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Legal Document Management System Productivity

What to Do if Your Remote Team’s Feedback Loop Sucks

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You’re working on a vital project. Jon’s just completed the edits on the ebook you’re supposed to publish tomorrow, but Mary has no idea. She’s working on an entirely different task no one knows exists.

So, there you are, waiting all afternoon for Mary to give you the final approval on the ebook layout, wasting time on reddit.

Her Slack’s set to away, and you can’t remember whose responsibility it is anyway, so you assume everything’s probably going to be alright. There are enough memes to keep you busy while you wait.

The morning comes. Your boss is fuming. You can feel his anger through Slack. “We’re supposed to be sending this book to our email lists right now — why isn’t it ready?”.

Jon thinks Mary was supposed to do it. You think it’s Jon’s fault. Mary’s gone silent. You all hate each other a little bit right now.

The reason this whole mess was allowed to happen is because of a poor feedback loop.

A feedback loop is the process of communication that happens around a shared task or project. If one person’s responsible for finalizing edits, they need to let the next person know their progress because the work all depends on a sequence of tasks completed in order.

If you’ve ever been part of a situation like that (I know I have), then it’s because your team’s feedback loop is broken. That’s ok. It’s easily done in remote teams. In this article, I’m going to go through a few measures we take at Process Street to stop this kind of thing happening.

The cure for no feedback loop: set expectations right now

In an office, you might mention to someone on your way to the keyboard vending machine that you’ve just got done with whatever they were waiting on you for. Remotely, there aren’t too many opportunities for natural conversation. That means you should make sure your team is keeping records updated. Whether that’s commenting in Trello or another project management app, the team needs to know that task updates go in one concrete place that everyone can see.

If you’re using Trello, comment on the card then drop a link to the card in Slack — your team’s group channel, not direct — and then whoever’s up next on the task can get the information they need and know where they should update you. This is the sort of information that should go in your employee onboarding process so there’s no chance for confusion.

The cure for a slow feedback loop: daily standup meetings

They’re not just a developer thing. A daily standup meeting gets everybody in the habit of communicating properly. It works like this; you get on a group call in the morning, and the team leader addresses each member one-by-one. They ask:

  • What did you get done yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • What do you need help with?

Standup meetings are a key part of Agile methodology, a set of project management guidelines that aims to abolish radio silence, long sessions of unchecked work and slow feedback loops. Usually, it’s used by developers but we adapt it into our marketing process because developers always get all the fun.

A tool like appear.in or Google Hangouts is ideal for standup meetings because you get a fixed link for the team, and you can pop in or out at any time. Get everyone to add the link as a calendar event timed for 9am, so when the notification goes off, your team can hop onto the call and get going as quickly as possible.

By putting what everyone has accomplished into context, the team knows what their next task will be and the gap between iterations will be 1 day at most. This isn’t a substitute for centralizing your updates in Trello or another project management app, but it does make damn well certain that everyone is one the same page because notifications are easy to ignore.

The systems you need to put into place

You can’t expect your whole team to become master communicators overnight. You’ll need to lay the foundations, first.

At a bare minimum, you need all to be using the same shared task list that allows for comments and @mentions. On top of this, agree on a fixed chat app and a fixed video chat room for notifications and standup meetings. The chat app should have a group for your team where all team project work is discussed, so members are passively updated as work happens. Your choice of team tools will have a big impact on whether anything gets done.

A fluffier, harder to grasp system you need in place is teamwork and rapport. It’s hard to grasp because there’s a difference between professional communication and being friends at work. It really helps to try and make friends, and usually contributes to a more relaxed and productive environment. The content creation team at Process Street gets on nicely. We have custom emojis. We sometimes Photoshop each other’s faces onto inanimate objects. This sort of thing helps free communication.

Another thing you could try to get everybody talking is recognizing achievements in company channels. When the group chat is filled with positive messages, people want to contribute to the conversation and it feels natural to keep your team in the loop and look out for each other.

Celebrating achievements also inadvertently announces progress on a project, even though its main purpose is to give a great employee the recognition they deserve.

Final thoughts on solving feedback loop problems

Not all remote teams are created equal. You’ll have members with all kinds of different experience, personalities and habits.

Understanding this is important when solving communication problems, but it’s key to remember that it’s all about encouraging the development of productive habits in your team.

Implement these guidelines, and you’ll never have to deal with awkward ‘I thought you were supposed to do it’ moments again.

