How to Systematize Your Business for FREE with Google

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In last week’s podcast, Michael Woodward talked quite a but about systematizing his business.  Two of his favorite books, The E-Myth Revisited and The 4-Hour Workweek, both talk about creating systems to help your business run more effectively.  This topic is near and dear to my heart as just like Michael I work a full-time job while investing in real estate.  There are a lot of benefits to having a job while investing in real estate, but in order to balance both it is so important to create systems to run your business.

There a a ton of free apps out there that can help you systematize your business.  Below I will show you how to do it by using a couple of FREE apps from Google.  You can use this as a starting point to systematize and automate a large portion of your business.

Google Mail (Gmail)

What is it?

Gmail is Google’s free email system.  It provides you a free email address ([email protected]) and 15 GB of storage space.  It is available via the web and also with apps on Android and iOS.

How It Helps Systematize

Signing up for Gmail will give you a a Google account, which will give you access to the rest of the apps mentioned in this blog.  Additionally, GMail has some great features for systematizing.

  • A Single Inbox– GMail allows you to receive and send all of your emails from multiple email accounts in a single place.  I have a personal email account as well as one for each business.  Rather than having to login to different email servers/applications, I just pull up Gmail on my computer, tablet or smartphone.  You can configure each email address to use it’s own signature.
  • Labels – Labels are a way to tag emails.  They are similar to putting emails into a folder, but a lot more flexible in that you can apply multiple labels to an email.    You can create as many labels as you want.  I use labels to tag emails for each of my email addresses, each member of my real estate team (office manager, property manager, accountant, lawyer, banker, insurance agent, etc) as well as to manage my flow of work (@Todo, @WaitingFor, @Office, etc).
  • Filters – Filters are a way to have Gmail automatically do something when certain criteria is met.  Having an IT background I really love this feature.  It becomes extra powerful when combined with labels.  You can automatically label email from a person, to a person, with a specific subject or with/without certain words.  You can then adjust how your email is displayed base don the labels.
  • Labs – Google offers new and experimental features with Labs.  These features are small tweaks that enhance or let users customize Gmail.
  • Search – Everyone knows that Google is a great search engine.  They apply their expertise to your email, allowing quick searching of all your email in seconds.  Since you have 15GB, this allows you to keep as much email as you want by archiving it and being able to retrieve it quickly.

Tom’s Setup

I create labels for each email address (ex. Sylvester Enterprises email sent to [email protected]) and automatically apply it to incoming email with a filter.  I also automatically apply labels to emails from each of my business team so that I can easily identify emails from say my lawyer.   I also create labels for things that I need to do (ex. @Office for things that I need to do when I am at the office).  I process email once a day and apply labels such as @Office, @ToRead, @WaitingFor to each email.  This way when I am at the office, I know what emails to look at.  I use the “Multiple Inbox” Lab, which allows me to not only have my main inbox, but also 5 additional inboxes.  So to the right of my main inbox, I can see what Office Work I have, what items I am waiting on someone else for, what emails/articles I need to read and emails for my real estate business and email for my other business.

Google Voice

What is it?

Google Voice is a free Voice over IP (VoIP) phone service that offers a free phone number as well as many other related features.

How It Helps Systematize

  • Free Phone Number – When you create a Google Voice account, you get to select a free phone number.  This number can be in in location you want.  So if you live in Florida but operate your business in New York, you could get a local New York number.  This means that you can have a new number for your real estate business or marketing which is separate from your personal or other phone numbers.
  • Free Calls/Text Messaging/Voicemail – Once you have your Google Voice number, you can make phone calls with it as well as text messages.  You also receive a free voicemail account.
  • Call Forwarding – When someone calls your Google Voice number, you can have that call ring on one or more phones.  For example, it could ring your cell phone and your home phone.  You could then answer it on either phone.  You can send certain people to ring through to certain phones, or set certain phones to ring at various hours of the day.
  • Multiple Devices – You can use Google Voice from your computer or cell phone.  This means you always have access to your phone number as well as the ability to make calls/texts, see past calls/text and well as voicemails.

Google Drive

What is it?

Google Drive is a cloud storage service that connects to other Google services.  By storing files on Google Drive, they can be access from multiple devices.

How It Helps Systematize

  • Access Your Files Anywhere – Cloud storage means that your files are not stored locally on your computer or phone, but instead in the cloud (on Google’s servers) so that you can access them from anywhere that you are connected to the internet.
  • Access Your Files on Any Device – Your files are synced across all of your devices.  So you can create a document in the morning from your office computer, continue working on it later in the day on your tablet while waiting for a meeting to begin and share it with others from your cell phone.
  • Share Files – Instead of having to mail or email files, you can share them with people directly from Drive.

Google Calendar

What is it?

Google Calendar is an electronic calendar that offers many useful features to track your schedule.

