10 of the Best Online Tools for Busy Business Owners

Running your own business can keep you pretty busy. From payroll and staff to marketing and PR, you’ll sometimes feel like you’re spinning plates.

Thankfully, thanks to digital transformation, it’s become easier for business owners to automate tasks and save valuable time thanks to clever tools. Whether you are running a small operation, or have a big team behind you already — here are some great online tools you might want to consider to help you out.

Recommended reading: Is It Time for Your Business to Try Out AI? 

1. Xero + Chaser + Receiptbank

Everyone knows how convenient Xero can be as an online accounting app, but it’s actually the cool integrations and add-ons that make Xero so useful for the busy business owner. By being able to automate dreary financial tasks like chasing unpaid invoices, you will be able to save time and decrease stress levels.

Finances are at the core of any small business, so it makes sense to invest time and effort into their smooth management. Without a good financial framework, you will quickly fall behind and stagnate as a business — never take your cash flow for granted!

Let’s have a look at what Xero can do for your business:

  • Chaser allows you to send out personalized invoice chasers and manage your debtors — an essential task for any small business. Xero itself also has a pretty good invoice reminder function — customize your chasing frequency and messaging. You can easily turn off chasing for certain clients and customers.
  • Receiptbank is the ideal app for business owners who make a lot of small purchases for their business. It’s basically a receipt and purchase invoice manager, that also integrates with PayPal. You can install the app on your phone and quickly scan receipts into the system, tagging them up and posting them into Xero at a click of a button.

2. Evernote

Meeting notes getting lost? Can’t keep track of your creative ideas? A tool like Evernote can help you sync up your notes and ideas, and share them with key members of your team.

There are a lot of cool Evernote functions you may not have known about:

  • Instant note-syncing means you can have Evernote on all your devices at the same time (you need to pay for a premium account if you want to connect more than a couple though). It’s a great tool for business owners on the move who work in dynamic environments where you frequently switch from tablet to phone.
  • You can quickly share individual notes or notebooks with people, so everyone is kept in the loop.
  • Evernote also manufactures purpose-built notebooks so that you can scan in handwritten notes!

3. Slack

Modern business is all about communication, so make sure you spend time fine tuning your business communication strategy (both internal and external).

Slack is one of the easiest ways to manage internal and external comms. Whether you need somewhere where all your team can discuss training insights, or a way to bring disparate freelancers or groups together, Slack is a brilliant and user-friendly way to chat and collaborate.

The best thing about Slack? It’s very easy to use and won’t baffle people. The #’s used for channels are easy to follow, and once you’re in Slack, you’ll love it. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also a slew of tools that you can integrate your Slack account with to get even more out of it. Slack will change the way that you communicate at work for the better.

4. SurveyMonkey

Do you need to gather information quickly and easily?

Data is a super powerful business asset and a tool like SurveyMonkey will help you gather and organize data better.

Whether you want to get in touch with staff, follow up after an event, check in with clients, or gather data for marketing purposes, SurveyMonkey is a really user-friendly survey tool.

5. MailChimp

Sending out beautiful email newsletters no longer requires hours of painstaking HTML design — MailChimp makes it so easy even a ‘chimp’ can do it! With drag and drop templates and loads of advice on how to get your emails opened and read, MailChimp is a great business lifeline. Organize your email lists to reflect people’s interests, and you will find it a lot easier to get real engagement from your email marketing.

MailChimp is also a great thing to use for event marketing, and can help you follow up with a big group of people quickly and easily.

6. PeopleHR

Are you a good manager? Everyone likes to think that they are, but part of being a good manager is having access to the right toolsets and data in the first place. You can’t make the right staffing decisions if you haven’t got full visibility on what’s happening in your organization from an HR perspective.

From booking holidays to monitoring performance, PeopleHR makes things easy for staff member, manager, and business owner. Easy to use, clear, and bursting with reams of useful data, this budget HR app is a good find for anyone who cares about staff experience.

