Clear the clog: Get your project flowing again with quick decisions

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Is your project not flowing smoothly? If you’re plagued with missed deadlines, overspending or incomplete tasks, it’s time to find out what’s clogging the pipes. A clue is that these blunders are often related to each other. For example, when overlooked tasks are discovered, going into emergency mode to complete them can require employees to work overtime, which pushes the project over budget. So if these problems are related, there must be a single culprit behind them. The usual suspect? Decisions aren’t being made efficiently. Find out what’s preventing the right people from making the decisions that will get your project flowing again.

Meetings. Think about how long it takes to organize a meeting, maneuver schedules so that all the major players can attend, keep it focused and obtain a consensus by the time it’s finished. Don’t forget the likelihood that more meetings will be required. When too many decisions are dependent on meetings, it’s no wonder your project is being held up. Keep the meetings at a minimum.

Approval channels. Decisions that can only be made after being approved by several levels of management can significantly slow down a project. All that time when staff are making presentations and waiting for approval to accomplish tasks is time they aren’t spending working on the project. Why does management need to be involved in every decision? The staff who are working on the project every day know best what needs to be done, so give them the freedom to fix minor problems and pivot the direction of the project when they think it’s necessary, leaving only major decisions to be reviewed by management.

Large groups. The theory behind juries is that when more people are involved in making a decision, it will lead to better decisions. Watch any legal drama television show and you’ll see that the drawback is how long it takes to get through everyone’s opinions and objections to come to an agreement. In your project, you have to maximize every minute, so get the results you want by limiting specific decisions to only those who are most qualified to make them. For example, leave the user experience decisions to the user experience designers instead of the entire software development group. A smaller team can be more agile in making decisions, allowing the project to move forward faster.

Bring your project back on time, on budget and on task by asking yourself who, what, when, where and how are decisions being made. Providing people the flexibility to make quick decisions may be just what you need to clear up that clog in your project.

Save the world, on time!

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Tracy is a highly proactive customer success leader. She manages a customer support team at her company. Delivering little nuggets of customer happiness everyday is her ultimate goal. Needless to say, she trusts her helpdesk software as much as she trusts her own team.

She gets into office every morning and has a huddle with her team. They discuss important highlights from the previous day and their plan of action for the rest of the day. That’s all she needs from them. For every other detail, she trusts Zoho Support. She loves the automation features and finds them really useful. “You guys really make my day!”, she says, all the time.

Last week, we heard from Tracy. But, she sounded a little serious.

Her company just signed on a big client. This one’s really important for their future. A strong responsibility now rests on her shoulders. Her company has to ensure that this client is thoroughly happy with their service.

She just can’t afford to let any stone unturned. After setting up a new contract, an SLA and some escalation rules, she just moved on with her typical day. They covered everything she needed, with clients previously. This time, she wanted to push a little further. That’s where we came in.

For proactive support, we think support reps have to reach out, sometimes, even if customers/clients don’t respond to an email. We also think that customers/clients need to be handled extra carefully during non-business hours. So, that’s precisely what we recommended her.

Using Zoho Support’s time-based actions, managers like Tracy can now setup alerts when a client hasn’t replied to an important follow-up email for an hour. Or, to send an email when that big client needs support after business hours. The beauty is that these alerts work with your business hours as well as plain calendar hours.

You can try it too! Just setup a time-based action and choose a business hour (or calendar hours). It’s very easy and works sensibly. That’s what we call truly functional software.

Tracy’s really happy with our automations, now, more than ever before. We love her too. After all, people like her really make our lives amazing.

Making unwanted travel a deductible expense

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This is a guest post by Craig Keolanui of SmBizWinningTips

You might have heard of planning a vacation around a trade show or convention that you can attend, but consider those trips you want to take but don’t necessarily want to spend money on, such as weddings or other family events.

It would be nice to write off some of these expenses and, if done carefully, it is entirely possible.

Most often these trips involve expensive airfare and covering your business in your absence, so getting a tax break is the best way to recoup some of these costs. The key is to mix business with pleasure and the rest is as easy as keeping organized receipts.

What else can be accomplished on your trip?
Make your personal trip a business trip. Network with old friends and read up about conventions or events involving small businesses in the destination city’s publications or websites. Attend a convention, trade show or a conference or anything that can directly relate to your business. Make sure to keep some type of documentation to justify the travel expenses.

Hold onto the ticket stubs, notes from a conference, brochures or any material that supports the reason for taking the trip.

Evaluate possible deductions prior to the trip.
You obviously will pay more for last-minute travel arrangements, in some cases, so your airfare will be the first thing on the list. If you have to rent a car, that will follow, but don’t forget to log mileage and document your driving to and from any scheduled appointment or meeting. All travel meals will be worthy of 50% of the expense, but eating at the homes of family or friends will make the trip less costly.

