1. Microsoft Teams gets major upgrades
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Microsoft Teams is getting virtual coffee shops, breakout rooms, and custom layouts, and is launching new Cortana features for business users. Microsoft also recently announced new features for their Together Mode, which was designed specifically to address COVID-19 remote work meeting woes. While Together Mode is not new to Teams, some of the features — such as virtual conference rooms, auditoriums, and coffee shops — are. The features will use machine learning in order to instantly, accurately place people in the seats of the virtual spaces. Microsoft also shared that they are rolling out several Cortana features, including giving users the ability to use their voice to make calls, play emails, and navigate their inbox. Additionally, Teams Rooms devices will soon have Cortana to help create a more efficient touchless experience as people begin to return to offices. (Sources:The Verge,Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Will Microsoft Teams surpass Zoom? Well, if the software giant continues to innovate with new features like these as well as making the application more pervasive and user friendly, I can see this happening in the not-so-distant future. My advice to clients that are already using Office 365 is to go all-in on Teams and get training on other Office 365 apps that integrate with it.
2. Google will start verifying business calls to eliminate robocalls
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Google will be rolling out a feature for Android phones that is going to assist real businesses in reaching out to make phone calls to their customers easier. With "Verified Calls,” when a business makes a phone call, their logo, name, and the purpose behind the call will appear on the screen of those receiving the call, as well as a symbol indicating the call was Google-verified. (Source:Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: With the number of spam calls climbing 28 percent in 2019 as compared to the previous year, the feature will provide businesses that operate legitimately an avenue to provide their information with customers. I see a time when all businesses — yours and mine — will need to register with Google and other services so that our calls can be “verified” in advance. Sure, it’s an additional annoyance. But it’s nowhere as annoying as the dozens of robocalls I sometimes get in a day.
3. Square adds features that speed up payroll
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Square recently announced that they are looking to make payroll simpler for businesses and their employees through their launch of two features. The first feature — “Instant Payments” — will allow employers to use the funds in their Square Balance to more quickly transfer paychecks into the accounts of their employees. This process will negate the traditional delay, which historically has taken up to four days. The second new feature — “On-Demand Pay” — will provide employees with the opportunity to access their money when they need it, even if that means immediately at the close of their shift. (Source:Pymnts)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Remember when Square was just a mobile card reader? Yeah, those were simpler times. Now the company is stealthily expanding its reach into more accounting functions, like payroll. That’s good news for small businesses that are already using the platform and want an easier way to handle their finances.
4. Microsoft’s giant Surface Hub 2S will arrive in January
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No, it’s not the laptop. It’s something much bigger. Microsoft announced that their 85-inch Surface Hub 2S will officially be available for purchase this coming January, and the option to preorder was made available last week. Priced at $21,999.99, the hardware was supposed to be released this past year. According to Microsoft, the Surface Hub 2S has assisted in bridging the gap between teams working remotely as well as doctor’s offices, hospitals, and schools. The bigger screen will also help in social distancing when people return to the office. (Source:The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: $22,000 may seem like a pretty steep price to pay for a computer but it really is more than that — it’s a giant display and central system for managing virtual conferences, and if you’re like most businesses, you’re going to be juggling a lot of meetings with employees and customers at home, in remote locations and in the office. If you want to make it a quality experience, you should be investing in quality technology and the Surface Hub has always received good reviews. This product is definitely geared towards corporate customers, but I’m betting many small businesses will find the investment worthwhile.
5. Synder integrates to boost ecommerce businesses
Synder — a fast-growing startup that developed a smart app for bookkeeping and financial management — has shared that they will be integrating with several e-commerce companies, including Ecwid, eBay, Shopify, and Amazon, to help ecommerce businesses automate bookkeeping and better manage accounts receivable. Snyder, which rolled out in 2017, is designed to assist businesses in streamlining transactions from their payment platforms into Zero or Quickbooks. (Source:PRNewsWire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: The company says that with the integration, businesses selling online will be able to more efficiently navigate and operate their AR while automating their accounting processes, as well as instantly categorizing and recording their fees or sales into the bookkeeping software.
