All posts in Small Business


An Introduction to Machine Learning in Business: Analyzing Your Success

machine learning in business

While it might seem new and intimidating, machine learning in business is already bringing massive benefits to companies and consumers alike.

From increasingly effective product suggestions to accurate journey time predictions and advanced customer analytics, machine learning is an incredibly powerful tool which lets you analyze every important aspect of your business without wasting human hours on the task.

But what exactly is machine learning, and how do you go from knowing that to actually using it?

Instead of using labels to teach an AI what each object it’s looking at is, this DeepMind project teaches itself because it learns to recognise images and sounds by matching them up with what it can see and hear.

This method of learning is almost exactly like how humans think and learn to understand the world around them.” – Vaughn HighfieldHow Google DeepMind is learning like a child: DeepMind uses videos to teach itself about the world

Keep reading to find out all of this and to see examples (both good and bad) of how companies like Google and YouTube are using machine learning to enhance their business in game-changing ways.

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Free Small Business Software: 34 Powerful Tools to Try

The average business’ software spend has been on the rise for years now, with small and medium businesses spending a higher percentage of revenue on software than enterprises.

The average midsized company spends $13,100 per employee on IT. With some smart alternatives (and not relying on the same vendors as always), companies can cut this cost massively. In fact, in a 2017 post about the minimum viable software stack for a 10 person startup, I calculated an option that cost just $260/user/year.

That post touched on just some of the free tools small businesses need, but here I aim to cover the topic much more widely, and look at:

  • Office suites
  • Workflow tools
  • Internal email tools
  • Project management tools
  • Marketing automation tools
  • Team communication tools
  • Accounting software
  • Payroll tools
  • Cloud storage
  • CRMs
  • Database management tools
  • Software development tools

Let’s go!

Free office suites

At the heart of every business toolkit is an office suite. Documents, spreadsheets and presentations are everyday necessities, so you’d better make sure you have the right tools to handle this in your business. Don’t worry, there are many great options for free.

G Suite

Key features

Collecting Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and a number of key business tools like email and cloud storage, G Suite is the most comprehensive cloud-based office toolkit on the internet.

Why G Suite?

Nothing beats it on features, and the suite’s success has spawned a huge amount of addons and support documentation.

Quip

Key features

Quip is a free team document management tool with a beautiful distraction-free, markdown-supported writing environment. As well as document files, Quip allows users to open and edit Excel files and CSVs, so any content teams that work with keywords or data will get use out of that, too.

Why Quip?

With comments, members, and a prominent activity feed keeping all members in the loop, Quip is great for content teams, technical documentation writers, and writing teams of any size. The free plan is quite generous.

LibreOffice

Unlike the other office solutions in this list, LibreOffice isn’t cloud-based. It’s locally installed software, like Microsoft Office. Unlike Microsoft Office, it’s free and open source. It includes a word processor, spreadsheets, presentation tool, database tool, a formula editor, and a whole host of free extensions.

Why LibreOffice?

Many organizations prefer the culture and transparency of open source software, but all small businesses will appreciate that LibreOffice is free. It’s not a good choice if you’re doing a lot of work in the cloud, but for solo document creation, it’s just as good as Microsoft’s offering.

Dropbox Paper

Key features

Dropbox Paper is a simple Medium-like platform for creating and managing collaborative documents. Combined with Dropbox cloud storage, you can manage and collaboratively edit version-controlled documents.

Why Dropbox Paper?

Its simplicity, design, and better support for code blocks and rich media than Google Docs.

Free workflow tools

Creating workflow diagrams, automations, and watertight business systems is possible without spending a dollar. With these three free workflow tools, there’s no excuse for not systemizing your business this year.

Process Street

Key features

Process Street makes it easy for teams to create, track and optimize systems by using recurring checklists. Systemize employee onboarding, blog post production, graphic design approval, and more.

Why Process Street?

Process Street lets you document and track your business processes, and manage your personal tasks in one place. It also has a Zapier integration which links it to 1,000 apps including popular CRMs, document creation tools, and HR software.

