10/19/2017

Formstack new feature: Date-based calculations and conditional logic

image from support.formstack.com

The Formstack Date/Time field can now be used with conditional logic. Formstack has also introduced the capability to use Date/Time field in calculations to evaluate the number of days, months or years between two dates on a form. This could be very useful to determine time spans to calculate for example number of days you wish to book for a hotel.

Formstack has updated a few support documents to help with the new features:

  • Date/Time Field Overview - In the Date/Time field you can now disable selecting a date past a certain date in the future.
  • Date/Time Field Calculations - You can now create calculations using Date/Time fields. This is useful if you need to calculate the number of days between two dates entered into your form or someone's age given their birthdate.
  • Validating Age With Date/Time field - Do you want only people over a certain age to fill out your form? This is possible with date field calculations. Here's a step by step walk-through on how to validate age on your form.
  • Date Field Logic - You can now create conditional logic rules using a Date/Time field on your form. This gives you the option to show/hide specific fields based on a date, date range, or period of time.

09/28/2017

Building an alumni club fundraising and communications platform with WordPress

UMACT Horizontal logo
When I became the president of my alma mater's alumni club in Toronto, I reviewed other University of Michigan alumni club websites around the world.  Currently UM alumni club websites are plain-looking, cookie-cutter sites that don't feature the flavours and feel of each community nor do they let each club easily fundraise and collect detailed information about their members. I started the UM Alumni Club of Toronto (UMACT) in 2011 and  quickly experienced the pain  alumni leaders have when they start clubs -- no money and a list of zero members to work with. 6 years later the club is has over 500 on our mailing list, and we're aiming to have 1000 members in our membership list by end of 2018. We hope to have at least 50% of Canadian UM alums on our mailing list with the help of our technology platform.
 
Each alumni club has an obligation to communicate with their members through a well-maintained membership list on a well-designed online fundraising platform. We chose WordPress to build our platform and were pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and power of the platform. The UMACT had the privilege of hosting two LSA Opportunity Hub/Global Internship interns, Reis Becker and Olivia Varnado. Reis and Olivia built the UMACT fundraising and communications platform over the summer with a bit of guidance and direction from Alex Sirota, director at NewPath Consulting.
 
 
The benefits of the resulting platform are truly amazing:
 
 
The features we've implemented:
 
  • The homepage can be used to feature any UMACT photos and events, as well as a call to action to create a UMACT member profile.
  • Visitors can view UM alumni member profiles under the 'Member directory' page, where approved UMACT members can display their photos and information. Contact information is protected and can only be viewed by other approved UMACT members.

  • Members can choose to hide their profile but still allow the club to maintain their information. Each member has a username/password to update their information directly with the club.

  • The 'Connect' page lists our social media platforms and contains a contact form which can be used to contact UMACT directly via email. 

  • The 'Blog' page will feature newsletters as they are published and other news. These can be pushed to social media channels automatically. We are exploring ways to push automatic notifications to WeChat and other app platforms.

  • The 'Events' page displays all upcoming club events and supports online registration forms.

  • The 'Donate & Shop' page can be used to make online donations to UMACT, and features merchandise like t-shirts and other UM memorabilia. WordPress has a full ecommerce system with support for inventory, backorders, and supports multiple currencies.

  • Each member can be assigned a role (like 'board members') to enable select access to pages exclusively for board members. When you login as a board member you get access just to the pages and file you need.
 
Here is a list of free plugins we used to build our UM alumni club fundraising and communications platform. All these plugins can be extended with commercial 'add-ons.'
 
  • Ultimate Member - membership management, member directories, integration for protected access to sections of site and dynamic menus

  • Mail Poet - email marketing, supports template and dynamic content from the WordPress database (automatic event calendar in emails for example, or latest posts)
     
  • WooCommerce (for ecommerce) - can be used to sell just about anything including keeping inventory, and you can have special items available only for members
     
  • The Event Calendar - event calendar management, categorization of events, premium ticketing features
     
  • Ninja Forms - custom forms to enable surveys, event registrations and other data collection functions
 
If you'd like to know more about how we accomplished all this for free this summer with the help of a couple of UM LSA interns please get in touch and I'd be happy to share our efforts. We even have administrative documentation you can use and adapt/translate for your needs as website administrators. I look forward to talking with you soon.

09/05/2017

How and When to Choose the Right Software Solutions For Your Business

Digital Workplace Infographic Final - reduced

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 1 and Part 2 are also available on this website.

There’s a problem with how most small businesses choose their technology solutions, and we see it far too often. First the owner or manager purchases a product that solves a particular perceived pain or problem. Then they try to make it work within their existing business model and organizational structure. We feel that this approach is backwards, and your business ends up not getting the real value from the tools you choose. It’s not the technology that small businesses need first, but rather core knowledge and capabilities in the areas of business, market, content marketing, design/usability and implementation.

