Tech Tools: Infusionsoft – An All-in-One Solution for Small Business CRM and Marketing?

If you are into small business, chances are you’ve mulled over the dilemma of how to integrate your CRM and marketing solutions into one seamless system instead of using several ones. In case you haven’t heard, Infusionsoft offers integrated marketing and online sales solutions that are especially targeted for small business owners.

infusionsoft

Off the bat, Infusionsoft appeals to many because it hits two birds with one stone: a way to communicate with and monitor your leads as well as manage online sales and other tasks that aim to get continuous business.

More Than Just Email Marketing

The one thing that sets Infusionsoft apart from other systems is that it is more than just email marketing, by leaps and bounds:

1. CRM Feature – Allows you to track customer data; simply input the name of your contact and within seconds you come face to face with every information that is connected to him (from the time he joined the list to a history of all the web pages he has viewed, and everything in between).

infusionsoft CRM

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2. E-Commerce Program: Infusionsoft has the power to process not just credit card payments but also PayPal transactions. The system hooks up straight to online payment facilities that also include Authorize.net, Power Pay and other popular merchant processing systems. Included is a shopping cart system, an affiliate marketing program, promotional tools and coupons for deals and discounts.

3. Report Platform: As information is the lifeblood of business success, Infusionsoft aims to provide you with all the data you need from both the micro and macro perspectives. The software includes a feature called “Lifetime Customer Value”. This allows you to identify customers that have spent the most on your business over a lifetime (or a specific period). Other reports include Lead Source ROI, Marketing Channel, Sales and more.

infusionsoft Report

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4. Campaign Builder Component: A popular feature that lets you construct a marketing campaign using drag and drop commands. This allows you to save time on campaign creation thanks to its efficiency tools and lets you gauge just how robust your campaign really is.

infusionsoft campaign builder

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5. Word Press integration: Makes it easy to plug-in to your Word Press website and includes plugins that track traffic.

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All of this sounds pretty swell, but here’s what everyone is going to be asking about: the price. To be honest, it will cost you several hundred dollars more than your usual CRM tool to enjoy what Infusionsoft has to offer. At present, you are looking at spending $200 to $300 a month depending on which features you intend to get. On top of that is a setup fee that is required to get the whole thing started. In short, you will have to be willing to invest a good amount of money to be as productive and efficient as Infusionsoft aims you to be.

Infusionsoft-all-in-one

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So, is it safe to say that Infusionsoft is a must for any small business? The answer is in the grey area: yes if you have the funds and the confidence in being able to generate enough revenue to pay for its monthly outlay; no (or not yet!) if your business is up and running but cannot yet fully take advantage of the pretty awesome features Infusionsoft has to offer as you will be putting out more than you stand to earn in return. But once the ball gets going and you are quite confident in the direction and trajectory of your small business, then Infusionsoft is not only a great suggestion but also practically a requirement for even greater success.

Tech Tools: Meet Edgar – And Get More Out Of Your Social Media Updates

We all know that social media presence is a must if you want your business to thrive online. But we also agree that, to some degree, social media posting can be a little bit of a pain in the neck. You need to figure out the types of posts you want to make, the schedule in which you will need to post them, and more. It can get quite a handful at times, which is why it pays to find a really good tool that will help you manage such task. One great tool that you definitely need to try out is Edgar.

edgar logo

Image courtesy of http://meetedgar.com/

The Best Market for Edgar

Using Edgar will most likely lead to the realization that it is perfect for small and burgeoning businesses that want to make a presence online rather than big businesses. Big brands most likely outsource their social media and have the capacity to pay for such outsourcing. But small businesses would like to invest a smaller amount that still yields significant results. Edgar is perfect in that you maintain active presence online with your social media posts yet will not need to spend big bucks or immense amounts of time for it.

A Walk Through

Using Edgar starts with setting up a posting schedule on an automated calendar where you can determine the following:

• The type of content you want to post (and where to draw it from)
• The day the post needs to be published, and
• The exact time you want it to be published

It’s all quite easy and requires very little effort to figure out. You are staring at a simple calendar layout with all the commands present, so you will not find yourself digging through subcategories to input your preferences.

edgar schedule

Image courtesy of http://meetedgar.com/

Capturing Ideas (And Holding On to Them)

If you are on the hunt for great content to take note of for future posts, Edgar also has a Google Chrome browser extension so you can easily add the page or content to your library. This is a strong feature of the tool, because at any given time that you find yourself surfing the web and coming across great content you can instantly file it away for future use. There’s even an option to file it and then instantly predetermine when you want it to be sent, if ever you are excited to get word of it around ASAP.

edgar browser

Image courtesy of http://iag.me/

Your library of content is also organized according to customized themes (ex. Funny & Inspirational, Tech Updates, Business Posts, etc.) that are color coded. At a glance, you can easily see your queue to know how much of each type of content you are posting based on the colors that you see. This is a great way to know if your posts are balanced across all the types of content you want to publish.

edgar cat

Image courtesy of http://meetedgar.com/

It Goes On.. And On…And On.

