Sort and Preview Postal Mail, Just Like Email

By Nicole Hairston on October 1, 2018 


We introduced the new Earth Class Mail interface in July 2018 and asked you to provide feedback. Since then, we’ve heard from hundreds of customers and have started to make some of your requested improvements!

We’ve added a Preview Panel – a configurable space where you can sort and manage actions ‘at-a-glance’ while viewing scanned content, request actions, find your item ID or see a full-size image of your envelope without having to leave the Inbox list to view these details.

Some other helpful changes we’ve made based on your feedback:

  • New and unviewed items are now displayed in bold text so that you can more easily discover them when viewing your Inbox.
  • You can now filter your Inbox list using new “Viewed” or “Not Viewed” tags for more precise results.
  • Request scans and shipments with fewer clicks and default selections.
  • Archived items will no longer show up when filtering by Recipient. We know that was frustrating for you, so we’re happy it’s now resolved.

Log in today to experience these new improvements first hand. Send any feedback or questions to [email protected]; we look forward to hearing from you! 

Coming Soon – We’re hard at work on delivering additional feedback from you, like adding the ability to create folders, a new option to be alerted when a check is detected, mobile optimizations and additional usability improvements; stay tuned!

Automation Tools For Your Small Business

By Zachary Rimlinger Updated on August 9, 2018

The rapid pace at which both business and technology are developing means that there are a variety of tools for doing away with mundane tasks in order to focus on more integral work. Oftentimes, and especially for small companies, your business can lean on this kind of technology to keep operating costs low. 

Not only do automation tools eliminate repetitive work and enable you to keep a lean team, but incorporating such technology can also help you take care of your existing staff. For those team members who crave opportunities to engage in more challenging or soul-satisfying tasks, automation frees time from their schedules to do just that. There are few better methods with which to improve employee morale and job satisfaction, which will always circle back around to help your business thrive and evolve.

Here’s a quick list of six free or low-cost automation technologies that can help automate workflows for a range of your business operations.

One Stop Shop  

Zapier is workflow automation king. Amongst a variety of uses, it can help you automate the receiving of data, file management, and all sorts of notifications by integrating with your preferred apps. For example, if an email hits your work inbox, Zapier can send a backup to your Google Drive, or Dropbox and can alert you on Trello, Slack, or another project management app. Or if you’re in the e-commerce business and use an email service like MailChimp, you can set up a “Zap” to automatically add new customers as contacts in an email list. Browse these 222 Zap ideas and you’ll quickly see how Zapier can optimize some of your existing workflows.

Scheduling

Calendly removes all the back-and-forth of setting up meetings by automating the scheduling process. Calendly makes invitees aware of your availability and lets them choose their desired time slot. Calendly also syncs with apps such as Slack, MailChimp, and Stripe, so be sure to check out uses that would be beneficial to your specific business. Whether its scheduling prospect calls or one-on-one meetings with your team members, including a link to your Calendly in your emails or email footer will save you many unnecessary exchanges.

Online HR Services

Onboarding new employees and fulfilling payroll can be tedious are time-consuming processes, to say the least. Social security numbers, addresses, direct deposit accounts, taxes—there is the ever-present danger of human error that comes with manual entry. But with Gusto, simply invite employees to sign up after setting up your company’s policies. More than helping you fulfill payroll, Gusto is a low-cost solution for centralizing and managing HR function such as approving time off, enrolling in company benefits, sending monthly check-in surveys to your team, and even generating reports that can give you an overview of your business.  

Email Management

It’s called SaneBox for a reason: this automation tool organizes your email stream to preserve a little more of your sanity. SaneBox analyzes your mailbox and email history to identify unimportant emails, which are then filtered into a single folder for later review, keeping your inbox focused on the urgent and important. You also receive a daily SaneBox Digest to bulk-process unimportant emails in less time. 

Customer Support

Support service requests can be mind-numbingly repetitive. Luckily for your support staff, there is Workfusion Chatbots. Through artificial intelligence, Chatbots takes over repeat inquiries from your support personnel and engages with the customer in human-sounding conversation. Workfusion guarantees a 50% reduction in manual service effort, making Chatbot a powerful complement to customer service staff.

