Latest and Greatest Small Business Technology

Latest and Greatest Small Business Technology: Vol. 4

The Hartford

When it comes to office programs, Microsoft has been longtime favorite among small businesses. Still, despite its steady popularity, very few business owners have taken the time to fully acquaint themselves with the most recent edition of this program or its various applications. In episode #96, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks discuss the newest features of Microsoft Office 365 and how these applications can help you run your business.

Executive Summary

1:32—Today’s Topic: The Newest Microsoft Apps for Small Business Owners

2:41—Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool within Office 365 that enables you to create folders and files that everyone on your project team can access.

4:26—Office 365 also features the Outlook Customer Manager app, which allows you to build a team database of all your current and prospective clients.

4:66—The Bookings app not only allows your customers to set up appointments or reservations, but it also serves as an internal tool that your employees can use to arrange meetings.

6:15—Hiring a consultant to provide training on these various apps would be extremely beneficial for both you and your employees.

9:51—Gene advises business owners not to overly concern themselves about which laptop to purchase because almost every application is compatible with multiple platforms.


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Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Today we’re continuing our series called the Latest and Greatest Small Business Tech. This is volume four. And this started because we got a question very early on in the podcast saying that from a small business owner who had seen Gene speak, and Gene had this whole PowerPoint chock full of tech and app recommendations. And the guy said, “I don’t have time to research this. How do I stay on top of this?”

So, Gene and I thought, why don’t we devote one episode a month to just talking about the latest and greatest technology that small business owners can use.

Gene: Yeah, I agree. And we can keep it short and sweet because we’ll hit on this once a month. And we don’t have to inundate you with a ton of different things or whatever. But I’d like to talk about what my clients are using, my smarter clients, and what they’re investing in, and what they’re doing. And let’s keep track of this so we don’t repeat ourselves as we go along.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So this is our fourth episode doing this, and we’ve talked about project management apps previously. We’ve talked about social media. We talked about paid advertising.

Gene: CRM, I’m sure we’ve talked about as well.

Elizabeth: Yeah. We’ve talked about CRM. Oh, we did a whole episode on CRM.

Gene: No doubt. No doubt.

Elizabeth: So, today, what are we gonna talk about?

Gene: You know, today I would like to talk about Microsoft, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: Okay? And the reason why I say that … First of all, let me also say my company is a Microsoft partner. So on full disclosure on this, I’m not trying to sell Microsoft products here. All I want to do is … I see among my client base that more and more of them are standardizing on office technology, which has grown up a lot over the past few years.

Elizabeth: Office 360?

Gene: Office 365, right? And what I want to ask you if you’re listening to this is, look at Office 365 Business Edition. It is inexpensive. It’s like $20 a month a user, something like that. It comes with so many applications, that if you did nothing but subscribe to Office 365, go on LinkedIn, or Upwork, or Guru, or Microsoft’s website, and find a good local Microsoft consultant, which is an independent person, and get some training on it. Because here’s what Office has, Office 365.

Now, it’s not … It’s changed so much. Of course, it’s got Word, and Excel and all that. A hugely popular application that Microsoft is investing heavily in is called Microsoft Teams.

Elizabeth: Okay. And that’s a CRM?

Gene: No, Microsoft Teams is a Slack killer. What I mean by that is Slack is a communications application. Microsoft Teams does the same thing. And let me explain to you what it does, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: I thought Microsoft bought Slack.

Gene: No, Microsoft does not own Slack at all. Microsoft Teams though, is part of Office, so you get it. When you open up Office, you can set it to then your portal will be Microsoft Teams. And what you can do is you can create folders for projects, clients, customers, things going on, whatever you want folders in. You, as a team, can share documents within those folders, share spreadsheets, share PDFs in those folders. Because Microsoft Teams integrates with Skype, and includes Skype for communications, you make all phone calls right from your desktop over Skype, and it records the calls and deposits those recordings of the calls into your team’s folders as well, so you’ve got documentation of that.

And in addition to that, Microsoft Teams has the availability to schedule tasks and follow-ups, kind of like a project manager as well. So it’s a collaboration tool, that allows everybody to communicate, and chat with each other as well, just like Slack does.

Elizabeth: So, would you recommend this for a business like yours, that’s mostly remote-

Gene: No.

Elizabeth: -or a business that’s …

Gene: Any business where you’ve got more than two employees and you want to collaborate altogether, Office 365 has … Think about it. Besides the teams for all the communications, your chats, your instant messaging, your phone calls, your documents, and all that, there is something called the Outlook Customer Manager, which is part of Outlook, but it’s a mini customer relationship management application.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: And by the way, it’s all part of Office 365. So, as a team, you can build a database of your customers and prospects with Outlook as your interface, and you can be saving notes about them, and scheduling follow-ups, and logging in calls and tasks, and whatnot. And everybody is sharing them like a little, mini CRM system, which is just fantastic.

