How to Develop a Business Continuity Plan for Your Startup

Creating a business continuity plan is a bit like creating an estate plan — we all know we should do it, but we put it off because it doesn’t feel particularly urgent. Until it does. 

Startups in particular may avoid (or not even think about) business continuity planning. They’re used to pivoting and adapting to new situations, and they’re moving too fast to take the time for a hypothetical planning exercise. 

The problem with this type of thinking is that startups, often running on shoestring budgets or venture capital funding that could dry up, are particularly susceptible to sudden disruptions and changes in the marketplace. They need the forethought that a business continuity plan provides.

What is a business continuity plan? 

A business continuity plan is an operational plan that guides an organization’s actions during any situation that causes an interruption in their business. Most business interruptions are caused by natural disasters, such as floods, fires, earthquakes, or tornadoes. In fact, according to FEMA, the biggest risk to businesses is fire. 

But, as businesses around the world are seeing right now, business interruptions can come from things most of us never expected, like a world-wide pandemic.

What is the difference between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan?

Most business continuity plans include a disaster recovery plan, but a business continuity plan is broader in scope. The disaster recovery portion of a plan is focused specifically on restoring critical systems after a disaster — things like IT assets, hardware, or communications systems.

Certain types of businesses, like financial institutions, are required by federal and state regulations to maintain a disaster recovery plan.

In contrast, a business continuity plan isn’t just about recovering the necessities. Its purpose is to create processes and procedures that allow a business to continue their regular operations during and after a disaster. 

Steps to creating a business continuity plan

Before you begin creating a business continuity plan, you want to make sure that you engage as much of your team as possible — both so that you have buy-in and so that you get a thorough understanding of all the processes that run your business.

Step 1: Understand your business

Before you can develop any kind of plan, you need to be very clear about how your business works. Some startups have a lot of clarity about their internal processes, but others have a large enough team or are so fast-moving that some digging will be necessary. 

Here are some key questions to get you started:

  • What are the products or services that bring in the largest percentage of our profits (our profit leaders)?
  • Which clients or customers receive those profit leaders? 
  • Which employees have the largest roles in creating, selling, and distributing those profit leaders?
  • What business systems and processes do those employees rely on to create, sell, and distribute those profit leaders?

Step 2: Assess your risk

This step can be scary, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to develop a business continuity plan that works. 

You start with this question: What would happen if…

What would happen if our offices caught fire or flooded? What would happen if we were robbed? What would happen if a pandemic meant our entire staff had to work from home?

The purpose of the exercise is not to catastrophize. It’s to walk through each question methodically and, starting with your profit leaders, identify how each of your business processes would be affected by the hypothetical event. 

For instance, if you were a small trusts and estates law firm, and your profit leader was estate planning services that occurred almost entirely in your office, where you provided the necessary notaries and witnesses for legal documents, closure of your physical office would have massive consequences. 

You would not be able to see clients in your offices. You may not have access to paper case files. You may not be able to witness or notarize documents. You may not be able to receive mail. 

You’ve identified these worst case scenarios. Now what?

Step 3: Determine alternatives

It’s time to figure out how to solve them — before they become actual worst case scenarios. 

Identify what you need to put in place now, like redundancies, backup vendors or suppliers, a technology recovery plan. 

If you were that trusts and estates firm, you might consider uploading all documents to a cloud-based file sharing system. You may research case law on the validity of un-notarized estate planning documents and create an up-to-date file — maybe even begin lobbying your state legislators to write legislation that addresses the issue in the event of an emergency. 

You might implement a digital mailroom and automated check depositing system.

You’ll need to determine what steps ensure that your startup will be able to continue operating even if the unthinkable occurs. 

Step 4: Designate a team

Of course you want everyone on your team fully invested in and knowledgeable about the business continuity plan, but you also need a single individual to own it. 

Designate one person as the business continuity lead, and depending on the size of your organization, create a team of people to support them in the event the plan must be put into place. 

Make sure that everyone within the organization has clarity about their role and the tasks and systems they are responsible for. 

Step 5: Memorialize the plan 

A documented business continuity plan should include a detailed description of the processes and systems involved in the creation, sale, and distribution of the profit leaders so that if someone else has to step in and manage that part of the business, they will be able to do so. 

The plan should include a method for accessing relevant passwords or codes as well as contact information for suppliers, backup suppliers, and major clients. 

