From flexibility to rising pay, independent skilled professionals have much to gain from businesses’ increasing reliance on virtual assistance. By FINSYNC The internet, automation and other technological innovations are reshaping the global economy, causing no shortage of displacement for companies and their employees. But through this wave of change, one thing is clear: companies have a need for a growing variety of highly skilled workers, and they're increasingly turning to virtual assistance — hiring independent contractors who work remotely. For independent workers who can handle the typical trade-offs involved — namely, zero health benefits, no vacation or paid sick days — there is a growing marketplace for employment that allows for work-life balance and flexibility, valuable benefits in their own right. Some 64% of freelance workers opt to work on a contract basis because it allows them to organize work around their life, according to a report from staff outsourcing company Kelly Services. Rolling with the Changes Employers are increasingly relying on virtual assistance as a way to hedge against an uncertain global economy that's being swiftly reshaped by massive technological changes. This strategy enables businesses to quickly bolster the effectiveness of their workforce without sharply increasing their labor costs or going through a lengthy employee search. The bottom line is contract workers cost less money, posing less of an overhead risk for companies. As industries adapt to the changes wrought by automation and other technological trends, their need for skilled workers in these and other emerging areas is growing — and showing no signs of slowing. Some 65% of executives say their external workforce of freelance hires is essential for operating at full capacity and meeting demand, according to a report by MBO Partners. Flexibility, Freedom & More Independent contractors who work remotely enjoy many benefits. Working on a freelance basis allows hires to set their own hours, enabling them to design their schedule to fit the demands of family life. They can also determine how long of a contract they want to sign. It could be one month or three, or for as long as it takes to complete a specific project. Independent contractors are also free to make it a one-off and move on to some other opportunity. Virtual assistance is being embraced by many companies, who are using freelancers to fill in for permanent employees or to bolster their ranks when tackling big projects. Increasingly, freelance workers are also being hired to do jobs remotely as companies rely more on cloud-storage services, email and online communications platforms like Slack that allow workers to collaborate in real time, regardless of how much distance separates them. That helps reduce the company's cost for leasing office space, computers, furniture and other expenses. Freelancers, meanwhile, get the freedom to live anywhere they choose, giving them more control over how much they spend on housing, food and other costs. One key advantage of working remotely as an independent professional is being spared a daily commute to the office. On average, Americans spend 26.4 minutes commuting each way to work, according to the U.S. Census' 2017 American Community Survey. Working from home also means a lot less wear and tear on cars and clothing. Another big draw to freelance work: The pay is getting better. Roughly 18% of U.S. freelancers earned between $75,000 and $99,999 annually last year, up from 9% in 2014, according to a report from Upwork. And some 10% earned $100,000 to $149,000, up from 5% in 2014. Being an independent contractor can also provide more opportunity for workers to expand their skills by enabling them to work around the time they need to take university courses or certification programs. Greater Access Through Technology The advent of high-speed internet, cloud computing and online collaboration platforms have helped pave the way for virtual assistance in recent years. More Americans are getting in on the action, taking on work as remote, independent workers. Some 56.7 million Americans, or more than a third of all U.S. employees, freelanced in 2018, according to a study commissioned by Upwork and the Freelancers Union. That's a 7% increase from 2014. A surge in companies operating websites and apps geared to connecting freelance workers with employers is making it easier for contract workers to find jobs. Among these are Upwork, Freelancer, and Zirtual, among others. FINSYNC's virtual community of specialists connects businesses with independent skilled professionals who provide unrivaled support for bookkeeping, accounting, human capital management, financial analysis and corporate strategy. Finding clients through a network like FINSYNC makes it easy for skilled professionals to connect with high-quality employers, saving significant time and outreach efforts to land valuable jobs. The best part? It’s free for both parties to join the network and see if they find the right fit.