How It Helps Systematize

  • Access Your Calendar Everywhere – Your Google Calendar is available from anywhere with an internet connection.  You can access it via a web browser or using an app/widget on your mobile device.  There is even an offline mode if you are not connected to the internet.
  • Bring Multiple Calendars Together – You can create multiple calendars (and color code them).  This means that you can track both personal and business meetings in a single place.
  • Share Your Calendar – You can share an individual calendar with people.  Your business calendar can be shared with people involved in your business, allowing them to see your calendar.  This can be useful people in your business to be able to see what meetings various team members have.
  • Reminders – To keep you on track, you can set custom reminders so that you don’t miss meetings.
  • Connected to Other Google Tools – Because Calendar is part of the Google suite of tools, you can easily attach items from Google Drive or create an event from Gmail.

Google Docs

What is it?

Google Docs are cloud based office tools for creating and viewing documents, spreadsheets and presentations.  With Google Docs, you may not need to spend hundreds of dollars on other office tool suites.

How It Helps Systematize

  • Connected to Google Drive – All of the files are stored in Google Drive, so you get all the benefits of that.
  • Simple Tools – Some office tools are very complex and overkill for most situations.  Docs provides simple tools to get the job done quick/easy.
  • Available on Multiple Devices – Not all office tools are available on all devices, but Google Docs are.

Google Maps

What is it?

Google Maps is an online map service.  You can search for places get a ton of information.

How It Helps Systematize

  • Street View – You can search for a street or address and see actual pictures of the area.  This is useful to see and understand an area before or without ever going there in real life.
  • Meta Data – A traditional map will show roads.  Google Map is interactive, so when you search you will find information things in the area such as businesses.  You can then find out additional information about these businesses.
  • Navigation – From Maps, you can generate direction or use turn by turn navigation from your mobile device.

Example Workflow Using These Tools

At this point you may be saying to yourself “that is all great Tom, but how does all this help me systematize my business?”  Look at each of these tools as building blocks.  Then look at each thing you have to do in your business.  Create the process flow and identify how these tools can help with the process flow.  Below is an example of common process for real estate investors that can utilize these tools.

Filling a Vacant Apartment

The Setup:

  1. Create a folder in Drive with “Process Flows”.
  2. Create a new document or spreadsheet using Docs with the steps needed for filling a vacant apartment.
  3. Add an entry to Calendar 45 or 60 days before a lease is up for each apartment.  Attach the process document from Drive with the process to the Calendar entry.
  4. Add the documents to Drive that will be used in the process, such as the lease.

 The Execution:

  1. You will receive a notification from Calendar that a tenant’s lease is up.  You will have the process for renting the apartment attached to the Calendar entry that you can open and follow.
  2. The first step in the process is to see if the existing tenant would like to renew their lease.  You can grab the renewal letter from Drive and email it using your company email address in Gmail.  You could also call/text the tenant from Google Voice.  If the tenant wants to renew, you can grab the renewal Docs from Drive.  You can email the documents to the tenants to sign and return and apply an @WaitingFor label to the email in Gmail.  This will serve as a reminder that you are waiting for a response from the tenant and can follow up if needed.  Once the tenant signs the documents, they can be stored in the property folder of Drive and a new Calendar entry can be created for 45-60 days before the lease is up.  You can then remove the @WaitingFor label from the email because it is complete.
  3. If the tenant does not want to renew, you can grab the advertising material from Drive and begin advertising the apartment.  Perspective tenants can call the Google Voice number.  You can schedule the perspective tenants a time to view the apartment and put an appointment in your Calendar with the property address.  Using Google Now (another tool that I didn’t mention) you can be notified when you need to leave to show the apartment (based on traffic on your route), which may be earlier than your Calendar reminder.  After collecting applications, you can scan/take a picture of the applications and store them in Drive and screen the tenants using the tenant screening process in Drive.  The lease paperwork can be grabbed from Drive for the approved tenant to sign and signed copies can be stored back in Drive.  Move in picture can be taken and stored in Drive as well.

*Quick Tip: In the above example I mentioned “You” quite a bit.  After you have created the process, you can replace “you” with “someone else”.  The person who the work is outsourced to can step into your shoes.


The tools listed here are just a small number of the tools available for free to help you systematize your business.  If you have not started to systematize your business, you are probably spending more time doing the things you need to do to make your business run, and you are probably doing them inefficiently.

What tools have you used to help systematize your business?  What aspects of your business have you systematized?
Photo Credit: manfrys

About Author

Tom Sylvester

Tom is a serial entrepreneur and real estate investor from Rochester, NY. His real estate investments primarily target multi-unit properties. Along with his wife Ariana, they run a blog called Entreprenewlyweds, which helps couples understand how to manage being real estate investors/entrepreneurs while also maintaining a great relationship and family life.


