41 posts categorized "Managing Relationships with Customers"


The Future of Wild Apricot: Impressions from PersoniFest 2019

Alex Sirota, Director of NewPath Consulting, recently attended PersoniFest 2019 in Savannah, Georgia. Alex was representing NewPath Consulting as a Wild Apricot Partner. This was the 20th annual PersoniFest, but only the second one attended by Alex. He also gave a learning session at the conference called "3 Professional Wild Apricot Magic Tricks.

Personify made it super-affordable to attend PersoniFest for Wild Apricot customers and partners! Wild Apricot customers and partners had access to a conference full of learning, networking and tons of fun for the price of one night at a local hotel. Nicole Malachowski was the keynote speaker, and she spoke about her experience becoming the first female pilot in the US Air Force's Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron.

Nicole is a leader, a combat veteran, an instructor, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. When Nicole’s distinguished military career was cut short by a neurological tick-borne illness that, at its worst, left her unable to walk safely or speak intelligibly, she overcame those challenges, as well. Her talk was awe inspiring.

Over 80 Wild Apricot employees, customers and partners attended the event, by far the largest collection of Wild Apricots that we have ever met in person! There were 11 learning sessions that were created for Wild Apricot customers. A full agenda is available online to review the breadth of the conference.

Integrating Wild Apricot into the Personify Family

Wild Apricot's integration into Personify is now fully complete. There is now a Wild Apricot landing page on the Personify website which features a brand new Wild Apricot brochure. The brochure contains a newly announced multi-chapter pricing model which offers up to 30% savings when you licence multiple Wild Apricot sites.

The CEO of Personify, Eric Thurston, also attended a special customer appreciation dinner on Monday evening, a true show of support for the Wild Apricot platform and customers. Affinipay, the company behind Wild Apricot Payments, sponsored and exhibited at PersoniFest 2019 as well. It was a treat to get to know the folks behind the customer service email and phone, as well as understand more about how Wild Apricot Payments is becoming the preferred payment system for Wild Apricot.

Denver Ballet Guild wins a Persi Award for Impact

One of our Wild Apricot customers Denver Ballet Guild won an Impact award at the 2019 Persi Awards!

Denver Ballet Guild is a non-profit organization that supports youth dance arts and whose mission is to stimulate interest in ballet and other forms of dance. In 2018, the organization modernized their online presence by migrating to Wild Apricot. Members and visitors to their website can register for events, join and support the Denver Ballet Guild with diverse membership types and donate online. Denver Ballet Guild administrators can conduct email marketing outreach to their constituent base. Denver Ballet Guild is driving significant increases in event revenue, membership renewals and more since launching their new site. Congratulations to the Denver Ballet Guild for the impact you have made to support and promote dance in the Denver community.

2019 Persi Award Winners
2019 Persi Award Winners

New Features Coming to Wild Apricot in 2019

What follows are a few impressions including some new upcoming features in Wild Apricot that will be rolled out during the rest of 2019. Note that these notes are not announcements, but rather our impressions from the conference. Please consider these observations and opinions, rather than facts.

There were many interesting talks that featured Wild Apricot functions and benefits during the conference. "Product Showcase & Sneak Preview: Wild Apricot" was one of the more exciting talks on April 9, 2019. It was given by Katya Tyukina, product manager at Wild Apricot. Below are some of the screen shots of the slides given at the conference:

1. The first features the new email editor which will bring a more user-friendly experience to creating emails. The new user interface will feature modern technology and best practices in user interface design. The design results will be predictable and on par with the most modern email builders available today. We hope this new interface will be integrated into the website builder too. It looks awesome!

Image from iOS (2)

2. The Colors and Styles feature of the Website Builder is being completely redesigned. The new design features much simpler interface which will allow you to pick a new color pallete and apply your organization's preferred colors to the whole website. You can choose the preferred font, brand color or just revert to a default. You may still want to use our Wild Apricot Text Manager, but for much more specific text changes rather than CSS changes. This is a welcome improvement!

Image from iOS (2)

3. Wild Apricot Payments, powered by Affinipay, will get 3 useful improvements: recurring donations, issuing refunds directly from the admin interface and saving credit cards for future use. Wild Apricot Payments is indeed the preferred payment platform and will continue to get features that set it apart from any of the other payment systems available in Wild Apricot.

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4. The Wild Apricot mobile apps for members will get a few new features including financial information and push notifications. The admin app will get more features currently available on the web application only.

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Here is a short video featuring the email editor interface coming to Wild Apricot in 2019.

More Breakout Sessions On Wild Apricot and Association Management

Mark Faccia, Tatiana Morand and Shiv Narayanan all had amazing talks at the event and I highly recommend you give them a watch.

