Getting to the bottom of a fresh user experience

We’re excited to announce that we’ve made eight fresh enhancements to Sage One intelligence that will improve your experience when using your favourite reporting tool! Before we get there though, we thought, as a small business owner, you’d like to know and understand the journey behind designing this fresh user experience. You may even discover a hint of entrepreneurial spirit in it.

How did it come to be?

Have you ever closely examined something that you use every single day? The most useful things in life are quite often those which we take for granted. For example, who ever thought of the design for a pair of scissors? Could you think of a better way for them to work? Why do we sometimes have a button and other times a switch, for example, why’s it a light switch and not a light button?

I’ll tell you why, it’s because the person who designed them carefully evaluated all the options, tried a few things out, and then gradually let user feedback evolve their product.

The same process is undertaken for designing software, only the evolutionary path is much shorter. This is because as technology consumers, we demand ease of use and practicality.

So, what do I, as a Product Owner and Sage solution designer, think of when creating and updating software? Firstly, there is a bit of ground work to cover.

Getting the context

Designing software requires the adoption of a completely new persona – that of our customer who is going to be using the software daily to help them achieve their goals.

Before designing the software or creating a fresh user experience, I accustom myself to the world of the person who is going to use it. I spend time on the phone, in face-to-face meetings, reading blogs and trending articles, all so that I can think like they think and do what they do. Luckily, I have been adopting the persona of a small business owner for some years now, so it’s almost second nature to me.

Now that I have the background, I can start designing

The design process starts with a blank white board; each step of the process is meticulously drawn out with clear notes articulating what’s required from each step.  Once I have all the points that I need to achieve illustrated, I can start reordering the logic of the steps. Just like a puzzle, I need to determine where’s the best fit for each piece.

What order should things be done in?

Just like plotting a course on a map, deciphering the best way to get to the end destination is an important step in creating or designing software. What is the clear and logical route to follow to achieve what I need to? Much like a road trip, sometimes there are detours and obstacles to consider, and when these occur, it’s necessary to have a plan in place to deal with them. Therefore, in software, you sometimes see pop-ups and wizards. These are put in place to help guide you through certain areas that may be tricky.

What’s the cleanest design for the screens?

Like they say, making a short speech is much harder than making a long speech. The same goes for software design. Keeping the interfaces clean and simple, while still delivering a powerful and flexible tool, is no simple undertaking.

So, my task is to remove, tuck away or disguise certain pieces of the software so that the screens are simple and easy to follow. The thinking here is along the lines of—how do I still get to the punchline of my joke without boring the audience?

What is the ultimate gauge of success?

My goal when designing software for small business owners is to reduce their time spent on figuring out the software and on administrative tasks, and to allow them to focus on their business. I strive to ensure that the reporting software I create gives them the exact information they need to make the decisions that are so crucial to the strategy and survival of their businesses. If the software I design or the new user experience I’m partly responsible for saves a small business owner 5 minutes a day, which is just over 30 hours a year that they can focus on their primary business activities, the software will be deemed a success!

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for, what’s so fresh about the new Sage One Intelligence user experience? Here it goes:

  1. Standard Reports page: Here you’ll find the ready-to-use reports that ship with Sage Intelligence.
  2. My Reports page: Your copied, customized or imported reports will be saved here.
  3. Reporting options button: This button will make it quick and easy to create reports and folders.
  4. Re-naming reports and adding descriptions: Custom reports can be renamed and descriptions of reports can be added with a few clicks.
  5. Save reports to folders: When saving a new, copied, or imported report, you’ll be able to select which folder you want to save them to.
  6. Grouped Help resources: All Help resources have been logically grouped together in one easy-to-access place.
  7. Export to PDF: In addition to “downloading” reports to Excel, you’ll be able to export them to PDF as well.

These are just some of the handy new features that have been added. For more information and a quick guide through the new features, join us for a webcast taking place on Thursday, 21 September at 09:00am.

Register Now

Common Errors on Small Business Websites

Your website is a portal for customers, new and old alike, to interact with your business. It’s easy to underestimate just how powerful an impact a well-designed website can have, and conversely, how easily people can be turned away from a poorly functioning or amateurish website. Keep customers’ attention, and check if your site isn’t committing these common, easily missed mistakes.

