I have been involved in a number of start-ups and I know just how easy it can be to get it wrong. And the business will carry those mistakes with it for a long time.
I was once involved in a business that had been established a few years before I came on board. I was brought in to ‘fix’ the marketing, but it was not just the marketing that needed fixing. There were all sorts of fundamental problems associated with the organisation and infrastructure of the company that were hampering success. And many of these problems had their origins in the way the company was set up right at the start. Where was the focus on getting marketing right from the start?
The decisions that are made in the early days will stay with you for a long time. They form the foundations upon which everything else is built. In this company’s case, something as simple as the way they had organised their IT document filing system was causing everybody real headaches. The two directors had had very different ideas about how documents, spreadsheets and databases should be filed and the resulting mess made finding anything on their system an ordeal.
So how should they have set it up? Well, to start with, they needed a single agreed system, applied across the system – instead of two systems running in tandem. One Director had decided that his documents should be filed according to the application used (Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, etc.). The other Director had filed his documents using the organisational structure of the business (Management, Technical, Quality, Marketing, Sales, etc.). The result was, and remained, chaos.
The same can be said of many other aspects of the business. An obvious example is the filing system for emails. What do you do with them? How do you devise sensible folders for your emails? Do you keep them all, or do you dispense with the less important ones? How do you decide what is, and what is not, important? Do you file inbound and outbound emails? These are the sorts of questions you need to answer before the system is put in place.
The bane of many small businesses is the Customer Relationship Management System – the CRM. I have seen many small businesses where the CRM is the master, to be served by the workforce slavishly – and, as a result, not used properly or loved by anyone. A CRM system is there to record contacts that are crucial to the business and to track your dealings with those contacts. If it is set up properly, it becomes a very useful tool. However, all too often, it is an onerous task to keep it working advantageously and the reports it generates are all too often the stuff of nightmares. It is also crucial to getting marketing right across all aspects of the business.
So, what do I recommend?
1. Make a list of all the systems you are going to use. It seems a bit obvious really, but you would be surprised how seldom start-ups do this. You need to see how the various systems sit beside each other and how they will interact with each other. They need to be mapped out. Decisions have to be made at this point. For instance, what is going to serve as the company calendar? Will you be using the calendar function in Outlook or will you be using the calendar function that comes with your Cloud storage (e.g. Google Calendar). Or the calendar that comes with your CRM? You will need to settle for one and one only.
2. Decide a protocol for the use of each system. How should appointments be entered onto the calendar or CRM? What information should be included? What format should be used? Once you have a protocol agreed, write it down and share it. And, from time to time, make sure that it is being followed. If people are straying from the protocol, that needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.
3. Get your systems set up properly. If you need to bring in a bit of expert help, do so. And do it right at the beginning. Ask your accountant or bookkeeper what accounts package has the functionality you require and get their advice on what they prefer. Ensure that it is set up in a way that will work for you. The rule of thumb is this. What reports are going to be useful to you? If the accounts package has the ability to run reports, start with your ‘ideal report’ and work backwards. If it is set up without the end product in mind, it will quickly become an object of frustration.
4. CRM. I’ve said it above, but it needs saying again. The CRM can, and often is, the single most hated system in any company. Setting it up is a skill in itself. The temptation is to overuse the functionality. Your sales people will end up filling in irrelevant fields on endless forms because that is the way it was set up. Do they really need to fill in the name of your contact’s pet dog? Or categorise the nature of the meeting from a list of thirty alternatives? Keep it simple. Make it work. And get it right from the very start. If you do not know what you are doing, then get help. You will live with the consequences for a very long time and it will go a long way to ensuring that you are getting marketing right.
My own experience
I have an understanding of this from two very different perspectives. I have been called in to ‘fix’ problems that have very often been caused by poor set-ups. And, I have been involved in setting up my own engineering company from scratch. On that occasion, I knew the potential pitfalls and we were able to implement a set of protocols that have served us very well indeed. We have a filing system for documents and emails that mirror each other (You would not believe how easy that
makes finding anything we need). Everyone knows what emails to save and where to save them. We set the CRM up to allow us to send emails through it – which allows us at the end of each day to clear the inbox and sent mailboxes. Nothing gets missed or lost. I love it.
You would not believe what a fantastic system we have and it has cost us very little to set up. There are lots of freebies suitable for small businesses – for instance, we set up a Google account for free which comes with the excellent Google calendar and free cloud service, Google Drive. This allows us to share and synch all our documents, which is great when we are out on the road or working from home. We use the excellent and free CRM system Hubspot. Being online, it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. We have set it up so that it is a joy to use and not a burden.
I have also helped some very modest start-ups run everything they need from simple spreadsheets. It has helped to keep their costs down in the initial phase. The sheets I have developed can become an accounts package, CRM and scheduler all wrapped up in one document. Those that have used it have found it to be a god-send. In time, the sheets can be replaced by proper packages. But, in terms of costs, it can make a huge difference.
Advice – getting marketing right
In the end, it is not the expensive packages that make the difference. It really is how they are set-up from the start. The advice that I would give to any start-up is to get some expert help in to ensure that the set-up you are committing to will work for you and not against you. It may be around for many years to come and can make the difference between loving what you do or hating it. And the same goes for established small businesses. If you are frustrated by the way things are, there is much that can be done to fix things. I should know. I have fixed a few in my time.