If you're self-employed and don't have the luxury of an army of backroom staff, it can be tough to keep track of your clients. Fortunately, these days, you've got a glittering, gleaming array of apps and software at your disposal. Plus your natural charm and common sense.Here's how to get organised.
Invoicing is one of the necessary evils of self-employment. Without it, you almost certainly won't get paid. And that would never do. Here are some of the leading invoicing apps.
QuickBooks by Intuit is one of the best and most talked-about invoicing and accounting apps for streamlining a small business' finances. The accounting software package allows you to deal with your invoices from a single dashboard and issue them automatically.
You can connect your online banking to the software, which is great for reducing those manual data-entry errors. Plus, the software can even proactively show you the effect on your cash flow of paying bills.The Business Essentials plan retails at around £15 a month.
FreshBooks is aimed more squarely at small businesses and freelancers, and it comes with time and expense tracking as well. Customise your invoices with your logo and forward them by email.
FreshBooks is a winner on customer service and their social media accounts are always worth a look. Check out their help centre for how-tos and everything you'll need to get cracking. There's even a free 30-day trial.
Wave is available at every freelancer's favourite price – free. This app is a premium software that includes credit card payments and support.Wave comes with an easy-to-use interface and great invoicing features that include customisations, column editing and reminders.
Zoho offers a range of cloud applications ideal for small businesses, but its invoicing software, Zoho Invoice, is a real showstopper. Thanks to its user-friendly interface, building an invoice is quick and easy. A user can effortlessly create invoices and estimates, and set up retainer invoicing.Got fewer than five customers? Zoho Invoice is free. And the Basic plan, allowing you to invoice up to 50 customers, is just £5 a month.
Invoicely comes at the handsome price of zero. Some free invoice-builder apps put limits on how many invoices you can send. But, with Invoicely, you can rattle off as many as you want. So it's great if you're only starting out. It's cloud-hosted and simple to use, allowing you to track time and expenses, set up recurring statements and provide quotes.
InvoiceBerry is designed for small businesses and is built with simplicity in mind. How simple? Like creating and delivering invoices in less than a minute. InvoiceBerry offers 15 invoice templates and allows you to send reminders to late payers and ‘thank you' notes on receipt of payment. It's free for up to three clients.
KashFlow is built for UK business. It even links directly to HMRC, producing VAT returns and EC sales lists and filing them to the taxman.KashFlow will turn quotes into invoices in one click and generate automatic alerts for any late payers. It kicks off at £7 a month for sole traders, contractors and small businesses.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are a great way to keep customer contact details up to date, track customer interactions and manage business activity with clients.Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics are the largest CRM providers. But these can be pricey – Salesforce costs up to £240 for unlimited support, while Dynamics tops out at £124.60.
These high-end CRM tools probably offer more bells and whistles than you need as a small-business owner. So you might want to consider smaller providers such as Zoho or Insightly.From just £10, Zoho CRM offers an excellent array of email marketing tools, stunning workflow automation (on the Professional edition), plus good integration with Google G Suite and other Zoho products. Insightly weighs in at around £20 and provides proper email tracking, detailed sharing settings and web forms to help you harvest leads.
If you don't want to shell out for an app, it's possible to keep track of clients with Excel. The Microsoft package comes with a customisable template that allows you to:
Sort and filter Order tables based on estimated sale value, filter customers out where Lead Status is ‘loss' or ‘cold' and sort the table into most-urgent contacts first.
Demographics Record contact names, company, job title, email and phone number in a worksheet.
Estimated sale Record average monthly or annual sales figures to help you see the value of keeping that customer and estimate sales from potential customers.
Last contact Use the Last Contact field to record your last communication with a client. Highlighting makes the cell green for recent contacts, pink for lapsed contacts and yellow for anything in between.
Next contact Plan your follow-up communication and use the Next Action column to enter a code describing what your follow-up action will be.
Sales log Create monthly, quarterly or annual sales reports and record individual sales on the sales log worksheet.
