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The Most Essential Software Tools to Start a Business!

Operations
December 2021

Everywhere you look, there seems to be a piece of software to do something you thought could only be done manually.

There is such a thing as “too much software”. Just as there is such a thing as “too little”.

In running a business, it’s vital to establish what software is absolutely necessary and which is just nice to have.

When starting a business, you want to be as lean as possible, investing in just the right software for your business to help you turn a profit while keeping your budget as low as possible.

Here is our selection of absolutely essential software tools for startups and small businesses.

Accounting software tools

All of your bookkeeping can be done online these days. And all the major accounting software providers also come with phone apps so that you can manage your accounting on the go.

Bookkeeping can take so much valuable time away from your day that it’s essential to invest in a tool that provides even the most basic functionality to keep your books in order.

Tools such as FreeAgentQuickbooksXero and others allow you to create and send invoices, reconcile your bank accounts, prepare end-of-year accounts as well as scan in your receipts, so you never miss a deductible expense.

All of them also run payroll and take care of the dozens of different actions which must be taken to stay in compliance with HMRC’s monthly PAYE and other requirements.

Good and affordable accounting software is absolutely indispensable for any business and will save you plenty of money in the long run.

Project management tools

Work for Hire

You need something to be able to keep track of ongoing projects. The tool needs to be accessible via your phone, your browser and should give you a quick overview of where your different projects stand and how to get them unstuck if they are stuck.

There are several excellent project management tools out there, such as Monday.comTrelloClickUp and Wrike.

Although not technically a project management solution, AirTable can also be used successfully as one.

CRM — Customer Relationship Management

When you’re small, it’s possible to keep track of all your clients and leads in spreadsheets and maybe even on scraps of paper.

This isn’t the case when you start to grow even a little bit.

Keeping track of leads and the sales pipeline is crucial and can suck up a lot of time; not to mention that failing to keep tabs on this aspect of your business can lead to missed sales and opportunities!

HubSpot offers a free CRM which covers most basic needs to manage your customer and leads database until you are large enough to afford one of their higher-tiered packages. Salesforce is another popular cloud-based CRM.

Team suites

Team suites will typically contain some or other project management tool as part of their offering. But, still, some companies prefer to go with a separate choice for project management because the standalone products are often so much better.

As for the team suite itself — secure team chat, video telephony, email, document collaboration — the two main players are undoubtedly Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Each has its pros and cons, and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference.

Telephone software (VOIP)

It just makes sense to use VOIP for your business, and there are several solutions on the market for this. Using VOIP is particularly important for companies that handle a lot of international business.

VOIP can also integrate deeply with analytics tools and computer software to provide additional features not customarily available on a normal phone.

Video-conferencing tools

Video-conferencing tools

Video-conferencing is here to stay. And, whereas we’ll all probably return to the office again eventually, there are numerous benefits to video conferencing compared to in-person meetings.

Video conferencing saves time and makes it easier to arrange meetings on short notice. The ability to record video calls also obviates the need for extensive note-taking or additional software for recording.

Basic marketing tools

This covers a wide range of tools, spanning from actual design tools such as Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud to social media marketing tools such as Hootsuite which allows for scheduling of social media posts.

In this category would be included basic video editing tools as well.

There’s only so far a DIY marketing approach will get you. Not only is it a skill that takes years to hone, but design-work also takes up a tremendous amount of time which is not good if you’re trying to get your startup off the ground.

Eventually, you would probably want to hire professionals to take care of your business marketing.

Online storage

Storing your files online is the easiest way to keep them backed up when you’re busy. There are too many horror stories of professionals who lost a ton of data because they didn’t have a backup for it.

Also, online storage makes it easier to work on the go, from any device.

Popular online storage providers are Google DriveOneDrive and Dropbox.

About author
Julia Richards
Julia Richards

Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.

