Project Management Tool Pricing List And Comparison

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of cloud based project management tools available in the market today. Hubbion, as you know, is completely free in that you do not have to pay anything regardless of the number of users you collaborate with, or the number of files you attach. But this is not true with all project management tools. In this article, we will take a look at the pricing list of all the major project management tools you could be interested in.

What to look for while comparing prices

Very few project management tools are completely paid. In other words, most tools out there allow users to explore their offerings for free. The free offerings are however limited in one way or the other. Before comparing the various tools side-by-side, you should have an understanding of your own PMT requirements

  • How many users would need to sign up to your project management tool?
  • What is the typical file or storage size you will need for your projects?
  • How many projects do you handle at a time on an average?
  • Do you need any sort of integration with other tools?

HUBBION

Min cost: $0
Avg cost: $0

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $0

Hubbion is completely free to use. There is no restriction on the number of users you can collaborate with. You can create as many projects as you want. Better, there is no limit on the number of files you can attach, the file sizes and the overall storage limit. Overall, Hubbion is ideal for small and medium businesses who are bootstrapped and do not want to spend money on managing projects. You can sign on Hubbion by visiting this link: https://hubbion.com/registration

Wrike

Min cost: $0
Avg cost: $24.80/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $5952

Wrike does have a free plan but this has its own restrictions. For one, you can only have a maximum of five users. That would be fine for small businesses except that the free plan also restricts your storage space to under 2GB. That’s not a lot of space and you could quickly breach this storage in two to three months on an average.

An average business with around 20 users and will have several GB of storage could be spending around $24.80 per user per month. That works out to around $496 per month for a 20 person team (or $5952 per year).

Trello

Min cost: $0
Avg cost: $9.99/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $2376

Trello is by far the most popular Kanban board. It is also popular among users who mostly share small text files or need a tool for just monitoring updates. But given that Trello has a serious cap of just 10 MB for file uploads, it may not be useful for any business looking for any file sharing that is over 10 MB in size. The average cost for a 20 member business team would be around $198 per month which works out to $2376 per year.

Basecamp

Min cost: $99/month
Avg cost: $99/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $1188

Basecamp can be pretty expensive or cheap depending on the kind of team you handle. If you are a small 5-6 member team, then paying $99/month (or $1188 per year) can seem quite expensive. On the other hand, a 20 member team might find the flat $99/month pricing to be quite cheap. Integrations cost extra and a 20 member team could spend as much as $650/month for these integrations.

Besides the pricing itself, another factor that users must look into before signing up for Basecamp is the user interface. The Basecamp UX can take some time to get used to. It is a good idea to request a free trial account and explore the various features before you pay for the software.

Asana

Min cost: $0
Avg cost: $9.99/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $2400

Like Wrike, Asana too has a free plan for entry level users. This however extends to fifteen team members and is good for many small teams. The dashboards for free plans are however basic and if you are looking for all the comprehensive user options, then you will have to go for the Premium version that costs $9.99 per user per month.

For a basic 20 member team, Asana will set you back by $200 per month or $2400 per year.

Atlassian JIRA

Min cost: $10
Avg cost: $7/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $1680 (cloud)

JIRA is available as both a cloud-hosted as well as self-hosted software. When you are on the cloud, you pay a flat $10 for up to ten users. But if you are a bigger team or work with multiple external stakeholders who can take your total user number to more than 10, then you should be ready to pay a lot more. For a 20 member team, the cloud based JIRA app should cost around $140 per month or $1680 per year.

You may also go for the self-hosted option which is normally not advisable for small businesses since this requires a lot of installation and maintenance related effort. This is a one-time payment and depends on the number of users you need access to. A 20 person team could opt for a Server that will need a one-time payment of $2000. Annual maintenance is free for the first year and may be an additional expense from your second year.

Smartsheet

Min cost: $14/user
Avg cost: $15-$25/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $6000

Smartsheets offers unlimited collaboration with other users which is great. However, small businesses may need to opt for the ‘Business’ or ‘Team’ plan to get all their needs fulfilled. Smartsheets work on the concept of ‘sheets’ which is essentially used to store anything from projects to contacts and checklists. One user can store up to 50 sheets (contacts, projects or checklists) using the Team option which may not be a lot for some businesses. In such cases, you may have to opt for the Business plan which costs $25/user/month. A 20 member team may thus need to spend around $500 per month or $6000 a year.

Podio

Min cost: $7.20/user/month
Avg cost: $19.20/user/month

Average annual cost for a 20 member team: $4608

The basic version of Podio comes with user management, task management and collaboration with unlimited external users. These features are available at a price of $7.20 per user per month (billed annually). If you are looking for features like automated workflows and read only access, then you must go for the Plus plan that costs $11.20 per user per month. Features such as encrypted file sharing and large file storage are only available to customers of the Premium plan that is priced at $19.20 per user per month. For a twenty member team, this will cost you $384 per month or $4608 per year.

Tips for Effective Project Management

Project managers have their task cut out as they are given the responsibility of completing projects within budget and on schedule. However, there are many factors that can derail a project and managers need to ensure their project progresses smoothly and overcomes any disruptions that may come in the way. A quality project management software solution can help managers in a big way. These applications are widely used and the global online project management software market is expected to post revenue of more than $1 billion by the year 2020.

