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Starting an employee retirement plan is not too hard or expensive, even for small businesses.
Plus, these programs offer tax advantages to both the employees and the company, which leave more money in everyone’s account.
Offering such benefits is a great way to attract qualified candidates and gives your top talent a huge reason to stay.
The sooner you start the better.
First, I’ll walk you through the different types of employee retirement plans available. There are more than just 401(k) plans helping people save for post-career life, including some types that are specifically made for small businesses.
Then we’ll take a look at what to consider as you decide on which provider you want to manage your employee retirement plan.
There’s a little bit to know, sure, but a lot to be gained.
For almost everyone, retirement is the largest expense of their lifetime. By offering a plan to help them save, employers provide a much needed sense of security to employees thinking about their family’s future.
Keep reading to start getting better candidates, happier employees, and serious tax-breaks every year.
In terms of picking an appropriate type of employee retirement plan, employers need to pay attention to a few important details.
For all the tax law and government regulations involved, the choice comes down to the basic structure of each plan, which doesn’t take an MBA to understand.
Plus, after partnering with a good coverage provider, you’ll have someone to help you close gaps in knowledge, forecast what each plan will realize in the years to come, and steer you toward a more appropriate plan if it’s not the right fit.
Let’s dig in.
Qualified employee retirement plans—that is, those that have tax advantages—fall in two major categories, only one of which is used widely today:
The amount that employees contribute, the company contributes, and how that money is taxed varies from plan to plan. Companies have some flexibility in how they enact each plan, but many of the basic rules and limits are set by the federal government.
Important note: Plans have different limits for how much employees and employers can contribute each year. These limits change periodically because the government adjusts for cost-of-living increases. The IRS provides current limitations on benefits contribution limits for every type of employee retirement plan limits for benefits and contributions maintained by the IRS.
It’s really important to understand the essential rules of each plan and how it will help people save over the long term.
Let’s go through the most widely-used types of defined contribution plan, how they are different, and which sorts of companies use them. The ones I’m going to cover are:
There are some types of employee retirement plan options that I haven’t covered here, but these are the most common plans available.
A 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings account. Employees contribute a portion of their salary to the account, which may or may not be matched by the employer.
Contributions are pre-tax, which means they are not taxed until the employee withdraws funds from the 401(k), typically after they retire. The amount that employees contribute also reduces their taxable income each year.
The money in a 401(k) grows tax-deferred (as in not taxed until retirement) and sets an employee’s retirement savings on autopilot. A little bit of the gross of each paycheck goes straight into their nest egg each month.
Companies may choose to match the employee contributions, but it doesn’t have to be a 100% match. It is usually based on a formula they set. An example of a common matching formula is an employer who matches 50% of contributions up to 6% of salary.
Matching contributions are tax-deductible, so a 401(k) can be part of a company’s tax strategy, helping both employer and employee save more for the future.
It gets even better.
Thanks to new legislation in 2019, the tax credit for businesses starting a 401(k) is now as much as $5,000 and no less than $500 per year for three years, with an additional $500 for setting up autoenrollment. The credit can go towards setup and administrative costs.
There is a lot more paperwork necessary to get a 401(k) started than with other plans, so this tax credit can help smooth the transition and get everything set up properly. Once it’s established, 401(k) plans let employees contribute a lot more money each year than other types of plans.
Investment options for a 401(k) are determined by the plan the company chooses. Employees may get some say in where they invest the money, though they will most often be choosing from a limited portfolio of options.
Withdrawing funds early (before age 59½) will result in a 10% penalty on top of the taxes owed. There are exceptions to this rule, though, for workers over 55, which allows them to avoid the penalty for early withdrawals. This only includes the 401(k) of the job they leave, not retirement plans with other former companies.
There are also special rules for people who have an “immediate and heavy financial need.” This is known as a hardship distribution and means people can use money from their 401(k) without penalty for things like necessary medical treatment or to avoid foreclosure and eviction.
There are two common variations of the 401(k) available to specific types of workers:
With the exception of a few special rules, these plans are identical to the 401(k)
Employers may choose to sponsor a Roth 401(k), which is virtually identical to a traditional 401(k) except that contributions are made after-tax.
This is an important change that has pros and cons.
Employees are not able to deduct contributions from their taxes, so they’re not decreasing their tax burden as they save, which is a benefit of a traditional 401(k).
On the flipside, with a Roth 401(k) they get to withdraw both their contributions and earnings tax-free once they reach retirement.
Another nice perk is that you can make withdrawals tax free once the plan has been established for five years. You would still have to pay taxes on earnings for an early withdrawal, but not the money you have already paid taxes on.
So that’s the tradeoff. With a Roth 401(k) you pay taxes now, but when you retire, all of the savings and earnings are yours without a haircut from Uncle Sam..
This could work very well for a young employee who thinks they are going to earn more later in life. They pay taxes on income now and avoid paying when they’re in a higher bracket.
It’s not the best for everyone, though, as senior employees may not want to pay taxes at their current bracket. For them, it’s likely better to pay upon retirement and take the deductions now.
Some companies may choose to offer both a Roth and traditional 401(k), allowing employees to choose how best to save for retirement.
A simplified employee pension (SEP) is a type of individual retirement account (IRA) offered by an employer.
It’s a lot less complex to manage than a 401(k), which makes it ideal for smaller businesses and people who are self-employed.
Only employers contribute to the SEP and these contributions are tax-deductible. The money is held in an IRA in the employee’s name and grows tax-deferred.
The contribution limits are much higher for a SEP than for a personal IRA, allowing people to set aside a lot more money than they could otherwise. There are also fewer rules about income limits, which make it good for high earners.
SEP plans are nice because of their flexibility. Companies have to contribute the same percentage to all eligible employees each year, but that percentage can change.
During a good year, for example, an employer may choose to max out contributions, whereas they might not contribute anything if the business is strapped for cash.
Because these plans are easier to manage and they let businesses contribute flexible amounts each year, SEP plans are great for smaller businesses that want to grow and help their employees save at the same time.
A SIMPLE IRA is an employee retirement plan for businesses with 100 employees or fewer that doesn’t offer another qualified retirement plan, like a 401(k).
SIMPLE stands for “Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees,” and is appropriately named because the plan requires very little administrative paperwork. It’s really just the initial plan and annual disclosures.
Employees can choose to contribute a portion of their salary to the SIMPLE IRA and employers are required to either:
The low startup costs and administrative burden make it ideal for smaller companies that want the tax advantages of a retirement plan without the legwork that goes into a 401(k).
The downsides to a SIMPLE IRA are the contribution limits—which are less than a 401(k)—and the 25% the penalties for early withdrawal are steep during the first two years.
A payroll deduction IRA allows companies to set up an employee retirement plan without filing anything with the government.
Employers work with a financial institution to make it so employees can automatically divert part of their paycheck to an IRA. The employer can designate one or multiple IRA providers to receive distributions, but they don’t have a say in the investment options.
In this plan employees make all the contributions. There is no matching, but contributions are tax deductible, which can help employees save each year.
A payroll deduction IRA is a low-cost, zero-risk way for a company to encourage their employees to save for retirement.
Profit sharing plans (PSPs) can be set up by employers or with help from a financial institution. Each year, the employer contributes to the plan based on business conditions, effectively sharing profits with employees.
Employers decide how much, if anything, they want to contribute each year.
All of the assets in the plan are held in a trust, which is overseen by a trustee who ensures the integrity of contributions, participants, distributions, and reporting.
Employers have a large degree of freedom in terms of how these plans are structured, but they require more oversight than a SEP plan or SIMPLE IRA. This is true even if an employer is sharing the responsibility with a financial institution.
Profit sharing plans can be set up in addition to other qualified employee retirement plans, like a 401(k). They are a good option for profitable companies that want to help employees save more and decrease their current tax burden.
Once you know which employee retirement plan—or set of plans—makes sense with your goals and resources, it’s time to select a financial institution to help you make it a reality.
Banks, mutual funds, and insurance companies are all appropriate options that can help businesses set up and manage an employee retirement plan.
How do you choose the right one to be your coverage provider?
While institutions offer the same basic set of employee retirement plans, the levels of service they provide are not identical by any means. They have varying degrees of support, charge fees according to their own rules, and offer different kinds of investments.
All of these factors can have a big impact on tax strategy and the health of a retirement fund over time.
Before we look at the top providers for employee retirement plans, I want to highlight the major criteria you can use to evaluate how it will work for your company.
Some of the simpler employee retirement plans are attractive because there is not a lot of administrative overhead. Other plans, like a 401(k) or profit sharing plan, have a lot of moving parts and regulatory requirements.
After the plan is set up, there are a variety of things that have to happen, including:
As you search for different plans, it’s important to understand what the employer is responsible for, what the provider is going to do, and how much all of that is going to cost.
With payroll deduction, SEP and SIMPLE IRA plans, there’s not a ton of administrative paperwork or fees. For those plans, there are likely to be low yearly rates and then other fees depending on how employees invest their money.
With any type of 401(k) plan, on the other hand, there is a lot more paperwork, larger amounts of money at stake, and fees can really impact people’s savings over time.
How these fees break down can be incredibly complex, especially when there are multiple providers servicing the plan.
Fortunately for employers, all covered service providers are required by law to explain how they are compensated in a 408(b)(2) disclosure.
This will show how every party is being paid out of the 401(k), including:
Direct fees are easy to identify, but indirect compensation fees can be more difficult to figure out. This could include revenue sharing, where a financial advisor’s management fee is paid out of investment earnings rather than directly.
This means revenue sharing will show up as a percentage of plan assets rather than a hard dollar amount.
These fees should be explained on the 408(b)(2) in order for employers to make an informed decision, and the government encourages providers to walk employers through all of the fees.
At the end of the day, however, providers can hide fees in ways that can be really challenging to track down, even if you know what you are looking for.
This is why it is so valuable to find a retirement plan provider who is transparent and upfront about fees.
Once you have established a 401(k), you will want to keep a close eye on your 404(a)(5) Participant Fee Disclosure. This will show all of the fees that your plan faces.
Where is all of this money going to go? It’s not just getting parked in a savings account.
Depending on the plan you choose, your employees will have different types of options about where and how their money is invested. Typically, these include:
These options tend to include relatively safe and stable investment opportunities, but may include more aggressive growth funds as well.
With simpler plans, there are usually less options than with a 401(k). Depending on the provider you choose, you may be able to offer a limited portfolio of choices or wide selection of investment options to your employees.
Generally speaking, a wider range of investment options requires more oversight, paperwork, and fees.
Some will offer brokerage windows, which allow employees to self-direct the investment of their retirement funds.
This allows companies to offer a wider range of options and control to their employees without necessarily having to absorb any extra responsibility. Employees will make their own decisions and take their own risks.
This can be really attractive because people may want to save differently, depending on where they are in their career.
It’s a healthy practice to diversify types of investments for retirement to more easily weather shocks to individual slices of the market.
Giving employees more choice is good, but it comes at a cost. You might be surprised at how diverse a portfolio can be created from the relatively narrow options in a plan like Human Interest.
Find an employee retirement plan that integrates with your payroll. I’m talking about seamless, direct integration where your provider is communicating directly with your payroll service. You never have to update information yourself.
A lot of the time you are going to see hands-free or no-touch solutions. That’s only true if it integrates directly with your payroll or HR services.
If not, there’s going to be a lot of data entry and administrative tasks involved with managing a 401(k). It’s worth seriously considering switching to a different payroll service if you can’t find something that integrates with a plan you like.
It could be a huge pain, especially if you are working with a HR service or PEO, but what are the consequences of choosing a plan with less-than-ideal benefits? They could be massive, in the long-term.
Plus, you might wind up having to employ full-time staff to manage payroll functions that could be automated.
Not having payroll integration might be okay for a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, as they don’t have as much administrative overhead.
At the same time, the integration would eliminate dozens of steps to process monthly contributions for every employee. What small business owner wouldn’t want to save a few hours a month making sure the retirement fund is in order?
If everything goes well, the relationship between your business and retirement plan provider is going to last a long time. Over the years, the quality of communication and support you receive are going to have a major impact.
Be aware that you may have to pay extra for the type of support you want.
Human Interest, for example, will provide different levels of customer service depending on the pricing tier. It’s no accident that their different plans are called Essentials, Complete, and Concierge.
With Essentials, employers pay less, but have to do more on their own. Concierge, on the other hand, comes with dedicated account management at a higher price tag.
Another thing to do is read online reviews from current customers to get a sense of how dependable providers are. This can give you a more authentic picture of what to expect than a provider’s marketing material, though you should take reviews with a grain of salt.
Guideline is a 401(k) provider that doesn’t charge any fees on investments and handles all of the administrative paperwork. This makes Guideline both one of the most affordable and one of the easiest ways to start a 401(k) for your employees.
It can help employers set up both traditional and Roth 401(k) plans, with or without matching options. Employers can also create profit sharing plans that work as a year-end contribution to an employee’s 401(k), like a bonus.
The way the pricing works is that Guideline charges a base fee per month, plus $8/month per employee. There is no extra charge for annual reports, government filings, or custodial services.
This flat monthly fee makes the pricing predictable, which is markedly different from most other employee retirement plan options. There’s no complicated revenue sharing or third-party fees eating into people’s savings.
The reason that Guideline is so inexpensive is that they have built software that automates almost every 401(k) administrative task.
Guideline has direct integrations with eight of the best payroll services, like ADP, Gusto QuickBooks, and Square. These sync your payroll and HR data in real time with no work on your part.
Guideline also provides intuitive dashboards for employers and employees, so they can monitor their retirement account and can choose from more than 40 index funds in which they can invest their money.
Alternatively, they can invest in a managed portfolio of stocks and bonds.
Managed portfolios are entirely overseen by Guideline, so there is not a lot of freedom to pick individual investments. They simply pick the risk level—like conservative, moderate, or very aggressive—and they are automatically invested in a range of stocks, bonds, and funds that meet their goals.
