The world is full of all kinds of software tools that think they’re indispensable. So how do you as a small business owner decide which ones actually are indispensable? It’s important to focus on just the ones that return considerable value, both because of the expense involved and because too many cooks inevitably spoil the small business broth. That is, you don’t want to be spending all your time learning and harmonizing different apps; you want to be gaining productivity right away. The small business CRM software space in particular has become very large and competitive, so CRM companies always have a reason why business owners can’t survive another minute without them.
You may be tempted to say that CRM software is yet another shiny-looking toy that ultimately isn’t worth its cost to small businesses. And the truth is, it can appear that way at first. Many small businesses start with something very simple for tracking their client data, for the excellent reason that the information they’re tracking is simple. The stalwart admin enters everything in an Excel spreadsheet, configures it in a way that works best for him or her, and updates it every day. Nobody else has to worry about it. But this is a strategy that will keep you small–probably smaller than you want to be.
Invest (Wisely) to Promote Growth
The advantage of CRM is that it keeps your information organized and easy to analyze, which makes your team more knowledgeable, quicker on its feet, and better able to make strategic decisions. That’s what will lead to sustainable growth. The more time you spend getting used to a particular process, even if it’s not the greatest idea to begin with, the more reliant your business becomes on that process, and the more fragile it is as a result. These processes also tend to be very quirky and specialized. Do you really want all of your business’s deal, event, and client information resting on a single person with a single (often mysterious) way of keeping track of it all? As you grow, and the information you track becomes more complex, it becomes more susceptible to risk, and the more dangerous homegrown CRM solutions become.
We don’t want to scare you with all this gloom and doom. We just want to point out that when you’re making decisions for buying and implementing software, you have to think about 1. what unique value it will add and 2. whether it will eventually promote growth and efficiency.
As a small business owner, you may have a right hand man or woman. But does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?
Most people think of CRM as being primarily about customer/contact management. But an equally important purpose is managing the flow of information in your own team, and promoting collaboration. Here’s how to harness the unique properties of online CRM to reduce your stress and improve how your team works together.
Take advantage of the medium. The move to online tools allows for information to become decentralized and accessible from anywhere. The consequence of this is that we need to stop thinking of one person as the single locus of information and accountability, and make things transparent and lightweight. you have the opportunity to keep things fresh on the go, so do it
At the same time, delegate. It’s amazing how quickly the buck gets passed when lines of responsibility aren’t clear. Who is updating which parts of the system, and why? Does everyone know the point person for a particular part of the system? In this sense an online CRM is the best type of CRM for small business, since everyone tends to have their hands in multiple pies–what it helps with in general is imposing some level of order.
Respect the vulnerability that comes with being truly collaborative. People don’t want to open up enough to be collaborative when stress is high and accountability is low. It’s too much of a risk for the individual as well as the project. So be aware of that when you’re implementing a CRM, and don’t be too hard on those resistant to change. Show, don’t tell–allow the organizational benefits in CRM to flow to the actual business processes these team members participate in, and they’ll see the value of opening up.
Address learning issues early and proactively. You don’t want people stymied by a lack of understanding. It’s easy for people to fall into bad practices when they don’t think they can adequately (and efficiently) do what they need to do by adopting the system.
Be sure the system’s workflow fits in well with your team. An example of this would be how some productivity applications have integrated social sharing features. People have already gotten used to, and enjoy, interacting on social networks. If you can make some aspects of work feel like goofing off on Facebook, that’s a major win. But don’t go too far on this point–if your team’s culture is entirely broken, you have bigger problems to deal with.
So what do you think? Do you have any success stories from implementing a web-based CRM or other productivity application? Let us know in the comments!
Many karma users enjoy the convenience of task templates–sets of tasks you can create exactly how you want, and apply them to records all at once instead of manually each time. But did you know that you can now apply templates to many of the different types of records in karma2?
We created this feature to help you out if many of your records have shared information, like referral source or assigned user. First, go to the Settings menu, and choose Record Templates.
This will take you to the Record Templates page. From this page, get started by clicking the New Record Template button on the top right.