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Small business insurance, like taxes, is one of those “unavoidable” in business that simply needs to be faced up to. Unlike taxes, however, only certain insurances are required by law while others are optional. Too many small businesses only take out the basic insurance policies as required by law (such as Employers’ Liability if you have employees and Professional Indemnity Insurance for certain professions) and ignore taking out other insurances, much to their peril. This is understandable. Insurance providers are in the business of mitigating risk. You, as a business owner, are also in the business of mitigating risk, and spending a few extra hundred pounds a month or year for insurance might be considered riskier for you than the risk itself. For example, cyber insurance might be considered a pointless expenditure because your business has a low technology footprint. The real problem, however, is a lack of transparent answers as to what insurance policies companies really need. Insurance providers seem all-too-keen to sell their wares and so might give you the impression that you need any and every insurance policy out there. This guide will attempt to demystify some of the elements of getting insurance for your business so that you can make an informed decision regarding whether or not you really need that particular cover. Which insurance policies are mandated by law? Employers’ Liability Insurance In the UK, if you employ anyone in your business who is not a direct family member, then you are required to have Employers’ Liability Insurance. Employers’ Liability Insurance is designed to cover an employer’s costs should any claim be made by an employee (or an ex-employee, in some cases) that some aspect of their employment has caused them some harm. This harm could be in the form of bad health or injury. If an (ex-)employee wished to recover damages from the (ex-)employer, they would make what is called a “compensation claim” against the employer in order to be compensated for the alleged injury, bad health and so recover the costs incurred. The validity of such a claim would be determined by the court, and it would be the court that orders it paid. Such claims can run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on the type of illness or injury and what degree of specialist medical care was required to treat it. Your chosen Employers’ Liability Insurance policy will cover the costs up to the policy’s limit. Higher limits equate to higher monthly premiums. But this might be necessary for high-risk industries such as construction companies or companies treating hazardous waste. Motor Insurance If your company uses motor vehicles to perform its services, then you must ensure those vehicles by law. The minimum coverage required is “third party only” which would cover damages to other vehicles. If you use a personal vehicle for work, you need to be aware that your personal vehicle insurance won’t cover you for business use! So, you would need to take out second, business-specific insurance for the vehicle. (Note: Commuting to and from work is not considered “business use.”) If your employees utilise their own vehicles for business, you do not need to insure them on their behalf. Professional Indemnity Insurance Depending on the type of business you run, you might be required by law to get Professional Indemnity Insurance. Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI) is there to protect people in professions that offer advice or provide a professional service. Some examples of professions that are usually required to have PI include: Consultants of any kind (IT, Business, Management, Financial, etc.) Engineers and Surveyors Interior Designers Business Coaching Professionals Trainers Education Professionals Accountants PI is designed to protect you from claims stemming from: Erroneous advice is given by you in the course of your duties Mistakes in designs or calculations, leading to financial loss (damages) Sometimes, a client will insist that you have PI before they agree to work with you. Which additional insurance policies should small businesses take out? Cyber insurance A small business is hacked every 19 seconds in the UK, and there are 65,000 hacking attempts carried out against small UK businesses every single day. In the face of these threats, more and more companies are taking out Cyber Insurance. Cyber Insurance is intended to cover damages not typically covered by other insurance policies. Specifically, they aim to offer protection against claims arising from data loss, data theft, data destruction, cyber-extortion, certain types of internet hacks, etc. Some cyber insurance policies even go so far as to offer coverage which indemnifies companies for losses caused by the company’s own errors or omissions as well as any failure to safeguard information on the part of that company. This insurance is not mandated by law (yet), but we predict that some incarnation of it very well might be in the near future. In the meantime, it is a highly recommended insurance policy to get, if you can find one which does indeed cover the costs it purports to and which also doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Property Insurance This is another crucial insurance policy to consider if you own any property related to your business. Property Protection insurance typically offers coverage for unexpected damage caused to property resulting from fire, flooding, burst pipes and subsidence (when the ground beneath a property starts to slowly cave in). Property Protection Insurance can also be used to protect physical stock you have stored somewhere. This insurance is not a legal requirement but is highly recommended in many cases. Business Interruption Insurance This type of insurance is often overlooked by businesses. Many businesses also simply don’t know it exists. Whereas property insurance against flooding and fire might cover the damages from the ensuing damage eventually, that type of policy does not cover any of the financial losses which occur as a result of the business not being able to operate. Many businesses depend entirely on their physical presence to be able to actually perform their functions and duties. Business Interruption Insurance exists to ensure that any financial losses are covered while that premises is unable to be occupied or used. Seeing as a flooded building can often require as much as two months to completely dry out, Business Interruption Insurance might be the difference between your business going under or not. Business Contents Insurance Business Contents Insurance is for protecting any business contents — such as possessions or equipment — kept at the workplace. Please note that contents insurance for your private household will not cover business contents