Insights Blog

Useful tools, tips and strategies to help your business learn, develop and expand.

How Do I Set KPIs In My Business?

I felt the need to write an article about how managing directors and business owners can set better KPIs in their organisation because, even when given examples of KPIs, people so often over-complicate the whole concept and become very unsure.

The truth is, it’s a lot simpler than you think to set effective direction for your team.

What Are KPIs?

KPI stands for “Key Performance Indicator”. While there are thousands of definitions across the Internet for this, I want to make this simple for you.

In a sentence, KPIs are the deliverables – the output that you are expecting from your staff.

That’s it. What do you want your staff to produce? Those are their KPIs.

The key thing here is setting these in such a way that your team continues to remain motivated, actually achieves those KPIs, and ultimately drives the business forward.

Why is Setting KPIs Important?

Let me summarise it in four simple points:

  • The profitability of your business depends on how well your employees consistently perform important (not just urgent!) activities.
  • Employees perform best when they understand how their performance contributes to the success of the business, and how their performance is measured.
  • Small changes in critical areas can have a great impact on the bottom line.
  • What gets measured gets done, and what gets rewarded gets done again.

Here a few guiding principles that have helped my clients effectively set KPIs for their team members:

Principle 1: KPIs Have A Short Lifetime

Your business is a constantly evolving machine. It will not stay the same way for the next year or two years and so, equally, the very specific KPIs or activities for your team will not remain consistent over that time.

When you start any quarter of the year, you will have a set of deliverables that make sense at that point in time.

When you come to review your activity at the end of the quarter, you may realise certain things have not been working well, or that other things have been working much better than you thought. You then should nudge the direction of the business towards what’s working, and therefore also nudge your team’s KPIs to go in that direction. As long as all this nudging happens in concert, your business remains cohesive.

This is part of what happens at our Strategic Growth Intensives with our clients every quarter – reviewing the previous quarter and planning the next 90 days of activity to focus on maximising growth and/or achieving their ultimate goals.

This principle is also especially important when looking at setting KPIs for new staff members, which you should do during a good induction process. Not only is there this need to be flexible to change direction later, but you are probably also not yet aware of the more specific strengths and weaknesses of this new member. You, therefore, do not know in which activities they will produce the best results (and adjust targets accordingly).

In limiting yourself to a shorter time frame, you can also limit the number of KPIs you are assigning – you should be paring it down to just 3 or 5 key deliverables for the quarter. This makes it achievable, and also highly focuses activity on the most important things.

Principle 2: KPIs Should Be More Numbers Than Activities

Numbers are essential in planning and growing your business because your business speaks to you in the language of numbers.

The problem with setting KPIs and asking, “What do I want my team to achieve?” is that most business owners answer with something like, “I want my marketing team to keep our social media channels updated and send out emails once a week.” Or “I want my administration person to keep our calendars in order.” Or “I want the operations manager to give me simplified reports each week.” This is understandable since you are trying to make sure that, as a good manager, you are managing activities rather than people.

Let be very clear here though: activities are not targets. Activities are what help you achieve targets. And targets are what help you achieve growth.

When you are setting key performance indicators (even KPIs for yourself as managing director), you should be looking to set a particular number that is both directly related to the activities they are doing and to the growth of the business. You can then make clearer decisions on which activities should be focused on, according to how much they contribute to that number.

This is perhaps more easily understood using an example. Let’s take your marketing team.

Example: Key Performance Indicators for Marketing

The ultimate goal of marketing is to produce qualified leads that feed into your sales process (and then the sales team’s ultimate goal is to produce clients / customers from those qualified leads). That’s the number that is ultimately contributing to your business’s success (as clients / customers obviously lead to profits!)

Now you sit down with your marketing team and say, “We need to get n number of qualified leads. What channels do we have and how many leads do you think we can get from each channel?”

Then together you decide that you can get X qualified leads from email marketing, Y leads from social media, Z from Adwords and so on.