Ideally, you should know the key activities that will expand and sustain your business, and the key resources you’ll need to execute those key activities. In the Business Model Canvas (the one-page business model generator that we use and recommend), these two elements appear on the left-hand side of the model or the “backstage” area of your business.

From working with so many small businesses over the years, we have become adept at helping businesses identify their key activities and resources (business objectives), as well as the technology solutions that can support those activities implemented by your key resources. In the following infographic, we’ve organized our favourite technology tools and services around six different business objectives (the concentric circles), building up from the five core knowledge areas in the middle.

NewPath Consulting Technology Stack

The productivity tools in the infographic are indicated by their company logos, and are arranged in concentric circles according to the business objective(s) of each tool. These circles radiate from the core capabilities and also correlate to the size and maturity level of an organization. We believe that businesses of every size can benefit from assessing their core capabilities and having a well-curated technology “stack,” a combination of software services used by staff and customers to achieve various business objectives.

For more details about NewPath’s technology “stack” (combination of software services) and the services we use and recommend the most, please see our post about software integration.

The five core capability areas are:

  1. Business - clarifying your business model and business objectives, and your professional ethics and legal practices such as contracting and intellectual property.
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage, and defining your value proposition and the 4 Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, place).
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary online environment to deliver value to customers, which includes branding, graphic design, security and privacy.
  4. Implementation - developing or acquiring technical knowledge and fundamental capabilities of digital workplace software services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to publish and distribute content that will help you find and retain customers and business partners

For reference, here is the full set of subtopics for each of the five core capabilities:

Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge
Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge c/o Web Management Institute

 

Of course, you may be thinking, how can I be awesome at all of these core capabilities?!? Be assured, no single business owner can be equally good at all these areas of knowledge. In fact, MBA (Masters of Business Administration) graduates focus on only two of these core capabilities - Business and Marketing. Many companies are started by a ‘technician’ who does not likely have many business or marketing skills, or a business whiz who doesn’t have the implementation skills to deliver on the value proposition by performing the core service offering.

What you need is to invest in getting help to bridge the gaps, yet we rarely see businesses doing this well. We get it; it’s intimidating. But there are resources out there to help you learn, and people you can hire to help. In fact, we hope you’ll let us help you.

Going outwards from the centre of the diagram we focus on the “orbits” that surround the core knowledge areas. We believe the software tools you choose must be aligned with the maturity of your business - how long you’ve been in business, how many people work for you, and your revenue.

We begin, as most small businesses do, with the content and experience band - a website and lead generation program. Unfortunately, most organizations stop here, but as your company grows you will need more tools and services. The next band is advertising and promotion, where you start making more direct and outbound offers.

As your business grows, you might want to start selling online, and you’ll need services that support your commerce and sales process. As we go further out, you’ll need to build awareness with a larger audience through social media and relationship building.

When you grow to the data layer, specifically if you are a larger organization, this is where you’ll need things like analytics, invoice and billing, and data aggregation services. At the management band, you will need human resource management products, training and project management tools that have  a broader scope.

What’s important is not just which products you choose, but what business objectives each tool serves and how they work together. As your organization grows, you should be adopting these products based on your needs and level of maturity. The more mature your business, the more tools you will have to adopt and integrate. Yet if you start loading up on software too soon, you’ll create chaos and confusion while wasting money and time.

The customer is the most important thing

We believe the most important thing to any small business is its customer, and that today’s online customer requires that you have the high quality digital workplace we have outlined here. From that solid foundation you can get more customers, deliver more value, to then be able to charge more and earn more revenue.

This article concludes our blog post series on digital transformation for small businesses. First we covered the need for building a digital workplace. Then we revealed the importance of creating and evaluating your business model, a must for digital transformation. In this article we addressed how to choose the right software for your business, based on NewPath's own software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology stack and how we’ve used these tools to help our customers grow.

Click here to download a free one-page visual summary of our digital transformation model.

The important question now is what do YOU think is the most important thing to your business? If you’re still juggling time and money as your top priorities, instead of your customer, we invite you to make this business paradigm shift to focusing on your customers.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today for your free consultation!

08/25/2017

Creating dynamic documents with Wild Apricot API and Webmerge

Wild Apricot is the #1 Capterra-rated member management system and has over 20,000 customers. With their website builder, eCommerce capabilities and comprehensive functionality specific to the needs of not-for-profits and clubs, Wild Apricot offers a popular, affordable and cloud-based solution. Organizations use Wild Apricot for their website, email and mobile app, and to manage their contact database, event organization and online promotion, registration and payments.

Since 2008, Wild Apricot members have been asking for the ability to provide membership cards, certificates and other authenticated, unalterable documentation to members. Newpath Consulting now has a solution to this issue with the use of the Wild Apricot API and WebMerge - a dynamic document creation system.

