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Kelly Grace, Author at Volano Solutions

The Latest from Volano

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Off and Running

2015 is off to a great start for Volano and there was no better way to kick off the year than to be recognized by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce for small business of the month. We are actively looking for software developers, client support people and marketing help. Despite the pace, our dedication to playing darts, enjoying the occasional drink and making each other laugh have not been deterred.

Takeaways from our Q4 Meeting

Volano’s custom software business and mobile app development  are off to a fast start in 2015 and we thought it would be good to jot down some accomplishments from the end of 2014. From a sales standpoint, November was our biggest month, December was our 2nd and October was our 3rd. The last quarter of 2014 was delightfully frenetic and set a new standard for us in the quality of work we did within deadline.

November saw Volano relocate to the Mastercraft building where our developers can continue to collaborate in a more open space. We made headway with Action Card, our mobile field compliance app, adding clients across the country and in Canada from the franchise and wireless retail industries and got some nice press in the Midlands Business Journal and Omaha World Herald for the work and our collaboration with Omaha Code School. The Volano Christmas party in downtown Omaha’s Old Market district was a blast and featured Kevin Harvey’s infamous track suit, a mash-up of RUN D.M.C. and Pauly Walnuts from The Sopranos.

Action Card 2.4 in Testing

Volano Solutions is excited to release Action Card 2.4, the latest version of our mobile site review app. Action Card 2.4 will feature some high demand updates including a customizable reporting tool called “Data Sheet” and the ability to create a third administrative tier. The data sheet will give our clients the ability to build and save their own report queries as well as the ability to export their Action Card review data into excel. The third administrative tier will be helpful for our clients who have Regional and District Managers in charge of location standards compliance. When Action Card 2.4 goes live, they will be able to further segregate location assignment so that Regional Managers can view their Districts’ field activities and District Managers will see their assigned locations. This will simplify home screens and allow users to focus on the locations to which they are responsible.

Datasheet

Datasheet

 

 

Admins, Regions, Districts and Locations

Admins, Regions, Districts and Locations

Should You Buy a Franchise?

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Analyzing Franchise Opportunities

Volano Solution’s most recent Saas application, Action Card, has a growing client base in the franchise market. Thought we provide the best consultation around software as a competitive advantage, our work with franchise companies and our experience in that industry naturally puts us into that thought-sphere.

I worked with a lot of people who were interested in buying and owning a franchise during my days at 1-800-Radiator.  In a way I lived vicariously through these people who were at that point in their life where they were ready emotionally and financially to own a business and be their own boss. They were strikingly dissimilar save one common denominator; a readiness to not report to anyone any more. Franchising is definitely a step in that direction, though there are still a lot of guidelines and standards to follow and autonomy is not a wholesale given. Many of our Action Card clients are growing franchise companies. They look for the right owners (or should) as carefully as potential franchisees look for the right brand. Here are some nuggets of wisdom for people flirting with the idea of buying a franchise.

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Being Your Own Boss

One of the main reasons that people buy franchises to run is to have autonomy and control. If you feel as though you are ready to parlay your life experiences into business management without having a day to day boss, you may be interested in franchising. However, in franchising you are still required to follow the brand standards and model of the corporate ownership. It’s a different kind of boss. But you sign up for a franchise to buy into a proven model. If you think the model is flawed and in need of change, don’t invest in the franchise.

 Be Prepared to Drop Some Coin

Depending on the franchise that you buy, expect to pay between $20K to 2 million. Financing franchises can be tough, even as the economy continues to gain steam. Buyers should read and understand the franchise disclosure document. Be familiar not only with your royalty obligations but the marketing fee you are usually paying in addition. Write a business plan, revenue goals and understand what your expenses are going to be and where you need to be to break even and turn a profit. Understand that nothing goes as planned and talk to as may franchisees as you can before signing an FDD. In fact, good franchisors will require this. If you skip those calls and visits and the franchisor does not care and does not ensure they are being made, you’re setting each other up for failure. Understand what your staffing needs will be, how much they will cost you in total factoring in benefits and list out your fixed costs and operating expenses down to the finest detail.

Size Matters

It’s important to understand that smaller franchise concepts have less history from which you can draw on to predict the likelihood of success. You may have more wiggle room to negotiate stipulations with smaller franchises than with larger, well-established brands, but the unknowns are greater. According the The Wall Street Journal; “systems with fewer than 50 units may not have all the bugs worked out of the business model. That could require more business and operational skill from franchisees than a larger system.”

