10 Free Tools to Effectively Manage Your Business

When you want to run a successful business there’s a whole host of things you need to know. One of the most important things is to build a series of management protocols that allow you to stay on top of things without drowning in paperwork. There are a whole host of different tools out there, some of them demand an investment, but there are also others that won’t cost you a penny. Let’s take a look at 10 of the best free tools to see what you can add to your business.

The Wix Website Builder

If you want to build a site without paying out for all the fancy add-ons you get from many hosting platforms, this is the way to do it. Wix allows you to create responsive, mobile-friendly sites without having to enter a single line of code. Just what you want when you’re trying to get your big idea out there without spending hours learning every skill under the sun. They claim that you’ll get 100% free website hosting and design possibilities. Use Wix for free as long as you want, but if you need professional features like your own domain name or e-commerce you’ll need to opt for their premium option.

Avast Free Antivirus

Cybersecurity is a hot topic right now, and it’s heating up all the time. If you want to run a successful business then it’s absolutely vital you invest in the best anti-virus protection. Avast is one of the top choices when it comes to free antivirus software. It offers an on-demand malware scan, on-access malware scan, website rating, malicious URL blocking, phishing protection, behavior-based detection, and vulnerability scan.

Grammarly

If writing just isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There’s finally a program out there that can add the polish your ads and emails have been waiting for, and it is completely free. It’s a great way to ensure that everything that’s sent on behalf of your business is professional and accurate. Take the time to get to know all of the functionality it has to offer. There is an upgrade that comes with a monthly subscription fee if you want to take your proofreading to the next level. However, the basic free version does a great job on its own so it is not a necessity.

The Hemingway App

This tool follows on nicely from the last, and it does much the same thing. The USP is that it specializes in breaking up wordy but otherwise correct sentences. This is especially useful if you don’t feel like approaching half a dozen writing companies to try and find someone who can connect with your brand. The app also checks the readability of your content so you’ll know if you need to make some changes to make it more comprehensible. The best part is that you can use it for free.

Skype

Despite the rise of Zoom and FaceTime, Skype is still very much alive and well. If you want to be able to talk to suppliers, vendors, and colleagues anywhere in the world for free, this is the tool you need in your kit. It’s easy to use and intuitive, and all you need is a phone and a WiFi connection. Ideal if you want to ensure your business never has to break stride.

Excel

It’s the classic program we all grew up using, but there’s still a place for Excel in today’s business world. The program comes with the basic Microsoft Office package that pretty much everyone has so you won’t need to spend money on additional organizational tools. Use Excel to keep track of every aspect of your business and make all the information presentable and easily accessible.

Hootsuite Free

Social media is the tool that connects your business with the rest of the world, so you need to know what it’s saying about you. Hootsuite’s aptly named free version allows you to ‘hear the echo’ by seeing how your customers and followers are reacting to your content. This is a great way to extend the reach of your customer service into the social domain. It’s also a great way to humanize your business by putting a personal face to your brand.

MailChimp Forever Free

Email marketing is one of the easiest ways to take your business to the masses, and it’s great there are tools like MailChimp that are so easy to use. If you want to be able to send campaigns for free, their Forever Free package is just what you’ve been looking for. Over time you might consider the subscription version so you can launch larger campaigns, but for now, it’s more than up to the job.

Zoho Docs Management

Document management is one of the things that few of us think about when we’re launching a business, but before you know it record keeping is a daily struggle. Zoho allows you to keep everything just where you need it, making it easy to look up key supplier and customer details with the click of a button. Just what you need when you want to provide the best-in-class service you want your business to be known for. Zoho Docs is always free for teams of up to 5 users so it is perfect for small businesses.

Evernote Scannable

Last but not least, we come to one of the most intuitive and easy to use document management tools on the market today. Evernote Scannable is a free tool that allows you to instantly upload your physical copies into an easy to search online portfolio. There you can add additional annotations, file everything away, and even reference it. Perfect when you want to ensure that everything you need is ready and waiting when it’s time to get to work.

Conclusion

Even though many business managers are putting an emphasis on paid management tools, there are plenty of free options that can do the same job. As you can see, all of these apps, tools, and software are completely free and highly efficient. You can always switch to an upgraded version but for starters, these options are more than enough.

Guest Post: About the Author

Daniela McVicker is a blogger and a freelance writer who works closely with B2B and B2C businesses providing blog writing, copywriting and ghostwriting services. Currently, she blogs for Essayguard. When Daniela isn’t writing, she loves to travel, read romance and science fiction, and try new wines.

Starting Your Own Business in a Post COVID-19 World

Starting your own business can be daunting at the best of times. For young entrepreneurs who have been building plans to put their ambitions into action, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic can feel like a wrench thrown into the works. The business landscape has changed rapidly, and — in some ways — permanently.

While this almost certainly means that changes may need to be made, it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to even your loftiest enterprise ambitions. Rather, our post-COVID-19 world can offer new opportunities to design a more robust company from the ground up. Beginning your entrepreneurial journey at this time allows you to make these adjustments an integral feature of your business, rather than a crisis you have to react to.

