Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Business Tips

Business tips for Canadian independent contractors in IT, including guidance on accounting, insurance and other tasks that come with running a technology consulting business.

The Top Tools to Host Meetings Online While Working from Home

The Top Tools to Host Meetings Online While Working from Home

COVID-19 has quickly forced many of us from full-access to our teams in-person to working by ourselves at home. Communication with the rest of the team is obviously still possible, but depending on your client’s set-up, productive communication and updates might not be as simple. Separate from your contract work, physical distancing also creates challenges in setting up interviews with recruiters, leading networking events with colleagues, or any other kind of gathering you’d typically have professionally or personally.

There are a number of solutions available to help set-up meetings and accomplish your objectives. The challenge is weeding through them all to find the one that’s right for you. We’ve looked into some of the most common ones and summarized what you need to know here:

Standard Social Media Chat Applications

Let’s get this out of the way first. Facebook Messenger, Facetime, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Google Hangouts all provide ways for you to connect with friends and family, whether by chat or by video. They’re completely free and generally simple to use, so at a first glance, these would look like a fantastic options, but they do have some drawbacks. First, as noted, these are typically used for friends and family and require you to connect your social media profiles. Maybe you’re ok with it, but others would prefer not to have their colleagues following them on Facebook. These applications are also not designed for the work environment and are limited in a number of meeting-related features available in the below solutions.

Zoom

Zoom is perhaps the most popular platform being used today. Sign-up is easy and the free version allows unlimited 1-on-1 meetings. You can schedule meetings or start it immediately, but either way, you’re provided a link to send meeting attendees, which they just click on. Attendees will be prompted to download some Zoom software, but the process is quick and easy. Once in the meeting, users can turn on video as well as share screens. The downside to the free version is that any meeting with more than 2 people is limited to 40 minutes in length.

The paid version of Zoom is still reasonable. The cost is $20/month or you can subscribe for an entire year for $200. This opens up a variety of new meeting features, including up to 24-hour maximum meeting duration. Only the host of a meeting is required to pay for the upgraded version of Zoom. All attendees can have a free account and still attend.

Zoom also has many extra features, including a filter tool that lets you touch up your appearance when you’re on video. This recent Inc. article summarizes 7 tips for using Zoom.

Join.me

Join.me is another popular meeting tool and has been around for years. It contains many of the same features as Zoom but does not have a free version available. The Lite version costs $13/month is limited to 5 participants per meeting and no webcam. There are no time limits or meeting limits, though, so if you’re looking to host small conference calls, this would be a great solution. The next level up is $24/month and allows for up to 10 webcam streams and up to 250 participants.

Google Hangouts Meet

Google’s Gsuite is a business solution that provides access to email hosting, storage and a number of other organizational tools, including Google Hangouts Meet. The cost is $7.80/user/month, so if you’re an independent contractor, that would be your only cost and you get the entire Gsuite package. This solution is especially great if you own your own domain and want to consolidate all of those services.

Similar to the other solutions, Hangouts Meet lets you setup a meeting and share a link, without worrying if other teammates also have accounts and plugins. With a fast, lightweight interface and smart participant management, multi-person video calls are a breeze. Hangouts Meet also integrates with Google Calendar for some extra features and is accessible on mobile.

Microsoft Teams (replaced Skype for Business)

There’s a chance you already have access to Microsoft Teams. It is primarily for collaboration and chats as part of Office 365, and also includes a great meetings feature, that replaced Skype for Business. If you don’t already have access, signing-up is free and just requires a Microsoft account, but there is an extra fee if you want access to the conferencing.

Similar to Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams comes as part of a full package of business services from Microsoft. This starts at $10.20/user/month that is an annual commitment, and also comes with storage and access to web applications.

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting by LogMeIn is another one of the original services and scales up for very large organizations. Their basic Professional level starts at $19/month or $16.25/month billed annually. This package should give you everything you need, including HD video, screensharing, web audio, dial-in conference line, unlimited meetings or meeting lengths, up to 150 participants, plus much more.

Blue Jeans

Another industry leader, BlueJeans, offers many of the same features. Their standard package starts at $15.90/month and allows you to host up to 50 participants, with unlimited meetings with unlimited durations. A differentiator is their Smart Meetings Features which includes meeting highlights, action item tagging and intelligent meeting recaps. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you can sign-up for a 7 day free trial to see how you like it.