Social Media Marketing

Let’s say you also want to share curated content that would add real value to your followers’ lives.  DrumUp has you covered with the latest in social media optimization. Rather than spend your time scouring the web, Facebook, or Twitter feeds for articles to keep your audience engaged, DrumUp’s algorithm automates it for you across a wealth of social media platforms. You cut down the time it takes to manage your presence by up to 90% while barely making a dent in your budget.

Conclusion

The benefits of office automation software for your business are manifold. For starters, the use of automation increases your staff’s dexterity with tech tools, potentially reducing the onboarding time with software and applications you adopt as you grow your business. If you can get your employees plugged into new software sooner, they’ll be more receptive and more adept the next time.

If you’re ready to take the next step, read these tips for successfully pinpointing what areas of your business are ripe for automation and how to get your team to play along.  

Is Your Data Secure? A Cybersecurity Checklist for Accounting Firms

By Zachary Rimlinger on June 20, 2018 

As data moves from client to firm and vice versa, it needs to be protected in transit and on the devices being used to access it, whether it’s your employee’s laptop or smartphone. In addition, your firm’s employees may need to receive and access that data digitally. While sharing documents via the cloud can make it easier and faster for everyone involved, it does add an additional layer of risk in exposing client data.  Also, a frequently forgotten channel of communication that needs to be protected is mail. As a conduit for important documents, it also requires a unique set of security practices.

Protecting client data is an ongoing challenge especially due to the varied ways your clients wish to provide documentation and access to their data. Considering all of this, here’s a checklist to get you started on ensuring client data is safe and secure, no matter how it’s being shared or accessed.

  1. Conduct an annual cybersecurity audit and assessment.  Preferably, this should be done by an outside firm and done annually. Expect the firm to review things such as password policy, privacy policy, agreements with vendors and contractors, data backup, and disaster recovery plans and network security. 
  2. Review every phase of your business processes, whether it’s client onboarding or a standard service such as filing taxes on behalf of your clients.  Review which employees are involved in the various stages and ensure that you have security guidelines in place at every step. You’ll want to ask:
    • Has each employee been required to review and agree to your company’s policies for accessing and sharing company data?
    • If employees are aware of your BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy? (And if your BYOD policy is comprehensive.)
    • Does your IT require that passwords are changed regularly? 
  3. Review the security policies of any cloud-based apps or premise-based solutions your firm is using to ensure that:
    • Vendors and providers are PCI compliant
    • Each cloud-based provider you are using ensures business continuity whether there is an outage or disaster
  4. Protect data on premise. A network firewall should be installed, updated and tested annually. Firewalls prevent unauthorized users from accessing your network by filtering incoming and outgoing traffic and data based on a set of rules. They also provide an additional layer of security that can make it more challenging for hackers to make a malicious attack on your network.
  5. Mail can be at risk of a physical breach of your mailbox or run the risk of getting misplaced or damaged in your office. Once you’ve set up cloud security, consider moving your mail and important documents into the cloud as quickly as possible. When choosing document management providers, be sure to dig into their security policies. 

A final tip: if you’re still unsure of where to start, or want additional information, search for a reputable cybersecurity auditing firm in your local area. Ask for a list of customer references you can call to find out what their experience was with that firm or look for customer reviews or ratings on their Facebook page. This allows you to get more familiar with the different approaches that you can take to protect your business and client data. Three things to ask for are quotes and approaches around: cybersecurity audit, updated plan, and annual support. 

Earth Class Mail at Xerocon Atlanta 2018

By Eric Romoff on May 30, 2018

We’re excited to announce that the Earth Class Mail team will be attending Xerocon Atlanta next week. This conference brings together Xero partners and customers and will feature speakers, training sessions for accountants and bookkeepers, and opportunities for social gatherings. We’re looking forward to participating in this unique opportunity to celebrate our customers in the area and delve into the changes that are taking place in the the cloud accounting industry.

