Archive for October, 2011

Comparing HR Management Options for Startups and Small Businesses: PEO & SaaS

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, HR

This is the second in a series of posts about HR management options. For an overview of the three types (PEO, SaaS, and Offline) see our first post: 3 Options for HR Management for Startups, Small Businesses, and Distributed Teams

Jump to section:

SaaS (Software as a Service) HR

PEO (Professional Employer Organization)

SaaS (Software as a Service) HR

While we are evaluating SaaS offerings for HR management, these are some of the reviews from the market.

GigaOM‘s Amber Singleton Riviere compares SaaS options targeted specifically at startups and small businesses. She offers a side-by-side view of TribeHR, BambooHR, EffortlessHR, and iEmployee. Below is an abridged version of the review along with available pricing information:

TribeHR
- Employee records
- Vacation/leave tracking
- Employee development tracking
- Employee notes and feedback
- Shared resources (including tracking of document views)
- Job postings
- Reports
Price: from $19/mo [15 users] to $399/mo [unlimited]

BambooHR
- Employee records
- Vacation/leave tracking
- Training time tracking
- Benefit tracking
- Online document storage
- Reports
Price: from $79/mo [50 users] to $599/mo [1000]

EffortlessHR
- Employee records
- Employee portal (employees can update information, request time off, clock in and out)
- Employee email
- Time tracking
- Shared resources
- Reports
Price: from $29.95/mo [19 users] to $99.95/mo [1000]

iEmployee
- Online pay stubs
- Time tracking
- Vacation/leave tracking
- Employee portal (employees can clock in and out)
Price: available by request on their website

In addition, Start2Cloud‘s Michal Pulda offers a comparison of TribeHR and OrangeHRM Live in the categories of functionality, customization, look and feel, browser, language & general support, and price.

While Orange is found to be more customizable and Tribe more intuitive, ultimately Michal recommends Orange for larger companies that need the flexibility of options like descriptive fields and custom report structure in addition to training courses that outline the features of the software. On the other hand, he prefers TribeHR for small companies that don’t need advanced features like employee time monitoring or time allocation among projects.

TribeHR is quoted at $19/month for up to 15 employees ($1.27/employee) with the most expensive option being $399/month for an unlimited number of users. OrangeHRM’s pricing is not publicly available, but Michal was quoted at an initial price of $6.25/employee/month with larger companies being able to access rates as low as $0.25/employee/month.

A more expensive and a more comprehensive alternative to HR Management are Professional Employer Organizations.

PEO (Professional Employer Organization)

A PEO is a third party company that acts as your company’s HR department in place of a part- or full-time employee. Not only will a PEO provide an ‘one stop’ branded HR portal for your employees, they will manage your benefit plans, FSA, and health insurance, and will search for the best health insurance plans to suit the scale of your business and needs of your employees.

Competitors in the field include TriNetADPStaffOne, and Oasis Outsourcing though a search of ESAC-certified PEOs in your state will provide many more options.

Pros:
- No time is spent on managing HR internally
- Employees often have a choice of multiple healthcare plans
- Rates may be comparable or even lower than hiring a part- or full-time employee to manage HR functions

Cons:
- The onus is on employees to check benefits, change preferences, and research healthcare
- The company must rely on the customer service of the PEO to update or make changes to employee information/benefit plans. For a first-hand account, read Ed Shull’s experience with TriNet.
- Employees may feel a “chasm” between themselves and their management since they must contact the PEO to discuss all HR matters

Disclaimer: We have no first-hand experience with any of the tools discussed in this post. All references to services, pricing, or experience are cited.

3 Options for HR Management for Startups, Small Businesses, and Distributed Teams

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in Blog, Document Management, HR

You’ve got a team together, you’ve got an idea, and maybe you’ve even got funding or paying customers and you’re at a point where you really need to manage your team members’ HR matters. You find yourself facing the fact that, regardless of if your staff are employees or contractors, there are forms to be filled out and regularly updated, taxes to be paid, and benefits to be provided and managed.

These are the options currently available for HR management for startups, small businesses, and distributed teams:

PEO (Professional Employer Organizations): In this case, HR is completely outsourced such that there are no part- or full-time employees working directly for the company.

PEOs are third-party providers, often certified by ESAC (Employee Service Assurance Corporation), that serve your business HR needs from soup to nuts for approximately $120-150/employee/mo (~$1800/employee/year).  The assumption is that for up to 30 people, you get savings from hiring a PEO vs an HR Manager.  This fee covers managing all HR functions inclusive of benefit plans, FSA, and healthcare. PEOs provide a branded HR portal to employees to update their info as well as taking care of compliance requirements, issuing FSA (flexible spending account) cards for pre-tax medical expenses, and choosing the best health insurance plans for employees. You, as an employer do not have to.

