Monday, March 5, 2018

Essential Cloud Services for Small Businesses (Mostly Free)

 Leverage the Cloud

At 2 Create360, we love Cloud based services and how they can be leveraged to create efficiencies for SMB's. Here are some of our favourites.

MailChimp Email Marketing

MailChimp free for a limited amount of campaigns$10.00 at Mailchimp is the most popular and most capable email marketing service regardless of your price level or technological savvy. It offers a rich, free plan; tons of third-party integration (much of which is available at the lowest price levels), and it's got many email templates that help you fire off emails at a rapid clip. You can even take advantage of a decent amount of email analytics to let you know whether or not your messages are falling flat.

Agiloft Contract Management

AgiloftFree at Agiloft offers nearly unlimited customizations that bend and twist to how your company typically handles its contract management. There's a free option that's capable of supporting companies with less than five contract administrators. If you need to go bigger, then you'll have to upgrade to the enterprise edition (which is a bit pricier). Either way, you're working with the best contract management solution on the market, one that's limitless in its potential to automate and simplify how you create, manage, and store your contracts.

Zenefits Z2

Human resources (HR) software and management system ZenefitsFree at YourPeople, Inc offers excellent benefits administration, integration with most of the industry's popular payroll tools, and its own regionally-based payroll tool. It offers a sleek UI and benefits marketplace designed to look like an e-commerce portal, both of which encourage users to take advantage of the tool rather than run away from it (as with other HR tools).


If you're more interested in managing your social campaigns than you are in measuring them, then try HootsuiteFree at Hootsuite. This tool scales as you grow by letting you pay for extras (rather than bundling everything into one price package). Hootsuite offers the most comprehensive package of listening, publishing, and third-party integration options for businesses of all sizes.

Spiceworks Network Monitor

Managing your technology infrastructure shouldn't be a task exclusive to large enterprises. If you need to understand how your apps, servers, and websites are performing, then Spiceworks Network MonitorFree at Spiceworks offers incredible network monitoring at no cost. It obviously doesn't have the complexity and extensibility of paid tools, but it's serviceable enough to oversee your network processes and alert you to issues before they become disasters.

Microsoft Power BI

Microsoft Power BIFree at Microsoft takes business intelligence—what is normally a very complex and very expensive task—and turns it into something even a tech novice can accomplish. It's a free tool that lets you drag, drop, customize, and analyze data, up to 1 GB. If you need more storage, then you can upgrade for just $10 per month to increase your data tenfold. This will also give you access to custom content packs and the ability to interact with other Microsoft Office 365$6.99 at Microsoft users.


FreshdeskFree at Freshdesk is simple to use, with an advanced feature set, at an affordable price. Freshdesk excels is in its ticket management, which allows helpdesk tickets to be assigned to individual agents depending upon what work is required. The system itself can do a good job of automatically performing certain tasks based upon what an incoming ticket requires, which means those commonly asked questions can have useful replies automatically generated and delivered by the system.
FreshserviceFree at Freshservice isn't the most well-known helpdesk software but it's an ideal tool for small businesses that don't need all of the bells and whistles of better-known tools. What is most appealing about FreshService (especially for SMBs) is that it offers a free plan that's good enough to help you get started. No, this isn't a free trial; it's an actual free service that requires no payment whatsoever. With that, you'll gain access to online help and tutorial videos that will show you how to get started and optimize your service operation.


If you're looking to turn your email and CRM practices into long-lasting customer engagements, thentool. HubSpot is easy to use, scales as you grow, and, though not inexpensive, is nevertheless affordable at every experience level. Additionally, HubSpot lets you add basic CRM and sales tools to your marketing automation software at no extra cost. This is a wonderful feature for startups and small companies that are just getting their operations off the ground.


If your small business isn't very tech-savvy, then you'll love , FREE for 5 Zaps or $15.00 at Zapier. This tool is designed to connect disparate apps to let you run automations (or "Zaps") without having to write any code. Although there is a free tier available for very small businesses and freelancers, the company's Work account connects more than 750 apps and lets you run multi-step automations across three or more different tools. So, if you use three or more of the tools in Zapier's roster, then you'll be able to push and pull data from one to the other to build automated processes. For example, when your marketing automation tool's lead form generates a contact, a Zap will push the contact's data into your CRM tool. A second Zap will add the contact's social media credentials to a social listening tool, and a third Zap will push a chat message to a salesperson asking him or her to reach out via Twitter.


Similar to Zapier, IFTTTFree at iTunes Store connects 400 apps and services without requiring you to know how to code. IFTTT stands for "if this, then that," which is how the company's "Applets" help you automate actions across software (similar to the scenario I detailed earlier). IFTTT is as capable and as easy to use as Zapier, but it has about 350 fewer tools to connect than Zapier. So, when you're deciding between these two automation powerhouses, make sure you run down their rosters to determine which one contains more of your favorite apps.

How to run a great project discovery workshop

Ask the Right Questions.

A common cause of project failure or an unhappy client at the end of a project is that the client didn’t get what they thought they’d be getting. It’s no one’s fault in particular; clients can find it hard define their briefs and as agencies, we can be guilty of not being clear about what we’re actually delivering. So how can we ensure that we’re all on the same page?