Tatiana Morand gave a talk titled "The Three Keys to Growing your Organization with Content." It was a master class on creating content that attracts new members. 

Hypergrowth! Best in SaaS Techniques for Building Your Organisation was an eye openining and important talk on strategic growth management. Shiv talked about go-to-marketing strategy, what metrics your organization should — and shouldn’t — pay attention to, as well as the skills you need on your team to make real growth happen.

Where is Personify taking Wild Apricot?

There are some other developments that were announced like details on Personify Hub. Support for Wild Apricot in the new integration hub is yet to be announced but it seems likely that the various Personify products are now able to communicate with each other. The Hub makes it possible to integrate with products outside of the Personify family as well.

There is clearly more focus on Wild Apricot being used as a chapter solutions for Personify customers. Alex met a customer who uses Personify360 for headquarters and has over 100 Wild Apricot websites deployed across the country. The possibilities for large organizations to adopt Wild Apricot for chapter management is an incredible opportunity due to the affordability, power and flexibility of Wild Apricot.

The experience of meeting the Personify family face to face and interacting with customers and partners is one of a kind. We highly encourage customers and partner of Wild Apricot to join us at PersoniFest 2020.

Where is PersoniFest 2020?

Here's a short recap video from PersoniFest 2019. We will see you April 5, 2020 in Colorado Springs!


Wild Apricot, Condo Residents and their Electrical Vehicles (EVs)

Over the last 60+ years, the internal combustion engine (ICE) automobile has seen a dramatic rise around the world. Every year there are more cars produced, and that trend is towards one car for every person in the world. Since the 1950s, the number of automobiles has considerably increased, especially in developed countries. This trend has caused a significant reduction in the number of people per automobile, from 48.2 in 1950 to 9.7 in 2010. There are consequently more vehicles per person, which is a good indicator of potential mobility. Even though an automobile is an expensive product, second to only housing, the penetration of vehicle use around the world is astounding.

Vehicle Use Indicators 1950-2016

Vehicle Use Indicators 1950-2016, courtesy of Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dept of Global Studies & Geography Hofstra University


Internal combustion engine powered cars (ICE) emit CO2 and are not very environmentally friendly. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. ICE cars also are also more expensive to maintain. And it appears we are not, on average, travelling more than about 12,000 miles per year in cars. The world's automobile utilization has leveled off at about 1,000 miles per month on average, or about 30 miles per day.  Peak mobility has been reached, especially in the US. It appears we are ready for a transformation in the use of vehicles. We are not using them that much, and traveling by car more than 30 miles per trip is an exception rather than the rule, with a vast majority of our trips taking less than 30 miles.

And guess what? It takes on average  30 minutes on 240V chargers to power a car to go about 30 miles -- not that long if you think about it. All things considered, we can safely make the change now, as EV chargers continue to be deployed in earnest across North America. we will save money  in the long term and help reduce emissions with a transformation to EV cars. All it takes is a one time infrastructure investment, and it turns out the places where EV transformation is happening fastest are urban centres, and in particular condominiums.

Recently we encountered a very interesting use case with one of our Wild Apricot customers: a condominium using Wild Apricot as a resident management system. The condo told us that there are 4 or 5 electric vehicles among the 250 units, and the EV owners would like to setup charging stations in the garage. This presents a variety of questions that the board to this point has not been able to address:

  1. Can the electrical system of the condominium support the concurrent charging of several EVs? How about 50 of them? Or several hundred EVs?
  2. How are charging stations deployed? Does the condominium invest in them for all residents or do they rough in parking spots for EV charger installations for future use? Or do they let owners invest in their own stations willy-nilly?
  3. How does the condo manage the electrical use and recover the costs of the electricity and capital expenses?

In general, it seems like a large risk that most have to evaluate sooner or later. The concentration of EV cars in Toronto has increased dramatically in 2018,  and property managers and board of directors are searching for solutions.

Canadian EV adoption since 2011 by quarter, courtesy of Swtch.com

We think we have one, which is not only friendly and affordable but also very easy to deploy! We have started to build an integration with SWTCHEV.COM - a charging station integration partner who focuses on condominiums in Toronto. They have tied up with electrical contractor Pacific Light & Energy to create a cost-effective and easy to deploy solution for charging stations. And in turn, we have created an integration with Wild Apricot to display various information about your car. The benefits of the solution are many:

