184 posts categorized " Blog"

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>

05/02/2017

Collaborating in the Cloud Era

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Collaboration means different things to different people, but in the end we all need to work with others in some capacity or other. With more people equipped with faster bandwidth, built-in webcams and microphones, and mobile apps, the cloud is opening up all sorts of possibilities for working together to get things done - without having to be physically in the same location.

Cloud-based collaboration helps create a sense of shared responsibility. It levels the playing field for people to participate from a variety of settings and locations. It turns location-dependent work into location-independent work.

There are many cloud-based tools out there offering easy and low-cost collaboration options, yet many people are still hesitant to use them. They may feel resistant to learning new technology, or sense resistance from their team. They may not want to spend the money. In many cases we find people just don’t realize the capabilities of these tools, and how they can improve workflow and productivity and replace ineffective processes.  

How do we at NewPath Consulting collaborate with our customers? Which tools do we use, and why do we think the cloud is useful for better collaboration and fewer misunderstandings? We’ll answer those questions in this post.

Collaborative scheduling with Appointlet

Everyone gets frustrated with the back-and-forth of booking meetings. One person proposes a few times, then the other person replies with a few other times, and after a few more rounds of emails they agree on a time (with no guarantee that time actually gets onto either person’s calendar).

A cloud-based tool like Appointlet (Alex’s online calendar) eliminates the need for this back-and-forth. With Appointlet, you establish different types of appointments (30-minute initial consultation, 60-minute meeting, etc.) and set your available meeting hours (e.g., weekdays from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.) and other policies (e.g., insert a 15-minute gap between all scheduled meetings).

When someone visits your Appointlet calendar via your website or a link you send by email or instant message, they can select an appointment type and choose one of your open times. Then Appointlet syncs with your own Google or Office 365 calendar so you will never be double-booked.

Online schedulers create a unique sense of transparency. NewPath Consulting’s Alex Sirota notes, “By allowing others to transparently select their appointment from my available time slots on my calendar, based on my preferred scheduling policy, I am giving the most amount of options to my appointment partner - setting the stage for mutual respect as well as reducing the actual amount of overhead time to set a meeting.”

While it may seem like the person asking for the meeting has to do more work, they’ll have multiple options and are guaranteed a spot as long they can find a match. They have the power to not only schedule a meeting, but to cancel or reschedule - all without having to start a new email thread. Appointlet also ensures that both parties get the appointment in their calendars and receive email reminders.

Online appointment booking systems save time, and set equal responsibility. “I won’t book appointments by email anymore,” Alex says, “My appointment booking link is in my email signature, and I also offer it anytime a customer needs more help than I can give by email.”

The key for Alex was to change the tone when he invites someone to book a time. Instead of being a chore for the other person, it’s a way he can provide better service. “I tell them, ‘I’ve opened my calendar for you to select a time at your convenience,’ and they can also select how we’ll meet - phone, video conference, or face to face.”

Collaborative meetings with Zoom

As long as you have reliable internet access, a webcam, and a microphone, video conferencing can change the whole way you think about office space. At NewPath Consulting, we often use the cloud-based conferencing tool Zoom as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to in-person meetings. This eliminates multiple expenses, including the time and energy to get to a location, fuel costs, wear and tear on you and your mode of transport.

And while in-person meetings commonly don’t start on time, when the technology is in place, most web-based meetings start quickly with just the click of a mouse.  In fact, Zoom and Appointlet integrate beautifully, making it easy to set up web conferences and share the technical details with all parties involved, making it even faster and smoother to get started.

Zoom depends on a couple of important prerequisites. All participants need to have a reliable and speedy internet connection (at least 5 Mbit/s or faster for both uploading and downloading), and a decent quality microphone, camera and set of speakers. It’s also important for all callers to be in a relatively quiet environment because background noise from one person’s line can undermine the entire meeting.

Another benefit of Zoom is that you can patch into the meeting from any phone to a variety of local or toll-free dial-in numbers; you don’t need to participate via video or the web. You can also record meetings to the cloud and/or to your computer. Meetings then become a form of self-documenting, real-time, customized, just-in-time training (that can be accessed forever). We find that our customers really appreciate this high degree of customer service.

