creative entrepreneurs

11 online tools for creative entrepreneurs

creative entrepreneurs

A successful company is built by hard-working entrepreneurs that know their business inside and out — and it always helps to have a little creativity on your side. When it comes to online tools, there are some incredibly useful options to get the job done — whether those are used for sales prospecting, project management, email scheduling, social media, video production, photo selection or time management.

Here are 11 helpful resources designed for entrepreneurs — all recommended by experts in business training and entrepreneurship.

Wistia

Every business can become video production experts using Wistia. Short form video has skyrocketed to the top of shareable content, and you may get a lot more use out of this content creation tool, with both free and paid options available that can help get your message across to your customers.

Buffer

Find the perfect time of day to send out social messages — and learn when your target audience will engage with you the most. Buffer will even schedule messages for you, so you’ll save time and still stay connected.

Pexels

Pexels is a powerful (and free) stock image site that lets you easily discover and use new photos and illustrations for your website or blog — all without having to pay for royalties or license fees. Their ever-expanding library of 25,000+ images is a bonus for any online entrepreneur.

Google Analytics

This tool makes the cut for many lists of helpful tools, and for good reason. Google Analytics (GA) is a free tool that is easily added to any website, giving you instant feedback on who is visiting your site, what pages they’re visiting and for how long. Get even more insights by exploring all the rich data within this easy-to-learn platform, then make use of the reporting features to reveal your key metrics.

Square

Online and offline payments just got easier. Use the Square point-of-sale app and hardware (including a contactless payment pad) to accept credit card and Interac payments from anywhere, anytime and right from your phone. Have different employees login with personalized codes, then track your profits with less paperwork or manual processing. You can even view a variety of useful reports on itemized sales.

More tools: Get more suggestions from Host Gator’s list of 15 essential tools for Internet entrepreneurs.

Boomerang

A Gmail add-on, this tool’s most important feature lets you schedule emails to be sent at a later date and time. This is perfect for when you’re working late into the evening or on weekends when you don’t want to risk your message going unnoticed. Pick a day and time, and Boomerang will send those messages automatically in the future.

Voila Norbert

Any sales pro knows the challenge of contacting the right person with the right email address. With Voila Norbert, you can find any contact’s corporate email address with this tool. Just enter their name and company, and Voila Norbert shows you their address.

Momentum

This Chrome browser extension is a brilliantly simple way to keep you focused. By reminding you of your main task to complete each day, Momentum limits your distractions when opening new tabs on your browser — plus it includes stunning photos to make your browser extra stylish.

Canva

Ever search for the perfect photo but just can’t find it? Now create your own for free with a combination of royalty-free images, well-designed icons and stylish fonts using the free site, Canva. Download the images and voila — you’ve got the perfect image to share on social media, your website or blog.

Asana

Asana is “the ultimate tool for managing your projects more effectively.” Consider this a simplified project management app that syncs across all your devices and can be used with all your team members. Never lose track of tasks to complete a project, timelines, feedback and ideas. You’ll be able to see all the progress you’ve made at a glance, and what needs to happen on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Typeform

Ask your clients and prospects what they really think of a product, solution or service using Typeform, which lets you easily design beautiful forms, surveys and quizzes. Using interactive answer modules, they are designed to be fun to use and quick to complete — getting you valuable answers to improve your business.

 

If you’re craving even more tools for your online toolkit, Entrepreneur also compiled their list of 17 must-know tools for budding business owners. They include several of our selections plus some classic favorites such as Google Docs and Dropbox — helping to make sure your files are always safe and synced.

No matter which tools you use, make sure you explore your options but keep your toolkit lean. There’s no use adding a new tool if you won’t have time to use it, so the first consideration should how much value it will add to your business. Will it save you time, improve operations, connect you with new customers or improve sales? If so, it may be worth adding to the mix.

Email marketing on cellphone

Turbo charge your email marketing with these best practices

Part 2 of the “Do-it-Right Email Marketing” series. (Read Part 1 here.)

email marketing tips

Your email marketing program has just launched, and your first campaign has shown some exciting results. Firstly, it enticed two former customers to reach out and restart a conversation. Several current customers and colleagues also sent you a note to say ‘nice job.’ And you were encouraged when you saw prospects who have been ignoring your efforts to connect in other ways have now opened this message.

This is a good start. So what’s your next step?

Get to know how to take your strategy to the next level and follow these email marketing best practices:

Manage your email lists

We frequently hear people say, “I’ve got a stack of business cards on my desk…” It those contacts aren’t properly organized in a digital format, you’ll miss out on the majority of their value.

Keeping lists current is tedious and time-consuming — so it’s no surprise that it’s often ignored. But adding, removing and updating your digital contact list, which includes the cleanup of bounced emails that don’t get delivered, should be an ongoing endeavor. Carve out time before and after each email campaign to work on your lists. You’ll always have attrition, so adding new contacts and updating old records on a schedule will keep your time spent to a minimum.

Keep your design simple

email marketing design

If you’re unsure of what constitutes good email design, do some research. For example, you can view 15 campaigns highlighted by HubSpot as well as Campaign Monitor’s Top 100 campaigns. Start to pay close attention to the emails you receive. The most inviting ones probably limit the use of fonts and colors, feature properly-sized and scaled images, draw you in with copy that flows from top to bottom, and prominently display a call to action.