SaaS (Software as a Service) HR Offerings: SaaS in the HR field are online software services that allow you to manage HR from a central portal. This includes a combination of some or all of the following: employee records, document/resource sharing among employees, job postings, benefit tracking, time management (can include clocking and leave tracking), and company/employee reports. In this case, you would hire a part-time HR administrator or include this in the duties of another person at the company to adminsiter the HR records via the SaaS option and ensure that all necessary forms are completed and updated regularly.

Offline HR: In this case, there is a part- or full-time employee of the company that is responsible for managing all HR functions.  Offline HR management is viable mostly for a team that works in the same office. For distributed teams it becomes increasingly difficult to manage especially for various employment forms and information updates that employees need to provide.

Image credit: thehrpractice.net

This is the first in a series of posts about HR management. Subsequent posts will discuss specifics of the options listed. To be informed about new posts, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up by email on the right.

Wrangling Receipts – A Step To A Paperless Office

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in Accounting, Blog, Finance, Productivity, Thumbs up, Workflow

The question of how to file receipts at small businesses is a common one. In this case, small business owners and startup founders want to make sure there is an audit trail in case of an IRS audit. At Finance Alpha, we are big believers in paperless operations with access to paperless receipts being an integral part of a paperless office. These are our experiences with the services that provide receipt scanning and online receipt management.

1) Shoeboxed.com (http://shoeboxed.com/pricing)
   We give Shoeboxed preference over all other available services for their cost/benefit & value. We have been using Shoeboxed.com for over two years and have yet to be disappointed. We send them receipts of all shapes and forms, wrinkled and not, and somehow they are able to scan them all and make them available online.

For a $300 annual plan, we have no labor on our side other than to put all receipts in pre-paid envelopes. They prepay and track envelopes, and can mail back the physical receipts (for free) if the customer desires. Customers can also scan receipts with smart phones and email them to Shoeboxed on-the-go.

Their search can be improved, but it is not a deal breaker — you can always find the receipt you are searching for if it had been mailed to them and scanned.

It should be said that they do not scan anything but receipts and business cards. You have to use another service or a scanner at your home/office to scan other documents.

2) Expensify (http://expensify.com)
   Expensify goes hand in hand with shoeboxed. They are complementary services, not substitutes.

Expensify is more useful for expense report submissions / reimbursement record keeping, not for scanning all your receipts. Similarly to Shoeboxed, however, you can scan your receipts with the Expensify mobile app. Both Shoeboxed and Expensify are semi-integrated with Google apps (you can use one login to all of them) which allows you to have them available on your team members’ dashboards and saves time on receipts submission. Expensify has a beautiful, easy to use UI and it is simple to integrate this service within a small business or a startup.

3) Neat (http://store.neat.com)
   The Neat scanners look neat, but I have not been able to justify the price of these scanners (plus our labor to scan) when compared with the Shoeboxed.com pricing.

I once saw a Neat scanner being used at a doctor’s office to add a scanned copy of a patient’s card to the patient’s records so perhaps there is value in the Neat scanner if you perform such specific tasks regularly.

4) OfficeDrop (http://officedrop.com/pricing)
   OfficeDrop allows you to mail everything to them for processing. They are more expensive than Shoeboxed, and we have not used them as a result. (Note: Office Drop was formerly Pixily)

5) There are many apps that enable mobile phones to scan receipts. Here is an example: http://www.appbrain.com/search?q=receipts. If you are not using any of the options listed above, you will have to try different apps to see if any stick with your team to be diligent in scanning and e-mailing you all their receipts.

If all else fails, go with Shoeboxed.com! :)

Disclosure: I have no association with any of the services listed above other than that I use the first two on the list.

Google Apps: a Toolkit for Startups and Small Businesses

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Thumbs up, Workflow

This is the first in a series of posts about Google Apps. We will be covering the most useful third party apps for operations management as well as cool ways to use Google Apps to facilitate collaboration and smooth operations flow. Stay tuned!

