Every day, new software pops up that blows our minds. There are countless cool apps and software companies changing how we live, communicate and get things done. From knowing who’s at the door with Ring or ordering food with Favor, technology pushes us further and faster.

For small teams and startups, there’s a variety of tools that transform an idea into the next groundbreaking company. Tesla, Facebook, and Instagram all started somewhere, right? Because there are so many amazing tools out there, it’s important to consider which are the most impactful, but also affordable – especially if you’re a smaller team or a startup.

Beginning with the obvious, Slack is the universal email killer. While there are a lot of great chat tools, Slack has become the ubiquitous go-to for team chat thanks to its privacy, file-sharing capabilities, and ability to plug in about a bazillion other apps including JIRA and Google files. Slack works well with collaborative teams because it allows for “rooms” based on projects, or one on one chats. Plus, you can send gifs, and everyone loves getting those.

For marketing teams, Canva is a low-cost plug and play tool that makes creating posters and graphics simple. Canva works great because everything is drag and drop, but also it’s free to use with graphics only costing $1 each. Creating a last-minute campaign or a timely web banner has never been easier.

MailChimp is an easy way to create and curate email lists for customer interactions. MailChimp takes out all of the work and offers ready-made or custom newsletter templates, allowing teams to drop in their information and ship it off to their lists.

When it comes to keeping track of invoices, PayPal has an easy to use system – if you’re working solo. If you’re a part of a team, Freshbooks features a much more nuanced ability to parse billing down to hours spent, client type and various other tax aspects. Put against other accounting tools, Freshbooks stands on its own because of simplicity and ease of use, which for most small teams, they aren’t looking to get in the financial weeds, but keep the doors open. Freshbooks is an easy way to keep track of accounts payable before growing enough to afford someone in charge of the money.

If the team is a little bigger and expense reports are the norm, there’s an easy way to keep track: snap a photo and forget it. Meet Expensify. Just grab a picture of that business lunch with the app, and you’re done. Everything you upload is tallied up and sent directly to the boss for approvals. After a long business trip, Expensify is a game changer.

If you need to collaborate with a variety of people, there are two options that define ease of use: Confluence or Google Docs. Google Docs is a stable platform because it allows for easy-peasy collaboration between anyone, regardless of who they work for or where they’re at. With simple inline commenting and link sharing, teams around the globe can jump on a project with one another in seconds.

With Confluence, collaborating is just a little different. Instead of a simple link share, Confluence is a team ecosystem that allows for discussion at the bottom of the document, past revision authority, as well as being extremely easy to use. The big difference between the two is easy: Google Docs is a free, primary application that gets the job done if you’re working on a document that won’t require more than inline comments. Confluence is a much more in-depth, detail-oriented tool that’s behind the firewall and set up directly for a team’s needs.

If you’re a constant note-taker and need to access ideas and thoughts on the fly, Evernote is tried and true. It’s a simple enough idea: scribble down a quick idea onto your phone and expand on it when you sit down at your computer. It seems simple enough but coupled with some of Evernote’s internal sharing capabilities; there’s a lot to like with the senior citizen of the app world.

Competing for the coveted role of “easiest to use website” is big business. Wix and Joomla go back and forth with trying to improve their platforms, but no one comes remotely close to the king of website hosting and platform: WordPress. Just about most websites and blogs are variations on WordPress templates and for a good reason: WordPress is intuitive and affordable. Most people can figure the language and backend out in a day or so. And because it’s so cheap, teams can put together a great looking site for well under $200 and a day’s worth of elbow grease.

Instead of putting clients and potential employees through paperwork hell, an easy way to move signing any documents is by adopting DocuSign. Once someone’s loaded their information into DocuSign once, the account is verified and works everywhere, thus saving them time.

If you’re a team that’s struggling with productivity, adopting agile methodology will change the game around the office. Initially implemented as a way for software teams to get work done by establishing smaller goals and marking their weekly successes instead of relying on just the big project rocks, agile celebrate a week’s worth of work, even if it’s the mundane smaller stuff. Born from this methodology came kanban boards, and with kanban, team members move their work along a path signaling work that’s done via three tracks:

Trello is a free tool that helps teams track their work, but also view analytics in regards to how much work is getting done. If the boss wants to see more tasks managed and how they’re moving out of the door on a weekly basis, Trello does just that. Plus, it’s nice to see the work stack up over time, painting a picture of what the team can accomplish.

