How to De-Clutter Your Business Life

Clutter comes in many forms. It’s tempting to look at the pile of papers on your desk and view that as the only clutter weighing you down—but chances are, it’s the least of your problems.

Anyone who runs a business knows that clutter can be more substantial than that, including:

  • An email inbox with hundreds of messages that need sorting
  • A schedule that overwhelms you and forces you to cancel meetings
  • Taxes that are so complicated that they start to take over your life
  • A list of voicemails to which you have yet to respond

Just as you’d sweep away the cobwebs in the corner of your basement, your business needs its occasional spring cleaning, too. Here’s why.

Why You Need to Reduce Mental and Physical Clutter

Psychology Today once tallied the mental costs of clutter, pointing to eight distinctive negative effects clutter can have on our lives. From creating feelings of guilt and embarrassment to the constant stressor in the back of your mind that your workday isn’t officially done, clutter can place an enormous mental burden.

The same is true of both physical and mental clutter. A physical mess is another chore we have yet to do, so it becomes a mental challenge. And mental clutter can pile up in physical ways, weighing visibly on our email inbox or piling up in a list of expense receipts you have yet to go through. After a certain point, these tasks lose all meaning and simply become part of an overwhelming stressor weighing on our everyday lives.

Strategies for Reducing Business Clutter

With that in mind, how should you approach the “business” clutter in your life? It’s tempting to go the route of Marie Kondo and the KonMari method. But these systems focus on domestic clutter. What happens when your business life needs cleaning, too?

Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Identify the clutter. If you have only a vague sense that something in your work is weighing you down, but you don’t know what it is, get clear about what you want to remove from your work life. Write down a list of the thoughts that are more stressful to you at work and ask yourself if you notice any common themes.
  • Delegate when possible. However frugal you might be, whenever you can delegate a task that’s weighing heavily on you, you should try to see if there’s a way you can do it. Whether that means hiring an accountant to handle your increasingly-overwhelming taxes or simply having someone come in and clean your desk, you don’t have to add to your daily tasks. Outsource it.
  • Always keep your business and your personal separate. According to Stress.org, the blurring of personal and work lives is the main cause of stress for 20% of those in the workforce. Consider that one of the problems business owners have is looking up a wide range of expenses when they’re not sure which ones were for business and which ones were personal. Try to create systems that handle the sorting for you. Use a unique business checking account and unique business credit cards. Combined with proper bookkeeping software that logs every transaction, you’ll never have to worry about collecting and sorting huge piles of receipts again.
  • Start small if need be. Sometimes the overwhelming idea of tackling a huge task like our email inbox can prevent us from taking any action at all. Who wants to start a four-hour task when they can spend the next ten minutes doing something more fun? That’s why it’s important to chip away at the clutter even when you know you won’t get to it all in one day. If you can keep the arrow pointing in the right direction, you’ll eventually arrive at a point in which the clutter no longer overwhelms.

Avoid these Key “Business Clutter” Mistakes

After taking steps to reduce your clutter, it’s important not to let it happen again with a few preventative measures:

  • Build a replacement system. Even if you go through and delete every email in your inbox, failing to replace your old system with a new one just means you’ll get back in the same old habits. This is a great time to investigate apps like Newton that you can use for long-term inbox maintenance. Do similar research with the other areas in your life that you need to improve upon. If you’ve struggled with your invoicing, is it time to invest in a solution like FreshBooks?
  • Schedule regular time for clutter maintenance. As long as clutter remains a problem for you, it’s important to put aside some time every so often to handle your clutter—even if it means simply emailing someone who can help you. Schedule regular maintenance time to sit down and focus solely on decluttering your business life.
  • Stop adding to your workload. If you can master the word “No” when you’re overloaded, you’ll do a lot to keep your business running smoothly. For new businesses, turning down additional clients can feel like a major mistake—until you realize that biting off more than you can chew is just as bad a habit as doing too little at work. Stop adding to your workload and give yourself some freedom by saying the occasional “no.”
  • Separate your business and your personal life with effective systems. For example, using Grasshopper’s business number allows you to filter out business calls from personal calls, operating both seamlessly on the same device.

Building a Better Way of Handling Business Clutter

De-cluttering your business life requires a great deal of introspection. It requires being honest about yourself and the way you approach your business every day. It requires a little work to get started. But it will be well worth the investment of time and effort it takes, because you’ll be better able to handle your daily workload—as well as build stronger systems for managing growth in the future of your business.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to De-Clutter Your Business Life/
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A Step-By-Step Guide to Catching Up On Your Bookkeeping

Tax season is coming—it’s inevitable. Getting your books tax-ready ensures you’re compliant with the IRS recordkeeping requirements, meaning no late fees, no surprises, and a successful tax return that won’t cost you extra time later on (we know you’re busy). 


Bench was started so you wouldn’t have to do your own catch up bookkeeping. But for the do-it-yourselfers, this step-by-step guide will help you get through your bookkeeping backlog in no time. 

Step 1: Collect Receipts & Invoices

Start by collecting all receipts and invoices related to your business expenses. There are many different types, so we’ll outline the most important ones. 

Customer Invoices

Review your customer accounts and double check that you’ve collected all customer invoices for the tax year. Depending on whether you’re using a cash or accrual method, you’ll record these differently. 

Debt Collections

Review your customer accounts for any bad debt expenses. In order to deduct the cost of bad debt from your tax return, you will need to prove to the IRS that you have taken reasonable steps to collect the debt. Bad debts can be claimed by using either the specific charge-off method or the nonaccrual experience method

Business Expenses

Collect receipts from all business purchases you have made during the tax year. Use this handy list of small business tax deductions to double check that you’re tracking and claiming every deduction available to your business—because who doesn’t love saving on taxes?

 

Vendor Accounts

Review your vendor accounts to ensure that you have paid them all in full. Make sure you have a copy of every bill from each vendor activity and, if you don’t, contact the vendor and ask them to send you a copy.