  1. Condo residents with EV cars can benefit from an effective 0.10 to 0.20 c per liter of gasoline, a dramatic decrease in the operating cost of a vehicle. This useful calculator will calculate your savings on many popular EV cars on the market today. On average you can expect $700 in fuel savings per year but it really does depend on how much you drive and the cost of gasoline. The more of a gas-guzzler you drive today (or more stop and go urban driving you do), the more savings you can expect. Savings can exceed $1000 per year.
  2. The condo board is able to recoup costs of installed chargers by charging a fixed per-hour fee for charging. Level 2 240V/32A chargers span between $1,000 and $20,000 per charger, with the average charger costing about $4,000-$6,000 installed. Most EV cars can charge a battery from empty in as little as 4 hours, with plugin hybrids taking as little as 1 hour.
  3. The SWTCH chargers are able to manage the load of multiple cars charging without needing to install new transformers or retrofitting the electrical system of the condominium.
  4. The deployment can be both shared (in visitor spaces, for example) as well as dedicated for every parking space and be rolled out in phases.
  5. Condominium property managers are able to comply to Ontario Regulation 48/01 (Operation Part IV) that established a new process for obtaining approval to install electrical vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) in condominium buildings.  As of January 1, 2018 the Ontario Building Code require 20% of inside parking spaces in covered buildings to have EVSE installed, with the remainder of inside space be EVSE-ready.
  6. Most importantly, EV and hybrid EV cars are better for the environment!

We are investing in integrating Wild Apricot to support the ability to integrate a SWTCH account with your resident management system. Once logged in to the Wild Apricot portal you will have easy access to check your bill, pay through one website and reserve a charging station if so equipped.

It can look something like this once you connect your SWTCH ID to your account on Wild Apricot. If you want to know more, get in touch.

Condo home page


Why You Should Use Wild Apricot Payments - Powered by Affinipay

2C4FBE9A-5399-4A6A-91C8-5BA9C979B044 image from d2de4os9heh93v.cloudfront.netWild Apricot Payments, powered by Affinipay, is now the preferred payment vendor in Wild Apricot. In this article we will use Wild Apricot Payments and Affinipay interchangeably. The main features of Wild Apricot Payments are:

  • No monthly fee, no startup fee
  • A standard 2.9% + $.30 per transaction fee, collected in the standard currency of the account (CAD or USD)
  • Payments are transferred to directly your bank account within 48 hours.
  • When members pay they don't leave your site. For example, PayPal Standard forces a member to PayPal.com to finish a transaction.
  • Recurring payments (aka scheduled payments) are supported.
  • There are a variety of financial reports that are available.
  • Wild Apricot provides integrated one-stop support for the product and the payment gateway.
  • Currently, only US and Canada residents can apply for a Wild Apricot Payments account in USD or CAD currencies.
  • For US and Canadian-based Wild Apricot customers, there is no payment system servicing fee.

As of October 1, 2018 only 4 payment gateways will remain -- Wild Apricot Payments, various PayPal flavours, Stripe and Authorize.net. Our informed opinion is simple:

Wild Apricot customers should all consider moving to Wild Apricot Payments, the preferred payment gateway, as soon as possible.

We forecast that support for all other payment gateways will be discouraged and eventually Wild Apricot Payment gateway will be the only supported online payment mechanism.

UPDATE: As of April 2, 2019 a "payment system servicing fee" will apply to all Wild Apricot accounts that are not using Wild Apricot Payments. So if you are renewing your annual plan in early 2019 and you are a US or Canada-based Wild Apricot customer, it is highly recommended to switch to Wild Apricot Payments as soon as possible to avoid this service fee.

Many Software as a Service products that offer financial support (eg online invoicing systems) are amalgamating support around 1 payment gateway due to the nature of the evolving markets and availability of specialized gateways like Affinipay. Wild Apricot has created not only a technical relationship with Affinipay, but a financial one as well. Affinipay incents Wild Apricot financially to use them as a gateway, and that helps Wild Apricot to continue to keep software subscription costs down. When using any other payment gateway, Wild Apricot does not get any financial incentives. With Affinipay, this changes forever as Wild Apricot receives a commission based on the volume of transactions that flow from Wild Apricot to Affinipay. In effect the more online transactions you pass through Wild Apricot Payments on your Wild Apricot website, the more money flows to Wild Apricot effectively subsidizing your monthly Wild Apricot fee -- without costing you, the customer, one extra cent!

As a Wild Apricot customer, this only benefits you because not only can Wild Apricot focus on supporting just 1 payment gateway, but they can use the added revenue to create new features and benefits while working to keep the price of Wild Apricot low. This is smart business strategy, but it does create some uncertainty for current customers. We hope you will reach out to NewPath Consulting to assuage those fears and prepare to migrate your payment gateway when you are ready.

