<![CDATA[FreshBooks | ]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/ A blog about our thoughts on entrepreneurship, teamwork, our services, the Web and anything we find interesting. en Copyright 2015 2015-01-23T15:29:15-05:00 <![CDATA[Impress Clients with Mobile-Friendly Invoices]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/impress-clients-with-mobile-friendly-invoices http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/impress-clients-with-mobile-friendly-invoices Mobile Friendly Invoices

Did you know that 1 in 5 FreshBooks invoices are viewed on a mobile device? That number has more than doubled since 2011 (from 9% in 2011 to 21% in 2014). This means that more of your clients are viewing your invoices on their mobile devices – and this trend is only going to increase.

How do my invoices look on mobile?

The good news is that FreshBooks Invoices have been redesigned specifically for mobile. Now when your clients open your invoice on a mobile screen all the important information will be a breeze to read. Plus it’s easier than ever to pay online through a mobile device.

Old Invoice View and New Invoice View

This is the new mobile-friendly invoice view. The new look keeps the amount due front-and center, but also makes sure that your client has easy access to all the details you include.

Get paid even faster with Online Payments

If you have online payments enabled the “Pay Invoice” button remains at the bottom of the screen always making sure your client can easily pay you.

Old Payment Experience and New Payment Experience

The payment experience has also been improved meaning it is easier than ever for your client to enter their payment details right from their phone. If you’re using Payments by FreshBooks you’ll be able to track your money from payment, through to being deposited in your bank, with the improved dashboard on your Account Overview.

Bonus: If your client is using an iPhone with iOS 8 they can use their phone’s credit-card scan feature to quickly enter their card details.

Finally, if your client prefers to view the invoice in the traditional way, that option is still available. At the bottom of the invoice there is a “View on Desktop” link that will reload the invoice in the traditional desktop view.

Questions or comments? Give us a call at 1-866-303-6061 or email us. The (newly extended) Support Hours are now 8AM – 8PM (EST) and our Support Rockstars are always eager to help.

<![CDATA[How to Scale Your Business in 2015]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-scale-your-business-in-2015 http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-scale-your-business-in-2015 How to scale your business in 2015

The beginning of the year provides a great reflection point to take stock of where you are, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. Your freelance business may be humming along at a steady pace, but just how big can it grow?

The key to scaling your business is to think like an entrepreneur and not just a freelancer, writer, designer, consultant, accountant or whatever your business happens to be. But first, you must recognize that two things may bind your business’ growth:

Your available time

• There are a fixed number of hours in the day and week. When you charge by the hour, there’s only so much you can grow. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of hours

Your hourly rate

• Many of you can charge your clients more than you charge now, but you can only raise your rates so high before you price yourself out of the market

Once you’ve acknowledged these two growth inhibitors, you’re ready to move on. Simply follow these next five strategies and you’ll be scaling your business outwards in no time.

1. Stop working alone

One obvious course of action is to bring on help to increase the scale of your operation. You can either hire a full-time employee or subcontractors. Working with contractors gives you more flexibility and helps you spend less time conducting legal administration. This approach also lets you divide your work among specialists.

It takes time to find a rock star, so don’t wait until you take on a new client or huge project to start the hiring process. Get the ball rolling now by asking your network for referrals.

2. Cull your client list

When you are just getting started, you’re probably eager to work on any project or client that comes your way. However, not every client is a good one and there comes a time when it’s in your best interest to weed out the clients that are holding you back.

For example, maybe there’s a client that quibbles with you over pricing on every project; is always late to pay; doesn’t listen to your expertise; or shows a general lack of respect. Low quality clients lead to low quality projects and referrals. You can’t grow your business with clients who don’t see your value or aren’t willing to invest in themselves.

3. Change your billing model

If you haven’t already read it, I highly suggest downloading FreshBooks eBook, Breaking the Time Barrier.

It will get you thinking about the difference between churning out billable hours and delivering value to clients. It will also teach you how to adopt a value-based approach to pricing your services.

You don’t have to change your business overnight. For example, make a goal to pitch a value-based pricing package to one new client and see how they respond.

4. Productize aspects of your business

This is a hot topic among designers and other service providers, these days. The goal is to create a solution (the “product”) that can be resold and adapted to meet the needs of multiple customers. When you don’t have to create something new every time, you can make far more money without having to do any extra work (or just a minimum of work). Productizing or commoditizing your services frees you from the direct relationship between your time and income.

For example, a web designer can also sell design templates or create a course that teaches people how to do some design themselves. You may not immediately see how this approach can apply to your business, but spend time thinking about which aspects of your service are most like a product and go from there.

5. Upsell and cross-sell

According to Marketing Metrics, you have a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer and just a 5-20% chance of selling to a new prospect. This means it’s time to start thinking about how you can deliver more value to your current client roster. Are there opportunities to offer additional services to any of your clients? What about adding annual maintenance subscriptions?

Don’t forget that as you scale your business, you’ll also need to keep up with your legal and administrative requirements. Particularly, as you add employees or contractors, you’ll want to convert your business from a sole proprietorship to an LLC or corporation.

Start thinking like an entrepreneur this year, and get ready to grow your business without putting in more hours!

About the author: Nellie Akalp is the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online incorporation filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs incorporate, form an LLC or file a DBA for their businesses. Connect with Nellie on Google+.

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<![CDATA[12 Tips for Gaining a Foothold in the Freelance Writing World ]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/12-tips-for-gaining-a-foothold-in-the-freelance-writing-world http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/12-tips-for-gaining-a-foothold-in-the-freelance-writing-world 12 Tips to Gaining a Foothold in the Freelance Writing World

Professional writing is a rewarding but often punishing gig. Between the flashes of personal fulfillment and expressed creativity are crummy pay, work draughts, and pitches that can feel like they’re subject to the law of diminishing returns. Follow these 12 tips, however, and you’ll soon be producing great content in a way that doesn’t have you pulling out your hair.

1. Position yourself as an industry expert

Whether you’re two decades into a career in the automotive industry, or simply like to tinker with your car’s suspension, it is imperative that you position yourself as an expert in your field when writing an article.

Quite simply, there are too many niche publications out there to label yourself a generalist; they just aren’t as valuable as an industry specialist, in the eyes of an editor. I landed my first financial writing gig simply because I had a mutual funds license that was collecting dust.

2. Focus on producing strong organic content

Google’s ongoing algorithm improvements are making SEO copy less and less viable, so stick to writing articles that people actually want to read. Think about incorporating the following things into your next piece:

  • A strong headline and an engaging lead. Is the topic unique? Is your central idea clearly demonstrated within the first paragraph you’ve written?

  • Clearly structured body copy. Is your central idea laid out in a way that makes sense? Consider the chronology of your facts or arguments and remember to acknowledge any counterpoints that may arise

  • A strong conclusion. Good writing is rhetorical, and ideally, the reader will feel like you’ve sold them on your idea by the end of the piece

  • Complementary visuals. While writing purists might balk at this, remember that your audience consumes content in different ways and at different speeds. An infographic or short video may aid the reader in digesting particularly technical information

3. Write for free—once or twice

Everyone has to start somewhere, but don’t let pro bono writing become a habit, unless it’s a passion project. You’ll burn out quickly. Instead, focus on producing a few polished articles for recognized publications and shop those around.

4. Don’t be afraid to self-publish

Twice in my career, I have gained a foothold in different industries by pitching unpaid spec work to either an editor or creative director: once as a music journalist, and again as an advertising copywriter. Websites like WordPress, Tumblr and Behance are great ways to showcase your work.

