Monthly Archives: November 2017

How to Choose Marketing Automation Software

Marketing and advertising often make up a sizable chunk of a business’s budget, but it’s usually difficult to judge how effective each advertising dollar truly is at generating more business. Luckily, marketing automation platforms not only make the task of reaching potential customers and generating leads easier, but they help narrow the search to the most likely and most lucrative customers.

Marketing automation is more than simple email campaigns and click-through reports. These platforms also work with social media, website visits, digital advertisements and oftentimes integrate with CRMs to optimize your customer outreach and lead generation. The best services are highly customizable, allowing users to set automated functions depending on how the potential customer interacts with the initial marketing material, company website or social media accounts.

The right marketing automation platform can save your business time, money and increase your conversion rates. Our guide can help you better understand the benefits of marketing automation and how to choose the platform that best suits your business.

Marketing automation 101
Marketing automation isn’t just about making the sale; it’s also about engaging potential customers on every step of their journey to becoming a buyer, then re-engaging them to encourage repeat business.

Jenay Sellers, director of marketing for Brandfolder, said marketing automation works by helping you identify patterns in behavior that lead to purchase. You can set up workflows to nurture clients who are making a buying decision, onboarding or renewing. For example, Sellers said, one of Brandfolder’s automated sequences sends a targeted email to prospects who download two or more pieces of the company’s content. Once this indication that the lead is interested in their services has been made, the software takes over and executes a preconfigured workflow to encourage the lead to take the next step closer to conversion.

Therein lies the key to marketing automation: It’s all about nurturing leads and encouraging them to take a closer look. This can be done with targeted email campaigns like Brandfolder’s, specific discount offers, social engagement and so on. Most marketing automation platforms give users a lot of latitude in determining exactly how they want to execute their strategies.
A holistic approach
Most people won’t be prepared to purchase your goods or services on first contact. Some won’t even be aware of your company or what it is you do. Giving them an opportunity to become acquainted with your brand through a series of interactions first is better than shoving a blatant advertisement in their face.

Best Email Marketing Software for Small Businesses

After conducting extensive research and analysis, we recommend Benchmark and iContact as our 2018 picks for the best email marketing services for small businesses. To understand how we selected our best picks, you can find our methodology and a comprehensive list of email marketing services on our best picks page.

Why Benchmark?
Benchmark combines ease of use with a wide variety of design options to deliver the best value for the price. The company also provides excellent customer service. Benchmark has a free plan, as well as paid plans that start at $12 per month.

Ease of Use
Out of all the services we tested, Benchmark had the best combination of producing professional-looking emails and being easy to use, even if you have no prior experience with email marketing.

To create emails, Benchmark offers a drag-and-drop editor for those with no design experience, a code editor for advanced users who have expertise in writing HTML code, and a plain text editor for creating text-only emails.

The drag-and-drop editor is simple to use. It lays out all the steps in a very natural way that makes it simple to understand. You start by picking a layout. You can create your own layout from scratch or choose one of the nearly 200 predesigned templates. The templates are categorized by industry and theme.

Benchmark’s drag and drop editor allows you to add in or delete as many content blocks as you like.

Whether you choose your own layout or use a predesigned template, the emails are broken up into various content blocks, such as image, text, boxed text, buttons, social shares and navigation bars, which you can tailor in any way you like. You can adjust their size, add in text, and change text size, alignment and color. You can also choose background colors for not only each box, but the entire message, and you can add or delete content blocks. In addition, there is a robust photo editing tool that allows you to alter photos by size, brightness and contrast and to add effects and frames to them.

When you’re finished creating an email, you can run several tests to ensure it looks as you intended on mobile devices, doesn’t include anything that can be flagged as spam and doesn’t have any spelling errors. For advanced users writing their own HTML, the software offers a dual-view option that lets them see the design of the email as they’re inputting the code.

The last step is to schedule when the email should be sent out. You have the choice of sending it immediately or picking a specific date and time.

Building contact lists is also simple. You can add addresses individually; import them from an XLS, CSV or TXT file; or upload them from a wide variety of popular applications, including Shopify, Gmail, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce and WordPress.

Once you add an address, you can create a complete profile for that subscriber that includes name, address, phone number, job title and any other notes.

TimeClock Plus Review

Why TimeClock Plus?
TimeClock Plus is a cloud-based system available in multiple service plans. It includes a multitude of features and works with a variety of time clocks. Depending on the service plan selected, TimeClock Plus costs $24 or $36 per employee, per year.

