Yesterday (Thursday, May 10th), municipal leaders and innovators from the public, private and non-profit sectors gathered in Toronto to usher in Civic Hall Toronto. The newest member of the city’s civic innovation ecosystem, Civic Hall Toronto was borne out of a collaboration between the City of Toronto, the Centre for Social Innovation and the national nonprofit Code for Canada. Inspired by the success of similar initiatives in other cities, including Civic Hall New York and Paris’ Superpublic, the Hall’s mission is to help accelerate civic innovation projects by growing the commercial civic tech sector in the greater Toronto area. According to the Manager of Civic Hall Toronto’s Entrepreneurship Services, it’s “a unique opportunity for aspiring civic tech startups in Toronto to get their foot in the door, and their businesses off the ground.” You can find out more via Civic Hall Toronto’s website.
Time tracking is about making solid business decisions about deliverables, resource management, and the overall productivity of your staff. So while people really don’t like tracking their time, the improvements it can make to your business and processes make the hassle worthwhile. The five reasons time tracking is critical to your success in business are: time tracking shows how much deliverables cost your business to complete; it reveals how much effort has gone into a project; you can use time tracking data to see where your team can improve overall efficiency and productivity; it provides visibility to management to know when employees can take on additional work; and you can use time tracking data to strategically price work for your clients, or deliverables for your customers.
While you’re going to make mistakes when starting your own business, they don’t need to be fatal ones – especially since many of the mistakes that commonly take a business down are avoidable. Seven of those are: confusing management with leadership; waiting too long to seek next-round funding; seeking publicity before you’re ready; letting inventory get too low; waiting too long to hire; not letting go of the reins; and finally, lacking in agility. The author notes: “Most of these problems are caused by the founder getting trapped in fear that causes them to take too many risks or jump ahead before planning and preparing for growth.”
Getting your new business off the ground is difficult, and without building a solid foundation you risk being another new company or startup that doesn’t make it. So begin at the beginning with writing out your business ideas, which gets them out of your head and onto paper so you can flesh out a great idea and how you can profit from it. Start small: according to Inc., nearly 70% of small businesses start in the home. Along with keeping your day job, this allows you to save money and take your time, building out prototypes or drafting business plans to lay the foundation for your new venture. Finally, network with other entrepreneurs in your city; this community will support you and provide you with a talent pool when you’re ready.
Updating your business strategy requires preparation and a good understanding of how each innovation will impact your company as a whole. When preparing, the first step is to learn how your customers’ needs are evolving so you can determine what direction you should take your innovations, and the second is to get up to speed on relevant industry trends. Once you’re prepared, then you’re ready to renovate, applying these three tips (with a decided spring home renovation theme):
- Before wielding your sledgehammer, get a whole-house view: If you have a great idea for one department, for example, you have to consider how it will affect other departments, such as IT. This will help you identify the most practical renovation ideas.
- Renovations are fun, but don’t forget about routine maintenance: It’s best to strike a balance between developing new ideas and making sure your previous projects are still functioning properly.
- Consult the experts, but don’t hand over the house keys: Get advice from analysts who can give you data-driven insights for your innovations, but don’t let the size and complexity of data tempt you into leaving the decision-making to the experts. As a business leader, taking an active role in your company’s technical renovations just might separate you from your competition.
Regardless of the size and nature of your business, it’s important to make your invoice processing system a priority to ensure fast and easy client billing.
Five best practice tips for doing so are: automate your billing process with features such as recurring invoices; use dedicated billing software, where you integrate the billing tools you currently use into the software to unlock features that can simplify billing; optimize billing times to streamline the process and improve your cash flow; connect timesheets to invoices by integrating your invoicing process with employee timesheets to increase workplace productivity; and incorporate the right design in your invoice to not only reflect professionalism and brand image, but also to eliminate confusion and ambiguity from the payment process by clearly itemizing products or services rendered, terms of payment, the due date, the invoice number, and your contact details.
Judging by what’s being said at the tech company development conferences so far this year (notably by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address at the recent F8 developer conference), Big Tech is feeling the need to reassure both developers and consumers that they’re taking their responsibility for data integrity and consumer privacy seriously. According to a Washington Post report, like Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Sundar Pichai also plans to discuss corporate responsibility during his keynote address at its I/O developer conference today (Tuesday, May 8th) with the announcement of new controls in Android that will assist people and families better manage the time they spend on mobile devices.
Apple CEO Tim Cook may also touch on some of these themes at the company’s WWDC developer conference in early June. His keynote address may reference Apple’s green energy initiative, or he may again stress Apple’s focus on protecting the privacy of user data (and not monetizing the data as other Big Tech companies do). Apple has introduced some parental controls in iOS but, depending on Google’s announcement, it may feel pressured to announce more robust controls that keep people (especially kids) from abusing their iPhones.
Apple, Google and Facebook have all fallen from grace in the public’s eyes as far as trust is concerned over the past two years, as evidenced by a recent Harris poll.
The seven little-known productivity tools for business owners featured in this overview range from employee expense and time tracking to project management and web app aggregation. Two are free and others are well within the budget constraints of small businesses, and represent the work of startups the world over.
Here’s a brief summary of all seven:
Bento: a prepaid, debit-based employee expense card that can be managed from a mobile dashboard, giving business owners one-click control over where, when and how much their employees spend.
Scrumpy: a low-cost agile project management tool designed for teams that manage multiple projects with a backlog feature for each project, so ideas don’t get lost.
Bubble: a visual programming tool and deployment platform that lets you build and run a web app without technical resources. It handles the infrastructure so your app works at scale, and the price is right.
Station: a free tool that aggregates all the web apps used daily for work (e.g., Gmail, Slack, etc.) into one dashboard and docks them to left side of your screen so you can quickly switch between them.
Lever: a more expensive tool that starts at $350 per month, it manages the entire recruiting and hiring process and does some heavy lifting for nearly everything involved.
ClockShark: a modestly priced employee time-tracking app for a distributed field workforce that manages payroll and billing, as well as employee scheduling.
Pexels: now one of the largest photo communities in the world, this free stock photo website features high-quality photos available under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, allowing people to use them for personal or commercial purposes.
Once you’ve reached a level of success in building and growing your business, you’re likely ready to outsource some of the work. But how do you determine what work to contract out?
Although you’re an entrepreneur, you do have an hourly wage: the total weekly time commitment for your business divided by the amount of money your business generates in that time is a rough estimate. The figure derived is not only a dollar amount, but the value of an hour you spend on any given task – including tasks that can be done more cheaply and efficiently by specialists. Outsourcing these tasks will give you that much more time to devote to your business, which in turn will increase your “hourly wage” and allow you to shed even more tasks that consume your time.
As a new business owner looking for a loan, you’ll likely find your opportunities limited and the terms less than ideal, especially if your credit score is less than stellar. However, you can use the first smaller loan to position yourself to qualify for a larger, less expensive loan down the road by being the “ideal borrower”: making payments on time, keeping your average bank balance as high as you can, and monitoring your credit score.
The second step is to know when you’re ready to “graduate” into a better loan, or refinance your first. During this phase, it’s important you’re clear on what type of loan you hope to secure (in terms of how you want to lower your loan costs and make repayments more comfortable for your business), and that you work with the right lender. Finally, step three is really step one all over again – show financial discipline to remove barriers that future lenders might interpret as risk factors.