Before you schedule release, test your campaigns in multiple email clients such as Outlook and Gmail, as well as on different devices — desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. What you’ve created isn’t guaranteed to render that way on all platforms and devices. By testing, you may discover that you want to move elements around or that the phone number in your footer changes to a color that isn’t easy to read.

Create content your audience will enjoy

Remember, it’s not about you. All those vital selling points about your products and company? Give it a rest. Wait until your audience steps up and says, “OK, tell me more.”

For now, develop content that will help your audience and create genuine interest. Include photos, videos and links to useful articles. Tell stories. Surprise and delight your readers. Even transactional emails that acknowledge orders can be playful and memorable.

Embrace the technology

email marketing technology

Often once we master the basics of software we leave it at that. But Email Service Providers are continually enhancing their platforms to help users generate more engagement and get better results.

For instance, your platform probably has the option to set up auto-responders — a series of emails that release automatically each time you add new contacts to a designated list. It may also provide integrations with your CRM, website or social media accounts to simplify adding new subscribers to your email account. There are bound to be useful features you can use, so check them out.

Carefully craft your subject lines.

Don’t slough off subject lines as unimportant. While studies show that emails are opened first based on who they are from, the subject line comes in as a close second.

When you’re drafting ideas, strive to create urgency and curiosity. Tailor your text so it’s relevant to your readers and tease with what makes your email an interesting read. For inspiration, read 164 Email Subject Lines to Boost Your Email Open Rates.

Set reasonable expectations

email marketing goals

Most companies launch an email program for two reasons:

  1. They need a system for keeping in front of their existing buyers
  2. They want to generate new business.

Some email programs quickly lead to inquiries and conversations that turn into sales. When that happens, it’s easy to think, “Wow – that email accomplished a lot. We need to send more emails.” But your email program on its own will never be a rainmaker.

No matter how engaging and stunning an email campaign might be, it isn’t solely responsible for generating sales. If you think it is — or should be — you’re setting yourself up for disappointment in the months to come.

It’s more likely that your first email served as a catalyst, leading a select group of people who already knew about your company, your quality offerings and your strong customer support, to reach out. Fortunately, now that you plan to build on that experience, you’ll have a good understanding of how to make the most of your new email program.

 

Cathy Cain-Blank is President of CC Marketing and Communications, specializing in developing and deploying effective email marketing campaigns for businesses across North America.

A businessman presenting funding strategy to a woman

How to Use Referral Sources to Increase Sales

referral sources

Do you want to routinely meet and exceed your monthly sales targets using referral sources?

Want to increase your sales with a trusted network of contacts?

Want to have fun with new business development?

Look no further than your own database. There remains one constant truth about building relationships and new business development — even since the days of cavemen when one person recommended the best spear sources to one another. Your existing network is one of the best opportunities to connect with prospects and increase sales.

Referral sources = More closed deals

69% of companies with a trusted referral program will close deals faster. When you work in partnership with your network of contacts, it’s possible to close the majority of your referral opportunities. This is an extremely effective method to grow your sales, and the trust is a key component.

Cultivating referral sources not only increases sales, but it can enrich your life as you develop your network with a selection of people you know, like and trust. Building a referral network takes a certain amount of dedication.

Dr. Ivan Misner, the CNN designated “Father of Networking” and founder of BNI and the Referral Institute, points us in the right direction with his fishing analogy.

“Referral marketing is like fishing with a net. You think about how to cast the net to optimize your chances of catching fish. You choose a likely spot, throw your net and when you pull it in, you find a number of fish. You have a pretty good idea of how many fish you’re going to catch if you do this a few times, but you don’t know which individual fish are going to end up in your net. The fisherman concentrates on casting the net, not on the individual path of one of the fish.”

Referral marketing is ultimately the practice of building a base of customers and clients through support from your network of contacts. This is a systematic cultivation of business by referrals.

So referral marketing is more about intentionally growing your network as a system — regularly and consistently casting your net. Learning how to grow your network systematically for exponential sales growth is the new tool for a very old business development method.

Here are five steps on how to create a referral from your network to increase your sales.

referral sources 5 steps

1. Create trust in your relationships

A referral is a transfer of trust. A member of your network shows that they believe in your business when they give a referral. They are giving a piece of their reputation to your prospect.

The extent to which that this conviction is shared with your prospects has everything to do with how willing members of your network are to roll out the red carpet. Only strong relationships with a solid based of trust will create strong referrals. Build those strong relationships.

Takeaway: Strong relationships = Strong referrals

2. Share your business knowledge

Only 12% of your network can help you with a referral. These people are the members of your network who know you, like you and most importantly, trust you. You and these valued members of your network will need to continually share business knowledge with one another.

Selecting the right members of your network for these 1:1 conversations is key. They must have the right attitude, motivation and be in a strategic position to help. And, of course, you must have the right mindset to manage this conversation. Reciprocity is king here. You are helping one another with referrals, so seek out the ‘givers.’

Takeaway: Referrals come from strategic 1:1 conversations

3. Understand the needs of one another’s prospects

You and your referral source must understand and clearly articulate the needs of one another’s ideal prospect. Armed with this knowledge, you can qualify all referral opportunities for one another. At this point, the closing rate of the referral starts to track above 34%, going north to a 50% closing rate.

Takeaway: Your educated referral source can qualify your prospect for you 

4. Learn about one another’s solutions

Both you and your referral source must be able to articulate your solutions clearly to one another. Learning the elements of your solutions helps with preparing the way to a higher quality referral.

