How To Automate Your Online Business

How To Automate Your Online Business

This is the final article in a series inspired by the YouTube Video, “7 Leverage Tools The Rich Use To Make Money,” by The Better Men Project. It covers tool #7, leveraging automation systems. Automation may seem like a tool for big enterprise companies, but it’s increasingly helpful for small businesses and solopreneurs thanks to evolving technology. Indeed, it’s very important for smaller businesses because they may not have the manpower to perform every necessary task. For functions that can’t be automated, I suggest you read my previous article, “How To Hire A Freelancer, And Why”.

Related: “Business Funding: Where To Go, And How To Get It”; “How To Run A Business Mastermind In Facebook Groups”

Guidelines For Automating Your Business

The good news in automation is that there are thousands of apps that can do almost anything you want; that is also the bad news, because the options are overwhelming. When starting, you must deconstruct your business, and prioritize which parts you should do yourself and what should be automated or delegated. Follow these guidelines.

Automate the easiest processes first: If a process/function doesn’t need a human personality (or if there’s no human “value add,”) let a machine do it. Start with something simple. That way, you can get comfortable with the world of technology and understand what’s feasible.

Automate repetitive tasks: No human wants to perform time-consuming, monotonous work. If work like data entry can be digitized, it can be automated.

Find an app that bundles services: Some apps specialize in one job, but others have grown to encompass multiple functions. For example, Hubspot is a freemium customer relations management software that also includes email marketing, among other things. Such a software-as-a-service bundle can save you money down the road.

Comparison shop: You may have heard of one app that is a market leader, but you don’t like the pricing, the company behind it, etc. The easiest way to find alternatives is to type the app’s name in Google followed by “vs.” You can find comparison reviews of that app along with its competitors.

Find your weaknesses, and replace yourself: We all have things we’re good at, and we should focus on those. Anything we struggle with should be delegated to automation or a freelancer.

What To Automate

Bench.co has a great article about can be automated in your business, and recommends apps and services (“How To Automate Your Small Business In 2020.”) I’ll summarize it here, but you should read it for ideas. There are more apps to consider, though, so try my comparison shopping suggestion on Google. Not all of these operations may pertain to your business (although marketing is essential,) so set priorities.

Marketing: Social media marketing is a great first step in building your brand. Bench recommends Buffer and Hootsuite to manage your social media content so you don’t spend all day online. Once you have followers and subscribers, email marketing is the most powerful online sales strategy. You can look into Mailchimp, Drip, GetResponse, and ConvertKit for your email service.

Customer Relations Management (CRM) apps straddle the lines between marketing, sales, and customer support. Salesforce is the market leader, but it’s pricey. Bench recommends Zoho as a budget-friendly alternative. You can also check out Hubspot.

Accounting & Bookkeeping: Tracking expenses and invoices can easily skip your mind, and cause a panic during tax season. There are apps that track these as they happen. For vehicle mileage, you can use MileIQ; for employee payroll, there is Gusto. Harvest is an app for invoicing recurring retainer clients. Bench recommend their own service for bookkeeping. ScanSnap Scanner and Shoebox are good choices for document tracking. Finally, TaxJar keeps track of sales taxes, especially if you do business in multiple states.

Employee Support: If you’re hiring employees, the Bench article suggests posting on ZipRecruiter to get the word out everywhere. When training your new hires, Trainual is a tool for documenting your procedures and quizzing trainees. Collage is an employee records system for HR, and it’s also an alternative payroll system if you’re in Canada.

Customer Service: Chatbots are the big new thing in customer relations and support; they can be installed on your website and programmed to answer common questions. The Bench article suggests Tawk for your chat bot because it has a powerful free version, and lets you hire human representatives for $1 per hour. To make responding to emails easier, you can turn to classic Gmail since it moves unanswered emails to the top of your list.

If you run an ecommerce business, Bench recommends Stamps.com and its subsidiary Shipstation to help you. Stamps.com simplifies making postage, while Shipstation integrates with your ecommerce website to track orders.

