How to Enhance Workplace Collaboration

Workplace Collaboration is possible using a few key tips and technologies

Entrepreneurs understand the value of a having a team that is highly collaborative. When starting a new business, every employee has to be on the same page — a task that is increasingly difficult if your team works remotely, as many start-ups do. Without the forced face time that comes with a traditional office, how do entrepreneurs promote collaboration among employees? Luckily, as the number of remote workers has risen, over 80 percent between 2005 and 2012, there has also been an increase in helpful collaboration tools for all kinds of workplaces. For truly effective collaboration, though, you not only need to choose the right tool, but you also need the right equipment and a culture that encourages openness and sharing.

Essential Equipment

Start with the basics — the equipment. Even the most amazing collaborative software will be ineffective if it is not paired with good hardware. For remote employees, a smartphone is the most important tool you can provide. Pair a good smartphone with affordable, unlimited coverage that won’t stretch your budget and will allow your team to use the other collaborative tools you decide to employ with no restrictions. In addition to a smartphone, your team will need heavy-duty laptops with video capability and fast and reliable internet access.

Choose a Collaborative Tool

The right tool for your team will depend on the nature of your business and the size of your team. You want whatever system you choose to be able to function fully as an app on a smartphone or on a laptop or desktop. Here are four of the best workplace collaboration tools.

a) Slack – Slack, and its competitor HipChat, are real-time communication apps. The Slack app allows team members to message each other, screen share and video conference. Slack stores and archives conversations so that they can be retrieved later easily with relevant hashtags. For many businesses, Slack is used in place of email.

b) Dropbox – Dropbox is a filing sharing app that allows team members share and edit files and documents in real time from any device.

c) Asana – For a more robust workflow system, Asana is hard to beat. PCMag gave it their Editors’ Choice award, and use Asana as their internal project management system. Among many other customizable functions, Asana allows users to break projects into tasks, assign tasks to the right team members, monitor progress and communicate at every step. Asana also integrates with other platforms like Slack for communication and Dropbox or Google Drive for file sharing.

d) Igloo Software – For an all-in-one collaboration tool suitable for a smaller business, check out Igloo Software. Igloo is a pre-built intranet system with features including real-time communication, forums to discuss specific projects, task management templates and file sharing. While not as slick as other intranet systems, Igloo is intuitive to use and easy to set up.

Create a Collaborative Culture

The truth is that no collaborative software system is going to be effective if you don’t put in the work to create a culture of collaboration. Effective collaboration happens when teams brainstorm openly and feel comfortable discussing and questioning ideas in a non-judgmental way. For this to happen, you need to actively encourage regular interaction with programs like mentorships, staff retreats and regular meetings to share successes and shortfalls.

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Business Brainstorming: Creative Ways to Finance Your Startup

You’ve got the idea; you’ve got the drive. Now all you need is the money to get started on your new business. Unless you are one of a very small group, you are going to have to raise it somehow. You can approach the bank for a loan, or you can explore some different options.

Loan or Equity

There are two main ways to raise cash to start your business, and you need to decide which works best for you.

A loan can be straightforward. You receive a sum of money to invest in your business, and you pay it back later. You remain in control of your business, but your overheads now include the interest and your cash flow is affected by repayments.

Equity is effectively the sale of part of your business to an investor. You do not have the burden of repayments, but you will share the profits and lose some control.

Do It Yourself

You may not have cash to hand, but you probably have assets that you could use to raise a loan—your house, perhaps. You are borrowing money against your own property to invest in your business. If the business fails, you could lose your home—but the fact that you have put your money where your mouth is will encourage other investors.

Family and Friends

Many entrepreneurs start off by borrowing from close contacts, or by offering them a share in the business in return for a startup investment. If you go this way, have your agreement drawn up professionally—informal arrangements are a recipe for disaster. Remember that if things go wrong, you could lose your friends as well as your business.

Line of Credit

A flexible way to borrow money is through a line of credit, where you negotiate a maximum amount that you can borrow (rather like a credit card) and then borrow and repay in a way that is convenient to you. http://businesslineof.credit/ is a good source of information about the loans that are available.

Crowdfunding

This online way to find investors has become very popular in recent years. Using one of the many platforms, you can put out your business vision to a very large number of individuals, who can either lend money or invest in the equity of your business.