Takeaway: Articulate your solutions clearly = Higher closer rate  

5. Set up an appointment to connect

The overall goal of this process is to create the all-important appointment with the prospect, but make sure the right people are attending. Dedicated referral sources attend one another’s first appointments with the referred prospects whenever possible. This can help you achieve an 80% closing rate.

Takeaway: Make sure you meet together with the prospect and your referral source

 

Following these steps will help you effectively leverage your referral sources to increase your top line. It’s time to put these steps into action. Which network contacts will you reconnect with to set up your next referral conversation?

 

Paula Hope, Booked SolidPaula Hope, referral marketing expert, coach, consultant, trainer and author has been helping aspiring professional service providers create the revenue they really deserve for over a decade. Connect with Paula here via email or the Booked Solid website.

A conference

7 Quick Ways to Prepare for a Conference (& Stand Out From the Crowd)

Prepare for a conference

You’ve registered for the event, booked your flight and scheduled the time off in your calendar. Done, right? Not quite. There are some quick and easy things you can do right now to prepare for a conference in the future.

Whether you’re looking for a new business opportunity, sourcing inventory, learning about tools of the trade or running a booth on the exhibition floor, there’s so much more you can prepare that will help you learn more and connect with the right people. Most importantly, you’ll stand out from the crowd, and that can help you close deals.

These seven things will make a big impact.

1. Set a goal for the conference

 prepare for a conference set goals

Time required: 15 – 30 minutes

Go into the conference with a purpose. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? How will this connect to the big picture strategy for your business?

Write these goals down — and if you’re attending with others, make sure you’re all on the same page. Just like a pilot needs a map and navigation tools, these goals will keep you on the right course.

2. Write on your business cards in advance

 Prepare for a conference business cards

Time required: 10 minutes

Personalize a batch of business cards before you pack your bags. If you have a booth, write your booth number or location, along with the conference name on the back of your card. People will be able to find you easier if you meet them away from the booth, and they’ll remember you when back home updating their contacts.

If you’re on the sales side, you could provide a special “conference-only” discount or product offer on the back of your card. Or simply write your basic goal such as, “Looking to improve our manufacturing automation.” Your card will instantly be seen with more value.

3. Connect on social media in advance

Prepare for a conference social media 

Time required: 30 minutes

Check out the conference schedule and website. If there are keynote speakers, particular vendors and industry experts that will be in attendance, reach out and connect with them online.

Your best bet to start is on LinkedIn and Twitter. Influencers and keynote speakers will usually be listed on the event website, so feel free to reach out and let them know you’re looking forward to their session. Mention you’re hoping to say hello during the event, and this sets you up for a familiar in-person chat when you get to the event. That can be a helpful icebreaker.

4. Start setting up meetings

 Prepare for a conference meetings

Time required: 1 hour

Time will be a hot commodity, and the most prepared attendees will book meetings and prep their schedules in advance. Do a bit of homework to target your must-meet attendees, and then reach out to set up a meeting.

Add all your meetings to your calendar, and include blocks of time dedicated to taking impromptu meetings. Also schedule your preferred keynotes and breakout session directly into a calendar that syncs with your smartphone. Now you’ll have a customized, ready-to-go schedule that you can reference at a moment’s notice.

5. Add the LinkedIn app to your phone

 Prepare for a conference LinkedIn

Time required: 3 minutes

If you haven’t done this already, download the LinkedIn app and login so you’re all set up. This is one of the easiest ways to connect with people in the moment — sometimes even a replacement for exchanging business cards.

At the conference, simply add new connections to LinkedIn when you meet them. This shows you’re actively engaged, taking an interest in building a mutually beneficial relationship, and it can simply help confirm you’re connecting with the right contact. This little tactic will make a follow-up touch-point that much more seamless, and you’ll be a step ahead for a continued relationship after the conference.

6. Prepare for a conference by learning about the city

prepare for a conference boston

Time required: 15 – 30 minutes

If you’re heading somewhere new to you, research the history of the city, main attractions, fun facts and little-known trivia. Why? Aside from finding a great restaurant in the off time, it’s a perfect conversation starter or icebreaker with new contacts.

Undoubtedly, you’ll chat with people about and make casual conversation — discussing the conference center, the hotel, where you’re from and if you’re doing anything else while in town. Having an interesting tidbit will keep your conversation lively, give you a back pocket conversation topic, and most importantly, will make you memorable.

7. Perfect your elevator pitch

Prepare for a conference elevator pitch 

Time required: 30 minutes

You’ve set key goals, are an expert in your field and know the value you can provide others. Wrap those three things up into a 30-second statement that you can easily repeat when you meet new contacts.

Think from your audience’s perspective as you develop this pitch. They will be asking themselves, “What value can this new person provide me?” Answer that question in your elevator pitch — keeping it succinct and bold. People will instantly see what you can offer and want to learn more.

 

Follow these steps and you’ll be ready to get the most out of your conference experience, connect with new prospects and help grow your business through those new connections.

Notebooks and group of business people shaking hands

Improve Your Financial Skills (With Free Premium Online Courses)

Improve financial skills

All business owners are finance experts, right? For some, yes. But for many, this is a lifelong learning experience. There is always more to learn, and everyone can agree that it’s a necessity to constantly improve your financial skills. After all, your competition is going to be doing just that.

However, you might also be laser-focused on other priorities, and financial education has been pushed lower on your list. How can you spend less time (and money) to improve your financial skills?

No problem.

