Productivity 4 Apps to Save Your Company Time and Money
It’s getting to be that time of year again, when all of my fellow business owners are locking themselves away for weekends, spending lots of time and money, so that they can complete their year-end accounting.
What about me, you ask? [Leans back in leather chair, sips brandy, stares into roaring fire] … I finished before I even started…
While that makes no sense from a chronological and/or lexical point of view - and technically I’m leaning back in a pleather chair, sipping chai tea, staring into a fake electric fireplace at Second Cup - what I’m getting at is that my year end is taking me minutes, not hours or days.
I started my most recent company, Vicara Solutions, in November of 2014 as a sole proprietorship. It was a very quick way to get moving and as a result, I was able to roll all of my paperwork in with my regular yearly accounting and there wasn’t much to do except for a few odds and ends.
However, in January of 2015, I decided to incorporate and from then on, I had real paperwork to deal with… Incorporation documents, year end (or quarterly) bookkeeping and accounting, corporate expensing, personal expensing, dividends, invoices, blah blah… Also, while my client-base was picking up, I was forming different partnerships, joint ventures, purchasing more equipment, and developing internal products.
As a result of my company’s growth between December 2014 and December 2015, the amount of admin gruntwork I had to do went up by 5-10x. So, where I would previously average 1-2 hours per month of admin a year ago, that would have easily become 10-15 hours per month today.
BUT! Here’s the trick… I spend less time now on admin than I did when I started my company! Per month, I currently spend under an hour in total to handle all of my company’s administration.
The benefits of this time saving should be obvious, as 15 billable hours per month can really add up. However, for me, that time doesn’t become directly billable. Instead it gives me a lot of free time to do things like… oh, I don’t know… blog?
My Time-Saving Stack
I leverage several technologies to make all of this possible, and while some of them cost money, given the amount of time saved - paying extra is a no-brainer.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the companies listed, other than the fact that I use their services daily. Additionally, for each of the 4 companies, I have tried using 2 ‘major’ competitors. I quote ‘major’ because, in reality, they didn’t even come close to matching the ones I chose in terms of usability, integrations, or time and money savings.
The heart of my system comes down to tracking and managing projects from a macro and micro level. After trying a few competitors, I landed on Asana because I could easily manage anything I wanted at multiple hierarchies.
For instance, looking at my workspaces, I have my ‘Personal Projects’ being anything related to me, but unrelated to my company. ‘Vicara Clients’ is a workspace only dealing with my clients, and ‘Vicara Solutions’ is a workspace to track internal matters and products I’m building.
When we move into the task view, I create a template of a typical project I need to work on (it’s roughly the same for every project I work on), and from there I can add main tasks in each section, and push further subtasks in that task. For any of those, I can assign to specific people, due dates, add tags, add comments, and on and on.
Whenever I work on a project, I create all of these tasks and sub-tasks
- and when I work on them, I track the time I spend on each task with this handy little integration into my next tool.
If Asana is the heart of my administrative system, Harvest would be my wallet.
Harvest handles all of my time-tracking (through integration with Asana), invoicing, estimating, and expensing. It also has an incredibly flexible reporting system that can show details on basically any metric you want to track (hours, invoices, unpaid invoices, expenses, …), across any dimension you’d like (by client, by staff, by project, by task, …).
The best part is that if you make any mistakes with your timesheets, you can go back in, edit them, or move them to different dates - but once you invoice those hours, the invoiced hours are marked off - so you don’t accidentally get out of sync with anything you’ve sent out.
The videos on the resources pages do a far better job of explaining how to use the system than I do.
Note: I use another Harvest tool called Forecast (which is a bit newer). I won’t go into this tool, as I find it valuable, but I can’t really say that it saves me substantial amounts of time… Rather, it just gives me an overview of my upcoming business at once. Check it out.
After I send out an invoice in Harvest, I also attach a web link that allows a client to pay using PayPal. Once paid, the invoice is automatically marked as paid and is then sent directly into my accounting system. If I’m paid offline (e.g. cheque), I can manually mark an invoice paid, and it’s still sent into my accounting system.
Xero is my online accounting system, and it’s the product I’m least experienced with - mostly because it’s a very accountant-centric tool, and I know little about accounting.
All I know is that it very easily integrates with all of my other tools, and has enough smarts to figure out some of the double entry bookkeeping on it’s own. My role is not to do, but just to verify - and that is exactly what I need my software to do.
As a result of Xero’s intelligence, I can reconcile most/all of my transactions in minutes, not hours - and then completely forget about it until the next month.
For the data nerds out there, Xero can make or pull a report for almost anything you can imagine.
The last, but not least, member of the team is Receipt Bank… Receipt Bank is an expense processing tool which takes in my invoices and expenses and saves me the pain and suffering of manually inputting that data.
It saves me time by somehow extracting all the pertinent data from my receipts/invoices and then it pushes the receipt and important data back into Xero.
And when I say ‘somehow’, I mean it. I have no idea… I know all about OCR, I’ve used 2 of Receipt Bank’s major competitors who claim to automatically extract the same imformation, and I’ve even written OCR programs in the past - but I was completely blown away by how accurate Receipt Bank was!
In fact, here is a tweet I sent them about how amazed I was:
- do you use automated OCR? Or little elves? Because holy crap is your receipt recognition good!
— Suresh Joshi (@SJoshi84) October 2, 2015
Also, when I say pain and suffering… Before I used Receipt Bank, I was using one of their competitors and, as a test, I tried importing 100 receipts into their system using an iOS app. It got about 2 of the receipts correct, and for the other 98, I needed to go back and edit most of their OCR’d guesses. This process took about 5 hours (about 3 minutes per receipt including sorting, scanning, editing, etc…).
When I switched to Receipt Bank, I brought my receipts with me and tried using the RB app to pull in the same 100 receipts. It was spot on with about 90 of the receipts, and for the other 10, I needed to mess around with incorrect taxes - everything else was correct. The 5 hours with the competitor came down to about 45 minutes with Receipt Bank!
How It All Fits Together
I think I’ve sung the praises of the above companies enough for one day, so the last point I’ll make it this:
While trying to get one of my colleagues on board with going digital with his accounting, I drew up this diagram, which helps explain how my system works together. After I drew it out, it looked much more complicated than it feels, as between my clients and my system, or me and my system, there are only 1-2 interaction points. The rest happens automagically.
If you use any of these systems, or have other ones I should try out, please let me know!