With software needs growing, here is where you can find low-cost alternatives to top brands
You’ve likely heard the word “Luddite” before. This expression refers to 19th-century English textile workers who destroyed machinery that threatened their livelihood. Today, it serves as a shorthand to refer to anyone resistant to technological change. While undoubtedly an overused term, the real story of the Luddites exemplifies that you can’t stop the march of technology. Instead, you must adapt.
The truth is customer expectations have changed. Businesses need to deliver faster and be more flexible than ever before. To do this effectively, though, requires digital transformation, which can be expensive and time-consuming. In this blog, I will share some low-cost alternatives to popular software programs to help you in this process.
Branding and Graphic Design
Competing for customers online requires digital marketing, and digital marketing requires proper branding and design. Unfortunately, programs like the Adobe Creative Suite can run you hundreds of dollars over the course of its lifetime.
An investment like this might make sense for some companies, especially if they are in design-heavy industries. But title agencies may only require periodic design work, making a free or low-cost option a better bet. Some potential options worth checking out include:
- Canva – If you’re looking for a turnkey, browser-based option for relatively simple graphic design tasks, Canva is a great place to start. There are both free and paid versions of the software, and it comes with tons of helpful templates you can use to start quickly producing social media graphics, flyers, logos and much more.
- Pixlr – Those looking for an out-of-the-box editing tool will find a lot to love about Pixlr. You can use the solution to crop and resize images, adjust brightness, manipulate contrast, remove red-eye and add filters and effects.
- GIMP – GIMP is an open-source software solution with robust photo editing and other design capabilities. Unlike the other programs listed above, GIMP does require a download. But its wide range of features makes it well worth it.
Document and Word Processing
Word processors are among the most common types of business software, used in every industry. While popular programs like Microsoft Word are fairly affordable, there are alternatives out there that are less expensive and offer a comparable level of functionality:
- LibreOffice Writer – An open-source application, LibreOffice Writer has been a leading alternative to more mainstream word processors for many years. LibreOffice has many features that will feel familiar to your average Word user, and it supports file formats like .doc and .docx. Best of all, LibreOffice’s open-source community is highly active, constantly refining the program.
- Google Docs – One of the most popular alternatives to Microsoft Word is Google Docs. Accessible to anyone with a Google account, Google Docs is a respectable word processor by any metric, including all the bells and whistles businesses need to create content assets. Even better, Google Docs offers its users an effortless way to collaborate within documents in real-time.
PDFs and File Converters
For document-heavy industries like insurance, having a reliable way to convert files and prepare PDFs is critical to developing efficient processes. Like Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat and Reader are leaders in this space, but those looking for low-cost or free options have no shortage of programs to check out. I will talk about two of them here:
- Foxit PDF Editor – Perhaps one of the most comparable solutions to Adobe Acrobat is Foxit PDF Editor. Loaded with features, Foxit PDF provides users with everything they need to manipulate, edit, redact and annotate PDFs.
- PDF-XChange Editor – Feature-heavy, user-friendly and basically free, you can do a lot worse than PDF-Xchange Editor if you are looking to break away from Adobe. Seventy percent of the program’s tools are entirely free.
Do What You Can to Go Digital First
Although the events took place over 200 years ago, the story of the Luddites is surprisingly still relevant today. Technology will continue to march forward, and if businesses want to thrive, they must find a way to adopt the technology they need. Of course, this is a lot easier with unlimited resources. But as we see here, there are low-cost alternatives to popular programs out there. By deploying them, you can jump start your path toward a more productive and profitable enterprise.
Digitization has changed business; how can you take advantage?
If you spend any time on technology websites or blogs, then you have probably heard the term “digital transformation.” In the broadest sense, digital transformation or “DX” refers to the adoption of digital services to replace non-digital or analog applications and tools. When digital transformation is done well, it has been shown to increase innovation, customer experience, productivity and bottom-line profitability. For agents, there are numerous areas where you can deploy digital technology for business advantage. In this blog, we will examine what you can gain from going digital, as well as some best practices for a successful transition.
Benefits Of DX
Let’s look a bit closer at a couple of the potential benefits DX holds. First, digital tools can streamline incoming communication, letting customers effortlessly navigate to a specific department or agent. Switching to a digital phone system like voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) also give agencies additional functionality like automatic call-back features, call volume management, call monitoring and more. These tools contribute to happier customers, higher productivity and better brand awareness.
Next, DX can help you develop a well-rounded, 360-degree view of your customer base. Flexible, scalable tools like customer relationship management (CRM) software serve as a strong foundation for a modern, interconnected tech stack. Other services can be layered on top of a CRM to create an even more comprehensive digital suite. Integrate your email marketing service to better target prospects. Interweave collaboration software to align your departments or agents. Whatever you choose, it is now more than possible to unify your external and internal operations for maximum efficiency through the power of technology.