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Another cool thing about Edgar? Once a post has been published, it automatically routes itself to the end of the queue and stays in line for another round of posting. This can go on for all eternity, if you so wish. And if you don’t want it to do that, you can simply take it out of the queue.

Edgar as Compared to Hootsuite and Buffer

You might be interested to know the similarities and differences of these in demand social media scheduling apps in the market. These 3 apps all have the ability to schedule posts in advance for multiple social media networks. They also have the ability to attach pictures to Facebook and Twitter, have browser extension for Chrome that enables uncomplicated scheduling and have in-app analytic reports. Buffer and Edgar on the other hand, have the ability to create a custom, automatic posting schedule – which is lacking in Hootsuite.

Out of these 3 apps, only Edgar has the feature to save posts to a library which can be retrieved for future postings. It also utilizes an auto-refill queuing based on your saved content that allows you to never miss a scheduled timeslot.

Some Observations

Of course, Edgar is not without its limitations. Some of the limitations or hiccups observed so far include:

1. You can’t respond through it. If someone initiates engagement through your post, you need to reply via the social media platform and not through Edgar.
2. You still need to hunt for your content. In the future, it would be nice for this tool to come up with a content search and generator that you can just choose from instead of having to look for them yourself. This will be a MASSIVE feature, and we’re hoping this earnest wish will be heard and granted!

All in all, Edgar is one of those “Oh, definitely!” types of applications when it comes to social media. With the amount of time that it saves you, you can then concentrate on other areas of your business that you want to improve on.

Tech Tools: Mail Chimp – The Best Email Marketing Platform for You?

In the realm of digital marketing, email service is a necessary tool. This is why it is important to utilize an email marketing service that has all the features you need to deliver your message. One such service is provided by MailChimp, which has been around since 2001. But has MailChimp been able to evolve in a way that its range of services is considered to be top of the line? This review will help you see if this “freemium” email marketing service is the one for you.

mailchimp

Image courtesy of wpbusinesstips.com

Features to Like:

MailChimp has several features that users will easily appreciate and take to right away, including:

1. It is easy to create newsletters for your company thanks to the available templates, if coding is not your thing. On the flipside, you can also customize newsletter to the hilt if you want to go beyond what MailChimp templates offer.

mailchimp templates

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

2. You have the option to use the built-in photo editor. Let’s say you want to make some tweaks to a photo that you want to attach to your email. Instead of having to go through (or learn!) Photoshop, you just need to upload it to the built-in photo editor and perform basic photo-editing or enhancement tasks.

mailchimp imge editor

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

 

3. Your mailing list can be segmented into a variety of target audiences. It also has an option for RSS-to-email, allowing your newsletter to be sent out automatically whenever you do blog updates.

mailchimp mailing list

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

 

4. MailChimp comes with a report feature that lets you know if your advertising efforts are indeed paying off. The report lets you know who and how many people are opening your newsletters and if they are sharing it on various social networks, among others.

mailchimp reports

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

 

5. The program comes with mobile device compatibility for iOS and Android devices. For the digital marketer on the fly, this spells good news as she has the means to push out content as soon as it happens – without having to open a laptop.

mailchimp mobile

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

 

6. Mail Chimp easily integrates with the widely used apps that are being utilized by small business owners like Facebook, Google apps, Paypal, Highrise, WordPress and Zendesk to name a few. You can connect your Mail Chimp account with these apps for smoother workflow.

mailchimp integration

Image courtesy of mailchimp.com

 

A Note on Support

One thing worth noting about the service is that it does not easily connect you with the service support team in real time. There are options for sending out queries via a contact form, but that’s basically it. A closer look at the program will reveal that a generous amount of self-help information is at the user’s disposal: from a quick start guide to a glossary list and a video tutorials section. Perhaps the makers seem to expect that any sort of problem their users might find while using the program can be answered by the information here.