7. Trello

Trello makes project management look fun and easy. With a very visual UI that is made up of colored cards, many people use Trello just for fun!

But Trello is not just a pretty face: thanks to it being so easy to use, Trello is a great way to organize teams and projects and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Trello boards are easy to share and can be a quick way of getting people up to speed with a latest project.

8. Shopify

Your company website is crucial to the success of your online business; it’s the medium through which your customers place orders, making it the master of revenue for your company. However, as a busy business owner the last thing you want is to have to spend hours building your company website. That’s where Shopify comes in.

It makes the process simple for you, comes loaded with a host of themes (along with managing the hosting of your website), and has an in-depth support system comprised of physical meet-ups, podcasts, and tools.

Once you’ve set-up your website, you can gain insight on how to market your business, and access ongoing data that lets you see who is buying your products, where they’re buying them from, and how they’re buying them. Not only does Shopify make it easy to set-up your website, it makes it easy for you to grow your business.

9. Buffer

Scheduling social media can help you save valuable business time. You shouldn’t just click a button and automate your social feeds (that’s actually surefire way NOT to get followers), but you can save loads of time with strategic scheduling.

Buffer is ridiculously easy to use and will help busy managers and teams save time and scale. Queue up a load of posts for the holidays or the weekends, and share your content with your network at different times of the day.

10. Insightly

A friendly small-business CRM, Insightly is a good alternative to CRM market-leader Salesforce. Compact and managed by a friendly customer support team, Insightly can help your business run a tighter sales and customer experience ship.

From following up with leads, to updating contact details, being more organized with a small business CRM will make a big difference to your sales figures.

Owning and running your own business is a real labor of love. You want to create a business environment that you’re proud of — somewhere where both staff and ideas can thrive. Use online tools to help you save time and money, and create a great atmosphere that makes people want to work hard. What online business tool do you rely on the most?

Guest Post: About the Author

Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she looks at how business owners can use developments in technology to improve their efficiency and drive up their revenue. She is passionate about using her experience to help fellow business owners succeed.

5 Most Common Small Business Marketing Mistakes

When dealing with a smaller team generating smaller profits, marketing efforts can often fall by the wayside. But many small businesses tank when lack of visibility is causing a dive in sales. In order to avoid bankruptcy as a small business owner, keep a few of these common errors in mind and learn how to draw in the right customers with the right tactics.

You Don’t Have a Website

One of the first thing a customer will do if they’re searching for a service or product is online search the service they require. So, if your business doesn’t have a website, how do you expect to be discovered when 43 percent of Google searches are conducted for local businesses?

However, if you do have a website, you need to make sure it’s designed with convenience and attractiveness in mind. Take the time to hire a talented web designer, or even better, learn some HTML to save money and have constant control over your site.

When it comes to the content and design, make sure your call to action is the first thing the potential customer sees, and set up the menus in such a way that they can easily find what they’re looking for. And for goodness sakes, place your contact information in conspicuous places! Nothing annoys a customer more than hunting for an email or phone number.

You’re Targeting the Wrong Audience

Imagine trying to sell meat to a vegan – doesn’t go over well does it? If you’re unaware of the needs of your target audience, you’ll likely see a dip in revenue because you have no clue if your product is something they are compelled to purchase.

The best way to formulate a target audience is to create audience personas based on your current clientele, the goal of your service or product, and your direct competition. With this data, you can answer the “what”, “where”, “who”, “why”, and “when,” and specify details like gender, personality, and employment that will impact potential buying habits from your target audience. From there, you can then begin marketing campaigns towards people that are most likely to benefit from your business.

You’re Not Paying Attention to the Competition

If you’re not regularly online searching similar businesses to monitor their strategies and progress, you’re doing you and your business a great disservice. Competition is scary, but it’s healthy having that comparison; it gives you as an owner the motivation to go that extra mile and improve upon your current marketing efforts.

While comparing services, it’s helpful to have some questions in mind and you can even make a chart to compare multiple competitor businesses at once. Some things you can ask yourself include:

  • What do they charge for their product(s)/service(s)?
  • Where are they located? Do they have multiple locations?
  • Do they have an online presence (social media profiles, website, etc.)?
  • How many employees do they currently have?