DX Implementation Best Practices
To ensure your digital transformation is a success, never assume that the technology itself is a magic bullet. Just like any business initiative, DX must be approached strategically. The first step is to get a clear idea of the problems you’re trying to solve. Second, you must have the right culture in place. There is a wise old saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and that certainly holds for digital transformation. DX is a complex process. Without a culture that embraces change, experimentation and open-mindedness, it won’t be easy to adapt to new systems, solutions and tools.
Measuring the ROI of DX
Measuring your DX’s ROI is also a critical piece of the process. Unless you have clear metrics in place, it is difficult if not impossible to determine if your investment has paid off. Begin by determining the cost metrics of your digital transformation. This includes not only the direct expenses for new digital technology, but also indirect costs related to business network infrastructure, consulting activity, and staff onboarding and training time.
Equally important is stacking these costs up against your value metrics. These could include bringing in more prospects, building out better customer personas, improving staff productivity or expanding company profitability. As with any business goal (IT-related or not) you’ll want these metrics to be SMART – that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – so you can weigh them easily against your costs.
DX is Your Path Toward a Future-Proof Business
Digital transformation is the way forward for any business looking to better engage with customers, collaborate well internally, while also safeguarding against future disruption. While not a cure-all, a well-executed DX can give you a clear advantage over competitors.
Learn more about digital transformation.
Going without IT support is a bad idea, but which approach should you choose?
Having a consistent, powerful and reliable digital presence is a must for any business. Without it, you will be hard-pressed to convert new customers or maintain a competitive edge. Of course, this presents interesting challenges, especially for small businesses, as you’ll need to decide on the best approach for your IT: make an in-house, full-time hire or outsource your needs to a contractor.
Why is IT support necessary?
It can be tempting to skimp on IT resources. After all, for many firms, budgets are tight. And really, if you are small enough where you only have a few devices and employees, it seems logical to ask if there is a need for such a significant investment.
The answer is simple: absolutely. Even small businesses have significant IT needs. Cybersecurity concerns alone merit seeking IT support. For industries like title insurance, the need for IT help has additional urgency, as agents and underwriters routinely deal with large quantities of sensitive information.
Having an IT expert pays off in other ways as well. From staying up to date on the latest trends and keeping your systems properly updated, there is no doubt that dedicated technology professionals can bring exceptional value to any title agency.
Contractor vs. employee
Let’s discuss some of the big differences between a contractor and an employee. While pay and taxes are critical ways in which they diverge, perhaps even more substantial is the issue of autonomy. Employees are hired with the understanding that the work they perform will be done per the direction of the company. Contractors on the other hand typically have far more control over when, where and how the work gets completed.
To hire or to contract, that is the question!
So, should you hire an IT expert or simply contract with a firm or individual? Ultimately, it depends on your agency’s needs. Contracting with a professional can carry significant financial benefits, helping you save money on everything from health insurance to vacation time, but other questions are equally important to consider:
- How urgent are your IT needs?
- Making a full-time hire often takes considerably more time than contracting a professional. Can your projects wait, or do you need to move immediately? Keep in mind that the “Great Resignation” has squeezed labor markets like never before, and the IT field is not immune from these trends.
- Do you need continuous support or project-based assistance?
- Do your systems and operations require continuous IT support, or does it make sense to hire on an “as-needed” basis as projects pop up? Quite often, businesses have one-off projects that require highly specialized skillsets, such as cloud migration or data engineering. In those cases, it may not make sense to hire someone full-time.
- Can you absorb the losses if you make a bad IT hire?
- Some estimates put the cost of making a bad hire as high as 30% of that employee’s full-time salary,[i] which for an IT generalist could easily eclipse $10,000. Hiring a contractor lowers those stakes considerably, as they are understood to be temporary workers.
- What are your concerns about regulation and liability?
- With title insurance being a heavily regulated industry, you must consider regulation and liability concerns when bringing in technology contractors, and also think about how long it will take a contractor to get up to speed.
No two businesses are the same
Just like any other aspect of a business, no two companies are the same when it comes to IT. What is straightforward for one firm might be more complicated for another. What’s universal, however, is the need for high-quality technology professionals, which can help agencies become more innovative, efficient and profitable. By approaching the decision strategically and weighing all considerations equally, agents can find a solution that works for them.
Find out more about hiring an IT contractor here.
 The Cost Of A Bad Hire And Red Flags to Avoid (2022) (apollotechnical.com)
Data is all around us. Why not leverage it for better business decision making?
Most people know that modern business runs on the internet. But what does the internet run on you ask? Data, that’s what! How can you leverage your data to drive better business decisions? Let’s explore.
Data Sources and Why They Matter
It may surprise you how much data exists about your business. Whether it be from Google Analytics, social media or a business intelligence (BI) platform, there are multiple ways to gain actionable insights into your customers’ demographics, not to mention your business’s projects, performance, costs and revenues.
