Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. August’s theme is about the tools we use to get the job done.
At Volano Solutions, we help our clients work smarter through our custom workflow software and consulting. These software systems become our clients’ competitive advantage. At any one time, we have 24-plus projects active in the shop and rely on a set of tools to manage the workload. We like to practice what we consult, so the software we use is a pragmatic mix of custom software, off-the-shelf packages and SaaS products.
When consulting with customers we teach them to look at their business process flow as a linear progression; typically: marketing, then sales, then operations and finally finance. Each of these functions needs a toolset to effectively manage the associated tasks. However, the implementation of those systems doesn’t typically happen in that order. This holds true at Volano as well.
I readily admit that Volano doesn’t use a robust, documented approach to marketing… but we’re working on it! We use our Google Analytics for our website, Facebook, Twitter, and Campaign Monitor to perform and measure our reach.
Our sales process is beginning to mature and has become fairly repeatable. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is used to track accounts and contacts. It is a powerful tool that we are only leveraging as a Rolodex at this point. We use a SaaS product we built for our sales workflow called Steelwool. We have a number of clients using Steelwool to manage their sales and opportunities after they’ve been won.
Helping clients with operational software is our strength and we’re very proud of the project management system we’ve built to manage our engagements. We call it TimeFly and it helps us manage our estimates, set expectations for our developers and have our staff record their time. The reporting capabilities of Timefly are a very important facet of how we manage the business.A little back story: when Volano started in 2007 we used Basecamp for project management and time tracking. It worked, but not well…definitely not a competitive advantage. As the years have gone by, we’ve augmented TimeFly, which is currently in its third version. It is a tailored piece of custom software that we’ve crafted to fit Volano’s processes perfectly.
Like most small businesses we use Quickbooks for accounting. We happen to use the online version. It works and is very affordable. Thanks to a recommendation by Dusty Davidson at the first Bar Camp, we use what was once called PayCycle for payroll. It used to be an outstanding product but the support has gone downhill since Intuit purchased it. This brings up a good point. Support of your systems is everything. For me personally, the long-distance support that Intuit provides is becoming a deal breaker and I’d rather deal with a local firm.
Communication in any organization is paramount and Volano is no exception. We currently use a bug tracking SaaS web app called Sifter to track and manage issues, enhancement requests, versions and priorities for all our projects. Our sales and client management team, developers and clients themselves all have access to Sifter. Internally we use Skype as a quick way to share information, be it coding tips, asking for help, or sending jokes and links to the team to keep things lively.