One of the most amazing things about being a freelancer or consultant is that you can truly dictate how you want to run things. You don’t need to be tied down by physical office space, secretaries and/or hefty bills that other companies are forced to take on in business. Over the years I’ve learned some great ways you can Mobilize your systems and cut costs in the process.
Briefly: Use this list of 16 tips to strengthen and mobilize your systems. Many of them learned from experience while looking for the lowest cost and highest value returned.
1. Use the cloud
Cloud computing is all the rage these days. If you want to truly Mobilize, using the best cloud services will help you do that. For documents, photos, and file sharing use DropBox. For mail, web hosting and a number of other series, use Google Apps Standard. If you’re in IT, for managing network inventory, use Spiceworks. Use a browser? make use of the internal sync options of browsers like Chrome and Firefox to make your experience the same everywhere.
2. Use remote access
The best way to save cash for accounting systems is not to pay a per computer license when you don’t need it installed on every computer you have. Designate one computer as your accounting system, and when your or your accountant need it, make use of the free Logmein remote access to get into that computer. As a bonus, more portable solution, put that accounting computer in a VirtualBox Virtual machine and take it with you when you might need offline access.
3. Record your time
If your consult, revenue will be tied to billable hours. Use the free Google Calendar services to record and link multiple calendars if you’re part of a group. Your best solution is to use a cloud-based calendar system. To work without color coding, prefix the calendar entries with monikers like “Kev:” to ensure you know who is making the entry.
4. Use Internet calling(Voice-Over-IP)
Making use of these services can save you quite a bit of cash. For example, you can use Google’s (currently) free calling services on your iPhone with a free app called Talkatone or on Android with GVoice. In Canada, the just-release Dell Voice looks like a great option too. These apps will allow you connect by data and make free or very low cost calls all over North America. If you aren’t a heavy dialer, you could even ditch your phone companies’ phone plan altogether and save that money.
5. Find the cheapest phone plans
So, you do need a phone plan after all? Well, find the best available in your area. As a general rule, the cheapest way to go is buy the devices outright (stay off contract!) and find an emerging company that offers great deals. Here in Toronto, It’s WIND Mobile and their coveted “Holiday Miracle Plan”. Be smart about what you use so you don’t get charged usage fees.
6. Make everything electronic
When you are on-the -go all the time, using the cloud is not enough. You need to make sure that the documents you need are close at hand when you need them. For that reason, get into the habit of scanning everything. Scan your receipts, forms, important documents – really anything that may be of use later when you need to reference something important. Keep all these scanned documents in PDF form and in your DropBox (or other cloud storage) folders.
7. Use time wisely
I’m no fan of “Time management”. Rather I’m more interested in time use. In your world, time will likely mean money, so be smarter about that. When you’re super tired, the better use of your time is to sleep. When you’re sick, the best time-use is to see a doctor. When you’re stuck in traffic on that Friday afternoon, the better use of your time might be to stop at a local coffee shop and read/work/anything. Always think of way to better use the time you have instead of being worried about some long list of overdue stuff you keep staring at.
8. Get a laptop/netbook/ultrabook
If you don’t have one. Get one. You might have a computer at home, but make sure you have a mobile device that is light and useful. After you get a laptop, then think about getting that tablet (Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab). You may not be ready to buy all of this now, but work your way up to having the tools you need.
9. Travel light and smart
When you hit that mobile nirvana, you’ll have everything you need to support most of your clients in the bag. You should have most of these things in your day to day bag (if you don’t have them):
– A laptop- CD/DVDs for various tasks (IT Guys)
– Bills that need to be paid (for when you stop to pay them online)
– Business Cards
– Power adapters for phone, laptop, etc
– Small tools (IT Guys)
– iPad (if you have one)
– USB Flash drive (often called a key)
– External hard disk (IT Guys)
– Hand sanitizer (especially if you shake alot of hands)
Some of the above is suited to the IT guys, because, I’m one one of them.
10. Get a smartphone
Most of today’s smartphone really benefit the mobile worker. Your investment in an iPhone or an Android phone will pay off when you factor in the use of email, remote control apps, file viewing, cloud access. In a pinch, many of the things you’ll do with a computer, can be done with your phone, right where you are. The first time you get a customer call, talk to the supplier, make the sale and order the part (all from your smartphone) – you’ll know how valuable they can be. Look for the Apple iPhone 4s or Google Nexus S phones. Get a smartphone and make full use of it.
11. Make home base accessible
Everything you do at home, all files, applications and services should be remotely accessible by you directly or through the cloud. Pay close attention to anything you use and ensure that you think of what it might be like to access it if you were out of the office. Always make your data accessible from anywhere and anywhere you are, you’ll be able to quickly respond to changing conditions. In other cases, using software like Logmein can help by allowing you to turn on a computer after a power failure remotely. Features like that and remote access are free with Logmein.
The power of your system’s mobility will be further enhanced by making your system as simple as possible. Attempt to remove unnecessary steps in everything you do, from invoicing to data entry to scanning receipts, to organization. Always look for the quickest and simplest options available. This does not mean endless hours of organizing, so try to strike a balance between being organized and keeping your systems as simple as possible.
13. Standardize file formats
Wherever possible, standardize on one format. Scans? Always have them as PDF files. Documents? Always create and use them as Microsoft Word .doc format. Pictures? Keep them as .jpg (archive RAW files) and place them in an easy to get at online service (Such as flickr). The biggest time sink for you down in your future may become having to switch between a number of different standard file formats, so make a choice to use standard formats and stick to it.
14. Shut it off
One step often overlooked (heck, your staring at a screen now), is that you need to sometimes shut all this down and take a break. Mobile nirvana may be possible with all these tools and cool gadgets, but some of the best things you can do for your health and stability include just shutting them all off and taking a break. Do that often to keep your most important mobile system (your body) running in top shape.
15. Don’t get tied down
Every time you consider a new system element (like faxing), think about the broadest use-cases possible. You never want to be in any location unable to retrieve this information, so look to cloud-based options like eFax or Bell’s Single Number Reach. There is always a trade off between a perfectly mobile system and the ability to access it wherever you are. For example, if you handle very large files, a cloud based system won’t make those files easy to access everywhere, so you’re better off looking at mobile (USB) hard disk options.
16. Keep trying new things
Every day there are new ways of doing things. New applications (like Expensify for scanning, or Wave Accounting) come out on a constant basis. Make sure your reading technology and business news and trying out new things. Keep an open mind to how new services and ideas might simplify your systems and possibly lower costs.
If you keep all these points in mind as you grow your business, you’ll be in a position to save the most amount on expenses while becoming more and more mobile when your clients need you. Many of these tips can work for larger companies too. Do you have any tips to offer about your own systems? I would like to hear about your favorite ways to mobilize and save on costs.