In the previous post, and back in May of 2012, I talked at length about starting a stand up paddle business. While the emphasis was on stand up paddle boards, the posts could easily be applied to just about any start up business venture. Research your market, make sure you have sufficient capital to get things going, make sure you have sufficient capital to live on, fight those who would try to stop you from creating said business. All well and good. But for this post, I want to delve into the actual nuts and bolts of getting a business off the ground, at least in terms of using technology.
The means and devices are now out there to enable just about anyone with sufficient knowledge of a computer/tablet/smartphone to start up and run a business easily and minimally, without the need for things that one would normally think one would need to run a business.
If you go into any office supply store, and go past the computer section, you will see what can only be considered as the museum of obsolete business supplies. This is stuff, junk, and crap that used to be considered essential to running a business. It was expensive, wasteful, and took up too much room.
What I am going to ‘splain in this here post will enable you to create a basic business for just about anything, that you could carry in a backpack. With the purchase of 3 devices and some software, you will be able to eliminate the following:
Paper, files, folders, staples, clips, tape, pens, pencils, notebooks, file cabinets, desks, drawers, calendars, sticky notes, bulletin boards, time clocks, time sheets, check books, ledgers, postage machines, credit card machines, cash registers, cash drawers, adding machines, calculators, printers, cd’s, land based telephones, storage boxes for files, office furniture, the office itself, and just about all that other physical junk that you think you need to run a business. All of it, is now obsolete. There is no need to generate reams of print outs. No need to keep boxes of files, or drawers full of receipts. No need to write something down. No need to waste time and space on a place to keep all that junk.
It is now possible, through the magic of technology, to create and run a business that produces virtually no paper, is mobile, and will cost you way less money in the long run. As the technology advances it is easy to upgrade to keep pace.
Ok, I know what you are thinking. “I’m not good with computers. I can barely do email. I don’t trust technology.”
Grow the fuck up and get over it. Right goddam now.
Technology is real, it is here now, and if you are not willing to put your prejudices aside, and take to some learnin’, then you might as well go put that blue vest back on and go back out and clean up that mess on Aisle 4. Because if I, a half educated, slacker pirate with no formal training, can learn to build websites and code apps, at the ripe old age of 59, you should be able to learn the simple steps and procedures of how to use a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone to run a business. There are plenty of resources out there, online, and in real life where you can learn how to do all that I am about to show you. It works. It makes running a business way more better. And it will save you time, money, and space in the long run. So quit whining about all that hard computer stuff and pay attention. School is now in session.
So to start with, as I just pointed out above, forget all that you think you believe that you will need to start a business. On second thought, try this experiment:
Create a list of everything you think you will need to start up your business. Now I am not talking about the actual product. For example if you are going into the fast paced and exciting world of stand up paddle boards, you are going to need…um… paddle boards, paddles, etc. Forget all that for now. We are concentrating on the nuts and bolts of running a business. All the stuff I listed above.
So create your list. If you are really old school, put the list down on pen and paper. If you are with me and ahead of the curve, build said list on your smartphone. Now go down to your local office supply store and price out everything on that list. Also make a mental note of how much space you will need to store all that junk. And make a note of the things that will need replacing. Things like paper, staples, tape, etc. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back….
Back now? Ok, got your list, checked it twice? Now, as I go through the post below, go back and start deleting all the things that have been replaced by what I write about. Chances are pretty good that by the time you have read this post, your list will be completely empty.
A quick disclaimer here. If you are entering into a business that has an actual physical location, like a retail store, you will need certain things that even technology hasn’t quite caught up with yet. Store fixtures, displays, signage. That is a whole other ball game. What this post is concerned with is the actual operations of the business. The sales, communication, book keeping, paperwork, and the like. If it is possible to run your business without an actual physical location, without the need for an office, retail space or such, as I am doing with my app business, all the more better. So, let’s get into the real stuff now. Ready?
That is pretty much all you will need to operate a simple business. A laptop computer. A smartphone. And a tablet device. That is it. That is all you will need. Trust me, I know. I have been doing it this way for several years now. And it is a minimalist wet dream for it’s simplicity and ease of use.