Zapier

Key features

Use Zapier to connect over 1,000 apps (like Evernote, Gmail, Microsoft Word, and Google Drive) with simple rules that make it possible to automate practically any workflow. Read our full guide to setting up custom workflows with Zapier here.

Why Zapier?

Zapier’s alternatives — apart from IFTTT, which is more for consumer software — haven’t been around as long, so can’t boast the sheer number of app connections that Zapier can.

Draw.io

Key features

Need a visual representation of your processes? Draw.io is a free tool for creating and collaborating over flow chart maps. It supports BPMN, which is the globally recognized standard for business process notation.

Why Draw.io?

Draw.io is simple, but it is a handy tool for quickly visualizing your business processes so you can distribute and optimize them.

Free business email tools

On a business scale, it can be a pain to manage internal and external emails with your everyday, vanilla email tools. Staying at inbox zero is a strong preference, but it’s also vital to be organizing emails as they come in to make this process easier. Here are our recommended free email management tools:

Inbox by Gmail

Key features

Inbox is Google’s material design version of Gmail which aims to make managing our ever-increasing pile of emails easier. Users can bundle promotional, social, and low priority emails into one easy-to-archive package and hit inbox zero faster by using Inbox’s smart bundling.

Why Inbox?

Inbox makes processing email on your phone super fast. However, the UI can be slower and more limiting than Gmail on desktop.

Boomerang

Key features

Email is a fantastic invention, but it is missing a few key features out of the box. For example: the ability to send emails later, if you don’t get a response. And notifications on which emails are awaiting your reply. Boomerang helps emails flow in and out of your inbox more easily, preventing the dreaded buildup of drafts, unreads and messages you’re “just saving for later” instead of archiving them.

Why Boomerang?

Boomerang doesn’t just enhance Gmail, it adds missing features. With its free suite of tools and the way it’s baked into your existing workflow, there are few competitive free alternatives.

Streak

Key features

Streak is a CRM that lives inside your inbox. If you’re a marketer managing multiple conversations on guest post pitches, you can use Streak’s CRM functionality to get a visualization of conversation status so you know what to follow up on, and what to leave.

Why Streak?

Streak is halfway between a personal email management tool and a fully-fledged CRM — if you don’t have the budget to invest in a CRM, get started with Streak first.

Free project management tools

Here’s a disarming stat: only 2.5% of companies finish every project they start. A Gartner report reveals that only 5% of companies use just one project management tool. This indicates a need for an “all-in-one” solution that helps employees reduce the amount of time they spend switching between apps. Here are three great solutions to get you started.

Trello

Key features

Trello gives teams a visual way to collaborate over tasks, projects, approval flows, or the next big idea. It is based on one of the most efficient methodologies ever conceived — Lean. Lean and kanban (lean’s visual project management system) was used by Toyota manufacturers to manage projects as early as the 1960s. Trello is totally free for as many cards, lists and comments as you like.

Why Trello?

For a free kanban board with a ton of addons and functionality, Trello is the clear winner. Bigger businesses might start to find limitations with the free plan with regard to attachment size and permissions, but for small companies it’s perfect for free.

MeisterTask

Collaborate around tasks with your team, with projects, comments, and assignments. MeisterTask is visually similar to Trello, but supports a native integration to MindMeister for fast and easy mind mapping. Its integrations with Dropbox, GitHub, Zendesk, Box, Bitbucket, and Google Drive allow you to map tasks to one another and keep you from entering data in the same place twice.

Why MeisterTask?

The customizable dashboard is a big draw, as are its native integrations and linked tasks. However, the workflow automation features are only available on the premium plan.

Avaza

Key features

Avaza is a project management tool for client-focused teams. It puts emphasis on securely sharing project updates with clients, while giving employees full visibility over outstanding tasks and progress. Since it’s focused on client services businesses, it comes ready with invoicing, time-tracking, and expense management.

Why Avaza?

Avaza is a hybrid between a project management tool and accounts software. This makes it perfect for creating links between client work, tasks, projects, and invoices, and reducing the number of separate apps needed to get a single job done.

