March 8, 2014
Swimming in a Sea of Subscription-Based Services
There’s an ocean of online and subscription-based software out there trying to hook your attention. While newer companies and products bear the risk of disappearing into the murky waters of the ever-changing tech tides, the tried and true options seem almost menacing, as potential users (you and I) grapple with understanding whether or not the software will help us sink or float.
Straight From the Mouth of a Digital Marketing Firm
As a writer and CEO of a marketing and public relations firm, I was tasked with solving our scalability problems. I spent months hunting for the right online project management software, downloading multiple free trials, pestering contacts and downright harassing various online tech support people. We finally decided on giving one of them a try after seeing some great functionality and being lured in by their “no credit card” free trial.
I will say that, in the end, we did end up investing about $1,000 in consulting services to help get the project management software set up correctly and we are still learning all the functions today, but overall it seems to be working. I have found the following list of questions very helpful when considering new project management software and whether it will be a blessing or a curse to a company.
Where Project Management Software Can Help or Hurt – 3 Questions
1. What is desired from the project management software?
The Blessing: We initially wanted the software to perform like a project manager; track employee time on each project, hand out assignments, and give us a bird’s eye view of what was happening throughout the process, hopefully giving us a heads up when we needed to hire more help or alert us to having room to sell more of a particular service. To that end, we got our wish.
The Curse: Who knew how complicated it was to actually describe the steps used in each one of our services? We also did not consider the time it would take to go back and fix the templates that these jobs were being created from! As a company grows, so does the understanding of that company’s services. This amounts to spending hours each week simply updating your templates and current jobs to match the newly-discovered steps in your process. It does not matter how careful you are; it will be a logistical nightmare until you can really describe all the steps in each service you provide and stick to it! It is one thing to run a job as an owner; it is quite another to reverse-engineer the steps and provide them on paper to someone else.
2. How detailed do I need to get with projects?
The Blessing: Since we had never really, truly outlined all the steps in completing a project from start to finish, we were delighted by how much work it appeared to be on paper. How impressive this would be to our clients and how well we could speak now about the intricacies of our process! By the end of our initial outline phase, we discovered that we were undercharging for many of our services and realized much higher sales when we adjusted our prices to match our actual input. Believe it or not, customers are just as uncomfortable with numbers that seem too low as businesses are.
The Curse: While we created very detailed and impressive outlines and descriptions, the projects were huge inside the software, and it was a nightmare to track and link. There were so many tasks that the daily sheets had the effect of giving a mild panic attack to anyone looking at them. All I can say is that there is an art to writing tasks. You will not get it right the first time, or the second, and possibly not even the third. Be prepared to experiment and leave time to hone the process.
3. Can I import and export data to and from a CSV file?
From CRM software to project management software, the import and export functions are critical to a company’s flexibility. If you purchase or even try software and then feel “stuck” because the software does not allow easy migration to a new platform, you are looking at hours, days, or possibly weeks of duplicate entries. You will be sad and it will keep you up at night.
The Blessing: We have had to migrate information from a few different online providers a couple of times, and import/export functionality has literally saved the day.
The Curse: While import/export options are great to have, what if the company you are importing to does not have all the same fields? Truth is, importing is messy and mapping columns is only part of the solution. Moving is painful, period.
When it comes down to it, the choice to continue on with a particular piece of online software becomes a question of competence with the program, the ease of migration, and the realized or unfulfilled expectations of that product. If a business is lacking in two out of these three key areas, it may be time for a change. When keeping up with the program becomes more time consuming than actually fulfilling client work orders, something is either terribly wrong or you have an incompetent operator. If instead you find yourself spending a large amount of time tweaking the tasks and processes, feeling like you are in a never-ending merry-go-round of updates, congratulations! You are most likely a new business that is about to become a whole lot larger and more efficient.
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