  1. Wow. Just wow. This is by far the best post on the blog I have seen in a LONG time. This is exactly what new investors need: a how to approach. I already know most of the info in this post since Google runs my life, but I picked up several new tips. I wish every third post on the blog was a how to systematize your business post. Thank you, thank you, thank you Tom!

    • Tom Sylvester

      Adrian – Thanks! I really glad you liked it and were able to pick up a tip or two. This is one of the areas that I see have the biggest impact for new investors that I help. Having a background with lean, I’m always looking for how to reduce waste in a process and get the most value for time spent. There are so many free tools out there (besides the few listed here) that make people’s lives easier. I’ll make sure to expand on this topic in the some future posts.

  2. Nice Tom! Thanks for laying it all out for us! I’ve been cranking away at getting my business systematized within Google and would’ve had no idea about calendar attachments had it not been for this post!

    And i love the idea of documenting the entire process for outsourcing later on!

    • Tom Sylvester

      Thanks Dave. I am diligent (maybe to a fault) about documenting our processes. Every time I do something new, I take extra time to make sure it is documented. This allows me to look for different steps that I may be able to cut, as well as allows me to outsource it.

      I look at it like McDonalds. They have every single process documented, which lets their business be run by high schoolers. I want each process to be documented to that point so that I can hand it off to almost anyone.

  3. Great timing on this article. I have recently became a broker again after MANY years away. All the new technologies are blowing me away. I am trying to decide on a tablet right now. I have a PC and a Droid smart phone. I want to link them all together I hear IPads are the standard but I’m hesitant as I have never used Apple products and need it to play nice with my PC and Android phone. Any advice?
    Thanks for the tips!

    • Consider getting a nexus tablet it is made by Google and incorporates this post really well. Don’t forget using Google+ for business marketing and photos for advertising.

      Nice post

    • Tom Sylvester

      Larry – Some people really like Apple products, some people really like Android products. Generally people get all of the same type of devices because they integrate so well. Ex. If people have an iPhone, they get an iPad. If they have an Android phone, they get an Android tablet. I personally prefer Android devices, and they may be easier for you to use if you have a PC/Droid and have not used Apple Devices. They are also generally cheaper.

      Ryan – Thanks for adding Google+ to the mix.

    • I’d say its purely personal preference. Generally with smartphones and tablets you will be using apps. Apple tends to get most apps before android, although there are certainly exceptions. I’m not sure what you mean when you say you want to link them all together, but I’m assuming you mean you want to be able to access all your data from anywhere anytime?

      So for example – you utilize the excellent info in this article and use google for most of your business needs. it doesn’t really matter if you have a pc or mac, iPhone or Android, iPad or Nexus tablet because everything is on google’s servers, not stored locally on your device. Google plays well with Google no matter what device you are using. make sense?

      I have a PC at work and home, but have an iPhone and iPad. I do most of my google work on my pc, but its there on my iphone just as it would be on an android phone.

      I say go to best buy and play with an iPad Air or Mini and try out any of the google tablets and see what feels more natural for you. But don’t worry about them playing nicely, they will.

      • Tom Sylvester

        Agreed with David – try both out and see which one you like best. Just one additional note to be aware of… if you have different devices, you will have different chargers. So Apple products use a different charger than Android. It may not be a huge deal, but it is sometimes a pain to have to get a whole different set or chargers for your various devices.

  4. You know what works amazingly well with all these services? GQueues task manager ( I’m not formally affiliated with them or anything, but I swear by their service. It’s not owned by Google (still can’t believe they haven’t bought him out because it’s everything Google Tasks should have been!), but it’s designed to integrate as thoroughly as possible into the Google ecosystem.

    You can create as many levels of tasks and subtasks as your heart desires, tag them with labels to your heart’s content, and even have them show up on your Google Calendar and send you the same types of reminders as Google Calendar! It’s only $25 for a whole YEAR’s membership, and it’s totally worth it.

    I also went to a meetup with other BP folks and one of them pointed out the Android apps Google Keep and My Tracks, also by Google. Keep is sort of like Evernote in that you can clip just about anything you can think of and keep everything together in a sort of digital notebook, and My Tracks allows you to drop virtual breadcrumbs so you can go back and, for example, find your bandit signs when you want to pick them up. You can also have the college students you hire track where they go so you know you’re not paying them for more work than they’re doing ;o)

    This article is a great start, but you could absolutely drown in Google services if you set your mind to it!

    • Tom Sylvester

      Lindsay – Thanks for bringing up GQueues. I actually plan to do another post in the future for how to add GQueues into the mix, which is like putting Google on steroids! I also can’t believe that Google had not picked them up. I don’t even use Google Tasks because it is so bad, but GQueues really is what Tasks should have been. Sometimes Google just gets so busy with all their products that some don’t get the attention that they deserve.

