Category Archives: Apps and Software

Sorry, but HubSpot is not “the” Answer

miracle_cure_pillAs much as I love HubSpot, it is not a miracle cure. While this may sound blasphemous coming from someone who frequently preaches the wonders of HubSpot in marketing workshops and speaking engagements, I’ve come to realize that HubSpot sounds so cool, and so useful, and so amazing that it’s easy to believe implementing HubSpot will transform your marketing.

Alas, a successful implementation of HubSpot (one that brings you customers either directly, or as leads) takes a lot of groundwork. And I’ll bet you already know that, just as you know that it takes more than an weight-loss pill to shed pounds. Yet weight loss pills continue to fly off the shelves…

Likewise, even the savviest of marketers are susceptible to the enticing siren song of HubSpot. It’s an alluring proposition – with one big caveat: If your marketing model already works great, then yes, it’s reasonable to expect HubSpot to be additive and improve your results. On the other hand, if results aren’t where you want and you (essentially) move your existing marketing model into HubSpot, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

If you’re looking to improve sales and marketing (and who isn’t?!) the greatest value of HubSpot is likely as a “good excuse” to re-evaluate your approach. All the automation and other goodies HubSpot provides work their magic best once you are crystal clear about the big picture, and where HubSpot fits in.

Ideally, before implementing new marketing systems (HubSpot or anything else), you’ll establish these two big picture items:

  1. What are the overall strategic goals of the company, and what are the roles of marketing and sales in supporting those goals? What are the measurable goals you need to hit this year and each quarter to support those goals?
  2. Who is your customer, and how can you replicate the sales process to recruit more, similar customers? What can you do to reach more like-minded people and move them through a process – your online sales engine™ – that guides them to choose you and creates ease in your sales process?

Having watched hundreds of companies go through this process for nearly 20 years now, let me reassure you that is is truly ok if you look at those two items and realize there’s some work to do. It’s the rare company that has all those ducks already in a row – that’s often why marketing and sales are working so hard to gain traction.  If all of these big pictures items were already in place, you likely wouldn’t be reading this article!

Tackling BOTH of these big picture items takes a big commitment, and is one that frankly few companies are deeply committed to.  For those who are, truly amazing things can happen.  If that kind of  work doesn’t sound daunting to you, and you’re willing to explore that journey, here are a couple of places to start:

  1. Creating measurable goals that marketing and sales can support starts with a strong vision of the company’s future. With that in place, you can align the dots to reach the end goal. The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is the simplest, most clear way of creating and implementing that framework I’ve personally experienced.
  2. Understanding your customer is more complex than it seems. It’s easy to get caught up in what who we THINK the customer is and what they want and what gets them to buy. Steve Blank has some great thoughts on Customer Discovery, and another helpful resource I’ve recently come across is the Buyer Persona Institute. They offer a useful blog and downloadable ebooks free!

Happy to help if you run into any questions along the way. Good luck!

Move One Step Closer to Work/Life Balance with This Email Scheduling Tool

It’s the rare second stage CEO that isn’t writing and answering emails at all hours. Aside from effectively training everyone that you’re going to respond 24/7, your team ALSO feels obligated to reply at all hours when you’re sending out missives day and night.

If you’d like to end this viscous circle, but are worried about waiting to respond email messages, try out Boomerang. Boomerang allows you to respond to emails at your convenience, and to schedule your response for delivery a later time. This allows you to stay on top of your inbox, while setting more humane expectations about when you’ll be able to respond. As an added bonus, this email tool is free for occasional use, and inexpensive to subscribe to with more frequent use.

Boomerang features include:

  • Schedule email delivery for a specific time or within a range such as “tomorrow morning”.
  • If you need to keep an important email on file, but don’t need it cluttering your inbox now, schedule it to “boomerang” back to your inbox on a specific day.
  • If you only need to deal with an email again if it doesn’t receive a reply, let Boomerang monitor your email for you. It will return the email to your inbox if a reply isn’t received within an amount of time you specify.

To learn more, watch the short video above or go direct to the Boomerang for Gmail site.

I hope this tool helps you move one small step forward to work/life balance!

Accounting Software for Second Stage Companies

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If you’re in second stage, chances are you’re already using QuickBooks, and are starting to get frustrated with its limitations. Welcome to the club!

The temptation to switch accounting software to get better reporting is great, and sometimes necessary. Sometimes. It’s also very easy to fall in a rabbit hole chasing the perfect accounting software, and that’s what I want to help you avoid. Here are a few things to consider if you’re itching to switch.

If what you want is easier access to data, simply moving from QuickBooks to QuickBooks Online will allow simpler access to data from anywhere at any time. Granted, the conversion is *not* as easy as QuickBooks would lead you to believe, and I would strongly recommend paying to have it done by a pro. Otherwise, I can pretty much guarantee there will be expletives involved and your bookkeeper won’t be talking to you for some period of time. (Both out of legitimate frustration and because they’re busy fixing what the QuickBooks conversion messed up.) Just ask me for quotes from multiple sources lest you think I jest… That said, the CEOs I know who have been through the conversion are happier to be closer to their financials, even though there are some sacrifices in terms of functionality.