There are tons of meeting tools available and the ones listed above are a selection of the popular ones we’ve come across or used in the past. While Eagle does not recommend any specific one, we do believe that each of these are worth looking at if you’re in the market for a new tool.

What online meeting tools do you use? Do you have a preference? Please share your recommendations in the comments below!

Contractor Quick Poll Results: Who Does Your Taxes

It’s every business owner and independent contractor’s favourite tax! That wonderful job of organizing your books, searching for receipts, and learning just how much you get to pay the Government! Add that fun task to your growing list of to-dos and you barely have time to eat or sleep, let alone see your friends and family.

While some IT professionals are confident and happy to do their taxes by themselves, others prefer to seek the help of a professional to oversee and guarantee they’re done flawlessly. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our audience which route they typically take. By no surprise, most IT contractors hire an accountant to do the dirty work.

Contractor Quick Poll Results: Who Does Your Taxes

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

The COVID-19 outbreak is locking the world down inside their homes and many of us are already going stir-crazy. Evening extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, live sports are taking a hiatus, and we’re discouraged from going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even telecommuting, as convenient as it is, gives you an hour or two more at home… inside the house… bored.

As we noted in last week’s post, it becomes easy to create an unhealthy routine of rolling out of bed, doing your work, then watching Netflix, all while eating junk food throughout the day. That behaviour is acceptable over the Christmas holidays, but is not ideal. Instead, use your extra time to better yourself and plan some of these tasks into your daily routines:

Professional Development

How many times in the past couple years have you missed out on a gig or higher rate because you were lacking some specific training or certification. Did you tell yourself you’re going to get on it but life is too busy? Now is the time! There are plenty of ways you can expand your skills and learn right from your home. We recently updated this post that contains over 50 different online resources for building skills and earning certifications. Included in that list is ICTC’s newly launched ICTC Ditital Pulse Channel. It will include live virtual events via video conference and available on their Vimeo page.

Perhaps you just need to use some existing skills and develop tangible experience. In that case, try creating  a few made-up projects, similar to this video of Python projects that look good on a resume. Or, you can offer to help a friend or past client with a project at no charge, with the understanding that you are learning a new skill.

Update Your Resume

We see thousands of resumes. Few of them are perfect. Can yours use some polishing? Here’s a checklist of things worth reviewing:

  1. Experience: Review it and ensure you list all technologies and skills you used, in each project description. If you know you will be responding to public sector bids in the future, check out this past post about building a resume for a government matrix. Remember, when you’re in a crunch to get a resume to a recruiter, it will be easier to cut information out of a detailed resume than to write new information to put into it.
  2. Wording: You have the meat, now make sure you’re selling yourself! Check out this post that helps you write the perfect profile summary. It will hook a recruiter into wanting to read more of your resume, then you can sell them on your experience. This infographic contains powerful action verbs to incorporate into project descriptions.
  3. Formatting: It’s amazing how many great resumes are destroyed because the formatting is awful. The biggest letdown is when a candidate gets too fancy and designs a beautiful resume that staffing agencies’ Applicant Tracking Systems can’t read. Then all that work becomes pointless. Even when it gets through the system, some IT contractors still fail to catch a recruiter’s attention. A few years ago, we asked recruiters what IT contractors can do better when formatting their resume, here’s their responses. Does your resume have any of these mishaps? If you’re spicing up your resume, also check out the video series we did a few years ago that gives tips for formatting your resume in MS Word.
  4. Match it to LinkedIn: It is no secret that all recruiters leverage LinkedIn to build their network. You need to have an updated profile to be found by the industry’s top recruiters. You also need to confirm it matches your resume which is one of the top things recruiters look for in a great LinkedIn profile. Use your downtime to update your LinkedIn profile, complete with a great profile photo.

Organize Your Business

Keeping your business running smoothly requires extra time to organize, and frankly, few IT contractors have time for that… until now! Here are a few past posts that will help:

Take Care of Yourself

If all else fails and you don’t want to think about work, use your time to take care of yourself.

  • Add Exercise into Your Daily Routine. It can be as simple as a few push-ups and crunches throughout the day, taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, or finding online workouts to follow along with. Many gyms are offering free live sessions to help cope with quarantines, you just need to search for them.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Especially during uncertain times where stress and anxiety are high, this is a good opportunity learn more about mindfulness. Explore and practice meditation in a quiet area to help focus your attention on the present moment and accept it without judgement. Some forms of yoga can have similar results, and also accomplish that exercise goal!
  • Enjoy Time with Others. Enjoy board games and activities with kids and spouses. Then, when fights inevitably break-out, call old friends and relatives who you’ve lost touch with.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for the world and it’s a test for all of us. How we react and move forward will determine who will come out on top when this is all over. These are just a few ways you can take advantage of your downtime to better yourself. What else are you doing to keep busy while stuck at home?

