Should I Outsource My IT?

Running a business is hard

Every time I say this it feels like I'm saying that the sky is blue or that rain is wet but I'll say it again. Running a business is hard, it is unforgiving, and for a lot of us competition is stiff.

Take Lemon & Honey as an example; I have to run HR, IT, Finance, and Operations just to keep existing as a corporation. As the CEO of my business I wear a ton of hats and no matter what I do there's always more to do.

It's with this mindset that I write this article; for other entrepreneurs who have 8 million projects, a core business to run, employees to care about, and competitors to worry about.

Every business can take advantage of technology

I always hear people say "I don't think I have enough for them to do" or "what would they even do?".

It's hard to imagine that there's a whole full-time job lurking in Shopify or Wordpress and I'll be honest, you can get by without a website. I see it all the time when prospecting but just because it isn't necessary doesn't mean it isn't a game-changer. I actually wrote a whole article about how to get the most out of your website.

Software companies around the world are constantly solving problems in sales, marketing, support, and other crucial pieces of businesses. You, as a business owner, can use that technology as an advantage to overtake competition or you can slowly fall behind and watch your business crumble into ruins.

Technology can ramp up your business in all kinds of ways by utilizing things like:

  • HR automation

  • Payment automation

  • Finance centralization

  • Internal documentation for increased efficiency

  • Internal and external communication for brand cohesion and efficiency

  • Cloud document storage for all your shared files

  • Brand awareness and sales boosts from ads

  • Analytics to understand your consumer

But to be honest that's only scratching the surface and big companies will spend a lot on these investments. At New Relic our IT team was 15+ and our business-facing engineering team was ~12 on top of the 10 software admins in other business functions.

Your job as a small-business owner is to make sure that you…

Keep your eyes on the prize

Outsourcing your technology needs will keep your business focused.

Remember that competitive advantages come from emphasizing your strengths, not by having no weaknesses. For example, if you sell cigars then you would need to worry about sourcing, maintaining inventory, testing products, training employees, seasonal projections, competitive analysis and so much more.

The more time you have to focus on these core needs, the easier it will be to scale your business and stay competitive as market conditions change. For example, if there's an issue with your Nicaraguan product you need to deal with it. If there’s new competition around the corner you need to deal with it. You don’t need to be hung up on search results or a bad review.

Using an IT shop allows you to focus and puts those responsibilities on an expert.

Contractors and agencies bring best practices

Let's be clear, as an agency we have seen more technology than a normal IT manager.

An IT shop is an expert in technology and will know and understand what the hottest technologies are, where the deals are, what tools have quality issues, and what just isn't worth it.

Not only do they understand and bring best practices to the table, they work with a wide breath of clients and technologies. They can understand your needs and solve them with the right tools the first time, because they have done this before.

You benefit from the agencies other clients. Obviously, different clients have different needs. For instance, more established clients with more mature online presences will want to start testing new products or working with more integrations, where smaller clients just need an updated website that doesn’t look like it’s stuck in 1998. But, no matter where you fit in that range, working with an agency can allow you to gain learnings surrounding which online strategies will work best before you even try them.

Evaluation is key

When evaluating an IT shop it's important to remember that they are meant to support YOU and YOUR business.

They're your champion, your liaison, and if you want to get the most out of one make sure you pick someone that makes technology make sense. If they don't they aren't the right fit.

The right shop will listen to you, make you feel comfortable, and deliver what your company needs. For complex retail shops this might mean a guy who comes out and sets up for the physical network. For someone running a consultant business you might need digital marketing and a website. Whatever you need, they should have your back.

Sometimes it makes sense to hire internally

A good rule of thumb cost-wise is that if you’re using more than 3/4th of a person you should consider a full-time person.

This is difficult thing to check and it’s hard to know exactly how much room for improvement there could be. But, if you know you have a need and budget then I would suggest you start interviewing for internal IT candidates.

However, if you don’t know for sure or you need someone in the interim start outsourcing and see how that is cost and dedication-wise. Sometimes it makes sense to bring people in-house but it's easier to get rid of an agency than an employee (morally and logistically).

Of course, we're a little biased

We started Lemon & Honey because we’re dedicated to making technology accessible to non-technical teams.

We believe through a few focused hours a month we can do more for your business than one of your managers can do stumbling through Shopify.

Do you agree?

Need more convincing? Click here to get a free audit!

