It's tax season again. I don't enjoy this time of year because it means meeting with my accountant for several hours and hashing out the past years worth of business. When you have more than one businesses this can get quite time consuming and confusing. It's not that I don't like my accountant, he is a great guy. It's just a pain working out all the numbers to figure out what the goverment is going to take from you. This process was a lot more fun when I was 16 and completely stoked about the $150 return I was getting. When you are self employed, those returns are a distant memory.
Being in the ecommerce industry, I tend to use my computer a lot - like a ridiculous amount. Enough that I go through several keyboards before my laptop has to be retired and when the repairman comes out to fix it he says stuff like, "this is the most worn out keyboard I have ever replaced." I'm pretty sure Justin uses his more. Since we use these machines so much, I don't balk as much about spending a bit more to get something nice. Like a 24" ultrasharp monitor that I now wish was a 30". Anyway, while discussing taxes with my accountant, I took the liberty of suggesting some things he might find very useful. For example, he still uses a 17" monitor that takes up half his desk. If he replaced it with a couple of flat panels he could have multiple screens up at the same time and increase his productivity significantly. He spent the whole night maximizing and minimizing screens while I was there. Funny thing is, I was just the same a few years ago. Then I realized I spend a good portion of my life at my machine - It should be a nice one. Speaking of that... I need a new chair.
So as I was thinking of all the things that have made my life easier as i run my business... I thought I'd mention some here. We use several services online that help make things a little easier and keep us more organized. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:
Gmail - Google's free email service. Lets me set up multiple POP's and download all my email into one easy to use place. Here I can tag my email, search email, etc. Kind of like a web-based outlook, but better in my opinion. Another great feature is it keeps all of your conversations together so if a customer emails you over and over, the complete conversation will be shown even if they email you after you have archived the last email. Because of this we use gmail for our customer service accounts so that no matter which Representative reads the email, they can see all the previous conversation so that they are informed before responding - very handy.
Picasa - Free online photo album, also from Google. We use this in our office so we can share images that we need a lot. Its easy to access, keep things organized. We also use it for personal stuff.
A big Monitor - I mentioned this before so I won't elaborate. So glad I did it. I'm thinking about a second.
A Robust Laptop - Like most entreprenuers, I am on my computer a lot. I used to run two machines, my laptop and one in the office. Keeping my files straight was always a challenge so I just decided one day to get a real nice, reliable laptop and use it at both places. The laptop cost twice as much as my old one, but i take it everywhere with me and I always have my files. When I'm in the office I have a USB hub, so i just plug in my monitor and 1 usb port and I'm up and running on my large monitor and regular sized keyboard. This system has worked great for me.
External Hard Drive - You know your files are critical, so you need to back them up. I have a 500 gig external drive on my server set up to create backups of my accounting files every other day. It's on my hard drive so if my server crashes, I can easily get the files.
Remote Desktop - This one has been very handy for me recently as my daughter has been fighting cancer and I am out of the office a great deal. With remote desktop I can work from anywhere i can get an internet connection. It has it's quirks like most programs do, but still very nice to have and it comes with most versions of Windows.
I could go on and on, but these are some of the main tools that I use every day that make business run a little smoother. Have favorites of your own? Let us know what they are.