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4 Engaging Your Collaboration Universe

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In my view one of the most positive things the Internet and its host of associated web applications has fostered is our ability to collaborate over space and time.

Many organizations have tapped the power of online meetings, shared virtual workspace and file sharing, but few take a holistic view of the new social strategic reality of the collaboration universe.

Since we now have the ability to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, we need to start looking at the various groups or segments present in our businesses with an eye on developing business processes that take full advantage of our innate need and ability to collaborate.

This view of collaboration is partly tool based and partly systems thinking based. It is more than an efficient way to get work done; it’s an entirely new way to think about engaging your markets, building connection and community, and empowering your staff to more effectively deliver on your marketing promise.

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20 Document, Delegate, Dominate

Mostly I write about marketing here so when I seem to stray off topic you can bet it’s related to growing a small business and sometimes that takes getting your house in order so you can effectively market.

documentThe most common reason business owners tell me they can’t get around to marketing, particularly some of the newer social tactics, is time. They’re already working 80 hours and week and can’t seem to find the time to squeeze more stuff in. While I get that completely I would also suggest, from experience, that you must find ways to create systems and processes that allow you to effectively delegate most of what you do today if you are to have any shot at growing a business that helps you get what you want out of life. Plain and simple, your business will suck the life out of you if you allow yourself to stay buried in the doing it work of making it, fixing it, shipping it.

The secret to getting yourself high enough out of the routine and focused on the strategic, the marketing, the innovation, is to document and delegate your success systems. I know that sounds really boring, kind of like creating an operations manual, but if you don’t do it nothing will change – or worse yet, you’ll abdicate work to others and risk sinking your brand completely.

Much of the success of your business may reside in the heads of your key employees. So, what happens when they leave? Do they take your processes with them or do you have them documented in a way that others can quickly learn? Want to hire as you grow? I wonder how much time you’ll save training that next employee with a set of documented routines in place?

Documenting the functional processes of your business doesn’t have to be painful or complicated. Taking a couple simple steps and making them part of your routine may be all it takes. Once you get in the habit, you’ll reap the rewards long-term.

  1. Create a functional org chart – even if you don’t have people for boxes you have the boxes so identify all the functions in your business
  2. List the processes – start making lists of all the processes needed by each function (this will grow and change but get the biggies down)
  3. Start creating checklists – process documentation can be as simple as a list of five things to check off, don’t over complicate this
  4. Create an online manual – use wiki technology like Central Desktop that allows you to create and organize your success manual from your web browser
  5. Get the entire team in – get everyone working in your business to contribute their processes and get in the habit of documenting as they go

You’ll need to trim and adjust your manual from time to time, but simply starting down this path is going to show you what a freeing step this is. And, when it comes time to sell your business your documented processes will be one of the most valuable assets you have to offer.

62 5 Ways to Use Social Media for Things You Are Already Doing

One of the biggest road blocks facing small businesses when addressing social media is the question of return on investment. With so little time devote to what’s crying out to be done, adding something else or something new like social media can feel like a real burden. Sometimes the only way to rationalize and prioritize something new is to understand the benefits in relation to everything else your doing and take a new view based on that understanding.

puzzleSo much of what’s written on social media amounts to lists of things you should do, get on twitter, blog, create a Facebook fan page, and not enough on why you might consider doing it. While all those tactics may indeed be wise, I would like suggest a number of ways to use those actions to do a better or more efficient job doing things you’re already (or should be) doing.

Start to think in terms of doing more with less effort, not simply doing more. If I can let small business owners get a glimpse of social media through this lens, they might just decide to go a little deeper. Here are five ways to look at it.

1) Follow up with prospects

I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with prospects you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to a Chamber event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the Chamber mixer. Then you offered to show them how to create a custom RSS feed to get tons of information about their industry and their competitors. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your objectives? I sure do.

2) Stay top of mind with customers

Once someone becomes a customer it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will call next time they need something or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your customers and continuing to educate and upsell them is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few businesses do it well.

This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your customers to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from customers and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your customer why they do business with you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a client community and offer education and networking opportunities online.

3) Keep up on your industry

Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many clients can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a company as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your customers, competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.

Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches (see more about how to do this) or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your customers how to do it and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what you sell.)

4) Provide a better customer experience

It’s probably impossible to provide too much customer service, too much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.

Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in providing customer service and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no competitor can match.