Collaborative project management with Google Docs

Lastly, let’s talk about collaborative project management. It used to be that I had my documents on my computer, and you had your documents on your computer, and we could maybe send each other drafts of documents and share via email or USB key.

First launched in April 2012, Google Drive allows users to store files in the cloud, synchronize files across devices, and share files. Now instead of on “my computer” or “your computer,” documents are on Google’s “virtual computer” - the cloud. Along with protecting your files from accidents, corruption, theft, or computer crashes, Google Drive also makes them much easier to share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets or presentations.

Another aspect of the cloud era is that we don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before we share our work with someone else. The whole point of Google Drive’s collaboration features is for people to create and edit documents together. One person can share even the most basic outline or title, and everyone else can jump right in to contribute and improve. There is a shared responsibility across all parties to make the document better, continuously refining and shaping the message until they all think it’s the best it can be.

Not everyone is comfortable with this approach but we’re experimenting with it more and more at NewPath Consulting because it is the future of collaboration. One of our business development documents has seen 13 major edits so far - and we expect at least another 13 before it’s finalized!

In Google Drive there are ways to enter edits as comments (you can tag one or more collaborators to call their attention to a comment), as suggested changes (must be approved by the original author), or by actually updating the current version of the document. Any collaborator can review the document’s revision history to see exactly who changed what and when.

Slack - the ultimate collaboration tool

Slack is a real-time messaging app that allows you to divide conversations into specific topics/projects, share files, message individuals directly, and much more. It’s accessible via Mac, Windows and Linux, with mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Too many people live and die by their email, which becomes a never-ending and constantly changing to-do list. It’s difficult if not impossible to prioritize tasks, keep conversations straight, and effectively communicate with groups of people.

Slack takes project management out of email and is a way to structure organizational tasks into conversations. It’s the equivalent of Facebook for work - a ‘water cooler’ where people can more projects forward by making quick decisions in real time.

Alex of NewPath says, the answer is clear, “Slack is the first place I go to receive and send information related to customer service or internal NewPath projects. It's a prioritized communication channel for our staff. Email is what we use for communication with the outside world, for now. We’re looking at inviting customers into the Slack channel where our team is already discussing and executing their project.”

Separating discussions into distinct channels and projects is the key to being able to focus, no matter which tool you’re using. That way people aren’t wasting time managing messages that don’t pertain to them, and they can consciously tap into a specific discussion when it’s time to work on that project.

There are many integrations that can help bridge the gap for people who are attached to the tools they’ve gotten used to, and that make Slack even more productive and fun. In a sense one can stitch together a collection of cloud tools, all within Slack.

Though we’ve come to the end of this blog post, we’re still at the beginning of this brand new era of collaboration. We’re experimenting on your behalf. We’re working with new tools in new ways, testing them internally before bringing them to our customers to experiment with us. Then we can know how things really work and whether they truly make our work and our lives better.

04/05/2017

Software Overload? Integration Brings Relief

There are almost 4,000 cloud-based productivity services on the market today, many of which are free or cost only a few dollars a month. With such a low barrier to entry, many small and medium-sized business owners are tempted to keep adding more and more tools and services until they’re too overwhelmed to use any of them effectively.

NewPath's guiding principle is to choose the software services just right for your business size and maturity, rather than buying into a monolithic "do all" software platform. Our two primary evaluation criteria are quite simple: Can the core value of the tool be demonstrated in 30 minutes and does the underlying service vendor have outstanding support?

The trick is to get your software products to work together, integrating them to effectively talk to each other. You will get the best benefit when your tools work together to accomplish business requirements that each cannot accomplish on its own.  

For example, any online form has the ability to notify you that someone has filled it out, which generally happens via email. But imagine the possibilities within an integrated set of tools, e.g., as soon as a form is submitted, a business process is activated depending on the fields filled out, an automated response is sent to the website visitor, and a new account is created in your customer database. A specific employee is assigned to the account and receives follow-up reminders to stay in touch. This is all possible when cloud services are properly set up with your business’s model and requirements in mind.

