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Technology for consultants

We have quite a number of Xero customers who are moving into the next stage of their careers as independent consultants.  It’s an exciting time as often they’ve been in a large corporate environment and now they have the opportunity to balance work and other interests as well as do projects they’re passionate about.

An afternoons golf really can be business development!

Coming out of a corporate environment, your technology has just been been provided and you’ve probably had little choice or even interest in it.  Getting your technology right will make things a lot easier, make you appear more professional, as well as save you time and money.

There are some very cheap, if not free technologies, that you should have good look at.  I really believe you want to get as much online as possible so you don’t need to worry about backups, loosing data or having your laptop stolen.  Let these services be your IT department.

So what should consultants do for their IT?

First of all you need to think about your requirements.

  • What sort of documents do you produce?
  • Is it just you, or you and a few others
  • Do you need any special software?
  • Do you want to email while on the road?
  • Where do you travel?
  • Do you need to be in contact while at the beachhouse?
Click through for things to think about …

  1. Register a domain name.  It’s much more professional having a proper work email address.  So rather than me@myisp.com you can be me@mycompany.com. There are a number of registry services.  I use iServe because they have domain management tools that allow you (or your technology advisor) to link your domain to most of the other things I’ll mention below. Cost is about $36 per year.
  2. Set up an email account.  Google Mail or Gmail is probably the most popular.  Gmail can be used with your business email. Virtually all your email can be stored forever and easily searched.  If you add employees you can manage their email and still have access to it if they leave you.  Gmail is part of a set of other tools that Google provide. Information is here.  Cost is free.
  3. It’s great to have a website. You can have a living CV up there and blogging is great for building a brand.  Therefore I recommend setting up a WordPress blog site and hosting it somewhere that has a ’1 click’ install. WordPress allows you to just load up pages.  So you can manage most of the content yourself and just get a specialist in to do the set up and major changes. WordPress is free and hosting might be under $100 per year.
  4. Then you have the big decision. Mac or PC. All the stuff above works well with both so you do have an option to move out of your comfort zone.  Everything is on the cloud so you can access everything from any machine. You can buy most gear online these days so look at the manufacturers web site.  Splash out on extra power cords, mice and keyboards for work and office and you’ll save a few minutes each day. Me, I’m a Mac.
  5. For desktop productivity. Microsoft Office is still the gold standard.  On a PC your email program is Outlook.  On a Mac it’s called Entourage. Both allow you to connect up to the email services mentioned above. Mac’s do come with Address Book, Mail and Calendar applications for free but if you’re coming from a corporate email environment you’re more used to having them integrated.
  6. You should also get familiar with Adobe Acrobat.  Sending documents as pdf’s is much more professional.  Acrobat is expensive.  On Mac’s you can print anything as a pdf natively so not as necessary.
  7. A phone is an important decision. Having email on your phone is essential these days if you want to be free to be anywhere.  If you are on a PC then Windows Mobile or a BlackBerry are the main choices. On a Mac either BlackBerry or iPhone. I’m a mobile emailer so a BlackBerry with a full keyboard is my choice. The new BlackBerry Bold is due next month and looks fantastic.
  8. You need a back up system and processes.  If you’re on a Mac then a TimeCapsule is a no brainer.
  9. And of course you need an online accounting system. That one is easy.

These are the basics to get started.  Once up and running there is a raft of other tools that you’ll find useful.

If you’re not a techie then it is difficult to get all of this set up. I’d suggest contacting an organisation who can come and do it all for you.  In a few hours you’ll be up and running with far less stress.  Need a Nerd and Mobile Mentors are examples of companies that can help get you going.

You should be able to have everything nicely set up. Mail at mail.mycompany.com, your blogsite at www.mycompany.com, shared documents at docs.mycompany.com etc.

If anyone has any other tips to share please add them below. Anyone providing services to help get small companies technology set up, especially WordPress consultants (as our favourite WordPress’r Miraz is flat out), or can help with Google Apps please feel free to put your contact details in below.

Hope this helps.

 

8 comments

Stuart Maxwell
8 September 2008 #

Cheers Rod – my company has helped many small businesses and single-employee companies get set up with their IT needs.