So, one other disclaimer before moving on. And this is very important. Everything I will be talking about from here on out in terms of technology, will be based on Apple products. Stop whining, I don’t want to hear it. There will be no Windows, no PC, no Android, none of that. It will be all Apple. Why?
Apple works. Their devices are simple to use. The devices all work together. The programs, the software, the hardware, is all designed so that just about anyone can learn how to use them. Cost? Worth every dime. And in the long run, it comes out cheaper. There is no need to upgrade every year to the newest and latest versions of whatever device you are using. I do upgrade, simply because of the nature of my business. If your iPhone 4S does what you need it to do, keep it and use it. No issues there.
And support for the devices and programs is second to none. Apple offers business support in their retail stores. Software companies will do their very best to help with any issues. And there are so many others using these products, and sharing their knowledge, that you can find a solution to virtually any issue in a few minutes with a simple search engine inquiry.
If you have been using Windows or Android, it’s time to seriously make a change. Apple is well worth the investment and I would not run my business on any other platform.
Now on to the devices.
I love this computer. Best I have ever had. I have the 11” screen with just 64 gb of storage, which I am now finding to be insufficient for my needs, so next one will be bigger. But the physical size and ease of use are fantastic. The device is about the size of a magazine, (a magazine was an ancient form of a webpage made out of paper, staples, and ink), and weighs virtually nothing. It can slide into a back pack sleeve and you never even know it is there. Excellent graphics, easy to use interface and keyboard.
In addition to using it to code, build websites, and write these sure to be award winning blog posts, I use it for book keeping, big email messages, fiddling with photos, and storing files. In a pinch I could use it for point of sale and other things.
Other laptops like the MacBook Pro have more memory, storage, and power, but also cost more. It all depends on what you need for your business. The little MacAir suits my needs just fine.
Does anyone remember life before the iPhone? Look at how much we all rely on that little device these days. You can pay bills, send and receive email, texts, go on your social media sites, get news, check the weather, watch movies. I was astounded the other day to find out you can even make phone calls on these things. Amazing!
Now imagine what you can do with a business, just on the iPhone. All the above, but how about a point of sale, process credit cards, send invoices and receipts, create a digital business card. How about getting your own app for your business? A customer could see your services on their iPhone, and book directly from your app. The power and potential of the iPhone cannot be understated. And don’t forget the camera. The newest version of the iPhone, the 5S has a camera that rivals most stand alone digital cameras.
As for the best carrier? Currently I use Sprint. They have a nifty unlimited all in one plan that is affordable and you won’t have to worry about data caps or running out of minutes. But always be on the look out for other carrier deals. T-Mobile is coming out with some interesting plans, and look for the others to follow suit.
You will be pleasantly surprised by what you can do with the iPhone. It is a must have device for any business owner.
It wasn’t too long ago when there was not even a tablet market out there. Now the iPad has created and dominated said market. This device, once thought to be only good for accessing content, not creating it, is now overtaking the computer as the go to device. Point of sale, document creation, presentations, blogging, and more can all be done with the iPad. I relied on my iPad with my paddle board business to process payments, send invoices, and get signatures on waivers. I was able to do blogging on it, and some minor book keeping. The iPad made a great point of sale tool out in the field. And it impressed the hell out of the customers. It gave the impression that my little business was at the forefront when it came to technology.
Alas, I had to give up my old iPad in exchange for the MacAir, because you cannot code on the iPad. But my evil cunning plan is to get another one soon so I can begin to build apps for the iPad as well as the iPhone. I will most likely go with the iPad mini, simply because of the cheaper cost, and because I prefer the smaller size. What you would prefer would depend on your business needs.
An iPad can replace things like the cash register, calculator, credit card machine, and all that other mess you normally see on a counter in a store. It can be used to keep track of inventory, create presentations, newsletters, email, and host of other business needs. All without needing a single sheet of paper. Clean, efficient, and easy to use.
Just three devices? Surely there must be other things you may need for a business. How about a printer or scanner?
Here again, you are thinking old school. If you are using the three devices correctly, and the software I am about to talk about, you won’t be producing any paper. So why would you need a printer? Printers are big, heavy, use paper and electricity, expensive ink, and constantly break down. You don’t need a printer.
