business Model Canvas is offered free of charge and can be downloaded from the Business Model Foundry here.
The Emerging Companies team at the law firm of Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe has made available (for free) an extensive collection of legal templates for use by startup and small companies. While these templates are not a substitute for legal counsel, they do provide an excellent foundation for entrepreneurs and small business owners to become aware of and to understand the multitude of agreements that are typically associated with forming a company, offering employment, establishing equity plans, assigning inventions, or issuing debt or equity to outside investors.
The library is broken down into:
In addition to the template library, Orrick also offers an interactive Term Sheet Creator that allows users to create drafts of start-up and venture financing documents based on responses to a series of interactive questions. It offers a step by step, “fill-in-the-blank” process that helps users create an initial draft of documents while simultaneously providing explanatory text for the legal tradeoff of each topic. The documents offered on the Orrick library are free and the templates may be accessed here and the term sheet creator accessed here.
As employees become more mobile and teams are spread across time zones, working efficiently together online has become increasingly important to both small and large businesses alike. Following are three of our favorite tools that we use on a regular basis to communicate with clients, service providers, and our internal team:
For many years the market for broadcasting your desktop and screen sharing has been dominated by providers such as WebEx and GoToMeeting. Both of these products are excellent but their pricing plan and feature list are geared more toward large corporates and multi-nationals rather than to startup companies and small businesses.
Join.me and Screenleap offer two excellent alternatives to Web-ex and GoToMeeting. Both services integrate screen sharing, voice over IP, multi-monitor support, online chat and the capability to send files back and forth between recipients during a screen sharing session.
While Join.me and Screenleap are both intuitive and extremely easy to use, Screenleap offers the added capability of one-click sharing of the desktop – i.e. it does not require the download and installation of additional software to use its service. Any internet device with an internet browser will work and the sharing of your desktop can be achieved in less than 30 seconds. In addition, Screenleap has recently added the capability to launch their service directly within your Gmail account – allowing users to instantly share their screen with their contacts or email addresses.
Insightly is a one-stop application that integrates CRM (Customer Relationship Management) with task and project management capabilities in an easy to use, intuitive interface. The service offers users the ability to easily link contacts to individual tasks, projects and opportunities in a single location while offering the portability and accessibility of a cloud-based program. It organizes data in an extremely intuitive fashion – utilizing domain names to assign messages to organizations and individual email addresses to link information to specific people.
Some of the features that we like the most are:
Automatic Address Book – as emails are saved, Insightly adds new contacts and organizations automatically to your online address book. One of the nicer features is the program’s ability to search the Internet for additional information about that contact or organization and pre-populating the address book with that information. For example, when a new organization is input or captured, the service automatically scans the Company’s web page for its logo and background description and adds those items to the address book. Furthermore the service constantly scans for current news items on the company so that users are alerted of new events relating to that contact. In addition, the address book has a variety of sharing options – allowing users to share contacts with specific co-workers or their entire company depending on the settings that are selected.
Mobile Web App – Another great feature of the service is its mobile web app that allows users the ability to access all of the information related to a contact, task, or project while on the go. The native phone app is very useful – particularly when travelling without a laptop.
Insightly is offered free of charge for up to three users and then offers tiered monthly pricing plans that peak at $5 / user.
Ensuring that the financial records of your business are accurate is a cornerstone of any successful company. However, many of the financial record keeping tools available to small business owners are often difficult to use or challenging for those who don’t work with numbers every day. Two tools that we suggest that you consider to make accounting easier include:
Expensify describes itself with the tagline “Expense Reports That Don’t Suck” and true to their description, their product substantially improves on the standard expense workflow of most small businesses.
Expensify is a business expense management app that streamlines reporting by centralizing all activities from expense recording to reimbursement. Users are able to import expenses from their credit card or mobile payment apps, create expense reports with one click, forward their reports for approval electronically, and receive reimbursement through electronic payments such as Direct Deposit or PayPal.
The system offers a variety of tools tied to a user’s mobile phone including:
Most importantly however is that Expensify offers a “Guaranteed eReceipt” solution that removes the countless sorting of paper receipts that creates the most cumbersome, time-intensive, and generally worst aspect of preparing an expense report. This “Guaranteed eReceipt” system allows the ability to import expenses directly from your credit card account in order to create full digital replacements of paper receipts for purchases under $75. These eReceipts are fully compliant with IRS regulations pertaining to expense recordkeeping.
