Bridging the Technology Gap – Planning

Digital transformation is changing the world of business planning. However, as with most technology, it requires some effort to reap the benefit.

Effective planning is the key to a successful, sustainable business but a plan only delivers benefit if it is actioned and sustained. One of the biggest failings in business is when plans are allowed to drift and a business owner takes their eye off the plan.

There are many reasons why this can happen. Often a key cause is that driving the plan is simply too difficult and time-consuming. This is where technology can help.

Over recent years I have adopted a number of tools and apps to help make my plans happen. In most cases, I had to invest some time in the short-term to set things up but once they were up and running I started to reap real time-savings and other benefits, often for years.

There are three areas where technology has been particularly beneficial:

  1. Document Access
    It is important to keep written notes of your plans but if you can’t refer to these quickly and easily, your plans can stall almost before you start.
  2. Data/Analytics
    Measurable objectives are an important part of the planning process. Having straightforward access to relevant data and analytics helps you monitor your progress.
  3. Communication
    Even if you work by yourself, communication is central to progressing your business. The past year has seen significant developments in this area.

Before we look at some of the tools I find really useful, a word on ‘going pro’. Most of the apps I list below have free options. While these may offer more limited functionality, it may be that this is sufficient for your needs. However, if the pro-version will better fit your requirements, don’t shy away from paying. The cost is normally modest and the value to your business can be significant.

Digital Transformation Tools

Document Access

Trello (https://trello.com)

At its heart, Trello is a virtual ‘T’card planning board where you can create and manage lists. Although Trello offers a wealth of functionality – particularly in the ‘pro’ version, I find the capabilities of the Free version meet my needs.

I use it to keep note of my own plans and also plans and discussions agreed with clients. Being cloud-based with App versions for phone and tablet access, I can access the information pretty much anywhere I need to.

Cloud storage Dropbox / OneDrive / Google Docs etc.

Cloud storage is pretty ubiquitous these days. It is a great place to store documents you may need to access when you are away from your desk. The free space offered by providers soon gets used up – particularly if you store large files, but upgrading to a paid account isn’t expensive and the amount of storage you get grows immensely.

One thing to be careful of with shared storage is if you share access. Delete a file for one person and it deletes for all! Some systems offer backups and recovery for deleted files but make sure you have your disaster recovery plan in place!

Cloud accounting

I discussed our shift to Xero cloud accounting in this post but I include it here because efficient accounting is a vital part of effective business and accounting data is essential to good planning.

Our cloud accounting system means I can get at the numbers anywhere I have an internet connection, using anything from my desktop PC to a smartphone. Furthermore, the well thought out bookkeeping tools built-in make it easy to keep the accounts up to date. No longer is it a monthly or quarterly (or annual!) job to do the accounts. Automatic bank feeds and transaction automation make the accounts operate almost real-time (I say ‘almost’, it does require maybe an hour a week to keep on top of things).

Outlook Tasks

Keeping it simple.

If I was to pick one tool above all others, it would be my Outlook Task List. Utterly simplistic and low-tech it is just there on my desktop and phone all the time. If you need to collaborate with your tasks there are better options but if you just need a straightforward reminder list for your own use, I think it is hard to beat.

Analytics

Google Analytics

One of the real benefits of the rise of ‘digital marketing’ is the ability to measure the impact of what you do. Google Analytics is the ‘big-boy’ of this trend but this is also its Achilles Heel – there is just so much of it! Analytics data can be overwhelming and when it comes to using analytics in your business planning it is easy to disappear off down a rabbit-hole and lose sight of your objective.

Be clear as to:

  • What are you measuring? – what are the key metrics to give you the insight you need?
  • Why you are measuring it? – how does it support your business planning?
  • How are you measuring it? – ignore everything that isn’t central to your objective

Anaytics can be really valuable but remember to stay focused on your business.

Dashboards

A dashboard can be a great way to avoid analytics overload. You create a screen that presents just the information you need,. Everything is in one place and often using clear, graphical layouts.

2 tools we have used successfully are:

Klipfolio

Google Data Studio

I have mentioned this before but Dashboards can be challenging to set up and the real functionality requires the ‘paid-for‘ options. This said, the process of creating a dashboard can be a good way of forcing you to really think about what you are trying to achieve –  often the hardest part of the planning process!

Cloud Accounting

I know I talked about cloud accounting in the last section but as well as being a great source of business data, cloud accounting packages include powerful reporting and analytics tools too.

Communication

Possibly the biggest change over the past 12 months is how we communicate in business. With so many people working remotely, there has never been a greater need for effective business communication tools.

Zoom/Teams/Google Meet

While we have all be using phones, email and text for years, video communication never quite came to the fore – until March 2020.

I first heard of Zoom only in January 2020 while working on a project for a client. We had tried Skype a year or two previously and wasn’t impressed. I presumed Zoom was just another Skype so dismissed it out of hand.

