Small Business Solutions | A David Creation - Part 2

Base CRM’s Fall 2012 Update (Now Zendesk Sell)

Posted by | Cool Software, Small Business Solutions | 12 Comments

Update: November 2018: Base has joined with Zendesk Support. Their new name is Zendesk Sell. Their pricing structure has changed as well. It spans from $19, $49, $99 and $199 per user. I use the words Base CRM in the article below, written in 2012.

Base CRM from Future Simple keeps getting more robust every month I use their product. To learn more about the details of what this simple CRM can do, read my previous reviews on Base 1 Post Here and 2. Post Here Read More

Best Bluetooth Earpiece for Driving

Posted by | Cool Software, Small Business Solutions | No Comments

Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent more money on bluetooth earpieces than I have cell phones. I’ve tried the cheap and the most expensive devices I could find. I’ve had the phone reps swear up and down of their personal favorites: Jawbone I, Jawbone II, Motorola, Jabra, Blue Ant, Plantronics etc. Yes, I’ve tried them and always had mediocre success. I wanted a bluetooth earpiece where I could hear the person I was talking to clearly and visa versa.

Earlier this year, I was told by my sister that her husband was using the Bose earpiece and loved it. He was not a techie guy, so I figured it must be easy to use and good. I was sick of spending $125+ on earpieces but decided to do it one final time. I gave the Bose 2 a try. As I write this blog, 6 months later, I am still a fan of the Bose 2 Bluetooth Earpiece. It truly is the best earpiece on the market for those driving a loud truck or sitting in an office. In fact, I switched from using my landline to using my Bose Bluetooth for almost all phone calls. You can connect it easily to a smartphone or your computer. This is the first time ever people cannot tell I’m using an earpiece.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pipeline Deals CRM

Posted by | Small Business Solutions | 4 Comments

After over three years of test driving dozens of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs, I’ve decided to endorse my two favorites: Pipeline Deals and Base CRM (affiliate link). This week’s blog will be focusing on Pipeline Deals: the Pros & Cons of this cloud CRM. As a reminder, both Base and Pipeline Deals are very effective for managing your marketing, sales & customer base. If you want to have good tracking in your business, you need to settle upon a good CRM program. If you are not wanting too many features to overwhelm you, Pipeline or Base will do the trick.

