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Every modern business needs to automate these important processes

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) If you’re still handling the majority of your business functions and processes manually, you’re missing out on a chance to grow.

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Automate your biz

We’re living in an era of tremendous innovation. But not only are business technologies rapidly advancing, they’re also extremely cost effective. If you’re still handling the majority of your business functions and processes manually, you’re missing out on a chance to grow.

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There’s something to be said for performing tasks manually, but if you’re attempting to do everything on your own, you probably have an issue with control. You’re worried about what will happen when you step away and aren’t quite sure of how your business will respond. Well, here’s a news flash: The most successful small businesses in the world are automating many different key activities, including the following:

1. Employee Scheduling

“If you’re still scheduling your employees using pen and paper and then calling them individually or making them come into work to learn when they are working, you are living in the past and need to modernize your process,” ShiftPlanning clearly explains.

It may seem like a basic business process, but employee scheduling is extremely important for many companies.

You need to ensure you have the right number of people working at every hour of the day, as well as the right mixture of talent and personalities.

Thankfully, you don’t have to handle this responsibility on your own. You can streamline and automate the entire process with employee scheduling software.

2. Social Media

For small businesses, social media is a big priority. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest allow you to put your brand in front of thousands – even millions of people with the click of the button. But if you’re like most businesses, you don’t have the time or resources to spend 40-plus hours per week working with social media.

Don’t fret, though. Automation is possible in this area as well. In fact, social media automation is a swiftly growing industry that features dozens of reputable tools that can take your business to the top. Here’s a look at a handful of the top ones.

3. Human Relations

Most people don’t realize that you actually automate many different HR tasks with relative ease. While it’s still a good idea to have an HR person on staff (or at least someone who has experience in the area), HR software can reduce much of the burden associated with maintaining a full-blown HR department.

With HR software like Zenefits, Justworks, or Algentis, you can automate tasks like compliance, benefits, insurance, taxes, and payroll – all things that otherwise take up hours of your day. This also lets you move towards a paperless system, saving money and space.

4. Backup and Recovery

If your business has ever experienced data loss, you know how significant and detrimental it can be. However, you’re also aware of how time-consuming it is to manually backup files. It’s easy to forget, space is at a premium, and you aren’t even sure you’re doing it the right way.

This is where automated backup and recovery comes into play.

An automated solution handles the process without any need for manual intervention and ensures your data is waiting for you in the event of a disaster.

How does that sound?

What are you waiting for?

If you aren’t currently automating business processes like these, you’re well behind the curve. Whether you realize it or not, you have access to tremendous tools that allow you to streamline these responsibilities with relative ease.

Take advantage of these opportunities and actively work to push your business forward. It’s the businesses that automate that will excel in the future.

#AutomationNation

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Entrepreneur

How to stay focused and motivated when you work from home

(ENTREPRENEURSHIP) Do you find it impossible to stay on task when you work from home? Check out our tips for maintaining focus and motivation when working remotely.

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work from home

When you work from home, it is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you technically never have to get dressed. However, you also end up with every possible distraction at your fingertips. Staying focused can be difficult even if you’re Type A, which I certainly am not.

Although I’m no expert in time management, I’ve managed to hone my borderline ADD attention span into productivity with the following tactics.

1. Define your workspace

First things first, you need somewhere to get work done. While some people may be able to get everything done from bed, for others the temptation to nap the day away is far too tempting. Get yourself a desk, or turn a table into a temporary workspace. Just make sure if you have kids or family at home while you’re working, they understand the boundaries of your zone.

Setting up camp in the living room isn’t going to help you if the kids are using it as a play space, and hiding out in a guest bedroom won’t provide much privacy if you didn’t let anyone know that it’s now temporarily your cubicle. Consider making a do not disturb sign for the door, or using shelves to define boundaries in a room.

2. Create a schedule

Okay, I know it’s obvious, but making a schedule for yourself is the next step after setting up a workspace. Determine what needs to get done and when, and share this with your housemates, kids, or whoever else is around. It’s easier to stay focused if you clearly define when you’re working so any potential distractions known when to leave you alone and for how long.

3. Determine productivity

Are you more of a morning person or do you get everything done post afternoon nap? Figure out when your most productive time is and set your schedule accordingly.

You won’t get much done if you’re a night owl forcing yourself to slam out projects at 6AM. Of course, you can work outside of your productivity zone, but you may make yourself miserable in the process.

4. Remove distractions

Nothing is going to get done if your phone is blowing up with texts, your favorite TV show is on, and that fun quiz someone sent you on Facebook is up in one tab while your personal email is open in another. Set your phone to silent if you’re able, or at the very least, let your most frequent contacts know that you’re working.

If you’re like me and have very little self-control when it comes to browsing your favorite sites, you may consider installing a browser plug-in that limits how long you can spend on certain sites, or even temporarily block sites during certain times of the day.

5. Set a timer

Once you’ve created a schedule, widely shared it with your most distractible folks, and are ready to get down to business… there’s still distractions. You know you’re working on something for the next hour and half, but it’s dragging out forever and you can’t stop checking the clock to see if it’s break time yet.

Set a timer on your phone, computer, kitchen timer, or even your microwave. This way you can remain focused and have something externally alerting you when time’s up.

6. Reward system

It works for kids, it can work for you too. Setting up a reward system may help boost motivation, and can be as simple as “if I work for two hours solid on this project, I can watch one episode of this TV show.”