even if you run your business from home. You will need a separate policy to cover the business contents, specifically. Claims can be made against a Business Contents Insurance if any of the business’s contents suffer damage or loss through: Fire Flooding Theft And similar. Business Contents Insurance is particularly important if you hold vast amounts of stock on-site such as in the case of a warehouse. The policy can sometimes also be used to cover repairs on the contents. Public Liability Insurance If there is any chance at all that your profession or business might endanger members of the public, it is imperative that you take out Public Liability Insurance. This insurance applies both if members of the public come to your workplace and are harmed there or if you go to their workplace or a public area, and harm ensues. This type of insurance is particularly important for people involved in construction or “handyman”-a type of work where leaving tools lying around or falling objects could harm someone. If someone is indeed injured at your site and they make a successful claim against you, then Public Liability Insurance will cover your costs up to the limits set out in the policy. Some trade bodies automatically cover their members for public liability insurance. So, check the details of any trade body or union you belong to, to see if you might already be insured. Van Insurance If you’re a tradesman whose lifeblood depends on your van being operational, you might want to consider van insurance. Van insurance is not the same as run-of-the-mill car and motor insurance. It is a separate type of insurance specifically designed for protection against the risks typical to running and using a van on a daily basis. The type of van insurance you need depends greatly on how you use your van, the type of van you’re operating and whether or not you also use the van privately. Keyperson Insurance Also called “Keyman (or key-man)” Insurance, this type of insurance is relatively unknown and yet quite important. There is no legal definition of Keyperson Insurance. Essentially, it is life insurance taken out for an individual in the company who is considered pivotal to the company’s financial success. Examples of such people might be a scientist with a unique set of skills or a key public figure around whom the company’s entire branding is built. The company takes out life insurance or a trauma insurance policy on the person and is then compensated for any financial losses should anything occur that incapacitates that key person’s ability to perform. Such a policy would only be valid for the term that the person is actively involved in the business as a primary generator of income. Product Liability Insurance If you are in the business of manufacturing or supplying goods, then you probably need to take out product liability insurance. Even if you don’t manufacture the goods yourself, but those goods contain your brand name on them (as in the case of white-labelling), you could be held accountable for damages and injuries which occur as a result of the product. No matter the precautions are taken, there is always a risk of malfunction or some other error in the manufacturing industry. Famously (or, rather, infamously), there was the case of hoverboards which suddenly caught fire when they were used. In December 2020, Toyota recalled 20,000 HiLux vehicles due to risks with a faulty braking system. This was in addition to numerous other recalls in the previous year. Car recalls are surprisingly common. If you run an eCommerce site and sell products there, then product liability is essential. Even if your branding is not on the product, but you modify it in some way, then you can be held liable for any damages that ensue. Directors’ and officers’ liability insurance (D&O) This type of insurance is also known as management insurance. If you are a business founder or director, you might want to consider getting this type of insurance. The D&O does not protect the entire business, but it offers cover specifically for the management team and the directors for any claims made against them personally. Because the consequences of such claims can be severe for an individual (sometimes even leading to a prison sentence), it is important to ensure that you are covered for both legal costs and compensation costs should any such claims arise. This type of insurance is sometimes demanded by investors before they decide to fund your company. How to choose the right insurance provider This is where things can get a little tricky. Insurance policies are difficult beasts to tame. They contain plenty of “legalese” and, unfortunately, too often what isn’t covered is only discovered after a claim is made. In this world of number-crunching and AI-powered decisions, the chance to speak to an experienced, live human being during the purchasing process has been greatly reduced. Ideally, you would work with a consultant whom you can trust in order to select the right business insurances for you. Remember that many consultants get paid commissions (and, sometimes, recurring commissions) for the insurance policies they sell. Unscrupulous reps might suggest one policy provider over another simply because they’ll get a better cut. That being said, not everyone is so dishonest in business. You should conduct wide-reaching research on your own. Look into online reviews or, better, ask people whom you know, who have had to claim from their own business insurances and have done so successfully. That’s the way most successful business gets done — direct networking and recommendations. You can’t ensure everything No matter how hard you try, you can’t insure yourself against all possible damages. And, even if you do, there might sometimes be clauses in the policy preventing a payout if it is found that you were in gross violation of applicable laws or even willfully neglectful. Ensuring your business against potential harm to others doesn’t obviate your responsibilities as a professional and as an employer to ensure the safety and well-being of others. Insurance is there to catch all the balls which slipped through — not all the balls you purposefully threw up into the air to see where they would land! Take out only the insurance that makes sense for your particular industry and risk factors. So much choice — where to start!? Indeed, the choices can be pretty overwhelming. And, as we mentioned, there simply isn’t enough transparent assistance around to help small businesses choose the right insurance policies for them. That’s why we offer a free Small Business Insurance Selection Service which helps you figure out which insurance policies your company might need and then directs you to the companies we feel offer the best value for money for those policies. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.