This eliminates any work for employees. Portfolios are rebalanced automatically, which ensures that people are always investing in a diverse, risk-tolerant set of assets.
For Guideline, the base fee is $39/month (plus the aforementioned $8/month per employee), which includes all of the administrative fees, live customer support, and employee onboarding.
Guideline Prime has a $99/month base fee with the same per-employee charge, and comes with a dedicated account manager, customizable financial and billing reports, and additional tools for profit sharing plans.
Any company of any size can get started with Guideline today and have an employee retirement plan in place tomorrow.
Human Interest provides a low-cost, hands-off 401(k) solution that works really well for startups and SMBs.
The interface is modern, easy to navigate, and effortless to set up. They can handle all the administrative tasks, including recordkeeping and IRS compliance, while boasting more than 50 payroll integrations.
The major tradeoff with this fully managed provider is the lack of investment options and retirement plans. They only offer 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, and 403(b) plans for employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations.
There are more than 30,000 mutual and index funds to choose from, but no other types of investment options.
Larger organizations might find the lack of diversity an issue, but companies that just want to set up a stable, no-frills retirement plan will find Human Interest to be a high-quality option.
The simplicity of the platform keeps costs low and administrative overhead to a minimum.
I recommend it for people who want to put their employee retirement plan on auto-pilot. They can focus on work and the savings will take care of itself in the long run. Low-risk index funds and mutual funds will build wealth over time with no special attention necessary.
It’s particularly effective for people who don’t want to learn about financial markets. Retirement funds are managed entirely by Human Interest, though they do make self-directed options available.
There are three different pricing tiers available, which are based on the level of administrative support:
The Essentials tier offers a phenomenal price for an all-in-one 401(k) solution. Adding eligible employees at $4/month is less than even Guideline, though Human Interest’s monthly base fee is higher.
For small and midsize companies that are trying to grow, Human Interest lets them offer an affordable plan to attract good workers. As they scale that plan, costs remain low and predictable.
With Complete, Human Interest takes over a lot more of the administrative work, including signing and filing all of your IRS documents. Concierge comes with all of that, plus dedicated account management.
You can get started with Human Interest in fifteen minutes, the company says. Think about the difference those fifteen minutes could make fifteen years down the road.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company is one of the largest insurance and financial services groups in the United States and a member of the Fortune 100.
They offer every type of employee retirement plan I’ve talked about and they can administer other types of benefits as well, such as health savings accounts (HSAs).
They also provide a rich selection of investment options, as well, including a wide array of funds, bonds, and stocks.
Employees have a lot of say in how their investments are handled. They can choose a hands-off approach—like professional account management—where employees just sit back and let advisors drive.
These accounts are nice for employees who are not experienced investors, though they should understand how much they are paying for management. Most of these fees will be indirect, but Nationwide prides themselves on explaining all plan fees as clearly as possible.
Nationwide offers other options that give employees more control. At the hands-on end of the spectrum, employees can open up a self-directed brokerage account and invest in virtually any publicly-traded mutual fund, exchange-traded fund (ETF), bond or stock.
I like it for large organizations because of the wide array of plan and investment options. Large organizations need to be able to offer employee retirement plans that suit workers of all ages and abilities.
Rank and file workers have the freedom to invest how they want, and employers can create special benefits packages for top talent.
Nationwide also supports multiple types of auto enrollment. This can help increase plan participation in a way that makes sense for both the employee and employer.
You’ll have to get in touch with Nationwide for pricing. Because they already service more than 2.5 million participants and $141 billion in retirement assets, you can be confident that they will help your company grow its savings as well.
Vanguard is one of the world’s largest investment companies. They offer virtually every type of employee retirement plan available and give people a huge range of investments to choose from.
I recommend Vanguard for businesses that qualify for a SIMPLE IRA and want to set one up. This includes self-employed individuals, small business owners, and businesses with less than 100 people that don’t have another qualified retirement plan.
Vanguard doesn’t charge you anything to set up an account. There is a $25 annual fee for each fund in the SIMPLE IRA, but no additional costs beyond that.
And, once you have $50,000 of qualifying assets in your Vanguard fund, the $25 fees are waived. The annual fee then shifts to 0.30% of the total assets managed.
When it comes to administrative support, there’s not much to worry about with a SIMPLE IRA. There are no reporting requirements for the IRS, although there are certain employee notifications required.
In the event that something goes wrong, however, Vanguard has a stellar reputation for customer service and investor support.
Another reason to choose Vanguard is the wealth of investment options. This is true for companies that want to set up a 401(k), SEP, or other retirement plan, not just a SIMPLE IRA.
Employees using Vanguard for retirement may invest in more than 100 different mutual funds. This includes some of Vanguard’s index funds, which have generated incredibly consistent returns for investors year after year.
The sooner you begin an employee retirement plan the sooner everyone can start saving. It provides employees with an unrivaled sense of security and helps them keep a long-term perspective when the day-to-day gets tough.
Both Guideline and Human Interest are going to work for self-employed individuals, small business owners, and midsize businesses.
Guideline has the more diverse investment options, and a lower base fee each month. Human interest has the ability to support 403(b) plans in addition to 401(k), and may come at a lower monthly cost per employee.
For larger organizations, or smaller organizations that want to start a different type of retirement plan than a 401(k), Nationwide and Vanguard offer a wide range of options.
Nationwide is my top pick for organizations because of the deep range of investment opportunities. Individual employees save on their own terms, and employers can build out plans that help them make the most of every dollar.
While Vanguard has the resources to help any company save for the future, I wanted to call out their SIMPLE IRA because it is such a good deal for qualified small businesses. If the 401(k) is too daunting, a SIMPLE IRA with Vanguard is just the plan to start saving.
Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.
Is it actually possible to make a living out of blogging? Or is it just a myth?
Here’s the good news: You CAN make money from blogging. You just have to do it right.
Take my blog as an example.
Blogging played a crucial role in my success. But reaching this point did have its fair share of obstacles, mistakes, and lessons.
Currently, my revenue is $381,772 for 30 days.
Now, that’s a LOT of money, especially for a blog.
But how am I able to pull this off?
I was completely dedicated and put in tons of hard work to create useful and detailed content and use relevant images to provide accurate and thorough information to my readers.
This helped me become an authoritative figure and thought leader in my niche.
And no, it doesn’t have to take you years to become a successful blogger.
Knowing the art of consistently churning out top-quality content, driving search engine traffic, leveraging social media, and generating leads is great. But you also need to know how to make money from your blog.
The process is certainly challenging, especially with the internet painted with a lot of bad advice.
But this isn’t one of those articles.
In this guide, I’ll show you the exact way to make money from blogging by avoiding the mistakes I’d made in my 10-year journey. So not only will your blogging success be easier, but it also is quicker.
Excited? Let’s begin.
The very first thing you need to start making money is to come up with an idea and the name for your blog. Think through the topics you’d want to write about often.
After that, sign up for the Basic plan with Bluehost. Even if you don’t have much of a budget, this is practically a steal at just $2.95 per month.
Set up your account, taking care to skip all the add-ons except for domain privacy and protection. A few extra dollars for better privacy and security is an investment.
And with this, you’ll have your own blog domain. Hurrah!
The next steps will have you installing WordPress and then finally writing and publishing your first blog post.
Once you’ve posted a couple of blogs and have started to attract some traffic, you can work on monetizing it to make your first dollars.
For this, you’ll have to sign up for a Google AdSense and Amazon Associates account to make money through ads and affiliate marketing, respectively. You can also sell your own products and services after successfully driving high traffic to your site.
That was the basics. Let’s get into the details now.
The first on the agenda is to decide what your blog is going to be about. Whether you want to talk about marketing, CBD, veganism, or just random life stories, figure it out.
Remember, your idea doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but you do need a unique voice.
Here are two tips for deciding on a blog niche:
I know that this sounds like a cliche, but it makes no sense to blog about it if you don’t love the topic.
Never start blogging about something that you don’t love–it will show in your writing and your readers will know. Moreover, you won’t be able to consistently produce top-notch content to build your audience and later monetize from it.
Make a list of things that get you naturally curious and that you enjoy learning about. Or think about what your friends and family come to you when seeking advice.
The only way you can earn money through your blog is if you have enough site visitors.
Let’s assume you’ve already figured out your blog niche and want to write about arts and crafts.
You make a smart decision to niche down further and develop a blog exclusively dedicated to either paper art or scrapbooking. While you enjoy writing about both topics, you prefer to focus on one primarily.
But how do you choose between the two options?
Answer: Do a quick Google search.
As you can see, there are far more results related to paper art as opposed to scrapbooking. Therefore, it makes more sense to write about paper art, which is what audiences are searching for.
I would also like to add that it’s better to avoid broad or generic topics. Don’t be afraid to get specific as long as you have takers for it.
For instance, if you want to create a food blog, don’t use words like “food.” Instead, use “barbecue” or “vegan.”
Get my point?
Once an idea is in place, you need to work on naming your blog.
Does the name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta ring a bell? Thought so.
But I bet Lady Gaga does.
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is Lady Gaga’s real name. She decided to go with a catchier and easier-to-remember alternative that aligns better with her music.
That’s the power of the right name.
Choosing a blog name is equal parts exciting and daunting. After all, this will be your brand name and dictate how people will remember you.
Don’t overthink it, and don’t name your blog something random or offensive.
Keep in mind the following questions when deciding on a name:
I chose my own name as my domain (NeilPatel.com) simply because Neil Patel is who I am, and it’s also my brand. You could do what I did or come up with something entirely different.
Whatever name you come up with, make sure it’s available as website domains.
You can use Bluehost’s domain name checker for this purpose. Type in each potential name in the search bar, and click Check Availability to know.
I’d recommend opting for a .com whenever possible.
Don’t buy an available domain at this point. I have something up my sleeve to help you get it for free.
You need to sign up for a web hosting service to get your blog live, along with a registered domain name that will serve as your blog’s address.
I recommend Bluehost as its hands down one of the best web hosting companies—not to mention affordable—that assures excellent service and a free domain.
And did I mention that as a NeilPatel.com reader, you get an additional discount?
Head over to Bluehost.com, and click on the green Get Started Now button.
Next, sign up for the Basic plan. You can always upgrade later, but since you’re just starting a blog, it’s better to stick to the Basic plan.
Register the domain name you came up with without having to pay anything extra. Just make sure the drop-down is set to .com before you click Next.
Following this, you need to sign in using your Google account. You can also manually enter your personal credentials.
Scroll down to choose your registration term, which can either be a 36-month, a 24-month, or a 12-month agreement. To get the best deal ($2.95 per month), you’ll have to sign up for a three-year contract.
It still isn’t over yet.
You’ll find package options like Domain Privacy + Protection, Codeguard Basic, Bluehost SEO Tools, Microsoft 365 Mailbox Trial, and SiteLock Security Essentials.
In my opinion, you only need Domain Privacy + Protection to protect your contact information against scam callers and unsolicited emails. Ignore the others.
Finally, enter your payment information, read the terms and conditions, and hit submit.
This is the point where you’ll have your blog!
Complete all the remaining instructions to set up your account, and then move onto the next step.
You have your web host, next you need blogging software.
I trust WordPress to run all my blogs as it is user-friendly, feature-rich, and free. Plus, you can install thousands of free plugins to make your blog more functional and customize it however you want.
After signing up for Bluehost, you will have a free domain and hosting account. Log in by filling in your credentials and then click on Install WordPress.
Next, select Do it yourself (FREE) and hit Install, followed by Check Domain. Lastly, acknowledge WordPress’s terms of service and finalize your install.
Ta-Da! You now have a fully functional WordPress blog ready to roll.
To design a blog, you need to select an attractive and affordable WordPress theme.
Why do you need this? Well, after signing up for WordPress, your blog will look something like this:
Not exactly what you’d call sleek and welcoming, right? The way your website looks can help drive more website traffic, which, in turn, will enable you to make more money.
Luckily, WordPress has thousands and thousands of themes for you to choose from. I’ve even done a roundup of some of the best ones. Here’s how you can select a WordPress theme:
You should choose a theme that fits your personal style, but at the same time, it should also be in sync with your blog niche.
With a nice new theme, your website will get a much-needed upgrade that makes it look appealing to visitors.
If you want to increase your website traffic or encourage more email signups, you need to offer your readers interesting content.
My tip is to make a list of questions you get often. Trust me, within just 30 minutes, you’ll be able to come up with a bunch of potential blog topics. Your priority should be to look at things from your reader’s viewpoint.
You can also focus on higher-level questions.
Suppose you want to start a parenting blog for stay-at-home moms. Below, I’ve created a list of questions to ask yourself, along with a list of answers concerning the mom blog.
Q1) What could be an intriguing or exciting talking point for your readers?
For stay-at-home moms, topics related to sleep training, homeschooling, and budget-friendly meal ideas could be a great place to start.
Q2) What are your reader’s pain points and challenges?
Common household challenges for stay-at-home moms could be meal planning, understanding developmental milestones, and so on.
Q3) What are your readers’ character traits?
Moms are typically patient and caring and appreciate a sense of humor.
Q4) What niche topics would appeal the most to your readers?
A child’s mental, physical, and emotional development could be attractive talk points for stay-at-home moms.
Q5) What topics would your readers hate about my niche?
Stay-at-home moms don’t like to be looked down on by others. So, you could write blogs about how society views them and their impact.
Similarly, you can use the above questions to come up with ideas according to your niche. While you’re at it, don’t forget to work out a catchy headline that will make the reader instantly click on your blog.
Search engine optimization or SEO is a crucial step to earn money via blogging. Here, you will optimize your website to rank higher in search engines for specific keywords and phrases.
If you’ve been following me for a long time, you may already know how SEO is my trump card.
By incorporating particular keywords and phrases, I’ve successfully driven more than 30 million visitors to my website. Shocked?
That’s the power of SEO.
On WordPress, you can optimize your content and blog by downloading a plugin called Yoast SEO.
Go to the Plugins menu, and click on Add New. Search for Yoast SEO in the search bar, and then install the plugin.