4 Ways Websites Drive ROI

Everyone I talk to these days seems to know that having a website is absolutely critical to running a business but I can't say that everyone I've spoken to knows why it's critical or what a website can do for you. So, what are the key aspects of using the internet to take your business to the next level?

    Websites are a great way to sell

    A website is much cheaper than a storefront. The average cost of a Shopify implementation via a contractor is $5,000 with recurring costs of $30-$300/mo according to Shopify. This might sound like a lot but if you compare it to a brick and mortar where you're have higher liability premiums, retail staff (minimum $3k/mo), decor ($5k+) for a storefront with a very limited audience size consisting of a random set of people you can see why they make sense. Even compared with wholesale you could make better margins, have to make fewer partnershipskeep your brand identitytarget your actual demographic, and you never have to lock up huge batches of inventory.

    Reviews can make or break your business

    When you have no control, you put yourself at big risk. I've seen coffee-shops, bike shops, restaurants, and grocery stores that I absolutely loved but had a prominent 2 or 3 stars on services like Google Maps or Yelp. Even a single 1-star review and significantly hurt your image for new customers. 

    Phone books aren't used anymore, all digital directories have reviews on them and if you don't monitor what's going on you could be damaging your brand. So how do you make sure your online reviews are squeaky clean?

    1. Watch Yelp, Google Maps, Bing, and your Facebook. If you claim these businesses they will all give you notifications on new reviews.
    2. Respond to bad reviews. Try to de-escalate the customer with a discount, coupon, refund, or just empathy. Their single review could impact dozens of deals in the future.
    3. Use these services to portray brand and set expectations. If you run a high-end coffee shop with single-origin beans and custom roasts make sure that's called out. Let your potential customers know that if they're just looking for the cheapest cup then it might not be the best fit. Again, if they go online saying you're snobs it's for the world to see.

    It's an easy way to create your brand

    Think about your company and who you want to be. Let's say you're an establishedworldly, and intelligent brand.

    If you wanted to portray this brand online there are many things you can do to create this identity:

    1. Create a language guide and enforce all language that goes onto the website.
    2. Create content such (such as blogs) that talks about changes in the world, importance of honesty in an ever-changing world, and a CEO story of growth and success.
    3. Use vibrant but strong colors such as accent yellows with deep blues.
    4. Iterate on content until clicks, conversions, and follower-ship rises. It would likely take 1-2 months to have it nailed down.

    If you wanted to portray the same brand in-person you'd have to:

    1. Buy high-end and/or foreign furniture including tables, lamps, chairs, lighting, etc.
    2. Design the space to feel vibrant but elegant, using deep blue wall colors and gold or red accents.
    3. Have your staff dress-up and unify their language which can be difficult and demeaning for those of us with "low-brow" accents such as Mexican-American.
    4. Lease space in an expensive area where the educated population works or lives.

    There's not a good way to collect data on conversions or demographics other than profiling. Nailing down the brand could take years and could be highly varied and may always stay ill-defined. Think about the change in personas between Targets, Albertsons, and even KFCs around the US. These companies have spent millions if not billions and you still don't get the same experience depending on where you are. That variability is okay for these mega-chains but does it make sense for your small business?

    Online advertisements can grow your business

    Digital ads are no longer the future, they're the nowIt's 2018 (currently) and users are getting to the point where digital ads are expected and if you're not delivering in both digital and and traditional formats you may be losing business to your competitors. I don't want to harp on this too long since it isn't my forte but I do want to refer to some experts in the field.

    In the end though…

    Getting online isn't the end-all be-all. Getting a website won't mean your business (or even your website) goes on autopilot. It's a competitive landscape and in order to see your maximum potential you'll need to iterate, understand your audience, rinse, and repeat until you don't have competitors anymore. Like everything else, it's a tool that your business must use in order to succeed. Finding the right balance of online investment is difficult and that's part of what we do at Lemon & Honey does. Sometimes your company needs to really get on SEO, sometimes it needs ads, and sometimes your people just need tools that will help them to bring in business. If you don't have an expert or can't afford one I suggest these 4 steps

    1. Create the highest ROI thing you can be it a tool, website, ad campaign, or content for brand awareness.
    2. Measure the impact it's had on your business and see if that's working.
    3. Adjust based on what you see in the data.
    4. Repeat.

