Systems & Process Improvement for
Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

Technology for Business – What do you NEED?

Technology has become an ever-increasing key part of any successful business.  Two key outcomes from using technology include doing things not humanly possible without tech and automating tasks in your business, allowing you to scale without having to hire more people.  Let’s explore why technology matters and the technology for your business that will help you be more productive, efficient, and effective.

Technology for your Business

Technology enables us to do things that aren’t otherwise feasible.  Think of keeping records on your customers; if you had no software to do this, you’d have to keep records on paper.  While this was manageable in time’s past, today’s business environment is much different, driven by data and nurturing Customer relationships with regular contact and sharing.

Imagine trying to keep track of even 100 Customers, what they’ve bought, what you’ve shared with them, when you’ve communicated with them, and how they’ve responded if it was all done manually on paper.  What a nightmare to track and use!  (You might still be in a nightmare if you have the wrong technology in place or if it’s not optimized well!)

The other key outcome of using technology in your business is to automate tasks.  Many of these tasks are mundane activities that don’t take much skill, although advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are making automation of many things more feasible.

Automating tasks allows you to do more with less.  Think about bringing a new Customer on board.  A potential Customer reads some great reviews on your product or service and wants to buy.  Without automation, you’ve got to provide someone they can talk to that can process their payment.  Once the payment process is taken care of, you’ve got to enter all their details into your Customer database.  After that’s done, you probably want to send them out a welcome email with some tips on how to get started with their new product.

These activities would take an employee ~15 minutes every time a new Customer was signed up.  If they worked for 8 hours a day, one employee would max out on processing 32 Customers a day; that’s all your business could handle, unless you hired more people.

With automation, software can handle millions of transactions almost instantly.  All the steps above can be easily automated with cost effective systems meaning it takes no employees to on board as many Customers that you can possibly generate.

What Type of Software is Out There?

Software is categorized in different ways.  The application landscape is ever changing at a rapid pace as new and old companies build new applications or different combinations of old applications.  Historically, applications had one purpose and were categorized by that purpose.  It was easy to compare apps across a category and identify what you needed.

Technology for your Business - Activecampaign
Activecampaign is one of many applications that provides CRM and marketing automation functionality.

Today there are single applications or services that cover many of the functions that used to exist in separate applications.  This shift means that you should be thinking about the functions you need out of your software instead of trying to find a specific “type” of software.

Depending on what you are doing in your organization, the functions you need your applications to do and the combination of the right apps will also vary.  Because of this, we’ll first cover the functionality that is critical for any business whether you’re selling cars, carrots, or consulting.  After that, we’ll touch on other functionality that might or might not apply to you, depending on how your organization operates.

For each of these functional areas, we will discuss the applications that we use at BrilliantlyBoring.com to run our business and provide some level of detail on how these applications function.  We’ll also include a few alternatives.

Customer Relationship Management

Also known as CRM, Customer Relationship Management is a set of activities around tracking who your Customers are as well as interactions with them like calls, meetings, and emails.  CRMs also track sales opportunities and related sales/business development activities.

Applications that were traditionally “CRM only” have grown in the last few years to include much more functionality than just managing contacts.  These applications tie in additional sales and marketing functionality that historically was done by other applications.

ActiveCampaign is the system that we use for CRM functionality.  Not only does it provide CRM functions, it provides email marketing and marketing automation tools as well.  Use ActiveCampaign to –

  • Track Customers and potential Customers
  • Build email lists from your website, blog, Facebook page, etc.
  • Build and manage sales pipelines that outline your sales process
  • Track Customers as they move through your sales pipeline
  • Test different emails and how they are received by Customers (A/B Testing)
  • Automate interactions with your Customers – send them follow up offers, thank you emails, etc.
  • Understand key metrics about your business and Customers including conversion rates and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

A few alternative systems that are comparable in function and have good reviews are Hubspot and Infusionsoft.  Note that we haven’t used either Hubspot or Infusionsoft beyond the very basics and do not use them for any part of our business today, but they are liked by many and generally get good reviews.

Project Management Tracking

This software allows you to plan out work that needs to be done within your organization.  There are applications that align to different project management philosophies so depending on how you work, some applications will align to you and your needs better than others.

Technology for your Business - Trello
Trello is an easy to use, Kanban style project management tool.

Trello is what we currently use to manage our tasks and project work.  Trello provides a Kanban style view of tasks, where there are different columns that represent a process or workflow and “cards” move from left to right as things progress.  Use Trello to –

  • Document your processes and workflows for getting things done in your organization
  • Identify tasks that need to be done and track them through to completion
  • Manage projects using Kanban boards

Trello is basic, even with the paid versions, so it will be limiting for large teams.  A few good alternatives, especially if you have a large team, include Teamwork, and Basecamp.  These alternatives are more advanced than Trello in project and task management, but that comes at a steeper learning curve and higher expense.