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

When disaster strikes (not too hard to imagine these days), most people enter “fire-fighting” mode, change their priorities and deal with it. As a contractor you are a business owner. And businesses require a bit more pre-planning than that. Sure, your business may have only a single employee but that makes this employee pretty important to the company! Even small businesses have suppliers, customers and partners that count on them. A Business Continuity Plan ensures that you know what to do in what order should something unforeseen come up.

Elements of a good BCP vary upon which source you check. In general, they contain these main components:

  • Understanding what is critical to your business’ operations
  • Determining the most important functions within your business
  • Identifying how long these functions can continue to operate during an emergency situation
  • Assigning some measure of risks to each based on your analysis
  • Coming up with a plan that addresses these risks (heavy emphasis on open and timely communications with your stakeholders)
  • Some suggest a final point – Testing the plan. But, depending on your situation, this may not be possible.

There is no shortage of advice online about how to tackle this business planning.

A big part of Eagle’s business continuity plan is how we leverage technology. It’s been over 10 years now, that we adopted technology that fully enabled our workers to work remotely should it come to that. In 2013, the Calgary flood closed the downtown core for many days. No one was allowed in or out and many businesses ground to a halt. Eagle’s BCP kicked in and we continued to service our clients and work with our contractor partners without any significant impact. Key aspects to our technology included cloud-based ERP/CRM, Digital Communications (VoIP, etc.), internal messaging systems and ensuring that all employees have a proper workspace and equipment to be able to be productive and effective from home.

Best Practices for Working from Home

Today, more and more of our clients are directing their staff to work remotely to encourage “social distancing”. As a contractor, this would be required of you as well. Besides the security concerns that would need to be arranged with the client, working from home requires some best practices/skills in addition to having the technology in place that would allow your work to continue when clients shut off access to their offices. Here are some links to past Talent Development Centre posts that share ideas with respect to telecommuting, or as we call it at Eagle, WORKshifting (working wherever you are most productive):

These are strange times and uncharted waters! Hopefully, you have a BCP and are implementing it now. And, if not… well, as the old saying goes… “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today.” All the best to you as the world works through these health challenges! Take care – stay safe.

Contractor Quick Poll: Who Does Your Taxes?

For many of us, taxes are a confusing headache, like trying to win a scavenger hunt created by the government. Succeed at solving their riddles and providing the right information, and you get to continue with business as usual. Mess it up, though, and you’re into a whole new set of headaches.

A couple years ago we asked our readers who manages their general bookkeeping and accounting. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re asking independent contractors how you specifically approach tax season. Do you take advantage of online tools and services to file it all on your own, or do you hire the help of a professional to take care of it for you?

Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption – Rules

Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption – Rules

This post by Shaun Hope first appeared on the CPA4IT Blog on July 23rd, 2019

As the owner of an active business corporation, you’ve probably heard about the lifetime capital gains exemption that can apply to the sale of qualifying private company shares. If you and your family members can claim this exemption when you sell the shares of your business, you could each realize substantial tax savings, providing that the shares you’re selling meet certain requirements.

Every individual is entitled to a lifetime “capital gains exemption” on qualifying small business shares (and farm and fishing property). This exemption, which is indexed for inflation annually, is limited to a lifetime amount of $848,252 for 2018 (and $866,912 for 2019). It’s important to note that you don’t have to claim the exemption all at once – you can carry forward any unused amount to use in the future.

To qualify for the exemption, three tests must be met at the time of disposition.

  • Small business corporation (SBC) test: All, or substantially all, of the company’s assets must be used in an active business carried on primarily in Canada. “All or substantially all” is generally considered to mean at least 90%, using fair market value. Only the company’s assets are considered in the criteria; debt and other liabilities have no impact. Assets not listed on the balance sheet are also included, such as goodwill and internally generated patents. The reference to “primarily in Canada” generally means at least 50%.
  • Holding period test: The disposed share must have been owned by the shareholder or a related person throughout the 24-month period prior to the disposition. This is an attempt to limit the CGE to longer-term investments rather than rewarding quick flips.
  • Basic asset test: Throughout the 24 months prior to the disposition, the corporation had to have been a Canadian-controlled private corporation and more than 50% of the company’s assets had to have been used in an active business carried on primarily in Canada.

