Blog Entries

5 Must Have Business Tools

Startup Tools that are FreeEvery business runs differently and relies on a multitude of technologies to keep them going. With so many different tools to choose from, new businesses are faced with the challenge of starting from scratch and figuring out which will work the best for their company. For example many teams must figure out how to collaborate while working from multiple locations, which we discussed in an earlier blog. Many roadblocks can appear on the road to success, such as time management issues, working capabilities, and budgets. Having a solid team in place with the right tools and technologies can help your business reach its potential.  Here are five must have tools we believe any business can utilize – but like anything else, the team should select which tools work best for them, and tailor best practices to meet the needs of the group

  1. Google Apps

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.05.09 AMGoogle Apps offers many different capabilities to business owners. Whether you’re using Gmail, Calendar or Drive, Google Apps offers businesses endless possibilities for connecting, organizing and creating. With its easy to use interface and inexpensive price, passing up this tool is a questionable move for any business. They also offer many add on applications to strengthen your business and seamlessly integrate with their products. For example Zoho is a CRM application that can be added on to better track leads, sales targets and prioritize your activities.

  1. Skype

Whether you are using the video capability or simply just the phone service, Skype has many benefits for connecting with clients, team members, and partners. It makes connecting with people long distance or overseas a simple procedure.  It also gives you the ability to share documents instantly during a call or video chat, making virtual meetings a seamless experience. One major drawback of this tool is that the free version does not let you do screen shares in a group conversation.You must upgrade to a paid account in order to utilize this feature.

  1. Free Startup Tools - Trello Trello

Correctly managing multiple projects and tasks simultaneously is key to business success. Trello is a free online tool that can help you manage your team projects, and organize your day-to-day tasks. By just opening up the dashboard you can see everything about your project. For example, who is working on it, what changes that have been made, and continuous updates right before your eyes. Trello is a great place to keep everyone within the company up to date on projects and tasks. Want to learn about more project management tools? Check out our recent blog post!

  1. Microsoft OneNote

Though many think of OneNote as just a note taking application, it can do much more. It is better to think of OneNote as a data warehouse. On OneNote, you can take clips from the web to save and view later or send yourself emails to your OneNote account to be saved into your notebook. OneNote also provides a space for you to keep photos and documents. OneNote is a great place for businesses to collaborate, stay organized and house day to day notes. One major competitor for this tool is Evernote. One big differentiator for Evernote is that it merged with CardMunch and now allows you to scan in business cards, automatically process them, store them, and connect with them on Linkedin. This is one major feature that will give OneNote a run for their money.

  1. FullContact

Do you have too many digital identities that you wish could be merged and managed? Do you have more than one email account? Then this is the tool for you. The FullContact application makes sure all your contacts, across multiple platforms, are organized and up to date. It can help to remove duplicates and merge them to make your address book clean and organized. Once synced and up to date, you can output the address book to your email and phone to make sure you have it when you need it.

These are just a few business tools that I think can be very helpful in the workplace. All of them focus on creating a sense of strong organization and communication. Every business runs differently and it is important to find which tools and methods can help them succeed. By backing your team with strong tools you can create a well oiled working environment.

Have any helpful tools you use? Let us know!

Advice for Startups

My Weekend at Valley Venture Mentors, an Accelerator in Western Massachusetts – Advice for Startups Panel

This past weekend Saturday February 21st, 2015 I was asked to be a part of a panel with a few other entrepreneurs to provide advice for startups. The goal of the panel was to talk with  50+ startups composed of several hundred people. The event was held at the home base for Valley Venture Mentors (VVM). VVM has been the life-long dream of a good friend of mine named Paul Silva. VVM is a non-profit that provides mentorship and an accelerator program to entrepreneurs. With each cycle, there is a chance for entrepreneurs to actually receive a check to invest in their start up.

Eric at VVM - Advice for Startups

Eric at VVM – Advice for Startups

Here is some advice for startups that I talked about and that came up frequently:

Advice for Startups – Listening

We first started off with introductions of the 5 speakers, with a few minutes each to give a quick introduction and some opening remarks. I chose to talk about the topic of listening. I believe listening happens in many forms, such as taking advice from advisors and fellow entrepreneurs, but also listening to your customer.

When it comes to listening to your customer, the feedback you can receive is invaluable. But, should be taken with a grain of salt. Back in my early years of being an entrepreneur my goal was to satisfy every user to make sure they had the best experience. From a business perspective, this is not very smart strategy. I eventually found myself asking “How much time and money is it going to take me to achieve this change or add on functionality, and what kind of ROI is that going to bring me?” Many times, the answer was that the effort involved wasn’t worth the payoff later.

The next question I look for is: “How many people are saying the same thing? If enough customers are asking for it, then it’s probbaly something worth doing.  It doesn’t mean that the feedback from an individual customer is bad, it just means that you need to think it through before you run with a suggestion – and make sure it will have an impact on many customers, not just one. Be strategic. Now, for Baked & Branded’s customers, we rank add-ons and build-outs in terms of priority: low, medium, and high  – and put them into product development cycles accordingly.

