Category: Musings

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Go Fire Yourself

You have your own business, you’re in control of everything, and you answer to no one. You’re living the American Dream. But you want to be more successful. Your business simply isn’t growing like you wanted. Odds are, you have fallen into the trap that countless small business owners are already in – you are doing too much and not doing it well enough.

If I had an employee who wasn’t producing the results I wanted, I would replace him with a new contractor. If you’re not producing the results you want for your business, logically the only solution would be to fire yourself.

Step back for a second and truly consider what you bring to the table. No one, literally, no one, can do everything that goes into building a growing business. At least not as well as it could be done. You need to figure out where your strongest assets are and stop doing all of the things that you aren’t good at and eat up your time. So what are you good at?

I’m a Good Manager

Most good business owners fall under this category. As the boss, you need to manage your team just like a football coach manages his. You never see Rex Ryan throw on some pads and throw a football. That’s not his job. Good managers should manage and delegate well, not do the work of the people they manage. Certainly many small business budgets are prohibitive but with the wealth of contractors available, there are truly very few businesses that can’t afford to invest in assistance in any field.

I’m a Good Developer

Many online business owners are developers who created their very own application or service. But just because you made your own product with your own sweat and tears doesn’t mean you are the best person to run the business end. Developers don’t always make good managers and rarely make good marketers or sales people. Developers need a partner even more than they need employees or contractors. You should work on the technical side of things and let someone else worry about the sales, management, and marketing.

I’m a Good Marketer

Marketers don’t tend to make good CEOs. Maybe because so many people think they are good marketers. Marketing is both a crucial piece of the puzzle but also a very small one. It takes up a lot of time but is useless without the right business or product in place. Marketing is a skill, not the basis of your business, which means you need someone to take care of the really important stuff while you spread the word.

I Just Want to Have My Own Business

Too many small business owners fall into this category. They just want their own business for the sake of having their own business. That’s a fine aspiration but if you don’t have the skills or the drive to run your own business, you don’t want to be a CEO, you just want to be an investor. Look at the TV show “Shark Tank“, the sharks don’t run all of those businesses, they just buy a chunk of the company and count the profits. They may even own the majority of the company and have someone else run everything. If you fall into this category, then it’s definitely time to fire yourself.

Best Productivity Apps to Track Your Time

Where does the time go? With too much going on, it’s impossible to keep track of where those hours there doesn’t seem to be enough of went. A great way to get on top of your schedule is to log your hours and visualize your time. You’ll be able to see which tasks take the most time to do, which tasks take longer than they need to, which tasks may require more attention, and what your biggest time wasters are.

Toggl is a great free, simple, and intuitive application that allows you to track your time on your desktop or with any mobile device. Its simplicity is key and easily its best feature, but for a free app it offers a ton for your business. The tool integrates with a ton of other tools you might use like BaseCamp, FreshBooks, QuickBooks, or ActiveCollab. You can see clear reports and graphs to see where your day went and forward those reports in Excel or PDF formats. You can also track a team’s hours and even allot hours for specific projects. The app is free for up to 5 users but larger businesses will need to upgrade to the Pro edition at $5 per user.

Harvest is another popular time tracking and invoicing tool that offers a few more features than Toggl but costs more as well. Harvest allows you to track your time on a desktop or mobile device, provides extensive reports and graphs to help you visualize where your time went, manages your team’s hours and budget, sends invoices right from the app, and offers timesheet approval features. There’s also Google Apps integration, and other 3rd party add-ons. If you are a single user, you can get a free version that supports 2 projects and 4 clients but others will have to pay. A solo account for 1-3 users costs $12 per month, a basic account for 5-10 users costs $40 per month, and a business account for 10+ users costs $90 per month.

RescueTime is a different kind of time tracking tool but one that is very effective and helpful. RescueTime lets you see exactly where you spend time on your phone, tablet, and computer. You simply download the app and let it run in the background. The app will record exactly what applications and websites you are using. You can check in as often as you like to see how much time you spent on work and how much time you spent on Facebook. The app is great for spotting trouble times and zones in your day and doesn’t let you get away with spending an hour playing Words With Friends.

Race Between iOS, Android Not Even Close

I don’t believe in brand loyalty. I’m a big fan of being open-minded when it comes to technology, and I try to get my hands on everything. At the same time, I’m quick to realize when one product is obviously superior to another one. That’s why I was a little stunned when I ran across this article about Android dominating the smartphone market in recent months. Why buy a calculator when you can have a supercomputer for the same price?