Important to note: Vendor accounts include bills for business activities that are still currently operating in your business’s closing period.

 

Step 2: Reconcile Your Bank Records

Reconciling your bank records accomplishes two things: 1) It ensures you don’t miss any business expenses or important records from Step 1, and 2) It helps you catch any mistakes your bank may have made.

You can do this by comparing each transaction from your bank statement with the same transaction in your company accounting records. If the transactions don’t match, identify and fix any errors to ensure they balance out.

Step 3: Separate Personal and Business Expenses


Keeping your personal and business expenses in the same account is known as piercing the corporate veil—which may result in you being held personally liable for your business’s debt and actions. The sooner you separate your business and personal expenses, the better. Learn how to open a small business bank account and keep your finances separate.  

 

If you’re unsure about whether a purchase qualifies as a deductible business expense, learn how the IRS differentiates personal and business expenses.

Step 4: Create Digital Records

If you haven’t done so already, there are countless benefits to making your business paperless. As you process your paperwork, create digital records of receipts and important documents. Here are a few of our favorite tools to help you go paperless:


Step 5: Submit Forms for Contractors & Employees

If you paid independent contractors and/or employees during the tax year, there’s a good chance you’ll need to file the following forms:

Independent Contractors: Form W-9 & Form 1099-MISC

If you paid an independent contractor more than $600 for work during the year, you’ll need to submit a Form W-9 and a Form 1099-MISC. A W-9 requests a contractor’s taxpayer information. The contractor completes this and returns it to you. You then use the information on the contractor’s W9 to issue a 1099 to the IRS. If you’re new to the process, and unfamiliar with the deadlines, read How (and When) to File a 1099 first. 

Employees: Form W-2

You’re required to file Form W-2 for all employees.

Step 6: Review Your Books With a Professional 

When you’re a small business, doing it yourself is often the least expensive option. But tax professionals can help eliminate errors, help you claim all of the deductions available to your business—which may end up saving you money in the long run—and can also represent you in the event of an audit. Developing a relationship with a financial pro, well before you need their help, will prevent last-minute scrambling and bring you peace of mind that your books are in order.

CTA: If you’re a small business owner who could use a helping hand—the expert bookkeeping team at Bench can get you up-to-date with their Catch Up Bookkeeping Service. 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/A Step by Step Guide to Catching Up On Your Bookkeeping/
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Easy Guide to a Painless Tax Season

Do the words “tax season” make you shudder? You’re not alone. Over half of US adults say tax season stresses them out. And when you run your own business, your tax time heebie jeebies are bound to be even more severe. 

Tax season is faster and easier when your bookkeeping is organized. And our partners at Bench will handle all your small business bookkeeping, and even file your taxes for you.

But if you’re filing your own taxes, read on. We’ll cover all the forms you need to file and deadlines you need to meet—plus how to file on time or get an extension. 

The Documents You Need to File Taxes

When you file your tax return, you must be able to prove what you earned and what you spent —for the sake of reporting income, as well as claiming tax deductions. These records don’t get sent in with your return, but you’ll use them to calculate your total income and expenses for the year. And you need to have them on hand in the unlikely event you’re audited. 

Basic Info for Filing Small Business Taxes

  • Personal and business info: Your address, the address of your business, your full name, and your Social Security Number (SSN).

  • Last year’s filing: Having your previous return on hand makes it easier to complete this year’s return and keep track of info like depreciable expenses.

  • A tax ID number: There are a variety of different numbers you may use as a tax ID number—from your SSN to your employer identification number (EIN). Not sure which to use for your business? This article on tax ID numbers offers a handy rundown. 

Records of Small Business Revenue

  • Invoices you sent to clients: Keeping copies of sent and paid invoices helps you track your revenue, and can support your case if your revenue or income are ever called into question by the IRS.

  • Records of goods sold: Cash receipts, or transaction lists from an online store or point of sale, can serve as a record of revenue you’ve earned.

  • Other sales records tracking revenue: It’s smart to hold on to any records of revenue you’ve got. In lieu of organized bookkeeping and regular income statements, you can use them to calculate your revenue for the year.

Records of Expenses

By subtracting your expenses from your revenue, you get your total income for the year. That’s essential for filing. Also, many expenses are deductible—and if you make deduction claims, you’ll need to back them up.


Be sure to hold on to: 

  • Rent receipts

  • Office supplies receipts

  • Employee salaries

  • Mileage records

  • Other deductible expense receipts 

Annual Financial Statements

An income statement, balance sheet, and (if you use accrual accounting) cash flow statement for the year will make filing easy. Comprehensive financial statements give you all the info you need to file. If you don’t have financial statements for your business, now may be the time to hire a bookkeeper.

Essential Tax Forms and Deadlines

Once you’ve got your documents in order, get the forms you’ll need to file. The exact forms you’ll use, and the deadlines for filing, depend on your business structure.

Tax Forms and Deadlines for Sole Props

Filing Deadline: April 15, 2019 (the same as your personal taxes)


There’s no need to file a separate return for your business. Report your business income and expenses on Schedule C of your personal tax return. To claim itemized deductions, list them on Schedule A.


The IRS instructions will walk you through the process of tallying your expenses and revenue for the year, and determining your income. 

Tax Forms and Deadlines for LLCs

Filing Deadline: April 15, 2019 (single member)

Filing Deadline: March 15, 2019 (multi member)


If you’re a single member LLC, you’ll file your taxes the same way you would as a sole prop. 


If you’re a multi-member LLC, you elect to file taxes as either a partnership or an S corporation.

Tax Forms and Deadlines for Partnerships

The partnership files Form 1065, and each individual files a Schedule K-1 to report what they’ve made and lost during the year. Partners claim unreimbursed business expenses on Schedule E.


Partnership filings, and Form 1065, can get pretty complex. For this reason, we recommend working with a tax professional to file your taxes.