Travis Peters shares how a long career in manufacturing administration and a knack for organizing systems (and cattle) led to a small business journey that has been quite a ride. By FINSYNC The longer you work in an industry, the more you notice the problems it faces and start to build potential solutions. Work in a space long enough, and you could end up with a lot of solutions. The longer you work with cattle, the more proficient you become at moving groups in a single direction. In his spare time, Travis sharpens his skills as he works cattle with his family in Northeast Texas. After wrangling a herd of cattle all weekend, reigning in administrative processes seems like a breeze. That’s where Travis Peters found himself when he started Impelos, a provider of back office software solutions for manufacturing companies, an industry for which he had developed profitability solutions over a period of years. When Travis and Impelos needed to improve their own administrative processes for finances and invoicing, they turned to FINSYNC. We sat down with Travis to talk about how his journey began and continues to grow today. What inspired you to start Impelos? There’s a significant need in the American manufacturing industry for optimized processes in the administrative workspace. Having previously done this throughout my career, it’s been a thrill for me to be able to remove processes through lean thinking. I use lean thinking to design software, as a contractor and as an employee. Over the years, I’ve developed a suite of productivity tools that relate specifically to manufacturers. My goal with this business has been to bring those tools to a broader market. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced running a small business? Cash flow has been a big one. Being able to run the business without debt, manage our investments into the business, and ensure that clients are paying and contractors and vendors are getting paid in a straightforward fashion has been the biggest challenge. Another challenge is from a sales perspective. Bringing a potential client into the fold to use our product takes a long time. It can be challenging to convey to a client that’s building 30 to 40 custom units a day how our software can freeze administrative overhead where it is today while expanding capacity by 300 to 400%. Managing our team is also really important. We have employees and contractors, and we use FINSYNC to manage payments for both, as well as all of their related financial needs. What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned growing your business? Every business I go into is different. They each have their own market niche and competitive advantage. That inevitably leads to a different solution as they produce and market their product, fulfill orders and deal with their vendors. That’s been a fun part — discovering how companies choose to differentiate themselves. As far as running a business for myself, using a method called “profit first,” I’ve found it’s pretty lightweight to manage the financial operations for this business. That’s been a really fun journey for me to be able to make sure that as revenue comes in, the money is allocated appropriately ahead of time, so I don’t find myself in a bind later. What prompted you to start using FINSYNC? We had tried Quickbooks and several other solutions, and they all prevented us from getting visibility into where our cash pain points were going to be. Early on in the business we often found ourselves running out of cash unexpectedly. Whether something someone had purchased on a credit card wasn’t foreseen, or a client payable wasn’t paid on time and we didn’t anticipate that, these situations became a problem. Working with FINSYNC we were able to get a lot of visibility to anticipate the crunches and prepare for those situations. How has FINSYNC helped you overcome your challenges? With the cash flow tools that allow us to see where our financial trends are, we’ve been able to look forward and see where potential problems might arise. This allows us to plan accordingly rather than having sudden surprises. Any advice for small business startups out there? Strongly consider the profit first method to ensure your most valuable employee gets paid. That’s you, the entrepreneur. You can’t do that without good financial planning. FINSYNC helps with that.
By FINSYNC Sometimes it's the small changes that can make the biggest difference. For small and mid-size businesses, this often plays out in how you handle one of the most important tasks of managing a company: the hiring process. Let's be honest, finding a person who is not only qualified but also the best fit for your company's needs and culture — and who is eager to accept the position at a compensation level that you both find agreeable — is not easy. Far from it. Much of the stress and difficulty in this process stems from the high stakes that come with mounting a search to fill a full-time, permanent position. The last thing a business owner wants is to go through the considerable cost and time investment involved in hiring someone and have the process end with an ill-fitting hire. Fortunately, there is a more efficient alternative. Much of the risk and potential for missteps that can occur during a traditional hiring process are minimized or rendered moot through the use of virtual assistance. This growing trend benefits businesses in ways that really matter, namely by preserving your bottom line and saving you time. Virtual assistance involves relying on skilled professionals who work remotely and, typically, on a freelance basis. This strategy enables businesses to quickly bolster the effectiveness of their workforce without sharply increasing their labor costs or going through a lengthy employee search. Advances in technology are transforming how people communicate and collaborate on projects. Working with an employee who is in a different location is now a seamless and cost-effective option. One of the great benefits of virtual assistance is that the most qualified person for the job could be in another time zone, another country or across town and it doesn't matter. Hire Effortlessly Going through the traditional hiring process to fill a full-time, in-house job is the opposite of easy, especially for small businesses. In a survey by Wasp Barcode Technologies of more than 1,100 small U.S. businesses, half said hiring new employees was their biggest challenge. Among the reasons, smaller companies tend to have limited human resources staff and also less time to engage in a lengthy candidate search. Finding a qualified employee through the use of virtual assistance has become easier in recent years amid an explosion of online companies that connect freelance workers with employers. These include Upwork, Freelancer and Zirtual, among others. Sites like Upwork are set up so that workers compete to bid on available jobs, often by agreeing to do the job for less pay or in less time than other applicants. Some platforms also incorporate tools for employers to keep tabs on the progress the independent worker is making on their assigned task, tying pay to project milestones. FINSYNC's virtual community of specialists provides businesses with unrivaled support for bookkeeping, accounting, human capital management, financial analysis and corporate strategy. Businesses can maximize their resources and support growth by tapping into this growing pool of virtual support professionals. Save Money Perhaps the biggest benefit that virtual assistance offers businesses is big savings relative to the cost of a traditional hire. Virtual assistance enables employers to call in extra help without having to find space in their budget to add another full-time employee. And because they work remotely, that helps reduce the company's cost for leasing office space, computers, furniture and other expenses. The cadre of online portals used to connect virtual assistants and employers are a less expensive method to finding a new hire than the traditional path, which often involves spending money on recruitment and training. In addition, not having to pay for health insurance coverage, paid vacation days and other benefits that companies typically offer full-time hires is probably the biggest source of savings that companies reap from relying on virtual assistance. Benefits alone account for more than 31.4% of the average full-time employee's total compensation, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department. Boost Capacity When It's Needed the Most One of the unique benefits of using virtual assistance is the flexibility it offers businesses. Are you scrambling to finish a last-minute project in an area where your current workforce isn't so strong? Virtual assistance enables businesses to quickly increase their workforce with skilled professionals who can provide the support needed to deliver the job. Once the project is over, you no longer need to hang on to the extra help. It's all about getting the help you need, and only as long as you need it. Many companies are going beyond one-off projects and relying upon virtual assistance to permanently fill gaps in their workforce. Some 65% of executives say their external workforce is essential for operating at full capacity and meeting demand, according to a report by MBO Partners. Optimize Company Finances Sometimes a skilled outsider's viewpoint can help businesses see where their financial management is lacking. Having discipline and objectivity about finances can be a challenge for small business owners who may have taken on a job ordinarily handled by an accountant or bookkeeper. That approach opens the door to problems once the company begins to grow and its finances become more complex. Tight hiring budgets may persuade small business owners to handle bookkeeping and similar tasks on their own, but a far better option is to use virtual assistance. Enlisting a virtual bookkeeper or virtual accountant to handle bill payments, invoicing and other transactions frees managers to focus on other areas of their business. And isn't that when business owners do their best work? Tap into FINSYNC’s virtual assistance network to be matched with a skilled financial professional that’s best suited to help your business grow.