Free email marketing tools

An oft-quoted quip — presumably from a famous copywriter — is “I could lose my business tomorrow but as long as I had my email list, I’d be fine”. An engaged email list is one of the most valuable assets a marketing team can have, but you will need a reliable tool to store the list, send messages, and track engagement.

MailChimp

Key features

MailChimp is a fully-featured email marketing tool for everyone from solopreneurs and freelancers to SMBs and enterprises. It features free marketing automation, templates, reporting, and sign-up forms for 2,000 users and 12,000 monthly emails, for free.

Why MailChimp?

MailChimp offers automated email workflows for free, which is a rare feature amongst email providers. It is one of the most fully featured free platforms.

Revue

Key features

Assemble links, tweets, images, and quotes into a simple newsletter with Revue, a drag-and-drop email marketing / content curation tool. Add your site and social profiles as content sources, and then quickly make ‘best of’ roundup newsletters. This is a simpler way to create emails, although it is more limiting.

Why Revue?

It’s perfect for startups or small businesses planning to expand their email marketing newsletters in the future. It can import subscribers from a plain text list, or capture up to 50 leads on your website with the free plan.

Free team communication tools

A customer’s email inbox might be the ideal place to engage your audience, but when it comes to internal emails, there’s a better way. Over the past few years, a remarkable number of teams have chosen to kill internal emails in favor of chat tools with cloud features. Here are three stand-outs:

Slack

Key features

Slack is the original email killer — a cloud-based team chat tool with exceptional search and document sharing features. Add policy documents to channels, create group chats, and keep important information to hand. Slack works great for real-time conversations and as an asynchronous communication tool. Like email, but better.

Why Slack?

Slack was the first success of its sort, so it has left a big impact in the industry. Many, many Slack apps exist so it’s likely you can both add new features to Slack and integrate your favorite business tools natively.

Ryver

Key features

Ryver‘s core product — a Slack-style team app — is completely free. It features a powerful search, private groups, public channels, and integrations with 1,000+ apps through Zapier.

Why Ryver?

As a Slack competitor, Ryver’s free version does everything Slack does without charging $8/user/month. However, it is a newer product so doesn’t have as many native apps, which can make integrations limiting.

Samepage

Key features

Samepage offers real-time document collaboration (which can occur on the same screen as a video chat), diagram creation, code snippet sharing, team chat, and more. Its free plan limitations effect chat history, team member count, and storage space.

Why Samepage?

Samepage is the top-rated team collaboration tool on GetApp. The main design of Samepage is aimed at teams that want to literally get their team on the same page, and stop them from switching between email, video conferencing, calendars, chat, and spreadsheets. Samepage does it all, improving team productivity.

Free accounting software

Banish those messy spreadsheets and towering stacks of invoices with these free accounting software options. There’s no need to manage reams of paper and total up receipts on a recurring basis, just hand the job over to software.

ZipBooks

Key features

Generate custom invoices and quotes, handle your tax calculations automatically, and track your income and expenses with ZipBooks‘ free plan. ZipBooks lets you accept payment over PayPal or credit card, making it equally suited for freelancers and larger businesses.

Why ZipBooks?

ZipBooks is a beautifully simple app in an industry that has long been in need of the same focus on usability that comes with something like a CRM or email tool. For a fresh, simple feel and a product that scales with your business size, ZipBooks is the one to go for.

Wave

Key features

Wave isn’t just an accounting tool. Its services cover payment processing and payroll as paid add-ons in case you need these systems to stay compliant in your state or country. Wave offers reporting, income and expense tracking, tax calculations and invoicing — all for free.

Why Wave?

Unlike ZipBooks, Wave is completely free for accounting services. It makes its money with payroll and payment processing add-ons, which is great if you need that too.

Pandle

Key features

Pandle was created for UK-based small businesses, so unlike Zipbooks and Wave, it complies with UK-specific laws and regulations. It features invoicing, VAT management, banking, and comes equipped with a full suite of accounting tools.

Why Pandle?

Businesses that need to obey UK tax laws should go with Pandle to ensure compliance.

Free payroll tools

Manage your company payroll, benefits, and tax compliance with these two free tools. Since different countries have different compliance laws, I have included options for both the U.S. and the U.K.

