Browser Productivity Tips You May Not Know

If you spend a lot of time online using a web browser to view web sites or to work in online applications, then you may benefit from knowing these wonderful features about your browser software.

Bookmarks

All browsers support bookmarks, and hopefully you are already using this powerful feature. Which web pages do you need to visit on a daily basis? Those should be ones that have a place on your browser’s bookmark bar. Look for your browser menu to find the bookmark commands you can use to set them up.

Avoid bookmarking your bank, brokerage, and credit card web pages for security reasons, but most everything else is fair game and will save you a lot of time.

Browse Incognito

Need to browse privately? Many browsers offer incognito browsing which disables browsing history and the web cache. Find this command in your browser menu.

People

Roughly two-thirds of the population use Google Chrome as their browser, and the People feature is unique to Chrome. If you have a situation where you have multiple accounts with one software provider, Chrome allows you to have an entirely separate browser session going on for each person.

Let’s say you’re a social media consultant and manage the Facebook accounts for ten clients. You can set up a “person” in Chrome, one for each client. You then can have ten browser sessions going for each of your clients without having to log out and log back in to each Facebook account.

Do you volunteer at a nonprofit where you manage accounts for them? Set them up as a new person, and you can log in to all of their accounts without impacting yours.

Pretend that different departments of your business are separate people. Set up Accounting as a person in Chrome and log in to all of your accounting apps. Or set up Marketing as a person and log in to all your marketing and social media apps using this person.

Set up a different bookmark bar for each person, pouring rocket fuel on your time savings and decluttering you bookmark bars at the same time.  

Set up a new person using the Manage People section in Settings. Toggle between People by using the button on the tab bar at the top right of your screen just to the left of the Minimize command.

Extensions

Many browsers have extensions or plug-ins which expand the functionality of the browser. Here are couple of favorites.

  • Gmail Offline – allows Gmail users to view their email when they don’t have an Internet connection.
  • AdBlock Plus – tired of ads popping up? Get this extension to thwart them.
  • Momentum – provides a customized, motivational dashboard with weather, time, and daily to-do items.
  • Pocket – allows you to save articles and other content to read later or on your other devices.

Many of the software apps you use every day also have Chrome extensions you can use. Pinterest, Evernote, your anti-virus software, Hootsuite, and others have extensions you can check out and install.

Try these tips to learn your browser software better and become more productive while navigating the web.

Five Ways to Streamline Your Payroll Process

For business owners with employers, payroll is a necessary task that can slow your day and tie you down if you let it. If you’re looking for a way to make payroll less time-consuming, here are five ideas you can put to good use:

Employee Onboarding

If you hire a lot, empower your new hires by letting them do their paperwork for you. A good payroll system allows employees to “onboard” themselves, completing the I-9, W-4, and direct deposit authorizations electronically, even before they show up for their first day. You’ll still need to ask for ID on their first working day, but at least you won’t have to do their paperwork for them.  

Integrate Employee Benefits

Rather than hire several separate companies to handle benefits, some payroll systems allow you to integrate benefits solutions right in their dashboard. That way, you won’t have to re-enter employee data in multiple systems, which often gets out of sync. Deductions and payments can also be integrated to save accounting time.

Delegate Timesheet Entry

Require non-exempt employees to enter their own time; all you should have to do is approve it. The right timesheet application can take care of that, and a great timesheet application will allow employees to enter time from multiple options, including timecard, cell phone, and others.

Eliminate the Annual Worker’s Compensation Audit

Tie your worker’s compensation vendor to your accounting system, and you’ll be able to avoid that time-consuming annual reconciliation report required by your worker’s compensation insurance company. You can also avoid the large annual payment because the insurance will be taken out each payroll cycle.

Reduce the Frequency of Payroll

It’s not always possible, but if you can pay employees less frequently, you might be able to cut your payroll time in half. Pay weekly employees every two weeks or pay bi-weekly employees monthly. Reducing payroll frequency boosts cash flow as well.  