The great thing about self-publishing is that you’re not beholden to an audience, publication or brand, so feel free to get as creative with your voice as you want. That being said, remember my previous tip, and be wary of the amount of time you spend writing for free.

5. Remember the KYP/KYC rule

This is an old finance rule that stands for “know your product; know your client.” In the context of freelance writing, your word is your product and your audience is the client. Think hard about how the former will resonate with the latter.

When putting together a pitch or article, it is imperative that you consider your audience’s age, education, subject aptitude and interest levels, as well as your tone of voice. This is especially true if you plan on moving into the realms of branded content or copywriting, where you’ll need to think about how to position a product or service’s benefits, as well as other strategic objectives.

6. Romance the gatekeeper

Remember in Wall Street when Charlie Sheen called Michael Douglas’ receptionist every day for a year, just to get a face-to-face meeting? That really works.

Whether you’re dealing with a senior editor, creative director or executive assistant, make the time to get to know them on a personal level; be that a coffee invitation or a quick phone call.

7. Set attainable goals and stay persistent

Nobody falls caboose-backwards into a columnist role at The New York Times—and you’re probably not going to earn a livable wage writing record reviews for a music blog.

Scale your writing career by thinking critically about your return on investment. Do you want to earn more money? Work for a high visibility publication? Gain a following on social media? Consider laying out these goals in the form of an OKR. You can also use this style of project management to determine the number of pitches you wish to send, each month. Speaking of pitches…

8. Learn how to properly pitch an idea

An editor’s inbox is a nightmare on the best of days. Make the most of the split-second they’ll spend reviewing your pitch by including the following:

  • A clearly developed story topic or idea—a unique perspective will gain you extra points
  • A brief synopsis of why that topic is newsworthy (timely, unusual, proximal)
  • A bullet point breakdown of how you’ll convey your idea
  • A summary of yourself—including a link to your writing examples—if possible
  • Your freelance rate

For deeper insights into writing a pitch, check out this resource.

9. Consider writing for a brand

Let’s clear this up right now: it’s not “selling out.” We don’t live in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” universe, where every approved story is a rent cheque. Realistically, the editorial industry is a volatile place, and it can be hard to make ends meet.

Think about trying your hand at brand journalism; it can pay well and, over a period of time, teach you a whole new skill set: from salesmanship to copywriting and content strategy. Try hunting down a contact email address on the website of your favourite brand, and ask if they’re looking for bloggers.

10. Target publications with big social presence

Even if you don’t use social media, you should make a habit of pitching to publications that have a big Twitter or Facebook following. Why, you ask? Imagine your story idea is your own voice, and you’re talking to a group of people that aren’t really paying attention. Social media acts as the megaphone that amplifies your story. Everyone’s listening now, right?

As an added benefit, a social share increases the chances that your website will be given a valuable backlink.

11. Use your voice

Once you land a freelance gig, remember what helped get you there in the first place: your voice. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of a story assignment. I’ve seen veteran writers turn around pieces that read like Ikea instruction manuals, because they fixated on the technical content and failed to offer a unique perspective on the topic at hand. Remember to inject your own tone or personal experiences, whenever acceptable.

12. Find a healthy “out”

Professional writers live a life of duality: for every uplifting, published byline they experience, there will be at least one crushing declination letter. So, next time your pitch gets turned down (and it will happen, again and again) try going for a run, doing yoga or spending some time at the gym. The restorative properties of endorphins are a great thing.

If physical activity isn’t really your style, try a breathing exercise or take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come as a writer. You’re going to need to think about those experiences when you’re accepting your next literary award.

What are your techniques for finding freelance writing Nirvana? Sound off in the comments.

About the author: Andrew is the content marketing manager at FreshBooks. Over the course of his career, he has acted as a freelance journalist, magazine editor, copywriter and content strategist. You can follow him on Twitter @arennie.

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<![CDATA[How I’m Learning Entrepreneurship—and what You Can Learn from Me]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-i-m-learning-entrepreneurship-and-what-you-can-learn-from-me http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-i-m-learning-entrepreneurship-and-what-you-can-learn-from-me How I'm Learning Entrepreneurship -- and what You can Learn from Me

Our society tends to celebrate entrepreneurs as super-human heroes — individuals who venture off the beaten path to build billion dollar companies from their garages; bring brilliant ideas to life and ride waves of larger-than-life luck. But I’m not super-human, brilliant, lucky, or any of the things that people associate with entrepreneurship. My secret weapon, really, is that I love to learn. I approach my business in the same way that I would while working for an organization. This technique has taught me some pretty interesting tips for success. Here are just a few of them:

1 - Surround yourself with people who’re building different types of businesses

The beauty of entrepreneurship is that there are so many styles and personalities out there. The process of starting a business is a self-made journey, and everyone who has done it seems to put his or her own spin on it. Even though I have a thriving business, I still consider myself an entry-level entrepreneur. As I think about ways to grow my company, I find it important to stay aligned with people who are very different than I am.

It’s this diversity that helps me get outside my own head and tackle challenges more creatively and effectively. The more I learn to think like other people, the more confident I feel as a decision maker.

2 - Let yourself make mistakes

I don’t try to make mistakes. They just happen, and when they do, my natural inclination is to beat myself up over them. For the first six months of running my business, I was extremely hard on myself. If a client was unhappy, or something didn’t go right, my emotions would spiral out of control. But today, the storm has calmed. Mistakes still hurt, but they now hurt a lot less.

What I’ve realized is that my company’s journey is one that will span years, rather than months or weeks. Every mistake I make is an investment into my learning experience as an entrepreneur. In other words — when I do dumb things, my business processes get smarter.

3 - Reinvent yourself on a continuous basis

I firmly believe that entrepreneurship can be a long-term career choice, and in my lifetime, I would like to start multiple companies. To help achieve that goal, I identify areas within my business and skillset that I can build upon. I then commit time to learning as much as I can about a very focused area.

For example, I think that in the next few years, data visualization is going to be extremely important for my target market of B2B organizations. With a background in content marketing and statistics, I am well positioned to grow my company as a data storytelling business. Even though I am in my busiest quarter, I signed up for a visual design course with General Assembly, a web development school. It takes me an hour and a half to drive to class and $20 to park twice a week — but I still do it because I think it offers the best design course around.

Final thoughts

I have no idea where my journey as an entrepreneur will take me. But I know that I’m going to stick with it, keep trying new things, and go as far up the “mountain” as I can. At the end of all of this, the biggest lesson I can impart to you is that you should learn how to learn. I think that is a feat of which everyone is capable.

About the author: Ritika Puri is an entrepreneur, content strategist and freelance business writer. She runs a content production studio and enjoys writing about business. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her via LinkedIn.

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<![CDATA[The Freelancer’s 4-Point Guide to Buying Accounting Software]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/the-freelancers-4-point-guide-to-buying-accounting-software http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/the-freelancers-4-point-guide-to-buying-accounting-software Freelancer's 4-point guide to buying software

Picking a restaurant with a group of friends can be tough enough—imagine choosing new accounting software with coworkers! Bigger businesses rely on an array of steps to help make the right call on software, including process evaluations, selection teams, meeting planning and more. You, however, only need to follow 4 key steps to make a good software choice:

Step 1: define your requirements

It’s easy to be overly influenced by an immediate issue when seeking new software.  Pause for a moment to consider other issues that may have arisen since the last time you bought software.  Making a great software decision depends on factoring in these considerations.

