Category Archives: Running the Back Office

Do I need as a CRM for my second stage company?

Cartoon viking with a big hammerDo you need Probably not.

For 9 out of 10 businesses I talk to, is “too much club”. Yet it has become so ubiquitous that many small businesses feel obligated to adopt it. The process usually goes something like this:

Someone speaks very highly of (or has used it in another context) + it’s a “known entity” + it’s easy to sign up = Viola! Simple, quick decision on which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to adopt.

Generally, that’s a reasonable formula – I’m a firm believer that one of the best tests for how something works comes from the experience of similar companies. However, this is one of those cases that is the exception to the rule. I’ve watched enough companies experience enough pain to be compelled to start my own public service campaign about “right-sizing your CRM”. Here’s why.

A CRM that is “too much club” causes all sorts of issues, the most problematic of which seems like it would be cost, but really it’s the complexity that kills you slowly. Suffice it say that does a great job of making it sound like it can do everything under the sun – and it basically can – with enough elbow-grease, IT know-how, upgrades, and add-ons.

On the other hand, what are some good cases for using The #1 reason to use  If you truly have a sales force. In other words, it’s really designed for larger teams of sales people. Many startups and second stage companies don’t have a Sales Manager and a Sales Team – more often, the sales “team” is a single sales person supported by technicians and others as needed. In these cases, is typically too much club.

Choosing the “right-size” CRM in those situations means selecting for a couple of things:

  • Something simple, that actually gets used, and doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.
  • Something inexpensive, so you can invest the bulk of your marketing funds in reaching out to customers and growing your business.

If not, then what? Glad you asked. There are a dizzying array of CRMs out there, and I don’t claim to know them all. However, I have played with enough different CRM systems to have a couple of favorites.

Zoho will look familiar to anyone that has used – it’s a very close cousin. Why do I like it? It meets both my criteria: simple and cheap. It had only 6 “tabs” (much like only had 3 when I first started using it 15 years ago) and it’s FREE for the basic team edition which includes 3 people. You can export data if needs change and you truly need a more sophisticated system later, so it’s not an irrevocable decision. It does have a few quirks, though I am willing to forgive them for something that’s free and provides a simple and clean pipeline view.

Membrain is the option I’d recommend for companies who need more full-featured functionality along the lines of It’s typically more expensive than if you’ve only got a few users, as you pay up front for configuration.  However, it’s worth including as it does a few key things that does not. In particular, Membrain has built in sales automation that ensures the important stuff gets followed up on (you set the criteria) and that unqualified opportunities are automatically left out of the pipeline.

Membrain is also smart about reporting, giving the company a better picture of what opportunities are “real”, while also giving salespeople more time to spend doing sales because they’re not doing busy-work to make reports turn out right. Some of the value this software provides is a little bit sneakier – all that automation is possible because the configuration process forces decision about what criteria is/isn’t qualified, and what actions should be happening during the sales process. Often, one of the things causing issues within sales is a lack of clarity, which tools have a habit of making worse instead of better. Membrain may be the exception to that rule – in a good way.

Hope this helps with your CRM decision. Holler if you have any questions or want more specific examples!

Best “New” Site For Recruiting & Job Posting Tips

hiring_for_second_stageFinding the right people to add to your team is quite the challenge in second stage – especially at the beginning when you’re really not big enough to warrant having an HR department, but likely growing at a rate that means you’re investing significant time in the hiring process. The good news is, a few simple “hacks” can help you spend much less time in the hiring process. This article covers a couple of shortcuts and tips for the job posting phase of recruiting.

One of these job posting shortcuts is to look at non-traditional sources for recruiting that attract high quality candidates. A surprise addition to this list of new places to post is Craig’s list – more typically thought of for buying and selling furniture! Twice this year I’ve heard CEOs raving about the results they’ve gotten from Craig’s List, which is enough for me to call it a trend (with apologies to my friends in statistical analysis ;-). Certainly there are other specialty sites to look at for some types of positions; in these cases, we’re talking about jobs that would have been posted to sites like Monster or Career Builder in the recent past.

[box type=”download”] Tip #1 – The best “new” site for recruiting: Craig’s List.[/box]

If you want to go beyond Craig’s List, this next new site is a great way to streamline posting to multiple sites at once. Smart Recuriters provides free posting to 100+ sites; they make money on the other side of things when you purchase LinkedIn, etc. ads through them. Even better, they also provide free software to manage candidates throughout the hiring process, helping you share documents as well as stay organized AND in compliance.

[box type=”download”] Tip #2 – Post to 100+ job sites in one fell swoop with Smart Recruiters.[/box]

While these next sites aren’t new, they are often overlooked. When it comes to job postings, think local. Your local Chamber of Commerce and economic development agencies are often happy to post jobs at no charge, and may be able to point you to other sources specific to your community as well.

[box type=”download”] Tip #3 – Think local. Post jobs with your local Chamber and economic development agencies.[/box]

Good luck with your recruiting!

