My Business App Stack- 2018 Update

This is an updated version from a previous post as my business has evolved and some of the tools that I use have changed.

I love being self employed, no two days are the same and I have the freedom and flexibility to contribute to my household while still being present for my children and homeschool. I am always in a quest for efficiency and innovation while keeping overhead costs as low as possible. I am regularly asked about what tools I use so I have gathered a list for ease of future sharing. Some tools are must haves that I use every day, other tools are only used occasionally. I have divided the items in 2 categories. General business tools that can help any freelancer and Accounting Tools specific to those in the bookkeeping industry.

General Business Tools

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)17Hats  $199 per year, $37 if paying per month. Get a 10% discount through this link
Originally, I was using the free version of Streak CRM  until recently and while it was good to organize my emails, I had pain points that the free version couldn’t address. Many other features are available with an upgrade but the monthly cost felt steep and it just didn’t address enough of my pain points to justify the expense. 17Hats is cheaper and offers other features that I needed so I switched a few months ago and have been happy so far. I still use StreakCRM to organize my inbox though and for features such as scheduled emails and tracking.

17Hats is great for workflow and project management. It has great lead management and automation properties. I love that once configured, when somebody fills out the contact form in my website, they are automatically added as a lead in 17Hats, an email is sent and a workflow is automatically created to standardize the process of converting the lead into a customer.

I can send an online proposal with a contract that the customer can sign online at the same time that they approve the proposal. This then triggers the onboarding workflow thus shaving a lot of time in the onboarding process for new projects.

The email integration means that 17Hats keeps all emails from that client in their project and I can send emails from it, either from templates for common tasks or writing a message from scratch. I can save notes, send questionnaires, keep a phone log and more. I feel like I haven’t yet fully tapped into it’s full potential.

My calendar is integrated so I can view my schedule on my 17Hats dashboard including personal events and tasks from my Gqueues. If you are also seeking invoicing and bookkeeping, 17Hats offers this as well. I don’t use these features because they don’t come close to matching QuickBook Online’s features but it will work if you are a freelancer that just needs the basics. Other features included that I don’t use are time tracking, to do lists, client portal, QuickBooks Online integration (for invoices) and there is probably more that I am forgetting right now.

E-mail, calendar and general office tools: GSuite (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc)- $5 per month
All of my business files are stored on the cloud in my Google Drive but thanks to File Stream, it feels like I am working with local files so it’s easy to save and move things around through my Windows Explorer and open them in MS Office. I already had Microsoft Office in my computer so I am able to easily use Word and Excel with those files. It is very easy to share files with clients and access my files while on the go.

With Google calendar I track not just business but also have personal and group calendars connected to avoid double booking myself. This integrates with my appointment booking app so a client will never schedule an appointment at a time when I am busy with something personal.

Task TrackingGQueues – free version available, $25 per year unlocks more features

This is a great app, since I started using it nothing falls through the cracks anymore!  I also don’t worry about what I may be forgetting.  The paid version syncs with my Google Calendar so any tasks with a due date will show up in the calendar, I can then move them around or mark them as done right from the calendar. It’s easy to turn an email into a task. Having multiple queues, being able to tag, color code and create “smart queues” so I can easily see everything that is due today or that is past due makes this an app that is well worth it.

I use it for personal and volunteer work as well, it’s that great.

Time TrackingTSheets- free for 1 user
If you bill by the hour a time tracker is a must have. Even if you don’t bill hourly, it’s good to track your time so you can find patterns and identify room for improving efficiency.  Also, it helps to be sure that you are quoting the right rates based on how long it takes you to get things done. TSheets has a LOT more features than regular time trackers so it’s easy for me to track by client, project, task, billable, nonbillable, etc. I can track via web, via mobile app, via Twitter, via text. Billable time can be synced to QuickBooks and there are lots of reporting options. Support is great.

Phone– Google Voice- free
I don’t want to use my personal phone number for business but at the same time, I don’t want to have to pay a monthly fee for a second line or carry a second mobile. Google Voice is perfect for this, I get a free business line and I am able to make and receive phone calls using my business number from my cellphone and computer. I get call forwarding, text, voicemail transcription, call recording and more. When my cell phone rings I can easily tell which line it’s coming from so I can answer appropriately.