To expand the scope of your needs, try brainstorming lists and sketching out simple process maps. These are time-tested project management techniques that can help you easily outline your requirements without the input of numerous people.

Step 2: identify your options

Once you’ve developed a solid set of requirements for your business, you’re ready to begin researching software. Here are 3 research techniques, each with their own pros and cons:

Recommendations from colleagues and family

  • Pro: a recommendation from a close source increases the chances that you are going to get an unbiased, accurate opinion
  • Con: the source may have limited product knowledge and thus, is unable to assess whether or not a software suits your needs

Best practice: try to find someone who works at a business with needs similar to yours.

Independent online research

  • Pro: searching reviews, product sites and user forums will provide you with many software options
  • Con: online research can be tedious. It’s easy to spend a lot of time reviewing software, only to find it doesn’t meet your fundamental requirements

Best practice:  once you’ve located the websites of a few products you’re interested in, use a search engine like Google to refine your key needs.

Third party software matching services

  • Pro: using a third party matching service, which offers recommendations of software to businesses, provides a quick and accurate match for your needs
  • Con: some services have costs or obligations

Best practice: when talking to someone from the service, verify that you can choose the number of product referrals and ask specifically how recommendations are determined.

Step 3: evaluate your choices

Evaluate your choices by asking each potential software provider how their program meets your needs.  This should immediately disqualify a number of options. Once you’ve narrowed your pool down to 2-3 choices, you should then:

  • Demo the software before investing or signing any contracts
  • Use social media and online forums to find product reviews, if you haven’t already

Step 4: make a cost-conscious decision

This means you should be conscious of all the costs, rather than just the purchase price. Potential software costs to consider include:

  • Licensing
  • Support
  • Version updates
  • Hosting

With many software solutions, especially SaaS or “software as a service” choices, these costs are bundled together. Cost savings need to be considered, as well. In order to do a simple ROI calculation on each software option’s specific value proposition, consider the following:

Follow these 4 steps, and you’ll be able to select the product that is right for your business. What do you look for in an accounting software? Tell us in the comments below.

About the author:  Adam Bluemner is the Managing Editor for Find Accounting Software, a service providing free software selection assistance.  Over the last decade Adam has spoken with thousands of companies, helping them achieve business success through intelligent software investment.  Adam writes extensively on ERP and business software.

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<![CDATA[5 Steps to Keeping Your Business’ New Year’s Resolutions]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/5-steps-to-keeping-your-business-new-years-resolutions http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/5-steps-to-keeping-your-business-new-years-resolutions 5 Steps to Keeping Your Business' New Year's Resolution

For those of us running a small business, New Year’s resolutions are about more than going to the gym. Clients of mine, for example, have resolved to land bigger projects, boost their profitability, streamline processes and work less on the weekends. It’s not always easy to follow through on these decisions, though. Today, I want to share 5 easy steps to keeping your business’ New Year’s resolutions.

1 Assess the business’ strengths and weaknesses

If you haven’t set resolutions for your business, yet, start by stepping back and looking at the big picture.  It’s easy to be a bit shortsighted and just focus on what’s bugging you right now, rather than considering which goals will make the biggest impact on your business—and your life! You can find an excellent way to quickly do a 360° analysis of your business in my article on creating a growth plan in 20 minutes.

2 Pick a “gold star” resolution

There are a million issues to address when running your business—and a million ideas to implement. I recommend you pick a single “gold star resolution” for your business in 2015. Most of my clients’ gold star resolutions relate to growth: a branding consultant is going after bigger contracts this year.  An architect wants to add 2 new people to her team.  A music teacher plans to grow his student roster by 30%.  Growth goals are good because they often enable other goals, like making more money and having a bigger impact.

Other clients’ gold star resolutions relate to efficiency.  A real estate brokerage plans to reduce marketing costs; a general contractor wants to streamline processes to free up time.  Efficiency goals are great because they create time or money.

3 Make it measurable

We’ve all heard that goals are much more likely to become realities, if we can measure them.  Measurement makes it easier to stay focused and track our progress.  But some business goals are hard to quantify, so let me share some suggestions: a common goal I see is getting bigger clients or bigger projects.  A good way to measure this is to choose a dollar amount that would count as “big” for you, and a number of clients of that size you want.

For example, a real estate broker I advise is going after 6 listings of $1 million or more, and 1 listing of $5 million or more. A lawyer I work with wants to grow his revenue.  What we realized was that instead of tracking dollars billed, it is much easier for his two junior lawyers (who don’t think much about revenue) to think in terms of billable hours.  So, he set a specific number of billable hours per month as a goal for each team member. A contractor who is streamlining processes decided to focus on writing proposals faster.  The contractor measured that the average proposal takes 18 hours to prepare, and he set a goal of reducing this to 12 hours.

4 Create a dashboard

A common mistake people make after making their goal measurable is not setting up a system to make it easy to track progress.  If the contractor didn’t measure how long proposals took until the end of the year, it’s not likely that he’ll make consistent progress. Instead, create a simple dashboard for your gold star resolution.  A dashboard is a table where you break your goal down into milestones and record your progress along the way.

5 Communicate the goal constantly

Some people prefer to keep their goals private but I’ve found that the more people who know about your goals, the easier they will come to fruition.  That’s because in business, you never know who can help.

An architect I work with told her family over the holidays about her goal to design hotels.  As it turned out, her cousin has a good friend who works at Marriott.  Another one of my clients, an acting coach, is ending each lesson with an update on his goal, and he is getting a bunch of referrals from his clients.  A travel consultant mentioned his goal to update his website to a business partner, who happened to know a great web design firm.

Another benefit of sharing your vision is that it raises your profile in people’s minds.  People want to work with successful people.  So, talking about your growth goals can make you more attractive to those who want to do business with you.  To maximize this benefit, use confident language.  Instead of, “My goal is to double my business this year,” try: “I am working on doubling my business this year.”

Share your thoughts

What is your gold star resolution for this year?  What do you plan to do to make it happen?  What have you found successful in the past?  Share your ideas with the community in the comments!

About the author: Evan Horowitz writes at EHAdvising.com for successful entrepreneurs who are tired of “winging it” on the business side of things. He brings his Harvard MBA and hundred-million dollar management experience to show you how to grow your business much faster and with less stress. To get simple tips to become a smarter CEO, join his free newsletter.

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<![CDATA[Happy New Year from FreshBooks!]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/happy-new-year-from-freshbooks http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/happy-new-year-from-freshbooks Happy New Year's from FreshBooks

Happy New Year from FreshBooks, or as your accountant might say, “Happy year-end.” Before you gear up for everyone’s favorite time of the season—the January tax crunch—take a moment to reflect on your successes of the past year.

What did you learn? What worked for your business and what didn’t? What can FreshBooks help you with in the future? Sound off in the comments, below.

Prior to watching the ball drop, this New Year’s Eve, you may also want to check out these end-of-year business planning tips, if you haven’t already.

Wishing you a prosperous 2015 with no accounting-related headaches,

-The FreshBooks team

Reminder: FreshBooks’ regular office hours resume Monday, January 5, 2015.

<![CDATA[Holiday Hours: December 24-31]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/holiday-hours-december-24-31 http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/holiday-hours-december-24-31

In honor of time spent at home with loved ones—and avoiding harsh Canadian winter conditions—FreshBooks will be observing holiday hours December 24-December 31, 2014.

FreshBooks’ Holiday Crew, however, will be working the phone lines during these times:

December 24 from 9 am-6 pm EST 

December 28-31, 9 am-6 pm EST

Please note that the office will be closed on December 25 and 26.  Regular office hours resume January 5.