While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your customers qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire customer education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new customer in a high tech client portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets customers talking.

5) Network with potential partners

Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.

If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.

If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.

So, you see, you don’t have to bite into the entire social media pie all at once. Find a tool, a technique, a tactic that makes your life easier today and provides more value for partners, prospects and customers and you’ll be on the path to getting some real ROI on your social media investment.

What social media tactics have you discovered that allow you to do more of something you’re already doing?

34 My Favorite Tools and Processes to Automate the Routine

Technology can be a great thing when it comes to getting more done. It can also be a way to wall yourself off from real engagement with human beings, but that’s a post for another day.

jottToday I would like to share a handful of tools and the actual processes I employ to get more done with these tools. I think it’s important to set-up routines that allow you to free up time to do the big things, the things that really make you money in the long term, so I don’t use technology so much because I love it, I use it because it allows me to spend more time engaging humans – and that’s where the real money lies.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of each of these tools, in many cases I many use one simple function, but that’s the trick sometimes, sifting through the hype about a tool and finding how to make it work for you.

  • Evernote
  • This handy little note taking application works for me because it syncs across offline, online and mobile devices. I am a list maker in the Getting Things Done style and this is my daily to-do as well as my idea pad.

  • Jott
  • Jott allows you to use voice messages to create actions. I call Jott and add appointments to Google Calendar. I call Jott to send an email to my staff or entire network of Duct Tape Coaches while driving down the road. I call Jott anytime I think of something I want to file and remember.

  • Delicious Firefox plugin
  • I’ve used the Delicious bookmarking tool since its inception, but my favorite way to use it is to post content to web pages. When I find a mention of Duct Tape Marketing in the news I right click and add to delicious with the Firefox plugin and use a special tag that produces and RSS feed. I’ve added that feed to a web page and viola! content added through surfing.

  • Central Desktop
  • This is a large and comprehensive tool that I use for my intranet and project management. My favorite process though is that I can email a task to a staff member and Central Desktop adds it to a task list for that person.

  • TripIt
  • TripIt is an online travel itinerary tool. I travel a fair amount and all I have to do is forward air, hotel, and car confirmations to TripIt and the tool builds an itinerary, including maps, local weather and events, and adds them to the mobile app so I can view at a glance. It also pushes out flight alerts for delays and gate changes.

  • Google Alerts
  • Google will send email or RSS alerts for any search term I want to save. I’ve set up a dozen or so terms that track and this tool brings them to my inbox as they happen. This is how I track brand mentions, for example, to use with Delicious plugin.

  • TextExpander
  • This application allows me to create unlimited text, emails, code snippets, etc, and paste them into any application with a few designated key strokes. I have dozens of email responses that are thoughtfully crafted, but used over and over again for questions and requests that come my way often. I have chunks of HTML code that I use over and over again and evoke with five keystrokes.

  • MyBlogLog
  • This is, among other things, a tool that allows me to track traffic to my blog in real time. What I love about it is I can know instantly when someone has linked to my blog and go jump in the conversation, adapt content accordingly and analyze where traffic comes from minute by minute. This may seem obsessive, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve joined a meaningful conversation because I knew about it in real time.

  • TweetDeck
  • This is my Twitter management tool of choice. I use this easily monitor mentions, search terms, hashtags, DMs and lists. Twitter isn’t very useful unless you can do this at a glance. The tool also has all the tools I use to engage in conversations and manage my account. Facebook and LinkedIn status updates are built in as well.

What automation processes and tools have you employed to be more efficient throughout your day?

16 The Perfect Small Business Collaboration Tool

I need to warn you this post is a bit more commercial than my standard content, but I use the tool I’m going to tell you about today so much that I think you will benefit from just learning about it.

I’ve been working for about three years to create an online team and project management tool, Intranet, file collaboration, and task management program to run my business and the Duct Tape Marketing Coach Network.

There are many online tools that offer some real power when it comes to collaboration, such as Backpack from 37 Signals (a tool I’ve used in the past) and even Google Apps, but I haven’t found anything that beats the out of the box power and functionality of Central Desktop.

