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SalesForce vs. Bespoke CRM

Imagine this: You just opened up your business or consultancy and are ready to get your first sales. You need something, anything to help you take care of the components that make up your business – marketing, customer service, sales and invoicing. Understandably, you’re confused as to what to do next, so you do some research and find that a CRM (also known as a customer relationship management platform) is exactly what you need. But which CRM should you choose? This is an important question that many new businesses (and even established ones!) ask themselves.

You may have heard of Salesforce – it is a popular platform that integrates a support system for customers, sales reporting and marketing tools for your business. In fact, they’re one of the largest CRM systems available for small businesses and perform especially well in terms of marketing and sales tools. However, once you close the deal with a customer, the majority of what SalesForce does is complete; they don’t specialize in what occurs after a sale. For instance, there is very limited support for accounting software that can connect to SalesForce, which limits your choices in terms of billing which may require you to make changes to your current systems. In addition, you’ll find that support for certain features is missing, especially in the area of customer retention. Consequently, SalesForce may not be the best choice for your business.

Getting started and upfront costs

It is important for you to consider the pros and cons of a bespoke CRM and Salesforce. Walking through the set up for SalesForce, you will notice that the majority of the options that you’ll find on the navigation bar are ones designed for sales: marketing, leads, opportunities, campaigns, and social media management, depending on the focus points you chose on sign-up. These are great tools to secure your first sales and there’s certainly merit to it; after all, a business must generate revenue to keep afloat. However, you must also consider the costs that you’ll incur to use SalesForce. At the time of this post, the base plan starts at $25 US dollars per user, per month, which can quickly add up for a small business. Worse, you’ll find that you are essentially locked onto their platform once you’ve gotten yourself set up, so upsizing means you’ll be required to upgrade your plan instead of considering alternative solutions.

This is where a bespoke CRM platform can help. Instead of focusing entirely on sales, there are options for you to manage customers after a sale and automatically process financial information so that your accounting process is simplified. Everything from stock management to orders to customer retention can be performed within a bespoke CRM. In terms of costs, you’ll pay a one-time development fee for the custom CRM and all updates are optional; in fact, the solution that Coherent has created for you can be taken to another company if you so choose. In this way, you’ll save money in the long run – not only on the software itself but on accounting hours and more.

Billing your customers

It’s always a special moment when a small business makes its first sale. Now that the initial payment is finalized, what should you do next?
As with all transactions, communication is key for the continued success of a customer relationship with your business. Therefore, the next thing you should do is make sure that your customer is informed every step of the way as their order is processed.
With SalesForce, you may notice that it is geared primarily toward service-based businesses. As a result, there are quite a few options for you to communicate with your clients. However, there is a lack of support for timesheets within SalesForce by default. To enable it, you will likely be required to purchase a third-party integration or add-on to add support for it, given that the free add-on released by SalesForce hasn’t been updated since 2009. Furthermore, you’ll find it difficult to track the services you’ve completed for your client, which can complicate billing.

Once more, a bespoke CRM can resolve many of the issues that SalesForce cannot solve. For instance, timesheet functionality can be built into the platform, as well as progress tracking so that you can bill your customer as the components of an order are completed. Everything in a bespoke CRM is designed for your business; whether your business focuses on retail or providing services, we at Coherent can craft a solution that enables you to be successful as a small business owner.

Customer satisfaction and retention


As mentioned before, SalesForce is a CRM designed for sales and marketing. This aspect is important, but as other components are lacking, the experience you give to your customers is less than ideal. The CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, once said, “If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” In this regard, SalesForce’s less than ideal order experience can affect customer satisfaction, leading to a drop in referred sales, which for many businesses can make up a significant portion of revenues received. It is important, then to equally prioritize customer satisfaction.
In a bespoke CRM, features such as follow-up emails can be baked in to improve customer relations, or even staff performance monitoring. With the right tools, you’ll find that managing clients is easier and that your customers are happy. Satisfied customers are ones that return, and most importantly, bring you additional orders.

