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Digital To-Dos for Your Organization in a Downturn

It might be slower than normal right now for you or your organization. Here's a list of digital to-dos to maximize the time you have now so you can hit the gas later and recover more efficiently.

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In times like this, when most of us are working remotely and likely facing a slowdown in our respective organizations, you might be at a bit of a loss. Normally, our days are filled with our standard tasks. Now, those might be on hold. The to-do list might be shorter than normal. So… what now?

As they say, with every disruption comes opportunity. And right now we’re in a serious disruption, so it stands to reason we have a serious opportunity, right? So how can we work with the opportunity from an organizational standpoint, and make a real impact with the time we might find ourselves with?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of impactful digital to-dos you can tackle for your organization during the downturn. Some of these we’re doing ourselves at Paper Leaf, some are what our current clients are undertaking right now to get ahead, and some are collated from the depths of the internet (a place we’re all spending a lot more time these days). Here’s some food for thought.

Digital To-Dos During The Slow-Down

Tidy up your data. I’m talking about your CRM contacts, your email aliases, your grant or sales tracking data, your membership management data, your Google Tag Manager profile(s), and maybe even that awful super old Microsoft Access Database that you’re still running your whole organization off of. Oh, and if you’re like us and have contact data all over the place, check out PieSync (which syncs contact data across multiple popular platforms).

Pay back existing technical debt. Too often, we all end up working at a breakneck pace, trying to launch too much in too little time. The result is technical debt. Your technical debt might be take the form of database structure or inefficiencies, CRM implementation, website or mobile app functionality, janky email templates, or a variety of other ends. Tidy tech means more efficient work, less risk, and better outcomes – so tidy it up!

Level your digital game up through online learning. Professional development often falls by the wayside as we relentlessly churn through our daily to-do list. But if that list has shortened up, there’s no better time to invest in yourself or your team. Maybe you need a refresher on your CRM or other critical operations software; maybe you want your teammate to better understand Google Analytics (here’s a series of free courses from Google) or data in general a bit better; maybe you want to level your business or organizational-level skills up (MIT’s OpenCourseWare has a huge list of free courses). Regardless of what you want to learn, there is a resource out there for you. Our team has machine learning and further .NET learning in our sights.

Explore grant and funding options for your next digital project. Yes, there is a lot of talk about government funding programs around COVID-19 right now – but alongside those funding programs are standard funding programs that might foot the bill for your next website, web app, mobile app, software or digital marketing project. The Alberta Business Grants Directory is a great resource for not only Alberta-specific grants, but Canada-wide opportunities – I highly recommend checking it out. Feel free to drop us a line too, and we can fill you in on some specific grants past clients of ours have used to fund their project.

Audit your digital properties. Audits can take a variety of forms – Security Audits, Website Audits, Performance Audits, Content Audits, Technical Audits, Usability Audits, SEO Audits, etc. If you have a digital property that you’ve inherited, or a product you’re just generally unsure of, it might be time to give it an audit. I wrote a whole huge post about running a comprehensive audit here – so you can start there, or you can dip your toes in the water our free one:

Set up your organization for online delivery. Yes, eCommerce is an obvious one if you sell products (physical or digital), but let’s open up our thinking a bit more. If you sell expertise or in-person workshops, or offer events, how can you offer those when traditional on-location or in-person methods are a no-go? The barrier to digital delivery has never been lower – software options are affordable and near limitless for webinars (Zoom is solid), live-streaming, DIY course creation and selling (Podia is great), and more elegant and integrated LMS solutions (like the one we delivered for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta).

Finally ship some of those nice-to-haves. Odds are, if your organization has a reasonably complex website or web/mobile app, you have a backlog of nice-to-haves or client feature requests that you just haven’t had the time to get to. Groom that backlog and ship while you have the time!

Survey your clients, members, and/or donors to see what they’d love from your organization or product. In line with the previous item, if you’ve not touched base with your end users in a while, why not survey them and see what you’re missing that they’d love? Too often, we assume to know what our user base wants, and we don’t actually ask often enough. Assuming you have an email list, you can spin up a simple survey with Google Forms or more traditional platforms like SurveyMonkey and send it a short questionnaire to your contacts. On top of getting some valuable insight, it’s also a good way to stay top-of-mind. If you want to take it even further, set up some video calls and observe them using your website/app via screenshare. Ask them to complete specific tasks (set up an account, order a product, etc.) and observe, asking them questions along the way to gain insight on usability.