Angels

Rather than seek a large number of small investments through crowdfunding, you could try to reach a smaller number of individuals with significant funds to invest. They often operate through groups, and your local chamber of commerce may be able to put you in touch.

Small Business Administration 

The government is committed to creating a good environment for small businesses, so you may qualify for an SBA loan. These are targeted at particular areas, and it is well worth researching whether you are eligible.

Explore the Ground

There are many avenues to raise cash to get a new business off the ground. By getting to the stage of needing startup money, you have already demonstrated resolution and commitment. You need to draw on that same resolution to nail the deal that is right for you.

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Small Business Loans: A Miniguide for First Time Applicants

If you are launching a new business or trying to grow an existing small venture there is a good chance that you will need to apply for some funding to help you fulfill your plans and ambitions.

Applying for a small business loan can be daunting and confusing in equal measure, so here are some pointers to help you negotiate your way through the jargon and the various requirements you will normally be asked to satisfy.

It starts with a business plan

You can check here for some details of the loan options available but before you make any sort of application for a business loan you will need to have a few things ready for when you are asked to provide further information to support your application.

Anticipating the sort of data and details that a lender will want will help speed up the process and will also show that you are organized and on the ball.

The standard procedure for making a business loan application is to provide supporting documentation that demonstrates why you need the money and how you are going to repay the amount borrowed.

Your business plan should include a comprehensive set of projected financial statements, which should include profit and loss figures, a cash flow projection and an up to date balance sheet.

If you are unsure how to put all these figures together or need some help, it would be a good idea to use an accountant so that the data is accurate and credible, which is vital to the success of your application.

Expect a grilling

It would be fair to say that lenders are very thorough and stringent with their loan application checking process so be prepared for plenty of additional questions and requests for further information.

You should not take these higher expectations and additional questions as a negative, in fact, it shows that they are taking your loan application seriously and are trying to tick all the boxes so that they can lend you the money.

Collateral requirements

The strength of your credit profile and your business proposal can influence how much security your lender requires which means they might ask for collateral in return for granting the loan.

Some loan programs do not require any collateral and if you are asking for a smaller amount it might not be considered necessary. If you don’t want to risk your home or business ownership by offering collateral, you might be able to get a business loan for the amount you need but it will probably limit your choice of lenders and options.

Check your credit score

It is always a good idea to keep track of your current credit score and know what existing lenders and finance providers are saying about you and your payment history.

You will need to have a good clean credit file if you are going to get the best loan rates offered to you, as your risk profile is adversely affected by bad credit.

Make sure you check your file before you apply so that you have a good idea of how successful you might be with your loan application.

Lenders are often willing to try and guide you through the process so if there is anything you don’t understand or want to question, don’t feel like you are unable to ask, as it is important to get everything right.

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South of the Border Startups: Understanding the Legalities of Starting a Business in Latin America

Many people move to Latin America after they’re retired, but those who aren’t ready to bid farewell to the workforce may consider moving down south to start a business. Though opening a successful business is difficult no matter what country you’re in, there are some unique challenges to starting your own company in this particular part of the world. Here are some basics for those who want to build their startup in paradise.

Don’t Be Afraid to Work With Agencies

In many Latin American countries, agencies facilitate many of the processes of starting a business. You’ll work with real estate agents and lawyers just to get a property, and it may be worthwhile to get involved with other local agencies that can help you make connections with your target end consumers.

Build Relationships

As with any business anywhere in the world, building relationships is one of the key components to finding success. In the United States, we’ve grown accustomed to doing a lot more networking over digital channels as opposed to taking clients out for dinner or having in-person meetings. Yes, Latin America is rapidly catching up with the US and Europe when it comes to using social media channels and beyond, but don’t underestimate the power of getting to know potential partners and consumers in person.

Understand Your Market

Avoid thinking about Latin America as one, single place, and really dive deeper into the culture of the country where you’re planning to open your business. This goes for setting prices points that are in line with what people in the area expect to spend if you’re catering to locals. Consider hiring people who understand the current business climate, as well as people who work in the country of your choice and can cater to on-site needs.

