During an undeclared recession like this one, it can be advantageous to reassess your business strategies. The phone may be ringing less, and you can use that time to take inventory of where you are and where you would like to be in terms of technology. Take advantage of this opportunity to cut costs and increase efficiency so that you’ll be able to take on as much as you want to when business picks up again. Here are seven excellent tools to aid you in your improvement endeavors:
Joomla allows you to quickly build professional websites and intranet sites. Every detail can be customized and you have full control of everything that goes on the site because you manage the source code. The Joomla extensions database has almost 4000 existing plug-ins, allowing it to do just about anything you could possibly need it to do. Joomla costs nothing to obtain; you will, however, need someone to install and support it.
This doesn’t have to be an expensive super-hacker, though – anyone who operates a Wordpress site or a Facebook page can become a Joomla webmaster in a pinch. Should you need real technical help, Joomla pros are now easy to find and inexpensive to hire.
In an office where there are more projects than people, some type of online task manager is a must. Taskhopper Dingo is a plug-in for Joomla that’s truly ideal for keeping track of who needs to do what – and when. Imagine an admin answering the phone: rather than writing down the details of the call on paper or sending an e-mail, the message is placed into Dingo. If the note is about a particular client, an e-mail (or text message, if you so choose) is automatically sent to the agent-in-charge so follow-up can be swift and effective.
Using Dingo can keep client information separate if that's a requirement, but it also allows you to share information so that different project managers can communicate with one another.
3. Property Listing Plug-in
This tool allows you to quickly and easily publish your properties to the web; from there, your customers can view unlimited photos, use mortgage calculators and take virtual tours, schedule a showing, use a comprehensive search engine to discover different properties, and more. This plug-in offers you the opportunity to manage your office as well as individual agents, who can assume online ownership of their properties.
Customers can even e-mail a friend when they come across a property of particular interest. This is a must-have for real-estate agents who want to stay ahead during these tough times.
This is where you keep all the names and numbers that make your business world go round. This is not a Joomla product, but that’s okay because you really don't want to mingle your CRM with your public website – that could be confusing. What does vTiger do? Essentially, it performs the typical CRM tasks: lead management, account & contact management, opportunity management, campaign management, mass mailing, e-mail templates, Mail Merge templates, “to do” lists, meetings and calls, shared calendars, e-mail notifications, Outlook plug-in, Thunderbird extension, 20 pre-built reports, custom fields…you get the idea.
Remember, all these tools are open source, which means that you’re free to take them in whichever direction you choose.
This tool will help you keep track of income and expenses from all of your accounts. Small business features allow you to manage customers, vendors and projects, and help you with invoicing as well as accounts receivable/accounts payable. gnuCash can even communicate with your bank (using the same technology protocol as Quickbooks). Everything can be extracted into reports and presented as graphs. Switching to gnuCash from other accounting software is easy because it can import data from MS Money and Quicken.
Dump Microsoft Office! OpenOffice provides a great alternative to existing commercial office suites. It comes with the following tools: word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation (Impress), drawing and graphing (Draw), equations and formulae (Math) and a database tool which also builds reports and forms (Base). All components are multi-platform and multilingual.
This is not an online product – rather, it’s one that you download and install on your PC. It works great in Windows and Linux.
Dump Windows! If you purchase a new laptop at just about any retail store you have one choice: Windows Vista. But that doesn't mean you have to keep it. Ubuntu runs Firefox, OpenOffice and everything else above. Why dump Windows? Because it's loaded with bugs and lots of other nasty software designed to force you to upgrade constantly. It's an endless loop of expensive frustration, but there’s a better way!
Here's the tricky part of all this: Change.
Asking people to change their behavior patterns is no easy task. Habits and routines can really hinder technological adaptation, but that doesn’t mean that technology will stop evolving. We’ve just got to roll with the punches.
I've been involved with hundreds, maybe thousands of projects and the failed ones share a theme in common: the end users didn't want to change their ways, or what was delivered was not compelling enough to make them switch. Most unsuccessful endeavors are characterized by uninvolved stakeholders and general ennui. Yuck. Nobody wants that.
We’d like to help one agent become bigger, better, and more efficient, so we’re offering the following:
- An analysis of your current technology
- Hosting and installation of the open source products listed above
- Support and training to help make sure everything runs smoothly
We will provide these services, at no charge, to the agent who proves that s/he wants it most and will put it to the best use. This will be no obligations, no strings attached, nothing for you to pay, no Fear Factor-like hoops for you to jump through (I don’t want to see you eat a scorpion any more than you want to nosh on it).
So give it some thought and comment about what makes you an active stakeholder in the revamp/overhaul of your existing office technology. We'll choose the winner in early December, and if it’s you (and it very well could be), you’ll be on the path to technological nirvana in no time.
PS. We have intentionally not included a blogging product because we know the really good agents do that here! :)