EMERGING PROFESSIONALS! (and other curious types...)
There are so many business items that go into starting your own firm that are not necessarily the most exciting part of the architectural journey. Maybe we were not (and still aren't) a part of the right networks or maybe we just don't google well, but we hit so many dead ends when trying to figure out how to streamline business processes and procedures as we started out. So, through a lot of trial and error, question after question and finally just a gut feeling... here you go. The rundown I wish existed 4 years ago. The Architect, industry specific, AEP minded insights to starting your own firm.
Simple and integrated.
Our website looks great, is easy to update with what we want to communicate and the price is affordable. I believe there are a couple of competitors in the last year or so that have stepped up their game to that of Squarespace, but we're good for now. I'd rather just keep our focus on creating meaningful content to tell our story.
Yes, pay yourself and your team. Then, let Zenpayroll do everything else. Government forms, state and federal taxes, direct deposits...
I was told from the start to not mess around with payroll. A simple miscalculation can cause you endless distractions with future tax filings and more. So, when we started, we paid our bookkeeper to handle our payroll. This was one of the first big steps of trust we took. Because, how could we know it was really being done correctly? Well, basically if no one comes knocking? Sometimes I wish the government could just send you a "congrats, you did it!" or a gold star like my son brings home from school.
In the cloud accounting / bookkeeping. Worth it.
We started with Account Edge and it worked, but unless we were willing to totally let go of our books to a bookkeeper or invest a lot of time... as an architect wanting to be an architect, this just was not going to work for the long run. There are a couple features I miss, but Xero has totally given us a big bear hug. Kind of like Zenpayroll does (and they talk to each other by the way). Xero is very much like Quicken Online so I hear, but sometimes it's just more fun to go against the mainstream. Xero works and it is simple. Integrates with our bank accounts and has a pretty great dashboard upon login.
There is an add-on to Xero called WorkflowMax, but each time I look into it I get the sense that it is just too much stuff. Great features, but either we're not ready for it or it is not ready for us.
Take the leap from private insurance to group. We looked at individual brokers and even Costco... but Simply Insured made it simple all online (and a few phone calls). You may be catching on here, but make it simple online and you have a good business platform!
We got the options we were looking for and it was simple to choose. I would say that the only downside is that the Health industry is still not quite up to speed with current technology. While Simply Insured is smooth, once you have to go outside of their system to a provider's, you've traveled back 10 years. Unfortunately, it's obvious that Simply Insured has no control over this so all we can do is hope the industry catches up to them. If you call, ask for Ben.
Trello (with the currently free gantt-chart add on)
Simple is probably the common theme here. It keeps us organized and makes it challenging to go into too much detail. Which I think is a great positive. Trello's card system is super easy and flexible to help us keep our projects, tasks and timeline in check. I had a software developer try to turn me on to Trello a few years ago and I just couldn't figure out how to make it beneficial to us, but flash forward to today and its great. Simple organization for the team.
Email, calendars, etc. All there and integrated with Squarespace. This is handy because the whole website domain, email domain, registrars, etc. can be like a bowl of spaghetti.
It all works and is affordable. We haven't had any downtime and I can keep it all in the cloud. At the minimum price there is a cap on space, but we're not there yet and don't plan on it any time soon. I'd say the only downside is the occasional goof up while integrating with Apple's apps. I cannot stand the Google Calendar interface in a browser, so we use the Apple app. Sometimes they don't play nicely. But it is to be expected.
Great start to some kind of shared network amongst a small office. We back up to the cloud for about $5 a month and we can sync any and all files to our computers pretty seamlessly. The jury is still out on growing from here, but it is a great start for 1-3 people.
And lastly, we're an Apple based office. MacBook Pros, iMacs, iPads, iPhones, Airport... Everything is just simpler to manage. Again, I enjoy being an architect and the Apple platform keeps many things very simple for us. We also use Parallels so we can run any Autodesk software we need.
In summary, each time it came down to the simplicity of so many of these solutions that have straightforward, easy to use online platforms. I have a feeling that in a couple years it will be the norm, but it is truly night and day compared to the alternatives in the current market. I laughed when we started using some of these services. I could not believe it could take so much of the unnecessary pain out of these truly necessary business items.
We probably would have wept if we took on the expense of all these things at once, but if you can, I say go for it. Otherwise, just save the list and make an implementation plan.
With all the goodness of the companies above... we're still searching for these answers: cloud based bookmarks manager, a small business IT plan, and why there is an ISP monopoly in downtown Santa Ana.
We hope some of these insights and references help you along the way. Let us know if there is something you've learned that we could add to the mix. We love being architect entrepreneurs and sharing what we have learned so far in our journey!