Of course, around here we're ALL about the customization to make life simpler and more efficient for us and our clients. These are great solutions for just about everyone who needs to run their own small business, they can be customized for a better fit, and there are many other solutions out there too. Let me know if you have questions about any of this.
Bookkeeping - Xero.com
We recently switched from MYOB to Xero.com. I LOVE it. It's saving me several hours per month in time, and my bookkeeping stress level has gone waaay down. They have a variety of monthly plans and is well worth the monthly fee.
We looked at Freshbooks, Quickbooks, MYOB and others and did free trials of several to see how they would function for us. Xero can do everything we need, and it's easy to understand and set up. I can keep track of multiple bank accounts; generate estimates and then convert them to invoices; track inventory and client/business expenses; automatically reconcile the bank accounts; generate cash flow and other reports; enter bills to be paid; track time and attendance for employees and pay them; prepare W2s and 1099s, and export them all to tax software. They even have mobile apps for when I'm on the run and need to enter something.
Organization and To-Do Lists - Evernote:
I replaced Basecamp with Evernote a couple of years ago. I did love Basecamp, but at $50/month it was too much of an expense just to keep track of clients and their to-do lists, and share notes/images/files. Evernote is a gem, it's secure, very low cost, and it does everything I need.
I keep client to-do lists and project info in Evernote. Each client (and our company) has a Notebook, and each notebook contains notes and info for projects and to-do lists. Evernote syncs across computers which is very handy. I can update and edit the info from any devices we use for business (and we use seven) and immediately see it on the other devices.
You can also clip from anywhere on the web and share and discuss. With paid plans (that's what we have) you can also access notes when you're offline, save emails to Evernote, search in Office docs and attachments, annotate attached PDFs, digitize business cards, turn notes into presentations, and add a passcode lock on mobile apps.
Email - Mac Mail or Outlook:
We use Mac's, and Apple's mail software that comes with their computers. Our clients on PC's use Microsoft's Outlook mostly. Both are great. If you're like us and have multiple email accounts, know that whether you are on a Mac or a PC all your email can all feed into your Inbox. That's very convenient.
I like things to sync across devices, so mostly we use IMAP email accounts, even for Gmail (different than POP3). POP3 email accounts are the most common, but they don't sync. When we purchase email accounts, we always buy IMAP, they will function as POP3 and can be changed at any time.
We buy domain names at Godaddy and get email accounts from them as well (firstname.lastname@example.org) - very low cost and great support. We have Gmail accounts also, and as I mentioned, they all come into our email software, so we don't have to go looking for email in more than one place.
Websites - Squarespace:
Our website has been a Squarespace website for years and years. Awesome company, we use them to create very customized websites for most of our clients. Some of our clients have Wordpress sites, and we work on those too. However, for ease of use, super support, responsive and mobile-friendly templates, extensive customization capabilities, integrated and supported modules, and much more, Squarespace is our go-to company.
Many of our clients want to learn to maintain their websites on their own, and Squarespace is great for this capability. We tutor them and help them along the way, and they maintain control over their content and save a ton of money updating it themselves.
For domain names and email accounts, Godaddy is wonderful and they have very low cost website templates as well.
Microsoft Office is what we use the most, along with Apple's Numbers, Pages, and Keynote.
For PDF files, we use Adobe Acrobat Pro via an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, so we can get and use all their software for $50/month. For us, it's a good deal because we use so much of the software.
Image Wrangling and Graphic Design - Adobe Creative Cloud:
Again, for us it's cost-effective to have a subscription to all the Adobe software: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, Dreamweaver, Muse, Acrobat, Bridge, and many more.
For quick image resizing to use on websites and for tutoring clients I use free Skitch. It's really easy and fast for grabbing and annotating screen shots from the web, sharing them in Evernote, and lots more. Works on mobile devices too.
For powerful image wrangling without a membership or $$ commitment, Photoshop Elements has many of the same features as Photoshop at a fraction of the cost.
But before you buy, check the software on your computer. You may have something you can use, like iPhoto. I don't think you should spend money when you already have software that will do the job. When you grow out of it later, great, move on up to something else.
Oh, it's also very helpful (and a big time saver) to have your phone camera sync your snapshots with your computer and other mobile devices. Google your device ("Image sync on Android" for example) for more info. Apple's Photos software on our iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and iMacs keeps all our images sync'd on all devices. Nice.
Backups - Two is Better Than One:
We learned the hard way to have more than one backup system. A few years ago the backup drive crashed, taking with it a lot of files that were not on any computer (any more). Lesson learned. Now we have two backup systems: External hard drives with Time Machine on the Macs is backup number one. Check your PC as Windows may ask you if you want to use your new external drive for backup. Backup system number two is online secure, encrypted cloud storage via Mozy which backs up all computers to one safe place that can be accessed from just about anywhere. It's come in very handy when we're traveling and a client has an emergency and we need to access their files.
Okay, that's enough for one article. There IS more, but these are the basics. Again, contact us if you need some help with any of this.