5 Foundational Tips for Remote Startups

By Laura Lopez on September 20, 2018 

Founders and entrepreneurs leading a remote company face a unique set of challenges when it comes to employee engagement, business operations, and team communication. You’re creating company culture virtually, without the luxury of in-person management. With your team’s increased mobility it becomes more important to centralize and standardize your business practices and keep everyone in sync. 

Thankfully, there are many options to choose from when it comes to affordable cloud-based tools that make it easier for your remote team to collaborate, as well as a wealth of information from companies that have paved the way. If you are about to launch a remote startup or are looking for ways to improve yours now, we’ve got a few core practices that will keep you organized and your team optimized. 

  1. Don’t underestimate (virtual) face time. We’ve written about the importance of remote communication before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A simple way to strengthen rapport with your team is to replace conference calls with video conferences. It’s a great way to connect with colleagues who would prefer to put a face to a name. Start with free, easy to use tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or even Slack Calls
  2. Use the cloud. Storing data in the cloud allows you to access and analyze important information quickly, allowing you to make informed decisions more readily. Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet that can’t be shared in real-time, leverage free cloud-based apps until you need a heftier tool, like a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Avoid the trap of investing in software that your employees don’t end up using by testing a free tool and implementing norms around use first, and by being strategic about how the tools you’ve put in place interact with one another. 
  3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Running a remote company has its benefits as well as its tradeoffs when it comes to your client base. I recently spoke with a customer that was turning down clients that were only able to send payment via mail (paper-based billing is still more prevalent than you think). Since relocating from the US to Europe, receiving and processing payments from abroad was taking too long, checks were occasionally lost in transit, and they were risking not making payroll. A virtual mailbox gives you access to important correspondence, such as contracts or checks, all via an online platform. You’ll have continuity in your mailing address even if you want to travel the world or set up shop in another state. Some solutions, like Earth Class Mail, even offer remote check depositing solutions, allowing you to keep clients whose billing practices might not be as cloud-friendly as yours. 
  4. Start with data. And don’t stop. Without a doubt, centralizing customer and prospect data is a must from the start of your remote-based company. Even if you’re a solopreneur, or work on a small team, begin with something as simple as a Google Sheet, a live document that’s accessible from anywhere. As you add employees, give them access to the Google Sheet and review the data you require them to capture and enter. At a minimum, start tracking your business prospects and customers. Collect relevant contact information and lead source, the product of interest or product purchased, and other data such as the time it took to close a deal, or reason why you lost a deal, to inform future decisions. When the time comes that there are too many data points to manage, move to an affordable cloud-based CRM to centralize customer and prospect data. 
  5. Standardize processes. As you add employees to your team, be sure to communicate and train each employee on the tools you have in place and your expectations on how the team will use them to collaborate. Otherwise, you can end up with disparate data and inefficient processes. Create an onboarding document or training so that you minimize the time you spend bringing new employees up to speed. And don’t think of standardization as infringing on your employee’s autonomy. You’re building consistency into your virtual workplace the way it might be more organically built if you were working in the same office. 

Remember, if you’re just getting started, use free cloud-based tools to build out your core business processes and make it a practice to have all your information living in a central repository. If you and your employees have conquered your business workflows with free cloud-based tools and feel like you’ve outgrown them, it’s time to begin looking for a more specialized solution. 

3 Tips for Startups to Achieve Financial Success

Guest post by Courteney Reed, Financial Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider

Successfully growing a business is no small feat. It takes a great team, determination, and often a decent helping of luck. With so many things to contemplate, it is often hard to find a place to start seriously investing in your startup’s growth. Here are three suggestions:  

Separate your business and personal finances

As a business owner, you need to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) via the IRS website. This allows your business to build a credit profile and maintain a record of business transactions. Until you file your business as a separate legal entity, you could be held personally liable for all financial activities.

The sooner you establish your credit profile the sooner your business begins to build credit. Opening a business credit card and using it responsibly can help you track your expenses and profits, build your credit scores, and simplify tax filings. Conversely, mixing business and personal expenses on a personal credit card can quickly eat up your credit limit, causing a drop in credit scores and making it harder to apply for personal credit, such as car loans or mortgages.  

Consider these advantages of using a business credit card:

  • Separation of business and personal expenses
  • Higher credit limits than personal cards
  • Rewards like cash back, miles, points, and warranties
  • Potential to increase business credit scores for better business loan terms and high-tier business credit card rewards
  • Better cash flow management, allowing 20-30 days to pay business costs without interest

Finance To Fit Your Needs

Successful businesses often use outside funding to plan ahead for their business needs. Here are three tried and true options worth considering:

Small Business Loans

Small business loans provide access to capital before revenue streams begin flowing. Plus, by successfully managing a business loan, you’re increasing the potential of securing bigger business financing when it’s time to expand your company. Finding the right business loan may take time but you’ll have working capital you need to get off the ground.