If you are trying to do something QuickBooks can’t easily do, here’s the question I’d start with. Do you really *need* to do something it can’t do? If you find yourself saying something along the lines of, “Yes, my business is different and we need something special to handle our unique situation”, I’d like to challenge that. As a second-stage company, you’re in a tough niche. You’re big enough to be outgrowing your existing software and processes, but not yet big enough to stomach the switch to enterprise solutions. (Cost-wise and/or time-to-implement-wise.) However, it is tempting to bite the bullet and move to a “grown-up” solution because you know you will eventually grow enough to need it.

While it’s true you may eventually need to switch accounting software, it’s to your advantage to wait until it’s absolutely necessary, so you can focus on investing in areas that will contribute more directly to the bottom line. So how will you get what you need in the meantime? Here’s a valuable second stage secret. Most second stage companies are using QuickBooks and making it work just fine. How? By solving simply.

As entrepreneurs, it’s our mission to create something special and unique, which leads quite logically to believing it’s so unique it requires its own solution. Chances are if you’re struggling to get the data you need to manage your company, it’s because some fundamental piece is missing, leaving a gap that you’re inventing things to fix. The gap you feel is real, I don’t dispute that! Over time I’ve learned there are a handful of basic tools that are likely to get you what you need. No invention required – truly!

The thing is, these basic tools are very rarely taught at the level you need as a second stage CEO. Hence the reason you’re experiencing a gap. Fortunately, a guy by the name of Greg Crabtree has written THE book on finance for second stage companies called “Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!” I’ll leave summarizing the book for another article, but trust me when I say it’s an easy read that will generate at least of a couple of “Aha!” moments. Before you create that next new report or look further into changing accounting systems, take a look at Greg’s book. And let me know what your aha moments were! Happy reading!

Agile Zen – A Helpful Tool For Getting Things Done

You-Can-Do-Anything-But-You-Cant-Do-Everything

Every second stage entrepreneur I’ve met faces the challenge of prioritizing an incredible volume of things to do. With continued growth, the list won’t get shorter – until you achieve clarity (via an Operating System) and observe a few simple truths such as:

“You Can Do Anything, But Not Everything.”

This mantra by David Allen, Author of “Getting Things Done”, is a great one for entrepreneurs who are always aspiring to make an impact. Yes, we entrepreneurs can do anything! Just not everything.

As with other second stage secrets, successful second-stagers follow similar methodologies for managing the tasks at hand. David’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach is very popular, though I personally found it cumbersome to implement with such a high volume of “stuff” to manage both personally and professionally.

The greatest hack I’ve found shifts the focus from prioritizing/scheduling/organizing/listing tasks to priorities with one very simple premise:

What are the 3 highest priority things I can do today?

In a gross over-simplification, this concept comes from Agile methodology and a tool called Kanban which visualizes and shares work in progress. When you hear about the Toyota way, Kanban was one of the tools used in their incredible transformation. You can easily begin implementing the system without any deeper knowledge than human-beings are only capable of working on so many things at one time, with the consensus being that number is about 3.

In roughly 15 minutes you can get started using this concept by signing up for a free account at http://www.agilezen.com. You’ll quickly create virtual “cards” for what needs to be done, and pull the three priorities you’re working on now into your work-in-progress.

“Wait!”, you say. “I’m working on more than 3 things!” Not really. It’s simply not possible to be ACTIVELY working on many things at the same time. We cheat ourselves (and others) when we think otherwise.

If you want to research more about how this all works before getting started, I highly recommend Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban 101 as a more formal introduction.

If you’re a just-do-it kind of person, use AgileZen.com, complete one priority and move another into your work-in-progress. And then do it again. Work to prioritize what is most strategic. Magic will follow. :-)

Books for further reading:

Amazing Benchmarking Data for Internet Startups

Startup_Compass_Software_for_Business_Benchmarking

An innovative site called Startup Compass is gathering and sharing key metrics in the growth of internet startups. Read more in this WSJ article “Service Helps Start-Ups See Where They Stand”. I wish there was something like this for every industry to create benchmarks – let me know if you’re aware of others we can share!

Find the Best Apps for Your Business Fast

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One challenge of a growing business is finding the right software to manage everything from accounting to marketing communications. A new service scheduled for release later this month aims to aggregate and rate other apps for your business. By aggregating similar apps and offering ratings, Groapp will be a great vetting service if you don’t happen to have a geeky friend to keep you posted on the latest and greatest.

Though the premise of Groapp is to help startups, second-stage companies will find it equally useful. Apps and online services have grown to have the substance and stability that second-stage companies need – at a fraction of the cost of enterprise solutions. I’ve used them more with each new venture, and am consistently amazed at how much more functionality is available for less. If you haven’t considered apps or cloud services for your second stage company, chance are you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

For more on Groapp: http://techli.com/2012/07/groapp-mobile-app/