Some SaaS (software as a service) products integrate better than others, with built-in functionality that business users can apply with a bit of time and effort, with no coding required or the need to reinvent the wheel.

NewPath Consulting has evaluated a wide range of SaaS products over the past four years for their effectiveness, ease of use and interoperability. In the infographic below, we’ve highlighted our favourites, and demonstrated how they correspond with five core capabilities of all businesses, outlined in the centre of the diagram:

NewPath Consulting SMB Martech Stack

  1. Business - business modeling and operational planning
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary environment to deliver value to customers
  4. Implementation - understanding the fundamental capabilities of cloud-based tools and services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to find and retain customers and business partners in the digital realm

Each business must acquire these capabilities over time as they mature and grow. These capabilities are required to understand and validate your business objectives, your sales and marketing techniques, and which tools to use and when.

At NewPath we believe that as a business becomes more capable and experienced at these five core knowledge areas, they also become ready to transform into a digital workplace. 

For example, most businesses need an online presence (ie a website or mobile app) but not every business requires a formal customer relationship management (CRM) tool since many don’t employ large groups of outbound sales people. If you’re just starting out and don’t have many prospects or customers, then a shared cloud-based spreadsheet with some basic analytics can be as effective and has a lower cost and complexity than a CRM.

The productivity tools in the infographic above 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.

Tool set #1: Content and experience

The first objective every business is to develop a modern and interactive website on a capable content management platform. NewPath supports the easy-to-use yet fully extensible WordPress platform. WordPress is best in class for template-based sites, with extensibility via plugins and themes to handle any requirement you may need. Couple this with the easy yet powerful form builder Formstack to enable your prospects and customers to interact with you 24/7. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Serving the customer.”

Tool set #2: Advertising and promotion

The tools NewPath recommends are AppSheet, Wild Apricot and Mad Mimi. AppSheet allows you to build mobile apps from spreadsheets, using your own data to deliver a branded experience to your customers. It's easy, free, and there is no coding involved. Wild Apricot is a cloud-based service that includes website management, membership renewals, email marketing and donations for membership-based organizations (nonprofits, clubs and associations). Mad Mimi is NewPath’s choice for email marketing. Read more about why Mad Mimi is still our choice after all these years. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Attracting the customer.”

Currently, at NewPath we don’t recommend any online advertising ad platforms. We recognize this is a controversial position, yet content marketing simply provides a better return on investment for most SMBs over online ads. Here’s some proof based on our own experience with content marketing and spending on ads. Online ads can work, though, for certain product sectors, to boost an already well-known brand, or for local advertising of local services.

Tool set #3: Commerce and sales

For commerce and sales, NewPath recommends PayPal, WooCommerce and Stripe. Everyone’s heard of PayPal and the service remains easy to use for secure online payment processing. WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to set up an online store to sell directly from your website - why pay for an ecommerce platform when you can have more power for less cost? Stripe makes it even easier to do business online by offering recurring and one-time credit card payment processing. Stripe checks out the transaction, makes sure it is legitimate, and if all looks good, they send the money automatically over to your business bank account, without the need for a merchant account. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Making it easy sell and buy services and products.”

Tool set #4: Social and relationships

Social media and the cultivation of relationships is an important step in the sales cycle. Some aspects can be automated and other parts must be handled directly, but in each scenario, business acumen and technology can help. At NewPath Consulting we use the following social and relationship management tools: 

  • Slack.com is our internal communications and collaboration tool, which we use as an alternative to inter-office emails so everyone remains on the same page and informed of internal projects and delivery of customer service.
  • Highrise is our customer and partner database that keeps us abreast of all interactions between our sales and marketing team and our prospects and customers, and allows us to schedule touchpoints and keep notes and to-dos in order. Highrise integrates seamlessly with your email inbox, important since after phone calls, email is the primary communication channel between staff and customers.
  • Zoom is our recommended service for video meetings, which can be recorded and scheduled ahead of time for up to 50 participants via phone and video.
  • Appointlet helps us automate the process of scheduling meetings between team members, prospective customers, and customers, eliminating the back and forth of trying to find a mutually available time in people’s busy schedules. 
  • Hootsuite lets us monitor social media and schedule new and popular content when the intended audience is most likely to be online.