Earth Class Mail’s native Xero integration  

As a trusted resource in the modern accountant’s playbook, our office mail automation platform offers a native integration with Xero, one of the leading cloud accounting solutions. You can learn more about our native Xero integration on our website or by contacting us at 210-802-5211.

How to find us

If you’d like to connect, please join us for a happy hour at the conclusion of Xerocon Day 1 (Wednesday, June 6th) between 5-7pm for drinks and appetizers. Attendees will have the chance to meet other accounting professionals and learn about upcoming new services.

For event information and to RSVP, see our Eventbrite page. And if you’d like to get in touch before, please reach out at [email protected] or via my direct line at 210-802-2908. 

See you in Atlanta!

How to Introduce Automation Into Your Small Business (And Make It Stick)

By Laura Lopez on May 10, 2018 

Previously, we’ve shared specific tools that accountants and small businesses can use to automate their workflows. By automating core accounting tasks, scheduling, and more, businesses across all industries can redirect staff time away from manually-intensive projects while simultaneously saving money. This is especially true for small- to mid-sized companies that are often strapped for resources at the same time they’re striving for growth. 

By making employees’ jobs faster and easier, a practice can accelerate growth through increased efficiency and strengthen its overall service. But how do you go about implementing automated processes? Don’t throw your staff into the deep end and expect them to swim. Below are some tips on how to ease into the practice of automation to make it stick. 

Establish a plan and contingencies

Before anything else, practices need a plan that spells out their end goals. For example, automating the backup of email attachments into Dropbox with a program like Zapier may be convenient, but a business must also ask related questions, such as how their team’s ability to easily retrieve the attachments will be affected? Will everyone have access or only a single point person? Will this make collaboration between teams smoother? And so on. Failure to establish a roadmap will likely result in miscommunication and crossed wires.

Identify areas of biggest need

One of the easiest ways to begin automating a practice is by identifying the exact areas within the company that need it the most. Quite simply, pay attention to constant frustrations. By first plugging the biggest holes in workflow, firms can alleviate their employees’ collective stress, increasing the chances of getting everyone on the automation train. And you’ll help your business run more efficiently, too.

Automate easier processes first

On the flip side, if a business is fortunate enough to not have gaping operational holes that demand immediate attention, they can start their automation journey by attacking easier processes first. Returning to the example above, backing up email attachments is one of the simplest activities to automate. Following this route will make the task of introducing further automation into the practice less cumbersome and easier for everyone to incrementally grasp.

Start with a small test team

At the end of the day, you know your team best. If you anticipate that your automation roll-out might be complex or come with a steep learning curve, there’s no need to bog down the entire company all at once. Instead, form a small team who can test the software in advance.  

Project management automation software like Basecamp, for instance, is ideal for experimenting with smaller teams. By test driving it with only a few people, you can determine whether it would be a good fit for a particular department or the rest of your company. If this small subset feels like the software is clunky, unintuitive, or not user-friendly enough, then you’ve just saved time and effort that would go into rolling the program out to the rest of the company. Plus, if the test users prefer the software, they’re better able to provide support to their coworkers as software is adopted.

Evaluate process efficiency

Owners do themselves and their firms a big favor by evaluating the individual processes they wish to automate before they set forth in that direction. This involves raking over the process(es) with a fine-toothed comb to pinpoint flaws. Multi-directional feedback is key. Seek input from your employees, then, devise a process map to help every worker visualize the various processes in your company and highlights which areas need attention. If you skip this step and blindly press on, all the automated software in the world won’t fix your processes’ underlying inefficiencies. By taking stock of your business’s inefficiencies and initiating steps to correct them before committing to new software, you can reduce the risk of flushing money down the drain when you try and switch over to a new tool.

Conclusion

At its core, automation is about enabling and optimizing professionals’ work. However, automation tools can do harm as readily as they can help. The fault is not in the programs but in how they are used or if they “fit”. Companies that don’t take the time to understand which of their processes to automate, or who use software as a bandage for underlying dysfunctions in their processes, will likely decrease their efficiency. But by following the above tips on how to wisely use automation to optimize existing practices, owners can pave the way for fewer speed bumps and more growth. 