August 2021
Operations Improve Business Cost Efficiency

Improving cost-efficiency in your business is all a matter of getting better at doing day-to-day tasks. As the famous saying goes: Work smarter, not harder. There are numerous ways to save money and reduce costs in a small business such as turning the lights off at a certain hour or sourcing cheaper suppliers. But the trick is to save coins while improving your efficiency, not lowering it. Here are six unique hacks on how to be more cost-effective in your business while still operating at high-volume. 1. Answering service Time is money, and one of the quickest and easiest ways to save both in your small business is to outsource your switchboard. Instead of hiring a full-time switchboard operator and committing yourself to yet another salary when you’re not even sure if your startup is going to make it, consider using professional call-answerers to handle all your incoming calls. A business call-answering service is typically used for: Answering your business calls in a professional manner, utilising your business’s name. Forwarding calls to you if they are important. Informing you of calls via text message or email. Scheduling appointments for you on your calendar. Squashing telesales and automated calls which waste your time. Such a service then frees up your time (and hence, money) so you can do what you do best: Take care of business. 2. Online calendar The amount of time wasted when working out appropriate meeting times between you and others is enormous. Not only that, it can lead to confusions and unexpected conflicts in scheduling, thereby causing more wasted time. In these days rapid change, the only logical solution is to use an online scheduling service such as Calendly or YouCanBookMe which allows people to schedule themselves in for appointments without the endless back and forth of emails. If time is money, online calendar booking solutions will save you a ton of both! 3. VOIP phone lines Calling using traditional means has gone the way of the dinosaur, especially if you do a lot of international calling. These days, VOIP Business Phone Solutions come with so many different options that it simply makes no sense to pay your local telecom to provide you with a phone connection at exorbitant rates. Not only are VOIP providers generally cheaper on a per-call basis, but their service also tends to be better as a rule of thumb due to their need to compete with preexisting megacorps that have a firm grip on the market. 4. WFH policy For those who can do it, working from home has tremendous benefits. For the employer, it can save costs. A WFH policy cannot work in all industries. Video conferencing simply can’t replace the magic inherent in real human contact. But if your company is indeed able to allow a large contingent of its employees to work from home, that will save you costs. If a large portion of your employees works from home, you can hire a smaller space for your office and spend less on daily overheads. 5. Automate, automate, automate We are currently living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the internet of things. You can control your lights with your phone, get your coffee machine to make a pot for you every morning, and you can even get your floor vacuumed on a schedule. On a less dramatic basis, numerous tools exist online, which can automate the day-to-day grind for individuals and businesses. Some of these tools include: Accounting software that automatically logs your bills and invoices. Project management tools which execute certain actions based on a set of predetermined criteria. Workflow solutions that streamline everyday work. A short search on the web will give you dozens of solutions to test, which can reduce your workload as a result of automating repetitive tasks. 6. Work with freelancers If you have projects that need to be done over a few months but don’t have the power to do it in-house, use freelancers instead of taking someone on board permanently. Whereas the freelancer’s pricing might be higher than a salaried employee initially, this cost will balance itself out in the long run as a result of not being obliged legally to continue the relationship with the freelancer once the project is completed. The world of freelancing has grown highly competitive, and many freelancers will give you agency-quality work if you both agree to the right price (which will likely still be miles lower than the agency’s). Always work with professionals. Try and avoid cheapskate freelance sites with tons of freelancers competing mainly on price but not on quality. You’ll likely end up spending more by hiring from these websites because the work will often need to be redone.   Ask for help Make it your daily mantra: “Could this be done smarter?” Depending on your technical know-how, you might or might not come up with ways that it could be done smarter. If you are struggling to figure out ways to streamline production, call someone who can do it for you. Ask for help. That’s a bonus cost-saving tip, by the way: Ask for help when you need it. A lot of professionals are keen and willing to help if you just ask. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.