A recent post on Google’s Blog showed that 97% of Business Insider’s 20 Silicon Valley Startups to Watch from the last two years were running on Google Apps. As the post’s author Rich Rao notes, Silicon Valley isn’t the only place for tech startups but it does highlight the salient point: Google Apps allows you to “focus on your business, not on your IT.” Likewise Martin Melin found that after analyzing MX entries for 204 Y Combinator startups that 142 (almost 70%) are using Gmail and as he observes, “This does not consider the possibility of some startups using another MX that is forwarding into Google Apps, so the actual percentage could very well be higher than 70%.”

So why Google Apps? Beyond the fact that you can have fully integrated domain email for free up to ten people without the headache of managing your own email server and with Postini taking care of SPAM, the default features available in Google Apps have expanded since its inception. In addition to Gmail, Calendar, web based word processing, spreadsheets, and slide presentations, Google Documents now offers Drawing (a free-form image manipulation tool), Forms (a template builder for customer feedback), and sidebar comment trails in the event that want to leave a note outside of a document itself. The real value of these tools is not their functions, however, but the fact that they foster collaboration.

With your team:
Let’s say you’re working with your team on a new product or process. The ability to communicate and collaborate in real time using the Gmail chat function along with Drawing for visuals and a text document with a comment trail allows you to share ideas, visualize them, and solidify present and future goals all without time spent moving files back and forth. There is even a revision history function that will show you who has made changes, when, and allows you to restore any deleted items.

Gmail Chat

 

Google Drawing with Revision History

 

Google Document with Comments

With clients:
Similarly, if your clients are using Google Apps you can bring them in on the conversation rather than working to provide a model, getting their opinion, and going back to the drawing board. Not only will your client get the feeling of personal service, but will likely be able to provide a clear description of what they want in a shorter amount of time. Best of all, when the project is complete you can simply ‘un-share’ any documents your client may have had access to and privacy is restored.

What killed SohoOS for me

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in Admin Tools, Blog, Calendar & Scheduling, Customer Management, Document Management, Productivity, Project Management, Sales & Marketing, Thumbs down, Workflow

In a attempt to find an “all in one” solution for startups and small businesses operations management, after seeing so much praise given to SohoOS by TechCrunch, I gave it a try. Michael outlined some of the issues with the service in his post here.

These are the issues that killed the service for me:
1) It prompted me to bring all my contacts from Gmail, which I did, and then I could not find where my contacts were nor could I find how to delete them from the system!

2) There does not appear to be a way to close an account once you open one at SohoOS. On many web-based services, the option to close your account and how to is stated almost on every page or provided in the FAQ page, so that customers feel assured they can; this is not the case with SohoOS as of 1o/2011.

3)  The service states it is is free, however once you get through a hodgepodge of interfaces ‘thrown together’ to give a perception that a user can manage projects and invoicing with SohoOS  (below you can see an interface with the missing logo and less than optimal UI for adding a task), you soon come to a screen where SohoOS wants you to pay for SMS messages supposedly to communicate with your team members, and for documents from Docstock.

At the end I felt “cheated on”. My info was inside the system with no way to take it out or delete it with no trace (no way for SohoOS to use my contacts), and no value was provided within the project management and invoicing screen. After being promised something for free, I kept bumping into screens that were asking me to pay.

Adding a task to a project:

Pay for sending SMS:

SohoOS Docs — pay to use the documents from DocStoc:

 


SohoOS: “F” is for Beta

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Admin Tools, Blog, Calendar & Scheduling, Customer Management, Document Management, Productivity, Project Management, Sales & Marketing, Thumbs down, Workflow

Roi Carthy of TechCrunch posted an article recently after speaking with Eran Manor, SohoOS’s lead designer, that ended on the high note, “The thinking here is that providing [invoicing, billing features, CRM, inventory & project management] to a sufficient depth allows SohoOS to appeal to a larger userbase. With the US, UK, and the EU constituting 54% of the userbase, this is a smart move.”

Let’s get one thing straight: Users, “growing at a rate of 30% month-over-month,” doesn’t say anything about retention, satisfaction, or the utility of the service. Amid the hype I became one of the more than 400,000 users that their front page boasts, only to find that what is presented as a product in Beta is little more than a, “reverse engineered…iPad app”, it is a “service” that lures you in and then doesn’t let you out.

According to Carthy’s article, SohoOS has discovered that small businesses:

• Don’t consider accounting software a substitute for an accountant

• Don’t see accounting as the heart and soul of their businesses’ management activities.

To the first point, it seems unlikely that small businesses feel duped for using both an accountant and software programs programs.  An accounting program allows for day-to-day entries to be recorded so that when the time comes for tax filing an accountant can easily collect the necessary information.

To the second, accounting certainly isn’t the heart of business management but it is a necessary part.