You can select a suitable system by analyzing content from top B2B software marketplaces. After choosing the right platform for your project management needs, you should plan and prepare before the project begins to minimize interruptions and obstacles. This can help you to deal with any unexpected events quickly and efficiently. Read on for more such useful tips on effective project management.

Get all the project details at the start

Start your project work by getting approval from the concerned parties and preparing a detailed work scope. The scope should include a sufficient budget, detailed timeline, and interim milestones. Build a strong foundation by getting all the requirements in writing before you begin. You can expect changes as the project progresses and you should take care to raise concerns if it starts to deviate from the original plan. This may occur if your client repeatedly requests for extra additions which can add up over time and change the scope of the entire project.

Be realistic about expectations

Ensure that the client as well as your team members understand all the project limitations. If their expectations are realistic if would be easier to complete the project successfully within budget and on time. However, if the client has far-fetched expectations and asks for miracles, the project is doomed for failure. Don’t start your project in this state of mind. Inform your client and take them on board about the project scope and limitations.

Track project progress via milestones

Set up milestones along the way to know if the project is progressing smoothly. These interim milestones are especially important for lengthy projects and can help you determine if the project is on the right track or moving away from original goals. Establish both client and internal checkpoints. Incorporate the client’s feedback immediately because if you leave it for the later stages, they make ask you to re-work substantial parts which will delay project completion.

Keep up the spirits of your team members by celebrating with them when they reach a milestone. Give them a reward for the good work and recognize their efforts. This will make your team members enjoy their work and motivate them to continue to give their best.

Assign tasks to the right team members

Managing human resources effectively is an important part of project execution. Make sure your team member have the required skill-sets for their roles. If you delegate tasks to the wrong employee, you may end up harming the project work.

Ensure that your team members have a clear understanding of their roles, deadlines, and project goals. Motivate them to get their doubts clarified and encourage them to approach you for assistance if they face hindrances or obstacles in their work. Thus, it is essential to establish open and clear communication for effective collaboration.

Be an inspiring leader

As the project manager, you should exert your leadership and goodwill without hesitation and not let other team members assert dominance. You should be able to inspire your colleagues to perform their best by acting as their motivator, mentor, and coach. Encourage your team members who may be from diverse backgrounds to mingle freely and makes use of team-building exercises to maintain camaraderie. Plus, you are the contact person for the client, so communicate accurately to them to help them track project progress. Act as a calm and strong leader if the project meets turbulence. Your team will need your assistance the most in difficult times, so act as a reliable go-to person who can resolve their issues quickly and put their work back on track.

Avoid micromanagement

Do not breathe down too heavily on your team members but allow them to perform at their own pace as long as they meet deadlines. Have regular meetings to track each member’s tasks. Create a balanced and healthy work environment and empower your colleagues to give their best to the project.

Handle project risks with certainty

Prepare a list of likely risks that can affect the project before your start work. This will enable you to use contingency plans for certain events. If you expect a risk to arise, avoid it with preventive action or take corrective steps to resolve the issue. If the situation becomes unacceptable, do not hesitate to stop the project. This is a better strategy than continuing with the difficult situation because the project is doomed for failure if the threat is unmanageable.

Use a good quality project management software solution

Email is an outdated communication system for project management because you can end up spending a lot of time searching for the messages you need. Instead, invest in a good project management software application that stores all project communication and information in a single place and can be easily accessed by you and your team members anytime in the office or field. You can read user reviews to guide your decision. This is especially useful if your client and team members are based in other locations. In short, project management software helps to save time, and boosts collaboration and productivity.

Try Hubbion – The best FREE project management tool 

Hold regular meetings to track project status

Keep these meetings short, relevant, and productive. Regular communication with your team members and client is a great way to track project status and progress. This becomes more important if you have virtual team members. Communicate frequently and openly with them to know their work status and to find out if they are experiencing any difficulties that need help.

Do a project post-mortem  

After you complete the project successfully, prepare a post-mortem account of it for internal use. In this report, you can identify the plus points and drawbacks of the project execution, and learn what you could have done differently. Plus, you can establish best practices that can be utilized in future projects.

Conclusion

We hope this article helps you to manage your projects more effectively in the future. Keep track of the latest trends in the project management field to stay updated. If you are using any other useful project management strategies, feel free to share the details with us.

Author’s bio

Alex Hillsberg is chief editor for Financesonline.com reviews. He is an expert in the area of B2B and SaaS related products. He has worked for several B2B startups in the past and gathered a lot of first hand knowledge about the industry during that time.

Workplace Collaboration Statistics 2017

As more and more businesses offer telecommuting and remote working options for their employees, the need for workplace collaboration tools is only going to increase. According to one study, there are nearly 3.3 million full-time professionals in the United States alone who consider their home as their primary place of work. Add to this, the other benefits of collaboration tools, including better organization and delegation of tasks, improved tracking of progress and higher productivity, and it is surprising that there are still organizations that do not use online collaboration tools like Hubbion.

But if you are still not convinced if you need a collaboration service for your business, perhaps these statistics could help you decide.

Insufficient Collaboration

A survey of employees (born between 1980 to 2000) conducted by Queens University found that nearly 39% of them believe that their organization does not collaborate enough.