Wishing you cheer this season,

­­-The FreshBooks team

<![CDATA[Thanks for Helping FreshBooks and The Stop to Deliver Holiday Cheer]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/thanks-for-helping-freshbooks-and-the-stop-to-deliver-holiday-cheer http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/thanks-for-helping-freshbooks-and-the-stop-to-deliver-holiday-cheer

Thanks to everyone who participated through FreshBooks’ holiday campaign this year. Yes, you’ve rallied around a worthy cause: feeding the hungry. By clicking that magic button in your email, you and those nimble fingers of yours have aided FreshBooks in helping to deliver warm meals to thousands of people in need <insert loud applause here>.

This year, FreshBooks partnered with The Stop Community Food Centre, a non-profit organization that serves neighborhoods right here in FreshBooks’ own backyard, AKA the great city of Toronto. The Stop is a local organization devoted to combatting hunger through healthy-food initiatives, including a food bank and drop-in programs. It serves 19,000 people a year, distributing over 60,000 meals.

If you’re interested in getting involved in your local community, you can check out Charity Navigator or Canada Helps.

<![CDATA[How to December-Proof Your Business]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-december-proof-your-business http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-december-proof-your-business How to December-proof your business

December is tough for many small businesses. Income decreases, expenses skyrocket, employee productivity dips and nerves get wracked. However, you can take advantage of an otherwise “slow” month and set your business up for a great new year by taking the following steps:

Set Weekly Team Meetings

To keep your team members focused when the holidays are in the air (or on the radio), you need to be proactive and increase communication with your team. If you are not setting team meetings already, now is the time to start. If you already have weekly meetings in place, then consider setting individual or team goals with your team to accomplish on a weekly basis. Having your team members commit to hitting a goal by a certain date will keep them focused in the short term. Holding them accountable for their progress at the team meeting the next week will ensure strong performance, and increased team performance might encourage you to continue this practice into the New Year.

Clean Your Contact List

If you send out holiday cards to everyone on your list in early December, you will be getting back a percentage of the cards as undeliverable. Use this as an opportunity to clean up your contact list. The cost of your card, including postage is likely not cheap. If you do not clean your list, you will be sending out cards again next year that have nowhere to go.

Remember Your Deductions

December’s heightened expenses will not be as painful, if you are sure to claim your deduction when appropriate. The holiday cards that go out to past clients and referral sources are a marketing expense. Referral gives (up to $25) are deductible in the eyes of the IRS. And that holiday party that you throw for your employees every year?  If it’s primarily for the benefit of your employees (and not your family or friends), then it will likely qualify to be a 100% deductible expense.  This is twice as nice as the 50% “meals and expenses” deduction.

Of course, you should always check with your tax professional, beforehand. This should be easy in December, because your accountant will probably be in the midst of a slow month, as well.

Find Your Accountant Now

Your accountant or tax professional’s slow period will not last long, however.  In January, they will be off and running; getting tax returns ready for other customers, by April. But in December, your tax professional is all yours. Be proactive and begin tax planning for the next tax season.  Take the time to review your chart of accounts and profit loss statements with your accountant, to make sure you are getting the best possible information.  If you don’t have access to monthly financial statements (balance sheet, profit/loss, cash flow statement), you probably should get it. This is especially true if you are using FreshBooks. Remember, your financial statements show what has happened in the past.  The quicker you can get these statements, the quicker you can recognize problems and take action in your business. Have your financials in order by the end of December so you can budget for the next year before the New Year.

Budget for Next Year

Finally, December is the prime time to set your budget for the next year.  If you’re feeling the December cash flow crunch, it is because you did not budget appropriately last year. To create your budget, you need to take your financials and determine your predicted income for the next year.  When in doubt, be conservative on the income predictions. You need to determine your fixed costs for the coming year.  Next, estimate your variable expenses and one-time costs. Now, with a budget in hand, you can track your business on a monthly basis against your budget.  You will know whether you are in the red or in the black. And if you are trending in the black for the majority of the next year, you will feel great heading into next December without a cash crunch.

About the author: Christian Denmon of Denmon & Denmon Trial Lawyers contributed content for this article. Christian focuses his practice on DUI defense and divorce litigation.

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<![CDATA[How to Survive Holiday Visitors: Your Small Business Playbook]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-survive-holiday-visitors-your-small-business-playbook http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-survive-holiday-visitors-your-small-business-playbook Nellies legal lessons


Another holiday season is upon us, and with so many competing demands and priorities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There’s travel planning, prepping for visitors, gift shopping and holiday events piled on top of an already-busy schedule.

While it’s hard for anyone to strike a good balance between work and family life during this time of the year, it’s particularly challenging for small business owners who don’t have vacation days or a big staff to step in. Those of you working from home may soon find your regular schedule and quiet workspace interrupted with children home from school, out of town visitors, and other family members home from work.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to balancing work and family life over the holidays, but here are a few tips to help us all stay sane, stay productive and enjoy ourselves.

1. Know your priorities

Holiday stress occurs when you feel pulled in a different direction from your priorities, so you should start by identifying what’s important to you. Do you have a big work project to complete? Is your priority traveling to see family/friends or enjoying your baby’s first Christmas? There’s no right or wrong priority; the important part is understanding what matters to you this holiday season and then setting your time accordingly.

2. Be 100% present

You might be tempted to bring your laptop into the kitchen and crank through some email responses, invoices or other work while everyone else is hanging out. However, this kind of multi-tasking shortchanges everyone, including you. You won’t enjoy the time, and all the distractions will just make each task take that much longer. A better strategy, if possible, is to set aside specific days or times in your schedule to focus solely on work, and then leave it behind and have fun!

3. Set boundaries

People who work from home have a unique challenge: since they don’t get up and go to the office, there are no clear boundaries between work and home time. Not all friends and family members understand that “working from home” entails working and that you can’t hang out for lunch, watch TV or just chat. It’s important to set boundaries, if needed. Remember that people will respect your schedule, only if you respect it first. So create a work plan, and stick to it.

4. Find a place to work

I know that some of you will be losing your regular workspace when your home office is temporarily converted to the guest room. If this is the case, you will need to find a new place to shut out the distractions. If there’s no other place in your house, then duck out to a café, library, or co-working/temporary office space, as needed.

5. Set your holiday schedule with clients

If you haven’t done so already, you need to communicate your availability with clients. Customers understand it’s the holidays and you’ll want to spend that time with family and friends. Let them know the days when you plan to be unavailable, and depending on the nature of your business, give them an alternate way to contact you for emergency situations.

6. Get help

Over the holidays, some basic tasks like cleaning the house or running errands can eat up a large amount of your time. If you can afford it, hire out some of these tasks during the busy period. And, if you are hosting this holiday season, don’t be shy about asking others to pitch in, too.

7. Don’t neglect end of the year requirements

There’s a lot to keep track of this time of year, but you don’t want to let certain legal and tax-related requirements slip. You might end up paying extra in 2015. For example, you should officially close an inactive business, send in the Annual Report for your corporation and decide if you should make any equipment purchases in 2014 to help your tax situation. Review “10 tips for wrapping up 2014” for more details.

8. Learn when to say “no”

You might be overloading your schedule because you accept any and every request that comes your way, whether those requests are from clients, friends, family members or volunteer organizations. It might be hard to say no to others, but people should understand that this is a busy time of year—with lots of competing commitments. If you’re still struggling to say no, just think back to last year: how much time, energy and stress could you have saved, if you had just been able to say “no” once or twice?