Those then become the key KPIs that the marketing team are focused on and apply to their dashboard. And those numbers then indicate to your team how much time and effort needs to be put in each channel, and the activities flow easily from there.

There are, of course, exceptions and what I would call “projects” – and these will most commonly come up in your marketing and your administration teams. This is because there are plenty of activities that do not always produce a clear, definitive quantitative result. A good example is something like producing a testimonial video. While the activity itself will not contribute directly to the qualified leads target, it’s a useful piece of media that can be used in other channels (such as pay-per-click advertising, or in the sales process) to eventually produce leads.

So you are allowed to set some KPIs which are ‘project’ based. But you must start with – and prioritise – your number-based targets if you wish to create predictable growth in your business.

Principle 3: KPIs Should be Focused on Reporting

What are the simple reports you need from your team members in order to stay in control and make key decisions about your business? What is the key information you need to know what is working and not working?

That should inform exactly which metrics are the most important for you to be measuring from your team members, and what metrics they should be focused on optimising.

Everything, really, should relate back ultimately to the profit and loss or balance sheet – the metric you are measuring from your team member should impact one of your two critical financial documents in some way. If they aren’t, then you need to think very hard about whether that metric is actually relevant to your business growth, or whether it’s a vanity metric.

Example: Key Performance Indicators for Operations

A typical position where many businesses struggle to measure key performance indicators is in operations. Some of the key performance indicators for an operations manager might have to do with planning, human resources, reporting, communication – things that typically don’t have metrics, right? Well, actually, there are metrics there – and they do directly impact the profits and losses.

For example, planning – a key metric for your operations manager might be something like,  “Ensure the sales and marketing team wins n clients this quarter.” The activities might then be monitoring the marketing and sales team’s trackers, organising internal meetings, and monitoring the important dashboards for those teams – to ensure they are actually moving towards winning that n number of clients.

This makes your operations manager accountable for contributing to the business directly. How they do that is by ensuring that the operations (which are actually other team member’s responsibilities) are focused on producing the correct number of clients. Their direct work is in managing the activities throughout the business, but you direct their ultimate focus to the business goal, through their KPI. They also thus share each win with the other team members, and everyone feels some ownership over each ‘win’.

You also need to think about this from your own time management point of view. Remember that time is one of your most precious resources and you need to use it very wisely. What reports do your team members need to share with you so that you can monitor the activities as swiftly as possible?

Some businesses – and some team members – need daily reporting. For others, weekly is the sufficient balance of giving enough room to breathe while keeping the managing director(s) or business owner(s) informed and able to make decisions. It is rare that monthly reporting is sufficient, as often you will be leaving things too late to pivot effectively and leaving money on the table. Whatever the frequency, it is about consistent and insightful reporting.

If you follow these three principles of keeping KPIs shorter term, mostly numerical and focused on their usefulness in reporting upwards, then you will ensure your KPIs are not just useless data but actual meaningful information that you can apply to create conscious business growth.

Need help creating KPIs in your business?

London Business Coaching Strategy SessionBusiness coaching is all about helping you apply systems to your business to create efficiency and best business practice. We don’t monitor your KPIs for you – we help you understand KPIs and measure them yourself and become a better leader and business owner.

Request a free session with us and we can give you some of the knowledge we have and let you decide for yourself if it will be useful to your business and personal growth.


3 Steps to Turn Actively Angry Customers into Raving Fans

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You come into the office and the phone rings. You quickly realise the person on the other end of the phone is absolutely furious with something associated with your business. It feels like you’re now wrestling with a monster and a misstep could be a stab of insecurity about your business and the service you are providing. How do you handle it?

You are not going to be liked by everyone. That’s just a truth of the world, let alone specifically in business contexts. Realistically, it therefore makes sense to have strategies to handle those inevitably unhappy customers.