Tax Forms and Deadlines for C Corporations

Filing Deadline: March 15, 2019


In addition to your personal tax return, you’ll file one for your corporation using Form 1120. This form is similar to Schedule C of your personal tax return, but more complex—and separate from your personal finances. Most business owners hire an accountant to help with Form 1120. 

Tax forms and deadlines for S Corporations

Filing Deadline: March 15, 2019


You’ll file a Form 1120S for your corporation, and each shareholder will need to report their profits and losses with Schedule K-1. Similarly to a C corporation return, most S corps get help from an accountant to file taxes

Tax Forms and Deadlines for Businesses that Hire Contractors

Filing Deadline: Sent to recipients by January 31, 2019


If you’re paid $600 or more to a contractor, you need to file Form 1099. Once copy of this form goes to the IRS, for the sake of filing your own taxes; another copy goes to the contractor, so they can use it to file their taxes. You need to file a separate Form 1099 for each contractor.

How to File Taxes Online

Gone are the days of paper filings. The most efficient (and popular) way to file taxes with the IRS is online. 


To file your taxes online, you have two options: Free File, or Free File Fillable Forms.

IRS Free File

The IRS has partnered with 13 providers who offer free versions of their accounting software that you can use to file your taxes online. You’re automatically enrolled in Free File once you sign up with one of these providers—you don’t sign up through the IRS website.


Most providers offer a basic software package for free. These typically aren’t able to cover all the needs of a business—such as filing itemized deductions. You’ll need a paid version for that; the packages recommended for sole props range from $54.95 (1040.com) to $94.99 (H&R Block).

IRS Free File Fillable Forms

Essentially, Free File Fillable Forms lets you complete IRS forms online, through the IRS website. These forms will do basic calculations for you, but they don’t check for errors.


Fillable Forms will automatically calculate your tax refund, and you can elect to have it transferred directly to your bank account. You can also pay your taxes online.


If your business is small and relatively simple—like a sole prop—and you’re already experienced with filing taxes for your business, Fillable Forms may be a good choice. 


Otherwise, the process could take a while, and you’ll run the risk of making errors. In that case, you may be better off having someone file your taxes for you.

BenchTax

If you’re short on time and energy this tax season, and don’t want to wade into the depths of filing by yourself, consider BenchTax. With BenchTax, a team of professional bookkeepers will get your books caught up to the current month; then, they’ll work with tax experts to get your taxes filed accurately and on time—taking advantage of as many itemized deductions as possible.

How to Get an Extension

If it looks like you’ll be late filing taxes, file for an extension ASAP. It will save you from IRS late filing penalties, and getting an extension is pretty straightforward.


Filing a tax extension for your sole proprietorship or single-member LLC

If you plan to pay your taxes online, you can get a six month extension through the IRS payment portal.


Otherwise, you can request an extension by filing IRS Form 4868.


Filing a tax extension for your multi-member LLC, partnership, or corporation

You can file for a six month extension using IRS Form 7004

File Early, Rest Easy

If you can, file your taxes early—meaning, well before the deadline. This may take some prep, but it has advantages.


First, you’ll get your tax refund earlier. Remember, a tax refund is your money—you just happened to overpay it to the IRS, and they’re holding on to it. Your money isn’t collecting interest while the IRS holds it. The sooner you get it back, the sooner you can put it to work for your business.


Second, you’ll have the info you need to start planning your estimated taxes for the coming year—ticking one more item off your tax to-do list.


To file early, you’ll need tip top books. The more organized your books, the easier it is to get the numbers you need to file your return. The best way to stay organized is to do your bookkeeping throughout the year, rather than handling it all in one mad scramble come January.


Ready to get your books in order? Check out Bench. They’ll do one month of bookkeeping for you, free.



Tax time doesn’t have to be stressful. And it won’t be, so long as you have everything you need to approach it in an organized way. Your filing date, and the forms you need, vary according to your business structure—so make sure you know what’s what before the deadline comes.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Easy Guide to a Painless Tax Season/
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How to Take Care of Bookkeeping Efficiently

Spreadsheet fatigue, checking account strain, chronic bouts of “Now, where did I put that receipt?” All symptoms of inefficient bookkeeping.


If small business finances are eating up hours and stressing you out, it’s time for a change. Here’s how to handle bookkeeping in the most efficient way possible — so you spend less time crunching numbers, and more time helping your business thrive.

What is bookkeeping?

Bookkeeping is the day-to-day process of tracking money as it enters and leaves your business. 


That means you do two things:


  1. Record and categorize transactions

  2. Create financial reports that tell you the state of your business


When you’re on top of your bookkeeping, you can keep tabs on exactly how much cash you have to work with, plan for the future, and file taxes quickly, accurately, and on time. 

Bookkeeping vs. accounting

Bookkeeping tracks your finances both day-to-day and month-to-month. Accounting looks at the big picture — think yearly. A qualified accountant helps you plan for the future of your business, and make adjustments to help you save money.


To get help from an accountant, you need good bookkeeping records. The more comprehensive, organized, and up-to-date your bookkeeping is, the easier it is for your accountant to help you out. And fewer hours of work for them means less expensive accounting for you.

Bookkeeping options

Ready to kick off your bookkeeping journey? You have three options.


  1. Accounting software helps you do your own bookkeeping, with help from a program.

  2. A traditional bookkeeper will take care of your bookkeeping for you for an hourly rate.

  3. Online bookkeepers like Bench charge a monthly flat rate, handling your bookkeeping for you while giving you intuitive software to track and manage your finances.


We’ll cover all three options below.

How to handle bookkeeping

The three bookkeeping options — software, a traditional bookkeeper, and online bookkeepers — each come with their own strengths and weaknesses. The table below gives you a quick overview. 