6 Ways Property Managers Can Use Tech to Work Smarter

By Eric Romoff on May 2, 2018

Property managers deal with a wide variety of incoming requests at all hours of the day so it can be easy to feel buried under a mountain of emails, voicemail messages from contractors, appointments with prospective tenants, and government snail mail.

Whether you consider technology a friend or foe, today’s nonstop whirl of communications and activity requires modern property managers to innovate. It’s important to not get stuck in the weeds when selecting tools to power your workday, so we’ve compiled recommendations for utilizing technology to make your day-to-day processes and communications easier. 

  1. Physical paper files are the enemy of efficiency. To automate your workflows and centralize important files and information in the cloud to easily access them anytime, you’ll want to digitize existing processes that involve old-school paperwork. In other words, look for opportunities to turn paper documents into editable digital files, by using browser-based editing tools, or gathering data via online forms like Google Forms that feed those responses into a Google Sheet.
  2. If you don’t have one already, your first order of business is to find a proven property management software. This will help you automate appointment and information requests, schedule and notify tenants of property inspections or repairs, and allow prospective clients to view photos or renderings of a unit, all without having to manually respond. Think of a property management software as the first-line virtual assistant that helps you process and prioritize requests. 
  3. When you do have a tenant ready to come on board, digitize the lease signing process either through your property management software or a digital signing application like DocuSign.  You’ll remove the need for a final in-person appointment to sign documents, which can be especially tough for couples or out-of-state tenants. Sometimes, it can take weeks to get everyone to find the time to meet within business hours.  
  4. Install a chatbot on your leasing website that allows prospects to ask questions before requesting a walkthrough of a unit or apartment. Automated chatbots have greatly improved recently and help many companies qualify in or out prospects that would otherwise call in and take up your time.  If a prospect is ready to come in for a viewing, Drift’s chatbots take automation one step further by setting the appointment for you and your prospect.
  5. Use an SMS messaging app (like EZ Texting) for the tenants and prospects that prefer to communicate that way. Your property management software might come with that capability, but if not, you might consider adding it to the mix to automatically remind tenants that rent is due (or late) or notify of an upcoming repair or inspection via text.
  6. Shameless plug: you can eliminate the need to process checks at the bank by digitizing your mail and automating deposits by using Earth Class Mail’s automated check deposit solution. You’ll save countless trips to the bank and have the ability to see what checks you’ve received in the mail from the comfort of your desktop or smartphone.

If you have any other tips, please drop them in the comments section below!

Why Market Research Is Critical to Startup Success

By Matt Goldman on April 25, 2018 

As an entrepreneur, the measure of success for a product or service isn’t just about getting it out in the world but making sure you’re actually serving a market’s need. Without identifying the market potential for your startup idea, you might find yourself where many founders do: failing to acquire or keep customers, financially tapped out due to investing your own money and left facing a deflated dream. 

In this post, we’ll provide you with some guidance to help you kickstart your market research as well as links to free, proven resources.

Do 90% of startups really fail?

Over the years, the statistics rumor mill reported widely that the failure rate of startups hovered somewhere around 90 percent. But that longtime stat isn’t quite accurate and hasn’t been so for a very long time.  

According to a study that monitored the performance of nearly 28,000 startups, “research reveals that the real percentage of venture-backed startups that fail—as defined by companies that provide a 1X return or less to investors—has not risen above 60% since 2001. Even amid the dot-com bust of 2000, the failure rate topped out at 79%.”

So, by this measure, your chances for success are really in the neighborhood of 20 to 40 percent. Not too shabby. But if you’re planning on investing your savings to build your dream: 1) don’t skip researching why other startups fail and 2) proactively learn from their mistakes.

Why startups fail

When the research experts at CB Insights studied 101 failed startups, participants reported that “tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was cited as the number one reason for failure, noted in 42 percent of cases.” The good news is market research can help you determine if you have a product fit before you end up with empty pockets.