Finding the balance between creativity and commerce is one of Galen Dalrymple’s biggest jobs at Polymath, a creative agency with a focus on nonprofits where he works with his son. By FINSYNC From decades working in business management at big tech companies to a stint as a pastor leading a church in Northern California, Galen Dalrymple’s path to Polymath has been a long and winding road. As a full-service creative agency, Polymath provides digital marketing, video, content and branding services to amplify the story and strategy of nonprofits and other businesses. Galen is the COO at Polymath, where he’s in the unique position of working with his son, founder Tim Dalrymple. The yin to his son’s yang, the left brain to his son’s right, Galen talked to us about the importance of balancing art and commerce when running a small business anchored in creativity — and how FINSYNC has helped Polymath master project cost accounting. What makes Polymath different than other creative agencies out there? We work with a lot of nonprofits, which is also one of our challenges. We love to work with organizations that are doing morally significant work in the world. They have a cause and it's a good cause and they believe in it. They need to tell their stories, and we think of ourselves as their storytellers. We work hard to give them a really great product on margins that can get pretty thin at times just because we believe in what they're doing. It’s fulfilling work, and you feel like you're making a difference and helping them make a difference, but it creates some unique challenges for us. We have to watch our nickels and dimes. What do you like best about working for a small business? Getting to know the people so well, not just the employees and the contractors but the clients. The depth of the interpersonal relationship in a small business is just really fulfilling. It’s knowing the clients, knowing the people that I work with really well, and we have a great time together. I've worked in companies of several thousand people and managed budgets for a 55 million dollar department and sometimes big businesses can seem to be nameless and faceless places. We're more like a family, really, and not a corporation or a business. What’s the biggest challenge of running a creative agency? Creatives generally don't think in terms of dollars and cents. They think in terms of beauty and aesthetics and enhanced functionality. And they want to design and deliver the most elegant thing that they can think of in their creative brains. Getting them to think about profits isn't easy. It’s the nature of creatives to take whatever time it requires to produce an exquisite product, and I appreciate that about them — wanting to give clients the very best thing we can, and we try to do that. But when you can show them in terms of hours and dollars how it affects the project and company overall, and by extension their own wallet, it helps them to see that there’s a happy middle ground somewhere that you have to hit. As a small business, has Polymath faced any other challenges? We're small in terms of personnel and revenue, but small businesses face the same kind of financial decision-making challenges as the big companies do. We’ve got a smaller margin for error. A really bad decision can sink a small company faster than a bad decision can sink a big one. We were using various tools and none of them talked to each other. We were using QuickBooks Online for our receivables. Later, we added the payables part to it, but it wasn't connected to payroll, nor was it connected to time tracking, nor to our project management data in Excel for project cost accounting. Our time tracking vendor didn't connect to QuickBooks. We couldn't really have a project cost accounting solution other than Excel spreadsheets, so I was spending a lot of time trying to get the data we needed from one tool and then patch summary information to other tools and make sense out of it all. It was very costly and very burdensome. What made Polymath start using FINSYNC? I knew we had to have a better sense of where we stood as a company. FINSYNC pulls all the data together so I can make sense out of things. It was the only platform we found that did everything we wanted. QuickBooks can do payables, payroll, receivables, and general ledger kind of stuff, but the project cost accounting was virtually non-existent and time tracking didn't exist at that point either. Our accountant was a certified QuickBooks professional, but he couldn't figure out how to use QuickBooks to get what we wanted. The only platform that really seemed like it did project cost accounting well in a way that made sense to me was FINSYNC. How has FINSYNC helped Polymath with project cost accounting? Everything we do is pretty much on a project basis. By having the time tracking built into FINSYNC that automatically updates costs and projects, and being able to track expenses, I can go in at a moment's notice on any project and see what our budget for the project was. I can see how much we spent in labor and how much we've spent in expenses and what it looks like our projection is going to be. And we use that historical data on future projects. Having all that information in FINSYNC, it's just a matter of running a report and you've got that information. We use that to price out future projects so that future projects are more profitable than past ones. Having the information in FINSYNC that we can pull out to make better decisions has the biggest impact on us in terms of cash flow. Any advice for small businesses out there? In small business, you still need to sweat the details. It might seem like a dollar or two here and there, and that might not seem like much, but it all adds up and small businesses don't have the capital reserves as a general rule to be frivolous. Getting the tools that will give you the instantaneous information that you need in a way that's easy to consume and understand is really important. I don't know how a small business can operate without actionable intelligence anymore. I don't know how any business can. Many times, it can be a tool that you don't have that can submarine your ship. Many small businesses don't have project cost accounting, and I don't know how they make decisions without it. At best, you're guessing.