If you’re thinking about joining a startup, Github is as essential as it gets. Used as a repository, Github offers version control, branching and merging code into one or many places, just depending on what your needs are. Github crushes because it keeps track of the often messy versioning of overwrites and misplaced updates. Another tool to consider is Pingdom to keep track of downtime and performance monitoring, as well as gain insights into what actual users are doing and more importantly, what they’re trying to do.

There are a lot of social media sharing tools that work across platforms. HootSuite seems to be the most reliable, but also malleable, too. Most Fortune 1000 companies trust Hootsuite and for a good reason: it’s rock solid. Because of simplicity in scheduling and the ability to monitor analytics, the marketing team will know who are reacting to what and what your audience is sharing.

We’d be remiss to not mention Salesforce, the world’s leading CRM. Salesforce is as mainstream as a Justin Bieber record at this point, but for sales teams, it’s mandatory. While other teams will try to adopt other CRM tools to nurture leads and develop new business, Salesforce somehow creeps back into the conversation because of its market dominance. If you’re trying to nail down a stronger sales plan, Salesforce is the way to go. No question.

That’s all for now. If we can think of more, we’ll do a follow-up. What about your team? Is there a SaaS tool that blows your mind? Let us know. We’re always on the hunt for the next incredible way to save five minutes.

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There’s a common saying when interviewing, “Act like the job needs you, not like you need the job.” For the most part, this quote is pretty accurate. When you walk into the conference room, waiting for the lineup of potential bosses and coworkers to meet you and assess if you’d be good for the team, you need to keep a cool head and pull a left turn: flip the tables on them. Make them want you.

You need to become the one asking the hard questions, to make them fall in love with you.

By flipping the script and interviewing your would-be peers, you’re letting everyone know that you mean business. Answering questions with thought out replies is a significant part of the interview process, but by keeping a few questions in mind to ask when feeling out how the team and company moves shows you’re thoughtful and that you care about the position.

Confidence and composure are what the team is looking for, not how your resume reads. By creating conversation, or bouncing ideas off one another in an admittedly awkward environment relieves some of the tension but also shows that you can assume control of a situation that you’re not entirely comfortable with. People enjoy being engaged, it’s not Pavlovian, but we react in kind when an interviewee volleys the questions back and thus creates an honest dialogue vs. a rehearsed call and response.

We asked some folks who’ve been on the hiring side of the interviewing table what they’d love to hear when looking for their next great teammate, what makes them raise an eyebrow or catches them off guard. In the world of the job hunt, it’s all about impact and standing out, not just answering what you think the interviewer wants to hear.

“The interviewee should have made time to conduct strong research on the company, role, market, and form ideas about how they will add value. The most compelling candidates do their research and ask relevant questions.” – Brian, CFO/COO

It’s important to come to your interview prepared and know the company, their space and what you think they’re trying to accomplish. By asking about how the company is positioning itself against natural industry evolution, it shows you’re trying to plan the next move and instead of trying to come from behind and jump in mid-stream. Granted, no one expects greatness overnight, but it helps to feign commitment to developing the future instead of relying on status quo.

Others are all about goals and successes, finding out ahead of time where you could fit in and what is expected of your role. By asking what metrics can be hit for the most effectiveness or how you can be a major contributor to the team makes a case for an objective-minded person:

“I want them to ask about team dynamic. If they aren’t asking about what level of autonomy they’ll have, what the feedback process looks like, and how we typically communicate, then they likely aren’t looking to be engaged in the way we need them to be.”

– Beki, Project Manager

“What are the KPIs for the position, how are they measured (if not obvious), and is there a bonus in exceeding them?” – Victorio, CEO

“I also now ask what success looks like for the role. And add a time frame, like six months. It makes the interviewer distill the real aim/purpose of the job. What they say first is very telling about what they care about, e.g., You have met all your performance targets, or you’re successful in your team, or you’re taking the initiative on new projects.”

– Claire, Technical Writer

Other questions are straight ahead and get down to the brass tacks, looking to strip away any fluff. It’s important to keep the smaller, more direct questions at the forefront, too. Every question doesn’t have to be a big picture narrative, there’s plenty of room for the inquiry that strikes to the heart of why would I want to be on this team?

Can I meet some of the people that I will be working with, or managing? – Heather, Writer

What surprised you most about joining this team? – Elena, Product Marketing Manager

Heading into your interview with a few questions about the position will only help drive the point home that you’re the person for the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re trading stocks, cleaning toilets, or writing blogs, the important lesson here is to drive engagement between you and the people interviewing. You want them to see you as effective, informed, and ready to be an impact player on the team. You made it all the way to the in-person round; they like you, it’s up to you to seal the deal with some extra pizazz.