How to begin researching your market and product fit

To determine if there is a market need, you need to clearly define and establish who you are targeting.  You can begin to gauge a market need by listing the characteristics, such as job role, applicable industries, size of the company and most importantly, what problems you are solving for them. This is usually referred to as a target persona.

Next, research companies already working in this space, including their strengths and weaknesses to pinpoint your competitive advantage. Chances are you’ll find yourself in a scenario where you’ll have to convince a prospect who is a customer of your biggest competitor. Is your product or service enough to have them switch to your company? Do you solve a different problem altogether? You either have to be able to solve problems that their current provider does not or benefit them enough to win them over. In other words, you need to have a product (or provide a service) that has evidentiary proof that is solves actual problems.

There are several steps to begin your market research:

  • Talk to a representative at your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Office
  • Prepare a pitch deck that will help you zero in on your competitive edge
  • Find friends and colleagues, who mirror your ideal customer, and pitch them to get their feedback (or better yet, conduct primary interviews with potential customers)
  • Collect all feedback and data
  • Use your research to develop and refine your minimum viable product
  • Objectively review your data to gauge a market
  • Ask yourself if your product still viable based on your target audience and initial feedback

While this is a high-level overview of what you need to determine product-market fit, there is an abundance of free resources out there to help you in the process. Investing the time in conducting market research is sure to save you time and money in the long run.

Rise of the CFO-for-Hire

By Eric Romoff on April 18, 2018

Increasingly, companies are outsourcing the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO), also known as CFOs-for-hire, and interim, or contractual, CFOs. It may seem odd that companies, from large firms down to small- and medium-sized businesses, would contract out an executive position. But understanding the challenges and opportunities this trend presents can help you evaluate potential payoffs for your business. 

Benefits

  • Lower costs. With permanent employees, benefits, opportunities for training and career advancement, and other aspects for retainment should be top-of-mind considerations. Having an outsourced CFO, however, sidesteps some of these factors because the position is either temporary or such logistics are handled by the CFO’s parent company (when there is one). And because you may not boast the payroll to accommodate in-house accounting, small and medium-sized businesses benefit from this exponentially more than their larger counterparts.
  • Minimize off-peak periods. Outsourcing gives greater flexibility to hire a CFO according to a business’s peak season. If a company doesn’t need a full-time CFO during off-peak periods, they’re under no pressure to hire one. Maximize payroll, and profit, by limiting overhead and keeping overall costs low.
  • Flexible commitment. Taking a test drive before finding a full-time financial executive might not be the worst idea. Depending on your particular arrangement with your outsourced CFO, it might be easier to make changes if they’re not living up to expectations. 
  • Trained professionals. By looking outside your own walls, you can rest easier knowing your next CFO comes vetted by a home agency. This puts your financials in the hands of trained pros, leaving you more time to focus on scaling your business.

The perks of contracting an outside CFO can be great, but below are some challenges to prepare for along the way.

Challenges

  • Longer onboarding. Syncing workflows and work styles with that of a CFO-for-hire’s parent entity can take more time than hiring and onboarding an in-house employee. This is especially true when it comes to establishing communication procedures. Both your company and a parent agency or independent CFO will have their own way of working, and acclimating an interim CFO to your set of processes will require an extra dose of patience. 
  • Less control. When working with a CFO for hire, you forgo some leverage that comes with managing a full-time team member. Some motivators for high performance, such as opportunities for long-term career advancement, don’t exist. Often times, the client company won’t exert direct control over the CFO, instead having to coordinate with the home agency to voice concerns.
  • Limited independence. Outsourced CFOs typically don’t make considerable financial decisions on your behalf. While you can still expect to save buckets of time by outsourcing financial leadership, meaty financial decisions will still fall squarely in your lap. Of course, you’d want to be working with someone whose expertise you trust and who is able to push back and provide financial reassurance when needed. 
  • Vulnerability. Increased protection against the mishandling of money is definitely a pro of outsourced CFOs if there’s a quality agency or parent company with skin in the game. But the risk remains that a hired gun may mishandle sensitive financial data. You might get the sweats wondering if an outsourced CFO is engaged in Tom Foolery. 