Automation


Especially with the base SalesForce plan, certain integration features are locked, making it difficult to automate day-to-day tasks that your business performs. The interface required to access it is hidden behind higher tiered plans, which can vary from being four to thirteen times more expensive per user than the standard option.
The namesake feature of a bespoke CRM is that it is designed to significantly reduce the amount of data you need to input. Not only do you not have to pay additional recurring fees for this automation, but you also won’t be wasting your precious time that you could be spending growing your business.
So, what solution is right for you?

Conclusion

Of course, SalesForce does have its benefits: the tools you have to make sales are excellent and especially at this age, being able to integrate social media platforms can be an important feature for businesses. So if you only need a sales tool, then SalesForce may be right for you. However, if you want software that doesn’t just help your sales team and software that helps you in every aspect of your business, consider having a bespoke CRM made for you.
With a bespoke CRM, many shortfalls of SalesForce can be addressed. Furthermore, you won’t be locked in after its development, and updates are optional. A bespoke CRM, most importantly, is owned by you. You receive full rights to the software after it is finalized.
Make the right choice for your business and book a consultation with us today. It’s free, and no commitments are necessary.

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Selling Online

 

It’s no easy feat to get your business up and running online. There are a variety of solutions to pick from — from free solutions such as Magento, Opencart, WooCommerce and Prestashop to paid solutions such as Shopify or Amazon.

How do I sell online?

Picking a platform
For most brick and mortar businesses, they generally opt to move onto an established platform such as eBay or Amazon. While these platforms provide much needed traffic, they can charge fees that range anywhere from a few percent to up to 20%, which is why many times it is desirable to choose a self-hosted solution such as Magento.

eBay vs. Amazon for sellers
If you’re considering eBay or Amazon as your platform though, know that they have drastically different fee structures. While eBay is much cheaper to sell on, you are responsible for paying shipping fees and a 10% fee assessed on most items on the final value. Amazon however provides affordable and quick shipping costs that you pay for indirectly with the small flat fee you pay on each sale (unless you’re using the Pro plan) and a certain percentage on the item value.

Setting up on your platform
If you’re selling on a major platform like Amazon or eBay, there really isn’t much setup except for getting a PayPal account at most before you get to the next part.
If you’re using a free, self-hosted option, you’ll need a domain name, hosting and a well-supported theme. Alternatively, you may hire someone to create one for you to make your store stand out, but it can get costly to do this. Furthermore, you’ll need to configure miscellaneous settings that range from the site title to payment gateways. Don’t fret, Prestashop for example as well as other free platforms are generally well supported and have full documentation to their software.

Choosing what to sell
Once you decide on a solution and set everything up, you’ll need to decide what to put on the store. For example, you might opt to add items that you have a lot of stock for to also have some in store. If you’re selling products without a physical storefront, things don’t get much easier as you still need to find suppliers willing to produce your merchandise.

Deciding on carriers to ship your items
At this point, your online storefront is just starting and you might not ship very much just yet. It’s difficult to find a good balance between revenue and costs, especially when you’re dealing with shipping as pricing is never fixed and can potentially ruin your business. In the UK, one of the most affordable and reliable shipping options is the Royal Mail. It’s great for lower cost items that ship within the UK and abroad. However, if your inventory consists of high value items, you may opt for courier deliver via DHL, for example.

Advertising your business
After you add your products to your store and have everything ready, it’s time to get your store known. There are many ways to do this, ranging from social media to local advertisements. In today’s day and age, most businesses will benefit the most from social media advertising, specifically through Facebook and Instagram. They are terrific options as you’ve the ability to choose the demographic you’re targeting, and with Instagram (a photo-oriented social networking app), people can see your products in action which improves customer conversion.

Synchronizing stock levels between your store and website

One implication of running both a store and website is that you need to maintain inventory levels for both storefronts. If you’re using an inventory management solution within your store, we can help you get it integrated with your online store, whether you’re running it on Shopify or Opencart. If your business runs primarily on a paper-based inventory system, our team can help you migrate from your current system to one that is electronic and integrate that to your online store.

Costs associated with opening an online store

Depending on what you choose for your online storefront, you can expect to pay just a few dollars a month up to tens to hundreds or even thousands. Assuming you’ve stocked your inventory already, you need to pay for your domain name, hosting, advertising and/or software fees. In terms of platform fees, Shopify for example charges $29, $79 and $299 for their basic, general and advanced plans. If you choose to get the Pro plan on Amazon, you’ll need to pay £25 per month.