  5. Great post. I love the examples of how you use the various applications and I plan to use them . I’d like to suggest Boomerang for Gmail. This allows you to send emails at a later time (think sending emails at 6AM so the receiver sees your email at the top of inbox), send repetitive emails (3 days before end of month emails to tenants reminding them rent is due) and also to return an email to your inbox at a later time (I like conference call emails to reappear minutes before the call so I don’t search for notes, etc.) Free version allows for 10 boomerangs / month. Paid version is unlimited and offers a few premium services.

    Thanks again and I hope you find some value with Boomerang,


  6. Great post, I’ve been a huge fan/user of Google for my business for a long time but have never attached docs to a calender entry so good tip. I also use which has a free version that integrates with Google calender (you can upgrade to auto sync everything). When I open a new deal file, I can assign a category and it sets up all my tasks and calendar dates automatically which saves me a ton of time and makes sure follow up doesn’t fall through the cracks.

    • Tom Sylvester

      Micki – I often times follow “Getting Things Done” (GTD) by David Allen. For anyone who is not familiar with it, it is a philosophy/framework for managing your time. One of they things that he promotes is having everything that you need when you go to do something. By attaching docs to calender, I can pull up the relevant information when I have the meeting without having to search.

      Thanks for insightly. I have tried a few different CRMs in the past but often dropped them because they did not easily integrate into the rest of my workflow. I’ll check out it out.

  7. Great article. If nothing else, inspiring to always push to become more efficient. I know I can be, and I will be implementing parts of what you suggest here.

    Thanks for sharing your methods!

  8. Excellent post, thanks for taking the time to lay it all out with such detail! I recently discovered the “single inbox” feature and it makes a huge difference in streamlining my email life. Google definitely offers quite a suite of applications, not to mention all the apps available in the app store. I just added the Streak extension for gmail ( or google app store) as a CRM and so far so good. It is quite robust yet very simple to use. Cheers and great job on this post!!

  9. Hahahaha…
    It took me forever to read this entire article because I’d finish a paragraph and then spend 20 minutes playing around with someone on Google. 🙂

    Some very good tips and a lot of stuff I will have to give a try. I do utilize several of these things already but not all and not to their highest capabilities and not nearly as integrated as they can be.

    My 2 biggest take aways are that I need to try out Google Calendar again. I used it briefly a while back and didn’t love it. I didn’t know of all the ways to integrate it then (and really didn’t need to) so it is worth giving it another chance!
    Other big one is I totally didn’t understand Google Drive. I just thought that they changed the name of Google Docs. I had no idea you could add non-Google docs files into it. This one could be a game changer for me (Even if I don’t do anything else) since I like the “cloud” function of this way more than anything else I have used.

    Thanks for all the interesting and helpful tips!

  10. Great article Tom! (I can’t wait for the follow up to learn even more)

    I used to have yahoo mail and my business partner convinced me to switch over to gmail…so far I like it, just still trying to get used to it and all of it’s functions yet simplicity.

    I’m eager to learn how to combined to the single inbox (I have 5 or 6 email addresses I’m actively using right now). I can’t wait to check out all of the other functions and streamline my business, I feel like I waste a lot of time looking for old emails and other items I stored in 6 file deep sub categories on my PC.
    Is it correct that Google Drive is similar to dropbox?

    Thanks to everyone else that added the extra info and other suggested applications! I can’t wait to check everything out and streamline my business.

    • Tom Sylvester

      Awesome Matt. Gmail has a lot of great features compared to Yahoo and single inbox itself is a lifesaver.

      Yeah, Google Drive is similar to Dropbox. I actually use both. One benefit from Google Drive is that you start out with more free space (compared to Dropbox).

  11. AWSOME!!!! Exactly what I was looking for a poof it was in my inbox. I would love to have a step by step book just like you wrote for every aspect of systemizing real estate. I am not computer savy, but what you just did was made it very easy for someone with no knowledge to set up a system to make a 3 hour project 15 min. WOW!!!! If you write the book I will be the first to buy 🙂

  12. Wondering if anyone on this thread has a smart phone app solution for:

    – task managing for multiple projects in parallel where the project leader of that task has an app installed synced with my phone’s app. I might have 10 projects to 10 different project managers where me and that project manager interact on a project via an app and our phones.

    – same app installs on many phones and those phones stay in sync if they are on the same projects…

  13. Mark Ruiz

    This is a really awesome post on systematizing when starting out. As a beginner coming into the field, creating a system now will definitely make learning and doing processes a lot easier and this post makes it affordable. Thanks

  14. I have used Gmail before to systemize my podcasting but recently when I came across this link it totally changed my views on creating processes as hustle and time consuming. Upon trying the whole thing, I’ve save more time on reviewing on what are the things need to be done and what are undone. Now I was able to launch my latest podcast and I’m sure it’s going to be another hit.

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