Can I let you in on a little secret? Seeing these words posted in a Facebook Group drives me to distraction.

“Tell me which x tool you like”.

The poster is looking for help and hopes that the 300-30000 group members will recommend he silver bullet that will be the answer to all their business woes.

And then, those members who (for the most part) know nothing about the person’s business will jump on there and make a recommendation.

But that recommendation is usually only based on their experience and unless they are actually tech people themselves, don’t necessarily know the full gamut of applications that are available.

I’ve seen so many small business owners disappear down the rabbit hole of spending time they don’t have learning and setting up a new system that wasn’t right for their business in the first place.

I’m not immune to this as a tech translator. I’ve gone with software that I really shouldn’t have used, based on someone else’s recommendation.

When I first started my business, it had been a while since I had done any web development work. I was very comfortable with the old HTML coding, but new cascading style sheets and content management systems were a whole different game for me. So, when I was looking for a website, I had somebody tell me, “You need Joomla. Joomla will do everything that you need.
It’s the best thing”. And so I went and set up a new website in Joomla and the platform was much more complex than I needed.

And I didn’t use my website.

I put all the basics up and then I wrote about six posts in a year and…

I hated my website.

It was too complicated and so I didn’t do any updates. I didn’t write any blogs. I didn’t even like it.
And therefore I didn’t share it.
And therefore I didn’t market myself because it was just not the tool that I needed.

Here are my recommendations – as a tech translator – for the questions you should ask if someone recommends a new piece of software, online tool, phone app, or gadget to you.

What else have you used that is similar?
How long have you been using it?
Which version/ level are you on?
What computer/ phone do you have?
What’s the best thing about it?
What’s the most annoying thing about it?
What do you wish it could do?

So, what else have you used that’s similar?

What I see a lot of, particularly in the online space, is that many of the apps your fellow business owner recommends to you is the only thing that they’ve used in that space.

● They might have used one calendar scheduler.
● They might have used one website platform.
● They might have used one project management or CRM tool.

So, they don’t have anything to compare it which means they can’t offer you any objective pros and cons.

Asking this question is a great way to ensure you’re getting a recommendation from someone who knows better.

How long have you been using it?

The person making the recommendation might have only been in business for six months, using a great tool, think it’s amazing, but again, depending on what they’ve got to compare it to, they might not have come across the hard stuff yet. They could have been using it for two months but that doesn’t mean that they’ve used it in earnest and that they’ve put it through its rigor.

There might be lots of things that they need to use it for that they just haven’t got around to setting up yet and that when they finally go to do it, they find they can’t.

If someone’s been using something for two years or more and they are really happy with it, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s good tech.

Which version or plan are you on?

Budgets are really important in small business and even though you might find a tool that’s only $10 a month, soon you can end up with 10 of those and all of a sudden, that’s $1200 a year just on software.

If you’re getting a recommendation from a business that’s more established than you or with more capital behind them, they might be paying for the premium version of the app that comes with all of the bells and whistles.

When you go to use your free or basic level you find you get a cowbell and a party popper.

What computer/ phone combination do you have?

Whenever you ask for recommendations, always (and I mean always) include whether you’re PC or Mac and what operating system you use.

While a large percentage of apps these days are cloud-based, you might still want some local integration (see What’s the most annoying thing about it?) and different apps integrate differently with different operations systems.

There are a huge number of phone/tablet apps that have only been designed for IOS, Android OR Windows phones rather than all platforms. You want an app that works for the phone you use.

What’s the best thing about it?

This question gives a really good indication of the main purpose that they are using it for.

For example, someone might use an online scheduler because;

  • it gives their clients a choice of times,
  • their clients are all over Australia or all over the world, and therefore multiple time zones
  • they mostly work online

However, if the driver is, “it syncs automatically with my calendar and I don’t even have to think about it” then an online scheduler might be overkill when they could actually just use a standard calendar client and a sync tool.

You could be using a free version that does that.

What’s the most annoying thing about it?

Quite often people will only tell you these when they’re looking to leave, but there will always be something that is annoying to the end user and it could be the one stumbling block that will stop you from using it.

If they tell you it’s a web-based app and it takes a long time to refresh and you;

  • work remotely
  • are often out of decent internet signal
  • are out in the car all the time or at cafes,

then having to access the internet is gonna be a big deal for you.
You might want something that works locally on your machine that syncs later when you have access.

What do you wish it could do?

Every piece of software should have a development roadmap, if they don’t, they’re probably not going to be around for long.

Software usually launches with the most basic of functionality they can get away with so they can make some cash to pay for the next lot of features, and then they have lots and lots of plans as we all do with our businesses on how they’re going make it better and where they’re going to go with it.

Usually, a system can only include so much functionality before it gets unwieldy or it loses its original purpose, so, you want to know what it can already do, what do you wish it could do and whether that wish is likely to be fulfilled in the near future, because that thing that that person might wish it could do is again could be something that’s really important to you and there might be something else that you can use in the meantime.

Then, you need to ask yourself this question: “Do I already have a tool that can do the job?”

Whether you’re a Mac or a PC person, I can guarantee you are using less than 70% of the existing functionality available on your computer.

Very, very few people, including me, use everything available to them. All computers have built-in mail and calendar clients. They usually have a note keeper, voice to speech capability and PDF reader.

There are lots of these tools that are already built in by default and we just don’t know what they are or we don’t know they’re there.

For example, OneNote is a really key piece of tech that most Windows & MS Office users don’t even know exists. If you’ve got Microsoft Office, you have OneNote. OneNote’s been out since Office 2007. I only discovered it about 18 months ago and I’m absolutely in love with it, but because it’s not set up by default on the start menu, most people have never opened it.

If you’re paying for tools, make sure that one of those tools doesn’t already do what you need.

These are really the questions you should just ask if someone recommends tech to you.

There’s a whole ‘nother bunch of questions you should ask if you are actually seriously considering software, particularly if you are paying for it because you’re going to have to put time and money into the setup, energy into the learning curve, and as small business owners, we sometimes don’t have that to spare.

If you would like to talk about your current tech landscape and what tech tools might help you work more productively, you can book a 45-minute Discovery Call with me for just $99.

Cheers,

Lynette embodies an intrinsic ability to save business owners money by delivering back the all-elusive “spare” time so they can use it to do what they love. She puts these principles into practice in her own business – Kits and Bits. Lynette is an avid genealogist and tango dancer.

Lynette Delane

Tech Translator, Kits and Bits

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