With advertising, you can expect to pay anywhere in the range of a hundred pounds when you’re starting out. However, the profit you make through these ads directly drives your business, so it’s usually worth investing into.

In terms of getting a domain name and hosting, you really only need this if you’re not using an established platform such as eBay. When you use Shopify, you’ll need a domain name and with other free software you’ll need both hosting and a domain name. Make sure you choose a reliable provider, though, as a low-quality hosting company can drastically affect your sales if it is slow or unreliable. As an established UK development and hosting company, we provide fully managed hosting services which means you won’t need to worry about downtime or performance should you choose to host your business with us. Alternatively, a reputable managed hosting provider can be a great choice for many users.

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Increase efficiency and lower costs on popular eCommerce platforms

 

Many online store owners wonder, “How on earth am I supposed to compete with Amazon?”
With their product selection and fast fulfillment times, it’s no wonder customers
are flocking to these eCommerce platforms.

Selling with Amazon and eBay

Since Amazon’s platform is so large, many shops opt to have products fulfilled by Amazon. However, the fees are undeniably high and can take away the profit you make on each item.

Lowering your seller fees is no easy feat, though. Amazon runs a complicated system where users are a flat fee per item as well as any associated category fees while eBay runs a percentage based system, taking anywhere from 8% to 15% of the item value.

Using Amazon, you can drop the £0.75 item selling fee by purchasing their £25.00 upgrade seller plan, which is great for larger stores on the platform. You may also opt to contact Amazon to purchase products directly from you, so they maintain inventory and you don’t lose any profit whatsoever, though this is a rather difficult process that will likely end in a rejection.

With eBay, opt to remove any of the additional “highlighting” features offered. A well written listing with professionally taken pictures will do wonders, compared to a bolded title, etc. You can save up to £3.00, so it’s definitely worth a look.

Alternatives to Amazon and eBay

While you can lower your seller fees with these popular eCommerce options, opening your own eCommerce store can be a great option to keeping more of your profit while also having greater control on customization. You might opt to have someone host your store for you, host it on our platform or perhaps run it yourself. Some options include Shopify, a cloud hosted shop platform and Magento, a free Adobe-owned eCommerce platform.

Costs for the software can range anywhere from the low, low cost of free up to hundreds of dollars, so be sure to weigh your options carefully. Shopify allows for easy dropshipping, while Magento’s most attractive feature is that it is free.

However, if you opt to use a self-hosted platform such as Magento or WooCommerce, it needs to be run on a server. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a cheap shared hosting plan though, as it will likely end up that you’re upsold to a virtual server or are suspended due to overuse of shared resources. As the old adage goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Automating accounting and finance management

Seeing your store grow and turn a profit is every shopkeeper’s aspiration. However, as you emerge as a retailer, you will eventually need to pay your staff and produce financial statements for tax purposes, especially in Europe, where value added taxes (VAT) are leveraged differently across member nations.

Whether you choose Xero or Sage, managing your accounts payable and receivable can be a nightmare, especially if you’re manually inputting client transactions. We can help you increase your business’s efficiency through the automatic posting of transactions, automated staff invoicing and more. Not only will this save you time, it can increase your business’s revenue as you can spend more time on what you love.

Increasing the productivity of your staff

A moderately sized business will usually have at least a few employees working to manage inventory, find suppliers, etc. Your team is the core of your business — it simply cannot run without them. Make their jobs easier with software — we can create something that manages stock, assigns work to staff and more. They’ll spend less time performing menial tasks and more time running your business, allowing it to flourish.

 

 

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Tablets for business: Time to get an iPad?

You may have heard the old joke – Steve Jobs was up late one night trying to think of a new product to appease investors. He sat at a table with several iPhones and eventually arranged nine of them into a rectangle, giving birth to the iPad.

Tablets in business: statistics

A surprising number of clients are telling us that they use tablets, and in particular iPads, in their business. In fact, Apple sold 11.4 million iPads in just the second quarter of 2017. As a result, their reach extends not only to businesses, but also to educators and consumers.