    Trauma & mental health in the workplace

    A bit about me:

    I'm an engineer who's led teams, worked in high-scale environments, and worked in companies of sizes 15-3,000. I like to think I know a thing or two about tech startups since I've been part of the community for 5 years and I've had the opportunity to share experiences with many close friends in the industry.

    I also happen to have come from a high-trauma environment.

    To give you a picture of what I grew up with (it's seriously not a contest) my mother had cancer when I was 9-15 (she died), my father struggled with alcoholism for my whole life, and I grew up in areas stricken with police violence, gangs, and drugs. My brother is in prison for life for murder and my sister and I have been diagnosed with PTSD and CPTSD respectively.

    I have a lot of needs when it comes to being comfortable in a workplace and it's not my fault.

    Right now I think there is a fundamental cultural problem in businesses across the US and if I'm right it's totally illegal. It's easy when growing a company to put mental health at the wayside. We expect more hours, less compensation, less personal growth opportunity, less autonomy, and all-in-all less respect for our employees, their mental health, and their personal lives.

    Now in many startups I've worked at going to drinks seemed to be the end-all solution for leadership to make staff feel loved and like they're a part of a real caring group.

    Some companies even go as far as saying "we're family" and while I've never heard of putting a child up for adoption because of poor grades or even lack of funding I get the sentiment.

    So what's the problem companies are trying to solve?

    These companies want productive employees, attractive environments to new talent, executives that are happy with their team (this matters a lot), and sometimes even to do what's morally correct.

    Providing benefits to employees like working from home, flexible hours, shorter work-days, and highly-transparent environments can go a long way but for some of us it doesn't go far enough. It allows people to decide, to some degree, how they'd most prefer to interact and that's a massive benefit for many of us.

    Sometimes this isn't enough for all of us.

    What most companies are missing

    Sometimes these pro-active accommodations aren't enough and sometimes are counter-productive. For noise-sensitive individuals (like those with PTSD) a sales gong can be the thing of nightmares and cause you to have to stop working for at least 15 minutes.

    For a person with a shame disorder like CPTSD flexible hours and over-communicative leadership team can pretty easily lead to 50-80 hour weeks for someone who receives no extra benefits (pay, promotion, recognition, or growth opportunities).

    There are even more nuanced triggers for someone who's faced discrimination, abuse, and other horrifying circumstances that may be making your employees break down in tears every few days (yes, it happens).

    I believe that these scenarios are morally wrong and sadly leadership teams I've worked with often just put it on the individual to "get over it", "get used to it", and just "stop worrying about things that don't matter".

    These are all actually pieces of advice I've received and they didn't work for me.

    What does work for me is mindfulness (the mental health technique) and that requires frequent reflection, regular sleep, and moderate exercise. Ideally I exercise by cycling, sleep 7 hours on a strict schedule, and reflect while I'm cooking for and eating with my family. 

    When your culture requires employees to go above and beyond it can destroy these self-healing methods for months.

    Does self-identifying help?

    In my experience it hasn't. Being honest about my needs, wants, and concerns about other people has led to short tenures in my experience. I haven't job-hopped in my career because it was convenient or I was looking for the "next big opportunity".

    My salary has been frozen for 4 years and I've never seen a single company stock. I change jobs because tiny culture changes can make environments unbearable for me and cause me to have meltdowns (think crying in blankets because you think no one loves you).

    I change jobs because my accommodations are sometimes too much for a leadership team to reasonably tolerate so I leave peacefully. I've left because I had to, not because I wanted to.

    Let's do something about it

    There are laws in place about "reasonable accommodation" and how we should listen to people who have experienced trauma and provide a workplace that makes them comfortable. 

    For many of us this can be as small as "co-workers saying bitch really ruins my day, please stop" or as simple as "being addressed in front of the whole company makes me genuinely uncomfortable so please address my manager instead of me".

    Start small and work your way up. Help your employees respect each other and hire managers that treat respect as a number 1 priority. Respect that people have families, homes, and rituals that make them healthier and make sure they have time to do those.

    Some of us need to know explicitly that we won't be chastised for leaving work to go to a Dr's appointment or that it's okay to come in a little late if it's going to keep your rituals in tact.

    Do your best to make the world a better place and provide workplaces that are kind to people like me.

    This is one of the core reasons I started Lemon & Honey. It's to provide a workplace that truly respects people and loves them for the people that they are.

