Tuesday's Tip: Standardize Your Company's Signatures

We’ve seen some of our clients who have awesome signatures in their email that double as marketing tools.  I wanted to implement this in our company but I wanted to get it standardized across the company so we are all presenting the same message in our communications.  So we added a Signature “generator” tool to our Free Campaign Tools.  Below is a quick video on how it works.

Tuesday's Tip: Using Melt to automate video editing.

Melt is a program that lets you script video splicing, and basic editing. It can be a pain to get to know, but once you do, it’s pretty awesome. Here is a simple example.
We have a number of short walkthroughs. They are all pretty similar. A Quick intro, the screen cast, and then an outro. Here is how you setup melt to do this for you.
First, you need to install “Shotcut” (http://www.shotcut.org/) on your Mac / PC. Shotcut is a front end for Melt, and includes the melt program. It’s alot like Adobe Premier Elements, but it’s free and opensource.
Now, go ahead and create a “Video Template” folder on your computer.
Now in that folder, create a file called “render.melt”, in that file put the following lines:


This file tells melt to start with the video located here: C:\Users\joey\Videos\intro.mpg, to lower the volume by 8db for that video, then add the video called “screen.webm”, then add the intro.mpg video to the end of that, and reduce the volume by 8db.
Note** You MUST have a blank line at the end of your melt file.
Change the video filenames (C:\Users\joey\Videos\intro.mpg, and screen.webm) to the paths to your intro, and main content piece.
Now, you need a script file (batch if you are on windows, bash if you are on Mac).
For windows, I put the following in the batch file (I call the file render.cmd).

"C:\Program Files\Shotcut\melt" render.melt -consumer avformat:final.avi acodec=libmp3lame vcodec=libx264

This tells melt to use your render.melt file, and output the video to a file called final.avi using the libx264 codec.
I put all this in my “VideoTemplate” directory, and anytime I need to make a new video, I copy the directory, put my new screencast video into the directory and name it “screen.webm”, then I just double click on the script file, and melt does the rest. Then upload final.avi to YouTube.
btw… I use the Screencastify chrome plugin to capture the screencast.

Biz Tip: Setup an IVR (Phone Menu)

IVR’s are those magic phone systems most companies have when someone calls. As much as I would love to have a full-time receptionist, it just isn’t practical for our business. We wanted our IVR to be different, and not lame. Give it a call at (480) 725-3434 to check it out.
It isn’t hard to setup one of these either. Using a combination of Twilio and OpenVBX it can be setup in about an hour. While we don’t manage IVRs as a normal part of our business, we may do it as a sign of goodwill for somewhere around $500 for a couple of phone lines if you would like some assistance. Give us a call and we’ll work something out.
If you want to set it up yourself, here is what we recommend: Start with a timer widget so you can set your open hours. If your office is open, send them to a menu widget, otherwise a message saying you’re closed and then to voice mail. Earlier this week, I said to turn off voice mail, but this voice mail can be automatically sent to your email account, so it flows well. Make your menu recording interesting and brief. Make sure all menus include a “0” option so people who are impatient and push 0 go somewhere (like a receptionist or other individual that can help route the call to the right person). That’s it.

Biz Tip: Use an old Android phone with Skype for an office phone

Last year the time finally came for us to get an office phone instead of using my personal cell phone as the main office line. We didn’t want to actually get a land-line (so last decade), and we didn’t need a cell phone since it’s just for the office. After a few hours research we opted to get a Skype subscription with a Skype number (a few bucks a month) on an account that isn’t listed in Skype’s directory. We bought an older Android phone with wireless charging. This essentially gave us a cheap cordless phone for the office.
We bought a Nexus 4 from Swappa for $60. It doesn’t need cell service to be used with Skype; just connect it to your office wifi. It sits on my desk, and when it rings I can pick it up (or one of our devs since it isn’t “The Boss’s Cell”), handle the call, walk around the office, etc. We can also take calls on a computer if we want since it is a Skype number. This gives us flexibility for a very low initial and on-going cost.

Biz Tip: Google Inbox instead of Gmail

Google Inbox is a new way to work with email. Most of us have used our email to manage tasks and get things done for years. Google realized this and created a new interface for Gmail called Inbox. It doesn’t replace Gmail, so if you try it out for a few weeks and hate it then you can always go back to Gmail without losing anything.
Inbox is optimized to let us work from our email faster. It still has all the features you’d want from a mail client but it is simplified and includes some needed features for completing tasks. Easily schedule a task associated with an email for a specific date in the future, or add recurring reminders.
It’s currently by invite only, so make sure to go to the site below and request an invite. It has made me more productive, and better at follow-up.
Check it out: http://www.google.com/inbox/

Biz Tip: Asana for task management

I have to admit, I am an evangelist. Not the religion, but of the products I like. I’ve tried a lot of task managers over the years. I’ve even written a few myself. At Novak Solutions we’ve tried a half-dozen or so and the one we’ve enjoyed the most so far is Asana.
Some of the reasons Asana is great include:

  • It’s free.
  • It has great team features.
  • It’s SIMPLE (this is one of the bigger reasons we chose it).
  • It doesn’t spam you on every single update.
  • Did I mention it’s simple?
  • You can rapidly enter a number of tasks and group tasks without needing to use your mouse.