With this frame of reference, you’ll have all the information you need to continue to grow within your industry.

You’re Not Tracking Your Progress

Regardless of whether you are using email or direct mail campaigns, you need to track the responses carefully. The analysis of results plays a role in determining if a change in the message or medium is needed. Analysis can also tell you if the marketing method is cost-effective and should be repeated.

Your Message Isn’t Unique

Comparing your business to others can also backfire. Consumers are bombarded with numerous marketing messages throughout the day, and as a result, many of them are not absorbed or even read. And can you really blame them?

This is especially important if your business model isn’t one-of-a-kind. If you’re trying to sell handmade jewelry with diamond companies all over your city, you’re going to have to distinguish yourself from the rest and convince your audience why your rings and necklaces are better than the rest.

Small business marketing will affect your overhead, your sales, your brand image and more. This is an area that you cannot afford to gloss over without considerable focus and attention. With better understanding of these common marketing mistakes, you can take steps to more successfully implement a marketing campaign for your company.

If you need financial assistance getting started, IOU Financial can offer up to $300,000 in as little as 24 hours.

Guest Post: About the Author

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Gemstone Data. In her blogging experience, she often gives advice on improving marketing strategy for SMBs and formulating innovative ways to make your business stand out.

Overcoming Accounting Challenges for Small Business Owners

Becoming a business owner can be a dream come true, offering freedom and flexibility away from the rush and bluster of a traditional 9 to 5 work week. It can also be an extremely frightening proposition depending on where your expertise lies.

And for most people, their expertise is not in finances. Taxes, cash flow, and payroll deadlines can cause stress for many owners and make it difficult to understand where the business stands. For small businesses, these factors play an even larger role in the health of the business than larger enterprises. Starting a small business requires a certain amount of guidance and resources. There are several accounting challenges that will have serious and costly consequences if a business owner doesn’t fully understand their role.

Understanding Federal and State Labor Laws

Before they ever hire their first employee, a business owner needs to know their place with local and state governments. There are also standards that must be met that ensure payment standards, vacation and benefits for your employees, severance pay, payroll deductions and plenty more.

Any small business owner will face these, so it is crucial to understand your role, what you will be required to – and ethically should – provide employees, and what effect it will have on your budget. Ignorance will not save you from state and federal laws, so be sure to become familiar with what your responsibilities are. The United States’ Small Business Administration is a great place to begin learning your responsibilities on each level of government jurisdiction.

Complying with Reporting Deadlines

Issuing paychecks and paying payroll taxes is just half of the requirements in payroll accounting. There are federal and state requirements concerning the reporting of quarterly payroll taxes. There needs to be a clear understanding of which taxes are reported on specific reports and whether these taxes are at the state or federal level. The Internal Revenue Service does a good job of keeping these dates clear on their website.

If a business acts as a collection agent for sales or use tax, there are also laws requiring the remitting and reporting of these taxes. The local state tax department will be the best source for answering questions about deadline dates and methods of reporting.

Cash Flow Management

The ebbs and flows of cash management can be a headache for any accountant – and especially so for a small business owner. Staying on top of cash flow requires meticulous documentation, recording all receipts and disbursements regardless of size.

Banks are very good at keeping up with these things; it is their job, after all. When in doubt, record all the expenses and sales your business earns and consult with the bank that handles your accounts. Depending on the complexity of your business’ cash flow, it might even be worth consulting a financial advisor to properly plan goals and become more knowledgeable about your cash flow.

Meeting Payroll Deadlines

Paying employees on time must be a high priority of any business, large or small. There are federal and state laws that dictate when an employee must receive their pay, so cash flow management must set aside funds for payroll.

Along with the actual disbursement of paychecks, there are also crucial deadlines for remitting payroll taxes. These deadlines can be both on the federal and state level, so each category of taxes must be dealt with in a timely manner. Most payroll taxes require submission electronically; luckily, there are software systems – such as Sage Peachtree, Quickbooks, and more – available to automate this process for you as well as record your expenses.