Tis the Season for Renewing Health Insurance


Health insurance is challenging for so many reasons, and tends to become even more so as your business grows. And then there’s always the changing health care laws just to spice things up a bit. As if that wasn’t enough fun already, the renewal of health insurance sits on most calendars during the already busy holiday season.

That means if your business runs on a calendar fiscal year, your insurance renewal falls at the same time your team is already burdened with year-end accounting, budgeting and forecasting for the upcoming year, along with a myriad of other year-end tasks.

Here are a couple of simple second stage secrets that are likely to save you both time and money when it comes to health insurance:

1) Move your health insurance renewal to the “off-season”.

We managed the year-end dance for years before the “aha” moment that our health insurance renewal period could be moved. Our insurance agent and internal team were both happy and relieved to move our renewal process to the summer. This gave both parties the opportunity to be more thoughtful and responsive when not burdened by an already jam-packed season. Creating that space is a great thing when you’re talking about a decision that can be one of your largest line items, and which impacts your team on such a personal level.

One note of caution – there is some burden to making the switch, as you’ll have a partial plan year to get everything lined up for the future. However, your benefits agent may be able to swing this in your favor by getting rates extended for the “short” plan year plus the following plan year, potentially saving thousands by delaying inevitable rate increases.

2) Make sure you have an insurance agent who is working for you.

In another “aha” moment, a conversation about the amount of paperwork and compliance we were handling internally lead to the discovery that not all insurance agents are created equal. Some ask you to handle everything when it comes to claims and plan changes; some file paperwork you initiate, some handle everything from beginning to end. The kicker is, your rates are the same no matter which level of service you’re getting.

In addition to handling communication with your insurance provider, full service agents will present selected healthcare options to your team, handle enrollments, provide all the necessary handouts to comply with state and federal laws, as well as prepare your Benefit Summary or Summary Plan Description (SPD) and other required documents. They’ll also advise you as your growth leads to managing new requirements such as COBRA (once you reach 20 people for more than 6 months), and FMLA (50 or more employees for more than 20 workweeks).

Basically, a full service agent takes the hassle out of filing, the worry out of compliance, and does the legwork to find and present the best possible options for your team – leaving more opportunity for you and your team to focus on great products, service, and delivery!

Do We Need an Employee Handbook?


As with many things, there are various points of opinion on whether or not to have an employee manual. Some attorneys will advise you’re better off without one, as you won’t set yourself up for trouble that way. (Essentially because of the pesky law of unintended consequences, and how things in print may be interpreted the wrong way and/or how you have more leeway to make individualized decisions if there aren’t formal policies in place.) On the other hand, you’ll also receive plenty of advice about the importance of having an employee manual, and having it up to date with all of the latest legalese.

After reaching second stage, it’s pretty safe to say it’s time to create an employee manual. Why? When you were a close-knit group of people that all hung out in the same room all day long and probably knew each other even before you started working together, clarity happened practically through osmosis. In second stage, you start hiring people you don’t know, spreading out geographically (whether in different rooms in the same office, or different locations altogether), and certain rules of organizational dynamics will start to surface just because that’s the way larger groups of people interact (somewhere between 12-20 people by most definitions). If you’re already hiring more people and spreading out geographically, that osmosis thing will reach its limitations. I guarantee it.

Now that it’s (hopefully) clear you’ll need an Employee Handbook “someday”, I’m betting it’s at the bottom of your list of to do’s as it doesn’t seem to forward the direct mission of your company. Here’s the kicker – it *is* part of your direct mission as CEO. Your #1 mission is to create clarity so simple silly stuff doesn’t get in the way. This is not to trivialize any issues; the point is that the creation of many issues is completely avoidable in the first place, and you’ll want to kick yourself later when you realize how easily they could have been prevented and how much wheel-spinning could have been avoided.

We both know you have at least 200 things to take care of, so how do I propose you get an employee manual done? Pick your favorite from one of these three options:

  • Ask your attorney for their standard Employee Handbook template
  • Ask your Payroll Service for their standard Employee Handbook template
  • Ask your HR consultant for their standard Employee Handbook template

I recommend making the investment in a template for two reasons:

  • You’ll be better off in the long run to have a Handbook that your service providers are already familiar and comfortable with, and
  • you’ll also instantly have a handbook that covers at least 80% of what you need.

The trick is not to get lost in the last 20%. The good news is, by the time you’ve reached second stage, you’ve likely already decided how to accrue things like Paid Time Off (PTO), etc. so completing a handbook is largely a matter of writing things down. With a template to fill in the blanks, it doesn’t have to be a big project.

What may take longer is giving the handbook the voice of your culture. For an example of the most culture-infused handbook I’ve ever seen, buy a copy of the Zingerman’s Staff Guide for only $10. If you want to add the flavor of your culture without creating something fully custom, a one-page (or even one paragraph) intro from the CEO is a great personal touch that will help you efficiently create an Employee Handbook, create clarity, and continue to grow. Happy handbooking!