NewPath Consulting is an SMB support company that combines business strategy and advice with cloud-based technology packages through flat-rate monthly support plans. NewPath partners with the companies behind the technologies they recommend. In this case, they identified the opportunity to utilize one partner to assist another and employed WebMerge to better serve the Wild Apricot community.   

WebMerge is an online platform that allows the creation of dynamic documents. WebMerge users can easily route data from external systems or tabular data files, populate a document using “mail merge”-type functionality and display it on a screen or send it by email. WebMerge works with a variety of  document types including fillable PDFs and customized Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files. WebMerge even contains a built-in document editor that allows you to create native documents. WebMerge enables Wild Apricot members to dynamically create secure, personalized documents with just a click - and without any human intervention.

NewPath Consulting used WebMege to create dynamic documents for a Wild Apricot customer, the International Association of Reiki Professionals. The IARP not only wanted members to be able to request a membership certificate, but to also be able to produce certificates for their students to confirm that they had completed various training programs. For the latter “student diploma service” IARP charged a fee - and created a new revenue stream for their organization!

The automatic provision of these documents would not only reduce the time and cost to the organization’s administrators (manually produced membership documents cost as much as $5 per certificate), but also offered them a recurring revenue stream with the addition of the student certificate option.

NewPath Consulting explains how they built their solution:

  • We took a sample certificate file and membership card and created a fillable PDF that contained “placeholders” for each of the membership fields such as Name, Member Expiry Date, Member Since Date, and Membership ID.
  • We integrated a special members-only “Generate my certificate” page in Wild Apricot that allows a logged in member to click a link which invokes the custom program that generates the certificate.
  • The “bridge” written in PHP is invoked to request the membership data dynamically and evaluates whether a member is active or not. If they are active the bridge calls the WebMerge API to create the certificate, routing the necessary data to WebMerge.
  • The final result is that an unalterable, print-ready certificate and membership card are displayed, personalized for each member.

Here are a few screen shots of how the process works from Wild Apricot:

  1. Generating the certificate link from a Wild Apricot page happens through a small Javascript that retrieves the Wild Apricot unique numeric user ID and constructs a call to the PHP bridge. Pasted image 0
  2. The “bridge” written in PHP (index-webmerge.php) calls the Wild Apricot API to retrieve the necessary pieces of data to merge into the certificate.

    Pasted image 0 (1)
  3. A certificate is delivered via email to the Recipient field, which is retrieved from the Wild Apricot membership record. The source certificate file is a fillable PDF file. You can also use any Microsoft Office document or create a file right within WebMerge. This certificate can be secured for alteration as well as password protected in WebMerge.

    Pasted image 0 (2)

    Since launching this new solution in spring 2017, IARP has generated over 500 certificates and student diplomas - saving the organization thousands of dollars in printing costs and most importantly, time. Each certificate costs less than 50 cents to generate.


    This solution can be replicated by other Wild Apricot customers as well as other organizations. Personalized documents can serve many other purposes such as:


    • An organization may wish to create one-time use event tickets, customized training materials, certificates and membership cards, quotes or letters.
    • Automated document generation can make it easy to take advantage of various membership benefits and perks such as insurance application forms prefilled with all of your membership data - including a signature!

    The outcome is a simple process that allows members to self-service their documentation needs and removes the responsibility from administrators, saving time as well as money in printing and postage costs. It also makes your organization stand out in providing a superior level of customer service.


    To learn more, please visit: http://www.newpathconsulting.com/wild-apricot.html


08/01/2017

Why Your Customers Are More Important Than Your Brilliant Business Idea

MANWORKING

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 1 and Part 3 are also available on this website.

Continuing our conversation about bridging the digital divide, today we’re taking a closer look at the core of your business.

Which one of the following do you think is most important to a business owner?

An idea?
Money?
Time?
A customer?

An idea is what you do in your business. For example, you walk dogs, you design websites, you’ve created a new software solution, you have a bakery, or you’re a lawyer.

Money is how you fund your company, compile reserves for future needs, and pay yourself and your team.

Time is a universal measurement - we all share the same 24-hour clock.

A customer is someone who is engaged in buying or trying out your services. This is an important distinction, because it’s means that someone does not have to be paying you to be a customer.

NewPath’s Alex Sirota notes, “When I ask this question to all of our new customers and prospects, I’m surprised that fewer than 50% give what I believe is the ideal answer: the customer.”

One can make a case for all of these items being essential to a business and its owner, but the customer is always more important than any of them. And it’s your customer who helps clarify and specify the other three.

Do they like your idea? Are they willing to pay for it, and how much? How quickly do they need it, and by when? Elevating the customer to be more important than your ideas, time or money is what makes your business successful.

A brilliant idea isn’t enough

Most people will say the idea is most important, but Alex says that means they’re letting their ego speak. “When you have an idea you think is great you think everyone’s going to buy it,” he says, “This is a mistake too many business owners make.”