 

 

No call-to-actions

 

A call-to-action is text that tells a visitor what to do on that page – so, for instance “Book Now”, “Buy Now”, “Add to Cart”, “Contact Us”. These should stand out from the rest of the page, making it easy and intuitive for visitors to purchase the goods or services that your company offers. Ensure that each page has a strong, relevant call-to-action – and critically, these call-to-actions should work.

 

Aesthetically unappealing

 

An ugly website is an immediate turn-off. We’re compelled to trust things that match our expectations – think of the difference that you feel when approached by an untidy salesperson, compared to a well-dressed one. The aesthetics can be purely superficial, but they can also signal to a customer that since you have taken care of the details, you can take care of the substantive part.

 

Doesn’t use responsive design

 

Responsive design means that your website will work equally well for mobile visitors as desktop visitors. Failure to cater for mobile visitors is self-sabotage – you’ll miss out on a huge number of customers.

 

Slow-loading site

 

People are impatient. If your site doesn’t load within 3 seconds, people will tend to leave the page at a rate that increases as load time increases. There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your site doesn’t load slowly – make sure that your images are not excessively large for their use (using a 1mb image in a box where a 40kb image will do), enable caching if your site has been built with WordPress, or move to a better web-hosting company.

 

No clear benefits to visitors

 

Your website should provide an immediate sense of purpose to visitors – state clearly and explicitly using a headline why your site exists, and why someone visiting your site will find a benefit by visiting the site. It’s easy to assume that people can intuitively grasp your purpose – your nearness to your business can blind you.

 

Provide no reason to opt-in to newsletters

 

Email newsletter sign-ups are incredibly valuable – it a very effective way to keep your business’s presence in the minds of people who have previously expressed an interest in your goods or services. You can use emails to draw people into the proverbial sales funnel, and this process begins by securing an email sign-up.

 

A poor ‘About’ page

 

‘About’ pages are easily over-looked, but tend to be among the most visited pages on a website, especially by those who have already been attracted by whatever is on display. People use the ‘About’ page as a means to evaluate the trustworthiness of your company. Vagueness is bad – be clear about your story, and people will be drawn to you.

How to choose the right business for you

When it comes to business, most people would rather start their own instead of working for someone else. If you are one such person, you will know just how tricky it can be to choose the right business for you. There are plenty of things to consider, as you will be laying a lot on the line, not to even mention the fact that others (investors, employees) will likely be relying on the success of your business to get by.

 

When it comes to business, most people would rather start their own instead of working for someone else. If you are one such person, you will know just how tricky it can be to choose the right business for you. There are plenty of things to consider, as you will be laying a lot on the line, not to even mention the fact that others (investors, employees) will likely be relying on the success of your business to get by. Before you jump in the deep-end and start making difficult decisions, consider the following factors to help you choose a business that will work well for you.

 

What do you have to offer?

 

Think about your strengths and weaknesses, and let those guide you. For example, if you are a people’s person, you could probably do well in an industry that involves a lot of client interaction, such as the service industry. If you’d prefer not to have to interact with too many people on a daily basis, perhaps opening an online store is a better option for you. Either way, you need to establish where your strengths and weaknesses lie, as this will guide you in the right direction.

 

What does your skill-set allow for?

 

Nothing is more important than feeling fulfilled in your job. We spend so much of our time working, so it’s important to make sure that we enjoy as much of that time as possible. Most people are trained in what they enjoy most – either through formal education, or through gaining experience in that field. Look at where your skillset will point you, and consider starting up a business in that field. However, try and make sure that you can also offer something that sets you apart from your competitors.

 

What does your experience tell you?

 

Over the years, you are sure to have seen business models that work and those that don’t. Look back on the experience you have, whether it be in a professional or personal capacity, and pick up on areas that you think are lacking. Think about what frustrated you when you were a client at another business, as well as what you knew was frustrating your clients when you worked for someone else. Perhaps try to fill a gap in the market with your new business and look at what you can do to make clients’ experiences more enjoyable.