I recently attended the Business Excellence Forum (where our clients picked up another record-breaking number of awards) and during that forum, Michael Heppel covered a framework that I think is extremely useful for this. Below is a picture of that framework I’ve gotten my team to put together:

london-business-coaching-customer-satisfaction

This diagram is a way for you to segment your customers according to how much they like you (which is the x-axis) and according to how active they are about expressing those feelings (the y-axis).

The Four Customer Categories

Let’s first go through the profile of each of these ‘types’ of customer.

A.) Quiet Customers – These are in the bottom left quadrant. They are ones that don’t like you, but aren’t talking about it. These people are quite dangerous because they are dissatisfied but you have no idea why.

B.) Content Customers – These are in the bottom right quadrant. These are customers who are happy with what you do and your services but aren’t talking about it to the wider world (yet).

C.) Actively Angry – The top left quadrant is the one where you are usually paying most attention. These customers are voracious in vocalising their discontent with you and you often have no choice but to deal with them – and, really, you definitely want to address these people before they start impacting your reputation.

D.) Raving Fan – And, of course, the top right quadrant are your favourite people. These are the ones who love what you are doing, and are actively telling you and others about how happy they are. You want to keep these people where they are on this diagram.

Actively Angry: The Biggest Mistake Business Owners Make

Let’s start with the most problematic customers: the actively angry ones. The huge mistake that most business owners make it trying shift Actively Angry customers along the x-axis – i.e. trying to make them like you more.

Unfortunately, that’s going to be an extremely difficult thing to do. Once someone has become active in their anger towards you, you’re going to struggle to make them happy in a single, immediate action.

Instead, let’s take them on a journey. Here’s how to take that phone call from the angry person and turn them into a raving fan.

1. First, hear out your Actively Angry customer, so they become less active.

Instead of immediately making the angry person really happy with you, get them to talk to you rather than anyone else.

Actively angry people usually want to be heard, so listen to them. Go about this by starting with empathising – use the phrase, “Oh that sounds awful.” Repeat their issue to demonstrate you understand it, and express agreement that their experience has been awful.

Follow this up with, “This is what we are going to do about it.” Keep it forward moving and express what you will do to address the issue. Even if you will not fix it right away, make sure they know you will be doing something about it – passing it to the right team member, or give them a date when you will follow up with them.

While they are probably still simmering and not entirely happy with you, you have taken the first step in preventing them ranting and raving about it.

2. Now take that Quiet customer to contentment.

Now that they aren’t being loudly angry, you are in a much better place to give real value to your customer and give them the satisfaction they are seeking from your services.

The strategy to take here is to ask them the right kinds of questions. What is it that you currently ask your customer following a quiet spell from them? Do you say something like, “Is everything ok?” – if that’s the case then that’s your problem.

Make your questions active and encourage a specific answer by narrowing your questions as much as possible.

Examples of good questions:

“Is there something we can change?”
“What is one thing you would like us to do for you?”
“What did our customer representative say to you on the day you came in?”

3. Finally, just a nudge upwards to Raving Fans

With customers who feel content with what you do, all they need is just a small push to move them up the loyalty ladder to start raving about you. Compared to the dramatic act you’d need to move them directly from Actively Angry to this space.

So how exactly do you get this person who is satisfied with your work to start talking about it? Get them to tell a story – and do that by giving them a moment to describe.

The key here is to create poignant moments that stick in their minds. A surprise is one of the best ways to do that – give them something they weren’t expecting. And timing is everything. If they are distracted by something else, your surprise will be lost.

Point of sale, or when you’re delivering the fix to the issue, are some of the best times to surprise them. That’s when they are feeling best, so make them feel even better and nudge them upwards.

When you create those moments, you need to be ready to ask – directly – for them to tell that story (if it makes sense to do so). This might be by recording a video testimonial or getting them to leave you a review on Google or Facebook, or even just a share on their social media channels.

Set up a process like this within your business for handling your most angry customers and suddenly your Actively Angry customer on the phone isn’t quite a terrifying monster, and could actually end up being one of your best customers.

