Tools of the trade, updated: What a grant writer should have

Nine years ago I wrote “Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have.” Since then we’ve written several other posts about our adventures in hardware and software upgrades. Readers like stories about tools, so we keep writing updated versions.

By far our biggest “tools” upgrades in recent years has been a shift from shrink-wrapped software to cloud-based software. We now use:

  • QuickBooks Online replaced QuickBooks Pro and is the standard accounting package for small business bookkeeping. You’ll still need a bookkeeper or someone who understands the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping to use QB Online effectively, or you will quickly turn to drink—QB remains unfriendly to the uninitiated.
  • Gusto HR, formerly known as Zen Payroll, is far better than the local payroll service company we once used. Gusto is very user friendly and handles the myriad of federal, state, and local requirements deftly. Most importantly, it produces payroll on-time, which makes for happy employees. Additionally, we have employees in two states, and Gusto integrates both state reporting systems with the federal system flawlessly. It’s less expensive than traditional services like ADP, as well as being more fun and hipper to use. Gusto has a complex setup process, but that’s true of all payroll systems.
  • Highrise is a great Customer Relations Management (CRM) solution for small businesses. We use HR to track inquiries, clients, and vendors. It’s enables collecting all contact info, emails, notes, etc., in one place that accessible from any device by authorized team members. Jake wishes for an ultra-fast HR desktop system, however, because logging into the website in the heat of a new client pitch can be too much slower than entering the client’s data into Textmate, then copying into Highrise later.
  • Dropbox is a terrific system for file sharing. It’s easy to set up folder sharing permissions, including temporary shared folders for clients. Synchronization happens near-instantaneously and ensures that any one of us can access any work file immediately and seamlessly.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC has a better interface than Acrobat Pro 9, which we used for many years. This version is a subscription service, which means Adobe is going to draw blood money out of you every month until the end of time. Eventually, this version will end up costing far more than conventional versions used to.
  • MS Office 365 is another subscription service. Both Adobe and MS, however, price their subscriptions so much lower than the download versions that one is really forced into the subscription model, whether you like it or not.

Most proposals today are uploaded rather than submitted on paper, so we’re less dependent on printers/copiers and have jettisoned complex printer hardware. Some of our clients still like to fax, so faxing remains important. We use an HP LaserJet Pro MFP M521DN, hydra-headed printer/copier/fax, which is easy to configure and very reliable.

Our back-up printer is a Xerox Phaser 6280 color laser, which uses expensive supplies but produces good color prints.

We also use a Fujitsu ScanSnap IX500 Scanner. It’s the best small officer scanner on the market.

For phones, we’ve finally wrangled Ooma Office system into functioning. After much tribulation, I was eventually able to get Ooma to fax properly through the HP LaserJet MFP. Ooma also now sells IP phones and sold us proprietary versions of the Cisco 504G. Ooma claims you have to buy IP phones directly from Ooma or they won’t interface with the Ooma black box. I use the phone with a Jabra Pro 9740 bluetooth headset and Jabra GN1000 handset lifter. The phone system works well enough and costs about one-third what land lines did. Telcos don’t want to provide land line service and have priced land lines so high as to make the transition to VoIP inevitable.

With respect to computers, we use a mix of recent iMacs and MacBook Pros. By now PC hardware is boring and pretty much any PC made in the last couple years will work fine. Windows and MacOS are more alike than different; if Microsoft ever makes Office for Linux, that operating system will become viable for grant writers. You can see a picture of Jake’s desk on his blog, but the short version is that he uses a 27″ iMac much like mine. We like the Dell 24″ UltraSharp Monitor as a side monitor, but monitors of that size are now so cheap that pretty much any one will work.

EDIT: See also the second part of this post, “Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon.”

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