Guest Post by Simki Dutta Your team and you have spent sleepless nights researching a client and making prospecting calls. After getting the initial nod, you worked on the consulting proposal and managed to win the client over. Now, it’s time for the final lap — the consulting report. This is where you will be expected to demonstrate your expertise and present top-notch advice to the company, helping them take a decision. Let’s take a look at six ways to write a detailed, well-structured, and impactful business consulting report. 1. Design the cover page Cover pages are like teasers — it’s the first thing clients see and is likely to set the tone for the rest of the report. A dull and boring cover page won’t manage to reel the client in the way a well-designed one with a powerful headline will. The purpose of the cover page is to communicate the core message of the report. Use a simple layout with a bold font while staying true to the client’s brand colors. You should also use an image or two to reflect the industry or brand. In addition to the title, make sure you include key details such as: Your consultancy’s name and details Client company’s name Date of submission 2. Plan the structure Before you get down to organizing your research and writing the report, it’s important to plan the outline first. Doing this lets you establish a structure and ensure a logical flow of information. There needs to be a smooth transition from one point to the next, enabling the client to grasp the content with ease. Here’s the basic outline of a business consulting report: Table of contents — enlists every section of the report along with their page numbers Executive summary — concise overview of the report, touching upon the main points Introduction — introduces the business problem and the purpose of the report Background — offers contextual information on the client, business situation and competitors Methodology — elaborates on the methods used to analyze the problem Analysis and Recommendations — evaluates the findings and offers recommendations Conclusion — summarizes the evaluations and solutions Appendix — provides supporting material such as questionnaires, raw data, etc. 3. Write a valuable executive summary Like it or not — not everyone will read the entire report but if there’s one section that’s going to be read by all stakeholders, it’s the executive summary. The executive summary is meant to provide an overarching description of the report. From the company overview and business problem to your findings, analysis and recommendations, the executive summary needs to encompass all these points in a concise manner. Being the most crucial section of the consulting report, it’s important to make this part impactful and easy to consume. You can use bullet points and sub-headings to break down the monotony of text and communicate your message effectively. It’s a good idea to write the executive summary after writing the entire report. That way, you can be sure you’re not missing out on any vital information. As a rule of thumb, write the executive summary such that it works well as a standalone document too. 4. Offer actionable recommendations Companies work with consultants to get an outsider’s perspective on their business situation. They aim to tap into consultants’ extensive industry knowledge and obtain solutions. It’s safe to say that the main takeaway from a consulting report are the recommendations. After all, that’s what you’re getting paid for. You want the client to see your recommendations and derive value from them. Hence, it’s important to offer actionable and specific advice that the client can implement. Leverage existing information, company objectives and your findings to draft pragmatic recommendations backed by data. It’s a good idea to dedicate a one-pager section to writing the recommendations in bullet points, just in case someone wants to jump right into that section. 5. Incorporate compelling visuals Data fatigue is real. Considering the amount of data you will be presenting in your report, it’s important to present it in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. The right use of visuals helps you communicate your message effectively while highlighting the main takeaways. Incorporate compelling visuals in the form of graphs, charts, infographics, icons, text boxes, images, maps, color blocks, and more. While designing the report, make sure you stick to a consistent color scheme and typography, resulting in a professional-looking and cohesive report. 6. Avoid corporate jargon “We recommend maintaining synergy and team collaboration within quantum organizations…” No one talks like this and you shouldn't either. You don’t want to crowd the report with complicated industry jargon that leaves the client confused. Using jargon and overused sales phrases is a terrible writing habit — it distracts readers and prevents them from getting invested in what you have to say. Keep it simple, write like a human being, and you’re bound to get your message across more clearly. Conclusion With all the work you’ll be putting into doing research, planning and writing, you save design time by turning to consulting report templates and creating a professionally designed report. While you might have solid recommendations to offer, what’s equally important is knowing how to present that information, make sense of data and package it such that it leaves the client impressed. Simki Dutta is a content marketer at Venngage, a free infographic maker and design platform. When she's not working, she can be found refreshing her Twitter feed and binge-watching Netflix shows.
Guest Post by Stacey Wonder From the news coverage in past several months, it may seem that the world is on fire and the global economy is about to collapse. Granted, a part of the world was on fire (poor Aussies) and the global economy has taken a big hit, but we’re far from Hollywood movie levels of the apocalypse. While some industries like aviation and construction have been hit the hardest, some, like the food industry, is actually thriving. If you’re an eCommerce business, the odds are your sales figures are now in the middle. You may not be hit the hardest, but the sales are down enough for you to start looking for a solution. While we’re not approaching the end of times, consumer behavior sure changed due to the global lockdown. We as businesspeople just need to adjust to that. Here’s how to survive and thrive in the lockdown economy. Managing the team Working with customers during the times of the global pandemic is hard, but managing your team may prove even harder. Even though it feels necessary to focus primarily on handling your sales funnel. The problem is, with a team in disarray, you can’t really sell much. Ensure employee safety Mental health is the first thing that takes a hit when you get quarantined alone in your house. You need to keep on working, but you’re constantly surrounded by news telling you that unemployment numbers are on the rise. It can be hard to keep calm in this situation, and anxiety about being fired may be keeping you from being productive. The first thing you should do to keep your team on track is to be frank with them. Tell them exactly how well the