Google Apps guide for small business and charities: 7 steps to full adoption

Considering adopting Google Apps? This post should help you!

For small businesses and charities wanting to keep things lean, Google Apps offers a great opportunity for a single, simple ecosystem of products. Google has been steadily innovating across its Apps products and has almost reached a point where an organisation can adopt their suite of products wholesale. Adopting Google Apps will require compromise in some areas but will offer massive savings on training, IT support, per user purchase cost, integration issues and centralised control.

To adopt Google Apps fully you also need to fully buy into a paperless, always connected, cloud-powered world. This will take most businesses some time and I recommend you proceed stage by stage, reviewing the benefits and challenges as you go. This post will walk you through each stage. Continue reading “Google Apps guide for small business and charities: 7 steps to full adoption”

7 web apps to start & run a profitable web design business

This is a collection of web apps that are particularly useful to anyone running a web design business (and many other types of business I imagine!).

CapsuleCRM

Getting sales is obviously crucial to running a profitable web design business and to sell websites you need to know who your customers are. Capsule’s main strength is its simplicity. There are LOADS of alternative CRMs out there (Batchbook, Pipedrive and Insightly to name just a few I have tried but I prefer Capsule because of its simplicity and wealth of integrations. If you are interested you can read my post exploring the best small business CRM web apps.

CapsuleCRM integrates with Mailchimp, Xero, Quoteroller, Zendesk and several other apps. While not all of these integrations are quite as smooth as they could be what it does give is many of the strengths of a much larger more enterprise level CRM without all the complexity, cost and customisation. Continue reading “7 web apps to start & run a profitable web design business”

7 powerful CRM applications for small businesses

There are a huge number of good CRMs out there which are priced to make them accessible to small businesses. I’ve spent a lot of time searching these out, giving them a try and even running with them for a while in one of the businesses I’m involved in.

This post is the summary of my findings to date. The right CRM for you may be different but I hope this post will help you on your search. Please share any insights  by leaving a comment. Continue reading “7 powerful CRM applications for small businesses”

Capsule CRM review: contacts and pipeline management for small and medium sized businesses

I work with a number of contact (or ‘customer’/’constituent’) relationship management systems and have tried many more. Capsule CRM stands out for its blend of simplicity with a select range of powerful integrations.

At the extremes of the CRM world sit Highrise (from 37signals) and Salesforce. Highrise is unashamedly simple. 37 signals eschew complexity and cross platform integration but instead provide an open API which leads to the development of third party apps. Salesforce, is increasingly working to draw its customers into a world where everything they do from email to social media engagement is done through Salesforce software.

Capsule CRM Logo

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Using TeamworkPM & agile sprints to get things done

At White Fuse Media we have been exploring ways to introduce elements of agile project management into the way we manage workloads across the company. We recently introduced the idea of a weekly sprint and have found it very helpful so I thought I would share our experiences.

The success of the change is very much due to the functionality of the team collaboration tool we use, Teamwork (you can read our brief review of Teamwork here) though hopefully much of what follows is relevant to users of other systems too.

Hacking the agile methodology

Agile methodology grew up in the software development world and is a lot easier to apply when you are working on one product. At White Fuse Media we tend to have around 20 external projects running at any one time and numerous small internal ones. Using agile methodologies in this context requires some hacking of the pure concepts.

Benefits and shortcoming of using task lists to manage workload

Benefits

At the heart of our workload management systems is the task list. Most of the popular online collaboration tools are in some way based around projects and tasks. Teamwork is no exception – it has projects, task lists and tasks. Tasks can each have a priority, estimate and due date.

We see task lists as crucial to effective working. By getting tasks out of people’s brains and into an organised structure we leave our brains free for creative thinking. Ideas can be captured for later evaluation and we can prioritise our time effectively. However, over the last year or so we have become aware of the shortcoming of using task lists alone to manage our workload.

Shortcomings

First, task lists can quickly become overwhelming. While Teamwork’s priority functionality allows us to focus on the most important tasks it can be daunting to be faced with an unending task list.

Second, it proved very hard to know how much we would get done in any particular week. Each member of the team would work through tasks in their task lists but there was no way of tracking whether it had been a good week or a bad week on the productivity front, except by gut feel.

Third, we struggled to effectively record our time. We see time recording as crucial to check that we are running project to budget but the accuracy of our figures depend on individuals in the team having easy ways to record their time.