Don’t forget to activate it to complete the installation process.
You’ll find that this plugin will give you all kinds of improvement tips and suggestions based on the keyword you select to help you optimize your content. I’d recommend incorporating as many suggestions as you can to improve SEO and content readability.
Setting up ads is the best way to monetize your blog. But you need to be smart about it.
The biggest mistake people make is to bombard their sites with blinking ads. Avoid this at all costs.
Instead, focus on using targeted ads that appeal to your customers without annoying them.
To start earning money through ads, you need a Google AdSense account. Head over to the AdSense page, and click on Sign Up Now. If you don’t have an existing Google account, you have to set up a new one. If you already have a Google account, simply sign in.
Fill out all the relevant information before submitting your application. The AdSense team reviews every application, and if everything goes well, you’ll be in!
Next, follow the below steps to set up your account:
While you can use ads on as many as you want, I would recommend starting with just one–maybe two max–to get an idea of how your audience responds to them.
If you see a higher bounce rate on your dashboard, you should consider repositioning your current ads for better results.
You might have already heard of affiliate marketing. If your goal is to earn passive income, leveraging the power of affiliates is your best bet.
You can start by signing up for Amazon Associates, which allows you to start earning right away through referral links, display ads, or Amazon-based shopping carts.
If your visitors decide to use your referral link or click on the display ads, you’ll get a small commission.
To sign up for Amazon Associates, all you need to do is visit the website and click on Join Now for Free.
This can be pretty effective. Just check out these earnings of Brendan Mace for definitive proof.
Amazon Associates isn’t the only affiliate program.
You’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of companies with their own affiliate programs, some of which pay higher commissions than Amazon. Just make sure to research before signing up to be an affiliate for a brand.
That said, I’d also like to emphasize the importance of advertising only those products or services that you’ve used yourself or genuinely believe can help your audience.
Many people think that advertisements are the only source of income for bloggers. This might be true for a few, but you’ll also find many bloggers make quite a bit of money by selling a product or service.
Of course, this will only work when you already have a loyal readership with steady website traffic like Nomadic Matt. Once you’re at this stage, you shouldn’t be afraid to take the leap.
Here are a few things that you can consider selling:
Next, you have to figure out how you want to sell your product. Services like Shopify or WooCommerce plugins on WordPress, Amazon, or Etsy are great options for digital products. If you’re selling a physical product (like phone cases or clothes), you’ll have to set up a more comprehensive ecommerce store.
Finally, let your audience know about your product or service by sending them emails. You can also consider developing lead magnets like pre-recorded webinars, PDFs, and whitepapers to build your email list.
There’s a difference between simply having a blog and monetizing a blog. To make this transition successful, you’ll need to adopt a more proactive and focused approach.
You’ve got this!
Just remain focused and work consistently to keep improving your blog and build trust between you and your audience. And follow my steps above to get things started on the right track.
Remember to stick with what works, and you’ll have a successful formula.
Have you tried blogging yet? Let me know about your experience.
Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.
In the fight to stay organized, healthcare professionals have an uphill battle.
Billing is more complicated than the human genome.
Government regulations add extra steps to every task.
Decisions are time-sensitive.
Small mistakes can have serious consequences.
On top of all of this, everyone’s busy. There’s no extra time to search for a patient record or reorder an incorrect prescription.
The best electronic medical records (EMR) systems can simplify a lot of the complex challenges today’s providers face.
They are not a silver bullet by any means, but finding a product that works for your practice will make you more efficient today and better prepared for tomorrow.
Here are the top EMR systems that are helping practices improve care, reduce burnout, and make every day less stressful for everyone who walks in the door.
Not so long ago, EMR systems were the tool for turning paper charts into digital resources. They made patient data easier to access and track.
People still need these functions, but today you are going to see very few standalone EMR systems. Instead, you will find EMR systems will come as part of a larger electronic health records (EHR) system.
Here’s the key difference between the two:
With EMR systems, people within the organization could access a patient’s chart. With EHR systems, on the other hand, medical records can be shared between multiple providers, labs, and insurers.
This ability to share complete EHRs is critical in today’s healthcare environment.
You may already know the reasons why EMR systems are being phased out in favor of EHRs. I’m not going to go in-depth here, though you can certainly read about it if digging into healthcare legislation blows your hair back (see specifically the HITECH Act).
Suffice it to say, new laws and changes in technology have made EHR systems essential.
This can be confusing though.
Many providers still need to digitize and organize the work of their office. EMR systems are perfect for that, and so there’s still a lot of online search for the term.
And because people are asking the internet for EMR systems, you’ll see vendors offering “EMR systems” and directing you to their EHR, or calling their products EMR/EHR solutions.
Some vendors seem to use EHR and EMR interchangeably. Likely, they will continue to do so as long as people are searching for EMRs.
For all the haziness and craziness of the situation, providers who need an EMR system today are really just looking at two major product categories:
Let’s go through both of these so you can figure out which one is going to help you get your practice to where it needs to be.
I’m still going to talk about EMR systems, but just know that it is going to come as part of a solution with a different name.
EHR systems include everything providers need from traditional EMR systems to take their practice online. They can digitize charts, connect them to schedules, and keep each patient visit as efficient as possible.
For practices looking to go paperless, these products can be extremely helpful. They will help you turn file cabinets into searchable digital drives. This saves so much time for doctors, nurses, and staff who can quickly access everything they need from any device.
In addition to tracking patient records, EHR systems help with:
In this sense, an EHR “follows the patient,” giving all parties involved with a patient’s care the information they need to keep the process moving forward.
Most often, you will find EHR software offered as one part of a complete array of tools for managing a practice. Vendors like Kareo and athenahealth offer stand-alone EHR systems, which can be a great starting point for making the transition online.
A practice management suite is designed to centralize all of the administrative, clinical, financial, and legal processes within a single platform.
In addition to EMR/EHR capabilities, they include:
As robust as these solutions are, they are not just for large organizations. In fact, these products work really well in the small practice setting.
With limited staff, solo providers simply don’t have the time to manage 7 or 8 different tools to interact with each patient. Practice management suites are highly customizable, allowing providers to unify and trim down their workflow to its essential elements.
Small practices also benefit from the rich reporting features.
Dashboards and data visualization tools help providers understand trends in clinical data. This can help practices decrease wait times, improve patient engagement, hit regulatory goals, and better manage risk.
The right EMR system provides support for overburdened staff by streamlining critical administrative tasks.
The wrong EMR system can make things worse.
According to a study from the American Medical Association, the average family physician spends 86 minutes per day doing administrative tasks after they leave work.
This so-called “pajama time” has become an awful reality for every physician stuck using a well-intentioned but poorly-performing EMR system.
And it’s not just doctors who are affected by this. Nurses, staff, pharmacists, and—most of all—patients suffer the consequences of inefficient systems.
Just knowing which solutions are popular is not enough. Sometimes a good system is implemented poorly or deployed in a place where it doesn’t fit.
So, how do you pick an EMR system that actually benefits employees and patients?
There’s no easy answer, but by following these three steps you can start to hone in on the right product.
There are an astonishing number of features included with every EMR solution. Most individuals will never use the majority of them.
It’s not surprising, given that these systems are built to work for different types of doctors in a wide variety of clinical settings.
Go into your search with a list of must-have features and functionality. Every product is going to come with digitized charts and patient tracking, but what does that mean for your practice?
In other words, which system has the features that will help receptionists, nurses, doctors, and patients get from A to B? How will each set of features map to your actual patient flows?
A to B is an over-simplification, but also not. One of the most common complaints about EMR systems is that they take too long to accomplish routine tasks.
Ordering a prescription or procedure shouldn’t require scrolling through hundreds of irrelevant options. If a solution includes e-prescribing, ensure that it can be customized to actually save time.
The more A to B tasks your EMR system streamlines, the more time all staff have to spend engaging with patients.
A welcome trend is the growing number of EMR systems tailor-made for specialty practices.
I like these because they solve two problems associated with traditional, general-use EMRs.
One, providers get exactly the tools they need instead of a platform freighted with unnecessary features.
Two, each feature has the appropriate depth for the specialty in question. Laser settings are automatically recorded on charts for dermatologists. Orthopedic surgeons can share large-file imaging results with ease.
Instead of workflows and templates designed for the “textbook clinic,” these products meet the specific needs of today’s specialists.
It’s much easier to deploy an EMR system that integrates with the billing, imaging, and other platforms you use.
Some EMRs centralize those responsibilities within a single platform. If that’s the route you go, what’s it going to be like to move everything from multiple platforms?
The transition from paper to EMR or from one EMR to another is taxing under any circumstances. If the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together, it can be even worse.
To make the best of a difficult challenge, find a vendor who is willing to help bring data from your existing platform to theirs as part of the deployment.
I definitely recommend reading reviews from actual customers about the kind of service they receive during and after implementation. If you are supposed to get a dedicated service rep, how dedicated are they?
It’s also not 100% on the vendor. What kind of in-house IT support will make everyone’s life easier? Under-budget for this at your own risk.
Upskilling a few “super-user” staff members who can fix issues on the spot will go a long way towards smoothing out the daily frustrations of moving to a new system.
CareCloud is a practice management suite that gives doctors more time to spend with their patients and more resources to invest in their practice.
It unifies the tools providers need to manage every step of the patient relationship in their specific setting. Users can customize charts, reuse order sets, and share content with their colleagues.
The decision support features are quite advanced. This cuts down on the potential for medical errors by immediately flagging issues like dangerous drug combinations and dietary restrictions.
In addition to delivering real-time information at the point of care, quality chart data translates into rich reporting in CareCloud.
Track the performance indicators that matter most, get an instant snapshot of where things stand, and keep an eye on how they evolve.
The EMR and revenue cycle management features work really well together. Providers can use what they discover to improve the quality of patient care and better steward a small practice over financial and regulatory hurdles.
One of the reasons CareCloud works so well is that they offer 24 specialty specific solutions. These deliver tremendous out-of-the-box functionality to providers who would otherwise be stuck configuring their system.
For pain management, physical therapy, podiatry, proctology, pulmonology—and that’s just the p’s—clinicians and physicians can get to work on CareCloud right away.
Some of the highlights of CareCloud include:
In addition, they make a lot of additional tools available to speciality practices through their Content Store. Find solutions for insurance, billing, scheduling, and record-keeping that are built by other providers in your specific field.
You’ll have to get in touch with CareCloud for pricing, whether you want to use Charts—their EHR module—or the entire practice management platform.
It’s a great option for speciality practices that are looking to grow. CareCloud will streamline every process—from insurance to patient handoffs—because it has everything a specialist needs with none of the bloat.
athenahealth consistently develops trusted healthcare software for hospital systems, small private practices, and everything in between.
They offer a full practice management suite, athenaOne, which provides EHR, billing, patient engagement, population health, care coordination, and epocrates, a best-in-class mobile app.
Alternatively, providers can use athenaClinicals, the EHR component of athenaOne. Their products work well with many other options on the market, so practices don’t have to migrate all their systems at once.
This makes it a great option for practices that see EMR/EHR a key step in the gradual process of future-proofing their entire practice.
One of the biggest draws of athenaClinicals is how easy it is to navigate. It’s a really intelligent platform that is continually auto populating patient data and prioritizing important information.
A lot of the platform’s recommendations come from trends it picks up on in your network, like routine processes and orders. If patients being seen for one treatment are often prescribed a certain medication, it will be right there without any search required.
Stop struggling with ever-changing procedure codes and insurance protocols. athenahealth monitors federal quality programs and makes best practices available immediately.
Some of the other standout features include:
Even though the user interface is great, there is a learning curve because the platform is so deep. In other words, the control that makes athenahealth such a great long-term solution requires a little getting used to in the short term.
I think it’s worth it, because it’s the last tool staff will ever have to learn.
The platform has proven itself capable of handling the most challenging healthcare IT environments.
Never switch again.
The cost of athenahealth’s integrated suite is based on a percentage of monthly collections. The idea is that they partner with your practice instead of locking you in a contract and charging for upgrades.
They do well if you do well. Many companies report that the increased efficiency with billing and collections offsets the costs almost entirely, to say nothing of its impact across the practice.
athena’s customer support has a solid reputation and they have a lot of experience helping clients move their data over securely.
If you are stuck on paper or with a system that’s not getting it done, athenahealth will do what it takes to make you their next satisfied member.
SimplePractice is an affordable practice management suite that’s delivering value to therapists, dieticians, social workers, and other providers in the mental health and wellness space.
It’s a great price for small clinics and private practices that want to centralize charts, notes, appointments, insurance, and billing in one intuitive platform.
There’s a patient portal, so both sides benefit from the accessibility. Clients can upload documents and even book their own appointments (on your terms, of course).
Speaking of accessible, SimplePractice empowers providers to meet with their clients, regardless of where they are coming from, or ability to come in.
Every consultation can be managed securely online, thanks to features like paperless intakes, online booking, and HIPAA-compliant telehealth solutions.
Not every community has the local resources in place to serve those who need care. And even when patients have a nearby office, taking time to come in for appointments can still pose problems.
SimplePractice can help providers stay in touch with clients, no matter how busy or far away they are.
It’s great for an entire practice, but focusing in on the EMR features, SimplePractice comes with:
There’s also customizable patient intake forms and surveys, which allow providers to ask questions in the right way. They can be sensitive, specific, and leave enough room for people to share their thoughts.
They offer plans for solo practices starting at $39/month.
Group practice rates start at $98/month for 2 clinicians. Each additional user costs $39/month.
Features like telehealth and billing are extra charges, as they are with other platforms. On SimplePractice, however, the added costs are transparent—$10/month per user for telehealth and electronic claim filing starts at 25¢ per claim.
Practices that don’t need these features, or use something else, aren’t stuck paying, and those that need them have a predictable cost at the end of the month.
Predictable, affordable, and complete. That’s SimplePractice. Try it free for 30 days.
Their Switching Team will help you import everything and live support is included with every plan.