Three in Four employees (that’s 75%) rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important”

Social Tools For Collaboration

The Queens University survey also found that there is significant support for the use of social tools for workplace collaboration. 31% of baby boomers (1946 – 1960s), 40% of Gen X (1960s to 1980s) and 49% of millennials (1980s to 2000s) support social tools for collaboration.

Workplace Failures

Lack of effective collaboration could be killing your company. A Salesforce survey of more than 1400 corporate executives, employees and educators found that 86% of the participants believed that lack of collaboration was responsible for workplace failures.

Free Collaboration Tools

As a free online collaboration tool, Hubbion has a distinct advantage over other tools in the market. One study found that nearly 33% of teams that picked a collaboration tool did so because the service was free.

Technology For Collaboration

Collaboration has been made much more effective thanks to technology. According to an Alfresco survey of more than 753 business professionals, it was found that nearly 83% of professionals depend on technology to collaborate. 82% of the participants also felt that they would feel impacted if this technology to collaborate was lost.

Mobile Collaboration Tools

The Alfresco survey also looked into the other aspects of workplace collaboration. The report claims that only 49% of the participants claimed to use mobile devices for collaboration. However, 92% of them think it is important.

Collaboration Behavior

Other findings from the Alfresco study – 59% of the respondents experienced challenges while working on their collaboration tools. Interestingly, 71% of millennials faced challenges while just 45% of baby boomers concurred. But while millennials think chat or text is the most preferred way to collaborate, baby boomers believe that’s the least effective.

Collaboration Security Challenges

Data security doesn’t appear to be a big deal according to the Alfresco study. Only 38% of the respondents thought of it when collaborating externally. 51% of the participants didn’t have a problem using public document sharing tools for work collaboration while 16% they did not use such tools since they were not approved for use at the workplace.

Time Spent Collaborating

According to a report published by McKinsey, knowledge workers spend an average of 14% of their workweek in communicating and collaborating internally. The study also showed that improving the internal collaboration through social tools could help raise the productivity of interaction by as much as 20 to 25 percent.

Popularity Of Corporate Social Networks

If you are looking at making use of an enterprise social network for employees to engage and collaborate with, think again. The social network medium of collaboration doesn’t seem to be much popular. While 36% of surveyed companies said that collaboration tools like Hubbion, SharePoint or Jive are used by many employees and another 23% said it was used by some employees at least, the numbers are lower for enterprise social networks like Yammer and Socialcast. Around 25% of businesses said they were used by many employees while 20% felt they were used by some employees. The figures are even lower for community forums (Jive, Lithium, etc.) and employee advocacy platforms like Dynamic Signal and SocialChorus. So bottomline, collaboration tools seem to be the the most popular option.

Free Task Planning Tool – Side By Side Comparison

There are several good free tools that businesses can use to plan and collaborate on tasks. But not all free tools are built alike. The devil is always in the details. Some tools are completely free while there are others that are limited in features or scope. And then, there are others that only have the very basic features available to the free users while everything else is paid. In this article, we will delve deeper into the various features and try to separate the truly free task planning tools from those that are not.

For the sake of comparison, we will pit our own tool Hubbion.com against the biggest products in the market, namely, Trello, Wrike, Asana and Basecamp.

Users

There are two kinds of task management tools in the market today – closed and open. Closed tools are those that limit a user’s interaction to one specific team. This is useful if you have a set team that you work with and have very little fluctuations (in terms of external contractors, freelancers, etc.). Wrike is a good example of a closed tool while Trello and Hubbion are good as open tools. Open tools typically let you handle multiple teams at once and is great if you are a freelancer or a third party contractor.

In either case, the free version of a number of these tools are restricted either in terms of features or in the number of users it allows. Only Trello and Hubbion are free for unlimited number of users. Asana lets up to 15 people collaborate on projects under their free plan while Wrike restricts that to 5 people. Basecamp is free only for teachers and students.

Number of users under the free plan

Hubbion Asana Wrike Trello Basecamp
Users Unlimited 15 5 Unlimited n/a

Projects

Small businesses can live with access to limited number of users. But a restriction on the number of projects could be a major deal breaker. Thankfully, none of the tools in our comparison list have a real limit on the number of projects you can open in the free version of the software. Basecamp is free only for teachers and students and so may not be an option for you if you are a business.

Number of projects you can open in the free plan

Hubbion Asana Wrike Trello Basecamp
Projects Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited n/a

File storage

A major part of task management and collaboration involves various people in the team sharing their files and getting it viewed and approved by others. This calls for a tool that is generous towards file storage. Hubbion is likely the only tool that has an unlimited file upload and storage policy. Trello comes close with a cap of 10 MB on individual file uploads while Asana has a 100 MB limit on their paid plans. Wrike permits up to 2 GB of storage for the entire team. While Basecamp is not exactly free for businesses, there is still a file size limit of 10 MB if you use your own FTP server.

File size/storage limit

Hubbion Asana Wrike Trello Basecamp
Size limit Unlimited 100 MB 2 GB storage 10 MB 10 MB

A consolidated summary is provided below. Hubbion offers a free tool that works with unlimited users, projects and file storage. Tools like Trello have a cap on the file size while those like Wrike have a limitation on the number of users.

Hubbion Asana Wrike Trello Basecamp
Users Unlimited 15 5 Unlimited n/a
Projects Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited n/a
File storage Unlimited 100 MB 2 GB storage 10 MB 10 MB

What would your pick be?