The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Staying organized while keeping in touch with prospects and customers.”

Tool set #5: Data & Management

As an organization matures to the point where it needs to effectively manage a lot of data and personnel, NewPath uses and recommends these products to use analytical insights to drive business decisions:

  • The business model canvas helps a business owner clarify and iterate a business model that may not be complete or functional.
  • Stitch Data, WebHooks, Zapier and SuperMetrics help integrate and automate data integration between various services.
  • FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting tool that keeps track of invoices, expenses and taxes, and offers recurring billing. And your business will get paid faster when you can deliver invoices electronically and get paid electronically!
  • Google Analytics allows you to track website traffic, events and the return on investment of marketing efforts.
  • LastPass provides secure password management for all staff.
  • GoDaddy offers secure, reliable domain name management and managed WordPress hosting.
  • Safari Books online and Lynda.com provide ongoing business education for your staff and customers.
  • G Suite from Google allows for cloud storage and instant, collaborative editing of documents, illustrations and spreadsheets.

Do you have a mismatched collection of productivity tools that aren’t working together to help your business grow? Step back and look at the big picture of how your business is evolving, which core capabilities you have and which you need to build, and which set of services will help you reach your business goals.

03/30/2017

NewPath at Digital Main Street Forum

The Digital Main Street Forum aims to assist entrepreneurs in embracing digital technologies to build and grow their business – from online marketing and leveraging data to better engage your clients, to adopting ecommerce to reach a broader customer base, the Digital Main Street Forum will help you understand the "Why" and "How To" of embracing both bricks and clicks for your business. NewPath Consulting will have a booth at this event so please come check us out!

You can register online for free.

03/01/2017

Why Use a Password Manager When the Browser Saves Passwords?

Last month, a hacker breached an online police forum to sell over 700,000 pieces of data from US security enforcement agencies on the dark web, including the FBI. If these security professionals can fall victim to hacking, it’s a warning sign for all of us to boost our own password security.

The password management problem is simple: as you browse around the web, opening accounts on websites, you’re asked to create password after password. The average person has 100 passwords, though most probably have between 100-500. How could anyone remember that many pairs of usernames and passwords?

Forgot-password-Fotolia_137263233_S

Most people don’t. They either use the same password for every site, maybe with slight variations, or they just keep using the “Forget Password” link that most sites provide. It’s usually a combination of both tactics. Then, if security breaches happen and their username and password is leaked, they blame the companies who’ve been breached, even though they failed to create and manage a safe password.

Unfortunately, when your password gets breached (stolen by a hacker), and you’ve used that same password on any other site, your accounts at all of those sites are now also at risk. The hacker can access those other accounts without having to do any more hacking.

Now the chances are low that this will happen, but if you’re somehow targeted for an attack and people have some of your passwords, they might now be able to get into your most sensitive accounts such as email, financial sites, and health sites, where they could potentially carry out malicious actions.

At NewPath Consulting, our customers typically take on anywhere from 1-20 new passwords for cloud-based services (e.g., PayPal, Mad Mimi, Wild Apricot, website hosting), and most of these are critical to their operations and keeping their financial data and customer information secure. Sites like these require the most complex passwords that will be difficult to hack.

What is a safe password?

The safest passwords are ones that:

  1. Are only used on one site
  2. Contain at least 8 characters
  3. Contain a combination of letters (upper case and lower case), numbers, and special characters (!%@#)
  4. Contain no dictionary words or proper names
  5. Change every six months or a year

Now we come back to the central question of how to remember all of these safe passwords, which are purposefully hard to remember or guess. Some people try writing them down, maybe on sticky notes attached to the computer (very risky if your computer is lost or stolen), or scraps of paper around the office or house (difficult to keep track of or find when you need).