Solution

Dollar cost

Time cost

Pros and cons

Accounting software

$9 – $70 per month

High

Pros:

  • Low dollar cost

  • Good way to learn bookkeeping hands-on

Cons:

  • High time cost

  • Learning curve

  • Potential errors

  • No personal support

Traditional bookkeeper

$20 – $40 per hour, usually with a minimum monthly cost

Medium

Pros:

  • Fairly low time cost

  • Face-to-face interaction

  • Protection from errors

  • Good with paper records

Cons:

  • May need you to deliver bank statements, etc. by hand

  • No software interface

  • Variable monthly rates

  • May be hard to contact during busy season

Online bookkeepers

From $119/mo.

Low

Pros:

  • Automatically imports bank and credit statements

  • Intuitive online interface

  • Monthly financial reports

  • Protection from errors

  • Bench offers tax filing

Cons:

  • Doesn’t work well with paper recordkeeping

  • May feel unfamiliar if you’re not used to using online services

Accounting Software

With accounting software, you enter your business transactions and categorize them yourself. The software separates them into different sections, and can automatically generate financial reports for you.


While accounting software streamlines DIY bookkeeping, it doesn’t handle it for you — meaning you’ll still need to spend time every month entering and categorizing transactions. And, if you make any mistakes, they’ll result in inaccurate books.


Dollar Cost

Xero, one of the most popular software options, ranges from $9 to $70, depending on the complexity of your books and which features you opt for.


Time Cost

The amount of time you spend bookkeeping will depend on how many transactions you need to enter each month, and how complex your business is. For a simple solo business, you should expect to spend at least several hours every month. 


Pros 

  • Low dollar cost. With simple bookkeeping starting at $9 per month, software is a cheap option. 

  • Good way to learn bookkeeping hands on. If you’re unfamiliar with most bookkeeping processes, accounting software can act as a learning platform. 


Cons

  • High time cost. Compared to having your bookkeeping done for you, accounting software can eat up a lot of hours every month.

  • Learning curve. Accounting software is designed to be adaptable. That means lots of options—and lots of functions to learn—even though only a few of those options may be relevant for your business. 

  • Potential errors. The software is a robot—it does what you tell it to. If you categorize a transaction incorrectly, or forget to enter one, the software won’t bat an eye. Meaning you’re on the hook for any errors in your bookkeeping—whether that means failing to accurately track expenses, or filing an incorrect tax return.

  • No personal support. Since there’s no individual or team working for you, if you need help, you’ll need to rely on help files, user forums, or—at best—a help hotline.


Who It’s Best For 

Accounting software is a good choice if you’re just getting your business off the ground, and you need basic bookkeeping functions to help you stay on track until you can hire a professional. 

Traditional Bookkeepers

A traditional bookkeeper is a local professional who does your bookkeeping for you. They may work independently as a freelancer, in partnership with other bookkeepers or accountants, or as part of a large national firm.


One benefit of hiring a local, traditional bookkeeper is that you can meet them in person. So, if your business relies on a lot of paper financial documents, that makes it easier to share them with your bookkeeper.


Dollar Cost

Most bookkeepers charge between $20 and $50 per hour, often with a set monthly minimum. The amount of time they need to spend on your books each month will depend on the complexity of your business.


Time Cost

With any bookkeeper, you should be prepared to spend a couple of hours each month—in case they need more information before categorizing transactions, or you need to deliver hard copies of transaction records.


Pros

  • Fairly low time cost. At a couple of hours each month, hiring a bookkeeper takes up much less of your time than doing your own bookkeeping.

  • Face-to-face interaction. You get a chance to meet with your bookkeeper in person and discuss your bookkeeping one-on-one.

  • Protection from errors. A bookkeeper experienced in your industry should have no problem delivering error-free books—meaning you don’t need to worry about inaccurate or late bookkeeping.

  • Good with paper records. Since you can work with them one-on-one, it’s easy to deliver paper records to your bookkeeper.


Cons

  • May need you to deliver bank statements, etc. by hand. If your bookkeeper doesn’t have access to your bank and credit card accounts, you’ll need to give them copies of your statements—none of your transactions are automatically imported.

  • No software interface. Every bookkeeper works differently, but most traditional bookkeepers can’t offer intuitive online dashboards like the ones provided by Bench.

  • Variable monthly rates. Since traditional bookkeepers charge hourly, the cost of bookkeeping can fluctuate month to month.

  • May be hard to contact during busy season. Especially for freelance bookkeepers, tax time is the busiest part of the year. If your bookkeeper is juggling lots of clients, expect a lag time when it comes to communication. 


Who It’s Best For 

Small businesses ready to have their bookkeeping handled professionally. Traditional bookkeepers are especially suited to businesses with lots of paper records.

Online Bookkeepers

For this example, we’ll be using Bench, the largest bookkeeping service in North America.


Bench gives you a team of bookkeepers who do all your bookkeeping for you. They automatically import transactions, categorize them, and prepare monthly financial statements for you. You can track your finances and communicate with your team through the Bench app.


Dollar cost

Bench starts at $119 per month (Starter), ranging up to $299 (Corporate.)


Time cost

Your team categorizes your transactions for you. But, if an unusual transaction shows up, they may ask you to categorize it in the Bench app. You should expect to spend less than one hour per month categorizing stray transactions. The longer you’re a client, and the more familiar your team becomes with your books, the less likely they’ll need to ask your opinion.


Pros 

  • Automatically imports bank and credit statements. Bench links up with your business accounts—meaning your team automatically tracks all your transactions for you.

  • Intuitive online interface. Bench’s app lets you view monthly financial reports, visual summaries, and cash flow data. You can also use it to message your team at any time.

  • Monthly financial reports. Monthly financial reports, plus the Year End Financial Report, give you all the info you need to track your business performance and accurately file taxes.

  • Protection from errors. Since your transactions are imported automatically, and a team of professionals categorizes for them, you don’t need to worry about making errors with your bookkeeping.