The importance of listening to advisors, investors, and mentors. Once again, you want to take everything with a grain of salt and see how it applies. I am sure you will have many different conversations around all the varying areas of your business – from technology, to marketing, revenue models, etc. When I describe my business, I like to start with the basic pitch of:hy did I start this business? What is the problem I am trying to solve?” In the early stages of your business, you want to try to stay laser focused on moving towards that goal, still being “agile” (as I am sure you have heard many times) and “pivoting” while still keeping that goal in mind. Think about how the advice you are given fits into the plan – if not now, but perhaps in the future. Also consider how much the person may actually know about your space.  I know when I speak with someone about a space I know nothing about, I am sure to tell them that and just offer my opinion.

Panel on stage at VVM

Panel on stage at VVM

Advice for Startups – User Acquisition

This came up several times in the different breakout sessions and individual conversations. For example, the question of: “I have buil my MVP and now I need users. ow do I acquire these users? ow do I properly leverage this user base to my benefit?” My response was centered around the idea that every business is different. At Baked & Branded, we have always been about strategy first and tactics second. When you think about it, it just makes sense. Don’t I want to really understand who my potential customer is? To do this, I might  look to build out customer personas and talk to some of these potential customers to understand where to engage with them. This is where we get about 99% of our clients. Other companies are often ineffective in this regard because they  try to sell a service by throwing money at PPC, or content, social, etc. until they find something that works. They call this ramp up time. But really, what they are doing is guessing until they get some traction. Out of the gate we like to be “strategic” and understand where these users hang out and how to engage them appropriately.

Now that you have gone through this process and have started getting some traction with users,  what do you do with this information? It is similar to what I spoke about above in the listening section. Take every piece of feedback or advice with a grain of salt. Apply it accordingly and continue to move forward. But be open to feedback and at least listen, as everyone offers value.

Connecting

If you are interested in being apart of VVM which is based in Springfield, Massachusetts, make sure to check out their website or tweet to Paul Silva.

I always enjoy good conversation with fellow entrepreneurs so make sure to reach out to me on Twitter and Linkedin and let’s connect!

Long Distance Relationships: Working With Distributed Teams

Distributed teams are becoming more and more common as tools and practices continue to evolve to make the work of these teams easier and more functional. Whether they’re big or small companies, established, or startups, distributed teams can be a valuable asset for both the employees and companies. Not only does it offer the flexibility for employees to work from different locations, it can help save money, and increases the size of the employee talent pool benefiting any companies that operate in specific markets or require specialized skills.

Like any long distance relationship, distributed teams involve a lot of effort and attention to maintain and manage – in fact, we’ve written a previous blog on how to effectively manage a remote team. The following three aspects can be considered the base of any successful distributed team. They are all equally important and conveniently build upon one another to improve the entire system.

Long Distance Relationships - CommunicationCommunication. Communication is always key, but when the team is not all in the same place it can be difficult to foster the necessary amount of communication. One third of project failures are due to poor team communication, according to Monterroso.

Startups have an even larger potential for failure since they are so new. NewsTilt was a startup aimed at journalists to help them earn a living off of their online work. Starting in late 2009, NewsTilt shutdown in July of 2010, 8 months after its launch. The founders have been very open about why the startup failed and one of the main reasons was that the cofounders had “major communication problems”, according to Kingsberry.

Those in the office can easily interact with one another and are able to know how each team member is contributing to the effort. For distributed teams, it’s not as convenient to keep track of these things and communication becomes more of a conscious effort. Currently, I am working for two founders remotely – I’m located in Arizona while one founder is in Boston and the other in Denver. We’ve had a bumpy start as we attempt to nail down the best communication practices for everyone. Weekly calls and constant open and flowing communication are helping us adapt. By interacting and understanding each other, teams work much more effectively.

Long Distance Relationships - CollaborationCollaboration. Since communication is so important there are massive amounts of collaboration tools that make working in distributed teams easier and more efficient. There are the classic applications such as Google and Skype but there are also apps such as Vox, for quick walkie-talkie-like communication, Join Me for screen sharing, GoTo Meeting for collaborative meetings, and many more.

With the constant evolution of technology, new collaboration tools are always on the horizon. Some of the top online tools for startups include:

Basecamp helps multiple team members organize and plan to successfully complete tasks. Similarly, Campfire offers the ability to assign tasks, group notes, and file downloads. HipChat is a great place for “water cooler” conversations. DropCam is a tool startups with multiple offices can use to peek into the different locations or Peak let’s you see what others are working on without having to ask and disrupt. For teams of five or less, Redbooth (previously known as Teambox) provides communication services for free (services for larger teams are available at costs). An alternative to Google docs could be Zoho, a cloud office suite. Work on several projects at the same time with Producteev.

While many of the tools can be utilized for a cost, there are also quite a few free platforms. Trello is a great free tool for planning where people can assign and backlog tasks. Another free online instrument for collaboration is Yammer, which appears similarly to a company social media page. Read this post for more free tools.