The plan should also answer the questions:

  • What exactly needs to be done in the 24-48 hours after a disaster occurs? By whom?
  • Where will those individuals be, and what resources will they need? 
  • How will they access those resources?
  • What needs to be done in the week or months after the disaster occurs?
  • How will key customers, clients, or vendors be contacted? By whom?

Finally, make sure your plan includes an emergency contact list of employees that manage tasks relevant to the business continuity plan (these might not all be executive-level employees).

Step 6: Test the plan

Testing your business continuity plan can feel like an awkward step, but without it, you will miss the opportunity to correct errors in your assumptions or to identify potential pitfalls. 

Bring all the key players together and use imagined scenarios to work through the plan. With the plan in front of them, each person should explain how they would respond according to the plan. This process will reveal inconsistencies and false assumptions, guaranteed. 

Re-test and revise the plan periodically — especially after significant changes in the business. 

Right now, businesses of all sizes are putting “create business continuity plan” at the top of their priority lists. Those that complete the task will be in a significantly better position the next time the unexpected occurs. 

If virtual mail is a part of your business continuity plan (and it should be), sign up here

10 Remote Work Trends That Will Dominate 2019

Remote work is rising, with recent estimates stating that at least 43% of all workers now work out of the office at least part of the time. These rates are likely to increase exponentially in the coming years as digital transformation advances pose a direct threat to the traditional workplace model.  “Remote offices” or “remote workplaces” come with a unique set of challenges, including the need for increased digitization and a virtual environment that facilitates not only work, but culture and collaboration. Read about some of the top trends impacting remote work today in the Forbes article below.

Remote work is no longer a privilege. It’s become the standard operating mode for at least 50% of the U.S. population. Virtual retreats are no longer attributed solely to progressive startups. Traditional employers are finally on-board and ready to propose a flexible work arrangement higher up the pipeline.

2019 will further reinforce the current global shift towards “remote-friendly” workplaces and dictate a few more unique trends.

1. Employer expectations of digital skills are shifting from basic to advance

The demand for technology-savvy professionals now extends well beyond the software development space. According to fresh data from LinkedIn, general tech skills – web design, social media management and so on – are among the fastest growing in-demand skills. Whereas basic digital literacy – fluency with email software tools and word processing software – witnessed the fastest decline compared to other skill groups. Companies now expect employees to be more comfortable with all sorts of digital tools, even for entry-level positions and more so for remote employees. So if you are just considering the transition, make sure that your technical skill set is up-to-date and you know how to run a virtual office.

2. “In-the-office” days may become more popular

No, it’s not because more employers want to micromanage their remote teams. Quite on the contrary, employers are finally starting to address the mental health factor more seriously. The biggest reported struggle of remote work is lack of community – 21% of remote workers named “loneliness” as one of their main on-the-job issues.

To address this, companies are now encouraging remote members to come back to the office at least once per week. And this strategy gives results – Gallup poll estimated that the “visiting” employees tend to be more engaged and fulfilled when compared to their 100% remote or full-office counterparts. Such members are more likely to have friendships at work and state that their job includes opportunities to learn and grow.

3. Workplace cybersecurity will move upstream

This year, a lot of large companies have fallen prey to cybersecurity attacks and Internet giants (think Facebook) reported massive data breaches. While large corporations already have a good grip on security policies for remote employees, smaller employers have been leaving this area neglected. A new survey says that 38% of remote workers hired by SMEs do not have the technological support or expertise they need when working at home or in a public space. Interestingly enough, an additional 18% of respondents say that they would have been concerned as an employer about IT security. Rightfully so, as 72% of breaches actually occur at companies with under 100 employees.

In 2019, smaller companies should really catch up on their IT security. A good start is to develop unified security policies for both in-house and remote employees; restrict access to sensitive data to those who try to access it from public Wi-Fi networks and explore new-gen security tools, especially those powered by the blockchain technology.

4. Employers should start addressing the “trust issues”

E&Y survey revealed that less than half of global professionals trust their current employer, boss or team/colleagues. While the survey only included responses from in-house team members, the trust factor often gets more complicated for remote team members. Working solo, without regular access to company updates and the “water cooler” corporate chit-chat, can amplify the employee’s exclusion from the work process and make them question whether they are treated fairly or not.

The same survey indicated that unfair employee compensation, unequal opportunity for pay and promotion, lack of leadership, a work environment that does not promote collaboration are the key reasons for low trust. Promoting more transparency and collaboration between remote/in-house teams and management should become the new norm for 2019.

