Old Tax Returns
Old Tax Returns

In a May 31, 2013 Tax Court of Canada case, at issue was whether shareholder withdrawals of $28,791, $32,173 and $23,351 for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 taxation years, respectively, could be added as personal income.

CRA generally has three years from the date of their initial assessment to revise its assessment of an individual or Canadian-controlled private corporation’s income tax return. At the time of reassessment, the 2004 and 2005 years were past this deadline. Any misrepresentation that is attributable to neglect, carelessness or willful default is subject to reassessment, even if the usual deadline has passed.

Taxpayer loses

The Judge noted that, meaningful books do not exist for the Company or the Appellant, and if they do, they were not produced at the Hearing nor were any source documents regarding actual receipts, vouchers or invoices relevant to specific business expenses. As the reconciliation of the shareholder’s loan account was rendered impossible by the absence of an ascertainable flow of funds, the Court did not allow for a reduction in personal benefits received other than for a minor amount.

The Judge found that the CRA discharged its onus of proof thereby allowing the reassessment of these years past the usual deadline on the basis that the returns were signed with such imprecise expenses, shareholder advances and benefits that a misrepresentation was presented due to carelessness.

Taxpayer wins

The Court, however, did not find that the errors were the result of dishonesty or deceit and, therefore, did not fall within the threshold for the imposition of gross negligence penalties of 50% of the underlying taxes.

Action Item: While the taxpayer lost his case, removal of the penalties reduced his tax cost by a third of what CRA had assessed – it can be worthwhile challenging CRA’s assessments.

Rental Property
Rental Property

On August 31, 2010, CRA had advised the taxpayer that his income tax return for the 2007 year was under review and that he was required to provide information and documents concerning a rental property sold in 2007.

The taxpayer had disposed of the rental property for $285,000. CRA included this amount on the 2007 Personal Tax Return but reduced the Adjusted Cost Base (ACB) claimed by the taxpayer by the estimated $52,810 of renovation expenses which the taxpayer had added.

The dispute was settled in a July 3, 2013 Tax Court of Canada case. The taxpayer could not provide any corroborating evidence of the renovation costs, therefore, the Court did not accept this as part of the ACB.

The taxpayer referred to the expiration of six years as being the time for which he had to keep receipts.

CRA successfully argued that this six years commences after the year to which the costs relate. Therefore, costs which become part of the ACB of the property must be maintained for six years after the property is disposed, not six years after the costs are incurred.

Related to the above, in a June 14, 2013 Technical Interpretation, CRA noted that permanent documents must be kept for a period ending two years following the dissolution of the corporation and the general documents must be kept for a period ending six years following the last year for which they relate, unless the corporation is dissolved, in which case the period ends two years following the dissolution of the corporation.

It should be noted that, at the Tax Court, the onus is on the taxpayer to prove the CRA is wrong, not the other way around. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a principal of criminal law, and most tax disputes are not criminal in nature.

Action Item: Don’t throw out the receipts for improvements to property! Keep them separate from regular expense receipts.


Dropbox.com is a popular service which enables users to synchronize, share and back-up files via computer, tablet or iphone.

The service is fairly easy to use thanks to its smooth integration with Windows and other platforms. Once installed, Dropbox appears as a folder in My Documents and similarly functions like any other regular folder.

Users are able to share documents in the folder, whether or not they use Dropbox, making it a great medium to collaborate with friends and co-workers.

Dropbox.com offers 2GB of free storage, however, paid upgrades are available if users require more space.

Prior to employing this service, it is important to consult with your IT Representative to ensure it complies with your organization’s IT policy.

Action Item: Data security is a common issue in the electronic age. Consider obtaining permission from the other party when transferring information via services like Dropbox.com.

Regarding GST/HST
Regarding GST/HST

Some points mentioned include:

  1. The 2013 Federal Budget expands the exemption for homecare services made after March 21, 2013 to include publicly subsidized or funded personal care services, rendered to an individual who, due to age, infirmity or disability, requires such assistance at home.
    Accordingly, the Budget adds a new term, “home care service”, which includes personal care services such as bathing, feeding and assistance with dressing and taking medication. Also included are household services such as cleaning, laundering, meal preparation, and child care.

    Where a service provider charges GST/HST on an exempt supply of a homecare service made after March 21, 2013, the supplier may refund or credit the GST/HST to the purchaser. Alternatively, purchasers who have paid an amount as GST/HST on exempt supplies may claim a rebate of tax paid in error using Form GST189.
  2. Currently, basic business identification information is required to be provided at the time of GST/HST Registration. This includes the legal and operating name of the business, type of ownership, ownership details, business activity, and contact information.
    In the likely future, the Minister of National Revenue will have the discretionary authority to withhold the payment of GST/HST refunds to a person until all of the person’s prescribed business identification information has been provided and is accurate.
  3. CRA discusses music programs and notes that the supply of a service of tutoring or instructing an individual in music lessons is exempt from the GST/HST.
    Music lessons involve formal instruction that develops skills in musical performance involving the use of the human voice or musical instruments, conducting an orchestra, or musical composition.

Whether a particular activity or program is a music lesson is a question of fact. The CRA has developed a number of questions to help make this determination. See Excise GST/HST News No. 88 for the criteria.

Action Item: The GST/HST rules change frequently. A regular review of your accounting systems to ensure they properly identify GST/HST on your invoices, and on your expenditures, can avoid costly errors.

Auto Allowances
Auto Allowances

In a March 28, 2013 Technical Interpretation, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) notes that:

  • An allowance received for the use of a motor vehicle is deemed not to be reasonable (and therefore taxable to the employee) unless based solely on the number of kilometres travelled.
  • In this case, the employee was provided $4.60 per trip of less than 10 kilometres. CRA concluded that this payment would be taxable to the employee, however, certain expenses may be deductible by the employee.

Because it is a taxable allowance, the employer will not be entitled to the GST/HST Input Tax Credit. However, the employee, in addition to deducting employment expenses, may be entitled to a GST/HST rebate.

Action Item: Motor vehicle allowances are a common target of CRA review because many detailed rules apply. Give us a call if you want to review the tax implications of your motor vehicle allowances.

Business Expenses
Business Expenses

In a June 20, 2013 Tax Court of Canada case, at issue was whether the taxpayer, Mr. L, operated a business activity providing consulting services, whether the expenses he claimed were deductible, and whether gross negligence penalties should be applied.

In his 2007 Tax Return, $2,000 in professional gross revenue and $17,154 in expenses for a loss of $15,154 were reported. In 2008, no gross income and $12,190 of business expenses were claimed.

Taxpayer loses

The Appeal was denied and the costly gross negligence penalty left in place. The Judge noted, “There was no credible explanation that would indicate that any of the amounts that Mr. L reported on his tax returns in respect of his purported consulting business were incurred for the purpose of gaining or producing income. At best, I believe that Mr. L was indifferent as to whether the expenses that he claimed on his tax return were accurate or not. More likely, I believe that Mr. L knew the expenses he claimed on his returns were false and claimed them anyway.”

Action Item: Ensure that you are maintaining the necessary support in an efficient manner before the Tax Man comes to call! We can assist with a review of your recordkeeping system if needed.

Collections at the CRA
Collections at the CRA

On May 5, 2014, CRA updated their article, When You Owe Money – Collections at the CRA, which discussed programs available should taxpayers not be able to pay their tax debt in full. Such programs may include a payment arrangement. The website also references other websites that taxpayers may find useful: IC98-1R4 – Tax Collection Policies, IC13-2 – Government Program Collection Policies, and IC13-3 – Customs Collections Policies, as well as a link to the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy website.

Action Item: If you think you may struggle to pay your tax bill, contact us earlier, rather than later, so we can help to find a solution.

Forecast Frequency – Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly?
Forecast Frequency – Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly?

One of the frequent requests we get at Float is for daily cash flow forecasting. A lot of businesses are interested in more granular forecasts to get better insights into how their available cash changes day by day. And with good reason: Even if you have a big invoice being paid to you in a couple of days, if you reach your overdraft limit today, you may still be in trouble. It’s worth keeping on top of your cash flow!

Forecast Frequency – Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly?
Forecast Frequency – Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly?

How often should you do your cash flow forecast, and how granular does it need to be?

One of the frequent requests we get at Float is for daily cash flow forecasting. A lot of businesses are interested in more granular forecasts to get better insights into how their available cash changes day by day. And with good reason: Even if you have a big invoice being paid to you in a couple of days, if you reach your overdraft limit today, you may still be in trouble. It’s worth keeping on top of your cash flow! We’ll take a look at how often you should do your forecasting, for some tips on what to do and when.


Small businesses, especially those who are going through difficult financial times may want to review their forecast on a daily basis. Being able to see how much is going out and coming in to your accounts every day can really help you manage your cash – ask for extended payment terms, chase up the right invoices or talk to your bank manager for an overdraft if you know you’re going to be short of cash for a couple of days.

Float is currently beta testing daily cash flow forecasting, letting you see your cash flow for the coming month(s) broken down by day. This is a great way to get detailed insights into your business cash flow, and you’ll have better control of what invoices are coming up, so you can tell any creditors that payment will be late, and maintain good relationships even in tough times. Want to try it out? Get in touch with us over at our contact us page.


Even when your business is running smoothly, you might want to understand how you’re doing on a week-by-week basis. Being able to schedule in bigger purchases can be smart – so that you buy those new computer kits in a week where you don’t also pay out salaries, your VAT bill and pay for train tickets. Many also set weekly budgets, meaning that you can plan your spend and minimise risk. As with cash flow forecasting in general, it’s about being smart with your cash – which is why we are passionate about cash flow forecasting.


Most businesses will do their accounts, budgets and forecasts on a monthly basis – even if you may still check in every week or even every day to see how things are changing. Float was initially built to do monthly cash flow forecasts, and we focus on up to 18 months into the future, as your accuracy will decrease the further into the future you move. With monthly forecasting, you get a good understanding of how your healthy your bank balance will be at the end of the month, but it’s still important to make sure you don’t hit any overdraft limits or run temporarily out of cash in the middle of the month.


If your company is in a great place with money, you have predictable and reliable income and fixed expenses that don’t exceed your receivables, then you probably have other things to spend your time on than cash flow – but don’t forget that business finances can change rapidly. You should probably still review your cash flow on a monthly basis, but a quarterly check-in with board and management with the high level projections per quarter can be a useful and time-efficient way to share financial insights without spending a lot of time on it. And why not use the quarterly cash flow forecast to inform spending decisions? A useful article on quarterly business health checks can be found here – don’t underestimate the value of cash flow forecasting.

Lastly, we should probably also mention yearly cash flow forecasting as well – although we would not recommend only reviewing your cash flow on a yearly basis! What can be quite useful is to review your cash flow for Year to Date against your projections, to see how you

In the end, it comes down to what situation your business is in, what insights you need to make the right decisions, and what information external parties like investors, banks or the HMRC. Most businesses who fail do so because they run out of money, and making sure you have a clear overview of when you might get close to running dry is a good way to ensure you can plan ahead. Check out these tips for dealing with creditors and HMRC when cash flow is tight, and use Float to inform your business strategy.

And remember, if you do frequent forecasting, you’ll probably be better off than if you use the forecasting stone.

Everything You Need to Know About Value-Based Pricing
Everything You Need to Know About Value-Based Pricing

One of the most difficult decisions for any business owner – professional service or otherwise – is how best to effectively price his or her product or service. And with good reason, too.

Everything You Need to Know About Value-Based Pricing
Everything You Need to Know About Value-Based Pricing

Price too low and risk undermining the brand or leaving money on the table. Price too high and chance alienating a profitable market segment.

Not to dismay, because we’ve compiled a list of its top 5 steps for a successful strategy by giving you everything you need to know about value-based pricing.

1. Price based upon your value, not your cost.

The first step is to realize that the value delivered to clients is not the same as the cost incurred or the hours worked. Sound pricing models don’t start with statements like, “well it takes me 3 hours to do this kind of tax return, so the price should be…”

Consumers don’t walk into supermarkets with consideration for how long the farmer spent harvesting the corn they’re about to buy. They don’t make careful decisions of laundry detergent based on the hours of R&D and volume of intellectual property the manufacturer logged. And they most certainly don’t ask for a timesheet from the butcher behind the meat counter before asking him to hand over their perfectly carved filet.

None of that matters. They’ve decided what they’re willing to pay for corn, detergent, and steak, and regardless of what it took to produce those items, that’s all they’re going to pay. Like it or not, that’s how clients think about the services they receive too.

As ridiculous as those examples sound, it’s exactly how we used to think about pricing.

Here’s how Adam Smith defined value in the Wealth of Nations:

“If among a nation of hunters … it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which it costs to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer.”

If Adam were going to re-write the Wealth of Nations today, it’s just as likely that he’d say something like this:

“If among a nation of consumers….it usually costs twice the labour to mine salt which it does to mine a diamond, one gram of salt should naturally exchange for or be worth one gram of diamond.” (Which, if you’re doing the conversion, is five carats).

For all of the things Adam Smith got right in the Wealth of Nations, his theory of price wasn’t one of them. Fortunately, a new way of thinking called Marginalism emerged in the 1870s, which flipped the traditional Labor Theory of Value on its head.

And what does Marginalism have to say about pricing? Ron Baker offers the most succinct explanation I’ve found, which is:

“The costs do not determine the price, let alone the value. It is precisely the opposite; that is, the price determines the costs that can be profitably invested in to make a product desirable for the customer, at an acceptable profit for the seller.”

In other words, the price is dictated by what the consumer is willing to pay. Period. And the costs to provide that good or service dictate how much or even whether the supplier provides them.

In accounting, we commonly refer to this concept as “value pricing,” but in the real world, we just call this a “market rate.”

You probably haven’t read a single article on pricing in the last year that didn’t mention value pricing – it’s become the rage in accounting and many professional services. The reality is value pricing isn’t new or novel; it’s just an alignment to the way mainstream economics has thought about pricing for the last 140 years.

2. All services are not created equal

At its core, value pricing asserts that price is a subjective, not objective, measure of value. Your price should reflect what your customer is willing to pay – or said differently, the benefit they perceive. But, do all customers perceive value the same way?

Depending on your industry, the answer is probably “no.”

Airline tickets fluctuate wildly depending on time of day, time of year, capacity of the airplane, and proximity to the travel date. Movie theaters charge different prices depending on the time of day and age of the ticket holder. And bars even occasionally charge different prices based on gender – ladies night, anyone?

These are not examples of companies maliciously extorting their consumers – they are companies that recognize different types of customers value their product or service differently. A daytime business traveler demands an airline ticket differently from a weekend vacationer. A moviegoer catching an afternoon show in the middle of the week often behaves differently from one on a Friday night date.

So, how do you know if you should charge different prices for similar services? Well, there are a few questions you should answer first:

1. Am I servicing different, identifiable markets?

2. Do those markets have different price elasticities. (In other words, are they more or less price sensitive)?

3. Can I keep the two groups separate?

For example, are individuals shopping for US tax services on April 1st as price sensitive as those shopping for services on January 1st? Probably not.

Do businesses subject to annual audits value precise GAAP financial statements in the same way that small, sole proprietorships do? Probably not.

If your business can answer each of the previous questions with “yes,” then you should strongly consider if and how to segment your market segments and price accordingly.

3. Don’t underprice yourself.

For a firm struggling with pricing, particularly a brand new firm, the initial reaction is often to underprice services. The typical thinking goes like this – “I’ll price myself low to start and make it easier to sell in the beginning, and then when I have the client experience to command a higher rate, I’ll raise my prices.”

Wrong. Don’t do it. And here’s scientific proof that you’re making it harder, not easier, to sell your services to your target client:

In behavioral economics, there’s a concept called Irrational Value Assessment. And it effectively states that consumers assign value to a product or service not by a rational or objective deduction of its true value, but rather by a completely irrational assessment based on how the product or service is framed in the moment.

Take for instance this experiment conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Members of the Stanford Wine Club were asked to participate in a ‘blind’ taste test of 5 wines, each with varying prices, and were asked to rate each wine. The twist, however, was that the experimenters didn’t provide 5 different types of wine – in many cases, they served the same wine multiples times with a different price.

The result? Participants consistently rated the wine with the higher price tag more favorably than the wine with the lower price tag – even though they were from the exact same bottle.

Your price is a signal of your value. The lower your price, the lower your perceived value.

4. Provide your customers with options…

When pricing services for your firm, consider providing a small array of options from which your client may choose. Why? It’s all about framing.

Consider an experiment with the Economist documented by behavioral economist Dan Ariely. To a series of experiment participants, the Economist offered two subscription packages:

Online only access to the publication for 12 months: $56 Online and print access for 12 months: $125 When asked to select between the two options, the participants overwhelmingly selected the cheaper option.

Next, the experimenters added a third alternative – a decoy:

Online only for 12 months: $56 Print only for 12 months: $125 (DECOY) Online and print for 12 months: $125 When a new set of participants were asked to select among the three options, something really interesting happened. No one selected the print only option and the resounding majority selected the third, more expensive option!

By adding a third option that no one wanted, the experimenters were able to compel participants to purchase the more expensive option simply by framing it as a better deal.

5. …but don’t provide too many options.

If a business provides its customers with too many options, they run the risk of paralyzing the customer with indecision.

Take for instance an experiment run by Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University. In a California grocery store, experimenters set up a display to sell a particular brand of jam. Periodically, they cycled between a display with 24 varieties of jam and one with 6 varieties of jam.

What they found was that while shoppers were more drawn to the large display (60% of passers by stopped at the large display vs. 40% at the small display), they were significantly more likely to purchase after having sampled from the small display.

30% of shoppers that stopped to sample from the display with 6 jam varieties made a jam purchase, while only 3% purchased after sampling from the display with 24 varieties!

Putting it into practice

While we’ve found these steps and thinking were helpful for us in our own service business, implementing each will look differently for each business.

If nothing else, the most important first step is to understand why your customers buy your product or service and what value (monetary or otherwise) they’re getting from it. If you have to ask, ask. They’ll tell you.

And when you’ve figured it out, have the courage to ask for what you’re worth (to them).

If you’ve found other pricing strategies effective in your business, tell us about them. We’d love to hear!

How to Improve Revenue at your Agency Without Taking on More Clients
How to Improve Revenue at your Agency Without Taking on More Clients

You’ve got a little creative agency, and it’s doing quite well. You’ve landed a few high profile clients, and your reputation in the community is growing. You’re even in line for a couple of awards this year.

5 Ways Cloud Technology Will Spring Clean Your Office Systems
5 Ways Cloud Technology Will Spring Clean Your Office Systems

Spring has arrived down here in the southern hemisphere, but wherever you are in the world, now is as good a time as ever to give the office a seasonal spruce-up.

How to Improve Revenue at your Agency Without Taking on More Clients
How to Improve Revenue at your Agency Without Taking on More Clients

Everything is great, except the money.

It’s not that the money isn’t flowing. It is. You’d just like more of it. I don’t blame you. I’d like more money flowing, too (hint, hint – boss!) But with an agency, there’s a danger to taking on more work to gain more profit – you risk overloading the team and needing to bring in new staff or freelancers to pick up the slack

In this article we look at ways to improve your agency’s revenue without simply taking on more clients: 

Tip 1: Upsell additional services

As a design agency, you often get requests for business card designs. This is a pretty standard job you can whip out quite quickly, and the client then takes the design file and gives it to the printer of their choice. Sweet as, right?

Well, why not take care of the printing for the client? If you’re putting through a lot of these jobs, you can probably strike a deal with a local printer. You get the files to them, check the quality, and give the client a completed job for a nice price. Everybody wins.

Many creative agencies will offer a range of additional services that cost them very little in terms of time or investment but return a decent margin. These include services like:

Printing: print costs for posters, business cards, flyers, etc. Social Media: setting up Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn pages, and sometimes packages for updating them. Complimentary services: For example, a web design agency offering copywriting services (through a contractor). 

Tip 2: Market to a New Client Base

Maybe you don’t want new clients, but what you could think about doing is working toward replacing your current client base with clients who are willing to pay more.

The truth is, some businesses will only pay a certain amount for design work or marketing, but others will pay a higher rate. Your local small business marketplace might not be able to afford more than $150 for a business card design, but by focusing on larger companies, or a specific industry (for example, hotels or tech companies), you could charge more than double the rate.

If you are considering marketing to a different type of client, here are some things to consider:

Think about where you might find higher-paying clients. Where do they hang out? What type of projects are they offering? Do you need to tender for jobs? Adjust your marketing strategy according to your research.

Focusing on a specific niche or type of business could allow you to charge significantly more. Many agencies have had success marketing as specialists to one specific market; For example, NZ Agency 7 Group have a US office dedicated to creative services for dentists.

Working virtually allows you to work with clients all around the world. This means you can market to clients in a country / city where the average price for creative work is significantly higher.

Tip 3: Raise Your Rates

If you want a simple, no fuss, instant way to improve your agency’s bottom line, then you need to raise your rates. Yes, really.

If the thought of increasing rates has you shaking in your Jimmy Choos, and you’re suddenly feeling like you really wish you hadn’t had that quiche for breakfast, then it’s probably well past time you raised your rates. When was the last time you raised your fee? Are you accounting for inflation? For the increasing cost of doing business? Are you valuing your work as high as you should?

Many agencies are doing away with the cost-per-hour model altogether, instead offering a full cost for a specific package and practicing what we call “value pricing”. To learn more about how to price at your agency, sign up for Jason Blumer’s pricing webinar. Jason is a CTA for creative agencies and he has tons of advice about the best way to price for success.