We’re going to take a look at some areas in which entrepreneurs need to focus. What are the new options, in addition to the essential elements all start-ups needed prior to this pandemic? How can you help make certain that your new venture can not only navigate the challenges of this crisis but be prepared for those in the future?

Gathering Resources

There can be significant costs involved in starting a new business. Quite aside from employees and raw materials, there are often hidden costs such as insurance and permits. Gathering your resources during a pandemic can be especially challenging. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that even prior to the coronavirus, many startups launched with limited resources, operating out of bedrooms and basements in order to build their profiles and finances before moving on up to more traditional environments.

As a result, the last couple of decades have seen the development of resources aimed at home entrepreneurs, and are now relevant to the challenges you face in a post-COVID-19 business environment. Marketing tools such as Google Analytics and Mailchimp are accessible from anywhere in the world you happen to be and don’t necessarily need an entire marketing team to function. Similarly, the gig economy has seen the emergence of invoice payment platforms such as PayPal and Square, and Wagepoint can be used to handle your payroll needs.

You also have to acknowledge that there has been something of an investment crisis as a result of this pandemic, with some investors reluctant to commit. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean getting funding is impossible. According to a report by Startup Genome, during the last two recessions, though there were fewer dollars loaned to startups, a higher number of businesses received investment. This suggests that if you can adjust your business plans to demonstrate that your operations can be more cash efficient, you are more likely to be able to attract investors — even in economically bleak times. It may also point to the necessity of services of these funded businesses.

Online Operations

Another of the key results of the pandemic has been a shift to remote working operations. Some established businesses have struggled to adapt to this model, needing to invest additional funds into equipment, or finding that some of their employees aren’t suited to a work-from-home environment. However, by starting your business at this challenging time, you have the opportunity to build remote working into your operations as a foundational feature, and can benefit from the potential for greater productivity and lower overheads.

Begin with your search for employees. By embracing a remote culture, you have the ability to choose from a global talent pool, depending on the labor regulations in your state, and build a diverse workforce that can help you not just function but innovate. As the popularity of remote working has grown, there has also been a development in hiring platforms specifically aimed at those who have experience working remotely. AngelList, Remotive, and Working Nomads are among the most popular venues for this.

This also gives you the opportunity to source and invest in the technology and software that is optimized for remote operations from the get-go. Ensure employees have the software needed to complete tasks wherever they are and organize the workflow to utilize remote project management platforms such as Slack, Asana, or Trello. Your website also needs to be optimized to act as the storefront of your remote business. Place focus on how easy it is for the user to navigate your site and make contact with you, and thoroughly test this for any potential bugs or performance issues before going live.

Protection from Disaster

Believe it or not, there is value to be found in starting your own business during a pandemic. You have the ability to gain an insight into how various aspects of the crisis are affecting businesses the world over, where mistakes have been made, and what solutions appear to work best. This means you already have some tools to help you build disaster management into your business operations, which can help you mitigate the impact of future problems.

Young entrepreneurs starting their first businesses should already be committing to some in-depth research. Deep dives into business publications — whether popular articles on Forbes, or videos in which entrepreneurs share their experiences — can help you to also identify where the key areas of concern have been during this crisis. Many business leaders have been candid about what solutions have worked for them, and the causes of failure.

Seriously assess whether your current business plan suggests you could weather these types of challenges. Is your business agile enough to make changes at short notice? Have you diversified your supplier pool enough to continue functioning if one or more of them suddenly drop off the radar? Have you created a disaster recovery plan that considers various scenarios? This hasn’t been an easy time for any of us, but you can use it to make your business more flexible and competitive.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly served to shake the confidence of business leaders, and it can feel as though starting a new enterprise at a time of crisis can be unwise. However, you can use the tools, practices, and experiences of this difficult time to build a business that can be successful. It’s never going to be easy, but you can use this period as another resource at your disposal.

Guest Post: About the Author

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

5 Business Records That Small Business Owners Need to Keep

Owning a business comes with a lot of paperwork. Nevertheless, it’s important to decide which documents go into the files and what to throw away. Even before you start keeping records, understand the importance of the exercise. First, the revenue authorities might come knocking at your door without notice and demand to see your tax records and any other supporting documents. Secondly, you need to know how your business is fairing on, and lastly, in case of issues, whether with clients, the authorities, or supplies, you can always revert to the documents for solutions. Here is a list of business records to keep. 

Accounting Documents

Accounting documents are critical for a precise analysis of the business health and for filing tax returns. This includes all income sources, expenses, and assets. Records also help in expenditure analysis. They are instrumental in making critical decisions such as cutting down on costs or comparing the performance of the company. It is also faster when you want to check the purchase price of different items or find out whether you have the required capital to cater to the expenditure. For instance, you can use text recognition using C# for OCR barcode technology for easier tracking of different financial records.

Insurance Records

It’s advisable to have insurance to cover different aspects of your business. For instance, you may want to cover your business against damage from a fire or natural occurrences. Other insurance policies to consider include cover against losses, theft, auto insurance, and renter’s insurance. 

