Ellen DePasquale, The Software Revitalist, pens her first in a series of articles for smallbiztechnology.com reviewing how software helps businesses be more efficient.
Ellen loves software and helping people. To that end, she has been a computer consultant and trainer for 20 years. Efficient Office Computing is her newest business and she delivers her expertise online and in person.
Her consulting, training, and writing are based on lessons I have learned and strategies I have developed over the past 20+ years of computer experience!
One of the most important things for business success is the ability to set yourself apart from your competition. Whether it is service, pricing, speedy delivery, or experience, in order to rise above the rest you need to show your uniqueness.
David Lanagan knows this all too well. For the past three years he was on the marketing director of a leading SaaS (software as a service) “collaboration” company. During that time he not only managed all their marketing initiatives, he also had to deal with a decreasing marketing budget and staff. The department changed from several employees down to just him and a few outsourced consultants, but the marketing goals stayed the same.
Lanagan realized that small businesses need marketing teams with specialized roles to execute successful marketing campaigns, but they just don’t have the money. From that thought, SMB Communications (http://www.smbcommunications.com/) was born. Lanagan left his position with the SaaS company and decided to go out on his own.
Now, starting your own business is challenging enough, Lanagan’s goal was to bring experienced marketing teams to small businesses, at an affordable price. The biggest challenged he faced was how to manage the projects and a low overhead so he could keep his prices affordable and his quality high.
Luckily, Lanagan didn’t have to look too far for his answer. He returned to his recent “roots” the cloud and found the perfect SaaS solution, Basecamp (http://basecamphq.com/), an online project collaboration tool from 37signals (http://37signals.com/). “Basecamp allows us to manage tasks and projects, files associated with them, and a white board where we communicate with clients,” say Lanagan. “It enables us to interact with clients 24/7 on the portal. We are completely transparent. The clients and team have access to everything.”
Lanagan credits Basecamp as the tool that enables him to provide his service. His 9-person virtual team supports the clientele from their individual locations, some in the DC area, where Lanagan is based, and other as far as a 4-hour commute. Additionally, his clients are located in the northeast region of the country. Utilizing the cloud allows everyone to work together seamlessly, and without the cost of travel or the overhead of a central physical office. It also reduces the cost of hardware and software as Basecamp is a monthly subscription service, with three price tiers based on the number of projects and the amount of data ($49, $99, and $149 – see the full details of their plans at http://basecamphq.com/signup).
SMB Communications processes utilizes many of the features in Basecamp. As tasks are assigned for each project they are listed in the to-do lists, where everyone involved in the project can view them. From there, they can attach documents, change due dates, and even leave comments around the to-do, keeping everyone up-to-date. For brainstorming sessions, they use the writeboard feature that enable real-time collaboration. And, to support Lanagan’s believe that emails back and forth to the client is not good customer service, they use the message board for all communications regarding the project, including those between his staff and the client.
With his experience in SaaS, Lanagan’s concerns about cloud security were negligible. Of course there are risks, but he likens it to the risks of car travel verses plane travel. “Statistically, I would imagine the security risk is higher with maintaining a local environment (car travel) than in the cloud (airlines),” explains Lanagan. Basecamp’s security includes 128bit SSL encryption, permission level access, round-the-clock interior and exterior surveillance monitoring, and all the latest software security patches, among many other measures.
The technology behind Basecamp is what makes SMB Communications a successful company and a viable business model. “Previously the virtual office structure was not possible without real time collaborative structure. We could not accomplish it effectively with other means of communication such as email and phone calls and weekly status meetings are not good enough,” says Lanagan. The ability to collaborate in real-time so the clients can get information when they want it, is what sets SMB Communications apart from the crowd.
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