Tip 4: Team up with other companies

One of the ways many agencies propel themselves up the chain is to partner with other companies to cross promote. For example, a friend of mine runs a local graphic design agency that teamed up with a property development firm. Now, the agency produces beautiful glossy brochures for various property development companies around the country for a premium fee.

Working in partnership with another firm can have a huge number of benefits. Mainly, you will instantly be doubling your professional network and marketing reach. Two firms offering complimentary services can often charge a premium for their combined packages; most clients are willing to pay more for convenience and quality.

Tip 5: Rob a Bank

Well, we didn’t say all the ideas would be legal, did we?

Disclaimer: We do not encourage nor condone bank robbery.

So is your agency ready to get serious about pricing and look for new ways to improve profits? There are plenty of ways to improve profits without expanding too big. Stay tuned for our upcoming agency pricing webinar with Jason Blumer of Businessology for more details.

5 Ways Cloud Technology Will Spring Clean Your Office Systems
5 Ways Cloud Technology Will Spring Clean Your Office Systems

And I’m not just talking about shifting those piles of paper or dusting off desktops. Because, the reality is, without proper systems all that clutter will reappear in no time.

Instead, here are 5 ways you can use cloud software to ensure that your office stays organised, your systems stay streamlined and your productivity levels stay powered-up, year-round!

1. Be a Techno-filer

If you’re currently surrounded by piles of paper on your desk, crammed folders and a waste paper bin filled with scrap paper, then listen up.

Instead of shoving it all out of sight into a cumbersome filing cabinet, use an online document management system hosted in the cloud. Most options will allow you to store a certain amount for free, with the option to pay a monthly fee to upgrade to more space.

Popular options include:

Box – 10GB free. A Business Plan starts at US$15 per month for unlimited storage. Dropbox – 2GB free. A Business Plan starts at US$15 per month. Google Drive – 30GB free. US$1.99/month for 100GB, US$9.99/month for 1TB. The security and accessibility of cloud software means you’ll no longer need to keep hard copies or duplicate copies on external hard drives as a back up. Your entire team will be able to upload, edit and access shared documents, presentations, PDFs, spreadsheets, videos and images, wherever they need to work.

Of course the key here is not just to move the physical clutter to virtual clutter, so make sure you establish a logical filing system from the get-go using folders or labels.

Establish a plan to deal with printed documents that you receive from clients or suppliers. The best solution is to scan them to PDF – most printers or photocopiers should have an inbuilt scanner which will email your document straight to you.

You can then transfer this document to the online document storage system that you set up – and recycle the physical copy. Ask your suppliers or other service providers to send you digital statements and receipts instead of hard copy to avoid the unnecessary transfer of paper.

2. Ditch the dockets

The same can be done for all those pesky receipts and dockets you need to keep a hold of for your accounting. An app such as Receipt Bank allows you to submit your receipts by email or via your smartphone.

The data from the receipt is then converted and stored, and can be downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet or to an add-on partner such as Dropbox, Xero, WorkflowMax or a payroll integration app.

If you also have a tendency to end up with stacks of business cards floating around on your desk, in your bag and through your drawers, use a smartphone app to scan and digitise the details and easily manage your contacts.

3. Smooth operations

If timesheets are the bane of your business, then it’s time to take them digital. Implementing job management software such as WorkflowMax will eliminate the need for manual inputting of timesheets. It’ll save you time, as well as rescue you from the depths of unnecessary paperwork.

You can also say goodbye to countless invoice folders taking up shelf space. Your accounts can go paperless too using cloud-based accounting software, Xero. Everything related to your accounts can be kept on record online – any invoices you receive can up uploaded and stored against supplier details, and your own invoices are generated and emailed directly from the system. No printing or envelope-licking required.

4. Embrace digital note-taking

Next up, instead of using a notebook – or worse, a loose bit of paper, for your meeting notes – give digital note-taking a go. You’ll be able to keep everything in one place instead of having them jotted all over the place. It also makes it easier to share your ideas with others if you need to collaborate on a project, and the notes can then also be uploaded to your new online filing system.

Throw out the desk-top calendar and diary. You should only ever use ONE calendar or diary to keep track of your schedule, and the easiest way to do that is by using one that you can access from all your devices – that is, your computer, smartphone or tablet.

I’ve already talked about Sunrise Calendar here, which is an app you can download to your tablet or smartphone. Google Calendar is also a great option for sharing calendars and accessing on the go.

5. Ditch the desk altogether

With cloud technology giving us better accessibility and connectivity, you’ll likely find that your business operations will become less dependent on a physical office. Therefore, it makes sense to shift away from cumbersome hardware and invest in technology that goes wherever you do.

Provide your employees with the technology they need that allows them to access and update information from their own device from anywhere, reducing the need to carry out administration tasks in the office. If they are able to automatically access and update information, submit orders, track their time and collaborate with colleagues via their laptop or tablet then there will be no-need for paper shuffling around the office.

Are you motivated to make some changes in your business? What other ways have you used technology to tidy up your office?

4 Friction Points Every Retailer Should (and Can) Eliminate from the Shopping Experience
4 Friction Points Every Retailer Should (and Can) Eliminate from the Shopping Experience

We don’t need a crystal ball to see that the future of retail involves frictionless shopping experiences. Today’s consumers (and those in the near future) want not only to shop across multiple channels (i.e. online, mobile, brick-and-mortar), but to do so quickly and seamlessly.

5 Helpful Tools For Everyone In The Hospitality Industry
5 Helpful Tools For Everyone In The Hospitality Industry

Here in the goRoster office we’re all about helping others. So, in keeping with that theme we’ve put together some useful tools that all of you can use no matter what type of hospitality business you work for!

Deducing Your Customers: The How & Why of Conducting Market Research
Deducing Your Customers: The How & Why of Conducting Market Research

“Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay.” So said the irrepressible Sherlock Holmes in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories, and so echoes thousands of business analysts and statisticians the world over.

Try This Simple, 8-Step Strategic Plan Template for Small Business Owners
Try This Simple, 8-Step Strategic Plan Template for Small Business Owners

When you first start a business, you’re often not thinking more than a couple of years ahead. Your motivation might simply be, “I need some work to put food on the table,” or “I don’t want to work for someone else, so this is what I need to do.”

Why You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty About Charging For Your Time
Why You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty About Charging For Your Time

I had a conversation with a good friend last week that got me thinking. She has recently started some contract work after having a baby. She’s working from home; juggling motherhood and meetings, feeding and phone calls, and managing suppliers in between managing nap times.

5 Ways to Help Your Team Master the Work-Life Balancing Act
5 Ways to Help Your Team Master the Work-Life Balancing Act

For more than 85 percent of males and 66 percent of females in the United States, the workweek extends longer than 40 hours.

Don’t Fall into the Trap! Three Myths About Finding Great Leaders
Don’t Fall into the Trap! Three Myths About Finding Great Leaders

So much reading on the internet today revolves around what makes a good leader, what characteristics a good leader has, and ultimately, how to be a good leader.

Work less and get more done
Work less and get more done

Why is it that in our always on, always connected world where we take fully automated self service consumer experiences for granted – everything from online shopping, to banking, to theatre and movie ticket reservations – that we’re happy to function in manual mode in the workplace?

10 Tricks You Didn’t Know to Improve Your Use of Gmail
10 Tricks You Didn’t Know to Improve Your Use of Gmail

More than just a search engine, Google offers a whole host of free tools for using the web. By far one of its most popular is gmail – Google’s free web client that allows users to choose their own email address and send and receive unlimited messages.

Twelve and a half reasons to use a Paperless Onboarding System
Twelve and a half reasons to use a Paperless Onboarding System

Replacing paper based forms with Paperless Onboarding Systems and Paperless Induction Systems is the fastest and easiest way to make employment administration more efficient and cost effective.

4 Friction Points Every Retailer Should (and Can) Eliminate from the Shopping Experience
4 Friction Points Every Retailer Should (and Can) Eliminate from the Shopping Experience

That’s why retailers who want to keep up with the times should make the shopping journey smooth and convenient for their customers.

It’s important to identify the bottlenecks or friction points that hinder shoppers from finding and buying the products they need quickly. This post will help, by shedding light on four common issues that make shopping difficult. Check them out below and see if you have any of these bottlenecks in your business:

#1 The disconnect between physical and digital channels

The biggest “friction point” in retail sits at the intersection of your digital and physical storefronts. While more and more merchants are bridging the gap between online and offline channels, plenty of retailers (particularly in the SMB realm) still haven’t addressed the physical-to-digital divide—and it’s costing them business.

Don’t be one of them. Eliminate this issue by linking your digital and physical storefronts. If you have online, mobile, and brick-and-mortar shops, set up integrations that ensure data-sharing between channels so your customers can research and shop across multiple platforms.

One retailer doing this well is Macy’s, which lets shoppers browse their local branch’s inventory online so they can try on or pick up items in the store.

But it doesn’t stop there. Macy’s also offers a similar capability through mobile. AdAge reports that when a customer Googles an item using her mobile device, she’ll be able to check that item’s availability at a nearby Macy’s location. According to AdAge:

Beginning in November, shoppers can search for an item on their phone and see what’s stocked at their nearest Macy’s location. Alongside the images are product details like price, size and color, directions to the store, and a link to the item on the retailer’s website. The program works with Google’s proximity marketing platform in an effort to drive sales in stores and online during the biggest shopping season of the year.

Check out how it below:

Now, you don’t have to be a retail giant like Macy’s to provide your customers with a similar experience. By selecting sales and inventory tools that integrate well with one another, you will enable your customers to shop, find, and buy items across multiple platforms.

Take, for instance, Bird On a Wire in Auckland, which lets customers place orders online or via mobile, then gives them the option either to pick up their purchase in-store, or have it delivered.

It does this by integrating its POS system (Vend) with its ordering service (Mobi2Go). The two services “talk” to each other, allowing Bird On a Wire to ring up customers and process their orders, no matter what device or channel they’re using.

Vend Tip – To learn how you can do this in your store, check out our previous post, The Savvy Retailer’s Guide to Online and Mobile Ordering, Store Pickup, and Same Day Delivery.

#2 Slow order fulfillment

Just as important as letting customers shop and browse on their own terms is enabling them to get their hands on their purchases however and whenever they want. Slow or limited order fulfillment diminishes the shopping experience (and curtails sales), which is why retailers need to develop more flexibility and creativity in fulfilling orders.

Besides offering an in-store pickup option, look for other ways to get products into your customers’ hands. Some retailers, for instance, let shoppers pick up their items without leaving their cars. Target is currently testing curbside pick-up, whereby shoppers simply drive by Target to pick up items they’ve purchased via an app.

Same-day delivery is also making waves in the retail realm, with Google and Amazon offering such services. Fortunately, small- to medium-sized retailers can follow their lead. For instance, Rare Device, a design store and gallery in San Francisco, offers same-day delivery to local customers through a service called ShoppinPal. Like Bird On a Wire, Rare Device offers this option by integrating its point-of-sale system with its delivery service provider.

#3 Product unavailability

Losing customers because certain items aren’t available through a particular channel or store branch? Fret not. You can get rid of this friction point by streamlining your inventory management.

Set up a system that enables you to track stock levels across all your stores and selling platforms. Most cloud-based POS systems offer this capability, either through built-in features or through integrations with inventory tools such as Stitchlabs.

A modern inventory set-up can monitor stock across multiple channels, showing you what products you have and where you have them, making it easy for you to locate the items your customers are asking for.

One retailer implementing this well is New York & Company. If a customer can’t find the color or size that she wants in a particular branch, the store can find the item and then ship it directly to her doorstep.

Apparel retailer Oasis also offers this service in its stores, because its associates can order items on behalf of customers who can’t find what they’re looking for. On top of that, the retailer also provides a related service on its ecommerce site. When an item isn’t available online, Oasis will hunt down the product in its brick-and-mortar locations, and send it directly to the shopper.

A modern inventory system will even prevent availability issues in the first place, by determining which products are in demand at a particular location or channel, thus alerting you to maintain stock levels accordingly.

#4 Cumbersome checkout processes

Long lines and clunky, inefficient point-of-sale systems are bottlenecks that curb sales and make ringing up customers unnecessarily cumbersome. Get rid of such systems and you will speed up the checkout process.

Depending on the type of store you have, there a number of options:

a. Adopt a modern POS system – If you’re still using an old-fashioned cash register, upgrade to a cloud-based point-of-sale system that runs on your computer or mobile device.

In addition to being considerably faster than your typical cash register, mobile POS systems let you send receipts via email and untether the checkout process so you can ring up shoppers anywhere in the store. This eliminates long lines and improves traffic flow in your location.

Have a look at what Medisave, an internet-based medical supplies company, did at an industry trade show they attended. Medisave sold stethoscopes at their booth, but to save space and time they deployed “walking POS people” armed with iPads, lanyard scanners, and printer belts.

This kept the hectic crowds moving, so people could get back to their conference agenda as quickly as possible.

“We could walk the line during busy times and go to the customer rather than them pushing through the crowd to get to the counter. Plus, credit card transactions were integrated directly into the process, and that cut our checkout time in half,” said Graham Wright, managing partner at Medisave.

b. Upgrade your loyalty program – Physical loyalty cards are on their way out. They’re a hassle to carry and they add time and effort to the checkout process.

As Chain Store Age puts it, “A typical rewards card scenario involves the customer finding their card, taking it out of their wallet, scanning it, and putting it back. And if they happen to forget their card, they miss out on the chance of earning loyalty points. Those barriers add friction and time to the checkout process and can lower customer satisfaction.”

Address this by adopting a mobile- or POS-based loyalty program. Vend, for example, lets you track rewards and offer perks right from the app itself—no cards required.

For a richer rewards experience, consider using a service like Collect, which connects retailers directly with their customers via smartphone. Collect lets retailers issue personalized offers and it has some cool analytics features that create measurable campaigns and gain more insights into your customers.

c. Consider mobile payments – Mobile payments can speed up the checkout process considerably. Payment solutions such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and CurrentC let customers pay using their mobile device, without having to fumble with cash or credit cards. There are also contactless payment services such as the one offered by PayPal, which enable retailers to ring up customers who “check in” to their store, so they won’t even have to take out their ID or credit card.

Mobile payments are about to get bigger, so keep your eye on the space and do your research. Talk to your customers, ask them which mobile payments solutions they use, and if it makes sense for your business, see if you can accept them in your store.

Bottom Line

We hope this post prodded you to examine your business and identify any bottlenecks that are causing headaches for shoppers. Needless to say, if you find any of these issues in your customers’ shopping journeys, take the steps to eliminate them. Sure, doing so will require changes and maybe a bit of an investment, but if you execute correctly, you’ll not only keep your existing customers happy, but you’ll also be setting up your store for success in the future. Good luck!

5 Helpful Tools For Everyone In The Hospitality Industry
5 Helpful Tools For Everyone In The Hospitality Industry

They’re all easily downloadable from the App Store and are designed to aid you in the day to day management of your hospitality business. Give them a go and see what you think!

1. Trip Advisor

This handy review site is important to monitor frequently as it allows you to quickly pick up reviews written about your establishment online. There’s no doubt you want to be the first to hear of any type of review, good or bad! . It also allows you to humanise your business by giving you the ability to participate in the conversation. You can thanks those who leave glowing reviews and it also gives you the opportunity to remedy any complaints. The bonus? See how you stack up against the competition and how you rank within your region!

2. Buffer

With the overload of information available on the internet today it’s important to promote relevant, aggregated content to your customers. Hospitality businesses cannot deny the inevitable – having an alluring online presence is now a must if you want to keep up with your competition. The Buffer App allows you to manage multiple social media account all at once. You can easily schedule content from anywhere you are and shoot it out at any time you like to whatever account you choose. Magic! Imagine the time saved loading up your accounts to send content out at specific times. It also allows you access to analytics for analysis purposes and so you can see what posts are performing best.

3. Evernote Food

Here’s one for all those Chefs’ out there! The app lets Chefs’ jot down their favorite food recipes and make cooking related notes which they can refer to later on. Not only that but you can add photos, notes and a location so you remember all your favourite dishes and record where abouts you had them! You can even share recipes with fellow chefs and post for fans or regulars to see. What better way to share your beautiful meals with the world.

4. Kudos Points

Ever wanted to tell an employee they’ve made really great progress, or that they’ve come a long way since they started a couple of weeks ago? Well look no further! Kudos Points is a peer to peer recognition system and in-house social network that runs on ALL mobile platforms. It allows a user to send and receive “kudos”, points that are given for recognition and feedback, and as a result they accumulate on a virtual leaderboard. You can load ‘company values’ and areas of recent training – an awesome way of tracking behaviour you really want to promote as a manager! It’s an easy, quick way to boost staff morale and give them some motivation!

5. Barista Kit Pro

Are you making a million coffees a day? What tools do you have in place to ensure the quality of all those coffees going out to customers? Timers can often be awkward. Designed for both baristas and cafe owners, it provides statistical feedback on quality, productivity and efficiency for up to three group heads. It stores all data by day and by 30 minute increments – then presents it to you in graphical form!The time mechanics have been designed for those baristas under time pressure, helping them to achieve consistent extractions of espresso. The ‘Purge’ function even advises when to clean. Now, how handy is that.

Deducing Your Customers: The How & Why of Conducting Market Research
Deducing Your Customers: The How & Why of Conducting Market Research

Before launching a new business, going into production on a new product, or starting a service business … before throwing thousands of dollars into getting your idea to market … before signing that lease and ordering the stationary … you need to figure out if there’s actually anyone out there who will buy your product.

“But, Steff, I’m an architect. People everywhere need architects. I’m opening a graphic design agency. There are businesses in my area, and they all need business cards and posters and website designs. I’m a lawyer … everyone needs a lawyer at some point in their life, right?”


Why Don’t Businesses Conduct Market Research?

It seems like such a simple step. Before you invest a ton of time and money into starting a new business, you figure out if there’s a market for that business in the first place. And yet, far too many business owners neglect market research. This contributes to the shocking statistic that 1 in 5 small businesses fail within the first year.

Why wouldn’t you take the time to research? It could be that:

You’ve had a great idea and you don’t want to hear any negative feedback on it. You believe market research costs a significant amount of money, and you can’t afford it. You’ve cased that area. You’ve snooped on other competing businesses. You’ve done your market research, right? Right? You have a timeframe for getting your product to market – perhaps to coincide with an important event – and you don’t want anything to hold up the process. Whatever the reason, you will usually find that a little research in the beginning, even if you need to invest some money, will save you many dollars and significant heartache in the future.

Two types of Market Research

There are two different types of market research you can undertake. We recommend a mix of both.

Primary Research

Primary research comes from your customers – the people who will actually be buying your products and services. Usually, you can gather primary research through:

  • Surveys: If you already have a database of potential clients, push out a survey asking them what they are looking for from your industry. Be sure to include open-ended sections for comments. These can be particularly illuminating. 
  • Focus groups: Ideal for testing a product with a specific group. 
  • Website polls: Often not as reliable as closed surveys, as you can’t control who is answering, but a great way to get continued feedback on improving products / services. 
  • Reading what they read: Magazines, blogs and other forms of media geared toward a specific market can help you figure out what your customers are looking for. 
  • Hanging out online: Check out social media pages, #hashtags, discussion groups and other online locations to see what your audience is talking about. 
  • Your website: Collecting important data through a analytics software like Google Analytics can reveal important data about your core demographic. Find out where people are visiting your site from, and which devices they are using, so you can adjust accordingly. 

Secondary Research

Secondary research comes from outside sources – often, studies done by other organisations on demographics, tastes, decisions and values of certain groups can prove a valuable source of data for you when making decisions about your business. 

Here are some places you can conduct secondary research:

  • Universities and Libraries: These contain reports, journals and archived papers of thousands of studies across the world. 
  • Museums: Not all museums contain only “old stuff” and their archives can be a valuable source of information about certain groups. 
  • Government Departments: All government departments will be conducting research on a regular basis, and most of this is available freely for public use. 
  • Industry Associations: Of all your sources, these trade associations will have some of the most important insights into competitors in your area. 
  • LinkedIn: Visit popular groups within your niche and ask questions about pain points for certain products / services. 
  • Discussion forums: Pose interesting questions and ask users who are fans of similar products / services what they need and want. 

Saving $$$ on Market Research

Paying a company to perform your market research can be a costly endeavour. As a startup company, it’s probably best to perform your own research. It might not be as scientific or as accurate, but it will give you a fair idea of whether your business will float or sink in your current market.

Here are some free and cheap solutions for conducting primary and secondary market research:

  • Use free survey tools like SurveyMonkey to create a survey you can send out via social media and on your website. 
  • Talk to social media, communications and marketing graduates about conducting a market research project for your company. Graduates are always looking to pad their resumes and you should be able to get an enthusiastic worker at a great price. 
  • Head to your local library. It’s not all copies of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. You might be surprised at what’s available in your public library. Many academic journals and other papers can be accessed free online there, and the subject librarians can be extremely helpful. 
  • Conduct your own product testing by giving out free samples at events or outside stores. This can be a great way to test a new product. 
  • Browsing the internet takes nothing but time. Take a few hours to research some websites and social media pages associated with your target market, and identify some of the key pain points. 
  • You are probably already a member of your local industry organisations and associations. Talk to other business owners or your association staff about the research you need to conduct. They will probably be able to point you in the right direction, and the association might even have something useful on file. 
  • Investigate the government agency under which your industry sits. Government agencies are always conducting research, and most of it is free for the public to access and use. 
  • Community organisations can also be a valuable source of knowledge for certain demographics and areas. You might even be able to partner with a community group to provide something beneficial in return for some research assistance – such as exchanging some free legal advice seminars for the ability to survey members about your services. 