You may also consider taking appropriate insurance covers for your employees, depending on the type of business you are involved in. Insurance records are vital when making claims or when the concerned authorities want to check whether you are up to date with insurance payments. Additionally, the documents may be required in case of legal disputes. They also contain vital information you can always refer to, including your policy number.

Licenses and Permits

Every business requires permits and licenses to operate in a given jurisdiction. The local authorities may want to check whether you adhere to the stipulated regulations by reviewing the documents periodically. In addition to this, you should be aware of when you need to renew the licenses and permits. Moreover, you may need extra permits, depending on the type of work you handle. For instance, you may require a business signs’ permit for areas where the sign size is restricted.

Invoices

There are two types of invoices, both of which need to be recorded. These are the outgoing invoices and incoming ones. Outgoing invoices are sent out to request payments for services rendered or products sold by the business. They are crucial in understanding the income flow of the company. Incoming invoices help in checking the business’s expenditure. 

When the two are analyzed, it’s easier to see the profitability. Note that the tax authorities pay attention to these documents to ensure your tax records are correct. Mandatory inclusions in the invoices include the product’s particulars, dates, and worth. Because of the many business records that need filing, a business record management plan should be implemented for organizing and tracking the documents. 

With a record management plan, it’s easier to retrieve documents when needed. It also prevents loss of documents because you can quickly tell when a particular report is not in place. Barcode scanners are ideal for business document tracking and organization.

Bank Statements

It’s essential to have records of all the business’s bank accounts and balances. Also, transaction records, monthly, and yearly bank statements should be filed appropriately. You can compare the bank records with the accounting records to ensure they correspond. Additionally, it is easier to analyze the business’s financial wellbeing when you have the bank and accounting documents. For easier management of the records, using barcode scanners and QR codes to track your business documents is recommended.

As you manage the business records, it’s important to know the duration you should hold on to them. This also makes sure you only have what the company needs, which makes the business records search easier. Also, for the safety of the documents have separate physical and digital record-keeping systems.

Guest Post: About the Author

Emily Lamp is a professional writer, working closely with many aspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs from various companies. She is also interested in technology, business growth and self-improvement. Say hello to Emily on Twitter @EmilyLamp2.

7 Self Development Tips to Improve Business Success

Experienced entrepreneurs understand that running their business is not a stagnant task. They must always be aware of changing economic conditions, new trade developments, and better methods of dealing with their customers. If you have a business, you can ensure your success as your business grows by keeping these 7 self-development tips in mind.

1. ABL: Always Be Learning

Smart business owners know they can never simply rely on their present knowledge and skills. They must keep their ears to the ground on developments within their industry and within the culture, to optimize their ability to serve their customers on many different levels. Subscribe to trade magazines, stay alert to new technologies, and take a global view of the world. Read up on methods to reduce your small business operational expenses. These measures will allow you to stay ahead of the pack and grow your business.

2. Develop Top Level Time Management Skills

Entrepreneurs often spend a great deal of time juggling tasks. Days can pass quickly, leaving you wondering if you actually accomplished the things you intended to do. Learning time management skills will help you to work more effectively, accomplishing the most important tasks first, and going on to fill in other tasks, as needed.

3. Learn How To Network Effectively

Getting together with others in your industry can be a good way to extend your connections and increase your knowledge. Trade shows and business conferences will allow you to meet people who can help you grow and promote your own business. Acquaintances are likely to show up at other meetings, which will help you to cement new relationships and extend your influence in your sphere of industry. Attending conferences also allows you to learn from your competitors in a friendly, cooperative environment. Use these opportunities to work on your people skills, and be ready to do your part in helping others to make new contacts.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is a method of assessing situations and addressing problems in a more logical and insightful way. It involves understanding the problem at hand, gathering factual information, and eliminating biases that interfere with clear decision-making. It also involves questioning evidence and recognizing patterns. Critical thinking eliminates irrelevant issues and gets to the heart of the matter, with hard facts and outcome-based solutions. Learning this method can help you to make better decisions in your day-to-day operations.

5. Hone Your People Skills

You should always be refining your interpersonal skills. If you need to work on your skills, read extensively on psychology, sociology, conflict resolution, and developing empathy with others. Look for ways to exercise these skills every day, so you can advance your understanding of your customers and their needs. These efforts will pay off in better business opportunities and increased growth.

6. Stay Alert for New Marketing Techniques for Reaching Customers

Effective marketing has become critical to growing your business opportunities. Make a point to keep up with the latest digital marketing trends, which continuously change on a regular basis. Falling behind on your marketing can cause you to miss out on a number of new customers’ demographics. For example, in Thailand, podcasts have slowly become a popular method for sending out messages related to products and services. Audio methods can often be a good way to reach customers who may not have time for reading blogs or print articles.

7. Develop Healthy Habits For Yourself and Those Around You

A busy schedule and stress can deplete your ability to function at your best level. Make sure you take the time to develop healthy habits to sustain you as you strive to improve your business success. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly to maintain fitness, and engage in activities that help you to deal with stress, such as meditation, walking in nature, or prayer. If you emphasize the importance of these activities, your team will also come to understand their value.