Accounting Software– QuickBooks Online (free for accountants), Prices vary depending on level chosen
You can’t be self-employed and not keep track of your finances. If you don’t want to be bothered by this, hire me and I’ll take care of it for you!

I use QuickBooks Online because I get it for free as a certified ProAdvisor but if you don’t qualify and don’t want to pay for a subscription, Wave Accounting is free and just fine for the needs of many freelancers. I used that for several years before switching to QuickBooks Online but note that the features are limited so you may outgrow it.

Invoicing/billing– QuickBooks Online- included with subscription, pay only to process online payments
Since I already use them for my business accounting, it’s only logical to use them for my billing too. While I have access to other invoicing and payment processing tools, using QBO’s integrated features means that the bookkeeping side is automatically done for me so all I have to do is reconcile at the end of the month.

It is easy for me to create an Estimate, convert that to an invoice, configure recurring invoices, set up automatic monthly charges to my client’s card or bank account so everything is automated requiring minimal to no effort once configured. In addition to credit cards, through this platform I am able to accept bank payments which means that I no longer have to wait for a check in the mail, the payment processing fee is competitive compared to popular processors such as Stripe and Square and well worth it when I get paid faster and don’t have to worry about making a deposit to the bank because it’s done for me.

If you don’t want to pay for QuickBooks, Wave Accounting is a free alternative that only charges for payment processing. I used them for several years for invoicing and receiving online payments.

File Encryption– Bitlocker and AxCrypt- free, upgrades available
I make it a habit to keep all client files in the cloud but from time to time I may save something locally along with my personal business files. While I have firewalls to prevent remote access, if someone were to just take my computer or hard drive I would be in big trouble without file encryption. Sometimes clients will request a backup on CD, DVD or USB drive and I like to encrypt those as well.

I use Bitlocker, included with Windows 10 Pro for full hard drive encryption. I use the free version AxCrypt when I need to encrypt individual files or files in an external drive.

Password Manager– LastPass- free, upgrades available
Working with so many clients and apps I have a long list of username and passwords to keep track off. It’s very unsafe to keep those written down on my desk. I originally had an encrypted list on Evernote but there are just too many of them and it was difficult to keep organized. LastPass makes it so I only have to remember 1 password for everything. It keeps all other logins secure for me, I can sort them, edit them, view them and I can use it to generate strong passwords when creating a new account. A client can securely share a login through LastPass without me ever having to see the actual password.

The browser extension does the typing for me, there is a mobile app that does the same in my phone.

Contract Signing17Hats (proposals and contracts only)/DocHub (everything else)- free, upgrades available.
If you are a freelancer, I strongly recommend that you have written agreements with all of your clients. They don’t have to be fancy and there are plenty of free templates online. When working virtually like I do, I never meet most of my clients in person, so signing contracts can be a tedious process. In the past I would email the document, they would print, sign, scan and email back or send it via snail mail, it was a pain in the rear. With these online tools, I am able to e-mail the agreement and they sign online with a few clicks. It’s quick, easy and legally binding. I use 17Hats for contracts and proposals but use DocHub for everything else. HelloSign is another free option that I have used.

Appointment Scheduling– Calendly- free, upgrades available
I offer a free consultation to all potential clients and sometimes have a need to have a virtual meeting with current clients. Trying to find a mutually convenient time via email can be time-consuming and have a lot of back and forth. Calendly allows customers to view my availability from my website or by clicking the link in my email signature, select the time that works for them and book their appointment in seconds.

I have tried many other scheduling services before but I like this one best because it syncs with my Google calendar automatically, that is usually a paid feature with other services and I don’t book that many appointments per month to justify paying a monthly fee. If I enter something on my Google calendar, the time is no longer available to book and when someone schedules an appointment, it automatically shows on my Google calendar.

Social media management– Hootsuite- free, upgrades available
I admit that I don’t use this tool as much as I should. Marketing is my Achilles heel and I suck at it, my business would grow faster if I could be better at it. This tool allows you to plan and schedule your social media posts in advance to promote and maintain customer engagement.