You’ve Finished Gathering Data … Now What?

As Sherlock Holmes says, data (clay) is needed to make your bricks. Your bricks are the products and services that build a successful business.

Once you’ve collected data from various sources, it’s time to put it all together.

  • create charts and graphs to present data in different ways. 
  • share your findings with other stakeholders and business partners. 
  • collect comments and survey answers from potential customers, rate them and group them in order to understand them better contextually. 
  • pull out the relevant data from your studies and journals, and discard the rest. 

Then, you need to mull. What is the data showing? What improvements can you make to your offerings to help them stand up better in the market? What are people saying about the current climate for your company? How many people will actually swap over to your new business, or is there a strong brand loyalty for your competitors in the area? It can be helpful to write down a list of questions you have and find the answers in the data.

What you do with your market research is up to you, but it’s important to have all the clay you need first first, before you start making your bricks. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a very crooked house.

Try This Simple, 8-Step Strategic Plan Template for Small Business Owners
Try This Simple, 8-Step Strategic Plan Template for Small Business Owners

A great opportunity might come up, and you need to jump on it fast.

But as the years go by and the initial stress calms down and things with the business start to stabilise, you begin to think about the future. You’re in a good place now, but the market is changing. Where will you be in five years time, ten years time? There are so many different options for how to guide and grow your company – what do you want to do?

It’s time you had a strategic plan What is a strategic plan? It’s just that; a plan where you set out your goals for the business and a strategy for making them a reality. The plan is valuable not only to help you plot a course of action to ensure you meet your goals, but it’s an important document to help staff, shareholders, stakeholders and potential investors to see the “big picture” for your company.

In this article, I give you a short and sweet template for creating a strategic plan. The rest is up to you:

Section 1: The Executive Summary

The point of this section is to succinctly outline your plan for the business and its direction. It should be written in a way that enables employees, stakeholders, investors and other interested parties to quickly grasp the concepts, even if they don’t understand the industry.

Tips for the Executive Summary

  • Complete this section last. You’ll be able to call out ideas and information highlighted in other sections. 
  • Don’t go into details or give numbers, unless they are big, round conceptual numbers. Just focus on the big picture. 

Section 2: Mission Statement

Your mission statement is your company manifesto. It’s what you bring to the world. It’s who you are and why you do what you do. In the statement, go into more detail than you did in the executive summary, focusing on the overarching goals and themes for your company.

Tips for the Mission Statement

  • Don’t overthink it. For many business owners this is the hardest section to write. Just start by writing freely about your own goals and where you want to company to be in five or ten years. Let the words flow out. You can edit later. 
  • Have a look at mission statements on other company websites to get an idea of how others articulate the essence of their business. 
  • Think of the mission statement as the document that drives all your decisions. Employees and stakeholders should be able to read the statement before making a difficult choice, and then be able to say, “This is the choice that aligns with the company’s goals.” 

Section 3: SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is a specialised analytical technique that focuses on looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is the section where you outline the strategies you’re going to use to take your business in the direction you want it to go, and identify what might stand in your way.

Tips for SWOT Analysis

  • You should consider hiring a business analyst to help you with your strategic plan and, in particular, this section. 
  • Look at examples of SWOT analysis done on other businesses to understand what you need to do. 

Section 4: Goals

You move your company forward by setting and achieving specific goals, whether those goals are based on a certain number of customers or income, or something else entirely. In this section, you identify a series of goals for the company.

Tips for writing goals:

  • Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable and Timely.
  • First, set your long-term goals. These have a timeframe of five to ten years. 
  • Then, identify the steps that need to be taken to reach those goals. Drill down until each step can be identified as a short- or medium-term goal. Include these in the strategic plan. 
  • Don’t feel as though you’re locked down to the plan or your goals. Things could change over the next couple of years, and your strategic plan will simply change too. But having a plan in place to start with, even if it isn’t the plan you finish with, is vital for your continued success. 
  • In the goals section, you should also include data on your Key Performance Indicators – KPIs. These are the numbers that tell you how you’re doing against your goals. You need to track these KPIs and measure them regularly, so you can continue to plot a course towards your goals. 

Section 5: Financial Plan

So, where’s the money for you great goals and plans and schemes going to come from? In the financial plan section, you outline the hard numbers.

Tips for the Financial Plan:

  • Don’t try and do this section yourself, unless you are an accountant. Bring a business analyst or accountant on board to give you accurate, realistic figures. 
  • Financial projections often include three scenaries: a conservative scenario, a likely scenario, and an OMIGOD-I-AM-RICHER-THAN-BILL-GATES scenario. Remember not to base your expectations on the latter. 
  • Once you’ve got the financial plan in place, you should track your progress month-to-month against your goals. The reporting tools in software like WorkflowMax can help you get an accurate picture of how your business is doing and whether you need to move the guideposts.

Section 6: Target Customers and Industry Analysis

In this section, you take an in-depth look at the state of your industry and the people – clients and customers – who you serve.

Tips for the Industry & Customer analysis

  • In this section you look closely at your competitors, and figure out their strengths and weaknesses in the market. In order to crush your enemy, you need to truly understand him! 
  • Use this data on your competitors to figure out your own competitive strengths and weaknesses. Do you have any strategies for eliminating or minimising those weaknesses? 
  • Figure out if your market is growing or shrinking, and what you can expect demand for your product/service to be over the life of your company. 

Section 7: Marketing Plan

The marketing plan outlines how you intend to present your company to market and what your goals and projections are for increasing your customer base or reaching the next level.

Tips for the marketing plan:

  • First, define and outline your USP – Unique Selling Proposition. This is the “it” factor that sets your company apart from the rest. Your USP should be something that resonates strongly with customers, such as delivering quality, speed or a unique product. 
  • Next, think about positioning. How is your product or service positioned? Is this right? What can you do to change it? Are you a premier brand or do you target cost-saving customers? 
  • Think also about different distribution channels and how the marketing for each channel may differ. For example, if you own a retail store, but you also sell online, how will you market those two different storefronts?
  • What kinds of offers and special deals are you going to provide? 
  • What marketing collateral do you have and what do you still need to create? 
  • Outline both your above-the-line and below-the-line strategies. 

Section 10: Conclusion

Wrap everything up at the end with a clever conclusion and a peppy statement about your company’s bright future. Bring in data from the different sections together to focus attention on the important areas for growth and the areas you need to dramatically improve.

Depending on the type of business you are operation, you may need additional sections, particularly where you talk about your team or operations plan, or provide specific financial details.

And there you have it. You’ve completed a strategic plan for your business! Now, it’s time to make that strategy a reality…

Why You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty About Charging For Your Time
Why You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty About Charging For Your Time

She’s great at what she does – she knows it, her client knows it, all the stakeholders know it. She’s efficient and can practically do the work with her eyes closed (a helpful skill to have when you’re a sleep-deprived mother).

But interestingly, she asked me the other day: “Is it weird that I feel bad every time I send the client an invoice for my time? I feel so awkward asking for money!”

Actually, I knew exactly what she meant..

As a copywriter, I always felt a pang of anxiety every time I sent an invoice. I had no reason to. I was always clear with my clients around pricing expectations and I was always ready to offer up a breakdown of time if they requested it (actually, no one ever did).

But for some reason, asking for money gave me the guilts. Was I asking too much? Will they think that the work is worth it? Will the client question how much time I spent? Did I accurately record my time? Will they ever ask me to do work again?

Why do we feel guilty for charging for our time?

There could be any number of reasons why sending out an invoice makes you uncomfortable. Sellers’ guilt is particularly common for those who work in creative or artistic industries, where you might feel that value is subjective or hard to quantify.

Perhaps you:

  • don’t feel worthy or value your skills 
  • don’t feel qualified enough or feel like a fraud 
  • think that asking for money will make your relationships awkward 
  • feel that asking for money is ‘unethical’ because of your own beliefs around money 

Well, here’s a swift lesson: guilt doesn’t pay the bills.

Sellers’ guilt has the potential to take you or your business down. So, if sending out your invoices makes you feel anxiety, guilt or shame, then here are 10 things to remember to help you get comfortable with unapologetic invoicing:

What you do makes a difference

Your clients approach you and engage your services because they need your help. You provide them with something that they need, and otherwise may not have been able to do themselves. Remember that the reason you are selling your services is because you also want to help people and make a difference.

Understand the value you are generating for your client

The friend I mentioned earlier is contracted to help organise big events. The work she does has the potential to bring big money – and big kudos – to her client. That also means big value. If she considers how much value her work will bring the company, she would realise she has no need to question her hourly rate.

Noah Kagan from AppSumo uses this example: When Mint hired him, they paid him $100,000 for being the director of marketing. He thought they were nuts for giving a 24-year-old that kind of money. The work he did in that role contributed to Mint selling for $170,000,000. So, I’m pretty sure that $100,000 was well worth it.

It’s not personal, it’s business

You walk into the supermarket because you need milk and bread, you select the product you want and take it to the check out. You pay for the products based on the price that the supermarket decides to charge. There’s no room for negotiation here. Why should it be any different when it comes to your services?

Discuss your rates openly before you start any work. If your client doesn’t like your rate, they don’t have to use your services. That’s simply the way business works. Don’t feel that you are taking away wealth from someone else when you charge for your services, you are in fact simply contributing to the economy in the same way that the power company, the grocery store or your insurance provider is.

Research market rates

If you want to feel confident that your rates are fair, keep an eye on competitor pricing and market rates. If you’re below average then you’re likely underselling yourself, if you’re above average, make sure you are sufficiently communicating your value to your clients so they understand that you’re worth what you say you are. Trust that your prices are fair, or if they’re not, re-evaluate.

Discounting only reduces your value

Don’t offer discounts just to quell those guilty pangs. People value what they pay for. If you continuously reduce your prices, you’re also reducing your worth, and your customers will not appreciate the real value of your services.

Discuss expenses from the start

Agree on what you will be including in your invoice other than the time spent. This includes things such as meetings, milage, phone bill, travel time, printing, additions to project scope or any incidental purchases that you may have had to make during the course of your project. It will no longer keep you awake at night wondering if your client is going to Spanish-Inquisition your expenses.

If you don’t think your clients will agree to paying for these things, consider incorporating the cost of them into your overall charge out rate instead.

Provide a breakdown

If you are concerned that your client might question your cost, send through an invoice with a clear breakdown of time or services before they even have to ask. If it’s all there in black and white they will have a clear understanding of where their money is going.

Use job management software such as WorkflowMax to help you manage this. You can directly input your costs and time using timesheets. This information is then pulled straight through to your invoice.

You don’t owe them anything

For my friend, her contract arrangement works perfectly. She can work from home, still look after her daughter, work hours that suit, keep her mind challenged and do something that she genuinely enjoys. It’s not hard to see why she feels lucky about her situation. But her client didn’t employ her just to do her a favour. They need her. Demonstrate that you’re grateful for the opportunity to work for the company by delivering great work – but then charge what you’re worth!

You’re worth it

Chances are that you are in the position to work for yourself and dictate your own earnings because you have earned it. You’ve studied, worked hard, and done the long slog to get to where you are. Remind yourself that you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt, strong industry relationships and an excellent reputation. If you’re doubting yourself, ask clients for feedback or testimonials for validation.

You’re likely saving your clients money

Yes, they might not exactly see it that way, but it’s true. My friend commented that she is so conscious of keeping client costs down that she has never worked so efficiently. She knows that if she wants to keep her contract, pick up work going forward and establish a great reputation, she has to work hard and deliver great results.

In my own business, there were many tasks that I could have tried to do myself instead of hiring someone. For example I could have slapped up a DIY website, designed my own business card and completed my own tax returns. But the time I would have spent on getting these things right would work out far more costly – and stressful – than hiring a professional to take care of it for me.

Always remember, people prioritise where they spend their money. If they’ve made a decision to use your services then they recognise the value and understand that it comes at a cost. So long as you maintain honest practices around timetracking and invoicing, you should send off your monthly invoices without apology and feel confident that the services you provide are making a difference in the lives or businesses of your clients!

Are you a sufferer of ‘sellers’ guilt’? What other advice do you have for fellow sufferers?

5 Ways to Help Your Team Master the Work-Life Balancing Act
5 Ways to Help Your Team Master the Work-Life Balancing Act

In addition, Americans use an average of 51% of available personal time off, and 61% choose to work even when they’re on “vacation.”

Throughout many industrialized nations, and most specifically the U.S., we’ve created a culture where we are expected to be more productive and work longer hours. This can lead to exhausted employees, costly mistakes and a great deal of stress.

According to Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, “Not only do mistakes cost money, but stress-related illnesses—like depression—account for the highest behavioral costs.”

For this reason, a negative work-life balance is as much a health issue for the business as it is the employee. Following are five ways to help promote a better employee work-life balance.

1. Adopt Project Management and Time Tracking Technology

The number one reason (40%) employees don’t take time off is because they fear the mountain of work they’d come back to. It can be hard for your teammates to take time away from the office if they have too much work on their plate.

Leverage project management and time tracking tools to keep tabs on employee workloads, deadlines and ownership responsibilities. Review project status reports and timesheets weekly to flag when workloads inhibit taking time away.

Shift assignments, assign more support or work with the employee to find ways to optimize their time management to ensure work gets done, and they don’t feel conflicted about taking time away.

2. Move to the Cloud

Unchain workers from their desks by moving your business technology to the cloud. Cloud-based platforms give any employee with a browser and an internet connection the ability to access important work documents and systems from anywhere, at any time.

Consider moving some of the following technologies to the cloud:

Webmail (e.g. Gmail) Document management (e.g. Google Drive). Project management and time tracking (e.g. WorkflowMax). Customer relationship management (e.g. Salesforce). Accounting platform (e.g. Xero).

3. Get Flexible with Time

With employees no longer chained to their desks, give them the flexibility to adjust their schedules as the need arises. For example, let them start the day from home so they can drop the kids off, leave for an hour in the middle of the day to get to a doctors appointment, or take off early to go enjoy a couple hours of sunshine.

As Entrepreneur states, “the main reason [to implement flex time into workplace operations] is to retain key, dedicated employees whose personal needs conflict with traditional work hours.”

As a 2010 study by the Cranfield School of Management in the United Kingdom found, it’s a benefit that can help your business. According to the study,“workers given flexible hours by their employers tend to work more intensely than their counterparts with more rigid office hours.” Reason being? Workers felt they owed employers a thank you for empowering them to choose where and when to get work done.

4. Remove Incentives to Work More

Some employees may need an extra push or incentive to use vacation time.

Start by staffing departments so that work can be appropriately covered when a person is out of the office. This will help alleviate some of the fear that they’ll have a mountain of work to come back to.

Next, continuously empress upon employees the need to take time off. This messaging needs to come from the top down, and it can’t be lip service.

Finally, take a look at your existing benefits structure. Are there incentives in place that encourage employees to avoid taking vacation days? Examples here include rollover of vacation days year to year, or end of the year lump-sum payments for vacation days left unused. Instead, implement a “use it or lose it” vacation policy where any vacation days left unused at the end of the year are lost.

If that’s not enough, consider going the way of Evernote and FullContact and pay your employees to take some time to disconnect.

5. Plan Team Outings

All work and no play will make Jack, Jane and all of your employees dull boys and girls. Demonstrate to employees that downtime and a life outside of work are core company values with planned outings.

Consider regular happy hours, attending sports games as a team or host themed potluck lunches or dinners. Also encourage employees to bring their families and loved ones (not to the happy hours).

Promote the need for relaxation, unwinding and relationship building on topics other than the latest department project. Have these events serve as reminders to your team that unplugging every once in a while is important.

How does your company help team members live both work and personal lives to the fullest? Share in the comment section below.

Don’t Fall into the Trap! Three Myths About Finding Great Leaders
Don’t Fall into the Trap! Three Myths About Finding Great Leaders

What we forget is that leaders are inherently part of a team, and without a team of supporters, leaders don’t exist. A true leader relies on his or her peers and surroundings to help be the most effective they can be. Bulldoze over these myths and avoid common misconceptions when trying to identify the leaders at your organization. You’ll be glad you did.

Myth #1: Leaders are Assigned By Management

As much as they might like to think that’s the case, in practice leaders are nominated by peers, not selected by management. Accordingly, you don’t need anybody’s permission to become a leader — just start leading. You’ll know it’s working when people follow. A good company aligns top-down management with bottom-up leadership, and thus will recognize your leadership and promote you for it.

Myth #2: Great Leaders are Larger Than Life Personalities

While there are obviously some clear examples of that (e.g. Steve Jobs), there’s many who would argue that he succeeded despite his personality, not because of it. Rather, it’s generally accepted that the best leaders quietly enable others to be their best, rather than driving everybody toward the leader‘s own vision. Perhaps the earliest recognition of this is in the Tao Te Ching: The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”

Myth #3: Leaders are Born, Not Made

I think this fallacy is more damaging than any other. Leadership is a series of learnable skills — mostly around effective listening, communication, and an empathetic creativity to truly seek out and understand another person’s position, even if it’s not very clear to them. Ultimately, leadership is the end result of anybody seeking to increase their (hopefully positive) impact on the world beyond what they can achieve themselves.

Whether you’re an aspiring leader or searching for the right person to lead your team, keep these common myths in mind so as to find a leader that truly does what he or she is intended to do: lead.

Want to work in an environment that encourages personal growth and leadership development? Check us out – we’re hiring web and mobile engineers!

Work less and get more done
Work less and get more done

What about internal business processes such as onboarding employees, reconciling time and attendance data with payroll, or managing your invoicing and accounts?

Doesn’t it seem incongruous and out of place that your working life is hampered by slow, manual processes?

If you or your employees are spending (wasting) a large number of hours each week on manual processes, then it’s a direct drain on your productivity. It’s no oxymoron to work less and get more done. It should be a way of life. It should be how you run your business.

It’s a matter of automating all those manual tasks in your business and freeing yourself and your employees from time sapping drudgery. With the rise of cloud computing, automation is not just for big businesses anymore. You can achieve business process automation both quickly and inexpensively.

Where to start?

First, you simply need to evaluate where you currently spend the most time on manual processes. If you’re like most small businesses, you’ll find that you’re spending large amounts of unproductive time handling the admin side of your invoicing and accounting, payroll as well as workforce management processes.

So make these your priority.

There’s a large number of business productivity and accounting tools in the cloud. This means you don’t have to worry about finding a consultant or funding expensive business process automation tools. Nor do you need to plan for a lengthy technology rollout.

In many cases, you can replace manual labour intensive work tasks with efficient self-service and automated processes practically overnight.

Fast and simple

With accounting and payroll, moving to a cloud-based accounting system, you can expect to save days each month by replacing the need to manually raise invoices and chase payments with features that let you convert estimates to invoices in one click and easily reconcile money in and out of your business account.

At the same time, using automated and centralised workforce planning tools like Deputy, you can minimise the time you spend on time and attendance management and rostering, to free yourself up to do more strategic tasks.

With labour being a major cost for most businesses, ensuring that the right resource with the right skills is scheduled at the right time can greatly improve your workforce utilisation and therefore your profitability. With Deputy, you can tightly manage this process, and do so effortlessly.

Wouldn’t you like this level of control without the rostering and work scheduling pain?

As the year end fast approaches, it’s a great time now to start thinking about how you can work less and get more done. Take a trial of Deputy now and put your business on a really strong footing as we head into 2015.

10 Tricks You Didn’t Know to Improve Your Use of Gmail
10 Tricks You Didn’t Know to Improve Your Use of Gmail

Everyone, from the drummer in a garage punk band to the biggest CEOs in the world, can enjoy the benefits of gmail.

But even people like me, who’ve been using Gmail for more than five years, can still learn a thing or two about the program’s tricks and features. In this post you will find ten cool features of gmail you might not know about, and how to get them working on your own computer. Bring on Inbox-Zero!

1. Don’t Drink and Type – You Can “Undo” Sent Emails

  • Have you ever typed an email in anger and wished you could take it back? 
  • How many times have you realised an embarrassing error after you’ve hit send? 
  • Wouldn’t the greatest email invention be some kind of time machine? 

Gmail has come to the rescue, allowing you to “undo” sent emails. You can get that email back before the recipient even reads it. To enable the “undo send” function, simply:

  • Click on the gear in the top-right corner.
  • Click “Settings”, then choose “Labs”. Find the Lab feature called “Undo Send”.
  • Enable this feature and click “Save Changes”.
  • Then, go to the “General” tab, scroll down to the “Undo Send” section.
  • Enable the feature there, and click “Save Changes”. You’re done!

2. Sick of Typing the Same Message Out Multiple Times? Create Canned Responses

Canned responses are one of my favourite gmail features – simply create email templates of your most commonly-sent emails. Then, when you need to send one, with a couple of clicks you can place it in a message.

To create a canned response, follow this tutorial:

  • Click on the “Labs” tab
  • Navigate to “Canned Responses” – click the button to enable.
  • Click Save.
  • Compose your template email in the normal way.
  • In the lower right corner of the email, you’ll see an arrow. Click on that. A menu will open.
  • Click on “Canned Response”. To make this a new response, click “New Canned Response.”
  • Name your response – choose a name that describes the contents and is easy for you to remember.
  • Click OK.

Now, next time you go to compose a message, click on “More Options” in the bottom right corner of the message window, click on Canned Responses and choose the name of the email.

Learn more about Canned Responses here, and if you want more ideas on creating email templates for difficult client situations, check out our awesome free ebook 15 Emails to Keep Clients Happy.

3. Improve the Storage Capacity With Google Drive

Have you ever tried to send an email with a huge attachment, only to find it’s too large to get through? Well, with Google Drive you can upload and attach all those large files and send them to whoever you want. It’s that easy.