Conclusion

Running a business requires energy, optimism, and foresight. To keep your business moving forward, you will have to stay attuned to the many changes that can occur, over time. With these 7 tips, you will have a solid groundwork for keeping your business on a profitable track.

Guest Post: About the Author

Maryn is a tech enthusiast and creative content writer. She is interested in all tech-related stuff, digital marketing, travel, fitness, and personal improvement. Find Maryn on Twitter @MarynMcdonnell.

How To Write A Business Contract That Will Protect Your Interests: 8 Essential Tips

Drafting business contracts might not be the most exciting task you will have to do as a business owner, but it is absolutely necessary for all small businesses. Here are eight essential tips for small business owners about how to write a business contract that will protect your interests.

#1 Focus on the Most Important Clauses

The first thing you should do is figure out the most important clauses for your business. Then, you will need to focus on these clauses throughout your document. To put it simply, clauses are the sections you will want to include in your business contract. They will always depend on the project you are working on, so there is no definitive answer to what clauses you need.

Nevertheless, every small business owner should think about which terms, requirements, and conditions you would want to discuss in your document and negotiate with whoever you are signing the agreement with. You should also consider which points you are willing to compromise on and which ones not that much.

#2 Use Understandable Language

Though many businesses want to use strictly formal terminology, it is not always a good idea to use too many terms that will make your document sound too complicated. This is why you need to strive to use language that you understand. Reserve some of the legal jargon (also known as legalese) for the final documents but use something simpler on the stage of negotiations.

Remember that you are not a professional attorney, so using a limited amount of legal jargon will prevent your document from sounding like gibberish to you. Opt to use language that you will understand no matter what so that you can avoid misunderstandings and don’t get confused too much.

#3 Think Through All the Possible Outcomes

A common mistake made by small business owners when writing legal documents is that they forget to discuss all the possible outcomes. Just like using too much legal jargon, forgetting to discuss all the possible outcomes can result in misunderstandings between you and whoever you are signing the agreement with.

One of the main aims of any and every contract is to predict all the possible outcomes and address them immediately in the contract when you are writing it – not after you have come to an agreement and suddenly remembered about the possibility of this or that happening at some point. This is exactly why many business owners prefer hiring a professional attorney.

#4 Use a Professional Writer

That being said, it is not always necessary to hire a professional attorney for your contract. Instead, you can consider hiring a professional freelance writer who has sufficient experience writing such documents and has all the necessary skills that you would want a contract writer to have. This might even make the contract writing process more affordable.

Affordability, of course, is crucial for small businesses, so it is a really good idea to consider professional writers instead of attorneys. For example, you could choose a writer with the help of a writing service like Writing Judge to find the best specialist for your document. You can compare writers and check their reputation, experience, skills, and so on.

#5 Talk About Payment Options

In some way, the payment options are a part of the clauses you would want to discuss in your document concerning your agreement. However, your payment options and details need a completely separate section because of their importance. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing your payment options:

  • Do preliminary calculations to make sure everything is right.
  • Be reasonable and don’t overestimate or underestimate your costs.
  • Always remember the possible additional expenses you might have.
  • Clearly state everything you want to discuss your payment options and details.
  • Try to talk about everything you want to discuss and don’t leave out any important details.

#6 Remember About Both Parties

When writing your contract, remember that you are doing it both for your business and for the other party, so write down the obligations and duties of both parties. Think about all the small and big details you would want to discuss including terms, responsibilities, obligations, and so on (both financial and non-financial).

Just like with your payment options and details, remember to be as clear as possible and don’t forget any small responsibilities that each of you will have. Your aim is to avoid ambiguity and be concrete in what each of you will be doing, when you will be doing it, how you will be doing it, and how much it will cost.

#7 Determine the Controlling Law

Determining the controlling state law or rather the clause about the controlling state law of your document is crucial for your agreement. This will, in turn, give you the opportunity to have all the legal proceedings to take place in your home country or region.

Firstly, it will be less expensive for you because you will not have to travel. Secondly, you will feel more confident because you will be in your home territory. In other words, determining the controlling law now will make all of your future procedures much easier because you will have somewhat of a foundation for your actions laid out from the start.

#8 Include Clauses About Confidentiality and Intellectual Property

Last but not least, don’t forget to include a clause about confidentiality and another clause about intellectual property. These two are essential for several reasons, but let’s get to them one by one.

When it comes to confidentiality, there might be some information that you don’t want others to know about. This is usually either something personal about the employees in your company or the personal information of your clients.

And when it comes to intellectual property, there will always be something your business has patented or wants to patent at some point. It is best that you note down your intellectual property in the document rather than figuring out such things already when you have signed the agreement.

Final Thoughts

All in all, writing a legal contract will take a while the first several times you do it, but once you write a contract a few times, you will get more practice and eventually get used to it. Just follow the tips in this article about how to write a business agreement and you will start making progress.

Guest Post: About the Author

Thomas Lore is a 23-year old writer, who is currently working for Pick The Writer. Also, Thomas is a creative and diligent freelance blogger, who is always seeking for new ways to improve himself.