Additional Sources:

Inc.com, “How To Automate Your Business For Fast Growth”

Entrepreneur.com, “11 Ways To Automate Your Business And Boost Efficiency”

How To Run A Business Mastermind In Facebook Groups

How To Run A Business Mastermind In Facebook Groups

A mastermind is a support group of like-minded individuals working to achieve a certain goal, and it’s one of the best resources an entrepreneur can have. This article will explain how to start a business mastermind on Facebook, and how to run it. Most businesspeople have heard of masterminds at some time, since the term was coined by Napoleon Hill in his book Think And Grow Rich. Finding such a group is easier said than done, though, and it’s even harder to keep it going as members’ schedules diverge. Hosting an online group that members can go in and out of on their own time is easier for everyone.

This article is part of a series inspired by the YouTube video, “7 Leverage Tools The Rich Use To Make Money,” by The Better Men Project. It covers tool #2, other people’s knowledge; #5, their network; and #6, other people’s ideas. Understanding how the very wealthy get to their positions can help common people prosper in ways that are fair and equitable.

Related: “Business Funding: Where To Go, And How To Get It”; “How To Hire A Freelancer, And Why”

The reasons to have a mastermind involve gathering individuals with different, yet complementary, skillsets, growing your professional network to find opportunities, and finding accountability partners to keep you on task. Other people have knowledge and ideas that can benefit your business, and you can help with theirs. They likely know other people you can sell to or partner with.

Starting A Facebook Group

Neil Patel has a good guide for starting and growing Facebook groups (“An Eye-Opening Guide On How To Grow A Facebook Group”). His first step is to define your group’s purpose, in order to bring in the right members. Patel’s article is aimed at starting a group to find customers, but we can tweak the plan. Your mastermind should be for businesses in a related field who aren’t in direct competition with each other. It can be for freelancers, bloggers, restaurant managers, or any other profession you happen to be in.

Patel’s next step is to log into Facebook, click the dropdown arrow in the top menu, and select “Create Group.” You’ll enter a group name, and you should make it a closed group. Only people who are in your group can see your content. Then you’ll need to add one of your Facebook friends as the first member. Communicate with this person beforehand.

Next, you’ll select an icon for the group, either one from Facebook’s library or something you upload. Then you’ll type a group description which members will see when they join. You’ll then select up to 5 descriptive tags, and add a cover photo (one of your own images or one that’s royalty-free.)

To improve the chances of your group being found, click the 3 dot icon, select “Edit Group Settings,” pick a group type, add a location if you want to focus on a certain geographic area, and create some questions for new members so you can screen them.

You should also create a separate Facebook Page. This will help you promote the group with public posts and paid ads. The process of making a page is similar to making a group; you start from the dropdown arrow in the top menu, and select “Create Page.” The type of page should be “Cause or Community.” Follow the steps presented and publish it.

Now that you have a Facebook page, you can run ads through it. You can log into Facebook Ads Manager and start an “Engagement” campaign. Neil Patel’s article does a thorough job explaining the advertising process. Another method of advertising is creating posts on your page and “boosting” them. The option to boost a post should appear immediately after it goes public, provided it adheres to Facebook’s terms of service.

To promote your group for free, share posts on your page about it. Do this between other posts where you share helpful content related to your business. You can also promote it in other groups that you belong to. It’s best to contribute good, sincere content in these groups beforehand so you don’t come across as a spammer.

Running A Business Mastermind

Once your Facebook group is published, there are guidelines for getting the most out of it. Remember the purpose and goals of your mastermind, and go forward.

Be selective of who you let in: As mentioned before, your members shouldn’t be direct competitors. They can be in the same field if you intend to subcontract work to or from them. Members should have similar experience levels and be able to communicate personably.

Set ground rules immediately: You should post these in the group’s description. Clearly state what content is acceptable, who can join, the process of joining, etc.

Introduce new members with new posts: When new people join the group, announce it to the rest of the group in a post, and encourage a warm welcome. Communicate to new members that they’re valued, and encourage them to engage with others.

Make it easy for members to communicate: You will likely have rules for acceptable content, but otherwise, be warm and open. Make members feel comfortable asking questions and be eager to share information of your own. You can invite members to direct message each other.

Ask questions: Questions are a great all-around social media engagement tool. Ask members their goals, deadlines, plans, and ask for ideas. You can present a problem in your business that others may have a solution to. When you lead by example, that makes other members more confident in expressing themselves.