Now just choose the type of record you’d like to make a template for, and give the template a name.
(Note that “Task” is an option here. This is different from the Task Templates section because these are templates for tasks that you create within the Tasks tab, not a series of tasks you apply together to a contact, company, deal, or case.)
After you’ve done this, the form for that type of record appears. Fill in the information you’d like to apply to the template, and save.
You’ll then be redirected to the Record Templates page, where you can view, edit, and delete all the record templates you’ve created.
Now when you go to create any type of record for which you’ve created a template, you’ll have the option of applying a template–with a click, saving up to minutes of effort each time you create a record!
We hope you’ll enjoy this feature as much as we do! Let us know how you use it; we’d love to hear.
On Wednesday, we tried to convince you that building your personal brand is time well spent if you’re a small business owner. Today we’ll give you some specific actions you can take to begin and nurture this process. If you think we’ve left something out, please let us know by adding a comment–we’d love to get your insight! Please also check out the resources listed at the end of this article. All of them were invaluable in the creation of this post, and some tackle specific aspects of brand building you might be particularly interested in.
Now, without further ado: Personal branding, part 2.
First, know thyself
The first, and perhaps most broadly useful, step is to know who you are as a person and as a business owner. This business is yours, and you’re putting a great deal of time and energy into it. What it does and how you interact with it should ultimately be fulfilling for you, not frustrating. That will happen if you know generally what kind of person you are: what brings you energy, what kind of learning style you have, and what you stand for. If you think this is something you’re still trying to figure out, consider taking a reputable personality test (some options listed in the references for this post. You may learn that you’ve been trying to project a very high-energy, goofy, creative image; but it’s been taking its toll on you because you’re actually a more introverted and analytical person. Only once you know how you operate and what you’re after can you begin to promote that to other people.
Plan for a sustainable branding strategy
This is a long-term investment, and you don’t want to 1. alienate your audience by shrinking away once you realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew; or 2. commit to activities that you end up hating. Take some time to determine how much time you have to cultivate your brand and maintain good records. Consider the fact that content generation (which we’ll touch on next) is a big part of brand building. How long does it take you to write blog posts? Do you need a lot of time and help proofreading? Does it take you a while to build the courage to get out and network? Factor your natural pace into any type of schedule you create, and strive for balance. Remember that being a business owner is not just a large part of your brand, it’s a large part of your identity. If you routinely need to spend 30+ hours a week on brand building, maybe it’s time to hire a publicist.
Clean up your social media presence
What sites make the most sense for you to focus on, given the audiences your business is likely to attract? Concentrate on those. Make sure your head shot looks good and your info is up to date, and that you post a minimum of a couple of times a week (and not just about what you ate for breakfast/how much you love the latest Bieber track). The question that should always be at the back of your mind is “Why should people care about this?”
Create your own website, even if it’s just a blog
Create a standalone site. Add some customization so that visitors can see how you choose to tell your story visually, and make sure that you don’t just copy your company’s website–prove that you have had at least two original ideas. Think about what you would find interesting, and add that kind of content. Add your social media feeds to your website, and link to your website on social media.
Comment on posts by industry writers you admire; don’t just say “I agree”! Help their personal brands out by developing thought-provoking conversations on their spaces, and they’re more likely to return the favor and give you some credibility in the process. Best of all, you’ll both learn something.
Learn about your industry, your local area, and your business
This step is neverending. The more informed you are in general, the more valuable and interesting your content will be. You also want to make sure you’re building goodwill in your local community by attending events and promoting the area on your website and social networks. It will help you build your network, and give your business a sense of place. Also, don’t take your business itself for granted when you’re learning all these interesting new things. Insights from your business plan, mission statement, and vision statement (all of which you should update regularly) should creep into the content you produce because you’re thinking about these things often.
Get meaningful face time
Select a few groups on sites like meetup.com, and check out your local chamber of commerce. Go for quality over quantity, and make a commitment to participate regularly–as with other aspects of brand building, you want to stretch but not overextend yourself. Consider leadership roles in some of these groups once you know them well enough. Again, don’t become so busy networking that you don’t have time for the people you’re ostensibly trying to network with.