And if all else fails you can be weird and ask something like “Would you rather fight 100 horse sized ducks or 100 duck sized horses?” We don’t recommend it, but Michael, a quirky CEO went there. Don’t blame us. We’re just trying to help.

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Human Resources is hard work. HR professionals have to mediate issues, but also try to remain a neutral party, despite their feelings on a situation – good or bad. The average HR person has to manage a cavalcade of personalities and do it with tact.

There’s leadership training, updating the staff on new changes to company policy, and then the patchwork of the daily grind.

One of HR’s biggest jobs is managing new hires and walking them through the onboarding process. Onboarding is critical when it comes to how new hires because it tips the hand of how their relationship with HR will go from here on out.

If the HR person seems open and emotionally available, that lets the new hire know that the door is open and if there’s an issue, it’s ok to stop by and talk. A good HR person is someone who sees the diversity of a whole lot of people’s attitudes from different angles and helps realize a solution long before an incident becomes a problem.

One of the reasons getting onboarding right is that it puts a human face first.

Onboarding new hires shouldn’t be rushed. Give new the new members of the team time to dive deep into the papers they’re signing and ask questions. A bold statement would be to give new hires two days of onboarding before being released into the company’s general population. It seems silly, but because a new hire was pushed through onboarding, something could be confused and have a ripple effect down the line.

HR Hell is constantly trying to fill recruiting holes and deal with a litany of paperwork every 12 months because someone wasn’t vetted properly, or at the very least wasn’t onboarded correctly. There’s the initial welcome, the introduction to the company, and then there’s the packets of documents, NDA’s, the insurance forms, benefit guides, direct deposit, etc. There’s a lot of paperwork when a new hire signs on.

After the paperwork, there’s ramp up, meeting new teammates, and finding out where the bathroom is. Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), states turnover can be as high as 50% after 18 months. Back in the day, people stayed on the job forever. Now? Companies have to compete with insane perks for top talent. The average person goes through ten to fifteen jobs before age forty. Just to replace someone costs the company 25% of that person’s salary.

Because of this circumstantial mix, onboarding should be a two-day process: one day for paperwork and a comfortable pace of company expectations. Day two should be meeting a variety of team members and getting to know the lay of the land. Some company’s even assign a “buddy” so that new hires have someone to latch onto as a means to adopt company culture.

The three most significant tentpoles of onboarding are:

It’s important to give the correct representation of what the company stands for and why the dynamic works. The new hires need to understand and grasp what the company’s values are something like: We stand for these tenants because we believe these are the keys to our success. We value hard work and accept failures as a part of the learning process. Insert some other high spirited stuff that looks good hanging on a wall.

Knowing and understanding the place of values is critical. Getting the new hire deep within the team’s culture is also paramount. Culture is everything and ensuring the onboarding process makes it clear what the company is about is an important goal to hit. If the company is progressive and transparent with their workflow, everyone coming on board needs to get with the program of standups, agile workflows, etc.

The onboarding process can be grueling, especially if the company’s hiring is expanding fast. But because there are some fantastic HR folks out there, they’ll always find a way to make an otherwise mundane process awesome.

There’s an integral section of the new tax proposal buried amongst the updates that has folks on Capitol Hill talking: the effects of the bill on higher education. As it stands, the new tax code overhaul is an effort to simplify how people pay into the system and how tax breaks work out for every tier of taxable income.

The continued arguments about the national debt and how we approach the ceiling, the funding of government, and how we amend it are frequent battleground topics, even for members of their own parties.

From billionaires, the middle class, to working farmers, there are bright spots and dark clouds within the proposal and likely will need a lot of bipartisan support and compromise to pass the majority, and rightly so. The current plan doesn’t offer the kinds of breaks that specific demographics rely on – namely highly educated students.

The bill passed the House of Representatives, but is currently under substantial debate in the Senate thanks to the 1.5 Trillion corporate tax cut, which eliminates a plethora of individual tax breaks for the average student. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the American Council on Education have been quoted as predicting the shift in the tax code could affect students by $65 billion over the next decade.

HOW THE PROPOSED CHANGES AFFECT THE MIDDLE CLASS

The way the current deduction is structured is that it allows student loan borrowers making around $65K and married couples making up to $130K to lower their taxable income by $2,500. Because of this deduction, the average borrower saves almost $700 a year. For a lot of folks, that $700 is critical. Erasing the ability to write off that cash could have severe implications for a segment of the working population when student loan repayment is already frustrating, considering over 44 million people are handcuffed to 1.4 TRILLION dollars of student loan debt.