Enter the password manager, a software application designed to help you accomplish three key goals:

  1. Create a new password for every site
  2. Generate and manage safe passwords
  3. Fill in your passwords for you without you needing to know or remember them

Why not just save passwords in your web browser?

Web browsers like Chrome, Safari and Opera all offer the option to save your passwords for you. They say they are encrypted, but many security experts have questioned whether storing your passwords in a web browser is truly safe. If your computer is stolen, your passwords can likely be easily extracted from your web browser.

Another big drawback of using the browser to manage your passwords is there is no requirement to choose a safe password. Password manager programs, on the other hand, automatically generate safe passwords, and if you create or enter your own they give instant feedback on whether it is strong enough.

Remember that a browser’s goal is to help you search the web, while a password manager’s only job is to keep your passwords safe. In fact, when you install a password manager, it will usually disable the built-in password manager in your browser.

Which is the best password manager?

At NewPath Consulting we use and recommend LastPass. It creates a vault with one master password - this becomes the last password you’ll ever have to remember again.

LastPass boasts strong encryption algorithms and no one at LastPass ever has access to your data. You have the option of two-factor authentication for extra security. With two-factor authentication, even if someone breached your master password, they still can’t get into your account without entering a second piece of information, such as a code that LastPass sends by text message to your mobile phone.

LastPass helps you easily accomplish all three password management goals:

  1. Create a new password for every site
  2. Generate and manage safe passwords
  3. Fill in your passwords for you without you needing to know or remember them

LastPass encourages good password management by actively monitoring to make sure you’re not using the same password on all sites, and by giving you a score for how safe your passwords are.

Like any software tool, using LastPass does have a bit of a learning curve, which is why we help our clients set up and learn to use it. Once you get used to it, however, it is truly quick and easy and gives you much more security.

How much does LastPass cost?

LastPass is free, with the option to upgrade for $12 a year for premium features such as family password sharing, 1 GB encrypted file storage for notes you want to save, priority customer support, an ad-free vault, and more.

What are some concerns people have about password managers?

Some people aren’t comfortable turning password management over to an outside organization. Others worry that if their master password is compromised a hacker will have access to all of their sensitive information at once (two-factor authentication is the solution for this).

Other people just don’t believe that password security is important or worth the time or money. Yet this infographic of data breaches over the last few years shows just how widespread data breaches are, how frequently they occur, and that we can expect this to continue.

Password security is one of those things that’s never a problem until it’s a problem. But as we learned from the Police.com breach this month, if security professionals can be hacked, why can’t you?

Want to secure your data and start surfing more safely online? Contact NewPath Consulting today for a complimentary demonstration of how we use LastPass, and how it could work for you.

[Update - March 20, 2017: Listen to The Russian Passenger, Reply All podcast episode #19, for a frightening story of how easy it is to be hacked, and charged for services you never used.]   

02/02/2017

Why An International Non-Profit Migrated to Wild Apricot From Salesforce

Recently we had the opportunity to work with an international not-for-profit organization on a technology solution. They had obtained a free version of Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM (customer relationship manager) product. After about a year of using Salesforce, they found themselves looking for alternatives.

Their company structure had changed, so they no longer qualified for a free non-profit license from Salesforce. Beyond that, they were finding that Salesforce wasn’t meeting their needs. It couldn’t do event management, and was not helping them automate their membership renewal process and workflow (such as keeping track of when renewals were coming up).

Salesforce required extensive customization to meet their core needs, but they didn’t have the resources to bring in an external consultant to do everything required. They simply weren’t getting enough value from Salesforce.

Time for a technology upgrade

Membership renewal was a key issue. The organization had its annual general meeting coming up for their members from around the world; in order to attend and participate, people had to be members in good standing and have completed the membership renewal process.

Through web research, they found the cloud-based membership management solution Wild Apricot. Through the Wild Apricot Partner Directory, they found NewPath Consulting and Alex Sirota.

Wild Apricot had a more reasonable cost structure and would allow this organization to automate the membership renewal process and handle event registration online.