 

Where do you want the business to go?

 

Before you decide on what kind of business to start, think about where you want to be in five years’ time. Do you think you may want to sell the business, or would you rather take a hands-on approach and stay with it every step of the way? If the former sounds more like you, then consider an industry that allows for it, and do the same for the latter if that applies to you.

 

Starting a business can be challenging enough as it is. However, smart business choices can help lead you to a place where you know exactly what kind of business it is that you need to start. No matter what kind of business you end up starting, Sage One offers Business Start-Up Bundles, so that once you’re up and running, you can stay on top of all your business management needs.

 

 

Featured image: http://www.isvmag.com

What SMEs need to know before going into business with corporates

Understanding the whale

Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape and top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, writes that corporates must be understood as entities that are, to a large degree, beyond understanding. He compares the small business owner to Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, with the prospective corporate partner filling the role of the great white whale, Moby Dick.

 

Mr Andreessen writes that something strange happens when groups of people are drawn together in a commercial entity of many divisions and leaders – usual measures of predictability go out the window.

 

So, when you are presented with the opportunity to collaborate in business with a much larger partner, here are things to keep in mind to get the most out of the opportunity, as well as to know when you should back out too.

 

Decisions, decisions

 

In your business, it is likely that the decision-making burden rests on you alone, as the owner, or among a small group of people, depending on the decision-making infrastructure at play. One of the great advantages of running a small business – being able to adjust to new circumstances with flexibility – stems from having to consider only a small number of people when contemplating larger decisions.

 

A corporate yields far greater power than you, but that clout is contained by internal processes and layers of decision-makers that will, unfortunately, remain opaque to you.

 

The first lesson of dealing with corporates lies in internalising the slow pace at which they are compelled to move. You may have very positive talks with heads of a particular department, but getting to the point at which signatures are exchanged will bring in people with whom you will never interact – branches of legal, other departments that may be affected by your prospective deal no matter how tangentially. If an objection is raised – from any quarter – your deal could quite possibly be tabled.

 

Politics, cubicled

 

Even if the deal is as sound, and mutually beneficial as any ever made, factors outside of basic economic rationality may come into play. Corporates, you may be reminded, are not strictly commercial entities. From sheer force of human numbers, corporates become political entities – if you’ve worked at a larger organisation, you may have experienced this – it may be why you’re working in a small business. Personal vendettas, power plays, can leave you out in the cold in your business deal. In some unfortunate cases, it may seem as if your business idea and operation is taken in by the corporate, only to emerge as an internal division that now competes with your own operation.

 

This is not to say that a small business should avoid dealings with corporates. Such dealings can be the making of a small firm, and drive operations to new heights. The extended infrastructure connections that are gained in corporate deals can inspire new branches of your own business – a big leap towards empire.

 

You may land your white whale; but if you feel like your pursuance is driving you to the ends of your sanity, then be assured that it is not you who is irrational – a certain kind of craziness is contained within the nature of big C beast.

Working wherever – how to master the remote office life

The office – a place where distractions are disappeared, and work is done. To some, there must be a space that is the unchanging embodiment of this frame of mind. They think that they must be one among many with their heads buried in their laptops. Others are able to work in every space they inhabit; some, cannot escape the mind that pushes their productive efforts forward.

 

To work wherever is a possibility that has become reality for many people only recently. In the times before the internet filled communicative pauses, this remote work lifestyle was reserved for novelists, foreign correspondents, secret agents, private detectives, and those with enough clout to command people towards them. If most of your hours are spent in front of a computer, then you too may be a candidate for a remote office life.

 

How to work remotely?

 

If you’re considering moving towards a remote work lifestyle, you should begin by acknowledging that you will not master this ability immediately – nor should you think that your first pass at a work routine is the best that you can muster. The essential lesson of this post is to emphasise that you must test out different styles of work to discover a way that gets the most out of your working hours.

 

The key to this is experimenting with your processes, and cementing that which works through habituation.