All these tools can easily be utilized to encourage the necessary communication and promote adequate collaboration for any and all projects your company aspires to accomplish.

Long Distance Relationships - OrganizationOrganization. In order to bring sufficient communication and collaboration into the team, organization is crucial. Teams should establish which tools they will dominantly use to collaborate and when they will communicate in order to involve all the necessary parties. The more organized and structured distributed teams are, the more efficient they will be. Fewer mistakes or miscommunications should occur if there is adequate organization.

The most common organizational structures seem to be flat and top down. Startups and smaller companies often reside in the flat structure where most employees are on a level playing field and work closely on the majority of the projects. Larger corporations and businesses tend to fall under the top down category as they are typically very hierarchal. However, recently more larger companies are adapting a flatter organizational structure. For example, Google is considered one of the greatest places to work because of its flat organization structure that promotes collaboration and lacks a hierarchy. Flat organizational structures can save time and give employees the freedom to take more initiative by not having to run ideas through as many levels.

Each of these aspects are crucial in order to have a successful distributed team. While they seem pretty basic, businesses need to understand the required amount of effort needed in order to be a successful and lasting company. Since they each contribute significant importance to the overall success, they should be equally emphasized. Including these three things will only benefit a distributed team, but including face-to-face contact is also valuable. Although a distributed team is based on the fact that employees are spread across numerous locations, it’s always beneficial to get the entire team together in-person to meet and interact to foster better working relationships. Face-to-face meetings allow team members to get to know one another making it easier to work together. People tend to have more positive experiences with those they have a personal connection that is established by an in-person meeting. Being able to put a face and personality to team members makes working in a distributed team more effective. Check out some of these fun and unique team building exercises to help your team bond.

Then, learn about managing remote teams from one of our previously posted blogs.

Tips for Keeping your Startup Inspired

Ideas for Keeping your Startup InspiredSustaining motivation and keeping your team inspired is a challenge for companies of any size. But, keeping your startup inspired can often seem like a full-time job . Being together every day, working long hours, and having taxing deadlines can create stressful times and grumpy employees. How do you avoid these low periods and keep your employees motivated and your startup inspired to move forward? Here are a few suggestions on how to engage and motivate employees in a startup work environment.
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Content and Social Media Promotion – Free Marketing Tools

If you are trying out a new marketing strategy using free marketing tools, don’t forget to baseline first so you can measure what you’ve accomplished so you know which ones to choose. That’s what we covered in our last blog – how Google Analytics can be used to set your marketing baseline. It’s a great way to figure out how you’re doing, so you can set the rest of your marketing strategy for the year.

Once you’ve baselined, you can take a look at the underlying analytics to figure out how to set your program for 2015. Google Analytics insights will tell you which social media channels you should be targeting, and which 3rd party sites are helping you drive referral traffic the most. When you have an idea of which channels are working the most for you (or have gathered several hypothesis around which channels could work well for you), you can start to look through the myriad of free tools that exist for you to promote your content.

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Productive Startup Marketing – Baseline with Google Analytics

Now that it’s the New Year, it’s a perfect time for you take stock of your startup marketing strategy, analyze how you did last year, and set up your plan for 2015. This is certainly true for us, as we had a whirlwind 2014. There are a lot of tools out there to choose from – many of which are free or, at least, “freemium” (partially free, with an additional cost for additional features). We just published a blog on a practical guide on how to successfully do startup marketing, which we compiled mostly from our learning at Denver Startup Week last Fall.
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Year-End 2014 Blog Recap

The Baked & Branded team, like many of our readers checking out this 2014 blog recap, has had an action-packed, exciting, and at times – unexpected – 2014. But hey, isn’t variety and change the spice of life?

The year kicked off with our announcement that we would accept Bitcoin – so in case your Bitcoin are burning a hole in your pocket, put them to good use and build something in 2015!
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Time to Talk to a Design and Dev Agency

Design and Dev Agency - Is it the right time for you?It’s a big decision to outsource portions (or all) of your product development to a design and dev agency. If you’re a startup, this is often a necessary step to attract a team, initial customers, and raising capital. If you’re a larger organization, you may need to build a new software product (website, mobile app, etc.) that isn’t in your wheelhouse. In these cases and others it might be best to bring in an outside design and dev agency to help you do what they do best – deploy a successful software product.

As you weigh your options, Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

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Managing a Remote Team: PM Tools of the Trade

Last week we surveyed a panel of expert remote team managers for their advice on  managing a remote team effectively. This week we’ll cover some of the best project management tools out there for managing a remote team. Finally, be sure to read all the way to the end, because we circled back with our Denver Startup Week remote team experts to find out what traps to avoid, and some final words of wisdom.

Managing A Remote Team - Which PM Software Works BestWhat are the best project management tools for managing a remote team?

Tracking tasks and objectives in various iterations is paramount to the success of your remote structure. One way to improve managing a remote team is is through implementing project management software. We actually have written an  entire blog about this explaining why Asana is our project management tool of choice. Here are some other suggestions, straight from our panel of managing a remote team experts:

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