For example:

You sell shares of a small business corporation in 2019 and make a $900,000 profit (also called capital gains). Without the LCGE, you would have to pay taxes on half of this amount, i.e., $450,000. However, seeing as the LCGE allows you to subtract $866,912 from your profits in 2019, you only pay taxes on ($900,000 – $866,912) x 50% = $16,544 rather than on $450,000.

Watch out for these pitfalls

  • The alternative minimum tax (AMT) can cause an unexpected tax liability in the year CGE is claimed. Generally, this can occur when a taxpayer crystallizes in a year of otherwise low income. While AMT is refundable, a refund is generated only when AMT is less than the regular tax calculation in the subsequent seven years.
  • A balance in a taxpayer’s cumulative net investment loss (CNIL) account can restrict access to the CGE. As the name implies, this is a cumulative calculation that considers all of an individual’s investment income and investment expenses incurred after 1987. If the calculation results in a net loss, the CNIL could impact a CGE claim.
  • An allowable business investment loss (ABIL) could impact a CGE claim. If an ABIL is realized in the year, whether or not it is claimed on the tax return, it is used in the CGE calculation.

If you are considering selling the shares in your active business corporation, please contact us to discuss what steps you should take to ensure that you benefit fully from the Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption.

Quick Poll Results: How do independent contractors handle health insurance?

Last month’s contractor quick poll tackled a topic that many independent contractors don’t like to think about — health insurance. There are a number of considerations when making the decision and plenty of research you could do on the topic, first about the type of insurance you’ll use and then on a specific supplier. While we do not have any recommendations on the best path or supplier for you, we do now have a bit more insight into what others are doing.

The results below show what our respondents do for health insurance and provides some insight if you’re currently evaluating your choices. Interestingly enough, the majority of respondents either get coverage through a spouses program or don’t have any medical coverage at all.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and we’ll find you the answer or a resource that can help you.

How do you get medical coverage as an independent contractor?

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting Business

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting BusinessA stunning testimonial can grab a recruiter or new client’s attention and get you considered for an interview before they begin to look at your qualifications. The right reference will seal the deal on a new contract and might even help negotiate a better offer. Above all, a well through-out approach to securing and displaying these assets is invaluable to your IT contracting business.

Testimonials and references are a marketing tool used by all businesses, from international corporations with thousands of employees and selling hundreds of products to independent contractors going from gig to gig. Regardless of the business size, it’s a struggle to get detailed references and not everyone uses them to their highest potential.

Having a list of great references is a mandatory requirement for any job seeker. It’s often advised to have a number of recent ones up your sleeve, guaranteeing you have a back-up if one is suddenly unavailable, a new client or recruiter requests something else, or you learn that a reference you thought liked you is actually giving some unpleasant feedback.

And what about testimonials? A great description from a client explaining your invaluable contributions to a project or from a recruiter vouching for your work ethic and dependability can go a long way if you use it correctly. For example, adding more chunks of text to your resume is bound to be ignored by a busy recruiter or hiring manager; however, glowing reviews fit perfectly on a LinkedIn profile or personal website and immediately add credibility to your story.

Given the benefits, what strategies can an independent contractor or technology professional use to source the best testimonials and references?

  • Develop a formal process. Work out the exact plan and approach of how and when you’ll ask for references for every single project you work on. It will get easier every time and you’ll end up with consistent information saved in one file, plus a variety to choose from to match on relevant project applications.
  • Keep notes. Make a note every time you receive a compliment or great feedback during a project. Remind your client of that when asking for their support. You’ll also have specific examples for your client to reference.
  • Do the legwork. It is certain that whoever you are asking is busy, so make their life as easy as possible. Prepare all of the details, contact information and a draft testimonial of what you think they would say. The only work left for them will be minor edits and a signature.
  • Understand what they can say. Recruiters and staffing agencies can rarely give a reference about your work because they were not there and their feedback is only second-hand. They may, however, confirm you worked on that project for a period of time, as well as speak to your ethics and work habits. Asking “Can you give me a reference” may not be successful, but phrasing it as “Would you be willing to speak to my work ethic and ease of working together” can have a positive impact on your relationship with future recruiters.
  • Use LinkedIn testimonials. Ask for testimonials on LinkedIn. Once you have them, display them proudly on the social network and ask the person for permission to use their words elsewhere in the future.
  • Timing is key. Asking for a reference or testimonial is generally not a good idea while simultaneously seeking payment or when you know the project went terribly wrong. Wait until you’ve added value and they’re already giving you positive feedback before you ask “Would it be alright if I shared your words on my marketing material?”
  • Endorse them. Your clients and recruiters are also running a business so testimonials are just as important for them as they are for you. Before or after you receive a reference, look them up on review sites like Google, Glassdoor, Indeed, Yelp or LinkedIn to tell other independent contractors how happy you were working with them.