Payroll4Free

Key features

For U.S-based businesses that pay under 25 employees, Payroll4Free is completely free of charge. It lets you pay employees and contractors, set up tax calculations and forms, track vacation time, and let you generate detailed reports.

Why Payroll4Free?

Small businesses in the U.S. with fewer than 25 employees get payroll managed for them, absolutely free, with this tool.

HMRC’s Basic PAYE Tools

Key features

This tool for U.K businesses from HMRC allows users to execute the majority of payroll tasks, including tax calculations and National Insurance. Its features include sending Employer Paymeny Summaries (EPS), Earlier Year Updates (EYU) and National Insurance Number checks.

Why PAYE Tools?

HMRC’s PAYE tools are specifically for U.K businesses, so in order to comply with national regulations this software (or a paid equivalent) will be necessary.

Free cloud storage

Without cloud storage, businesses will be passing files around on USB sticks and emailing soon-to-be-out of date files manually. Cut out these slow, unreliable systems by having all of your business’ files available on cloud storage with managed permissions, real-time collaboration, and versioning.

Google Drive

Key features

If you rely on G Suite as an alternative to Microsoft Office, Drive is the smart choice beacuse it seamlessly integrates with these other products. Everything both uploaded from an external source and created with G Suite is indexed and searchable from the same toolbar, making it easy to always find what you need. For free users, Google Drive offers 10GB of space.

Why Google Drive?

Google Drive offers 8GB more storage on the free plan than Dropbox, and integrates directly with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Dropbox

Key features

On the free plan, Dropbox features shared links and folders, comments, document scanning, and the ability for users to access their files on any internet-connected device.

Why Dropbox?

Dropbox offers significantly (4x) less storage for free, but does integrate with Dropbox Paper free of charge. Store your collaborative documents in one, easy-to-use place.

pCloud

Key features

While pCloud isn’t as well-suited to business use on the free plan as the other two on this list, it does come with a sizable amount of storage for free. It features search, filter, shared folders, member permissions and automatic synchronization between your connected devices and cloud storage.

Why pCloud?

There might not be a compelling reason to choose pCloud for general business use, but the 20GB of free storage is very appealing for personal or short-term use — and 2x that of Google Drive.

Free CRMs

Considering the fact that your CRM will be where your sales team spends most of its time, you want to be sure you get a good one. The three options below all offer a free plan, but each has its own limitations — especially with regard to the amount of users and leads. Consider carefully.

Agile CRM

Key features

This Zapier-integrated CRM offers sales, marketing automation, and support. But, even without the full feature set on the free plan, it’s still a powerful sales CRM. Agile has space for 50,000 contacts and companies, lead scoring, custom fields, appointment scheduling, tasks, and — while it’s everything you’d expect from a CRM, it’s free.

Why Agile CRM?

Agile CRM offers a remarkable amount of features and flexibility on its free plan, and offers a wide range of integrations.

HubSpot

Key features

Teams of any size can manage up to 1,000,000 leads with this free sales CRM from HubSpot. Automatically log sales activity, get a visual representation of your sales pipeline, and get deep insights into contact profiles.

Why HubSpot?

If you’re planning on expanding your business with the help of more HubSpot tools in the future, it’d be useful to start with their free CRM to easily migrate data between their other tools.

Capsule

Key features

Manage relationships with contacts, leads, customers, and vendors with Capsule. This online CRM pulls everything you know about a company or contact into one place, and gives easy access to everyone who needs it. Sales, marketing and customer success teams can easily see what their team has been doing, centralizing data and avoiding double-emailing or manual checks.

Why Capsule?

For a small business’ needs, Capsule offers 2 users, 250 contacts, and unlimited opportunities and cases for free. This is great for small agencies with a high-touch outreach approach.

Free database management tools

Take a step up from Google Sheets or Excel by moving your data over to a real database. In the past, databases have been the reserve of the IT team, but with tools like Airtable and Fieldbook, non-technical teams can easily get the power of relational databases to create their own tools and systems (like we did for our content asset tracking, as explained here).

