Tools of the trade

Since RedAnt Group first opened the door to the home office back in 2012, I've been on a mission to avoid working.

Let me re-phrase that: to avoid doing unnecessary work.

Technology being what it is today - a constantly evolving landscape of cloud based computing and app driven processes - there are myriad tools available to assist our day to day work life. Whether you're chasing optimum productivity, enhanced team collaboration and communication, file storage and security or just trying to claw back a few minutes of down time... there's a tool or an app for you.

As a lean, adaptable professional services company in the engineering and construction industry, we've tried and tested a number of tools to get stuff done over the years. And here's what we've discovered works for us (for now!):

1. Harvest and Harvest Forecast

Harvest is a simple, very friendly time tracking app, with web browser and mobile interfaces.

Track billable and non-billable time and expenses for every project with minimal effort. You can even create and track invoices. Best of all, Harvest integrates with a number of other great apps and Google Business apps to streamline a number of day to day processes. We rely on Harvest for tracking our billable hours for Client invoicing and keeping track of our performance against internal budgets.

The team at Harvest also provide a fantastic 'sister' app, by the name of Harvest Forecast. This is a very clever, very easy to use gantt chart team/project planning tool. It syncs your projects and team from your Harvest account and allows for quick, visual planning of team resources.

RedAnt use Harvest Forecast to avoid over-committing to projects (and finding opportunities to sneak off for holidays!).

2. Teamwork

We've sampled, tested and beat our heads bloodied with a range of web based project management and collaboration tools over the last few years (think Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Zoho, Solo), and Teamwork has come out on top. Sure, if you're a freelance creative type or sole operator, these others may work just fine. But for a busy, growing team of engineering professionals, there are a number of different features we find indispensable with Teamwork.

  • Task list templates - great for standardised, QA certifiable processes

  • File storage and version control

  • Task planning with gantt chart

  • Team and Client collaboration - Teamwork actually allows you to invite third party team members or Clients to access and contribute to a project page

  • Integration with Google apps and other services - again, to streamline processes and cut down on keystrokes

3. BaseCRM

Communication is key. Being a consultant is about developing trust between you and your Clients. It's about developing and maintaining relationships. And the simplest, most comprehensive (and cheapest!) tool that we've tested over the last three years for helping us keep on top of our project opportunities and communications with Clients is BaseCRM.

If Salesforce is too dauntingly massive (too expensive and with more functionality than you'll ever need), and Insightly or Zoho are too simplistic, BaseCRM could be perfect for you and your team. BaseCRM offers a free trial for you to test it out commitment free and monthly subscription plans for their web/mobile platforms are extremely reasonable when you consider your return on investment.

Oh, and of course, BaseCRM integrates with a host of other services, again streamlining all your back of house processes!

4. Xero

And finally, what's the point of making it easier to find, win and deliver new work if you can't keep track of the money?

Xero is the hero. I always thought accounting and bookkeeping was for humourless, frowning accounting types (apologies to our wonderful accountant!), and while I'm still not convinced this isn't the case, Xero has gone a long way to helping change my perceptions.

As a small business owner, it's generally up to me to be everything to everyone, and bookkeeper is just one of my many personalities.

Xero is the most accessible, understandable online accounting software around. It's received rave reviews (in accounting terms, this equates to a single raised eyebrow), around the world and has changed the way many businesses manage their accounts.

We switched to Xero after spending many hours a week producing manually created invoices, compiling huge, error riddled spreadsheet ledgers and trying to reconcile bank statements manually. We also trialled MYOB and Intuit's Reckon (formally Quickbooks), and hands down, Xero is the hero.

Xero integrates with Google Business Apps, Harvest and BaseCRM has an optional payroll module, talks in real time with your financial institution and even allows you to invite your financial advisors to access securely online. If you haven't settled on an accounting package yet, don't even bother comparing. Get Xero.

So what are the key take aways from our last few years of trial and error?

  • Keep your costs down - go for Software As A Subscription (SAAS) services which are web based and allow you to work from anywhere (reduce your overhead!).

  • Integrate and streamline - choose services that seamlessly share information with your other services and reduce lengthy processes to save you time. Also look for services that make it easy to import and export data, just in case you want to move everything to a new platform.

  • Scalability - pick services that suit you now, but have flexibility to scale up or down depending on your business needs.

If you need any advice in finding a web service to suit your particular needs, or some help in setting yourself up with a service to save you time and money, why not get in touch? We're always happy to chat!

#productivityhacks #systemstools