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.  

Choosing a Virtual Mail Solution? Start With These Questions.

By Zachary Rimlinger on July 25, 2018 

Organizations of all sizes and industries are increasingly using technology and outsourcing to modernize their offices. Today, mail and document management looks a lot different than having clerical staff in-house.

We witness this digital transformation every day and have helped thousands of businesses increase their efficiency by automating their office mail. If you haven’t already, think about the time your company spends on clerical work, manual scanning, and mail management. Or perform a quick exercise by asking yourself: would valuable information survive if your building flooded or a fire broke out? If you’re panicking, it means you need a system to move your files into the cloud. 

If you’re reevaluating your current approach (or lack thereof) here are the questions you should be asking to choose an appropriate virtual mail solution:

  1. What addresses do you have? One of your first considerations will likely be the locations where you are able to set up a virtual address. But it is equally important to consider your business goals to determine the type of address to use. If you’re looking for a virtual address to redirect business mail, a PO box can suffice. If you’re wanting to expand your business’s market share to a certain region or city, consider using a more professional real street address. Or if you’re looking for an address to register your company, chances are you’ll need a real street address. Be sure to ask if your state has any specific requirements.
  2. How do you handle different mail volume needs? For organizations that receive high mail volumes or those with mail seasonality like in the tax and accounting industry, you’ll need a vendor with the infrastructure to process documents quickly and reliably. Be sure to research how long their business has been operating and inquire into their technology and service operations.
  3. What actions can I take on my mail? To get the most value for your investment, demo their interface to understand the scope of functionalities available to you. If that’s not possible, be sure to ask: 
    • In what format will I be receiving my mail?
    • How do you treat packages and checks? 
    • Can I easily export my information to other applications?
    • What are my options for organizing my information? 
    • Can I have multiple users in an account?
    • How can I search for my documents within the app?
  4. What network and physical security measures do you take? It’s vital that you ask vendors if they rely on partners (such as local postal shops) for mail intake, or whether they have independent operations. While local partnerships might increase available the addresses available to you, service times and security measures will differ greatly. Also ask about the technology and back-end security measures they take to keep your data safe.
  5. How quickly can I access my information? One of the major benefits of using digital mail and document solutions is accessing information quickly and in a more useful format. Ask how long it takes to see your mail contents from the moment you request an item to be scanned, or if there are options for automatically scanning all content. What about timing for mail forwarding? Depending on your needs, speed could be the deciding factor for which service you select.
  6. What is included in the pricing? Inquiring into pricing details can almost go without saying, but it’s important to note that most mail management solutions will require that you pay to scan your correspondence. But do they charge for mail received? If you’re a high-volume user or if you’re using an address strictly for business use, inquire about options and pricing for automatically scanning your contents. 

When choosing another business tool, assess how it will interact with your team, existing processes, and other solutions. The more you’re able to do with one tool, the better. 

Ready to put us to the test? Learn more here

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.  

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!