But why does any of this matter? Well, by better understanding your customers, their behaviors and your own internal processes, you can adjust buyer journeys and touchpoints, optimize your operations, reallocate your resources and more. Changes like these can lead to improved customer sentiment, increased employee morale and a stronger brand.
Google Analytics is a free tool and a great place to start gaining insight into how your customers are interacting with you online. To begin, establish your credentials for the Google suite and link the website you want to track. You’ll have to embed the Google Analytics code snippet on your site to accomplish this. While this isn’t exceptionally complicated, many people are uncomfortable trying to read HTML. Consult with your webmaster if you need assistance.
Once your account is set up, it’s time to start tracking some metrics. Some of the most important metrics include sessions, users, average time on page, bounce rate, acquisition sources and entrance and exit pages. These will give you a good starting point to understand how people are finding your website and what they’re doing once they’re on it. After that, you can take steps to encourage positive trends or address negative ones, such as putting more marketing dollars toward your most effective acquisition sources or optimizing your landing pages to make them more effective.
Although it may not look like it at first, social media can also be a powerful source of business intelligence. The medium has become a primary method for sharing business updates, but prospects and customers now often use social media to collect information on companies’ product and service offerings.
Many of these platforms offer free, built-in analytics where you can gain these insights. Facebook’s business suite, for instance, provides exportable, in-depth reports on your audience, including age and gender breakdowns, as well as top cities where they are located. It can also shine a light into whether your posts, updates and offers are resonating with these followers, and allow you to provide more effective content that will encourage them to engage with you.
For those who are serious about BI, however, nothing beats the power and depth offered by investing in a business intelligence solution. These platforms are designed with the specific purpose of helping firms gather and analyze large amounts of business data. These platforms often include striking data visualizations and can create a comprehensive, 360-degree view of your business. Not only will you gain a better sense of your audience through these platforms, but you can also track your company’s projects, resources and revenues. Staying up to date on this information may help you make tough decisions in real-time that can ultimately benefit your bottom line.
Take a look at some of the best platforms currently on the market.
Better Insights Equal a Better Business
In a fast-paced world that shows no signs of slowing, understanding all aspects of your business is critical to making the best possible decisions. Luckily, we live in a data-rich world. By deploying a BI platform or even leveraging free, pre-existing data sources like Google Analytics and social media, you can gain information to help position your company for even greater success.
After years of incrementally slow progress on the e-mortgage front, the pandemic succeeded in catapulting the mortgage and settlement services industry into the digital mortgage and closing age in short order. As state legislatures quickly rushed through a variety of pending remote online notarization (RON) laws, more agents jumped at the chance to add this capability to their tool belt.
In an April 12 release, ALTA reported that the number of title professionals offering digital closings more than tripled over the past two years, from 14% participation prior to 2019, to more than 46% in its most recent survey.
The question for agents is, do your partners and potential customers know about your new digital closing capability? And how can you get the word out?
MISMO has provided a national solution that you can capitalize on immediately to ensure potential customers who are looking for a service provider with RON capability can check on your status.
The MISMO e-Eligibility Exchange was created to accelerate industry-wide adoption of digital closings. According to a recent release from MISMO, the e-Eligibility Exchange provides centralized access to acceptance criteria that enables lenders and other industry participants to easily determine the right type of digital mortgage closing for each loan, including the use of electronic promissory notes (eNotes) or RON.
How Can Agents Get Into the e-Eligibility Exchange?
The only way to get into the exchange is by first getting registered in the ALTA Title and Settlement Agency Registry. ALTA announced that it will be the sole provider of title and settlement data to MISMO through the registry, which currently includes more than 9,000 locations, with more than 2,000 of them indicating they have RON capability.
The registry is free and ALTA membership is not required. After you register, your underwriter will confirm your information. According to MISMO, this verification, along with the uniqueness of the ALTA ID, ensures the accuracy of the data in the e-Eligibility Exchange for users.
If you are not yet signed up with the ALTA registry, here’s what you need to know:
- Visit alta.org/registry to learn more about the ALTA Title & Settlement Agency Registry.
- Download materials to register on the ALTA resources site to begin the registration process.
- ALTA will provide you with a unique 7-digit identifier, called the ALTA ID, which is automatically assigned to each new database record as a permanent ID number.
- ALTA ID numbers are available for free to title agents and to real estate attorneys.
- Once you are registered, your underwriters will be contacted to confirm your status.
Recent legislation has helped grow adoption of e-recording and e-notarization, but the lack of uniformity still makes it difficult for lenders to universally adopt electronic practices, forcing lenders to make a loan-by-loan decision about what documents can be electronically signed.
MISMO’s e-Eligibility Exchange helps address this challenge by allowing lenders to quickly assess requirements for individual loans.
More importantly for you, it allows lenders to identify the availability of title and settlement agents with electronic capabilities. Hop on the digital train in 2022. With the advent of the e-Eligibility Exchange, you now have the perfect opportunity to put yourself front and center for digital closing opportunities in the coming years.