With the exception of a few minor business documents, like your business license, you don’t need any paper for anything else. Processing receipts, invoices, tax returns, and the like, can all be done digitally. Even government, when they are open, prefers to do everything digitally now. Customers are fine with getting a receipt emailed or texted to them. Documents can be stored digitally. So why would you need a printer? Answer: You Don’t.
Don’t believe me? Walk into any Apple retailer, and find the paper. They get it. And they are a heluva lot smarter than I am.
And as for a scanner, there are apps for that, which I will talk about later. But if you already have a business and are trying to go paperless, a scanner may be the way to go. If so, go to the Neat brand. Small, easy to use, with built in software so you can scan your documents, and store them digitally and safely. Then once you have gone paperless, you can sell the scanner to someone else.
Paperless is doable. It saves money, space, and waste. You do not need a printer.
This is sort of an optional type device, and it depends on the nature of your business. For most people, the built in camera in the iPhone and iPad will be sufficient for their business needs. But, for example, say you are running a stand up paddle business. You are going to want images of happy smiling people out on the water going paddle boarding. The iPhone and iPad, great as they may be, are a tad adverse to water. So, perhaps a waterproof, shockproof, camera is the way to go.
I have been using an Olympus Tough Shot. Great camera with lots of features and it’s good down to 30 feet under the water, or so they say, and can take a lot of abuse. Unfortunately it is not salt proof. After years of dunking in salt water the camera is about at the end of it’s economical usefulness. When things improve financially, I plan on getting a GoPro.
These little suckers are built for action shots. Very small and very powerful. The GoPro can be mounted on a paddle board, on your head, just about anywhere so you can get some great shots with it along with video.
If a camera is of use in your business, and the iPhone or iPad camera won’t do, take a look at the Go Pro or other waterproof type cameras. Never underestimate the value of getting some good pictures of your business in action. It makes a great sales tool.
Ok, you have your three devices, laptop, iPhone, and iPad. What about business software and programs to make them all work like I have been bragging about? Let’s get into it.
Accounting & Book Keeping
With all them juicy profits coming in from your business, you are going to need some way to track everything. The most commonly used program out there in the interwebs is Quickbooks Online. It covers just about all you need, accounts payables, accounts receivables, invoices, billing, taxes, payroll and more. And if you use an accountant, they will most likely also be using Quickbooks. However, Quickbooks has two major flaws. One, it costs money to use every month, and B, it doesn’t translate well to mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone. When I was using Quickbooks I couldn’t do anything with it on the iPad. The app was totally worthless. So I started looking for a more better alternative and found one.
WaveApp is a mostly free online accounting program that is extremely easy to use. It is simple to set up and for most one person businesses, has everything you need to keep tabs on the accounting side of your business. It works well on the iPhone and iPad too. WaveApp keeps the whole process of accounting pretty straightforward. You can add in invoices, payments, billing, expenses, customers, vendors, and get an up to date view of your profits and losses. All for free, provided you don’t mind some ads thrown in.
There is a premium version which allows you to add in things like payroll and employees if you grow to that point. I currently am not using an accountant so I don’t know if any are familiar with the program, but I am sure they could. Check with whom ever you are using.
The nice thing about WaveApp is you can pretty much handle your own accounting and book keeping, that is until you really start to grow your business. For a small operation like mine, it works perfectly.
Of all the software programs and apps I have come across for running a small business, none has been as helpful or vital as SquareUp. SquareUp is more than a credit card processing company. Used correctly it can provide a secondary web presence for your business.
Gone are the days of merchant account services and those godawful credit card machines that need thermal paper and take up space on your counter. SquareUp eliminates all that. It’s pretty simple.