For every reference or testimonial you receive, always remember to show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be complicated and showing gratitude for a favour is necessary to build relationships. Like so many situations, a hand-written thank you card goes such a long way, it’s incredible.

How do you solicit client and recruiter feedback?

Ensure You’re Working on a Secure Device… But Don’t Spend Time Securing It

The following guest post was provided by NPC

IT and professional contractors are the definitive mobile professional.  Moving between jobs that can be anywhere from a few days to a few years, mobility, adaptability and professionalism are essential to their success. They’ve been mastering the “gig economy” long before it was topical. Many contractors make exceptional money, better sometimes than their permanent-staff counterparts. The difference between the winners and losers may not be the luck of the draw on the positions they land, but how they organize and present themselves. Running an efficient and secure one-person office is critical to being able to focus on the work opportunity, and to maximize revenue generating hours.

But as solo entrepreneurs, how a contractor spends their time doing just that is important.  Like it is for any professional, time is money. It’s reasonably certain that someone who owns a car dealership no longer changes their own oil. Smart producers look carefully at their operational responsibilities and how they spend their time. They watch for opportunities to offload a task to someone that can do it faster-better-cheaper. Even though it may be a task they know how to do themselves, once the value of their skills overtakes the value of the task, they offload it.

As-a-Service models are related to and fast becoming as ubiquitous as Cloud Computing. They are great opportunities for professionals of all types to offload some of the time-consuming and low value work that is not only a bit of pain to keep up with, but takes away from either their revenue producing work, or, more importantly, precious personal and family time.

An example of this is NPC DataGuard’s secure managed computer offering. For a single monthly fee NPC will provide a professional with a top-of-line laptop, desktop or hybrid tablet, that is already sourced, configured, and secured with industry leading backup and security tools.  Giving the responsibility to someone else to provide a computer that is built, managed and monitored, always in warranty, with single-point-of-contact 24/7 support, can be a big time saver for the Contractor.

For those jobs that require the contractor to “BYOD”, being secure and protecting their business interests, and that of their clients, is essential. The level of security that can be achieved in these types of specialized models is exceptional. Fully encrypted and biometric access devices will impress those clients that require you to work on a secure device. As well, as an example, NPC DataGuard’s Pro product comes with $5M in privacy breach remediation insurance if an NPC ever failed to protect critical personal information you may work on for your client.

The impact on a contractor from a lost, stolen or compromised device while in a contract can be devastating.  What is your plan today for such an event? What’s your personal Business Continuity Plan?  A secure managed computer includes a full back-up completed each day into a secure data centre.  A lost, stolen or damaged device can be replaced with data restored, saving you countless hours doing it yourself and getting you back to work.

“As-a-Service” models offer products and services to ensure the contractor does not waste time on tasks that pay him or her less than what they can make, as well as levels of  technology performance that even an IT professional might find hard to achieve on their own.

Spending a lot of time buying, configuring and securing your own computer can now be a thing of the past. Key to driving top revenue is showing up professionally with military-grade security on a slick new computer and being able to focus on the opportunity at hand.

This guest post was submitted by our friends at NPC. Visit this page to learn more and to get a special offer for all of our readers.

Contractor Quick Poll: How do independent contractors cover their medical expenses

Towards the end of last year, we shared a post about health insurance options for independent contractors in Canada. It described two specific routes if you’re looking for coverage – standard insurance plans similar to those typically offered by employers, and Private Health Services Plans (PHSPs) which allow your contracting business to provide a non-taxable reimbursement for health expenses. Of course, there is also the option to forego any health insurance, possibly because you’re already fully covered through a spouse or you’d rather risk that any medical expenses will be less than insurance expenses. This month’s contractor quick poll seeks to find the most common practice among Canadian IT contractors.