With Drive, you can attach and send files up to 10GB in size – that’s 400x larger than what you can send through Gmail alone. If that isn’t big enough … then I don’t know what is!

4. Hide Your Secret Penname with Multiple Email Address Reply

This is one of the gmail features I LOVE the most. You can tie more than one email address to the same gmail account, and then send emails to other people from your choice of addresses.

When you run several different websites, it’s good to be able to answer with the correct address for that site while still being able to see and sort all your email in one inbox.

To set up multiple email accounts:

  • First, you need to own the email account associated with the alternate address. Got that? Good.
  • Select “Settings” from the gear symbol in the top right of your screen.
  • Click the “Accounts and Imports” tab.
  • In the “Email Address” field, enter the email address you want to be able to use.
  • Then, enter the SMTP server (e.g. smtp.domain.com), and your username and password for that account.
  • Click “Add Account”.

Open your other email account and locate the message Gmail sent you. Click on the link or enter the confirmation code in the Accounts section of your Gmail settings.

Now, whenever you send an email, you should find a dropdown menu in the “From” section where you can choose a different email address.

Learn more here.

5. The Dots are All In Your Mind – The Dots in Your Email Address Don’t Matter

This is a completely new feature to me, but you better believe I’m going to be putting it to good use from now on.

In your gmail address, you can add a dot at any point, and your email will still go to the same email address. So businessname@gmail.com, business.name@gmail.com, and bu.sin.ess.na.me@gmail.com all point to the one email address – yours. You can then filter results by the email address used – it’s great if you want an address to sign up for stuff and then you can use it to quickly filter and clear away junk email.

And that’s not all – you can also add + and then a word to the end of your email address. So, for example. you could use businessname@gmail.com, businessname+invoices@gmail.com, businessname+askaquestion@gmail.com – you can then filter your results by these addresses, enabling you to organise your inbox even faster.

6. Stars in Your Eyes – Use Stars to Sort & Prioritize

  • Got an important email to reply to, but you need to get back to it later in the day? 
  • Have a prospect request a new quote and don’t want to lose it amongst your other emails? 
  • One of your contractors didn’t get paid and you need to chase up his invoice? There are all sorts of reasons you need to flag different emails for actions. 

With Gmail’s “stars”, this is simple:

When viewing your inbox, click on the star icon next to the sender’s name.

If you’re reading a message, the star appears in the upper right corner of the message.

When writing a message, click “More Options” in the bottom right corner. Click “Label” and “Add Star”.

Different types of stars enable you to categorize different flagged emails. Then, you can filter your search through the different stars and flags, enabling you to quickly navigate to the right email.

Click on the gear symbol in the top-right corner. Select “Settings”. Under the “General” tab, you’ll find a “stars” section.

Drag your chosen stars from “Not in Use” to “In Use”. You can then re-order the stars however you like.

Click “Save Changes”, and you’re done!

Learn more about stars here.

7. Power-Up Gmail with the Use of Apps.

Like practically every piece of awesome online tools these days, Gmail can be sculpted and tailored to your tastes with the use of apps. Here are some popular Gmail apps:

  • TaskForce is a simple, easy-to-use task/job management app. Turn your emails into tasks, create to-do lists and set due dates. 
  • Rapportive is a social media app that will show you what all your contacts are doing on social media – you’re able to view and reply to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other messages. The
  • Email Game turns reaching inbox zero into a game. Earn points as you fight against the clock to clear those emails! 

For more gmail apps, see this list of 10 Gmail Apps, and while you’re at it, check out these 18 awesome browser extensions for gmail.

8. There Are No Shortcuts in Life, But There are Shortcuts in Gmail

I’ve never been much of a keyboard shortcut girl. I’ve always believed that learning all the different configurations would be more effort than the time shortcuts would save. After all, how long does it REALLY take you to take your hand off the keyboard and put it on the mouse?

One day, a friend showed me how she’d created shortcuts to add styles to her documents in word. CHANGED MY LIFE. Shortcuts are amazing.

There are more than 50 shortcuts for gmail, which help you run the whole show from your keyboard.

Some of my most frequently-used include:

“n” and “p” to go to the next / previous message in a conversation thread.

c – compose – opens a new message window.

s – star – star a message or conversation

Ctrl + Shift + c – moves to the CC field to add recipients.

Ctrl + Shift + f – moves to the “From” field so you can change the from address (see point 4).

Check out the list of all 50+ shortcuts for PC and Mac, plus how to get them working in gmail.

9. Don’t Want That Promo Email? Gmail Makes it Easy to Unsubscribe

How did I never notice this before?

Gmail makes the unsubscribe option on promotional emails super obvious, so you can clear away the clutter once and for all.

10. Declutter the Inbox and Update Your Tabs!

Tabs are a new Gmail feature designed to enable you to quickly swap between different email boxes – from your primary email to your social updates and your favourite online shopping newsletters.

Did you know you can actually choose which tabs you show across the top of your inbox?

You can enable different tabs by:

clicking on the gear, clicking “Configure Inbox” and then choosing the tabs you want. For example, I use the “Forums” tab to keep track of discussions from online groups I’m involved in.

Twelve and a half reasons to use a Paperless Onboarding System
Twelve and a half reasons to use a Paperless Onboarding System

These systems turn piles of paperwork and training materials into super slick online processes that integrate with your HR information systems and payroll processing. To better understand how these systems work watch this video.

Even the best inventions can take years to gain mass market adoption but this is one revolution you want to lead. In case you need any more convincing here are 12.5 reasons why you should roll out a Paperless Onboarding System or Paperless Induction System in your company.

1. They are As Fast As Lightning

Delivering employment contracts, forms and other induction materials using a Paperless Onboarding System occurs instantaneously. Applicants can also accepted, complete and return these materials within minutes.

2. They are Super Cost Effective

There is almost zero incremental cost to delivering HR materials electronically. On the other hand printing and posting paper based onboarding materials can easily cost over $10 per pack and that is before factoring in the cost of administration and wastage when materials become outdated or misplaced. In the case of Employment Hero our paperless onboarding module is a complementary feature of a broader HRIS and payroll platform.

3. They Improve Compliance

Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems create an electronic audit trail that can be relied upon to prove that materials were delivered, read, accepted and completed. Such audit trails are difficult to establish and maintain when dealing with paper and snail mail. In Australia all employers are legally required to provide every employee with access to documents such as the Fair Work Information Statement, National Employment Standards, industrial instruments and more. Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems make compliance easier to achieve and prove.

4. They Impress Candidates & Improve your Employer Branding

First impressions count. A slick, fully branded online onboarding and induction process helps you show candidates that your business is innovative, efficient, Green and up with the times.

5. They are More Engaging

Online Induction Systems enable employers to deliver induction materials in more engaging and entertaining ways. This includes replacing boring induction manuals with effective video presentations. Learning can also be demonstrated with online questionnaires. Employers can convert written policies and safety training into short video demonstrations that everybody can understand more quickly.

6. They are Easier to Edit & Update

Out of date paper based induction materials get thrown away but paperless onboarding materials can be quickly updated and reissued online. Updating and reissuing a policy to an entire business takes minutes and employees can easily be prompted and reminded to read or watch the new content.

7. They Integrate with HRIS & Payroll Systems

Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems often integrate with HRIS and payroll systems so that data does not need to be replicated and re-keyed between these applications. This saves time and improves accuracy.

8. They Provide Real Time Metrics & Insights

Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems enable businesses to see who has seen, signed or completed content and track what phase of the onboarding or induction process they are at. Many systems also build in alerts and reminders to keep people moving through the process. This level of real time monitoring is impossible with paper based systems.

9. They are Cloud Based

Most Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems are cloud based. This means you don’t need to develop the software or buy and maintain the IT infrastructure required to host these systems. Cloud systems are also extremely reliable and secure because they are hosted in cutting edge hosting facilities with robust backup and disaster recovery infrastructure.

10. They are Private & Secure

Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems are hosted on private and secure networks that can only be accessed by the people that you give access. Paper based induction packs can be easily copied and shared outside the organisation.

11. They are Green

As the name implies Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems are more environmentally friendly.

12. They are Anywhere, Anytime

Paperless Onboarding and Induction Systems can be accessed anywhere with access to the internet via a PC, tablet or smartphone.

12.5 They are Innovative

A Paperless Onboarding and Induction System is a smart innovation that every business should be investing in.

IT Services – 4 Tricks for Improving Support Ticket Responses
IT Services – 4 Tricks for Improving Support Ticket Responses

When you’ve had a computer crash, or you’ve got a software issue that’s preventing you from doing a certain job, or you’re terrified that you’ve wasted money on something that doesn’t work, you’re even more susceptible to taking offence to written messages. This is why customers dealing with email support are often more sensitive than other type of customers.

IT Services – 4 Tricks for Improving Support Ticket Responses
IT Services – 4 Tricks for Improving Support Ticket Responses

How many times have you sent a harmless text to a friend, only to have her misinterpret it is mean or rude? Without the tones and inflections of speech, often words on a page can be read as harsh or rude, when in fact that’s not the way they were meant at all.

When you’ve had a computer crash, or you’ve got a software issue that’s preventing you from doing a certain job, or you’re terrified that you’ve wasted money on something that doesn’t work, you’re even more susceptible to taking offence to written messages. This is why customers dealing with email support are often more sensitive than other type of customers.

Here at WorkflowMax, we use a fully email support system, and both our support team and our clients love it – it means you’re not waiting on hold for ages for your phone call to be answered. But with email support one of the most important things to get right are your responses – what you say to your customers, how you say it, and when you say it. Because that says a lot about how much you value them.

Here are our top tips for running a smooth email support system:

1. First Impressions Count – Even in Support Tickets


Imagine you’re a customer, and you’re having an annoying problem with your software. You are busy – you have work to get on with, and the software is acting up at the worst possible time. So you write in a support ticket – what do you want to hear from the support team?

You want assurance that they’ve received and understood your issue, and that they are going to do something about it.

For the very first communication with the support desk, your customer should understand that their query has been received, and within what timeframe they can expect to see a response. These first communications are usually automated, so work hard on your initial message – it needs to sound friendly, professional, and helpful, and not make the customer feel as if they’re a burden on your overworked staff (a common problem with initial message is making bad-taste jokes about the support staff being too busy dealing with inane, useless people to answer your call.

In your second communication, after you’ve ascertained all the information about the fault, there are some choices you can make.

  • Ask for more information
  • Offer a solution from your knowledge base
  • Pass the ticket on to the appropriate department
  • Call the customer and walk them through a fix
  • Escalate the problem and have a senior staff member deal with it
  • Tell the customer that this issue isn’t with your software and suggest who they can call next.

Create a list of action steps and present these to the customer. It’s really useful for them – especially if it’s a long process for a complex problem – to see what’s going to need to be done. Highlight any points you need them to follow up on. At all times, try to match your tone to theirs (so if they are polite and professional, you should be the same. And if they sound fun and not-too-worried, then it’s OK to be a bit light-hearted back).

Remember when writing to avoid speaking in ALL CAPS, because it looks as if you’re shouting at your customer. Likewise, avoid exclamation marks ! unless necessary, as they can look angry. If in doubt about how a particular sentence might be construed, it might be OK to add a smiley J on the end to show that you’re not mad.

2. Be Careful Not to Overuse Macros

Macros can make the overworked support team’s life much easier – by enabling the team to automate repetitive responses. In most situations, macros will help to streamline customer support queries.

But if a customer is irate or has a complicated series of problems, then receiving replies that are simply the standard marco responses can infuriate him/her further. For your more difficult customers, a personalised response – even if it’s just editing the macro – is advisable.

Some companies will ask their team members to customise macros before they send them out – this makes them sound more personalised and less like stock answers. This may be too time consuming for all responses, but can be effective in companies with a smaller number of tickets.

3. Establish Sound Internal Workflows to Manage Ongoing Tickets


Even though as support agents, your team excel at solving issues, sometimes, a problem simply takes a long time to fix. What if a ticket remains unresolved at the end of your shift? How do you let a customer know when you’ve worked through a step in their issue?

By setting up simple, actionable internal workflow processes, you can ensure the right information is passed along, and the customer isn’t left hanging. Here are some tips for improving workflows:

  • Use collaboration tools to leave notes and pass tickets along to other support team workers. Tools such as Lynk, Yammer, Skype and Trello help with leaving messages for and communicating with other staff. They can also be a great way to crowdsource solutions when you’re dealing with a ticket outside of your own knowledge.
  • Create internal notes on tickets. These notes can remind you – or inform other support staff – about any issues or observations to do with the ticket, action steps, etc.
  • Update the customer regularly, even if it’s to say there’s no update. Sometimes, you’ll leave an issue for a team to deal with, and it will take a while to get it sorted. But the customer doesn’t know that. All they know is that they haven’t heard anything. They’ll appreciate an update to say you’re working on it – so they know they have someone on the inside watching things for them.
  • Tag and categorize tickets so that more urgent and ongoing tickets can be instantly seen and dealth with. For example, using the “priority” field in Zendesk.

4. Take Note of Feedback … Even If It Isn’t Pleasant


It’s true that the most irate (and often the most crazy) customers will leave the most detailed feedback, and as part of a customer support team, you’re bound to have a few horror stories from previous tickets. But feedback is vital to finding the holes in your customer service practices, and making your team faster, stronger, better.

If a customer sends in feedback, thank them (no matter the contents) and raise the issues with your team. Whenever you receive feedback, it’s important to assess it diplomatically and locate the pain points in your processes. Where could you improve?

Talk to the team about suggestions, or bring it to the wider support community – perhaps another company has a workflow model or tool that will help solve the issue. Using tools like Zendesk and Freshdesk, you can tag tickets where customers have given feedback, and look at them together to find patterns. Acting on your feedback will make your support service even better!

How To Solve The Biggest Problems Associated With Employee Conflict
How To Solve The Biggest Problems Associated With Employee Conflict

As a manager, how you deal with employee conflict is crucial and it’s important that you have processes in place that set a standard.

The Biggest Management Mistake You Don’t Want To Make
The Biggest Management Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

At the risk of sounding like a broken record…Bad rostering will hurt your business. A lot.

How To Solve The Biggest Problems Associated With Employee Conflict
How To Solve The Biggest Problems Associated With Employee Conflict

We’ve put together some strategies that make this process less daunting and if executed correctly, can lighten the weight of some of the more burdensome tasks of being a manager.

  1. A positive environment: A positive environment encourages positive interactions. As a result, the likelihood for conflict lessens. 
  2. Define acceptable behaviour: It’s important that appropriate and acceptable behaviour is defined right from the very beginning. Everyone must be on the same page which will allow disciplining a much easier task for you knowing that the bar is set at the same level for every employee. 
  3. Let people tell their story: Lend an ear. This often can do the world of good for the employee/s in question and that may be all that is needed. Let them get their feelings of their chest. 
  4. Identify the true impediment: Delve a little further into any conflicts that arise and look for recurring patterns. If there’s something that seems to pop up too often then you know fixing the source, levels of conflict are likely to drop. 
  5. Approach it as soon as the behaviour becomes prevalent: The longer you leave it brewing, the likelihood the bigger the explosion in the end. If you can learn to sense conflict that may arise, try and meet this conflict head on before it comes to fruition. If you leave it too long, your employees will lose faith in you as a mentor and role model. 
  6. Determine the type of conflict and its severity: Everyone is different and each person has their own ideas and opinions on types of conflict. Try and put yourself in both parties shoes and determine the severity of the conflict. Is it simply petty and can be dealt with quickly and easily? Or is it something much more? 
  7. Eliminate favouritism: Favoritism is a recipe for disaster. Although it is human nature for us to like some people more than others, try and make an effort with each and every employee. It help to eliminate you from being drawn into conflicts and used as someone’s personal ammunition! 
  8. Accommodate the differences: If a little reshuffling of shifts is necessary to keep the air clear and peaceful – then go ahead! If certain employees think it’s better that they are apart and this doesn’t interfere with the flow of the business, do all you can to keep all parties happy. Of course – within reason though. 
  9. Realize that not all brains are the same: Everyone is different. Some conflicts may take longer than others to solve. The more experience you have with dealing with them, the better the mechanisms you will develop to cope with them. Always remember that no two people are ever going to react exactly the same. 
  10. Verbal and written warnings: This is obviously the route you want to avoid as much as possible. Do ensure you have strict company policies in place regarding employee conflict management and stick to these policies! Having a good benchmark will the HR side of things a lot easier for you and the rest of your management team. All conflicts need attention and must be dealt with accordingly and with the correct action. 

If you need to reshuffle employees that don’t seem to be getting along – here’s your solution! Give a free trial of goRoster a go here and see how this onerous task can now be simple and all fixed with an easy click of a button…

The Biggest Management Mistake You Don’t Want To Make
The Biggest Management Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

Rostering when executed incorrectly can be an utter time waster for you as a manager and for the overall smooth running of your business. The concept of no-shows is something that everyone in a managerial role has been faced with at some point in their career. So why is it that people sometimes don’t turn up to work? Or they turn up to the wrong shift, at the wrong time?

Too often we see businesses with employees who are constantly changing their minds, swapping shifts with their friends, complaining that they don’t have a social life, or simply that they’re missing out on the fun shifts.

Cloud based rostering is by far the best solution for you as a business. If you can place some of the onus back on the employee, you’re helping to eliminate any potential for error. The meticulous, precise nature of cloud based rostering helps to ensure that you’re making the best decisions for your business whilst enabling you to accurately forecast in both real-time and in the future.

In any management role it’s important that your time is spent carefully. Fine tune those certain tasks where time spent can be reduced. Rostering should be completed efficiently, effectively and when done correctly should help you gain a lot more control over your wage costs. Don’t partake in bad rostering.

Make smart choices. If you want any advice on how to gain more control over your costs with better rostering, get in touch with us now or give our free trial a go here.

3 Totally Preventable Causes of Stockouts (and How to Avoid Them)
3 Totally Preventable Causes of Stockouts (and How to Avoid Them)

Stockouts almost always make it to the “worst nightmare” lists of retailers, and for good reason. Not only do they lead to lost sales, out-of-stocks also result in poor customer satisfaction and lower loyalty levels.

Solving The Procrastination Problem
Solving The Procrastination Problem

Many of us procrastinate, but how many of us are chronic procrastinators? Negatively affecting not only our own performance but the people we work with.

3 Totally Preventable Causes of Stockouts (and How to Avoid Them)
3 Totally Preventable Causes of Stockouts (and How to Avoid Them)

Shoppers often feel let down when they encounter an out-of-stock message, and we know that as a retailer, the last thing you want is to disappoint customers.

Fortunately though, there are a number of solutions to your out-of-stock woes. Many causes of stockouts can be prevented by taking steps to better understand your business and products, and by refining certain store processes.

To give you a better idea of how you can accomplish this, below are 3 common causes of stockouts and pointers on how you can sidestep them:

1. Inaccurate data

It’s very easy to run into inaccuracies when dealing with inventory. Between shipment variances, misplaced products, returns, and stolen goods, retailers find that the inventory numbers they have on paper often don’t match what they have in their stores.

Such discrepancies can lead to merchants mistakenly thinking that they have an item in stock when they don’t, so they end up re-ordering the wrong products or quantities.

How can you address this? Consider the following:

a. Use a modern inventory system – The first step to avoiding discrepancies is to implement an electronic (ideally cloud-based) inventory system. Keeping track of products using a pen and paper, isn’t just time-consuming, it can also lead to mistakes.

It’s best to use a point-of-sale or inventory system that automatically modifies inventory levels as you ring-up customers, so you won’t have to worry about manually updating your database. Such solutions are also extremely helpful if you have multiple locations because they allow you to manage multiple stores from one place.

b. Stay organized and vigilant – Of course, modern inventory systems can only go so far. While a nifty solution can keep your databases synced, it can’t deter shoplifters nor can it stop suppliers from delivering the wrong quantities.

This is where your diligence and organizational skills will come in. Get to the root of your inventory discrepancies. Is it an issue with your vendors? Are you dealing with theft? Whatever the case may be, find the reasons why the numbers aren’t adding up and take the necessary steps to stop them.

If it’s a matter of vendor discrepancies, for example, you may want to make changes with how deliveries are handled in your store. Perhaps you need to reschedule shipments to make sure that deliveries don’t happen all at once, or maybe you need to assign someone to double check the packing slips.

Dealing with theft? It could be time to upgrade your security system or re-arrange your store to make it easier for associates to keep an eye on shoppers.

Vend Tip –

For more information on how to reducing shrinkage, see our previous post on beefing up security and preventing loss in your store.

c. Consider RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) – Other retailers are taking on a mor

e hi-tech approach when it comes to maintaining inventory accuracy. Many are now using RFID–a technology that can store and track product information using a chip embedded in an item’s tag or packaging.

(image credit NXP)

RFID enables merchants to count, monitor, and search for merchandise using a handheld scanner (see image above), making it faster and easier for them to track down where each item is.

“People manually counting items in the supply chain take too much time; it is too expensive and is also fraught with error,” writes Will Roche of Xterprise on RetailSoulutionsOnline.com. According to him, RFID technology is the top solution for inventory data inaccuracies especially for apparel and footwear retailers.

2. Failure to re-order in a timely manner

This issue is pretty straightforward: products are flying off the shelves faster than you can re-stock, and this results in you selling out of in-demand items. How can you prevent it? Here are a couple of ways:

a. Find OOS (out of stock) patterns – Try to identify OOS trends in your store. A study by P&G found that OOS “tend to form patterns such as day of week,” and retailers can find them by regularly auditing their inventory and taking note of the days and times of the week when they usually experience stockouts.

