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Two Small Business Tools for Non-MBA Business Leaders

My bachelors degree is in youth ministry. I did about half a masters degree in youth ministry leadership.

That means I have exactly zero expertise in accounting, bookkeeping, or human resources. 

When it comes to my part in leading our small business I’m really good at some aspects of what I do at The Youth Cartel. I’ve got a lot of natural intuition and curiosity and an ability to figure stuff out. But there are other aspects where I need serious help.

When you are starting a small business it’s easy to think all of your time and energy will be about passion, mission, and ideas. But pretty quickly after you get going– especially if you start doing well– you realize that if you don’t know how to do the backend of your business, you’ll never get to spend any time on the front end!

Every small business owner has to deal with this one way or another.

  • Yes, you can hire a bookkeeper or an accountant or an HR professional. But it’s expensive. And the real risk is that if you don’t hire the right people they’ll not do it correctly or do it in a way that reflects why you started your small business to begin with.
  • Yes, you can do it all yourself with Google Spreadsheets and by Googling stuff you really can figure out how to do it all yourself. But it’s going to take up a ton of your time and you’ll never really know if you’re doing it right until the tax man comes or you get a scary letter from the state.
  • Or, for not very much money, you can use some online tools that’ll let you do-it-yourself.

Here are two small business tools that I highly recommend

Gusto for Payroll & Benefits Management

If you’re running a small business you’re probably starting to think about the headache of W-2s and 1099s and all that year-end paperwork. (Cough, Obamacare. Cough. Cough.) We’re completing our second year using Gusto (formerly Zenpayroll) and I am still really digging it.

Basically, they do everything. You login and tell them who gets paid what and how and bam… it’s done. They even send you reminders until you get it done. Last year I processed our payroll while walking through the Phoenix airport between flights. Then, in June, I got a last-minute reminder while in Antigua, Guatemala right away. I popped into a coffee shop and 5 minutes later was done. Fast, easy, secure, mobile. 

Gusto handles all the paperwork with state/fed government as well as to your employees. They’ll send me notes telling me stuff that they’ve filed for me and I have no idea what the form is, why I needed to fill it out, or any of that. But it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it. For me, the biggest thing they do is take away the fear that I’m doing something wrong.

What about the other guys? Before going with them I did demos and talked to reps with all the other payroll companies and Gusto is way easier and way cheaper than all of them, plus they are way easier to deal with.

That’s my recommendation for payroll. If you’re a small business, a small non-profit, even a church. Two thumbs up.

Freshbooks for Bookkeeping & Accounting

The Cartel has four lines of business– events, publishing, coaching, and consulting. For the first year or so we tried to track all of our accounting with Google Spreadsheets. It worked relatively well but as we grew it became more and more cumbersome to deal with. (A spreadsheet for 10 programs is fine. But a spreadsheet for 40 different programs?) Plus, we were missing stuff. And when it came to tax time? A bunch of spreadsheets was sketch city.

We’re in our second full year with Freshbooks and it’s made our lives so much easier. We use it to track every inbound/outbound payment whether that payment is a traditional invoice, an event registration, or buying a download from our store. Perhaps the best part is that it’s API connects to a bunch of the other tools we use… like our bank and our online store. So instead of manually creating every entry and coding it we basically just double-check to make sure things are correct. (Which is still time consuming but a major shortcut.)

And yes, I’m using “we” language because it’s a “we” thing. You can give other members of your team access, they can code their own expenses, create their own invoices, etc.

If you’re invoicing, tracking time or expenses, I can’t recommend Freshbooks enough.

Both of those recommendations are field-tested, I’m not a new customer, and are both under $100/month. (Most months they are under $100/month combined!) In both cases you can find even cheaper options but these are Best in Breed quality without being Best in Breed pricing

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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