business is doing right now and whether you’ll need to lay people off. Make sure you stress that you’re not going to fire people out of the blue and that remote work is not a mild step towards being let go. That alone will strengthen their trust and make them more productive. Supply hardware if needed Sales are not the most technically complicated job. However, if you want to be on top of your game in sales, you do need at least a fast laptop, a quality headset for voice calls, and a fast internet connection. If one of your team members doesn’t have access to that at home, they’re not giving it 100% even if they work harder. Make sure everybody in the team has the right hardware to tackle their job remotely and let them borrow something from the office if they don’t have it at home. Learn to work remotely Remote work can become even more productive than working from the office, but you do need to adjust to it first. Here are some helpful tips for staying productive as you manage your team: Hold meetings over video conference software Check up on employees who lack self-motivation Stay in touch to provide feedback and support to the team Use text chat software like Slack to use for fast communication Make sure each time has its own chatroom to handle minor details Create a general chatroom where employees can check the main goals for the week Create an off-topic chatroom where employees can socialize to keep the team bonded Maintain regular working hours, not to overwork employees Managing the sales process Now that you have a grip on managing the sales team remotely, let’s look at how you can improve sales growth. Share the burden with the customer The lockdown that currently influencers just about everyone can’t go unnoticed. You can’t keep up the same messaging that you had before the coronavirus. You need to address the elephant in the room and adjust accordingly. Do it by offering something exclusive to help your clients stay afloat during the pandemic. This can be anything that takes the pressure off. For instance, you can hold personal coaching sessions to help them master an aspect of the business you’re helping them with, a yearly license with delayed payment, or an exclusive guide for customers. Here is a great example of promoting special offers at the times of a lockdown: Amanda, a leading sales manager at Diamond Wish, suggests that throwing a sizable discount is a great way to keep customers engaged in these difficult times. You can facilitate more sales by prompting urgency. State that your offer is valid for a limited time only or suggest a deadline when the offer expires. This approach may not give you the best revenue figures for the months of quarantine, but will definitely build trust with your customers and generate cash flow that’s absolutely vital for your business right now. Turn to video presentation If your sales process is mainly focused on presenting something in person, there’s bad news for you. Most of the human interaction has to cease for the upcoming months, and there’s not much information on whether the lockdown will have to be repeated in the future. This means you need to adapt and move in-person interactions online. Invest in a good camera that you can stream with. This may help with client acquisition a lot. Whether you’re a real estate agent or a salesperson for a factory, you can effectively stream most of the showdowns to your clients, reducing the need for actual contact. Focus on client retention Even before the coronavirus pandemic, client retention has been a huge point for growth. Now that new qualified leads are harder to come by as budgets are shrinking, it becomes essential. Double down on retaining clients and reducing customer churn, and you may still have the cash flow needed to pull through this tough period. To that end, sales reps from Diamond Studs suggest that promotions and discounts are particularly effective for improving sales scripts to turn people that want to cancel into long-term customers. Create new content One of the positive sides of people all across the board being quarantined is that they tend to have a lot more free time on their hands. They may use it to gain some extra knowledge, so tap into this trend and double down on content creation. Create stellar content that will show the online community you’re an expert in your industry and draw people to your brand. This may not translate into sales right now, but surely has great long-term potential. Managing the challenges ahead Sure, managing the sales process during the pandemic can be difficult, but it's not impossible. If you optimize your workflow for remote work, and help your clients cope with the pandemic as well, you may come out of it stronger than you were before. Use this time of crisis to strengthen the bond of your team, create better business solutions, and put your name out there by content marketing. Stacey Wonder is a content marketer who enjoys sharing best practices for self-development and careers with others. In her free time, Stacey is fond of contemporary dance and classic French movies.
The economic impact of COVID-19 and related stay-at-home orders has reached nearly unbelievable proportions. As of April 10, 31 percent of Americans were furloughed or had lost their job because of virus-related events, according to a survey by Freedom Debt Relief. But many businesses are hoping they can hang on to their employees until they can secure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds to temporarily cover payroll costs or the economy reopens to begin the long process of recovery. To business owners looking for every possible place to cut costs and preserve cash before initiating layoffs, there are several budget adjustments to consider. (And if you’re an employee feeling vulnerable right now, this guide will help you understand what your company is up against.) Increasing sources of revenue may be out of the question right now, but you may be able to identify costs you can cut without devastating your company’s ability to — eventually — re-grow. Decision-making principles Decision-guiding tools Potential budget adjustments 1. Eliminate perk benefits2. Evaluate your workspace and equipment3. Suspend low-yielding growth initiatives4. Adapt marketing and sales strategies5. Consider co-opetition6. Negotiate contracts7. Protect revenue where you can 8. Eliminate non-essential software9. Re-orient and innovate 10. Apply for relief loans, grants, and business loans Decision-making principles Fintech product expert and Successful Release director Adam Sanders focuses on efforts with the highest-yielding ROI when successfully re-evaluating a budget and recommends the following: Key Takeaway: Stabilize your business through strategic decisions. Identify key drivers for success and prioritize those areas. Identify which expenses are easy to stop and start. Project multiple scenarios for the next year and assume the worst. Focus on keeping the lights on, sacrificing future growth for stability in the short-term. In all business decisions, intuition and gumption can play a role in getting you to where you want to be. But data is key. Decision-guiding tools Sanders says QuickBooks has been helpful in managing his company’s