14 Amazing Ways To Attract New Customers To Your Business

Attracting new customers to your business is a science. It is possible to uniquely analyze every campaign and understand the exact reason why it became successful or failed. Here is a comprehensive article that looks into dozens of marketing campaigns targeted at user acquisition to see how these marketers did it. Since getting customers is the hardest in the initial days, we will focus on this segment for this piece.

Yelp – Targeting right

When it comes to marketing, timing is everything. There is no better to this than Yelp. The company launched just when social media was getting mainstream. People were just moving away from traditional outlets like YellowPages to references online from friends and family. Yelp tapped into the third component that was held by companies like YellowPages until then – authority.

Online review platforms were not a new idea by any means and there were dozens of competitors out there. People come to websites like Yelp to read reviews. This meant that the site needed to get these reviews generated in the first place. So what Yelp did was aggressively pursue fanatical reviewers. Unlike competitors of the day who had professional reviewers (who enjoyed higher visibility than regular user reviewers), Yelp encouraged user reviews and gamified the system to reward reviewers with points and badges that motivated people to contribute further.

The content generated helped two ways – it improved the site’s authority on the internet and this brought Yelp higher rankings on Google search. Also, visitors who came to the site this way stuck around because there was enough content to help them make a decision.

Uber – Word of mouth marketing

Uber was not an overnight success by any means. The company launched in 2009. Two years later in January 2011, the company only had between 3000 to 6000 users who had among them completed around 20,000 trips. Not bad for a startup, but nothing impressive. For perspective, Uber has around 40 million monthly riders today.

But the first 6000 users that Uber acquired was crucial. The company targeted San Francisco which is home to the Silicon valley population. Not only are these users tech-savvy, but the city is also notorious for its poor cab service. A better product coupled with a knowledgeable early adopter base set the stage for Uber to grow from 6000 users to what it is today through sheer word of mouth marketing.

Facebook – Exclusivity

How Facebook grew to become what it is today is common knowledge, especially after the movie ‘The Social Network’ came out. Social networking was already popular in 2004 with sites like MySpace and Friendster. Facebook launched its service targeted at the Harvard students and subscribers needed a @harvard.edu email address to sign up. This slowly expanded to a select few universities and Facebook opened up to the public only after the initial subscriber base had already made it a popular social networking platform.

Facebook – Product Development

While the initial growth of Facebook is impressive, what is more impressive is their continued growth that has happened without any real saturation. Facebook’s traffic today is many times more than what Google gets. And one of the main reasons for this is the company’s culture that focuses on growth.

Since its launch and even today, Facebook considers growth as core to its business strategy and their product development is totally focused on this metric. The company focuses on building functional products – features that solves the users’ needs. These were not features that were added for the sake of it. Instead, they all solved a problem that the user had – newsfeeds improved the news clutter, Facebook chat came in to let live users communicate better and so on.

And when any of these features became indispensable, they were packaged as a separate product (Messenger, Facebook Camera and so on).

Quora – Connections

Quora is the modern version of Yahoo! Answers that has in-depth answers to questions from every sphere of life. Like it is with every other business, Quora too got its start through invitations sent to family and friends. But that is where the similarity ends. Quora was started by a former CTO of Facebook. So the ‘family and friends’ we are talking about are influential connections who can drive traffic to the website. If you are a nobody with not many connections, that’s a bummer. But this strategy can be used if you are launching your business in an industry where you are already a prominent member. It’s not as unique as it sounds – a lot of people who launch their own consulting business grow their business using this very strategy.

OpenTable – Making your offer irresistible

OpenTable, the website that allows people to book reservations in restaurants was one of the early entrants to the market. It was definitely not the first company to do it. What changed with OpenTable however was that it targeted the right customer with the right kind of offer.

Companies like OpenTable are marketplaces that help the service provider (restaurant owner in this case) meet the service receiver (folks like you and I who go to restaurants). Such marketplace businesses have a chicken and egg problem when starting up. OpenTable realized that building a significant base of restaurants was more important that advertising to restaurant-goers. They targeted restaurant owners with irresistible offers – each restaurant that decides to sign up will receive computer systems, installation and designs for free without any charge.

In effect, restaurants had nothing to lose and OpenTable only took a commission on sales made off their platform. This was a win-win for the restaurant owners and OpenTable which set the ball rolling for its growth.

Airbnb – Packaging

Sometimes, solving a pain point alone is not sufficient to gain traction in your business. Airbnb did a lot of things right when they launched their business. They validated their business by renting out their own flat, targeted the influential crowd visiting SXSW, and so on. Yet, for a long time, their growth in the initial stages stagnated and the founders were making around $200 a week.

What changed then was that the founders realized that the photos that the owners had of their listed houses was not really professional and a lot of potential users turned away because these houses were not pretty. Brian and Joe, the founders, then went about taking professional photos of all these listed houses. That alone helped the duo double their weekly earnings and get set on a growth trajectory. Packaging is indeed a very critical component of your product.

Airbnb – Black hat marketing

While packaging is one of the many official lines about Airbnb gaining traction, there is also a lot of evidence that points to the team resorting to black hat techniques to gain new listings. More specifically, Airbnb sent thousands of spam messages to Craigslist listings nudging these real estate owners to list their property on Airbnb. While we do not know how much this strategy helped, the fact that the company sent thousands of such emails is testament to the fact that this strategy was critical in their growth strategy.