Work Ethic

Be prepared to work long hours. Buying into a franchise is no guarantee of customers and revenue. Though you are following a template, you have control of driving culture, staffing, local customer marketing and establishing best practices takes a lot of time, training and commitment. Being available will paramount and learning every aspect and role in the business is critical. If you are leaving the corporate world to run your own business, add 15-20 hours to your work week. Minimum. Most of the owners I worked with evolved significantly from year 1 to year 3. They were a great group of people and many of them are still growing their local markets and adding additional locations. They will say it can be fun but none of them will tell you buying and running a franchise was easier than they thought it would be.

Volano Receives Small Business of the Month Award

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This month Volano Solutions was recognized by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce for Small Business of the Month. Check out the write-up!

The Chamber recognized Volano as an Omaha based custom software developer dedicated to helping small and medium-sized businesses by creating transparency, accountability and clarity in their workflow processes. The award validates our approach to client work. It also exemplifies how we hire, on attitude and aptitude. We’re excited to get this kind of validation and credit our development team for their work and the Omaha technology community for their support.

Volano Solutions 2014 Year in Review

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“It is very vulgar to talk about one’s business. Only people like stockbrokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.” – Oscar Wilde

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As Volano closes out 2014 and looks ahead to the new year, we wanted to look back on some of the year’s highlights. 2014 was a big year for us on a lot of levels. We are eternally grateful for our clients, partners, friends and family and the countless contacts to whom we have relied. We’ve worked hard to develop and refine our brand promise of delivering transparency, efficiency, accountability and accuracy to our clients’ workflow management through custom software. Software as a competitive advantage was never more prevalent than in 2014. In a year crowded with accomplishments, here are a few milestones of which we are particularly proud.

New Product Launch

In February we launched Action Card, our software as a service mobile field management too. Volano’s sales team introduced the app at the International Franchise Association convention after several months of beta-testing and at the time of this writing, have nearly 1,600 active locations using it across the country and in Canada and a 1,000 in trial. Fueled by a grassroots sales and marketing campaign, we’ve received some great press and Q1 is looking very promising.

Getting Noticed

We launched a new website for Volano with branding and messaging that is more focused on what we do best: workflow. We also got behind a few of Omaha’s indispensable organizations by supporting Big Omaha, StraightShot, Omaha Young Professionals , Cystic Fibrosis, Business Ethics Alliance, Interface , Omaha Code School and many others. Recently the Omaha World Herald wrote an article featuring two software developers we hired from both code schools. Above all else we hire on attitude and aptitude and the model is paying off. Volano has always subscribed to the idea that businesses should be active participants in their community and supporting local technologists and aspiring entrepreneurs has had a positive impact on our brand and business. In January we are being honored by a prominent organization for small business of the month. More on that to come.

 

Growth

Volano hired four developers in 2014 and are going into 2015 with openings for a VP of Software Development, Sales Support and Customer Support. In November we made a great move to the Mastercraft Building and are working in 2015 on details for our next, more permanent, location. We also showed that we are able to diversify our project-based revenue stream through product sales and leverage Omaha’s extremely accessible and generous technology community to learn how to scale and grow product sales.

Where the Tire Meets the Track

Volano’s core beliefs and capabilities were tested on a particularly challenging software engagement this year. Those in software will understand. The project had a 5 month timeline involving thousands of hours, six of our own developers (more people leads to more complexity and requires more communication and coordination), integration with 3rd party custom applications and integration with legacy systems. We knew we could do the project but that it would be tough.

Our team successfully completed the project on time, within budget and without having to go back to the client to change order things. The client was very happy with the finished product. Success was attributed to the skill of our team, the direction provided on the engagement, the initial and ongoing communication with the client and the simple fact that we hire people that love challenges and step up when they’re taken a little outside their comfort level. We were extremely proud.

We’re looking forward to 2015 and building on the success of last year. Regardless of how we evolve, the darts will continue to fly, the kegerator will flow and the battle for control of Sonos will be fought in the trenches. Happy New Year everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Mastercraft

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Today Volano finishes our first week in the Mastercraft building. The space is starting to look like home but needs a few finishing touches yet. We should have running water next week but made sure that the kegerator was in full working order with a fresh 5 gallons of Alestorm from Nebraska Brewing Company. To many of you who might not be familiar with the Mastercraft Building, this is an aesthetically cool, deco-style building full of innovative tenants and we’re thrilled to be a part of the dynamic. A little about the space.

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History

The 140,000 square foot Mastercraft Furniture business located at 1111 N. 13th St was originally owned by the Katzman family. The business opened its doors in 1941. In 2003 the family sold the building to Bob Grinnell. Bob, who credits the success of the building’s occupancy and design to his listing representative and architect, is active int he ongoing growth and well-being of the space. North of TD Ameritrade Park and a stone’s throw from Hot Shops, The Slowdown, Film Streams, Blatt Beer and Table and The Century Link Center, the building utilizes a previously neglected space and has quietly attracted a group of professionals who play key roles in supporting small businesses and start-up companies. The building has become a symbol of  Omaha’s increasingly recognized status as a cultural and creative center. This is a key reason we felt the need to be here.