Improve your financial skills by taking advantage of these five online resources and accreditations. Once you top up your skills, you should also show them off and update your LinkedIn profile and resume. And the best part…these courses are all inexpensive or free.

1. LinkedIn Learning – Finance & Accounting

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn recently purchased famous training site Lynda.com to beef up their LinkedIn Learning platform. Their “Finance and Accounting” section includes courses in corporate finance, small business finance and accounting, all designed for you to start with the basics and work your way up to more advanced topics. Learn about financial analysis, bootstrapping businesses, income tax planning, personal finance tips, managerial accounting and creating KPIs.

Cost:

  • One month free trial, then $20 – 30 per month to access 1000+ business courses.
  • Annual subscriptions available.
  • Bonus: If you’ve subscribed to LinkedIn’s Premium membership, you already get LinkedIn Learning access for free.

Benefits:

  • Stay on top of current trends in finance and a variety of other fields
  • Learn outside the box: Brush up on marketing, sales and operations.
  • Be more efficient in your job, whether that’s interviewing employees, building spreadsheets or persuasive selling.

Format:

Video content makes up the majority of this site.

Time commitment:

  • Courses range from 5 minutes to 20 hours.
  • Take it at your own pace: Start a course and LinkedIn Learning will hold your place until your next login.

2. MOOCs – University Level Finance

MOOCs

Yes, it’s a weird name, but it’s also incredibly valuable.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, and include university courses from reputable institutions that have been posted online, complete with lecture notes and quizzes. Outside of attending university in person, this is an incredible resource for learning.

Check out this list of finance courses from institutions like the Yale, Stanford, MIT and Caltech.

Cost:

Many courses are completely free, with a paid option for verified certification.

Benefits:

  • Get a university level education for free.
  • Stay ahead of the curve, and the new competition that will be hitting the job market.
  • Access educational resources in other cities and countries.

Format:

Downloadable course materials, streaming video, audio clips and resource pages.

Time commitment:

  • Aim for around 6 hours per week and 8 weeks on average per course.
  • Each course displays the number of weeks and hours per week needed to complete.

3. Hootsuite Academy – Social Selling & Networking

Hootsuite Academy

As a business pro, you’re likely already a great networker, but it never hurts to brush up on your social networking skills.

The Hootsuite Academy offers a variety of beginner and intermediate social media courses to get you up to speed and in the groove when it comes to online networking. Learn how to optimize your social media profile, grow your followers, publish the right content and use advertising to connect with new customers.

As an added level of education, you can enrol in the Hootsuite Social Selling and Certification to obtain your status as a “Certified Professional” in social selling. “Hootsuite’s course on Social Selling teaches Sales Professionals to leverage social media to save time, drive a larger number of better-qualified leads, and increase deal sizes.”

Cost:

  • Hootsuite platform and social marketing training are free.
  • The social selling course costs $299.

Benefits:

  • Improve your social networking skills.
  • Proactively find new clients with the right conversations.
  • Be discovered more easily by prospects.

Format:

Short videos, articles and interactive quizzes.

Time commitment: 

4 – 8 hours per course.

4. Google Analytics Academy – Digital Analytics

Google Analytics Academy

If you have a website or blog and want to learn more about who visits your site, why they visited and what they did on your site, then you need to know Google Analytics.

The simplest way to learn is through the Google Analytics Academy that offers training in every aspect of the platform. With four official courses to choose from, you can learn about the digital analytics fundamentals, the Google Analytics platform itself, e-commerce data decision-making and how to use Google Tags properly.

Google is about to launch revisions to their programs, offering even more incentive to get cutting-edge training. In the past, you could also obtain certifications for completion of your training, so keep an eye out for that to return.

Cost:

Free

Benefits:

  • Get advice and lessons directly from Google’s experts.
  • Improve your online discoverability.
  • Understand who your customers are and why they are (or aren’t) finding you online.

Format:

Videos, transcripts, quizzes and blog posts.

Time commitment:

Set aside 6-10 hours to properly complete each course.

5. Alison – Financial & Economic Literacy

Alison Finance

Alison offers a similar formula training to LinkedIn Learning, but all of their courses are offered free of charge. On the downside, you’ll have to watch brief ads before each course module, but they aren’t that obtrusive.

In return, you get access to a wide selection of course – in particular, check out the “Finance” section. The strength of these courses lies in their plain English approach so you can understand and retain the knowledge. They also offer study groups for those who like to learn alongside others.

To cap it off, they also offer certifications and Alison diploma courses.

Cost:

Free

Benefits:

  • Real-world terminology.
  • Join or create a group of like-minded learners to study together.
  • Community hub provides extra motivation & success stories from Alison students.

Format:

Videos, slides, animations, interactive quizzes and assessments.

Time commitment:

Courses can range from 1 – 10 hours.

 

Daily learning can be a challenge, faced with time constraints, high costs of continued education and difficulty finding great courses or expert trainers. By starting one of the above online courses, you will hopefully find the motivation and material to improve your financial skills without cutting too far into your schedule or budget.

 

Time management tips

Need more time? Get these 5 quick time management tips

Time management tips

Whether you own your own business, freelance or work for an employer, your productivity often carries significant weight in your career and income success. Learn to maximize your schedule each day, and achieve your goals with time management tips.

The following is a look at five of the most important time management strategies to reach your highest daily productivity levels.

1. Prioritize High-Value Tasks

Successful professionals are usually creative people with vision. If that’s you, it’s likely that you want to accomplish more each day than time and practicality allow. Sound familiar? There’s an easy escape, and it’s relatively simple.