Consider the chart below:

(Image credit: A Comprehensive Guide To Retail Out-of-Stock Reduction In the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Industry)

By looking at the data, it looks like OOS for this particular store peaks during Friday afternoon, Saturday at noon, and Sunday late afternoon. With this data in mind, the retailer can then schedule to have products delivered and replenished at just the right times to ensure that they don’t run into out-of-stocks.

b. Implement demand forecasting – As the term clearly indicates, this process is all about anticipating demand so you can determine when to reorder merchandise.

You can try to forecast demand on your own by using your judgement and factoring in stock turn, sell through, historical sales data, and other components such as promotions, seasonality, economic state, etc. Crunching these numbers should give you some insights into how products are going to perform.

Manually trying to predict demand however, can be tedious and opens up room for human error, which is why we recommend that you make use of apps that can automatically collect and analyze data for you.

Most modern POS systems come with inventory management and reporting features that can immediately tell you what your top products are and what you need to order more of. Some solutions even offer reorder alerts that automatically notify you if stock is running low, so you can replenish as necessary.

If you need more sophisticated tools, see if you can integrate with solutions like Stitchlabs or Unleashed, which streamline your inventory process and provide deeper analytics and functionality. Having the right data at your fingertips helps you make more accurate inventory decisions so you can keep your shelves healthily stocked, and your customers happy.

Case in point: BevMo! The alcoholic beverage retailer used a solution by JustEnough to predict demand in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

JustEnough factored in BevMo!’s current inventory plan and demand forecast then came up with an “ordering pattern to achieve BevMo!’s targeted service levels.” They also forecasted demand for products that don’t have sales history “by linking new products to the sales history for similar existing products.” This enabled BevMo! to know which items to stock up on and the retailer was also able to localize product mixes and orders at a store level.

3. Lack of labor training or availability

You can have excellent tools and a solid inventory plan in place, but if you don’t have the right employees to implement them, you’re still going to run into stockout issues.

For instance, you may have sufficient stock in the backroom, but if your staff isn’t staying on top of replenishing the shelves, customers may assume that you don’t have the merchandise available. Or, your inventory system could be offering some great insights, but if your employees don’t know how to interpret the data, then they can’t put the information to good use.

Prevent such issues from happening by investing in three areas: people, processes, and tools.

Let’s start with the first one:

a. People – Invest in better training for your staff. See to it that they not only know how to work your system, but that they’re also aware of what data and insights to take action on. If you can, have a vendor, technology partner, or consultant conduct the training to ensure that they get the proper education.

Also note that investing in your staff isn’t just about training them. You also need to invest in their well being. Happy employees work harder, are more motivated, and produce better results, which is why retailers should keep finding ways to empower them.

Vend Tip

Need concrete and actionable pointers on motivating your staff? Check out our popular post, 5 Proven Ways to Boost Employee Morale, Increase Productivity, and Drive Sales.

b. Processes – Design a business flow detailing the inventory process in your store, then assign people to take on each step. Who’s in charge of receiving items? Who’s supposed to replenish your shelves? At what point should the staff reorder products, and who’s in charge of doing it?

Have everything down on paper. Doing so will help you and your staff understand the process and implement it correctly.

This is exactly what Chris Herbert and Christian Smith of TrackR did. In an article on Entrepreneur, they talked about how documenting their inventory process–from receiving a purchase to fulfillment–enabled them to stay on top of things.

They wrote:

We created our business flow chart Mad Men style — with no computers, email or fancy software services. The end result? We had a document that detailed all the different people needed to fulfill an order and all the necessary communications between them. We then ushered this 1950s flow chart into the 21st century by choosing some automated software.

Consider doing the same for your store. Be clear on how inventory flows in your business, write down the process, and get your staff on the same page.

c. Tools – Arm yourself (and your staff) with tools that’ll make inventory-centric tasks easier.

For example, a lot of retailers make use of planograms to create visual representations of how products should be arranged in their store. Planograms are useful for merchandising purposes and can help retailers create the most appealing layouts. They’re also a great tool for staying on top of shelf inventory. By giving your staff a planogram to refer to, they can easily see if they need to replenish store shelves and if all the products are in the right place.

(Image credit: Vic 1976)

You could also consider more sophisticated tools such as in-store analytics solutions that let you measure foot traffic. Aside from allowing you to get to know your customers better, these tools can also help you staff your stores more effectively.

By knowing when your peak hours are, you can arrange staff schedules accordingly, and you won’t have to worry about not having enough people restocking the shelves or helping customers.

A great example of this in action can be seen in Superette, an apparel store that uses Vend and Swarm. According to founder James Rigden, using foot traffic analytics has helped them “with staff rostering, timing of staff breaks, timing of job allocations,” enabling them to stay on top off inventory, staffing, and customer service in one fell swoop.

Solving The Procrastination Problem
Solving The Procrastination Problem

If you guessed 1 in 5, you’d be right, and it appears that procrastination is even taking a heavy toll on company profits.

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, an expert in the field, stated in an interview with the American Psychological Association (APA) that chronic procrastination affects 1/5 U.S. adults. To put that into perspective, it is more prevalent than all anxiety disorders combined, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), PTSD, and all other phobias.

And procrastination consumes over 25% of an employee’s average workday, costing employers nearly $10,000 per employee every year, according to a study published in 2013.

Chronic procrastination is not just poor time management.

Putting off tasks does not indicate that an individual is necessarily a “procrastinator.” According to Dr. Ferrari, chronic procrastinators have made it a part of their lives, delaying at home, work, relationships, even filing their income taxes.

Understanding key differences between chronic procrastination and an isolated event of bad time management is a critical first step in diagnosing and subsequently finding a solution.

Types of procrastination.

There are many different opinions, definitions, and studies on the so-called types of procrastination. But my favorite comes from Paul Graham, it’s short, concise, and to-the-point.

“There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination”

Simple enough, right? Clearly “nothing” is the worst form, with “something less important” probably being the majority of procrastination.

As they say, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. If you have recognized yourself committing (a) or (b) on a frequent or even daily basis, the experts just might call you a chronic procrastinator.

You’re a chronic procrastinator, now what?

Well, just wait a minute and it might pass.

Kidding, of course!

Follow a few simple steps to get yourself back on the right path.

It’s important to remember that you didn’t come out of the womb as a procrastinator. It’s habitual and increases (or decreases) overtime according to your own actions, environment, and interruptions.

Control your own actions.

Social scientist, David Niven (from our own University of Cincinnati), suggests taking on the easiest slice of the most difficult task. This is viewed as a good way to create positive momentum and get satisfaction from completing work or tasks.

Procrastinators tend to focus on the cost of action rather than the benefit of completion, perpetuating the avoidance. So small wins of completion are imperative to enforcing the idea that the feeling of completion can rival the anxiety of trying in the first place.

Put yourself in the right environment.

You’ve heard the saying that you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time around. It’s funny how cliches are often true.

This is especially true for procrastinators. The environment you’ve put yourself in has a direct impact on your actions. Not only should you put yourself around other action-oriented people to create good habits, but you should limit interruptions as often as possible.

Limit the opportunity for interruptions.

As we’ve talked about before, a big key to increasing productivity is limiting multitasking and interruptions. Utilize the “do not disturb” function on your phone, or our favorite, Rescue Time, to alert you when you’ve been on your favorite gossip site for too long.

I’m a chronic procrastinator myself, and have learned that when anxiety starts to set in and I want to waste time – I take a 5 minute walk to re-focus myself.

I know what you’re thinking, you just wasted 5 minutes, what did you achieve? But compared to the 10, 15 and 20 minute increments I used to waste, I’m saving loads of time.

On that 5 minute walk I relax and remind myself of exactly what I need to get done, how important it is to me and my team, and how happy I’ll be once it’s completed. That gets me in the mood to take action every time!

Boost Media
Boost Media

Fusce posuere eu orci at faucibus. Morbi tellus quam, egestas in velit id, sodales placerat urna. Aenean vehicula elit a vehicula tincidunt. Aenean a leo feugiat risus rutrum semper. Pellentesque aliquet ultrices consectetur. Maecenas sit amet lobortis mi, quis porta ligula. Integer commodo velit neque, vitae tincidunt augue ultrices ut. Nunc dignissim convallis nunc ac fermentum. Nunc vel nulla tincidunt, gravida mauris nec, blandit enim. Sed dignissim quam neque, sed blandit ante convallis fermentum. Fusce porttitor eros venenatis libero molestie viverra. Donec blandit orci quis convallis molestie. Aliquam placerat enim sit amet lorem porttitor congue. Aenean eget congue urna. Praesent pharetra blandit eros, sed pretium mauris consectetur vel.

Receipt Bank
Receipt Bank

Fusce posuere eu orci at faucibus. Morbi tellus quam, egestas in velit id, sodales placerat urna. Aenean vehicula elit a vehicula tincidunt. Aenean a leo feugiat risus rutrum semper. Pellentesque aliquet ultrices consectetur. Maecenas sit amet lobortis mi, quis porta ligula. Integer commodo velit neque, vitae tincidunt augue ultrices ut. Nunc dignissim convallis nunc ac fermentum. Nunc vel nulla tincidunt, gravida mauris nec, blandit enim. Sed dignissim quam neque, sed blandit ante convallis fermentum. Fusce porttitor eros venenatis libero molestie viverra. Donec blandit orci quis convallis molestie. Aliquam placerat enim sit amet lorem porttitor congue. Aenean eget congue urna. Praesent pharetra blandit eros, sed pretium mauris consectetur vel.

— Please Select —
— Please Select —

This is a placeholder article that should be replaced with a real article before sending

— Please Select —
— Please Select —

This is a placeholder article that should be replaced with a real article before sending

Xero: The Quick Start Guide
Xero: The Quick Start Guide

This tutorial gives a quick overview of how to set up your business or a new organisation in Xero accounting software. Once you’ve made the switch to Xero, you can be up and running within minutes – and it’s a pleasure doing business.

Xero: Full Setup Guide Walkthrough
Xero: Full Setup Guide Walkthrough

This video tutorial walks through the setup guide for Xero accounting software. The step-by-step process shows you how to make a full conversion to Xero – from your old accounting software, paper-based accounts, or if you’re a new businesses starting from scratch.

Xero: The Quick Start Guide
Xero: The Quick Start Guide

This tutorial gives a quick overview of how to set up your business or a new organisation in Xero accounting software. Once you’ve made the switch to Xero, you can be up and running within minutes – and it’s a pleasure doing business.

Xero: Full Setup Guide Walkthrough
Xero: Full Setup Guide Walkthrough

This video tutorial walks through the setup guide for Xero accounting software. The step-by-step process shows you how to make a full conversion to Xero – from your old accounting software, paper-based accounts, or if you’re a new businesses starting from scratch.

Tracking training for business success
Tracking training for business success

More efficiency

Of course skilled workers are always more efficient, and efficiency has a direct impact on your company’s performance. There is a clear correlation between providing your employees with the training they need to become more productive and an increase in the company’s overall profitability.

With continuous and up to date training, employees are able to complete their tasks in the most safe and efficient manner possible while providing consistency and quality. So, by providing training, you can expect to see improvements in business performance, enhanced operational efficiency and employee productivity, all of which contribute to better bottom line performance.

Higher retention

At the same time, making training available to your employees provides them with the tools to increase their skills and makes them feel more valued by the organisation which helps to increase staff morale and improve levels of retention. As your employees acquire new skills and gain higher level qualifications, they increase their contribution to the business, and achieve greater productivity in the workplace. Training allows them to move to other positions within your organisation which provides better prospects or better remuneration. Upskilling staff to do new and different tasks keeps them motivated and challenged, which helps to minimise employee churn.

With a training culture, you can safeguard your business from key staff turnover by ensuring you have capable people at every level of the organisation, with someone always ready to step in and lead a team should a replacement be necessary. In addition, when adding or replacing managers, you don’t have to go outside the company to look for candidates. With the right training, you’ll have a pool of qualified successors.

Last, but by no means least, by offering continuous training in your business, you can be assured of being able to attract the best and brightest talent.

Of course in many industries you may be legally obliged to provide staff with specific training, yet all businesses need to ensure that employees are trained to do their jobs safely.

Future needs

To implement the right training for your business, you need to target the skills training to meet the needs of your operation now and in the future. Success comes from knowing how to use your people and resources to your best advantage.

As a priority you need to consider your business plan and assess your business goals and the skills you need to meet them. It’s critical that you can list the qualifications that your employees require and compare them to the qualifications they currently have so that you can plan training and development programs to fill those gaps.

It’s also important to know which qualifications or accreditations are due to expire so that training and development or renewals can be scheduled for them in order to manage the risks associated with non-compliance.

As part of the continuous training culture, as new employees are hired, it’s important to record their current qualifications, skills and training and identify their ongoing training and development needs.

New training and qualifications management module

To help you better manage the training needs of your employees, enableHR has launched a new training and qualifications management module. This module appears as a new tab for all person-type records and contains a table of qualifications, grouped by role, with buttons for managing them.

With the new module, you are able to:

· track the qualifications, training and skills of candidates, employees, contractors and volunteers, and analyse current workforce skills and qualifications. · record and report on all qualifications held by employees along with their associated expiry date. · identify when an employee has gained or completed a qualification or accreditation. · update an expired qualification with a renewal without losing the history tracked for that initial qualification.

The new module also features an alert tool to schedule training requirement reminders and facilitate additional training prior to any qualifications expiry dates.

Reporting on Training

Reporting from the new module is comprehensive and allows managers to list employees with specific qualifications, and compare roles to identify qualifications needed, gained or required, as well as list roles with qualification details and which roles share specific qualifications to help streamline training needs.

With enableHR’s new training and qualifications management module, businesses can better manage their employees training requirements and improve HR compliance and HR risk management.

Email Marketing for Retailers: 5 Steps to More Subscribers, Engagement and Sales
Email Marketing for Retailers: 5 Steps to More Subscribers, Engagement and Sales

As far as online marketing strategies go, email is what some people would consider a dinosaur–it’s been here since the beginning. But unlike our extinct friends, we know that email won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

How can your small agency compete with the big boys?
How can your small agency compete with the big boys?

You’re the new agency in a town with a few of the big firms. Your team is young, hip, and talented … but how can you convince clients to give you a chance when there are already established agencies who have that guaranteed “safe bet”?

Managing Your Agency’s Virtual Team
Managing Your Agency’s Virtual Team

Ah, freelancers. As an account manager, they are either the light of your life, or the bane of your existence. Freelancers can save your ass when a project scales beyond your team’s capacity, or they can cost you dearly when they suddenly decide to go on holiday with your urgent work still sitting unfinished on their desk.

Beyond Offers: 6 Types of Emails Customers Love Getting
Beyond Offers: 6 Types of Emails Customers Love Getting

While emails containing coupons and offers are common – even recommended – for retailers, sending promotional messages is just scratching the surface. You also need to explore other “breeds” of emails to see what works best for your audience.

Email Marketing for Retailers: 5 Steps to More Subscribers, Engagement and Sales
Email Marketing for Retailers: 5 Steps to More Subscribers, Engagement and Sales

As far as online marketing strategies go, email is what some people would consider a dinosaur–it’s been here since the beginning. But unlike our extinct friends, we know that email won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It may not be as hip as wearable tech or augmented reality, but study after study has found that email continues to be one of the most effective ways to reach, engage, and convert users.

Research has shown that “when it comes to attracting new customers – email works almost 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter combined”. Not only that, but people are 3 times more likely to make a purchase (and spend more) when they click on links in emails, compared to social media.

With stats like that, it’s pretty clear that email is here to stay. Which is why if you’re not taking advantage of it, you could be missing out on a lot of business. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we came up with this quick retailer’s guide on how to do email marketing right.


Step 1: Collect email addresses with efficiency… and style

Ditch the pen and paper when collecting email addresses at checkout. Why? For one thing, this method takes more time. It could slow down the checkout process and keep people waiting.

Another disadvantage of the pen and paper method is that it actually doubles the work you need to do, because it requires you to re-enter your customers’ information. This not only takes up time, but it also opens up room for error. What if you mistype a character, for instance. Or, what if you can’t read the person’s handwriting?

It’s best to avoid all that and just capture email addresses electronically so they are entered directly into your system. The easiest way to do this is through your point-of-sale solution. Most modern POS systems enable retailers to enter customer information at checkout, so be sure to take advantage of that feature by asking people to provide their email address when you’re ringing them up.

Vend Tip

You can also use Vend’s email receipt function. Customers will receive their receipt in their Inbox along with a quick link to enroll in your loyalty program and get on your list. This helps you save time, paper, and get a new subscriber in one fell swoop.

If you’re using a POS system that doesn’t offer an email capture feature, there are a number of apps that will help you get the job done. For example, there’s SignUpAnywhere, a nifty HTML5 application that lets you collect email addresses using your iPad.

Or if you’re already using an email marketing software, check if it comes with its own mobile app. MailChimp for instance, has Chimpadeedoo, while Campaign Monitor has an app called Enlist.


Step 2: Incentivize customers to join your list

This part is optional, but if you want to increase your sign up rate, you may want to consider bribing incentivizing shoppers to give you their email. Don Uselmann at Saks Fifth Avenue makes a few suggestions:

a. Discounts / Offers“Sign up for our newsletter and get 10% off your next purchase!” or “Sign up to receive exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox.”

b. Raffles “Register with your email address and get a chance to win…”

c. Worthwhile Causes “Save trees. Let us email you your receipt instead.” or “For every email we collect, we’ll donate $$ to [insert cause that you and your customers believe in here].”


Step 3: Segment and personalize

Now that you’ve gotten people to sign up for your list, let’s make sure they stay there. The key to keeping your subscribers happy is to send them relevant and personalized messages.

You can do this by segmenting your subscribers. Put your customers into specific groups and send tailored emails to each one. This helps you stay relevant and ensures that you’re sending the right messages to the right people.

How exactly can you slice and dice your subscriber list? Here are some common ways:

a. Gender – Do you sell to both men and women? Group them according to their gender so you can send them better product recommendations and offers. Say you’re having a storewide sale. Instead of sending out one generic blast, you can create gender-specific campaigns and segment customers accordingly. Your female subscribers could get a sale alert featuring summer dresses, while the guys would get an email about neckties or men’s trousers.

b. Location – Segmenting customers according to location is a must if you have multiple branches or if you have events or pop-up stores in different areas. If you’re having a sale in your Austin location, for example, you’d only want to alert those in the area instead of say, giving the people in Philadelphia a heads up.

Here’s a great example of subscriber segmentation in action. A while back, American Express OPEN Forum hosted a Los Angeles event specifically for women. To make sure that only the right people received its message, Amex segmented users by gender AND location. The result? A highly relevant e-vite that made subscribers feel valued.


c. Purchase History – Put customers’ purchasing data into good use by segmenting them based on the items they previously bought. This will enable you to send appropriate product suggestions, refill alerts, and offers.

d. Customer Activity / Interaction – Group your customers based on how often they buy from you. Get to know your most loyal subscribers as well as your not-so-engaged customers, and then tailor your approach.

Check out what Little Black Bag is doing. The ecommerce site tracks customer activity and sends “We miss you” offers to people who haven’t stopped by in a while.


On the flip side, Hotels.com sends special deals to its engaged email subscribers and Facebook fans.

Consider doing something similar for your most active customers. Offering exclusivity makes subscribers feel special and earns you loyalty points (and hopefully sales!)


Step 4: Give people more control over their subscriptions

Get people to stay subscribed by encouraging them to take control of their subscription. Give them the ability to modify their preferences, specifically when it comes to the frequency of your emails. Surveys have shown that too many emails is the top reason for unsubscribes, so you want to make sure that you don’t turn off your subscribers with too many messages.

Jetsetter for instance, has a simple email preferences page that lets users indicate whether they want to receive messages on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.


Step 5: Track and optimize

Email marketing has many moving parts. There’s subject lines, timing, segments, and length, just to name a few. We’d love to give you solid best practices on how and when to send your messages, but the fact is, the rules of email aren’t set in stone.

The best way for you to figure out the right schedule, content, or themes for your emails is to run tests and track your campaigns. Monitor each campaign until you get a handle on what subject lines, schedules or content work best for your audience.

Case in point: Swaychic. The retailer wanted to increase email open rates and engagement, so it analyzed several metrics, including the time of day when subscribers read its messages, the time of actual conversions, the days with the highest open rates, and more.

Swaychic then tested and tweaked its campaigns based on its findings. It divvyed up subscribers into different time slots (i.e. early morning, late morning, afternoon, or evening) then moved users into different groups depending on the results.

By optimizing the timing of its campaigns (among other things), the retailer increased its open rate by 40%, doubled its CTR, and tripled revenue for each campaign.


Bottom Line

As great as these tips are, they won’t be very effective if you don’t have a genuine connection with your customers. Remember, at the end of the day, people give out their information to companies that they like and trust, so before ramping up your email strategy, it’s important that you work on being a business that your customers would actually want to receive emails from.

How can your small agency compete with the big boys?
How can your small agency compete with the big boys?

You’re the new agency in a town with a few of the big firms. Your team is young, hip, and talented … but how can you convince clients to give you a chance when there are already established agencies who have that guaranteed “safe bet”?

Small agencies can definitely compete with the big brands, and the great thing is – you don’t have to wait for permission to play in the sandbox. Here’s how you can get out there and celebrate what makes a small agency awesome.

Advantages of a Small Agency

It’s important to understand the benefits to the client of using a small agency over the big guys. These factors are great to keep in mind when you meet with potential clients.

