Robin Harris is a small business marketing consultant who draws on the project management skills she honed in the corporate world to help small business owners and entrepreneurs get more done in their day-to-day. In this episode, she explains why effective project management is especially important for small business owners, and talks about the challenges of the project management process and how to overcome them.
Learn more about Robin’s work at 3Hellos.com and The-SEO.Company.
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Chris Davis: 00:24 Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I’m your host Chris Davis. On this episode I have Robin Harris, and she is the founder of NHI Tech Café and Training. And what Robin brings to the small business and entrepreneurial space is many years of corporate experience in IT project management, and she also has a master’s in education with a specialization in instructional design. Now this podcast is gonna focus on the project management piece of her expertise, the arm of her business. Because I’ve found that that is one of the most often overlooked areas, and important areas however for your business. But what Robin’s gonna do is talk about the corporate experience and things that worked really well, and how she takes those things and translates them over to the small business and entrepreneurial space to help folks get more projects done, and get more successful launches. If you’re in that community, that group of people that are like, “Yes, I wanna launch more, I wanna get more done. In fact I wanna stop doing so much in my business and do more of these new launches that will help transform my business,” this is the podcast for you, so listen and enjoy.
Robin, welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad to have you on. How are you doing?
Robin Harris: 01:50 I’m doing wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful. It’s a great day in Georgia, the sun is shining fortunately.
Chris Davis: 01:57 Great.
Robin Harris: 01:58 So much rain, it’s crazy.
Chris Davis: 02:00 Yeah, I think it’s been happening everywhere, and it’s always … it seems like it doesn’t matter how hot or cold it is, the sun is always welcome. Just across the globe it’s always good to see the sun.
So Robin, give our listeners a little insight on your background and your business.
Robin Harris: 02:21 Okay. So I come out of corporate fortune 500 area, I started my career in IT back in the 80s. I know I’m dating myself. With a BA in computer science. I just love technology. I do it at work and when I would get off work I would come home and do more. So I just love that industry, I’ve worked in the IT compliance area which is the not so sexy part of it that has to do with making sure that people’s data is safe and making sure company’s don’t get breached and all this other kind of stuff. That’s the not sexy part, but it’s important. I left corporate IT last year, and I had been focused strictly on working with small businesses and entrepreneurs who need assistance with marketing and also taking offline businesses online. They’re experts, they know their stuff, they gotta a proven track record, and they’re ready to put their content online, create some passive income and actually set themselves up for duplicating themselves for retiring.
Chris Davis: 03:42 Yeah. And what I like about your approach to it, is that you’ve got such an interesting background. You’ve got some IT in there, you’ve got some project management, you’ve got a master’s in education. Specializing in instructional design. So there are a lot of skills that you bring to your audience in helping that transition. And one that I wanted to talk about on this podcast and give our listeners some insight on, because when I look at the small business team structure, a lot of people are still trying to figure out what does that lean team look like. Who do I need to hire when I need to grow or I need to get stuff done? And one of those positions that’s often overlooked is the project manager. So could you give a little insight on exactly what the role or … I shouldn’t say the role of a project manager, more so what are some of the things that you handle when you’re managing the project of taking someone who’s offline and coming online?
Robin Harris: 04:49 Well, one of the things is when people are coming from an environment where they don’t know … where they’re coming into an environment where they don’t know, they often feel overwhelmed and that stops them from moving forward, or they’re focusing on the wrong thing. So the first thing we lay out is we lay out a plan. In corporate America, nothing is done without a plan. Nothing is done without a project. If it’s important, it has to be managed through a project. And I think the small business and the entrepreneur needs to have that same philosophy. If it’s important, it needs to be managed through a project. So we lay everything out and we make it very modular and very piece by piece. And people have a misconception that they need to know everything. From the time they start. And that’s just not how projects go. We never know everything. We know the first couple of things and we have an idea. We know what target we’re going for, but we don’t have the whole picture, and that’s okay. That’s how projects run.
So that takes that need to know everything, need to micromanage everything, that takes that off the table and that makes things real simple ’cause we focus on what’s in front of us. This needs to be done first, then we do this, then we focus on this, and while we focus on this we need to also focus on this little thing over here because they need to be done simultaneously. We map it all out, and then when my clients see it they’re like, “Oh, this isn’t that bad, this is … I don’t know why I thought it was so daunting or so huge,” it’s like, because you’re trying to eat the elephant in one bite, you know?