    If you're on the employee side of things keep strong and remember to respect yourself. You are loved and you are special. You deserve your recovery time and your circumstances don't define the amazing person you are. You're much more than what you've been through.

    Love,

    Gabe Limon

    Making task-management easy

    Running a small business is hard and sometimes just keeping track of what you're doing sometimes can be a challenge in itself. It's can be crazy keeping track of what's done, what's blocked, what's scheduled, and where things left off. Thankfully there are a million (slight exaggeration) online apps for tracking your tasks and they're pretty easy to use! So put those sticky notes away and take a look at these tools.

    Asana keeps it simple

    I've mentioned Asana before and I'll mention it again, it's a great tool for keeping track of to-do's. I highly recommend breaking your tasks into different boards which allows you to create simple flows. Below I've created a simple board for all of my brand-building tasks. Asana handles attachments and big text blobs like a champ and is great when you have a lot of simple tasks.

    Attached to those sticky notes? Use Trello

    Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. Trello lets you create super simple tasks and move them from to left to right in a really intuitive way. The downside is that if you've got big tasks or lots of attachments it gets pretty hard to manage.

     

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    Got more complicated flows?

    For more complicated flows we've used Basecamp, JIRA, and Salesforce plugins. While these tools are great we don't recommend using them without an administrator who understands these systems. JIRA, for example, offers robust integrations with other software, customization in how your workflows go, have custom fields, advance searches, and observe common development workflows like scrum and kanban. 

    Hot Tips

    When using a task manager like this I have a few tips I use to make sure I deliver consistently and never miss a deadline

    Under-promise, over-deliver

    Always plan for less work than you know you can do in an ideal day. Not all days are ideal, emails need to be sent, and sometimes you need to run an errand for 30 minutes. This should not be the end of the world. If you feel like you have too many interruptions to finish what you need to do then you've simply overbooked your day.

    Use your historical data

    Keep track of how much you and your staff get done. This is purely meant to be a tool for you to know how much your team is capable of doing. If your team has demonstrated that they can close 10 deals a day, don't count on them closing 15 the next day. If you have performance issues then resolve those via training, coaching, and other supportive techniques, don't just expect them to get better because you want them to. Using this mindset will keep your team from constantly missing deadlines (we've all been there).

    Iterate constantly

    Set up a monthly or twice-monthly meeting to make sure your process is still working for your team. Try new things. Record what you tried and go back to the old method if that doesn't work. Let's say your team added a "review" process to your leads but it slows down the sales funnel too much. You'd then turn back to your old method with no harm, no foul.

    Not sure what's right for you?

    Trello and Asana offer free versions so I say you just go out and try them! If you have complex sales, development, or design flows reach out to an expert (such as us) and you'll get a solution that makes sense for you business.

    Starting Your Business Like A Technology Pro

    I recently went through the exercise of starting a business (Lemon & Honey) and I had an amazingly smooth experience so I wanted to share some of the technology I used to get online in a few weeks.

    Getting a domain

    Before you set up email, calendars, websites, or anything else you need a domain. In my case I went with thelemonandhoney.com. Picking a descriptive name is critical to being referenced and remembered. In my case there weren't many short options but if one comes up later it's pretty easy to add it to website and email services. I used Google domains so all of my billing is centralized but GoDaddy has better prices.

    Getting email

    Pick your favorite email service like Outlook365 or GMail. If you have different security, storage, or communication needs then these may not be right for you so make sure to flush out what you'll be sending and receiving most regularly. These suites provide more tools like doc sharing, calendars, and much more so I consider them essential.

    Websites

    I highly recommend setting up a website on Squarespace at first. If you need something more complicated than plain content, a few forms, and some basic plugins you may outgrow it but has some great features around e-commerce these days. This is easy to integrate with GoDaddy or Google Domains so with a few clicks in can be hosted correctly.

    Social media

    Setting up a business account for Facebook and LinkedIn is essential in this day and age. Social media reviews can destroy your business or take you to a cult-like status. I highly recommend having someone take on a social-media role in your company. Allowing you to directly interact with consumers and use these media to create groundswell in your community.

    Task management

    For task tracking our team uses Asana. This helps us keep track of what's going on in the company, where tasks are, and what we need to do at any give point. I know this seems obvious but task management is a game-changer.

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    Get some help

    If you feel like you need some help getting your online presence then reach out and Lemon & Honey can help you get set up quickly and with best practices.