9. Be grateful

In the chaos of the holiday season, it’s very easy to lose sight of what really matters. As a result, we get stressed and grumpy. I have found that when I take the time to consciously think about all the things I am thankful for, it gives me a new perspective and I am able to embrace the holiday craziness.

10. Make time for yourself

It’s only natural that you’ll be thinking about others during this time of year. If you are hosting, you will be focused on keeping your guests comfortable and entertained. But if you get overly rundown, no one wins. It’s important to create time solely for yourself each day. Whether it’s a trip to the gym or 15 minutes of meditation, allow yourself to become refreshed to handle everything else you need to do.

Remember that the holiday season doesn’t have to be perfect. Do your best, stick to your priorities, appreciate what you have, and have fun!

_About the author: _Nellie Akalp is the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online incorporation filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs incorporateform an LLC or file a DBA for their businesses. Connect with Nellie on Google+ 

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<![CDATA[The Top 7 Gifts for Your Accountant this Holiday]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/the-top-seven-gifts-for-your-accountant-this-holiday http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/the-top-seven-gifts-for-your-accountant-this-holiday 7 Gifts for your Accountant

He’s making a list and checking it twice, but even Santa can sometimes forget to deliver a little holiday cheer to the men and women who keep his business in business – accountants.

If you’ve been scouring the web, looking for cost-friendly ideas on how to thank your number-crunching ally for handling your disorganized records each year, then look no further.  We’ve prepared the ultimate holiday gift guide for the accountant in your life.

1. I Love Month End Mug

Because it’s every accountant’s favorite time of the year. Honestly. $19.50. Get one at cafepress.com.

I <3 Month End mug

2. Copious Amounts of Caffeine

Tax season is right around the corner and we all know what that means: late nights. Very late nights. Why not give your accountant the gift of mental alertness in the form of a gift card or coffee bag? Or better yet, combine option 1 and 2 for best results.

3. USB Coffee Warmer

Are you starting to see a theme, here? For an accountant, the only thing worse than a client who doesn’t track their expenses properly is a cold cup of coffee. This USB coffee warmer serves double duty and can be kept handy right at their workstation. $16.00. Pick one up at brando.com

USB Coffee Warmer

4. Time

Let’s face it – most of us would be lost without our accountants. We use painless cloud accounting software like FreshBooks designed for non-accountants to keep track of our finances, but ultimately, need professional help to get all our numbers in order. Invite your accountant to use FreshBooks’ Accountant Center, a free online portal that gives them simplified access to your reports and journal entries. Translation: less back and forth, and quicker, more accurate reporting that saves you and your accountant valuable time. $0. Get some time at freshbooks.com/accountants

FreshBooks Accountant Center

5. hipKey™

Download the app and attach this handy device to any item of value. The app then tracks that item’s location based on your proximity to it. You can even set up an alarm that buzzes if you and your tagged item get separated. Perfect for finding lost cash flow statements. $59.95. Grab one at the Apple Store. 


6. Profit and Loss Cufflinks

It was a tough call between these and a pair of Death Star cufflinks, but ultimately we chose the good old P&L links, due to the clever design that snaps open to reveal realistic-looking ledger pages inside. $64.95. Pick up a pair at occupationgifts.com.

Profit and Loss cufflinks

7. A Bottle of Scotch

Want to stick with a classic gift? A delicious bottle of malt whiskey and a personal “thank you” note could do wonders for your next tax return.


<![CDATA[5 ways to inject personality into your brand]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/5-ways-to-inject-personality-into-your-brand http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/5-ways-to-inject-personality-into-your-brand Inject your brand with personality

Injecting personality into your brand and business can give it a unique persona, which is appealing to customers.  Try these five tips to make your branding more successful:

1. Find a consistent voice

Injecting personality into your brand can make consumers feel that they are dealing with a person rather than a business. That’s good—as long as you use a consistent voice that matches the personality of your company. If your company takes a lighthearted approach to business, inject some jokes and humorous observations into your Facebook and Twitter updates. If your business has a “no-nonsense” approach, stick to the facts to attract consumers who appreciate that perspective. Consistency is the most important aspect. An inconsistent voice can confuse potential customers who want to spend their time and money on things they know and trust. Having an inconsistent brand voice is like having an erratic personality. A few people might find it interesting, but most people will keep their distance.

2. Always respond to your followers

Once you find your brand’s voice, take advantage of every opportunity to use it. As people become more aware of your business, they’ll likely post questions and comments to your social media profiles. This is a great time to use your brand voice to create a cohesive personality for your company. The sooner you can respond to queries, the more active and engaged your brand will appear—and the less you’ll look like a disorganized corporation.

3. Make friends with other brands

Social media makes it possible for your brand to become friends with other brands. It’s best to surround yourself with similar brands that won’t distract your audience. The Oatmeal, a humorous website created by Matthew Inman, links to several Facebook pages that reinforce the site’s brand. Those pages include I Love Coffee, Sriracha Rooster Sauce, and Tesla Motors. These brands help to position The Oatmeal as a comedy site that occasionally gets obsessed with things like coffee, Sriracha sauce and electric cars. Find and link to brands that add to your company’s personality. Consumers pay attention to the company you keep. Use that to your advantage by joining forces with businesses you like.

4. Build a home for your brand

Your brand needs a home where people know they can always learn more about your company and its services. That home is your company blog. A blog gives you ample space to develop your brand voice while entertaining and informing fans. The limited space offered by Facebook and Twitter isn’t the same. You’ll need a backlog of long-form, written content that shows the nuances of your brand identity. People who visit your blog should feel like they’re hearing something directly from you. If you do the job well, your fans will want to post comments. The comments section is another place to start conversations.

5. Use videos and images

Developing a blog gives you a chance to expand your personality. Most social media platforms, though, give you limited space for content. Twitter and Facebook aren’t the right places for articles, but they are perfect for spreading videos and images. Videos and images let you add a visual dimension to your brand identity. It’s similar to the way that other corporations use mascots as representatives of their brands. If you haven’t made video content before, you should make a few practice clips first. You’re going to make mistakes before you get the hang of it. If you have enough advertising money, you may even want to hire someone to produce the video. Images, however, are easy and inexpensive. You can share pictures of your products or just things that you think your audience will want to see from you.

Have you noticed ways that other businesses inject personality into their brands? What can you learn from their examples?

_About the author: _JT Ripton is a freelance writer who has penned articles for The Guardian, Business Insider and SalesForce.com. You can follow him @JTRipton. 

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<![CDATA[7 business books that will actually help your business]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/7-business-books-that-will-actually-help-your-business http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/7-business-books-that-will-actually-help-your-business 7 books that will help your business

Many business books follow the same formula. The author offers some idea about how the professional world is changing—something that is often explained in a few pages—and then they fixate on that idea for the rest of the book. Even when the idea is great, you’re left feeling like you have no clue how to apply the principles to your own business. On my quest to find the best books for entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve discovered seven business books that actually help. From tactical to inspirational, these are the ones worth reading:

1. Understanding and applying social media

The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

Social media. It’s something people are always telling us to incorporate into our businesses, but hard to figure out how to leverage. In The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk explains that there’s huge ROI to social media, but attaining that ROI isn’t a cut and dry process. In a world where people are sharing thoughts on brands more than ever, it’s essential to understand how you fit in. This book provides tons of examples of companies that have been successful with social media, explaining why it’s important for large and small businesses alike.

