Revise Your Business Plan Before Year’s End

At Writing It Right For You, we work primarily with small businesses or the marketing departments of larger businesses. We realize that the recommendations of this post may not be relevant to large enterprise operations.

It’s almost the end of the year. It’s the holiday season. You’re busier than usual. We get it, we really do. But before the clock strikes 12 on December 31, you should add one more important task to your end-of-the-year list: revising your business plan: what happened in the previous and what needs to change in the next year.

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Your business plan was never meant to be a static, one-time document. Instead your business plan is a road map that you should use continuously to ensure that your business stays on track with your goals and objectives. Ideally, you should review your business plan at least quarterly—especially the marketing plan and financial forecasts. But at the end of the year, it is important to review and revise your entire business plan because things have definitely happened in the current year that will impact what you do in the upcoming year.

Set aside several hours before you close down for the year to do a comprehensive review of your business plan so that by the time the new year rolls around, you will be refocused, have new and/or revised priorities, and success plans and metrics in place.

  • Begin with your “wins.” What went well this year? What goals did you meet? What new initiatives actually worked? What a physical and psychological list of all of the positives first, and then you’ll be better able to deal with the inevitable elements that didn’t go so well.
  • Revisit your SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Be honest. It’s better to know that not know what challenges you may face in the new year and the tools and processes you already have or need to have in place.
  • Revise your cash flow projections month-by-month. Look back at the current year, check with your accountant, gather your figures, and complete an in-depth analysis.
  • What were your key marketing initiatives? Do you have an ROI estimate. Which can be changed or replaced?
  • Review your pricing structure? Is it time to adjust or even raise your prices? What products or service offerings were the “best sellers” in the past year?
  • Is it time to upgrade and update your hardware and software? Technology changes so quickly; during your business plan review, make sure to look at your office setup to make sure that it will meet your needs for the upcoming year.
  • Lastly, look at your human resources. Do you have employees or contractors? Are all contracts and payments up to date? Are any changes or adjustments necessary?

By reviewing the current year and preparing for the upcoming year before the end of December, you can really celebrate the holidays knowing that you and your company will be ready for business on the first day of the new year.

Apps I Use: HelloSign

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I remember years ago when fax machines were new and how I watched in awe as a fax came out of the machine! “Amazing technology!” I thought then…now I don’t even have a fax machine. I do everything digitally online from all of my devices using apps. Here’s one I use regularly:

HelloSign is an application that allows businesses to easily create professional looking documents and e-sign them. In today’s globalized world, ink signatures can’t always be affixed into a contract as fast as it is sometimes required. This can mean losing sales in some cases, which makes Hello Sign app an excellent tool for you to close more deals, faster. These are some of the features that it offers:

  • Embedded signing: Usually, when using an e-signature app, users are redirected to another website to sign the documents. They are often required to sign up for an account before being able to enter their signature. With Hello Sign App, you have two choices. You can either embed documents directly on your website so that the other party can sign right there without even having to sign up for a Hello Sign account or you can use their website to collect the signature in which case the other party will get an email notification requesting their e-signature.
  • Legally binding and secure: Most of the countries around the world deem electronic signatures as legally binding and valid. The contracts signed through Hello Sign fall under such category since they comply with the most important e-signature laws such as the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), the U.S. Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 (ESIGN) as well as the European Union eIDAS (EU No. 910/2014). It can also provide you with a court-admissible transaction log in case you need it in a trial or arbitration process.

To make sure that documents containing sensitive information are secure, access is over HTTPS. Also, 256-bit SSL encryption is used on all documents while at rest and the owner of the document is provided with a report containing IP addresses that accessed it and at what time. The app also offers signature authentication. To make sure the right person is signing the contract, the signer must create and enter login information for Hello Sign app or receive a request for signature via email.

  • Easy to implement: Users can get started in just minutes with a simple code to embed on their websites. HelloSign app has an application programming interface or API that is easy to understand and provides software development kits in Python, PHP, Java, NodeJS and Ruby.
  • Easy to sign-up: the app allows you to test it to see if it suits your needs without entering a credit card. Packages start at $99 per month when paid annually.
  • Easy to setup: you can design your document to have as many boxes as you need and any type of them as well, such as text boxes, boxes to enter initials, signature boxes, checkboxes, etc.

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Working with Independent Contractors

In today’s globalized world, freelance work has become an important part of small businesses. Freelancers don’t join the company’s workforce and in most cases don’t even work at the same location as the other employees. Usually the relationship they constitute with businesses is that of an independent contractor.