You get emotionally attached and think your idea is the best, but likely it isn’t as unique and original as you think. And there are a lot of bad ideas that succeed - just look at the late-night infomercials for ordinary products that still sell extremely well because they’re using such an effective sales formula.

“I hate to break the news to you,” Alex continues, “but if you don’t have customers for your idea you’re nowhere.” He cites this post from Derek Sivers about how ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier; it’s the execution, even of a bad idea, that’s worth millions, while a 5-star idea is worth very little without execution.

When time and money are scarce

When a business owner claims that time or money are more important than customers, watch out! These are huge red flags. If time is most important to them, it probably means they’re not doing a great job at handling their time. Digital tools can help you save time, but they can only do so much. You likely have more work to do on time management before you can successfully run a business.

If money is the top issue, it means they may not have saved enough to run a business through lean times. There is a simple solution to this: Make the customer the most important thing, and the customer will pay money for the value you deliver. With enough customers and enough money, you’ll earn a profit and you can pay yourself.

If money was the most important thing in a business, anyone with money could succeed and yet there are countless examples of businesses who had money but failed. Why did that happen? They didn’t treat the customer as more important than time, money or their idea.

This question is a crucial litmus test for you as a small business owner. Get your head around the fact that that the reason you’re doing this is to get and keep customers - to get customers to buy more from you and refer others to you. Technology can save time but that is only useful if you leverage that time to earn more revenue or save costs.

It’s getting more customers that will make you run a better business because customers will tell you what they are willing to pay for and use, and how they wish to be treated.

Customer-centric marketing requires a modern business model

To get and keep customers, you have to have a functional business model. This is what many businesses have the most trouble with. By the time customers come to us at NewPath they’re already attached to a bunch of tools and technologies, but they’re unclear about their business model and how it operates. Your technology tools must support your business model.

At NewPath Consulting, we onboard all new customers by taking them through a business model generation tool called the Business Model Canvas, created by a company called Strategyzer.

This process helps us to understand their current business model and also how the business wants to evolve. This exploration and documentation greatly helps us address real business challenges with the cloud tools we have at our disposal.

These three videos explain more:

Why every business needs a business model

(This is part of a short series of videos you can watch here.)

2. The Business Model Canvas theatre - a helpful analogy

3. The sections of the Business Model Canvas

Note that out of all the elements on the business model canvas, ‘customer’ appears twice. Money is represented, but only as a measure of whether you’re making more than you’re spending. Your idea (value proposition) is at the center, but doesn’t stand on its own.

Business Model 500x342
And what about time? It doesn’t even appear on the canvas. “A lot of business plans have time lines,” says Alex, “but really they’re irrelevant. The only time that matters is when you can start delivering value to your first customers. Then it’s about how you can scale to get more customers.”

At NewPath, we have taken many small businesses through the Business Model Canvas exercise. We have observed that many customers are clear about what appears on the right-hand side of the BMC: who your customers are, what you deliver to them, and where you interact with and find your customers, as well as how you make revenue.

What’s not usually as clear is the execution - all the things that appear on the left-hand side of the BMC (or backstage, as you’ll see in the video above): their key activities, the resources they need to make these happen, and the partners who will help raise visibility and even provide customer referrals.

Businesses earnestly try to find customers one-by-one, and hope and pray they will get word-of-mouth referrals, but this is rarely a scalable model. Customers should find you, when you execute superior sales, marketing and operational processes, build mutually beneficial partnerships, and deliver consistently on your value proposition.

How different businesses use the Business Model Canvas

If you want to see sample Business Model Canvases from Amazon, Disney and Lego, check out this video playlist. You can also try sketching out your organization’s canvas with this BMC template for Google Drive (save a copy to your own Google Drive account in order to enter your own content).

For the first time ever, we’re sharing the NewPath Consulting Business Model Canvas, Version 4, which describes where we currently stand. As you’ll see, we’ve identified one of our key costs as marketing, particularly content marketing, and the money we’re spending here is working.

One of our recent new customers has been on our mailing list for years. When we started writing about business models, they finally reached out because they realized they needed to identify who their target customers really were and whether they were effectively communicating with them online.

Too many small businesses don’t know where they’re spending their money and don’t reinvest enough back into their business. Service businesses charge for their time and materials and fail to “break the time barrier.” You have to invest wisely on the left-hand side of the canvas in order to drive new revenue. Unfortunately many SMBs don’t know where to invest or how.

If you read the NewPath BMC carefully you’ll see our key resources are writers and social media experts, as well as our sales relationships. It’s essential for a business to clarify who are its real partners, and who are the new partners you should be considering.

When clients come to NewPath Consulting, “I don’t ask what colour your website should be,” says Alex , “and we’re not just here to fix your technology issues. I want to first understand your business model, and the key activities and resources that will help your business model run better.”

