Have you ever realised you need a tool to do some DIY and get to the hardware store only to realise that there were way more ‘kinds’ of that tool than you thought? “I need an uh… wrench?” was said as the DIY newbie stands before a 2-storey high wall of wrenches of all shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, in business software, it can be a similar situation. The key to almost any business scaling strategy is to cultivate a focus on leverage. And we live in a world where the software and technology to get this leverage is constantly being developed.
However, most business owners are far too busy to experiment with the various productivity tools. Instead of getting leverage, they get bogged down in emerging technologies they don’t fully understand – and this can hamper rather than help their business. So, we just continue doing things the way we have always done it – because we know that works. But that also leads to stagnation.
If you are looking to scale up, then it may be necessary to get comfortable with some new technology. In an effort to help narrow the options, we have put together a collection of tools that we and/or our clients use to get leverage in various areas of business.
This week, we will explore one the main areas most of our clients need technology to help them: digital marketing.
Stay tuned for next week, where we cover productivity tools to help with time management, team leadership and finances.
As with any recommendation we make to our clients, we still do suggest you do some due diligence to find out whether the tool is useful for your business.
You can use this article as a place to start if you are looking to streamline your business activity and then, as with everything, test and measure.
Email Marketing Tools
We use Ontraport as our main emailing software. The interface can get a bit of getting used to, but it allows us to achieve high-level automation for our email marketing funnels, product dispensing, and lead generation.
Note that often this high level of automation is often not required for businesses that are seeking immediate scale – it is usually a more long-term / advanced strategy for growth.
Ontraport allows you to use a series of customisable rules and sequences to categorise your email list into specific categories. You can use this to segment your audience (just be cautious – sometimes people can end up in the wrong list when it gets too convoluted!)
There are a number of other highly customisable options in Ontraport that let you get very specific in tracking, segmenting, and contacting your database.
The cheapest membership plan with Ontraport will cost you USD79 (~£60 GBP) per month, but this only lets you host up to 1000 contacts. Most businesses, however, would probably need the “Pro” level at USD297 (~£215) per month to make real use of Ontraport.
If your company is more starting out with email marketing, and Ontraport seems a bit intimidating, then an option many of our clients make use of is MailChimp. MailChimp is much easier to set up and use – with a much more intuitive interface – compared to Ontraport. This is probably a better place to start than Ontraport – don’t worry, you can always export your database to another emailing software in the future.
While MailChimp doesn’t have the level of sophistication that Ontraport has, it still has automation features that will let you automate a significant amount of your email marketing, lead generation activities and even many of your advertising on Facebook and Instagram.
Even better, you can start using MailChimp for free – which makes it perfect for the business owner that’s a little uncertain about how much they will actually understand a system like this. Try it out and then once you are growing, you can start paying to access the advanced tools and greater size of your database, as required.
Other email software that we don’t have direct experience with ourselves, but which we would recommend you consider when making a decision on mailing software would be Infusionsoft and Hubspot.
Infusionsoft is a very similar application to Ontraport, with a slightly higher price point (though it does have a stepped pricing structure, so your expanding database doesn’t instantly cost you a lot more).
HubSpot is a whole different beast, with a suite of “hubs” that serve different purposes. You could, potentially, use HubSpot as your unified system for sales and marketing with some very specific and complex tools that could really be powerful – if you have the resources of people, time and money. While all HubSpot software comes with a “free” version (which is great, as you can then try it out and see if the design is a good fit) if your systems become entrenched in HubSpot, the prices rise steeply if and when you need further features. That said, you get what you pay for, and HubSpot has been hailed as one of the leaders in the marketing automation world.
Social Media Automation
Social media automation has its pros and cons.
On the upside, automating the social media process will streamline your posting, allowing you time for different activities.
The downside of social media automation is you run the risk of sounding robotic and not actually engaging with your audience. If someone’s interested in what you have to offer and writes you a short tweet asking you for more details, that may well be an opportunity missed.
So complete automation of social media may, indeed, be a pipe dream. But the main thing you need to consider is, for your business, how important is it that you (or your employees) commit time to running, maintaining and engaging on social media? How much of your audience is actually on social media? Using numbers to understand this will be the best way to decide what level of automation you need for your business.
