The Coronavirus has caused massive disruption to businesses worldwide. Share prices have fallen, oil has crashed and unemployment rates have shot up across the world. It wouldn’t be a cliche to say that things will not be the same again.
In troubled times like these, companies have always been tempted to reduce ‘people costs’ while forgetting to reduce work their employees do. The talk is about reducing “people” fat. But very few focus on “process” fat.
The result is losing out on promising business opportunities due to cost. And easy and early burnout of your best employees as they cope with more on their plate. Exhausted workers are hardly a force that can take a company to new heights.
It is indeed the time to focus on small, highly impactful, and sustainable changes you can make to your teams. It is time to rethink and restructure your business to take advantage of the changes in technology.
In my 20+ years of experience as an entrepreneur, leader and, now, business consultant, I have worked with many firms. Here are some takeaways that are practical and can be actioned immediately.
1. Review and simplify your processes
I know. Every company thinks their process is as simplified as can be. But having spent time with enough of them, here is my experience: Simplifying processes can lead to at least a 30% boost in productivity.
Sample this. A client of mine had a three-step lead generation process. After connecting with their prospective leads on Sales Navigator, they would copy-paste the details into their CRM, create a deal, and create a task for their sales team to take it forward. After discussing, we managed to reduce that to one simple, automated step. This ended up tripling their productivity and reducing errors
Or, take another process with a different client. They were using Google Sheets to collect feedback from different sets of people for various groups of people. With a little bit of rejigging of the process and zero loss of functionality, they reduced their 64 sheets per client to just two.
Another client was receiving a lot of incorrect images (screenshots) as submissions via google docs which they would then manually delete. Simple automation using Zapier (i.e. without any coding) saved them tons of time and error-led heartache.
Small improvements? Yes. But each one has the potential to reduce the employee effort for that task by 30% – 50%. Result? Productivity gets a huge shot in its arm. The happiness of not doing dead-end, boring, error-prone, irritating, mind-numbing work is an additional bonus
2. Train your employees on Google Sheets and, possibly, Airtable
If there is one suggestion that I would recommend implementing immediately, it would be training all employees on Excel and Google Sheets. They are the most productivity-enhancing tool by a mile. If your employees know of Filters, IF, VLOOKUP, SUMIFS, INDEX/MATCH, IFERROR, IMPORTRANGE, and QUERY, they can do wonders with streamlining processes.
After all, Jack Dorsey is reporting on his $1bn donation on a simple Google Sheet!
Once they are comfortable with Sheets, it might be time to introduce a slightly advanced database tool: Airtable. These featured templates show how a lot of the common processes can be automated.
3. Look for existing SAAS software to achieve your business goals
Coding is the biggest time-suck. Ask any product manager, and she will tell you that a lot of time is spent in explaining what needs to be done and identifying bugs in what has already been delivered. Using off-the-shelf products reduces the effort, coding time, and bugs (since it is used/tested by multiple customers). You also leverage the product’s development team for a fraction of the cost.
There are now at least 10,000+ Saas tools and more are launched every day. Just look at ProductHunt where 100 – 200 products are launched daily. Point being, anything you can think of as a requirement, chances are there is a product out there that will do it for you. And if it provides an API, then build on top of it instead of writing from scratch.
You are a consultant, and want people to be able to book time with you? Use Calendly + Zoom. You want to capture the user’s height, weight, age, and gender and sell them a customised diet plan? Use WooCommerce + HubspotCRM + Code by Zapier. Auto-create Zoom meetings based on scheduled meeting slots that you want to sell? Use Google Sheets to create the date/time/duration of the Zoom meeting, pull the resultant meeting details into another Sheet. Now when someone registers for a specific paid webinar via WooCommerce, this new meeting link is auto-sent. All connected via Zapier. Looking for a powerful CRM? HubspotCRM will do most of what you need and is free.
Times have changed. Until a few years back, I was a big proponent of open-source software. It allowed us to access the data easily and use it to trigger workflows. However, in the last few years, there has been an explosion of software tools that concentrate on a niche and then open access to their data/processes via an API.
This revolutionises how we think of building software. Suddenly, instead of 3 or 4 big vendors, we can now have 50 – 60 Saas products doing all that we need, integrating with each other. Which brings me to the next suggestion.
4. Make “integrate-ability” the primary requirement while choosing any software
A significant portion of the IT budget is to maintain integrations between various software so that they can talk to each other, exchange data, and trigger workflow.
Earlier, software used to be built around functionality. API was an afterthought. Even when Saas first came in (Salesforce was a pioneer), interoperability was not baked into the product. Large vendors took advantage of this to lock customers into their ecosystem. So, if you bought a CRM from one vendor, it made sense to buy your ERP from them too. And so on.