  • Bench offers tax filing. Bench has an additional tax filing service—so your monthly bookkeeping, financial reports, and taxes are all handled in one place.


Cons

  • Doesn’t work well with paper recordkeeping. Bench is an online service, working with digital records. If you have a lot of paper receipts or other records that need to be entered on the books, it isn’t a good fit for your business.

  • May feel unfamiliar if you’re not used to using online services. If you’re used to doing banking in person, and you’re not super comfortable with online services, Bench may not be a great fit for you.


Who It’s Best For 

Bench is a good choice for any business that’s grown beyond the just-a-hobby phase. It’s especially suited to business owners already familiar with handling banking and other back office tasks online.


from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Take Care of Bookkeeping Efficiently/
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Building a Voicemail Funnel System for Filtering Out Junk

You’re an hour into deeply intense work at your business—virtually a work-induced coma of concentration—when suddenly your phone buzzes. You’re tempted to leave it be, but the damage of distraction is already done. Maybe it’s an important client. Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe you’ve won the lottery.

You take it out of your pocket, only to hear:

“You’ve been pre-approved for an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation…”

Another junk call. You click it off, blink, and then wonder: Where was I?

Because the cost of distraction can be as high as 2.1 hours per day, this everyday work situation is far costlier than you might imagine. Your momentum is destroyed and you’re more tempted than ever to check your email or social media accounts. The morning is shot.

Before you let another call that should go to voicemail get through to you, it’s time to consider: why does this happen far too often?

The Problem: You’re Not Letting it Go to Voicemail

In the above scenario, you were tempted to let a call go to voicemail. Yet you felt compelled to take the call anyway. Why?

In most cases, it’s because you haven’t developed a voicemail system in which you can place your full confidence. Entrepreneurs think that we need to be accessible by phone 24/7—that if we don’t pick up, that customer is going to abandon us forever. We don’t trust our voicemail to do the work for us.

This problem is easily solved when you have an effective voicemail system in place—one that you can trust to route calls the right way and make everyone who calls you feel like they’re valued. Once you feel that your customers are taken care of, all that’s left are junk calls. That makes them much easier to ignore.

The Solution: Building a Voicemail Funnel System

To eliminate distractions, you’ll want to assemble a simple voicemail system that accomplishes the following:

Separating business vs. private calls.

The first thing to do at work is to ensure that there’s a line of clear demarcation between personal and private calls. You can still route both to the phone of your choice, but it’s important to use a voicemail system that distinguishes between the two.

The most important feature here is a dedicated business voicemail inbox. This will let you check any pertinent business voicemails at your discretion, which means you won’t feel that you have to pick up every time there’s potentially a business call on the line. When you separate the two, you’ll find it easier to follow up on every business call at once. This lets you “batch” your voicemail time and spend the rest of your time on focused, dedicated work.

Forwarding voicemails to your email inbox as MP3 files.

You can further detach yourself from the voicemail funnel by having each voicemail sent to you as an MP3 file. If you’d rather read each voicemail at once and determine for yourself which ones demand callbacks, you’ll be better able to prioritize each voicemail.

You’ll also want to make sure that customers don’t drop as soon as they find out you’re not going to pick up your phone. That’s why it’s important to incorporate the next feature as well:

Give your customers something to listen to.

Don’t forget that the voicemail experience isn’t all about you. It’s also about what happens when that customer picks up the phone and dials the number you gave them. Will they feel valued? Will they feel that their voicemail actually gets heard? Does the voicemail greeting sound professional enough that they can count on someone regularly checking their voicemail on the other end?

In the age of fast feedback quick results, many of us tend to give up before we even hear the “beep.” But if you have an enticing voicemail greeting, you’ll be able to get more people to leave their message and therefore let you know exactly what it is that you need to prioritize.

Setting Up a Voicemail Funnel System that Eliminates Distractions

If you have a voicemail system in place that can handle each of the variables above, you’re already one step ahead of most distractions. But if you want to be 100% confident that your voicemail system will take care of everything while you work, it won’t hurt to go the extra mile.

  • Set up incoming call control. If you block the most frequent “junk” callers from your phone, you’ll reduce the amount of incoming call traffic in the first place. Grasshopper, for example, allows you to screen incoming calls automatically, blocking those callers you know have frequently hit you with junk calls in the past.
  • Handling simultaneous calls. What happens if an important client calls while you’re already on the phone? Your phone system needs to be adaptable enough to handle simultaneous calls without throwing you off balance. Make sure that no important client ever hears a busy signal, but instead goes to a voicemail.
  • Call forwarding. If you need to get work done but don’t want to lose out on an important call, you can always outsource that call to another member of your team with call forwarding. Make sure that your voicemail system has that function in place and that you alert someone when they might be “on deck” for important incoming calls, especially when you’re doing distraction-free, dedicated work. You should also look into the call transfers that your current phone system has available.

Finally, make sure you always make time to look up your voicemails, read through them, and call back every client who wants a call back. That way you’ll let them know that in the future, leaving a voicemail with you is worth the time and effort—and they’ll be less likely to simply hang up and try again later.

Pulling Your Voicemail System Together in One Place

The more functionality you have with your business phone system, the simpler you’ll keep your voicemail funnel. That’s why it’s important to use a service like Grasshopper, where you can cull together every call and direct the incoming voicemails as you see fit.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Building a Voicemail Funnel System for Filtering Out Junk/
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How to Improve Communications with a Mobile Workforce

Not all teams huddle up before every play. If you have a mobile workforce—with a remote team across multiple time zones and contractors handling remote work—the idea of executing a singular strategy can seem like a pipe dream. But it’s possible to improve communications with your mobile workforce in such a way that you all operate as a single team—no matter where you are.

If there’s something lost in the remote work experience, it’s the face-to-face interaction that comes with daily work. Being unable to read someone’s body language can sometimes mean that certain aspects of your operation get lost in translation. How do you bring together a mobile team in a way that looks and feels like in-person interaction? We have a few ideas.

