So you’ve decided that you’ve outgrown your current tools. Or that it’s at least worth investigating whether other software options might help solve other challenges you aren’t addressing now. And since business software usually costs more than your typical iPhone game, you decide it’s probably wise to do a bit of research and testing before getting out your credit card. Moreover, the time needed to get everything installed and up and running, convert your data, and train everyone on how to use it is far from insignificant. As the saying goes, time doesn’t grow on tree, no, waitasec, time in your hand is worth, something something in the bush… umm, money can’t buy you happy, gosh, I dunno – money and time are related somehow, right?
What are your needs, really?
Internet research. An office acceptable time to put your twitchy command-T habit to good use, right? Before you start flying off the handle opening more browser tabs than the number of simultaneous text conversations your average 12 year old girl has going, let’s take a step back and think about what your needs are now, what needs you may not be considering, and what your future needs will be.
Alternatives to iCal Leather
Whatever your initial impetus for starting down the road of switching tools was, that’s probably where you will start your research. If you really hate iCal, then finding a different scheduling tool, might be the main function you start searching for. If managing all the people your company does business with has become cumbersome, than a CRM or contact manager might be your initial focus.
Certainly in many examples of software workflows, having several specialized tools that fit together well, and share data seamlessly can be extremely effective. Standards such as vCards and the like have made the task of moving contact records from one app to another a million times easier. But the more complex the data you have, the harder it can sometimes become to transfer between applications. Which is the argument for keeping as much data as possible in one place. Or at least evaluating options that may fall outside of what you were initially looking for.
Step back from the tech
The geekier among us, and I admittedly fall into this category, will often evaluate their tools based on their technical abilities, and not their ability to get work done. With creative software tools like video or image editors, it’s a bit easier to step back and think about what you actually want to accomplish. When you evaluate a tool in the context of a project you have in mind, it becomes a lot clearer whether it meets those requirements. Yes, technically, Final Cut Pro, Premiere or Avid are much more capable, but if your intent is to create simple family videos and spend as little time as possible, is one of those really the right tool for the job compared to say, iMovie for iPad? No, clearly not.
So while you may have read about how CRMs are the hot new tool for small businesses and start going about finding the best one, it’s probably to your interest to specifically define what you want to accomplish first. Try this – write down five statements that define your business goals for the next year in specific and measurable ways. For example:
- Increase repeat business from existing customers by 30%
- Generate three referrals on average from each person on our current list
- Improve our closing ratio by 50%
Another way to think about it is to define your biggest pain points or challenges currently with your tools. Sometimes this is difficult to do if you’ve used your current stuff for so long that things that used to be slow are now fast due to sheer practice and repetition. I’ve watched over the shoulder of many clients who have both baffled and impressed me simultaneously with how convoluted yet efficient their workflows, purely from massive amounts of muscle memory.
But think back to those times where you thought to yourself “There has to be an easier way to do this…” Chances are if you’ve thought it, there probably is. And if you’ve thought it more than once, almost definitely do the benefits of creating a more automated solution outweigh the effort needed to create that solution in the first place.
Techniques for research
So you’ve got a good idea in mind of what you’re looking for now, how to best go about researching and comparing your options. Certainly googling with a phrase that you think best describes the software is a good starting point. Try to be as specific as possible to avoid having a bunch of spammy content farm type sites overwhelm your results. But from those results start collecting bookmarks and create tabs for the official websites of all the options you find.
But don’t stop there, take one of those product names and search for it plus “forum” or “discussion” to find user forums, discussion boards, or LinkedIn groups where you can often find enthusiastic and passionate users debate the merits of said product. I always try to view opinions on such sites wearing my rose coloured glasses – like much of the internet, you generally find more people complaining and reporting negative experiences than positive ones. You can often find some honest experiences if you take the time to dig around, but you’ll almost always quickly find people saying that product X sucks, Y is way better. And just like that you’ve added another contender to the pile.
Your colleagues and peers may also be great resources, but chances are such topics as business software are not part of your regular conversations. So ask them outright. They may not be using anything novel themselves but might refer you to someone they know who, after your jogging their memory, were telling them about a thing they used.
At this point of collecting your options, don’t discount any product or solution you find because it doesn’t run on your current platform of choice. Windows, Mac, Web, Android, iOS, etc. doesn’t matter. Without a doubt, which platforms are currently in use at your company will have a tremendous influence on your final choice, but at this point, there’s no need to rule anything out. I strongly believe that the right tool for the job is a far more important concern than the underlying software that supports it. I’ve gone to the trouble of building a PC from parts just so I could run a software sampler that was only available for Windows. As mine and many other fathers in woodshops have said before, “You gotta have the right tool for the job, son”. Yes, perhaps that phrase has been used to justify the purchase of countless less than necessary power tools, but really, if we started measuring computers in horsepower, I think us computer types would have even greater problems restraining ourselves, no?
In our next article in this series, we’ll look at how to make the most of your software trial period for evaluating your options and some solutions for making any platform switch you undertake, just a bit smoother. Until then, you should follow us on Twitter to make sure you’re first in line to read it and help us catch up to Lady Gaga in followers – we’re only 29,701,030 away from catching her!