Pipeline Deals

PROS

  • Very simple but good interface and CRM features. This is not a complicated CRM. The design and features have improved over the years, and it is very easy for users to figure out and start using in very little time. Most of my clients have settled upon Pipeline Deals. I believe it is because of the price point ($24 a month per user) and the ease of use. The CRM features are there: Contacts, Calendar, Deals (sales tracking), Reporting for Sales & Marketing, Document and Call/Email Communication Storage.
  • Integrates with Mailchimp: With a few clicks of a button, a user can quickly add new contacts to their Mailchimp email marketing list(s). Mailchimp will not allow duplicates, so even if you accidentally add someone twice, it will remove it.
  • Works Well with Google: More and more businesses are using Google Apps for email, calendar and other business communications. Pipeline has created a beautiful two-way sync with their calendar and Google Calendar. It is one of the only programs that has such a slick and easy two-way sync. Many others on the market are buggy or only a one-way sync. They offer a two-way Google Contact sync as well. That works, but I’ve seen a lot of duplicates with this feature. Therefore, I encourage users to disable the contact sharing. Finally, Pipeline has what is called a Google Gadget. This installs a scaled down CRM of Pipeline in each email you receive in Google’s Gmail. A user can add specific emails to a contact’s profile, BCC important emails, add notes, create events, task and more all within Gmail. This is a must have feature, saving you time having to login to your CRM to make quick changes and updates. 
  • Goals Tab: One of the only CRM programs on the market that has this key feature. If you have more than 1 salesperson working for you, you’ll love the Goals Tab on Pipeline Deals. You can set individual and team sales goals: monthly and annual goals. It works very well. Every time a salesperson changes a deal to won or lost, it updates the goal tab.
  • Branding & Custom Fields: A pretty common feature in most CRMs, you can install your company logo within Pipeline Deals & change the colors the tabs, custom fields and buttons. The custom field area is also very easy to use and a key feature. You can set custom fields for DEALS or CONTACTS. Some of my clients use it for their pre-qualification process: Size of Home, Estimator’s Name, Referral Source, and much more. You can have multiple choice options, dropdown menus, long and short text and more. Very useful feature!
  • Custom Reports: Want to know how many leads from the Internet you had the past 7 days? Pipeline Deals can make a custom report called “Internet Leads The Past 7 Days” and show you the details. Pipeline’s reporting features are very custom to your liking and have many variables and criteria. If you are an analytic junkie, you can download those reports into an Excel spreadsheet and continue your tracking further.
  • Price: One low price of $15 per user per month. It is one of the least expensive CRMs on the market with more than enough features for small businesses.
  • Support: Bottom line…their support is the best! I know all the guys over at Pipeline Deals. They are all awesome!
CONS
  • Mobile Version: I hope that sometime in the fall of 2012 the iPhone Application will be released to Apple’s App Store. I’ll be one of the early beta testers of their app and will keep you all updated. Until then, the mobile version of Pipeline Deals is the weak link to this almost perfect CRM. I think they are late in the game on this, but they have produced a well oiled program with very little bugs. The reason I think a mobile version is key in today’s market is for those of us on the go all the time. We want to look up a quick contact and/or add a new one, not so easy to do without a mobile version. Now, Pipeline has a mobile web version currently. It does work, but I’ve heard mostly complaints from my clients and is rarely used. So stay tuned. This is a feature Pipeline’s staff is working hard on as we speak. They have a beta releasing this month (September 2012).
  • Duplicates: If you get duplicates in the current version of Pipeline Deals, there is not much you can do about it accept manually delete them. They have ways to avoid duplicate emails and people, but I’ve had a number of clients get duplicate names and companies when they do an import or turn on Google Contacts, and it can take a few hours to clean up the system.
  • Google Contacts: As stated above, I would not use this feature without first talking to their support staff about how it works. By turning Google Contact sync on, I’ve seen duplicates happen quickly.
  • Overall Design & UI: This is a weak point of Pipeline Deals as well. It is not a reason to not use it by any means. Some people probably like the simple interface, just the way it is. I think there is room for improvement from a Graphic Design perspective. This is more just me. Most of my clients have not complained too much about usability, which is a good thing! I always like to see design and feature improvements.
All is all, Pipeline Deals will not disappoint you. Give it a try and let me know what you think. The first 30 days are free, and they have weekly Webinars to help their clients learn how to use their product better.

 

How to Setup Multiple Google Calendars on an iPhone

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Business Solutions | No Comments

If you are a Google Calendar junkie or using Google Apps for your business, you’ll love this feature of viewing multiple calendars on your iPhone. This is a must for business people so one can not only view but can even schedule appointments for other team members. If you have any questions regarding Google Apps for your business, please contact us.

Step by Step Setup

Step 1. Open Up Your Browser Safari or Chrome

Step 2. Type in: m.google.com/sync
Step 3a. Tap: Sign in with your Google Account
Step 3b. Sign In To Your Main Google AccountYou can do this with Google Apps (for business) or your personal Gmail account login.

To make sure all the calendars you have are accessible to your iPhone, you first need to make sure they are shared / visible on your desktop version of Google Calendar. If you get stuck here, email me.

Step 4. Find your device with the most recent sync and tap it. 

This will list all your mobile devices (iPads and iPhones)

Step 5. Check off the emails you want to sync and display on your iPhone Calendar App. Then tap SAVE
Step 6. Check/Uncheck to show/hide your calendars and tap DONE. Use EDIT Button to change calendar colors. 