Conclusion

It’s important to also consider how a nontraditional CFO might fit with your company’s team makeup, structure, and culture. But ultimately, only you will know if an outsourced CFO will positively impact your company’s bottom line. That’s the thing about the for-hire business: testing the waters is a built-in feature. Whether you want to use sporadic financial advice, or put feelers out for a good match that can eventually become in-house, you can shape outsourcing to fit your company’s specific needs. 

QuickBooks Online 2018: What You Need to Know

By Matt Goldman on April 4, 2018

For 30 years, Intuit’s QuickBooks has been a leader in accounting software, especially for small- to mid-sized firms. It’s also popular with individuals seeking to get a grip on their finances. One reason QB has prevailed so long stems from how Intuit innovates their core programs by continually adding new features along the way.

Intuit offers both a desktop version of QuickBooks and an online, browser-based mode. To stay ahead of the curve, Intuit’s online version rolls out new features on a regular basis, and that’s held true for 2018. Here are a few of the latest updates for QuickBooks Online 2018 and how to use them.

New Reports

QuickBooks Online 2018 comes with more reports than ever before. Certain reports, such as Trial Balance and General Ledger, were previously only packaged in QuickBooks higher-tier pricing plans. But with the release of the 2018 version, every tier—Simple Start, Essentials, and Plus—now offer all three reports, a huge upgrade for Simple Start users.

Another new report is the 1099 Transaction Detail Report, which assists business owners in coordinating taxes with freelancers and contractors. It highlights applicable tax data needed for filing a 1099, thereby reducing the hunt for disparate strands of info. In addition, the program automatically assesses whether the requirements for a 1099 have been satisfied, if information is missing, and/or if any data is inaccurate.

QuickBooks Invoicing for Gmail

Another new feature of QuickBooks Online 2018 is the QuickBooks Invoicing for Gmailcapability. Rather than toggling back and forth, you can forward invoices directly from within Gmail. But can an email program actually craft a reliable, sophisticated invoice? With Invoicing for Gmail, you have the power to send the same customized invoices that you can send from QBO through email, complete with customization. It also allows you to offer convenient online payment to clients, whether by credit card or bank transfer.

Not only can you pull up all your customers on Gmail, but the invoices that you create in Gmail save automatically into QBO, turning Gmail and QBO into best friends. From Gmail, you can also retrieve your products, services, and past invoices to include in your invoices.

If you need to know when you sent an invoice, Invoicing for Gmail has that covered. Knowing when it was viewed by the client? Check. When it’s paid? Yep. In the end, this new feature saves you time and makes the process of invoicing clients easier than before.

QuickBooks Capital

Another handy addition to QuickBooks Online for the 2018 version is QuickBooks Capital. This is a loan service that determines if users qualify for a loan based on the information already entered into users’ QBO accounts. Not content to leave it at that, however, QuickBooks Capital takes it one step further by populating the entry fields in the application form. Basically, it does everything but forge your signature.

What People Are Saying

Some of the critiques coming in about the program deal with its ease of use. More than a few reviewers have noted that existing users shouldn’t have a problem getting the hang of the software or its recent updates. New users, on the other hand, might find the program cumbersomeand require more time to learn than they otherwise would like.

Some have also noted the lack of certain popular functionality, such as project managementand the inability to track inventory. Depending on how you intend to use QBO 2018 and other tools you might already be leveraging, these deficiencies might not matter to you. For instance, if you don’t house or ship inventory, or your inventory is very limited, you likely can make do without it.

Overall, QBO 2018 has garnered stellar reviewafter stellar review. Praises being sung include the value it delivers for the various price plans, the way it can streamline workflows, and its option for Progress Invoicing (this article provides instructions for setting it up). If its cloud- and browser-based portability appeals to you, and if your work doesn’t require accounting tools on the scale of a large firm, it’s probably worth a look.