2. For pushing through when times get tough

The Dip by Seth Godin

Seth Godin explains that when people are learning a skill, they go through a “dip,” where not much progress is made. If business owners are able to make it through this dip, they’re bound to be successful. When the economy is tough and money is tight, it might be tempting to throw in the towel and give up. In this book, Godin explains why you should keep at it, and how to move forward through frustration.

3. For building a business that makes money

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

It’s obvious that a business is meant to make money, but it can be hard to get there. In Profit First, Mike Michalowicz explains how to use a simple system to transform your business from one that eats cash into one that makes it. Michalowicz casts traditional accounting principles aside; teaching you how to build a business that gets you out of the cycle of living check-to-check.

4. For learning how to differentiate yourself from competitors

Good to Great by Jim Collins

How can your “pretty good” company become a “great” company? How does a company with a mediocre culture transform into a stellar one? In Good to Great, Jim Collins explains how companies that aren’t born with perfect DNA can learn greatness…and leave their competition in the dust. This book uses real research to explain how companies were able to become great—and stay great—for periods of 15 years or more.

5. When business is taking over your life

Off Balance by Matthew Kelley

Entrepreneurs talk a lot about “work/life balance”—but that term can be confusing. What does it really mean? In Off Balance, Matthew Kelly says that it’s not really equilibrium we want, but satisfaction. Kelly explains how to cultivate deep feelings of satisfaction and contentment with our work lives, so that we don’t feel the need to strive for the ever-elusive “work/life balance.”

6. For tactical information about getting more customers

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

You have a great product or service, so the customers are bound to come calling, right? Well, not exactly. Despite all the advice out there that says being nice is enough to hook customers, you really need tangible and tactical advice on how to get paying customers. Traction provides this advice. According to Traction, there are only 19 channels for customer acquisition, things like video, social ads and unconventional PR. The book not only outlines these channels, but helps you figure out which ones will work for your business.

7. For creating the perfect customer experience

The Customer Support Handbook by Sarah Hatter

Customer service isn’t just for call centers. It has blossomed into a huge industry—one that you need to pay attention to as a business owner. In an era where companies create entire websites just for service and bend over backwards to make their customers happy, you need to understand the basic tenets of how to create a great customer experience. This book will help you reach the gold standard of customer service, going beyond simple transactions to customer loyalty.

As 2014 draws to a close, pick up a book. It’s the perfect time to get a headstart on all you wish to accomplish in the New Year. No more fluffy business books for you—these ones are winners!

About the author:  Emma Siemasko is a business writer and content marketing specialist at Grasshopper, the entrepreneur’s phone system. Connect with Emma on Twitter @EmmaFayeS.

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<![CDATA[Starting a new business venture]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/starting-a-new-business-venture http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/starting-a-new-business-venture Starting a new business

It all starts with a bright idea. Sometimes appearing from nowhere, while you’re doing something mundane. It can come to you after receiving poor service from a company—or purchasing a product that wasn’t all it was made out to be. It’s also quite possible that your idea was born via methodical planning and years of preparation. However your new business idea was created, one thing is for sure: you will have to work hard to make it a business venture that is successful and profitable.

With that in mind, we decided to compile our best “starting a new business venture” tips to help you on your way:

  • Take only good advice – don’t give credence to advice based on the fact it came from Uncle Bob and he is a really nice guy. Of course, take on board any information given to you, but then look at it in the cold light of day and ask yourself, is this advice suitable for my business?

  • KYC (know your customer) – it doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product or offering a service, you should research your customer base. Research your competitors’ advertising and see what services or products are currently being offered.  What is popular and in demand?

  • Evaluate the competition – in order to be successful, you may have to bring something different into your chosen industry sector, depending on the popularity. Maybe you can bring a service or product to the market at a more affordable price. Quality goes a long way; can you provide a better quality service or product than what is currently available? Not only should you research your competitors, but also engage them. Purchase a product from them and learn what the customer experience is like, and then work out areas of improvement that you could possibly offer within your new business.

  • Get an accountant – it may seem too early to be bringing the services of an accountant on board, but you will soon need advice on what is claimable. You will also need someone to keep your business bookkeeping in order.

  • Spread the word and get social – embrace a social network like Facebook or Twitter, get active and spread the word. It’s free, it works and you can easily interact with your customers and get news out on your business services or offers.

  • Strengthen your brand – good branding sells; how strong is yours? Have you allotted budget to get a logo designed and a website that rocks? Arranged delivery of your new business cards? Especially if you’re selling online, good branding brings trust to a potential customer. Get that right before bringing people to your website or customers through your door.

  • Lay the foundation – trying to grow rapidly by cutting corners and not laying the foundation for your business is a no-win approach,  Don’t do it!

  • Service the customer – don’t lose sight of how important customer service is to the success of your new business. Don’t take regular customers for granted! Treat them like a new customer every time they return to your store or website. Good customer service brings positive word of mouth referrals, great reviews, new customers and returning business.

  • Stick with it – the long hours and weekends will be worth it.  Don’t give up!

Many people who start a business say that the first year can be the hardest. Not only are you dealing with steep learning curves, but most people will be working on tight budgets and experiencing different types of pressure. Most of all, you should try to enjoy the experience; it’s your business venture and you are in the driver’s seat.

What other tips do you think are important when starting your own business? Let us know!

About the author:  Karl Bilby is responsible for web content at The Accountancy Partnership. The firm provides a range of business accounting services for sole traders, contractors, Ltd. companies and partnerships throughout the UK.

Are you looking for an accountant? Are you an accountant who wants to find out more about the FreshBooks Accountant Network?

FreshBooks certified accountant


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<![CDATA[Lessons learned from my first $200K as a solopreneur ]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/lessons-learned-from-my-first-200k-as-a-solopreneur http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/lessons-learned-from-my-first-200k-as-a-solopreneur My first $200k as a solopreneurExactly one year ago, I was struggling with the decision about whether to take my “side business” full-time. I had reached a point where, after three years of after-hours freelancing, I was beginning to out-earn my full-time job. But I was still scared to take the leap; worried that my success was just dumb luck. Long story short, I took the jump, and sometime within the last year, my business hit the $200K revenue mark. This is what I learned along the way:

Lesson #1 - I was capable of more than I thought

In the grand scheme of business, $200k over a span of 3 years isn’t much money. During this time period, I incurred significant expenses, so my take-home profit was decidedly less than my revenue. Many of my friends were running multi-million dollar businesses, and in past roles, I’d managed $200K budgets for single advertising campaigns.

But the milestone wasn’t about the money.

What struck me was that I created a sustainable revenue stream from nothing more than ambition and hustle. In hindsight, I didn’t even have a clear strategy in place. I was throwing metaphorical spaghetti at the wall, and it was sticking. It was a silly approach to generating cash flow. The experience, however, motivated me to set my goals much higher; to build a company that could scale beyond just me. For several months, I struggled to understand what exactly that venture would be, as I had—and still have—so many ideas that inspired me. Someone once gave me great advice: to simply “do what I feel like doing,” as my business idea will likely keep me up at night and consume my life for the next few years, or even longer. I decided that I love teaching people, and in 2015, I would create a business education product to help people feel more inspired and empowered in their careers.