If you are not currently using Google Apps for your business or are but need help setting that up on your device, Read my “old” blog “How to Setup Google Apps on iPhone.

Project Management Software for Contractors

Posted by | Small Business Solutions | 12 Comments

I’ve been asked often if I know of a great “Cloud”  (online) project management software to help with things like, scheduling, job staging, reminders, billing, and budgeting. Basecamp, from 37 Signals has a lot of strengths for many project management features, but Smartsheet (affiliate link) hits the nail on the head for being one of the best cloud-based programs that does it all. If you own a remodeling company, run a painting or similar trade business, you need to check out and consider using Smartsheet. In a nutshell, Smartsheet basically takes two key programs many of you use (or have used): Microsoft Project and Excel and created a “Smartsheet” that links to things like Google Calendar, Google Docs (now Drive), Google Apps Email and more. The bottom line, if you know how to use the basic Excel features, you can use Smartsheet with little training. In this short post, I will not explain all the key features you can do with Smartsheet as it is very powerful. For that, just check out their website and watch their videos. I’ll focus on how contractors are using it currently.

How Contractors are using Smartsheet

The contractors I know who are using Smartsheet right now do three things: 1. Manage a marketing budget and calendar, 2. Have a communication and job schedule (painting) and 3) A full fledged managing of all aspects of a remodeling project (billing, check numbers, reminders for when things need to be done, who is responsible, next steps, when a bill is received, receipts attached to a task and much more). Smartsheet acts like a spreadsheet in Excel. The benefit is if you want to create a schedule for your crew leaders or project managers, you can type in the times of a job (Sept 1 through Nov 5th) and have it automatically upload to Google Calendar. You can even make changes within Google Calendar and/or from an iPad. You can invite employees and even customers to view your Smartsheet project as well and make comments on task and events.

Here are a few screenshots of a marketing budget and a simple employee schedule.

The marketing schedule and budget above shows only a few rows of information. It also can help with market-tracking by lead source (won, lost and pending). So technically, most of your marketing reports can be viewed from one spreadsheet. This also links up nicely with Google calendar so we can see what is going on when we are not logged into Smartsheet.

This sample scheduling spreadsheet here also has a built in calendar view and/or can be synced with Google. If I wanted to attach a Work Order form, I can do that from within Smartsheet and send an email to the Foreman alerting him of his next job and paperwork.

Pricing of Smartsheet

The cost of Smartsheet is pretty reasonable for what you get. I signed up for their annual plan to save about 10%. There are different levels of cost. My current plan runs a little less than $15 a month for 10 Smartsheets. They consider a “Smartsheet” to be a project. So if you’ve got 15 remodeling projects going on at one time, you’d need TEAM version, which is around $50 a month. If you are only using it for scheduling and a marketing budget, you’d get by with the basic version for less than $16 a month. I don’t think you can beat the price for the features you get. I just mentioned a few key features in this article. There is a plethora of things you can do when you have the time to dig deeper into this power Smartsheet!

Business Email Address is a Must

Posted by | Small Business Solutions, The Obvious | No Comments

This will be a short post, because the title says it all, Business email address is a Must. I still see so many business owners and even employees using personal email accounts to email and engage with customers. Myname@gmail.com was acceptable back in the 1990s when many of us didn’t know you could have a business email. Today, all business owners should consider getting company emails: yourname@companyname.com. It is mind boggling just how easy this is to do today. You can sign up for Google Apps, which is free and get up to 50 company emails. Otherwise, talk to your IT company and tell them to hook you up! It is either free or inexpensive, and chances are, your email or website provider (i.e. GoDaddy or Web Hosting Company) already offers you that option. It is more professional to engage with consumers with a company email and keep personal things personal. Also it is a great way to brand your business. I use my business email for a lot of personal contact as well, because if someone is tech-savvy enough, they’ll look up my email domain: adavidcreation.com and find my website and what I do for a living.

This summer, make the switch. Using a business email address today!