Introducing ‘sprints’

Key concepts in agile project management methodology include the breaking down of large tasks into small tasks and assigning each small task a time estimate. A reasonable number of small tasks are then allocated to a person or team over a period of time (a ‘sprint’). The rate at which these tasks are ticked off is measured (the ‘burndown rate’) and this allows the team to get an understanding of how quickly work is being achieved and how accurate estimates are. This information can be extrapolated to get an undertanding of how realistic larger project milestones and deadlines are.

We chose a one week period as our sprint period. Rather than attacking our whole task list each day, we decided to start each week by considering priorities for that week and pulling an achievable number of tasks into a specific task list for the week.

TeamworkPM’s ‘workload’, ‘estimates’ and ‘due dates’ functionality

Although Teamwork is not specifically structured around the agile methodology (there are a whole wealth of systems which are) it has a number of extremely useful features that we used to introduce the agile concept of a sprint into the agency’s company wide processes.

Estimates

The first step was to start assigning estimates to all of our tasks. This takes some thought since to fit with week long sprints each task must be defined with sufficient granularity to be achieved within a particular week. On the other end of the spectrum, the tasks couldn’t be too small otherwise the admin associated with creating tasks, assigning and estimate and then recording time against them because too arduous.

Due dates

The next step was assigning tasks to the next sprint.

Because we run many projects concurrently for different client it was still very important to track project progress on a per-project basis. This meant we couldn’t actually create a separate task list for the sprint. Instead, we decided to use Teamwork’s due date functionality for this. This requires a slight shift in understanding of ‘due dates’. Due dates become the final day in the next sprint cycle, which is often slightly different to the intuitive purpose of due dates on a task (we have shifted to using ‘milestones’ to track important client deadlines that then inform our sprint priorities).

After we have set a due date for the week’s tasks, we then use the ‘everything’ tab in Teamwork to view all active tasks that are due by the end of the coming week. That is our agenda for the week.

One huge advantage of this approach to task management is that it gives individuals much more control over what tasks they choose to do at any particular time. It doesn’t matter which tasks are done first as long as everything gets done in the week. One caveat to this is that we prioritise tasks which are dependent on other tasks (another brilliant feature of Teamwork).

Workload tracking

The icing on the cake of this new way of working is Teamwork’s ‘workload’ feature. This gives a snapshot of the whole team’s workload for a particular time period. By setting this for the coming week it is possible to get a quick view of how busy the team is and how well everyone is doing with their week’s tasks.

At the end of a successful week this system gives the deep satisfaction of looking at an empty task list!

This is all still very much a work in progress so please share your own experiences below.

Pipedrive Review: sales & pipeline focused CRM web application

Pipedrive is not really a fully fledged CRM. It is a web app that is focused clearly on assisting with the sales process, and it does this well.

Pipeline Dashboard

The key distinctive of this application is the pipeline dashboard view.

Pipedrive review dashboard screenshot

For those familiar with the pipeline sales methodology this is a very intuitive and helpfully visual way of displaying everything that is going on in one screen. For those who are newer to the pipeline way of thinking, this app will probably help to convince you of its merits (or which there are many, but that’s a different blog post).

The only significant downside of this pipeline view is the fact that it is not that scalable. Yes, you can use filters to break up your deals onto different pipelines, but nonetheless the graphical interface only works well with a limited number of deals.

Continue reading “Pipedrive Review: sales & pipeline focused CRM web application”

Clearbooks review: the best accounting software for small businesses?

Taking into account the huge market for accounting solutions and the number of years they have been around you might think that there were no major improvements left to make. However, you would be mistaken!

This review considers whether Clearbooks, the new entrant to the charity accounting software sector, successfully challenges the established players.

Clearbooks is an addictive productivity app!

Clearbooks review - clearbooks logo

I must admit to being slightly addicted to productivity apps. I hate spending ages battling with software that could have been designed better. I love it when people cut through the complexity and deliver a solution that just works.

Microsoft Accounting, Quickbooks 2010, then Clearbooks

Clearbooks review - ms accounting

After testing out the options thoroughly, White Fuse Media started life with Microsoft Accounting, which wasn’t terrible but was shelved by Microsoft in 2009. After reviewing the options thoroughly we then went for Quickbooks. It seemed the best out of a not very compelling bunch of options. We upgraded to Quickbooks 2010 when it was released, but never did figure out the difference between that and its predecessor.

In general it did the job but had some key failings:

Clearbooks accounting - quickbooks 2010

  • Adding transactions each month was cumbersome and time consuming.
  • The system was tied to one computer.
  • Passing data to our accountant never worked.
  • The payroll system was clumsy and very expensive relative to the small amount of functionality it gave.

Continue reading “Clearbooks review: the best accounting software for small businesses?”