Venture Capital Funding

Financing investors provide funding to startup companies that are believed to have long-term growth potential. This type of funding usually comes from wealthy investors, investment banks, and other investment companies, and ownership of a business is divided between the investors and the proprietors of the business. There are different platforms that provide a database of different investors looking to invest in new companies or promising business ideas, making it easier to find investors interested in your market niche.

Alternative Lenders

Alternative business funding is capital offered to small business owners by “non-bank” providers. Alternative lenders are particularly attractive to small business owners who don’t have an established business credit profile. 

Most lenders have their applications available online, making the approval a quick process. Their interest rates are typically higher, but if you need money in a timely manner, alternative lending might be the way to go. Typically lenders extend loan repayments from 6 months to a year, but depending on the type of loan you choose, you may not have to pay the money back until you actually draw from the provided funds.  

Leverage Software to Increase Efficiency and Reduce Costs

After getting approved for more financing, you’ll need to stay on top of all the financial details. The right software can help streamline multiple tasks and increase your team’s performance and overall efficiency. Here are three tools for keeping your finances in order:  

Effortless HR

Payroll management is often a burdensome task, especially as your business grows in manpower. Effortless HR is an HR tool that enables employees to self-manage their payroll preferences, time off, and access any other necessary information without the assistance of an HR employee.

Quickbooks for Finances

Quickbooks is simple to use and helps you keep track of all basic business transactions. Plus, they regularly roll out updates to their online platform for flexible financial management.

Dropbox

A cloud storage solution is a must-have for organizing and sharing important files. Depending on your specific needs, Dropbox contains tools that benefit secure record keeping and flexible collaboration.

Conclusion

The path to growing a successful business is not a concrete one. However, these three tips can begin to increase your financial literacy and day to day expense management in a simpler and more productive way. Seriously considering these recommendations will give your business a better chance of success and expansion in the future.

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.  

Connecting Tools for Efficiency: 3 Things You Need to Do Now

Guest post by Tara Witterholt, Chief of Staff at Elevation Solutions.  

Email, chats, video conferences, document sharing, CRMs, phone bridges—we have no shortage of tools to power our businesses. We have unlimited options for tracking work, collaborating on documents, and managing our workload. The difficulty starts when all these items are kept in disparate places, usually the place most convenient for the person who started the communications, document, or activity. The risk is people giving up on broken systems, starting yet another system for tracking or collaborating, and the time-sucking cycle repeating all over.

Our management and technology consulting firm is engaged regularly to implement software that solves productivity problems. It’s our bread and butter. However, we prefer to come in before you implement the next great productivity tool. We work to understand operational pain points and the humans around the table before we move into the cloud.

Below are some key steps you can take to figure out what productivity tools you actually need and how to maximize the ones you keep. 

1. Inventory all the tools you’re using now, including anything used for document creation and storage, workflow and project management, scheduling and invoicing, etc. Then, get real… 

Organizations large and small are lured in by tools that look fun, shiny and new. They promise to increase our productivity, make us more effective, do our laundry, and cook us dinner. And they rarely deliver. You need to examine the tools you are using and ask yourself if they’re solving the problem that drove you to adoption.

I once had a client ask me to implement a productivity tool that had a Google Drive connector, a calendar (separate from their Outlook or Google calendar), and a task assignment feature. It could be branded to their company, shared easily with their teams, and adopted at a low cost. They were beaming at the possibility of having more time for strategic work. 

They wanted to tackle the fact that projects weren’t getting done on time and they didn’t have visibility into what work people were doing. It turns out they didn’t have standard expectations for project delivery and relatively few consequences when deadlines came and went with no results. The cloud-based solution had rave reviews, but it didn’t solve their root problem: accountability. In the end, I helped them create a better system of accountability rather than throwing new software at the problem. This included agreements on deadlines, progress updates, and what happens when people don’t get their work done. The executives were happy with the increased insight and their teams were more willing to communicate progress with the new, clearer expectations.  

2. Agree as a team what you will use for project management, internal and client-facing communications, and document creation and storage, then get rid of everything else.

And stick to it! No going rogue. Agree that you won’t suggest a new or replacement tool until you all have had a chance to talk about these key things: who will use it, what the benefits are, and what problem you are trying to solve.