Just a decade ago, no IT professional would ever believe that tablets would ever control the market. With the introduction of the iPad, consumers and enterprise customers alike began transitioning, and for good reason. It features an advanced enterprise management system, making it perfect for all businesses due to its feature rich interface and restrictions system.

What we’ve done

We’ve worked with countless companies that wanted to reap the benefits of the Apple ecosystem. Take a look at Auto Car SOR, a dealership financing company that we’ve consulted for. We created an app that allowed them to increase efficiency and save resources by linking up their accounting, task management and document systems. Not only did this get recuperate lost time from manual data input, it also benefited from our bespoke development approach. Coupled with a modern interface and responsive support, they were pleasantly surprised as the system was implemented.

Another business that we’ve integrated the Apple ecosystem into is Capture Pod. They provide photography booth services to events. At an event, a customer was so impressed with their services that they wanted to leave a testimonial — something that they could not record at the time. We developed a bespoke testimonial app that stored video to the cloud and eventually was deployed in several stores in the United States. All of this was created to work on the iPad.

The benefits of having iOS devices in general deployed in your business environment is often times a benefit to productivity and efficiency. The management interface that is provided can prevent staff from trailing off, as well as keep the devices secure. With such a fantastic platform, it’s no wonder businesses love the iPad and it’s why we love it too.

Sources: MarketWatch – iPad sales in Q2 2017

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What it costs to develop an app

 

I am a hypocrite. When I speak to a designer, marketer or copywriter about a project, I can’t help but ask these three questions:

  1. What will it cost?
  2. How long will it take?
  3. What will the results look like, precisely?

Their businesses, just like ours, are project based, and the answers to all three depend on a lot of variables.

It’s because of these variables that we don’t normally publish prices or turnaround times on our website. Every project is different and, although we want to be open and transparent, it’s important to understand that minor details can have a large impact on a costs and turnaround times.

But really, what does it cost?

Our day rate is £490+VAT. This is extremely competitive by UK standards.

For a very basic app, for one platform (i.e. Android or iOS), a sensible minimum is about £3,000+VAT. Double that for both platforms. For a small app, most of the time goes into laying the foundation, so doubling the feature set doesn’t usually double the price.

Are Android apps cheaper than iOS apps? Are iOS apps cheaper than Android apps?

Generally, they are roughly on par. There are extra costs associated with buying the Apple hardware and licences needed to build, test and publish apps, but the smaller range of devices and interface designer makes up the difference.

How long does it take?

There are typically three phases for mobile apps:

  1. Design phase. We create a unique “look” for your app. This can take 2-4 weeks depending on complexity. To save time and costs, this stage can be omitted if there are no specific aesthetic requirements.
  2. Build/test phase. Minimum 2 weeks for a very basic app. No maximum!
  3. Publishing on the App Store / Play Store. It can take at least a week for Apple to approve your app and list it on the App Store, allowing people to download it. Google is generally a bit quicker.

I have a great idea. Can you build the app for free?

It’s shocking how often we’re asked this – especially about mobile apps. Sadly, ideas are easy; execution is difficult. We also need to keep the lights on, so no, we don’t work for ideas, equity, exposure or appreciation.

What about cross platform development (e.g. HTML5, ReactJS?)

We don’t do a lot of cross platform development. There are a few reasons for this. First, Apple and users generally dislike apps that do nothing more than a mobile-friendly website could. Second, most cross-platform development toolkits deliver a sub-par user experience (e.g. lag). Third, some more advanced functionality isn’t available at all, so it’s possible that an HTML5 app may need to be rewritten entirely later.

That said, we know HTML5, ReactJS and Java, and if you’re dead set on a cross platform app, do get in touch.

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Coherent supports the Django REST Framework

 

Django is the gold standard for creating web applications in Python. The Django REST Framework (DRF) is the gold standard for creating RESTful API-driven applications in Django.

DRF has been a key building block to ensure the quality of our bespoke Django development for over two years. It has:

  • Provided new developers in our team with a wealth of documentation and examples,
  • Made it easy to test our applications and contributed to our test-driven development (TDD) approach,
  • Helped to define a coherent structure for our API-driven applications.