We’re big fans of online services (including Xero) and can help you get set up with a domain name, WordPress blog, Google Apps, as well as all the associated DNS settings, hosting, and other tricky bits. We can also resell HP hardware and just about any software you need installed locally.

These are the same tools that we use to run our business so we’re experts in the field. Our contact details are on our website here: http://www.amanzi.co.nz/contact/

(sorry if that sounds like an infomercial!)

Robert Kern
9 September 2008 #

Just like to let people know that I am available to help with setting up WordPress based websites for small businesses. http://www.robertkern.com

Glen Barnes
9 September 2008 #

Great post and one I have been thinking of more and more lately. A couple applications I would add to the list:

TripIt: If you do any traveling then TripIt is a no brainer. Simply forward your booking confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and it automatically adds them to your calendar. You can share trips with others (great if you have a project with several people) and the fact that it adds the booking to your calendar saves time and any data entry problems.

http://www.tripit.com/

Highrise: This simple CRM system comes out of 37signals and is a great simple CRM tool. It helps you keep on top of who you talked to and what your next tasks are. Think it as your conscience – A little reminder of the calls you know you should make but sometimes can’t be bothered making.

http://highrisehq.com/

I do have a little beef with your choice of MS Office and Entourage for the Mac. It really depends of what type of work you do. I get away with Apple iWork and the built in applications for Mail, Address and Calendar. I find they work a lot better with the OS and the sync capability is just better. Most people don’t actually need more than simple spreadsheets and nothing more complex than a pretty standard report.

Jack Pivac
9 September 2008 #

Good advice Rod, although some comments:

3 – Another great tool to use instead of wordpress for your website is Silverstripe[1] which we happily will setup, host, and support.

5 – Imap is a useful solution for syncing email between laptop, desktop, and phone, without requiring exchange, which is often overkill for consultants/small business.

6 – Not always necessary to splash out on Acrobat – try something like PDFCreator [2] first. (Free)

8 – Offsite backups can be fast and easy (automatically done overnight), and handy when you drop your laptop in the bath. Get in touch for more details.

Jack Pivac
9 September 2008 #

If it looks like a scary list, talk to a friendly IT guy. We’ll happily advise and setup if required 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8. Its what we do best. Remote access also means instant support wherever you are.
7 we can help with, and 9 is simple!

[1] http://www.silverstripe.com – Wellington based Xero users I might add.
[2] http://www.sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/

(Sorry had to split up to 2 messages due to post limits)

Mike Riversdale
9 September 2008 #

Top post Rod
And coincidentally I signed up for Xero this weekend – both Liz and I are very excited about removing the financial hassles from our working (and private) lives :-)

GOOGLE APPS – that’ll be me folks :-)
Run my business on Google Apps (http://www.miramarmike.co.nz). Have helped others run their businesses on Google Apps. And helping some major organisations in NZ move (hopefully) to Google Apps.

Google Apps for the 1 man band, the small business and the major organisation – all can start with me.

Contact me: http://www.miramarmike.co.nz/contact

I would also recommend Stuart and Miraz – top people I love working/talking with.

Galen King
9 September 2008 #

Good post, Rod. It’s always hard getting started and finding all the tools to pull together. I find, as a small business owner/manager, I am constantly on the hunt for better systems. Having said that, with Xero, WorkflowMax and iPayroll, I’m pretty satisfied with my systems now.

For those struggling with Google Apps’ (Gmail’s) IMAP implementation, take a look at this post on our site:

http://luciddesign.co.nz/2008/7/21/how-to-set-up-apple-mail-for-better-gmail-imap-support

Keep up the great work, Xero. I love what you guys are doing.

Cheers,

Galen

Andy Mundell
30 December 2008 #

Hi Rod.
Thanks for this opportunity. We’re an Auckland based web design & development company with a passion for web apps.

At OnCompany (www.on.co.nz) we use and love Xero and Google Apps. Everyday we help small business embrace cloud computing to release them from the shackles of tradional IT.

Using a variety of content management systems we produce rich custom designed websites from just $895 +gst. Learn more at http://on.co.nz

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