Chris Davis: 06:35 Yeah, and like you said it’s the technology that introduces that overwhelm. So, when they are overwhelmed like that and they don’t have someone to really manage that project … and by managing the project I mean just like you said, break it down into modular pieces where they’re like, “Okay,” because it’s not just the pieces, it’s the sequence as well, right? So what I’ve found the biggest value, specifically with the project manager, is being that layer between the CEO and the actual implementers in the business. The project manager becomes extremely important because they’re the ones that the communication goes through in both of those layers and ensure that things move forward efficiently. So what are some of the challenges that you face in that process? Is it just getting them to commit to the timeline or the broken down project pieces, or what are you seeing as kind of one of the challenges that you’re facing?
Robin Harris: 07:39 Well, in corporate there’s one set of problems, but in working with small business and entrepreneurs my biggest challenge is, entrepreneurs and small businesses where the owner is so busy working in the business, they don’t have time to work on the business. So they are like trying to talk to me, they’re driving. I’m like, “you need to be in front of a computer so I can show you something.” You know? So getting them to commit to time, I have an ideal client, she’s an amazing massage therapist and she has a yoga studio. And she’s got courses that she’s putting online ’cause she wants to do CE training for massage therapists and coaching online. She actually pulled herself out of her business two days a week. So that she can work on … This is her million dollar business. This is what she can scale. She can’t scale massage therapy. She’s wonderful, but she’s only one person. And her partner’s on, so you got two people and then they have employees. But you can’t really scale that, she’s not looking for a franchise. So she pulled herself out like, I’m gonna set aside so many hours on Monday and Friday, matter of fact I’m meeting with her today and I’m going to work on the next aspect of my business.
So that’s my biggest challenge in, because when we do projects, it’s a little different because I can’t do everything for the client. The client has to come to the table and be fully engaged. I might do some of the background and some of the technical heavy lifting, but I always need their input. So they have homework. It’s like, “by next week I need you to go through these search keywords and group them into topics that you think resonate and tie back to your content so that we can organize this stuff for your course and for your marketing.” So if I come back to the table with her today and she doesn’t have that done, that throws everything off.
Chris Davis: 09:52 Yeah, and what I like about what you’re saying, I mean you said this earlier in where corporate’s approach is everything is a project. And now, what I’m seeing Robin is that … and I often talk about the barrier of entry for the entrepreneur. Everyday as technology advances that barrier gets lower and lower and lower, which is a good thing because we’ve got more people encouraged to start a business, but on the flip side is that there’s no regulation. So you can start a business with no qualification of knowing anything about business, or marketing, and as soon as something starts working it has a dynamic exactly like you said. You’re busy in the business. And there’s never going to be the right time, enough time, or the perfect time to stop working in your business and step back. It has to be a commitment. Like the client you’re talking about, she realized, “you know what, I’m not going to be able to continue at this rate, so I’m gonna have to do something different. That something different is going to require time of mine that I’m gonna have to take away from what’s making me money now for a more stable and manageable future.”
Robin Harris: 11:13 Yep.
Chris Davis: 11:15 It’s a tough decision, and I’m glad we’re talking about it. And I think that honestly when you talk about scaling a business, this is one of those areas where people often overlook. It’s like, “Okay, I wanna scale,” and they go immediately to technology. And what I like about you is before they dive into the tech you’re like, “Whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute. This is a project.”
Robin Harris: 11:37 Yes.
Chris Davis: 11:39 Hold on.
Robin Harris: 11:41 We gotta plan this, we gotta have, we’ve got to know what you’re resources are in terms of time and budget, and we have to slow down. I’ve been working with this client for, since last year, and we’re not expecting to launch her first course until early next year. We had to slow it down, because she does have a business to run. She does still have to keep the bills paid, she’s got to keep the lights on, she’s still gotta be present in her business. So we had to slow everything down. And that’s okay.
Chris Davis: 12:15 Yeah, that’s good. Give us a little bit, let’s put a magnifying glass a little bit on your process in managing the project starting with the software. Is there a particular project management tool that you’re like, “I cannot run my business without this.”
Robin Harris: 12:33 Oh my gosh. This is funny. I hate Microsoft Project, let me just say that. So as soon as I left corporate, I’m never gonna use that tool again. It’s not, you know … I’m an online girl. And I like applications, and I wanted to also have a mobile version. I want the mobile version to do almost as much as the desktop version, so I’ve gone through about five different … I kid you not, every two weeks my husband is like, we do projects at home, and so I’ll do a project list for him and assign things to him for stuff he’s doing. He’s like, “Okay, this is a different software than we were working in two weeks ago.” I’m still looking. So right now, what I found and what seems to be working very well is something called MeisterTask. MeisterTask. It has a desktop version, it has an app version. IOS and Android.
