Asana: is it right for your start-up?

As your company grows, you’ll have ever more tasks, projects and actions on your to-do list. Yet, one recent survey found that 46% of business owners are still managing projects and tasks via email, paper lists, endless meetings and confusing spreadsheets. This approach means it’s way more likely that delays occur, tasks are forgotten, and details slip through the cracks. This is where Asana is perfect for your start up.

In the past, the only specialized project management software available would have been heavy, complex and expensive products like Microsoft Project. Fortunately, the recent explosion of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms means entrepreneurs can use low-cost, cloud-based productivity tools to manage tasks for themselves and their employees.

Asana was launched in Beta in 2011 by two ex-Facebook employees, and is now used by over 20,000 paying customers, making it one of the leading tools in the SaaS project management market. So, is Asana right for your small business?

What is Asana?

Asana is a cloud-based platform where you and your employees can manage and delegate projects and tasks.

At the most basic level, Asana lets you create a list of projects for yourself and your employees. Each project has a project owner who can then delegate individual sub tasks to team members. Once one employee’s task is complete, they can tick it off, then pass work onto the next employee in the project. In addition to dishing out tasks, Asana allows you to add comments to a specific task within the project, so that employee can find out any extra information about their task.

This set up makes Asana highly flexible. In theory, it could be used by teams of almost any size, and who work on almost any kind of project. Whether you’re designing software, creating marketing content or employing new staff, a project with its subtasks could be designed in Asana to fit around your needs.

It also comes with decent mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Asana pricing

There is a free, basic version of Asana which allows up to 15 users. Above this, it goes up to $119.88 per user when billed annually (or $11.99 per user when billed monthly).

What is Asana like to use?

I’ve been using Asana on and off for a few years now, and in my experience, it’s a solid, reliable and easy to use tool – I couldn’t imagine working in a team without it.

Here are my pros and cons of Asana:
Pros of Asana

  • The interface is simple and easy to understand. Every morning, you can review your task list for the day, and you check off your work and see your progress. It saves a lot of back and forth and hunting through emails for tasks your colleagues have asked you to complete, meaning you’re less likely to forget jobs.
  • It’s easy to add new projects – either a one-off for myself, or which I would need to collaborate on with colleagues.
  • There’s also a lot of visibility built into the product – I can easily see what my colleagues and team members are doing, meaning that if they’re maxed out, I know not to hand them any more work
  • In terms of customizability, there is some space for your personality. You can change the view from your task list to your monthly calendar, and can also change the background and theme. Oh, and occasionally there are cutesy unicorns who whizz across the screen when you complete a task (but you can turn that off if it’s not your thing).

Cons of Asana

  • Some parts of Asana are a little buggy, such as the strange scrolling that happens when you open a task in the calendar view. It’s hardly a killer, yet these bugs can make for minor irritation
  • While Asana is reasonably easy to get used to, it does take a little learning curve, and new users often make mistakes which can mean essential tasks don’t get done
  • I have sometimes notices that when using Asana, people can forget the bigger picture. They become so used to just receiving their personal tasks, which they then tick off as complete, meaning they don’t take responsibility for the wider project
  • While Asana is often billed as a project management tool, this isn’t really what the product is about – you don’t get Gantt charts or any of the traditional features you’d expect of PM software
  • It doesn’t have native time tracking, so if you bill by the hour, this might be a drawback

Should your start-up use Asana?

Asana is great for dishing out tasks in organizations which have quite a lot of process-based work, where within projects there are a number of sub-tasks carried out by individuals. It’s perfect for flexible startups which will have a lot of small tasks. It also feels like a great tool for companies with a creative side to what they do, but it’s not going to really do the trick for a sales-led business or companies with lots of front line workers, for instance.

Asana is great if: you are a start-up which has several ongoing projects and clients, and enough employees to make it worthwhile having a task delegation tool.

Asana is not so great if: you are in the business of running larger projects which need resource allocation, regular reporting and so on; Asana just won’t offer the power and control you need.

Asana is one of a wave of relatively new SaaS project management tools aimed squarely at helping small businesses allocate work more effectively, save time and boost productivity. It’s cheap, easy to use and flexible, and so there’s no surprise it’s hugely popular among entrepreneurs. So, if you’re part of the nearly 46% of small businesses who still manage all their projects manually, Asana could definitely play a big role in helping you automate task allocation and boost productivity.