Do you have any strategies for dealing with unhappy customers that work well for your business? Share it in the comments below!

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4 Steps to the Systemisation of Your Business

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As a successful business owner, you may have gotten to a point where you feel like your business is actually just another job you’ve created. While you have the satisfaction of working for yourself, you are working harder and longer hours than you ever have before.

It can feel great, at first, running around and fighting fires, being the superhero, and doing something that is truly for yourself. But no matter how much you love the work, it does get tiring, and it’s just not sustainable in the longer term.

So how do you turn your business into an ongoing asset that will continue to operate effectively even when you aren’t pouring all your energy into it?

The answer is that you need to have effective systems.

The Basic Rule of Systems

It’s easy to get caught up in creating system after system to try and account for every situation. This is not the correct approach. The thing you have to remind yourself is:

“Systemise the routine, humanise the exception.”

Systems in your business are not necessarily done independently of your team – ultimately, people run your systems. And those people are there not just to ensure the system runs correctly, but also to catch anything that isn’t systemised.

Your systems are not designed to replace people, but instead to ensure that they don’t need to waste their focus on repetitive tasks. Systems should free their headspace to do higher-level tasks that require thought and consideration.

In order to achieve effective systemisation, there are four basic steps to follow.

Step 1: Flowchart Your Process

The first step in systemisation is to lay out all the steps of your system. While you could just write out a list (and some people definitely work well that way), I’m a visual person. I like to see the process laid out in a visual format that’s easy to understand.

And while you may work better with lists, it’s quite likely that the team member you are working with will understand it better if you flowchart it. Remember, as a leader you need to follow the platinum rule – not ‘treat people as you want to be treated’, but instead ‘treat people the way they want to be treated’.

Step 2: Create Clear Documentation

As you complete a task that you are hoping to systemise, note down each step of the process. Lay this out in explicit detail.

Once you have this written out the first time, get someone else to follow the system, watching them closely.

If at any point you need to step in and explain it to the new person, make sure that that information is added to the process document.

Then get someone else to do it again. Repeat as many times as you need to until you have a clear document that can be used to do the task without any intervention.

You now have an independent process document.

Step 3: Measure Results

Most business owners stop at the end of step 2, satisfied with a process well-systemised.

It may be systemised, but you don’t really know if it’s well-systemised yet, unless you are measuring how well it’s doing.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are associated with this process. What metric(s) best indicate how well this process is successfully being executed?

For sales processes, these would often be hard numbers like the number of leads, conversion rates, cost per result etc.

However, the KPIs associated with a process may not always be statistics like that but may be a number of deliverables – for example, a social media post being published each week, or the number of invoices processed each week.

You should build a dashboard around this process and be quite closely monitoring the success around these metrics, especially immediately after the handover of the process.

Step 4: Update Systems As Your Business Changes

Unfortunately, there are few systems in this world that last forever. The market is constantly changing, and if your business is to continue to survive, eventually your processes will need to change too. Your system needs to have a course-correction function built into it.

As you have been in your business since you conceived it you should have some idea of the ‘rhythm’ of your business. How quickly does your business evolve? How often have you found yourself adjusting the way you work? When have the growth spurts been?

Ensure that any system you build has a longevity that matches that rhythm. Perhaps set up checks to ensure processes that you have systemised are still working correctly at intervals that match the flow of your business growth.

When you follow through on these four steps, you’ll have robust, dynamic systems in your business that allow you get on with the work of working ‘on’ your business. That way, you can use all that time that you would typically have been stuck working ‘in’ the business and instead apply yourself to taking the business in new directions and scaling at the rate that you desire.

Still Struggling to Systemise Your Business?

London Business Coaching Strategy SessionOur brand of business coaching is all about growth through systemisation. If your business is at a point of success where you think it’s time to start scaling by introducing better systems, then that’s exactly the point where our business coaching strategies can help you.