With defaults skyrocketing, late fee’s in the thousands stacking up; the government is playing a dangerous fiscal game. Even parents who want to plan for their children’s futures are now burdened with new guidelines as to how they can save. Instead of a smooth plan for college saving through the ubiquitous Coverdell Savings Account, the new account would be called a 529 plan. The rub here is that currently, families can deposit $2K annually and withdrawn tax-free so long as they’re used for education-related expenses.

The 529 plan only allows for college expenses instead of the Coverdell, allowing an investor to put their money toward any schooling such special classes or even just enrolling one of the kids into a private high school. The Coverdell at its core works as a place catch-all for any, and all school expenses no matter the grade.

BUT, WAIT THERE’S MORE

For parents with full-time college students, there’s the American Opportunity Tax Credit which may take advantage of it’s increased financial ceiling. Currently, married couples making less than $160K or a single parent making under $80K can get a tax credit that gives them $2,500 annually for each child in college. In the new version of the tax plan, this goes the way of the Dodo by way of a decreasing annuity.

Even worse, for Graduate students, the tax plan is a proverbial kiss of death thanks to its decrease in benefits for anything after the fifth year of college and also ends the Lifetime Opportunity Credit. This credit allows students who go to school more than five years to get a $2K credit on their taxes, considering they worked to be doctors, teachers or just care about the deeper meaning of education.

Those students who want a graduate degree will pay more taxes than some small businesses. Grad students would see their taxes increase by a whopping 400%. Typically when a grad student is accepted by a university, many of the students sign tuition waivers – this allows the student to earn a free education but also expects them to work at the university. The tax bill would tax this work as income, despite having any money to account for the work and essentially crippling the possibility of earning a Ph.D.

BETWEEN THE LINES OF FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

Considering most graduate students tend to be politically engaged at a much higher rate than the national average, this move feels slimier than it probably should. Most people who know how the tax code works along with the student loan debt problem agree across the board that we need to forge some smarter paths, but not like this. Cutting corporate taxes on the backs of college students isn’t fair.

What about the college staff, surely they’d be ok in this literal mess, right? They’d get hit, too. Anyone on a college staff, including cashiers, janitors, IT admins – anyone, who uses a benefit to send their kids to the school, will see their credit taxed as income.

State schools aren’t the only ones feeling this burden, either. Private colleges will also see their student body deal with an upheaval in the tax code, too. More than 150 private colleges would receive a 1.4% excise tax on endowments valued at 100K per kid. Considering the call of government to keep things “small”, this is a hard line on private institutions whose student body draws heavily from the well of financial subsidies such as a Pell Grant.

Because of this tax excise would pummel colleges, colleges, in turn, would have to significantly reduce their support staff and hack scholarships down to balance overhead.

As it stands, the proposed bill made it through the House of Representatives but is currently taking a beating in the Senate thanks to more than one instance of murky language, but also dangerous policies like these.

ADOPTING THESE TAX AMENDMENTS INTO LAW COULD SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT THE MIDDLE CLASS IN A TWO-TIERED FASHION:

The bill would hurt students in their long-term quest for higher education. Which also would impact the job market, making certain professions harder to fill vacancies. The other big piece of this sour-tasting pie is that most colleges are run by the middle class.
From the person walking the grounds to most teachers, the janitors, or even the folks keeping the grass green at the football field – those are middle-class jobs that could potentially be compromised thanks to a shift in economic balance in regards to school.
No matter the political affiliation, people care about this issue and people want the opportunity to get their kids through school, and not lose their shirt while doing so. If passed, this move would increase the student loan debt by 24 billion over the next decade.

The Senate should have rejected this bill. We can’t allow them to gut higher education. If there is an American value that’s given to all who live here, it’s that a good education should be available. Granted, the system isn’t perfect and we’re a long way off from student loan debt being solved, or all child being served across the board. We should be looking for ways to support education, not punish those who want to climb the educational ladder.

With the Senate passing their end of the bill, now we wait to see how the proposed tax cuts work as the two versions of the bill are fought between the Senate and House. Because as it stands, it’s easier to own a private jet with armfuls of write-offs than it is to fund higher education. This needs to be amended.

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The rhetoric around student loans is nothing short of mind-blowing. There’s a ton of misinformation out there.

It’s a constant battle to dig through the facts beneath the politics and confusing stats. To help you stay in touch with the truth, here’s the first of a series of updates answering the big question, “What’s up with student loans?”