This, I believe, is where SohoOS has lost sight of their audience. Carthy even praises SohoOS for, “focusing on several services that are key to the daily management of a small business,” rather than “the conventional wisdom, of ‘do one thing and do it well’.”

My criticism for SohoOS then is twofold:

1.       The result of trying to take on so many traditionally divided tasks is a cluttered interface that seems lost between invoicing features and priced-t0-sell business document templates.

2.       The term ‘Beta’ has fallen victim to semantic satiation and companies like SohoOS are to blame. Beta used to mean an essentially finished product that leaves room for rapid user-oriented change, but now simply means ‘something we’ve put together and are still working on defining’.

If a company doesn’t have a clearly defined vision of itself, there is no way that a customer can see future potential. Perhaps my cynicism toward the ‘do everything well’ model will turn out to be the mark of a dying philosophy but until a service like SohoOS pushes companies that ‘do one thing and do it well’ aside, I won’t be investing.

What’s on your keychain? Integrated Google Apps That Make Life Easy

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Accounting, Admin Tools, Blog, Customer Management, Document Management, Finance, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Workflow

This is the second in series of posts about Google Apps, to learn more about Google Apps for Business see our first post

The number of apps integrated with Google Apps has exploded recently and many are available for free or for a nominal fee (especially if you’re a small business using them among your team members).  At Finance Alpha our goal has been to find the best tools for intuitive and flexible collaboration, which has meant testing tools with a wide variety of intended uses and keeping an eye out for those that operate well in tandem across all members of a team.

These are the tools we have picked so far:

  Insightly: We ran across Insightly (insight.ly) while looking for an intuitive task manager integrated with Google Apps. Google’s own Tasks function has the advantage of being a proprietary and thus extremely integrated product, however we found that there wasn’t enough room for description within the tasks themselves and that tasks could not be easily shared or delegated. In the case of an ongoing task, Insightly allows you to add progress updates, assign a number of statuses (Not Started, Waiting, In Progress, Deferred, Completed), assign tasks to other team members with email notification, and can even act as a CRM. Integration with Google means that you can save an email transaction with a click of a button from Gmail into Insightly and the person’s contact information will automatically be saved in addition to the email exchange itself. Insightly is free up to 3 users and has plans starting at $29/month for more.

MindMeister: Ever heard of or used mind mapping? MindMeister is intended to allow you visualize one aspect of your life / project and its constituent parts. As an example, the standard Personal Tasks template shows how it might be helpful to conceptualize how your Home, Work, Car, Shopping, and Other personal tasks are related. Furthermore, individual nodes and tasks can be prioritized, tagged, flagged, highlighted, and even set up for email notification. Not only is MindMeister affordable ($9.99 per month for unlimited maps and users) but can easily be used for other purposes like project management and flowcharts. It is worth mentioning that like most great services, MindMeister is immediately comprehensible: whatever you think that button does, it does. We wrote earlier that we chose MindMeister over other flow chart tools.

Expensify: Expensify is already a brilliant tool for expense tracking that includes the ability to import credit card and bank records, create expense reports, upload receipts, and even integrate with Quickbooks. The service as a Google App (free for 2 users, $5 per user after that) seems little more than a convenient link from your Google account but nonetheless it saves you the extra login and makes Expensify more accessible if you want to use it from a mobile device.

GetHarvest: Harvest is powerful because it does one thing extremely well: time tracking. For employees Harvest presents a minimal, intuitive interface to quickly categorize and track time. On the accounting side, Harvest makes invoicing and report generation both instant and elegantly presented. A full business account (including unlimited users) is going to cost you $90 a month but if you’ve got a large team working on a variety of tasks, it simply can’t get any simpler.

Shoeboxed: Not unlike Expensify, the Google Apps extension of Shoeboxed is little more than the ability to log in from your Google account however this shouldn’t discount what a valuable tool it can be for your team. Shoeboxed allows you to send physical receipts, upload photos of receipts, and basically transmit any other record of a transaction to them for processing. In return you’ll have access to a clean record of your transactions perfect for substantiation in the case of an audit. Also, if you don’t import transactions from your bank into Quickbooks (or any other accounting software), Shoeboxed can help you there too. They offer prepaid envelopes in addition to receiving standard mail with just a little extra effort (you have to provide your email address on the outside and inside of the envelope). They’ll even dispose of your receipts safely or send them back to you if you’d rather hold on to the physical copies. The $300 annual price tag might seem high at first (includes 150 docs/month and 500 uploads) but the peace of mind it brings means never having to worry about providing a record of your transactions. Besides, who wants to sort receipts when you can mail them off in a crumpled ball?