We recently did this with our project management tools. We had 3 different ways to track projects and what we used differed by the client. At a strategy session (in the mountains, because, hey, it’s Colorado) we committed to using Trello to track progress on our implementation projects. We can assign tasks and provide access to internal and external users. Clients can see exactly what work is happening in real-time, as well as where we need their input.  Now, when we have questions about status and progress, we have one source of truth. It’s been a game-changer.

3. When you figure out which tools to keep, make sure they talk to each other.

Just like you encourage your team to collaborate, ensure your productivity tools are talking to each other! Our team has recently implemented an email connector that works with our Salesforce instance. We can set up meetings easily by sending suggested appointment times from our Google calendar, and the recipient can choose what works for them. We have also connected our project management tool to Google Drive, Slack, and our billing and project time-tracking software. When needed, our productivity tools enter information automatically into Salesforce. No more searching and wondering—it’s all in one place.

The above suggestions take time to work through. You have to get the team together, ask tough questions, and find out what people are really using and how it’s working, including what’s most effective for your clients. But rest assured, the amount of time you will get back when you finish these steps is worth it. And if you do decide to try something new, we can help you implement what you truly need with style!

— 

Tara Witterholt is Chief of Staff with Elevation Solutions, a rapidly growing management and IT consulting firm with clients and employees in every time zone. With over 15 years of project management experience, Tara works tirelessly to streamline processes and help people focus and be productive. She lives in Denver, Colorado, has a college-aged daughter, a cyclist husband and a very lazy but adorable cat. 

Check out their Business Impact Story to learn how Elevation Solutions leverages Earth Class Mail to streamline their back office.  

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. 

6 Communication Best Practices For Your Remote Team

By Laura Lopez on May 23, 2018 

If you lead a remote team or manage some of the 4 million remote employees in the U.S., you’ve already noticed the heightened importance of communication. After all, remote teams forgo more immediate opportunities for collaboration, important nonverbal cues, and a shared office environment. 

In fact, employee engagement drops the more time that employees spend “off-site.” And since worker engagement is critical for collaboration, companies should take extra care to keep remote workers in the loop. Here are six ways to mitigate some of the challenges posed by remote communication.  

1. Utilize the right tools 

Communication platforms can’t replace doing the work to foster a culture of open dialogue and collaboration. But without the right tools for staying in touch, chances are that important updates and notifications will fall through the cracks, especially when your office is virtual.

In addition to email, some of the most commonly used team communication tools are Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts. Depending on your specific business needs and practices, tools that might also be helpful include Twist, Zoom, and Uberconference. When selecting technology, focus less on bells and whistles and more on finding a platform that matches your team’s needs. Like: do you need built-in file sharing?  Or if your team is in different time zones, do you want options for synchronous or asynchronous communication? 

2. Centralize shared information

Avoid paper trails, especially for important information like government documents. Misplacing paper files is a sure proof way to cause headaches and lengthen project completion times. Shameless plug: if you receive high mail volumes or if you have boxes of old files preventing your from going paperless, let us transform your files into searchable, actionable PDFs.

Whether it’s Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, teams need to choose a cloud storage solution stick with it. A common barrier to knowledge access happens when some people are storing files in Drive, some people are storing documents on Dropbox, and everyone is searching through both to find what they need. Instead, centralize information in one location. This way work won’t be further disrupted if someone is out sick or leaves the company. 

3. Use a project management tool

Managers are often concerned about how their remote reports are progressing. After all, not being able to stop by someone’s desk for a quick update adds a layer of difficulty for project management. Luckily, there are tried and true tools for tracking progress and promoting accountability when face time is not an option. Some popular options to check out include Trello, Asana, and Weekdone. Also, some project management platforms like Hibox include chat features so be sure to evaluate how these work with, or might even take the place of, existing communication tools. You don’t want to distract your team with too many communication methods.

4. Set clear and achievable goals

Don’t rely on on-screen deadlines and project tracking to replace more traditional team management. Hassan Osman, a virtual teams expert, says that if companies want remote teams to communicate more effectively, they need to first set clear and digestible goals that every cross-functional team agrees to and understands. Paired with frequent check-ins and updates that reach all team members, your team will be up to speed and you’ll have the space to allow for adjustments and corrections from the beginning.

5. Keep your team in the know

Along those same lines, leaders shouldn’t forget to keep remote staff up to date on company developments. Your remote team needs to know what the company mission and goals are and how their role fits into the bigger picture. This can be a huge factor when it comes to employee engagement. If you fail to keep employees notified about the broader vision, you might be giving them the impression that they are not important, even when the opposite is true.