Try one of these five ideas to streamline your payroll time and costs in your business. And as always, let us know if we can help.

 

Cool Apps: Chatbots

In the last year, chatbots have exploded. A chatbot, short for chat robot, uses artificial intelligence to imitate a conversation with people. One place they have exploded is the Facebook Messenger app, which is a free instant messaging platform.

To get Facebook Messenger, you can download the app on your smartphone or go to https://www.messenger.com on your PC or Mac in any browser.

In Messenger, a chatbot looks just like a person. All you need to do to connect to a chatbot is to go to the People section and enter the name of the bot you want to connect with. Typically, there will be a Get Started button. The bot may ask you some setup questions such as your time zone, city, or topic preferences.

Bots can do many things. There are bots to deliver the news daily (Chat Newswire), bots that entertain and play games, bots that help you find recipes and restaurants, bots that improve your productivity, bots that help kids with their homework (Christopher Bot), and even a bot that connects with QuickBooks (Freelanzr).

Each bot works a little differently. In general, you will receive a welcome message, then the conversation will begin. The bot will prompt you to ask a question, enter a phrase or a word, or select from a group of horizontal button choices.

Bots are useful for your daily routine. You can get daily news, weather, reminders, and tips. If you are stuck standing in line somewhere, riding public transportation, in an Uber or taxi, or experiencing other downtime, you can have several conversations with your bots to pass the time.

If you don’t know of any bots or wonder about a bot that does a specific thing, there are lots of bot directories available. To get you started, here is one bot list: https://botlist.co/.

The cool part is you can design your own bot for your business which can be fun for customers. The Facebook Messenger platform is open, and you can find out more about how to create a bot here: https://messengerplatform.fb.com/.

There are more platforms for chatbots besides Facebook Messenger, including Twitter, Android, Slack, and Amazon Echo, to name a few that you can explore if you don’t care for Messenger or Facebook.

It’s still early for bots. The effectiveness of the bots depends on how well they are designed as well as how much time the user spends learning how to work with the bot. Try connecting with a couple of bots to see if they will be productive for you. If nothing else, your kids will love the game bots while they are standing in line with you.

Do You Have Past Due Accounts?

If you perform a service or ship a product before you get paid, then you likely have a balance in your Accounts Receivable account. If customers pay when their invoice is due, all is right with the world. If they don’t, then your cash flow slows down and your bank balance is not as high as it should be. Here are some tips, preventive and supportive, to help you keep your accounts receivable current.

Granting Credit

When you deliver your service or product before your client pays you, you are in effect their “bank,” granting them credit. Not everyone deserves to be granted credit. Consider running credit checks, especially if you are billing large amounts of money for your sized business.

You may also want to ask for a retainer or deposit prior to starting work or shipping your products. This will smooth your cash flow and reduce your credit risk.

Offer Multiple Payment Options

When a customer is ready to pay their bill, make it easy on them by offering multiple payment options. Perhaps they will pay faster if you take payment by credit cards. Many people have extra money sitting in their PayPal accounts, so that is another payment option. Apple Pay and Android Pay are relatively recent options to consider adding.

You may also want to revisit the credit cards you offer: MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are universal, but many places also take Discover and Diners Club. If you are doing international business, consider JCB (Japan), China UnionPay, and RuPay (India).      

Collection Process

Once an unpaid invoice has reached its 90-day mark, the chances of collecting it are about 50 percent. This means that you will need to put some aggressive collection processes in place prior to the 90-day mark.

If the invoice is due in 30 days, start at the 35- to 40-day mark with a friendly reminder. At 60 days, your customer needs a strong reminder and perhaps a phone call. At 75 days, they need to know what consequences there will be for not paying. Will you report the customer debt to credit agencies? Will you turn the account over to a collection agency?

At 90 days, it’s probably a good idea to make one final collection effort and then turn it over to a collection agency. It might sound too soon, but the odds of collecting something much older go down significantly as time passes.    

At any rate, create your own process, and automate it as much as possible. The main thing is to stay on top of it.