And the pricing, the other thing is the pricing, because I don’t wanna pay per person to have my client, it’s just, that can get very expensive. Especially if you have larger teams. So I pay for a monthly fee, it’s like eight dollars, it’s 8.50 if you get it through the desktop. If you go through iTunes or the App store it’s more. So go online and they let you do a free trial, and then if you go to one of their little events they’ll actually give you a coupon for 30% off. So I’m paying like seven dollars a month, and my client can get the free version and get everything she needs. It does messaging, it does … where I can move things from, in the planning mode, to in progress, to complete, or I can do workflows. Where we can attach things, it can integrate with Dropbox and Google Docs and all this other kinda stuff.
So another one that I like but it’s on a per person basis which I don’t like is Trello, but I also like Trello.
Chris Davis: 14:55 Okay.
Robin Harris: 14:55 But Trello is sort of like project management lite. So I would say the master task is a better software and especially for me, my clients can come in for free and get whatever they need, and they can see the project plan and they can see what’s assigned, and they get notified about due dates, and when they complete something I get notified. And if they have questions they can message me and it pops up. So I like that.
Chris Davis: 15:28 Yeah, yeah. That’s nice. Now what are you using in terms of communication? I know a lot of project managers still use email, by the way, drives me crazy. I hate, absolutely hate managing a project through email. It is one of the things where it’s just like … It takes me back to the corporate world. Because that’s how projects were managed there, because nobody really used the project management software the right way, so it was always these email strings. What are you using for communication in your projects?
Robin Harris: 16:02 Actually master task, MeisterTask has like a messaging feature. So, you know my client put in a comment and it pops up on my screen and I see it. It pops up in, I can see oh, I’ve got one message waiting for me. And depending on how you do your notifications, that’s working well. Because if I add something and change the date, it’s gonna notify her. She has some questions or she’s like, “I did this but I’m not sure about it,” she just put that comment in and I got it. I was like, “Oh, okay.” So then I message so, that seems to be working. That keeps us out of the email and then I can also just go back and look at the threads of our conversations and different things like that. So that seems to be working.
Chris Davis: 16:53 Great, great. Another project management question. I’ve got ton of project management questions, but what about Gantt charts? Where do you find Gantt charts kind of reside in … I know they’re, in corporate you saw them a lot. Do you find yourself using visual timeline type software, do you find that being helpful for the entrepreneurs and small businesses?
Robin Harris: 17:23 No. Honestly and truly, we did them in corporate and then nobody looked at them. You do a lot of things in corporate, you know you do this formal project plan and it’s like 10, 15 pages and then it’s got Gantt charts and resource allocations and everything, and nobody would look at it. Then you had to send people emails to say, “Hey did you see, you were supposed to do x by this date, ’cause it’s not gonna tell you. It’s telling me something’s past due, it’s not telling them it’s past due.” I live off my calendar, so the tool, I think this tool has a calendar where you can see things in the calendar view. But I live off my calendar. That says, oh, let me see, I’m trying to see how this thing works. I’m looking at it right now.
Chris Davis: 18:22 And while you look at it, what I’m realizing, Robin, is that that software is inefficient in the corporate world. But it’s just kind of like, this is how we do business. And efficiency matters to the small business. Like, efficiency is everything, and the reason why I wanted to do this project and highlight project manage … the project management role in your business, is because that, a lot of what people were relying on software to do, the little bit that it was doing efficiently, now small businesses can have a project manager that does that efficiently as well as use tools to ensure that, like you said, everybody is synced up easily and we’re not just doing things and having these charts, and having this stuff for the sake of having them. In your mind, your expertise, you’re able to really make sure that there is no waste.
Robin Harris: 19:20 Right. And you also, you wanna be … you wanna be able to go seamlessly from your desktop to your mobile device. You know, I’m, right now I’m talking to you, I’m on my iPad Pro. And my iPhone, and my client has an Android. We wanna have our tools at hands, we don’t wanna have to wait til we get back to the office to get back on the desk to check what’s due or anything like that. So that mobility, that’s important too.
Chris Davis: 20:00 Great. Great. Yeah, this is, wow, Robin I’m just thinking I have this vision of your client. Someone who has this desire, and I know there’s so many small businesses out there right now, hopefully listening so they can be encouraged, but, that have an idea of what they could be doing in their business. I find it more frequently than ever, people are operating their business and when you sit and say, “Hey, so how’s that working for you?” Right, like outside of just looking busy, and they will have a laundry list of things that they wish they didn’t have to do, and then they’ll even have some aspirational. Like, you know, I just wish I could do this, this and that. And to sit and hear you talk about how you’re managing that process, it’s so key. I just wish that everybody could just have that wherewithal to step back from their business and really focus on that next thing that could remove them from their business and talk through a plan.