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Synergies!

Volano also wanted to create an environment for our development team that lined up well with our core values; constantly learn, perform to completion, take pride in our work, adapt easily and be fun. I think the space represents these values. As an Omaha-based custom software developer, we understand the landscape and intersection of design and utility, time and materials and the value of risk and innovation. The Mastercraft represents all of these things. An informal straw poll of our team validates that.

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Cracking Wise

Shane: “I like not having to park a 1/4  mile away from the building. This will be even more coveted in the coming months. On the other hand, I no longer walk a 1/4 mile a day, which was the extent of my daily exercise.”

Brian:  “Pros: I like the type of people here, the start-up vibe, and cleanliness and utilitarianism of the building. Cons: There’s something about the acoustics that prevents me from understanding what people are saying.”

(Don’t tell Brian but this is a week’s long practical joke on him. Seems to be working).

David: “I like how my wife can’t find it, even with Google maps.”

(Doubt she’s looking very hard).

Rod: “I’ve not missed the elevator rides one bit.”

Kelly: “As long as I leave a trail of bread crumbs, I rarely get lost in the building any more. It’s nice to be 75% sure of how to get back to your car.”

(No one else has the broken internal compass issues Kelly has. Exception not the rule).

We look forward to meeting the tenants whom we don’t already know well and have an open-door policy at suite 208. Volano likes to play darts and have a cocktail on Friday afternoons at 4:30 and would love to see anyone who is interested in stopping by.

 

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Trust but Verify: Transparency Leads to Accountability

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I used to teach 6th grade and learned very quickly that the only way to be effective in the classroom was to have control of the class. The way to maintain control was by having clear standards and the discipline to enforce them consistently and equitably. Kids will test your boundaries, like adults, and tend to follow through on the rules when they know it matters. Once I got into this rhythm, having to actually spend time disciplining kids took less and less time and we were able to focus on the lesson. If you did not carry out your own policy, your policy became meaningless. As an adult, I focus on things in my life that matter to me and my family. I don’t blame kids for trying to learn where to put their attention. We do it too.

In business, regardless of your industry, you have certain standards and best practices that have led to success and growth. When you deviate from this model, you do so at your own peril. The challenge that many businesses have is pushing these standards across a network where diverse personalities, geographical distance and lack of oversight can lead to shortcuts and forgetting. In two of the verticals that Volano works with, Wireless Retail and Franchising, this is especially common. Tight standards from merchandising, customer service, uniforms, marketing, pricing and operations ensure that brands are instantly recognizable regardless of where you encounter them. So managers spend a good amount of time reinforcing these standards, teaching and coaching them and identifying where improvement can be had. This is tough business, especially in the field and this is where we saw the opportunity for Action Card. However, like any good system, our mobile location review app is only effective if it is being used. Here are some tips to ensure that your people at every level are engaged in your standards and using our mobile field compliance app Action Card to maintain them.

 Collaboration

If you want your people to comply with your standards, make sure they are part of them. Your employees (if you hired well) should be the personification of your culture and mission. Involve them in the process of driving your standards. Incorporate their ideas when you can, recognize the people who truly represent what you are trying to do in their work and provide the resources your people need to improve and meet the standards you’re driving. Action Card has a document library for this purpose. It also allows store managers and franchisees the user access to see their reviews, reconcile “action items” and easily track their to-do lists. Since this is a cloud based tool, your management teams can track this happening and your location managers know that they can. This is a nice marriage of collaboration and compliance.

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 Centralized Data

You can also get people dialed into your standards by selling them on the “why.” Having data readily available that reinforces your compliance items helps take the emotion out of the standards. Action Card aggregates your review data and allows you to see how you perform comparatively on your site reviews as a company, by region, location and even down to the standards themselves. When you can correlate high performing locations with high review scores, it makes a compelling case to follow the tactics that make up your standards.

 Reconciliation

 When our clients use Action Card to do their site visit reviews, they flag certain checklist items that require attention from the franchisee or store manager. Those items appear on the home screen of that person when they log in and stays there until they update and reconcile the items. They also get e-mail reminders. But the real accountability comes in when they do fix those items. They then appear on your regional field manager’s screen and need to be approved or rejected. So there is never uncertainty about the status and both your field manager and your franchisee or store manager know that all of this is visible in real time at the highest levels of your organization. So, like teaching, if you’ve communicated the expectation and always watch to make sure that the expectations is being met, it will be met. When you stop following up, the accountability disappears.