On the flip side if you’re thinking of opening a hotel or other type of business with a target audience of tourists there’s another set of rules to take into account. Entrepreneurs looking for hotels for sale in Costa Rica, for example, will need to look at the location and get a sense of the demographics of the people heading into town.

Know There’s a Difference in Legalities

In Costa Rica, for example, there are a number of laws that dictate how your company must be named. The name of your Sociedad Anόnima (or S.A. the Spanish language equivalent of a Co.) must be unique and approved by the Registro de Marcas de Comercio.

Additionally, there must be at least two owners in order to establish a company in Costa Rica, and you must account for small details like how many times you’ve been married, if you’re divorced and why you only have one last name (in Spanish-speaking cultures, most people take both parents’ last names). You’ll also need to set up an official home address, which may pose some problems if you have yet to make the move down south.

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How to Have a Successful Trade Show

Trade shows are a great way for your company to make an in-person introduction and pitch to potential clients. For many companies it is the only opportunity to meet them face-to-face, display their products and create a working relationship. Companies often spend months and tens of thousands of dollars on their display booths at these events hoping to present themselves in a good light. The stakes can be high, so it is imperative that they put their best foot forward. Here are some tips to ensure that your company has a very successful trade show.

Make Sure Your Booth is Special

There will be hundreds of booths at the trade show and at least a dozen or more from companies in your same product category all fighting for the attention of the same potential clients. To make sure attendees pay attention to your booth, you need a booth that really stands out in the crowd. This of course starts with your getting the best location for your booth which requires you booking early and maybe paying more for prime space, but it could be worth it.

Your booth needs to be high quality and convey your company’s image, values, and product or service capabilities and at the same time be attractive and compelling to attendees. Good quality booths can be used for years. So splurge on high-end materials throughout.

Consider using popular themes for your booth. Movie and television theses are a good choice. Just make sure you can fully commit to making it look great. A poorly executed popular theme could backfire.

Make abundant use of display plinths to strategically place your products and company brochures around your booth so that no matter which way someone might enter they will be front and center.

Your booth theme should also include your team and how they dress and act. Perhaps putting everyone in cool or funny shirts might work. It is also no secret that many companies hire pretty young ladies to work their booths. This strategy can be really effective as long as you make sure that attendees make the connection between them and your company.

Whatever strategy you choose, the bottom line is you want your booth and your company to get noticed.

Giveaways Really Work

A sure way to get people to notice you is by offering them something for free. It is a fantastic way to engage people and educate them on your products as well. The best giveaways are something related to your product or even the product itself. If you are a food company set up free samples of your product and have your team standing by to explain the benefits of each one being sampled. If your product is software, you can offer sample versions of it and have the sample being displayed on computer screens in your booth. This gives attendees an opportunity to see your product and then walk away with a freebie they can try later.

Even offering a cup of coffee or piece of candy is a great idea. Freebies also position your team to ask for contact information about the person. When you give something people often feel obligated to give something in return. Take advantage of this and have a quick way to take down someone’s details.

Use Social Media to Increase Activity

Social media sits at the center of many people’s lives and many of those people are your potential clients. So it can play a critical part in your having a very successful trade show. Before the trade show use social media to connect with clients and potential clients and give them a preview of what they can expect from your company. Use this as a chance to preview any products you will be showing and if new products will be unveiled, use this medium to build up the hype.

During the trade show you can use social media to keep everyone informed about what is going on at your company’s exhibition booth. Any special performances, giveaways and demonstrations can be touted on a minute to minute basis. Using social media can also give you quality feedback during the trade sow and help your team to better manage their time. You can also use it to give directions to anyone who is having trouble locating your booth.

For those who could not come to the trade show social media gives them an opportunity to experience what your company did at the trade show. They will also see how active you are about your company and products and this will garner additional excitement about being in business with you.

Use these tips to improve your performance at your next trade show. They can make a huge difference in returns on your investment.

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Mastering management skills to help your business succeed

There’s no getting around it: one of the key contributors to failure in small and medium-sized businesses (and sometimes even big ones) is poor management. Altogether too many people think that because they can build a business they can run one, and try to learn on the job. Others get out of their depth at a departmental level, inadvertently undermining the rest of the enterprise. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. What makes the difference is recognizing that a manager isn’t just there to tell people what to do – good management requires specific skills. If you want to make a success of it, these are some of the things you have to learn.