Lesson #2 - I am crazy for trying to do everything myself

As my business started taking off, my sanity started falling through the cracks—mostly because I was trying to do everything on my own. I’m one of those people who take immense pride in figuring things out. But the responsibilities kept piling on, and there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to keep doing everything. When I hit the $200K mark, I realized that I was the roadblock that would prevent my business from scaling. So, I started delegating more. I started building processes with my CPA, relied on my lawyer more for research and information, hired an executive assistant and on-boarded an intern. I’ve been fortunate enough to find an amazing technical co-founder who augments my strengths and complements my weaknesses. While my team is still in its infancy—and the process of delegating is taking much longer than I would like—I feel confident that I am on the right path to making thoughtful decisions about who I bring on to my team.

Lesson #3 - My community is my lifeblood

My co-founder and I are about to embark on a big, intimidating journey. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we want to create, and I’m already overwhelmed. In a sense, what I’m experiencing now is what I felt when I decided to go freelance a year ago. I looked for jobs almost every day for the first few months, even though my business was growing. Now, I’m not looking for jobs, per se, but I’m looking for every possible excuse not to pursue my aforementioned education company. This is for no other reason than the fact that I’m absolutely terrified. Here are some questions that keep running through my head:

·       What if I spend a bunch of money and end up with a product that flops?

·       Is self-funding the right approach? Should I be seeking angel investment or venture capital to achieve the “big” vision in my head?

·       Is it normal for my co-founder and I to be feeling completely lost?

·       Am I an idealistic idiot?

I’m fighting hard against uncertainty; to not let my fears get the best of me. As one of my friends put it, “I have to be all in.” I’m pushing myself to do exactly that: to close my eyes and jump in again. The more I push myself, and the more scared I become of falling, the more I realize that I’m surrounded by an amazing community of friends and entrepreneurs. I’ve come to understand that they currently are—or have been—just as confused as I am. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from my peers is that it’s completely alright to not have all the answers.

I’ll land on my feet.

Your thoughts

Are you an experienced entrepreneur? What were some of your first, unexpected milestones, and what did you learn from them? Share your thoughts, reactions, and feedback in the comments section below.

About the authorRitika Puri is an entrepreneur, content strategist, and freelance business writer. She runs a content production studio and enjoys writing about business. Follow her on Twitter, or connect with her via LinkedIn.

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<![CDATA[FreshBooks is moving: office closed November 28-30, 2014]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/freshbooks-is-moving-office-closed-november-28-30-2014 http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/freshbooks-is-moving-office-closed-november-28-30-2014

Office closed November 28-30 It’s true! In just two short years, FreshBooks has outgrown its much-loved office—and is moving up the street to a larger space.

The office will be closed for a half-day, starting Friday, November 28 at 12 pm EST. With a bit of elbow grease from the team, however, it will reopen at the regular time on **Monday, December 1**. Please note that social media and phone lines will be down during this period. As such, FreshBooks’ Support Rockstars will not be able to assist you over the phone or online, but will continue to send you positive vibes, telepathically.

Moving can be a drag, but it’s all part of a bigger plan to help you grow your business, save time and get paid faster. Cool, right?

See you on Monday,

-The FreshBooks team

<![CDATA[How to create your 2015 growth plan in 20 minutes]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-create-your-2015-growth-plan-in-20-minutes http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-to-create-your-2015-growth-plan-in-20-minutes

SWOT analysis
What are your goals for the coming year?  Do you want to make more money?  Expand your team?  Get bigger or better clients? Whatever your goals, you need a quick, efficient way to reach them.  That’s exactly what I’ll show you here.  This is the planning process I take my clients through, so we can quickly strategize how to create the growth they want in 2015. I use a tool called a “SWOT analysis.”  I love this tool because it helps you quickly do a 360-degree analysis of your business, uncover blind spots and strategize for the future. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; it was invented by ">Albert Humphrey in the 1960s.  Doing the analysis is as simple as brainstorming in these four areas.  I used SWOT a lot when I ran hundred-million dollar business units in big corporations, and now I find that it works equally well for my small business clients. ### SWOT paints the big picture…strategically A SWOT analysis is so powerful because it illuminates your growth opportunities clearly and succinctly.  It makes sure you look at both the positives and negatives of your current business situation, and that you consider factors outside your company, like competition and industry trends.The SWOT analysis consists of four boxes, arranged like this: SWOT analysis table To do the SWOT analysis, you must list your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the appropriate boxes. In a minute, I’ll list the detailed questions to ask to help you complete each portion.  Each pair of boxes has special meaning.  The top two show what is happening inside your company, while the bottom two look at situations outside your company.  The left two boxes are helpful things to capitalize on, while the right two boxes are harmful things to address proactively.  Neat, huh? SWOT helps you think comprehensively about your business, and also uncovers blind spots.  For example, one of my clients, an IT consulting company, knew they wanted to get bigger clients in 2015.  In doing their SWOT analysis, they realized they had a weakness they needed to shore up: they needed to bring on a new specialist to handle the jump in workload they were expecting. ### Doing the analysis for your business Doing a SWOT analysis only takes about 20 minutes.  Get a sheet of paper and fold it into four parts.  As you brainstorm in each section, use these questions to jumpstart your thinking.  Not all questions will be relevant for you situation. You might think of things beyond these questions: #### Strengths
  • What does your company do well?
  • What are your advantages over competitors?
  • What do your customers love about you?
  • What special people or resources do you have?
#### Weaknesses
  • What could you improve in your processes, products and/or services?
  • What resources or people are you missing?
  • What things are causing you to lose sales opportunities?
  • What are your competitors doing that you aren’t—or can’t?
#### Opportunities
  • What opportunities for improvement do you see?
  • What positive trends could you take advantage of (technology, laws, economy)?
  • Based on your strengths, what growth opportunities could you pursue?
  • What new niche or market opportunity could you expand into?
#### Threats
  • What obstacles are you going to face from the market and competitors?
  • What are your competitors doing that could hurt you?
  • What negative trends are there in technology, law and your neighborhood?
  • What challenges might come from evolving customer interests?
### So what? Make your growth plan Based on your SWOT analysis, identify 3-5 growth strategies to pursue in 2015:
  • How will you use your strengths to take advantage of opportunities?
  • How will you shore up your weaknesses?
  • How will you counter key threats?
### Share your thoughts What are your goals for 2015?  How are you planning to make these goals happen?  Share your ideas with us below! _About the author: _Evan Horowitz empowers successful small businesses to grow much faster than ever before. His clients have dreams that are bigger than their business experiences. Evan’s own experience includes a Harvard MBA and 10 years running global businesses worth as much as a hundred-million dollars. With Evan’s help, small business owners become smarter CEOs, and grow their businesses faster—and with less stress—than ever before. Get a free copy of his ebook, “Four Secrets to Grow Your Business Like a CEO,” at EHAdvising.com. ### **More great ideas to grow your business** Discover **a great way to turn a negative prospect into a positive one**. Learn **why networking is all about feelings**. Find out **how to stop giving away your ideas for free. **]]>
<![CDATA[How giving services away has helped and hurt my business]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-giving-services-away-has-helped-and-hurt-my-business http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/how-giving-services-away-has-helped-and-hurt-my-business Learn when to give away your servicesAs a small business owner, some of my best experiences and growth opportunities have been a result of me giving away my services.  Yet, not charging for services when I should have has also gotten me into a lot of trouble.  Knowing when to give and when to draw the line can make or break a small business.

Getting started

I am in the professional services business.  My boutique agency provides web design and development, as well as Internet marketing services.  Starting from scratch ten years ago was tough.  I actually took on my first few clients for free, just to start a portfolio where I could “hang my hat.”  This was particularly helpful for search engine optimization services, because once I had a handful of successful clients, the work started to snowball. Flash-forward almost a decade later: that initial portfolio helped my business to become a leader in our metro area.  In terms of getting started, giving your services away is an awesome way to invest in yourself, in order to create a portfolio and establish a track record.  Not to mention, your beta customers will be thrilled. You will likely get your best testimonials and online reviews from this initial group of clients, too.