Strategies for Improving Communication with Your Mobile Workforce

These days, technology has made us more mobile than ever—the global mobile workforce has been over 39.3% for the past few years, which means you’re not the only one struggling to handle distributed team communication. But rather than guess your way forward, it’s important to have some proven strategies for bringing this distributed team communication to one central place. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use video conferencing to your advantage.Video conferencing technology is agile, effective, and adds that face-to-face layer that can change the context of your communication strategies. For distributed teams, it’s important to have that kind of face-to-face time through video calls in real-time. Whether you decide to schedule regular conferences or simply want additional tools at your disposal, add video conferencing to your communication channels.
  • Install at least one team-building activity. Team-building gets a bad rap. Many of us associate it with team-building exercises in traditional office settings, where the entire process seems redundant. But improving distributed team communication requires it. If there are ways for you to “gamify” the mobile workforce experience and turn activities into team builders, try them out. Toggl has a lengthy list of team-building activities you can try, including mobile apps.
  • Get everyone on the same page. One of the fastest ways to destroy communication within a distributed team is to have people running different apps and following independent structures. Make sure that you create a singular method of communication that all mobile remote workers are to use, and don’t be flexible here. It’s not only important to have an infrastructure in place, but to enforce that structure at the organizational level. For new remote workers, create an “onboarding document” that instructs them as to which apps they’ll need, how to communicate with other distributed workers, and where to send their communications. This will have a unifying effect on the entire team.
  • Listen to feedback. It’s not enough to build a system—you should be flexible enough to listen to your remote team when they provide feedback as to its effectiveness. Make sure to reach out to your mobile workforce on a regular basis and discover what they’re most concerned about. What do they think are the right tools? What would they do differently? When you start noticing common themes, you’ll know it’s time to adjust your strategy.
  • Build a culture. Before you start, you should decide what you want the culture of your agile teams to be. Do you want a highly independent company culture of self-motivated individuals? Then most of your priority should be in being able to identify them and train them for independence. Do you want a unified team despite the remote working schedule? Then invest in a culture that rewards communication and features regular standup meetings and team communication. If you’re in the position of leadership, the culture of your team is ultimately up to you.

Communicating with Customers

Bringing your mobile workforce together with an effective system will have the added benefit of making things easier on your customers. Here’s how:

  • Give customers the chance to reach you. Your customers should be able to dial a company number and reach the person best suited to handle their problem. When you connect a mobile workforce to the same phone system, you make it far more convenient for a customer to dial the appropriate extension.
  • Make your contact information freely available. Don’t just post your contact information on your website. Include a company number on any social media profiles and email signatures. 

Tools to Leverage: How to Incorporate These Strategies into Your Mobile Workforce 

It’s all well and good to talk about what you should do. But how do you pull it off? Here are some of the communication tools you should consider when building a better culture for your remote team.

Skype: Skype is one of the most popular work-life communication tools for remote teams thanks to its robust chatting and web conferencing features. Skype also has the advantage of being one of the most popular apps in remote working and web conferencing there is, so you won’t find it difficult to build a team with Skype capabilities.

Trello: Trello is a straight-forward project management app that makes it easy for teams to interact in a unified platform. The advantage here is that Trello makes it easy for everyone to get on the same page: they can see their current assignments and where these assignments fall within the pipeline. Of all the project management tools, Trello is one that’s going to be one of the best suited for teams with plenty of remote workers.

Zapier: Bringing a virtual team together can sometimes mean bringing in different apps and tools and making sure they function as one. That’s where a tool like Zapier comes in, automating some of the more repetitive tasks that your remote team shouldn’t have to handle themselves. For example, you can have Google docs automatically created based on the feedback of other apps, making it easy for the appropriate person in your team to access information—without adding an extra step of work for someone else on your remote team.

Google Hangouts: An easy way to get a team to talk to each other, Google Hangouts is a convenient service that will have your team feeling like an “office” team even if it’s only ever been remote. This is the kind of service that provides the feel of face-to-face meetings no matter where everyone might be.

Grasshopper: Call us biased, but one of the best ways to create the feel of a brick-and-mortar office setting—even if you have a team of remote workers—is to utilize a phone system that automatically forwards its calls to the appropriate team members. It doesn’t matter if one team member is in Australia and another is in New York—Grasshopper creates a professional portal for your clients and customers and ensures the appropriate team member gets their calls without a hitch.

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How to Improve Communications with a Mobile Workforce/
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Myths That Most People Believe About Cloud Storage

Although many people are using cloud storage, they are unaware of the benefits that it provides. Simply put, cloud storage is a service where data is maintained, managed, and backed up remotely. Businesses often have preconceived ideas about cloud storage that are founded in myth.

Myths About Migrating to the Cloud

  • It’s too complicated. Although there is a lot of data to upload when a company first migrates, cloud technology is efficient, and cloud providers have technicians who will help with the migration.
  • It has to be all or nothing. In fact, many companies begin with a single area and build over time. Businesses can custom-tailor the plan that works best for them within their budget.
  • Cloud services are only for large companies. Smaller businesses benefit significantly from cloud services because they do not need to power and maintain their own data servers. The reality is that cloud service is advantageous for businesses of any size.

Myths About Security in the Cloud

  • Security is compromised. Data and file security is a huge concern for any business. Firewalls and encryption often come as a standard part of cloud service, and files are maintained remotely by the business itself.
  • The cloud is maintained for you. The cloud service center typically maintains the hardware, but businesses manage their own data.
  • Everything uploaded is public. There are different domains for cloud services. Businesses need to choose whether to store applications on a public server or a private server.

Other Myths About the Cloud

  • It is difficult to save money using the cloud. Costs can be high, but often operating expenses are reduced. An analysis is key to finding savings.
  • The availability of all apps improves on the cloud. This only applies to apps designed specifically for the cloud.
  • The cloud causes job losses and environmental damage. In reality, many jobs are created as cloud-based technologies grow and develop. Energy use decreases as businesses choose to use the cloud rather than using their own in-house data centers.