The iOS vs. Android debate isn’t like the Pepsi-Coke debate. There are significant differences and one really is far better. If anything, it’s like the Coke-Pickle Juice debate: there’s a pretty clear winner. Really, the Android-iOS debate is just like the Windows-Mac debate. Many people still use Windows but few will actually try to argue that it’s the superior operating system, or they just want to feel better about spending hours reinstalling their system or twiddling with anti-virus software instead of getting work done.

Just this year I finally dabbled in the Android space. I wanted a phone with a real keyboard because between the virtual keys and the spell check, my work emails were starting to look like they were written by a third-grader. Upon playing around with a few phones, I realized there were worse things than having your phone decide you mean “pubic” instead of “public”.

Before we can even compare Android to iOS, we need to compare Android to Android. Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean, the last two versions of Android to be released, are definitely better than the previous Gingerbread and (ugh) Honeycomb releases. There are a million Android phones, but admittedly the Samsung Galaxy is a much better phone than many low-end options from a plethora of manufacturers. That having been said, if we’re going to talk about Android dominating the smartphone market we need to acknowledge that most people do not have a high-end Samsung and most people do not have ICS or Jellybean.

That in itself is an inherent problem. There are dozens of different Android phones running dozens of different versions of the OS. Does that create more options for the consumer? Sure. Are most of those options good? Not by a long shot, but at least they can double as paperweights.

Every year Android releases a new version with a cutesy name and leaves every previous phone model and Android version behind. Want to upgrade your iOS 5 to iOS 6? No problem. Want to upgrade your ICS phone to Jellybean? You have a better chance of upgrading your Toyota to a spaceship.

Of course, this creates problems for both developers and users. For users that want to have the best phone possible, Android’s deals with half a dozen different manufacturers makes that impossible. While many people bash Apple for releasing an ever-so-slightly better phone every year, there is a good chance a better version of your Android phone will be released by a different manufacturer within weeks or months of your purchase.

At the same time, developers have to test their applications for a plethora of different phones and operating systems. That means a much longer time to market or sometimes no Android app at all since the effort isn’t worth it. Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at what the fragmented Android environment looks like in graph form. Here at Copy2Contact, we did a survey of Android users interested in getting Copy2Contact for their phone, and found that many of them didn’t have a copy and paste feature, or couldn’t find that feature on their phone. Hello, customer support nightmare.

Speaking of apps, the Google Play Store is an absolute mess. Comparing the iTunes store to the Google Play Store is like comparing Walmart to the guy selling fake watches in Battery Park. It’s touted for allowing more freedom than iOS but as with the hardware, having a lot of options isn’t the same as having good options. Yes, Apple has very strict guidelines for the apps it allows into the store. But when you go into the Apple store, you never get malware, you seldom get really buggy apps, and you can actually find what you are looking for.

Google doesn’t really have too many guidelines for their apps. It’s no surprise that the Android store is filled with incomplete, buggy apps and apps loaded with malware. This is especially problematic if you have a business and can’t control what your team puts on their phone. I’m big on securing business data and the lack of checks in the Android environment simply puts your data at too much risk. Android is called the Wild West for a reason, and it isn’t because of their funny hats.

If you search for an app by function rather by name, expect to see a ton of useless apps with a handful of downloads right next to great, established apps. Why download Salesforce when I can simply get Ted’s CRM listed right above it? It’s impossible to sort, and the unchecked abundance of apps makes app searching incredibly time consuming. Also, with a few exceptions, Android apps tend to have more bugs and fewer features than iOS apps.

Every phone is also preloaded with a ton of bloatware from whatever manufacturer you chose. Granted, the iPhone has some too, but not nearly as much and the apps are rarely as useless as the copy of SCVNGR that I was never able to delete from the phone. Worse, most of the stuff on your phone just keeps running in the background, eventually slowing the phone down to a crawl. It’s like getting the full Windows experience but in phone form.

Searching for ways to get my Android phone to work the way I wanted, I headed straight to Google, where the only suggestions were that I “root” the phone. Is it too much to ask that the phone be ready out of the box? Sorry, I just want a phone, not a $300 do-it-yourself project.

Besides all that, there can be no argument that iOS is far more intuitive than Android. Apple has always prided itself on its sleek and easy-to-use interface and their phones reflect that. While I really like many of Google’s web applications and services, particularly for their minimalist approach, their phones are cluttered and need more getting used to.

At the end of the day, Fandroids will be unconvinced that their beloved Android hasn’t quite caught up to Apple. Their phones do, after all, have an extra eighth of an inch of screen space and the Bump app works way better! I say just look at the stats: Most phones’ battery life can’t compare to the iPhone and the iPhone 5 is unequivocally faster than any phone out there. There is one thing we can all agree on though, any iPhone or Android device is still way better than a BlackBerry.