Would you like to sit down with Alex Sirota and see how your business fits into the Business Model Canvas? Join him for a free 30-minute consultation where he’ll work with you to:

  • Start to document your Business Model Canvas
  • Recommend a few goals to help your organization grow
  • Explore a NewPath Consulting business success plan that’s right for you

Click here to book your free consultation today!

07/28/2017

Membership Data Management Self-Assessment

image from s3.amazonaws.com

Wes Trochlil (@westrochlil) of Effective Database Management has worked with hundreds of non-profits and membership organizations. In this 1-hour Wild Apricot webinar video, Wes shares some of his best tips and insights. 

 

We decided to adapt Wes's membership data self-assessment described in the video into an interactive evaluation. Go ahead and evaluate your organization's membership data management capabilities! You will receive an evaluation instantly and by email.

 

07/04/2017

Today’s Customers Need a Digital Workplace

NewPath MountainGapCustomers2 Revised
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com

 

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 2 and Part 3 are also available on this website.

Attention small business owners: There is a new digital divide between those companies embracing technology to run their business and those that aren’t. Don’t get caught on the wrong side!

Does your website help your business grow?

Did you know that 60% of small businesses today don’t have a website? And for those that do, many are just a glorified online brochure, rather than an extension of the business. Visitors are not able or encouraged to take the next step to engage with the organization, e.g., complete a survey, book an appointment, purchase a product or service, or request more information.

That’s simply not going to cut it in today’s customer service landscape, where the customer makes purchasing decisions online. Today’s customers are demanding more - many of them want online support and online ordering; in essence, they want to be able to do everything they can online without having to call you.

Customer experience is overtaking price and product as the key differentiator. The way you keep customers is by offering a better customer experience, and that comes from interacting with them on their terms. Beyond phone, web conference or even face-to-face options, customers want the option to interact with your business online. You must build a digital workplace to service customers in the 21st century.

Three key elements of a digital workplace

In order to equip your business to cross the digital divide, we encourage small business owners to think about three major priorities:

  1. Website - What does your website look like on desktop and mobile? How well does it function as a marketing communications platform? How does it communicate your value proposition to customers and prospects? Can they buy right from your website? Do you publish information that’s useful to customers and also boosts the popularity of your site? Have you built an email list or a social media presence so that you can keep your company top of mind with your prospects and customers?
  1. Analytics - Do you have means of collecting insight analytics of some sort, such as Google Analytics? To what extent do you know how your website is resonating with your audience, and how your business model is performing? Can you quantify your business’s success in terms of profitability, cash flow, etc.?
  1. Automation - Do you have a way to collect data from prospects and customers without letting anyone fall through the cracks? Do you have the ability to take someone to the next level from prospect to customer by collecting some information and then responding in either a partially or completely automated fashion?

For example, a landscaper’s website may have a form to request a quote, where a salesperson will follow up, and another form to sign up for a newsletter and be immediately added to a database to receive ongoing communications. Automation can take on many different forms.

The trap of business ownership

Traditionally, small business owners don’t have core expertise in any or all of these three areas. They know how to deliver a particular service, or they may be very sales and marketing-oriented, but they’re still missing one or all of these skill sets.

At NewPath, we see businesses who either aren’t doing anything at all and behind left behind, or they start trying to solve their technology problems alone. But a pretty new website, jazzed up content, or a web-based invoice and billing system, on their own, don’t address the bigger issue because they don’t connect the dots to the company’s business model.

Website, analytics and automation each require constant focus. And here’s the key question for business owners: Now that you’ve invested in technology, how do you juggle your priorities to rise above the competition?

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth books, aims to help business owners out of the trap of constantly working in your business, to stepping into the big picture of creating systems and structures to work on your business.

At NewPath we believe there are eight systems that every business needs. None of them are about about implementing your actual service, rather they are systems that help make your business a better business, and give your customers the stellar experience that will set you apart.

What’s your score?

As you read through this list, ask yourself how many of these do you feel confident about, and which ones are keeping you up at night? Those answers are the key to your growth as a digital business.

  1. Provide great customer service - Are you accessible in a way that your prospects appreciate? How quickly do you respond to email and do you provide satisfactory answers? Are you available by phone?
  2. Be more responsive - Can you get back to someone with a proposal or service fairly quickly, but in a way that saves you from reinventing the wheel every time?
  3. Automate processes - This one element underpins all the others, and applies to many different areas of your business from prospecting, sales and marketing, to fundraising and event ticket sales. Ultimately you want to eliminate any need to retype or re-enter data, or manage details on multiple spreadsheets.
  4. Review analytics and forecast - Are you regularly looking at how your business is performing? Can you review your cash flow and other metrics every month or quarter, without making yourself crazy trying to compile the data? Can you see how your content marketing is performing, and what makes sense and what doesn’t?
  5. Connect with and attract prospects - Are you doing a good job of marketing your company and getting visibility, with leads coming in not just by word of mouth but by referrals from your partners? Have you achieved thought leadership and visibility in your industry and/or your local community? Does your reputation speak for itself?
  6. Acquire emails and convert leads - Are you systematically building an email list that allows you to generate a following and fanbase?
  7. Nurture relationships and build loyalty - Do you use those emails to continuously communicate with your audience and be sure you’re top of mind? If someone hears of a need or has a need for your service, are you going to be one they think of and refer to?
  8. Secure your data and financials - Do you have a security policy, and a way to make sure your data is backed up, readily available, and secure?