Step one is to prioritize critical tasks in your calendar, which helps you achieve the greatest benefits from the time you do have. As you contemplate which tasks to rank at the top of your list, focus on the impact to your bottom line and your personal satisfaction. Ideally, spend more of your time on high-value tasks that you give you great personal satisfaction when you complete. Then delegate the smaller and less enjoyable activities, or figure out ways to eliminate them altogether.

2. Minimize Your To-Do List

A to-do list is an important time-management tool because it helps you identify tasks and create an order for their completion. To streamline your workday, complete the quick and easy tasks right away to avoid building up your list. As soon as you cross a couple lines off your list, you’ll be mentally in the groove to keep going. Then start to tackle the bigger items by aiming for at least one major task before lunch and one after.

But a word of warning – don’t get too carried away with the small tasks. From a psychological standpoint, piling little items on your day increases the likelihood that you will feel overwhelmed. If it takes almost as long to record the task than it does to do it right away, just cut to the chase and get it done immediately.

Related: Learn 21 ways to get more accomplished every day.

3. Plan Ahead

Know what you want to accomplish at the start of each workday. Depending on when your mind works best, you could start your morning early or prepare your to-do list at the end of each day.

If you try to think of things to do one at a time, you slow down your productivity because you aren’t able to ramp up to full speed. Instead, use a tasks list in your email software like Outlook tasks, or try a free online task list that syncs with your phone and tablet, like Any.do or Wunderlist.

4. Include Your Breaks and Non-Work Activities

Finding balance in your daily schedule is an important, often overlooked factor in entrepreneurial efficiency. This point is especially true if you work from home. Integrate your work, individual and family responsibilities into your plan.

Specific to your work regimen, plan in time for breaks so you aren’t stuck at the desk all day. Taking periodic breaks to move around and refresh yourself helps you sustain adequate energy. Scheduling rests helps keep you fresh and mentally looking forward to breaks in the day, as opposed to developing a tendency to routinely distract yourself from work that needs to be completed.

5. Turn Off All the Notifications

Ever catch yourself reaching for your phone with no real purpose? Our phones have turned into the biggest distraction and time vampire of the modern age – and the constant notifications aren’t helping.

It’s time to cut them from our workday. That means turning off or muting any non-critical app notifications like Facebook, Instagram, games, weather and sports updates. Without the constant pings telling you about a friend’s status update, the latest scores and reminders to play your daily Lumosity game, you’ll be less inclined to check your phone and then waste more time staring at your screen without a purpose.

Business critical apps and functions like your email, calendar, Slack, text messages, phone calls and even What’s App (if you use it to collaborate with team members) can be left on so you don’t miss out on important events and conversations. But cutting the mental clutter of all the countless other notifications will help you break away from that phone addiction.

Time Management Tips Take-Away

Take the time to implement these five primary time management tips into your daily routine and you’ll be amazed at the difference in what you can accomplish. New habits take as much as three weeks to become part of your natural routine and prove effective. But you will never regret working hard at improving your time management and productivity.

Grow your business, satisfy your clients or employer, reach your professional goals and earn optimum income.

Get more accomplished

21 Effective Ways to Get More Accomplished Every Day

Get more accomplished

What secrets do the world’s top businesspeople use to be hyper-productive? How do they seem to fit so much into each day, week and year to get more accomplished than the average worker? The answer is in the small tasks they do to stay focused on their goals, priorities and the outcomes that will consistently progress them to the next level.

Here are 21 of the greatest tips that elite entrepreneurs and business pros do that have put them on top.

1. Get more accomplished with an ultimate to-do list

Create a master to-do list, not a variety of different lists in multiple formats and locations. Stick to one, preferably online that syncs across all devices and that is available when you’re offline — so even when you don’t have Wi-Fi you can keep adjusting your task list.

2. Prep every night

Start the night before by answering three questions for the next day: 1) What will you work on first thing tomorrow? 2) What do you hope to accomplish during the day? 3) What must get completed tomorrow, in priority? The answers should feed into your to-do list.

3. Your routine is key

Establish a daily ritual. For example, you may start your day by pouring a coffee, putting on instrumental music and reading your favorite newspaper online. Then move straight into your most critical task of the day. By mid-day, you may decide to always take lunch and a 15-minute walk, and on the way home you catch the latest podcast on your list.

4. Learn on the go

Speaking of podcasts, listening to them on your commute to or from work is a great way to research and learn. Don’t waste that time on Google or Candy Crush though, when you can be getting in some professional development time or improving an important skill. Listening to podcasts like HBR Ideacast and Outside In will get you thinking a step ahead of your competition.

5. Power hour

Schedule a “power hour” for the first 60 minutes of every morning — where you work diligently and uninterrupted on the most important task on your list. Avoid checking email and doing the little tasks that can veer you off course all day long.

6. Satisfy the stomach

Never ignore a rumbling stomach. This doesn’t mean you should satisfy every snack craving, but make sure you’re staying fuelled up during meal times throughout the day. Working straight through your day without a meal can be the ultimate crush to productivity. So scheduling those meals into your calendar can also be a nice reminder.

7. Get away to recharge

Get in a couple mini-breaks throughout the day, whether that’s just to step away from the computer for 10 minutes, or a walk around the block. Establish a “break habit” by scheduling them into your calendar or using an app to keep track of your time — and potentially to signal when a break is needed.