Multiple Service Plans
What makes TimeClock Plus so appealing is it offers businesses several service plans to choose from: Express, Standard and Professional. Each plan differs by cost and the number of features and tools it includes.

The Express plan, which is limited in how it operates, is offered only to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The two other plans can be used in organizations of any size.

Among the features and tools available in all plans are web-based clock operations, basic overtime calculations, views of employee status and hours, automatic punch rounding, and automatic logoff.

Additional features offered in both the Standard and Professional plans are employee time-sheet entry, employee and manager approvals, time clock compatibility, mobile apps, simple scheduling, accruals, and messaging.

Features and tools available only to Professional plan users are advanced scheduling, time-off request management, clock restrictions, advanced overtime, mass scheduling and automated reports, exports, and notifications. You can see a complete breakdown of all the plans on the TimeClock Plus website.
Time Tracking
Depending on the service plan you choose, TimeClock Plus can handle some or all of your time-tracking needs. While the Express plan focuses on recording when employees come and go each day, the Standard and Professional plans also include scheduling and time-off management capabilities.

There are several ways that TimeClock Plus tracks when employees start and end their days. Express users clock in and out via a computer, while Standard and Professional plan users can also use a mobile app or time clock. Businesses have the choice of PIN entry, card reader or biometric time clocks. The biometric time clocks use either fingerprint or hand scans to ensure employees aren’t clocking in and out for any of their peers. Additionally, Professional plan users can clock in and out from a telephone.
Cost
For what it offers, TimeClock Plus is one of the most affordable time and attendance systems we found during our research.

TimeClock Plus charges yearly fees for each employee. The prices of each plan are as follows:

Standard: $24 per employee, per year
Professional: $36 per employee, per year
The per-employee fee raises by 50 to 75 cents per month for businesses that would rather pay on a monthly basis.

In addition to the monthly charge, there is a one-time setup fee for the Standard and Professional plans. This fee is $100 for the Standard plan and $200 for the Professional. One hour of training is included in the cost of the Professional plan setup fee.

The only other cost is for the time clocks. The company offers a range of time clock options that cost between $1,000 and $2,400.

Ease of Use
TimeClock Plus is a cloud-based system that requires no software to be installed or maintained. The system, which is simple to use, is accessible online from anywhere.

The online portal has a clean interface that’s easy to navigate. Upon logging in, managers are taken to a dashboard that highlights all the tasks that need attention, including time sheets that need approval, which employees are approaching overtime, which employees forgot to punch in or out, and any pending time-off requests. We like that all of these details are front and center.

TSheets Review

Why TSheets?
TSheets offers numerous ways for employees to clock in and out, tracks remote workers’ location throughout the day, and is easy to use. TSheets costs $5 per employee, plus a $20 monthly base charge for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Mobile Tracking
TSheets is an ideal system for businesses with employees who sometimes or always work outside the office because of the variety of ways time and attendance can be managed remotely. Of all the services we examined, TSheets offers remote employees the most options for clocking in and out. With this system, on-the-go workers can use laptops, mobile apps, telephones, text messages or Twitter to record the hours they work each day.

The TSheets mobile app, available on iPhones and Android devices, lets employees clock in and out, track the time they work on specific projects, view time sheets, and see which of their co-workers are also working. Additionally, employees can use the app to see their schedules, receive notifications of schedule changes, and ask for time off.

The mobile app also tracks remote employees’ locations throughout the day. Besides logging exactly where employees are when they clock in and out, the mobile app records their specific location every 10 minutes. With this feature, managers get a clear picture of where their remote workers are spending their time each day. Most of the other services we investigated don’t offer this detailed level of tracking for remote workers.
Time Tracking
TSheets isn’t just a system for mobile employees. Time and attendance can be tracked and managed for those who work inside the office as well. With this system, employees can clock in and out online from any computer. TSheets gives employees the option of punching in and out in real time or manually entering their hours each day.

TSheets recently unveiled its TSheets kiosk. Employers can set up the kiosk in a central location inside their business on any internet-connected computer or tablet. Employees can use it to clock in and out using a four-digit PIN.

One fun feature of TSheets that its competitors don’t offer is the ability to set different sounds to play when punching in and out. For example, the system can play drums or a whistle when someone clocks in, and a hallelujah or a yee-haw clip when they clock out.
Ease of Use
TSheets is a cloud-based service that doesn’t require any hardware or software to install or maintain. You can access the system online from anywhere.

The online portal is easy to navigate, with each section clearly labeled. For employees, sections include My Time Card, to clock in and out and review the hours they’ve worked; Who’s Working, to see which of their co-workers are on the clock; and Submit Time, to send managers completed time cards.