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New survey reveals marketing managers turning to freelancers more than ever

Good news for freelancers with digital marketing skills. A new survey from the freelancing platform Upwork found that marketers are increasingly looking for freelancers with specialized skills to fill gaps in their own teams.

The study, released at the end of November, asked 1,000 US marketing bosses and hiring managers about the roles they find hard to fill. Among the most in-demand abilities were inbound marketing, demand generation and social media know-how. According to UpWork, hunger for these kinds of skills has grown more than 150 percent year on year.

What’s driving the demand? UpWork’s SVP for Marketing, Rich Pearson, puts it down to a mix of factors.

First, digital transformation has shaken up the industry, meaning many marketers are constantly in need of new skills to produce the kind of marketing that their audiences want.

At the same time, Mr Pearson explains that freelancers offer a more flexible alternative to the traditional route of using a fully-fledged agency:

“agencies have long been the primary solution to help fill these skills gaps, but with the increased availability of freelance talent, marketers have a new, more cost-effective option for getting work done.”

This change is profound. According to the survey, a full 58% of marketing departments across all sectors use freelancers in some capacity, and almost three quarters say that companies who fail to adapt to this evolution will face competitive disadvantage.

Perhaps most significantly, 92% of marketing managers and hiring teams report that without being able to find a freelancer, they would be forced to delay, cancel or extend their projects.

What does this mean for freelancers, then? On one hand, the data indicates there’s a lot of work out there – they will just need to go find it. On the other hand, it also shows that the demand is for freelancers with ever more niche skills. Knowing the basics of SEO simply won’t cut it in today’s market – in-house clients expect a lot more.

The skills that freelance marketing experts will need to win business and stand out are becoming ever more diverse. Indeed, a different study released by UpWork earlier in November singled out Salesforce services and HubSpot marketing as some of the fastest growing skills for freelancers in Q3 2017, as well as Instagram marketing and Final Cut Pro X.

So, there’s no time for freelance marketers to sit on their laurels just yet.

Does the GDPR affect your online business?

On 25th May 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect. It’s a wide-ranging privacy law, and comes with maximum fines for non-compliance of up to €20 million or 4% of annual turnover.

The new legislation is primarily aimed at keeping big businesses in check, reigning in their ability to collect data on millions of people without their consent. It’s also about giving power back to consumers.

But if you’re a small business, don’t just assume you won’t be affected – even if you’re not based in the EU. While it’s true that European countries will be most impacted, the GDPR covers any company that collects personal information about citizens of EU countries.

So, even businesses and freelance consultants in North America could be affected if they collect certain kinds of information.

Say you live in Canada but provide life mentoring services to clients around the world, including customers in Ireland. If you were to record any of those conversations with your Irish clients, or even take notes about them, you may well be affected by the law.

What Does The GDPR Cover?

If you collect personal data on EU citizens, you need to take some extra steps when it comes to the way you manage that information. ‘Personal data’ can mean a lot of things:

  • Name, address, date of birth
  • Gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity
  • Email address
  • IP address
  • Geolocation
  • More here

Many small businesses might be collecting more of this data than they are aware of. All the information you receive from your customers that you write down or otherwise record – their bank details, information about their jobs or partners, their name and email – all count as personal data.

The regulation takes a softer approach to small businesses, so you’re less likely to be scrutinized. All the same, your business will be affected if:

  • You regularly process personal data
  • Fail to report a data breach where personal data was stolen or exploited within 72 hours of the breach
  • You omit to provide information to customers about what you will do with their data
  • Refuse to hand over data you hold on a customer when they request to see it (a ‘subject access request’)
  • Refuse to delete data you hold on a client when asked to (AKA the ‘right to be forgotten’)

How you can get GDPR-ready

Here are some simple steps small businesses can take to become GDPR-ready:

  • Review how you store client information – make sure it’s in a secure, password-protected environment like Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint, or even a folder on your computer
  • Write up a policy document which you share with clients explaining what you do with their data. There are many GDPR-ready templates available online to download
  • Share a similar document with your employees
  • Delete any data you hold on customers that you don’t really need

Being GDPR compliant will involve a little work now, but will improve customer trust in the long run, and will also give you confidence that you’re not in violation of any laws.