THE CURRENT RATE: NOW BORROWING AT 4.45%…

This is heavy duty news. This is an 18% increase which could be as much as $4,700 in extra interest paid to someone who borrows the total amount of America’s average student loan balance, $37,172.

Dates: July 1, 2017, was the last interest rate change. Per legislation, the next rate change could come as soon as July 1, 2018.

THE LATEST FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP’S TEAM

The last we heard from the White House on student loans: Forgiveness for defrauded borrowers may not come so easy.

STUDENT LOANS & TAX REFORM

We’re a long way from full tax reform, but “The Big 6” signaled that legislation related to student loan benefits and tax help could be on the way. Fingers crossed.

“Work, Education, and Retirement – The framework retains tax benefits that encourage work, higher education, and retirement security.” – Read more at taxfoundation.org

STUDENT LOANS & HURRICANES

The cliff notes version – Student loan borrowers affected by the recent natural disasters are eligible for up to six months of forbearance (they won’t have any payments due, but will still accrue interest). But, there’s a catch: those borrowers have to apply by contacting their student loan servicer.

Long version: Check out the Federal Student Aid Presentation on Disasters & Title IV for more details.

NEWS YOU CAN (ACTUALLY) USE

And that’s a wrap on this roundup of news. Once we’ve got some new information to share, you’ll be the first to get it. If you’ve got any feedback, questions, advice or just wanna say hey – leave a comment or tweet us.

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In this new, technology-driven market, companies have to be competitive in what they offer new hires and existing staff. The formula is simple: if you want that top tier talent, you need to make your business a place folks want to work.

While swag and the ultra-premium perks are cool, sometimes companies go overboard and offer perks that don’t really make an impact for employees. A “Welcome to the Team” spa day does sound fantastic, but it’s a tad excessive.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH PERKS? THE REAL POST-MILLENNIAL BUDGET

What companies ought to be doing is focusing on perks employees want. If there was one universal truth amongst all people, it’s that we all wish we had more money. Despite what our paychecks say, many times that amount is a fraction of that final number after the bills get paid. Employers assume the check covers everything, but it doesn’t. At this point, the average Millennial has three tiers of monthly expenses going out:

That Spotify, Netflix and Sirius XM combo adds up. Call it a lifestyle problem, or a first world problem, but I think most folks would agree, that getting those small, but incremental bills taken care of would be way more useful than a day at the spa.

WHAT’S THE ANSWER FOR COMPANIES?

Benefits need to be turned on their heads. What many companies are offering isn’t exactly what people want. 401(k) matching is a cornerstone, but a free massage allowance is not. Google offers free haircuts, and you can take an improv class at Twitter. While nice, there are plenty of folks who’d rather get cash toward transportation costs.

REAL HEALTH INSURANCE

We’ll take better health insurance options, cheaper eyeglasses, and more affordable medical needs. Health insurance is the most costly piece of the “money out of the check” pie. Companies like Slack and Atlassian offer 100% free healthcare for workers and their families.

REAL KID HELP

One of the better perks is in-house or compensated childcare. If there is one major money issue in a parent’s life, it’s paying for someone to watch your kids. When companies pay a portion or let you drop them off in a nice room with bright colors and games, it’s a major relief on the pocketbook.

VACATION THAT MATCHES THE WORK CULTURE

Another evolution of the workplace benefit is the notion of personal space and personal time being respected. More and more employers are adopting an open vacation time policy, and that’s a perk a lot of employees would consider a deal breaker. The notion of an allotted number of “sick” and “vacation” days seems ridiculous given that we’re hyper-connected. We know if there’s work to be done and thanks to constant contact via our phones, if some work needs to happen during an off hour instead of not coming in for a few days, the work will get done. If your work is consistent and your team communicates well, there is no reason why you should have to overly plan when you need to get out of Dodge a few times a year.

A DESK WITHOUT CHAINS

Another grand slam in the world of benefits is working from home. Life happens, and it most definitely does not adhere to the 9-10 routine. Appliances break, there’s doctor visits and car repairs, and a whole bunch of other reasons people need to work from home. When your primary work is done via a computer, many times, being in the building isn’t a necessity. By giving folks the freedom to be a text or a Slack message away, it lets them know they’re valued and trusted, but also that they can live their lives free from enduring lunch small talk.

OF COURSE, THERE’S STUDENT LOAN BENEFITS

Finding the right kind of balance with benefits is important. There needs to be cohesion amongst the layers of what a company offers, but also what the employees want and desire. Offering a student loan benefit makes a huge impact for employees, and can often be the missing piece in your benefits package.

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