Strategic thinking

The first thing you need to understand is that management isn’t just internal – it’s about understanding the position of each department within the company as a whole, understanding how that company fits into its sector, and understanding how that sector fits into the wider economy. This makes it possible to make effective decisions about actions that are needed and how finances should be managed. A manager has to be able to see the big picture, and should aim to plan about three years ahead while remaining flexible enough to account for changing circumstances.

Networking

Part of a manager’s job is to network, both within the company and outside it. Good networking brings in opportunities for improving the mechanics of the supply chain. It provides the chance to keep on learning new techniques for internal use, and it helps you to keep your finger on the pulse as far as developments within your sector are concerned. Networking doesn’t just take place at formal events, so you should be ready to get out and about and build up useful social connections.

Time management

In order for a business to run smoothly, everybody needs to be coordinated. This means that sticking to deadlines is really important. Managers not only need to get their own work done on time but also need to make sure that everybody in their teams do. This isn’t just about pushing people. You’ll also need to be aware of their individual capacities and make sure that work is portioned out in a manner that is practical, even if that doesn’t always seem fair.

Setting objectives

In order to facilitate work getting done on time and employees being able to engage with it enthusiastically, managers need to be able to set clear objectives and persuade their teams of their importance. At the most basic level, employees know that their livelihood depends on the company’s success, but they need to understand why particular actions are important to that success, and they need to have a clear picture of what’s required of them. As a rule, they will be more efficient when they can see how what they have been asked to do will contribute to the whole.

Communication

Communicating successfully with employees, board members, and others requires real flexibility on a manager’s part. This is one of the most important aspects of the job, and the reason why, for instance, Washington State’s online MBA program offers specialist courses in communications. First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that individuals vary and that information can’t always be delivered in a one-size-fits-all way. To be successful, you will need to be able to identify and adapt to the needs of your team. You’ll also need to be strong on formal communication techniques, especially for external use.

Investing in people

Ultimately, a manager can achieve nothing without a good team, but it’s the manager’s job to refine and develop that team. This means that you’ll need to be able to identify talents that should be brought to the fore, deal with clashes between team members, and identify weaknesses that suggest the need for additional training. All this will be more successful if your team members feel valued as individuals and are able to develop real trust in you, so you will need to work hard to be seen as supportive, attentive, and fair.

Good management enables a business to optimize its assets – including human ones – and punch above its weight in the marketplace. Management skills can be learned, but this is only possible when managers accept that they don’t know everything already and are willing to see themselves not only as bosses but also as functional parts of a larger business organism. If you’re ready for this, sharpening up your skills could enable you to take your business to the next level.

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Net Worth: Why You Should Track it closely for Financial Success

A person’s net worth is the ultimate determinant of their sum wealth. The net worth is the result of deducting liabilities from the assets. Calculating the net worth gives one a clear picture of the total cost and earned and spent in a lifetime. Tracking the net worth helps one keep their goals and perspective in check. For example, if a person’s total amount of assets amounts to $200,000 and liabilities equals $300,000, the individual will have a negative net worth of -$100,000. It is crucial to establish the financial status of a person or an enterprise so as not to accrue a deluded sense of net worth and fail to achieve success.

Reasons why it is imperative to track the net worth 

1. Considering that net worth is the honest reflection of a person’s wealth, it is a perfect way to determine if one is making positive or negative financial progress. Bob Berger of Forbes.com, states that a constant or increasing net worth is a sign that investments are bringing positive returns. A declining net worth means that one should deduce which activity is draining the money and work towards adjusting the situation.

2. A clear picture of the net worth eliminates the notion that income is equal to one’s wealth status. A person earning $500,000 per year with liabilities amounting to $200,000 in a year is worth $300,000. The same result applies to an individual making $350,000 with liabilities amounting to $ 50,000 annually. With this concept in mind, it is easier for one to plan the steps towards realizing financial success by reducing liabilities to increase the net worth. Besides, considering the assets only when establishing net value, such as a home or a successful investment, is a misguided way to achieve success. The difference between the property and the liabilities like debt determines the exact net worth.

