186 posts categorized " Blog"

08/01/2017

Why Your Customers Are More Important Than Your Brilliant Business Idea

MANWORKING

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

 

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>

05/02/2017

Collaborating in the Cloud Era

Cloud-meeting-Fotolia_135807401_XS

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 move 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 marketing services on the market today (UPDATE: As of May 2017, there are now over 5,000 martech services), 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.]