You’re Using Tech All Wrong – You Only Need One App

The goal of incorporating new technology into your business should be to streamline your work and increase efficiency, not create additional tasks for yourself or clutter your phone with the latest-and-greatest apps you read about on a blog. Between the time you spend searching for that one “game-changing, cutting-edge application” and the time spent learning how to use it, you would have been better off using the cutting edge technology of the 1800s instead: a pen and paper.

The problem is that we’re always looking outside ourselves to find the missing ingredient that will turn that small business into a productivity machine a Chinese sweatshop couldn’t compete with. We see others integrate cool sleek apps into their operations and immediately assume that we must be behind the curve. This is no different than running home to your mom and asking to get the same new toy your friend just got – it’s a fine way to fit in at school, but running out to buy the latest toy isn’t a great business practice, especially since you’ll get bored of that toy and want a new one a week later.

The key isn’t to find an app for every single thing your business does. Instead, find one app that does as much as possible as simply as possible. Why shop at eight different stores when there’s a perfectly good supermarket down the street?

One place to start could be a project management app like BaseCamp or FreshBooks. These allow you to collaborate with a team on projects, tasks, files, documents, deadlines, etc. The only thing they can’t do is DVR this week’s episode of Honey Boo Boo. These are nice full featured suites that allow you to run and track your entire business in one place and that in itself will simplify your life. Still, these can get a bit cluttered which can turn a simple project into an overwhelming headache. Minimalist designs are less overwhelming and don’t make you feel like you’re in a race against time when you look at all the things you have to finish.

Enter Trello. It’s designed to be a simple organization tool that helps you visualize the progress you’re making on any specific set of tasks. I use it as a virtual bulletin board that can break down, track, and manage just about everything. Other apps like KanbanFlow or AgileZen do the same things but I’ll focus on Trello for now since it’s the one I use.

Boards and Lists: When you create your first board, it will be divided into three lists: To-Do, Doing, and Done. You can name your board whatever you want, and you can change the list titles and add as many lists as you like.

The basic layout (To-Do, Doing, Done) is a great a great way to divide projects up into actionable tasks and track your progress. I use the default layout to track what I’m currently working on, but I use other boards to manage ideas, clients, and appointments. Essentially, there is nothing that you can’t use the board for.

I know people who use Trello to organize presentations, track sales, create every type of list imaginable, schedule employee work shifts, vote on company policies and agendas, organize materials, and a ton more.

Cards: Lists are made up of cards. Let’s start with a basic project. Divide the project up into actionable tasks that can be added as individual cards on your list. Then, you can use the simple drag-and-drop interface to prioritize the most important tasks. For better organization, you can label cards, color code them, add comments, and attach files. In other words, this allows you to use your board like a regular project management tool but in one minimalist view.

If you work with a team, you can also use Trello (or the other apps) to delegate tasks and collaborate with your team members. With the permissions settings you can allow your team to view and edit any boards you like. You can set varying permissions for different members and assign specific tasks to members as well.

Tracking: Once you’re set up, you have a great view of what’s happening in your business, what’s on the agenda, what’s in progress, and what’s done. Of course if you customized your lists you can view whatever the board is set up for. One of my boards helps me see ideas I have for blog posts and I organize it based on how developed and ready the ideas are for publication. I use another board as a makeshift CRM, organized into New Leads, In Talks, Working, and Past Clients. There’s no limit to what you can organize and track on your board.

The app also has task and deadline reminders for you and your team. This is especially handy since dealing with employees and freelancers can be touchy. No one likes to remind people of what they have to do, and no one likes to be reminded. Let the app do it for you with email reminders that are set for specific times. You can also subscribe to specific cards to receive notification every time there is new activity and you can add checklists to cards for larger tasks so you can track every little detail.

Which App is Right For You: I use Trello because it’s free, has a sleek and intuitive interface, it works great on my computer and phone, and is completely unlimited.

KabanFlow is essentially the same app but also helps you track hours and includes a Pomodoro timer that creates 25 minute work segments followed by a break. It’s a better app when it comes to tracking time and estimating the time needed to complete a certain task. Their free version allows you unlimited boards and users but the $5 Premium version allows you to assign different permission levels, provides more detailed activity and revision logs, and let’s you filter and search easier.

AgileZen isn’t quite as sleek as the other two but does offer more features for a cost. Their free version only allows you one project. Plans cost from $9 to $99 depending on your team’s size.