Request a complimentary session below and we can do a review of your business to find out if your business is the kind that will benefit from our strategies.

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Collecting Data is Useless

Are you collecting a lot of data in your business? Google Analytics, Adwords reports, email open and click rates, telesales calls – the variety of metrics and charts you can obtain regarding your business performance can be endless.

However, collecting reams of data can be an entirely pointless waste of time if you are missing out on an essential element…

Data by itself is not information. This is why one of the first things we help our clients do is build a proper dashboard in their business. This highlights the key figures that inform you where attention should be applied in order to achieve the kind of growth you are looking for.

It’s easy to get caught up in collecting ‘important data’ – but if you are not applying that data to decision-making in your business, then you really are just collecting a bunch of useless numbers.

Prefer to read rather than watch and listen? No problem – here’s everything I said in the video as text:

Hi! This is Shweta from London Coaching Group.

What I want to talk about today is the difference between data and information and how it helps you get more focused in your decision making. Now I’ll share with you a situation which actually happened in the first month of the client’s starting to work with us and the client wanted to accelerate the overall growth of the business, has been trying many things in the marketplace. It’s more of a B2C kind of a business in their mind with around 300 plus accounts who place orders with them and in the first month of our working together the client sat down and actually shared all the kinds of data that you can think off on SEO and Google ads and said “Shweta, this is not really as effective as we would want it to be. Have a look at all these charts and the information that we have all the data points that we have.” And these were the words which were kind of being thrown in the meeting and I looked at all those charts and information and I was like “Yeah, you’re right, you know, it can be more effective.” The whole SEO and the Google ads and everything to get more B2C kind of clients, business to consumer kind of clients.

Before I got totally immersed and trying to find out actually how it needs to be done, I wanted to be very sure that this was the right “what” and I could have looked at all those data points on SEO and Google ads and started, you know, creating the intel and the next action points. But actually I requested the client to get me some another piece of information which was the last three years of top 80% contributing clients of their portfolio, right. So for the last three years I wanted them to give me their top clients who are contributing to 80% of their revenue with me and just show me what has been the trend of the spend, and this was important because I wanted to understand who are the top contributing clients.

So the client provides me with the data saying “Yea, of course it’s all there. Look, we have this information. Have a look at that, Shweta.” So now I’m looking at the data which is organized in a certain way and that all of a sudden becomes a meaningful information for me. Now, surprise surprise, what client sees and what I see along with the client is that those B2C clients are not in their top, you know, 80% contributing clients and which were actually only 12, interestingly. And we start analyzing these top 12 clients who are contributing to nearly 80% of their turnover and we find that these are actually the inter-users, the aggregators. They are more like corporate businesses or proper big size businesses who were actually using their services to reach out to their target market and that was super fascinating, because when you look at those top 12 clients you realize that to get them, one does not need to focus on Google ads or SEO. Actually, what’s required is more for direct reach campaign to different, right kind of channels based on what’s the profile of that introducer, but surely not the place or the area where they were spending a lot of their time and money and when I say a lot of time and money substantial chunk of time and money.

Now why I’m sharing this with you is because sometimes we have data and we get so engrossed in the data and we start trying to solve the problem. But you have to really ask yourself the question saying first of all “how do I arranged this data in a meaningful way” so it becomes a proper information for you which you can draw on the intel, the intelligence and then get the focus for your business as to what is it that you don’t need to focus, what is it that you need to say no to, so you can start saying yes to the right kind of things and the right kind of areas which will give you the biggest impact and the biggest leverage. Not having data or getting lost in drawn data, both are equally dangerous for the business.

So make sure you look at the data in the right form, draw the right kind of intel, dig deep enough and then get the right kind of focus for your business and for that objectivity if you want to sit down with us so that we can look at your business and actually see what’s going on and where do we need to really focus to get to that fast growth, that leverage, that impact, feel free to reach out.

 

Want help focusing on the right figures?