Information Management

We have more information coming at us than ever before and the average human brain can’t keep up with it all.  These applications exist to help us organize and manage loads of information.

At BrilliantlyBoring.com, we use Microsoft’s OneNote to gather, organize, and manage information from all sorts of sources.  OneNote allows you to create notebooks with sections and pages to organize information.  You can type, draw, add shapes, forward emails, save websites, and more.  We use it to organize our social media content, document processes, keep meeting notes, and manage ideas for our business as well as clients.  Use OneNote to –

  • Organize information about your business into notebooks, sections, and pages
  • Keep notes on topics that are critical to your success
  • Use it to “remember” all the important information that gets thrown at you and your team every day
  • Add website links, photos, emails and drawings to your notes

A popular alternative to OneNote is Evernote.  Evernote is comparable in features/functionality to OneNote with minor differences in how to do things and what options you have.

File Storage

These services allow you to store files in the cloud that can be accessed from any computer or device.  This allows you to use and work on files across different devices and share documents and files with others that are outside your organization.  These services also facilitate functionality of many of the other apps that you can use within your team.

We use two in this category; Dropbox and Box.  We find that Dropbox is better suited for certain activities such as sharing files for specific apps (of all the apps we use, many have already built integrations with Dropbox but not Box).  We find Box is more business friendly, so we use that for general file storage and sharing when it’s not supporting a specific app.

Both Google Drive and OneDrive are popular alternatives in this space.  Google Drive is helpful for sharing files built with Google’s office productivity apps including docs and spreadsheets.  OneDrive is more useful if you are using Microsoft’s Office suite of apps.

Web Hosting

A key component of any business today is having a website which serves as a “home base” for your company’s products, information, and support documentation.  Web hosting allows you to set up your own website with a custom domain name and usually includes custom email addresses too.

Brilliantlyboring.com is hosted on Siteground.  We’ve used them for several websites for our business as well as client’s businesses and have nothing but great things to say about them.  Their support is top notch and they are always willing to answer any questions you have.  Their service is feature rich, and provides us with everything we need to set up websites quickly.  Use Siteground to –

  • Register a custom domain name (URL) for your business
  • Host your website as straight HTML or by using a website builder like WordPress
  • Set up email accounts with your custom domain

Alternative hosting companies include Bluehost and GoDaddy.com.  Both are well reviewed and highly rated.  At Brilliantly Boring, we do use GoDaddy for some of our regular business and have generally good things to say about them.  We have no experience with Bluehost.

Account/Password Management

Your business will collect many accounts over its lifetime.  All these apps discussed in this article will have account and passwords, along with a host of other services that you will need for your organization.  Without using some sort of password vault that stores your account information, you’ll be left either using the same password for your accounts (terrible idea and really unsafe) or resetting your passwords every time you need to log into one of your accounts.

Technology for your business - KeePass
The KeePass website looks a little shady, but its no frills look comes from being open source.

We use KeePass as our tool for managing accounts and passwords.  We have around 200 different accounts and passwords in our Keepass file (good luck remembering all those!) and couldn’t realistically manage our business without it.  Use Keepass to –

  • Store account information on all your accounts for anything
  • Create and store random, unique passwords for all your accounts
  • Log into websites easily and quickly from within the KeePass app
  • Log into apps on your mobile device

A popular alternative to Keepass is LastPass which does many of the same things as KeePass.  We don’t have experience using LastPass, but it is popular and has good reviews.

Social Media Management

With so many social media platforms out there, managing posts on a regular basis can be a huge time investment.  Without a tool to help you, it also becomes a huge time commitment and a challenge to keep up with.

For us, we use a tool called Buffer to help manage our social media activities.  What Buffer allows us to do is spend a solid chunk of time on social media for the week and then let it run on autopilot through the week.  There’s no more scheduling posts in each individual app or for platforms that don’t have scheduling, trying to perfectly time a post (and must be available to do it).  Each week we sit down and go through what we want to post where, and when.  We write out the posts for the week, then drop them into Buffer and it does the rest!  Use Buffer to –

  • Schedule social media activities across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more
  • Track interaction across your posts in one place

An alternative to Buffer is Hootsuite.  Hootsuite is a great tool and offers more than Buffer in many areas.  It also comes at a higher cost and for our needs right now, Buffer is enough.  We will probably switch to or add Hootsuite as a tool we’re using in the future.

Payment Processing

An important part of being a business is receiving payments from your Customers.  Payment processors allow you to do just that.