 

from Lisa Peternel | Technology https://lisapeternel.com/myths-that-most-people-believe-about-cloud-storage/
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Creating a “Security Resilient” Company

You probably already know just how important security is for companies in the modern era. When it comes to securing your data, you want to make sure that you’re prepared for whatever is going to be thrown at you. Sadly, many companies fail to prepare for cyberattacks and other concerns properly. Creating a “security resilient” company is going to be possible if you follow the advice below. 

Make Your Security Team Better

Making your security team better is going to take time, and you’ll have to invest in making improvements. You need to have the right people in place, and you need to give them the right tools. Doing this is going to make you significantly more prepared for potential problems that you can run into. Every business should prioritize improvement to its security team in these trying times. 

Having the Right Security Culture Matters

Even having the right security culture in place at your company makes a difference. You want to watch out for threats from all angles. Your security team should be actively looking out for insider threats, as well as external ones. This is going to keep your company from being blindsided by potentially devastating security issues. 

Communication Between the Security Team and Leadership Is Crucial

It’s crucial to develop a good rapport with the security team. Leadership needs to communicate with the security team so that they can keep each other informed of what is going on. Out of all of the tips on this list, this one might be the most important. Take the time to work on building a good relationship with the security team so that your company can thrive.

Creating a Cyber Resilient Company Takes Time

Understand that sweeping changes to your security structure will take time to implement. You aren’t going to accomplish everything that you need to in one night alone. Even so, making the changes listed above will help to put you in a much better position. Do your best to keep an eye on security matters and take this topic seriously so that you don’t have to deal with problems down the road. 

from Lisa Peternel | Business https://lisapeternel.net/creating-a-security-resilient-company/
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6 Ways To Incorporate SEO While Building A Business in 2020

There’s no quick fix, or “one and done” solution when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). You have to be prepared to play the long game to see the full advantages of SEO when developing a site — and it’s worth it to see your site rank highly on search engine result pages.

That said, there are some methods that will give you a quick boost. Shift more attention to the most significant ranking factors and tactics that will give your site the ability to rise to the top of the search results this year.

Choose a Responsive Design

User experience is a big deal these days. Google loves to serve its users the best results possible. If your website isn’t easy to use on a mobile device, you’re going to suffer a setback in ranking. Think about it, have you ever landed on a site where you had to zoom in to read the text and scroll side-to-side to read all of the content? This was most likely the desktop version of a website. It was made for larger screens and doesn’t reformat to fit on different screen sizes.

Responsive sites will resize images and reorganize the blocks of content according to the size of the screen. If you want to test whether a website is responsive, open up a web page on a desktop or laptop. From the full screen, shrink the window by clicking and dragging, and you’ll see the sidebars move, the navigation and header will take on new positions and the content and images will line up differently. 

Mobile search volume accounts for more than half of the total searches made online (see chart below). A responsive, mobile friendly site is no longer an option, but a necessity, when it comes to providing an enjoyable user experience.

Create Keyword Clusters

Making a list of keywords that your ideal audience would use to find the content you’re offering will also boost your SEO ranking. Plug each keyword into a keyword tool to generate additional ideas. Assess the best options for keywords to include in your content strategy by grouping them into pools based on search intent. You’ll notice that many of those keyword options will be subtopics large enough to write an entire blog post about, in which you can provide more detailed content optimized for a related keyword.

For example, if you own a home improvement business, a central page on your site would be kitchen renovation. And because there are so many choices to make when renovating a kitchen, you could then go into depth and create a new page for every option, from counter tops and backsplash tile to faucets and refrigerators. When you’re planning your content, structure the website to feature central pages that are optimized for the most central, competitive keywords and most important aspects of your business.

Publish articles on the related subtopics in full detail in order to provide as much information on those major keyword topics, to show your expertise in your field, and to demonstrate authority within the content of your site. Google looks for this as partial evidence of your status as an expert in your niche.

Google also loves when there is a distinct organizational structure. By linking the subtopic posts to your major product pages, you signal what pages are most important to your site by creating a keyword cluster.

Picturejk-png

Image source: https://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/3-information-architecture/3-site-structure.html

Optimize Your Content

On-page optimization enhances the likelihood of your page being ranked for your target keywords. Avoid keyword stuffing and place your keywords strategically. For instance, use your target keywords in the front end of your titles, and keep your titles under 60 characters or they will get cut off in the search display.

Place your keyword in your URL. The most effective URLs are those that are under 5 words and summarize the title or content on the page. Keywords should also be included in the meta description. Using your keyword in the beginning of the meta description will improve the click-through rate for users. As will placing your keyword within the first 100 words in the first paragraph of your content, and using keywords and keyword synonyms in the subtitles.

Use structured data markup whenever possible. If you can provide a rich snippet, you may get a boost in the position your site is displayed.

Make Your Pages Quick and Nimble

With a heavy emphasis on user experience, page speed can make a huge difference in how your site performs. If you’re an ecommerce site, it becomes extremely important because every second your page takes to load will cost your business money from lower conversions.

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 mPulse Mobile Case Study on Page Speed Vs Conversion Rates, Image source: https://digitalducats.com/page-speed/

Test your mobile page speed here. You can improve your site speed by reducing image file sizes, using plugins, and using a content delivery network to give your website additional page speed.

  • To reduce the size of your images use Kraken or Smush.
  • W3 Cache is one of the most popular WordPress plugins that increase page speed, but you can decide for yourself by choosing one from this list.
  • Choose a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to reduce your pages load time from a list of options here.

Get Other Sites to Link to You

Establishing credibility and authority is a necessity to be competitive in search results. Backlinks are a powerful way to prove that your content is credible and authoritative because essentially it is being endorsed by the websites that link to you. But stay away from paid links, or any link scheme used to manipulate ranking in an underhanded way. Unnatural linking will lead to penalties and should be avoided altogether.