8. Emails can be your worst enemy

Enforce a personal email strategy, where you set certain times on your calendar to check email — and don’t spend any more time than allocated. Process the emails according to priority and pick up the phone for emergencies, rather than resorting to typed messages.

9. Time to tidy

Organize your workspace. It doesn’t have to look as clean as an office showroom, but your space should be tidy and uncluttered, which helps you focus on the tasks at hand. Nothing is more stressful than searching tirelessly for your office supplies, working files or phone when you need to get things done in a hurry.

10. Zero distractions

When you’re in true work mode, close down any distracting Internet browsers, email programs or other software. At the very least, minimize them from your computer screen so you won’t get the urge to click elsewhere.

11. A “social” reward

Treat social media like a reward. It’s easy to get distracted by eye-catching headlines and notifications on your phone, so shut those off and save the fun stuff for when you accomplish a task. Then, when you complete each major task, you can reward yourself with your favorite distraction — like a quick one-minute video of a cat being cute. Just make sure you shut it down after the reward to stay productive.

12. One task at a time

Stop trying to multitask. Studies show it actually can make you pay less attention and have troubles recalling information. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but in reality it could slow your performance down.

13. Just say ‘no’

Contrary to what you may have been taught, it’s not impolite to say ‘no’ to tasks that derail your productivity. You may want to help others out with their requests, but sometimes you need to decline their request in order to get your work done. By saying ‘no’ you can free up future time for something you really want to say ‘yes’ to — and that will be more fulfilling in the long run.

14. Like Costco for your calendar

Schedule time slots to work on things in bulk. Like many people, you may have had days where you jump so quickly from task to task that you never have a chance to sink into any of it. Instead, schedule multiple working time slots in one to two-hour segments throughout the day where you can have uninterrupted work.

15. Cut your low-value tasks

High productivity people follow the Pareto principle — 80% of your results can be driven by 20% of your effort. The key is figuring out what the other 80% of your effort is spent on, and then systematically delegating, deleting or diminishing those from your schedule so your day becomes more valuable.

16. High-impact times of day

Discover your productivity rhythm — that is, the time of day that you are most impactful. People can be classified into three categories: the morning crush-it, the high noon heavy hitter, or the night owl ninja. Find out which one you are and schedule your tasks accordingly.

17. Always be goal oriented

Never lose track of your long-term goals. Too often, we move from one thing to the next just trying to get through the day. But by integrating your yearly objectives into all your meetings and activities, you’ll be more prepared to cut unnecessary activities and keep your teams (and yourself) focused on the right priorities.

18. Positively priority proficient

As new tasks arrive, reprioritize with speed and ease. The trick is giving every task an A, B or C rating (or 1, 2, 3 if you prefer). The As will get ultimate priority as your most important tasks — so if a new B task comes in and you’re working on an A, that new B task can wait. But conversely, if an A task arrives, you better hop on it.

19. Make meetings count

Make sure your meetings are efficient and worth every minute — otherwise, they won’t be worth your time and you should cut them from your schedule. Every meeting must include an agenda with clear objectives, and schedule less important meetings into the second half of your day so you have more time in the morning to complete key responsibilities.

20. High gear afternoons

An hour and a half before the end of your workday, you have a perfect window of opportunity to kick your productivity into high gear. Get your affairs in order by checking your email and drafts folder, finishing those last messages and then completely closing your Inbox. Then, your last hour of work can be spent entirely undistracted.

21. Final 10 before freedom

The last 10 minutes of your day can set you up for a more productive tomorrow. Make sure your to-do list is finalized, clean-up your workspace, sign out of every app and program (including on your phone), and then do a brain dump — where you jot down anything left on your mind so you can go home with lighter shoulders and enjoy your night.

Group of businessmen on top of a mountain illustration

How to build one of the best sales teams in the world

teamwork

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Team building is an ongoing process for large and small businesses alike. The right team can be the difference between success and failure, or scalability and stagnation.

Sales people are empowered entrepreneurs, but they can also build a team around them to support their professional and personal goals — and that approach can help them strategically fast track their next moves. Let’s take a look at how the right approach to team building is just as important to growth as the right working capital.

Great leaders build great teams

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and it sure as heck wasn’t built by one person.

Great leaders are the lifeblood of great teams, but that doesn’t happen by accident. So it helps to understand the ways in which teamwork is literally wired into our brains.

There is a fundamental importance of rewarding your team’s ‘collective success’ versus just the ‘individual performance.’ Psychology Researchers and Neuroleadership experts Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer revealed in the Harvard Business Review why focusing on collective success makes all the difference.

“Although leaders are concerned with collective success, most organizations — from sports teams to universities to global companies — still focus on rewarding individual performance. The majority of Fortune 500 companies reward the most productive individuals, not the most effective groups or indispensable group members. We believe that leaders at these organizations are overlooking something fundamental about human nature — our tribalism.”

Buck your traditions

Van Bavel and Packer led their research with an example of a nearly 50-year old Ohio State Buckeyes football tradition — and it’s the reward system behind all those Buckeye stickers on players’ helmets (you know, the ones that look like little hemp leaves — both amusing and beneficial).

Buckeyes

So what’s the story behind this?

In 1968, the Buckeyes coaching staff wanted to reward exceptional plays and encourage their team to keep winning — and so a new tradition began. Individual players were rewarded with Buckeye stickers to place on their helmets — a visible reminder of their success. The system paid off in spades, and the team won the championship that year. They continued a dominating streak in the league, but it wasn’t ever lasting. Over the next few decades, the system was failing and the team was, too.