Be careful about what else you try to expense. It would be unwise to try to write off flowers that you purchase for Aunt Edna’s bedside or the wedding gift you bought, unless the bride or groom is a client.

If your trip is prolonged, have more than one business reason.
If you stay over a week and plan on deducting the hotel room and meals, it is smart to have more than one business engagement to attend. This will help keep things above board if you were to face an audit.

Last-minute personal trips happen all the time, and operating a small business provides some advantages to offset the cost. In an occupation where long hours are spent and time is very short, it’s important to maximize every opportunity to save money.

Case Study: Using Zoho Reports for Strategic Planning

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Zoho Reports is a versatile reporting tool and we keep coming across customers who use it in a myriad ways. One such customer is María Inés Plaza of Envases, a food/industry packages manufacturer based in Venezuela. María Inés uses Zoho Reports for her planning department’s activities. From automated balance scorecards to variable compensation pay for employees to sales forecasts, Zoho Reports does it all at Envases.

Till 5 months back, Envases’ planning department, like any other SMB’s was using the ubiquitous spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel) for the above functions. It took María Inés a lot of time every month to update the spreadsheet, apply the proper filter and share a copy of it with everyone concerned. She realized there has to be a better way to do it and hit upon the idea of using Zoho Reports. Now, she’s automated all data uploads and calculations. And every employee in Envases has live access to interactive dashboards, based on dynamic data.

The biggest benefit? María Inés is now saving two weeks of effort every month. Read more about how María Inés is using Zoho Reports in Envases.

Now Possible: Scheduled migration of data into Zoho Creator from MS Access and MS Excel

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Migrating data between services is a pain, regardless of the services. We’ve always been for simplifying these tedious tasks, because most of Zoho Creator users have the need to synchronize data from in-house applications (ERP system for example), with their custom apps in Zoho Creator.

The Zoho Creator migration tool was a result of a conscious effort to simplify data migration. The tool made it easy to create new apps during migration or migrate data into existing apps. Now, we have enhanced the tool to support command line option for uploading data from files. This version of the tool allows you to perform tasks on Zoho Creator, right from within the command line interface. You can

Create an application
Create a form
Add records
Update records
Add or Update

This makes way for cron jobs; customers can schedule synchronization of data from in-house apps like MS Access or MS Excel, with their custom Zoho Creator application, without manual intervention. The tool reads popular XLS, XLSX, CSV, MDB and ACCDB formats. Here is a detailed guide on how to do it. Try it out.

Just In: New estimate statuses to better track potential business

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Last week’s flavor was saving time with bulk printing. This week we are planning to get you more organized with regard to your potential business.

The average life of an estimate undergoes several trials and testing phases before it reaches the ‘invoiced’ stage. Along with Draft, Sent and Invoiced, we’ve now introduced three new estimate statuses in Zoho Books and Zoho Invoice – Accepted, Declined and Expired.

When a client approves the proposal, you can mark the estimate as ‘accepted’. All the accepted estimates will give you an idea on how to prioritize and plan your time so you can manage multiple projects comfortably.

Declined estimates could be a due to a lot of reasons even including the low budget. But if you have a trail of declined estimates for specific customers, analysis of that will give you insight on how to change your modus operandi the next time.

As a freelancer or small business owner you cannot have clients hanging onto your estimates forever. An expiry date acts as a catalyst for an earlier discussion and merry times ahead.

Classifying estimates helps to track them better and it gives a better idea of the potential business coming your way.

Now, with an approved estimate in hand, the next thing you would want is to create an invoice. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the software already took care of that!

Just head over to the ‘Settings‘ tab and select the option ‘Yes‘ to convert an estimate to invoice as soon as it is approved. Once the project is complete, head to the Invoice list and there you’ll find the ‘new invoice‘ in the draft status waiting for your next move.

Read more about estimate statuses in our help documentation. Hope you like it. Check it out and do share your feedback right here.

Find Nearby Customers On the Go

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A customer meeting wraps up ahead of time, leaving you with some time to kill. Making the best use of the time in hand,  you connect to the Zoho CRM App in your Smartphone. And in a single tap, your contacts and prospects near you are displayed on the map. In a few more taps, you can schedule a meeting and even get the driving directions to the customer’s location!

Wow! All this is just a few seconds. Thanks to ‘Find Nearby Customers’ option in the Zoho CRM App for Mobiles.

Find Nearby Customers on the go

The latest offering from Zoho CRM App for Mobiles is the ability to locate your customers in and around your current location. With the help of the Location Services in your Smartphones (iOS, Android and Blackberry), the app detects your customer’s location within a specified radius from your current spot.

And that’s not all! You can view the customer’s details, send emails and even make a call to the customer. Now that’s true CRM on the move!

So, what are you waiting for? Get your Zoho CRM App for Mobiles from the iOS App store and Android Google Play store now!

For more information, check out our Online Help.

- Radhika