How NewPath Consulting helped

Alex identified the best way to transition them from Salesforce to Wild Apricot, including the extraction of data from Salesforce. The important steps here were to create a master exportfile, and then test the new system to make sure the data file would import properly.

This was a unique situation in that they have many organizations as members, who then have individual members under each organization. This required them to have a hierarchy in their membership structure. In Wild Apricot this is achieved with the membership bundle feature.

While it is always tempting to try all the bells and whistles of a new software program at once, Alex convinced the organization’s marketing manager that it was best to ease into implementing Wild Apricot’s features gradually.

Focusing on the big picture view of their organization and its goals, Alex helped them determine how best their business model would work inside the Wild Apricot system.

Their first goal was to create automated processes for membership renewal, e.g., reminding organizations when their membership renewal is due. Currently, the organization’s finance manager will manually renew member organizations using the internal email campaign system in Wild Apricot to collect fees, both online and in person during the organization’s general meeting in summer 2017.

As the organization becomes comfortable with Wild Apricot, they will deploy the online renewal features on their website. But they decided to take it slow initially, and use Wild Apricot’s “back office” features without needing to deploy self-service membership capabilities yet.

Another data project was to map membership levels based on their transactional history from Salesforce. That would enable them to track outstanding renewals at every membership level.

Feb WA Dashboard Summary

Alex also helped them create a customized “Master Membership Report” to distribute to all members. This allowed members to share information with each other with the most up-to-date information.

More in store for Wild Apricot

As we continue to work with this organization to implement more of Wild Apricot’s powerful features, the next goal is to set up Wild Apricot to handle registration for their upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) and bring transactional functionality to their members across the world. For example, offering a streamlined way for global members to apply for funding to attend the AGM.

They also plan to implement the Wild Apricot membership portal to enable self-service by members. More self-serve options would free up staff to spend more time creating new programs and marketing the organization’s program and funding initiatives.

Why Wild Apricot was better than Salesforce

On the surface, Salesforce could do what this organization wanted, but in reality this would have required a lot of custom work and a pricey consulting project. Wild Apricot is clearly a better choice for a membership-based organization. It is a CRM, but a very specialized one with tools right out of the box that were just what this organization needed.

01/13/2017

NewPath Consulting at Vaughan B2B Expo on February 1, 2017

Join us on February 1, 2017 at Vaughan's premier opportunity to meet and make partnerships with local small business owners. The Vaughan B2B Expo will be held at the sumptuous Terrace Banquet Centre.  Come for a decadent breakfast and delectable lunch while visiting the 100+ vendors, including NewPath Consulting, who have set up displays.  Meet local politicians and government dignitaries, hear keynotes by business success stories and mingle with the best and brightest of the Vaughan small business community.  

At the NewPath Consulting display we will be showing our "Transforming into a Digital Workplace" presentation and offering free business strategy consultations to visitors.  We look forward to seeing you there!  

Vaughan Mayor Bevilacqua at the 2016 Event
Vaughan Mayor Bevilacqua at the 2016 Event
Kristine Black at the 2016 Show
Kristine Black at the 2016 Show



 

01/11/2017

2016 Traffic Update: Content Marketing Works!

For small businesses, investing in content marketing is a judgement call. When we launched NewPath Consulting in 2010, we made a call to invest in ads to build awareness. This is sometimes called the “spray and pray” approach, where you’re trying to spray your message to as many people as possible, while you pray that some of them may eventually turn into customers.

In many ways, it’s easy to determine the ROI of buying ads. You spend a certain amount of money to get access to a certain amount of viewers. With content marketing, on the other hand, you’re won’t know upfront how many viewers you will get. Content marketing builds relationships with your target audience over a long period of time.

Content marketing relationships

Your target audience is also reading content on other websites - those of your partners, potential partners, and even your competitors. So part of your content marketing strategy must be to collaborate with these partners to co-create, share and promote content.

Building these relationships is really the most valuable way that a small business can build a community and stand out from the crowd. There are two key reasons for this.