An independent contractor can provide diverse services such as web design, programming, copywriting, consulting services, basically any kind of work. However, managing this type of business relationship has its own particularities since you won’t have direct supervision over the person providing the service nor will you be able to tell him how he should perform it. When hiring an independent contractor you will be able to determine what you want to get done but the contractor will be the one to determine how he will get it done. There’s always a negotiation part, but in the end, the final agreement and conditions will mostly depend on the flexibility of the contractor to adapt to your requirements.

One of the first things that happen after selecting an independent contractor to do the tasks or projects you need is entering into a written agreement. This document should contain the obligations that both parties will have throughout the length of the relationship. This agreement should state and be labeled as an “Independent Contractor Agreement”, making clear that it doesn’t intend to create an employee-employer relationship. Some of the basic fields it should contain are the services the contractor will provide, due dates for specific projects or tasks, how and when the payment should happen, if you will be billed hourly or will pay a flat rate, among other things.

Lets briefly discuss what some of the main differences between working with an independent contractor and an employee are:

  • How you pay and report taxes to the IRS: According to the IRS, a person is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. These individuals are subject to Self-Employment Tax. Self-employed individuals are subject of income tax as well as self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare tax). Taxes are paid quarterly and an annual return has to be filed as well, however, no payroll taxes will be deducted from the money you get paid. On the other hand, employers have to deposit and report employment taxes and report at the end of the year wages and other compensations paid to the employee. Also, employers have the obligation to withhold from employee’s wages federal income tax and a part of social security and Medicare taxes (the employer pays a matching amount) and deposit it.
  • Working hours: While employees usually go to work at set hours, contractors set their own hours and make their own schedule.
  • Payment: Employees receive their wages on specific dates and in regular amounts. They are entitled to be reimbursed for business expenses or get paid for extra hours. Contractors need to determine how they’ll get paid, when and if expenses are part of the contract, or if the company will pay them separately. However, once the payment terms (as part of the final contract) are mutually agreed upon, contractors expect that the company will also pay them on time, so that they can pay their bills and expenses–including insurance, etc.–on time.
  • Employee benefits: Independent contractors usually don’t receive benefits that employees do, such as pension plans, paid vacations, insurance and sick days. They pay for their own benefits and their own payroll taxes, so those costs are usually figured into their published and agreed upon rates.

Do you need an independent contractor to help you with copywriting, editing, publishing, social media, web design? Let the experts at the Writing It Right For You Companies help you manage those areas of your business more effectively and efficiently. Check out our services page and contact us here. We would love to discuss the possibilities with you.

What is a CRM?

Many of us have heard the term “CRM.” This has become a buzzword that is commonly used in the IT world. However, for many people, it is still something they don’t fully understand.

CRM-iconLet’s begin by defining what it is. The acronym CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. A CRM is basically an application that helps a person or company manage their relationships with their customers. It is much more than a simple address book since it organizes and puts together all the relationships and interactions with each customer. You can easily track every interaction with a specific customer to make future engagements more agile and accurate.

If you are a freelancer or solo professional, keeping track of your customers and clients may be easy at first with a simple spreadsheet or notebook. But as your business grows you may start finding this task more challenging. This is where a CRM can play a crucial role for you. There are many options out there that are cost-effective or even offer a free basic plan. But with so many options, how do we choose the “best” one? All of them seek to help manage and understand your customers and clients better to make better decisions when needed. In order to choose the one that will work best for your needs, it all comes down to your preferences and needs.

As we usually do, we wanted to help you and that’s why we present three options for you to consider as a freelancer. If you want to find out my favorite ones, you’ll find them near the end of the post.

60564We know that as a freelancer or solo professional, you want to achieve as much as possible with as little investment as possible. This CRM is a great option if that’s your case.

It offers a free version that allows up to ten free users and offers basic functionalities, such as contact management, gathering leads, analytics, social collaboration, mobile access and workflow automation. It also provides you with a large number of third-party apps with which it can easily integrate. Some of these integrations include Google Apps, Office 365 and Zoho Apps, among others.

Paid plans start at $12 per user per month if billed annually and all plans offer a 15-day free trial without having to enter your credit card. There is no contract and you can change or cancel your plan whenever you want.

salesforce_logo_detailThis is one of the most popular CRM solutions in the market. The company has a branch for small businesses called Salesforce Small Business Solutions.