Business on a Budget: Smart Spending Tips for Business Owners

For new and experienced business owners, balancing income and expenditures is never as easy as it seems. There is a qualitative cost to every decision made, and extreme cost-saving measures can make it hard to attract employees. Spending too little on marketing can cause a business to become invisible to potential customers, too.

Short-term profits can inspire investor confidence but sustaining a company over the long term requires a different kind of thinking. Retaining employees that can grow a company is hard, especially in an era when the internet allows employees to search for a new job with a click of a button. Employees need to be motivated to maximize their output—and that motivation often comes from feeling like they’re being invested in.

Cutting corners isn’t worth it if it kills a business’s image or employee morale. Here are the basic ways owners can spend their money wisely while still investing in the future.

Employee Benefits That Matter

Sometimes business leaders assume that “networking opportunities” are a great way to attract young professionals. While this is true for extroverts who want to build a name for themselves, many entry-level employees are more concerned with basics like health insurance. Older employees may also be seeking good 401k contributions, and time off matters to employees who have kids or want to travel—but one thing is for sure: Free luncheons and gym memberships don’t retain employees.

Health insurance is expensive, but it’s a much better use of money than catered networking events and yoga classes. Even if your labor force isn’t facing a high turnover right now, remember that employees’ priorities change as they have families or start to face health problems. They may seem to enjoy working for you, but they may seek out employers that offer better health insurance benefits, leaving you scrambling to find their replacements.

Keep Travel Costs Low

Travel can seem like an inevitable cost of wooing new clients and establishing trust with suppliers, but now it can often be replaced with video calls. While sometimes in-person meetings are necessary for inspecting supplier facilities or other manufacturing-related work, they are often just to make meetings clearer and more efficient than the standard conference call. Video calls offer a perfect balance of coordinated visuals and reduced costs for all parties. Travel can also burn out employees with families at home, so it’s not always a perk that attracts or motivates employees.

If clients begin to expect visits from executives, then it can be hard to stop those visits later on, so it may be best not to start them in the first place. Plus, the money saved by minimizing travel can be passed on to customers. Since travel is such an avoidable cost, it makes sense to keep it low at first, and then increase that budget if managers insist that it is needed.

Buy in Bulk

While buying in bulk requires some foresight and planning, it can be well worth it in the long run. Basic office staples like paper and printer ink cartridges have a near-indefinite shelf life, so stocking up on them is an excellent option for reducing long-term costs. It can also make it more worthwhile for you to do specific tasks in-house—like printing large quantities of newsletters and other essential documents.

Coffee and other cheap food items should be kept around the office as well. Instead of having someone run out for coffee ahead of meetings, encourage employees to use a basic stock of coffee, sugar, and creamer to avoid wasting time or being late for the meeting. For employees who are on a deadline or simply forgot to eat lunch, having granola bars stashed in the kitchen can make a huge difference in how quickly they’re able to get back to work.

Avoid Catering

Catered lunches are nice for meetings on a tight schedule, but they’re ultimately a waste of money. In many metro areas, even having sandwiches and chips delivered can cost over $15 per serving. Pizza can be cheaper but can still add up to hundreds of dollars per month for large departments.

Catering is only necessary for meetings with clients when the meeting location is far from most lunch options. It’s great for offices in a far-flung industrial park, but for urban offices with a variety of sandwich shops nearby, it’s better to give employees time to grab their lunch. Plus, catering for a large group can be tricky due to allergies and other dietary restrictions.

Choose the Right Location

Having office space in a high-traffic area is important for businesses that need to regularly attract new clients and customers. However, the exact location of that office can be tricky to figure out, especially in expensive metropolitan areas. While downtown offices can be great for visibility and networking, they might not be feasible for new startups or companies with razor-thin profit margins.

For businesses that have a strong manufacturing focus, offices near an industrial park can be just as good as downtown space. Opening a store downtown may seem like a great way to grow a business, but if most local shops are closer to the suburbs or in another trendy area, then that downtown location may be a waste of money.

Getting the best value possible will come down to a balance of location, size, and available amenities, so be prepared to sacrifice one of those three. Depending on the location, parking and other auxiliary costs could be more expensive as well.

Seek Employee Development

Sending employees off to special training can seem like an unnecessary cost, but it can be a huge asset to a growing business. Clients care about reliability and skill and being able to tout your employees’ certifications can help significantly in competitive and crowded industries. Even if the training doesn’t matter to clients or customers, it could be worth it for small businesses that need to run more efficiently on a shoestring budget.

Carefully research training in your industry to determine which ones will offer a significant return on investment. A vaguely titled training provided by a random consultant may not be worth the money, but a certification course offered by a university could be a game-changer. Of course, local and online options are preferable to far-flung training with high travel costs.

Negotiate with Everyone

Suppliers, vendors, landlords, and even lawyers all come with a price tag. However, that price tag can be surprisingly flexible—especially if you have a long-term healthy relationship with them. In economic downturns, landlords are particularly willing to negotiate a cheaper lease instead of risking losing a major tenant.

Negotiation is an art, so special training may be necessary to get results without hurting relationships with clients and suppliers. Plus, it’s far easier to negotiate cheaper hourly or per-unit costs when buying in bulk, so start with your biggest bulk expenditures. While your savings may not seem like much at first, they’ll add up after just a few months.