Airbnb spam

LinkedIn – Top down approach

LinkedIn launched at a time when social networking had turned mainstream. But instead of competing with the likes of MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, LinkedIn positioned itself as a business networking website. This category demanded an aspirational audience – would you join a ‘business’ social network that only had job seekers and not enough business owners?

To this end, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman seeded the product with influential friends and connections who were top of the pyramid. Investors interested in LinkedIn were asked to hop on to the platform and bring in their partners on board as well.

Bringing in people in senior management levels created a sense of aspiration for others to join in. LinkedIn introduced a tool with which users could send an invitation to connect with all their connections on Outlook. This invitation had an expiry which created a sense of urgency among the recipients.

It is obvious that invitations from people in senior management roles to those in junior roles is bound to attract high conversion rate. And that is how the network got going.

Foursquare – Publicity

Foursquare is no longer as popular as it once was. There is no doubt however that the check-in platform was touted as the next big thing not too long ago, and so it makes sense to see how the service grew to that level in the first place. In short, it was through publicity.

Dennis Crowley, one of the co-founders of Foursquare, also happens to be behind Dodgeball, a location based social network that was acquired by Google in 2005 (and later shut down in 2009). The acquisition of Dodgeball created enough publicity that when Crowley quit the company to launch Foursquare, it made news too.

Foursquare was timed to launch at SXSW which helped amplify the company’s PR outreach. Although this helped with user acquisition, most of this traffic died down over the next few months. Thereon, Foursquare kept the PR machinery going on each time they launched in a new city – users who had already heard of the service but weren’t users because the service was not available in their city signed up and this helped with sustained user acquisition.

Coursera – Social movement

Coursera started as an experiment within Stanford and aligned with a social movement that a lot of people in the target group can resonate with – free education. The platform allows anybody to access courses and study materials from the best of universities like Stanford, Penn, John Hopkins University for free. This, by itself, was attractive enough to spread the word about the new startup among its target customers. The company makes money through ‘verified certificates’ that its learners must pay for.

Square – Clearing up bottlenecks

Square offers credit card readers to small businesses who want to accept digital payment but do not want to invest in expensive PoS systems. With Square, merchants could connect a tiny card reader to their smartphone and start accepting payments right away. The fact that Square made this payment so simplified is itself reason enough for so many merchants to adopt their product.

But Square went one step further. They realized that despite the value in the product, merchants still had one bottleneck – purchasing a card reader from Square to start accepting payments. Square cleared this challenge by providing both their card processing app and the necessary hardware for free. This meant that merchants only had to sign up and they would receive the hardware and software for free to use. Square made money through the transaction fees that merchants paid for each sale over the Square platform.

Squarespace – Pay to be seen

Sometimes, you do not need a unique strategy to acquire customers. You could just hop on the most traditional strategy to acquire customers – pay for ads. Squarespace, the website builder platform started in the mid-2000s when founder Anthony Casalena launched with a $30,000 investment from his father. Anthony started his marketing with a $500/month Adwords budget. Cut to today, the company continues to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each month on highly targeted keywords like ‘build a website’ or ‘website design’ and this has been their most successful strategy to attract customers.

Besides Adwords, Squarespace has also been investing big time into podcast advertising. Listeners of podcasts that target small business owners are routinely offered special discounts to lure them to the website building platform.

Dropbox – Virality

While paid ads make sense a lot of times, they are not always the best bet either. Dropbox took the paid ad model for the first two years after launch. While the model did get them a lot of users, the company itself was bleeding money. At one point, the cost of each acquisition was between $233-$388 – that’s for a product that sells for $99 a year.

Dropbox had acquired one million users through PR and advertising. But that was going nowhere. Soon after, the company changed tracks. They introduced viral elements and incentives for users to sign up and “spread the love” – Dropbox built tools that let users to share the product with their network. Also, they announced a two-sided incentive that increased signups by as much as 60%. The epiphany took fourteen months to come but was finally the reason Dropbox could sustain in their business.

4 Marketing Automation Tools For Small Businesses

Automating the marketing process is an important component of any business. By creating a system that can capture leads, nurture them and convert them into customers all by itself, businesses can spend more time growing their business. Unfortunately though, marketing automation does not come cheap. Industry leaders like HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot have a starting price of at least $100/month. Also, with many of the advanced features only available at higher priced plans, most of these tools are simply not meant for SMBs.

What Small and Medium businesses need is a no-frills tool that can do away with all the fluff and can accomplish the most essential automation elements at low cost. In this article, we will take a look at five of the best such tools that target small businesses.

Hubbion

Small and local businesses typically deal with customers over both email and text messages. Hubbion is a great tool for SMBs who need to automate their various channels of marketing over SMS, email, voice, fax and posts. Users have the ability to specify certain triggers to add new subscribers to the list and may also schedule autoresponders to reach out to their list. Besides the features and the the ability to reach customers over multiple platforms, another reason for small business owners to prefer Hubbion is the pricing structure. This is a pay-as-you-go service that charges businesses based on the volume of messages sent. What this means is that businesses can get started on their outreach for as little as a dollar or two without having to pay a monthly subscription.