Qualified Employees

Finally, you need employees who you can rely upon. That means planning a payroll budget that measures how much help you’ll need, what skills they’ll require, as well as a fair market assessment of what those skills are worth.

As a small business owner, it can be difficult to know what that fair market price for employment would be. Those metrics will rely on the market that you are in as well as the general value of those skills. A salary too low may experience much more turnover than you’d prefer as well. Fit Small Business lists several free tools that will allow you to fairly assess what a competitive salary in your field looks like.

A small business’ finances can be a difficult aspect of business to manage. But with proper documentation, automation, and research, you can tackle each of these issues and flourish as your own boss.

If you need help affording a payroll and/ or accounting system or require financial assistance to pay off your business taxes, turn to IOU Financial. Our hassle-free small business loans of up to $300,000 can be in your bank account in under 48 hours! Contact us today!

Guest Post: About the Author

Alex Briggs is a contributing writer for Rising Path Accounting.

What to Look for in a Financial Advisor

Considering that Americans have accumulated more debt now than ever before, working with a financial advisor can be a great decision in planning financial expenses. A financial advisor can help with putting together a budget to avoid overspending, choosing the right investment strategy or prepare for taxes that come with running a small family business.

There’s no reason to stay in the dark when it comes to money and getting the best results requires the right financial advisor. But how do you find the right financial advisor?

Do They Understand Your Needs?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to finances. There are solid strategies that will benefit most people – for example, paying down debt is almost always a good choice. But every individual has their own financial goals and needs. A 45-year-old father of two will need very different financial advice than a 23-year-old single professional who just finished school.

Look for a financial advisor who demonstrates an understanding of your situation. That way, they can offer advice tailored to you.

Does Their Education, Expertise and Certifications Align with Your Own Goals?

Although financial advisors can cover a broad range of topics, if you’re looking for a specific type of financial advice, then you’ll want to look for an advisor whose qualifications match that area.

Maybe you’re trying to pay off student loan debt, getting your first mortgage or applying for a small business loan. These are all detail-heavy processes and you’ll get the best advice from a financial advisor who specializes in these processes. Evaluate the certifications a potential advisor has to see if they’re the right choice for your current and future goals.

Does Their Compensation Plan Incentivize Your Success?

You obviously pay for their service, but you might not be the only one paying a financial advisor.

There are many firms that offer their advisors product-based incentives; those advisors make a commission for selling the firm’s products to customers. Although this doesn’t necessarily make them bad financial advisors, it can create a conflict of interest and alter the advice they might suggest to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask a financial advisor about their compensation plan. Be careful with those that make money from sales; you’ll might end up wondering whether they’re recommending a product because it’s right for you or because it will make them money.

Can They Teach You?

Financial literacy is a gigantic problem for most Americans and very little is being done to solve the problem. What’s more troublesome is that the average person has more financial responsibilities than ever before. There are all kinds of ways borrow money including banks, credit unions and online lenders. It makes it easier than ever to accrue debt. Retirement no longer comes from pensions, Social Security may not be around in the future and people live longer than ever.

That makes it even more important to save money consistently and avoid debt. A financial advisor who can educate you on personal or business finances will help you save more and borrow less.

Do They Truly Seem to Care?

You don’t want your meetings with a financial advisor to feel like college lectures, but unfortunately, they often do. The advisor sees you as one of many clients, your money is just numbers added to a statement and they’ll simply go through the motions with you.

You might learn something from that type of advisor, but you’ll certainly have better results with an advisor who engages with you. Look for a financial advisor who inquiries about your current situation, your financial history, your goals and all the other important details about your life. When an advisor gets to know you as a human being, they can help you make the best financial decisions because they know your wants and needs in life.

There are plenty of excellent financial advisors out there and working with one could be the best decision you make to take control of your finances and improve your future. Be patient as you look for a financial advisor and keep those five questions in mind to ensure that the person you choose is the right fit and has your best interests at heart.