In 2001, a new head coach flipped the way players earn Buckeyes. Instead of their old system of rewarding a player for scoring a touchdown or other individual victory, every player on the offensive unit would get a sticker if the team scored more than 24 points.

The purpose? The idea of favoring teamwork over individual performance was the real goal. And it paid off almost immediately. The team not only won a national championship the following year, but the Buckeyes have been one of the most successful teams in the country ever since.

Your team members want to fit in

Belonging to a group is a deeply rooted aspect of who we are as individuals. Van Bavel and Packer further explained how managing this mentality is a major role that leaders will play.

“Great leaders are “entrepreneurs of identity.” They embrace our tribal nature and seek to shape the identity of fellow group members,” they elaborate. “Human beings evolved in groups, and most of us still work in groups every day. … This is why sports fans can show up to a stadium and immediately share a common purpose with 100,000 complete strangers.”

That might be the case at a sports stadium, but how about at the workplace? The researchers clarify that it is quite similar.

“When a person starts to identify with a group, it triggers a fundamental shift in their goals. Events and decisions that were once evaluated with reference to oneself (“what’s in it for me?”) are now evaluated in reference to the group (“what does this mean for us?”).”

That shift to a healthy team mentality is one of the most important psychological breakthroughs a company can have.

Does your team feel safe?

What’s more, business leadership expert Chee Tung Leong illuminated the fact that today’s average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has fallen from 67 years to just 15 years.

“The marketplace is much more unforgiving towards companies that take too long to learn their lessons,” Leong explained. Creating a culture of learning at your company is key to success.

As entrepreneurs, we talk a lot in business about the virtues of bold thinking and risk taking, but what Leong uncovered while studying team dynamics at Google, is that you must create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable taking those bold chances.

Chief among these key dynamics was this idea of ‘psychological safety.’ To build the best teams in the world, Leong explains that “team members needed to feel safe enough to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.”

“While self-preserving behavior is natural in the workplace, it can erode the foundation of effective teamwork.” This can damage the culture you are trying to build – where team members can learn from one another. “The safer team members feel with each other, the more likely they are to collaborate, admit mistakes, and take new opportunities.”

Leong advocates building the culture of psychological safety on your own teams through three fundamentals:

  1. Encourage failure
  2. Admit your own mistakes
  3. Hold “anxiety parties”

The latter, while admittedly unconventional, allows team members to openly share things that make them feel vulnerable and anxious, allowing for immediate 360-degree feedback with the team. Leaders can then address issues head-on and avoid wasting time on assumptions about the team’s feelings — instead, focusing on the real problems at hand.

Transform your clients into your teammates

Taking this strategy a step further, as a leader you can encourage your team to look outside the organization. Sales experts Barry Farber and Robert L. Shook argue that one of the most effective yet overlooked sales techniques involves teaming up with customers.

“Outsource your customer. Let the customer solve problems for you,” explains Shook and Farber. “A salesperson’s job is to create a vehicle that lets the customer solve his or her own problems.”

This out-of-the-box thinking can take your sales organization to a new level. “When a customer becomes involved in finding a solution to his problem, he or she takes ownership, which is the foundation of a solid salesperson-customer relationship.”

At the end of the day, a winning teamwork philosophy is one that encourages both parties to work together to solve a mutual problem. The best teams are as unique as you and your company, and making these proven team building concepts parts of your company’s direction will serve everyone well.

Chained computer illustration

Are Your Clients Safe from Hackers?

hackers and cybersecurity

When it comes to cyberattacks, the targets are typically the behemoth companies and organizations you read about in the news. But according to IBM, small and mid-sized businesses are the target of 62 per cent of all cyberattacks – which equals about 4,000 attacks per day. The reason? They are an easy target.

Can your company or clients be under attack?

We hear a new story about cyberattacks almost every day. A business gets hacked — allowing sensitive proprietary and customer data to be accessed and compromised. The list of the world’s biggest data breaches is littered with recognizable names, including Anthem, JP Morgan Chase, and Target.

But don’t think for a second that hackers only target large organizations. In fact, small businesses are often just what hackers are looking for. Why? The main reason is that small businesses often have inadequate online security, and with sensitive data housed in the cloud they become an easier victim.

A quick night’s work for a hacker can mean disaster for your business. According to a report by the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance, 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyberattack are out of business within six months.

Nobody will protect your business except you

Banks and the government haven’t done much to assist small businesses with hackers and data breaches. The recently introduced MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act in the United States will help small businesses protect their digital assets from cyber threats, but it’s far from a silver bullet. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to start taking data security seriously — proactively and with full accountability.

Now is the time to put together a solid security plan.

Don’t just go with the first solution you find. Instead, take the time to find the approach that fits your business, customers and industry. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. More importantly, don’t leave data security to just the IT staff. Get everyone involved — including your managers and all levels of employees. Train each of them on protection measures and show them how to stay compliant. For example, teaching employees to avoid opening suspicious email attachments can be a safeguard against malware that could easily creep into your network.

If your workforce is highly mobile, you may want to consider the rules around any bring your own device (BYOD) program you may have in place. Security Magazine explains how a BYOD program, whether formally in place or not, could create unintentional risk within the organization — simply based on the lack of awareness of such programs. The publication states that, “17.7 percent of survey respondents who bring their own devices to work claim that their employer’s IT department has no idea about this behavior, and 28.4 percent of IT departments actively ignore BYOD behavior.”

