Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Gabriel Mays – Enjoy!

perspectiveWhat’s your competitive advantage?  When we hear competitive advantage we often think of what we can see: brand identity, marketing strategy, etc.  But with increasingly commoditized products and services, shrinking margins, and copycat competitors we need to look deeper.

According to Wikipedia:

“Competitive advantage occurs when an organization acquires or develops an attribute or combination of attributes that allows it to outperform its competitors.”

So, how you run your business can also be a competitive advantage.  It’s an advantage your competitors can’t see and is therefore difficult to copy.  But to find these opportunities, we have to think differently.

A Matter Of Perspective

Have you ever seen someone get used to doing something inefficiently?  Maybe it’s your mechanic still using paper invoices or your uncle getting up to change the channel on the TV instead of using the remote.  For me it’s seeing my father-in-law use a 25ft. phone cord in the kitchen so he could move around and still talk on the phone.  I didn’t even know they made phone cords that long.  The next day, cordless phones had mysteriously replaced every phone in the house.  I’m not sure how they got there, but I can tell you that I bought them at Best Buy…

These are harmless examples of status quo, but this same kind of blindness happens to businesses and even entire industries.  We think we’re doing it right by following best practices and doing what everyone else is doing, but unfortunately ‘status quo’ and ‘best practice’ are often synonyms.  When we blindly follow best practices, we risk forfeiting any competitive advantage.

Thinking Differently

Let’s talk about the easiest way for small businesses to gain a competitive advantage in their industry today.  Best practices tell small businesses to be more active on their website, blog more, use social media, etc.   This advice is great (and works when done right), but the execution is often flawed because we’re just adding more things to an already overflowing to-do list.  We end up unfocused and unproductive.

How many tips on improving your business do you read every week?  How many do you actually end up using successfully?  We’re so busy looking for ways to do more that we miss opportunities to do less, and thus be more efficient.  Businesses that figure this out will develop a significant competitive advantage in their market.  Here’s how to get started.

Your Most Underutilized Employee

In our rush to embrace the latest trends, we’ve missed the quiet revolution that turned our trusty old website into a powerful source of leverage.  Your website is now your most underutilized employee.

The emergence of cloud applications like FreshBooks, Constant Contact, and Salesforce are changing the way we work by bringing enterprise power to small businesses at a fraction of the cost.  They’re simplifying accounting, invoicing, project management, CRM, and more with no software to install, maintenance, or personnel costs.

But to take full advantage of these apps we have to leverage our newest, most underutilized employee: our website.  It’s already available 24/7 and interacts with customers, so we can use our website as a business hub to integrate cloud apps directly into our workflow.

An Example

What would this look like?  Imagine a consultant uses cloud apps to manage invoicing, scheduling, CRM, etc.  Suppose she’s tired of doing repetitive data entry tasks for each new client and decides to automate by integrating these apps with the website’s intake forms.  Now when a client submits a form through her website this happens automatically:

  • A draft estimate/invoice is created (FreshBooks, QuickBooks, Xero, etc.)
  • Client details are added to the CRM (Highrise, Salesforce, Infusionsoft, Zoho, etc.)
  • A project is created in her project management app (Basecamp, Trello, Podio, Asana)
  • Attached files (images, documents, etc.) are uploaded and stored (Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, etc.)
  • The client is added to the email newsletter (MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, etc.)
  • An intake meeting is added to the calendar
  • A text message summary is sent to the consultant (SMS/instant text notification)

This is just an example, but what would your perfect workflow look like?  What apps would you use?   If you’re not using cloud apps in your business yet, try a few out to see which work best for you.  Most have free trials and some even have free plans.  When you’re ready, you can integrate them with your website.  How you integrate the apps depends on how your website is built and which apps you’re using, but you can do it for under $100.

Your new competitive advantage is a better engine under the hood.  It’s better processes, smarter workflows, lower costs, and higher margins.  The power of cloud apps will help you do this, and your website will help you automate it all.