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Blogging

SEO for Freelancers: 4 Key Tips to Attract Clients on Autopilot

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When you’re looking for freelancing opportunities online, you’re entering a massive competitive marketplace.

Whether you’re a designer, a writer, or a developer, you already have the skills — now you just need the customers.

There are a lot of mistakes freelancers make, but in this post we’ll run you through a series of marketing techniques and processes to help customers find your expertise.

In short, you need to understand what your customers are looking for, optimize your site, and drive people toward your product.

Let’s look at how this can be done through 4 particular sections:

  • How to optimize keywords
  • How to structure pages
  • How to generate backlinks
  • How to exploit long tail keywords

 

How do keywords help me?

The first step you as a freelancer might take is understanding that your website is not going to be the focal point of a network the size of the New York Times.

According to SimilarWeb, the New York Times had 346m visits in December 2016 and just over half a billion the month prior.

I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to beat that.

The way you can break into a position of prominence and make more money is to find a relatively untapped part of the network and target that spot. You can think about what services you are offering and what your competitors are offering. Can you make yourself a little different? Can you describe yourself in different ways? Simply ranking high on Google helps your prospective clients trust you more.

We at Process Street use Ahrefs as our keyword research tool, however you can also check out this video to see how you can select and optimize your keywords with Google’s Keyword Planner, or read a comparison of Moz vs. Ahrefs.

The key to great keyword research is in ABC: Always Be Comparing…

As part of your workflow, you want to gather as many potential keywords relevant to your business as possible. Hundreds. Then you want to use one of the above tools to provide you with as much data as possible on all these different terms.

If you need some assistance in coming up with all these keywords, you can use Google’s search suggestions, synonyms from Thesaurus.com, or other keyword finders like keywordtool.io or KeywordShitter.

When you have all your keywords and their data, you need to know how to analyze them. Our rule of thumb is to filter by volume and then pull out all the keywords which seem to have low keyword difficulty scores.

This data shows you where the weak points in the existing networks are. Your keywords are the tools you will use to exploit them.

  • Find keywords with high volume and low keyword difficulty to target.
  • Use Ahrefs or Google Keyword Explorer to gather this data.
  • Follow a clear keyword research process to get best results every time.

 

What’s involved in optimizing my website?

According to the Freelancing in America 2016 study from the Freelancer Union, there are 55 million freelancers operating in the United States alone. And these freelancers are doing well; according to the same study, freelancers contributed $1 trillion to the US economy in 2016.

What does this tell us?

Well, lots of things. But one of them is that there are lots of competitors’ websites out there, so you better have a really good one!

However, it’s not all about having the prettiest website on the internet. You want to build that strong point in your network, but your best tool for that isn’t HTML5 – and it’s not just keywords either…

A 2016 report from Ahrefs showed that the power of keywords alone has been reduced by Google’s algorithm changes. Using optimized keywords is still a vitally important part of improving your on-page SEO, but other factors in how you structure your content and site play a large part.

According to Ahrefs, you should:

  • Ensure that the load time of your pages is minimal,
  • That you have entered meta tags for your title and description within your <head> tags,
  • That your content is broken up clearly into sections with <h1> and <h2> tags,
  • That these subtitles target your keyword or its related keywords,
  • That you’re updating your pages and adding new content,
  • and, that you’re using https on your domain to provide visitors with security.

 
However, most of all, the #1 factor, the decider of who ranks on Google… the mighty backlink.

How can I generate backlinks?

The holistic answer to tackling not just backlinks, but the other factors mentioned above, is to introduce a content marketing strategy.

If you’re regularly putting out blog posts which are relevant to the niche in the market you’re angling for, then you’ll start to build your reputation. You’ll be creating new web pages regularly and structuring those pages so that Google can read them easily and see your value.

Moreover, if you’re producing quality content then you’re able to easily generate backlinks. The first step is to properly promote your content. This way, you’ll already have links back to your domain from social networks and content aggregators. In doing so, you’ll drive traffic and those visitors may even pass the link on.

At this point, you’ve built your reputation in two ways: in the eyes of Google and in the eyes of your audience.

To build on this, you can start guest posting and have others guest post on your blog. If you have a reputable blog, others will want to take advantage of that and publish their work on your site. This gives you more content and also results in the original author promoting content attached to your domain.

Win win!

Before you know it, you’ll be guest posting on other blogs and driving even more backlinks your way.

  • Begin a content marketing campaign.
  • Write content for your blog and promote it across the internet.
  • Write content for other people’s blogs and link back to yours.
  • Have others write content for your blog and promote it.
  • Link to your previous work in future blog posts on your site and on others.