3. When applying for a loan, most banks and lending firms will evaluate the borrower’s sum net worth to determine credibility. A bad credit loan automatically disqualifies one from receiving the cash. Keeping a positive net worth helps one acquire a higher credit limit that can be helpful in expanding one’s investments and ultimately reach goals.

4. A good net worth is essential in keeping the debt status in perspective. A significant amount of loan offsets a lot of people. However, if one’s net value exceed the amount, then it is clear that the debt level is not extreme. A loan that exceeds the net worth means that one should probably cut down on the amount borrowed and live within affordable ways to amass wealth. A low net value to loan ratio is also a great motivation for one to find means to realize a higher rate that translates to increased prosperity.

According to Investopedia.com, the net worth is bound to experience fluctuations just like the financial health of any other industry. As a result, the net worth will reflect the status of the financial health of the various assets and liabilities. It can be difficult to establish one’s long term goals and short term goals without a clear picture of the money owed and money earned. Determining the ultimate net worth with the help of a financial analyst, or a convenient net worth determining software application will save one the stress that comes from tapping into savings and investments, and accumulating unwarranted debt.

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Keeping Your Eye on the Ball: How to Stay on Top of Your Business Overheads and Taxes

Being self-employed is challenging enough for most people, but trying to keep up with business records while focusing on keeping everything running can be downright difficult. Yet keeping accurate business records is a legal requirement.

Besides, if you can manage to keep track of your bookkeeping, you might also save money. Organized business records make it easier and faster to prepare your end-of-year accounts, so you save money on accounting costs.

Related: Last minute tax tips

When your book-keeping is accurately documented, you also have the advantage of being able to monitor your business’s cash flow at a glance.

Related:

The problem many self-employed people face is knowing exactly what to record. Here are some tips for staying on top of your business records.

  • Invoices: All the invoices you receive need to be tracked accurately. Include information about the amount, the date the amount was paid, the name of the company or customer and what the invoice was for.
  • Receipts: Staying on top of your expenses is the easiest way for your business to remain tax-efficient. Keep track of any receipts that relate to your work in any way.  Your accountant can offer some advice about which expenses you can claim as a self-employed person.
  • Business Expenses: There are some business expenses that may not receive receipts. For example, if you have a credit card for your business, you might use your bank statements to keep track of some expenses instead of recording receipts.
  • Keep Personal Finances Separate: Many self-employed people combine their business and personal finances in the same accounts. However, no matter what size your business might be, it’s important to keep business and personal finances separated. Open a separate bank account to for your business funds and use this account to cover your expenses. You’ll find it much easier to keep track of what’s been spent on business. You also won’t be wasting time trying to break down which expenses related to what entity at tax reporting time.
  • Use the Right Apps: Self-employed people can make their lives much easier by using the right apps to record and track their accounts on the go. If you enter in one or two items every couple of days, you’re staying on top of your records as you go. You’re also saving plenty of time, as you won’t need to spend long hours at the end of the reporting period trying to catch up with all those entries.
  • Back-up Regularly: No matter how busy you are, make the time to back up your records on a regular basis. There’s nothing worse than suffering a hard-drive failure or technical disaster and losing your business records in the process.

Staying on top of your business records doesn’t have to be a time-consuming chore. The key is to take financial control and be sure your records are up to date on a regular basis. You’ll end up saving a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

Related: How to be a great landlord

 

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7 Steps to Healthy Time-Management

Who among us couldn’t use a little more organization in our lives? Whether you are just discovering the wonders of  planners or you are hyper-organized already, there are a few ways you can work smarter, not harder toward accomplishing this goal. We’ve gathered seven simple tasks that can set you on the path to perfect planning

1. Create Categories

Just about everyone has some basic categories under which all their tasks fall. These are things such as:

  • Home
  • Work
  • Family
  • Personal
  • Money
  • Long-term

Keeping your to-do list and appointments organized based on these headings can make a huge list seem more manageable. Plus, tasks in some categories, such as “home” may only be possible to accomplish on the weekends, which helps you prioritize your weekdays. The opposite could be true for “money,” which mostly must happen between Mondays and Fridays.

Related: Increase productivity with standing desks

2. Consider Color

Once you’ve created your categories, you might want to assign a color to each one. Get yourself a rainbow pack of highlighters or writing pens and then color-code all of the entries in your planner. If you are a visuals-oriented person, this method can help you see what you need to be working on with just a glance. As an added bonus, having a little color on your list makes it seem a bit less intimidating – and all the more rewarding when you cross a task off the list.