No more than 2 posts per day: You don’t want to overwhelm your group with content, so limit your posts to 2 per day. If your post starts a lively conversation in the comments section, go ahead and share more in that.

Live videos/Events: At some point, you’ll want to have a simultaneous roundtable discussion with your members. You can do this by hosting a Facebook Live video, or setting up an in-person meeting in the Events tab. When running your video, read live comments from the audience. In either scenario, format your event with introductions, sharing members’ wins/achievements, and giving one or two members the spotlight so the group can help them with a problem.

Sources: Entrepreneur On Fire, “How To Run A Mastermind Group”; SCORE, “5 Essential Rules For Building A Mastermind Group That Gets Results”; Single Grain, “12 High-Performing Facebook Group Engagement Tactics”

What Is Discord, And Is It Right For Your Business?

What Is Discord, And Is It Right For Your Business?

This is the final article in this week’s series on video conferencing software. Discord is a freemium web application that combines text chat and forums with video and voice chat. It was created with gamers in mind, but is steadily growing as a solution for creating other types of online communities. This article will explain how Discord works, and how to use it in your business. Discord is an appealing alternative to Slack as a team collaboration tool. Also, online content creators like YouTubers and bloggers can create communities for their followers and make money in the process.

How Discord Works

Discord is free, with 2 premium versions, and can be used in a web browser or standalone app on PC, Mac, smartphones, and game consoles. Its communities are called “servers,” and a user joins one by being invited or creating it. Discord is not a social network in the same sense as Facebook or Twitter, but there are separate websites for finding new servers and making online friends. You can also connect your Discord account with your profiles from other social networks.

Servers are divided into “channels” which are created by community members, and center around different topics. There are channels for forums, text chat, and video chat. The servers you belong to, and each server’s channels, are listed in a menu on the left side of your screen. Servers require moderators, like forums and message boards in years past.

Digitaltrends.com goes over the text, voice, and video functions available in Discord (“What Is Discord?”) Texting is the simplest, by which you type messages in the bottom of the main content section. You can also upload images, GIFs, links, and outside videos. To use voice chat, you enter a voice-enabled channel, or click the telephone icon in your friends list.

“Go Live” is the video streaming feature in Discord, and it must be enabled by the server’s owner. Then, a server member can click the Go Live button and share his or her screen in a channel’s main content section. Other members can watch the streamer by clicking the “Join Stream” button.

On May 14, Discord’s official blog announced Server Video, a full-fledged video conferencing option in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Before, video chat was limited to 1-on-1 direct messaging, but now up to 25 server members can have an online meeting a la Zoom or Google Hangouts.

There are 2 premium versions of Discord called Discord Nitro ($10 per month, or $100 per year) and Discord Nitro Classic ($5 per month, or $50 per year.) The main benefit of these upgrades is improved video quality over the free version. They also include fun treats like exclusive emojis and artwork.

Using Discord For Business

As mentioned before, Discord is like a casual counterpart to Slack, with the added bonuses of voice chat and video. Users can organize inside their servers to take on projects or get a multiplayer gaming party together. How-To Geek compares it to Slack and Microsoft Teams, and notes its pros and cons (“Is Discord Right For Your Business?”) The first problem is your organization doesn’t have exclusive rights to its content in Discord. If you have confidential or vital information for your team, there’s no guarantee it won’t be deleted if Discord chooses. The article concludes it’s better for communication with the public rather than internally in a company.

As a public relations/marketing/community app, however, Discord is great. Game developers make their own Discord servers to interact with their customers. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier paragraph, many YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and bloggers are turning to Discord to further serve their audiences.

There is a market of 3rd party extensions for Discord called “bots,” and they can be found at https://top.gg/. A very popular one is the Donate Bot (https://donatebot.io/) which lets server owners make money. The Donate Bot links to one’s PayPal account. A content creator can publicly share their server’s invite link, and either charge for admission or collect tips from members.

Because of the limited viewer count in Discord Server Video, Discord is not suited for marketing webinars like Zoom is. Discord is better for more close-knit community building, so as to encourage trust and customer loyalty. A server probably places in the “Like” and “Trust” phases of the marketing funnel. There are better apps for internal project management and growing initial brand awareness, but Discord is great for deeper business/customer relationships.

