online tools

Online Tools to Swear By, Not At

Maintaining a valuable online presence takes time. Hiring this aspect of your business out makes sense for a lot of companies, but online tools can help make it practical if you prefer DIY.

We’ve used and reviewed lots of online tools over the years, but this year we determined to identify the smallest number of online tools we could use to accomplish our goals. Your particular list of must-have tools may be different from ours, but if you’re ready to streamline your systems, I think our decision method will work for you.

  • Get your systems sorted first. Sometimes people choose a tool in hopes that it will impose order on the people using it. In fact, the tools have to mesh with your workflow, or they won’t be used (more on that later). Therefore, it makes sense to figure out how you’re going to do things before you look for tools to make it easier.
  • Determine your must-haves. We charge by the hour, so a good timer was a must. Integration with Quick Books was another essential. We had to be able to delegate and see what tasks were completed, and we had to be able to invite our designers into our online workroom without adding them as permanent paid users. Your list may be completely different, but you can see how figuring out your system first helps.
  • Identify the points of pain. The places where your systems can fail or become frustrating are filled with information for your company. For us, having to log in and out of multiple social media accounts was a pain. We also tended to ask team members for help in lots of places — IM, Skype, phone, face to face, email, and online workspaces — and that could get confusing.

Once you take these steps, you should have a mental — or better yet, written down — picture of the online tools you need. Now it’s just a matter of finding the ones that fit. Not easy, admittedly, but easier than starting with no real idea of what you need. Nearly all the online tools we’ve tried out or reviewed have trial periods, so use those. A good rule of thumb: if you don’t get your team on board to use it during the trial period, you won’t succeed with it.

We used to blog for a company that supplied a CRM solution (not available for Mac, or we’d have used it). During that experience, I learned that 75% of CRM installations fail. The main reason is that team members refuse to use it. That means that you have to find tools that everyone is willing to work with. For some companies, that means using carrots and sticks to insist. For us, we just had to have tools that were easier to use than not to use. Research shows that having the C level team members on board makes all the difference — that is, you can’t adopt a tool, tell the marketing department to use it, and assume all will be well. Everyone has to be invested.

We’ve ended up with five online tools that we use and pay for. The fact that we’re willing to pay for them shows that they give us a good return on our investment. Here’s our list, in order of the length of time we’ve used them:

  • Google Analytics if you have a website for business, you need web analytics to tell you where your visitors come from and what they do when they arrive at your site. We’ve used other web analytics packages, but this continues to be our favorite. It gives you vast amounts of data, it’s highly customizable, and it’s free. It’s not necessarily easy to use fully, but everyone can get some actionable data with it, and we’ll be happy to help you if you need support or training with your analytics.

 

  • oDesk At oDesk, we can hire specialists in whatever we need. We have a nice team there, most of whom we’ve worked with for years. We pay automatically each week from our bank account, and our people get 1099s from oDesk. They (and we) can get health insurance, we can supervise the work and share information easily, and currency differences don’t matter. Most of our oDesk team members are local to us, by the way, but it’s great to be able to work with the best people from around the world when we have special needs. oDesk offers services for both workers and employers, and employers can manage payroll for both employees and contractors through contractors. Employees pay all fees: 10% of the payments to workers,which you should compare with a HR clerk or payroll service. If you don’t have all the people you need to take care of your online presence in house and don’t want to rely on an agency, oDesk may be a good choice for you. (Also, if you are like us and don’t want to mess with payroll yourself.)

  • Notable Notable lets us discuss websites with a very high level of accuracy. You and all the other people discussing the website can put notes exactly at the place you want to discuss. This is especially helpful when you’re working with people who don’t share a vocabulary — the word “image” means different things to different departments, for example. Have discussions in the Notable workspace or print out a PDF. Notable captures your website through the URL, but you can also use it for images (ummm, pictures) that you upload. If you make frequent updates to your website, prepare ads or other documents, and have a team working together on any visual things of that kind, you’ll be glad you have Notable. Under $20.00 a month at this writing, with a limited free plan.

notable app

  • Sprout Social This social media management tool has a very high level of integration, allowing us not only to handle all our social media accounts from one dashboard but also to get a quick check of our Google Analytics (and how our traffic is being affected by our social media) and to monitor keywords and mentions of our company as well. If you have several social media accounts, such as personal and company Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, Sprout makes it easy to handle them all and to collaborate with other team members all in one place. Prices start at $39 a month, and you can include 10 team members and unlimited social media profiles for $899.

  • Bluecamroo Bluecamroo is the last piece of the puzzle for us. This is a relatively new project management/customer relationship management tool that includes all the things that all our team members need. While we’ve tried a lot of PM and CRM tools, they’ve all either lacked things we needed or had too much stuff for us to keep track of — or both. Bluecamroo is the Goldilocks option for us. It includes social media (your company might not need another social media management tool besides the one in Bluecamroo), to-do lists and tasks that can be delegated, sales and service tools, room to store files, internal messaging, invoicing and expense reports with layers of approval, milestones and timelines including sign-off by clients, and a whole bunch of other stuff. This is a much more robust tool than Basecamp, but the learning curve is not as steep as Salesforce. For us, the combination of PM and CRM (without having to cobble together a number of different programs) is key. Prices start at $29 a month for one user and you can have 10 users for just under $200. Most companies would benefit from a CRM, regardless of what else they need, but this counts as a must-have for online marketing because it allows you to capture and follow up on web leads, keep your blogging and linkbuilding on track, and otherwise handle all the myriad tasks involved in website management.

Bluecamroo

We’re not getting kickbacks from any of these companies, and these may not be the right tools for you, but I hope that by sharing our thought process, I may have helped you with yours. Identifying and implementing the right online tools makes a big difference in your efficiency.

One final note: you may have noticed that the cost of online tools and the time involved in doing the work, even with great tools, makes DIY less than cost-effective for your company. If so, give us a call at 479.966.9761 and we’ll be glad to help you out.


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