Volano Hosting First Wireless Roundtable Discussion

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On Wednesday August 20, Volano Solutions’  Action Card will host a conference call with Sprint Wireless dealers, discussing how to maximize store visits and field management. The group will consist of owners, c-level operational executives and regional field managers. The response to the discussion was overwhelmingly positive and there was a genuine desire among wireless retailers to make sure they are driving Sprint standards and best practices at all of their stores.

Transparency and Accountability

One of the issues that field managers struggle with is following up with store managers on compliance issues that came up during the visit. Tracking whether or not those items were reconciled can be difficult and memories fade fast when the reviewers move on to the next location. One of the goals of this call will be to share best practices and find out how to best manage compliance standards when you can’t be at the store every day. This also ties in with coaching and employee development, a requirement for field managers who are challenged with the task of selling, encouraging, teaching and dropping the occasional hammer to ensure stores are doing the model.

Volano has always focused on developing software that creates greater transparency in work processes and Action Card is representative of that idea. Transparent processes lead to greater accountability, clarity and ultimately job satisfaction. We’ll discuss these tenants in the context of the retail wireless industry which focuses on customer experience and brand consistency.

 Defining Standards

Action Card has had the unique opportunity to review and upload multiple wireless dealers’ standards reviews. We’re looking forward to creating a forum for dealers to discuss why they pick the criteria they do to review their stores and how adherence to those standards ties in to revenue and customer satisfaction. Compliance reviews should look at objective, measurable and clearly defined criteria. Subjectivity and open-ended checklist items lead to conflict and allow personalities to overshadow processes. We’re looking forward to gaining a better understanding of what works and which standards are meaningful contributors to exceeding sales goals.

Role Clarity and Workflow Management Software

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  Watching the Workflow

 

“Oh, this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow”

– Bob Dylan

 

Ideal Environments Breed Ideal Employees

Maybe it’s just me but it’s hard not to think of Bob Dylan’s classic “Watching the River Flow” every single time we discuss the concept of workflow. And we talk about workflow management and business process a lot at Volano Solutions. Building software systems that create accountability, accuracy, efficiency and transparency are hallmarks of what we do. Our work helps yours move faster and with fewer errors. So what does good workflow management have to do with good employees? The answer is a lot.

When Gallup decided in the early 1990s to look at all aspects of work life in the context of how each drove concrete performance, their findings were not surprising. The common denominator to productive, engaged employees was clarity regarding their job expectations. Conversely, when employees were not clear on expectations, production suffered as did job satisfaction. Unhappy employees tend to breed negativity and we’ve all worked at that place before.

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 Clarity and Accountability

Each of our workflow applications begins with a home page of work queues where the expectations of the work to be completed are clearly displayed to the user.  These queues set the expectation to which each employee is accountable and as they complete their work, it flows to the next person in the group so that they can complete the portion that falls in their wheelhouse. When everyone can see this status, and your staff knows what they need to do, conversations can be focused on more important things. Higher level things. What is the best way to handle this specific work item? Who has the bandwidth to take on a project? What you’re not talking about or asking each other is “where are we at with?” and “what is the status of?” Your customers win and your employees know how their day needs to go. You don’t want to be the one slowing the funnel down and that’s the accountability piece.

In this piece by the Nielson Group , role clarity is critical in job satisfaction. They go beyond job satisfaction and productivity and talk about overall personal satisfaction and recommend auditing the time spent at work doing tasks that directly pertain to your defined role versus time spent on other tasks that do not. The extent to which the 80-20 rule slides is a great predictor of lost productivity and job dissatisfaction. Our focus is on helping reinforce defined roles in your daily processes through workflow management software.

Volano Hires Brandon Norris (no relation to Chuck)

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Volano Solutions welcomed another new hire to a team already stacked with talent. Brandon Norris started what we hope will be a long tenure with us yesterday and we initiated him to the group with a five star lunch at Taco John’s (it was taco Tuesday). A little bit about this guy and why we’re so glad he chose Volano.

Brandon is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Omaha Code School. Although is is new to coding, he came very highly recommended by Sumeet Jain, the head instructor. Sumeet took a lot of time to write a nice recommendation for Brandon in great specificity and with an understanding of what we were looking for and where he would fit in on day one and over the long run. This was a testament to Brandon and his abilities and to the Omaha Code School’s dedication to meaningful curriculum, student development and helping place graduates into the workforce.

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Brandon is also a founder and current board member of the Omaha Maker Group and intrinsically loves building a creating. This is great because we pride ourselves on making custom software for our clients, not just maintaining legacy systems. We look for people who are excited about building things. Brandon builds RC cars, planes, quad copters and dabbles in 3D printing and CNC mills. He’s been “using computers since 5.25 were valid storage devices.”  Brandon also made a robotic cocktail maker for a New Years party, a powerful anecdote for this writer in his initial interview.

Welcome aboard Brandon.