We are therefore very, very proud to employ DRF in our stack.

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Think before registering a “new gTLD” domain

TLD stands for Top Level Domain. It’s the last part of a domain name – for example “.com”. The “g” stands for global which just means it’s not tied to a particular country.

About a year ago, there were just a few gTLDs and everyone wanted a .com for their business, their brand or their own name. .com was thought to be the most credible option since it stands for “company”.

The web has been around a long time, though, and good .com’s are in short supply. If you’ve ever had a great idea for a business name or a product name only to find that the .com is taken and isn’t being used for anything in particular, you’re not alone. Because they’re cheap to register and keep, and potentially very valuable, some people have made a very tidy living from hoarding good names and selling them at very inflated prices.

To try to solve this problem, about a year ago, a lot more TLDs arrived. Coffee shops can get a .coffee, clubs can get a .club, accountants can get a .accountant and so on. We very quickly went from a small number of TLDs to a huge catalogue.

For a lot of brands and businesses, it means that you can finally get the name that you actually want.

But it isn’t quite that simple.

Each gTLD, new and old, is maintained by a company. That company leases names on gTLDs they own, to wholesalers (“registrars”) who sub-lease it to you. The older gTLDs are generally provided by Verisign, an American company that has been doing this since around 1985. Over the last 32 years, they’ve not changed much. Their prices have increased roughly in line with inflation and there hasn’t been any notable foul play.

The new gTLDs are owned by a range of other companies. The best known is Uniregistry. There isn’t any evidence of foul play from Uniregistry either – but they don’t have the decades of stability that Verisign has.

Because of the regulations governing TLDs, instead of giving notice to increase their prices, Uniregistry have set fairly high prices for many of their extensions and have discounted them initially to gauge demand. This means that they can effectively increase the price of domains at the top of a hat if demand isn’t what they had expected. This has already happened to some of the extensions, including .guitar and .hosting.

In conclusion, you don’t get any more or any less guarantees buying a “new gTLD” relative to a traditional one. You do get more uncertainty, though.

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How we use automation in our workflow

Bureaucracy isn’t just the domain of large corporates. Even as a young, hip software development company, we have it. In this post, I want to describe how we use automation and bespoke software in our own workflow.

Systems we use

We use several off the shelf systems:

  • Xero for accounting,
  • GitHub is a key part of our software development workflow,
  • Harvest to fill some of the gaps in Xero,
  • Dial9 for our phone system,
  • Matomo for website analytics,
  • Kayako (legacy) as a support desk / shared inbox.

Harvest integrates nicely with Xero (which is why we use it) but apart from that, there’s little integration between our systems.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter much. Integrating our phone system with our accounting system wouldn’t help much. We had a few challenges, though.

Challenges

  1. “He said, she said”
    Most of our customers are an absolute pleasure to work with (thanks!) but every so often, we had to trawl through emails and phone call logs to find out if we’d made a mistake or if a customer was trying to pull a fast one. It was sometimes so time consuming that we would just assume that we made a mistake even if it meant the company made a loss on a project.By integrating with our phone system, we can quickly find out who spoke to whom, when, and what was said (i.e. the recording) on a timeline simply by clicking on a customer’s name. The timeline also has emails and meeting notes, and everything is searchable. A very detailed audit trail isn’t for everyone but for us, it occasionally saves a lot of time in “he said, she said” scenarios.
  2. Keeping data in sync
    Xero has a list of our customers, invoices and payments. Harvest has a similar list. Dial9 and Kayako have address books that, if they’re accurate, make it easy to know who’s who. By keeping our Dial9 address book up to date, we can see the caller’s name on all of our phones. Because the right person can pick up the phone, we rarely have to transfer calls.By integrating Harvest and Dial9, our phone system’s address book is always up to date. Every time we take on a new customer, their name pops up on our phones when they call without us having to fiddle with the phones or Dial9’s address book.
  3. A single pane of glass
    We’re a small company and mitigating the risks that small companies face (such as cash flow) and making sure that we’re doing the right things to grow our company (such as making sure our marketing budget is well spent) are hugely important. We track loads of KPIs from search engine ranks, to Adwords clicks, to the number of customers with whom we work in a given month, to our website’s traffic, to aged debtors, to projects that are likely overrun and so on.All of our KPIs are always up to date and visible on one page. Really. It wasn’t hard, either. All of our systems had the data we needed inside them but, because every company’s approach to reporting is unique, the data we needed in the format we wanted it in took some time to get to. Now it doesn’t.
  4. That feature we needed
    One of the big drawbacks of off the shelf software is that if there’s something you want it to do, that it doesn’t do (say, because most of their customers don’t need it), it can feel like you’re paying for something that doesn’t fit or that you’re tied in to it.For us, the feature was retainers. A lot of our work is on retainer – if customers commit to a certain volume of work, it gives us the stability we need to grow our company and in return, we can get things done more quickly and be more flexible. Harvest’s concept of retainers didn’t fit out own so we decided to layer bespoke software on top of Harvest to use Harvest’s invoicing, time tracking and project functionality but keep a separate log of retainers.
    5. Correlating data
    One of the greatest advantages of connecting systems is that you can see data from different systems on the same table or the same graph. We correlate our marketing spend with our website traffic and our monthly revenue which allows us to quickly see how well our marketing is performing.