Diane Bloodworth shares how her innate entrepreneurship, knack for data and passion for sports led her on a small business journey that was worth every twist and turn. By FINSYNC For Diane Bloodworth, entrepreneurship runs in the family. Even as a ten-year-old, this little girl from Flintstone, Georgia stepped up to the plate to help run her family’s grocery store, at one point even taking over for an entire season, but Diane always had her sights set on bigger things. After working her way up the corporate ladder, Diane decided she wanted to create her own path. It hasn’t always been the easiest road to navigate, but she landed right where she belongs: running her own business. Diane combined her technology and data expertise with her passion for football to found Competitive Sports Analysis, a platform to help college athletic coaches recruit the best possible talent. “It’s been a pretty long journey to get to this point, which makes it worthwhile, when things start to move and happen,” she explains. “It’s very rewarding, but it has been quite the journey.” Diane spoke with us about the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner, and how FINSYNC has made sure she’s always scoring touchdowns. What are some basic challenges you think emerging entrepreneurs face? I think anybody that starts a business is going to face challenges. That's just the nature of entrepreneurship. But you know, when you're going into a new or evolving market, I think you face challenges with timing. Is your target market ready for the type of capabilities that you can provide? I think a few years ago the answer was no. Now that's turning to yes. So, I think timing can be challenging. Do you have any advice for small business owners? You need to be very passionate about what you do, but you also have to be willing to pivot, because sometimes you start doing something and you're so determined, you don't realize that you might need to take a step back and tweak or change. You've got to keep a certain openness to improving the way you're doing things to really be successful. So I'm all about perseverance. I'm all about passion, but don't forget that you might need to pivot. What’s your favorite part of your job? When a coach says, “This is great, this helped me find a recruit that’s really going to work out.” Or when a recruit says, “Thank you, I’m going to have a better chance of playing at the next level.” That just makes my day. It makes it worthwhile. The whole recruiting system is just so broken and there are a lot of recruits that don't even get a look because their high school coach may not know the right college coaches or their parents don't know the recruiting process, which is not that unusual. A lot of these recruits are overlooked and don't have an opportunity. I grew up in a rural area and I think some of those kids get overlooked. How has FINSYNC helped you when it’s come to running your business? My least favorite thing to do is accounting and bookkeeping, to be honest with you. FINSYNC is awesome, and I also love being able to work with another startup company in Atlanta. I think it’s great when startups can support each other. I’ve used other systems and bookkeepers and all kinds of things, and when I hired a bookkeeper it was kind of costly and then she had to ask me everything anyway because I knew the business. FINSYNC allows the person who knows the business to go in and work through these entries very easily. How has FINSYNC helped with efficiency? They’ve made my business more efficient. They’ve made my time more efficient. Accounting and bookkeeping is something that’s very important to the business, but I don’t like spending a lot of time on it. So it’s helped make my time, and therefore the business, more efficient. They really have just made my accounting and bookkeeping life so much easier, especially with payroll. I have a lot of hourly interns on payroll right now, so it just makes my life so much easier. I’m not an accounting person, and I find the system really easy to use. I'm very grateful for them.
