Being Digital: Getting the most out of the web
When it comes to web design and website deployment, we at saso.creative see ourselves as much more than mere code monkeys. Apart from the obvious benefits of having a website and the skills required to make it fly (marketing, branding, copywriting), we also like to help our clients exploit the web and what it can do for them.
Cloud computing, social networks, open source software, apps: they all seem to have coalesced in the last few years to offer a plethora of digital widgets and gizmos that can really benefit small business. Really! For free.
It can be a bit hard to see the forest for the trees, and goodness knows, there's an awful lot of trees, so here's some services and apps the we use on a daily or weekly basis that might provide some food for thought.
Automate it with IFTTT and Zapier
IFTTT and Zapier are similar services that let you automate interactions between channels and devices by developing 'recipes' in an if-this-then-that type framework. Huh? Well, imagine this:
You've got a meeting scheduled with a client for 11am, but you're in unfamiliar territory and know that you could be running slightly late. Combine your smartphone and SMS services (or email, or Gmail, or Twitter) to automatically send the client quick messages of your progress as you near your destination.
Or, combine your smartphone GPS services with your Wemo-switched devices to turn on the air-con or heating when you're within 20 minutes of home, and turn on the lights when you turn into your street. Or email you when motion is detected in a given room while you're at work.
Automate posting to your social media from your WordPress blog by publishing your latest posts to any number of social media channels.
Automatically save email attachments from clients to Google Drive or Skydrive or Dropbox for safe keeping.
Get an SMS to your smartphone when the surf hits 4 ft or more.
The potential recipes are almost limitless. There are thousands of pre-configured recipes you can grab for free, and it's very straightforward to construct your own. If you can imagine a result from the statement, If-this-happens-then-make-that-happen, chances are you can automate it using one of these services.
IFTTT is free; Zapier, which is arguably more business focused and with a lot more channels available has a limited free plan, and basic plans starting at $15/month.
Don't know where to start or want some ideas? Give us a call: we use both of these services in day-to-day business and are happy to construct recipes on your behalf.
Share it with CloudMe
There's an awful lot of benefits from operating some (or all) of your business in the Cloud: convenience, accessibility, security. And there are, of course, dozens of free and paid Cloud storage solutions out there like Google Drive, Drop Box and Hightail.
What's always bugged me about simplistic Cloud storage is that it relies on dragging files in and out of a given 'hot' folder and thus creating copies; if you're not the world's most organised person, then you've quickly got copies of copies of copies of, well, copies. If you're like me, after a while you start questioning which copy is the latest and therefore most accurate version. Which means you have to start checking Latest Update times, and giving things codes, and pretty soon you're asking why you even went down the Cloud path in the first place.
With CloudMe you don't have to drag files in and out of hot folders: you simply nominate which files, or folders, or entire drives if you like, to sync with CloudMe and thereafter you, or your team, can work on any of those nominated files, from any device, from anywhere. Collaborate with colleagues across the room or across the world; have your team work on proposals concurrently; nominate a folder that a given client can log into at will for proposal updates, presentations, supporting material and contracts.
Nifty, no? No? C'mon: even just five years ago network computing of this sophistication — just across your office — would have cost more than most small businesses could afford. Now it's free.
Secure it with LastPass and Keepass
Website, email account, Gmail. That's three passwords you have to remember. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — there's another three. Online banking, eBay, Paypal — there's another three. Buying anything online usually requires setting up an account username and password of some type. Juggling your business and personal digital life requires you to remember more password combinations than most neurologists believe is even possible.
The temptation, then, is to either write down your passwords or, worse, use the same password for everything.
What you need is a password manager. A password manager generates, assigns and stores unique and practically uncrackable passwords in a 'vault' that has, typically, a master password and a two-step authentication process.
On a day-to-day level you need remember just the one password — LastPass or Keepass do the rest.
Keepass is free, though possibly a bit technical for some to set up. LastPass has a free version and a premium version at $12/year that offers even better security features.
Collaborate with Hackpad
Don't let the name fool you: this is a sophisticated collaboration tool that, once you start using it, you'll wonder how you ever did without it.
Create project spaces and invite staff, clients, or the public to join in. Take notes, share data and files, and use comments to share your thoughts in real-time.
Break projects into subtasks, assign them to team members and use tags to create milestones. Monitor your progress with to-do lists. Capture your files all in one place so your colleagues find what they need right away and stay organized.
It lives in the cloud, but remains accessible even offline.
Sign it and serve it with Adobe Acrobat Pro
Adobe is the 800-pound gorilla of the design software world. They recently changed their pricing structure to a subscription base which is going to cost us thousands of extra dollars to keep up to date. Personally, if I could avoid Adobe I'd do so with a flipped bird in my wake. So I make this recommendation through clenched teeth. But ...
But Adobe isn't just about design software anymore, and some of their business solutions deserve fair credit.
I've been a fan of and evangelist for Acrobat Pro for 15 years or more, and it keeps getting better. I don't know if Adobe is just hopeless at publicising its potential and benefits, but almost without exception every client I meet thinks Adobe Reader is the be-all and end-all of Acrobat's hat of tricks. Sure, in the world of print publishing and production, Acrobat Pro is almost indispensable. But you don't need it for its print prowess.
It is, of course, a wonderful print tool and probably one of the most trusted ways of displaying and distributing document-faithful copies with commenting, editing, sharing and security features built in.
But there are two things that, if you're not using them now, you will be within a year or two: FormsCentral and Echosign.
FormsCentral is an online repository of form data. Sounds dull? Well, I guess so. But you really need to start using it to fully appreciate its potential. With FormsCentral you can embed a form within a PDF document (or on your website) and distribute that PDF and thus the form via email to interested parties. Once those parties fill out the form, all data is sent to FormsCentral and stored in a neat data table (as well as emailed back to you). Doesn't sound much of a trick as a one-off, but once you've used it a dozen times, and had to go looking for a given contract or agreement or other data set, it becomes increasingly evident how handy it all is.
Echosign is Adobe's digital signature service. Plan, produce and distribute your contract or other documentation, all from Acrobat Pro, get it digitally signed and verified, and have it all stored in your Echosign account for future reference. It really is the way of the future.
There are alternatives to both these services, but at $20/month, a subscription to Acrobat Pro which includes these tools as well as Acrobat's other wonderful features is a price-comparative steal.