Kareo is an all-in-one solution for practice management that’s designed to meet the particular needs of an independent practice.
This is their focus. You never have to worry about competing with massive hospitals for their attention.
Kareo isn’t hospital software that’s been pared down. The platform is a simple set of three integrated modules: Clinical, Billing, and Engage.
There aren’t a million components to get the complete system and, more importantly, each part works fine on its own.
If a company just needs a dependable EHR, for example, Kareo Clinical has everything they need.
Charts are easy to read with space for notes. They feel simple, despite the wealth of information you can add. Kareo is optimized for all screen sizes, letting providers prescribe a medication or create a bill in minutes from any device.
The e-prescribing features save providers time and patients money. With Kareo’s integrated prescription discounts, doctors can compare prices and find savings for their patients.
They have a lot of great templates and forms that can be customized quickly, plus “same-as-last-time” features that streamline routine documentation.
Other helpful tools include:
Kareo flowsheets are one of the most useful reporting features, showing doctors a patient’s key vitals and lab results over time. This makes it easier to analyze progress and track several aspects of a patient’s health at once.
None of these great features take long to master. There are self-service online resources like Kareo University, which many users find helpful.
But you are not on your own. After you sign up, they provide a free Kareo success coach for the first 60 days who will help with transferring and digitizing files.
Their customer support is available via phone, email, and chat to answer all those insurance billing questions.
For independent practices that want an efficient, simple way to manage medical records, Kareo Clinical is going to overperform.
Providing quality care is hard.
That’s the root of the problem when it comes to finding a workable EMR system. Often, people put off switching to a better system because it’s such a pain.
Kareo and athenahealth do a lot to make the process easier. Independent practices should opt for Kareo because it’s built to fit their needs. For everyone else, athenahealth is a dependable long-term solution no matter how their practice evolves over time.
Looking at speciality practices, CareCloud is going to be the easiest to get up and running. So much of the backend organization has been done already. Templates and forms are ready to go and you don’t have to sort through irrelevant options.
For those working in the health and wellness space, SimplePractice is a perfect platform. It’s got competitive, predictable pricing and a rich set of features designed to nurture the most sensitive patient relationships.
Being on top of work feels so much better than the reverse.
A stakeholder asks you a third-decimal-place question about a future project. You nail it. The answer is ready and the evidence is two clicks away.
With the right project management software, it’s easier to operate at a high level.
It’s like wearing the right pair of shoes.
If you’ve never tried project management software, these free options are a great place to start.
And if you are using a frustrating tool, struggle no more.
These are the best free project management software options available right now.
Seriously, all of these products are free to use forever.
This stuff isn’t magic. You get out what you put in.
I like to think of project management software as a blank workspace waiting for a business to move in.
It gives every task a home so projects aren’t just roaming free-range across email chains, chat threads, post-it notes, and casual conversation.
One of the best parts about a free forever platform is that you actually have the chance to see what happens once you plug your business in.
Work with it for months and try a few different types of projects out.
I know freelancers and even small companies that have been able to get along just fine for years on a freemium plan.
So which one is for you?
Let’s walk through the core aspects of project management software and how they can have an impact.
Every good project management tool is stupid simple. This is especially true for freemium plans.
But they’re not all organized in the same way. Some use traditional folders and lists, whereas others track tasks entirely on boards.
How will your team’s work fit into each space?
The better the fit between a platform’s basic structure and your team’s projects , the better they can use the software to get to where they want to go.
After all, with free project management software, you want it to fit your organizational processes, not change those to fit the freemium platform you choose.
Ideally, project management software will help evolve your business processes in a positive direction. But not overnight.
These platforms enable people to work together better by making business workflows transparent. Everyone can see the status of projects and tasks.
This puts people on the same page, all the time. And when changes need to be made, users can alert one another with comments or by tagging teammates. This draws the right attention to the exact point of the issue.
With less uncertainty, people are free to act instead of waiting on a long email chain to finally arrive at an answer.
Some platforms will keep a comment history associated with each individual task. Others will have an activity feed that logs updates made to the task.
These capabilities make it much easier for teams to know when a task is 100% done.
The tools I like let you assign users and due dates to tasks. Very simple, very helpful.
Whether you are building out on a board or a list, you can toggle views to see tasks displayed on a calendar.
Updating the task due date will update the calendar as well, keeping everyone on the same page.
With some of the more robust free options, like ClickUp, you can set dependencies to govern the schedule.
Because it’s loaded with information about what teams are doing, reports generated by project management software provide a lot of insight.
I’m talking about measuring productivity, identifying trends, and staying under budget. This information can really help managers steer their teams productively.
Some of the options on this list, like Jira, have pre-built reports that are ready to go for any project.
Not all free project management software comes with reporting features.
Trello, for example, doesn’t provide anything out of the box. That said, you can tie in a third-party analytics platform to do the heavy lifting.
Automation in free project management software is limited, no doubt. But anyone can use it.
It’s just a taste of what these platforms can do, but the early exposure can pay dividends in the long run.
When it comes time to bump up into a higher tier, users are ready to take advantage of automation instead of being intimidated by these power features.
This isn’t a make-or-break it criteria, but if users find they can eliminate some busywork from their day, it might increase buy-in to the platform.
There’s a stunning array of diversity to think about when you are looking at the straight-up best project management software out there.
When it comes to free forever plans, the field narrows.
There are really two types of free project management software out there:
You’ll find some overlap, but understanding the differences between these types will help you find a solution built to fit your needs.
These products have an organizational hierarchy that goes something like this:
Here’s a screenshot from Trello, one of the most popular board-based options in the world:
This is the board, which all members of the team can see. Each card is a task, and it is under the appropriate list.
With Trello and other board-based software, teams spend most of their time on the board. This involves going into tasks to add detail and check off complete tasks and potentially switching to calendar view to check bandwidth.
Does your current workflow map well to this cards-and-boards layout?
These products have an organizational hierarchy that goes something like this:
ClickUp is a great example of how a list-based product helps teams stay on track:
The team has their folders listed on the left. Very traditional. Each folder contains lists, which are broken down into tasks.
List-based software can make it easier for teams to stay organized than a board that gets cluttered. In ClickUp and other good options, the list is drag and drop, so it’s not any harder to use.
In Wrike, another list-based project management solution, you can even view your projects as a spreadsheet.
Looking at both types, there’s a lot of flexibility to view projects in different forms, like list, board, calendar, or table.
Because of this, it might seem like the boundary between these two is a little fuzzy.
From my perspective, though, flexible viewing does not always equal flexible managing.
Trello works great when you are building on a board. ClickUp works great when you are building on a list.
Sure, they can also do what the other does to some extent. I just think they work best when you are using them as designed.
And, since all of these products are free forever, it’s not going to break the bank to pilot one of each type and see what you and your team think.
Trello is one of the most user-friendly project management options on the market. Maybe that’s why more than 1 million teams are using Trello around the world.
When I say user-friendly, I mean there is virtually zero learning curve to engaging with the product.
Drag. Drop. Click. Done.
Boards are made up of cards and lists. Clicking on any card brings up all of the relevant details, such as who’s responsible, what needs to get done, and when it must be done by.
Obviously agile teams will dig the Kanban-style setup, but Trello is so basic (in a good way) that people can build out boards within whatever framework suits them best.
Staying on track in Trello is so easy, it’s almost fun.
Assign people to tasks and they’re notified instantly when changes are made. There’s a comment feed built into every task and team members can use @mentions to call out specific issues.
Users can switch from board to calendar view to see their tasks spread out week to week. They can also “watch” cards to which they are not assigned, something that is great for managers.
The Trello platform has two main power features.
There are Power-Ups, which let you tie in a third-party service. It could be a time tracker, a Gantt chart creator, or a collaboration tool like Slack.
And then there is Butler, an AI-service that finds repetitive tasks and helps you automate them. You can create buttons that kick off simple workflows, or schedule tasks to be created.
With Trello’s free version, you get:
It’s incredibly easy to build what you need in Trello. There is still a lot of freedom to create the structure you need, but they also offer a range of templates for project management:
There’s also templates ready to go for HR, sales, support, and other departments.
Trello’s got you covered for lightweight project management. There’s definitely a ceiling when it comes down to what you can track on each board, even compared to other free project management software.
For a single team, though, managing a sales pipeline, content calendar, or something of similar scope is going to be a breeze.
Wrike is a really versatile project management platform with a free forever version for teams of up to five.
There are a few reasons why it works so well for marketing teams compared to some of the other best free project management software.
First off, the collaborative features are really well-developed.
You can store tasks within projects or folders. Teammates can add comments, tag colleagues with @mentions, and attach files directly to any task, folder, or project.
Okay, I hear you saying, “It sounds like some of the other free project management software.”
But, what makes Wrike so effective out-of-the-box for marketing teams is that email integration is included. Users can update, create, and prioritize tasks directly from their email.
It’s great for your team, but you can also invite clients and contractors. These users are designated as Collaborators. Basically, you can share projects and plans without having to worry that external users will make serious changes.
Another useful feature for keeping track of marketing campaigns at scale is the Table View, which breaks out all tasks into a spreadsheet view:
These and other time-saving features help marketing teams stay on track and save time.
The Real-time Activity Stream, for instance, provides users with a feed of all the updates and comments on projects they’re assigned. Users can quickly filter the activity stream to see the updates that matter most.
Some of the other nifty features included with the free version of Wrike include:
If Wrike ends up being a good solution, they’ve got paid plans that are tailor-made for marketing and creative teams.
Wrike for Marketers is a business-level project management software dedicated to helping teams across the company create on-brand experiences at scale. They offer a 14-day free trial so teams can get a sense of everything that comes with the premium platform.
Wrike for Marketers Performance takes the analytics and workflow automation to another level.
There are pre-built dashboards, advanced reporting features, data visualization tools, and integrations with an additional 400 apps.
For marketing teams, Wrike is an excellent choice. Their free project management software is enough for a team to get started, and their paid plans will take a company to the next level.
Jira is built from the ground up to serve teams that work within an agile framework.
The customizable task boards are ideal for Scrum and Kanban, but so is Trello.
What separates Jira in terms of working well for agile teams are the baked-in reporting and roadmap features.
For managing a single team, both these features are huge time-savers. They work behind the scenes to turn all the information on your boards into visual intelligence.
Roadmaps help you track the bigger picture by placing work on a timeline that clearly maps project dependencies.
Rather than a Gantt chart, which tracks outputs, a roadmap tracks outcomes, like solving customer problems. Work feedback, product vision, and goals into your roadmap, not just the deliverables, to get a better picture of long-term strategy.
Whether it’s a new product or sprint increment, roadmaps help teams connect their daily work to the team’s progress toward the overall goal.
There are also 12 standard agile reports available for any Jira project.
There’s nothing users have to do to configure these. Jira automatically takes your boards and cranks out really helpful reports for agile project management, like burndown charts, velocity charts, and sprint reports.
The free version of Jira comes with other helpful features for agile teams like:
A word about a few of these features. Since Jira is an Atlassian product (like Trello), there’s a really long list of apps and integrations that are going to work.
The customizable workflows and automation are definitely limited with the free version of Jira, but you can work many third-party tools into your processes.
With Jira, the deliberately agile design means that teams and leaders have to do less finagling to get the tools they need.
Backlogs, for instance, can be set up with other free project management software. In Jira, however, they are a dedicated feature that has been designed for backlog grooming and sprint planning.
Instead of spending time to configure the system, teams can start using Jira on day one.
Another helpful feature is that each task is assigned a unique key and ID. This is great for ticketing and bug-tracking.
Give their free forever version a shot and find out why so many agile teams depend on Jira.
ClickUp offers the most control and functionality in the free project management software category. It’s my pick for larger organizations for two reasons.
One, the free platform is generous enough to accommodate multiple teams. More than that, the simple structure is built to scale.
The number two reason is customizability. Each team can configure their workspace to suit their specific needs.
Let’s dig a little deeper into both these reasons.
The free version allows for five Spaces, each of which is enough to support an individual team. Spaces can hold up to 400 folders, which can in turn hold up to 100 lists.
Lists are where tasks live and ClickUp allows for unlimited tasks in every list. You can also create up to 100 custom fields for lists to track whatever is most important about each task.
And it’s still super intuitive.
Everything is drag and drop and you can toggle between list, board, and calendar views. There’s even a “me” view that shows only tasks assigned to the user.
When it comes to tasks, this is where ClickUp’s customizability really shines.
Here’s a list of some of the things you can do within tasks
Yes. I’m still talking about the free forever ClickUp plan. It’s almost like they are too generous.
To set dependencies, for example, users simply indicate that a task should wait on another task to start or block another task in the workflow from starting.
And because you can track dependencies and due dates, ClickUp’s free version provides 100 uses of their Gantt chart feature.
Honestly, I’ve barely covered half of what ClickUp can do.
It’s my top pick for larger organizations that want free project management software they can actually use.
Little things—like how every task in ClickUp has a unique ID—make staying organized at scale possible.
Plus, the hierarchy of spaces, folders, lists, and tasks is simple and flexible enough to work for just about any use case.
In the end, ClickUp really forces teams to stay organized as they build out. You can’t put a price on that.
If we take all the frosting off the cake, what we really have left is a simple real-time system that captures a team’s workflow.
Finding the right free project management software is about understanding how each platform accommodates the local needs of each team.
If you are just starting to explore project management software, the free version of Trello is a great place to begin. It takes no time to master and has enough functionality for teams to tackle lightweight projects.
For companies that need a little more power out of their project management solution, ClickUp is the best bet. The feature set is robust compared to other tools and it will work well across multiple teams.
On the marketing side, Wrike provides email integration, which I think is essential. That’s something that only comes with paid versions from other vendors.
In addition to that, both the internal and external collaborative features are rich. This makes it easier to interface with customers and coordinate behind the scenes.
Workplaces that subscribe to an agile methodology will find that Jira has been hand-crafted to suit their needs. The out-of-the-box reporting and deliberate design make it very attractive.