Airtable

Key features

There’s no clean way to pigeonhole Airtable. It is technically a database, but can be used for data visualization, project management, task management, calendars, and planning. All of these tasks work better in Airtable if you store your data (customers, email subscribers, financial metrics) there, because any tasks, projects or events can be linked to assets.

Why Airtable?

Airtable is a fully-fledged relational database that is even easier to use than a spreadsheet. Its clear UI and blocks feature make it one of the most powerful business tools that can still retain simplicity and usability.

Fieldbook

Key features

This lightweight relational database tool combines the ease of a spreadsheet with powerful database features, like advanced filters, formulas, integrations, and custom views. With Fieldbook, you can “roll your own” solutions for CRM, inventory management, and scheduling alternatives.

Why Fieldbook?

Spreadsheet veterans will feel at home with Fieldbook, which was designed specifically to make the transition easy.

Free software development tools

Whether or not you’re a software company, if you want to do website work in house or develop internal software, you’ll need the right tools. Here, we look at tools to write, version control, and deploy your code in the cloud.

Brackets

Key features

Brackets is a free web development tool from Adobe that lets you instantly preview and test in a browser window — without going through the hours of setup that might come with XAMPP or your own servers.

Why Brackets?

Brackets is awesome for web developers, but limiting for other applications. It features inline CSS editing, live preview, autocomplete, and custom themes.

Heroku

Key features

Heroku provides fully managed runtime environments for your applications, so you can deploy your apps to the cloud and get them online without messing around with your own servers. Backed by the reliability of Salesforce’s Fort Knox-esque architecture, you can be sure your apps are running smoothly.

Why Heroku?

There’s no faster way to get an app up and running in the cloud. The Heroku toolbelt command line tool is as easy for developers to use as git.

GitHub

Key features

GitHub helps software developers collaborate over code without getting in each other’s way. Before code is run on the live server, it can be reviewed and version-controlled to make sure your software is always running with as few bugs as possible.

Why GitHub?

GitHub’s major competitor is Bitbucket, an Atlassian product that has deep integrations with JIRA, Confluence, and Trello. For up to 10 users, Bitbucket is cheaper. When you hit 10+, it’s more expensive but may work out as cheaper for large enterprises. Also, if your company is looking to spark interest in the open source community, there’s no bigger audience than GitHub’s.

Which free tools do you use in your business? Have you found any more worthy replacements for the big, expensive alternatives? Let me know in the comments.

53 Essential Business Metrics You Need to Be Tracking in 2018

business metrics

It’s impossible to run a successful business without taking the time to track your core business metrics.

If you don’t, then good luck knowing:

  • How much pure profit you’re earning
  • Where costs can be cut
  • Whether you’re selling enough
  • How much debt you have
  • Whether you’ll be bankrupt next quarter

Having said that, where do you start? There are so many metrics you could be tracking that it’s easy to get stuck tracking and recording everything rather than analyzing and acting on your data.

That’s why I’ve collected 53 core business metrics right here to get you started. Stop wasting time wondering what to track or flicking between 20 different posts going over five stats each – every metric here comes with a brief description and formula or method for easily tracking it.

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What is a Business Process Consultant? (And How To Find a Good One)

business process consultant

What do you do if you don’t have the time or know-how to document and improve your processes?

You hire a business process consultant of course!

While we’ve talked endlessly in the past about why processes are important and how to manage your own, hiring a business process consultant lets you reap all the benefits without having to spend an age assessing your organization and talking to every last employee involved.

So, if you want to organize your processes and bring efficiency to your business but don’t have time to do it yourself, read on!

process consultant hired
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17 BPM Statistics to Help You Increase Efficiency in Your Business

increase efficiency - header

Business process management (BPM for short) gets a bad wrap. Some consider it industry jargon, others an ineffective management “hack”, and almost all see it as boring.