expenses as it identifies patterns and specifics in spending and growth. "Going through all the data without software like this would have taken much, much longer," he explains. Entrepreneur Bradley Steven, founder and CEO of LLC Formations, adds that financial pivots need to be extremely specific at every step of planning and execution. He shares, “HR developed a comprehensive report of the last five years of expenses by gathering and summarizing the data. This report assisted us in doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to guide our process.” Budget analysis is the name of the game right now and expense management software plays a major role. Alex Bean, co-founder and CBO at full-stack expense management platform Divvy, says that the need to manage budgets has always been a priority for their customers, but during this difficult time he's "seen users put an even greater emphasis on counting every penny — and stretching pennies where they can.” According to Bean, Divvy helps businesses see exactly how much spend is going to every team, department, and budget in real-time. “Rather than waiting until the end of the quarter to review which projects are yielding the highest results, you can evaluate on a weekly or even daily basis," he explains. “This kind of real-time visibility helps businesses identify which expenses bring the highest ROI and thus, should be maintained.” Read reviews from Divvy customers Potential budget adjustments 1. Eliminate perk benefits Your employees would rather have a job with few or no extra perks than no job at all. Decide to pare down or eliminate some or all of the following perks if you’re offering them currently: Catered lunches Fully stocked break room Entertainment benefits Gym memberships Company outings Seasonal activities Travel stipends Company swag and other gifts Dan Bailey, president of online marketplace WikiLawn Lawn Care, says he’s needed to cut back on using a rewards program service in which employees could accrue points towards gift cards. While he’d like to continue the program in the future, it’s not realistic for their budget right now. Bailey’s employees took it well. He explains, “We were honest with our employees about it, and of course everyone unanimously agreed that while it's a loss, it's far preferable to being laid off.” 2. Evaluate your workspace and equipment If your employees are working remotely for the first time, you may be already saving money with little to no cleaning service fees and lower utility bills. If you find that a remote work setup works for your company, you may consider selling your space or not renewing your rental contract in the long term to get rid of your mortgage or rent, property taxes, and utilities. A co-working space could suffice for in-person meetings to supplement video conferencing. James Chittenden, a former small business banker and now co-founder of One Click Advisor, a business finance and business planning platform for startups and small businesses, points out that many banks have already made provisions to defer or modify mortgages. In addition, he says that pressure has been growing on landlords to be understanding with rent, with states such as California, New York, and Washington, imposing moratoriums on evictions. Regarding equipment costs, Chittenden recommends that, in general, businesses lease their equipment instead of buying it. Why? “The owner assumes the depreciation and pays any debt associated with owning it,” he explains. If you do own a piece of equipment that you could lease to someone else, map out a plan for doing so. Use the furniture and technology already onsite to outfit employees’ work from home stations. If you need to buy supplies, buy gently used. 3. Suspend low-yielding growth initiatives You’ll probably need to make some moves that don’t align with the dream you initially had but nonetheless extend the life of your business. This might include halting the investment in high-potential but low-performing growth initiatives such as the following: Products or services that require several times the current amount of users to generate sufficient revenue Partnerships that have gone stale or that haven’t fully materialized Serving customers or clients whose return doesn’t justify the spend of time and money Peripheral, exploratory efforts that don’t align with your core focus Whether it’s letting go of a customer, a client, or a campaign, do what you need to do to focus on initiatives that can pay your bills right now. 4. Adapt marketing and sales strategies Tough economic times call for nuanced approaches to marketing and sales. Here’s what some companies are doing: Reduce online ads According to Michael Alexis, CEO of physical and virtual event services company Team Building, it’s easy to adjust spending on online ads: “You can usually modify the display volume and cost instantly, which means that you can reduce it and increase it again as needed.” Prioritize present over future Alexander Kehoe, co-founder and operations director of web design company Caveni, shares, “We have had to scale back and cut long-term programs that were meant to capture new clients down the line in favor of supporting shorter-term programs that generate more immediate cash flow.” Kehoe says the sales team has been instrumental in results-based reporting. Instead of directly calling potential clients, Caveni has instead opted for a digitally based sales process. Lean on search engine optimization (SEO) Shawn Breyer, owner of Atlanta House Buyers, points out that SEO is a low-cost alternative to online ads. “Since we have always focused on SEO as a marketing strategy, we are still generating leads for our business,” he explains. “Having enough organic leads to fund operations has allowed us to cut out paid marketing, which has saved us thousands of dollars each month and allowed us to keep people employed instead of laying them off.” Cut direct mail ads Jonathan Faccone, founder of Halo Homebuyers LLC, a real estate development and investment company, says that since real estate transaction activity has slowed, he has cut marketing generating mediums like direct mail since it is his largest expense and it is not generating the activity necessary to justify it right now. Faccone explains, “Even if we were generating new business with direct mail, we can not take on additional projects that require large capital investments and greater liquidity strains. We just don't know how soon we would be able to sell projects once we are finished with them and what they would sell for.” Pause completely for a time For business owner Christina Kumar, “marketing had to be cut to minimize new orders due to extreme shipping delays” and won’t be re-launched until the economy reopens again. Kumar says she doesn’t know when the orders from her distributors will arrive and she wants customers to have minimal wait times after placing an order. Keep in mind that adjusting your marketing and sales efforts doesn’t mean you have to stop them. Focus on low-cost efforts like engaging your organic social media followers, crafting tasteful emails for your subscribers, and producing keyword-optimized content on your website. And where the demand for online ad space is relatively low right now, it may actually be a good time to try bidding for some affordably priced ad space on Facebook or Google. 