One of the main advantages of Salesforce is that it is very user-friendly. Some of the features it offers are contact management, opportunity management, lead generation, collaboration, reports, automated workflow and mobile access. It integrates with a broad number of third-party apps such as Gmail, Docusign, Mailchimp, Office 365, among many others.

Pricing starts at $25 per user per month if billed annually for their SalesforceIQ Starter plan and the minimum length of the contract is one year. You can get a free 14-day trial.

Insightly-Marketing-AutomationThis is another cost-effective option that is very easy to use and provides freelancers and solo professionals with a wide variety of CRM software features. Some of these features include contact management, business management, project management and mobile access.

It easily integrates with Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, Outlook and Office 365 and Quickbooks, among others. It also has a great customer service that proves very appealing to new CRM users.

It offers a free plan for up to two users and paid plans start at $12 per user per month. You can also try it for free for 14 days and you’ll experience the benefits of their Professional plan (which is $49 per user per month) but you’re not obligated to choose such plan if you decide to move forward with them.

What do I use? Since I work with all kind of clients and my needs require more than one, I use several applications. To learn more about some of the CRMs I use and love, you have to check my previous posts about Basecamp and Cloze. I’m sure you will end up loving them as much as I do. And don’t forget to keep checking my blog page for more posts about my favorite apps.

Still need more help? Let the experts at the Writing It Right For You Companies help you manage those areas of your company more effectively and efficiently. Check out our services page and contact us here. We would love to discuss the possibilities with you.

 

Is It Monday Already? How to Make Mondays Work for You

180287282-couchhatemondaypsychiatrist-40ffb4aafcbdd158848d0faa11e2bc3f_h1Monday is the start of the workweek for many people, and therefore is often the most dreaded day of the week. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. With a little pre-planning and re-organizing, you can truly enjoy your weekend and have a fresh start on Mondays that will lead to a truly productive week. It all boils down to the decisions and action that you take on Friday…

Work hard on Fridays. It’s often hard to work really hard on Fridays, because you are already getting into a weekend mindset.

However, if you work as hard on Friday as you do on the other days, especially to finish up any unfinished projects, you will find that your mind is much clearer over the weekend and you’ll have more energy when Monday does come around. Make sure to clean off your desk and straighten out your workspace, too, before you leave for the weekend. Coming into a clean and organized workspace will go a long way towards having a positive outlook on a Monday morning.

Plan out your next workweek on Friday afternoons. Make a non-negotiable appointment with yourself to spend the last 60-90 minutes on Friday planning out your upcoming workweek. Confirm and prepare for all appointments. Delegate, close, or migrate any unfinished tasks to an appropriate upcoming day and time. Decide on your (3) MITs (“Most Important Tasks”) for each day Monday-Friday and ensure that you have enough time set aside on your schedule to actually complete your MITs.

Eliminate Monday Meetings—or at least meetings on Monday mornings. In the traditional workplace, it seems logical that the workweek start with a team or staff meeting first thing Monday morning: a great time to set goals and make announcements, and so on. Actually, holding meetings when most people have the most energy and can be the most productive seems to be backwards. Meeting on Friday afternoon ((how about a staff lunch meeting) to discuss the results of the previous week and prepare for the next week would seem to be more desirable.

Decide that this Monday, and every Monday is going to be the best day of the week. It is true that “what you think about you bring about.” Focus on why you go to work everyday—especially on Mondays, take time to prepare for the week ahead during the week before, and make definite appointments for yourself to actually get your work done, and watch your perception of Mondays turn from “sad blue” to “sunny yellow!”

Let the experts at the Writing It Right For You Companies help you manage your company and time more effectively and efficiently. Check out our services page and contact us here. We would love to discuss the possibilities with you.

Apps I Use: Focus@Will

Logo-horiz-smAh, “Focus”. For several reasons, many people have a lot of trouble with focus, especially when working on long or complicated project elements. In their quest to have greater focus, people try turning off all online notifications, closing down unneeded tabs on their browsers, moving to another (hopefully quieter) location, closing their office door, setting alarms, and so on. A lot of people find that playing music in the background is quite helpful, as long as the music isn’t something they can “sing along” with…

Because listening to music is a choice many people make to help them to focus, of course “there’s an app for that.” Focus@Will is an app, that according to their website, that offers the user music that is “scientifically optimized to boost concentration and focus.” Instead of listening to one of the many music streaming services available, users of Focus@Will can customize the genre of music, set the intensity and mood of the music, time their work sessions, and track their focus to find the type and levels of music that helps keep them energized and focused.

unnamedUnlike other music streaming services, the tracks on Focus@Will are unique and have been scientifically remastered to engage the brain, increase attention span, and enhance concentration. The developers of Focus@Will actually completed trials and studies with neuroscientists to design the features of the app.