 

Working remotely as a personal experiment

 

Self-supervision is the crucial element to this process – you must consistently spend a small portion of your day detached from your client-centric work, and critically evaluate your performance. Gather the objective facts – when you began work; how much time you spent working; how much time was spent distracted, at leisure, or on a break; which tasks you did; how much you managed to get done; where you were when working – as well as the subjective facts – how comfortable were you with the amount done; what level of concentration you achieved; how successfully you managed to solve problems; whether the day was good or bad.

 

Review and re-view yourself

 

This sort of data is best gathered in a spreadsheet. On Friday, conduct a brief review of the week, and at the month’s end, evaluate your performance more thoroughly. Documenting in this fashion can illuminate aspects of your working day that you might otherwise overlook – perhaps you’ll find that some tasks are better tackled in the morning, or that you work better when starting the day at noon.

 

The self-supervision process will give you a sense of yourself in the third-person, and will help you to identify which aspects of your work process to tweak in order to be more productive by breaking past your hidden subjective biases.

 

Habituation

 

The review process can be halted once you feel that you have settled on a way of working that brings out the best in you. You may discover, however, that the process is an intrinsically useful one. In your quest to find the best version of your working habits, you will have habituated yourself into a work habit that does something good for you. You may discover that you are a more dynamic creature than a fixed life routine can handle, and that keeping the work-tracking process as your key fixed feature works better than always beginning work at sunrise or following two cups of coffee ever could.

Getting into exporting

Our globalised world requires giving thought with global scope to our business. Where appropriate, you may come to believe that your product has a market beyond the confines of your immediate surroundings. You may be right, and here’s how to begin to evaluate whether the grass is greener (and the profit margins wider).

 

Barriers to entry

 

You may have a product that can compete with foreign products of a similar calibre, all things being equal. But it’s rarely so simple – depending on your product and your prospective market, the target country may look to exclude foreign companies from competing with domestic producers. If you’re a South African producer, there are a number of beneficial trade agreements of which you may take advantage – AGOA, with the USA opens up a large market to your goods. Check which tariffs you may be subject to using the WTO website.

 

Linked to tariffs are what are known as Non-Tariff Barriers-to-entry, or NTBs. These are standards that importing countries place on certain goods in order to protect domestic consumers. Sanitary regulations might be in play – the EU, for instance, insists on strict (some say excessive) quality controls for certain agricultural stock. Your product may get turned back if it doesn’t accord to the importing country’s standards

 

Market Research

 

You know a lot about your product. You’ve developed it, discovered the costs, and, following your importing research, you’ll know where you can sell it profitably. But you need to know which of those countries has a market that might want to buy your products.

 

There are a number of ways that you can go about discovering what sort of interest people in foreign markets may have in what you’re producing. As a small business, you’re unlikely to have the funds to hire a market research firm in your target country, but you can get a semblance of that knowledge via other means.

 

One effective way to discover whether people are interested in you products is to run online ads across a demographic on certain key words. Using Google’s keyword planner tool can give you an indication as to whether there exists a natural interest in products of your kind, and using targeted PPC ads will drive potential customers toward your product. You don’t necessarily need to have you product available in your target country at this stage – your interest is in the interest of other people.

 

Contacting foreign agents

 

Once you’ve discovered a market that will import your products, with a consumer base that can make doing so profitable, you can either rely simply on the internet to handle your purchase orders, or, get in contact with an agent in that country to take larger stock orders. For many, using an agent means a greater level of stability – bigger orders, stable supply, local exposure and know-how at the cost of a reduced margin.

 

Completing these steps can provide you with enough evidence to be confident that your product can compete outside of your home territory. The rest will be up to you.

How to achieve the perfect product/market fit

Small businesses form attempting to take advantage of a need. A team is assembled, and a product is developed and honed to meet the expectations of a demand.

 

Successfully meeting a product to a market is an event that entrepreneurs dream about – Marc Andreessen characterises this as the moment in which production of the product is matched by sales. At this point, it becomes nigh impossible to make changes to your product since the day-to-day running of the business is taken up by managing the sales. Forcing you to hire sales and customer support staff.