Microsoft Office also has something called Bookings.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: And what Bookings is, is that if you have the kind of business that people need to make reservations. So, I don’t know. Say you’re running a barber shop. Or say you’re running a …

Elizabeth: Oh, appointments.

Gene: Appointments, where people from the outside can make bookings in for your business, or you can just use it as an internal tool for booking conference rooms, or booking equipment, or booking services, or things that your employees are making use of as well. And I’m just like, this is really scratching the surface-

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: -of what Office does. So my biggest tech tip that we’re telling our customers, and I would have given this tip a couple of years ago because I thought Office was really losing ground to Google, your Office app-

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: -which were also excellent. But Office is just evolved and it’s changed. And what it’s building in next, is something called Bots. And what Bots will do is that they will automate different processes for you. So, whenever anybody adds something into your folder in Teams, there will be an automatic bot that will then communicate and notify everybody that this folder, this thing has been added here, you know? Or if a customer calls in, and you log in a task into Outlook Customer Manager, there’s a bot that goes off and automatically sends an email back to that customer, saying thank you for doing that. You can set up all that automation, and it works all the way across Office.

So, you subscribe to it, and you get training. I know a Microsoft consultant will cost 150 bucks an hour, 50 bucks an hour. It depends.

Elizabeth: So how many hours do you think it would take?

Gene: A typical small business that has anywhere from five to 25 users on Microsoft Office, you’d probably want to have a consultant coming out five to 10 hours a month, I think, over a six month period of time. Then you take a breather. And then you bring him back for the same schedule in the next year. Or her. Sorry. It’s gonna grow over time, and as it does grow over time, it just becomes more and more of a valuable tool. So get it. And then, final thing I can say with Office 365, if you want to move up the scale to Dynamics, which is Microsoft’s CRM, and sales tools, and financial tools, they all fall under the umbrella of Office.

Elizabeth: Nice.

Gene: They’re all integrated with Office, so it should be just your main platform. And again, I don’t want to say, like oh, it’s Microsoft, Microsoft. But if you pick one platform, invest in some services, and go with it, it can do a lot for your business.

Elizabeth: Great. It’s funny because I remember like three or four years ago, we were writing articles about like, why pay for Microsoft when you can just use Google?

Gene: I know. And now Microsoft Office is so affordable. But not only is it affordable, but now they’re providing so many applications that provide that value. And in my opinion, and maybe people from Google are gonna start calling and complaining but-

Elizabeth: I’m sure they will.

Gene: The probably will, but I think Microsoft Office has regained the lead in office collaboration systems. I think they’re beating Google at this now.

Elizabeth: Now, what if you’re a solopreneur?

Gene: So, there’s a lot of different free applications that are out there. If you’re just solo, a lot of these things may or may not be important for you. Office itself has got very free or scaled down versions that might be just suitable for you. Or Google Apps is good. One other one you want to look at if you’re a solopreneur, I like Box,

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: It’s a collaboration tool for Office as well, and it’s quite good for individuals, but also get back to Microsoft, and say even solopreneurs, Microsoft Office has got a ton of features that will benefit you. Just get some help.

Elizabeth: If you’re a solopreneur, let’s say you do want to do this, and you’re a solopreneur-

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: -and you go hire a Microsoft consultant.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: Then how many hours do you think you need them for? Two or three maybe?

Gene: Yeah. It’ll only be a few. But I think if you’re a solopreneur, my advice to us is you bring in a Microsoft consultant for a half a day, maybe break it out into two half days, a couple hours each time. And you say to that consultant, walk me through Office soup to nuts. By the way, this advice is not just for solopreneurs. This is for any business.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: You say to that consultant, walk me through this thing. Show me every application in here and what it does. Give me the pros and the cons, the strengths and the weaknesses, of everything that I own under Office. Make notes, and prioritize, and say great, I want to focus on these areas-

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: -because this will help my business and let’s ignore these areas because that’s not a good use to me. Then you bring the consultant back to help you do that.

Elizabeth: Okay. Great idea.

Gene: And the consultant should be able to tell you how much time that’s gonna take. I tell you, with a little bit of investment in some services, I think Office 365 is super powerful.

Elizabeth: Okay. Great. We’ll be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance after we hear from our sponsor.

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Elizabeth: We’re back. Gene take it away with your Word or Words of Brilliance.