6. Fiverr expands business offering for easier remote work
Fiverr is a great place to find contract and outside help to accomplish online tasks. Last month the company said that they will be growing their offerings for businesses in order to help make remote work easier with so many at home during COVID-19. (Source: Pymnts)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Their new platform was developed in order to help departments and teams work and collaborate with one another more seamlessly and balance overseeing projects involving freelancers. Fivver will allow users to have access to a curated list of freelance workers, budgeting and project management tools, as well as executive assistants.
7. Study says shorter content earns the most backlinks
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The findings of a recent study have revealed that content that contains approximately 700 words gets more backlinks as compared to lengthier content. While the study did not analyze content from major news sources, researchers did analyze more than 5,000 articles, which included only articles that contained at least 25 backlinks. Findings also showed that how-to articles, lists/videos, and newsletters topped the list of the most shared content. (Source: Search Engine Journal)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: A backlink is when a well-known website links to something on your website and by doing so that gives you more credibility … and more attention from Google. Search engine optimization experts have debated over the years the perfect length of a typical blog, but now you’ve got some guidance. Shoot for 700 words.
8. Melio raised $144M to simplify B2B payments
B2B payments firm Melio, which assists small businesses navigate and manage payments due to suppliers, recently pulled in $144 million in order to help connect with a greater number of small businesses throughout the country. With a greater number of businesses moving to manage their finances digitally due to the coronavirus pandemic, the recent fundraising by Melio will allow expedited expansion in order to help more businesses. (Source: Business Wire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: According to a statement from the company, small businesses typically use a variety of different tools to manage supplier payments, with almost half of B2B payments carried out with paper checks. Melio’s digital accounts payable and receivable dashboard “provides a single, integrated tool that allows small businesses to transfer and receive payments in a faster, easier way, giving oversight and control over cash flow, reducing or eliminating late payment costs, and giving businesses back valuable time.”
9. Google Cloud lets businesses create their own text-to-speech voices
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A sign featuring Google Inc.'s logo stands at the company's Asia-Pacific headquarters during its opening day in Singapore, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Google officially opened its new hub in Singapore today. Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg
Google announced that they have rolled out some new updates to their Contact Center AI platform, with the most notable feature allowing users to make a personalized text-to-speech voice. The idea behind the new feature is that companies will now be able to design a text-to-speech voice unique to their company or brand, potentially even using a recognizable spokesperson. To make this happen, businesses will be able to have the person with their chosen voice record a specific script given by Google, allowing Google to train their speech AI from those recordings. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Where’s that guy who does all those Hollywood voiceovers? Sounds like a big opportunity for people with great lungs to sell their skills to businesses and brands looking to create their own, personal text to voice communications with their customers. Is James Earl Jones available?
10. Plastiq partners to offer FX credit card payments
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A sign displaying a U.S. national flag stands outside a currency exchange bureau after the Italian vote on constitutional reform referendum in Rome, Italy, on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The euro fell to the weakest level since March 2015 as Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he would resign after conceding defeat in the constitutional referendum. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Last month, credit card payment platform Plastiq shared that they are partnering with Silicon Valley Bank in order to collaborate on offering foreign exchange credit card payment capacities. The newest collaboration will enable businesses to use their credit card in order to pay suppliers who operate from other countries in that suppliers’ currency, rather than paying in U.S. dollars. The new FX card will also be accepted in places where typical cards are not. (Source: Plastiq)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Plastiq is a client of mine, but their service is a good one for small businesses looking to do more overseas transactions and who don’t want to deal with the cost and complexity of arranging payments. Using Plastiq you can just use your credit card. They — and their banking partners — will take care of the rest. Sure, there’s a fee. But I think it’s worth it. And no, I received no payment for this.

Note: Some of these stories also appeared on Forbes.com.
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