E-mail, Calendar, Documents, Phone (AKA: All things Google)
E-mail, calendar, documents, and phone fall into one category because, for me, they are all things Google. Yes, I know they know more about me than my mother, and maybe even the IRS, but I’m willing to trust them, to a point. Google’s products can be so helpful to the small business owner that they get their own category. Google’s products were, and still are, revolutionary, not to mention free. It’s easy to forget how difficult is was, just a few years ago, to share documents and collaborate with others when working on presentations, proposals, financial projections, org charts, and more. Google docs changed all that.
I use Google Apps everyday. Not only for documents and spreadsheets but now I use them to draw and create forms that I embed inside my web pages (example). And, of course I’m writing this post in Google docs before I paste it into my blog editor. Gmail and Google Calendar rock because it makes it so easy for my staff to handle my communication and scheduling. Plus, Gmail is able to block 99% of the spam that comes my way. Google Talk and Google Voice are redonkulous (that means good). They give you video chat within your browser and one phone number that rings any of your phones, allows you to call any phone from within your browser and recieves voices messages as audio files and transcribed text. C’mon, have some appreciation because that’s impressive. Oh, and I can’t forget, your own customized phone number! Mine is (414) FOR-PORT. And, the Google Iphone app gives me better reception, on my Iphone, than my ATT cellular service.
Again, I feel obligated to remind you that all of this is free and it works, all the time. And, these are just the basic Google products. There are many more Google apps that you can use as productivity solutions if you consider stepping up to their enterprise solutions.
Project Management Software
Project management software is difficult to create because projects are difficult to manage. But, Basecamp HQ, from 37Signals, helps me organize my projects and keep on track. Sure, there are a few other features that I wish it had so it’s not perfect. No project management software is perfect, just as no project is perfect. The key with project management software is what you do with it. (AKA: actually put information into the thing) I like Basecamp’s simplicity and ease of use. I figure, if I can’t get my project information into a program as simple as BasecampHQ, then I have no business doing projects. I especially like Basecamp’s “template” feature. If you create lots of similar projects, as most of us do, creating project templates will save you time. Add milestones, to-dos, and messages once and you can reuse them on future projects.
Two other project management software programs to consider is Solve360 for a combination of project management and crm tools – I haven’t used it but I’ve heard good things – and Manymoon, if you’re looking for free project and task management solutions. It offers good collaboration tools as well but it’s not going to be as simple and clean as Basecamp. If you’re one of those people who likes long lists so you can compare every project management product under the sun, then be my guest. But, remember, the key to any piece of software is using it not having it.
Social Media Management Software
On my MacBook Pro I use Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn streams. It was one of the first Twitter Clients and I think it’s still one of the best. I’ve tried others without too much success. I used to use Tweetie to manage my Twitter account from my iPhone and then one day it just stopped working. Now, I use Twitter’s native app and it works just fine. On my iPad I use Socialable to manage both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Typically I don’t pre-schedule my Twitter updates. But, when I do I use Social Oomph. People also use Social Oomph to “auto-follow” as a way of building their number of followers but I don’t recommend it. A) I think it’s cheesy and B) when I see someone who is following the same number people that they have following them, I assume the number of followers is, for the most part, artificially inflated. Another cute little Twitter client is TweetBeep, it alerts you when someone has mentioned you on Twitter so you can respond immediately; people appreciate that. For Facebook Page management I like the NorthSocial apps. There are about 3,865 social media management apps from which to choose. Just pick a few and get busy being social.
Sales and Customer Relationship Management Software + Shopping Carts and Email Broadcasting
This is a tricky catagory because when you think of CRM’s you think of software for managing leads and opportunities, software you use to close deals. However, over the last few years, a new catagory of customer or client relationship management software has sprung up in products like GetSatisfaction; what I would really consider software that helps you manage relationships with clients. The typical CRM is really a sales tool as the name of the most popular and biggest demonstrates: SalesForce. (Yes, SalesForce, I know you’re doing many more things now then just manage leads and opportunities, but at your core, in your heart of heart, you’re a tool to help close sales.) However, shopping cart and e-newsletter broadcasting systems, like 1shoppingcart and ConstantContact are also customer relationship management tools. Oiy vey, as my mother would say. Where to start?
I’ve used many Sales Management Software programs over the years and have often found them difficult to use. Not always because the software is difficult, although, sometimes it is, but because I’ve had difficulty creating the habits necessary to use these programs, especially when they’re big, complex programs like SalesForce. When choosing a Sales Management Software choose one that meets your current needs. Some suggest that you choose one to grow into but I find, more often than not, for the small or solo business owner, doing so creates overwhelm and less engagement with the product.