Guest Post: About the Author

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer from Financial Licensing Advisors. She regularly contributes articles to a variety of investment and finance blogs.

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Today we have a guest post from Misty Mega, Head of Accounting Education and Programs at TSheets. Check out her tips on how introverts can better network below!

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Raise your hand if you’re an introvert. Yep, me too. As a fellow introvert (with some extroverted tendencies), I find that networking doesn’t always come easy. Do you find yourself being very shy in groups where you don’t know anyone? I definitely do, and sometimes I would rather not be in that situation than make the effort.

But I force myself to meet people, no matter what. My trick is to find another person who is alone, instead of walking up to a large group and trying to become part of the conversation. As hard as that can be, I’m always glad that I did, so I’m sharing not only how I enter a conversation, but how I embrace my “why” — why I invest in relationships.

Start With a Handshake

Daunting as it may be, we need to step out of our comfort zones and start shaking hands. In today’s search for time, we need to focus on why we invest in relationships.

There are many ways for introverts to shine and network — both in person and online. Introverts are known to go deeper into relationship building with fewer people, so they enjoy quality over quantity. And building out our networks is an outstanding way for us to save time.

Take Advantage of Online Social Networks

When you build a network of individuals you trust and respect, the network becomes a lifeline that can help you cut down on research and troubleshooting. If you are not in a Facebook group with other people in your profession, find one and join one now!

In each of the groups I’m a member of, I’m continuously amazed by the responses people get when they need help. When they ask a question, they are flooded with responses from people who can either help them figure out the solution or tag someone who can. Not having this resource puts you at a disadvantage.

We need to step out of our boxes and shoot for a handful of quality, incredible people who you can offer support to and who, in turn, can be supportive. Having this network adds tremendous value to our lives.

Ask the Right Questions

Asking questions isn’t just about getting the answers you need. It can also be about getting the answers that other people need. To build effective relationships, we need to discover what motivates people and what they are trying to accomplish.

Every individual who starts a business does it for a reason. Sometimes it’s financial freedom or freedom to be their own boss, or it’s to provide their family a better life. In the same way, you need to figure out what other people’s goals are, and then dive deeper.

For example, when we ran our own business, my husband and I had a good relationship with our accountant. We spent long hours chatting with him every other week when we picked up our checks for payroll. However, he never asked us the right questions, and we never knew the right information to communicate.

If he had asked us, “What’s keeping you up at night?” we would have said we were staying at the office until 3 a.m. entering our sales invoices and receipts into QuickBooks because our point of sale system wasn’t integrated.

We would have told him that we were doing payroll by hand, calculating all of the minutes and verifying hours every time. We would have said our inventory is done on paper and it would be nice to be able to scan things in. He could have then saved us hours of frustration by recommending products that would have saved us both time.

The lesson I took from this was that when you ask a client questions about their business, they are happy to answer. If you find areas in which you can influence a client’s business, you’ll create a customer for life.

Be a Positive Force

Lastly, I want to focus on the power of positivity. The moment you begin to speak, people can hear in your tone if you are happy to hear from them. If you sound unhappy to hear from them, they will feel like they are bothering you. If that person is a client, they will stop calling you. If they’re a peer in your profession, they will be less likely to reach out to you. If people don’t feel comfortable asking questions, they won’t. Meaning that you won’t learn enough about them to be connected, solve a potential problem, or make that sale.

However, if you foster a relationship of open communication with boundaries, you will develop a great network of like-minded professionals, your clients will be happy to call you, and your team will be empowered. The power of positivity will save you time and boost your business.

Step out of your comfort zone and build your network, invest time in your customer relationships, and have a positive and open communication policy.

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Guest Post: About the Author

Misty Megia, Head of Accounting Education and Programs at TSheets, has over 20 years’ experience in market strategy, project management, public speaking, corporate branding, and channel marketing. In 2015 she received CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting Award. Connect with Misty on LinkedIn.