However, there is no better way to increase efficiency and consistency in your business than by managing your processes effectively. To prove it, this post will dive into 17 BPM statistics to show:

  • The growing trend of using BPM software
  • How common (and important) documented processes are
  • The importance and benefits of processes
  • The dangers of not managing processes
  • Why everyone in your company needs to be involved with your processes

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Inside the Recruitment Processes of 3 Tech Giants (and How to Improve Yours!)

recruitment process google facebook spacex headerOne of the key strengths of top companies is the employees inside them.

Who they hire and how they hire them helps determine employee attainment, employee satisfaction, employee accountability, and employee turnover.

Small changes to recruiting processes can have a surprisingly large impact on the day to day life of a company. According to the Glassdoor Economic Research (2015) report, a 10% harder interview process is associated with a 2.6% higher employee satisfaction later on.

Loads of our clients use Process Street for managing their recruitment processes and we know all too well how important it is to get that process right.

That’s why we’re going to explore how 3 top tech giants manage their recruitment and see what gold standard techniques we can pass on to you. We’ll explore:

  • The three stage process Google use to make new hires
  • How Facebook hire Builders not just regular folk
  • What SpaceX do to hire the best of the best

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12 HR Management Tips to Run an Effective Business (and Prevent Total Chaos)

hr management tips - header

Effective human resources management prevents company-wide anarchy.

From solving internal disputes, to presenting a united front to customers, to just plain abiding by the law, HR is a vital discipline which is all too often generalized and pushed out of mind.

That’s why today I’ll be going through 12 HR management tips to help you keep your employees engaged and your company running smoothly. From the utter basics such as being open to hearing feedback on techniques like using social media to grow your network, keep reading to learn everything you need to know to avoid being another Michael Scott.

hr management tips - best boss gif
Source

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Xero vs QuickBooks vs FreshBooks: The Best Accounting Software (with Monty Python)

xero vs quickbooks vs freshbooks best accounting software - header

Accounting is a time-consuming, complex, frustrating, and criminally boring part of running a business.

It’s precisely this kind of tedium which inspired Monty Python to riff on the profession several times, with accountants getting so frustrated that they do everything from becoming pirates (sailing the wide accountancy in a moving building) to try to switch to lion taming.

xero vs quickbooks vs freshbooks best accounting software - python gif

However, accounting and bookkeeping is also a vital part of running a business if you want to abide by the law and track your finances. No matter how tedious it might seem it’s vital to know what money is coming in, where it’s being spent, and whether you’re earning a net profit come the end of the financial year.
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The Best Payment Platforms: Stripe vs Paypal vs Square vs Braintree

stripe_vs_paypal_vs_square_vs_braintree best payment platformIn the first quarter of 2017, the AppStore and Playstore saw record revenues yet again with a whopping total of $15 billion worldwide, representing a year over year growth of 45%.

Add in other online sales and the amount of money being spent is astronomical.

But how do we process all these sales? And what means of processing is best for your company?

We’ve pondered the question at Process Street and decided to write up our findings. In this article, we’ll compare Stripe, Paypal, Square, and Braintree to see what each do and how they do it. We’ll analyze those findings and suggest which might be better for different kinds of businesses.

The key areas we’ll compare are:

  • Features – what do they offer and what can’t they do?
  • Pricing – where can we find those small gains which make a difference at scale?
  • Ease of use – can a regular person integrate it into their business, or is a developer needed?

But first, let’s look at some of the different use cases for these payment platforms to contextualize our investigation.

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14 Law Office Management Tips to Run an Effective (and Legal) Business

law office management - header

Law office management is one hell of a tightrope to walk.

On one hand, you’ve got the usual duties of managing a team and dealing with clients. On the other, you have the added pressure of a single mistake changing “business as usual” into a $50 million malpractice lawsuit.

law office management - suits gif

Now, I won’t claim to have expertise in any legal fields, but what I can do is trawl through hours of research to bring you the best law office management tips on offer.

In this post I’ll cover:

  • Document storage methods
  • Using cloud software (whether it’s appropriate, the benefits, and the risks)
  • Onboarding employees
  • How you can delegate work
  • Onboarding clients
  • How to arrange and conduct effective meetings with clients and employees
  • Security management methods
  • And more…

Read on to find out how you can improve your law practice in terms of efficiency, security, and productivity.
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