Go to the website and sign up. Link your account with your bank account. It will take a few days to confirm. SquareUp will send you a card reader, a little dongle about the size of sugar cube that plugs into the headphone plug on your iPhone or iPad. You can then set up your service with your products, add in sales tax, add options for tips, and you are ready to go. When the customer is ready to pay, plug in the dongle, and open the app on your device. Type in the amount or chose the product, swipe the card, and the app will do it’s thing. Once approved, the customer can sign right on the screen, and then you can either email, or text them the receipt. Your copy of the transaction is emailed to you and kept on record at SquareUp. The money is cleared at the end of the day and is in your bank account by the next business day. It is unbelievably simple and easy to use. The service is free, other than the standard 2.75% transaction fee. No worse than the old way of taking cards. Lose your dongle? You can still type in the card, it just costs a tad more at 3.25%. You can also do cash transactions. And still send the customer the receipt. But wait! There’s more!
SquareUp has an online marketplace. With your account you get a free spot in the marketplace to promote your business. You can set up your logo, a description of services, a map of your location, and the products you sell. It’s essentially a second website, at no cost. You can see my spot right here:
SquareUp is a no brainer as a point of sale program. It continues to evolve with new features. You can even attach it to a cash drawer if you have use for such a thing. An iPhone or iPad with Square up gives you a complete point of sale that you can carry with you wherever you need to. No cash registers, no credit card machines, no paper receipts.
I encourage you, even if you do not have an actual business, to open a SquareUp account, even in your own name. If you have a yard sale, or if you are doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, you can now take credit cards if the other party has no cash. If there is one program you should be using right now in your business, it’s SquareUp.
A close second to SquareUp, when it comes to accepting cash or credit cards is PayPal. Long associated with eBay, PayPal has come into it’s own as a stand alone credit card and payment processor. Like SquareUp, PayPal now has a credit card swiper available and a few features that SquareUp doesn’t have.
PayPal has the ability to build payment buttons that link directly to your account. Said buttons can then be plugged into your website so customers can purchase things and pay directly through PayPal. PayPal has a reputation for secure payments and they are pretty strict about keeping your account secure. While SquareUp is best for face to face type transactions, PayPal works best on your website. It doesn’t hurt to have both programs working for you. And the best feature of each is there is no fee unless there is a transaction. So no monthly fees to worry about.
Since you have gone paperless, and are no longer producing sheets and sheets of invoices, bills, and other paper products, you have no need for folders, file cabinets, storage boxes, and other means of keeping that junk. Everything is digital now. So where do you store all your digital files? DropBox is the go to program.
DropBox is a digital storage program. It’s pretty simple. You open an account, you get 5 gb of free storage or pay extra for more. When you generate things like receipts, invoices, bills, etc. they are all in the form of digital files. All you need to do is move the files into your DropBox account where they are safe and accessible to you at anytime. You can attach Dropbox to your computer, and add in the DropBox app on your iPhone and iPad. Most programs that save content digitally are compatible with DropBox so it’s easy to move your files there. And since it is all one happy account, when you add a file from one device, it updates on the others.
There are other similar programs out now. Apple has iCloud. Evernote is a good one. And you can use all three if you want. But I have found Dropbox to work the best. I have all my important documents, personal as well as business, stored in Dropbox. It’s a safe, and cheaper alternative to storing actual, physical files.
Sign My Pad
Designed for the iPad, I found this app back when I was running the paddle board company. I wanted to eliminate the need for paper waivers that the customers sign off on when they go out on the water. SignMyPad made it easy. Take your waivers and scan them into PDF format. It’s easy by using the camera on the iPhone or iPad. Save them into the SignMyPad app. Then when you get a customer, you make a copy of the waiver and bring it up on the screen. The customer signs the waiver on the screen using their finger, just like the SquareUp program, and you then email them a copy of the signed waiver, and send one to yourself. No paper, no muss, no fuss. You can then move the signed waiver in with the customer file and store it away on Dropbox. A very handy program to have.
iWorks is a suite of programs from Apple that includes three essentials for a business. Pages which is a word processing program. It allows you to create documents, brochures, and sometimes rudimentary art work using photos and drawings. The header on the top of the Fritter was built using Pages. It’s not a real advanced program but for most business needs it can handle what you need. A business letter, a report, an outline, or use it to pre write a long blog post, as I am doing right here. It syncs up nicely with iCloud or you can save and move your documents around to other programs. And it works just as well on mobile devices as well as your laptop.