Pricing

True to its “freemium” nature, MailChimp gives the option of being able to send a maximum of 12,000 emails or newsletters to no more than 2,000 subscribers. Doing the numbers, this seems pretty generous. But this free version does not have the automated email sending feature, nor the audience or time zone segmentation, among others. For those features, you will have to shell out a minimum of $10 each month (limited to 500 subscribers) or $25 each month (limited to 2,000 subscribers). Large-scale and enterprises can go for the higher packages, and for those who send email intermittently a pay-as-you-send option is also available.

 

MailChimp Suitability

So, taking all of these things into consideration: it will seem that the best type of businesses to take advantage of MailChimp’s features would be the small business owners category. They can initially try the free version when they are just starting out. As their business grows they can also consider the paid option to get the analytics report and other features.

Tech Tools: Evernote – Elevating Note-Taking to a Whole New Level

One of the most popular novelties that come with using apps for smartphones and tablets is replacing your notebook with a digital version. With hundreds of note-taking applications available today, the safest bet is to choose from the most popular ones – like Evernote. In this review, we take a look at Evernote’s features and usability and weigh in on exactly how essential it is to one’s pursuit of productivity.

Evernote

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The Sum of All Things

Basically, Evernote is a mobile, desktop and web-based application that strives to become a be-all, do-all digital note-taking tool. Some of the things that you can do with Evernote include using it for:

• Taking down and recording meeting notes

evernote meeting

Image courtesy of blog.evernote.com

• Keeping a diary or a journal (personal or professional)

evernote journal

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• Marking up documents in PDF

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Image courtesy of evernote.com

• Saving photos, pictures and other important digital files

There may be more functions or reasons for using Evernote (depending on your need, profession or current goals) but it is clear that it hops between your business and personal life easily.

Using Evernote

Touring Evernote’s features and interface could have you toeing the line between instantly getting how it works or struggling to figure out what to do and where to go. This is mainly due to its flexibility (i.e. plain interface encouraging you to let Evernote cater to your needs and not the other way around), which may give some people a “blank page syndrome” or an “analysis paralysis”. It’s best that you already know what you want to do with it before you use it, (ex. using it to keep track of your home renovation jpegs) so you can get on with exploring the tools to achieve your objective.

Some of the more efficient features of Evernote include:

• A search tool to look for anything that was uploaded to your user account

evernote search

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• Tagging files (geo-tagging and manual) for better organization

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Image courtesy of blog.evernote.com

• Organizing files into notebooks and stacks (just like filing folders!)

evernote stacks

Image courtesy of blog.evernote.com

• Work Chat for real time instant messaging (includes note sharing)

evernote chat

Image courtesy of blog.evernote.com

• A full-screen mode to focus on content and not be distracted by text editors

evernote full screen

Image courtesy of blog.evernote.com

If you assess these efficiency features, you will come to realize that even the most disorderly and distracted note-taker will still find a good measure of organization with Evernote (hurray for search and tagging!) by simply pulling up what he needs through key terms that bring together common or related files.

A tiny warning, though: If minimalism is not your thing, you might find yourself a bit helpless or at a loss at all that blankness (take for example, the stealthily hidden search bar which is practically invisible).

Try Before You Buy

Evernote sensibly comes in a free version so you can try it out yourself, but expect some limitations in functionality. Like many apps out there, this is of course to encourage you to go for the premium version to enjoy the app’s full suite of tools, whether you use it on your mobile, tablet or laptop/desktop. Enterprise, heavy users and those who can say they are completely lost without note-taking apps might find the $5 monthly cost to be a satisfactory trade off to all that organization and flexibility. But for light or occasional users this may be too costly – especially if you know your use of the app will not pay for its monthly fee in profit or return of investment.

Still, it’s nice to have an app that not only allows you to type up your notes but also attach and keep audios, photos, memos and more. In terms of essentiality, it may hit the sweet spot if you treat it as the replacement of that write-all notebook you keep in your bag (recipes, lists, pegs, etc.). But if you want it to replace all those files and folders that you constantly rummage through, it near-flawlessly does so in one handy and mighty application.

Tech Tools: Hootsuite – Your Go-To Social Media Tool?