Give yourself a reasonable goal and incentive to complete that goal if the project itself isn’t inspiring internal motivation. I’m a fan of dessert based rewards, but you do you.

7. Go somewhere else

When all else fails, don’t work at home. If you’re able to, get out of the house and go to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space. Shame yourself into working by telling yourself everyone around you knows when you’re distracted. Or you know, find motivation by surrounding yourself with others who are being productive.

8. Power in numbers

Join a group of other freelancers or remote employees to create a support system. While this may open you up to more distractions, having others around who share the same struggle of remote work could help increase your productivity. Some people are more motivated when working independently in a group setting. Give it a try to find out if you’re part of that crew.

Ultimately, you know yourself and what distracts you.

Try to remove as many distractions as possible, and create a realistic schedule for yourself. No one will benefit from working eight hours straight without a break. Give yourself a chance to test out different techniques and figure out what works best for you.

You’re not a failure if setting up shop in the library ends up making you less productive. Just try another setting, or rearranging your home workspace. Ultimately, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success with a clear schedule, a clean workspace, and some sort of break/reward system. You can work out the other details as you go.

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Business Entrepreneur

Why CloudApp needs to be in your business toolkit

(EDITORIAL) CloudApp is simple yet powerful for any sized business, keeping your productivity at an all-time high.

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cloudapp

Are you fed up of screenshotting something and taking the time to drag it into a Slack window to share with an employee for them to ask you what you meant by this. Well, so was I. Working remotely occasionally has its blunders when it comes to communication, the struggles of explaining what you meant without the need to meet via a video call or jump over to another person’s desk can sometimes be a tricky situation to be in.

This is the same for in-office situations too. There’s been plenty of times in an office where I’ve had to break my own workflow or someone else’s to head over to their desk to visually explain something. A potentially useful period of time.

A few weeks ago, this pretty much came to a stop. After receiving two emails during a week in October with two types of link attachments, I was curious what they were. Clicking into these links, I got a visual demonstration of what the person was speaking about. I was so impressed. From a screen demo of a website to how something worked and what buttons to click to get a desired outcome. I was blown off my feet.

Simple as it was, the app is called CloudApp. Both available on Windows and Mac, CloudApp’s primary goal was allowing users to capture these moments like a screenshot or a screen record to help explain the thing in front of you, with little worries. The magic didn’t stop there, once I started playing with CloudApp, I recorded a short demo of a site bug/issue that we had and instantly I heard a “ping”. The recording was captured and ready in a paste-able link.

Within seconds, I sent over the visual demonstration. Dead simple, hugely effective.

By the end of the working day, I had visually explained 98% of things in Slack conversations, emails, mobile texts and even to those I was sitting near. It was a crazy addition to my Mac and productivity across my day and it didn’t stop there.

CloudApp also did a host of beneficial things like allow you to annotate images or screenshots, create GIFs, upload files and even record webcam videos too to support your screenshots.

I would recommend CloudApp to everyone. I was so impressed with their toolkit.

The freemium account is great too. You get unlimited screenshots and annotation with 15s of GIF and screen record creation, which was so reasonable for someone getting started. There are additional pricing options too. CloudApp is available for Mac and Windows and is well worth installing to take full advantage of visually explaining things to friends, colleagues, and those struggling to get a drift of what you are trying to talk about.

Download CloudApp for Mac and Windows.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to determine your freelance rates based on data, not your gut

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Setting freelancer rates can be quite the tricky business. This tool does arms you with the data you need to grow your business

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freelance rates

The bulk of my professional career has been spent as a freelancer. The designation of “freelancer” has taken me on an interesting path that allowed for projects and opportunities I didn’t even know existed.

While I’m grateful for each and every opportunity, I now look back on some of these experiences and realize that I was vastly underpaid. For the most part, this is my fault as someone paying for a service is looking for the lowest possible rate and I never bothered to bargain out of fear of losing the role.

It was even at a point where I dreaded being asked my hourly rate because I didn’t know what the norm was. There was always a fear of charging too much and getting dropped for someone cheaper, or charging too little and looking inexperienced.

We recently talked about knowing your worth and how we freelancers often under charge for our services. Luckily, as this career path becomes more and more popular, there are now more resources devoted to helping us know what to charge.

Such a resource comes in the form of Freelance Rates Explorer. Created by Bonsai, this online tool gives users the ability explore rates from 40,000 freelancers worldwide.

“There are many sites like Glassdoor that offer salary data comparisons for full time employees,” said the tool’s developers. “However, there isn’t a site like this dedicated to provide insights on freelancers rates. We had this data, so we built the Rate Explorer to make it easy for freelancers to compare their rates in the largest publicly available rates database on the Internet.”

In order to find the standard rate for their field, users will input their role (either development or design), their skills (full stack, front-end, back-end, DevOps, iOS, and Android), experience (in years), and location. The Rate Explorer then generates a bar graph based on the answers and will show the most common hourly rates based on the number of freelancers and the rates range.

Bonsai also offers proposals, contracts, time tracking, invoicing and payments, and reporting. All of this is designed for freelancers.

As for the Rates Explorer, seeing the numbers calculated right in front of you may make you realize that you’re vastly underselling yourself. This tool can be especially beneficial to use now as we go into a new year and may be updating contracts.

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