London Business Coaching Strategy SessionWhen we offer complimentary sessions, we first ask you fill out a questionnaire. This allows us to assess where your business has potential to grow, and what figures you should be focused on.

Then it’s up to you – either take that and run with it (which you are entirely free to do) or, if it makes sense, work together with us to build further growth strategies.


A Simple Business Toolbox Part 2: Team, Time & Money

Last week we covered the marketing productivity tools that can fit into your most basic business toolbox – and I was really pleased to receive such positive feedback. It is always great to find out how business owners are gaining tangible benefit from these blogs.

In this part, we will help to demystify some further tools in a few other critical areas of business, which may help you lighten the load, or increase the result from the effort put in.

Let’s jump in with the area where almost every business owner of larger, successful businesses want to improve…

Team Management (or more, Leadership) Tools

If your business is growing to a size where systemisation and leverage are becoming important, you should ensure that your team have clear direction in where they should be headed, and what they are aiming for.

And there are two main areas of leadership where systems and tools can help. The first is task management.

As I’ve said before, you shouldn’t manage your team, you should manage their activities.

A system we use for task management is Asana. This is a reasonably ‘safe bet’ tool, coming from the minds of tech maestros who co-founded Facebook and were integral to the development of essential features of both Facebook and Google. It’s also free for what most businesses need (you would only need to start paying for it if you are an enterprise with significantly large teams of 15 or more).

The platform lets you create tasks for yourself or delegate tasks to one of your team members. You can create a full range of ‘tasks’ from simple reminders, to very detailed plans in complex ‘projects’. You will be notified when a task is complete or when a task is due. You can also comment on tasks – keeping communication all in one place for a project or campaign – and you can even give little heart ‘likes’ to tasks and comments to give small bursts of positive feedback. It has a very friendly interface and does not require spending lengthy amounts of time to get used to it, though as with any tool does require some getting used to at first. There is also a mobile app, allowing you to plan and respond to tasks on the go.

Another productivity app to consider is Trello. This one is more ‘board’ focused (although Asana does have a ‘boards’ feature as well) and is typically more useful to businesses that have a clearly delineated workflow – especially, we’ve noticed, IT services. If your project moves from stage to stage in your business really definitively, you may find Trello perfect for your needs.

The world of task management systems is a pretty extensive one. You could quite literally spend weeks trying out different platforms – and I do not recommend doing that to any business owner. These are two that are tried and tested to work well for many businesses. Of course, do your due diligence before diving in, but remember to keep yourself in check as it’s easy to get caught up in chasing ‘shiny things’.

Before we move on from task management, I should also mention that sometimes you don’t need one of these more complex dedicated task management tools. Sometimes, and this is true in my own team as well as many of our clients’ teams, quarterly planning on a simple Excel Spreadsheet is sufficient – and often preferable for its simplicity – to track weekly activities and get a quick, simple and clear communication of the plans for the quarter. Task management systems can be great for day-to-day task lists, but strategic planning can often be much simpler.

The second area where you can get leverage in leading and managing your team is in communication. And while this isn’t a software solution, I think it’s an important productivity tool, so I’ve included it in this list.

What I’m talking about is the Monday Morning Meeting. Every Monday our team has a meeting with all team members where we cover our business goals and personal goals and a learning from the previous week. The team fills out the goals sheet every morning (you can get the word and PDF versions emailed to you by clicking here) and then we go through each person one and a time. We start by reviewing goals from the previous week and then talking about the goals for this week.

This is not only a great way to ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with each other’s work, but it is also a great way to get your team to focus on themselves. Meaning you aren’t the heavy hand taking control of them nor being a helicopter “got-a-minute” boss, but instead your team are periodically reminding themselves of what they need to do and what they have forgotten to do.

Adding personal goals has also proven to be a great way to ensure that your team understand each other on a personal level – creating a more pleasant and actually more efficient work environment. It also helps you know when to be sensitive with your team when you know what is happening in their personal lives – and allows you to support them in every way, which will encourage your superstars to stay with you.