Social media management requires the ability to stay organized and on top of things. This is why applications that help you do both are greatly appreciated, provided they have the features you need. As one of the more popular social media management tools, Hootsuite has definitely gained a respectable following. But is it the one for you?

hootsuite-logo-dashboard

Image courtesy of clearbusinessdynamics.com

Hootsuite in a Nutshell

Hootsuite is a web-based application with the selling feature of allowing you to control your social media streams all from a single dashboard. Some of the features that you can do straight off this dashboard include:

  • Writing, sending, scheduling and tracking multiple posts from multiple accounts
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  • Adding team members and assigning work flows
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  • Monitoring social media performance and analytics
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Image courtesy of blog.hootsuite.com

  • Directly replying to different posts and accounts
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Image courtesy of hootsuite.com

What To Love About Hootsuite

  1. Single dashboard management. If you manage a lot of accounts, it is so much easier to attend to social media tasks through one dashboard instead of through multiple open windows in your browser.
  2. Works with the most popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, ping.fm, Instagram, vimeo and more.
  3. Allows you to work, collaborate and manage a team. Tasks can be assigned, marked as done and more so you can be sure that everyone is on top of their responsibilities.
  4. Has a social media monitoring function. It tracks what people say about your brand and you can read everything they say through a search term-based feed of public mentions. It does not have extended features when it comes to this function, but the fact that it also offers this is already a big plus.
  5. Allows you to store ‘draft tweets’ of commonly asked queries so you can pull this up and use it to respond to multiple customers who ask the same thing.
  6. Works with all browsers and extends functionality on smartphones, tablets and phablets through the mobile app.
  7. Sends automatic, weekly analytics reports to your email so you are updated on your accounts’ performances. These emails include graphs that show key metrics (for ex. clicks per day, most popular links, geographical information, etc.) that business owners will definitely find handy.

Some Hiccups About Hootsuite

  1. Hootsuite limits URL shortener to ow.ly. You are unable to use bit.ly with it, nor any other kind of URL shortener. This means if you add links through other services (like Buffer, for example) you cannot track it through Hootsuite.
  2. Integration with Facebook analytics is not smooth. If you use Hootsuite to post new Facebook content, that information is not tracked on Facebook’s own analytics.
  3. Lack of CRM system integration. This limits profile building because you cannot build one detailed enough to better engage people.
  4. Slow response. When it comes to refreshing feeds, Hootsuite can sometimes be slightly slower when compared to other applications.
  5. As with Facebook, integration with Twitter API is not exactly topnotch. You will discover that some interaction data does not get picked up, such as tweets that have been favorited through Hootsuite.

A Silver Lining, and the Bottom Line

Perhaps one of the things that make Hootsuite a crowd favorite is the fact that, despite some hiccups, its free version is permanent and working. Even if you do not have the means to buy a paid plan, the free one will not bog you down with any required upgrades. Given all of these, it can be safe to say that Hootsuite remains an attractive option for individuals or small businesses that need a cost effective solution to managing social media. For those who are tasked with managing enterprises, the paid version – with its wider spread of features such as detailed analytics may be the road to take. Whichever option you choose, for as long as its features align with your needs and budget then you will surely find Hootsuite to be an indispensible tool for strengthening your social media presence.

Tech Tools: LastPass – Saying Goodbye to the Challenge of Remembering Your Passwords

If you have multiple accounts, you probably also have to remember or keep track of multiple passwords. After all, it’s common knowledge that having only one password for all your accounts is practically giving an identity thief the keys to all your information. And having a written list of all your passwords is not also secure.

LastPass have found a great solution – the program allows you to automatically log in to a site or account without having your information compromised.

LastPass is a password manager program that consolidates your passwords and login information in a secure way. Its main selling point is the automatic login feature to any site that you have already visited and have already entered your corresponding information.

LastPass aims to simplify things for you by making download and installation easy and with the barest minimum of steps. It has versions for most browsers, so all you have to do is to choose the one that’s right for you. You use your email address to create an account, as well as a password for it. This account password that logs you in to LastPass is where the program gets its name from, referring to it as the “last password” you will ever have to remember.

lastpass

Image courtesy of lifehacker.com

Once the program is installed, your next step is to go to your needed sites and enter the log in details of each through the LastPass prompt. As you go along, you save Profiles for each type of activity (ex. Online shopping) which makes it easier to organize your Internet activities.

If you are concerned about security of having all your passwords in one cloud in this app, you can opt for an additional layer of security when signing to your Lastpass account. Yubico, Duo:Security or Toopher are some of the other multifactor authentication options that Lastpass supports. Lastpass also follows the best security practices. They have local-only decryption, which means that sensitive data is decrypted and encrypted on your device and is not shared with Lastpass.