Past Due Accounts

From how you first engage with your clients to the last steps in the collection process, there are many cost-effective techniques to avoid past due accounts and the unpleasantness that goes with them for both parties. If this is an issue in your business, try these ideas above and reach out if you’d like our help. 

Eight Ways to Increase Your Profits

Increasing your profits might sound like it’s an unattainable dream just out of your reach. But there are a finite number of ways that profits can be increased. Once you understand what they are, you’ll have clarity on how to best reach your goals.

There are two primary ways to increase profits:

  • Raise revenue
  • Lower expenses

That’s not particularly enlightening or instructional, is it? Let’s look at the four ways you can increase revenues and the four ways you can reduce expenses to get clearer on what actions we can take.

Four Ways to Increase Revenue

1. Raise prices

The easiest way to raise revenue is to simply raise prices. However, this is not foolproof and assumes you’ll be able to maintain the volume of sales you’ve achieved in the past.

This method is also limited by market demand, what your customers are willing to pay.

2. Add new customers

Adding new customers is what most entrepreneurs think about when raising revenue. Increasing your marketing or adding new marketing methods is typically the way to add new customers.

Another related option is to work hard to keep the customers you already have. You can also potentially contact the customers you lost and ask them to come back.

3. Introduce new products or services

For some companies, your products and services are changing every year. For others, not so much. To increase revenue, consider adding new products or services that will bring in an additional revenue stream that you didn’t have before.

Even if your products are changing every year, you can consider adding something completely different that your customer base would love. For example, a hair salon could add a nail desk, a clothing store could add handbags or shoes, a grocery store could add a coffee bar, a restaurant could add catering, a landscaper could add hardscaping, and so on.

4. Acquisition

The final way a business can increase revenue is to acquire another business in a merger or acquisition.

Four Ways to Reduce Expenses

1. Negotiate for a better deal with vendors

If you’ve been working with a vendor for a while, you may be able to re-negotiate your contract with them. This is especially common with telecom companies. Call you phone provider and ask them for the latest deal. They always favor new customers over long term customers, but they don’t want to lose customers either. Just calling them usually yields a better price than what you are paying now.

2. Change vendors

If a vendor has gotten too expensive, it might be time to look for a new vendor. Health care insurance seems to be in this category. Often, changing providers will lower your costs.

3. Cut headcount

If there is not enough work to support your employees or not enough cash flow to pay them, then it might be time for a layoff or restructuring. You might also consider outsourcing a function that you previously did in-house.

4. Cut the expense or reduce services

It might be your business no longer needs to spend money on an expense. Perhaps this expense has been automated. In this case, it’s an easy decision to cut the expense out entirely.

Those are the eight ways to increase profits. Which one makes the most sense in your business? Create a plan around these eight ideas to boost your profit in 2017, and let us know if we can help.

Five Ways to Add Pizzazz to Your Customer Service

It’s the little things that add up to make an exceptional experience for your customers. Here are five “little things” you can add to your services to create an exponentially memorable connection with your customers.

Generosity

Add a little extra something to the products or services you offer. It could be a piece of chocolate like Hershey’s® Kisses®. It might be a handwritten thank you note. It could be a coupon for their next visit. It could be a bottle of water.

These little additions pack a huge wallop for the customer experience. And none of them cost a lot to implement (unless you eat all the Hershey’s® candies yourself). Think of what you can add to your customer experience so that the customer sees you as generous and caring.

Speed

Many customers value their time, and adding speed to your service will be appreciated. When customers call in or email you for a service question, how fast do you respond?

Set response time goals for you and your employees to respond to customer issues and questions. You might choose one minute, four hours, or one day for response time, depending on your business. Make sure customer emails are answered first, and have someone monitoring the phone during business hours.

Track your results and reward your speediest employees. 

Acknowledge and Apologize

Sometimes things go wrong, and an apology to the customer is in order. In most cases, customers simply want to be heard, so your listening skills are your best asset at that moment.