5. Having a specialization is a must

The era of generalists is over. Most employers are now after talent with specific skill sets: 78% of HR managers said that most skills will become even more niche in the next 10 years. Possessing those coveted skills means that you will remain in high-demand and have a lever during salary negotiations. Most employers are ready to pay the top dollar for hiring and retaining a remote candidate, whenever they cannot find certain expertise locally.

6. Legislature changes may lead to more remote work opportunities

FASB/IASB accounting changes are due to take effect on 1 January 2019 in the US, affecting every company that leases commercial real estate. A lot are now forced to seek alternative solutions for accommodating their offices. As a cost-optimization strategy, savvy businesses may choose to switch to telecommuting and hire new personnel on a remote basis. Gartner also estimates that “choose-your-own-work-style” decisions do not just lead to operational savings, but as well boost employee rates by more than 10%. So a lot of employers will likely diversify their work policies.

7. More training for remote staff

This year, employers have finally recognized the fact that the lack of meaningful learning and progression opportunities leads to high attrition rates. In 2019, this line of thinking also extends towards remote teams. Micro-learning and self-paced learning programs are bound to get more traction as more employers realize the incremental benefits of nurturing and re-engaging existing teams.

8. Get prepared for Gen Z competition

By 2020, Gen Z will comprise 36% of the global workforce. Being digital natives, who grew up in an internet-centric society, the members of this generation are likely to be more comfortable with newer technology and more inclined to seek remote or flexible working arrangements, rather than pursue traditional corporate roles. Account for the competition that’s coming.

9. Nomadic remote workers will find new bases

Co-working spaces became the usual habitat of the remote worker. In 2019, the travel-seeking remote employees may finally succeed in combining their need for a decent Wi-Fi with an affinity for some pool time. Selina a hotel chain, mashing up high-end suites with dormitory rooms in the same building, along with coworking spaces is expanding to the US and Europe. After successfully testing their operational model in Latin America markets, the company secured a new building in Miami and is now location-scouting in Portugal.

10. Remote work is expected to grow stronger in 2019

All signs indicate that we are nowhere close to hitting the plateau. Businesses across public and private sector increasingly recognize the benefits of hiring and retaining remote workers. Societal trends with millennials and Gen Z also push more businesses towards adopting more flexible working policies and allowing at least partial telecommute. If you are planning to transition to remote work, 2019 may be just the right time to do so.

The article above, written by Abdullahi Muhammed, was originally published on Forbes’ website. View the original article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/abdullahimuhammed/2018/12/21/10-remote-work-trends-that-will-dominate-2019/. Abdullahi is a contributor to Forbes covering smart freelancing, the gig economy, and remote work.

To learn more about our solutions, please contact: [email protected] or 210-802-5211.

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.  

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!

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. 

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.

SQL for Slack – A New Tool From Our Lab

We’re a Slack company, actually that might be an understatement. Slack is very much a part of our corporate culture, and we use it for…everything.

One of the biggest benefits we’ve experienced as a company is in our ability to improve data transparency, eliminating many of the information silos that form over time.

Anyone in our Slack organization can summon near real-time data on everything from lead volume, to operations performance, to active users on each of our addresses, and much more.

A lot of the data we pipe in directly via Slack apps and Zapier integrations, much of it even streams live.

Still, we had a ton of data locked away in SQL databases. Accessible, but obviously not as democratic or immediately actionable as live streaming data into Slack.

Like so many new products are born, we built something to help solve our own business problem and now we want to share it with you.

SQLBOT.co – SQL reports in Slack, no coding required. 

If you have awesome data tucked away in virtually any popular SQL database, this is the tool that will let you unlock it and make it actionable for everyone in your organization.

All you need to do is…

Write some SQL

Write SQL so you can send to Slack

Connect to Slack

Get SQL Reports in Slack

SQL reports in Slack from SQLBOT

SQLBOT has been designed to work with any popular SQL database (PostgreSQL, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server), and requires no coding experience to get started.

Take it for a spin and let us know what you think, first 30 days are free.

P.S. Developers interested in contributing to the project? Email Us

Open Source Experiment: Chargify App for Zendesk

From Steven Maguire, VP of Tech @ Earth Class Mail

One of the key value propositions of Earth Class Mail is the ability to access important business information, the kind contained in your mail and physical documents, from anywhere in the world.

This same principle drives the development of internal tools that we use to ensure our customers have a positive experience with our services.

The Problem

Two of the third-party tools that we use a lot everyday are the Chargify recurring billing platform and the Zendesk customer service platform. They are “mission critical” and we couldn’t deliver the level of service our customers expect without them.