Numbers is a spreadsheet program in the same vein as Excel. You can use it to track inventory, keep an eye on expenses, as I do with my monthly budget report, and that sort of thing.
Keynote is the third program. It allows you to create presentations for things like promoting your business or perhaps showing off some of your projects. You can add in photos, text, audio, animations, and more. It’s a pretty good advertising tool.
Scan To PDF
Very easy. Using the camera on your iPhone/iPad, take a picture of a document. Then save it as a PDF file and store wherever you need it. Receipts, invoices, just about anything can be photographed and converted. No need for a scanner.
I said no paper and I meant it. SnapDat is a simple little app for the iPhone that allows you to create a digital business card for your business. Add in background, images, text, and you have a business card. You can print it if you must, but you can just as easily email it to anyone who requests a business card. No paper. And if you need to make changes, a different contact number, new location, etc., you don’t have to throw away your old cards. Just update the one on your iPhone and you are ready to go.
Probably one of the most important parts of your business, next to the actual physical business is a good working website. A website that tells your customer who you are, what you do, and where you are is vital to any business today. If you do not have a website, you are not in business. It’s that simple.
Website designers are everywhere. I know, I am one of them. Pricing is as varied as buying a car. But you will need a website no matter what.
If you have the ability and knowledge, or are willing to learn, you may be able to build and host your own website. Right now, the best program out there for doing so is WordPress.
WordPress currently hosts 20% of all the websites on the interwebs. You are on one right now. It is a tremendously powerful program and has a huge support system. It can be adapted for just about any business with many features that a business would want or need. The program is not that difficult to use, but it does take some time to learn.
When it comes to a website for your business, this is not the place to go half assed. More customers will probably visit your website, than will visit your actual physical business. It pays to create a website that will draw customers in, and encourage them to do business with you.
Right behind your website, and quickly gaining in importance is an iPhone/iPad app. Hundreds of millions of people are using the iPhone or iPad to do things with. As I said earlier, they pay bills, communicate, plan travel, and shop, all by using the apps that are available on the app store. Adding an app to your business is one of the smartest things you can do for your business right now. Users are more likely to use your app than your website simply because of the convenience and the fact that they are carrying their mobile device with them all the time. They are looking at something on those screens. It may as well be your app.
Blatant Plug For Services
Yes, I have no shame. I will use this opportunity to point out that I create websites and apps for businesses. Should any of you out there who are reading this stuff decide you are going to start up a business, or have a business in place, and are need of a website and/or app, please go to the app development page, fill out the form and send it in. I will be back in touch to talk to you about what I can do.
So there you have it. Everything that I use to run a business that is paperless, minimal, and mobile. I have used all the products, devices, and software that I have mentioned above in a business setting. I no longer have a need for that long list of obsolete junk that you may have listed on your needs list. Everything that I have described above works and works quite well. It don’t take a lot of training to pick it all up. It don’t cost a lot of money to acquire everything either. And I am sure there are a lot of other resources out there that do similar or other things to what I have described here. If you know of any, or if you are using the things I have mentioned above, I would like to hear your take on such matters. Feel free to add them to the comments below. If you feel you have a more better solution for something, tell everyone.
Just keep this in mind. The old way of running a business is the old way. Paper, pens, files, and all that other physical junk is obsolete. The technology to run a business without paper, without waste, without the need for all that junk is here and now, and working. You would be foolish to not take advantage of it. Go to your local Apple retailer, (a real Apple Store, not a Best Buy or one of those types) and talk to the business manager. Chances are they offer training for you to fully utilize your devices and software in your business.
Everything that I have written about here has given me the ability to start up and run a simple, mobile, and minimal business with a very small investment of capital. If you want genuine numbers, currently my business costs are less than 10% of my sales. Think about that for a moment. 90% of my sales are gross profit. Granted, I have no physical location nor do I a produce a physical product, but still. That’s a pretty damn good profit margin. If I was trying to run a business the old fashioned way, those margins would be way more less.
Paperless. Mobile. Minimal. And taking advantage of the today’s technology. It is by far the best way to start up and run a business.
I did it.
You can do it.