3 months later I was using Zoom every week! Now, in Spring 2021, I guess we are all a bit ‘Zoomed-out‘ but even so, I believe video communication is here to stay. It is another tool in the business toolbox. We have been forced to use it when we might previously have preferred a face to face meeting and I am sure face to face will be back soon.

However, there are those occasions where you need to speak with a client, customer or supplier and you feel you need more than a phone call but is it really necessary to drive for an hour or more? This is where I think video will prevail.  It makes it practical to have even 10 minutes ‘face to face‘ with someone on the other side of the country – or the world! It is another tool and it is here to stay.

Conclusion

Technology is transforming the way we plan and run our businesses. Tracking and using information is getting easier than ever. However, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is still about business. Technology is the means, not the end. Used properly it can help drive real-world business success but if you aren’t careful, it can distract you away from concentrating on planning the things that really matter.

Get in touch if you’d like to talk about effective planning for your business

5 Golden Rules for Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a great tool, but one that may people misuse and as a result get frustrated with it. With this in mind, I though it worth putting together what we see as the 5 Golden Rules for getting the most out of Analytics

1) Use it

Google analytics is free, and is a fantastic tool for tracking site usage. Furthermore, the level off information that can be generated through Analytics is vast, and can deliver real insight into which bits of your marketing are working and which are not. Setting up Google Analytics is simple, and whilst I am not going to go into any detail about the process here (You will find this post useful if you are new to Analytics). It is pretty much a case of signing up for an account, and then adding a piece of code to your website. If you are using WordPress for your site the Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights plugin is free, and with over 1M installs, should be stable & well supported. If you want to get a bit more advanced, than I would recommend using Google Tag Manager. As well as giving you the facility to add a general tracking code, Tag manage allow you to add more codes to your site to track events like clicks, video views, form fills and the like, without having to add code to the website. It will also allow you to add Social media tracking codes like Facebook Pixel to the site.

Tag manager is a bit more advanced, but you will find details of how to use it here including how to use the new GA4 tags.

2) Don’t focus on the top line

Number of Visitors, whilst important, is not the most important measure. The quality & relevance of those visitors is far more important. If you are in a highly niche market, then maybe a dozen visitors a day is all you need, as long as they are the right visitors, and are properly engaging with your site. But more of that later.

3) Use Events & Goals to monitor visits in more depth

As I mentioend earlier, Tag Manager allows you to configure Google Analytics to track pretty much any activity on your website through Event Tracking, and setting up events is pretty straight forward. For example. If you have a contact form on your site, an event can be set up to track when someone submits this form. This can then be tracked back to source, and immediately you can see which traffic sources are delivering more valuable traffic. Form filling is just one example – pretty much any activity (Views of a specific page, Video views, clicks, pretty much anything) can be tracked as an event.

4) Don’t Micromange – its about trends not detail

Google Analytics is all about trends, and so golden rule number 4 is don’t micromanage the analysis of your web traffic. Typically, focus on month my month trends rather than live activity on the site. For example. If you start an email campaign, set it up, an then leave it to run. At the end of the month, look at the analytics (Email is great as it will deliver Analytics (Opens, clicks) over and above those in Analytics, so you can track your campaign right from start to finish. From – are people opening the email – and clicking through yo your site. to – If yes,  analytics takes over to track activity further

  1. Is the campaign delivering the traffic?
  2. Is this traffic delivering the goals you set?

If yes, then great, if not, tweak the campaign, make a note of what you have done, and then leave it and look again in a few weeks. This is an iterative process. Implement -> analyse -> Tweak -> Analyse etc. A process that takes time to perfect.

5) Link it to wider business goals with Data Dashboards

The final golden rule is to link your analysis of your site traffic to wider business goals. As we say regularly, your website is just one of the tools in your marketing tool bag, A good Marketing Strategy includes multiple channels for generating and converting website visits. By using your site as the hub for this activity. Tracking what works and what does not becomes a relatively straight forward process.

When considering wider business goals, you may want to go beyond website analytics, and start to combine data from multiple sources like social media, email, CRM systems… The list goes on.

Another free tool from Google – Google Data Studio allows you to do just this. Buts thats another post – Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.

A note about GDPR

Finally I should mention GDPR. Whilst this was not the nightmare scenario many predicted, it is still on the statute books and should not be ignored. Being open about what data you collect and how you use it is key, Having a privacy statement on your site and detailing the fact that you track aggregated site usage through analytics is good practice. As should the fact that it is tracked statistically, and that no personally identifiable data is tracked/recorded. One a final note on privacy, there are 2 settings that should be changed in analytics to ensure that the above is true:

  1. Tell Google to anonymize IP Addresses
  2. Switch of User ID tracking. note – this is typically disabled by default.

Neither of these will alter your ability to track usage trends on the site, but will ensure that your users privacy is protected.

Notifying people o =that you use ctracking cookies is also best practice, but this can easily be done through a simple plugin.