  • The Client is always dealing with the principals: They aren’t being shuffled through a never-ending ladder of relationship managers, accounts managers, account assistants, junior partners and “director-of-this-and-thats”. In a small agency – especially on the large accounts – the client is dealing directly with the decision-makers and the creative team. For them this is a huge bonus, as they feel more comfortable with this tight-knit relationship.
  • You’re Fast. Sometimes that’s all a client needs. Because your team is smaller and your process is more streamlined, you can finish a project in a fraction of the time of a major agency – without sacrificing quality. Being able to turn things around quickly is a huge selling point for smaller agencies.
  • You’re flexible. At a big agency, the majority of staff are production-side; they’re in the studio or managing the studio. But at a smaller agency, there’s a lot more flexibility with staffing. You don’t have to staff an entire project in-house – you can hire contractors. This means you can take on projects outside of your scope by compiling a flexible team of experts on the fly. This flexibility also extends into other areas – for example, you can have employees work virtually, and expand your reach into other geographical areas without the need for a physical studio space.
  • You’re nimble with technology. While big agencies are often like huge, plodding dinosaurs when it comes to trying new things and adopting new technologies, small agencies can quickly pounce on new concepts. It’s the small agencies who are leading the way in areas like mobile design and animation, because they’re able to experiment and try new things.
  • You’re cheaper. This doesn’t mean you’re cheap or that you don’t produce quality. It simply means that because you’re smaller, you employ less people, you have less overheads, and this is reflected in your price. And for many clients, the price is going to be the deciding factor.
  • You’re awesome. This clever Forbes article points to Dunbar’s number as an identifier of small agencies. Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can achieve stable social relationships. That number is 150. Bearing in mind that each people also has friends and family outside work, Forbes suggests that a small agency of 100 or less is ideal: why? Because that agency maintains a potent culture. It’s friendly, it’s fun, it’s energetic. That rubs off on clients.

Small Agency Client Acquisition

Now that you understand why your small agency is awesome, let’s move on to how to get the awesomeness across to your clients. Here are a few ideas on how small agencies can market themselves and compete with the big guys.

Choose a Niche: Many smaller agencies find success through dominating a niche, whether that be a platform (such as mobile or TV), a style (modernist or vintage), a type of work (design, branding) or an industry (dentists, retail, restaurants). One such small agency is ReviveHealth, a PR agency specialising in “Health services, health technology and healthy living.” ReviveHealth live their band, taking their staff on healthy retreats and offering a suite of health benefits. With a niche, you can focus your attention on dominating a specific market, and it will be easier to win larger clients in your niche if you can demonstrate your expertise in their area.

Local Networking: Don’t underestimate the amount of business you can acquire in your local town. As a smaller agency, you’re instantly more approachable to the SME’s who often attend networking events than the big guys. Join networking groups like your local chamber of commerce, BNI, or Venus Group, and attend their meetings, mixers, jams and business events. We’ve got some great advice on networking for small agencies here.

Join Forces: One great way to leverage networking relationships and get one-up on the big guys is to join forces with other agencies and firms to offer the same range of services as a major agency, but without the big price tag. If you’re a graphic design firm, for example, you could partner with a strategic content agency to create monthly content packages (text and images) for clients. Your clients get a great package and both your firms get steady monthly work.

Sell the big fish: the client is a big fish in a small sea. They’ll be getting personal attention from the agency directors, especially if they’re a big account. This is a huge advantage for the client, who loves feeling like the agency is simply an extension of their company.

Pitch for the jobs: When a call goes out, don’t take one look at the high-profile company and think, “Oh, we’ll never get that.” You don’t know til you try. Big brands choose small agencies all the time if they feel they’re a great fit for a project. Never say never to a pitch – if the opportunity comes up and you know your agency would be a good fit, then go for it!

Hire the top people: Creative talent are drawn to small agencies, because they have more freedom to experiment and take ownership of exciting projects. Focus on building and retaining a top creative team, and build that team through constant development. A top creative team will practically market itself.

Brand as experts: If a client sees you as THE person to call, then they’re not even going to LOOK at another agency before signing up with you. If you’re seen as an expert in your industry, people will flock to your agency because they see you as someone who has the answers, and someone who can be trusted. So how do you brand yourself or your agency staff as an expert? Publishing articles, appearing on radio and TV, writing for well-known blogs in the industry, and speaking at events will show people that you are a thought-leader in the agency space.

Sometimes it can seem as if small agencies don’t get any of the breaks. The big guys swoop in and get all of the kudos and all of the high profile clients. But small agencies offer several advantages to clients, and with a little ingenuity and creativity (two things they’re famous for), small agencies can compete against the big boys.

How do you market your small agency? How do you win the top clients?

Managing Your Agency’s Virtual Team
Managing Your Agency’s Virtual Team

Ah, freelancers. As an account manager, they are either the light of your life, or the bane of your existence. Freelancers can save your ass when a project scales beyond your team’s capacity, or they can cost you dearly when they suddenly decide to go on holiday with your urgent work still sitting unfinished on their desk.

Before coming aboard with WorkflowMax to write awesome articles for all you lovely people, I spent a significant portion of my working life as a freelancer, working both directly with clients and as part of an agency team. So I know a thing or two about working with agency teams, and what makes a great – and a terrible – virtual team environment.

Here are our top tips for creating a successful virtual creative team at your agency:

Tip #1: Find the Right People

Sourcing freelancers can be tough – they are always hanging around when you don’t need them, and become mysteriously scarce when you are desperate.

My best jobs always came through referrals. Someone knew the agency was looking for a freelancer and thought I’d be a good fit. Because I’d been recommended, I was always keen to impress, and the agency always So that’s the thing I’d advise you to do. Ask your team, as well as family and friends, or other folks working in agencies if they can connect you with punctual, organised freelancers who produce quality creative work. This way, you don’t have to worry about putting up job adverts and trawling through submissions to find the right freelancer for the job.

Another aspect of finding the right freelance team is to assess your own needs – what parameters around the role are you comfortable with? Unfortunately, understanding this usually comes from trial and error (more error than trial).You only have to work with one freelancer with 20 other clients on her books to understand that you want a freelancer who will dedicate 100% of their time to your project. Check out more tips on our article: What Agencies Ought to Know about Working with Freelancers.

Tip #2: Confirm the Best Pricing Structure


Many agencies find it easier to pay freelancers based on an hourly rate. This means the freelancer can track time against a job in much the same way an employee can, and you’ll have an accurate picture of exactly how long each project takes.

However, the agency environment is fast-paced, and paying freelancers at an hourly rate doesn’t exactly encourage speed. For this reason, many agencies prefer to have freelancers quote a flat-fee for a job. This can help with job costing, as you know from the onset exactly what the freelance portion of a job will cost.

Most agency work I did had a fixed fee, which I worked out based on how long I thought a project would take. Most freelancers are flexible with pricing and able to work based on a fixed fee.

Tip #3: A Single Point-of-Contact


Of all the agency-side jobs I did, the ones that ran smoothest were those where a single member of the agency staff was responsible for managing my portion of the job. They might be an account manager, or simply someone from the creative team (usually a designer). All correspondence would go through them, and if I had a question, I knew exactly who I would call to get the answer.

The opposite situation has the freelancer calling the designer to talk about the assignment, emailing the account manager with questions about the brief, chasing up payments at accounts, and getting half of their emails and calls ignored or deleted or passed to the wrong person. The longer the chain of communication stretches, the longer the assignment will take to complete, and the more frustrating it will be for everyone involved.

Tip #4: Make Them Part of the Team


If you intend to employ freelancers regularly, then you should make a real effort to make them feel involved in the company. Many freelancers love the opportunity to come into the office for Friday-night drinks, skype in to brainstorming meetings, and receive news and updates about projects going on at the company. Involving them in the everyday life of the company helps give them ownership of , and basically ensures you’ll get a freelancer willing to go above and beyond for you and your company.

Tip #5: Focus on Building Long-Term Relationships


This is related to the point above. Even if your agency doesn’t regularly use freelancers, it pays to keep on good terms with the ones you do work with, especially if you know there are some big jobs coming up in the future. The agency world is really quite small, and a mistreated freelancer will likely be working for your competition in a matter of weeks – so think about that before you decide they are second-class citizens.

At the heart of it, creating a positive relationship with your freelancers comes down to basic human decency – treat them with kindness and respect, and they’ll do the same. Don’t think of a freelancer as someone who’s in the office one week, and then you’ll never see them again. You can work with them multiple times, and they may follow your as you move companies, or come in handy when you need some work done for your own personal projects :).

Tip #6: Use the Right Tools


To do their job properly, a freelancer needs the right tools. Usually, your contractor will have a pretty sweet set-up in their home: the right software for the job, plus some basic collaboration tools such as skype or Yammer. This might be all you require to feel confident that they’ve got everything they need to do the job, or you might need to get them set up on some of your agency’s own tools and systems.

For each job, think about what you need each person to do in order to keep the job running smoothly. Will your freelancers need access of WorkflowMax? How will you communicate with them? How will you share documents, track changes and make edits? How will othe members of the team collaborate with them? If you’re paying hourly, how will you get an accurate picture of time spent on the project?

Just like a builder checking his toolbox before he leaves the house in the morning, before you start a job, decide with your entire team – freelancers and in-house staff – what tools you need, and make sure everyone knows what they’ll be expected to do.

A team of competent, enthusiastic freelancers can be a real asset to an agency; they will save your ass when the workload is getting away from you, or provided specialist skills of knowledge where your staff fall short.

Beyond Offers: 6 Types of Emails Customers Love Getting
Beyond Offers: 6 Types of Emails Customers Love Getting

Last week, we talked about how retailers can get started with email marketing. We discussed the best ways to collect email addresses and what you can do to stay relevant and keep your subscribers happy.

This time, we’re taking you deeper into the email marketing rabbit hole and tackle the different types of messages you can send to your subscribers.

While emails containing coupons and offers are common—even recommended—for retailers, sending promotional messages is just scratching the surface. You also need to explore other “breeds” of emails to see what works best for your audience.

Doing so won’t just spice up your messages and give you new material; but as you’ll learn below, certain messages can also pave the way for more insights and conversations with your customers.

Ready to get started? Here are 6 types of emails you may want to send to subscribers:


“Your item is back in stock.”

It’s estimated that retailers lose about $93 billion in sales due to out-of-stock inventory each year. That’s a lot of dough, but there is one way that you could get some of it back. Whenever a customer tries to purchase an item that isn’t in stock (whether online or in person), ask for their email address so you can notify them once the product is back in your shelves. That way, if they haven’t bought it from somewhere else yet, they can head back to your store and complete the purchase.

A great example of this in action can be seen in ModCloth. The e-tailer asks people for their email when they try to purchase an out-of-stock item, and it notifies shoppers the moment it becomes available.


Vend Tip

While “back in stock” emails can help you reel users back in, the best way to make sure you don’t lose a sale is avoid out-of-stocks in the first place. Vend can help you do this through our inventory management features. Learn more here.

“We’d love your feedback.”

Want to re-engage inactive subscribers? If sweet discounts won’t work, consider asking them to talk to you instead. This shows that you care about getting their input and improving their experience.

Additionally, a lot of customers appreciate being asked for their opinion, so this not only gives you more insights into why they haven’t been very actively lately, it also gives you the chance to re-connect with shoppers.

As an example, have a look at what Little Black Bag is doing. When a customer hasn’t stopped by the site in a while, it sends an email inviting them to take a survey about their experience on the site.



“Happy Birthday!”

Show off your thoughtful side by sending customers an email on their birthday. And if you’re feeling generous, throw in a special offer as well. Rent the Runway for instance, sends its subscribers a generous $50 coupon on their big day.



“Thanks for visiting!”

Send people a thank you email just for stopping by—it’s a great way to make them feel appreciated. Nissan, for example, sends an email to customers after they get their car serviced. The automaker even throws in a couple of coupons, thus increasing the chances of repeat visits.



“Review your recent purchase.”

Invite shoppers to review their recent purchases. On top of giving you more insights into what customers think about your products, customer reviews add more user-generated content and social proof to your site, which as we all know, are two important ingredients in conversion.

Just look at what Walmart is doing. Whenever a customer buys something from Walmart.com, the company sends them a quick email asking them to leave a review.

Also remember that this strategy isn’t limited to product reviews. Consider sending customers an invite to share their feedback on customer service, in-store or online experience, and more.



“Happy Shopper-versary!”

Do you track the date when someone first becomes a customer? Then consider sending them a happy shopper-versary email. Let them know that you’re grateful for their business. Maybe you can even take the opportunity to gather feedback.

Again, this is a great way to make customers feel valued. It could also re-engage subscribers, boost awareness, and drive sales.

Plus, not a lot of businesses are doing it so you’ll definitely stand out!

Check out this great example from Laura Roeder’s The Dash newsletter:



Final take

You don’t always have to go for the hard sell when emailing customers. Sometimes a thoughtful message could be just as effective as an offer or discount. Play around with these suggestions and see how your subscribers respond.

Debtor Daddy – Set & Forget Credit Control
Debtor Daddy – Set & Forget Credit Control

Debtor Daddy is a brilliant credit control app that works alongside Xero to help you get your invoices paid faster. It’s an automated reminder system that sends up to 5 email reminders to your customers if they don’t pay their invoices by the due date.

Debtor Daddy – Set & Forget Credit Control
Debtor Daddy – Set & Forget Credit Control

Debtor Daddy is a brilliant credit control app that works alongside Xero to help you get your invoices paid faster.

It’s an automated reminder system that sends up to 5 email reminders to your customers if they don’t pay their invoices by the due date.

Key benefits at a glance:

  • No more awkward phone calls – it does the chasing for you
  • Automated – so you can spend your time on other things
  • Easy to use – all you need is a web browser. 2 minutes to setup. 
  • Proven results – on average reduces debtors by 43% in the first 30 days of use

How it works:

  1. Each day Debtor Daddy connects to your Xero account and checks to see who has and hasn’t paid
  2. Then it automatically sends email reminders to for any overdue invoices
  3. You can set the frequency and content for each reminder and even exclude specified contacts from receiving reminders
  4. Each day you’ll receive a list of reminders that are scheduled to go out the following day, so you’ll always know what’s going on

To get started:

Visit www.debtordaddy.com/pricing to sign up for a free 30 day trial, then pay only $19/mth after that. You can cancel at anytime and there’s no long term commitment required. Or alternatively reply to this email for a free demonstration or assistance with getting set up.

Receipt Bank: Adding Bank Accounts
Receipt Bank: Adding Bank Accounts

Receipt Bank allows you to add in details of your bank accounts and payment methods in order to help us categorise your receipts and invoices even more efficiently!

Workflow Management Software – WorkflowMax
Workflow Management Software – WorkflowMax

WorkflowMax is a web based workflow management solution used by creative agencies, accounting and consulting practices and even tradesmen to manage their businesses from quoting and job costing, through to invoicing and reporting.

Workflow Management Software – WorkflowMax
Workflow Management Software – WorkflowMax

Manage your jobs, projects, timesheets, job costing, invoicing and more from online with WorkflowMax, the ultimate workflow management software.

Brand reputation: hard to gain, easy to lose
Brand reputation: hard to gain, easy to lose

It may seem like an odd question to ask, but just occasionally brand owners seem to forget how long and hard it was to acquire equity their brands. Whether complacency or naivety is to blame, it does not matter: the consequences can be disastrous. Just ask Tiger Woods or BP.

Recently I was the object of such complacency or naivety (I haven’t worked out which yet). Although the matter has been resolved, I feel compelled to relay the essence of the story in the hope that other brand owners can avoid being as equally complacent or naïve.

About 18 months ago I bought a piece of home office equipment for domestic use. A couple of months ago it broke down. I took it to the local service agent who informed me that the reason it was broken was because I had replaced proprietary consumables (aka manufacturer-branded parts) with non-proprietary consumables (aka parts made by someone else) and these had damaged the equipment. Furthermore, my actions had voided the manufacturer’s warranty so they couldn’t fix the problem for free.

My choices were either pay for the problem to be fixed, or buy a whole new piece of equipment. Naturally I was somewhat aggrieved to learn this – particularly as the consumables vendor expressly assures consumers their products are fit for purpose. I therefore raised the issue with the vendor and, as is my right, sought a remedy under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Long story short, I ended up being the meat in a proverbial brand sandwich. Neither the service agent, acting on behalf of the equipment manufacturer, nor the consumables vendor could agree where the fault for my machine dying lay.

More significantly, and on topic, they didn’t seem to care about me as their customer.

Unsurprisingly, the reputation of both brands went down in my estimation. Their respective reputations had attracted me to use their products and services for nearly a decade, but now, thanks to a seriously short-sighted approach to fixing a problem, they were about to self-inflict some significant damage.

Thankfully one of the brand owners – the vendor – ‘woke up and smelt the coffee’ and adopted a more positive approach to solving the problem (which is now solved). In doing so, the vendor restored something of its reputation in my eyes, but by no means all. I will definitely think twice in future about using the vendor’s products or services. As for the other party in this debacle, the service agent, well they have some serious pulling-up-of-socks to do if they expect me to be a customer of theirs again.

The moral of the story, then, is this: be careful with your brand. Don’t be complacent about it, don’t take it for granted. Look after it, and it will surely look after you.

This article first appeared in the Waikato Business News and was written by Ben Cain, Associate, James & Wells. Based in our Hamilton office Ben is part of the litigation team. His speciality areas include litigation and dispute resolution concerning trade mark rights and domain names. For more information and for expert IP advice contact Ben on Email: benc@jaws.co.nz or Phone: +64 7 957 5660 or 0800 INNOV8. 

Innovative Concept Development: the Life Cycle Series video
Innovative Concept Development: the Life Cycle Series video

Video highlights:

  • Plan for challenges your product or service could face
  • Capture and exploit your intellectual property
  • Turn business cost into business opportunity
  • Combine customer value with innovation and product stewardship. 

Meet the facilitators

Jane Lancaster, Director, Catalyst Ltd

Jane is a founding partner of Catalyst® Ltd. She has worked with many New Zealand companies and sectors in setting commercial goals in food, natural products and biotechnology and designing innovation programmes to deliver on them.

Jon Lucas, Senior Attorney, James & Wells

As a Registered Patent Attorney in both NZ and Australia, Jonathan crafts intellectual property strategies and commercialisation structures for technology companies.

Genuine Conversation is the Best Social Media Strategy
Genuine Conversation is the Best Social Media Strategy

Imagine you ran a coffee shop with great coffee, a cool vibe, comfortable seating… and no customers. Not an uncommon problem, and the classic solution promoted by social media experts would be something like:

“Create a Twitter handle and offer discounts to customers who follow. Broadcast weekly events and promotions via Twitter and engage with your audience to encourage them to come and bring their friends. More discounts to people who get their friends to follow. Create a mailing list; Tumblr; Facebook page; etc, etc.”

How Do You Expensify: Forming Habits with Expense Reporting
How Do You Expensify: Forming Habits with Expense Reporting

Whether you work at a startup, a large corporation, or something in between, the end of the month always means one thing: it’s time to get those expense reports in! People often consider expense reporting to be a pain in the elbow, and that’s why we’ve made it our mission to make expense reports suck less.

How to survive a “flat management” mutiny
How to survive a “flat management” mutiny

Flat management structures are all the rage, and with good reason: innovation is the lifeblood of a startup, and nothing kills innovation like micromanagement. But scaling a flat management structure is harder than it seems.

Minimum Viable Employee
Minimum Viable Employee

It’s widely repeated that “great people are 100x more productive than average people.” But while everybody says it, most companies just hire 100x more average people. At Expensify, we try very, very hard to hold the line and only hire people we think are truly great.

This means that despite ample resources and more than enough work to go around, we hire extremely slowly — and spend an enormous amount of energy doing it.

Fire Your Bosses and Promote Your Leaders
Fire Your Bosses and Promote Your Leaders

Everybody loves to rave about the bossless workplace, but it’s far more easily said than done. I’ve already written about the perils of the “flat management mutiny” — which comes as you emerge a leadership structure out of flat chaos — but it’s even harder going the other direction: dismantling an over-managed “top-heavy” structure and getting back to its roots.

Keep It Simple: How to Organize Just Enough
Keep It Simple: How to Organize Just Enough

With so many tools and apps that claim to increase organization or productivity, how do we find out which tools will actually help and not hinder our workflow? At Expensify, our approach is to keep it simple; forget the apps and stick to what’s tried and true. Here are a few core principles that help us stay productive; try them out and let us know what you think!

Genuine Conversation is the Best Social Media Strategy
Genuine Conversation is the Best Social Media Strategy

It’s an alluring prospect, that no matter where you are, using online social media tools you can tap into a global audience, create a network of influencers, and drive people to your coffee shop in droves. The only issue? I frankly doubt you’d get even a single customer out of it. It’s all reasonable, common advice. I just don’t believe it would work. My advice?

“Stand outside your coffee shop, up the block a bit. Watch the people who come by. When you see someone who looks like a potential customer, approach them and ask in a friendly, non-confrontational way: Why didn’t you come in?”

I wager in the first hour you’ll get at least one real customer, dozens of potential customers who are much more likely to stop by in the future, and a hundred tangible ideas on what you can do right now to attract more business:

  • Did they not like the vibe? Redecorate!
  • Did they doubt the quality of your coffee? Emphasize the roaster’s brand to demonstrate quality!
  • Did they just not notice you? Put an A-board out front with an arrow pointing at your store!
  • Did they not want to go to an empty place? Promote free coffee whenever you’re empty to anyone who comes in and sits for an hour!