How did you do?

NewPath Juggler w motion lines
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery

If you feel confident about 6-8 of the systems on this list, congratulations on making such a strong effort to work on your business and not just in your business. If you find yourself getting tired of juggling all these balls on your own, or you’re curious how much more efficient you could be, talk to us about reviewing your systems and showing you what else is possible.

If you’re managing 3-5 of these areas, but you’ve lost sight of the rest, you’re likely feeling the weight of this lopsided reality. Let’s discuss how to build on your strengths and fill in the gaps.

If you’ve been diving in and out of only a couple of areas on this list, but mainly focused on delivering your service and putting out day-to-day fires, you’re probably at your wit’s end. What’s worse, the business you’re working so hard to keep afloat is in danger of dissolving before your very eyes. Get in touch. Now.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today to learn more and get started!

NewPathConsultingteam
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com

 

06/08/2017

Should You Build or Buy Your Small Business Software?

Buy-versus-build-software-Fotolia_156816234_XS

Building custom software is expensive and can trap you in a cycle of constant expenditures. Modern cloud apps are offering a new style of convenience with automatic updates to their configurable, subscription-based services. The number of subscription-based, on-demand services available to consumers is increasing every day – think Netflix, Amazon Prime, or your mobile phone plan.

With the time and cost required, only companies with very unique business requirements and an in-house IT team should consider building their own systems from scratch. For most small and medium-sized businesses, third-party vendors with an off-the-shelf solution provide the best value and results, with low ongoing costs and maintenance requirements.

There's still a trick to getting the top-of-the-line technology working for you because these superior and low-cost apps (for example Wild Apricot, the cloud-based membership management software provider we recommend here at NewPath Consulting) are market leaders because they specialize in only one part of your business.

Therefore you may need several of them to cover all aspects of your operation, sales and marketing. But never fear! These brilliant stand-alone solutions are designed to be bundled with other best-of-breed software solutions so they can plug 'n play with some simple integration.

Yes this requires some technical know-how, but since those capabilities are built right in with web hooks and APIs, it is always going to be less expensive to integrate these cloud apps than developing and maintaining a home-grown system.

Because small businesses and organizations have limited time and capabilities, they can use just a portion of a service’s capability until they are ready to adopt it further. They also pay only for what they use because the pricing models of the tools are matched to the extent the services are actually used.

But what about the person who doesn’t want to pay for even one unused feature, but instead wants a custom-built option that’s impeccably matched to their organization’s needs?

Wild Apricot explored this build versus buy question on their blog, specifically as it relates to membership software. This is such an important topic that we thought we’d open it up to all types of software, and continue the conversation here.

Remember that whether you build or buy, you’re still responsible for configuring the tool to your own needs. You'll still need installation, configuration and adjustments over time - the maintenance is your responsibility. Just think of the last time you bought a new phone or computer and you spent time configuring and personalizing it just for you.

To help you make an informed build versus buy decision, we’ll start by grouping Wild Apricot’s 10 Build versus Buy considerations into three main areas: people, process, and technology.

People

Technical expertise - How easily will you and your staff be able to use the tool? Is there support available? Be sure that any solutions you buy have excellent support teams that answer your team’s questions quickly and accurately.

Staff turnover - Will the same people be managing the technology over time, or will people be transient? Even if you anticipate high turnover rates your systems can be built to provide the training documents, videos and forums to get new people up to speed quickly.  

Process

Urgency - How urgent is your need for a solution? Is this something that has to be up and running in a matter of weeks or months, or do you have a year to roll things out gradually? Either way your staff can learn to use the tools over time but your costs will be initially higher if you roll out all the bells and whistles at once and have to wait for your staff or volunteers to adapt.

Budget size - The Wild Apricot article professes that without a large budget ($10,000) you shouldn’t consider building your own solution, but we disagree. NewPath’s Alex Sirota notes, “If you can build something small that just addresses your need, it can be more cost-effective than buying something that has more features than you need.”

And just because you have a $10,000 budget, you may not have the time, people, and technical expertise to launch your own software and train people how to use it. People and time are important lines on your budget as well.

Here’s how we evaluate the budget versus time question:

Build-versus-buy

  • If you have a lot of time and a healthy budget, building your own solution addresses all your needs. However, this will require steady maintenance of your code and that may be more expensive than you initially considered.
  • If you have limited time and a large budget, consider buying - not just one product, but a suite of tools that work well together.
  • If you have limited time and money, always choose to buy a software solution.
  • If you have a low budget and can take some time to configure and learn the solutions on offer, consider taking the time to buy, learn and configure the ideal solution over time. The “build” here involves configuring integration between services, which in most cases doesn’t involve any coding. Many NewPath customers are in this quadrant.