5. Consider co-opetition Co·op·e·ti·tion: collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results. It might sound like a crazy idea, but if you’re struggling, your competitors are too. No one wins if you both go out of business! This may be a good time to consider splitting supply costs or sharing resource libraries, partner network benefits, or even a workspace with a competitor or with any local company whose needs and opportunities complement yours. An online barter exchange is another option. Belonging to a barter organization like International Monetary Systems (IMS) allows businesses to get some of the supplies or services they need without spending cash they don’t have. For example, a small business could hire a lawyer, accountant, or landscaper or purchase goods from a supplier by trading their company's products or services. report_problem Attention: Bartered exchanges are taxable. Keep in mind that you do need to pay tax on a bartered exchange. The fair market value of the property or services received through a barter exchange is considered taxable income and both parties must report as income the value of the goods and services received. 6. Negotiate contracts Your point of highest leverage is when you still have cash, so if you haven’t started negotiating with vendors, partners, and other parties, do so now. Negotiating can certainly include a healthy dose of collaboration. But ultimately, you need to do whatever you can to generate cost savings for your business from the following parties, among others: Electric, phone, and internet providers Landlords Lenders Manufacturers Suppliers Affiliate partners To negotiate for lower inventory order costs, first price out other suppliers and then request a discount for a price match from your current supplier. James Chittenden says negotiating with suppliers during hard times is vital and recommends consignment, floor planning, and term restructuring. “One way to negotiate with suppliers is to ask for easy terms, for example, 45 days,” he explains. “In return, after six months, you will pay five percent over invoice for another six months.” 7. Protect revenue where you can On the flip side, be prepared to protect what revenue you do have when your clients or vendors approach you with negotiation proposals. When a customer or other party comes to you to negotiate, examine all relevant information through a discovery call including their usage, activity, and other analytics to understand the complete impact of what they are experiencing. If someone is truly unable to meet previously agreed terms, be open to negotiation. But if there are no clear indicators that they’re worse off than your own business, you may need to be firm in your expectations. You could lose customers by saying "no," but that doesn't necessarily mean you made the wrong decision. 8. Eliminate non-essential software Don’t ditch any software that is essential to your operations or that drastically improves efficiency. But if there are programs collecting dust, stop paying for them. Dan Bailey canceled several subscriptions and switched to a less expensive web host. Michael Alexis found lower-priced substitutes. For example, their previous email marketing platform was costing them $5,000 per year, and they transitioned to a self-hosted version with fewer features, but is reportedly fast, easy to use and costs less than $4 per month. Ken Eulo, founding partner of Smith & Eulo Law Firm, decided to cut down on tools that helped the business but that were ultimately not essential to its survival. This included their CRM and email marketing tools. “These things made our work life easier, but with a little more effort, these tasks can be done by employees.” he explains. Along those lines, if there are money-saving tasks that require simply a set amount of time and some grunt work, like changing your credit card processor or adjusting your Amazon Web Services or other account details, buckle down and do it. 9. Re-orient and innovate Small business consultant Racheal Cook gives the following recommendations for businesses to successfully pivot during a crisis: Key Takeaway: Identify your unique opportunities for a meaningful contribution. Ask, "What can I offer my community right now?" Don't reinvent the wheel, but do look for low-hanging fruit. Keep making offers, even if you need to tweak or completely change your existing offers; relevance is key. Keep showing up, and don't stop your offering. Lean into those that support your business emotionally and strategically. What can that look like during COVID-19? In mid-March, word-of-mouth marketing platform Wooly founder Scott Paul found that many of his clients could no longer pay for the service. He decided to remove his own salary from the budget. Then he adapted the business model to keep the business afloat. Now, Wooly charges customers only when they get paid instead of charging for the service upfront. For cash flow, Paul started a completely new side hustle: a reusable mask production company, MIAKOMO, making masks similar to the N95 but at a price of $0.30 per use rather than the $7 per mask rate some brokers are charging for disposable masks made in China. This new company provides a needed product, generates cash, and contributes meaningfully to the world. And he’s been able to utilize Wooly marketing methods to promote the new product. 10. Apply for relief loans, grants, and business loans If you’ve never needed a loan or grant before, chances are you need one now. Access to PPP loans has allowed some struggling businesses to maintain payroll. But there are other resources available too. Federal relief initiatives include the following: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans provide up to $10 million and include loan forgiveness for retaining employees. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) provides up to $2 million with a $10,000 advance available. Small Business Administration (SBA) Express Bridge Loans enable small businesses with a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to quickly access up to $25,000. The SBA Debt Relief program will automatically pay the principal, interest, and fees of current 7(a), 504, and microloans for a period of six months. The Main Street Lending Program will support lending to small and medium-sized businesses that were in good financial standing prior to COVID-19 with new loans running from $1 million up to $25 million but without the loan forgiveness or low APR of the PPP. The U.S. Small Business Innovation and Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program assists small businesses engaged in vital technological, scientific, or medical research (including efforts to find a cure for COVID-19). While these loan programs are playing a crucial role, most businesses (92 percent according to a survey by Small Business Majority) say what they really need to survive this crisis is direct grant assistance. Grant programs have zero risks in that they don't require repayment. Nav's state and local resources page is a great starting point for finding state-based relief. But as