Companies exchange private information with clients and customers all the time. If even one document falls into the wrong hands, they could lose a great relationship in an instant.
Everyone I work with uses document management software, and you should too. Once you get started, you’ll see that it gives you tons of advantages beyond security.
Whether you are trying to go green, stay organized, build great looking newsletters, or meet the most stringent regulations, document management software can make a hard process much easier.
The key is finding the right one for your specific needs. I’ve put together a list of my top five document management solutions—let’s talk about why they are valuable and how they can help.
Estimates, proposals, contracts, invoices—documents are the base layer of every business relationship.
The easier it is to manage documents, the easier it’s going to be to manage these relationships.
Document management software can do a lot to help you stay organized and efficient. Let’s look at some of the features that can have a huge impact.
Digitizing documents is a pain without the right product. In fact, going paperless is one of the key reasons people get document management software.
It turns a really inefficient workflow into a streamlined process with tools to identify, sort, tag, and store all kinds of file types.
Some products come with optical character recognition (OCR) which translates the printed words into digital text. This means that any document you scan can be searched. Pretty slick, right?
A lot of these tools increase the control people have over documents, even after they have been shared.
Some of the features I really like are:
It’s really nice to be able to send a document knowing that it can’t be shared, altered, or printed. This is a huge step forward for businesses that lose all control once they have sent a document.
At a glance, I know exactly who has read a proposal and how much time they spent on each page. Microsoft Word won’t tell you that.
For sales, this is an information gold mine. Or, if you are trying to raise funds, this is insight into who is actually interested that is easily gleaned.
I find these metrics ultra-valuable. There’s definitely a reason more and more document management solutions are adding these features.
Making great looking, on-brand, up-to-date content of any kind is hard. Document management software takes all the formatting and presentation legwork out of the equation.
There are templates for all kinds of use cases, helping you quickly build proposals and newsletters that look phenomenal, automatically optimized for both web and mobile.
Some products have a visual document builder. Drag and drop your way to a show-stopping proposal that includes videos, or draw up the perfect contract with a signable field.
Design legal documents with confidence, no law degree necessary.
It’s really nice when a document management solution connects to your CRM software and autofills templates with customer information. Get a proposal in a lead’s inbox before the first call is over.
As you might expect, good document management software keeps a careful record of events.
This is important for collaboration. People always know that they are working on the latest version of the same document. This avoids needless time lost due to redundant actions and confusion.
Plus, with prior versions logged, changes to documents can be examined and the original can be restored if something bad happens.
For companies that are subject to lots of regulations, document management software provides helpful audit trails and additional compliance features.
I really like having an electronic signature solution built into my document management platform. It removes a needless hurdle between my customers and my service.
Closing a deal is hard enough. I don’t want to have to fret about how to get a signature.
Plus, I’m not asking a potential customer to sign up for a third-party signature service. It’s all in-house and frictionless.
The same is true of connecting a payment gateway. It’s always a good idea to streamline the process of getting paid. I mean, look at Amazon. You can pay with one click from practically anywhere on their site. Not an accident.
An eSignature solution and payment gateway really go hand-in-hand. Integrations with PayPal and Stripe allow you to get both signature and payment in a single step.
Can the same be said about the products that you use?
However your eSignature and payment gateway connect, find a document management solution that makes the basic stuff a breeze.
There’s a lot of overlap between the two main types of document management software. Every product is going to help you track, sort, and find your documents faster.
That said, they’re focused on different problems that companies face.
Some businesses are looking for a solution that helps them move their documents to the cloud. By digitizing their paper archives and records, these companies can finally preserve and organize all their information in a searchable format.
Others need a tool that lets them create and manage documents of every kind. These tools come with features that enable internal collaboration as well as secure client-side sharing.
The first step for finding the right document management software for you is deciding which of these categories best fits your needs.
One of the major tasks for traditional document management software is scanning and imaging paper files.
Whether companies are going paperless or interfacing with vendors that still use hard copies, document imaging systems quickly create high-fidelity digital documents.
These products are going to come with two main features.
One, they should have fairly well-developed OCR capabilities. Being able to recognize text, document imaging systems with OCR can automate the process of recognizing, naming, and filing all your important paperwork.
The second thing they do is provide an interface to organize your documents once they have been digitized. This may be a built-in interface or the software can connect with a storage system you already use, like Google Drive.
A document management system (DMS) provides the functionality businesses need to stay in control of all their important paperwork.
This includes some document imaging capabilities as well as really well-developed tools for searching, tracking, organizing, and sharing all kinds of file types.
The truth is that the file/folder system of something like Windows is just not sufficient for the real-time needs of most businesses.
For one thing, they are not able to create the documents they need, like PDFs with signable fields or emails that track customer engagement.
On top of that, staying organized with traditional file systems gets really tricky during periods of growth. Documents can get lost, shared incorrectly, or walk out the door with a former employee. Then there’s nothing you can do.
With a DMS, you retain control. Beyond that, these tools take over a lot of the busywork. Documents are stored in known locations, easy to find when they are misplaced, and always available to anyone who needs them.
Documents are also always automatically updated to their latest version, even if multiple people are working on them at the same time.
There is still a lot of variety within the DMS product category. What you are looking for is something that is focused on delivering the capabilities you need.
Some DMS solutions are built for sales teams, some for automating administrative tasks, and others are tailor-made for companies facing strict compliance requirements.
Find one that’s good at what you need it to be.
DocSend is a turnkey document management solution that provides great information about how people interact with the files you share.
Once your documents are uploaded to DocSend—which integrates with all the top storage platforms—you can share secure links.
No more attachments, no more asking leads to download monster files, and no more getting stuck in a client’s spam folder.
Whenever someone views a link you’ve shared, you’ll get a notification and the ability to track how they engaged with the document. See whether they forwarded your document and get page-by-page analytics that show you where they spent the most time.
What’s really holding the customer’s attention? Now you know.
These insights can be really valuable for figuring out what’s really connecting with each customer.
Another nice feature is the ability to create Spaces. You can get all of your sales material in one place and use flexible permissions to let different customers engage with the right files.
Whenever you share a document, you can set passcodes, expiry dates, and later revoke access.
There are obvious uses for all of these features in sales, but DocSend will work wonders for organizations that need rich engagement metrics. I’m thinking fundraising and marketing, really anyone who benefits from being able to gauge readers’ interest level in their documents.
With DocSend, you also get:
This last feature, in particular, is super helpful for sharing sales materials. Make it so all viewers have to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) before accessing a document, even if someone else forwarded it to them.
Increase the security of your intellectual property and eliminate the back-and-forth of traditional NDA signing.
DocSend is available with an annual subscription at the following pricing tiers:
The Personal plan is great for entrepreneurs who need to share secure information with total peace of mind. They also get great document-level analytics to know what people are doing with proposals.
The Standard plan will work well for any business and Advanced will satisfy the most comprehensive compliance requirements.
There’s a 14-day free trial with DocSend, which will let you test drive all the premium features.
FileCenter DMS is so far ahead of the game in terms of helping companies get out of the file cabinet and into the future.
First of all, it has a great interface for staying organized throughout the biggest jobs. You can divide and label information easily, even automating document separation and routing.
The interface will be super approachable to anyone who has used Windows before. Navigating your documents is the same, but you get all sorts of amazing powers because of the advanced optical character recognition (OCR) features.
The text recognition is so good with FileCenter DMS, that you can automatically make OCR part of the digitization process. As a scan comes in, FileCenter can read the text and name the document automatically.
Scanning a document makes it searchable, indexable, and copyable. Instantly. You can also use OCR on existing scans.
And how about this? You can scan a document and turn it into a Word doc with one click. FileCenter extracts the text, pushes it to Word, and voilà!
It should be pretty clear how FileCenter DMS can supercharge your efforts to digitize your entire workplace. On top of the best-in-breed text recognition, they offer:
FileCenter DMS is a one-time purchase, downloaded to a single computer. There are three different editions:
Compared to many of the top SaaS document management solutions, the fact you only have to pay once for FileCenter DMS is very alluring. And, if you need more than one license, FileCenter offers multi-user discounts.
If you are looking for a way to digitize documents with no learning curve, look no further.
PandaDoc is a wonderful document management solution that also will help your sales team build more appealing, on-brand content in less time. It really feels like a secret weapon.
Create a proposal, contract, or estimate from one of your templates in seconds. Literally whip one up while a rep is on the phone, send the secure document, and clients can sign before hanging up.
Think of PandaDoc as a smarter workspace for sales professionals. Creating the templates themselves is quite easy. Add blocks like text fields, dates, signatures, pricing tables, videos, and other content with a drag-and-drop interface.
Don’t want to design your own template? No worries—PandaDoc supplies 450 templates prebuilt for a variety of scenarios.
PandaDoc has native integrations with CRMs like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Pipedrive that tie right into your workspace. Through this, customer and pricing info can get pulled over automatically.
You can also add optional products at the end of an invoice for an extra upsell opportunity.
There are a number of other handy features that streamline the sales process, including:
PandaDoc offers a free tier, which gives you unlimited document uploads, eSignatures, and payments. Pretty nifty, right?
If you want to create smart, trackable documents, you’ll have to go with one of the paid plans:
With Business, you get direct CRM integration, which I think is definitely worth it. Try PandaDoc free for 14 days to evaluate how much of an impact it can have.
Rubex is the document management solution from eFileCabinet that is helping companies streamline their operations. From frictionless hiring to lightning-quick data entry, tasks that used to be error-prone become flawless.
The intuitive interface centralizes all of your documents in a single place. From there, employees can search the full text of any document that has been scanned.
With zonal OCR, Rubex can be set to recognize key zones of text, automatically naming the file.
Documents literally file themselves!
As good as the search, tracking, and text recognition features are, it is the ability to automate simple workflows that sets Rubex apart.
Set triggers to push the paperwork through based on rejections, approvals, and other variables, so people are spending less time on repetitive tasks.
It’s a really mature document management solution, but it takes no time to figure out. Some of the other great features that save time and frustration include:
The pricing for Rubex by eFileCabinet is broken into three tiers:
Full-text search, OCR, and many of the automated governance features come with all plans. The zonal OCR and advanced workflow features are only available with Unlimited subscriptions, or as an add-on with Business.
That said, Advantage comes loaded with lots of features to help teams stay organized. If you are looking to centralize your document management, Advantage will work as well or better than many of the other options on this list.
MasterControl is full-service document management software that can handle any law or regulation.
Think about medical device manufacturers, just one example of a business that relies on MasterControl.
Believe it or not, there’s a wee bit of secure documentation that goes into convincing the US government that an artificial hip is safe to put inside people.
MasterControl provides the document trail, security, and compliance features to keep companies in the clear throughout the most rigorous audit processes.
Their document security module is one part of a larger MasterControl quality management system and, depending on your needs, it may be wise to purchase some of the other modules.
For companies that operate in competitive and highly-regulated markets, a lighter document management solution is not going to have all of the tools necessary to speed a product to market.
MasterControl is purpose-built for this reason, and comes with:
You’ll have to get in touch with MasterControl to get a price for what the document management module will cost you.
MasterControl is not for everyone, but for enterprise compliance you’d be hard pressed to find a more fitting solution to your needs.
Managing your documents doesn’t have to be a problem. With so many great options out there, the question is which will work best for your situation?
In terms of digitizing documents quickly, FileCenter DMS is the obvious choice. It has the most comprehensive text recognition capabilities at an affordable price.
I really like DocSend and PandaDoc for sales teams. DocSend has deep engagement features that will feed insight to reps about who is interested.
Choose PandaDoc if you are looking to give your teams a visual edge, as you will be able to create professional, on-brand documents at a moment’s notice.
If you are looking to automate your document workflows, I suggest Rubex by eFileCabinet. Quickly build elegant solutions to cut down on the lag time for every process.
For companies that need to keep firm control over the document lifecycle because of regulatory requirements, MasterControl is the answer. It is built to handle the most complex demands, helping companies bring products to market without a needless delay.
The problem with selling your startup is the long exit time. Sometimes it can take as long as seven years before you can sell your business and hop on the next idea.
And the investors? They feel the same way.
Who wants to wait almost a decade to buy a startup when the face of tech is evolving at such a rapid pace? Plus, the price tag on those more established businesses often run into the billions.
That’s an expensive mistake if you make the wrong investment.
The solution? Micro startup acquisitions.
From Facebook to Microsoft, there is a massive trend to seek out tiny teams of five or less, buy them, and use the technology and talent to gain a competitive edge.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the benefits of buying and selling a micro startup, the trends changing M&R strategy, and the top tools you can use to sell (or buy) your startup.
But before we dive into that, we need to look into what micro startup acquisitions are and why you need to sit up and take notice.
Micro startup acquisitions are a move away from buying businesses with established products or even proven revenue streams.
Instead, larger tech companies like Twitter and Pinterest are making investments in small startups. These businesses usually consist of 2 to 3 people, and companies are taking bets on their products that aren’t even fully realized yet.
Companies are becoming more proactive and want to acquire complementary products earlier on in their road maps as a way to outwit the competition and obtain the best talent in the industry.
What does this mean for startups?
Your exit strategy timeline is A LOT shorter. Gone are the days of waiting 5, 7, or 10 years to sell, making it more affordable than ever to bootstrap your startup.
Hike Labs was founded in 2014, and by 2015, Pinterest had swooped in and acquired the San Francisco-based mobile publishing startup.
Over the last couple of years, there have been clear trends in why big companies are choosing to invest in these small teams and use them as part of their growth strategy.
More deals are about gaining access to new capabilities or markets. While it’s a trend across sectors, it’s picking up steam in tech where companies are looking to deliver more complete solutions to consumers.
These acquisitions, which focus more on scope than scale, accounted for 90% of tech deals in 2019, which is a 40% increase from 2015. It’s a clear indicator that businesses want to expand their offerings and capabilities.
No one wants to be late to market.
Yes, the tech giants could develop the software these micro startups are making, but by the time it’s ready for market, a competitor might have rolled a similar product out and taken all the glory.