Technology

Integration with other systems - A lot of systems can work with each other, but unless they’re built that way out of the box they require more time to configure. We suggest that you only look at those solutions with the built-in capacity to integrate with other systems. At NewPath we've done extensive investigations into all of the software we promote to be sure they function as needed, 'play well with others' and have responsible teams developing them so that they are always well maintained to be current and safe.

Specialized features - Similarly, you may want really specific features that don’t seem to be available in anything you can buy off the shelf. Generally, if you can sacrifice a bit of your ideal vision, you can get something ready-made that will still be a big improvement from what you’re working with now. If you can’t sacrifice any features, this is the time to start investigating the cost of custom-built software.

Security - This is almost always better when you buy because you’ve delegated security to a company that has thoroughly secured its products. If you’re building your own solutions, you have to build and test security for yourself and that requires a lot of time and special skills.

In the build versus buy software decision, these are the three points that will be most important for small businesses without many internal resources:

  1. Long-term reliability - When you buy into an existing product, especially a cloud-based solution with a solid reputation where there is proven long-term reliability. That may not be the case when you build something - it may be state-of-the art in the current landscape, but will it stand the test of time, or will you outgrow the capabilities quickly, forcing you to spend more money on it in a few short years? The guarantee of long-term reliability is why software-as-a-service (SaaS) products are priced the way they are. You’re essentially buying a contract, an insurance policy that the service will be constantly improved.
  2. Commitment risk - When you buy, there is not as much commitment risk. SaaS products usually require much lower commitment, and with many of them you can try before you buy. When you build you have to be in 100% and able to get a return on that commitment. The less commitment you want to make, the more likely a buy solution is the way to go.
  3. System support - For a system that will require a lot of maintenance, building is a recipe for disaster unless you have the budget and people in place for that long-term support. When you buy, there are support options for various budget sizes.

Build versus buy examples

  1. Websites - Template site builders like Wix are free (with low-cost plans for enhanced features) and easy to use. Or should you build something by getting a website host and installing WordPress yourself? Consider this: the Quick Start Wizard WordPress from GoDaddy can configure a website even faster than building one from a template in Wix, and websites built on WordPress run faster! Consider how important speed and performance are, and how your website will reflect on your brand.
  2. E-commerce - There are many e-commerce solutions on the market today. Solutions like Shopify allow you to build out your website and e-commerce systems without touching one line of code, but you do have to delegate 100% of your system to a third party. Many small e-commerce shops are completely fine running on a service like that but once you start to require more extensive features - like inventory, customization and integration with marketing automation - you will need to choose an alternative like WooCommerce, a WordPress plugin, or even Magento.
  3. Membership sites - Buying Wild Apricot is a no-brainer for small to medium-sized organizations - it’s an all-in-one solution that gets you up and running in a few months. Yes, you can cobble together similar results with WordPress plugins, but do you really want the responsibility of coordinating that, especially if you have low tech expertise and a low budget for support?

In today’s technology landscape, the build versus buy decision isn’t just about building from scratch. You can build solutions by buying several services and configuring them to suit your needs. There is a vast spectrum of choices that could include buying a few services, building a few integrations, and choosing the sweet spot that will work for your organization. By pulling together a suite of cloud tools, even when you buy, you’re building a solution that’s based on a solid foundation of best practices.

At NewPath Consulting we help people navigate the build versus buy decision. We work with our customers to build solutions by buying tools that require the least customization. We come up with the perfect combination of tools that interact to meet the company’s specific needs. So if you don’t want to take the risk of building or managing your software tools internally, look for a company like NewPath to choose, configure and integrate the best products for your small business.

05/17/2017

Don't WannaCry? Keep Windows updated with these tips.

Do you have your Windows 7 machine updated and set to update with the latest patches? WannaCry virus uses ETERNALBLUE exploit, which is has been patched by Microsoft security update MS17-010 released in March 2017. You should check to see if the updates in this article have been applied.

For older systems (Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 R2), Microsoft released special patches.

Below is a screen shot of the January 2017 security rollup that fixed this vulnerability on Windows 7. Check to see if it is installed on your Windows 7 computer - if not turn on Windows Update and make sure it does get installed.

Jan 2017 security update

Here's a great way to have Windows regularly check and apply critical updates. Let it run in the background and never have Windows Update disturb or notify you, so it can do its job silently and reliably. Critical updates happen every few weeks and definitely every month as a "Security Monthly Quality Rollup."