Good Points

LastPass has some great features that are quite attractive to most users, such as:

  • Single account log-in for your devices (for premium account), with automatic syncing of new information
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  • Smooth browser integration. LastPass also gives you the choice to use its universal installer (for major browsers) or just plug-ins for the specific ones
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Image courtesy of http://www.makeuseof.com

  • Clean interface. The program’s interface is well designed; navigation is simple so you can access your information easily. A button pops up every time you enter new login information and this gets stored in the Vault.
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Image courtesy of lastpass.com

  • Great credit card organization features. LastPass allows you to make individual profiles for all your credit cards, complete with family member names and billing and shipping addresses.
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Image courtesy of lastpass.com

  • Digital file backup. You can make notes for each type of password and attach documents or images to these notes. Notes are then digitally backed up so you have a safe copy stored in case you need it.
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  • Account sharing. You have the option to let other people log in to your account if you need them to, if they are also LastPass users. This “guest pass” can be for select passwords and can be voided later on if you wish.
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Image courtesy of lastpass.com

A Limiting Point

While LastPass is simple, secure and comes with a free version, the real icing on the cake can be found in the paid versions (Premium and Enterprise). These versions come with option for mobile integration, which is sorely missed in the free one. At the very least, LastPass could have given a mobile integration feature on just one device (ex. Smartphone) so users can see how it works on that platform. Given that a majority of users do their browsing and transactions on mobile devices, this could have been taken into consideration.

Verdict

LastPass is very easy to use and certainly makes logging in to your accounts highly convenient. But if you truly want to maximize the program’s features, you will need to fork out for the Premium account. However, one appeasing thing about this is that Premium is only $12 a year, or a dollar a month. If you find this to be within your budget, then you will have found a great solution to those multiple, easily forgettable passwords.

 

 

 

 

 

Tech Tools: Basecamp: Your New Go-To Project Management Software?

There are many free online project management softwares available on the market. Today we take closer look at one of the more popular players: Basecamp. In this article, we highlight what we think makes Basecamp a winning choice and some notes about it based on user experience.

basecamp

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Basecamp in a Nutshell

Basecamp follows the safe formula of getting your team to collaborate in a very efficient and structured environment on the Web. Users get to have their own login details and dashboard, with the option to display only the information that is relevant at the moment. For the free version, users are limited to creating only one project. This is great for a “test run”, as you are given free reign to try out all the features on an actual project before deciding whether to subscribe to the full version.

Project Creation and Management

Starting out a project in Basecamp is easy. The Project Head creates a new project and can then give access to other team members. Everything is centralized into the system: discussions, schedules, work assignments, project queries and memos. A simple login to the portal allows any user to immediately view updates on the project as well as keep track of what has already been done or added. An option for an email alert is also integrated, which allows users to stay on track even if they are not logged into Basecamp.

start-newproject basecamp

Image courtesy of basecamp.com

Navigating Through Basecamp

A quick look at Basecamp and you can see it looks pretty easy to navigate. The dashboard has everything you need: access to tools, latest communication, running feeds and whatnot. The feel of the dashboard is very intuitive and even newbies to project management tools will be comfortable using it. Tabs line the top part of the dashboard for quick peeks into your projects, calendars, progress and more. These tabs also allow the user to view more details for each aspect of the project, as well as have a general overall glance at the goings-on, similar to a social media news-feed:

  • Projects: gives you a rundown of all the projects you are part of
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Image courtesy of basecamp.com

  • Calendar: a basic calendar showing deadlines and project milestones
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Image courtesy of basecamp.com

  • Everything: displays an option for extra stuff you want to see by searching for it specifically
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Image courtesy of basecamp.com

  • Progress: creates a visual representation of project activities in a timeline fashion
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Image courtesy of basecamp.com

If you only check your Basecamp portal at the end of the day, you will appreciate a feature called Catchup which summarizes the activities of the day into an easy to read format.

User Experience and Final Note

What’s nice is that Basecamp has generous tools for communications to ensure that everyone involved in the project is updated. The little notifications (email alerts, signs that tasks were or were not done) all make the job of a project leader a whole lot easier as well. What could be a mild hiccup of sorts is the software’s deep integration with email, which could bring about a partiality of replying or responding through it instead of through the Basecamp portal. In this scenario, you could have a majority of the team out and about while you are the sole user of the portal. This is because everyone has the option to just be updated through mail instead of actually using and working through the portal itself.

Basecamp generally feels very quick and intuitive as it takes into consideration what people love or prefer to use. It’s a promising tool for any project or undertaking, and if you can get past the one project limitation of the free version then you should find the monthly subscription to be money well worth spent.