Once you start protecting your company, you must take the next steps to stay safe.

Obtain cybersecurity insurance, create a strong password strategy for your users, and utilize virtual data rooms (VDR). For in-house IT departments and office managers, it’s important to upgrade your tech as well. Start with this list of five tools and services your small businesses can use to protect against cyberattacks.

Taking cybersecurity to the next level

web security and hackers

Want to dig deeper? Consider employing an ethical hacker — a cybersecurity expert who works within your company to locate weaknesses and vulnerabilities by duplicating the intent and actions of hackers.

Also talk to a company that specializes in cybersecurity protection. Many of these businesses will offer free vulnerability assessments to give you an idea of where your weaknesses may lie. They’ll also explain how they can help you manage those threats. If you don’t currently have an in-house IT team, outsourcing the work could be an efficient option.

As if all that wasn’t enough, here’s one more thing to consider. When crafting a data security policy, make sure you’re actually protecting data privacy by including the following nine elements in your policy, as detailed once again by Security Magazine. It’s crucial to consider your policy from all angles – after all, your data can make or break your business.

1 Ensure Data Security Accountability All IT staff, workforce and management must be aware of their responsibilities.
2 Create Policies that Govern Network Services How to handle remote access, IP addresses, routers and network intrusion detection.
3 Scan for Vulnerabilities Have a routine in place for checking your own networks regularly for hacking vulnerabilities.
4  Manage Patches Implement code to eliminate vulnerabilities that can help to protect against threats.
5  Create System Data Security Policies Rules around company servers, firewalls, databases and antivirus software.
6  Have a Response Plan for Incidents If a security breach occurs, have measures for handling the issue along with evaluation and reporting.
7  Educate Staff on Acceptable Use Employees should understand and sign an acceptable use policy, which includes disciplinary action.
8  Monitoring Compliance Regular audits to ensure staff and management are complying with the data security policy.
9  Account Monitoring and Control Designate someone to monitor and control users, and keep track of active and inactive user accounts.

It seems like a lot, but it can be done. More importantly, it must be done. When it comes to today’s advanced hackers, organizations must be prepared for when — not if — they will have a data breach. Taking small steps now will ensure you’re not facing bigger problems down the road.

Working desk illustration

7 proven cash flow tactics every CFO needs to know

CFO cash flow

The CCC is your “cash conversion cycle” (or simply referred to as the “cash cycle”) and it tells you how many days it takes for your company to turn your inventory purchases into cash. The shorter the CCC, the more flexible your working capital, and that is every business owner and CFO’s dream.

With a shorter CCC, you’ll be able to pay bills, make payroll, take advantage of supplier discounts, order new product or inventory, and execute on your growth strategy with much more ease.

But to shorten the cash cycle, you need to first find a way of adjusting these three key variables:

  1. DIO: Days Inventory Outstanding.
    • The average # days you turn inventory into sales.
  2. DPO: Days Payable Outstanding
    • The # of days it takes to pay your accounts payable.
  3. DSO: Days Sales Outstanding
    • The # of days it will take to collect on sales after they’ve been made.

Want more details on CCC including DIO, DPO and DSO? Read part 1 now.

To positively impact the three variables and shorten your CCC, you have multiple options:

1. Improve sales times

If your sales team can speed up the time to make deals, you’ll be shortening your DIO – the time it takes to turn your inventory into sales. Sell faster – it’s every company’s goal, but often easier said than done.

2. Enhance supplier relationships

Likewise, improving your supply chain can create efficiencies in your DIO. By developing good relationships with suppliers you can take advantage of just-in-time inventory practices, where your goods arrive only as needed. This may already be a common option for some industries, like manufacturing and perishables, but it is also becoming more popular in retail with the rise in drop shipping, where companies never handle their own inventory – instead, when your customer orders arrive you’ll purchase the inventory from a third party who ships directly to the end customer on your behalf.

3. Better credit and collection process

There’s no doubt that an effective collections department will improve your ability to collect customer invoices on time. Effective collections can help create a more stable and reliable DSO. However, this requires staff training, likely more personnel hours (translating into payroll costs) and leadership’s time to make sure this process is effectively managed.

4. Ask for extended payment terms

Extending your accounts payable will increase your DPO, and help offset the other two factors of your CCC. But this could negatively impact your relationships with suppliers if you extend too much, and breaching the terms could put you at risk of becoming the delinquent account you’re trying to avoid in your own A/R.

5. Reduce your 30/60/90 day payment terms

Fortunately, you’re in control of your accounts receivable terms and can shorten them to receive payment earlier. By reducing your terms, you lower your DSO and speed up your cash cycle.

Unfortunately, many customers request and expect longer terms. Some industries abide by certain time frames to pay, which may not match up with your cash flow needs. And other customers will be delinquent on payment no matter what terms you agree upon. You may risk losing sales to competitors offering better terms.

6. Early pay discounts

These are generally not very effective at reducing your DSO and some customers take the discount even when they pay on normal schedules. Overall, this can lead to lower revenue than expected, which doesn’t amount to a cheap option.

7. Smart & strategic financing

Being strategic with your billing and collections is one of the most accessible ways to improve your cash cycle, and you can use commercial finance solutions to dramatically shorten your DSO. In fact, instead of having a DSO of 30/60/90 or more days, you can have a DSO of one day.

Up Next: Learn how to calculate your cash cycle with this key formula.

cash cycle