Your business’s overall outlook can improve quickly with negotiation skills and other tweaks to spending practices. Even businesses with low overhead can see savings when per-employee expenditures are taken into account.

Guest Post: About the Author

Tania Longeau serves as the Head of Services for InkJet Superstore. Tania oversees a team of Operations and Customer Service Reps from the Los Angeles headquarters. Before joining InkJet Superstore, Tania was a team leader and supervisor working for one of the biggest mortgage and real estate companies in the country. She is a happily married mother of one who enjoys spending time with her family and reading in her leisure hours.

How to Define and Implement Your Office Culture

These days, if you don’t have an appealing company culture, you can forget about attracting top talent. Office culture is defined as the environment you create for your employees, down to everything from the way your office is decorated to the core values and beliefs of the company at large. And while it may seem insignificant, this stuff matters a whole lot to your most-likely pool of applicants — millennials and Gen Z’ers — who repeatedly say they only want to work for companies that have a positive impact.

In fact, according to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, the vast majority of millennials and Gen Z’ers say they’d leave a company that didn’t align with their values. The study found that they’d ditch an employer that didn’t have a positive impact on local communities (74 percent say they’d leave), didn’t provide a motivating and stimulating work environment (73 percent say they’d leave) or didn’t prioritize diversity and inclusion (75 percent say they’d leave). The study also showed that work-life balance and flexible working practices are non-negotiables for the talent pool.

So, if you want to be at the top of your game and get the best of the best on your team, you’ve got to develop a workplace culture that caters to them. Here’s how.

  1. Brainstorm with Leadership:

    Step one: Figure out what your company believes in. While surveying your workforce will be important, your organization’s core values should start at the top. That’s what being a leader is all about! Once you have a general idea of your cultural foundation, send out a survey to all of your employees to get a general idea of what they believe in and care about.

  2. Create a Mission Statement:

    Once you’ve gathered the data, it’s time to put it into the official rulebook. Look to some game-changing companies to see what their mission statements are all about (remember, Google’s code of conduct famously used to say “don’t be evil”) and to get inspiration. Read good examples of company mission statements from Patagonia, TED and Life is Good.

  3. Brand and Promote with Your Mission Statement:

    Having a mission statement does you no good if you don’t use it to guide your company! Post it around the office and make sure every department references it in their daily decision-making. Remember to feature it in your branding, especially if you’re hoping it will attract a higher caliber of talent to work for you. Lastly, be sure to create a designated page for it on your website (and share it on social media).

  4. Hire with Your Mission Statement in Mind:

    Speaking of talent, your office culture is going to be really important when you’re deciding whom to hire. Now that you’ve got your mission set in stone, you can conduct “cultural fit” interviews, which include culture-focused questions in addition to aptitude-oriented ones. Some examples of culture fit interview questions include:

    1. Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
    2. How do you maintain a good work-life balance, even when you’re especially busy at work?
    3. What’s your view on co-worker relationships?
    4. In what kind of environment do you feel the happiest and productive?
  5. Celebrate Your Culture with New Hires:

    You’ve now got a mission statement as well as branding and employees to support it! Congratulations! Make sure you celebrate your workplace culture with every single new hire by surprising them with unique onboarding gifts and activities. On their first day, give them some company swag coupled with something more lighthearted to demonstrate your culture and break the ice, such as some funny socks or a cute mug.

  6. Designate Culture Captains:

    Perpetuating the culture of your workplace is important to ensure that it keeps its core values at the forefront as it rapidly grows and changes. But leadership can’t always be on the ground ensuring that culture is infused in every factor of business. That’s where your culture captains come in. These workers serve as culture representatives who can keep your mission statement alive through events, games, and awards.

  7. Plan Regular Culture Events:

    Have your culture captains set up a monthly employee activity that involves either the whole company or the whole department, depending on the size of your operation. Getting together periodically for non-work events brings your team closer together and solidifies your workplace culture. Activities like bowling, pro sports games, escape rooms and volunteering make awesome alternatives to the standard happy hour.

  8. Reward Top Performers:

    When you see an employee or department excelling in a certain area that adheres to your company’s core values, reward them! This is the best way to perpetuate workplace culture so it’s something that your entire crew adopts. Consider instituting a monthly culture-focused award and making the prize something everybody really wants, like an extra day of paid vacation or a gift card to the best restaurant in town. Don’t skimp! The better the prize, the more your workforce is likely to take it seriously.

Here’s the thing: All prospective employees want an appealing office culture, which means that modern operations feel the need to manufacture it, and that tends to come off as forced or fake. Plus, the applicants you probably want to hire don’t pay attention to things that they don’t deem authentic. The most important thing to keep in mind while you’re building out your culture is to center it around the things you and your workforce actually care about. Be authentic and reap the rewards!

Guest Post: About the Author

Josette is the Marketing & E-Commerce Associate at The Sock Drawer. She is known as the person you want helping you, who approaches each little detail thoughtfully but also has a strong sense of humor and a whip-smart attitude. Outside of work, she loves to dance, hang out with her cool husband and kids, and inject her upbeat energy everywhere she goes!