The studies and their results are detailed on the Focus@Will website. Many other productivity systems, like the Pomodoro Technique, recommend that you work on one task at a time in 25-minute or 55-minute blocks to improve your productivity. By utilizing the science behind their novel music choice and concentration elements, users of the Focus@Will app may find that their focus improves greatly. After a free trial, if you decide that Focus@Will is a good choice, you will be charged $39 annually to use the app.

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Apps I Use: Basecamp

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I have tried just about every app out there. Many productivity or project management apps are for the enterprise, and if they are targeted to freelancers and/or very small business owners at all, they are just scaled down versions of the main enterprise application. When I am looking at apps to run my businesses, I look for apps that are especially designed for us “little guys”, or that at the very least can be used by just one or two people with no reduction in effectiveness. My executive assistant and I manage a lot of projects for ourselves and for our clients, and we have found an app that not only works for just the two of us, but also allows our clients to be part of the project if they desire: Basecamp. Yes, Basecamp, the #1 project management app is a perfect choice for us “little guys”. Why, you ask?

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1) Basecamp works online on all of your Macs or PCs, is available 24/7, and has dedicated iOS and Android apps that update in real time.
2) There is a monthly subscription cost for Basecamp, but there are several levels of subscriptions depending on the number of projects you have going at any one time. You get one project for free if you’re a REALLY small business! It doesn’t cost anything extra to add as many people to a project as you want.
3) It’s easy for clients to log in and use, if they are anywhere near computer-literate. We can “chat” back and forth with our clients, upload relevant files, make and keep tracks of events, tasks, task lists, deadlines, etc.—all in the same place. My assistant and I can also chat just with each other without involving the client in the discussions just between the two of us. I am a very early morning person. I can check Basecamp and leave comments, tasks, etc. before most people are even awake. I also have clients all over the world in several time zones. Doesn’t matter. They can log in and participate on their own time and we’ll all catch up when we log in.
4) Basecamp has a task and event calendar that integrates with your GCal or iCal seamlessly. I love being able to open my GCal every morning and seeing everything I need to do from Basecamp right there on top.
5) You can break down large projects into task lists with due dates for the tasks and deadlines for the entire project or just parts of it, and everything’s adjustable as needed.
6) You can see what everyone’s doing, has done, and still needs to do individually, and make a report if necessary.

Basecamp is made for the new way many people work these days, especially those who work virtually with remote teams, clients everywhere, and ready for mobile devices (phones and tablets). It works very well, and the support (by Twitter or email) is excellent. I think you’ll really like Basecamp for your project management needs.

Do you have questions? Need help with your project? You can always visit our contact page and tell us all about it. To receive all our newest posts don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address in the bottom right corner of this post.

Apps I Use: Evernote

hero_evernoteHave you heard about Evernote, the productivity app? In case you don’t know about Evernote, now is a good time to start using it for your business needs. Why? Evernote is the “Swiss Army Knife” of apps: you can use Evernote to take and keep notes of all kinds forever (hence the name), assign reminders, record audio notes, capture and edit all types of research and documents (web pages, screenshots, photos, business cards, PDFs, receipts), and store everything in the cloud, yet access your files offline.

Evernote is available on all browsers and all devices (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, PCs. You organize your notes into notebooks, and then organize your notebooks into stacks—all customizable by you, and synced perfectly and in real time.  You can separate your notes and notebooks between personal and business information, tag your notes for easy searching, and share your notes with whomever you choose.

There are many articles, blog posts, and books written about how to use Evernote, and in a future post, I will list some of my favorites. For now, it’s just good to know that Evernote comes at different price levels, from free to premium to business. To decide which level is best for you, check out the helpful pricing infographic on the Evernote website. For our purposes in this blog post, we are concentrating on the premium level, which offers the highest number of helpful features. The business level, which is targeted towards businesses and teams, is actually the premium level with the added functionality of adding team members and giving them access to your business account.

All of the apps I use to run my three businesses, Writing It Right For You, Detroit Ink Publishing, and Your Business Your Brand Creatively, Evernote is my most-used app. I enjoy unlimited storage, utilize OCR (optical character recognition) of my handwritten documents and Post-It notes, and I can access to-lists, client contact information, meeting notes, and drafts of written documents everywhere at any time.

I highly recommend that you sign up for your own free Evernote account and start increasing your productivity today!

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