Videoconferencing is a great way to get to ensure everyone understands how they contribute. Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing and non-verbal cues. It’s the closest you can get to Another great tool for replicating the collaboration that can come from a spontaneous brainstorming around a whiteboard is Realtimeboard.

6. Maintain a balance 

Having the correct technology for syncing up online is just as important as the underlying norms of your remote team. Guard against the tendency of overlooking remote employees because they’re out of sight. Conversely, avoid cutting into too much of your employee’s time with emails, phone calls, and messages that can be viewed as micromanaging or distrust. And if the team dynamic feels off, jump on a video call and get to the bottom of it. 

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. 

Technologies to Make Accounting Processes More Efficient

By Matt Goldman on March 19, 2018

Accountants, like everyone else, are constantly barraged by new programs offering a suite of features and tools that promise to make the workday a breeze compared to the old days. But which technologies can actually make a difference? After all, can’t you duplicate the functionality you need with some fancy formatting to an Excel spreadsheet and call it a day?

If only it were that simple. To raise your numbers-crunching game and work more efficiently, consider leveraging this newfangled tech. This list will get you up to speed:

Zapier:

Zapier connects apps and sends data back and forth between them by setting up “Zaps”, or automated digital tasks that function more-or-less like old-school macros. Zapier works with hundreds of different apps and can automate nearly any task.

Furthermore, Zapier can automatically generate an invoice whenever you fill out a form, including every time you receive a payment. Then, like magic, it can save your invoices back to your accounting software, presto-chango, storing all of your client’s transactions for future review. 

Client Portals:

Portal technology such as Clinked.com are secure, cloud-based accounts that enable you and your clients to safely store, transfer, and download files. Everything is guarded with bank-grade, end-to-end encryption for the ultimate in proven security. To further increase safety and protection, Clinked gives you permission controls that let you determine who can download what.

One of the best things about Clinked and programs like it? You cut out the hassle of sleuthing for lost attachments, files, or emails that go missing in cyberspace. Everything stays neat and tidy in central storage, removing one more migraine for both you and your clients.

Basecamp:

Project management tools like Basecamp upgrade not only your workflow but the overall synergy of your team and firm, too. You can view everything on a single page, whether it’s the work of the entire firm, specific teams, or even individual projects.

Basecamp employs a raft of tools to see your jobs through, including:

  • To-Do lists of completed and unfinished tasks 
  • Message Center to communicate with other members 
  • Campfire Room to host quick informal chats 
  • Docs & Files organizer to index all team materials 
  • Schedule for posting deadlines 
  • Automatic Check-ins to generate feedback from your team 

Basecamp is also very fluid, letting you customize projects according to its respective needs rather than being shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all approach. Each project is an adventure!

Recount:

Many professionals have decried the rise of AI within the accounting world, specifically the ethics of handling sensitive client data and the likelihood it could replace certain jobs in the industry. 

Still, others believe it a matter of time before AI is accounting’s new normal. One such program jumping on the AI revolution is Recount, a financial analysis tool that lets users securely upload client data. From there, Recount identifies trends, pinpoints issues, and make informed predictions of what might happen next with their clients’ finances.

Best of all, these tasks are automated and fulfilled within a matter of seconds. This may prove to make Recount and other AI-based accounting tools an indispensable–and perhaps inevitable–part of crunching numbers.

Once you pass the learning curve, these products reward you with fewer mundane tasks, increased organization, improved search, upgraded security, and more time to focus on the work that matters. Whether you’re in a team of five or a firm of 50, the above programs represent only a few of the means by which you and your colleagues can improve your working experience. Not to mention increase overall client satisfaction.

Stop. Writing. Billing. Code. Right. Now.

Doug Breaker here, CEO of EarthClassMail.com. Writing billing code is hard. Really hard. If you’re wrong by a penny, you’re all wrong.

I used to write billing code as a young developer.  I once made a mistake that cost a client $1,200,000! Oops, not my best day.

Any business not in the business of writing billing code should not write billing code. Outsource it instead.   

I guarantee it will save you time, make your other development faster, and save your sanity. Spend time building your competitive advantage, not wasting it writing billing code.

At Earth Class Mail, we use Chargify (Full disclosure: Scaleworks owns both Chargify and Earth Class Mail.  We used Chargify well before Scaleworks bought them).   

When I ran HomeFinder, we used Recurly and liked it.   Stripe’s subscription functionality offers a ton of time savings and robust tool set.  Check them all out, all offer immense developer time savings vs. developing your own billing system.  

Repeat after me ten times, “we will not have developers spend time on billing code!”

