Many of us have had that fantasy where we work hard for a few years to get things off the ground, surround ourselves with a dedicated team, and then decamp to a tropical location and keep an eye on the business from the comfort of our beach-side lounge chairs.
If you’re rolling your eyes right about now – don’t. While it sounds like a lot of hot air, being able to run an efficient business remotely isn’t just a fantasy. Now more than ever, it’s possible to stay connected with the office while attending a conference in Toronto – or tanning in Cancun!
There are a multitude of tools available to entrepreneurs for this very purpose, from project management tools to financial ones. Here are a few that can help you handle many of your day-to-day operations from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Project Management Tools
Keeping an eye on things from a distance is never going to be a success unless there is an easy, effective way for team members to communicate with each other. The ubiquitous office set-up of whiteboard in a conference room just doesn’t work when you’re part of a project that uses talent from far-flung corners of the globe (or when you want to check up on progress while you’re on that much-needed Mediterranean cruise).
Luckily, the online project management ecosystem has exploded in recent years, with offerings such as Asana, Trello, Basecamp and Slack providing the same underlying service – a central location where team members can collaborate online.
For example, let’s look at Trello. There, project managers create one or more “boards” – the central repository of a project.
Let’s say that your business sells gadgets, and you’ve got a new model of gadget being introduced to the market. Various “cards” are created on the boards, each card representing a specific task group that has to be performed. One card in our gadget example could be “Finish Quality Control”. Then, various tasks can be added to the card, each assigned to one or more people. Jim and Jacqueline might need to work on checking variance numbers while Ezra focuses on getting the regulators to sign off on certification. A different card could be created for “Marketing Campaign” with related subtasks, and so-on.
Your employees are able to attach files, send messages, ask questions, check off their tasks, all while you give feedback and monitor their progress, mai tai in hand. A notification system means that you’re always alerted when progress has been made…or when a deadline is looming! And, there are even third party apps that work in conjunction with Trello if you want to add currently unsupported features like time tracking.
Employee Engagement/Idea Sharing Tools
The main asset for any business is its people. Any one of your employees could come up with a game-changing idea for the company that could increase sales, decrease waste, improve quality of life at work or at home, or be the next hit product or service for your business.
Letting them languish in a traditional suggestion box is an almost criminal waste of the brain trust you have so carefully assembled. It’s imperative to have an easy, effective way for sharing ideas.
One fantastic tool that does just this from anywhere in the world is called Vetter.
Once you create an account, you add all the users you want to be able to submit ideas. You can also create groups (perhaps corresponding to the various departments in your business) that your users can belong to. Everyone can then submit and rate ideas, and you or an account administrator can pull up reports analyzing uses, groups, and ideas, along with their financial impact. The highest rated ideas can then go on to become reality!
Tools like Vetter are invaluable not just because they provide a painless way to capture ideas generated by employees, but because of how they foster discussion among your staff, getting them to talk about and internalize company goals and values. This creates a deep sense of ownership among your team, especially when they start to see their rock star ideas being implemented in the business.
Of course, the cherry on top is that you can monitor and/or manage it all in between scuba sessions in Saint Lucia!
Accounting/Financial Management Tools
Accounting can be one of the most stressful parts of a small business owner’s life.
Keeping accurate accounts is vital to the health of all businesses, and large businesses have entire departments dedicated solely to wrangling the numbers.
Small businesses, not having the luxury of a large staffing complement, often rely on a few hard-pressed employees to scrupulously keep track of payables and receivables. And there’s not much room for error either, as one missed invoice can cause untold misery for a small company operating on razor thin margins.
Luckily, the flourishing professional services sector has given the small business owner multiple options for making financial recordkeeping as simple and as painless as possible. One of the easiest tools that doesn’t require you to have years of formal accounting education to figure out how to use isFreshbooks.
With Freshbooks you can generate invoices for your clients, keep on top of clients who have not paid, track your expenses, and generate a variety of reports. And again, because everything is stored securely in the cloud, it doesn’t matter if you’re at your home office or lazing around on Laguna Beach. Once your laptop or mobile device is online, you’re good to go.
One thing to keep in mind is that the remote work lifestyle doesn’t just end with the three kinds of tools outlined above. There are a myriad of options to choose from, and if you have an operations problem you think requires you to be in the office day in and day out, there’s most likely a software solution to help you ditch the four wall and a ceiling. With a little planning and preparation, you can literally be running your business from a hammock on the white sandy beach of your choice!
Bob Adams is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of BusinessTown.com.