Relocating a Business: 5 Factors You Need To Know

Relocating a business can be a very complex issue, whether you’re moving to another state or just down the street. To make everything run as smooth as possible, you need to plan the move carefully. The stakes are very high and there are a lot of things that could go amiss if you don’t organize everything down to the last detail. There are some factors you should make your priority in order to avoid future trouble.

Proximity to Transportation and Accessibility

When picking a new location for your business, one of the most important things to take into consideration is transportation options. In metropolitan areas, a large number of people rely on public transport, so if you have access to metro or bus stations it is good for both your customers and your employees. It provides the staff with a convenient and easy way to travel to work. Plenty of them might even be happy that they don’t have to get behind the wheel every day! Some people, however, find public transport intimidating and foreign so you should inform your employees about their options ahead of time. Organize a meeting with the staff before relocating and let them know about the nearby public transit options.

As for customers, you need to make sure they know how to find you and that they have easy access to your facility. Measure the doorways to make sure they aren’t too narrow and look for any step-ups that make it difficult for people to enter. If some concerns are raised, discuss them with your landlord before you sign a lease or your company could be subject to a lawsuit.

Staffing

There are a few main factors you need to consider concerning your staff.  First, you need to figure out the number of employees you need at your new location. If the new facility is bigger than the previous one, there might be a need for increased staff numbers. Is it feasible to hire more people with the current profit?

Second, can you attract a new workforce? Chances are you will have to let go of some of your trusted old employees as you move to a new location and you might need to hire new staff. If the living conditions in the area aren’t so good, you might find it difficult to find new people to hire. Looking for and training a new group of qualified and skilled workers can take some time at first. Do not forget that new people in the workplace might need some help fitting in. Team building exercises will bring your workers closer together and they will have fun in the process!

Hidden Costs

Looking at the rental price of your new building can be deceiving. Make sure not to take every expense at face value when relocating, as it can be easy to overlook many of the less obvious costs. When comparing two locations price-wise, don’t forget to also include expenses such as utilities, parking lots, flooding possibilities and snow removal costs. The new location might seem more expensive when you first look at the rent, but it could be the more economical choice overall if the price includes heating, cooling, wifi, parking and so on.

This requires a lot of research, especially if you’re moving to another country. Some things to look into are good infrastructure (you don’t want to deal with common power outages!), legal and regulatory structure and the culture. Ensure that the people have adequate education and if local universities provide courses that fit your company’s needs.

The move itself can also be costly and sometimes won’t go the way you planned. To avoid any hassle, you could hire a reliable logistics management services provider. They will do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.

Keeping Both Locations Running

This is a thing that can seem obvious at first, but keeping both locations running during the move is extremely difficult and requires a lot of cautious planning. If you don’t think this through properly, you might end up with a lot of unhappy customers! Either figure out a plan to keep the business running during the move, or make sure your customers are notified ahead of time that you’ll be taking a break for some time. Explain the issue to them and let them know when you will be open again. You will probably still end up with some complaints because not everyone will see the announcement in time, so beware!

Apart from the customers, it is also crucial to update your corporate address if you want to avoid orders and mail going to your old facility. Check if all suppliers and delivery services have your new location in mind.

Proximity to Amenities

While access to transportation options may be the most important thing to consider when looking at the facility’s surroundings, it is also a good idea to check if there are local amenities available in the area.

Having lunch options within walking distance is a sure way to keep your staff happy. Inform them about any shops, convenience stores, cafes or gyms you find nearby. Having the ability to run some errands or do some quick grocery shopping after work will be much appreciated by your workers. Keeping employees satisfied isn’t only a responsibility, but a pleasure as well.

Conclusion

Moving can cause a lot of headaches for both you and your staff. This list doesn’t cover all the issues you might face when dealing with such a complicated task, but it will surely help keep you on the right track. It is a risky business, but if you plan ahead carefully and strategically, success is nearly guaranteed.

Guest Post: About the Author

Nick is a blogger and a marketing expert currently engaged in projects for Media Gurus, an Australian business and marketing resource. He is an aspiring street artist and does Audio/Video editing as a hobby.

8 Proven Methods for Small Businesses to Save Money

Small businesses frequently go through cycles of strong and weak profits. When profits are low, you probably will want to find time-tested ways to save money. You do this by cutting costs and reducing your overhead without sacrificing sales. Here are 8 proven ways for your business to save money:

  1. Outsourcing:

    You can save money by outsourcing tasks that are not central to your business mission. This keeps your full-time staff as small as possible while outsourcing work not performed by staff. You can hire contractors and consultants as needed for specific tasks, often at a lower all-in rate than needed for an employee with the same skills.

  2. Advertising:

    You can continue to reach customers without traditional advertising. Rather, low-cost alternatives are available that will save you money. One alternative is to spend your marketing money on public relations rather than advertising. For example, a good PR strategy can get your company mentioned as authoritative sources in media outlets and publications. Inbound marketing using SEO and social media can be just as effective as conventional advertising in increasing traffic to your website.