with all of the unknowns surrounding the pandemic, there are no guarantees for securing state funding. When Denver-based photographer Jermaine Amado heard there were no more PPP funds available, he searched everywhere for other small business resources and stumbled upon Colorado’s COVID-19 Business Resource page. He quickly got to work applying for some of the grants available. However, after two weeks and counting, he’s still waiting for relief. “I heard back from one Denver-specific grant that I was ineligible because my mailing address is in a neighboring city,” he says. “But I’ll keep applying and hoping.” Resources that are not pandemic-specific are still on the table Traditional SBA loans typically have low-interest rates for applicants with excellent credit, though they are historically slow to fund. A traditional business loan with your financial institution is another alternative to the PPP, assuming you can qualify based on your business credit report. According to Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting, “Even if you have great credit and especially if you have less than stellar credit, alternative lenders are worth a look.” He continues, “They are faster and more forgiving, but they do charge higher interest rates. Lending platforms such as Lendio and the like are a good place to start. They enable you to access a network of lenders with one application and typically do not require a hard pull until you formally apply to the bank you choose.” Read reviews from Lendio customers Wrapping it up It’s every employer’s hope that by cutting expenses, maximizing revenue sources, and accessing economic relief they can keep payroll intact. Aside from the toll layoffs can take on company morale, it’s expensive and inconvenient to rehire. It takes the average U.S. employer $4,000 and 24 days to hire an employee when factoring in job sourcing, recruitment technology, marketing, in-house recruiting staff, and referral rewards, according to a Glassdoor study. Though it’s likely those numbers will be unique during and after this pandemic is resolved. At this point, no one can predict exactly what the future holds for our country’s economic health at the macro or micro levels. We just hope that individuals and businesses can make the decisions necessary to make it through, one day and one challenge at a time.
Each decision that supervisors, team leaders, or CEOs make drastically affects the company’s entire ecosystem. A leader should research and test each decision before choosing to move forward. This step is crucial for a company to thrive in competitive markets. We asked CEOs, managers, and leaders about the tools and software that have proven to work for them. Here, these representatives share valuable insights and explain the benefits of using the most up-to-date tools and software in the following categories: Finance tracking Time management Communication platforms Marketing Review generators Research Social media Storage Website design Work on the go Subscription-based services Human resources Finance Tracking Contributing experts: Niki Papaioannou and Keri Lindenmuth Accounting services Precise accounting is essential for any business’s success. Fortunately, there are some great software options designed to help small businesses tracking their expenses, prepare tax statements, project earnings, and more.Benefits: Better tax returns Safe and easy to use High-level encryption security Average cost: $5-$60 a monthSuggested software: Divvy, Quickbooks, Expensify Expense management software Expense management software often doubles as accounting software. This software helps track whenever an employee takes a client out to lunch, your HR representative buys something for the company or any other expense. It makes reimbursement simple and helps you keep an eye on your company's bottom line.Benefits: Access to accounting software Track and understand companies expenses Reimburse employees for expenses with one tap Average cost: $5-$60 a monthSuggested software: Divvy, Expensify, Taxbot, The Neat Company, Zoho, Freshbooks Time Management Contributing experts: Nate Masterson, Nilesh Kadivar, Ellie Thompson, Kraig Martin, Josh Rubin, Jason Granger, Carlo Borja, John Hill, Emily Morgan, Vartika Kashyap, Ryan Underwood, Hamna Amjad, Mike Pearson, Ben Aston, Jeff Butler, and Smith. Calendars According to Brian Tracy, “every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.” These tools increase productivity, maximize resources, and foster organization. Benefits: Simple to use Saves time and energy If wanted, clients can schedule an appointment without contacting you directly Average cost: $5-$15 a monthSuggested tools: Calendly, SimplyBook.me, 10-8, and Checkfront Time management Time is money and money is time. These tools track where your employees are spending their time and making sure they are not wasting it on social media, texting, or anything else non work related.Benefits: Save money Keep workers motivated See what areas individuals are spending the most time and how to optimize that task/assignment Average cost: $5-15 a monthSuggested tools: Harvest, Hubstaff, TimeDoctor, Toggl Project management Most companies have several projects running simultaneously. Keeping track of all of them can be almost impossible. When companies struggle with managing their projects and tasks, using a project management tool is essential.Benefits: Organize tasks, assignments, and projects in one place Build teamwork within the company by connecting tasks and assignments Help manage your company’s focus and energy to work in a more unified and clear direction Average cost: $5-$99 a monthSuggested tools: Trello, Basecamp, Proofhub, TeamGantt, Wrike, Monday, ProofHub, Teamwork, AirTable, Asana, IFTTT (if this then that) Communication Platforms Contributing experts: Robin Delaney, Hamna Amjad, Josh Rubin, Jakub Kliszczak, Rich Patterson, Amy Smith, Bernice Quek, Janil Jean, Nooria Khan, Bryan Stoddard, and Darren Cottingham Internal communication platforms Communication within a company is essential to ensure that employees are on the same page and working together towards a specific goal. Internal communication platforms allow teams to communicate about specific projects, get information quickly to the entire company, and allow employees to reach out to leaders about questions and concerns.Benefits: Better unity on projects and assignments Team building Greater accountability by employees Average cost: $8-$15 per monthSuggested platforms: Asana, Slack, Logo Design Guru External communication platforms — VoIP, VR Headsets, etc. Many companies are trying new methods to communicate with clients. Virtual reality headsets are 2019’s newest business trend, allowing customers and clients to communicate as if they were face to face. VoIP services such as Jive are able to let you call using a computer from anywhere in the world. It benefits companies who want to use a single phone number, companies that travel all over the world, or companies from outside of a country that wants to connect to people without using a global number.Benefits: Connect to anyone around the world without paying extra Have multiple computers receiving calls from people calling the same number