As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. Even though it might not have been your fault, it’s sometimes a good idea to simply apologize in the sincerest way possible. If there’s something that needs to be done to make it right, go overboard. Give the refund, take the loss, and let the customer win.

Positive Communications

How you word things can make all the difference. Which sounds nicer?

“That item is out of stock and won’t be in for six weeks.”

“We will have that item in stock in six weeks.”

The first sentence has two negatives (out of stock and won’t), while the second sentence is positive. It avoids the negative wording.

It’s a small but powerful change in the customer experience. Think about how you can word your communications so that there are more positive words and fewer negative words when speaking with customers.

Your Full Attention

Although you want to respond to customer issues with speed as mentioned above, while you are working with the customer, take time to slow down and really engage with the person. Our world is so fast, and some companies even reward multi-tasking, but no customer appreciates interruptions when being helped. 

When you are with a customer, even on a phone call, be with the customer. Avoid interruptions and distractions, and give them your full attention. It’s the most powerful thing on this list. Treat them as a real person, not just another figure, and the customer will notice.

Try one or more of these five customer service boosts to take your customer service experience to the next level.

The Death of the Annual Performance Review

If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

After-Action Review

An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall. For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What did happen?
  • What worked? What should we keep doing?
  • What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
  • What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
  • What personal lessons did you learn?

You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific timeframe. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall? Some opportunities to use the AAR include:

  • Technology changes / additions or training
  • Staffing changes
  • Hiring process changes
  • Marketing changes / additions or training
  • Operations changes / additions or training
  • New service or product development / new niches
  • Changes in your existing services or products
  • Customer retention
  • Sales cycle changes or development
  • Pricing evaluations
  • Client surveys / communications / service level changes

The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want. You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind. Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help. 

Five Digital Marketing Trends to Get More Customers

Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses. There are many aspects to online marketing that you’ll want to consider for your business. Here are just five for your consideration.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is huge, and it consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from.

You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service.

Video

Video has become incredibly important. It’s no longer enough to generate text. Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.

The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore. A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage.

Directories

It’s no longer enough to simply have a website. Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility. Some common directories for small business include:

  • Yelp
  • Angie’s List
  • Manta
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Yellow Pages (online version)
  • Thumbtack
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Craigslist
  • Google for Business (Google Places)

Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews. Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.

Social Media

Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today. Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.

If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representation of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.

Public Relations

Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.

Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.

Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends. Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business.

5 Metrics to Gauge Your Business Performance

performance

Sometimes, the most telling numbers in your business are not necessarily on the monthly reports. Although the foundation of your finances revolves around the balance sheet and income statement, there are a few numbers that, when known and tracked, can make a huge impact on your business decision-making. Here are five:

1. Revenue per employee.

Even if you are a solo business owner, revenue per employee can be an interesting number. It’s easy to compute: take total revenue for the year and divide by the number of employees you had during the year. You may need to average the number in case you had turnover or adjust it for part-time employees.

Whether your number is good or bad depends on the industry you’re in as well as a host of other factors. Compare it to prior years; is the number increasing (good) or decreasing (not so good)? If it’s decreasing you might want to investigate why. It could be you have many new employees who need training so that your productivity has slipped. It could also be that revenue has declined.

2. Customer acquisition cost.

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank®, you know that CAC is one of the most important numbers for investors. This is how much it costs you in marketing and selling costs to acquire a new client. Factors such as annual revenue, or even lifetime value of a client will affect how low or high you can allow this number to go.

3. Cash burn rate.

How fast do you go through cash? The cash burn rate calculates this for you. Compute the difference between your starting and ending cash balances and divide that number by the number of months it covers. The result is a monthly value. This is especially important for startups that have not shown a profit yet so they can figure out how much cash they need to borrow or raise to fund their venture.

4. Revenue per client.

Revenue per client is a good measure to compare from year to year. Are clients spending more or less with you, on average, than last year?