At BrilliantlyBoring.com, we are set up with two payment processors, PayPal and Stripe.  Both offer similar options on how we receive money, and the processors have integrations we can use to add them to different services and other apps we use like our booking app.  Any e-commerce solution will have the ability to integrate with these processors as well.  Use Stripe/PayPal to –

  • Receive payments directly from Customers
  • Receive payments for services that are connected to other apps like an e-commerce or booking app

Square is an alternative payment processor, and banks like Chase and Bank of America also have similar services.  We have only used Stripe and PayPal so can’t speak to these alternatives, but online reviews suggest they are sound options.

Expense Management

Keeping track of expenses can get a little overwhelming if you don’t stay on top of it.  This is important to know how you’re doing financially and to make sure your taxes are done properly and completely each year.

Expensify is our app of choice for managing expenses.  It allows us to scan physical receipts and have them automatically entered in, as well as forward email receipts.  These all get automatically entered into our accounting software and images of the physical receipts are saved to our account.  Use Expensify to –

  • Take photos of your physical receipts and have them automatically entered in as line item expenses
  • Forward email receipts and have them automatically entered in as expenses
  • Connect to your accounting software
  • Store scans of your physical receipts

Alternative expense management apps include Zoho Expense and Shoeboxed.  Again, we have no experience with these apps, but they have good reviews online and appear to be valid options.

Accounting

Managing the accounting of your organization is a time-consuming activity.  For that reason, and the required expertise to do it well, many choose to outsource this function.  If you are interested in doing it yourself, you’re going to need good software to make it happen.

Quickbooks is our current app of choice for managing our team’s finances.  It’s got good functionality at a reasonable price and decent integrations with other apps that allow us to extend the functionality of the software with reasonable “ease”.  Use Quickbooks to –

  • Manage day to day income and expenses of your organization
  • Create and send invoices to clients
  • Report on financial activity
  • Compile needed tax information for tax season

Xero and Zoho Books are viable alternatives to Quickbooks, as is a good ol’ spreadsheet (good alternative for most of these) if your business is relatively simple.

Other Apps

We covered the most critical apps for any business up above.  Here are a few additional apps that we use for our business that you might find a use for in yours.

Conference/Video Calling, Zoom – Zoom allows us to host conference calls with our clients and includes functionality to allow for video, screen sharing and recording of calls.

RPA (Robotics Process Automation), Zapier and IFTTT – RPA is a newer but slightly confusing term that refers to software that helps automate business processes (it actually has nothing to do with robots which is where the confusion comes in).  Zapier and IFTTT allow us to connect applications in ways that would take a person doing manual things if it wasn’t for these apps.

Scheduling, Acuity – We use Acuity to manage calendars and schedules for client meetings.  Clients can see open schedules and book meetings directly to our calendars.  Acuity allows us to directly charge the client before they can book the meeting.

A Few Honorable Mentions

As previously mentioned, apps are growing in what they do and how they do it.  No longer are there standalone CRMs that just do CRM things.  More and more we are seeing an integrated set of technology for business that includes core functionality across many functions.  There are a few apps that are further along in achieving this than others, one that was mentioned above and one that wasn’t.

Zoho – This is a company we’re keeping our eye on.  Their mission is to build a set of applications that will do everything your business needs to do including CRM, marketing automation, accounting, expense management, and more.  They’re also building a large list of integrations to fill in gaps where they don’t yet have a solid offering.  While we’re not currently using any of their software, we are keeping our eye on them as an opportunity to simplify and consolidate all of the apps we are using.

Kajabi – We have spent time using Kajabi, although admittedly only in a sandbox environment (never used it for anything “live”).  We were quite pleased with many of Kajabi’s features as they have packaged quite a bit of functionality in their attempt to be the only technology for your business.

Technology for your business
Kajabi has a number of tools available that make it easy to set up membership sites with course and video distribution.

The one thing we really didn’t like when it came to Kajabi is you have to build your website in their framework.  While it’s got a fair number of features, we weren’t about to ditch our website to try and replicate it in their framework.  We’re also a bit nerdy and like “getting dirty” with our technology which Kajabi limits.

Kajabi is a great answer if you are a knowledge company (courses, videos, memberships) and not interested in what’s happening under the hood with the technology.  They have built a platform that hosts your website, provides a CRM and marketing automation, has a storefront for your courses, videos, and membership products, and a host of other automations and functionality.

Bringing it Home

There is a ton of technology for business out there that can make your operation much more productive, efficient, and effective.  With an ever-changing landscape, it can be difficult to find the right applications in the right amount without overpaying or double paying.  We focused more on the functionality and discussed the apps that fit it, as opposed to the apps first.  Continue with this mindset of functionality first and you will have an easier time finding the right technology for your business.

Questions or comments? Send us a message by contacting us via the Contact Us page.

For videos on how to use technology to improve your productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness, visit our partner channel, Beeline Tech Group on Youtube.

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