Gene: You know, we’re talking about technology, Elizabeth. So my Word of Brilliance is tech-related. And that word is laptop.

Elizabeth: Laptop? Okay.

Gene: And you know, I’m looking at you right now, and you’ve got a laptop in front of you, and that’s important, and that’s good. But I get questions all the time of when people want to use technologies, like, “Is this compatible with my Mac? Is this compatible with my Windows laptop?”

Elizabeth: Isn’t everything compatible now?

Gene: Yes, it is. The laptop has become … The device has become irrelevant. When people ask me what laptop they should get, the first question that I ask is, well not what laptop do you need is, but how do you do your work? Tell me about how you do your work. Because there are a lot of people that are fine conducting their business over an iPhone, or fine using an iPad or a tablet. There are some that need very low-level laptops, some that can buy a Google Chromebook, which gets online.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: It’s like 100-200 bucks. Very inexpensive.

Elizabeth: I have a Google Chromebook. I do everything, not at work, but like my personal life-

Gene: At home..

Elizabeth: -do everything in Google apps, so it’s perfect

Gene: And can you unplug and take that phone? Like will it save stuff on your laptop?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah.

Gene: So it does. So it saves stuff locally. I mean, you know, it’s not as robust as a full blown laptop, but it saves.

Elizabeth: It was like $150 at Staples.

Gene: Yeah, it’s like nothing nowadays. And laptops, some people are like, “Do I need this power? Do I need that power?” For the typical business user, they use that Google Chromebook, or a low level, regular Windows laptop. Or even right now, Apple has recently released their new iMac Pro. The price starts at $5,000 for that laptop.

Elizabeth: See, that’s only for people who are doing video, or photo editing.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: And a lot of … Like, you don’t need that if you’re not doing that.

Gene: You don’t. And yet, if you are though … And by the way, I think they range from five, like 15 grand for an iMac Pro.

Elizabeth: That’s insane.

Gene: But I get it. If that’s your business-

Elizabeth: Oh yeah.

Gene: -if you’re doing a lot of visual stuff, and you need a lot of power or whatever, then that’s the device that you need.

Elizabeth: But not for like the average business owner.

Gene: Correct. So, nowadays that whole conversation about different power laptops is not necessarily that important. My advice to people for business use is you can buy laptops … I buy used laptops. I oftentimes don’t buy them new.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I remember last time you were telling us that you met some guy in a dark alley.

Gene: I did. Okay. It wasn’t in a dark alley. And I think I met in a strip mall in Jersey. And this was exactly a year ago, I’ve had this laptop. But it’s been awesome. It’s a Dell XPS 13. And the guy broke up with his girlfriend, and he still had her laptop. So he wanted to get back at her, so he went on Craigslist, and he sold it. The laptop itself, it goes for like two grand, and he sold it for like 700 bucks to me.

Elizabeth: Oh my god.

Gene: And he happened to be an IT guy, so he had wiped the entire thing clean, and re-installed Windows. Awesome. And so I went there, met him, I gave him 750 bucks in cash. That’s all he took. And I walked away with it. And it was fantastic. I’m sure his girlfriend was not pleased.

Elizabeth: That’s so funny.

Gene: The XPS 13 is not necessarily a low level. It’s quite good. I give my laptops a two year life, as well, Elizabeth. Like, I buy them for two years-

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: -and then I replace them because to me, to spend 300 or 400 a year, that means I can buy an $800 laptop every two years. I’m good with that.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Devices are just not as critical as they used to be. It depends on how you work, and that’s what you want to match the right device for yourself.

Elizabeth: I’ve had my iMac, my desktop iMac-

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: -since January of 2010. Eight years. I’ve had it since January of 2010.

Gene: Now, my kids, they’ve had their MacBooks since they went to college, and they’re getting old. And they’re gonna buy Windows devices because they’re just cheaper.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: And I’m seeing that, interestingly enough, this generation of people coming up through in their 20s now. They’re looking at price comparisons, and they’re realizing the Windows devices, and the Apple devices, they’re really … Now they’re all copying off each other anyway. They’re very, very similar. So, I guess, my takeaway … The word of the day is laptop. My takeaway is, don’t worry about it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Everything’s in the Cloud. You want the device that matches how you work best. Don’t worry about the make, the manufacturer, the size of it. It’s how you work.

Elizabeth: I totally agree. Alright. Thanks for joining us, everyone. We’ll be back in a couple days, and we’re gonna have a special guest, our social media guru, Ryan Heisler. We’re gonna talk about-

Gene: Ryan? Ryan’s coming!

Elizabeth: -when is the right time to hire a social media pro to help your small business?

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