It starts off during the project kick-off meeting and continues in the discovery or project initiation phase of a project. In the initial project discovery workshop, we need to ask the right questions to provide our clients with the opportunity to tell us all that the things they meant to, but perhaps forgot about. At the start of any project, we can easily get bogged down in the detail of one particular area rather than thinking about the project in its entirety and asking questions that cover strategy, user experience, content, creative, technical and PM requirements.

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”  – Francis Bacon

The key is  for us to ask the right questions, at the right time. We need to know what questions we should be asking, when. The purpose of this article is to explore some of those table stake questions during a project discovery workshop – a checklist to capture basic project information so that there are no big surprises mid-way through a project. The goal is to understand one another’s unwritten assumptions.

Simon Ash has a helpful framework for understanding where we should start: “The good news is that the core questions needed are actually embedded in language.  The seven basic interrogative questions of what, where, why, when, who, how and which are the triggers needed to unlock any problem; it is then just about understanding their application.”

Below is by no means an exhaustive list, nor a structure for a workshop, but intended as a starting point for conversation during initial discovery workshops. This list isn’t meant to be used as a questionnaire for clients to complete, but as a framework to help understand our clients’ customers’ needs, and their business problem so  that we can properly architect an appropriate solution.

Goals – Why are we doing this? What are the goals for this website? What are the KPI’s? How will we measure and evaluate success? How will it help your bottom line? What does it need to achieve from a business perspective? What should it accomplish? How do the business objectives align to unmet consumer needs?

Messaging – What key messages to be communicated? What’s the one thing that we want people to think / feel / do? What can we say to make them do it? How does this fit into the broader marketing and communication strategy? How does this stack up against competitive positioning? What are we communicating that’s different; what’s our unique selling proposition (USP)?

User Experience
Audience – Who are we trying to communicate to? Who are your primary/secondary/tertiary audiences? Why? Is that different from your desired audience? What are their demographics? Why would they come to visit? When do they come? Why would they come back?

User journeys – Who are the users of the site? What are their different needs? What do we want them to do? What are the current barriers? How can we increase customer satisfaction? How can we generate loyalty? How can we drive conversion?

Functionality – What types of functionality beyond static content pages is required? Browser detection? Geo-IP detection? Multilingual support? Shopping cart or eCommerce? Data capture? Forms? Print screen? Cookies? Dynamic content? Interactive maps? Store locators? Blogs? Events calendar? Jobs listings? A feed for frequently updated content? A photo gallery? Social integration? Why is it needed? How will this functionality achieve our business objectives?

Usability – What are the requirements for us to do user testing? What devices are we supporting? What browsers are we supporting? What platforms are we building for? What is the minimum screen size we should develop for each? What are the requirements and standards for accessibility compliance?

Types – What is the content we will load onto the site? Is it repurposing old content or creating new content? How many sections of content will there be? What pages are required? What are the different content types we need to support? Why is it needed? What will it achieve? How will the content be meshed together? How does the content relate to other content?

Management –Who will write it? When will it be ready? Who will load content onto the site? Who will maintain it? What workflow and permission levels, approvals are required?

Localisation – How many markets need to be supported? How many different languages within those markets? What are the content differences between different markets? When do the different markets need to be launched? What other market specific requirements should we be aware of?

Look & feel – What creative have you seen that you like? What don’t we like? Why?

Assets – What branding work has already been done? How popular is it internally and externally with customers? Where can we find brand assets – logos, brand guidelines, photography?

Brand Guidelines – How well defined are the brand guidelines? How rigid is the existing style guide?

Tone – Are there existing websites that you like that would provide creative insight into a desired look and feel? Is there an emotional end-state we’d like to have your audience walk away with?

URL – What is the URL for this site? Who is the current domain registrar?  How will we support multilingual markets?

Hosting – Who is hosting the site? IIS or Apache Linux or Windows or other? What is the current load on the server? Are databases being used, if so, what type? Are there database preferences? What backup mechanisms are required? Will there be spikes in traffic requiring a content delivery network (CDN) like AWS, Akamai or Limelight?

Legacy integration – What existing systems will this website need to connect with?

Security – Will we need to create user accounts? Will encryption be required? Will there be password-protected areas? What personal data will we need to store and secure?

Development preferences – Are we building on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal or Sitecore? Is there a development framework we need to use? What devices, browsers and platforms need support?

Tracking – What are the KPI’s? Will we track using analytic tools like Webtrends, Google Analytics or other measurement technologies like ClickTale or something more comprehensive like Adobe SiteCatalyst?

Project Management
Process – How does this project relate to other live projects? What’s the project plan? What are we going to do (SoW)? What is the running order for activities (methodology)?  When (timing plan)? How much will it cost (budget)?

Communication – What are the best communication channels to use? Who needs to be involved, when? What tools will we use to communicate, collaborate and share?

Governance – How are we going to manage the process? Who are the stakeholders? Who’s responsible, accountable, consulted informed?  How will we manage any changes in requirements?

Approval process – How will we effectively manage the project team and the stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle?

Project management – How are we tracking progress to ensure we’re meeting the defined requirements, running on time, and keeping to budget? When is the deadline for live date? Why? What is driving the requirement to meet that date?