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.
Gather round the social media crystal ball and see what’s coming next.
For the last few years, if you haven’t been on TikTok, you haven’t been on social media. Former heavyweights such as Facebook have been losing their luster, and TikTok has rapidly usurped its role as being on the cutting edge of digital communication. Things can change quickly online, especially within social media.
What are forward-thinking businesses supposed to do? How can one effectively plan a social media strategy when the space is continually in flux? If you are asking yourself those questions, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore emerging trends in social media and what they mean for business leaders who want to leverage them for competitive advantage – now and in the future.
As mentioned, while older social media platforms have waned in popularity of late, others have emerged to take their place and a chunk of their market share. Here are a few of the top sites that have left a mark in recent years and are worth keeping an eye on going forward:
- Clubhouse: Clubhouse emerged during the first year of the pandemic, offering users a way to form synchronous, audio-only connections between the audience and the speakers. Businesses can consider leveraging the platform to increase the profile of high-performing content pieces or host a dialogue between an industry thought-leader and their target audience.
- CaffeineandTwitch: Both Caffeine and Twitch have built steady followings since their launches in 2018 and 2021 respectively. Each of these platforms are video-based, giving users and businesses a powerful way to connect with audiences, position their brands and generate engagement. The success of Caffeine and Twitch also highlight that video is the future when it comes to social marketing – particularly if you need to appeal to the Gen. Z market.
- BeReal: BeReal has been adopted with great gusto by Gen. Z. While the full scope of its business applications has yet to be determined, this is a good application to investigate if you’d like to cultivate a highly authentic social presence for your brand.
Paying to Play Will Continue
Last month on this blog, we discussed whether it is now necessary to supplement your organic social media activity with paid promotion. The conclusion we drew is that it has become increasingly difficult to gain the results you may want to see through organic marketing alone. Going forward, this will likely continue to be the case; however, where you spend your marketing dollars is likely to shift. Studies show that consumers prefer ads on sites like TikTok far more than others.[i] Pinterest is another site that has proven itself to be a good bet for advertisers, generating strong ROI for those who choose to deploy its advertising functionality.[ii]
Using Social for Customer Support
While it varies amongst different demographics, customers increasingly expect to interact directly with brands via social media. The gravitation of customers away from the phone and toward online platforms for customer support has been in the works for awhile now, but it truly went into overdrive during the pandemic. To succeed with customer service in this space, businesses must familiarize themselves with how different platforms support one-to-one customer interaction and then make a customer care plan.
The data on this subject robustly backs up these claims. 64 percent of people claim that they would prefer to message a business digitally than hop on the phone.[iii] Despite this, a huge number of businesses have not yet invested in their online customer care, which can be detrimental to their brands, operations, and future profitability.
Embrace the Future
Nothing lasts forever, especially not in the digital sphere. But while that can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. New trends are emerging in social media that will allow businesses to accomplish strategic goals far more easily, whether that be hosting authentic online content, advertising more effectively, or improving customer care. Keep your finger on the pulse, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new and emerging technology. That will continue to be key to social success.
[i] Kantar finds ads on TikTok are seen as more inspiring, trendsetting and enjoyable than on other platforms | TikTok For Business Blog
[ii] Advertising on Pinterest: How to Get Started | Pinterest Business
[iii] 5 Reasons Travel Brands Should Focus on Messaging | Facebook IQ | Meta for Business
Employ best practices to keep your systems running smoothly.
As someone who has been in the IT game for a while now, trust me when I tell you that “updates” is a word that comes up a lot. From business networks to cybersecurity, technology never stays the same for long.
Software programs frequently require updating to the latest version. Businesses need to have a plan for keeping software current and staff apprised of workflow changes.
A quick note on software updates
I’m willing to bet that you have some experience keeping your devices current. But what really goes on during a software update?
A software update can be viewed as a sort of “patch” for the current iteration of a program. Updates typically include a set of changes designed to fix or improve upon pre-existing software, including:
- Removing bugs from code
- Fortifying security
- Providing new tools or features
- Improving effectiveness
As you can see, updating consistently is important to maximizing your software’s value. But perhaps nowhere are updates more essential than for cybersecurity. When an update comes out designed to address security vulnerabilities, time is of the essence for implementing it. If you don’t, the software may become vulnerable to malicious actors, which can jeopardize the overall effectiveness of your business.
Putting it into practice
With so much riding on keeping systems and programs current, what exactly is the best approach for ensuring that each new update is promptly installed?