Leadsius

Leadsius is a marketing automation tool for email marketers. Like Hubbion, Leadsius too comes with behavior based triggers and workflow rules that enable an automated system of user engagement across the business website, landing pages, social media and email marketing. The good thing about Leadsius is that it comes with a free plan that has a contact list limit of 2500. However, the features here are limited and this plan does not allow advanced workflow rules and dynamic smart lists.

Spokal

Spokal is an inbound marketing automation plan that comes with features like event based segmentation, email nurturing, A/B testing and social media calendar. The tool is not free by itself and costs a monthly fee of $49/month. This makes it vastly cheaper than the popular marketing automation tools in the market. Do note however that Spokal is not a complete tool by itself and you may need integration with MailChimp or ActiveCampaign to see your emails through.

JumpLead

JumpLead is a wonderful marketing automation tool for website nurturing. It comes with features that lets businesses to trigger targeted marketing activities based on the page visited or the web form completed. These subscribers may then be nurtured and converted into customers via email marketing. JumpLead is free to small businesses that have monthly visitors of less than 200 and need to send less than 100 emails in a month. If you have a website with a larger traffic, you may have to pick one of their paid plans starting at $49 per month.

Is SMS-based Two Factor Authentication Secure?

SMS based two factor authentication (2FA) has been a popular way to add an extra layer of security over existing password based authentication systems. It is today used by a number of email providers, banks and technology companies to ensure secure account details are not bypassed through. But according to a recent recommendation by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, SMS based two factor authentication could be insecure and should be banned.

What is Two Factor Authentication

Before we look at the security concerns pointed out by the NIST paper, let us look at what two factor authentication is. 2FA is essentially the process of mitigating the risks involved with simple password based security systems by adding an extra layer of protection through randomly generated one-time-passwords that are sent to the user’s mobile phone. The idea is that it is extremely unlikely for a user to lose both their password and mobile phone to the same criminal and so the chances of an attacker getting access to your confidential account details are grossly minimized.

Two Factor Authentication Security Concerns

Here are some reasons why the NIST Digital Authentication Guideline draft says two factor authentication is not secure:

  • If your phone is stolen, then the attacker may be able to get hold of your 2FA passwords
  • Users may have written their passwords down on a paper that can get stolen. Or the software PKI authenticator or look up secret authenticators could be copied
  • An attacker may notice phone password/PIN access patterns and gain entry to your phone themselves
  • The attacker uses keystroke logging scripts to hack and get access to the 2FA passwords
  • SMS messages may be accessed via VOIP based systems that can be intercepted or duplicated

Is Two Factor Authentication Really Unsafe

The NIST paper claims that these security concerns make two factor authentication unsafe. But is this really the case? Most of the security concerns underlined in the paper are essentially those with the way present day mobile phone technology work. So essentially, if you lose access to your mobile phone because of theft or the attacker gaining knowledge of your access key, then they get access to not only your 2FA passwords, but also to your mobile banking apps, email apps and every other app that you have installed on your phone.

What 2FA does is it vastly minimizes the possibility of an attacker gaining access to any system because even if they brute force a password over a web-form, it is extremely unlikely for them to brute-force their way into the mobile phone as well. Hacking one device is hard enough; hacking into two in order to get access is much harder and that is the core objective. Like any other security system available today, 2FA is not meant to be fool-proof. It only makes things doubly harder for criminals so that you may be able to retrieve access in time before they gain access.

To ban SMS two factor authentication for the reasons underlined by NIST may seem like an over-reach. Apps that offer mobile banking and email access seem like a far bigger concern than 2FA going by the reasons mentioned. What are your thoughts?

Monthly Subscriptions Vs. Pay As You Go – What Billing Is Good For Your Business?

As a business, you are likely to be signing up for a number of third party software and services – be it for accounting, marketing, HR, finance or just web hosting. Back in the day, these business software tools were available to download for a lifetime license fee. Users simply paid a few hundred dollars to download the software and it was theirs for a lifetime. Many other developers sold an annual renewal fee which gave its users access to periodic software updates and technical support as well. From a user’s perspective, this often meant large capital investment in software tools which could all be down the drain if the developers folded or stopped updating their software.

But with SaaS gaining ground over the past decade, a large chunk of software makers have migrated to the cloud. This has given rise to a subscription model where the service provider hosts all the tools and data on their servers and users pay a monthly fee to access them. This has been a pretty popular option compared to licensing fee primarily because of the cheaper monthly costs and also because you only paid for as long as you need the service. Established service providers also provide annual subscription for a cheaper cost from users who prefer this option.

While the subscription based billing model is definitely an improvement over lifetime licensing, it still has its flaws. These subscriptions often come in a tiered structure where lower priced subscription plans offer fewer resources and features which expand with every higher tier. Most SaaS services come with an ‘Enterprise’ plan which is often the highest tier of subscription – here the pricing is custom quoted for power users based on their specific usage requirements.

At the outset, this seems like a fair pricing model where you are only billed for what you need. But that is not always the case. An alternate pricing model that has been getting popular in recent times is Pay-As-You-Go. Similar to the model followed on the PAYG phones, these services let users add “credits” to their account which get used up based on your consumption. For services where consumption could change quite drastically, you also have metered billing where you are invoiced at the end of a billing cycle based on your consumption.

