From One to Many Options

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Technology Levels the Field.

One of the challenges I’ve faced in my quest to start up and create a business with impact was one of organization. Not organization in the sense of becoming a legal entity, that part was actually easier than I ever expected, but organization in the sense of the word that many creative types struggle with.

“I’m not an organized person,” most of us have said this in the past, you may even be shaking your head in affirmation as you read that statement. Rest assured, you are not alone in this malady. To be truly organized is a rarefied skill that comes first from parents or mentors who have cajoled or encouraged us or from our own determination to be able to lay our hands on what we need to get through our day. Many of us struggle with this in different ways, some who are well organized in some facets of their lives, embody certain chaos in other parts.

The mixed blessing of automation.

There is a lot to say against automation, it takes people out of the equation removing jobs from the economy and unless there are compensating conditions in place it can ruin people’s lives. However, like many aspects of technology, it is generally neutral until applied.  The same AI that wipes out humanity in The Terminator movies is also in its basic form, which keeps many of us from thinking about cashing and depositing our paychecks or paying our bills on time. In some applications, it keeps us alive.

Automating tasks that are time wasters or that require undue attention to a set of routine steps is one of the best ways to clear the way for focusing on the important stuff, in work, in our careers, and in our lives. The ability to leverage some of this power is what I teach small business people every day. Unfortunately, there are so many options and iterations of this idea that choosing the one that works best for you can be a full-time pursuit.

The choices are many in this age of cloud solutions and SAS (software as a service) offerings that give many small businesses, sole proprietors and LLC’s the same access to services once reserved for tech giants. There are also many “top 10” websites with questionable data sources that getting beyond the first few highly promoted choices and getting into the weeds with some of the lesser-known offerings can seem impossible.

In my work, both at the corporate, nonprofit and government levels, I have uncovered a constantly changing landscape of choices that assist in everything from Point of Sale services (POS), inventory tracking and management, payment processing, Customer Relations Management (CRM), legal services and website management.

Many of these services were once the province of talented professionals, payroll or HR managers, banks and payroll services, or customer relationship managers, or web gurus, now they are automated, accessible solutions available to individuals and companies whose employees range from 1 to over a million. The best part is that many of these solutions are either free or at a manageably low cost. Most require some management and almost all require some setup, but the best of them walk you through the process step by step.

What I’ve noticed over the past decade or so is that the world is trending toward consolidation. Consolidation of culture, language and structure, and business services, in this sphere it is most apparent. While many of these consolidation efforts are in industries or specialties that make sense for synergistic consolidation, a few are awkwardly attempting to do some dissimilar work in the same package.

The ones I’d like to focus on now are the ones that I feel navigate and integrate these synergies well. I will also offer a few that seem to do one or two things very well. Be warned, although many of these services are “free” there are add ons that can add up, I will, in my breakdown of these services, note where this is true.

Also, take note, I will be only reviewing services I have personally tried. There are new products and services arriving on the market every day, and I am hard at work assessing and recommending them to my customers and reviewing the standouts for you.

Disclaimer: I am not being paid, nor have I asked for any special treatment from any of the vendors or services I list. If I ever have existing relationships with these vendors or if I refer to any other consultants or providers of services that I do have any exchange with that could prejudice me in any way toward them or what they offer, I will make that clear and lay my preference bare. As a business operator, and as a human being, trust is my primary currency and I can never afford to give that away.