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

– Jack Welch, grew General Electric 4,000% as CEO 1981 – 2001

gabe-150x150Gabriel Mays is the Founder and CEO of Just Add Content, which makes affordable, easy to use small business websites.  Just Add Content specializes in making cloud app integration accessible to small businesses.  Previously Gabe served as a Captain in the Marine Corps for 8 years, spending 2 years between Iraq and Afghanistan operating on small, embedded advisor teams.  Visit Just Add Content to get a free email crash course on building a smarter business website!

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  • Chris Alphen

    Gabriel–Thanks for this on target post. I must admit I could do a much better job of integrating more cloud solutions especially in light of the fact that I’m promoting digital and social media solutions to small business.

    The competitive advantage comes from the productivity of the apps, the
    time saved, and the confidence you gain by knowing you have a plan that
    is working. And those are just off the top of my head.

    The business owners I’m targeting aren’t reading tips. I sometimes think many are secretly hoping the internet will go away. Those that do are often misinformed or misunderstand. There’s kind of a bias that it just can’t be this easy so let’s make it harder.

    Some business owners actually bypass the best, simplest, least expensive solution in favor of one that costs more, is harder to implement, is ineffective, and is a complete waste of time. If and when they are willing to admit defeat they throw their hands up and unplug.

    Your workflow example is terrific. I haven’t looked at the capabilities of visual form builder for import/export. Are you saying I can wake up in the morning with new contacts in my CRM?

    I’m always looking for new ways to make websites and other mostly free tools work for small businesses so I’d love to hear more from you.

    • Hey Chris, I completely agree with you. That’s one of the major challenges we have as well, but it’s getting better all of the time.

      Yep, your forms can automatically send the leads to your CRM and repopulate it with all of the information you need. We actually advise businesses to create different forms for each type of interaction so they can be deliberate about the kind of information they ask for (i.e. company size, business type, etc.). Extraneous fields are a conversion killer.

      Though most choose to integrate apps directly with the forms on their website, standalone form builders can also be used for landing pages or other unique situations.

      If you ever have questions, feel free to reach out to me directly. I love talking shop. And thanks again for reading the article, this was my first guest post.

  • Phoebe

    It’s interesting that you chose that specific group of apps, because we use several and have reviewed most of the rest. The missing links is that there IS a missing link; many of these apps don’t speak to each other (Highrise and Basecamp are both from the same maker and don’t share nicely!), or if they do speak to each other, it’s at a rapidly escalating monthly fee. QB is a great example of an app that builds an expensive moat around itself. What’s truly a shame is that there aren’t more modern scaleable all-in-one systems that allow customization for your business. They have fled the way of SAAS subscription-based models that *can’t quite* be justified until you reach a certain plateau.

    • Hi Phoebe, excellent point.

      At face value it seems that most apps don’t talk to each other, and you’re right, they don’t out of the box. It seems that way because you’re using the built-in tools the apps provide, but those companies are focused on building the product, not on making apps talk to each other. And if you think about it, there are hundreds (even thousands) of different possibilities for app integration, it’s an overwhelming problem to tackle.

      So other companies, us for example, have stepped in to try and make this easier. As an example, I’ll tell you how we do it. To connect apps to websites we use the developer provided API (a necessity), but not the developer provided tools. This allows us to customize the integrations so values from any website form fields can be mapped to any fields in your app (CRM, invoicing app, scheduling app, etc.). It’s very powerful and extremely flexible.

      How you implement these integrations really depends on your website, your forms, and the apps you’re using, but in 99% of the cases I’ve seen it can be done for under $100. If you have specific questions on your setup, feel free to reach out to me. At the very least I can point you in the right direction.

  • Thanks for this Gabe. Indeed it’s on how the organization
    inside the business works, with the integration to the latest technology makes
    up the competitive advantage. Not what the business looks like or what are the
    services they offer, it’s in the efficiency of the services they’re providing
    to their clients. And of course with the help of “effective” mobile apps it
    will be most likely make the business more competitive without being noticed by
    other competitors. 😀

  • Glad I found this post as I’m currently looking at the impact of cloud computing upon business growth. Something along these lines would be a valuable resource to me as a future post. Saw this one: – what do you think?