3. Brain Dump

When putting together your planner, try to think of every possible thing you want to get done. Be specific, and don’t feel you have to leave things out because they are too big as projects. Include birthdays, appointments, phone calls to make, household chores and goals you want to accomplish. After you’ve written down everything you can think of, then it is time to organize the list according to category and priority.

4. To-Don’t List

Many people struggle to stay organized because they spend time on tasks that are more pleasurable than the harder chores in the planner. But these distractions usually work against you. It is OK to create a to-don’t list, which will include things you want to accomplish someday but not in the immediate future. When you start to feel yourself go on a tangent, remember to stick to the to-do list and not the productivity-sapping to-don’t list.

5. Consolidate Calendars

If you have a anniversary/birthday/holiday calendar, a medical appointment calendar and a work deadline calendar, you are juggling too much. Find one planner format that will accommodate all the different scheduling types that you maintain and fit the important stuff into that. That way, you will have a wide overview in front of you at all times, and you can even color code each type of task (see No. 2, above).

6. Planner Pamper

The only thing that competes with the satisfaction level of crossing something off a to-do list is the handfeel and aesthetic nature of an attractive, well-organized planner. The smell of the pages, the geometric designs of the calendar pages and the heft of the book all add to the appeal. Even if you are more drawn to electronic planning apps or your cell phone calendar, there’s something appealing about choosing the system and look that’s just right for you.

7. Make It a Habit

Finally, take the time to update your chore lists and appointments every day. Not only will you keep on top of your time management, you’ll also be creating a healthy habit after a stretch of time. It doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes to cross things off or add them, and you’ll be glad you made the time.

Getting organized isn’t difficult when you get a planner, make your list and keep it updated. These seven tips should keep you on track.

You might also enjoy: Mini-guide for home business

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What Does it Take to Make a Great Landlord

As someone who has been both tenant and landlord, I wanted to write this piece for anyone who is considering letting out property to ensure that you are doing the best for yourself, your property and ultimately, your tenants. There are a lot of landlords out there who simply don’t do the best by their tenants and this can not only make your and their lives more difficult, but can also prevent you from finding tenants who are happy to stay long term which is the best solution for any landlord. Let’s take a look then at what makes a truly great landlord.

Business First

It is vital to remember that renting out property is a business and should be treated as such, it is not a hobby or something you do in your spare time. Because of this you need to ensure that you are professional at all times, the tenants are your clients and they should be treated as such. Make sure that you have secured both the property and the tenants with great landlord insurance, I like to use homelet.co.uk/landlord-insurance/, the choice is yours but make sure that you have sufficient insurance.

When it comes to payments and information that you need to give your tenants, ensure that they receive them in a timely manner, doing so will make it clear that you expect the same in return when it comes to paying rent.

Be Responsive

You are letting out your property as it has been shown to your tenants and if anything should go wrong with the property then you need to be on hand to find a solution. So many landlords that I have either worked with or that my friends have worked with have been painfully slow when it comes to responding to problems. If you want to be  a great landlord then you need to fix problems as soon as they arise.

Screening Process

The one thing that costs landlords more money than anything else is unpaid rent, trashed properties and midnight disappearing acts. You can never totally avoid the possibility that this could happen but you can reduce the chances by following a thorough screening process and use due diligence. Ensure that your prospective tenant has no recent evictions, no recent felonies and has good references from previous landlords, you should also be asking for 3 months rent up front to give yourself some peace of mind.

Be Respectful

You don’t have to like your tenants, you don’t have to be chummy with them or condone of their decoration choices, you do however have to be respectful. Many landlords see their tenants as though they are some kind of problem, this is not the case and as mentioned before, these are your clients. In order to have the best possible relationship with your tenants, ensure that you give them the respect that they deserve.

Be Ready

As a landlord you are going to need the help of several professional services and it is important that you are ready with contact details when the time comes. An emergency plumber, a heating engineer, steam cleaners or indeed, a letting agent are all numbers that will come in handy and you should try to strike up a bond with them so that they can come to your need when it’s required.

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