The Expensify service integrates with a variety of accounting packages, Google Apps, Evernote, Freshbooks, and Salesforce. The Company presently counts more than 90,000 organizations and 650,000 individuals users who the service to process 10,000 receipts and $2 million in expenses every day. The service is offered free of charge for personal use and charges $5 / expense reporter / month for Company plans. In addition, the pricing plan only charges users in a given month if they submit an expense report – so there is no need to turn on or off users during periods when they may not be incurring expenses.
Wave Accounting is a cloud based accounting system that is geared specifically toward small businesses and solo entrepreneurs.
The single greatest distinction of Wave from other online accounting systems is all of the features of the service are available to the user free of charge. Wave accomplishes this “no price pricing model” by selling small portions of their screen space to advertisers who are specifically targeting small businesses. These advertisers include corporations such as American Express, Dell, HP, Microsoft as well as smaller businesses in the user’s regional area.
From an accounting standpoint, the service is a fully integrated financial system that features double-entry accounting, a wide array of financial statements and reports, full general ledger access, unlimited invoicing and expense tracking, accounts receivable and payables tracking, an ability to track sales tax, gains / losses on foreign exchange transactions, as well as the ability to integrate online banking and credit card accounts.
For business owners that may have more than one business, Wave also allows users to have multiple companies under a single user account – allowing the ability switch between financial records without requiring separate logins, passwords, and email addresses.
A downside of Wave Accounting is that it presently does not offer full payroll integration for customers in the United States. This is a feature that is presently under development and is anticipated to be available at the end of 2012.
For any organization that this just starting up and is in need of an easy to use and intuitive accounting system, we suggest that you give Wave a try. The advertisements are un-intrusive, the accounting system works well, and the service is offered completely free of charge.
Whether your company is just beginning or up and running and growing quickly, finding optimal office space is always a challenge. In markets such as San Francisco and Palo Alto, finding office space is even more difficult as companies compete for, and drive up the cost of, available offices. The following include a couple of tools that we like that help small businesses quickly find (and price) available real estate and as well as perform design planning for their space.
For companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, 42 Floors offers a free service that allows users to “discover their dream office”. Using a map interface, 42 Floors displays available office space by city, square footage, price per square foot, or by zip code or neighborhood. Once the user has made their selection, 42 Floors displays a variety of real estate alternatives ranging from traditional leased space, sub-lease options, or for small organizations, co-working offices. Users can easily sort results by the size of space, cost, or those listings with pictures of the physical space. Users are then able to click through each particular listing to see the specific lease details, contact information, and the visual media associated with the office space.
T3 Advisors offers a similar online service as 42 Floors, but their Launchspace tool focuses exclusively on “flexible space” options for entrepreneurs who are seeking short term office solutions. In addition to being able to filter by the office location, the T3 tool provides the capability to sort by distance from BART or Caltrain stations – a convenient tool given the commuting patterns of those in the Bay Area.
Turnstone (a division of Steelcase) offers furniture specifically designed for increasing collaboration and tech-enabled mobility. As part of their overall product strategy, Turnstone has released an IPad app that allows users to take photos of physical space and overlay three dimensional models of furniture to create “virtual staging” of a particular location. Furniture can be combined, rotated, and viewed from a variety of angles to see how pieces will best fit in a given physical space.
In addition, the tool provides a traditional overhead view that can be used in space planning – very useful when comparing the layout of one office alternative to another.
The Turnstone app is offered free of charge and is available in the iTunes store as well as on Turnstone’s website.
We hope that you find the tools in this article useful and would greatly enjoy hearing your thoughts. Please feel free to drop us a note to email@example.com.
Small, growing companies are often the most in need of expert financial guidance, but struggle to find it cost-effective to hire a seasoned, full time CFO. Burkland Associates offers these companies part-time CFO services, enabling senior management to meet or exceed goals by utilizing our expert strategic planning, financial administration, operations development and fundraising assistance while keeping the budget in check.
If you would like more information about these tools, or need help preparing your business for strategic growth or fundraising, please contact us at 415-944-8215 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.