Understand that there will be gaffes
You are a human being. This means that you will make mistakes, and even non-mistakes will sometimes be misconstrued. You are deliberately sharing yourself with–if things go well–many thousands of people who don’t know you. This means that you will at least once embarrass yourself in public. You have to prepare for this emotionally and logistically. Give yourself a little time to think when you’re answering questions–shooting off at the mouth gets good people into trouble. When it comes to the company you keep, “trust, but verify”. Think ahead of time how you will respond to negative press (which is far more viral than the lovely, clever stuff you spend so much time creating). Be aware of how you handle stress and conflict, and how that will look to others.
Finally, be a real person
People are very good at sniffing out a lack of authenticity. The hard truth is that there are lots of interesting people out there who are working hard to get your possible readers’ attention. So give your audience something compelling and genuine. If on Facebook, for example, you only ever post highly prepared industry-related observations, you will not seem like a human being. Take the risk of doing some things off the cuff, and have a good balance of personal- and business-related content. Asking questions can be a great way of getting people to engage with you, and the more effective your brand is, the more people will want to participate with it. You’re the expression of the lifestyle of your brand, so give people a good idea of what that looks like. (Just don’t entertain your audience too much with drunken vacation pictures.)
Check out these excellent posts and resources on building your personal brand, then tell us about your take on all of this!
You’re not Steve Jobs. And you probably never will be. Experiencing a pang of disappointment? Why do so many business owners seek to emulate the legendary CEO of Apple Computer? Jobs was probably the epitome of a business owner whose personal brand led to so much of the company’s success. He was one of a kind. But as with many of his decisions, those of us trying to grow our businesses and our fortunes can learn from him in how he built the Jobs brand.
Although great brands often have visionary leaders with the power to motivate employees, customers, and the press alike to action, it’s very small businesses that really rely on the CEO’s personal brand for success. You are the public face of the organization, and your audience wants to know that your company’s products/services and messages are in line with you as an individual. It makes your company more compelling; it tells a story of craftsmanship and dedication to values. Jobs put as much care into the design of his personal brand as he did to the design of Apple’s products, and spent a great deal of time making sure the two were in harmony.
Why it’s worth it
You’ll spend a fair amount of time networking and planning marketing projects, so it’s crucial to tell your business’s story in your own demeanor and actions. Make sure your presentation makes sense for the industry you’re in, but don’t be too much like everyone else. For example, if you’re the CEO of a tech startup, maybe jeans and a black turtleneck are a bit played out by now. Remember, you as the CEO have to make people care about your company–and that often means making them care about you.
There’s more to personal branding than clothes and mannerisms, though. It’s about values, goals, and overall strategy. This sort of introspective work helps you as well when you’re engaging in the most basic business planning, because understanding what kind of image you want to project as a business person helps you figure out what kind of image you want your business itself to project.
You’re so vain, you probably think this brand is about you
A word of warning: it can go too far. If you spend so much time crafting an elaborate, perfectly consistent, newsworthy eccentricity, it’s going to ring false. People are going to suspect that you spend so much time crafting your brand that you don’t have time to run your business properly. And guess what? They’ll probably be right. As with many fun things, it’s easy to over-indulge.
You also don’t want to create a cult of personality (as fun as the prospect may be). This isn’t a 1950s dictatorship, it’s a company; and this may be one place where criticism of Steve Jobs is well placed. Each employee’s ability to think critically and contribute to the health of the enterprise should always supersede the CEO’s need for adoring, unquestioning loyalty.
So what do I do now?
Great question! We hope we’ve convinced the small business owners and executives who are reading this of the importance of personal branding. On Friday we’ll give you some more of the nitty-gritty about how to go about it effectively, authentically, and productively.
Want to learn more about this subject?
Take a look at some interesting reads across the Web:
-Alexander Pope, beginning of part 2 of “An Essay on Criticism”
Pope’s observation about a little learning being “a dangerous thing” could be the motto of the Internet in general, what with our rapid access to mountains of tidbits on every imaginable subject. Today, though, we’re going to talk about something a bit more specific, something that’s a constant issue for software companies, among others: what’s the “right” amount of information to share with customers about product developments?