Check out our example workflow of this process in flowchart form here

What third party apps integrated with Google Apps do you find most useful in your work flow? Let us know in the comments!

Idea Mill Event, 10/14/2011, HOLYOKE, MA

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in News

I participated in the Idea Mill event at the beautiful modern Open Square office, retail, and event space in Holyoke, MA. Thanks to the quality of the speakers, participants, and organization, it was a world class event. If you missed it, here are some highlights.

Idea Mill Concept: To introduce modern office space converted from mills in Holyoke, MA and to position Western Mass as a great place for companies to build their businesses similar to the way that businesses did on Route 128 outside of Boston (less expensive but still accessible to metro areas).Holyoke aims to be the next great startup center with modern office spaces, fast internet, and a balanced, quality rural/urban lifestyle at a lower cost than would be available in Boston. Specifically, the Idea Mill event showcased a mill that had been converted into a versatile loft style office, retail, and event space with fiber-optic connection, completely remodeled interior, and gourmet local food. Presenters were a great mix of entrepreneurs from Western Mass, startup and tech gurus from the Boston area, Rhode Island, and New York State.

STEVE PORTER
Steve Porter (of PorterHouse Media) presents ‘dry’ business ideas in an entertaining way with memorable, eye-catching videos.  Steve, originally from Amherst, MA, came back to Holyoke, MA about two years ago after DJing around the world.  He has since produced an international business remixing videos for large companies (IBM, Cisco, etc.).  Steve is committed to bringing more business to Holyoke, MA.

PANEL Idea Mill Event
Baer Tierkel — Moved to Western Mass from California to enjoy a more balanced life style and, here, co-founded tech startups including Otalo and Localocracy (recently acquired by Huffington Post).

Shawn BroderickA former Managing Director of TechStars Boston and current CEO of Play140 (a Twitter-based games company).

Anita Brearton — Member of  Golden Seeds (4th largest angel fund investing group in the country). Anita is spearheading various initiatives for women to enter the business world. She observed that there were not enough (~20 in Boston) organizations supporting women in business so she helped them collaborate and organize SH-EO: The Capital Network.

Jack Tamplin with Providence Geeks and Richard Frederick, Director, Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE) at RPI .  Jack Tamplin shared how he and his peers are helping to form a startup community in Providence, saying to keep young enterpreneurs in town, you need to create an environment to ”Keep them made, paid, and laid” (creating a social scene for the young enterpreneurs to stay after they graduate from colleges).

BO PEABODY
Bo Peabody — Founder of Tripod (later sold to Lycos) and Managing General Partner of Village Ventures. Bo shared his experience building Tripod in Williamstown (population 6,000) and how he focused on developing his team and creating a family environment.

BEN EINSTEINBen Einstein
Ben Einstein, Brainstream Design, – Shared his vision about creating Maker College in Holyoke. He and his friend are looking to aquire a mill building in Holyoke where they want to create a startup hub (like Y-Combinator) on the second floor with a materials shop on the first. On the first floor there would be 3-D printers and other machinery for those startups to model what they’re making (in the case of a physical product). In addition the local community will be able to use the first floor resources for a membership fee. Maker College will be sustained by contributions from the startups they help create and the first floor will generate revenue from community memberships. The college may ultimately become a nonprofit but that is yet to be determined.

BRIAN KALMA
Brian Kalma, A UX guru, formerly of Zappos talked about developing great UI experiences and that ultimately “good UI means making people smile”.

COLIN ANGLE
Colin Angle — Founder of iRobot (founded in 1990, originally in MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab). Ever since he saw Rosie the robot on The Jetsons, Colin wanted to create a real life version of Rosie, the friendly cleaning robot. Colin began with an engineering team while at MIT and started designing robots, however his team didn’t have the experience in manufacturing or cleaning at that time. His team partnered with a company that makes industrial cleaners and learned the cleaning aspect of the business, and then partnered with Hasbro to develop lifelike robot baby dolls and in the process learned how to manufacture. At that point, they learned how to design, clean, and manufacture and were in the position to release their own robot (first called CyberSuck then DustPuppy then finally named Roomba). Sales were flat until Pepsi had a commercial where a Roomba-esque gadget sucks a man’s pants off while he drinks a soda and sales tanked. It was not until David Letterman did a Top 10 list featuring a ‘Woomba’, a tiny robot cleaning your ‘lady business’ that they realized Roomba had become a recognizable part of American homes. iRobot have since shipped over 1.5 billion Roombas.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Holyoke has the location, the facilities and the leaders to become the next great startup center. Their impressive invitation to entrepreneurs and venture groups is poised for success.