Spotlight on Small Business Owners: Andy Rostad, Media Beyond Andy Rostad and Media Beyond are on a mission to blend strategy and design to create powerful content for their clients. By FINSYNC After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Andy worked for nearly a decade on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Harpo Productions. He now uses that experience as the Executive Producer and Audio-Visual Alchemist at Media Beyond to help his clients tell a compelling story that fits their content strategy. What inspired you to start Media Beyond? My partners and I worked at the Oprah Winfrey Show and when she decided to sunset the program we had visions of becoming the next great television content creators and quickly realized that there was a greater opportunity to bring storytelling to business than there was to make more reality TV. The biggest part of the journey for us has been taking the skills and talents that we have and translating them to a value proposition that business people understand. It goes from how can I elicit emotion for an audience to how can I elicit action for a consumer. Along the way you've got to figure out how to pay your bills, do your taxes, track your accounts receivable, accounts payable, prospecting, project management and all the other stuff that when you're part of a big enterprise, you don't necessarily have to get your hands dirty with. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a start-up? Coming into the marketplace and not realizing that not everybody knew the things that we knew. It's like being experts in our field but always being surrounded by senior executives. It was difficult to appreciate the fact that we would be pitching services or ideas that couldn't easily be understood by people who weren't deep in the industry. The Dunning-Kruger effect is this idea that you assume that everybody knows what you know, so there were a lot of early missed opportunities to slow down and be more deliberate and more helpful in our messaging. The flip side of assuming that everybody knows what you know is trying so hard to prove that you know something special. I think in the early days a lot of companies make the mistake of trying to justify their existence instead of trying to be helpful. What's been the best part of starting a small business? The best part of having so much to do is getting to do so much. When you are contributing to a large enterprise, sometimes you just have to repeat the same function over and over again. While there's a certain pride one can take in being dependable and repeating the same task over and over again, we’ve enjoyed a variety of projects. Moving through many different roles, getting to bring to bear our fundamental acumen in creative problem solving and idea generation, and getting to apply that across lots of different media has been great. We’ve also had the opportunity to work with a range of clients, from gigantic companies to fellow startups. If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be? There is a lot of opportunity left on the table when trying to take something from maybe 80% to 90%. The amount of effort required to get an idea to perfection is infinite, right? So you can’t have a perfect anything. The closer you try to get to perfection, the greater the diminishment of the returns. There's a saying in the filmmaking community that movies don't get finished — they escape. Early on I think we could have been more effective for our clients by emphasizing speed to market and the idea of testing and iterating versus making something that is unimpeachably, uncritically perfect. That’s not to say that there's anything sloppy about what we do but there is something to be said for letting the marketplace determine what's good rather than one's own standards. Your audience will tell you what you're doing well. What prompted Media Beyond to start using FINSYNC? We were using QuickBooks because that's what our accountant had asked us to use, and I was looking for more cost-effective alternatives. FINSYNC had everything that I wanted at a much more attractive price point. Plus, they were much more responsive to inquiries, really friendly in the onboarding process and seemed much more concerned with our success and happiness than with just signing us up. The fact that there was a personalized onboarding process speaks directly to the difference between FINSYNC and the gigantic companies. Has FINSYNC helped Media Beyond overcome any specific challenges? The best one was I used to have 30 vendors, some of whom did not participate in our digital ACH wire transfer program, so they wanted paper checks. In order to create a paper check in my old software, I would have to buy special printable paper, line those up with our printer and send them through, and there would be misalignments and duplicate check numbers. It was just a nightmare. When I found FINSYNC, they said you can send somebody an email, and they can elect whether or not to get a paper check, and we'll handle that for you for a trivial cost. That saved me hours of headaches and let me focus on my business. That's just been the FINSYNC way. We don't have a ton of complex needs, but whatever I need, I can do quickly and get back to creating content. What are the biggest benefits Media Beyond has experienced using FINSYNC? One of the things that was really neat was being introduced to the idea of financing and getting a chance to participate in the early days of initiatives that they're testing. FINSYNC is always trying out new things, whether it's in-app access to bridge loans or inviting members to participate in a loyalty program. That chance to participate and see a company testing and trying new features and giving feedback that I know is considered is a real plus. It helps me think entrepreneurially to see what this innovative company is also doing. Also, being able to borrow against future invoices is great and painless. The idea of adding employees with FINSYNC and having to onboard new people doesn't cause me any concern. FINSYNC is really easy to use, so I know that if I all of a sudden have to add a new employee or train up a new administrator, it's not going to be a weeks or months-long process. It's going to be an hours and days process. If we added a slew of new employees, they would be able to enter and track their time, and we'd get everybody paid and taxed just as seamlessly as we do with our small team now. I know that there's room to grow and that it's easy.