In democratic cultures, people feel obligated to pass judgment–to voice their vote–even if they aren’t always sure what it all means. And that great knowledge leveler, the Internet, makes people feel empowered to make decisions they would have previously relied on experts for. And democracy and the Internet are great things! One of their greatest benefits is the level of accountability they create in companies.
However, all this actionable information can cause a lot of anxiety (see Barry Schwartz on “the paradox of choice”, which could also be thought of as “the paradox of more information”). It’s also a behavioral development that, when you’re providing such information, you have to be prepared to react to and design around. Plus, different products will have different audiences, so one size is not likely to fit all. But for each situation, there is bound to be a good balance between “Why are you telling me all this?” and “Why does this look so different all of a sudden?”.
What customers can teach you through their behavior
The standard framework for technological change management has been the installed software model, where changes are saved up over time and then released together as a new version. But when it comes to a SaaS product like ours, there’s a constant trickle of tweaks and improvements, some minor and some major.
When we designed our public changelog, we wanted to be concise, but provide enough detail that an average user could understand what kind of change has been implemented, and how it might affect him/her. We also created a process to inform users individually their ideas led directly to a change. All in all, we were pretty proud of ourselves and imagined that people were eating it up.
But guess what: we discovered that, although the changelog in our version 2 beta is enabled by default on the dashboard, most users disable it. All that carefully phrased information we thought was so interesting and vital turns out to be little more than a distraction to most users. This is true even though they’re all beta users, who as a rule are particularly tech-savvy and proactive. So what does this mean? Likely it means that most people value a pleasant, consistent experience that doesn’t make them sweat the small stuff. On the other hand, being open is extremely important to us, so we think a within-system changelog updated regularly is worth having, even if it goes largely unseen.
What do you think? What do you find is the best way to communicate ongoing technical updates (or ongoing product information in general) to customers?
At karma, we understand the power of data. It’s not enough just to have the information: you have to be able to get to it and act on it. And it’s not so much “sooner rather than later” as it is “right now or not at all”. That’s the reason why CRM is so important, especially as we deal with more and more information. Our customers love being able to filter their information quickly and easily, but sometimes they needed more.
We’re very excited to talk about one of the coolest new features to come out of the karma labs in a very long time.
Have you ever been in a situation where you want to see all the records except those assigned to a particular user? Or perhaps you have a few different tags, and you want to see all the records that have at least one of those tags? Or maybe you’re interested in all the records that have been updated within a certain date range.
Now you can do all that and more with the advanced query builder! Once it’s rolled out to production, you can find it by switching to “Advanced Filters” in the Contacts, Cases, Companies, or Deals section:
You’ll see that it’s laid out a bit differently from the standard (now called “Simple”) filters section. There aren’t any filters visible when you start–you first have to click Add a Filter. Click on the field you want to filter on. Here’s where the “advanced” part comes in: depending on what the filter is, you’ll have the option of specifying whether you want to see all results that contain the value, or all the results that exclude it. Then you can add additional values.
So if you want to see all the records assigned to three different users, you can do that. The simple filters all require all values to be present. The query builder will give you power, ease, and flexibility in getting to the information you want. We think this unique combination of power and flexibility sets us apart among small business-oriented CRMs. The date ranges are both absolute (e.g., “Since May 1”) and relative (“In the last month”).
In a similar fashion, we’ve added currency ranges, as well as the typical greater than, less than, and equal to operators. That way you can see, for example, all deals between $1000 and $10,000:
Something else that really set the query builder apart is the way the filters are saved. With the simple filters, once you click “Clear List”, all the filters go away. But that’s not always a good thing–you may have a list set up just so, and want to perform a temporary search on the master list. Locked filters give you this ability. Lock or unlock any filter with a single click; or lock/unlock all of them at once. The lock icon tells you which filters are locked at any given time.
You can also remove or drag and drop any filter in the list, whether locked or unlocked.
We’re really proud of the functionality the query builder offers, and we think you’ll like it too. Check out the video to see it in action!