First of all, when you have trusted partners that value you, and they share your content with their audience, that creates an implied endorsement that creates trust with potential customers.

As well, when you write content about your vendors and other partners, that becomes a new way for prospective customers to find you. When people search for information about those other companies, they may discover your content and find their their way to your website as a result.

Content marketing relationship example - NewPath Consulting and Formstack

You can see this in action in one of our most popular blog posts. Formstack is an online form builder and one of the preferred vendors we recommend to our customers. To explain why, we partnered with Formstack to present a case study of how of our clients used the application to generate substantial revenue and sustain their business.

The webinar was a huge success with more than 450 participants, and we created an additional post-event article featuring the questions and answers from the Formstack webinar. Since both NewPath and Formstack promoted the post on social media, we were both able to benefit from this mutual effort. A win-win situation like this is one of the most powerful strategies to building quality traffic to your services or products.

2016 content marketing results

Here are the actual results from our content marketing efforts last year. We’ll compare this to our earlier practice of buying ads. Breaking out the blog and website stats separately illustrates a much clearer picture of how the blog traffic leads to increased traffic on the rest of the website. (See Part I and Part II of our Google Analytics articles to learn how to do this for your own site.)

Overall NPC Website Traffic Trend

As we started blogging regularly and sent regular monthly email newsletters in 2016 our traffic jumped from the previous year (see below). We discovered that instead of investing in ads as we did in 2010, moving our efforts into content marketing yielded much better results. Not only did our blog traffic jump, but much more importantly that translated to the highest amount of traffic we had even compared to when we bought ads in 2010!

Essentially, investing roughly the same amount of money per year as we did for ads yielded more traffic, which was much better targeted to our audience. By investing in content marketing I mean quality writing, along with ensuring good channels for distribution with quality partners, such as the Formstack webinar recap we mentioned above.

Traffic-overview

Notice that almost all the metrics are performing better year over year. % of New Sessions is down, but in our case we want more return visitors - more traffic and more return visitors means people are checking us out more often.

When we looked more closely at the types of traffic, we discovered that the biggest jump in year-over-year traffic was from mobile viewers, versus those on a desktop computer or tablet. The 60%+ jump in mobile optimization is critical in today's world. We hope some of these visitors check us out on mobile and return on a desktop.

Device-category

Social media amplifies the message

How did visitors find their way to our site in 2016, and how did that compare to the previous year? There was a big jump in social media traffic from our own social media channels or from our technology partners.

There is also a jump in direct traffic - people who went directly to the NewPath Consulting website on their own. This is a great sign that people are learning and remembering our business name and website link. And look at email year over year - regular monthly sends really establishes a pattern for our audiences and drives traffic reliably.

One constant snag is monitoring valid referral traffic. "Ghost" traffic coming from shady websites still continues to get through the Google Analytics filter. We are working hard to generate a lot more high-quality referral traffic from partner websites.

Channel-grouping

We have worked hard to become listed on partner directories in 2016 and will continue to do that in 2017. Take a look at the traffic patterns generated year over year, that has led directly to new customers!

Visits-from-partners

Another way to measure our efforts is to look at how much traffic came from each social media platform. Here we see a big jump in Twitter referrals (marked by t.co), which is a direct result of using Hootsuite’s Bulk Composer to re-share our most popular posts on a regular basis. This handy tool helped us deliver an arsenal of quality social media-ready content that we knew was popular, based on the analytics of our content.

Social-source

How will you invest your time and money in 2017?

For B2B small businesses, buying ads is an expensive proposition. Our experience shows that it’s best to spend money elsewhere, such as on professional writers and editors, and social media resources. Once your brand is established, then you might consider buying ads to further leverage your brand awareness. We believe service companies can build customers without having to invest in ads, particularly in super competitive market spaces.

Now that we’ve opened up our business and results to you, take a look at your own results. What do your Google Analytics tell you about your website traffic this year compared to last? How is content marketing working in your business? Do you buy ads? What ROI have you seen with those?

Please comment below or on our Facebook page to join the conversation.