Or you could make the mistake of investing too much in the wrong idea, and there goes money, time, and resources down the toilet. It’s usually much cheaper to acquire a startup that has done the legwork than get an idea internally developed.
By acquiring micro startups, companies can mitigate both risks and reap the rewards.
For example, HR and finance SaaS vendor Workday bought Scout RFP (a San Francisco startup with a team of 8) for $540 million.
The startup built a cloud-based office procurement system that helps customers streamline supplier management. The acquisition is a step in the right direction for Workday to compete as a holistic enterprise resource planning solution.
It’s no secret that attracting top tier talent can take your business to the next level.
These micro startup acquisitions aren’t only about products. Sometimes it’s the talent that attracts the bigger guys. Micro teams can amplify a company’s productivity while getting rid of the learning curve which comes with new hires.
The innovation and ability to push a startup idea into production mean the team has skills and knowledge that is invaluable to an established company.
For example, when Instagram bought Luma (its first acquisition), the tiny three-person team was part of the deal. The Luma team’s knowledge in video stabilization technology was critical in launching Instagram’s complementary app, Hyperlapse.
A massive advantage of purchasing micro startups is the price.
It’s way cheaper to go small than fund a big, established company with hundreds of employees.
And the risk of it going under? A much softer blow.
If the investment goes the same way as Jay-Z’s Tidal music streaming app, it’s a much smaller amount to write off. Plus, you get to keep the team.
Microsoft spent $200 million to acquire Accompli and only $100 million for Sunrise. When you compare that to the $7.5 billion they spent on the acquisition of Github, or their purchase of Skype for $8.5 billion, that’s quite a bargain.
The same goes for Google acquiring Android for a measly $50 million in 2005 with key employees joining the company. As of 2020, the net worth of Android is estimated to be over $2.5 billion.
Another major trend in micro startup acquisitions is artificial intelligence. Companies in almost every sector are looking to take advantage of machine learning and integrate it into their products.
When you combine this with the shortage of AI talent, there is a race to scoop up startups and their teams who are in the early stages of funding and research.
In 2019, Facebook quickly snapped up a visual search startup called GrokStyle, who developed an app that can automatically detect decor and home furniture from a photo. When asked about the acquisition, Facebook responded in a statement that “their team and technology will contribute to our AI capabilities”.
Want to cash in on the micro acquisition boom? Whether you’re looking to sell or invest in a small business, there are various tools to help you swipe right and find your perfect match.
Micro Acquire is a marketplace that connects startups to buyers. The platform is free, private, and has no middlemen.
When you sign up, you’ll get instant access to over 10,000 trusted buyers with total anonymity.
The marketplace is designed to cut down on the time you need to sell your business and find startups to invest in. Once you’ve found a buyer or a seller, you’ll get a letter of intent (LOI) in 30 days or less.
Micro Aquire is for startups with an annual recurring revenue (ARR) of less than $500,000. It’s one of the best platforms for serial entrepreneurs to invest in small companies and grow them into booming successes.
Flippa is a marketplace for buying and selling websites, apps, domains, and online businesses.
While it helps to streamline the negotiation and transaction process, it does have a history of scam listings.
If you decide to buy on Flippa, do your due diligence and put the listings under a microscope to make sure it’s legit to find those diamonds in the rough.
Flippa is an ideal marketplace for small to medium-sized businesses. You can find a range of sellers at any price.
You can buy or sell online businesses and products like:
Flippa’s listing fees depend on what you’re selling:
There is also a 10% success fee on each sale, and you can upgrade your listing with various packages starting at $295.
Tiny Capital is a different breed in the micro acquisition space. Unlike some of the other tools mentioned above, it’s a traditional venture capital firm, with a twist.
Instead of buying companies and becoming a micromanaging nightmare, Tiny has a hands-off approach.
Besides the required monthly and quarterly reports, founders rarely have contact with the firm, with some businesses only speaking to Tiny Capital founder, Andrew Wilkinson, once every six months.
Tiny Capital seeks to invest in profitable internet businesses within the information technology sectors.
Think your business would be a good fit?
You need to meet the following requirements:
It’s the perfect micro acquisition option for founders who want a quick sales turn around (most deals are complete within 30 days) and an investor who is going to be seen and not heard.
There are no upfront costs with Tiny. All you need to do is contact the team, and you’ll get a response within 48 hours. If Tiny likes your business, you’ll get an offer within 7 days.
FE International is an acquisition advisory team for businesses earning five figures or more. With a 94.1% sales success rate, it’s one of the top tools for micro startup acquisitions.
As a full-service M&A (mergers and acquisitions service), the platform has integrated solutions for all the major elements of a successful acquisition. From valuation to exit planning to post-sale considerations, it’s all handled under one roof.
FE International specializes in selling websites in the SaaS, content, and e-commerce industries. It’s an excellent choice for startups within the 5 to 8 figure range who want top-tier support throughout the sales process.
There are no listing fees for sellers or joining fees for investors. Brokers are paid a 15% commission fee on all sales, and there is a buyer transaction fee of 2.5% with a maximum threshold of $1,000.
Since opening its doors in 2013, Empire Flippers has sold over $93,000,000 worth of websites and online businesses with an impressive 88% selling success rate.
Empire Flippers is interested in websites within the following categories:
There is an intensive seller vetting process to ensure only quality listings make it onto the marketplace, and there is a dedicated team for each step of the process.
To qualify for a listing on Empire Flippers, you must meet the following requirements:
Empire Flippers has a $297 listing fee for first-time sellers. But if your listing is declined, it is 100% refundable.
If you’re a repeat seller, you’ll only pay $97 to list your site.
Potential buyers must pay a refundable 5% deposit fee to gain access to a listings URL, P&L, and Google Analytics.
There are commission fees ranging from 8% to 15% depending on the final sale price.
The race is on for micro startup acquisitions.
Companies who understand the benefits of expanding their scope by adding complementary products and talent to their portfolio will reap the rewards.
Companies who forgo adding micro acquisitions as part of their mergers and acquisitions strategy are going to get left in the dust by competitors and struggle to find top-tier talent.
In short, there is no better time to be a desirable tiny startup.
Have you ever sold or acquired a micro startup? What has been your experience?
The post Micro Startup Acquisition: The Definitive Guide to Buying and Selling Small Startups appeared first on Neil Patel.
Collaboration software has become a must-have tool for businesses today.
With teams scattered across different locations working remotely, these tools ensure that everyone can communicate and collaborate effectively. From simple check-ins and real-time status updates to ongoing project management, collaboration software can accommodate businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Your organization can even use collaboration software to improve the way you work with clients, contractors, and stakeholders in your business.
By leveraging collaboration tools, everyone will benefit from improved workflows and have greater access to crucial information.
But in order to take advantage of these benefits, your first task will be finding the right collaboration software for your business—and there are a ton of options out there.
To make your decision easier, use the buying guide and recommendations that I’ve reviewed in this post.
As previously mentioned, there are lots of different collaboration tools available on the market today. With dozens, if not hundreds of options to choose from, narrowing down the best option for your business can feel like a tall task.
To ease the buying process, I’ve identified the top factors that must be considered as you’re evaluating different options. I’ll quickly explain each one in greater detail below.
Collaboration software comes in all different shapes and sizes.
You’ll come across solutions built for project management, while others are made specifically for instant messaging or video conferencing. There are even some all-in-one solutions on the market today.
The best option for you will depend on the needs of your business. Some of you might just need an internal messaging tool, as opposed to a platform for document storage or task management. We’ll discuss the different types of collaboration software in greater detail a bit later in this guide.
How large is your company?
In addition to the number of people on your team, the amount of teams, departments, and other segments should also be taken into consideration.
For example, you might want to have a tool that every single person within your organization can use to contact another employee. But files being shared by the accounting team or human resources department shouldn’t be available for your marketing team to access. Your sales staff shouldn’t be able to access sensitive financial records.
So make sure the software you’re considering allows you to create different groups for each department or project. You’ll also want to look for features to manage permissions and access for each individual user.
Collaboration software should be making your life easier, not more difficult.
There are some tools out there that are undoubtedly more complex than others. Depending on your needs and the technical skill level of the end-users, that’s fine. Any time you’re using new software, there will always be a learning curve. So you’ll need to keep that in mind.
However, after the first couple of weeks or months using the software, your entire team should be fairly proficient. If not, it could add complexity to your processes, as opposed to boosting performance and productivity.
I strongly recommended that you take advantage of demos and free trials. This will truly give you a better understanding of which options are the easiest to use.
This piggybacks off of our last point. The best collaboration software will make it easy for you to stay organized.
Depending on the software in question, there might be task cards, folders, groups, or other ways to keep everything in order. How can you jump from one project to another? Will users easily be able to find a file or document that was shared by a coworker? Can supervisors and project managers keep track of everything at a higher level?
At scale, the way everything gets organized within your collaboration software is amplified. If you’re just running a small team with five users working on a single project, this may not be important. But when that number jumps into the hundreds or thousands, staying organized becomes critical.
Your collaboration software should seamlessly integrate with other tools and software that your company is using.
From CMS to CRMs, email software, cloud storage services, and more, make sure you check out those integrations before you finalize your decision. It’s easier to use collaboration software if everything can be managed and accessed from a single platform. Otherwise, users will have to bounce back and forth between different tools, which isn’t ideal from an efficiency standpoint.
Before we jump into the reviews and recommendations, I want to clearly identify and explain the different types of collaboration tools on the market today. Here are some of the options that you’ll come across as you’re browsing around:
As the name implies, project management software is designed for teams that are working on different projects. A project can be defined as something with a clearly defined start and end date.
This could be anything from a full-scale app development project to a smaller marketing campaign.
Project management tools allow your teams to work on projects collaboratively while sometimes automating tasks. If this is what you’re looking for, make sure you find a solution that fits your project management style (lean management, agile management, Kanban boards, Gantt charts, etc.).
Lots of project management tools are branded as an all-in-one team collaboration solution.
Some solutions are made specifically for sharing files and documents.
With these tools, team members can transfer, distribute, and customize access to shared files. A file could be anything from an image to a PDF or even larger files like software, videos, or ebooks.
It’s much easier and more secure to manage files and collaborate with a cloud tool as opposed to transferring files via email.
Messaging tools are ideal for teams that want to benefit from real-time communication. If you need a quick answer or want to communicate back and forth with a coworker, an instant message is definitely more efficient than an email.
These are also great for group chats where multiple members can communicate in real-time with each other. Again, it’s a better alternative to traditional email.
Some collaboration tools will have built-in instant messaging features, while others specialize in instant messaging specifically. Not every collaboration software includes team messaging.
Conference calling software takes real-time communication to the next level.
Aside from instant messaging (or in addition to instant messaging), these tools allow teams to collaborate using voice and video chat. You can even benefit from extra features like screen sharing, presentation mode, etc.
Businesses use conferencing calling software for both internal collaboration, as well as collaboration with clients, contractors, stakeholders, and more.
Generally speaking, coordination tools are a component of collaboration software.
I’m referring to features like time tracking, scheduling, calendars, status updates, etc. For example, a collaborative calendar can help you understand everyone’s availability in real-time without having to disturb them. It improves efficiency when scheduling meetings or similar tasks.
Most collaboration software will have features for real-time status updates as well. So when someone completes a task, they won’t have to notify everyone about their progress. That information will be available within a general feed.
Slack is a name that many of you might already be familiar with. It’s quickly become the go-to platform for internal business messaging over the past few years.
Whether you’re working remotely or in a traditional office environment, Slack will be a great option to consider.
More than 750,000 businesses trust Slack for team collaboration. Here’s a quick overview of some of its noteworthy features and highlights:
Plans start at just $6.67 per user per month. All plans come with unlimited messaging. Regardless of your team size or industry, Slack is the best collaboration tool for team messaging.
Trello is a simple solution for task management. For ongoing work and projects alike, it’s one of the best ways for your entire team to collaborate and stay organized.
With the help of Trello’s boards, cards, and lists, businesses across any industry can use this platform to improve productivity.
Here’s a quick explanation of what you can accomplish with Trello’s collaboration software:
Trello is powered by Atlassian, a global leader in the software and project management space. So you know that it’s a solution you can count on. That’s why more than one million teams across the globe rely on Trello.
This collaboration software is free for up to 10 boards with unlimited cards and lists. Paid plans start at $9.99 per user per month.
Flock is another collaboration tool with a primary focus on messaging. But it’s a little bit more advanced than Slack in terms of the features and capabilities.
The software is great for teams that work collaboratively from remote locations.
With Flock, you can keep all of your messages, apps, and productivity tools organized from the same place. Here are some of its features that are worth highlighting:
For small teams, Flock is free with 10 channels included. You’ll also get unlimited 1:1 and group messages. Paid plans start at just $4.50 per user per month, which is a great value.
Try Flock for free with a 30-day trial.
Zoho Projects is one of the most popular and easy-to-use collaboration tools on the market today. The software makes it easy for teams to collaborate, plan, and track work more efficiently.
As a cloud-based solution, you can use Zoho Projects to collaborate and manage tasks from anywhere.
Compared to other tools out there, Zoho Projects is loaded with robust features. Here’s a quick overview of some of my favorites:
Zoho Projects even has industry-specific solutions for categories like software development, real estate, construction, marketing, education, and more.
Plans start at just $3 per user per month (with a minimum of six users). You can try it for free with a 10-day trial.
Wrike is a powerful and versatile project management solution. The software makes it easy to give your team complete control and visibility over projects and tasks.
If you’re looking for collaboration software with a primary emphasis on project management, this will be a top choice for you to consider.
Wrike is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including some big names like Dell, Google, Airbnb, and Siemens. Let’s take a closer look at some of its features and benefits:
Wrike is a popular choice for marketing teams, creative professionals, and product development teams. However, it’s versatile enough to accommodate the needs of really any business type.
The software is free for up to five users. But you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan to take full advantage of the project planning and collaboration features. These start at $9.80 per user per month. Try it free for 14 days.