The Good

  • USD and CAD accounts can be setup in 2-3 days using a simple onboarding form. 
  • Affinipay has an easy to use and secure dashboard
  • You can send requests for payment (called Quick Bill) by email, and your customers can pay right from the email. This is an alternative of paying for an invoice directly from Wild Apricot.
  • You can also  charge credit cards on the fly using the virtual terminal feature
  • You can make same day voids and refunds up to 6 months after the transaction
  • Deposits happen daily - available in your bank account within 1-2 business days. All revenue is deposited in your bank account, and any transaction fees are subsequently withdrawn, so you can audit the full revenue received less the transaction fees.
  • You can make same-day refunds at zero cost to you. All fees are refunded for a same-day refund.
Affinipay Dashboard
Test Mode Dashboard
Wild Apricot Payements Quick Charge Page
Wild Apricot Payments Quick Charge Page


Not so good

  • For now the payment information collection is still done on a separate Wild Apricot payments page (payments.wildapricot.com). This is not ideal because setting up conversion and goal tracking is hard to do on a page you do not control. We are told this is required for PCI DSS compliance.
  • There is currently no support for Interac transfers or debit cards in Canada.
  • There is no support for many currencies such as the Euro. Currently only USD and CAD are supported. Organizations that require other currencies located outside of the US or Canada should use PayPal or Stripe, and will not be subject to the Payment Gateway Servicing Fee.


General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Wild Apricot: May 25, 2018 is GDPR Deadline

On May 25, 2018, the European Union will begin enforcing a new set of data protection regulations, known collectively as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The GDPR regulates the collection and storage of personal data for EU residents (including UK residents), regardless of where the organization doing the collecting is located.

The GDPR replaces and expands upon the 1995 Data Protection Directive. The biggest change is the extended reach of the regulations, now applying to all organizations that collect the personal data of European residents, even if those organizations are based outside of Europe.

Consequently, Wild Apricot and any of its clients with members in Europe need to understand the requirements of the GDPR, and set up procedures for complying with them.

If your Wild Apricot database contains information about any European Union residents, please let us know and we can help you identify whether your organization is compliant with GDPR. Wild Apricot has begun auditing their processes and software for GDPR compliance, but as of February 2018 Wild Apricot staff have not completed the audit or any remediation actions. Organizations in breach of the GDPR can be fined up to 4% of their annual global revenue or €20 million (whichever is greater). There is a tiered approach to fines, whereby an organization can be 2% for not having their records in order, 2% for not notifying about a data breach, and so on.



Building an alumni club fundraising and communications platform with WordPress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mail Poet - email marketing, supports template and dynamic content from the WordPress database (automatic event calendar in emails for example, or latest posts)
  • WooCommerce (for ecommerce) - can be used to sell just about anything including keeping inventory, and you can have special items available only for members
  • The Event Calendar - event calendar management, categorization of events, premium ticketing features
  • Ninja Forms - custom forms to enable surveys, event registrations and other data collection functions
  • Duplicate Posts - A very handy feature is being able to "clone" any page, post, product, event, venue or really any other "post type" in WordPress. This makes it easy to create template content that can be modified quickly. (Editor: Added this plugin on Feb 7 2018)
If you'd like to know more about how we accomplished all this for free this summer with the help of a couple of UM LSA interns please get in touch and I'd be happy to share our efforts. We even have administrative documentation you can use and adapt/translate for your needs as website administrators. I look forward to talking with you soon.


Creating dynamic documents with Wild Apricot API and Webmerge

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

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

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

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

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

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

NewPath Consulting explains how they built their solution:

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

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

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

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

    Pasted image 0 (2)

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

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

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

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

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


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.



Collaborating in the Cloud Era


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.


4 Flaws of the Billable Hour

XenAccounting.com's Ryan Lazanis has published a terrific piece on the flaws of the billable hour. At NewPath Consulting we strongly believe in the ideas behind Ryan's piece and have taken these ideals to heart. We work with our prospective clients to convince them that working with our value based pricing model makes sense.

We're convinced that over the long run value based pricing is a win-win for both the client and the vendor.


Orchestrating Organizational Growth for Resa's Pieces

2014 marks 5 years since NewPath Consulting started working with Resa's Pieces to help them grow their online presence. We have used just about all of the NewPath Consulting web based tools to help Resa's Pieces gain members, attract members to two new musical groups. Most importantly we helped them build the necessary systems to sell hundreds of tickets and sponsorships. Resa's Pieces continues to attract large, adoring audiences and continues to have FUN! They now have regularly sold-out gala concerts and hold many community events every year. Below is an infographic designed just before June gala concert season commences to illustrate just how much the organization has grown.

RP Infographic 2014 (3)