There are several strategies that can keep you and your team moving forward without creating a lot more work for yourself in the process.
- Automatic updates: Whenever possible, enable automatic updates. These will keep your systems running efficiently and safeguard your business from security breaches.
- Create an inventory: While it may require some heavy lifting up-front, establishing an inventory of all programs and systems can be incredibly helpful for staying on-top of security updates and software patches.
- Stay apprised of update schedules: To avoid surprises, it never hurts to have familiarity with when certain vendors push out updates. Microsoft, for example, consistently puts out updates on the second Tuesday of each month. Adobe follows a similar pattern.
- Create a personal schedule: When you are running a small agency, it may be difficult to find time to take care of necessary updates while overseeing everything else that goes into a successful enterprise. One strategy to overcome this is to set aside designated time each week for carrying out this work. Be sure to make it consistent week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year, and don’t waver once it is established.
- Communicate clearly: No one is an island in business, and changes to your systems and programs will impact the workflows of others. Clear and consistent information delivered before, during and after an update is critical when performing an update. Employees need to know what types of updates are going on, how long they might take and how it will ultimately impact their day-to-day activities.
- A solution for your solutions: There is an old saying that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and that holds true for something like software updates. If that sounds familiar to you, it may be worth considering adopting a technological solution for your software solutions.There are many tools that can make tracking and managing your critical software updates easier. Check out this article for more on getting started.
- Hiring help: It is never a bad idea to seek out help from a professional for your IT-related needs, even if you have a small shop and minimal technology requirements. Of course, this can pose challenges for the small business owner, in that you must assess whether to bring on a full-time worker or outsource your needs to a third party like a managed service provider (MSP). Luckily, you don’t need to make this decision alone! Check out Alliant National’s blog about this topic, which you can read here.
Enjoy a secure system
The work of IT never ends, and this poses real challenges when it comes to software updates. Yet like anything else, solutions exist. Carefully planning your updates, staying hip to the latest changes and getting assistance when needed can help you strengthen the IT systems on which your business success relies.
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)
The era of 5G is upon us. Let’s look at what that means.
There have been four generations of technology standards for broadband cellular networks. But the fifth will be a gamechanger for small businesses. 5G’s more reliable, lower latency service offers several benefits to smaller firms including: enhanced customer experience (CX), higher productivity and easier recruitment. Let’s explore each in greater detail.
What Exactly is 5G?
You’ve likely heard of 5G before, as many cell phone providers began offering it back in 2019. While still in its beginning stages, the technology is growing quickly. Recent estimates predict that 5G networks will carry 1.7 billion subscribers by 2025.[i]
5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology. It offers more bandwidth and greater download speeds than its predecessors. 5G can also connect with many different devices simultaneously, resulting in faster, more efficient, and more unified digital experiences for both customers and businesses.
Better Customer Experience
5G will allow small businesses to offer better digital experiences. Media downloads are significantly faster in 5G than 4G, meaning customers can stream video or download documents without lag time. 5G will also make immersive presentations and augmented reality increasingly commonplace, which will allow products or services to be showcased in a more dynamic way.
Higher Productivity and More Efficient Collaboration
Small businesses can use 5G to achieve productivity gains. The technology supports more connected devices, which certainly can impact worker output. Siloed workers become more connected. Duplicate efforts are streamlined. And manual processes are automated, leaving more time for creativity and strategic planning.
Enhanced Mobility and Easier Recruitment
Over the past two years, work has changed dramatically. The remote work stigma has crumbled, and it’s now normal for companies to have an entirely remote team. Naturally, this has had a major impact on hiring. Recent data shows that the Great Resignation is alive and well, with half of all workers currently looking for new jobs.[ii] Many employers have wisely seen the writing on the wall. They are beginning to recruit beyond their immediate region to get ahead of the competition. The rise of 5G will accelerate this trend. More businesses will find it feasible to support remote work and will expand their talent pools accordingly.
Embrace the 5G Future
Sir Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is akin to magic.” He certainly could have been talking about 5G. With its ability to improve CX, productivity and recruitment, the technology can deliver great things for the economy – nowhere more so than with small businesses that are savvy enough to realize its full potential.
[i] Positive 5G Outlook Post COVID-19: What Does It Mean for Avid Gamers? – Forest Interactive (forest-interactive.com)
[ii] Great Resignation continues, as 44% of workers seek a new job (cnbc.com)