Google Video Conferencing: Is It Good For Your Business?

Google Video Conferencing: Is It Good For Your Business?

Google offers 3 different services for video conferencing: Google Hangouts, Google Meet, and Duo. This article will help you tell them apart, and whether any of them can help in your online business. As you will see, Google’s products are in transition, so users should always be prepared to adapt.

Google’s conglomerate runs many successful businesses and apps, but it has created many more that failed or have been phased out. This is the same for other tech companies including Facebook and Amazon. Businesses must always try new things and not give up if they don’t work out. We’re seeing many industries and brands collapse because they didn’t change with the times.

Google Hangouts VS Google Meet VS Google Duo

This article by Pocket-Lint.com handily explains the difference between Google’s existing services (“Google Meet vs Google Hangouts vs Google Duo: What’s The Difference?”) It appears Google Hangouts is the original, and Meet and Duo were spun off from it.

Google Hangouts is a free video chat service available to users with Gmail accounts. It was included in the floundering Google+, and has lived on by integrating with Gmail. It enables video calling for up to 10 people, phone dialing, and text messaging. One needs a Gmail account in order to start a Hangouts session, but can invite non-Gmail users by sending invite links through email.

Google Meet is the paid enterprise version of Hangouts, and has different pricing tiers based on the size of your organization. It is part of G Suite, which is a bundle of business apps beyond just video conferencing. Users can host up to 100 or 250 meeting participants depending on their tier. You can record meetings with Meet and save them in the cloud, which is not possible in Hangouts. Both Meet and Hangouts support screen sharing when on a desktop web browser. They’re both available on mobile devices through apps.

Google Duo is a free person-to-person video chat service meant to compete with Apple’s Facetime. However it has grown to support up to 12 users per chat. Users call other people through phone numbers or email. The Pocket-Lint article surmises that Google Hangouts will be discontinued either this year or next, and consumers will be left with either Meet or Duo.

How To Use Google Meet In Your Business

It’s apparent Google intends for Meet to compete with Zoom. Starting at $6.00 per month, you can subscribe to G Suite and use Meet along with all the other included apps. Zoom’s paid plans start at $15 per month, but you can host more participants.

You can read my previous post about Zoom for ways to make money with video conferencing. These are 1-on-1 consulting, selling tickets to events, hosting video meetings with paying website subscribers, and running webinars for subscribers and for marketing purposes.

Currently, Zoom has more features than Meet, notably the ability to host webinars. There is the current and frequently updated WordPress plugin to integrate Zoom with your website, which is great for taking ownership of your conference content. I haven’t found an equivalent plugin for Meet, and all the corresponding plugins for Hangouts haven’t been updated for several years.

This doesn’t mean Meet won’t have these uses in the future. Last year, Google released an official site kit plugin for WordPress, which means it takes WordPress-based businesses seriously. Keeping WordPress plugins up to date is a crucial security concern, so it appears Meet should be used only in Google’s environment, for now. Google Meet is actually free for consumers until September 2020, likely to assist businesses during the COVID 19 pandemic, but possibly to also grow its installed user base.

For the time being, Google Meet is best used as a meeting app for businesses with several employees. Its feature set doesn’t benefit solo entrepreneurs or freelancers wanting to use their websites to power online business. Google Duo is preferable for communicating with clients that you can invoice for services rendered.

Zoom: Lessons And Uses From Its Breakout Success

Zoom: Lessons And Uses From Its Breakout Success

Zoom Video Conferencing is one of the rare success stories during the COVID 19 pandemic, when other businesses are hobbled and must rely on digital communication. This article goes over basic functions of the service, how it became so successful, how to use it safely, and ways your business can make money with it.

How To Use Zoom

This video by the YouTube channel “Every Bit Helps” is a great beginners’ lesson in using the service. Most users have some idea how it works, but there are important features one may have missed.

Why Zoom Is So Popular

This article by Drift explains that Zoom already had a solid business foundation before becoming the de facto video conferencing app during the pandemic (The 3 secrets behind Zoom’s triple-digit growth). The three factors are, a customer-first culture driving a positive user experience; making a product that can sell through word of mouth; and advertising the brand in areas with the most impact.