 

This moment can happen rapidly, and dealing with the expansion will stretch new parts of your business skill set. But getting there is another world entirely.

 

Focus on the market

 

Michael Siebel, partner in Y Combinator, has a bit of experience in working with start-ups going through the product/market fit process – graduates from the Y Combinator program include Reddit, Dropbox, Twitch.tv, and Airbnb, some of the most innovative companies in the tech sector today.

 

He believes that the key to finding a successful meeting of product and market will happen through focus on the market.

 

The argument is that too great a focus on the team and the product removes the real intention behind entering a market in the first place.

 

A product isn’t finished until the point of fit. The process of refinement must involve playing close attention to the way that customers respond to your offering.

 

Two approaches to you crafting your product

 

There are two approaches to getting to the product/market fit – one, the Steve Jobs approach, emphasises pushing the product as the solution to the problem that your customers didn’t know they needed. The other is following customers’ needs closely and matching their demands – this is Mr Siebel’s preference.

 

The truth lies somewhere in between – a product, to succeed, needs to offer customers something out of the ordinary, and that sparks a desire to buy the product. But too far, and you’ll get visionary points, but too few people afraid to commit. Similarly, covering customer demands is a great way to turn customers into loyal purchasers of your products – too far in this regard will mean that your products can become stretched thin through over-compensation.

 

The Minimum Viable Product

 

At the Y Combinator incubator, start-up founders are pushed to develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is a product that represents the most basic expression of the idea that got the founders into business. An MVP is something that consumers can interact with, and find value in.

 

With an MVP in place, your business becomes testing how people enjoy your product – whether they find use in it, whether it does what you want it to. You only reach your product/market fit by using the feedback loop of customer interaction and product adjustment.

 

Following this test and design adjustment process cannot guarantee success, but failing by not using this process is guaranteed.

Technology and small business

In an ever-evolving technological age, it’s vital that businesses embrace the technology around them and use it as effectively as possible. The world of business is a highly competitive one, so it’s one of your responsibilities as a business owner to educate yourself about the latest technologies and to integrate them into your business as much as possible.  

 

This will enable you not only to remain competitive, but also to meet the expectations of your customers, reduce costs and stay ahead of regulatory demands. Utilising the right technologies can also help a business to improve its relationships with its clients, enter new markets, as well as to increase efficiency and revenue – something that can ultimately lead to the impressive expansion of business operations.

 

With the introduction of cloud computing, businesses have multiple options when it comes to business management solutions. From digital platforms, to business applications and reporting tools, it’s now possible for businesses to have access to a range of solutions that are not only effective and reliable, but most importantly, affordable. The cloud offers simplicity and flexibility, and you’re able to access all your data from wherever you are, any time. Plus, all the information stored on the cloud is safe and secure, so you never have to worry about backing up data or losing it. What follows is five ways your business should be using technology to its advantage.

 

Accounting and Payroll Software

 

Online accounting and payroll software, such as that available from Sage One, means that those days of thumbing through file drawers and battling with complicated, inefficient systems are behind you. Sage One allows you to see your profits and losses at a glance as well as manage all your accounts, payroll and budgets quickly and easily. The best part is that you can do this where ever, whenever, all you need is an internet connection.

 

Automated Marketing

 

One of the common reasons for businesses failing within the first two years is a lack of marketing savvy. If your small business makes it past the two-year mark, then it’s up to you to find effective yet affordable methods to market the business and what it offers. There are many cloud-based marketing applications available that provide the perfect solution when it comes to marketing technology. Small businesses don’t have to rely on sophisticated and expensive technology to do a great job when it comes to marketing, and when used correctly, the cloud-based marketing applications available can achieve the same results to that of larger companies.

 

Social Media

 

Social media is one of the most powerful technological tools available and when used to its full potential, can help a small business grow in the best possible ways. A strong social media presence allows a business to interact with customers regularly, something that helps build brand loyalty, but also extends the business’s reach. For example, having a simple blog on your website that is updated regularly with relevant content will increase customer engagement and hopefully attract new business through it being shared across social platforms.