Thinking Outside the Box.net

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Workflow

If nothing else the development team at Box.net is ambitious. Imagine taking the best parts of Google Docs, Adobe Reader, Dropbox, and your calendar and trying to merge them into a navigable, convenient interface. It’s a wonder the Swiss Army didn’t have a role in the project. Much like Google Docs, Box allows you to import, export, share, tag, and add tasks to documents among a number of other functions. Non-Google Docs files (Microsoft Office, text files) can be uploaded and then viewed in high resolution for better printing (à la Adobe Reader) which may be a response to the formatting issues that sometimes occur when copy pasting a Microsoft Office document into Google Docs.

Despite the appeal of Box’s all-in-one capability, however, the $15 per user per month cost (the highest among cloud content management / online storage services) seems a little pricey considering that you can achieve nearly the same functionality with other free or less expensive services. Online documents at Google Docs combined with file sharing at Dropbox can all be managed nearly as easily and for free for up to 10 people and $2GB per person.

Another important functionality missing from Box.net is real time collaboration — editors of the same document can not edit and comment on-the-go, and you can’t see the changes made in the document by peer editors — a function that works beautifully in Google Docs. Perhaps Box.net does have a place among large companies where a single interface is preferable to a number of smaller tools but for the small business Box seems overpriced and underpowered.

Concept Impossible: Comparing Flowchart Tools

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Workflow

There are an endless number of flowchart tools available on the web but these were the four that I found were:
a. Free, or at least free for a limited time
b. Browser-based (no software download required)
c. Designed for collaboration

These are the tools I tried:  Creately, Gliffy, Google Drawing, MindMeister.

Ultimately, the only one of the four not intended for flow chart creation, MindMeister, turned out to be the best for my purposes but I would love to hear feedback in the comments if you’ve found that one of these tools or another has worked well for you.

Creately: Creately touts itself as the “intuitive and powerful” flowchart creator. While it does offer an endless number of customization options, shapes, and even full templates, I found the interface to be endlessly frustrating. My biggest hang-up with Creately was that when you are working on an item it “pops up” off of the background for editing only to revert to its “true” position when you click off of it such that you can never easily align anything! Every time I tried to connect a line to a node in the editor, my finished product would be slightly off. Take a look at this screenshot:

Not only was it a task to align each line, but there was no way to merge lines such that when trying to connect, for instance, the Bank Account/Credit Card/Paycycle boxes to Quickbooks I had to create 3 separate (and technically overlapping) lines! As you can see, this created a lot of crooked lines along the way with no easy fix.

Gliffy: After trying Gliffy for only moments I found it even more frustrating than Creately. It has a similar number of customizable tools but no intuitive way to connect nodes to one another or to change the position of lines between them. I apologize to Gliffy if I missed its beauty but quite simply I knew what I wanted and Gliffy wasn’t it.

Google Drawing: As it turns out, Google has a drawing tool as part of Google Documents and it’s actually quite good. With Google Drawing node creation and line manipulation were much easier than with Creately or Gliffy, however I found it nearly impossible to orient a line perfectly straight as you can see from the screenshot. You can endlessly rotate a line on its axis but simple alignment escaped me. Overall the interface was quite intuitive though and if it hadn’t been for the discovery of MindMeister I probably would have continued with Google Documents.

MindMeister: MindMeister isn’t even a flowchart tool as a quick search in their support forums will tell you. It’s meant for ‘Mind Mapping’, a very cool idea in its own right that involves connecting branches of your life to show how different elements are related. More important than its concept though is that MindMeister’s interface is sheer brilliance.

I only had two small complaints:

  1. That you cannot create a second ‘main node’ (which they defend by reminding users that it is not a flowchart tool)
  2. That relational arrows (in the green + blue in the image below) are oriented automatically. You can change the angle of the start and end points but not where they connect on the node.

Flow Chart MindMeister

These small issues notwithstanding, the image itself was easy to make (<10 minutes) and looks incredibly professional. I could have customized it quite a bit more with colors and icons but for my purpose the simple clean look was perfect.

With the increasing proliferation of browser-based tools I wouldn’t be surprised if there is already an even better tool out there so please let me know in the comments if you’ve found one that you love!

UPDATE: We received a recommendation for LucidChart so try it out and let us know what you think!

 

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