Customer experience is a lynchpin in business success, and Zoom continuously tracks data and collects reviews from users. This led to its adoption of the “freemium” business model. You can use Zoom for free, but for only 40 minutes at a time. If you want to hold longer meetings, you need to upgrade to one of its premium pricing tiers, based on the size of your business. Zoom’s developers strive to make the free version reliable and easy to use.

In the early days of Zoom’s business, they focused their advertising and brand awareness in the San Francisco Bay area. They ran billboards along Silicon Valley’s Route 101, and ran banner ads at Golden State Warrior games. Being a tech company, they wanted their fellow software developers to be early adopters, who could most effectively attest to the product’s quality.

Zoom Security

But is Zoom high quality? We’ve all seen the backlash against it as Zoom meetings have been intruded upon, and the app’s security questioned. Facebook’s Messenger Rooms make a point of preventing this in its press releases.

Fortunately, Zoom can be made secure with some basic precautions. The Verge lays out a plan, and notes that Zoom themselves are modifying the app to make security easier (again with user feedback!) The first factor in Zoom meeting security is creating meeting passwords, and sharing them only with the people you invite. The Verge article lays out the steps:

From the main Zoom page, click on “My Account” in the upper-right corner, and then click “Schedule a meeting”

If you wish, you can enter a meeting topic and description. Put in the date, time, and duration of your meeting. (If you’re on the free plan, you’ve got 40 minutes.)

Look for “Meeting ID,” and select “Generate Automatically.” This will generate a unique ID for that meeting rather than use your usual meeting ID.

Make sure “Require a password” is checked. Zoom will generate a random password, but you can also create your own.

Below that, make sure “Enable waiting room” is checked (and it’s a good idea not to check “Enable join before host” since that would let participants wander into the meeting before you do).

Click on “Save”

You’ll be brought to the meetings page where you will see all of the options for that meeting. Halfway down, you can click “Copy the invitation” to put all of the info into your buffer so you can send it to your participants. When you’re ready, click on the blue “Start this Meeting” button.

If you’re using the Zoom app:

Click on “Schedule”

You will be offered essentially the same selections as in the web app. If you want to make sure the waiting room is enabled, click on “Advanced Options” at the bottom of the page.

Click on the blue “Schedule” button

You’ll be offered the chance to put the meeting into your calendar. After that, you’ll be brought back to the main window. The scheduled meeting will be on the right; if you want, you can click on the three dots to the right of your name to make changes or copy the invitation into buffer to send to your participants.

Another helpful feature is the Zoom’s virtual waiting room. You can require guests to wait to enter the meeting while you verify they were actually invited. Also, if you know that all the invited meeting participants have joined, you can “lock down” and prevent anyone else from joining.

How To Make Money With Zoom

How can you use Zoom in your business, besides running team meetings? How can a solopreneur use it to make money? Here are some ideas that combine Zoom with other tech solutions. Most of these methods can be used by hosting meetings on your business website. There is a WordPress plugin that lets you embed Zoom meetings on your web pages (Zoom WordPress plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/video-conferencing-with-zoom-api/)

Coaching/Consulting: An obvious use for video conferencing in business is holding coaching appointments with clients. You can send your client a link to the Zoom meeting, have your session, then invoice them later.

Sell tickets: You can host live video events on your website, and sell tickets to it with a WordPress plugin or Eventbrite. The Events Calendar WordPress plugin has a paid extension that enables you to sell online tickets, and announce them on your site’s calendar. This is useful for entertainment or fitness classes.

Paid membership: You can install a membership plugin on your WordPress site, such as MemberPress or Paid Memberships Pro, and host Zoom meetings among your site’s paid subscribers. This is useful if you run a blog with free content, and want to offer premium perks. Membership plugins work by blocking off certain pages to everyone except subscribers, and hosting your exclusive content on those pages. You can record your Zoom meetings, and keep them in an archive behind your paywall.

Webinars: Video conferencing apps like Zoom are ideal for webinars, which can be either paid ticket events, or a marketing tool. It’s common to host a free webinar in exchange for someone’s email address, then use email marketing to promote other products or services.

Messenger Rooms: How Facebook’s New App Can Help Your Business, But Should It?