Predictable Pricing

One of the arguments made for subscription billing is that your expenses are predictable each month and you do not get rude shocks at the end of the month. While this is true, it also means that your consumption levels are limited to what your plan provides. For instance, if your hosting plan limits your monthly bandwidth consumption, you are likely to miss out on additional revenue if you have a great month with a higher than planned web traffic. Most services do allow you to upgrade or downgrade your plans each month, but then, this defeats the purpose of subscription billing which is to make expenses predictable.

Charging For Unconsumed Resources

The biggest problem with subscription plans is that you are always charged for resources you did not consume. To take the same hosting plan example, let us say the starter plan offers 10 GB of bandwidth at $10 a month while the upper tier offers 100 GB at $30 a month. For a business to enjoy the $10/month subscription, they need to always consume less than 10 GB of bandwidth. Thus, a business that only consumes 2 GB a month continues to pay for 8 GB of unconsumed bandwidth. Worse, if you are a business that consumes 12 GB of bandwidth, you are essentially paying for 88 GB of unconsumed resources.

Compare this with a credits or metered billing structure. A business that consumes 12 GB is only billed for the resources consumed. Subscription billing is fantastic as a service provider, but terrible for users.

Money Getting Locked

There are instances where a credits based system does not work well. Service providers that offer credits based billing often have a ‘minimum refill’ amount and it is not possible to add credits fewer than this amount. Some providers require a high minimum refill which could lock your money into their system for a long period. For instance, if you use $10 worth of credits each month and the minimum refill is $100, your credits would not be used completely for ten months. And in case you are not happy with the provider, the money you have already paid for can be hard to retrieve.

Where Subscriptions Make Sense

There are certainly instances where subscriptions do make sense. Internet service providers typically provide an “all you can use” pricing that is billed monthly or yearly. Here, users are billed one amount every month regardless of how much they consume. Here too, heavy users get their consumption subsidized by light users whose consumption does not justify their monthly billing. But the pricing still makes sense because the provider often has operational expenses that are incurred regardless of usage. That is, it takes the internet service provider resources to keep the traffic flowing regardless of how many users use their service and the bandwidth they consume. But for these subscriptions to make sense, there is only one pricing for all consumers with only the outlying very heavy consumers priced differently.

As a consumer, this begets the question – does it make sense to pay a monthly subscription for all the SaaS tools you use – be it for accounting, marketing or anything else. The answer is mostly no. If you have alternate providers who offer all the features you need with a credits system or metered billing model, always go with them. This not only saves your business a lot of cash, but can also protect you from instances where you subscribe to try a new service but forget to sign out before the end of trial period.

5 Best SMS Marketing Tools For Small Businesses

Mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp may have brought down the value proposition of the humble SMS, but its ubiquity continues unhindered. Multiple studies have pointed out that text messages are one of the best performing marketing channels with more than 98% open rate and nearly 36% click through rate. Compare this with email marketing where even a 25% open rate is considered good. But while almost all kinds of businesses engage in email marketing, there are a relatively fewer businesses, mostly local businesses, that take SMS marketing seriously. One of the main reasons is the lack of awareness regarding the kind of software tools available to automate your SMS marketing needs.

In this article, we will take a look at some of the best SMS marketing tools available in the market today.

1. Hubbion

Hubbion is a multi-channel marketing automation tool for small and medium businesses. The tool lets users reach out to their contact list over any of the several platforms like SMS, MMS, email, fax, voice and even postcards. Besides the multi-channel aspect of it, there are two reasons why Hubbion finds itself in the top of this list. Firstly, Hubbion comes with a sophisticated automation system that allows users to customize their outgoing response and engagement based on incoming text messages. Secondly, it is easier on the wallet and does not require monthly subscriptions. Users can buy credits that do not expire and it costs anywhere between 2 to 3 cents to send a message.

2. Enger

Enger is a pure-play SMS marketing tool that is useful for businesses looking to create SMS marketing lists. It enables businesses to embed lead capture forms on their website and also schedule future messages to their audience. The tool also comes with mobile web customization, real time analytics and easy unsubscription. There are two main differences from Hubbion. Firstly, this is a dedicated SMS marketing platform. Secondly, users will need to subscribe to a monthly subscription fee that starts at $10 per month.

3. TextingBase

The objective of TextingBase is to establish connections with your target group and follow up with personally until they are ready to buy. The features on the product include scheduled messaging, personalized SMSes and contact management. The tool also lets you keep track of your contacts’ birthdays, anniversaries and holidays in order to wish your contacts on these specific days. Alternately, you may also categorize them by location in order to send location-specific messages. TextingBase is suited for sales executives and has a starting price of 4 cents per message.

4. FirstHive

FirstHive is suitable for businesses that have large opt-in lists (think thousands). The service lets customers craft SMS, email and social media marketing campaigns through their platform. Besides creating and sending SMS/email/social messages, FirstHive also comes with a basic reporting dashboard to help you understand the effectiveness of your campaigns. Beyond the free thirty day trial, FirstHive costs users $41.67 per month (billed annually) and makes it possible to reach out to as many as 10000 subscribers. Given the annual billing and the large subscriber base, the product is only value for money if you have lots of opt-in subscribers for your SMS marketing channel.