For those of you who need collaboration software for conference calling, look no further than BlueJeans. It’s a simple and safe way to empower your remote staff with audio and video conferences.
Brands like Zillow, Facebook, ADP, Intuit, and National Geographic all trust BlueJeans for team collaboration.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes BlueJeans so great for collaboration:
Plans start at just $9.99 per host per month. If you’re not quite sold just yet, you can have unlimited access to BlueJeans and all of its features for free with a 7-day trial.
Collaboration software makes it easy for your entire business to stay organized and connect with each other in real-time.
To find the best software for your business, start by reviewing the buying guide I highlighted at the begging of this article. Then go through the recommended options above to narrow down the best tool for you.
While looking through your business objectives, you suddenly feel your organization needs to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately, your in-house team doesn’t have the required expertise to push through change.
So what do you do?
Hire a consultant, hands down.
A consultant can provide your company with specialized knowledge to help solve specific problems, allowing you to gain a competitive advantage.
In a nutshell, they can give you expert opinions, analysis, and recommendations that can help ensure a more objective-based approach to grow your business and maximize sales – all at the same time.
Plus, an outsider’s perspective can likely improve strategizing and troubleshoot problems effectively too.
Our team at Neil Patel Digital has compiled the ultimate guide below to help you understand the nuances of working with a consultant for the best results.
Let’s start by reviewing how you can find the best consultant for your company.
Let’s face it: None of us know everything about growing and managing a business.
The scope is big, and covering every part of the syllabus isn’t possible.
Hence, it makes perfect sense to seek the counsel of experts who are right for you and your business.
And no, no one is going to judge you because you can’t solve your problems, whether it’s reducing expenses or creating an audience for new market entry.
When hiring a consultant, make sure you follow these five simple and important guidelines:
A good consultant must have an unimpeachable character and be a thorough professional who is willing to put the best interests of your company ahead of their own.
For instance, they must be willing to tell clients things they need to hear but may not want to – even if it means losing business. Ever ready to put their best foot forward, the expert should deeply care about helping their clients achieve their business objectives.
The only way that a good consultant can meet challenges and identify opportunities is when they have years of experience and expertise to create effective strategies.
The consultant doesn’t need to know your company or industry niche, but they should have the relevant knowledge to understand what to do next to enhance campaign efficiency and deliver results.
Additionally, they should have applicable certifications and technical knowledge. So if you want to launch paid campaigns, find out whether the prospective consultant has the niche-specific qualification.
For instance, a Facebook ad consultant should know how to use Facebook Pixel, Facebook Ad Manager, and Power Editor. On the other hand, an AdWords consultant should be Google AdWords-certified and know how to improve ad Quality Score.
If there is one thing your consultant should be, it‘s an outstanding problem solver.
After all, the whole point of hiring a consultant is to solve specific pain points, along with taking advantage of opportunities.
Most of this is highly dependent on the mentality and excellent analytical skills to create and synthesize campaigns or business processes. Consultants have to be quick and effective learners and have the capability to solve problems through an imaginative and creative thought process.
You need to trust your consultant if you want a successful collaboration, especially since revealing intimate details of your business is a necessity here.
Think of it as a relationship similar to that between a doctor and patient.
In the absence of complete candor, the consultant’s efforts may not be very effective, and hence, won’t help solve problems.
So make sure you choose a candidate who you feel you can develop a professional relationship of comfort and trust with.
Strong communication skills – oral as well as written – is mandatory for a good consultant.
An articulate thinking process and writing eloquently can also have a positive effect on your company’s target audience.
Communication is a two-way street, though.
No matter how great a consultant is, they won’t be able to help you until they fully understand the challenges you face, so make sure you’re clear about your pain points, vision, and challenges.
Remember, having the right consultant can create tremendous value. But if you get it wrong, it can also destroy value.
Once you’ve chosen a consultant, there are certain expectations on both sides that you should know to ensure consultancy success.
One thing that you can expect from a responsible consultant is availability and responsiveness.
Make sure all the credentials are verified and that the necessary HR paperwork and background checks are properly performed. Once everyone is on the same page, formal documentation should be signed and delivered to the involved parties.
During onboarding, make sure you maintain open dialogue to make the process smooth and fuss-free.
Everyone involved in the project or task should be clear about what is expected from them and why they’ve been hired.
You can give the consultant your company‘s mission and vision statements, along with other key documents to help them see the bigger picture.
Don’t be afraid to give the consultant measurable goals. You can work with them to set SMART goals that not only clarify all your expectations but also set parameters to measure the overall progress and performance.
It’s almost impossible for a consultant to create any strategy for your company without having an in-depth understanding of your business objectives.
Hence, you have to be prepared to answer a lot of questions from your consultant. In fact, make sure that the consultant does clear their doubts as otherwise, the campaigns will likely fail. This includes:
Once the consultant understands your current situation, they‘ll work out a game plan to tell you your final destination and think of ways to help you get there.
At this stage, the consultant will present their tailor-made ideas and strategies to suit your business needs in front of you and your employees.
This, of course, will depend on the project and the consultancy provided by them. For instance, a digital strategy consultant should cover various aspects related to advertising, such as media, public relations, digital marketing, and print advertising.
You can also propose reviews by looking at the presentation and examples from the previous clientele of the consultant.
Here’s what you can do:
Once you give the final go-ahead to the plan, the consultant will then launch the business campaign or start implementation.
After execution, the consultant should collect and analyze data to give you insights about the campaigns. You can allow suggestions made by them to enhance campaign effectiveness or adjust budgets accordingly.
You may not see immediate results, but you can still use the gained insights for crafting better campaigns.
Measuring the ROI of a consultant can be a challenging prospect. More so, because they help in several areas – many of which are measured in long-term growth.
In fact, according to the Predictive Index Consultant Report, nearly 27% of companies don’t want to hire consultants because measuring ROI is too difficult.
The first thing that you should do is approach the consultant-owner relationship with an actionable viewpoint by doing the following:
Additionally, you can use certain metrics, such as:
Make sure that you select the right KPIs that allow you to analyze your business campaigns effectively. Otherwise, you won’t be able to measure the success of the consultant’s strategy.
For measuring intangible benefits, gauge the difference in your team’s confidence before and after hiring the consultant. You can also carry out an internal survey or reference feedback.
We’ve already established that you need to define the problem you’re facing before hiring outside experts.
Once you’ve done that, you can get on the task of finding the right consultant for your business.
Usually, the best way to find good consultants is to use word of mouth. Talk to your past clients and ask them for references. Ask them about the problems the consultant helped solve, objectives they helped achieve, and whether they would hire them again.
The other way is to post project details on platforms like Reddit, Guru, Upwork, Freelancer.com. You can also select a freelancer profile from these marketplaces.
Another excellent way is to scan the respective consultant on LinkedIn profiles and blog posts. You can learn a lot about their personality, work ethics, and value that you may not identify while interviewing them. Twitter is also another platform to consider.
However, if you want to work with seasoned consultants – something that we highly recommend – you can do a basic Google search. Visit the websites of these companies and fill in their inquiry forms to schedule a discovery call.
Make sure you pay a lot of attention to the consultant’s personality and consulting style. It’s necessary for them to fit in with your corporate culture and gel with your team – just as any new employee should.
Do they listen to you properly? Do they have high emotional intelligence? All these are important questions you should consider before hiring.
Make sure that you do your homework on the prospect, whether a person or firm, to determine their suitability to solve your exact situation.
The worst thing you can do is force a square peg into a circular hole, which will only lead to time, energy, and money wastage. In other words, you’ll end up in the same place you started.
A good consultant will always ask the budget before chalking up campaign frameworks or strategies.
Some consultants work with clients having a monthly budget of $400 for ads, while some only go for businesses with budgets greater than $3000 per month.
So you have to decide the kind of money you are ready to spend and then find candidates who have previously worked with similar budgets.
As for pricing, every consultant charges their own fee depending on their expertise, experience, and goodwill. Typically, there are three pricing models:
Hence, you can either offer them a “set rate,“ provide an upfront retainer fee for the work the consultant will do over a specific period, or finalize an hourly rate.
Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate – even consultants expect it.
A consultant often specializes in specific fields where clients need in-depth expertise. This makes them better equipped to solve particular situations by using expert tools and a greater target audience understanding to avert any crisis.
Consultants generally fall into five categories. These are:
These consultants have a market-specific understanding and know the best practices of your industry niche. As a result, they can offer the following:
These consultants work specifically on employee needs.
Whether it’s recruiting top talent, determining compensation to align with company goals, or improving employee retention, an HR consultant can streamline everything using their leadership and communication skills.
IT is one area that is experiencing tremendous consulting growth.
With the rapidly increasing relevance of technology and tech support, companies have started hiring consultants to facilitate better integration and improve their computer or phone systems, upgrade servers, and ensure efficient storage space.
These consultants are also known as ICT or digital consultants that help clients with the development and application of information technology within their organization.
These are individuals or agencies that can help clients improve operations efficiency and performance.
Activities in this segment vary from advisory services to hands-on implementation support for primary functions (sales, production, marketing, etc.) and secondary functions (finance, supply chain, HR, legal, etc.). They can help to improve quality, minimize steps or mistakes, increase margins, and decrease costs.
As one would expect, sales and marketing consultants primarily focus on the marketing and advertising aspects of organizations. They perform the following tasks:
These are consultants who operate in the financial advisory segment. Their main job revolves around working on questions that address financial capabilities as well as analytical capabilities within an organization.
Furthermore, every consultant can have varied profiles, ranging from M&A to risk management to real estate consultancy to tax.
Agency and consultancy: Two words, but they are worlds apart in approach.
The main differences between these two terms ultimately boil down to the following:
Agencies – whether big or small – are almost always larger than consulting firms. As a result, they have a wider range of creative talent, team members, and skillsets. You are also assured of more resources with them.
Despite the smaller size of consultancies, there is a built-in rhythm that makes them more agile when adapting to rapidly changing business landscapes. They often have specialists in specific fields that can solve pain points – provided it fits their suite of knowledge.
Also, agencies commonly implement more activities, such as advertising, digital or media plan, web designing, and so on. On the other hand, consultancies are more focused at the strategic level, which involves building brands for long-term health and commoditizing strategy execution.
Any reasonable professional will always consider the overall cost to make sure it fits their budget.
This is precisely why you should decide between an agency and consultancy after determining your business size, budget, as well as the breadth of your mandate.
For instance, if you run a small operation that requires a quick turnaround time, heading consultancies will be right up your alley. But if you have more wiggle room, resources, and time, you can opt for an agency.
We would highly recommend getting roadmaps with key deliverable dates and timelines from respective partners after you finish aligning your budget and timelines. This will help you understand the overall projected costs more effectively.
If you choose to work with creative agencies, you get the option to choose your partner based off on your vision and past campaigns. They give you hundreds of options to choose from after taking your idea to make things easier for you.
Also, since creative processes go through several rounds of conceptualizations, the turnaround time is a bit longer, but you are assured of high-quality campaigns.
Consulting firms allow clients more latitude to push their vision and opt for a more hands-on experience of collecting data and designing campaigns.
Since consultants usually try to immerse themselves wholly in their client’s team, the turnaround time is typically faster as well. That said, the size of a consultancy can increase time, in case they have a huge reserve of past work.
Agencies are popular for creating some of the most engaging, inspiring, and emotional (you can insert more positive adjectives here) brand campaigns.
While the process is definitely a little longer than working with the consultant, they do specialize in distinct areas that facilitate better strategy execution.
Consultants, on the contrary, dig deeper to solve your problems. You‘re assured of more direct and quicker solutions thanks to their hands-on approach.
Running an agile team effectively is nearly impossible without the right software.
But agile project management tools can make your life much easier. It’s the best way to collaborate with your team, manage changing tasks, and keep track of various projects at scale.
In addition to the managerial perks of agile project management software, your entire team will benefit as well. These tools will make it easier for everyone to work efficiently, communicate, and meet deadlines.
Recognizing you need to invest in agile project management software is only half of the battle. Finding the right software for your business and team is a different story entirely—which is why I created this guide.
After extensive research and testing, I narrowed down the top five agile project management tools available on the market today.
There are certain factors that must be evaluated as you’re shopping around and assessing different tools. By following the buying guide I’ve outlined below, you’ll know exactly what to look for and what’s important in an agile project management solution.
The very first thing you need to consider is the agile framework you plan to use. For those of you who are already familiar with the concepts of agile management, you probably have a preferred methodology.
Do you want to use Scrum or Kanban? Lean? Crystal? Are you using agile framework variations such as Scrumban?
Depending on the answer, you’ll be able to find an agile tool that specializes in your preferred framework. It’s worth noting that not every agile project management software supports all agile management frameworks. So make sure the options you’re considering offer the methodology you need to implement.
Team collaboration is a crucial component of agile management. You want to make sure the software you’re considering comes out-of-the-box with collaboration tools.
Most solutions should come standard with features like team tagging, comments, file sharing, and other basic tools. Some software will have more advanced features, depending on your project type, industry, and team needs.
Just because an agile project management tool offers collaboration features, don’t assume that the tool will be robust enough for your specific team.
There are solutions on the market made for small teams with a handful of users. Those won’t be ideal for businesses that have multiple teams, hundreds of users, and multiple projects across several departments.
It should be relatively easy to determine if the tool in question is built to scale. If not, you can always express those concerns with the sales team during a free trial or demo.
The complexity of your projects will also play a significant factor in choosing the best software for your team.
For example, software development teams and internal IT departments typically have more advanced needs since these projects have a higher level of complexity. In these cases, you should avoid beginner tools and look for industry-specific solutions tailored toward your project needs.
On the flip side, managers and teams who are just starting out with agile project management should be seeking basic solutions to manage simple projects.
The best agile project management software will provide you with detailed reports and advanced analytics about your projects.
You can use these dashboards as a way to learn more about your team’s productivity, find out if the project will be completed on time, and if you’re staying on budget. As a project manager, this information is crucial to the big-picture operation of your business.