Each of those tools contains important information about each customer, their accounts, history, pending support requests, and the like.

We noticed that our own team members were switching between Chargify and Zendesk dozens, if not hundreds, of times everyday.

The Solution

We also observed that the primary reason for switching to Chargify’s web UI was to view read-only data within Chargify’s platform. That is, they were just looking at customer information, not taking any billing related actions.

That observation led us to a very natural and, it seems now, obvious hypothesis:

If we eliminate the need to switch between Zendesk and Chargify, then our team members would be more productive and be able to provide better service to customers.

Fortunately, Zendesk supports a third-party application development platform, that means we can build internal tools that will work natively in the Zendesk platform. So now we have a great opportunity to test our hypothesis.

We’ve also decided to make our Chargify Zendesk app open source, so that anyone can use it. The reasons for that are:

  1. Zendesk apps are not how we make a living.
  2. The more contributors there are to this project, the more we will all benefit from a better product.
  3. If we can make it easy for other businesses to provide better customer service, then we’ve done some good in this world.

We’ve built, tested, and released a minimum viable product of the open source Zendesk app, here’s how:

Development

After reading the documentation for Zendesk’s Apps Framework v1 we learned a few things:

  1. A tool to create and scaffold a new blank project.
  2. A tool to lint and validate the code that you write for your project.
  3. A tool to package your application code in a zip file that will be uploaded, unzipped, and installed within your Zendesk account.
  • Zendesk supports a third-party app marketplace where you can find and install public applications; some free and some paid.
  • Zendesk supports installation of private apps without going through the marketplace.

With these observations in mind we created a goal for the experience of our app:

Whenever a Zendesk agent is viewing a customer profile or ticket, we want to use the email address associated with that customer or ticket to display customer and subscription records from within Chargify.

After some research we discovered that a single email address can be associated with more than one Chargify customer record, and each Chargify customer record can be associated with more than one subscription.

This discovery drove the decision to include two views:

  1. A customer search results view, and
  2. A customer detail view.

Using the “app.activated” event emitted by the Zendesk application framework we attempt to load the customer search results view first.

During the creation of this view we use Zendesk’s Data API to fetch the customer’s email if we are looking at a customer profile view in Zendesk, or the requester’s email if we are looking at a ticket.

With this value in memory we issue a customer search to Chargify to fetch customer results.

We introduced a few use cases here:

  • If no Chargify customer records are returned we update the search results view with an “empty results” alert.
  • If more than one Chargify customer records are returned we update the search results view with a list of each of those customer records as links which will load a customer detail view.
  • Finally, if a single Chargify customer record is returned we redirect the application to that customer detail view; we feel a search results page with one result is not valuable.

When loading a customer detail view we issue a couple other calls to Chargify to first fetch the fully hydrated customer record as well as a second call to fetch each of the subscriptions associated with the customer.

When all this data is available we update the customer detail view to display the data.In order to facilitate these API calls to Chargify our Zendesk application needs to know two pieces of unique information:

  1. The subdomain associated with our Chargify account
  2. The API key associated with our Chargify account

Fortunately, the Zendesk framework provides a way to ensure we can gather and securely store that information during installation.

In the unlikely event that the app begins running and that information has not been set, the app will display a third settings view with instructions on adding that information via the Zendesk API.

Installation

Another hat tip to Zendesk here as they have made the installation and management of third-party apps very simple and straightforward.

The process involves:

  1. Downloading the zip file of the latest binaries
  2. Uploading the zip file
  3. Accepting some terms and conditions
  4. Providing subdomain and API key

That’s basically it! Be sure to read the documentation on the project page for a more granular walkthrough.

Additionally, if you need to update your subdomain or API key, you are welcome to do so via the API or a point and click interface provided by the Zendesk App management tool.

Once installed the app will appear in a new pane to the right of a Zendesk user profile view and Zendesk ticket view.

The Future

We mentioned previously that this project was designed as a minimum viable product, and that’s what we’ve delivered here. While our team is really enjoying the current version, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Here’s a short list of immediate opportunities that we see:

  • Add client side caching to reduce API traffic to Chargify’s API
  • Add nested detail views for things like Subscription Statements, Subscription Invoices, etc
  • Add some update operations to push data into Chargify’s API
  • Add the project to the Zendesk App Marketplace
  • Minor enhancements designed to get novice engineers involved in open source; look for the “first-timers-only” label in the issues.

Contributions to the project are very much welcome in regards to any of the items listed above, or any other improvements you can dream up!