Windows Update Settings in Win 7

05/04/2017

Making Articles on TypePad Social Media Ready with Open Graph

An alert reader of the NewPath Consulting newsletter recently shared one of our articles on LinkedIn and noticed something interesting. When you share on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, extra information about your post should be displayed as you begin to share an article. Unfortunately because we are using Advanced Templates on TypePad, we did not have any of the <META> tags coded to support Open Graph, the standard coding mechanism used to render the rich media previews and search engine optimization.

The TypePad Knowledgebase has a short article on implementing Open Graph, but we went one step further and created a code snippet that can be used to create the necessary markup for both pages and posts.

image from www.brightedge.com

Below is the code you can insert into your custom Header template or include to support a variety of meta data. These tags will cover most social media platforms. Note that we are using a tag called MTIfNonEmpty to evaluate whether an article has an excerpt loaded. Since TypePad can autogenerate excerpts, using this tag effectively lets us evaluate whether we are adding these tags to a page or post. This conditional trickery lets us use the same piece of code on ALL of our pages and posts of the website.


<!-- Schema.org markup for Google+ -->


<MTIfNonEmpty tag="MTEntryExcerpt"> <!-- if there is an exceprt, this is a blog post or category archive -->


<meta itemprop="name" content="<$MTArchiveTitle remove_html="1"$>">
<meta itemprop="description" content="<$MTEntryExcerpt$>">

 

<!-- evaluate if there is an image in the post, the first image is used if there is -- the spec enables automatic resizing of pictures -->
<! -- see http://help.typepad.com/image-tech-specs.html for more details on image specs and resizing -->


<MTEntryPhoto>
<meta itemprop="image" content="<$MTEntryPhotoURL spec="640pi"$>">
</MTEntryPhoto>


<MTElse> <!-- no excerpt, so this is a page -->


<meta itemprop="name" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$> - <$MTBlogName$>">
<meta itemprop="image" content="<$MTBlogURL$>images/logo.png">

</MTElse>

</MTIfNonEmpty>

<!-- Twitter Card meta data -->
<!-- these tags are shared by both posts and pages -->

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image">
<meta name="twitter:creator" content="@twitter_handle_goes_here">
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@twitter_handle_goes_here">
<meta name="twitter:url" content="<$MTEntryPermalink>">

<MTIfNonEmpty tag="MTEntryExcerpt"> <!-- check if there is an exceprt, a blog post -->

<!-- NOTE: Twitter description must be less than 200 characters -->


<meta name="twitter:description" content="<$MTEntryExcerpt$>">
<meta name="twitter:title" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$>">

<!-- Twitter summary card with large image must be at least 280x150px -->
<MTEntryPhoto>
<meta name="twitter:image" content="<$MTEntryPhotoURL spec="640pi"$>">
</MTEntryPhoto>

<MTElse> <!-- no excerpt, so this is a page -->

<meta name="twitter:description" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$> - <$MTBlogName$>">
<meta name="twitter:title" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$> - <$MTBlogName$>">

<!-- we are using a standard image here as s placeholder as MTEntryPhoto only works for posts -->


<meta name="twitter:image" content="<$MTBlogURL$>images/logo.png">

</MTElse>

</MTIfNonEmpty>


<!-- Open Graph data -->

<MTIfNonEmpty tag="MTEntryExcerpt"> <!-- this is a blog post -->

<meta property="og:title" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$>" />
<meta property="og:type" content="article" />
<meta property="og:url" content="<$MTEntryPermalink>" />


<MTEntryPhoto>
<meta property="og:image" content="<$MTEntryPhotoURL spec="640pi"$>" />
</MTEntryPhoto>

<meta property="og:description" content="<$MTEntryExcerpt$>" />

<meta property="og:site_name" content="<$MTBlogName$>" />

<!-- the format string converts internal date/time into the right format for OpenGraph DateTime type -->

<meta property="article:published_time" content="<$MTEntryDate format="%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S-05:00"$>" />
<meta property="article:modified_time" content="<$MTEntryDateModified format="%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S-05:00"$>" />

<!-- this code iterates over all the categories attached to a post and creates a nice category list -->

<meta property="article:section" content="<MTEntryIfCategories><MTEntryCategories glue=", "><MTBlogIfArchives archive_type="Category"><$MTCategoryLabel$><MTElse><$MTCategoryLabel$</MTElse></MTBlogIfArchives></MTEntryCategories></MTEntryIfCategories>" />


<meta property="article:tag" content="blog" />

<MTElse> <!-- this is a page or category archive -->


<meta property="og:site_name" content="<$MTPostPageTitle remove_html="1"$> - <$MTBlogName$>" />
<meta property="og:type" content="website" />
<meta property="og:url" content="<$MTBlogURL$>" />
<meta property="og:image" content="<$MTBlogURL$>images/logo.png" />
<meta property="article:published_time" content="<$MTUserStartDate format="%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S-05:00"$>" />
<meta property="article:modified_time" content="<$MTUserStartDate format="%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S-05:00"$>" />
<meta property="article:tag" content="website" />
</MTElse>

</MTIfNonEmpty>