August 2021
Operations The Most Essential Software Tools to Start a Business!

Everywhere you look, there seems to be a piece of software to do something you thought could only be done manually. There is such a thing as “too much software”. Just as there is such a thing as “too little”. In running a business, it’s vital to establish what software is absolutely necessary and which is just nice to have. When starting a business, you want to be as lean as possible, investing in just the right software for your business to help you turn a profit while keeping your budget as low as possible. Here is our selection of absolutely essential software tools for startups and small businesses. Accounting software tools All of your bookkeeping can be done online these days. And all the major accounting software providers also come with phone apps so that you can manage your accounting on the go. Bookkeeping can take so much valuable time away from your day that it’s essential to invest in a tool that provides even the most basic functionality to keep your books in order. Tools such as FreeAgent, Quickbooks, Xero and others allow you to create and send invoices, reconcile your bank accounts, prepare end-of-year accounts as well as scan in your receipts, so you never miss a deductible expense. All of them also run payroll and take care of the dozens of different actions which must be taken to stay in compliance with HMRC’s monthly PAYE and other requirements. Good and affordable accounting software is absolutely indispensable for any business and will save you plenty of money in the long run. Project management tools You need something to be able to keep track of ongoing projects. The tool needs to be accessible via your phone, your browser and should give you a quick overview of where your different projects stand and how to get them unstuck if they are stuck. There are several excellent project management tools out there, such as Monday.com, Trello, ClickUp and Wrike. Although not technically a project management solution, AirTable can also be used successfully as one. CRM — Customer Relationship Management When you’re small, it’s possible to keep track of all your clients and leads in spreadsheets and maybe even on scraps of paper. This isn’t the case when you start to grow even a little bit. Keeping track of leads and the sales pipeline is crucial and can suck up a lot of time; not to mention that failing to keep tabs on this aspect of your business can lead to missed sales and opportunities! HubSpot offers a free CRM which covers most basic needs to manage your customer and leads database until you are large enough to afford one of their higher-tiered packages. Salesforce is another popular cloud-based CRM. Team suites Team suites will typically contain some or other project management tool as part of their offering. But, still, some companies prefer to go with a separate choice for project management because the standalone products are often so much better. As for the team suite itself — secure team chat, video telephony, email, document collaboration — the two main players are undoubtedly Slack and Microsoft Teams. Each has its pros and cons, and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference. Telephone software (VOIP) It just makes sense to use VOIP for your business, and there are several solutions on the market for this. Using VOIP is particularly important for companies that handle a lot of international business. VOIP can also integrate deeply with analytics tools and computer software to provide additional features not customarily available on a normal phone. Video-conferencing tools Video-conferencing is here to stay. And, whereas we’ll all probably return to the office again eventually, there are numerous benefits to video conferencing compared to in-person meetings. Video conferencing saves time and makes it easier to arrange meetings on short notice. The ability to record video calls also obviates the need for extensive note-taking or additional software for recording. Basic marketing tools This covers a wide range of tools, spanning from actual design tools such as Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud to social media marketing tools such as Hootsuite which allows for scheduling of social media posts. In this category would be included basic video editing tools as well. There’s only so far a DIY marketing approach will get you. Not only is it a skill that takes years to hone, but design-work also takes up a tremendous amount of time which is not good if you’re trying to get your startup off the ground. Eventually, you would probably want to hire professionals to take care of your business marketing. Online storage Storing your files online is the easiest way to keep them backed up when you’re busy. There are too many horror stories of professionals who lost a ton of data because they didn’t have a backup for it. Also, online storage makes it easier to work on the go, from any device. Popular online storage providers are Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.

December 2021