5. Customer retention.

If you are curious as to how many customers return year after year, you can compute your client retention percentage. Make a list of all the customers who paid you money last year. Then create a list of customers who have paid you this year. (You’ll need to two full years to be accurate). Merge the two lists. Count how many customers you had in the first year. Then count the customers who paid you money in both years. The formula is:

Number of customer who paid you in both years / Number of customers in the first or prior year * 100 = Customer retention rate as a percentage

New customers don’t count in this formula. You’ll be able to see what percentage of customers came back in a year. You can also modify this formula for any length of time you wish to measure.    

Try any of these five metrics so you’ll gain richer financial information about your business’s performance. And as always, if we can help, be sure to reach out.

Boost Your Accounting Know-How with These Terms

dictionaryOutsmart your accountant and other financial friends with these accounting-related definitions:

Fiscal Year

Most companies report their results on a calendar year, from January 1 through December 31. Some companies use a different year for reporting, and that’s called a fiscal year. For example, Intuit’s fiscal year runs from August 1 to July 31. A nonprofit commonly runs from July 1 to June 30.

The word fiscal alone refers to government or public revenues and expenditures. A fiscal year can also be considered the period where companies report their financial results to the public.

Budget

Most companies sit down once a year and plan what they intend to spend. This set of numbers is a budget. It is prepared in income statement format which includes planned revenue and expenses. It can be done for a year, monthly or both.

A common report that compares budget to actual figures is the Income Statement Comparison to Budget which includes columns for month and year-to-date actual, budget, and variance (the difference).

Forecast

While a budget is a longer term plan, a forecast is an attempt to predict the short-term future. Forecasts can be made for cash flow, predicting your bank account balance, or can be focused on potential profit for a period. A forecast is created by enumerating current and expected short-term cash commitments.  

General Ledger

A general ledger is a fancy word for your accounting books.   It’s also a very specific report that lists each account within the chart of accounts, beginning balances, the activity of each account for a particular period of time, and ending balances. It includes both balance sheet accounts, such as cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, and income statement accounts, such as revenue and expenses.

Fixed Asset

A fixed asset is a special type of asset that includes items such as land, vehicles, furniture, buildings, office equipment, plants, and machinery. Fixed assets cannot easily be converted into cash (cash equivalents are termed current assets) and they must last longer than one year. They are physical or tangible (as opposed to intangibles such as patents and trademarks).

Depreciation

Most fixed assets except land depreciate in value over time. For example, when you drive a new car out of the lot, no one will give you what you just paid for it. This reduction in value over time is recognized on accounting books by recording depreciation. Since assets need to be recognized at market value, depreciation is an estimate of this adjustment. Depreciation becomes an expense and reduces the value of the fixed asset. Unlike most other transactions, cash is not affected when recording depreciation.

Accrual

There are two ways to keep books when it comes to the timing of how items are recorded: the cash method and the accrual method. Let’s invoke Popeye the Sailor Man’s friend Wimpy who always says, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Let’s say today is the Friday before this famous Tuesday.

If you are using the cash basis method, you would record the entire transaction on Tuesday, when you get the cold hard cash. If you are using the accrual basis, you would have two entries: one on Friday to record the sale to accounts receivable and one on Tuesday to zero out the receivable and increase cash. It’s the same net, effect; the only difference is in the timing.

Most small businesses that extend credit keep their books on an accrual basis so they can keep track of everything. Most taxes are paid on cash-basis books, requiring adjusting entries at year end that reverse at the beginning of the year.

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet is a very common report of all of the business’s account balances as of a specific date, such as December 31. These accounts include cash, receivables, fixed assets, liabilities, equity and others.

Journal Entry

A journal entry is usually an adjustment that is made to the accounting books. The result is that some accounts increase and others decrease. In theory, every transaction made to a company’s books is a journal entry. When you write a check and it’s cashed, cash goes down and an expense is increased. When you receive a payment, cash goes up and revenue goes up. Each of these transactions is a journal entry.

Do you feel a bit smarter? I’m not sure how exciting this is for cocktail table talk, but hopefully you feel smarter when it comes you’re your business’s accounting function.