Try it out: https://asana.com/

Biz Tip: Key Indicators

Do you know what Key Indicators drive your business?? If not, take 30 minutes today and figure out what your key indicators are. Then figure out what you can do to increase those key indicators.
For us, our key indicators are:

  • # of Free App Users
  • $ Recurring Rev / Mo
  • Churn
  • Marketing Reach

We have our own dashboard we track these stats on, if you want it for your own use, check it out here: https://novaksolutions.com/performance/

Biz Tip: Turn off your voice mail

Voice mail is so so 1990. I hate it. I’ve seen a few other successful business owners change their voice mail message to motivate people not to leave messages, and once I did life got simpler.
You don’t want to actually turn off voice mail. Just change your message. Mine says: “Hey, you’ve reached Joey at Novak Solutions. I NEVER check voice mail on this number, the best way to reach me is to send me an email at joey@novaksolutions.com, or send me a txt message on this number. Thanks, bye!” People now send me emails or txt messages instead, which fits seamlessly into my workflow.

Closed Loop vs Open Loop

One of the things I love is to understand how systems work.  From FedEx sorting, to gas station fuel pumps, to nuclear weapons (which are actually a lot simpler than you might think). One of the things I’ve learned is that systems can be divided into two classes: closed loop and open loop.
An open loop system is a system with no feedback; it just happily runs along doing what it is told to do with no real indicator of success. It just assumes everything is hunky dory. While these systems are usually cheap to build and very reliable, they can cause problems.
For example, I spent a small amount of time at a grape vineyard assisting with the grape juice processing during harvest season. There were 8 different machines the grapes went through before processing was finished. There was one machine whose job is to crack open the grapes by crushing them just a little. This was the first real step, and it was the main bottleneck in processing the grapes into grape juice. There was a large conveyor belt that fed this machine, and if the guys putting grapes on the conveyor belt were too fast, the hopper on the crusher would fill up and grapes would start raining down inside the building. It was a non-profit facility run by volunteer labor, so the quality of the labor was somewhat random. Sometimes you would get over-eager people that no matter what you told them would keep dumping grapes on the conveyor until finally, to their dismay, you just turned off the electricity to their equipment so they were forced to slow down for a while.
Older car air conditioners (you know, those ones with a knob that is blue on one side and red on the other and no matter how many times you adjust it, you’re still too hot or too cold) are another example. Did you know that thermostats were invented almost 400 years ago, but it’s taken over 80 years from the invention of the car air conditioner for thermostats to become popular in cars? That means that for 80 years drivers have been needlessly distracted and irritated by their air conditioner needing manual adjustment.
While both of these systems are by definition “open loop” we make them work by making ourselves the the feedback mechanism, which is better than nothing but not nearly as efficient as it could be.
Making both of these systems closed loop systems is a piece of cake. For the first example, a level indicator was placed in the crusher. When it got too full the system would first turn on a yellow light outside, and if the volunteers continued to put grapes in the system too quickly and the hopper started to overflow, a different sensor would turn their power off and illuminate a bright red light outside. When this happened, the volunteers would come inside and say, with stupefied expressions, “Our machine stopped working, we think the power is out.” To which we would hang our heads in disbelief (since we had briefed them about the large yellow and red lights and explained things just hours earlier) and calmly re-explain to them what the green, yellow, and red lights were for.
For cars, to make it a closed loop system, $4 worth of electronics has to be installed in the car by the manufacturer.  I’m still curious as to why no one ever made an aftermarket thermostat for cars. I think it’s one of those “if the customer hasn’t noticed it’s broke, don’t fix it” things.
So how many of us have marketing systems or business processes that are open loop? And what can we do to close the loop? Do we have employees plodding along, doing their daily tasks, some of which are no longer needed, or are being performed too frequently? Marketing Campaigns for which we have no idea what the end ROI is? Do we even have a “thermometer” to assess how our business is performing? Do we even know how our own campaigns are functioning?
Like the thermostat, is there some simple, cheap technology that will let us turn our open systems into closed systems with near real-time feedback? This isn’t about making things more efficient, it’s about converting our businesses from unsustainable monsters which consume vast amounts of our energy and yet yield little performance to a precision instrument which transforms all the energy you put in into meaningful results.
The first step in this process is to identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow you to measure your progress and gauge the efficiency of your current open loop systems. (Actually, the very first step is to define your vision / purpose so that you can set goals that will get you there, so that you have a destination to measure your progress to, but I’m assuming you’ve done this, or will do it soon.) At Novak Solutions, we have enabled larger companies with their own development teams to get access to this data from Infusionsoft so they can start making data-based decisions instead of gut-feeling-based decisions. We’re currently working on packaging these enterprise class solutions into more manageable solutions for the small business market, and hope to release them soon. In the meantime our free Health Check Dashboard may give you insight into some of  the most valuable KPIs for your business.
Once you have identified your KPIs and have a way to track and report on them you are ready to start converting your wasteful open loop systems into closed loop systems. And enjoy a more comfortable life.
Tell us below about some of your open loop systems that you are having difficulty closing or making more efficient. What KPIs do you want that you don’t have an automated way to track and report on?

Automate It! #1: Cook breakfast with Infusionsoft

We all know Infusionsoft is great for marketing, but did you know it can make you breakfast, too?
I paired Infusionsoft with the Novak Solutions Automation Center platform, a few kitchen appliances, and a TM-19A transceiver. A simple Infusionsoft web form captures the date and time you’d like breakfast to start cooking. I used “Send HTTP Post” in the Campaign Builder to tell the Automation Center to schedule breakfast for 8 AM the next morning.
The next step is the easiest: go to bed for the night! In the morning, the Automation Center automatically used the TM-19A transceiver to turn on the kitchen appliances to get my food cooking. I woke up a few minutes later and enjoyed my hot breakfast.
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