 

Planning Software

 

Every business should have a calendar system or some kind of planning resource in place. This will help you to be more organised as a business, meet deadlines and run daily processes more efficiently. With so many demands needing to be met on a day-to-day basis, business owners and their employees will benefit from a system that helps them manage their time effectively, because at the end of the day, time is money.

 

Mobile Technology

 

This is something that has become a “must” for all businesses. People are able to do more and more on their phones/tablets, and so it’s not surprising that they expect to be able to do everything via their mobile device. It’s in the best interests of a business to ride the mobile wave, both in terms of its utilisation of mobile applications as well as ensuring that its customers are able to connect with the business via their mobile devices.

 

When it comes to technology, it’s important that small businesses use it in a lean and smart way. It’s become a huge part of the business world and the reality is that it needs to be embraced in as any ways as possible, so keep up with the times and make technology your friend – it’s sure to serve you and your business well.

 

 

Featured image: http://www.technology-in-business.net

Here’s what you should be doing differently when it comes to your small business

Sometimes in business, entrepreneurs just get it right. Others will look on in awe and wonder what the secret to their success is and what they could be doing differently in order to become as successful. Establishing, running and growing your own business is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things you can choose to do, and it requires consistent patience, persistence and dedication. 

Sometimes in business, entrepreneurs just get it right. Others will look on in awe and wonder what the secret to their success is and what they could be doing differently in order to become as successful. Establishing, running and growing your own business is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things you can choose to do, and it requires consistent patience, persistence and dedication. As a small business owner you need to be constantly re-evaluating your business to ensure it’s performing at its absolute best. Here’s our list of a few things you should consider doing differently, if you aren’t doing them already.

Tweak and diversify

In order to have a successful business, people have to buy what you’re selling, be it a product or a service. If you noticed that sales have taken a dip, it may be time to make some changes to the things on offer. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean complete replacement, but perhaps only a few tweaks here and there. For example, you may consider creating new packages for clients that consist of a handful of your products, thereby adding value. You may find this better speaks to the needs of customers, something that should be constantly being met by your business. Diversification can also be an effective route to go and involves branching out a little. If you own a fashion business, you could think about expanding into garment care by offering a range of products that can be used to maintain the items of clothing you offer. You can end up not only appealing to already existing customers, but to an entirely new consumer market as well.

Don’t just market your product – sell your story

The key here is context. Consumers will be far more inclined to buy your product if they understand how it can help solve their problems. So how do you as the business owner go about achieving this? It’s simple: you provide the story behind the business. People tend to connect with stories, especially when it comes to those linked to specific products. The story will automatically inject meaning and emotion into the purchase process, but most importantly, telling a story brings a human element to the often clinical business world. By putting a face to the brand and sharing the story behind it, consumers are bound to feel more connected to it, and connection can not only lead to more sales, but to brand loyalty as well.

Embrace technology

Whether you like it not, the reality is that the role technology is playing in the success of small business is becoming more and more important every day. You can’t expect to grow in a technologically saturated world by turning your back on it. We don’t mean becoming tech-savvy overnight and investing in every possible element of technology pertaining to your particular business, but rather embracing it slowly but surely over a period of time. A good place to start is with social media– when used correctly, it can completely transform your marketing strategy…and for the better. Another thing to consider is the power of the Cloud. Software that operates within the Cloud can help to change how you run and manage your business dramatically. Sage One Software provides you with a fast, efficient and simple way of dealing with the financial side of your business, such as payroll and accounts. Don’t shy away from technology – it could be just the ingredient you need to boost your business.

Don’t compromise your vision

Among other things, flexibility and adaptability are two important aspects to bear in mind when it comes to running your own business. There’s no doubt that you will experience bumps in the road that require you to adapt and make changes fast, but in doing that, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of your purpose and core values. This can be easier said than done, but at the end of the day, if you compromise your vision and the principles you hold dear, you may end up regretting it. By all means make adjustments at times, but that shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice your vision completely.

Part of running your own business is learning as you go. You will stumble at times but the important thing is to get up and keep moving forward. Observe the businesses around you – you can only learn from them.

 

Featured image: http://michaelhyatt.com