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Why understanding the GDPR can’t wait

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is all over the news. Whilst the deadline of the 25th of May 2018 for UK businesses to be compliant might seem like a long way away, many businesses will have to make substantial changes before then to avoid hefty penalties. It is hard to overstate the differences between the already complex and important Data Protection Act (DPA) and the GDPR and the impact it will have on businesses and consumers.

Who does it apply to?

The GDPR will have an impact on every business and consumer with any EU presence. It “upgrades” the protections enshrined in law by the DPA for today’s digital world, thereby offering more protection to consumers and placing more responsibilities on businesses.

What about Brexit?

The Government has, with unusual (!) clarity, stated that the changes in the GDPR will continue to apply after Brexit.

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How bespoke software can improve your workflow

What is it?

Bespoke software is a very broad descriptor that encompasses a large range of products. Essentially, it is any custom built piece of programming featuring sets of instructions, which enables specific tasks to be carried out automatically.

For example, consider a used-car dealership. To keep up with today’s market, at the very least the dealership will need to have a well designed website listing all available vehicles and details. Now imagine a customer visiting this website. What will make them more likely to get in touch? Some applications we might include in our software are:

  • The ability to filter available vehicles according to the customers needs
  • An online booking system where customers choose a viewing time that fits your diary online.
  • A live chat option, where customers can speak directly to your team while browsing the site.

It is a fairly common and easy job for us to develop websites with this functionality. But there are many more advanced operations we can incorporate.

Market research and advertising

  • We can develop personalised systems that track things like how the customer reached your site, what pages they spent longest on etc. and produce statistics, graphs and diagrams analysing this information, so you know where to focus your advertising.
  • We can create a system that modifies your listed prices according to the length of time an item has been available and how frequently it is viewed.
  • When a customer books a viewing we can store their name, contact details, budget, vehicle preferences and payment method for future use.
  • We can automate advertising, so that emails advertising specific types of vehicles/services are sent to the relevant customers at pre-programmed times.

Billing and accounting

  • Whether you want to integrate a current system or develop one from scratch, we can make it so that the data you have collected when arranging viewings is automatically entered into your billing software.
  • You may also want to consider incorporating an accounting system, so that billing transactions are automatically added to your accounts when a purchase is made through the billing system.
  • We can customise accounting systems to synchronise regularly with business bank account statements.
  • When a sale is made we can develop software that automatically updates the inventory on your website, removing the sold item from your listings.

Server management and security

  • We are experts at managing servers, ensuring they are capable of running web applications reliably.
  • We can organise automated backups so that your website and data can be recovered in case of hardware failures or infection.

Essentially, what develop automated systems and integrate all these processes so you don’t have waste time re-entering data, or performing long-winded menial tasks like manually inputting every transaction into your accounts. You have all the information you need at the click of a button.

We believe that almost all businesses can save substantial labour time by automating processes like those mentioned. This saves you from spending money on additional administrative staff, and frees you up to focus on your areas of expertise and passion.

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