Connect to clients in a new way Average cost of VoIP service: $20-$50 per seat a monthAverage cost of VR Headset: $200-$300 single fee to buy the headsetSuggested VoIP services: Jive, RingCentral, TeamSpeak, Vonage Marketing Contributing experts: Janil Jean, Marie Lamonde, Dave Pike, Symbat Aliyadin, and James Rice SEO — Backlink building, content optimization, title tags Search engine optimization is the process of ranking high in Google, Bing, or Yahoo's algorithm for keywords your website promotes. It is how you bring organic traffic to your website. Each algorithm is different, but backlink building, content optimizing, and title tag services are key to ensuring your data is progressing.Benefits: More organic traffic Better content Better marketing Average cost: Backlink building ($0-$1,000), Content optimizing ($1,000), Title tag testing ($500-$1,000)Suggested SEO tools: HARO (Free, Backlink building), Mention ($25-$600, Backlink building), Marketmuse ($1,000, Content optimization), ClickFlow ($500, Title tag testing) Plagiarism alerts Plagiarism is a huge issue in the marketing industry. Plagiarized content compromises trust between you and your customer, not to mention the potential legal issues. Fortunately, this software can ensure your content is not stolen.Benefits: Alerts you of potential plagiarism Check your work for plagiarism Protects your trust with employees and customers Average cost: $11 per monthSuggested tools: SEMrush, Grammarly, EasyBib.com Review Generator Contributing expert: Ajay PrasadReviews are becoming more and more important for consumers and businesses. We trust word of mouth more than anything else, and consumers are basing their buying decisions on reviews. Review generating companies help businesses get real reviews from current and past customers.Benefits: Builds credibility Promotes brand awareness Average cost: $15-$500 per monthSuggested tools: Podium, Repugen, Womply Research Contributing experts: Chloe Brittain, Marie Lamonde, Vartika Kashyap, Nishank Khanna Keyword Research Keyword research is essential for your company's website. Understanding what keywords you're targeting, why you’re targeting specific keywords, and the amount of traffic your site receives because of those keywords is crucial to bring in more business. Whether you spend thousands of dollars for pay to play or spend countless hours in optimizing your content, you must take the time to research important keywords.Benefits: Find keywords more easily Find high traffic, low competition long tail keywords Work smarter, not harder Average cost: $99-$1,000 per monthSuggested software: SEMrush, Moz, Ahrefs Data analysis The sheer volume of data available in the digital world is overwhelming. A data can understand and read the data your company has free access to through Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Small businesses that can't afford to pay a full-time data analyst are turning to software that will read it for them. These reports are key to gaining an edge on your competition.Benefits: Save money and resources More focused direction as a company Average cost: $33-$500 per monthSuggested tools: DashThis, SAP Lumira, Google Chart Tools, Klipfolio Invoice management Once a service is complete, or you’ve sent your client the finished product, sending the invoice is the last step. Wasting time tracking down clients who haven't paid you is annoying and stressful. Invoice management services show when a client has opened the invoice you sent them, or if something went wrong in the delivery and it ended up in spam or anything else. Benefits: Better ROI More customer engagement Higher chance to get money for services rendered Average cost: $20 a monthSuggested tools: Xero, SAP Concur, Armatic Social Media Marketing Contributing experts: Dave Pike, Niki Papaioannou, Jakub Kliszczak, Ellie Thompson, Norma Norris, and Elesha Jones Social media tools Social media is the future of marketing. Just a few years ago, Facebook closed its doors to Google’s crawlers because Facebook realized it was a direct contender to Google. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, SnapChat, Pinterest, and many other social media platforms are continuing to grow and so is the cost of advertising on their pages. Ensuring your company is relevant on social media is an important step to gaining more users and trust with your clientele. Social media software helps companies schedule posts, helps customers understand how market on social media, and gives companies the edge when competing with their competitors on social media accounts.Benefits: Greater outreach Build customer care Simple platform Average cost: $129 per monthSuggested tools: Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Buffer, Social Reach Storage Contributing experts: Shel Horowitz, Rafe Gomez, Carl Mazzanti, Jeff Butler, Bryan Stoddard, Luke Ramsay, and Gene Caballero Swipe files You probably see thousands of ideas and bits of information in a day. And with the human brain only able to remember four things at a time, according to LiveScience.com, those ideas are usually lost. Swipe files are a type of software that tracks and manages your ideas, quick thoughts, documents, and anything you want to remember at a future time. Place good articles, books, important documents, or future assignments into your swipe file to review at a future point in time.Benefits: Remember quick thoughts, ideas, and documents Create folders to organize ideas Average cost: $3-10 per monthSuggested tools: Evernote, GoogleKeep, Microsoft OneNote Customer Relation Management (CRM) Customer relation management or CRM is a system that stores customer data, shares information with colleges, and tracks business to client interactions. It helps companies manage relations with customers, keeps a record of important meetings and phone calls, and is used by thousands of companies.Benefits: Store important data Better customer relations Cheap and easy to use Average cost: $65 per user per monthSuggested software: Salesforce, Zoho, Streak Storage files Storing important documents, invoices, payments, or data safety can be an onerous task. With thousands of hackers trying to steal data, making sure that your important documents are safe is a top priority. Many companies have created internet vaults with 256-bit encryption to ensure that your data or important documents are safe. These online storage platforms are also nice when traveling or while using different devices because you can access them from anywhere in the world.Benefits: More secure More storage Cheap and easy to use Average cost: Depending on how much storage, $5-$30 per monthSuggested tools: Google Drive, Google Docs, Microsoft 365, WaveApps Password saver Many companies now require individuals who log in to their site to have a password with more than 10 characters, use 5 symbols, have capital letters, or even use emojis. Creating an easy password to remember is getting harder and harder. Good thing there is software now that helps you remember passwords, share it safely with coworkers, and keep it all protected to make sure you don’t have to reset your password too often.Benefits: Store all passwords in one location Never forget a password again Average