Summarise the data with a PivotTable.Whichever system you choose, you'll wonder how you ever coped without CRM. It's like a contact list with a MENSA mind. One that not only records contact information but also remembers every touchpoint of your relationship and every interaction – by phone, email or even on social media.Pick the right CRM software, and you can dramatically improve productivity, sales and customer satisfaction.
No apps or software here, just a big dose of common sense.If you've ever taken a call from a customer – or, perish the thought, the taxman – and you've had to say, ‘Can I call you back in ten?' because you couldn't immediately locate a key file, you might want to think about giving your file hierarchy a spring clean.Here are a few tips:
When you install application programs, use the default file locations. In Windows, that'll be in the (Drive Letter:)->Program Files directory. Putting them anywhere else is just too confusing.
Put all your documents beneath just one ‘root' folder, preferably My Documents.Where you're sharing files, do the same. Create a root folder called Shared Documents and keep all your files in subfolders underneath that. With one location for your files, your documents will be much easier to locate.
Adopt a ‘does what it says on the tin' mentality to naming your files. Try and think what your future self might look for when searching for a file.
You should avoid having orphan files. So, nest new folders within your main folders.What would this look like? You might have a folder called ‘Invoices'. The parent folder might have sub-folders named ‘2017-18', ‘2016-17' and so on. You might also have client folders with sub-folders devoted to ‘Correspondence' and ‘Projects'.
Unix and some other operating systems won't let you use spaces in names, so avoid this if sharing files. You can use underscores instead. Note that Windows won't allow some special characters in names. To make sure you can retrieve files easily, use descriptive file names, but note the maximum character length of 260.
File documents as soon as you create them. Use ‘Save As' to both name and file your document accurately.
Get yourself an external hard drive so that you can back up your files regularly. There's nothing worse than bluffing over the phone to a client after a computer crash has removed vital files.
Outlook Calendar is a massively underused tool with some great basic features. These include full integration with email, contacts and other features. You can have sounds or messages beamed up to remind you of appointments and meetings, and create a request for a meeting while choosing the people to invite. Outlook will even tell you the soonest time everyone can attend.Here's what else Outlook will do:
Schedule meetings quickly by viewing the itinerary of everyone in your department or all your conference rooms.
View side-by-side two or more calendars and calendars shared by other Outlook users. Therefore, you can create both a personal and work calendar that you can view side-by-side.
You can track your bill payments. You can add that to the travel-reservation and package-delivery information you can get in Outlook. The software will identify bills received in email, summarise them at the top and add a due date.
Outlook will even suggest locations for your meeting, bringing up recently used and available conference rooms and other possible locations. Just start to type in the location field and Outlook will make suggestions based on Bing and autocomplete the location.
These days, email is the backbone of business communications. But you need to remain productive because time is money. And nothing drains your time like email.There are tools that can help, such as Pyrus. This is a communication package that unites group chat and email.Software aside, what else can you do to stay on top of your email and get more productive?
Create an email filing system – one that prioritises people requiring action. Put emails that need a response at the top of your list and anything else below that. This method will deter you from dealing immediately with non-urgent communications.
Your inbox is full of rubbish. Over the years, you'll have subscribed, wittingly or otherwise, to hundreds of autoresponder email services. Make it your mission to remove the clutter – unsubscribe from two or three a day, and you'll soon see a difference.To reduce future clutter, create a different email address for any newsletters you want to keep. Or filter them to a separate folder to read later.
Email strings can go on and on, and they can take hours to write. On top of that, it's a fact that you'll take some time to recover from sending them. Your brain will be fried; you'll go for a coffee, and get distracted by something less mentally taxing. Before you know it, you're watching breakdancing goats on YouTube.
So how about calling a meeting instead? Yes, actual face-to-face communication. Getting people together, provided they're local, will see you spending less time discussing the issue than you'd spend zipping emails between you.
So there we have it – your guide to efficiently and courteously dealing with clients by app and in person. Implement all of this, and you'll be more productive, less stressed and an all-around better person to deal with.Happy days.