I use this tool to:

  • Create and update our operations and process manual
  • Create complex spreadsheets to track sales commissions
  • Create and maintain a database of contacts and social media links
  • Create and update a portal of training documents and marketing collateral
  • Create and manage tasks list for staff and suppliers via email
  • Schedule and archive training calls
  • Create and maintain a forum for coaches and contacts
  • Manage multiple projects involving numerous contributors

I worked with Central Desktop to configure workspaces that are perfect for small businesses. If you would like you can try out this app and get a special deal and 30-day free trial.

If you want to use the same tool I do to run my business visit the Collaboration Solution and start your 30-day trial right now.

20 Taking an Expanded View of Collaboration

symphony collaborationWhen most small business owners think collaboration, they generally limit this thinking to the kind of collaboration you might naturally do with a supplier charged with completing some aspect of a larger project or perhaps a strategic partner required to mesh together a complex solution.

I would like to suggest that in today’s social media world the concept of collaboration is expanded to encompass a much more strategic role.

In fact, collaboration might just be the ultimate social play. Collaboration in this expanded view can and should include collaboration with prospects, customers, partners, providers and staff. Technology now enables any business, regardless of size, to orchestrate the marketing and management effectiveness and efficiency that a great collaborative effort can bring.

I believe that this expanded view of collaboration is more than an efficient way to get work done, it’s an entirely new way to think about engaging your markets, building connection and community, and empowering your staff to more effectively deliver your marketing promise.

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15 The Technology of Delegation

helpSmall business owners really are lousy at delegation – this one I can say with some passion in my most self incriminating voice.

You know, nobody can do it like you, it takes more time to explain it than to just do it. And, frankly, it’s the work you enjoy, it’s where you get the greatest satisfaction and you can’t really let go of it because what will happen then. And yet, something truly magical will happen in your business when you finally realize you must delegate most of what you do today.

Larry Ryan founded Ryan Lawn and Tree over twenty years ago on the back seat of a tractor. Today, he is the CEO of one of the largest lawn services in the Midwest with over 150 employees and he still admits, “the hardest job I have is getting out of the way of my people.”

Growth requires delegation, not to be confused with abdication, and delegation requires systems and processes. Getting all the successful ways you do what you do documented can seem like a monumental task if taken as a grand project one day. The key to delegation and systems thinking is to employ technology married with a checklist mentality.

What I’m really talking about is an operations manual and set of processes that anyone, perhaps several virtual anyones, can operate. Now, don’t freeze up at the suggestion of a manual. Think simple baby steps first.

There are two technologies that I would suggest you take a good hard look at employing staring tomorrow. Let these technologies follow you around for about a month as you note what you do and you may finally find yourself free to properly put a universe of employees or virtual associates to work in your business.

Wiki Intranet – think of a wiki like a high powered scratch pad with built in database, search and formatting. This is the online tool that will allow you to organize and document everything that you do. Here’s the cool thing though. Anyone in your organization can edit and update whatever you create using a wiki. As long as you can scratch out a few action steps, your team or virtual assistant may very well be able to finish and refine your processes. I’ve recently started using Central Desktop for this. This tool allows me to create workspaces, essentially intranets, that I can grant access to various groups for collaboration purposes. So now, when I explain something that I need done, I jot the steps down and capture them in sortable, searchable utopia for all of time. (Central Desktop does a lot more than this and that’s what makes it worth investigating over some of the simple wiki tools.)

Email Management – Email, while the enabling technology of the Internet, has caused some real issues in business. It’s hard to manage, track, sort, respond to and delegate. A new kind of technology is available to even the smallest of business that allows you to create mailboxes for everything you might get email for – sales, service, questions, joint venture offers, quotes, speaking requests, etc. and then set-up collaboration processes that can make it easy for you to build response routines that can be delegated to virtual assistants or anyone, anywhere in your organization. I use Email Center Pro from Palo Alto Software to help manage email follow-up and delegation. I can assign tasks, view responses and filter requests from a dashboard. The best part about this is that even with the flood of email we receive, I can see that nothing gets lost. This is far more powerful from a marketing standpoint than help desk software as it still allow us to delegate, but respond as humans to every type of request, even when some of the staff is on vacation. (Disclaimer: I have a partner relationship with Palo Alto Software for Marketing Plan Pro, which, by that way, also allows me to talk about the software and the incredible people behind it.)

So, you see, by employing technology, like Central Desktop and Email Center Pro, you can document your success systems and perhaps finally start getting effective assistance in a way that will allow you to grow your business beyond your current capacity to wrap your arms around.

Image source: Gruntzooki

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