If you’re new and working solo and want to manage your contacts, leads and opportunities, check out HighriseHQ, another clean and simple program from 37Signals. Or you might like Tactilecrm, self-described as an easy web based crm for small business. If you’re on a mac and don’t need a web based crm then have a look at a really nice program from Marketcircle called Daylite. It also provides project and task managment solutions. So it’s a little like Solve360 in that it combines project management and crm solutions into one product. Also have a look at SugarCRM, a commercial, open source customer relationship management software for sales force automation and customer support. If you’re a techie, or have a tech on the payroll, you might want to use the open source version. If you’re not or you don’t, they offer a hosted version. But, it still requires that you understand how a crm works because the set up process is substantial; as it is with most of the big dogs like SalesForce. Of course, there are always the old standbys Act and Goldmine.
For a shopping cart, broadcasting system, and highly intelligent follow-up engine, consider Infusionsoft (disclosure: I’m an Infusionsoft partner and this link includes an affiliate code.) It’s an “all in one” system minus the project management aspect. However, even though I use Infusionsoft and am a partner, I recommend it with reservations. Infusionsoft is a big platform and it’s not easy to learn. In fact, I have someone on my team who manages the system for me. So, if you’re not technically inclined and don’t have the resources to get professional help (of the technical kind as opposed to the mental kind) you may end up needing professional help (of the mental kind). Other shopping cart and e-newsletter systems with follow-up engines include 1shopping.com, zen-cart, and interspire,
As with the crm and project management software programs there are also too many newsletter broadcasting systems to choose from including ConstantContact, Aweber, icart, MailChimp and more. If I were starting from scratch today, I’d probably go with MailChimp for my newsletter broadcasting because it’s free for your first 1000 subscribers and it integrates with so many different shopping cart and crm solutions. It’s also really easy to use.
Let’s end this section where we began, with a true customer relationship management program, GetSatisfaction, which provides a simple way to build online communities that create conversations between businesses and their customers. I’m a fan. It also intergrates nicely with ZenDesk, an impressive help desk platform. Other helpdesk platforms include Kayako, HelpDeskPilot, and LiveHelpNow, which includes a cool live chat feature that may increase conversion at point of sale.
Intranet and Online Operation Manual Software
A lifetime ago, when I worked for a large corporation, they gave every new employee an “operations manual” that was so large it took two people to carry it. Ridiculous. Why? Because, as soon as it was printed it was immediately out of date and irrelevant. A good business is constantly improving, making small changes that produce big results. If you’re working from a book that’s outdated and filled with information that’s irrelevant, you’re going to have to a hard time producing improvements. Moreover, if you can’t find what you’re looking for you’re slow and ineffective. I don’t know about you, but when I’m slow and ineffective, I get depressed, frustrated and crabby. You’ve got to be able to find what you need when you need it at a moments notice. Enter the online operations manual. As soon as you start your business you should document every process that occurs in your business, from how you take money to where your website is hosted and how to make changes. Nothing should be set to memory. Instead, it should be documented in an easily and instantly updatable online environment that you can access from anywhere with any computer or handheld device with an Internet connection.
My first online operations manual lived on a typepad blog that I called “Team United.” Each member of my team could add posts and categorize them based on the procedure type. Other members of the team could comment on the post and add to or change the process as needed. The blog software wasn’t ideal for the purposes of an online operations manual so I moved all our documentation to a wiki at pbworks.com. That was fine for a while but it wasn’t integrated into the rest of company’s activities so I moved it to Backpack another simple product from 37signals.com. I even use Backpack for my home “operations manual” to manage everything from the 30 or so contractors that work on my house, my son’s school and teacher information, emergency contacts, utilities, and so much more. I guess I’m starting to sound like a commercial for 37signals.com but I have no relation to the company and don’t know anyone involved in the company (as of today). I even use their Campfire product for team chat’s and conference calls.
There are more software products that I could introduce to you but I think this is more than enough for now. As I mentioned earlier, the point of productivity software is to help you stay organized and get things done. The simpler the product is the better.
Speaking of a simple product that will help you build your network (stay organized) and get booked solid (get things done) is a product that I’m creating based on my book, Book Yourself Solid, called Solid.ly. You can sign up for the beta and you’ll get an invite to participate in the private beta in January or February. Oh, my gosh, I almost forgot to mention the other Book Yourself Solid software product, Book’d. It’s helps you list your services online, take money and let’s clients book sessions. (I’m biased toward these two products for obvious reasons.)