 

How can I target specific customer searches?

Now that you’ve got a comprehensive list of the different keywords you want to be able to target, you can begin to structure your website to better address those needs.

The first thing to remember is that your favored keywords only enter you into a particular category. If you know exactly what your target customers are googling, you can construct “long tail keywords”.

These are different long phrases which you will want to use across all of your content.

However, a great way to begin to exploit them is to construct specialized landing pages specifically targeted at reaching those terms. This gives you a specific representation of your product or service which you might want to send someone to from an article or email campaign. Practically, for SEO purposes, this gives a specific facade to your company which is engineered for certain oft-googled phrases.

You can use a service like LeadPages.net to create multiple landing pages and optimize the pages through A/B testing. With the ability to make a large number of landing pages comes the ability to target your company in different ways all at the same time.

These landing pages can focus on specific long tail keywords, specific geographical areas, and different segments of the market – budget, mid-range, premium. Each of these sites is more likely to show up in Google for their specific niche than an all purpose home page.

  • Use a tool like LeadPages.net to make multiple landing pages.
  • Focus each landing page on a different niche service by targeting long tail keywords.

 

Implement these SEO techniques today!

Through these tips and following a content marketing strategy, you’ll drive up your traffic and rocket your SEO in the process. You’ll be a freelance superstar in no time.

A single website on the internet is often described as being a needle in a haystack. But that’s not the case. This needle can choose where in the haystack they want to be located.

Put yourself on the outside of the haystack at head height and your odds of being found are significantly higher.

Particularly, when you realize how many people are staring at that haystack looking for you!

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Blogging

How to Generate an Infinite Supply of Ideas for Your Blog

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Writer’s block is a terrible thing. You know that you need new content to fill up your calendar and keep your audience engaged, but you can sit at your desk for hours, resulting in nothing but tearing your own hair out in frustration.

The good news is that even the best writers get writer’s block. The bad news is that you’ll never solve it by forcing the issue – it’s the equivalent to repeatedly slamming your head against a brick wall instead of just using the door.

After hitting that wall many times, I decided to do something about it, resulting in the following system that I (and the rest of my team) now use to generate great ideas for content month-in-month-out.

First, understand your enemy

Writer’s block is caused by one (or both) of the following:

  • Lack of inspiration (your mental cup is empty)
  • Outside sources (stress from physical illness, bereavement, the end of a relationship, etc)

Outside sources are largely beyond your control, and so shouldn’t be worried about too much. Not only that, but it’s also the lesser of our two factors – even a calm mind will struggle to generate ideas if there’s nothing to draw from.

So the problem we’re left with is one of resources. Think of your mind as a furnace, with knowledge as coal and ideas as your flame. With nothing to fuel your fire it will (at best) produce mediocre results, but with a stockpile of knowledge you can fan the flames and produce something truly spectacular.

Still, if lack of knowledge is the issue then how the hell do you go about it? There’s almost so many ways that it’s difficult to start, and all seemingly use up valuable time which you just don’t have in your 9-5 life.

Don’t worry – I was in the same situation, and I’ll tell you exactly what worked (and still works) for me.

Listen to podcasts

By far the easiest way to top up your mind while keeping your current schedule is to listen to business podcasts when you’re otherwise stuck with naught but dead air.

For example, all of the following are great opportunities to fit in an episode or two of a podcast without spending any extra time to do so:

  • While exercising (daily workouts are also brilliant for productivity in general)
  • During the daily commute (be careful if driving while listening)
  • Toilet breaks
  • While cooking
  • When traveling (airport queues? That’s a good 3 podcast episodes right there)

Essentially, any time where you’re not listening to anything or require a lot of focus on other tasks (such as researching/writing a blog post) you can make more productive by listening to podcasts. I honestly can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gained from just listening to an episode while walking around the shops every couple of days!

As for recommendations of which podcasts to listen to, that would depend on your purpose, type of content, and niche. However, these are a good place to start:

Use an RSS feed

So, you’re taking in information through podcasts – that’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to be keeping up to date in your niche in order to know which ideas are best to follow up on sooner rather than later.

This is where your RSS feed comes in.

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably subscribed to a next-to-uncountable number of blogs’ email list in an attempt to keep up to date. The problem with this is that people (myself included) are sooner or later going to slip up, especially if a distraction is available.

A distraction such as, I don’t know, the rest of your inbox?