cost: $3 per monthSuggested software: 1Password, OneLogin, Dashlane Website Design Contributing experts: Niki Papaioannou, Ben Aston, Ellie Thompson, Ruthann Bowen, Joanna Duda, and Luke Ramsay Create a website Creating a website in the past used to take a lot of skill, but now it's simple and easy. Programming companies have created templates, documents, pages, or images that would look good on a website. These companies help you purchase your domain, get ranked on Google, build a website, and provide you with direction on how to edit, fix, or update your site.Benefits: Clear direction Ideas and help in creating a website Ensures no major issues Average cost: $10-$500 per monthSuggested tools: Wix, Wordpress.com, GoDaddy.com Translate your website into a different language Once your company starts gaining traction on Google, translating your website into different languages is an important step to gain more and more traffic. Instead of just putting your information into Google Translate, hire a professional translator. Online translating services help thousands of companies translate their entire site correctly and quickly for a reasonable price.Benefits: Gain access to billions of potential buyers Build customer trust Expand your business globally Average cost: $0.30 per wordSuggested tools: LingoHub, GetLocalization, Transifex Website management Manage payments, fix website design, sell goods, set up subscriptions, and add new products with simple directions and guidance.Benefits: Finds and corrects issues with your site Provides feedback and support Average cost: $29-$79 per monthSuggested software: Shopify Bug tracking tool With more people coming to a website, issues and bugs are bound to come up. Making sure that your clientele is happy and satisfied with their visit is very important. Bug-tracking tools help small businesses reach out to customers and see if there were any issues with their visit to the company's website. Benefits: Build customer trust Ensure your website is working Pinpoint exact problems quickly Average cost: $29-$99 per monthSuggested tools: BugHerd, Monday, Zoho Work on the Go Contributing experts: Luke Ramsay and Ravi Dehar Internet Strengthener When you're on the go, an internet strengthener can be powerful and useful. This tool will connect multiple lines of internet to give you maximum connecting power. It will take Wi-Fi, LTE, 3G, and anything else and strengthen your internet to help you work wherever your traveling.Benefits: Work on the go Find a connection throughout the world Average cost: $9 per monthSuggested tools: Speedify, NordVPN, CyberGhost Rewards credit card Although this doesn't seem like much, a rewards credit card tied to all of your business expenses will earn you lots back in return. Make sure that your rewards tied to the credit card will benefit your clients, employees, or yourself.Benefits: Save money Greater ROI Get rewarded for doing what you have too Subscription-Based Services Contributing experts: Chloe Brittain, Shel Horowitz, Keri Lindenmuth, Norma Norris, Ruthann Bowen, Nishank Khanna, Ravi Dehar Email outreach Whether you have 30 customers or 30,000, emailing is exhausting and annoying, but also important. Although automatic email outreach was invented you still may have to send a few emails, but not nearly as many. You can easily promote events, new content, discounts, as well as respond to similar emails.Benefits: Respond to multiple emails at once without people knowing Reach out to clients about blogs, products or anything quickly and simply Gain extra traffic and sales through connecting with clients more often Average cost: $10-$100 a monthSuggested tools: Zoho, Shout Outs, Mail Chimp Subscription churn Subscriptions are a difficult thing to manage, you have thousands of accounts coming in, and thousands of people who are wanting to quit a subscription. Certain services were created to help manage churn by reaching out to customers to fix expired credit cards, emailing customers about exceeding credit card limits, and by diverting people who are wanting to cancel their subscription.Benefits: Fix issues with customers credit cards Quickly email customers who exceed credit card limits Diverts customers who are attempting to leave service Average cost: $9-$19 per monthSuggested software: ChargeBee, Pipefy, Gainsight HR Tools and Software Contributing experts: Jason Granger and Gene Mai Onboard and training tools Creating an Onboard packet, storing training videos, and helping new employees get up to speed is an important process for growing a strong business. The quicker the new employees can get up to speed the sooner you are wasting money but generating money.Benefits: Store company training documents, packets, and other key documents needed for new employees Get everything from them (passports, bank and account numbers, shirt sizes, etc.) quickly and efficiently Average cost: $6-$15 per employee per monthSuggested tools: BambooHR, Trainual Recruiting software The odds of your finding the perfect individual for an open position was once been a hassle, but with new tools, websites, and software designed to finding the perfect employee, finding potential employees has been easier than ever.Benefits: Pinpoint the perfect employee Quickly replace company turnover Reach out to hundreds of potential employees at once Average cost: Depends on how much you are willing to spend, but just posting is freeSuggested software: Indeed, Monster, Linkedin The bottom line These tools have brought companies a greater return on investments, better customer retention, clearer direction, and overall success. Let 2019 be the year your company leverages the power of these tools to find the same success.
Many people think hacking is evil, but thousands have made it a career. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo actually hire people to try to hack their websites. These hackers are unlike the companies’ developers who strive to keep hackers out. Some are full-time employees, but many are independent contractors hired by companies like Google and Facebook to ensure that its code is strong and unhackable. Companies like Instagram, Snapchat, or Google have almost all their assets in websites or apps, so it’s vital they keep their customers’ trust. Yahoo, one of the biggest companies in the world, was hacked and it almost completely destroyed the company by exposing over 3 billion users’ accounts, including information on birthdays, emails, passwords, and security questions and answers. The biggest hack of all time turned a once $100 billion company to $350 million when Verizon finally bought Yahoo — a $99.65 billion loss. Companies hire hackers as a great insurance policy. Individuals who choose this as a profession can earn up to half a million dollars a year. The bigger the bug you can find, the more money that these tech companies will pay. Most of these hackers are Millennials and Gen Z, and some are not even outside of their teenage years. Many hackers have found a side job for major corporations without even hitting puberty. Not all hacking jobs are created equal, however. Hacking jobs vary in purpose and in pay. Here are examples of the most common kinds of hackers and their estimated compensation: White Hat Hackers: Average salary — $72,000 The average Certified Ethical Hacker makes $72,000 per year with a range from $24,000 to $130,000.White Hat Hackers, also called Ethical Hackers are hired by a company either full time or as independent contractors. Their job is to find the cracks in the code before Black Hats or Grey Hats find it.White Hats can be employed by a company to scan and fix the code in a site. Although this is the norm, many teenagers are getting hired as independent contractors to hack websites. They get hired by the company and are only paid if they find a mistake in the code, like commissions for a salesperson. Black Hat Hackers: Average salary — class B misdemeanor or class B felony Black Hat Hackers can make lots of money by stealing credit card numbers, personal information, or login credentials. Often Black Hat Hackers steal and sell information via the black market to make money. If caught, these hackers can be fined thousands of dollars and can receive a class B misdemeanor (up to six months in jail) or a class B Felony (up to 20 years in jail). Gray Hat Hackers: Average salary — a new job or a class B misdemeanor Grey Hat Hackers, unlike White Hat Hackers, are not employed by the company directly, but they also aren't trying to steal, attack, or hurt a company as Black Hat Hackers do. Grey Hat Hackers are finding the cracks in the code or websites without being employed by the company. Grey Hat Hackers have different purposes. They can twist the company’s arm to have them pay a large fee before helping them fix the issue, or they may want a job from the company and try to prove their worth by cracking the company’s site (not recommended). Or Grey Hat Hackers may be hacking for entertainment and do nothing with the information. Gray Hat Hacking is still illegal and individuals caught can be fined thousands of dollars or even sent to prison. But if you do it right, you could land yourself a job or a large payout. Green Hat Hackers: Average salary — little to none These are noobs. They don’t really understand hacking (even though they try hard) and act as if they are professionals. They may have gone to a few seminars, seen a couple of YouTube videos, or taken a class or two and think they are now professional hackers. There is little to no money if you find yourself in this category. Script-Kiddie (Lazy Green Hackers): Average salary — nothing, and they don’t mind These individuals don’t really care about hacking but download a few programs or codes to break down a competitor’s website or just attack a website. These programs can really be hurtful to unprotected sites. But if a company has added firewalls or defenses, it is usually safe from most of these attacks. Script-Kiddies will never become full-blown hackers and don’t care to be, but they can still cause some serious issues to your website if you aren’t prepared. Red Hat Hackers: Average salary — same as White Hat Hackers The most aggressive and angry hacker around. They are much like White Hat Hackers, but to the extreme. Red Hat Hackers will not only find and stop Black Hat Hackers, but will do everything in their power to destroy the Black Hat Hackers from ever trying to crack anything ever again. They will put so many viruses into a hacker’s computer, that the individual will need a new computer. Unless a company specifically requests this type of service, Red Hat hackers do not get paid more than a traditional White Hat Hacker.
These days, you can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your financial information online. Hackers, ID thieves, malware, and other entities of malicious intent are constantly striving to gain access to sensitive information, be it your login info, bank routing number, credit card data, or your Social Security Number. Consequently, many (but not all) expense tracking providers - particularly those that integrate with your bank account - have made it a priority to provide their users with the best security encryption available. Some of them even boast that they're using "bank-level" security protocol. They throw around numbers like 128, 256, or 2048, and acronyms like SSL, AES, and PCI. But what does it all really mean? And how does it protect your money and your identity? What Banks Really Use In the age of online transactions, banks are working hard to provide their clients with the best security protocol available. This extends beyond the simple username/password and security questions you see on your bank's homepage. Banks also employ firewall software as a first line of defense against unauthorized entry, and they are continually updating this software to stay ahead of viruses and identity thieves. In addition to these security measures, banks also implement a certain level of encryption over all of your digital files and online transactions. This essentially encodes all of your information in a way that prevents hackers from easily accessing or deciphering your data. The standard level of encryption for banks has been identified as 256-bit AES or Advanced Encryption Standard. 128-Bit vs 256-Bit Encryption But while the standard for all banks is to use 256-bit encryption, some companies elect to use either 256-bit, or 128-bit, and this provokes two big questions: Is there a real difference between the two? If so, why on earth would companies use only half the encryptions that banks use? To speak to the first question: yes. 256-bit is exponentially larger than 128-bit. The 256 actually represents the number 2256 an incredibly vast number that lists the possible encryption combinations your financial data has been encoded with. That being said, 128-bit (or 2128) isn't exactly pocket change. It represents approximately 340 undecillion (that's 340 followed by 36 zeros) possible encryption combinations that hackers would have to sort through in order to decrypt your information. In other words, if your expense tracking company is using "only" 128-bit encryption, you're data is completely safe. So, you might be asking, if 128-bit encryption is sufficient enough to keep my financial information safe, then why do some companies spend the resources to enforce the 256-bit version? Well, part of the reason is for marketing; i.e., if you are choosing between two expense tracking companies, and one of them uses 256-bit while the other uses 128-bit, chances are you'll want to go with the the 256-bit company, because "more is better." Not to say that 256-bit encryption offers no added benefits whatsoever. Using 256-bit encryption is exponentially more difficult for password guessing programs because it routes intruders through a convoluted chain of near-infinite possibilities. Conclusion When it comes to choosing a company to help you keep track of your expenses, should the 128-bit encryption be a dealbreaker? Definitely not! But if it's really that important to you, you can rest assured that more and more companies are now adopting the 256-bit key to drive their encryption processes. And most of the businesses still running 128-bit run regular security scans over their software. Remember, when it comes to AES encryption, it's not a matter "good versus bad," but more a matter of "excellence versus excellence (plus added peace of mind)."