Community involvement

Yet another area where giving services away has been not only rewarding, but also helpful for my small business, is to charities in need.  This is a form of cause marketing. Once or twice a year, we will create a new website for an existing, established non-profit in our metro area. We get some of the best publicity, testimonials and social media exposure when we donate new websites to organizations in need.  From a business development standpoint, working with established local charities has another phenomenal benefit: the chance to impress board members. In my case, some of those board members have been the most influential business leaders in the area.  Our work for charities has led to many board member referrals – and there is no better referral than one by a respected member of the community.

When giving hurts

There is a dark side to giving services away, especially when you are providing services to an existing or recent client.  In the earlier years of my company, I was always tempted (and sometimes still am) to over-deliver on projects.  When you condition a client to expect more than they pay for, they expect you to do more for free.  Sooner or later, you will end up disappointing them when you try to set boundaries after the fact.  Providing free work mid-engagement cheapens your value and makes reasonable clients turn greedy. There is nothing worse than working your butt off on an engagement, only to have the client “dissatisfied about what they didn’t get_,” _versus all the great work they did.

Nice guys don’t have to finish last

You don’t have to let your good nature back you into a corner.  Here are some basic tips that have helped me to keep my clients and me in line:

  1. Make a point of discussing “scope creep” issues at the start of the relationship.  Tell your clients that surprises hurt both sides, so it’s important to spell out the deliverables early and agree on how to treat requests that are out of the scope of the project or service.

  2. Create a detailed order form or contract that specifies a cost for time or an itemized list of upgrades or additional services.  A sample list of pricing or fees communicate that any work outside of the scope has specific value.

  3. Learn to say “no.”  If you are like me—always eager to please—this can be a tough one.  For professional service providers, you almost always have to say no at some point during an engagement.

  4. Set very clear expectations on post-delivery support.   This can be one of those “gotchas” for both the provider and the client.  For service providers, you have to be careful not to let a client back into extra services under the guise of warranty support.  Once again, communication and clear documentation regarding after-purchase support protects both the client and the provider.

About the author: Phil Singleton is the owner of Kansas City SEO® and Kansas City Web Design®,  as well as a consultant at The Kansas City Marketing Agency. 


Find out if your website needs a terms and conditions page.

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<![CDATA[How 5 entrepreneurs tackle founder depression]]> http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/founder-depression http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/founder-depression founder-depression

Starting a business is one of the hardest things that anyone can ever do—especially if you’re at it alone. While it’s easy to go home and unwind from a tough day at the office, entrepreneurship is something that always lingers with you. As your venture’s CEO, CFO, sales leader, marketer—and everything else—the work never stops.

Overtime, this ‘nonstop’ mode can take a toll on your mental health. Depression strikes and all of a sudden, hills feel like mountains. Slight business challenges can feel like the end of the world.

It’s a dark reality that few founders are brave enough to bring up—that success, on the other side of the fence, is grim and that the stress of ‘doing it all’ could very easily destroy you.

For the casual observer, founder depression is tough to understand. After all, how can someone possibly be sad as her own boss? How can a solopreneur be miserably depressed when he’s bringing in millions of dollars?

The fact however, is that this isolation is one of the root causes of founder depression in the first place. Solopreneurship is a lonely journey that only the people who have been there can truly understand. Imagine living your life on the brink of perpetual uncertainty. Imagine the feeling of your biggest client threatening to cut your project. Imagine the sinking feeling of the economy tanking—leaving you uncertain of whether your livelihood will still be there tomorrow.

Founder depression is soul-crushing. But it’s also something that as a founder, you have no choice but to control. There’s too much at stake in business and in life for you to sacrifice your mental and physical health.

It’s far from an overnight process. Founders need guidance, support, and wisdom from those who have been there before—often, from mental health practitioners who are professionally trained to guide you. Here are some community-nominated techniques to help you navigate your rut.


Recognize that you’re not alone

“Don’t believe the hype. Every entrepreneur will tell you that business is “up and to the right” because of social pressure to always be in the process of great success. The reality is often far different than this charade. Develop a support network of other entrepreneurs and tell each other the truth. My co-founder and I took turns talking each other off the ledge. We spent time with another close knit group of entrepreneurs who dared to be honest with each other.”

Jason Henrichs, Managing Director at The Startup Institute


Embrace time for yourself

“As a writer and entrepreneur, I experience many good days and bad. It truly is a roller coaster journey, and no matter how experienced you are, how big your company grows, or how much money fills your wallet, this is the life of an entrepreneur. I also happen to suffer with anxiety and depression, so controlling my emotions and mood is key.

“They say sleep heals all, and in my opinion, relaxation is a close second. I take walks and listen to music. I do yoga. Relaxing comes in many forms, but the point is this: ensure each day involves a few minutes dedicated to YOU.

“Most days are hectic, but we all have time to take a step back and breathe. When the pressure hits, this is often the first thing we neglect. It just so happens to be the most important, and what keeps you sane. Make sure you dedicate some time to you. A few minutes for your mind to wander. A block of time to relax. It truly does make the world of difference.”

Matthew Turner, Author and Brand Storyteller


Venture out of your routine

“Over the years, I have learned that when I become bored, overworked, overtired and ready to give up on my business, I use the Umbrella Approach. That is, I start something new that is under my business,related but gets me out of the dull drums. For example, in my current business What Wize Women Want (Empowering Women’s Voices to Make Informed Choices), I started a TV Show to compliment helping women promote themselves and educating them on various topics.

“From this, we created webinars. From there, I started teaching college classes and coaching other women. People always marvel at how much I accomplish and how many pots I stir at the same time. But in reality, if you stick to the Umbrella Principle, you never stray away from your mission, target market, population, or objectives. Rather, it keeps your mind occupied and allows you to stretch your work into other arenas.”

Daria M. Brezinski, PhD., Founder at What Wize Women Want


Stay active

“I started my business in January this year as well as moved from England to Sweden. I think my number one tip for beating founder depression is staying active. I mean that in the literal sense of having part of your day where you actively do some exercise.

“Fit it in whenever you can or if you’re feeling stressed or at a loss just go for a run, it will stimulate your mind and make you feel better generally. I have found it a challenge especially at the beginning when work can be slow. The worst thing you can do is sit around dwelling on it, get yourself up and move.”

Mike Whaites, Founder at Creative Digitizer


Put your to-do list on paper

“As an entrepreneur, I am often overwhelmed by the number of tasks that must be completed since I do not have a staff. This usually results in depression and me wanting to curl in bed and just binge on Netflix. But that is not how business gets done.

“What has helped me is doing a brain dump — that is, taking 15 to 20 minutes and writing down everything that needs to be done professionally and personally. This way it’s all out of your head and on paper and then use the brain dump to create checklists so that things get taken care of. I feel less overwhelmed and I am able to monitor my progression.”

Nicole Davis, Founder at Butler-Davis Tax & Accounting, LLC

About the authorRitika Puri is an entrepreneur, content strategist, and freelance business writer. She runs a content production studio and enjoys writing about business. Follow her on Twitter, or connect with her via LinkedIn.

Have you suffered from founder depression? How have you overcome this painful challenge to keep forging ahead, and to keep your business going while staying happy, healthy, and productive?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.