Streamline Your Business Efforts with the ABCs of Efficiency Want to run your small business more efficiently? Follow these three simple steps to minimize your efforts and maximize your results. By FINSYNC Who doesn’t wish they could run their business more efficiently? Get more done in less time? And save money while you’re at it? Yes, please — said every small business owner in America. If only it was as easy as that. We’ve got some good news. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to see real results when it comes to running your business more efficiently. With just a few small changes, you can free up enough time to get back to those big-picture priorities that have been sitting on the back burner for way too long. Ready to start small? Try these three strategies for cutting down your administrative tasks and streamlining your operations. With a little effort, improving your efficiency can be as easy as A, B, C. Automate Your Back Office How much time do you spend on administrative tasks? How would your business benefit if you could use that time and mental energy to map out goals and plan for growth? We know what you’re thinking: Easier said than done. We’ve been there. Small business owners wear many hats, and are some of the most over extended folks out there. All the more reason to take some tasks off of your plate. Sophisticated online tools like FINSYNC can help you put your back office on autopilot. Start with your accounting. Once you sync up your finances online, they’ll be categorized automatically on a complete general ledger, which makes it simple to track expenses, reconcile your accounts and streamline your tax prep. How much time do you spend tracking down invoices? Wouldn’t it be easier if you could pay vendors or collect payments with a single click of a button? You can. Simply set up auto payments and recurring invoice schedules to save endless hours on these tedious administrative tasks. Simplifying your financial management can help you redirect your efforts into matters that need your immediate attention, from sales and customer service to celebrating a recent win with your team. Block out Interruptions According to the experts, interruptions at work are killing your productivity. Perhaps not too surprisingly, 71% of people reported frequent interruptions at work, while only 29% said they’re able to block out everything else while working. If only we could all be so skilled. While it’s not exactly realistic for small business owners to block out every interruption throughout the day, protecting your most productive hours can make a huge difference. When do you do your best work? Get the most done? Whether it’s 7 to 10 a.m. or 2 to 4 p.m., alert your team that this is now your “do not disturb” window. Use this protected time to tackle your most pressing tasks. You should know exactly what these priorities are in advance, so take a moment every day to consider your goals for the following workday. You’ll need to be disciplined about protecting that precious time, as will your employees, but you’ll be amazed how much you can get done without interruptions. To be truly productive, you’ll also have to protect your time from digital distractions that can pull you away from the task at hand. This is not the time to Google gift ideas for your significant other, or catch up on social media. Resist the temptation to go down these alluring rabbit holes so you can focus on what’s truly important to your business. Note that it may take a bit of practice to focus effectively in today’s digital landscape. Be disciplined about your efforts, and your uninterrupted focus will pay off. Consider the Basex survey that discovered that distractions cost companies in the U.S. $588 billion every year in lost productivity. Ouch. Consolidate Your Tools How many different applications do you toggle between throughout the day to run your small business? Do you need an app just to keep track of all your different passwords? Bouncing around from accounting software to a payroll app and yet another site to track your work hours isn’t exactly an efficient use of your time. Perhaps it’s time to get organized. Managing your small business finances from a single platform (with one password) is a streamlined way to operate. Synching up your small business finances also allows you to harness the power of your financial data to give you a complete picture of where your business has been — and where it’s going. Simplify your workflow with an easy-to-use all-in-one system that not only takes the drudgery out of day-to-day tasks, but also provides actionable insights that can help your small business grow and thrive. From smart online tools that can tackle your administrative tasks to protecting your most productive time, follow the ABCs of efficiency and you’ll be rewarded with dividends, with a capital D.
Spotlight on Small Business Owners: Erik Fogg, ProdPerfect ProdPerfect’s Erik Fogg talked with us about bike helmets, bookkeeping and the unique challenge of launching a startup that disrupts a long-established tech niche. By FINSYNC Erik Fogg is a startup veteran. A graduate of MIT. A published author. And one of the founders of ProdPerfect, a Boston-based startup that builds automated end-to-end quality assurance (QA) testing for web applications. Unlike the traditional QA process, ProdPerfect leverages live user data (rather than educated guesses) to determine what tests to write and maintain. And therein lies the disruption. Fresh out of MIT, Erik started his career fixing factories across North America as an operations consultant. From there, he was brought into HelmetHub, a helmet rental system for bike share programs. It was there that he met Dan Widing, who he hired to be HelmetHub’s lead software engineer. The two have been best friends ever since. Six years into their friendship, the duo traveled to Poland together. Erik had no idea what Dan was cooking up until somewhere between four and six vodkas in, Dan turned to Erik and said, “So, I have this idea.” And ProdPerfect was born. What inspired you to start ProdPerfect? We got started because we realized that in the world of web development and software development, there have been a lot of great advancements with data and analytics that have helped build products better, but quality assurance had been left behind. QA had always been this redheaded stepchild. Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “Let’s move fast and break stuff.” QA was always an afterthought. QA didn't have the resources it needed to be good at its job. And because it wasn’t good at its job, it wasn’t sexy. A lot of the advancements in technology that had been affecting other areas of web development could be applied to QA. What we want to do with ProdPerfect is bring data-driven decision making to quality assurance. How is ProdPerfect’s approach different than traditional QA testing? The biggest problem in quality assurance web applications is people don't know what to test. We’re taking the user traffic from the current application to tell you how your users are using your application. Let's test the things they're trying to do to make sure that those always work. And that's what ProdPerfect does. It takes the data from how people are using the application and writes tests that reflect it. So our customers are confident that whenever they ship code (make an update), they haven't broken something about their application that's important to their users. What’s the biggest challenge ProdPerfect has faced as a startup? The biggest challenge for us is that the product we've built is fundamentally disruptive. ProdPerfect is not a better mousetrap. We’re going to people who have spent the past 20 years doing things a certain way and telling them: You need to let go of having a feeling of control over what gets tested because machines using data are going to make better decisions than you. We’re asking them to take this big leap into the future, into the unknown, where they’re not personally in control anymore. A lot of people said nobody’s ever going to sign up for this because of the sales challenge. They were wrong, but it was hard. Has growing so fast been difficult? We had our first sale four months into the business with three people. It was this recurring revenue sale, and we very quickly had to get some sort of financial control over our business. We had to understand where we were spending our money. FINSYNC has helped us create a level of predictability around what we're spending and taking in, and what we're likely to spend and take in, so that we can make budget decisions in order to keep the pace that we've been keeping. That's been mission critical for us. I need to be able to report what our revenue looks like, and we need to be able to raise money on this. How does FINSYNC help you run ProdPerfect? FINSYNC helps with the centralization of everything. The platform can do everything I need as far as paying people and taking money in, and then it knows where all that money is and where it's gone. And I can print a report on it, which is great. We don't have anyone who's going to sit there with a spreadsheet and do that all day. There are only three of us, and two of us are trying to build a product. That’s one of the biggest challenges that FINSYNC has helped us solve. I don't have to do the work, and I don't have to hire someone. Everything is in one place and we're able to tack on FINSYNC's bookkeeping concierge. At the end of the month, I can go look at my books and know how we're doing with the budget. In fact, I can look week to week and know how we're doing with the budget. And I can make decisions on it with a short amount of time and a very tight level of data. Has ProdPerfect had trouble accessing capital? We ended up raising a substantial equity round, so we don't have cash flow issues right now. But knowing that we can get access to working capital from our future invoices through FINSYNC helps me sleep at night. We're in a SaaS business. And the SaaS curse is that you throw all this money at bringing on customers, you have this cost to acquire a customer, and then there's a time period for it to payoff. Because of that process there's normally a fundamental limit to how quickly you can work because of your working capital. With FINSYNC, we can get a credit line with an extremely competitive rate on our invoices. With the knowledge of our customer acquisition costs and a history of revenue generation, FINSYNC provides guidance into our future revenue, allowing us access to capital. The working capital crunch that limited growth — we just strategically eliminated that problem. That problem is gone. And it will never exist for us again. Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back? Yes. One thing that took us way too long to do was figure out what channels were bringing us the most customers. We spent a ton of money on customer acquisition channels that weren't working. And all I needed to do was spend four hours, which is a terrifying amount of time in a day. But it's a one-time four hours to step back and do the math. Let's see where these people are coming from, who's closing, and who's actually turning revenue for us. And we found that of the eight channels we were working at, six of them were a waste of time, two of them were great. It turns out we could do less work and get more out of it because we were smart and we made some fact-based decisions. Obviously FINSYNC financial control was a big part of being able to do that in four hours. Any advice for startups out there? When people with an idea ask me about how they should get started, I usually say get a better idea. Your consumer app is probably not going to work. If you want a start-up idea that's actually going to be a good use of your time, the idea needs to be a completely unique solution to a very expensive problem for a lot of people. So those are the three key things. You need to be the only one with it. People need to be willing to spend a lot of money. And there needs to be a lot of those people. And if you can do that, you've got a good startup idea. And then you should go build it. The other thing I learned is that a lot of people are going to give you advice, and it’s probably wrong. If someone listens to you for ten minutes and they say do this thing differently, they're probably wrong. If you have conviction that the way you're going to do something is going to work, stick with it. You're the startup founder. The whole point is that you're disrupting the things that normally work. If you just did the things that normally work you wouldn't have a startup. You would just have a regular small business. But if you want to go disrupt things, you're going to be breaking rules. If venture capitalists and other startup founders are uncomfortable with the rules that you're breaking, it means you may very well be doing something right. Erik Fogg, Founder of ProdPerfect
Spotlight on Small Business Owners: Shaun Lapacek, Rock N Wool Winery For Shaun Lapacek, there’s no greater feeling than working for yourself — as long as you’ve got the right tools to handle the bookkeeping. By FINSYNC When you have an innate love of something along with the drive to be your own boss, it seems like owning your own business is a no brainer. Just ask Shaun Lapacek. After becoming completely enamored with the wine country in Italy during a trip abroad, Shaun returned home and looked for any opportunity that would allow him to combine his passion with his natural abilities. “I’ve always had a nose for wine, and people seem to like what I’ve had to say about it,” he explains. So it’s no surprise that Shaun now owns 40 acres of vines and pines where he makes his very own varietals. What is surprising, however, is its location: Wisconsin. Shaun spoke with us about how Rock N Wool Winery came to exist, the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner, and how FINSYNC helps him be the boss he needs to be. How exactly did you end up making wine in Wisconsin? My parents bought a property in Poynett, Wisconsin, which is about 25 minutes north of Madison. They raised sheep here and the soil is incredibly rocky, so they called it Rock N Wool Acres. In early 2000 I asked my father if I could grow a couple rows of grapes to see how they worked and possibly open up a small wine shop. Well, neither one of us really knew what we were getting into. By the time we started planting we had a whole lot of money in the property. So we kept planting and we had about six acres of vines. All of a sudden we realized that we’d put two hundred thousand dollars in this and we were going to need more than just a little shop. We were going to have to get a winery going to start getting the money back. So that's kind of how we started. I mean, I love wine. I wanted to make wine. The next thing I know, I’m going to go belly up if I don’t start making a lot of wine and really take this seriously. So I bought the property about two years ago from my parents. What would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? I love waking up and just being me. There is no greater feeling. I don't go to a job. I wake up and I’m Shaun. I mean, there's nights I don't sleep, I have things to do and all that, but at the same time I’ve never had to go into a day of work. Knowing when my girls come home they run out here and they know it’s their winery. They’ll ask, “Are they drinking Papa’s wine?” It’s ownership of that and creating a dream. It’s something that’s very, very special, especially since I have two little girls. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a small business owner? Bookkeeping, accounting, payroll — those are the things that I absolutely hate. Looking at the whole payroll system, I have absolutely no concept of how to deal with it. I can do all of that stuff for myself, but when it comes to filing for other people, that's where I was kind of going crazy. The paperwork's the worst thing. Has FINSYNC helped you address some of these challenges? Oh my God, they've been fantastic. I had talked to Square originally and they want to nickel and dime you for everything. They wouldn't be flexible with me for what I needed. That's why I went to FINSYNC. FINSYNC was great. They were able to accommodate how people got paid, what taxes got taken out and it's very easy. They’ll send me reminders about running payroll and things like that. It's so nice to have that completely off my mind. It's a hat I don't have to wear. FINSYNC’s been great with this for me. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a small business owner? Wow. One, start keeping great files and bookkeeping right from the very beginning because they'll come back at some point. You can’t say, “Oh my God, I was so busy. I didn't keep this, I didn’t keep that.” When you start a business, go into a plan, get somebody who's going to work with you, who's going to be able to help you from day one. That’s as important as knowing what kind of wine I want to make, so all of that is taken care of. That is such a big deal because otherwise once things get going faster and faster, if you don't have a system in place, you just forget it and you're behind the eight ball. So you have to have your systems in place for accounting, payroll, all that, and that's really big. The other thing is, realize that you can't do everything yourself. You have to have people who can help you because you're not going to be able to grow if you try to do everything yourself. You can't focus on what matters. I always remember that if I'm not making wine, this place closes down. So I have to hand these things off to other people. We don't need me mowing the lawn. We don't need me doing payroll for four hours a week. We need me in the production area making wine. Would you say that FINSYNC has helped you focus on the more important aspects of your business? Oh my God, yeah. Payroll is a big deal as we're getting bigger. Even today I had a new person on payroll and on the clock. Having people being able to punch in and out, it’s something I don’t have to worry about and that’s just everything. FINSYNC really allows me to focus on what I want. Shaun Lapacek, Founder of Rock N Wool Winery
Responding to loan requests with a simple “yes” or “no” is an outdated way of doing business in this digital world where relationships are more important than ever. By FINSYNC The lending landscape has changed drastically over the past decade, and banks that don’t adjust to the changes sweeping the industry may be in for some real challenges. Traditional bank loans are no longer the only option for small businesses in America, as the growth of online lending has given business owners a new avenue to secure financing. The Rise of Online Lending Back in 2015, the SBA reported, “A new generation of online lenders is surfacing with the promise of an efficient, streamlined application process with quick turnaround times and higher approval rates.” The report went on to note that borrowers spend a mere 30 to 60 minutes on online loan applications, which can be funded in a matter of days, whereas the traditional loan application process takes an average of 26 hours and may not be processed for weeks or even months. More recently, a 2018 report on small business lending in the U.S. detailed how a handful of the largest small business lending platforms are filling a financing gap for small business owners. NDP Analytics, an economic research firm based in Washington, D.C., reported that five online lending platforms alone funded $10 billion in online loans from 2015 to 2017, which generated $37.7 billion in gross output, creating 358,911 jobs and $12.6 billion in U.S. wages. Needless to say, we’re far from business as usual in the banking world when it comes to small business lending. The Opportunity of Online Data Access to online financial data streamlines both the loan application and approval processes, benefitting both lenders and borrowers alike. However, there are many more benefits to unlock in this newly charted territory. What if access to a business’s financial data could open up a dialogue between lender and borrower in a way that elevated the interaction from a mere transaction to an ongoing relationship? Along with the ease and access that online banking offers, small businesses in America are looking for more out of their lender than a simple “approved” or “rejected” response. Beyond “Yes” or “No” As we all know, a solid relationship is based on an ongoing dialogue rather than a communication dead end. What’s true in life is most certainly the case in banking. For far too long, the conversation between lenders and their clients has ended with, “No, I cannot help you with financing.” What if the conversation — and relationship — could continue, even when a bank opts not to finance the loan? The payoff, of course, is a long-term relationship and all of the future business that comes along with it. Banks and credit unions in FINSYNC’s Lending Network are given three options every time they receive a loan application to review:
- First, the member bank can assess the financial data provided by FINSYNC and opt to approve the loan for their own balance sheet.
- If the bank determines that the business isn’t quite ready for traditional bank financing, the lender can seamlessly share the application with another member lender that’s prepared to approve and fund the loan on behalf of the bank.
- If the bank determines that the business is not ready for financing at the present time, they can show the business how to get where they need to be. As part of FINSYNC’s cash flow management solution, the bank can communicate milestones and actionable steps that the applicant can take to qualify for financing in the future.