One of the great benefits of the explosion in SAAS offerings out there, is that you can pretty much get any tool you need at relatively low cost (or free). But is there a drawback to the proliferation of tools in the market?
Let me start by staying this – I am an official tool junkie. I love them. Can’t get enough of them. If I don’t have a specific problem that a tool will address, I will probably be able to find one just so I can get the tool.
Tools are my weakness, I just love the ingenuity and simplicity a good tool brings to problem solving and making life easier for my team and I.
So, what is the drawback? After all, if you are running a virtual team, isn’t it great to have a suite of tools to make their jobs (and yours) easier?
The drawback is that tools can sneak up on you, multiplying like Gremlins in a swimming pool until they are everywhere. And this poses problems:
Regardless of the size of your team or organisation, you need to have a pretty clear strategy regarding the tools you need and how the will work together. Integrating your tools across your end to end operations is critical. For example, there is no point running multiple social media scheduling tools (unless you have to). But given differing features of a variety of tools that all look like they do the same thing, the trap is that you procure particular tools for specific features only and duplicate functionality that could be procured through careful consideration of a single tool only. Sometimes missing a feature or two is better than spending extra $$$ every month on something that might not bring the value you seek. One of the tools that me and team have been using for quite a while now is the Time Doctor, it monitors visited websites, time worked, tasks that have been done through the day, and gets a screenshot every couple of minutes.
Map your processes first before you procure anything and ensure you know why you are buying a subscription, what you will get for it and most importantly, how you will use the outputs. Always try the free trial before you buy and look past the flashing lights to determine if this tool will really help your business run.
It is important to also understand how your tool suite will integrate together. You do not want to get caught in the trap of having to migrate data from multiple tools, multiple times just because you cannot get an end to end process flow working between incompatible tools.
I guarantee that at some stage you will have an excited member of your virtual team approach you needing the latest and greatest tool in the market.
“It’s only $30 per month”
“This will provide us with so much competitor analysis that we can’t NOT have it!”
“This will make it easier for us to communicate!”
You will hear this and more. And most of it is actually right. Except maybe the part that “we can’t NOT have it!”
But we need to quiz our Virtual Team further. It might be free now but does it stay free forever? What is the difference in features between the free and premium versions? Do we need the premium version? If it is costing $30 per month, what return do we get from it? What is your plan with the competitor analysis we receive? What are the current issues in how we communicate etc etc?
Experience shows that often these tools burn brightly at the start. The team is excited to all be collaborating on the newest platform. But as the brightness dims a little and people get busy on other things, I find that some tools become under-utilised to the point where they actually are not utilised at all. And given the sizeable tool suite and understandable focus on other more pressing matters, your monthly subscription continues on direct debit quietly in the background.
Rest assured, some tools out there are must haves. They just add tremendous value and you will think to yourself, “How did I manage without this?”. For me, a perfect example of this is Basecamp. As a project management tool, it is easy to use, well-structured and affordable. It took my team away from working via email and allowed them to work in a centralised manner with full visibility to all project participants.
The only drawback that I have with the almighty Basecamp is that we are now dependent on it. No biggy, this tool doesn’t break the bank whatsoever. But we literally have 100’s of archived projects stored there. We have clients who manage their Virtual Staff there. My team congregates there. Without it, we lose a significant audit record of our projects and our ability to collaborate effectively. Sure we can export the data and find other ways to work with each other – my point is that removal of Basecamp would be a pretty big obstacle for us to work around.
It is imperative that when you are procuring a new tool that you do so from a longer term perspective, some of these tools might stick around for a while…
Now this is an obvious one. But I will say it anyway ☺
What looks cheap often isn’t. $30 per month by itself isn’t going to kill your cash flow. But it is the affordability of many of these tools that is the trap. You accumulate them to such a degree that as a whole, your tool suite is expensive and inefficient.
VE People peaked at over $1000USD per month on tools a couple of years ago. Some were $30 per month, some $99, some $9.99. But together they began to add up.
Our primary point of failure was the good Ol’ CEO (me) who didn’t quiz hard enough in terms of what the tool actually did. I focused on the benefits of the tool first but had I worked to understand the tool purpose I would have immediately discovered that we had duplicate tools doing similar things being utilised by different people. As team dynamics and projects changed, some of these tools would drift off quietly into the background never to be used again.
We implemented a tool assessment process, managed by our internal accountant, to ensure that our costs are controlled and that tools are utilised. Our monthly tool costs now are below $200USD and we currently have all the functionality we need.
My recommendations when it comes to tools are:
– Assess everything you intend to procure first from an integration and dependency perspective
– Always run with a free trial and if you don’t get benefit from the basic features, don’t take the premium version
– Assess your tool suite regularly and assign someone in your Virtual team to be responsible for utilisation and cost control
– Stay away from the bright lights of the tools sales pitches – focus on the features, what they will deliver you and most importantly, what will you do when you have them
As always, feel free to comment below if you would like to discuss tools. I am really interested if anyone is using something they feel is superior to Basecamp from a project management perspective?