RSS feeds, meanwhile, collect all of the posts published by the blogs you subscribe to and put them all in one place, ready for you to blast through whenever you have the time. My team, for example, tends to check their feeds in the mornings and evenings, noting down their ideas as they go.

There are obviously many ways of setting up / tracking your RSS feed, but as Drew Hendricks recently pointed out, Feedly is an incredible app for doing just that.

By attaching your RSS feed to a mobile app, showing stats such as the number of upvotes / shares, highlighting the most popular posts, and generally making it easy to read several posts in rapid succession, Feedly is our app of choice.

Record ideas ASAP

The amount of ideas you generate is completely irrelevant if you have no way of recording them when inspiration strike. I can tell you from experience that unless you record your ideas as soon as possible you’ll forget them, and if you forget them they will very rarely surface again.

So, how do you make it easy for yourself to jot down ideas the moment that magic lightning hits? Well, there are a couple of ways:

For note-taking apps you can use pretty much anything, but I’d recommend either Evernote or Do Note (by IFTTT). Evernote is a strong contender from how easy it is to create a note, and the flexibility in terms of integrating with other apps, but Do Note is the ultimate in simplicity.

Integrating your apps essentially means that any notes you make will be detected, categorized, then pushed automatically into another program. This pairs up nicely with recording your ideas in an app like Trello or Airtable.

For example, you could use Zapier to integrate Evernote with Trello. Then, when a new note is created in Evernote with the tag “idea”, Zapier could be told to push a link to that note into a new Trello card in your “Ideas” column.

It may sound like a massive undertaking, but everything I’ve talked about in this post can be achieved in your “dead time” – I’ve even found that having a podcast episode at the beginning and end of work is a great way to firmly stamp out your work/life balance, and ease into each side as needed.

How do you generate your own ideas? Have you tried anything I’ve talked about? I’d love to hear from your in the comments below!

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Featured Technology

A Look at The SaaS Stack in Our Tech Startup

What keeps an innovative startup ticking over? At Process Street, we’re a huge fan of using the software other SaaS startups put out there in conjunction with the ever-dependable big names.

Here are the 18 SaaS products we use at Process Street, and why we think they’re the best options out there.

Analytics: Mixpanel, Google Analytics & Jetpack

For analytics, we use 3 different products for slightly different purposes.

Mixpanel is for in-app analytics. We use it to track trends, user engagement and sign-ups, getting an overall picture and week-by-week comparisons and helping us reduce churn by noticing patterns.

Google Analytics is our go-to source for tracking conversions and referral traffic. This means we can measure the effectiveness of the content and the promotion separately.

Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that simply tracks the views on pages. The only time we use it is to get a current view of page traffic since Google Analytics can take 24 hours to update, but Jetpack does it instantly.

Project Management: Trello & Basecamp

Trello is used by marketing, development, growth and support teams as the main home for tasks, attachments and status updates. During the employee onboarding process, we add new hires to the team boards and make a personal board for them which contains their first round of tasks and helps them get into the habit of using Trello.

Basecamp is the tool of choice when collaborating with designers. When we had our site redesigned by Koombea, Basecamp was the ideal tool to neatly store resources and collaborate over designs until the iterations were moved into InVision to be prototyped.

Personal Productivity: WorkFlowy & Evernote

WorkFlowy — a tool for taking quick notes — is the best way we’ve found to make both simple notes and complex plans. Project proposals and plans go into WorkFlowy, where it’s easy to structure complex ideas because of the way the app’s designed:

Workflowy 3

Evernote is where we keep everything from rough notes and screenshots to entire blog posts. With its Zapier integration, it also turns into a way to add text to any other app just by tagging the note.

TaskPaper is a fancy text editor disguised as a to-do list app. Anyone who has kept their to-do items in a TextEdit file will like the added functionality, including tags, smart search syntax and projects. Other popular choices include Any.Do, Wunderlist and Todoist.

1Password is a password manager that keeps every password you use safely encrypted in a vault protected by a master password. It lives up to its name because one password is all you have to remember. While Chrome’s ‘remember this password’ feature is good enough, 1Password is usable cross-browser, OS and device.

External Communication: Intercom & Close.io

Intercom is our favorite customer support tool. All of our support conversations and in-app messages to users goes through Intercom. It’s easy to keep up with the tickets, loop in other departments and get notified when high-ticket customers reach out.

Close.io is an awesome CRM. It’s built around search, meaning that you can create complex search queries and narrow down lists of hundreds of thousands to exactly what you’re looking for. We use it for sales and marketing outreach, as well as managing all content communications.

