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.  

What is a Virtual Mailbox? (and How to Choose One)

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Updated June 19, 2020

Managing your postal mail doesn’t have to involve sorting through a giant pile of envelopes on the kitchen counter. Fortunately, virtual mailboxes are the go-to solution for modernizing your postal mail. Making the switch to a virtual mailbox means you’ll get to enjoy less paper clutter, the freedom to move or travel freely as you wish, and the confidence that important mail won’t fall through the cracks.

At Earth Class Mail, we’ve scanned over 10 million pieces of mail to give our customers the flexibility to travel the world or work from anywhere without hesitation. 

If you haven’t already taken the leap, let us walk you through what a virtual mailbox is, who it’s for, and what questions you should ask before you choose a provider. 

What is a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox is a digital mailbox service that contains scanned copies of your postal mail, which you can access from your computer, tablet, or phone. 

Wondering how you can access your postal mail virtually? 

Here’s how it works

  1. You pick a physical address from a provider’s list of available addresses. That becomes your virtual mailing address. 
  1. Your mail is received by the virtual mailbox provider, where it’s scanned and uploaded so that you can view it. Some virtual mail providers will accept packages and forward them to the address of your choice.
  1. Decide what you want to do with your mail. Some companies provide the option to store your mail, share it, shred it, or connect with other apps—like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Quickbooks Online. 

Who should get a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox can be particularly useful for people who work remotely, who value location independence, travel extensively, or live abroad. 

  • Freelancers. If you’re a home-based freelancer, you may not want to put your home address on your website or invoices. A virtual mailbox allows you to keep your home address private while sharing a professional address with clients. 
  • Expats. Managing your mail while in another country can be a hassle. Just because you’re living abroad doesn’t mean people (and businesses, the government, your student loan servicer, etc.) stop sending you mail. The last thing you want is to miss an important bill, check, or notification because you’re not in the country. In the past, you may have listed your address as your parents’ or a friend’s house and asked them to let you know if something important arrived. With a virtual mailbox, you have access to all of your mail, 24/7, wherever you are.
  • Digital nomads. If you chose a location independent lifestyle, the need to continue managing postal mail shouldn’t hold you back or create unnecessary anxiety. Using a virtual mail solution means you know you’re up to date on your postal mail and that important communications won’t fall through the cracks.
  • RVers. Living as an RV nomad is becoming increasingly popular. RVer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner shared with Business Insider that one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle is “how do you receive mail?” If you’re choosing an RVer lifestyle, you may have seen people talking about forwarding mail to friends or to specific RV parks that you intend to visit. With a virtual mailbox, you don’t have to rely on friends or wait until you get to a specific location to open a letter. Your mail will be available on your computer, phone, or tablet whenever you need it. 

A virtual mailbox may be a good fit for you if…

  • You want a better solution for managing your postal mail. If you have a giant stack of unsorted mail right now, then a virtual mailbox might be a good choice for you. A virtual mailbox will not only reduce your paper clutter, but also turn your mail into searchable PDFs so you can always find what you need. 
  • You want to keep digital records of important documents. You can avoid the time-consuming process of scanning in documents that may not be the best quality. With a virtual mailbox, you’ll get every document as a high-resolution, searchable PDF. And if you want any original pieces of mail, you can just request they be forwarded to you or physically stored.
  • You travel frequently. If you travel a lot, for work or pleasure, you might get tired of asking your neighbor to pick up your mail or putting it on hold at the post office. Especially if you receive packages regularly, having a virtual mail solution with the ability to accept packages can be useful. Once you know you’ll be home for a bit, you can request the packages be sent to your home address.

Questions to ask when choosing a virtual mailbox provider

Now that you’ve decided that you’re interested in a virtual mailbox, here are some questions to ask: 

  1. What addresses do they have? One of your first considerations will be the virtual address that you choose. If you’re a freelancer, you may want a street address that you can also use to register your business. If you’re an expat or an RVer, you might be happy with a P.O. box. Maybe you want to have a virtual address in the city you consider “home,” or maybe you like the idea of having a virtual address in a place you’ve never lived but have always loved—the options are plenty.
  1. What actions can you take on your mail? To get the most value out of your virtual mailbox, ask whether you can see a demonstration of the product to understand the scope of functionalities available to you. If that’s not possible, be sure to find out: 
    • In what format will you receive your mail?
    • How does the service provider treat packages and checks? 
    • Can you easily export your information to other applications?
    • What are your options for organizing your information?
    • Can you have multiple users on your account?
    • Can you search for documents within the platform?
  1. What network and physical security measures do they take? Ask service providers what they do to safeguard their customers’ private information. Find out: 
    • Do they rely on local partners (like local businesses or postal shops) for mail intake or they have independent operations? While local partnerships might increase the number of addresses available to you, they may reduce the security of your mail. 
    • Are the people handling the mail items trained to handle confidential health and financial information?
    • Are there security systems in place at the facilities that receive and store mail items?
    • Do they have back-end security measures in place to keep your data safe?
  1. How quickly can you access your information? One of the major benefits of using digital mail and document solutions is accessing information quickly, in useful formats. Find out: 
    • How long will it take to see your mail contents from the moment you request an item to be scanned?
    • Is there an option to automatically scan all content?
    • How long does mail forwarding take? 
    • Can you access your mail on a mobile device?
  1. What is included in the plan? Of course, you want to find out the price of a plan, but you also want to understand exactly what’s included for that price. Price comparison of different services isn’t always apples to apples. Think about what features you will need (mail scanning, mail forwarding, storage, shredding etc.) and make sure you understand the pricing structures associated with those plans and features. 
  1. Do they provide other services you need? For instance, some virtual mail services also offer the ability to automatically deposit checks or pay bills received in the mail. These additional services can help you get money faster and reduce the possibility of late payments.  

A virtual mailbox can help create flexibility and efficiency in your life, but only if the service you use prioritizes those values. Think about how you want a virtual mailbox provider to improve your experience managing your postal mail, and use these questions to find a solution that can meet your needs. 

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!