One approved method of link building is to become a guest author. There are guest posting sites in every niche and having knowledge about your business is all you need to create an article that can be submitted to a site for publication. It may take a few weeks to get a response, and you may need a few submissions before receiving acceptance. Get into a routine for guest posting to build backlinks as fast as possible.

Ask People to Share Your Content

A social network is a priceless asset for expanding your audience and getting more traffic to your website. Build your network by being active on the social media site that has the most impact on your business.

Install social sharing icons on your site and include a call to action to get the most shares. A retweet study revealed that content with share icons received 4 times as many retweets with the phrase “Please RT”.

Conclusion

Although there is a lot to put together to achieve a first page result, it’s a long-term game plan. Start building your website with SEO in mind to give your site the best chance at the top positions in search results.

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/6 Ways To Incorporate SEO While Building A Business 2020/
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5 Lessons for Building a Larger Professional Network

In the age of digital nomads, freelance enterprise, and the gig economy, it can be difficult to build a professional network the traditional way. But you don’t have to let that limit you. Today’s technology may seem like it gets in the way of fostering genuine connections, but the opposite is often true. If you know how to leverage social media and digital communication into a broader network, you can build a system of business connections that goes far beyond your local community. Here’s how.

Lesson #1: Go Face-to-Face

Today’s gig economy is full of phone calls, emails, social media interactions, and the like—essentially, anything but the face-to-face method of doing business. But face-to-face interactions haven’t lost their value in the slightest. If anything, they’re at a premium in the digital age, which makes these face-to-face connections more important than ever.

But if you’re an entrepreneur whose business exists almost solely online, this can be a challenge. How do you get out of your bubble and meet people in the real world?

  • Attend conferences. If you exist within just about any niche with a large enough digital following, there will be more than enough opportunities to attend conferences that bring you face-to-face with colleagues and subject matter experts.
  • Find co-working spaces. A co-working space in your area is a fine excuse to get out of your bubble and interact with new people. Not everyone will be a valuable business connection, but that’s not always the point.
  • Find MeetUp groups. MeetUp.com is full of leisure activities—hiking, salsa dancing, and the like—but it’s just as valuable for networking professionals like yourself. Chances are, your local metropolis already has an active MeetUp group just waiting for new members to join in.

Lesson #2: Enhance Your Social Media Presence

Some criticize social media and say it gets in the way of genuine human interaction. Hogwash. The technology is there for you to find new business connections. Here’s what you’ll need to do on each platform:

  • LinkedIn. Join and participate in groups of professional interest to you. It only takes a few moments of your time to participate in a LinkedIn group, but you’ll find that these connections can be far more rewarding than you’d ever imagine.
  • Twitter. Find the types of people you would want to engage with and…begin engaging with them. Make sure that you reply, engage, and interact online. Don’t forget to add value with every self-directed post you make on Twitter and make yourself worth the return follow.
  • Facebook. Launch a Facebook business presence and interact with customers—and don’t forget to join Facebook groups, just the same way you might interact with people on LinkedIn. Stay connected to your industry and you’ll find that many of the connections rise naturally.

Lesson #3: Don’t Limit Yourself to One Location

This may seem to fly in the face of Lesson #1, but it’s important to remember that instant communication should open new networking opportunities, not limit them. If you can’t get face-to-face interactions, be willing to make connections even on a digital basis with other people like yourself.

When a potential client reaches out to you for a video conference when you’d prefer an email, try indulging them. When you receive a potential lead via email that doesn’t seem like much, give your full effort. Explore every avenue you have available to you, because in the 21st century, you have the advantage of not sticking to one single location.

Lesson #4: Don’t Close Doors

In some professions, you’ll be exposed to a large number of potential clients. Many of these potential clients will deem you not a “fit” for their needs. That’s life.

The important thing to remember here: don’t close any doors before their time. Rather than warn these potential clients that they’re “making a huge mistake” or ignoring them entirely, make sure that you keep them in your Customer Relationship Management software. Let them off nicely. Tell them that if they go in a different direction and it doesn’t work out, you’d still be open to hearing from them.

Not every lead will return to you this way. But some will. There’s no reason to end a potentially lucrative business relationship before it begins just because you feel your pride wounded at any point in the interaction.

Lesson #5: Prepare Yourself to Give a Little More Than You Get

One of the best habits when it comes to fostering new business connections is to stop looking for what you can get from these interactions—and start looking for what you can give.

You’ll see this principle plays itself out across a range of strategies for your business.

In content marketing, you should aim to create content that’s more than worth the price of admission—in this case, a free click to your website. Give away some of your best information. Give away the goods. Spend time and energy on creating something of genuine value so that when people visit your blog, they feel that their time wasn’t wasted.

One of the most effective ways to close a sale is to utilize the law of reciprocity, an essential element from Robert Cialdini’s famous book Influence. The strategy here is simple: you give something away. You do your potential lead a favor. The need to reciprocate will help drive them to take further action with your company.

In business networking, be willing to introduce people to each other. If you’re overloaded on client work or can’t handle any more customers, refer a client in need to someone who can help them. You’ll get nothing out of this interaction, of course. But you will meet the needs of other people, which means you’ll be first in mind when they have something to reciprocate.

In social media, think of what kind of profile you would want to follow. Would you follow you? If you don’t have a large following already, the chances are that the answer is: probably not. Create genuine value with insightful links, relevant sources, and original thoughts.

Building a Larger Network, One Connection at a Time

These lessons are a solid primer on building a larger business network. But try to make a habit out of them. Stop closing the door on leads. Start participating with groups online. Go out beyond your bubble with the intent to see what kind of people are out there. Even if results don’t come right away, you’ll build a larger network of people who know you—and think about you—in no time.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/5 Lessons for Building a Larger Professional Network/
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