Messenger Rooms: How Facebook’s New App Can Help Your Business, But Should It?

Messenger Rooms is Facebook’s new video conferencing tool, available now in its family of social media apps. It’s a response to extended COVID 19 lockdowns and the need for employees and business customers to communicate from home.

How to use Messenger Rooms

Forbes has probably the most succinct guide to using Messneger Rooms:

On both desktop and mobile, users who are logged into Facebook will see a Rooms section below the status bar.

Click Create to start your own room or click Join to add yourself to a friend’s video call.

You’ll be able to set a purpose for your room or choose one of Facebook’s examples, such as “Happy Hour” or “Here All Day.”

Users can control whether the room is public or private in the Who is Invited section.

Choosing to invite all your friends means everyone can see your room at the top of their homepage and join. Clicking the Invite Specific Friends button lets users choose which friends can see the room. An active public room for a graduation party, for example, lets friends or invitees pop in and out as they please by opening Facebook and clicking Join.

If you click Invite Specific Friends, the bottom right corner of the window has a Skip button that lets users forgo inviting anyone at all. Instead, users are given the option to turn on link sharing, meaning that anyone with the link, including people who aren’t your friends or don’t have Facebook, can join the room. After you turn on link sharing, the Create Room button will bring you to a window where you can copy the link.

In Facebook Groups or Events, users can create a room that will automatically appear as a post, giving group members or invitees the option to join. 

Forbes: “How To Use Messenger Rooms”

Here’s how to use Messenger Rooms inside the Facebook Messenger app.

After opening Facebook Messenger, tap the People tab on the bottom right corner of the screen.

Tap Create a Room.

Tap Share Link to invite anyone on any device to join the room, even if they don’t have Facebook.

Forbes: “How To Use Messenger Rooms”

Messenger Rooms, like other video conferencing platforms, has uses inside businesses and organizations for holding team meetings. Facebook already offers Workplace, a Slack competitor, for other forms of communication inside an employer’s account. We can expect Messenger Rooms to sync with Workplace if it hasn’t already.

How to Monetize Messenger Rooms

Facebook’s official Messenger Rooms web page lists some other features, either available now or in development, meant to help businesses and content creators make money with the service. These are best for businesses that host events, teach classes, offer coaching or consulting, or create content for entertainment or journalistic purposes. They’re also helpful for churches and other faith groups for broadcasting their services online and accepting collections.

We’re bringing back Live With so you can add another person into your live video, no matter where they are in the world. Bring on a guest speaker, interview an expert or perform with a friend.

You’ll be able to mark Facebook Events as online only and, in the coming weeks, integrate Facebook Live so you can broadcast to your guests. To support creators and small businesses, we plan to add the ability for Pages to charge for access to events with Live videos on Facebook – anything from online performances to classes to professional conferences.

To help you raise money for causes, you can now add the donate button to live videos wherever nonprofit fundraisers are available.

To help you support some of your favorite creators, we’re expanding Stars to more Pages and more countries. Once you buy Stars you can send them to creators while they’re streaming, and they’ll earn 1 cent for every Star.

Facebook: “Introducing Messenger Rooms”

Pros and Cons of Messenger Rooms

Messenger Rooms has the benefit of being part of the Facebook environment, for good or bad. Facebook is the most used social network in the world, so Messenger Rooms’ potential users are already available. It is likely more secure from unwanted guests than Zoom, which has exploded since the COVID 19 pandemic reached the U.S.

On the other hand, Facebook has different security issues. Although the company has publicly committed to protecting users’ privacy, it’s likely that it collects user data indirectly. Facebook makes its money through advertisements, therefore it needs detailed information for efficient targeting. This is important for businesses of all sizes, who need to sell to their potential customers for the least amount of money.

There is also the concern of Facebook’s monopolistic ambitions. It’s not healthy for the economy if one or a few tech giants control the software app market. Facebook is great for marketing, but it’s my belief that a business should have its own website to carry out other work for customers. That way the business can control its messaging and be independent from Facebook’s ever-changing terms of service.

This week I will discuss other online meeting apps. If you follow my Xiphos Web Marketing Facebook page, you’ve probably seen my choice of service for both online meetings and membership websites.

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