Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Have Distributed Teams? Spend time out of the office? Tools that saved me time and may help you as well

A Great Device

MS Surface 2 Pro - I know iPad is all the rage, representing an insane portion of Walmart's and Target's Black Friday weekend profit.   But, for me, as a business owner I just haven't been able to make the iPad more than a toy.  I can't bang out emails or proposals.   I can play games, though.
I used Dan Bricklin's Note Taker app to take notes during meetings so I didn't lose them.   But the pens don't write well, and it was okay.

Then I stopped by the Microsoft store and wrote on a Surface 2.   No contest.  I have searched 15 years for something that writes like paper or a whiteboard and now I have it.  It's worth the price tag for that alone to me (if you use whiteboard style visual communication as much as I do, you'll like it too).   Great sales tool - I can draw, then clip the notes out and put them into my follow-up or the proposal.   I use One Note for the notes.

The pro has a real key board, so I can do emails and proposals on the trains and planes.   It's a tablet too.   It also has a docking station and connects to dual monitors.  So it's a laptop that can be a tablet.   I love this thing.   It's on almost instantly, so if I remember a critical email to send, I eliminate the boot-up time.
The Windows apps aren't quite ready for prime-time, so the Pro version gives me the desktop or web versions I rely on now when needed.    Even better?  The support that comes with the 'complete' plan.  I had an issue and actually got to talk to a person instead of being caught in robo-call or go to our knowledge base prison.   And, on top of that, the support person was nice and spoke good English.  And I thought there was a law against using US-based employees for support.

I hope the MS ecosystem comes in behind this thing.   And I did find one game that's fun (Hill Climber), so that's good, while limiting my excuses for not getting things done.  

Web tools

  • Evernote – A simple way to store articles, web sites, screen captures quickly.    They have a tool, Skitch, that lets you easily annotate those, so you can highlight points, request changes, seek answers more easily.
  • Dropbox – A simple way to replicate files.   I used this with CEBI on several projects.   Its great for projects, or for sets of files that update frequently and everyone needs on their machines.    One important note.   This is NOT a backup tool.   I tried to use it as one and lost several important files.   It’s a file sharing tool.
  • – Many people use GoToMeeting, or tools like that to share screens during meetings.  I like because I don’t have to sign-up and install anything.   You can be on a phone call, realize you need to share your screen, and set it up that fast.   They also now let you record in their premium version.
  • Zoominfo, LinkedIN – Okay, we all use LinkedIN.   Zoominfo is good for those times you don’t know people or need their contact information.   Both are great for getting an idea of who I’m meeting with or who to prospect.    Ironically, I don’t have my own LinkedIN profile polished and up to date.   As I write this, I chuckle because I realize how much I use it to learn about others.  I’m sure they do the same with me…so I guess updating LinkedIN goes on the task list.  Zoominfo can be used to get marketing lists or, with their free/trade product, information on a key lead here or there.
  • On and Off line backup – I use Carbonite for my online backup.  Simple, it works in the background.   I also use an external drive to do a weekly backup, because, well, I feel safer doing that.

Smart phone Apps
  • My smart phone camera – This is actually my number 1 business app now.  A must have for field work.  Pictures of white boards in meetings, lets me pay attention during the discussion and allows the meeting to flow instead of stopping to copy down the contents.  I use it to make copies of receipts.  I'm even testing it vs. my Neat scanner and multi-function printer as a way to 'scan' documents that I have to sign and email.
  • Flipboard (News Aggregator)  While I love to read my Wired magazine, the reality is that most of my reading seems to be on my smart phone these days, wedged between things.   Flipboard has proven to be surprisingly helpful.
  • Cozi – What’s a family app doing here?    One of the biggest sources of frustration is when a family appointment gets dropped or conflicts with a key business meeting.  It’s annoying to stop by the store on the way home and then realize that we needed some other key ingredient for dinner.   I’d rather just avoid that all together, and Cozi lets us do that.   A simple shared shopping list.   A family calendar.    Works well on my smart phone.
  • Side note - I could probably do much more with my smart phone – given the amount I pay I probably should but apps seem to fall short.  I would love to do time tracking or expense tracking.   Be able to rattle off to-do’s or emails while in the car.   Send thank you notes and other follow-ups with the click of a button.   But I never seem to get to these, or if I do, the apps seem to fall short. 

Things you probably already use, but may not

  • Skype / Google Hangouts – I am partial to Skype but also use Google Hangouts.   Both are good for I.M.  I like Skype better for phone calls and think it has better quality.   Hangouts is free for group video; Skype is not.   Either way, it’s a critical tool for distributed teams or field work.   It's replaced Amex for the "Don't leave home without it" notation.
  • Office 365 / Google Docs  - MS Office is far superior to Google docs, but the real-time multi-person editing and simplicity of Google makes it a key part of my tool box.   Getting ready to try Office 365.   I hope it’s up to the task.

An item I’m still searching for

  • Task Management – There are tons of tools out there, but I still find myself putting tasks into a spreadsheet at times.  For distributed teams, a system that supports multiple projects and lets teams do work and provide input on their own schedule and availability is a huge help.   I’ve tried Leankit, Trelly, Basecamp but nothing has stuck yet.
  • Better than Salesforce CRM – Salesforce has such a strong ecosystem – and high price tag.   MS CRM requires a partner and customization.   Who’s the up and comer, that will let me easily customize and adapt over time?
  • Better than Hubspot marketing automation – Is Hubspot overkill, or the right answer for a small-medium size business?   Many people think it’s the bomb – at least based on the several thousand that show up at their user conference.   But it has so much.   I'm getting ready to take up their VP's challenge that I can have leads and payback on inbound marketing within 6 months.   Should be fun.

The app that’s done?

  • MS Project -  The lean and kanban guys have shown that there are better ways to manage and run projects, particularly when you have distributed teams.    That will be my next blog.

Do you have apps that you rely on or have really changed how you do work for the better?   Drop me a note at – I’d love to hear and learn.   Have a tool or distributed team problem that you haven’t been able to solve?   Let me know that as well, and maybe we can find someone with an answer that helps.

Jim Henderson
CEBI Advisor and Contributor
The Exemplary Group

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