Internet Security– VPN Unlimited- Price varies, lifetime subscription available
While the firewall and file encryption protect the client and business files on my computer. The VPN give you privacy while working online and protects the data being transferred through the web to prevent those passwords, etc from being intercepted. If you work while on the road and use public Wifi, this is a must-have in my book. There are other reasons why a VPN is a good idea beyond just business needs so you should research that. There are many VPN options available, some free, some very expensive. I use VPN Unlimited because they offer a lifetime subscription, fast speeds, lots of server locations and no data limits. Combined with a special promo I paid a very low price for lifetime protection for 5 devices. They have plans for more devices if you need.

I actually don’t love VPN Unlimited because some of their servers give trouble with accessing some websites and can yield some extra “Captchas” when trying to log in to online services. While I have been researching alternatives, I haven’t yet found “the one”.

Remote control– Splashtop- $60 per year
This comes in handy a client has an issue that needs remote access to their computer or when I am traveling and need to access my home computer from the road. Teamviewer is free for personal use but it gave me too many problems so I switched to Splashtop for business.

Teleconferencing/ Screen Sharing– Zoom- free, upgrades available
This is a great tool that I use for training, webinars and to help clients with troubleshooting issues.

Bookkeeping Tools

QuickBooks Online Accountant– free for accountants
This is a must-have if you are a bookkeeper servicing clients that use QuickBooks Online, you get access to all of your clients in one dashboard, have workflows, note sharing, etc all in one place. The Accountant Toolbox has a lot of useful features not found in regular QBO. I have my ProAdvisor dashboard, apps, payroll and more. It also includes my own QBO account for my firm’s books. I get a wholesale rate on QBO subscriptions that I pass the discount to my clients or build it into my package pricing.

This tool is free as long as you remain ProAdvisor certified or have active clients in your dashboard, otherwise, Intuit can take it away after 6 months. So if you are considering this but are not ready to launch yet, don’t sign up until you have the time to at least complete your certification.

Xero HQ– free
The Xero equivalent of QBO Accountant. A dashboard connecting all of my Xero using clients in one place. I also get access to 2 versions of Xero that my clients can’t purchase on their own, I can build it into their monthly packages along with being able to resell the standard versions. I also get my own copy of Xero for my business and a demo company that is great to show a client the software’s features and for training.

I admit that I haven’t been using this much lately as I have been specializing in QuickBooks Online.

Secure File Storage and Organization– HubDoc- free for accountants, $20/mo for clients
This is a good solution for those that want automated paperless filing for their business. Once bank and vendor connections are set up, the system automatically downloads all statements daily. You can integrate it with cloud storage and with QBO and Xero to reduce data entry and make your business audit proof. Uploading receipts and other documents is easy through the app or by sending to your custom email address.

Clients that use this service don’t have to worry about having to send me their statements every month because Hubdoc does it for them. My practice dashboard has all of my clients in one place and I can use wholesale billing to build in this feature to my package pricing. I would love for all of my clients to eventually be using this.

Secure File UploadMy Docs Online– $9.95 per month and up
I regularly need to receive documents from clients, not all of my clients use Hubdoc and while QuickBooks Online and Xero offer secure file sharing, they prefer something easy. I don’t like using e-mail for financial information such as bank statements so I use My Docs Online to provide an interface integrated to my website, for clients to securely upload documents without having to enter and username and password.

While there are other options in the market geared specifically for bookkeepers such as ShareFile, their cost is much higher than I want to spend with the current size of my firm and I wasn’t impressed with their customer service. This option is affordable and worth it for me and their customer service is top notch.

Bookkeeper Insurance– Hiscox- price varies
As a freelancer, I don’t need the regular business insurance because I don’t have clients visiting me but it’s good to have professional liability coverage specifically for bookkeepers. Some clients even require it! This is also known as EO (Errors & Omissions) coverage. Not a whole lot of companies offer coverage specific for bookkeepers and the other ones that I contacted were a lot more expensive. It was super quick and easy to purchase my policy from Hiscox and I got my certificate of insurance within seconds.