However today, almost all product companies are API first and niche. They are chipping away at the dominance of the large SAPs and SalesForce of this world. They focus on their “core competence” and play well with other Saas through either native integrations or integration software (see point 5 below). More often than not, they are cheaper to use and easier to maintain than their larger counterparts. The big players like Hubspot, Zendesk, Slack, etc have built a portfolio of custom-built integrations. Others have built integrations with large middleware-like integrators.
BuildaStack.com is a great way to filter by integration with the top 100 products. See the results for CRM as an example
This neatly segues into the next recommendation
5. Introduce integration tools to your employees
Making an API available is a great start. But it still leaves us with the two challenges of integrations.
- You still need technical skills to integrate
- You need to maintain the integration since they change frequently
Enter two types of integration tools: Zapier, Parabola.io, Integromat, Automate.io, Workato, IFTTT, and many more that allow you to transfer data and trigger processes between multiple SaaS products. Then there are others like PieSync that allow customer data to be synced between any two (or more) software.
Combining integration tools with SaaS products can allow companies to automate a lot of typical processes. Zapier, for example, links 2000+ different SaaS together. If they can do the job, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, Parabola, and Integromat are cheaper than the rest. Workato is expensive but integrations are more comprehensive.
However, sometimes, you need custom-built software. The next two suggestions cover that requirement.
6. If you HAVE to build it, re-purpose existing software to achieve what you want
Can you re-purpose an eCommerce platform to achieve a Practo-like functionality? Can you use a Learning Management System as a base if you want deeper engagement with your customers? The above examples are obvious when you think about it. However, there are MANY companies I know who have built their software from scratch even though using existing modules would have cut their code base by at least 70%.
In short, don’t ignore WordPress and Drupal with their ecosystem of plugins that can do almost anything. They should be your go-to tools for building fast and breaking faster.
As an example, look at Build a Stack, a product I launched with re-purposing a multi-vendor eCommerce platform (think Amazon) and zero custom code.
Needless to say, “move fast, break things, learn continuously” does not work if you are developing a security/healthcare product. However, for most consumer/internal applications, the axiom still applies.
7. Reporting tools:
With the use of many SaaS products comes the challenges of reporting. Thankfully, there are now tools that will allow you to pull data from various apps and graphically represent them.
Moreover, some of these have pre-built templates that make it easy to create dashboards quite quickly. Look at
- ETL tools like CData
- Dashboards like Dasheroo, DashDash, Cyfe, and many more.
- Visualisation tools like SmartSheet, Internal.io, Google Data Query, and DataBread.
Another benefit of using pre-existing software/SaaS to build your functionality is that it is easier to leverage the ecosystem of integrations. For example, since Build a Stack is, in essence, an eCommerce platform, it makes it far easier to set up Google Analytics, retargeting, and triggering workflows in other SaaS. After all, every software worth its salt has close integration with eCommerce platforms
8. Introduce Visual Coding (sometimes called NoCode) tools to your non-developer teams
As a CTO I have a Dev team and a Product team. It used to be that Product dictated the features and Dev carried them out. Now, I’m starting to equip my Product team with #nocode tools that let them carry features all the way to production. It’s like I have 2 Dev teams – Tweet by @gill_works (Michael Gill)
Visual coding tools have made coding more accessible. These kinds of tools are not new. BonitaSoft has existed for decades. So have some of the other process automation tools. Then there is Scratch, the visual coding tool used to teach kids how to code.
However, visual coding has now come of age. So much so, that they are now called NoCode tools. Bubble.io and Webflow are probably the best known. However, there are many more. GlideApps and AppSheet work off simple databases like Google Sheets and Airtable. Adalo is great. So are Apprat.io and Thunkable that can be used to create mobile apps.
I wanted to build an app to summarise and categorise about 400 self-help books. Using GlideApps, it only took me a day to build it once I had all the data in my Google Spreadsheet.
All these sites have excellent help docs. They even demonstrate how you can use these tools to re-create Twitter, Reddit, Airbnb, and other well-known sites. For more help look at Zeroqode, helloguru.io, and the likes to learn more and buy clones of famous sites. Finally, follow the #NoCode hashtag on Twitter to keep yourself updated of developments
COVID has been terrible for lives and livelihood. No one can deny the tremendous havoc it has, and will, inflict on the world. But, if we take the right steps, it might just inoculate us against the next crisis that time will invariably throw our way. Stay Home and Stay Safe for now. But once you are back at work, Stay Innovative, Stay Lean, and Stay Nimble.