The problem with “social media” is that you actually don’t care about a global audience: whatever you are, you want a very, very localized audience. The most important audience of all are the people who stopped by, checked you out, and walked away. Just ask them why, and let that guide you. Granted, I’ve chosen a physical example of a coffee shop to illustrate this idea, but as I imagine is obvious: the principle is exactly the same for your website. The fact that “the internet” has billions of people is irrelevant to your service — the handful of people who actually visit your site are the ones that matter the most. Again, everybody would agree with this, but what would the classic social media advice be? Probably to use the same sort of bland strategy the fictional coffee shop owner would follow — and probably with the same (lack of) results. Instead, my advice to you would be:

“Do everything you can to talk with your visitors. Put a giant sign up button on the homepage requiring nothing but an email address. If that doesn’t work, just have it open directly to a chat window with you logged in ready to talk. Ask them why they came, what they’re looking for. You’ll be amazed what you hear.”

It sounds so obvious. It’s so easy to do. Yet, nearly nobody does this. Luckily, we did, and I count as one of the most important techniques we ever used to get real world customer feedback. I literally believe that had we not done this, Expensify simply wouldn’t be here today. Our initial assumptions about what people cared about were so far off, in so many directions, that had we not a tool like this we simply wouldn’t have survived the first year and never become the leading brand we are today. Despite this being such a hilariously obvious technique, I’m almost embarrassed to say we only stumbled into the technique by accident:

  1. Our first homepage had a big sign up button on it that required only an email address. (This is common now, but at the time it was really controversial: What, I don’t need to create a password? *mindblown*)
  2. Immediately after sign up, you’d get a fancy stylized HTML email with a bunch of information nobody would ever read, and a validation link that most people would never click.
  3. However, we had a system that every hour, would email everybody who signed up in the past hour.
  4. This system ran on whatever increment in the hour that we started it, so if we started it at 1:17, it would run at 2:17, 3:17, etc.
  5. Furthermore, this system only sent plain-text emails, and only using my actual email account (“David Barrett ”)
  6. And the message, contrary to all marketing best practices, was extremely open-ended with no actionable link to click: 

From: David Barrett
Subject: Welcome to Expensify!
Hi there! I see you just signed up for Expensify, welcome! Can you tell me about yourself? Namely, what sort of work do you do, how big is your company, how do you currently do expense reports, how did you learn about Expensify, how do you hope to use it — that sort of thing. Thanks!

Founder and CEO of Expensify 

Follow us here: http://twitter.com/expensify

A good response rate to an email like this is 2-3%. A great response rate is 5%. But this email got a 12% response rate. And not just any responses — pages and pages of thoughtful, priceless feedback, from people who genuinely wanted us to succeed. We were floored. Not only was the feedback inspirational and motivational, but it created long-term relationships with our champions that have stayed with us for the many years since. As for why it performed so well, I have a few theories:

  • It came a random duration after you signed up, on a random minute in the hour, so it wasn’t obviously an automated message.
  • This was reinforced by the fact that it was a simple text email. Let’s be honest: nobody “real” writes well stylized emails with a formal greeting and logo — all it does is mentally flag you as spam.
  • It was written by me, and sent from my actual email address. Hitting reply went straight to me, not some obvious mailbox. (Many responses would start with “You can’t have actually just emailed me for real, so I doubt you’ll actually read this and I’d be shocked if you actually replied, but since you asked here are my thoughts…”) 

And most important of all:

  • It came on average 30 minutes after signing up. This meant that you received it right after your first interaction with the product, while it was still on your mind and your initial impressions were on the tip of your tongue, just waiting for someone to ask. 

I can’t overstate how helpful this was in shaping the company, and building us into the responsive, user-focused company we are today. Clearly, this gets harder and harder to maintain as you scale — when I send out our newsletter to my millions of closest friends, I get a lot of responses. It takes a long time to go through them all, but I do because “social media strategy” isn’t about the media, and it’s only loosely about strategy. It’s really just about being social, talking with the people who like you (and those who don’t), and being responsive to those who matter the most to your business: customers, users, and those who might be some day.

How Do You Expensify: Forming Habits with Expense Reporting
How Do You Expensify: Forming Habits with Expense Reporting

Using Expensify can help significantly reduce the overall time it takes to finish a report. Even better, pair it with an incremental behavioral change and you might actually look forward to submitting your expense report every month (we can dream right?).

Putting Off Something That Sucks – Hey, It’s Natural!

Sit back and think for a hot second: how do you file your expense reports?

According to Leo Babauta from ZenHabits, we spend much of our lives avoiding or putting off our problems. People hate doing expense reports because it’s always been a long and tedious process that involves finding crumpled pieces of paper, manually entering a load of expenses and then triple-checking everything to make sure it’s all correct. As a result, you think of expense reporting as a problem that you want to put off for as long as you can.

At Expensify, we want to make those monthly, hours-long expense reporting rituals a thing of the past. We want to change the way you think about and do expense reports. How?

Try It Out: A Small Change in Behavior

Instead of throwing your receipt in your bag or pocket, use our mobile app and take a picture of the receipt when you get it. In doing so, you are accomplishing four things:

You reduce the amount of clutter in your bag or pocket. A photo of your receipt = paper receipt in trash.
You also minimize the risk of losing the receipt down to zero.
You decrease the amount of time it takes to file expense reports by handling your expenses at the time of purchase instead of filing a pile of them at the end of the month.
Your uploaded receipt can be sorted with categories and tags, which helps you organize expenses automatically.
Once you take that photo, our SmartScan technology will transcribe the receipt for you so you don’t have to enter the information manually. More importantly, by taking a picture of your receipt as soon as you get it, you’re creating a behavioral change that will fundamentally alter the way you do expense reports. This tiny change might seem inconsequential, but the power of habit is an incredibly powerful, subconscious phenomenon that can change the way you do expense reports forever. Repeat this action often enough, and you’ll be able to cultivate a strong expense reporting habit.

Take a Photo, Thank Yourself Later

With this small habitual change, a cursory glance over your expense report at the end of the month is all you’ll need to do before submitting it to a manager. No more high volume, last-minute scanning, organizing, or detailing. How amazing does that sound?

Don’t take our word for it. See what users have to say about how Expensify is changing the way they do expense reports:

How to survive a “flat management” mutiny
How to survive a “flat management” mutiny

Plenty has already been written about the risks of accidentally creating the stuff of highschool nightmares, but even if you dodge those bullets you’re in for a little discussed treat: full out mutiny of your team.

Granted, if you do consumer or pure-SMB products, you might avoid this fate. The easiest form of innovation is “scratching your own itch”, and so long as you represent your own idealized customer, more sophisticated innovation might not be needed. But if your product is relevant to mid-market and true enterprise customers, then you will inevitably be faced with a very difficult moment that will shake your company to the core: the moment your first customer 10x larger than you expresses serious interest.

Prior to then, management is actually very easy — superfluous even. Everybody just does whatever feels right, and so long as you are disciplined about hiring smart people who work well in teams, “what feels right” is near enough to “what the customer needs” that there’s little reason to try harder. But scaling your product up to address the needs of a significantly larger company requires addressing needs that your team doesn’t have. This means if you want to get that customer, you need to scratch someone else’s itch. And a purely flat structure is notoriously ill-equipped to handle this. In my experience, it goes down like this:

: “OMG I think customer X will actually buy us, but only if we do Y.”

: “Even though Y isn’t actually that hard, building it means over complicating the product and ruining our culture, so no.”

Sales: “…”

Handled poorly, this can lead to a full blown mutiny where your salespeople feel betrayed by your engineers, your engineers feel sold out by sales, and everyone starts drawing hard lines backed up by serious threats. And because the flat management structure has no… structure, the tools at your disposal to quiet the mob are very limited. It’s a pretty horrible experience, all resulting from the grievous sin of successfully creating something of significant value to unexpectedly large customers.

Having gone through the valley of death and come out the other side (multiple times), here are some common patterns I’ve seen that you might look out for:

  1. Your people are awesome, it’s your structure that sucks. It’s hard to remember this when people start raising crazy and irrational objections to each others’ reasonable (or even obvious) concerns. But never forget that flat management is a conscious choice to not create a well defined, widely accepted vision based on a shared set of complex assumptions. Said another way, flat management is about avoiding the need for agreement on a huge range of issues by just accepting (and indeed thriving) on disagreement: when everybody just does what they feel is best, there’s no incentive to really care if anybody else agrees — or a process to achieve it if they did care. Flat management encourages creative disagreement and, in my case at least, mission accomplished. 
  2. Mutiny strikes without warning. What makes this whole circumstance especially complicated is it comes like a lightning bolt, out of the blue. Everything is fine and everyone is happy one day, and then suddenly you’re faced with an unexpected but very significant choice: do we do what it takes to get this larger customer, or not? But even though you didn’t ask to make this decision, you’ve got to make it — and no matter which way you go, people will disagree. Vehemently. 
  3. There is no such thing as “status quo”. The fact that you are making this decision indicates that a change has already happened. Yesterday taking on a 10x larger customer was just a hypothetical possibility. Today it’s a realistic opportunity. There’s no undoing that change. 
  4. If you don’t take the opportunity, your salespeople will hate you. They spend their every waking moment trying to convince someone to use your product, against all odds. And it’s one thing to try and fail. But to succeed and be denied support? Your best people will quit. 
  5. If you do take the opportunity, your engineers will hate you. They spend their every waking moment trying to improve the product as best as they can imagine, no matter how grueling, and how difficult. And it’s one thing to struggle building something they believe in and use. But something they don’t believe in and will never use? Your best people will quit. 
  6. The longer you delay, the more everyone hates you. Even those who aren’t especially passionate one way or the other (and these are often your best people), they are passionate about working someplace they enjoy — and nothing about a mutiny is fun for anybody, including the mutineers.
  7. Once the mutiny has been quelled, it just happens again. Whether you take or pass on this opportunity, more opportunities will come your way (hopefully). And each time you get an opportunity an order of magnitude larger than the ones before, the cycle repeats. 

So what to do about it? I wish I knew. We’ve experienced this cycle about three times so far, and I’m anticipating a fourth as we start engaging our first 100K employee accounts. But luckily, each time gets a little easier, because in practice: this is a great problem to have. The fact that you’re facing this is a sign that your team is great and you are on the right track — and when those things are true, the rest sorts itself out.

Granted, it doesn’t always sort out as well as you’d like: no matter how you decide, some people just can’t get on board and will either leave or need to be removed. But if properly managed, your best people will stay and you will leave the chaos a stronger, more talent-dense, and better team than you entered. Great teams step up to any challenge, and that includes adjusting for new realities.

Because at the end of the day, the whole “flat management structure” you thought you had was actually a mirage all along: there was always a power structure, just not one you formally recognized. Use this opportunity to recognize your best and brightest, lean on them to help you make things right, and like bones forming they’ll get stronger the more weight they carry.

It’s not a fast process: you can’t drink Skele-Gro and get a hardened management structure overnight. (And unless your team has the healing powers of Wolverine — or can’t find better jobs — injecting a structure from the outside is a recipe for instant death.) Just be patient and use your position of authority to clear away the smoke, engage your natural leaders to put out the fires, and slowly step back as they slowly step forward. Over time you’ll graduate from “flat management” to becoming an “agile enterprise” organization that can scratch its own itch and address the critical, repeatable needs of ever-larger customers.

It requires patience and resolve. But the earlier you start on a gradual path of controlled evolution, the better prepared you’ll be for sudden, unexpected revolution.

Minimum Viable Employee
Minimum Viable Employee

A lot of that energy is directed toward refining the hiring process itself, with a major recurring topic being: what makes someone great?

Last week we had a long conversation on this within the engineering team, and the main conclusion was — there is nowhere near consensus on this topic. Strong, conflicting opinions were held across the team. I don’t know that there was a single tangible item that everybody agreed was a true minimum requirement, or a true showstopper.

Accordingly, so far as our “official hiring policy” goes, we’re still far from having a checklist evaluation of candidates. For better or worse (and I’d argue “for better”), everybody is evaluated on an individual basis, and pretty much any single attribute is fair game. However, it seems to me that there are three general themes we use to assess the “minimum viable employee” — whether someone meets the most baseline requirements for us to say yes:

Aspires to Excellence

In our team conversation last week, we reviewed a series of programmer applications to share thoughts on each. To everybody’s surprise, by far the most discussion was on something that seems so trivial on the surface: grammar, punctuation, and capitalization of the cover letter. Everybody kept saying “ok, we’ve talked about this enough”, but then everybody kept talking. It was strange, and we intentionally stopped to meta-discuss why we were so concerned by this. We tossed around a couple possible explanations for why this seemed so important (to some of us), and like everything, there was no consensus. But my view is this:

Someone who doesn’t proofread and spellcheck something like a cover letter simply isn’t trying their hardest. Whether they don’t care enough to try, or don’t try even when they do care — either way, this is someone who isn’t putting in the effort to excel, and that’s not someone we want on the team.

To be clear, this isn’t to say that grammar is the sign of excellence. It’s only saying that poor grammar signifies a lack of excellence. Other items can too, including:

  • Being late for a call (even by a few minutes)
  • Being slow or failing to respond to an email
  • Inconsistent indentation and other style
  • Poor variable nomenclature
  • Terse answers to open-ended questions
  • Lack of enthusiasm or curiosity

Note how none of this relates to skill: everybody “knows” how to do all these, and to not do them is a choice. Because in practice these aren’t individual choices, but one large choice — and this decision to consistently excel in everything under your control is very nearly an innate quality. Either you do it, or you don’t, and no amount of cajoling is going to change that (at least, not fast enough for our needs). And for this reason, I’d say any indicators about the candidate’s aspiration to excellence weigh extremely heavily on my go/no-go decision, and for many others on our team. 

Knows Enough to Learn Fast

It’s hard to say that this second item is less important as the first, as both are necessary but insufficient: you need to both demonstrate that you aspire to excellence, and have also acquired the basic skills to enable you to achieve it. As for what exactly those minimal skills are is a subject of intense debate. Most of the team would generally say we shouldn’t hire anyone with less skills than they had when they joined, and some would even say their own skills are too low a bar. But from where I sit, I think the minimum set of skills – for a programmer, at least – is something like: 

  • Can create something from scratch. There are a surprising number of pretty good programmers that haven’t ever started a project from scratch, and don’t actually know how. This means setting up some kind of development environment and getting “Hello world” to successfully run in some relevant language. 
  • Doesn’t need a framework. Don’t get me wrong, the right framework can be a huge accelerant to a project. But it’s important to avoid becoming overly dependent on any particular framework otherwise you lose objectivity – and use it not because it’s actually right for the problem at hand, but because you simply can’t do anything else. So knowledge of a framework gets bonus points, but the ability to work outside a framework is a prerequisite. 
  • Successfully finishes the challenge. It sounds obvious, but if we give a programming challenge with an unlimited timeframe, we expect the candidate to deliver a functioning result. It’s amazing how many people send something that simply doesn’t work. 
  • Actually writes their own code. Additionally, it’s clear that many applicants just copy/paste snippets they found online, without even the decency to hide it by reformatting it into a consistent style. Certainly, the ability to leverage the internet to help you solve problems is a great skill. But learning and applying a lesson is different than copying a code snippet without understanding. 
  • Reuses code appropriately. It’s not enough to create a functioning result, it also needs to be done in a way that minimizes redundancy. This means pulling out shared code into reusable functions, reusing rather than recalculating outputs, etc. Great people are naturally efficient, making minimal, deliberate actions to achieve their goals. 
  • Makes sound layering decisions. Knowing where to solve a problem is at least as important as knowing how. The ideal candidate intuitively recognizes those areas that are tightly coupled and should be kept together as a single unit, from those that are loosely coupled and should be isolated through formal interfaces. 

And for me, that’s really about it. I think a fantastic application is one that has a solid, obvious solution, with consistent style, good layering, and appropriate reuse. A great application doesn’t need to do much. But what it does, should be done right. This shows the candidate has a solid, clean foundation on which new skills can be quickly learned. Because in the fast-changing world of computer programming, how much you can learn is far more important than how much you know.

Knows Little that Needs Unlearning

This last item is at least as important as the first two, and since those were deemed “necessary but insufficient” I’d say the same about this. Even more important than what you need to learn, is what you need to unlearn. It’s at least twice as expensive (but probably more like 4x) to unlearn a bad skill than to learn a new skill from scratch. This is because the cost to learn the skill is the same, but then you need to add the “unlearning cost” — which is probably more expensive than what it took to learn in the first place. Here are a few hard habits to break for which we’re always on the lookout:

  • Overengineering. Defensive programming to anticipate and handle a wide range of scenarios can be great. But it’s easy to go too far, creating custom logic for scenarios that are extremely unlikely in practice, complicating the solution (and often introducing bugs) for the much more common cases. 
  • Excessive encapsulation. Abstraction is a powerful tool for reuse, as well as to create layered decoupling. But done poorly, “unused reusability” can add such bloated and complicated overhead so as to leave the codebase larger, more fragile and less understandable than before it was “simplified” with abstraction. 
  • Premature optimization. It’s good to be efficient, and to naturally take advantage of low-hanging-fruit performance opportunities where convenient and clear. But the most important thing to optimize for is code clarity, and that should only be compromised when genuinely necessary. 
  • Unnecessary cleverness. Modern languages have a huge range of esoteric features that enable for enormously powerful and succinct solutions. But great candidates amaze with simplicity rather than sophistication.

Admittedly, all of those bullets are really just different flavors of the same thing: solving problems that don’t actually exist, while creating new problems in the process. It’s insidious, as good programmers can imagine a wide range of potential future problems – ranging from performance, to maintainability, to extensibility, and more – and the temptation to solve them all right now can at times be overwhelming. But we need people with strong impulse control who can remain focused on solving the problems of today, without adding to them unnecessarily. 

Anyway, I think these are three high level themes we use when evaluating a candidate. So if it wasn’t already apparent, note that where you went to school, what degree you have, where you’ve worked, who has referred you – none of that matters, at all, and I think that’s the one thing we all agree on. However, getting more detailed than that is extremely contentious, and despite how helpful it would be, there really is no such thing as a clear “minimum viable employee” so far as we can tell. 

So if you want to impress me, keep the above criteria in mind. But in all honesty, I’m not the only one (or even the most important one) you want to impress — so view my suggestions above as “necessary but not sufficient” to get the job.

Fire Your Bosses and Promote Your Leaders
Fire Your Bosses and Promote Your Leaders

Here are some tips to pull it off in your organization:

Identify your managers.

This is easy: your managers are the people you put into management positions. You should already know this.

Identify your leaders.

This is actually quite hard. The difference between a manager and a leader might seem subtle, but couldn’t be greater: employees are assigned their manager, but they choose their leader. Figuring out who an employee actually looks up to is tricky because if it isn’t their manager, the mere acknowledgement of that fact forever changes the relationship between them and their manager — for the worse. Accordingly, the best way to do this is through very careful observation and casual conversation: body language is a key signal, so a pay attention.

Identify the gap between your management and leadership structure.
As immortalized by Alfred Sloan, “Good management rests on a reconciliation of centralization and decentralization.” Management is centralized, while leadership is decentralized. A great organization has the narrowest possible gap between the two: the organic, informal power structure that emerges naturally through working relationships should coincide as close as possible to the formal, top-down assignment of authority and responsibility. Or more succinctly: people should respect their managers, and if they don’t, bad things happen.

Fire the bosses.

A “boss” is someone who has been granted formal authority, but hasn’t earned the respect of their subordinates. Bosses aren’t leaders because employees wouldn’t choose to follow them if given an alternative: their authority comes from above, not below. Once you’ve identified the bosses, immediately begin laying the groundwork to fire them. First, however, you need to groom someone to step into their place. Toward that end…

Promote your leaders.

A “leader” is someone who has outsized influence beyond their formal role. It’s the person who their peers wish were in control, but isn’t because you haven’t noticed them yet. Notice them, engage them, and figure out how to encourage them to take on the authority that they deserve but haven’t made a point to ask for (which is why you didn’t know). It’s likely they haven’t asked because they are good team players (and thus don’t want to undermine their “boss”), and don’t crave authority — in fact, they’ll likely resist it. Leaders don’t ask to lead, they just do: they don’t seek out power, which is what makes them ideally suited to have it. Figure out how to craft a role that grants them broad authority over those tasks they are comfortable and willing to do (and that their peers will support), but that doesn’t force them to take on other responsibilities they might not be comfortable or willing to handle. Flexibility here is the key.

Be decisive.

Nobody benefits by you putting off the inevitable. The longer you wait, the greater chance your leader will take one of the job offers they are unquestionably receiving, leaving you with no way to replace the boss. Not only that, the longer you wait, the more likely the boss will take one of the job offers they are likely also getting, which undermines the authority of the leader you want to promote — it disempowers the promotion by making it seem reactionary, even if you had already planned to do it. The moment you make your decision, buck up and do it.

Be honest.

This isn’t about subterfuge — it’s about dealing with reality as it is, rather than how you’d like it to be. Nobody wants to be just a boss: they want to be a leader. They want the respect of the team, and if they haven’t earned it, they likely want and need your help to either get it, or change their role. If it gets to the point where you need to make a firing decision, always remember that it’s your fault, not theirs: you picked them, you put them in a role they weren’t suited for, and it’s your responsibility to make that right. That might mean another chance, career training, or a generous severance package. But at the very least, it deserves an honest explanation of the way you see it, such that they can learn from the experience. They might walk away thinking your an idiot. (In fact, they probably will.) But better that than them forever thinking of you as a liar.

It’s not fun, but firing is a major part of hiring. It’s better for you, better for your employees, and — in all honesty — better for them. Everybody I’ve ever fired has subsequently found a position that was better suited to them, and so long as you’re only hiring great people to start with, they will find that job very, very quickly.

