People that know me fairly well are aware of the fact that I’m always trying to educate myself to be more efficient with my time. Not that I am trying to fit more into my day. But instead, I am looking for ways to maximize productivity while minimizing the number of hours spent working. This is not to say I’m trying to be lazy. I’ve worked hard my whole life and I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far. However, I also realize that in order to be successful in the future as a professional and as a business owner, its essential for me to learn to work smarter as opposed to harder.
I’ve had a strong focus on educating myself about various topics, methods, and industries for the past year. While all the books, articles, journals, and videos that I have come across are all quite diverse, almost all of them seem to revert back to a few central principles. One principle that is most prominent emphasizes the necessity to create effective business systems in order to grow your small business. This may seem like a very simple concept, but it is also one of the most difficult concepts for business owners to buy-in to and implement. Establishing and utilizing effective business systems allows you, the entrepreneur, to put parts of your business on “auto-pilot” while you go out to seek additional opportunities for revenue growth. It seems that the difficulty some entrepreneurs face is their unwillingness to step away from a business they worked so hard to create. They invest their entire lives into a business and they’re uncomfortable letting someone or some system take over.
With this in mind, I’ve been focusing a great deal of my research toward finding sufficient business systems to meet my needs. As a small business owner with basically no revenue to speak of, keeping costs down is an obvious priority. Lucky for me and other aspiring small business owners, the internet, social media, and other web based collaboration tools make starting a small operation simple and cheap. The days of expensive office space, costly and complicated computer software, tedious phone lines, and “manual” lead generation are on their way out. Just as the desktop computer and the cell phone (as opposed to “smartphone”) have become all but obsolete, so too will expensive barriers to getting into small business.
So what is this magical solution I’m alluding to? It all starts with web based software and cloud computing.
Case Study – Building a Professional Website for the non Tech Savvy
I may work for IBM, but I’m far from being a technically savvy individual! So when it came to building a website, I was not looking forward to the task. I realize the functional uses and implementations for technology, but I have no idea how all these things really work. Nonetheless, I was ambitious to get started on creating the website for our business. Costa and I agreed to buy a domain (actual 2 domains after we decided to change our business name) from GoDaddy. Step 1 seemed pretty easy. But now we got into this whole deal with hosting. We did some research and decided to buy a hosting package from GoDaddy for $12/month. Great! We have a domain and we have hosting…now what?? Where do we possibly start in getting the website ideas that are in our head onto a published website. Again we went back to researching the web for the best web design tools. We started and ended numerous free trials for website software that we downloaded to our laptops. This software was all very complicated and included a bunch of html coding which I was not interested in. I’m a powerpoint kind of guy…I like the point-click-drag kind of stuff. We had some success using Dreamweaver, but then things got complicated when it came to getting what we created in Dreamweaver to be published to the web. I’m sad to say, we ultimately settled for Microsoft Publisher! Our website was nothing special but we were just happy to have something published to the web.
This is how our website stayed for months. Of course we didn’t promote the site and we probably had no visitors because we really didn’t want to associate our company with this unprofessional site. However, as we have made more and more progress in our business over the past few months, we knew it was time to find a legitimate solution. We went back to the researching the web. This is when I discovered wix.com. Wix is a free flash website design software that allows you to create professional looking websites using easy to use drag drop techniques. There is no software to download. All you do is sign up, start creating, and hit “Publish” when you are done. I started with the free version (has wix ads and a wix domain) and I could not believe how easy it was to use. I didn’t have all this junk software on my computer which meant I could edit the website from anywhere on any computer with internet. As I realized this was the ultimate solution, I transferred our domain from Godaddy and purchased the “unlimited plan” from Wix. Sound expensive??? Its not! For $6.20 / month I get flash website design along with no Wix ads, unlimited bandwidth, the use of my own domain, and way more. That $6.20 / month includes hosting my site! I couldn’t believe it. To sum up, I get web hosting and awesome flash design functionality for less than I was paying GoDaddy for hosting alone! We’ve been working hard on our website and I think it looks great! The site should be live in a few weeks.
The important part of the story is that our solution lied within web based “software” or “apps”. There was no software to download and the interface was easy and intuitive. This story is also not unique. Online companies are finding new ways to throw traditional software out the window and make programs available on a web based platform for little or no cost to the user.
One Step Further – Integrating Online Collaboration Tools with Google Apps
Not to continue discounting GoDaddy, but another thing we were fed up with was the outdated email interface of GoDaddy webmail. Both Costa and I use Gmail for personal use and we are very happy with the interface and the organizational functionality. We set up our personal Gmail to grab our business email from GoDaddy…but we had some issues with this as well. After a bit of reading, I was turned on to “Google Apps”. This was absolutely the perfect solution! Google Apps allows you to connect your business with Google mail, calendars, documents, and hundreds of other Google Apps and Apps provided by 3rd party vendors. You use your own domain name so your email stays professional. You and all your employees/business partners all use the same integrated system that is all hosted by Google. And again…its all online! Nobody needs to download software! You can access all your business mail, docs, etc as long as you have an internet connection. Compare this to Microsoft Outlook. Outlook is a very expensive software. Worse yet, every person’s software is customized to them on a specific machine. If an employee were to use a different computer, they would not have access to their email! I currently have this issue with IBM and Lotus Notes. I can’t access my email unless I’m using the laptop issued to me (this is also due to data privacy restrictions which I can’t really blame them for).
Google Apps is free for the first 10 users. After that, it is still very affordable at $5/user/month. All the Google Apps are free and most of the 3rd party apps have free versions as well. Costa and I are using a fulling integrated suite of Google apps absolutely free. I welcome the day our company grows to the size that we will require additional users and we have to pay the cheap price to upgrade.
A Specific case of how all these web based apps work together can be found in our process for capturing web based leads. I’ve written before about Zoho CRM. Zoho is a web based Customer Relationship Management tool that allows small businesses to track potential business and organize their leads. Of course, there is no software to download. Better yet, Zoho CRM is a 3rd party app that works seamlessly with Googl Apps! Below is an example of how multiple online collaborative tools will soon be working together harmoniously for our business.
- I create a website on wix.com
- I create a web to lead form on Zoho CRM (This is a form that will go on my website. The user enters their info and it automatically populates as a new lead in Zoho)
- After someone fills out the Zoho form on my Wix website, the lead comes in. The person who submitted the form gets an automatic “Thank You” email from my Business GMAIL account.
- We follow up with the lead and schedule an appointment using Google Calendar
- We analyze the deal potential by using Google Spreadsheets.
- We move forward on the deal and manage the entire project using Viewpath 3
- We make money on the deal and analyze our income using Wave Accounting
All of the above is free. There is no software to download. All users can access these tools and use them collaboratively. This is a phenomenal way to take advantage of business systems. Here are the best reasons to take advantage of Google Apps if you are a small business owner:
- No software to download
- Tons of free storage and cheap storage after you reach your limit
- Fully integrated system
- Access your account from anywhere or anything with an internet connection (smartphones and ipads included)
- Gmail is better than outlook and others email clients
- ***This is the trend of business! You need to buy in now to online collaborative apps! Software as we know it is on its way out.
You may not know it, but you use online apps everyday. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, Mapmyrun, Link’d in, Youtube, etc are all very similar. You sign into your account and you dont download any software. Google Apps takes all these apps and brings them all together!
Bottom Line – To grow your business you will need to take advantage of business systems that do the work for you. Software is on its way out. The best business systems involve online collaborative apps such as Google Apps.