As regular Metropreneur readers know, we’ve recently begun asking tech-savvy small business owners what tools, devices, software, and applications work for them in hopes their answers will give you the knowledge necessary to take your business to the next level.
This month, we turned to someone near and dear to The Metropreneur: our co-founder Walker Evans. In addition to overseeing our operations, he and his wife, Anne Evans, run Columbus Underground and write the email newsletters for both websites. Walker also manages Twitter and Facebook accounts for The Metropreneur, Columbus Underground, and several local organizations.
In other words, an ideal interviewee was right under our nose. (How convenient.)
Read on to learn how Walker creates documents that can be shared with co-workers anywhere in real time, why he prefers online to-do lists, and what he “highly recommends” for all small business owners.
The Metropreneur: Are you using new technology in interesting or unique ways to support your business?
Walker Evans: With Columbus Underground and The Metropreneur being online publications, everything we do is either online or related to the internet and technology. Generally speaking, we try not to be too “bleeding edge” when it comes to the hot new gizmos, gadgets and applications, but to stay on top of tech trends as they reach a wider and more mainstream audience. Our goal is to deliver information to as many people as possible, so we try to follow what the masses are doing with new technology, rather than the cutting edge trendsetters who only represent a smaller group of users.
[M]: Have you recently purchased a tablet pc, smartphone, camera, or other device to help grow your business?
WE: We did recently purchase a new consumer-grade point-and-shoot digital camera to replace an old one that stopped working. My iPhone is an older model and my laptop is nearly five years old, so of course I’d love to upgrade both of them to help speed up everything I do for our business on a day-to-day basis.
[M]: Have you recently downloaded, installed, or set up any applications, software, or online tools to help grow your business?
WE: We are constantly testing new applications and software to help manage our processes and improve our workflow. We use Google applications for quite a few things, including Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google Reader, Gmail, and Google Calendar. I love the synchronization across multiple systems, multiple users, and multiple devices. When one person can create a document on their laptop, another person can edit it from across town and I can retrieve the document on my iPhone, all in real time. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A few other iPhone apps that come in handy for me include Genius Scan, TeuxDeux.com, HootSuite, and Firebug.
Genius Scan is document “scanner” that uses the iPhone’s camera to convert documents into digital emails that can easily be emailed to yourself or to someone else. This has saved me multiple times when our Xerox fax machine /scanner /printer in the office goes down and I have physical documents that I need to get to someone quickly.
I just started using TeuxDeux.com, a web-based to-do list tool after reading about it in an interview with the founder of Tumblr. It’s a very simple tool for creating daily to-do lists, crossing off items, and shifting them around to other days of the week. It’s great for simple organizational lists and keeps everything online so that you don’t have to worry about misplacing a written list. There’s an iPhone app version as well, but I’ve not yet downloaded it.
HootSuite is pretty much an industry standard tool for social media management. I use it religiously on both my laptop and iPhone for keeping tabs on around a dozen Twitter and Facebook accounts. Being able to schedule updates in advance and create feeds built on search terms and keywords helps keep you involved in the relevant conversations without getting lost in all of the noise.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of design and coding for an upcoming overhaul to Columbus Underground and the Firebug tool for Firefox is invaluable for testing html, tweaking css files and debugging code. If you’re not a web developer or designer, this probably isn’t something you’d need to use extensively, but it can also come in for the html novice who just wants to explore a website and peek under the hood to find out “How’d they do that?”
[M]: Are you using technology in a way that your competitors or larger businesses aren’t able to use?
WE: I’d like to think so. Small companies can always be more flexible, nimble, curious and spontaneous than their larger counterparts. That means that you should always be testing new things, trying out new technology and examining and studying your results. Just the other day I installed a new plugin for WordPress for The Metropreneur that was designed to improve the social sharability of content, but after a few days I realized it wasn’t working as it was supposed to and disabled it for further testing. Being able to play with new technology in real time and get real life feedback and experience is invaluable as a small business owner.
[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?
WE: Something I highly recommend for all small business owners: back up systems! I’ve been the victim of failed hard drives in the past and have lost data and had my business suffer because of it. The solution we use now is a fairly simple one: Time Machine for MacOSX. It’s built into the operating systems for OSX versions 10.5 and higher and completely backs up your entire system on an hourly basis.
Anne and I have both main work laptops connected wirelessly to a remote server that has several external hard drives for redundant backup. That way there’s no plugging anything in and no forgetting to clicking the “backup” button. Everything is effortlessly and wirelessly saved every hour, and documents can be retrieved for restoring just as easily. It’s saved me countless times when files have been accidentally removed or replaced, and I take great comfort in knowing that I could have my laptop completely destroyed and replaced within a few hours and have everything reset back to normal without losing any data at all.