  3. Vendors:

    Review your relationships with your vendors to see whether you can negotiate lower costs. Vendors want to keep their goods and services flowing to their customers and might be willing to charge less if that allows them to maintain their business volume. You can negotiate on a huge range of costs, from phone service to office supplies. The nice thing is that there is no penalty for trying to lower vendor prices, whereas forgone potential savings are the penalty for failing to negotiate.

  4. Cloud:

    If you don’t already live in the cloud, now is a great time to move in. Cloud-based solutions can save you big money compared to the cost of acquiring and operating your own expensive hardware. Cloud-based systems host your databases and software. SaaS (software as a service) costs an annual fee that can be much cheaper than developing or running your software in-house, such as payroll and ER systems.

  5. Telecommuting:

    Everyone can win when you embrace telecommuting if that’s possible for your business. You can save on office costs and ongoing operating expenses. Your employees save commuting costs and enjoy a better work experience. The result is to produce work products with minimal overhead. You can start with some of your office staff and work towards expanding telecommuting as convenient.

  6. Green:

    Happily, the moral imperative to go green coincides with cost-cutting. You’d be surprised how little things can add up to big savings. For instance, turn off machines when not in use, and use a printer that prints on both sides of the paper. Better yet, reduce your use of paper by adopting a paperless office concept. Where feasible, buy recycled supplies and equipment, utilize efficient lighting, and recycle your own waste for money.

  7. Debt:

    It might save you money to consolidate your various debts into one, convenient loan that charges a reasonable interest rate. If you have to make several debt payments per month, consolidation can cut it down to a single lender. If you choose a lender like IOU Financial, you can have your payments deducted daily from your bank account, keeping your payments affordable and automatic.

  8. Maintenance:

    Are you paying for daily cleaning services at your office? Perhaps you can cut back on this expense by training staff to keep things clean and neat. With proper staff training, you may be able to cut back to weekly cleaning without noticing the difference.

Conclusion

We’ve touched upon several ways for you to cut your business costs with little or no sacrifice to your operations. There are many more methods to save money, and we will no doubt return with additional suggestions in a later blog. Remember, it takes just a little extra effort to implement money-saving protocols that will continue to save money for your business over the long run.

Does Your Small Business Need a Legal Team?

As with most business advice, the answer to whether or not your small business needs a legal team isn’t a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

There’s no doubt that your business needs some form of legal aid, as trained attorneys and paralegals can help ensure that your business is legally sound. They’ll be able to spot issues in your operations that you might not have considered, and they’ll work with you to come up with solutions. But at what capacity is necessary for your business?

Legal Considerations to Keep in Mind

Picking the right legal help requires understanding the potential roadblocks you might face. So, with that in mind, here are some common legal issues for small businesses:

Business Structure
Entrepreneur cites failing to choose the right business structure as a huge issue small businesses often face. Setting your business up as a sole proprietorship versus an LLC or S Corporation has its own set of disadvantages and benefits, for example, that not many account for.

Copyright
There’s no shortage of small businesses nowadays, with new ones popping up almost every month. Protecting your name, branding, and products under copyright laws (remember that each of these is protected by different laws) allows you to differentiate from your competition.

Cybersecurity
A strong cybersecurity protocol is important in any business, especially in today’s tech-heavy world. Having lax cybersecurity policies could lead to a huge data breach, thereby slowing down operations and costing your business.

Factors you Need to Consider

With these situations in mind, here are some ways to help you choose the legal aid that suits your business best:

Understand the landscape
Many business owners shy away from seeking legal services because of the misconception that they cost lots of money. Small Business Trends’ list of low-cost legal services can be a great starting point for your business, as you’ll be able to get a quick overview of where your business needs help. Using these resources narrows down your selection of law firms that can tackle the issues that you need help with.

Set a budget
Most investments start with a budget, and seeking legal help is no different. Once you’ve surveyed the landscape, you’ll have a better price range in mind. You should also remember the different kinds of solutions available to you. A full-blown legal team costs more than a sole business lawyer, which then costs more than a quick consultancy or ad hoc team.

Keep trust in mind
You want to make sure that you trust whoever is handling your company’s legal affairs. After all, they have to know the ins and outs of your business—and they might even represent you in key meetings. An article by Special Counsel on ‘How to Choose Outside Counsel for Your Company’ points out that the best legal teams will get to know their clients on a deeper level. Firms who are worth partnering with understand the importance of cultivating a lasting relationship in order to give the best assistance. Working with someone you trust also makes it easier for you to let them into every nook and cranny of your business.

Our post on the ‘7 Ways to Avoid Financial Stress When Running a Business’ outlines that adopting shady practices can end up causing you stress in the long run. Investing in the right legal protection is exactly that—an investment—but it’s one that will save you a lot of heartache.

There are lots of factors that come into play when deciding what kind of legal aid you need. A legal team is but one of the many solutions you can adopt, so picking the right one comes from understanding the scope of your needs.

Guest Post: About the Author

Working as a business consultant for over 4 years, Alaia Catherine has found a passion in writing. Working as a freelance writer on the side, Alaia provides business advice to a variety of blogs and websites. When she isn’t writing or working, she’s trying out new restaurants with her husband near their home in Seattle.