Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Resolution: technology & expansion

Time to get organized. After 15 years of pet sitting, I still have a 3 ring binder with handwritten pages for each client's information. My accounting method is a single folder labeled "expenses." My cell phone is capable of way more than I know how to use; it's time to at least learn to text. In fact my phone is not working well, so maybe it is time for an iPhone or Blackberry.

I am not a tech novice. I build websites, I use the Adobe Creative Suite in my graphics business. I know how to use Microsoft Office, including Excel. For the next few posts I will report on the various options I am looking at and the decisions I make.

Here are the areas I am exploring (Writing this for you is helping me organize my thoughts):

• Managing Client Information: I need contact, vet, daily care and emergency info all at my fingertips. Do I create separate databases for contact and care info or can I combine them into one? Is Excel a good choice? I can do a sheet for each client in one file. I can do mail merge and other functions. Or should I try a software program like ACT! or Microsoft Outlook? Outlook didn't come with my home version of Office, so I would have to buy it. I use a Mac, so is Outlook even available?

One friend told me that using ACT! for what I need is like using the space shuttle to drive to work: overkill. I'll have to decide if he's right.

Accounting: Should I get Quickbooks or use Quicken? Is Excel enough to do what I need? What do I need? I want to be able to look over each client's history in terms of income and scheduling. I want to keep my tax records organized throughout the year instead of waiting until January to even file my receipts.

The phone: I'm not a big fan of cell phones. They are a necessity but not something I like to spend a bunch of time dealing with. As long as I need a new phone, I'm thinking an iphone is more likely to make my phone a partner in the business rather than an evil thing that only rings when I am driving. So I need to figure out what a phone can do for me, and at what cost?

Which brings up another issue: do I need to set up my car so I can talk hands-free? Or can most calls wait?

Scheduling: Will iCal on the Mac do what I need? Or Google Calendar? Free is a magic word here; these services cost me nothing. Do I need to allow my customers to schedule on-line, or just email me with their requests? If I hire independent contractors, do they need access to the calendar?

Payment: I currently accept cash, checks, PayPal and Visa or Mastercard. Do I need secure online payment processing? Beyond PayPal, I don't think it is necessary at this time. Ah...one decision made.

Expanding my pet sitting business: And now you know where all this planning is heading. My goal is to hire independent contractors to board dogs in their home under my business name and also provide pet sitting visits. I'd like to expand and offer mid-day walks, which I only offer on an occasional basis at this point.

How do I do that? Do I have employees or independent contractors? Should I incorporate? Should I change the business name? Do I need to put together a formal business plan? What will it cost me to expand? How much money can I expect to make? Should I get a small business loan? Do I want to spend my time running a business instead of (or in addition to) taking care of animals?

Lots of questions. I am starting my quest with an appointment on Monday with a SCORE advisor here in Poway to answer my questions about incorporating and operating a more formalized business. Retired business executives from SCORE offer free advice to start-up businesses. Again, Free is again the magic word. I will take advantage of all the free advice and software I can get before I spend a dime!

Step 2 is an appointment at the Apple store next Friday to get training on some of the free apps that came with my new iMac computer. I may not need to buy anything. Which is just how a smart businessperson should be thinking.

I'll keep you posted.
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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Andy said...

It seems like Excel and Outlook would be able to due much of what you need. You should definately use this resource for templates and tips: http://www.office.com

And if you need further answers we'd love to help out at http://www.facebook.com/office

Cheers,
Andy
MSFT Office Outreach