“Beware the Ides of March!” said the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The Ides of March, which corresponds to March 15 (today), was the day on which Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. It’s the classic story of betrayal–Caesar’s closest friend and advisor, Brutus, was one of the main conspirators in the plot. But another, equally important and still relevant, theme in the story, is that of the blindness caused by overconfidence. Caesar had been warned by soothsayers to be on his guard, but he ignored that sign. His pride angered the gods, so they allowed the plot to come together and bring him down.
Crucially, however, Caesar also surrounded himself by yes-men who fawned over him: people who had to do his bidding or die. This (as well as his own character; he was a conquerer by nature) caused him to become more and more isolated from the political realities around him. His desire to be adored made him willfully ignorant of the dissatisfaction of the Senate with his power hogging. He forgot that although he was the highest authority in the land, he was still a human being who needed other people to inform his judgment. He forgot that he needed to keep his finger on the pulse of the people. It was this that brought him down, far more than his impiety. If Caesar had been more observant, he could have found so many ways to deal with the situation before it got out of hand. But that would have required politicking, not just might, and that would have been unbefitting! No one could tell him what to do, no one could make him feel vulnerable, no one could question his power. Until they did.
This is a lesson that business leaders should never forget. Yes, it’s great to be successful, and great to receive positive reports about the health of your company from supportive employees and customers. Good leaders should also be confident and able to make hard and unpopular decisions when necessary. But paying attention both to what your advisors have to say AND the often subtle ways they react to what you do is necessary if you want to stay on top.
The 17th century poet John Donne observed that “No man is an island / Entire of itself.” This is quite a bit out of context, of course, but we have to realize that power and pride can be isolating and blinding. In a social world even more intertwined than perhaps Donne could have imagined, strength comes in large part from connections, networks, and analysis of subtle trends that often aren’t eager to reveal themselves.
We’re not soothsayers, so we don’t have any dire warnings for today. But do keep your eyes open; there’s a lot of information out there, and you need to know how to interpret it. Caesar didn’t have Twitter or Facebook or even a company email account. He just had some animal guts and his own instincts. Don’t fall victim to the same traps he did!
Even if you have a product or service that’s meant for traditional markets, the internet is becoming the place to build a positive, authentic, appealing brand. Delighting the Internet can be a highly efficient way of building customer goodwill, if you get it right. The Internet’s endless need for entertainment, its desire to ferret out the quirky human interest stories that happen throughout the world, the ease of sharing it offers–all of these can be gold in the hands of the right people. Our argument here is that understanding and working within Internet folkways can make doing business not only more profitable, but more fun and human as well.
A key Internet folkway is wacky authenticity
Let’s start by defining “folkways.” They’re a pretty essential concept in sociology, but like a lot of social science concepts, they have a natural application to marketing. Folkways, first identified by William Graham Sumner, are the norms we have for casual interaction–the social WD40 of a group. They are informal and vary among communities, but not getting them right will tip community members off that you don’t belong.
The Internet is not a physical place, but it is a community, and it has a more and more well-defined culture. Although it is diffuse and democratic, it has a lot of power to identify important and interesting things that now routinely bleed over into “real life.” The Internet enjoys finding chance, spontaneous things and saturating media with them. The lovely thing about this is that perpetuating these messages is something Internet users want to do–it gives them a chance to build their own identity. Their public persona is made up of the content they create and share. This, which we’re calling “wacky authenticity,” is a key folkway of the internet. Understanding this principle can help to garner you endlessly self-perpetuating goodwill. The key is not to do pandering, highly scripted things, but rather to “surprise and delight.” Ask yourself, what will people get a status boost out of sharing with their friends?
You might think that these principles are primarily for tech-related companies, or at least those with a big existing web presence. The good news is that it’s not! That’s the nature of viral media: they can come from anywhere, and the more natural and human they are, the more social capital they offer. Let’s look at an example that began offline, with an interaction between a seller of goods and a curious customer.