Integrate technology to maximize return on the inevitable upswing. One thing we know is that this dip, like most (all?) is temporary. We’ll return to normal life, or something resembling it. And when we do, we’re going to have to make up for the downtime / downturn – we’re going to have to move fast (apparently people are already “revenge shopping” in Wuhan, whatever that means). One of the best ways to move fast is to be smart about it – use technology to automate tedious, repetitive tasks that you know you shouldn’t be doing. Have an old paper process that takes forever? Migrating contacts every week? Updating content in two, or even three places due to lack of integration? These are the hallmarks of the types of inefficiency that should be erased with technology – and they’re the types of low-value, time-killing, soul-sucking work that will be an anchor for your velocity when things pick back up. So sort that out, would ya?

diagram of digital properties

Map out your digital infrastructure and look for areas of improvement. Often, we get hired for a singular project – for example, “build a mobile app”, like this one for FireSmart Canada. Then, during the course of that project, it turns out the whole digital infrastructure needs to be evaluated. Keeping with the same example, that mobile app then becomes the first step in a digital transformation of sorts, consolidating and integrating technology into a cohesive suite. The image diagram outlines, on the left, what a disparate suite of platforms look like. The image on the right is a consolidated, integrated diagram for the same client that became their roadmap for digital infrastructure transformation. Why not do the same thing? We used Whimsical for the above, but pencil & paper works just fine.

Re-evaluate your critical business software stack – and maybe finally migrate away from it. If you’re anything like us, you use a variety of tools in your day to day. We use Asana (project management), Harvest (time tracking & invoicing), Slack (communication), Humi (HR & payroll), and Pipedrive (CRM). While we don’t have any current desire to move away from our stack of SaaS tools, I remember when we migrated to Asana. It was a ton of work, as changing technologies always is. Same thing with when we help our clients evaluate, migrate to, integrate and implement something like a new CRM. Because of the work involved, the best time to tackle those migrations (if required) is when it’s slow. So evaluate where you’re at with your internal business software, and if you’re unhappy, maybe now’s the time to make a move.

Build a prospective digital vendor list. Have some loose plans later this year that will require outside vendors? Start doing your research now. I’m talking about content strategists, PPC experts, business analysts, UX/UI partners, web/app developers, SEO consultants, managed web services providers, and whomever else might be part of your recipe for success. That way, when the procurement process gets the green light, you’re already a step ahead.

Improve your critical processes by creating ideal process maps. If you’re a process-oriented person (I am), your ears just perked up. Often, organizations do things in a certain manner because “that’s how they’ve always been done”. Sometimes, a critical process hasn’t been evaluated for risk, regulatory compliance, efficiency or comprehensiveness in too long. Think about the top 3 processes your organization follows, or top 3 services/products it offers. How does your organization deliver those services or products, from start to finish? Map it out (here’s a handy post on workflow mapping) and look for areas for improvement, or complete transformation. This type of thinking is how we transformed FireSmart’s entirely paper-based home assessment process into a digital one (skyrocketing their outcomes to 1 home assessed every 2 days!), and how we worked with Elections Alberta to go from a error-prone, double-entry enumeration process to a standardized, partially automated digital enumeration platform (resulting in 1.7M addresses updated in only 2 months). Why can’t your organization do something similar?

Finally tackle that big (or little) internal project. For us, that means we’re finally redesigning our website, and implementing accounting software for a future internal role. For you, it could be similar types of projects. Alternatively, maybe you just want to map out a content strategy for the next 3 months, or rewrite your policy documents, or move your localized member database to a cloud environment or dedicated tool. Because we all know, when our clients, donors, and members come calling in a couple months, their needs will take priority.

Making the Best of What We Can

It’s a strange time – a concerning, scary, and very real time. Many lives, never mind organizations, have been disrupted considerably. But if we play our cards right, we can come out the other end more organized, more strategic, and poised to make an impact and recover where we can.