David Barrett is Founder and CEO of Expensify (“Expense reports that don’t suck!”) and a frequent contributor on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and Fox Business News. Expensify is always hiring awesome people, and would love to hear from you.

Keep It Simple: How to Organize Just Enough
Keep It Simple: How to Organize Just Enough

1) Avoid Complicated Tools.

Nothing wastes time like “saving time” by adopting complex project management tools. Tools aren’t the problem: people are. Just create a shared to-do list that you re-prioritize continuously, and focus everybody on starting at the top and working their way down. Nobody will ever get to the bottom, but that’s just life.

What you need: Google Docs, whiteboard, IdeaPaint, something that can help you visualize, flexibly.

2) Prioritize, Don’t Schedule.

Schedules assume stable priorities and accurate estimates, neither of which are ever true. Accordingly, the only way to reliably meet hard commitments is to wildly pad the schedule, which is wasteful and frustrating for everyone. Instead, just accept things will get done when they get done.

Helpful to your success: A company culture that minimizes commitments and focuses on raw productivity on ever-shifting priorities.

3) Trust You’ll Remember the Important Things

Continuing from the last point, nothing is more stress inducing that an enormous list of incomplete tasks that will likely never be finished. Rather, start every day with a blank sheet of paper and write down the most important things you need to get done — only look back at previous days if you run out of ideas (which rarely happens).

What you need: pen and paper, or a marker if you’re feeling fancy.

4) The Productivity Myth

Companies everywhere have somehow bought into the idea that more hours means higher productivity when studies actually show the opposite. Instead, build time in your day, week, life to rest and relax. Decide how much of your life you want to devote to work, work that much, and then stop. Nothing makes your time off more enjoyable than confidence that you’ve done right by your entrepreneurial ambitions and truly earned the rest. This is also a fantastic way to set work/life expectations with your spouse, but even better for resisting the urge to work yourself to death.

What to do: Record how many hours you work a day in a spreadsheet, then add it up on a weekly basis to make sure you’re basically hitting your target.

Tried these out, or have productivity tips of your own? We’d love to hear from you!

Expenses of an oligarch…
Expenses of an oligarch…

Welcome to the world of the super rich…

From superyachts to champagne – get inspiration from the oligarchs on how to submit your receipts this summer!

“My best discovery since starting my business!” – Testimonial by DeAnne Bennett of Blessed Lotus
“My best discovery since starting my business!” – Testimonial by DeAnne Bennett of Blessed Lotus

Blessed Lotus is a women’s apparel company focusing on fashion forward casual and resort wear. DeAnne founded Blessed Lotus on the principles of social entrepreneurship. Blessed Lotus’ purpose, beyond providing chic clothing to modern women, is to financially support the mission of bringing education to impoverished and oppressed children around the world. The sales of Blessed Lotus apparel fund Rippled Purpose, a 501(c)(3) designated charitable organisation.

Should you stop charging by the hour?
Should you stop charging by the hour?

A recent article came to our attention which got us thinking. This article was written by Ryan Lazanis of Xen Accounting, a virtual accounting firm based in Quebec, Canada.

As a business owner, Lazanis understands the importance of providing exceptional service. He has also seen the frustration of his clients when faced with paying for his services at an hourly rate. If providing the best customer experience is important, then why not apply customer-first thinking to pricing?

3 Tips for Preparing Your Small Business for the Unexpected
3 Tips for Preparing Your Small Business for the Unexpected

Unfortunately, when a business owner is always in “firefighter” mode, it’s impossible to work hard on winning new clients or tackling more providing that extra special service. By working with your team to put an infrastructure in place to deal with future issues, you’ll have help in dealing with the issues that emerge each day. Once your team is able to respond to problems without escalating it to you, you’ll be able to gradually shift your focus to building your company. Here are three tips on how you can make that happen.

Want to Increase the Productivity of your Business?
Want to Increase the Productivity of your Business?

Many small and medium business in the trades and services sector such as plumbers, electricians, cleaning organisations and maintenance and repair services to mention a few, express the annoyance that they spend far too long performing menial tasks that bear little or no relation to the core process of the service that their business actually offers. For new owners, it’s particularly challenging as they’re suddenly expected to become accountants, HR managers and advertising specialists all at the same time.

Why Does Finance Hate Technology?
Why Does Finance Hate Technology?

You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry less affected by technology than finance. Or should we say more affected given its defensive posture? Whether it’s low-level lending or investing, things are still paper-based and run on bankers’ hours. Recently, Sharesight opened an online brokerage account for testing purposes and we had to go into the bank branch to finalise setup. After being pitched a credit card, a home loan, and a savings account, we huffed out after 40 minutes of pain (and still haven’t placed a trade).

3 reasons why your Business can benefit from Cloud Computing
3 reasons why your Business can benefit from Cloud Computing

Embracing new technology can be difficult for many companies.

They want to make sure that it will be easy to integrate into the workplace and that it is a value added alternative to existing ways of performing tasks or producing items.

Receipt Bank and Xero
Receipt Bank and Xero

Expenses are a hassle and they cost time and money to process. To help you with the paper war we’re expanding the choice of providers that integrate with Xero and sort this problem for you.

Our latest add-on Receipt Bank is a receipt and invoice processing service that gathers together your receipts and invoices, scans them, converts the receipts into useful data and then sends them directly into Xero.

Expenses of an oligarch…
Expenses of an oligarch…


Chartering a superyacht for a week certainly doesn’t come cheap at a weekly hire cost of €770,000 for this amazing yacht within a yacht! To speed up claiming this one back, have your yacht broker email the invoice direct to your personal Receipt Bank email.


When spending £330,000 on champagne in the Monaco Billionaire Club, don’t forget to snap and submit your receipt with the Receipt Bank App for iPhone and Android smartphones.


Give your PA access to your DropBox, so they can submit those dog grooming and car valet receipts whilst you’re away.

We won’t all be off to Monaco spending big money this summer but whatever you are doing, all of us at Receipt Bank hope you have a great time!

“My best discovery since starting my business!” – Testimonial by DeAnne Bennett of Blessed Lotus
“My best discovery since starting my business!” – Testimonial by DeAnne Bennett of Blessed Lotus

Before Receipt Bank, dealing with my expenses was horrific! I was used to having someone handle them for me when I worked for a media company in New York. Starting out on my own meant I was squirrelling away my receipts in all sorts of places!

After two years of business, I was in receipt chaos. Nearing my breaking point, I ended up having an intern spend three full days organising the jumble of receipts I had amassed! That is when one of my business advisors remarked “There has to be an app for that!” And there was! Receipt Bank.

Receipt Bank is a huge time saver for me. I rarely have enough time to sit down and work on my receipts. Receipt Bank takes away much of the hassle and makes everything easier to organise. Now I just send an email or take a photo with my mobile phone and like magic – they are there in Receipt Bank with the data extracted.

Receipt Bank has helped me save time and money when running my business. Both of those savings allow me to give more to support oppressed and impoverished children!

DeAnne Bennett is the founder and CEO of Blessed Lotus. She uses Receipt Bank and Xero as software solutions to help manage her business financial accounts via the cloud.

Should you stop charging by the hour?
Should you stop charging by the hour?

A Customer-First Approach

All you need to do is google how to much does it cost for a “Plumber to replace a kitchen sink” or “how much does a Cleaner cost per month” and you can see the variety of responses and general confusion amongst consumers about how much they expect to pay and what their experiences are with charges. The answers are usually “it depends” on how long/size/parts/travel etc.

“Adoption of value pricing has begun,” comments Lazanis, “and it won’t stop – it’s simply a better way of working. That said, change is hard. There are deeply ingrained cultural norms that revolve around the billable hour.

“I’ll go out and say it. The billable hour is a terrible measure for pricing your services. No one says to themselves, “You know what? I feel like buying 4.75 hours of my cleaner’s time today.”

Instead, customers are more likely to say something like “I want to know how much it would cost to clean my house once a week”. Charging by the hour for the job is unhelpful and does not give the answer your customer needs. What is valuable to your clients is understanding that they can purchase a full house clean from your business for $100 – regardless of whether that will take your team two hours or four.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of valuing your services based on time is so deeply entrenched, that many businesses don’t see the point in changing. What those businesses need to understand are the major flaws to this thinking. Ryan Lazanis delves into the four flaws below which we think can really apply to your business, be it a Cleaning service, Plumbing, Electrical or IT installation:

Flaw #1: Bias

The major flaw with the billable hour is the bias on the part of the service provider to spend an unnecessary amount of time on the task. Rather than providing laser focus on the client’s needs, those charging by the hour have a bias to do whatever pads their timesheets.

I’m not saying that people do this on purpose. Most are honest. But the issue is that the bias exists and it goes contrary to the goals of the client.

Flaw #2: Rewarding Inefficiency

The billable hour rewards inefficiency and lack of innovation, and it punishes efficiency. It’s no wonder that so many services and trade firms have stagnated. Why would anyone want to continuously innovate their business model into something more efficient if that innovation would actually lead to reduced revenues?

By putting a value pricing approach in place, the business is literally forced to find innovative ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Flaw #3: Looks Inward, Not Outward

Newsflash: the customer doesn’t care about the amount of time that you spend on them nor do they care about how much your time costs. They don’t care if it takes you two hours to complete a given task, nor do they care if it takes you 200 hours. They simply don’t care.

Valuing your services based on time is a major disconnect from what the client actually cares about: the end result. That end result is worth something to the client which should translate to the value, or price, of your services.

Businesses in the services and trades sectors need to put a customer-first approach to pricing their services and in order to do so, the first step is to ditch the billable hour.

Flaw #4: Leads to Confusion

When quoting costs using the billable hour, it is exceptionally difficult for the client to estimate costs and can lead to frustration. I went through this very frustration as of late when looking to engage someone to replace my drains.

I was speaking to someone exceptionally skilled and liked what he had to say but we kept getting tangled up with costs. The plumber kept quoting hours but I had no idea how many hours this would take. The subject matter was far from my area of expertise and since I had no frame of reference I literally had no clue what the costs would be.

Although I think this person could have helped out, I ultimately lost interest trying to figure out whether these costs were in our budget, which probably resulted in a lost sale.

We here at GeoOp think this is a really insightful piece of work. For some of our customers this could be a way to focus less on quoting and site visits that do not generate cash. They could instead quote fixed rates over the phone or onsite and conduct the work in one visit rather than cost and quoting based on what they can review onsite and back at the office.

Naturally this might not suit some kinds of work, like Construction or Commercial Electrical work but we could definitely see this working for Residential Cleaners, Plumbers and Electricians after some work was put into to get value based prices right.

What do you guys think? Would you change your rates to fixed rates based on value rather than quoting hourly and cost + margin models and would this make business easier for you?

3 Tips for Preparing Your Small Business for the Unexpected
3 Tips for Preparing Your Small Business for the Unexpected

We recently came accross an article by US based Tech Writer and Small Business expert Ramon Ray, which offers 3 tips which need to be shared.

Document Processes

As your business’s owner, you likely have a great deal of knowledge that you haven’t shared with your team. They turn to you to resolve various issues, then resume their daily tasks while you work things out. Each new emergency needs immediate attention, so there’s no time to train someone else on how to handle it.

On a sheet of paper, scribble down the different fires you’re asked to put out during the day. As time frees up later, quickly document the process you underwent to resolve each of them. Once you have your documentation in place, meet with your team to assign different team members to handle various issues the next time they arise. Promise to be available if they need you, but step away and trust your team members to take care of things.

Choose a second in command

Another option for busy owners is to choose a trusted team member to serve as an 2IC (2nd in charge) or apprentice. Ask that team member to stay close by and note how you handle various issues throughout the day. Gradually you can turn tasks over to that person. You may even designate different employees to learn different tasks and ask them to observe with the intention of eventually taking them over.

Delegate Selectively

Freeing up time for yourself doesn’t mean you have to delegate everything to team members. Choose those items you enjoy doing and delegate the rest. If an employee possesses talents you don’t, train that employee to take over something you feel he might do a better job at than you.

It’s also important to look around and make sure your lack of delegation isn’t an issue of being surrounded by inadequate team members. Poor hiring decisions can haunt a business owner for years, forcing him to continue to bear the brunt of the work while ill-fitting employees sit idly by, collecting a paycheck.

On a regular basis, evaluate your infrastructure and take a close look at the workload. If your team is already overloaded, consider outsourcing some of the more mundane tasks to free up in-house workers to deal with pressing issues on a daily basis. An employee who exists solely to do data entry could be moved into a more challenging position while data entry is outsourced. In-house employees can often be trusted to handle such sensitive issues as client relations and late payments.

Want to Increase the Productivity of your Business?
Want to Increase the Productivity of your Business?

We see this especially in trades and services businesses where often the business owners are spending their evenings and weekends completing paperwork and sending out invoices. For these reasons, it becomes essential to find ways to cut down on the time spent on these tasks and maximise the actual productivity of the business.

We’ve compiled some top tips on increasing the productivity in your business utilising some technology and changes in thinking.

Embrace mobile technology and get your systems in the ‘cloud’

It is now possible to run your business from the palm of your hand using a smartphone or tablet device. Sure it takes some getting used to and perhaps a change to your systems, but so does working less and going on more holidays. With GeoOp you can easily create, assign, quote, cost and invoice all of your jobs from your smartphone or tablet. There are a number of other apps you can use to keep an eye on your business as well including accounting and invoicing apps, stock and inventory and CRM systems depending on your requirements. All of these increase your productivity and allow you to access up to date information in real time, from anywhere.

Invoice right now, yes now!

One of the biggest headaches for tradies is the financial side of the business. Especially managing the time from job completion, to invoicing and finally being paid. Making things like invoicing easy and enabling the capability for the business owner to be able to choose when they’d like to invoice with the instant availability of the job details and charges through a job management system like GeoOp enhances productivity. If you wish, you could really speed cash flow by enabling staff to invoice once the job is completed.

However, if you wanted to conduct any checks or you didn’t want your staff to see the final charges being invoiced out, you or an accounts person can invoice at regular intervals, as all the information is available on hand. Just ensure you set specific times whether it’s daily or weekly to ensure it’s done regularly. GeoOp integrates with great cloud accounting solutions so you can seamlessly have your invoices in your accounting system, saving you needing to duplicate the information. It also allows for your general ledger to be updated and your profit and loss reports done.

Take payments on the road

Talk to your bank about setting a mobile EFTPOS facility or if they have a payment app available so your staff and contractors can take payments and deposits while out in the field speeding up productivity. GeoOp integrates to payment solutions such as St George Bank and DPS Payments as well, so any payments taken out in the field are correctly reflected against the job.


Spending hours a month doing your books and GST, or are you missing opportunities to bring in new business because you’re out fixing up mistakes? Look at what you can outsource to so you can spend more time on billable hours and leveraging the time you do work to the fullest.

Automatic customer scheduling

If you’ve got regular jobs you complete for customers, you can create recurring jobs in GeoOp and set the frequency as well to save you time inputting them. You can also grant your customers individual login details to be able to input, edit and see the status of their own jobs. With website integrations available too, even new customers who have just found you can request a job. Enabling these features means increased productivity for you and your office staff and increased communication and transparency with your customers as well.

Talk less

Improving communication between team members and access to information on clients can vastly speed up productivity on the job. Often previous job history is needed while on the job and many phone calls are needed to find it. With GeoOp you can bring up a full job history of the client while on site and move onto fixing the problem straight away.

Get online

With majority of customers now turning online to find their next tradie, their local tradie or references for a businesses’ work, you must get online. Whether its through a website, social media channels, blogs etc you need to ensure its easy for your customers and potential customers to be able to find you and find out about you.

Why Does Finance Hate Technology?
Why Does Finance Hate Technology?

A recent article in The Telegraph (UK), “The Silicon Valley of Fear” provides a snapshot on the state of play:

“Finance is one of the few areas that technology companies, which are defined by their almost limitless ambitions, have made few inroads in. Although internet and mobile banking have become must-have services, the vast majority of customers continue to favour the high street brands that have existed for decades. While the internet has changed many aspects of media, retail and communications almost beyond recognition, areas of lending, insurance and investing are unchanged from 20 years ago.” 

Indeed the only areas of improvement we’ve seen are in everyday transaction accounts. Most of the major banks’ mobile apps are very good, as is peer-to-peer money transferring. PayPass is also a convenient development. But in the States, for example, paper cheques are still widely used for recurring payments. Waiting seven days for a cheque to clear puts a bit of a crimp in your cash flow. 

The old-school areas of funds management and financial advice remain the most unchanged save for a few website facelifts here and there. This is a shame and an opportunity squandered. By using technology, investment companies could be targeting young people who are just beginning to invest and tech-savvy folks already in retirement, a.k.a. the “Silver Surfers.”

Scaled advice, for example, holds promise. Our partners at Stockspot have already put something similar in motion. Scaled advice companies offer online financial advice, using algorithms to select an appropriate mix of investments based on an investor’s personal data.

Orwellian this is not. Truth be told these algorithms are very similar to what the average financial planner would recommend based on a risk profiling engine, but a hell of a lot cheaper (fees being the best predictor of future returns). By looking at a list of investment options, scaled advice providers work out the best mix of investments considering salary, returns, risk, fees, and client expectations. If applied to index funds or ETFs, this model is hard to beat for young investors looking to build up core investments.

Specifically, we think this model has huge potential for industry super funds, in which there’s already a direct relationship with the end client and where commissions to intermediaries less of a factor. If clients are given a decent range of investments to choose from, that’s even better. Australian Super’s Member Direct plan being a prime example. They allow clients to invest in any company in the ASX 300 and a range of ETFs. Adding a scaled advice option on top of this would make sense. Paying a tiny per annum fee for a recommended investment mix and automatic rebalancing sounds like a fair deal to us.

An inverse product could be applied to those people who are in retirement. Why don’t asset management companies build a product that would help people find the right “glide-path?” Chances are, people could leave funds invested longer (increasing AUM fees, optimising tax, etc.) versus cashing out their entire nest egg in one go, thereby ending their relationship with the financial institution.

On a visit to a US-based financial planner last year at one of the world’s largest banking institutions (30,000+ financial planners), a Sharesight employee enjoyed the following exchange:

Adviser: “Use Mint.com to organise your spending habit info and then email me your login details, but make sure you send them to my personal email address”

Sharesight employee: “Why? You guys don’t have anything better in-house to track that stuff down?”

Adviser: “Ha! Our technology sucks. Take a look at this screen.”

The adviser proceeded to turn his computer monitor, which showed an interface that looked like MS-DOS

Instead, this person has shared his Sharesight portfolio with the adviser, thereby eliminating the need to track down his investment holdings all over again. Plus, there’s no need to awkwardly share what should be private login credentials with someone else.

We can’t change the entire industry overnight, but we can empower investors to take an important first step: freeing their portfolio data.

3 reasons why your Business can benefit from Cloud Computing
3 reasons why your Business can benefit from Cloud Computing

Is cloud computing of interest to your Business?

If you are trying to decide whether cloud computing is something that your company should be interested in you may find this information interesting and helpful during the selection and integration process.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a simple concept. It puts computer applications on the internet and users access it that way rather than downloading or installing a terminal-based program on their computers.

By putting the application or program online it offers a number of benefits that are not shared when the programs are installed directly on a computer’s hard drive, such as:

Cloud computing is affordable

For many companies, it can be a struggle to pay for expensive terminal-based programs. There may be a limit on how many terminals can access a program and the time to install and expanding a program to accommodate a large number of users may be expensive. Cloud computing may still have a cost in order to access the programs or applications but it may be more reasonable than installed applications may be.

Cloud computing does not need you to maintain it

Part of the IT expense a company may incur is centered on maintaining systems and programs. With cloud computing, this is not an issue. The applications are maintained by the company that created them which means that you do not need to worry about updating and repairing them yourself. This can help your company to substantially reduce the cost of its IT department.

Cloud Computing offers flexibility in terms of payment

Many terminal based computer applications or applications which are installed on a computer can be expensive and need to be paid for up front. This can be an issue for many companies especially if they are unsure whether a software package offers them the functionality that they need.

In this case, cloud computing can be a definite asset, since it is often possible to pay for these applications on an ongoing basis, such as a monthly one. Keep in mind that cloud computing is not right for every company. If employees do not have access to the internet on an ongoing basis the applications will also be inaccessible.

This is where GeoOp comes in, traditionally staff out in the field did not have access the internet, but smartphones like the iPhone and Tablets such as iPads change this for workers in the field, allowing them to access files just like they were back in the office.

Receipt Bank and Xero
Receipt Bank and Xero

Receipt Bank extracts all the relevant information, including what your accountant and the tax department needs. There’s also a bureau service available to accountants and bookkeepers.

Uploading receipts for processing anywhere in the world is easy via email, the web, or use the iPhone app to send receipts on the move. (If you’re in the UK you can also send by freepost).

Receipt Bank will process the first 50 receipts for Xero customers free. Find out more or watch this video to see how it works:

What is a healthy work place – and how do I get one?
What is a healthy work place – and how do I get one?

What is a healthy work place – and how do I get one? By healthy I don’t mean clean, green, and having an office full of chi (even though that is a contributing factor a healthy work environment) – I’m talking about a work environment where staff want to come to work, they want to work their hardest, and at the end of the day feel good about what they are doing. A work environment that they brag about, and one that they never want to leave!

The Way Employment is Managed Has Evolved
The Way Employment is Managed Has Evolved

Employment management has evolved rapidly in the past few years. Its changed so much in fact that what you think you know about how to manage employment is probably already wrong.