Monthly Archives: November 2014

Business Planning

There’s lots of free resources to help you plan your business – but, surprisingly, little in the way of free software (though we’ve found one or two options below). It’s not necessarily a problem because you can compose a pretty good business plan using the guides and templates available – and online spreadsheets like Google Sheets can help with financial planning.

Free business plan guides & templates

Very good free guides and templates are available on the Great BusinessPrince’s Trust and gov.uk websites. There’s also a CIMA pdf checklist that covers stuff you need to consider when planning and some wonderful resources from the British Library though some are only accessible actually onsite.

Bplan is also a useful site with sections on writing a business plan, and sample business plans sorted by sector for you to pinch and adapt. There’s also a free guide on the Sage website and useful guides on the Lloyds bank website. Powerhomebiz also offers heaps of free business plan templates sorted alphabetically by industry.

Free business planning software & tools

Natwest provides free business planning software tool which you can sign up for here. A similar planner is available on the RBS site too. You can also find free business planning software included in the 30 day free trial version of Smarta’s business tools – though you’ll have to cancel the trial more than 7 days before the end of the trial otherwise you’ll be billed.

You’ll find a decent business plan wiki and step-by-step online template at Lawdepot that allows you to download your plan as a pdf but beware, it’s only free for 7 days and requires a card after completing the plan (cancel before the 7 days are up).

 

CRM & SRM Systems

Most of us start off using an Excel sheet to manage customer or supplier data. Which is fine, but limited – you’ll quickly find you need to migrate to something a bit more flexible and connected to manage multiple users or email campaigns from. So it’s probably worth biting the bullet and going for CRM (customer relationship management) or SRM (supplier relationship management) software pretty early on.

We’ll use the term CRM from here but most systems can be used for both customer and supplier contacts.

The biggest players here are SalesForce, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle – but these are complex and cost 000s to run. There’s also LinkedIn which is a place to connect to people, share ideas and communicate and is also increasingly becoming a player in the CRM market. However at the time of writing, LinkedIn is so limited in the way you can input/output data that it’s not really a substitute for your own CRM system.

So here we’ve chosen freemium options that are ideal to get small and medium sized businesses up and running for free – and once you’re growing, they offer prices that don’t go berserk.

Zoho

Zoho’s CRM has a free edition that supports  3 users, 500 records and comes with 1Gb of storage – so it’s well worth looking into. Like other freemium CRMs, there’s then a gradual ramp up in price depending on number of users.

Capsule CRM

Capsule is popular with users and it’s free for two users and 250 contacts. Beyond that, it’s a small fee per user. Capsule has integrations with other software, including gmail and popular email marketing clients like Mail Chimp.

Insightly

One of the best for small businesses. Their free version is good for 3 users and storing 2500 items (different from contacts as an email address or note are separate items in Insightly’s-world). Once you outgrow the free version, it’s only a few quid a month per user.

Bitrix24

Bitrix has a nice user interface and offers a free account that supports a mighty 12 users and 5Gb of storage. If you outgrow that option – and lets face it, you’ll be turning over a decent profit by the time you hit 12+ users – their unlimited user option is less than £100 per month.

All the above options have pros and cons so we suggest you take out a free trial of each and spend half a day playing about with them – adding contacts, searching, emailing and viewing reports to decide which works for your business.

 

Best Business Tablets

We’re starting to use tablets more and more for business – occasionally as a main computer but mostly as a companion device to supplement a laptop. But like any hardware, tablets need to run the latest apps – but also be reliable.

The data below is taken from reputable sources who tested the hardware first-hand.

Most reliable tablet brands

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Samsung
  • Google
  • Microsoft

Check the reliability of desktops and laptop computers here.

Business Laptop and Desktop Computers

When you need hardware for business, you want adequate performance but above all else, you need reliability. Here’s the brands you should be looking out for.

Top 5 most reliable desktop PC brands

  • Apple
  • Compaq
  • Dell
  • Packard Bell
  • Zoostorm

Top 5 most reliable laptop brands

  • Apple
  • Fujitsu-Siemens
  • Medion
  • Toshiba
  • Acer

Best business laptops

  • Apple MacBook series – continue to be great mix of performance and reliability
  • Asus ZenBook UX series – good performer at much lower price than Apple
  • HP Pavillion X2 – low price and excellent performance

 Reliability top tips

If your Windows computer is unreliable, one useful tool is the built-in reliability monitor. Click ‘start’ then type ‘reliability’ and select the reliability monitor. There you’ll see a diagram showing what broke and when. If something keeps failing that causes your computer break, that’s a good place to start looking.

Check out the most reliable tablet computers here.

Free computers or monitors

Freecycle is an extensive international giving-network where people advertise anything they’re looking to get rid of for free. There are regularly old computers on monitors on there which, if you have some computer knowledge, will often be suitable for basic office tasks such as word processing and email.  All you have to do is respond quickly and be prepared to pick it up. Visit their homepage then enter your location and that’ll direct you to your local group where you can see what’s being offered (and join).