Case study: Giraffe Bread
Sainsbury’s is a UK supermarket. They had a product called “Tiger Bread”–a white bread with a brown crackly top, which makes it look somewhat like a tiger’s markings. One young customer, a three-year-old child, rightly observed that the crackle pattern was more spotty like a giraffe than it was stripey like a tiger. She (with an adult helper) wrote a letter to the company explaining that the name should be changed. Such letters are usually ignored or replied to with dull form letters. This time, though, one enterprising employee took an extra step; writing a personalized, charming response to the child, which agreed with the name change and included a coupon. The response letter went viral on the Internet, since it was so cute and gave a kindly human face to a corporate front. Later, the name of the product was actually changed to Giraffe Bread, following huge demand online. You can buy it at Sainsbury’s stores today. Now people all over the world know about this product and want to try it. Read more here.
What’s the lesson in all this? Well, think about it: did you think of Sainsbury’s as a vanguard of viral marketing before this exchange? No way. Did they aggressively use high-tech tools to disseminate a slick viral marketing campaign? No way. It was the child’s mother who put the exchange on her blog, not the support rep who wrote the letter. All it took was one person using a little empathy, a little humor, and a traditional channel. The message sent itself; it wanted to be popularized because it was inherently interesting.
So that’s it: be human and be interesting?
Yes and no. You obviously can’t rely on the occasional customer service letter for all your success–you have to have other outreach strategies in place. These things happen because real people move on them. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and sometimes you won’t. But keeping an eye open to what the Internet likes can one day help you to reap huge rewards.
Share in the comments–what do you think a business like yours could do to leverage Internet culture?
Much like with children, there’s no owner’s manual for businesses. There are always multiple ways to approach business development (within legal limits, of course!), which can make deciding how to guide and plan at a high level challenging. Sometimes, for example, it’s hard to know how to weigh risk in a given industry, or what the realistic advantages and disadvantages of different funding schemes are.
Even when the business owner is savvy and experienced, she is going to be spending a LOT of time and emotional energy tending to the business and thinking about the business and living in the business. This is necessary, of course, but it also creates a certain loss of perspective. A seasoned advisor who’s able to step back a bit, someone who has been down that path and knows some of the pitfalls, is something any sensible entrepreneur would want, at least at some point. We’re talking, of course, about business mentors.
Aside from these qualitative observations, there are some hard numbers to support the wisdom of gaining a mentor–small businesses whose leaders were mentored were more than twice as likely to survive for five years as those that weren’t (http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/40215457.pdf). So it’s obvious why a small business owner would want a mentor. The question that remains, though, is…what’s in it for the mentors? What do mentors want?
If you ask mentors why they participate in the sometimes time-consuming activities of mentorship relationships, most will express a desire to give back, to impart some of that “if I’d known then what I know now” knowledge to young entrepreneurs. We can’t forget that being helpful is something that people enjoy. It’s rewarding to take your own life experiences and use them to improve things for someone else. Plus it’s an ego boost to see your own experiences validated by a smart, enterprising person who cares about a lot of the same things you do.
Most mentees want mentors who have been successful in the same or a very similar industry, but every business is unique. The business climate is also always changing in interesting ways. Being a mentor allows an entrepreneur (by nature, a curious person who likes to understand things by doing them) to learn about something new, and gain fresh perspectives on the business world.
Some mentors are also gaining financially from the relationship–rewarded with equity, board membership, or even a consulting fee. Not every small business owner can afford to reimburse a mentor financially, and even those who can will have to confront ROI calculations. This can be good or bad, depending on how you conceive of the relationship. Board membership can be a good idea because it gives the mentor a more direct incentive to promote the long-term health of the organization. However, it also gives the mentor some real power, and even entrepreneurs who are most eager for mentorship ultimately want to captain their own ship.
So what’s a business owner to do? The first step is of course to figure out what you want from a mentor. But then it’s important to think about what you can offer to a mentor–mentorship is a partnership, not a charity. The more attractive an experience you provide, the more likely you are to get what you’re looking for. What makes your business interesting to work with? What are your growth prospects? Are you a good listener and a quick learner? These are all important considerations.
What have your experiences been with mentorship? We’re really curious to hear how it went!