5. Mozeo

Mozeo is one of the relatively more popular SMS marketing tools available in the market today. Similar to Hubbion, Mozeo too lets users buy credits to send SMSes. However, you have to commit to buying a certain volume of messages in order to get them at a cheap price. SMS marketing over Mozeo starts at 3 cents per message and besides the ability to broadcast messages, users also have the ability to send email messages, filter mobile keywords for automation and create landing pages. Do note that Mozeo focuses on the US and Canada regions alone and does not have global coverage like the other tools mentioned in the list.

The Best SMS Marketing Examples

It is only 160 characters long, but is often the best performing among all your different marketing channels. This is because unlike an email outreach, almost everyone you send a text message to, opens it. And those who open it, read it. In comparison, the open rate among email marketing subscribers is often in the range of 20-25% with click rates routinely hovering under 3-5%.

But there is a catch – marketers only have 160 characters to play with. Technically, it is possible to send lengthier text messages. But as a medium, SMS messages are meant for short messages and so lengthier texts can impact your ROI (while also costing more). SMSes are a lot similar to Twitter which allows 140 character messages. However, unlike the social media platform, each SMS outreach costs money and hence you cannot broadcast your messages indefinitely. Not just this, the anti-spam laws are also extremely tight on text messages and so it doesn’t really make sense to push the envelope on what the laws permit.

So how does one go about executing a successful SMS marketing campaign? In this article, we will take a look at a few good examples of how a text messaging campaign should work.

Building An SMS Marketing List Through Other Channels

A phone number list is always going to be much more valuable than an email lead or a social media following. While the problem with emails is their open rate, social media following is vulnerable to the algorithmic changes made by the respective platforms. With a phone number list, you are entirely in control.

Redbox is a well-known company offering DVD, blu-ray and video game rentals to customers in the United States. While the company did have an impressive following on social media (3 million followers on Facebook) and for their email newsletter list (nearly 33 million), the company did not have a great SMS marketing list.

Redbox picked the holiday season to execute their campaign. They launched a ‘10 Days Of Deals’ campaign where they asked their followers to text DEALS to a specific shortcode in order to win between $0.10 and $1.50 off their rentals. Thanks to their massive email list, the company was able to generate as many as 1.5 million SMSes from nearly 400,000 customers who opted in to receive deals from the company over SMS. While this campaign was itself over Facebook and Email, the company instituted an automated opt-in strategy to get people to volunatarily sign up for their promotional SMMes.

Transactional SMS To Build Brand Image

In our earlier article on SMS marketing best practices, we talked about how transactional SMSes too could be used to promote your latest offers and build engagement. This is exactly what Amazon does to build a positive brand image. Amazon does what has now come to be known as transactional orchestration – that is the use of transactional communication, including email and SMS, to provide instant alerts and updates on the whereabouts of your delivery. From a consumer’s perspective, this is a wonderful way to get notified on where your product is right at that moment. From the perspective of Amazon, it is a great way to build a positive brand image and showcase the company as an honest and transparent entity.

Timed Discounts

If you are in the restaurant or travel industry, you will know that timing is everything. No matter how amazing your restaurant coupon is, it may not actually get the necessary mileage if you sent it after your target customer has ordered in their food. One company that does timed discounts really well is Domino’s, the American pizza chain. The company sends targeted coupon codes offering discounts right during the lunch hours. If you are a hungry customer and were just about to decide on a place to eat, such timely SMS campaigns massively help in influencing your decision. Here’s a typical SMS sent from Domino’s to its customers:

Did U Miss Us! Ur Dominos Offer Expires soon. Buy 1 Medium/Large pizza $Get 50% OFF. Walkin/Order! 68886888/ @dominos.co.in Cpn: CRM09FBEAS Valid till 16 Jul

Let us try to dissect this message – it is 157 characters long which is exactly inside the 160 character limit. We are not great fans of abbreviations but would assume that in the case of Dominos’ target group, it works. There are four things that Dominos executes really well through this short and crisp message. Firstly, it creates a sense of urgency right off the bat with their ‘Expires soon’ message. Next up, they create an irresistible offer that lures in their target. Thirdly, interested recipients need look no further than the message itself to know how to order – the phone number and the website is provided right there if you were interested. And finally, the message ends with a coupon code that makes the offer unique. Add to this the fact that this message was sent right during the lunch hours and this makes for an excellent use of the SMS medium to provide timely discounts to customers.

The ROI in such campaigns can be huge. While we do not have the numbers from the Domino’s campaigns, another fast food chain – Carl’s Jr launched a similar ‘limited time’ offer where they offered burger and fries for $2.99 instead of the usual $6.00. The result was that nearly 20% of the chain’s opt-in subscribers redeemed their code resulting in an ROI of $14 for every $1 spent on the campaign.

Improving Customer Service Through SMS

SMS marketing does not have to necessarily be only about sending out coupons and vouchers. This is best demonstrated by the way 1800-Contacts, one of the world’s biggest contact lens store used the SMS medium to improve customer service and thereby increase sales. Before the launch of their campaign, 1800-Contacts processed their orders through their website and over phone which, although efficient, was not quick enough. The company instituted a “multi-channel messaging platform” that brought together SMS and MMS along with their existing phone and online ordering system. The result was that customers could simply send an MMS containing their prescription details or use relevant filter keywords on SMS to refill orders. This rapidly improved turnaround and drastically improved customer service.