When they’re talking through the plan, like, you’re … I’d imagine you’re having an upfront meeting with them and you’re outlining the project, what does that look like? On your end, are you using a whiteboard, are you using collaborative tools online where they can see what you’re writing, are you just writing it down in a notepad and digitizing it later? What’s your process to getting the project out of their mind?
Robin Harris: 21:27 Oh, no. We’re on Zoom and we’re screen sharing. And we’re talking, so there’s a part of the project where I’m gathering requirements. So this is back to my days of being a programmer analyst, where I’ve got to get the business requirements. Just sitting, talking, I get really familiar with their business, with their goals, what they want, what they’ve tried, where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, what they’re bringing to the table, what their expertise is. And I will actually start crafting a framework for the project, and then when we meet again we’re both looking at it and we’re gonna start fleshing it out.
Chris Davis: 22:24 Okay. And when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at it in MeisterTask, or …
Robin Harris: 22:29 Yes. We’re looking at the desktop version of MeisterTask and we’re on Zoom. And they’re looking at the same thing I’m looking at.
Chris Davis: 22:38 Great, great. I mean it’s, this is … The time is here, everybody, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Virtual teams are here to stay. I mean the idea, can you imagine just six, seven years ago having this conversation? Saying, you know, like you’re outlining a project virtually in a different state from somebody and coming into their business and using all of these online tools?
Robin Harris: 23:11 Well, interestingly enough, in my corporate job I’ve worked from home for over 10 years.
Chris Davis: 23:16 Is that right?
Robin Harris: 23:16 Because my team, I was in Michigan, my team, part of the team was in New Jersey, some of them were overseas, some of them were in like, Missouri, some of them were in California. Now meetings, that could be fun when you’re trying to schedule meetings with India. It’s like, okay, somebody’s gonna be up late or up early. Who’s turn is it? But I lived my corporate life from a home office with meetings. Conference and video, with whiteboards, virtual whiteboards and that type of thing. When you have a global team, that’s the only way you can do it. Now interesting, my client, she’s in Georgia. Another client is in [inaudible 00:24:10]. She’s in Georgia, but the traffic, oh my gosh. I’m like, I’m not driving all the way out there, and you don’t wanna drive out here. Let’s get on Zoom. It’s just the logistics of traffic, and if your time is important the last thing you wanna do is spend an hour and a half in a car one way for a 40-minute meeting.
Chris Davis: 24:36 Right, absolutely. No that’s interesting, I mean I often find parallels or connections with people’s past to what they’re doing now, and you working remotely in the corporate world, I mean what better preparation for what you’re doing now than that?
Robin Harris: 24:56 Right, right.
Chris Davis: 24:57 Wow, wow. Well, Robin, I wanna thank you so much for coming onto the podcast and sharing your knowledge. Where can people connect with you and find out more about your business?
Robin Harris: 25:10 Okay, I’m gonna give you two websites. 3hellos. That’s the number three, hellos, dot com. That’s my main site that just talks about marketing in general. And then the second one that gets into more of my strategic approach is the-seo.company. And that’s where I’m focusing on helping clients build organic traffic, content, content marketing, really building themselves up as an authority in their industry by creating amazing and engaging content and then getting organic traffic to that content.
Chris Davis: 26:02 Great. Because these are, once that project is done … it immediately becomes important, because you’ve gotta have eyes on this beautiful thing that just got completed.
Robin Harris: 26:18 Actually we pulled it up into the process a little earlier, because you don’t wanna wait until your project is done and then you, like, now you need to spend three months figuring out how to market it. We need to do that sooner rather than later. And that becomes part of the project.
Chris Davis: 26:34 Great, great. Well I’ll have both of those links in the show notes. Robin, again, thank you for coming on, taking the time to share your expertise with our audience, it’s greatly appreciated.
Robin Harris: 26:47 Thank you for having me.
Chris Davis: 26:48 Alright, now see you online.
Robin Harris: 26:50 Alright, bye bye.
Chris Davis: 26:53 Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the ActiveCampaign podcast. I hope it was helpful in understanding not just the importance but the process of managing projects when it comes to scale. There is no scale that can take place of any magnitude without a plan. And a plan is executed by putting that plan into a project, setting milestones, and ensuring that things get done effectively and efficiently. I am a huge proponent of project managers, in fact as Robin was talking I was making notes myself of the software that she was using, because I had not heard of that one. So hopefully the value that you got from this project is something that you can take and implement immediately.
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