Published On: 27 January 2021Categories: Day-to-day Operations

Finding the right set of tools to help you run your small business is essential. It doesn’t matter if you are a solopreneur or a micro/small business owner; just because there is only you in your business, doesn’t mean you don’t need the right tools on your belt.

As a small business owner, you can spend significant times and energy, especially if you are just starting out, thinking about what systems you need in your business to help with your day-to-day business operations. Wouldn’t it be great if somebody just told you what you need and gave you the details of how to get started?

The following list is the first in a series to help a typical solopreneur, small or micro business owner with precisely that problem.

We start with the most common system, communications. Every small business owner knows they need an email account and a phone of some sort, right? Depending on your client base, and size, you may also benefit from a live chat feature on your website or a ticketing system, especially if you are required to provide customer or technical support.

Every small business owner needs to keep track of customer interactions, such as deals/opportunities, tasks, and notes, to know the current situation with their clients. If you only have a couple of clients — which you might do if you are just starting out — a simple Contacts or Address Book type application would be ok initially. However, even micro businesses grow out of that very quickly and need something a bit better.

Most people have heard of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions, and as a small business owner, you think that a CRM is way too over-the-top for your needs, too expensive, and will take a lot of your time and effort to implement it correctly. You’d be right! A Contact Manager solution, which is like a cut-down version of a CRM system (but much more straightforward and small business owner friendly) is what you need. Contact Manager systems usually include features such as storing contact details, tracking interactions with contacts in the form of notes and tasks, along with some deal tracking as well. Some also include features such as email and social media integration and advanced features such as web forms to allow you to collect contact details via your website.

Arguably one of the most critical aspects of the back-office of a business is the accounts. You need a good, robust solution that doesn’t turn the job of ‘doing the books’ into a chore or something you gives you nightmares. The system you use should also be one your accountant is either familiar with and in favour of you using. Specifically, your accounting systems should provide a straightforward way to get a full set of reports out your accountant can use efficiently.
If you are a physical goods type business, you need a proper system to track orders placed by your customers. A list in a spreadsheet or worse hand-written notes on the back-of-an-envelope with the details of who ordered want isn’t a sensible way to keep on top of things. You need something that is going to keep you updated on stock levels and the current status of your customer’s orders that includes details of what the customer has ordered, the shipping status and, most importantly of all, raising the invoice.
The service industry version of an order management solution is a project/job management system. Again, sketchy lists of what you are doing on a project for a client isn’t good enough. Even for a micro-business trying to keep on top of several on-going jobs for your clients can turn into an administrative nightmare very quickly without a proper system to track all the activities and other details you need to keep the project on-track (and the client happy).

This doesn’t always have to be a full blown project management system, however. A Contact Manager system as mentioned above with a task or case feature that allows a status and multiple notes can work well for smaller businesses.

If you have a team of any size, using a ‘group’ email for all communications is an excellent idea. There is nothing worse for a customer who sends an email to their usual contact in your small business, and then gets no reply for two weeks as the person went on holiday the day the email got sent. Having a ticketing system can be a replacement for customer emails, as they are usually accessible by everybody in the business and thus emails don’t remain stuck in a specific employees mailbox waiting for action.

Most businesses have some kind of after-sales service that customers will want to use to get in touch. This can be as simple as a ticketing system as stated above, but could also include something via your website such as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section with the most common questions customers ask, which reduces the time you and your team needs to spend on the phone or email explaining the same things over and over again.

Remember all the hype about having a paper-free office? Did anybody really believe it would happen? DID it happen!?!? Well, in my case, yes it did. Although I accept, I’m probably not in the majority of small business owners there. The only paper in my office is the unopened post or un-scanned notes written in the past hour or so. Everything for my business is stored electronically, and accessed or processed via an app or cloud-based system.

However brave (or not) you are when it comes to embracing a paper-free world in your business, the reality is even the biggest paper-hugging business owner will have to process some paperwork online in the current online/cloud-based world we live. So you might as well start using solutions to store it online!

This final heading could equally have been top of the list. However, I feel that all of the above are, in some way, related to productivity so this final heading is more of a reminder of why all of the above solutions are needed in every small business. All tools, including software systems, should help ease the burden on the ever-increasing demands of the average small business owner. Systems and solutions should fit comfortably into your workflow, and not become a job in themselves to use them, and get some real benefit out of using them.

The above list is designed to be a high-level overview of the types of solutions you may need in your small business to help with your daily business operations. Future articles will be on specific systems within each of the headings, along with details of how to use them in real-world situations. My hope is the series will take some of the guesswork out of the finding the right solutions you need for your small business.

I hope you found the information useful; it is based on my personal experience and, except for the Order Management heading, details what I use in my own business. I am a service business and therefore have a project management solution.