Recording vs a Live Person

Posted by | Small Business Solutions, The Obvious | 2 Comments

Here is an actual quote from a painting customer of one of my clients after a recently completed project.

“Whenever you call them you always get a person, not a machine.”

This is not the first time I’ve read this statement while reviewing customer report cards. This is actually a pretty common quote. Have you ever heard a consumer say, “I love being placed on hold!” or “I always look forward to the music on hold at XYZ company and remembering all the numbers and extensions to schedule an estimate!” I know why the big companies have this feature: to save their operators time. Just think, if Verizon had a live person answering every single call the moment the phone rang, our Verizon bills would be a lot higher. Their overhead would skyrocket. Therefore, the call screening features are a must for a large company to stay competitive. I also know why the small companies have these features: to save time! Am I right? Think about it: you are working on an estimate and do not want to be interrupted, yet your phone doesn’t stop ringing. How can you get anything done?

Live Person Still Is Best for a Small Business

Your customers will always want to talk to a live person. It is just the way we are all wired. If that is what your customers want, you need to see how you can deliver this request. It might seem like a little thing, but the little things always matter. I’d recommend either having someone answer your calls in house or use a call center. I mentioned a call center as opposed to an answering service. There is a difference! An answering service just takes messages and sends you emails and text messages. A professional call center can actually transfer calls to you, take messages or even schedule appointments.

Whatever you decide, make sure you are readily available for your customers. They are the lifeblood of your business. One final thing – make sure whoever is answering your phone is also positive. I recently listened to a voicemail recording that made me sick. A brand new lead came through, a live person answered the phone but had no positive emotion. She answered the prospect’s questions but did not seem happy to get a phone call. Guess what happened? The prospect I think sensed the cold voice and ended up not scheduling an estimate.

So two things to take away from this blog post: 1. Do what you can to answer your phones and 2. Make sure whoever answers is well-trained.

Is My Data Safe In the Cloud?

Posted by | Small Business Solutions | 2 Comments

One of the number one questions I get asked with regards to cloud computing is this, “Should I be concerned about security issues when I’m using cloud computing for my business?” The answer is YES! But please keep reading before you write off cloud computing altogether.

Trusted Companies

Today we have a plethora of cloud tech companies to choose from for our business and mobile solutions. It seems like monthly a new program or company surfaces with something “better.” My suggestion is to stick with trusted and solid companies for your cloud services. A few examples would be: Microsoft, Google, Intuit, Dropbox, Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, to name a few. These are companies with deep pockets and dealing with security and your data is an important part of their business.

Free Accounts vs Paid

Then I get asked, “So what about going with a company that has free accounts, like Google Apps. Is that safe?” Google, to date, still makes over 95% of its revenue from paid search. They can afford to offer “free accounts.” Their goal is to not keep their customers on a free Google Apps account but to push them towards ongoing paid services: premium accounts, Google Drive, Google Checkout etc. Therefore, if you stick with the more established companies who offer a free account, you are pretty safe. I saw “pretty safe” because I still would not store a lot of Financial data in a free account. I’d instead get a secure and fee-based vault program. My favorite cloud-vault is: Keeper. (About $30 a year)

Bottom line, Make sure your cloud solutions have bank level security and are established companies. Nothing in this life is completely safe, cloud based or stored at your office. A fire can burn down your office. A burglar can steal your backup drive; an experienced hacker might be able to get into a cloud program! Don’t let this scare you to do nothing! I typically recommend having your data stored in at least two locations. Consider an external hard drive and using cloud storage! One last thing, on your mobile devices, make sure you have a way to “delete” your data if your phone is lost or stole. The iPhone makes this easy using “Find My iPhone.”

