How safe is your business from your spending habits?

The new iPhone launched last week and like many of you I’m excited to get it. I’m still on an iPhone 4 (stupid 3 year contracts in Canada) which is a bit slow and getting long in the tooth. I really notice the speed when I have to do something on my wife’s 4s.

Despite that excitement I don’t have one yet and I’ve set a deadline of Oct 1 before I’m allowed to make the purchase.

Hype hype hype

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of a new gadget without evaluating the real business case for it.

99% of the time I’m at a computer that has access to iMessage, Twitter, ADN, Byword and email. So really what does the speed of a phone matter to me? I can check Twitter faster (and maybe more often) in the evening when I should be hanging out with my kid.

Not a selling point.

Business Use

The true business use of my phone is the occasional inquiry from a possible client. I might get a call instead of email one or two times per month.

After that I use it to add/refer to tasks in OmniFocus. Jot a blog post idea down in Byword. Check email when I’m away from my desk during the day (not often). Finally read RSS feeds.

Few of those things really make me actual money or increase the profitability of my business.

That means getting a new iPhone 5s is really about me turning down my frustration a bit for the small amount of time I do use it after normal office hours.

Now I’m not saying that I won’t be at a store on Oct 1st getting a new phone I’m just saying that if I was to evaluate it as a strictly business use decision I don’t need it.

You’re a business owner now

As a solo freelancer or small business owner it’s so easy to just get the stuff we ‘want’ without evaluating the actual business case for it.

Do you really need a new laptop every year?

Do you really need to have expensive speakers at your desk?

Do you really need each new ‘cool’ piece of software that comes out?

I’m all for trying new things out and seeing if they fit into your workflow if you set a budget for that. I allow myself a $50 iTunes card each month and when it’s gone it’s gone.

That means I have to really evaluate each purchase to see if it’s something I really need or just a want. Before I had that limit I was spending $50 a month most months and sometimes 2X or 3X that.

That budget has saved me at least $300 this year. I simply decided I didn’t need to spend the money on the latest cool app people were talking about. The thing I wanted at that exact second wasn’t really a good business decision and once the next month came around I had cooled off enough that I just didn’t care about it.

How I evaluate business expenses

I’ve talked before about how I evaluate ROI on services and the same basics apply to all of my purchases.

By purchasing PHPStorm for $50 a year I save hours and hours of time each month. The speed of the tool increases my productivity so much that it would easily be worth twice as much to me.

WP Migrate DB Pro saved me the cost of the developer license in the first week. Moving sites is so fast now and I don’t have to kill time with MySQL queries to change the URL in the database.

Both of those have huge returns in my business and I’ll happily keep using them and paying for them yearly.

Way too often as solo freelancers and small business owners we either just spend money without thinking about the ROI or we don’t spend money because it seems expensive. Sure WP Migrate DB Pro may seem expensive for the developer license but when I figure it saves me an hour a week that means I saved about $5k in a year.

So…

Do you have a cool off plan?

How do you evaluate your purchases that are ‘for the business’?

Can We Get by with Web Apps?

google docs shot

google docs shot
Are web apps enough?

Web apps have been heralded as the solution to our online and offline lives. We do not have to install software on our machines. Things are backed up online and, in theory, we can edit offline with Google Gears (or other solution).

So looking at this promised land I decided to move my blog writing from Open Office with storage in Dropbox to Google Docs with offline enabled. I have now been writing exclusively in Google Docs for about a month and here is my experience.

The Good

I love the organization of Google Docs. There is just something about the simplicity of the interface that appeals to me. Drag and drop folder sorting is beautiful. Auto saving is great. Being able to check the content of a folder with by winding and unwinding the arrow for a folder is great. It just seems easier than drilling down a file structure and backing out of folders. I love that I am not really flipping back and forth between a file browser and an application for writing. I love that I just have Firefox open and can browse for links and write out of the same interface without having multiple applications running. Since I do much of my writing on a netbook having a single application open instead of a few is a great feature.

I find that the spell check works well and the standard keyboard shortcuts for boldand italic text work great. I really do not notice that I am in a web interface instead of a desktop application.

The Bad

While Google docs seems to promise document syncing and offline editing my experience leaves me wanting much more from Google docs. I typically operate over two main machines, a Vista desktop and an Ubuntu netbook. I take the netbook with me lots of places that do not have WIFI of any sort so I need to be able to edit my documents while offline.

The first fail came for Google docs when I was trying to start a new article over lunch one day. Low and behold the new document button is ‘ghosted’ out. So I scratched my head fired up Open Office and jotted down the notes I had in my head for an article. After a bit of research I found out that you can not create a document while in offline mode. You can ‘hack’ around this by creating a number of new documents while online and then editing them at a later point when you have a new document to write. Not a perfect solution but not too bad either so I could live with that.

The second fail or series of fails dealt with syncing my documents when transferring offline and online. For some reason a month after editing I still have documents that are marked at ‘edited offline.’ Despite the fact that I am currently giving Google Docs every opportunity to sync these items while I sit here online finishing this article in Google docs. Since it appears that the documents are just marked as ‘edited offline’ while still having the content syncedSo while this is annoying again I can live with that.

The final fail item was just today. I had planned to work on a document and finish it off for a blog post. Unfortunately for some reason Google docs decided not to sync that particular document today. So there I am ready to write an article and I get totally stumped. I suppose the great thing about that is I got to finish off this post about the ways in which Google docs has failed me. Maybe it has something to do with the Linux implementation of Firefox but to be honest I really do not care. I just want my apps to work.

The Conclusion

I love the thought of web apps and offline access but at this point I do not think that Google docs is there. Sure if you always have a WIFI connection Google Docs is a great resource but if you are editing offline and online you are out of luck (at least in my experience). I actually love writing in Google Docs but the syncing problems just kill the option for me. I really do not want to switch back to Open Office and Dropbox but I feel I have no choice. So I think I’ll be going back to using Open Office and storing documents in my Dropbox for syncing. The only downside to that is the poor functionality of Open Office for Mac. Fortunately my main machines are Linux and Windows with Mac as an occasional platform (at least for writing).

My next attempt at online document writing will be with Microsoft’s Office Live. Hopefully that is not a bucket of fail. Added after I scheduled the post Unfortunately it seems that Office Live is also a buckect of fail. While many browsers across many platforms are supported there is no Linux support in the Office Live site so my primary writing machine won’t work. I guess that means I’m stuck with Open Office and Dropbox for syncing.