For those businesses who need to have a social media presence (really, all businesses should have a social media presence at least!) but don’t want to commit to spending hours trawling social media because the return isn’t high enough, there are ways to simplify, streamline and accelerate your social media using automation techniques.
One of the first tools we recommend is Buffer.
Buffer is a scheduling application that lets you put posts in a ‘queue’. You can then select the date and time that you’d like posts to go out each week – so you can just write posts and put them into the queue without having to actively schedule each and every post.
The limitation in buffer comes with the number of posts you can put in the queue. The free version of buffer only lets you put 10 posts per social media account – and limits you to one account per social media channel. This is great for most small businesses who only need the most basic automation and are willing to put in effort weekly or fortnightly.
However, if you want to reduce your effort in this respect down to monthly, you’ll probably need to start paying for the “Awesome” plan, which lets you schedule up to 200 posts on each account, and lets you add up to 12 accounts from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram.
The other automation tool we would recommend is Hootsuite. It gives a minimalistic design, and many of the features you find in Buffer. Additionally, if you require a custom solution in terms of Social Media Automation, Hootsuite is willing to have a chat with you a give you a personalised quote.
What makes Hootsuite a little more exciting is that it allows you to view “streams” of information – which could include people mentioning you, the list of your most recent posts, your feet etc. This lets you engage with your audience – and engagement isn’t something that buffer helps with at all.
However, with engagement ‘automation’ you can very quickly start pouring time into using the software – which defeats the whole purpose of getting leverage. If you are doing this, make sure you are testing and measuring carefully the time expenditure against the return to ensure it makes sense for the progress of your business.
A special mention for social media automation also goes out to Statusbrew and CoSchedule – while we have not fully interrogated the usefulness of these more advanced social media automation platforms, they do look good. If you are looking to do more advanced social media activity, then these are ones to explore for potential streamlining of your activity.
Website Content Management Systems
Ideally, you should have delegated someone to manage your website. Ideally, as well, this is an internal employee, allowing for quick pivots and changes rather than a lengthy process going through an external web manager (unless you are working with a particularly efficient marketing agency – do those exist? – or if you are working with a highly flexible one-man-band freelancer).
But even with management being outsourced to your employees or a third party, it’s important to ensure your website is utilising good software to ensure changes can be made swiftly, and your website operates at peak efficiency.
In today’s web world, you won’t need to build a website from scratch – there are plenty of out of the box solutions and Content Management Systems (CMS) that will let you build a good-looking, easily adjustable website quickly.
We use WordPress.org, one of the most popular (and free) website creation platforms out there (not to be confused with WordPress.com – which hosts your site and is more limited).
WordPress has such endless possibilities, due to its open-source nature, meaning you can download themes that work out of the box (we use Divi which works fantastically for us) or developers can also create their own themes to develop bespoke solutions.
Developers also create plugins – most of which are entirely free – to give you immediate solutions to all sorts of things your site may need. Whether you want a brochure website, blog, forum, shopping cart or social platform – WordPress can usually deliver it.
One of the major downsides of WordPress is the fact that your website speed can be dramatically affected. This is due to themes and plugins adding excess download time. This can significantly affect your user experience (and increase things like “bounce rate” – where people immediately leave your website because it takes too long to load – which will then affect your search engine rankings).
There are ways around this, but generally, a WordPress site (or any website built on a visual platform) will be slightly slower than a hard-coded website.
Another visual builder that you may want to consider is Wix and the lesser known Yell website builder. Both of these platforms are extremely simple with drag-and-drop interfaces, allowing you to create beautiful websites with minimal effort. We have clients who have used these platforms really successfully to create some great websites that they can, personally, edit without too much fuss.
The only thing to be cautious of when it comes to Wix and the Yell builder is that these are not open-source – so they don’t have the possibilities of doing highly customised websites. If you need something very unusual and bespoke, then you will need to opt for a WordPress or custom-created website.
While this blog doesn’t cover every single tool in the digital marketing arsenal, it’s some of the ones we and our clients use most earnestly.
Next week, I will move beyond the marketing sphere and cover some software that helps with managing your team, time, and finances.