Photo courtesy of: technology.inc.com

Community Based Business Blog Managed by You

Posted by | Small Business Solutions | No Comments

Want to drive more qualified business your way on the web? Sure you do! What is one easy way to begin this process online without spending a lot of money? Start your own quality blog with a group of your preferred and trusted network. Here are some pointers:

What To Do

  • The blog should be geared to help the local community find answers to their household questions.
  • It would include blogs about: painting, HVAC, plumbing, handyman, seasonal to-dos, roofing, electrical, interior design, real estate, remodeling, cabinetry, appliances, permits, fencing, decks, flooring, and much more.
  • Each company would take turns submitting their expert blogs. If one is not a writer, he or she can either do videos or hire a writer to do all the editing and posting.
  • Featuring of videos, blogs, specials and a submission form to “ask a question” answered by a professional. You’d also have a form to “request an estimate”
  • Optional: Have live chat. This could be monitored by a third party company or by folks within the network.
  • Have an official name for your site and make it well designed with easy navigation
  • Use a professional WordPress site (marketers favorite platform) or Expression Engine, a CMS
  • Create a company directory for those ready to buy. Optional to have a review system
  • At a later date: After this takes off, you could offer a print version of some of your articles and helpful information for homeowners. People would subscribe to your post or printed newsletter. The print version would require more work and planning. Why is this important? Some folks still like print. As word spreads around town about what you are doing, you’ve got to be able to reach more people.
  • Each company should be committed to actively referring and recommending each other.

How and Why It Would Work

  • A consumer could type in a keyword or search from a list of categories to find answers to his or her questions.
  • Search engines would pick up the articles, videos and information and overtime will push up your rankings. It is easier to write blogs about the entire home rather than 1 service. Therefore, good SEO results should be easier to obtain with quality and fresh content.
  • Each service company can features his/her company each week or month: providing a better chance of more work. (this would be on a rotation schedule)
  • Overtime, you will build a trusted brand that people will be talking about.

A Related Business Example

A few years ago, a company did something similar, minus the content marketing part (more about that in a minute). It was slightly before blogs were popular, so they used primarily the traditional approach. They were called ToFixIt. The company is still around and located in Phoenix, Arizona. It was started by a successful businessman who owned a large plumbing company. He wanted to get more quality referrals from his networks and though the best way was to build a trusted network. In short, all the companies apart of ToFixIt had to be referred into the program. If the company was approved as a trusted contractor (not everyone made it), they paid a monthly fee which went towards the marketing of ToFixIt. They used radio, TV, mailers, magnets and the web to promote their business. Their slogan was, “We Recommend The Best and Toss the Rest!” They partnered with trusted news anchors, talk shows and radio host to gain credibility. They also had monthly networking meetings to help each company get to know each other better and get more referrals.

The only thing that ToFixIt did not do till more recently was blog. My personal thoughts are, their blog is not too consumer friendly, but it is a start. Now all they have to do is add good content that is 100% consumer focused, and it will increase their trustworthiness even more. It will cut down their traditional marketing cost as the search engines begin to pick up their quality content, hopefully producing more leads with less advertising dollars. Consumers use the web to buy, but they also use it to educate themselves. If you are the source for their answers, you will begin to build a quality reputation.

Next Steps

Take a look at what ToFixIt started: www.tofixit.com Get inspired. Start your own community based blog for your group of trusted businesses. Also, if you are the one starting it, make sure YOU own the site or at least your company has a slightly stronger edge. Why not? You’re the one with the idea, right? Have the goal of helping consumers, not selling them., and the sales will come in time.

Base CRM by Future Simple

Posted by | Small Business Solutions | 29 Comments

Update: November 2018: Base has joined with Zendesk Support. Their new name is Zendesk Sell. Their pricing structure has changed as well. It spans from $19, $49, $99 and $199 per user. I use the words Base CRM in the article below, written in 2012.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Base CRM (formally Pipejump) for over a year now. The thing that attracted me to Base CRM originally was the design and User Interface (UI). It was a very simple UI. It should be, as it was developed by a company called, Future Simple. So far they seem to make simple, easy to use web and mobile apps. So what makes Base CRM special or worth checking out? I won’t go over all the details, just the key features I liked: Read More

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