Internal Communication: Slack & Appear.in

While Trello is great for storing and organizing tasks, Slack is our main tool for internal communication. Its IRC-like interface makes it easy to chat with groups and individuals. Plus, the integrations with Slack, Intercom and the other tools we use.

Appear.in is a permanent video chat room, which means you sign up and get a fixed URL your team can pop in and out of at any time. It’s much better for us than Skype, because you don’t need accounts or to initiate/end video calls at all.

Workflow Management: Process Street

Process Street is, of course, the tool we use for workflow automation, business process management, employee onboarding and content promotion.

We break projects down into processes and assign these processes to teams and individuals. As they progress with the project and automate their workflows, we can easily get an overview by just looking at the Process Street dashboard.

Email Marketing: MailChimp

MailChimp is the home for all of our automated and one-off email campaigns. Every blog post email and product update goes through MailChimp, where we can track opens, clicks and trends. For me as a content creator, opens and clicks are a great signal that a topic has resonated with our readership.

Since these readers came into our product and read our content, there are parallels across a few topics, like productivity and processes.

Content Promotion: Mention & Buffer

Mention scours the internet for brand mentions and backlinks, which means that when we’re linked to we get a notification and can then promote the post, both as a ‘thank you’ to the author and to maximize the exposure of a piece we’re being featured in.

When we’re linked or mentioned, we then add the post to Buffer. Buffer lets you tweet the same link across multiple accounts (we have 12 linked up in there) in one click, and queues the posts up so they go out at the best time for your audience to see them.

Content Writing: Google Docs & WordPress

The Process Street blog is built on the perfect blog builder, WordPress. WordPress is ideal for drafting in a visual editor with a preview — much better than working with pure HTML.

For guest posts, or collaborative work, we use Google Docs. In-line comments and suggestions make it great for working with writers as an editor. When you’re done you can copy a sharable link and forward it to the target publication for review. I haven’t found an easier way to collaborate and share articles.

Alternote is an Evernote plugin that makes it bearable for content writing. Since I like to have all of my resources nearby, I can create a unique tag for each blog post, then use the Web Clipper to save sources with that tag. Here’s an example:

Alternote Shot

Data Management: Airtable

There’s probably over 100,000 records in our Airtable database.

Everything from keywords to contacts lives there, and that makes it easy for us to reference and link together everything related to Process Street.

We moved to Airtable after the frustration of managing data with Google Sheets set in. Spreadsheets littered between accounts, with random titles and dodgy permissions were making for a terrible data management experience. With Airtable — especially when you link it up to Zapier — you’ve got a far more efficient user experience.

SEO: Ahrefs, Moz & SEO Spider

Ahrefs an SEO powerhouse. You can use it to research keywords, monitor backlinks, and, what we love most about it — track every keyword a URL is ranking for. When we’re running campaigns to rank specific keywords, like we did with employee onboarding, Ahrefs provides the single best status update on that project within a few seconds of checking.

Moz is a tool we only use for bulk keyword difficulty checks because Ahrefs is the better tool for us. In addition to keyword difficulty, I personally have Mozbar installed for Chrome which lets me quickly check Domain Authority (a rough guide as to how much weight a backlink holds from that domain).

SEO Spider crawls URLs and looks for broken domains. Even with a free account, you can get 500 results from just pasting a domain in. You get to see how many 4xx errors are on that domain, and which links are broken. Then, you can start doing broken link building (as detailed in our marketing processes guide).

File Management: Google Drive

Google Drive is where I keep my Google Docs, graphic assets like SVGs, and upload any large file to share with my team.

Its Trello integration means you can attach any file that’s already inside Drive, saving you from uploading it in multiple places.

To see why we use Google Drive instead of Dropbox, check this comparison.

App Integrations: Zapier

Zapier connects every app I’ve listed here together. Impressive, right? Every app linked together means you can transfer data between them and automate a ton of boring work. For us, it’s a better version of IFTTT because it has more features.

Zapier vs IFTTT infographic

Here are some of my favorite examples, featuring apps like Evernote and OneNote:

Development: JIRA

JIRA is the home of our planned features, user stories, and dastardly bugs. Developers can add, track, prioritize and assign issues to their team, then feed that information to a live Slack channel.

For example, whenever a new feature is pushed to the live server, a Slack channel gets updated with the feature’s new information and we can do a short write-up to announce it and test the feature to hunt bugs.