Time Management

Another key area where I have noticed most business owners typically struggle is managing their time. Of course, this often comes hand-in-hand with team management – when you better structure the way you communicate with your team, the more time you leverage for yourself.

However, if you run a business where you need to book appointments (that could be anything from providing services in time slots to booking in client meetings, training sessions or complimentary ‘taste testers’) then there is some technology that could help.

The first appointment-booking app I want to mention, TimeTrade, I have actually talked about before – in some detail – although that article is perhaps a bit dated now. TimeTrade has since refreshed its brand and its technology. It has a pretty wide breadth of features and customisation – but that also comes with a bit a learning curve for you and your team. If you need a robust system with more advanced functions like queue management and more intensive analytics, then you should consider TimeTrade.

However, a simpler solution for automating your calendar, which we have used recently is Calendly.

Calendly integrates with most calendar platforms – including Google, Outlook, Office 365 and iCal. It is a great way to ensure you’re never double booked, and so that you don’t have to keep aligning calendars – it can be used both internally and externally.

A really great use for this is in sales – instead of having to constantly hand your off-site telesales teams time slots that they can book appointments in for your salespeople, they can all book directly through Calendly, which is synched up to the salesperson’s calendar. That way you can also have all your telesales people working with the same time slots, as it will be updated in real time.

A major flaw our team has noticed, however, is that there’s no calendar view for Calendly. You cannot have a weekly or monthly view of your appointments or appointment slots. You can only see your events in a list. This can be a bit frustrating and difficult to make it clear what’s going on. A workaround is to use it alongside your calendar so you can view the appointments as they’re booked in – not the most convenient thing, but it works.

Calendly is free for the basic plan – so you can test whether it’s a match for you before paying.

TimeTrade has a 30-day free trial and then you can choose one of their custom plans. It is usually my recommendation that if you do need appointment booking software, that you start with Calendly – it’s easy to set up and get started. If you then feel like your needs are more complex than Calendly can handle, then you can look to switch to Time Trade.

Money Management

Finally, one of the most important areas that must be working totally correctly but would benefit from getting leverage is finances.

Invoicing can be such a headache, but we use Xero and it’s made the whole process a lot less painful. Xero can help you keep track of your inventory, payroll and invoicing in a visual way. You can also perform bank reconciliations – so you can connect to your bank for automatic updates and simple bank reconciliation.

The site has an intuitive dashboard where your cash flow is displayed using analytics-style visual aids. You can also use Xero to pay your bills and record, manage, and claim your expenses.

Xero is also available on your mobile if you’re the kind of tech-savvy business owner who likes manage things on-the-go!

It has a 30-day trial to see if it works for you, and then membership plans start from £10/month. It should be noted there are additional costs for things like extra employees on the payroll.

Another accounting software of note for your bookkeeping needs is FreeAgent. In most respects, FreeAgent and Xero are equally matched in facility and function. However, where FreeAgent falls down is in detailed reporting and more advanced functionality. Where it excels, however, is simplicity and essential functions for freelancers/contractors. If you are a growing or bigger business, Xero is probably a better option, but if you require something that’s simple and easier to use FreeAgent is probably a better choice – especially at the generally lower price point.  QuickBooks is another option to consider as well which has different tiers of complexity according to your needs.

As with the marketing tools from the first article, these software options don’t cover everything you need for every area of your business. They also may not be the perfect solution for your individual niche needs. However, these are almost certainly the best place to start and will hopefully help lead you to the tools that will streamline your activities and get you the double-digit growth that you may be leaving on the table.

Want to learn more tools and frameworks?

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A Simple Business Toolbox Part 1: Power Up Marketing

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.

Next Time…

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.

Need help choosing technology?

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Find out for yourself, through a no-obligation personal strategy session whether the way we approach things could be helping you get even more from your business.

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