The usability of an agile management tool is often overlooked during the evaluation process. But it’s definitely something that needs to be taken into consideration.
What is your technical experience? How tech-savvy is your team?
If you choose a rigid solution that’s tough to use, it can do more harm than good. So you need to find a balance between a tool that’s robust enough to handle your project complexity while still easy for your team to navigate. This is another reason why you should always take advantage of free trials and demos as you’re narrowing down different options.
Not every agile project management tool is the same. Before we dive into the reviews and recommendations, I want to quickly explain the different options.
The easiest way to segment these tools is based on the agile frameworks that they offer. It’s also worth noting that some solutions will fall into more than one of these categories below.
Scrum is one of the most popular agile frameworks because it can be used for such a wide range of projects. Over the years, Scrum has gained popularity because of its simplicity, easy implementation process, and proven productivity boost.
With Scrum, the project manager will work closely with the team in terms of identifying and prioritizing functionality in the backlog. This backlog will contain whatever tasks must be accomplished to deliver the final product.
Kanban is the most popular visual workflow management methodology. Kanban boards make it easier for agile teams to manage various tasks in the project life cycle.
Similar to Scrum, Kanban is built to help teams collaborate with high efficiency.
The basic principles of Kanban include visual workflow automation, limited WIP (work in progress), and enhanced workflows. This process helps promote continuous collaboration and ongoing learning for agile teams.
It’s common for software development teams to leverage the lean agile methodology. This iterative framework is highly flexible and doesn’t have rigid rules or guidelines.
The main principles of lean management include team empowerment, enhanced learning, eliminating waste, delivering tasks as soon as possible, making decisions as late as possible, and seeing the big picture.
Individuals and small teams will have more decision-making authority, as opposed to a hierarchical flow. Lean management also helps ensure that the entire team is productive for the longest amount of time.
The Crystal agile methodology is another popular software development framework. It’s lightweight and typically comprised of a family of agile processes. These include Crystal Orange, Crystal Clear, Crystal Yellow, and others.
Each individual framework has its own unique rules and characteristics based on factors like project priority, team size, and more.
Crystal puts emphasis on the interaction between the processes and people involved in a project. Some of the key principles of Crystal include simplicity, teamwork, collaboration, and the ability to improve processes. It promotes high user engagement while removing distractions and bureaucracies.
There are lots of other agile frameworks out there. When you consider the variations and combinations of some, this number is in the dozens.
Other popular types include LeSS (large scale Scrum), SAFe (scaled agile framework), feature driven development (FDD), extreme programming (XP), dynamic systems development method (DSDM), Scrumban, adaptive software development (ASD), agile-agile hybrid, and FAST agile. The list goes on and on.
Forecast is an all-in-one project management and resource management solution. It’s built for project-driven companies that want to empower teams, automate operations, and unite all projects into a single tool.
With Forecast, you can automate tasks for project planning, resource allocation, and more. The software is powered by AI technology to help simplify monotonous tasks.
Here are some of the top reasons and why Forecast ranks so high on my list:
Overall, Forecast has everything agile teams need to improve communication. Create and assign task cards, file sharing, dependencies, subtasks, comments, and priority lists are just a handful of examples.
It’s a popular choice for agencies, consultants, and software teams. Forecast also has solutions for project accounting and business intelligence. The software seamlessly integrates with other popular tools that your team is using.
Forecast’s AI will learn from your previous projects and suggest the number of hours that should be allocated to similar tasks.
Plans start at $29 per seat per month (with a minimum of 10 seats). Try it free for 14 days; no credit card required.
Monday.com has quickly become one of the most popular agile project management tools on the market today. It’s trusted by 100,000+ organizations worldwide, including some big names like Coca-Cola, Adobe, Hulu, and the Discovery Channel.
This is a great choice if you’re new to agile management and need a solution for basic projects.
It’s one of the easiest ways to plan, track, and deliver team projects from a single workspace. Here are some of the other reasons why I like Monday so much:
Monday.com makes it easy for teams to collaborate. You’ll benefit from features like file sharing, task assignments, task priorities, visual boards, and other ways to see what everyone is doing at a glance.
It’s a popular choice for remote work, marketing, creative teams, HR, sales, and more. While Monday does have tools for software development, IT, and construction projects, it’s definitely better for simple projects.
Plans start at just $8 per seat per month (with a minimum of three seats). You can try Monday.com free for 14 days with an unlimited number of users; no credit card required.
Mavenlink is another all-in-one solution for project management and resource management. It’s a modern way for teams to collaborate from anywhere, which is perfect for remote work.
In addition to improving your team’s productivity on the operational end, Mavenlink provides deep insights into the financial performance of your projects and business as well.
Some of the top features, benefits, and noteworthy highlights of Mavenlink include:
Mavenlink is great for larger teams that need to manage projects across multiple departments. This works fine if you’re just using it for a handful of projects. But it works just as well if you have a project portfolio of 500+.
For small teams and enterprises alike, Mavenlink has a plan for everyone. Rates aren’t available online, so you’ll need to contact their sales team for more information.
Try Mavenlink free for ten days.
Jira by Atlassian is a bit unique compared to some of the other tools on our list. This agile project management software is built specifically for software development projects.
With Jira, software teams of all sizes can plan, track, and release exceptional products.
Let’s take a closer look at Jira’s top highlights for agile management:
Jira is arguably the safest project management tool on the market today in terms of data encryption and compliance. It integrates with 3,000+ apps in the Atlassian marketplace as well.
Software teams, look no further—Jira is the best option agile project management tool for you.
The tool is free for up to ten users. Paid plans start at just $7 per user per month. Try it free for seven days.
VivifyScrum is a versatile agile management solution. It’s trusted by small teams and large organizations alike.
Regardless of your team size and project complexity, this tool can help manage everything from a single platform.
Here are some of the top reasons why you should consider VivifyScrum:
The software comes with mobile apps, API access, file storage, unlimited integrations, unlimited active sprints, and so much more.
VivifyScrum starts at $10 per month for small teams. Contact the sales team for more information on Enterprise pricing. Regardless of your team size and project management needs, you can try VivifyScrum free for 14 days.
The only way to effectively manage an agile team is with the right project management tool. Which agile project management software is the best?
It depends on what you’re looking for. Factors like project type, team size, and other considerations must be evaluated for you to make an informed decision.
Follow my methodology and recommendations described in this guide to find the best agile project management tools for your unique situation.
Merchant services exist to help businesses process credit card payments. You might know them by the name “credit card processors.”
Regardless of what you call them, choosing the best merchant service isn’t easy. The “best” one is the one that is right for your specific business, and each of the following services offers particular features that may work for one company, but not for yours.
That’s why, in this guide, I’m catering to each type of business and finding the right merchant service for your needs.
Before we get into the best merchant services, we need to understand the criteria used to make these decisions. Keep all of the following factors in mind as you read through the reviews.
It’s all about the money, and credit card processing is not as simple as you think. You have to weigh the pros and cons with each gateway; otherwise, you can end up paying way more than you planned.
We need to look at the processing rates first. To get a lower processing rate, you usually have to pay a higher monthly fee. If you’re processing payments at high volume, it’s worth it for you to pay the higher fee because your volume will make up for it.
On the other side, if you’re not processing a lot of payments, having a higher transaction fee won’t hurt you as much as a high monthly fee would.
Flat-rate processing is a simple solution for small businesses, but interchange pricing is generally more affordable.
You want to look at what the payment processor offers in addition to credit card processing. Do they offer free POS systems, hardware, mobile payments, integrations, etc? Some merchant services even offer consulting, customer loyalty features, and invoicing tools.
Sometimes the “extra benefits” you get from a merchant service provider can outweigh some of the negatives.
There are two primary types of accounts, one is an aggregator (or middleman), and one is an ISO (or independent sales organization). Let’s compare the two and see why it’s important to understand the difference.
These are middlemen working in between the business and the bank, offering an easy payment processing solution for businesses. Square is an example of this, and while they make it easier, they usually have higher fees and transaction costs.
Payment Depot is an example of an ISO, and while they usually have a more strict acceptance policy, they offer lower rates and user-friendly software compared to a direct processor.
One of the most important factors to consider is, “how will this integrate with my current systems”?
Your payment processor should never get in the way or cause your conversion rates to decrease; it should complement your current process or even enhance it. Make sure you choose something that will easily integrate into your business without requiring too many changes or adjustments.
After much research and careful consideration, these are my top six merchant services for both in-person and online sales.
Square is popular for its credit card processing and POS systems, but it offers much more. It hosts features such as the “Card on File” feature, allowing users to store customer card information that works great for repeat customers trying to accumulate loyalty points and rewards of that nature.
The processor also doesn’t have a monthly fee, and while Square’s features might not be as advanced as some of the other payment processors we’re talking about, for a POS without a monthly fee, you can’t beat the value.
The one thing that stands out most to me is the transaction costs and how they vary whether you’re doing business in person or online.
For in-person sales, expect to pay 2.6% and $0.10 per transaction. For online transactions, it’ll cost you 2.9% and $0.30 per transaction. There are other instances, such as:
These will cost 3.5% and $0.15 per transaction.
Based on these numbers, Square is not the most affordable flat-rate processor, but the transparency makes it easier for you to understand what the rates are and how they’ll impact your processing based on volume and price.
Flagship Merchant Services cut the tape in 2001 and was acquired by iPayment in 2012. Now, they primarily resell iPayment, so keep that in mind.
This company was one of the first to offer free account setup without any application or fees and real month-to-month contracts. They operate tens of thousands of merchants, and they have a strong reputation.
Since they’re not a direct processor, most of their merchant accounts are set up through iPayment. iPayment uses First Data as their processor, and it can get confusing trying to figure out who is processing what through what service.
For retailers, Flagship does offer a free credit card terminal, but you’re responsible for paying account fees and insurance on that terminal to keep it up and running.
For ecommerce, they offer either Authorize.net for processing and integration of an online cart onto your site.
One thing that was a little frustrating about Flagship is trying to find information on their rates. If you go to their website, you’ll see that you need to fill out a form to get any info about what they charge.
I’d like to see more transparency, but you may end up with a more catered package deal with this strategy.
My favorite feature is that you get a single line of contact with the company when you purchase a gateway; they act as account managers. If you ever have a problem, you contact that specific person, and this isn’t a feature I’ve ever seen with any other merchant service.
If you’re a small business owner, Helcim might appeal to you. With this service, you’re able to process credit and debit cards online and in person. You can also do some of the following:
With a Helcim card reader, you can accept all major cards, including Amex plus Google Pay, Apple Pay, and JCB.
Helcim charges $20 per month with transaction fees based on volume. They don’t have any contracts or cancellation fees, and they’ll wave your monthly fee if you don’t process any payments.
Overall, Helcim is affordable but much more for in-person payments than they are online. Here’s a quick breakdown of their pricing structure:
Helcim offers nice features for those of you looking to integrate this payment gateway into your online store. You can add a checkout to your site for invoicing and customer registration while also accepting recurring subscriptions.
Payment Depot uses a membership pricing model, making it simpler to understand but can sometimes result in you paying higher fees. Thankfully, Payment Depot’s rates are pretty competitive, and they include interchange-plus pricing for both online, in-person, and mobile payments.
This strategy actually makes Payment Depot one of the most affordable payment processors for established businesses that are doing a certain amount of volume.
Payment Depot accepts all major cards and contactless Apple Pay and Google Pay as well. You get next-day funding and integration with POS systems as well as ecommerce platforms such as:
I don’t think this is one of the best merchant services for small businesses because of how they structure their pricing. The transaction fees go down as you pay a higher monthly fee, and they seemingly force you to increase your plan because of strict processing limits.
Here’s a breakdown of their pricing:
So, as you can see – if you’re doing high volume, it would make the most sense to upgrade to the most expensive plan for the lowest transaction fees.
Fattmerchant is set up a lot like many of the payment processors. As you increase your monthly fee, your transaction fees go down. They offer Omni, which is where you’ll do your invoicing, payments, and reporting. The service is incredibly user-friendly, great for beginners, and it comes included with your monthly fee.
While Fattmerchant is a great choice for budget-conscious business owners, it’s also a great option for subscription-based businesses. If you’re selling monthly coaching packages, agency services, or counseling, you’ll benefit from Fattmerchant’s structure.
The processor accepts all major cards, including ACH, invoicing, Text2Pay, and more. Same day funding is available, and you get a free iOS and Android POS app and Bluetooth card readers that you can use on the go.
They have two pricing plans:
Fattmerchant has a higher monthly fee than some others, but the company says that is how they keep their transaction fees down.
If your business runs entirely online, Stripe is your best choice. It’s made specifically for ecommerce and internet business, and tons of startups and Fortune 500 companies trust Stripe.
The company offers sophisticated software and APIs that allow online store owners to customize their checkout experience. You can use the pre-built integrations to connect a Stripe checkout right away and then customize it as you go along.
That’s one of the main reasons why I love Stripe; it’s a payment processor that grows with you and allows you to change it as your business needs change.
With all of these features and moving parts comes complications. It’s not the easiest to set up, and if you plan on utilizing the many benefits of Stripe, you’ll likely need a developer to handle it for you.
Stripe offers a “pay as you go” strategy without monthly fees and transparent transaction fees across the board.
You can use all major credit and debit cards plus ACH, WeChat Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and much more. Expect to wait two business days for deposits or pay a one percent fee to get instant deposits.
Stripe integrates with WordPress, Magento, Squarespace, 3DCart, Zoho, Big Cartel, and more.
So, by this point, you should know which of these merchant services is right for you. They all have their pros and cons, and you should choose according to the type of business you own.
Square is an overall solid solution for all businesses, but the transaction fees are a bit high, and scalability is lacking.
I’m also a big fan of Helcim because they allow you to grow with your processor by increasing the monthly payment as your volume needs increase.
Regardless of which choice you make, keep the important factors in mind and choose carefully, so you don’t regret your decision down the road.