CRITICAL TIP:  before you choose, ask yourself, “will we ever want to charge for something like ‘get 20 widgets for free on our $99 plan, and 40 widgets for free on our $149 plan and charge for widgets over those amounts?'”

If you answer “yes”, then keep reading for a MASSIVE difference between Chargify/Stripe/Recurly.    This one tip can save you months of developer time, make you more money, and launch your products faster.

Let me explain with two real world examples, one using Recurly, and one using Chargify.

Example 1: Offering Free Usage on Recurly

My wife runs a little site called MovingCompanyReviews.com.   The site lets consumers read 100% verified reviews from moving companies and get free quotes from them.   For example, check out all the reviews for Tampa movers or Orlando movers.  

Consumers can even get a free pizza on their move day if they find a mover through the site. Who doesn’t love pizza on their move day?


(Quick backstory: Before I took over as CEO of Earth Class Mail, I was CEO of HomeFinder. While at HomeFinder, we launched MovingCompanyReviews.com as an internal startup. After I left, Placester bought HomeFinder about 6 months later. Placester didn’t want MovingCompanyReviews.com, so we bought it from them.)


We offer a product to moving companies called “Review Advantage“.   For that product we email prior customers of moving companies and collect reviews on behalf of the moving companies.   

We offer the first bunch of customers to write a review per month a free Starbucks coffee. The product used to be manual, but we just launched an automated version.  We set out to offer different plans with different number of free coffees:

  • $19 per month includes 3 free customer coffees
  • $99 per month includes 15 free customer coffees
  • $299 per month includes 50 free customer coffees

After we hit the free coffee limit, we wanted to charge the moving company a certain amount per coffee.   Here’s how it looks to our movers:

Here’s how we set that up on Recurly:

  1. Set up a “Measured Unit” for free coffees
  2. Set up the pricing plans, including a billable add-on for the extra coffees.  Here’s the $19 plan.
  3. Write a bunch of custom billing code to do the following:
    • Keep track of how many free coffees we’ve given in a billing period
    • Report any coffees over that the free limit to Recurly
    • Reset the counter when a customer’s billing period renews

That’s not easy code to write!   We did it, but it took our developer about three weeks of hardcore coding time to get it correct, get automated tests in place, and get fully confident that it worked.

Recurly gives us a ton of benefit, and we enjoy using it.   Unfortunately their metered component functionality still required us to write complex billing code in order to give away a different number of free coffees by plan price point.   

We made the investment because it was worth it.   However, we’d much rather spend our coding time helping consumers find great moving companies.

Example 2: Offering Free Usage on Chargify

Here at Earth Class mail, we just launched a killer new check deposit/lockbox product on Earth Class Mail called CheckStream.    

If you’re a business that gets checks, it can revolutionize the way you deposit them and record payments in Xero or QuickBooks Online.   

You can deposit any sized check into any bank in the US without going through any application process, or worrying about per check credit limits.    

Once you deposit the check, you can record payments to customers & invoices right from our app into Xero & Quickbooks online.

We launched with three pricing plans, each with a different number of checks included.   

  • $99 per month includes  30 check deposits
  • $249 per month includes 125 check deposits
  • $499 per month includes 265 check deposits

If customers pass those limits, we charge $2 per check deposit on the first two plans, and $1.90 per check on the $499 plan.

Thanks to Chargify’s new price point functionality, charging for this is a breeze.   

Check out how easy Chargify made it to set this up:

  1. Set up our 3 plans, here’s the $99 plan.
  2. Set up our metered “check deposit” component, with the three different price points.
  3. Configure each price point to include the correct number of free check deposits, see screenshot below.  
  4. When someone signs up for a plan, set the correct price point on their subscription (we do this in our ordering code, but you can do it via the user interface as well).
  5. Ship it!   That’s it!  Since our app already tracks which plan a customer is on and reports check deposits to Chargify, we didn’t have to do anything else.

Notice the step we didn’t have to do?   Write complex billing code!    Magic!    

Chargify saved us weeks or months of development & testing time.  Instead of spending weeks or months coding & testing, we launched the new plans in days.  

So do you and your company a favor, don’t write billing code!   After having hands-on experience with various billing solutions, Chargify has been the clear winner for Earth Class Mail’s needs, but I encourage you to check out all the options before committing to a provider.

Going with any will save you development time and future tears when your custom billing code breaks.    

However, make sure you bump your current and future billing scenarios against each provider to make sure you don’t get sucked back into the swampy quagmire of billing code development.

Lastly, if you’re a business that gets check in the mail, check out our new check deposit service, it’ll save you bunch of time, get money in your bank account faster, and save you from keying in payments in Xero and Quickbooks Online.