Custom App Development – Pacific Forage Bag Supply Case-Study

Background

Pacific Forage Bag Supply is an agricultural firm founded in 1995 that supplies silage equipment and seeds.  Co-owner Alexis sells specialized equipment to dairy farmers that helps them reduce feed loss from rot and spoilage. In the past, she’s relied on a helpful but outdated sales tool built in Excel to help her show farmers what they stand to gain from using the equipment. The tool did its job but was harder to use than it needed to be. Despite the essential information it provided her clients, the spreadsheet was becoming a hindrance to her sales process. Alexis approached Out-Smarts to explore the possibility of replacing the tool with a custom app.

Discovery Process

Alexis’ requirements were few: the tool needed to be easy to use, generate PDF reports she could download or print for her clients, including a defined subset of the functionality present in the Excel document, and be completed within her budget.

Because she often meets her clients on their farms and in rural areas without guaranteed internet access, we decided the tool should be a client-side, single page application that could be used offline. Since the app would generate PDF reports, we didn’t need to worry about permanent storage on a remote server or database access.

Our discovery process involved investigating the hundreds of formulas and macros built into the Excel document to get a clear picture of the work required to translate the calculations. Behind the scenes, the formulas were at times a classic case of spaghetti code: cells referring to cells referring to cells which in turn referred to yet more cells. Working with Alexis, we broke the spreadsheet down into its major screens and calculations. Then, we create a fully costed project summary for her, which she reviewed and approved.

Some of the formulas in the Excel document

React Web App Development

Initial design work was done in Figma — a design tool like Sketch.

After breaking down the excel document, we prototyped some interface layouts and visual styles in Figma, a design tool similar to Sketch. We worked with Alexis to map out the information architecture and user interface flows of the new tool. The goal wasn’t simply to recreate the Excel document screen-for-screen, but to design a workflow that would best support her whole sales process. By using modern web technologies and rebuilding the tool for the browser, Out-Smarts was able to deliver a user experience much improved over the Excel document.

We chose React, a JavaScript library for building user interfaces, because it supported our requirements of an offline, client-side, single page experience. And it’s popular; backed by Facebook, React is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

We also used a few other well-supported open source libraries to deliver features like PDF file generation and animated charts: Webpack and Babel formed the foundation of our development toolchain; Redux and Dot Prop Immutable allowed us to store client-side data in a simple but flexible format; Big.js prevented unfortunate rounding errors in calculating monetary values; PdfMake generated PDF reports without the need for server software; and Victory gave us animated charts and graphs to display in-app reports.

Single-Page Application

The result was an offline-ready single-page application with 14 sections that used over 35 custom-built React components. We replicated the computations of the original Excel document with over 60 calculation functions, this time in an exceptionally user-friendly and portable solution.

Right from the browser, Alexis can export PDF reports for her clients based on the information she gathers during her discovery process. And she can even export and import client profiles as JSON files to share among her employees who also have access to the tool.

What Our Customers Have to Say

“I had a very old Excel-based sales tool that I needed updating, and I had a hard time finding someone who would take it on that I felt I could communicate with throughout the process just to ensure we were on the same page.  Out-Smarts Marketing was recommended to me by someone in the Marketing field, which I thought was a good sign. Kyle took on my outdated sales tool, with all it’s convoluted and confusing equations, and listened and learned about my Agriculture business and my needs.  His attention to detail and his comfort with the material made the plan very effective and surprisingly simple (at least from my end)! I am very happy with the final product and know it will serve my company well.”

Why We Loved this Work

Having a great working relationship with our clients really is the foundation to any project’s success, and Alexis was a joy to work with. We enjoyed learning more about her industry and the challenges she faces in the field, as her explanations gave us a great sense of how she uses the tool and the value a modernized version would add to her work life.

Building a React application after an Excel document may have been an unconventional task, but we love a challenge and the opportunity to do custom work that few others take on. We’re thrilled with the results!

Learn more about our custom app services or get started on your own custom developed app. 

Search Engine Optimisation, Google Ads, Google Analytics – Out-Smarts Case Study

Out-Smarts worked with the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada to drive targeted traffic to their two websites, Rosacea Help and Acne Action increasing website traffic by 60-200% in one year.

Background

Sue, the Executive Director of the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada, attended Out-Smarts’ founder Mhairi Petrovic’s Introduction to SEO, Analytics and Google Ads course at Capilano University. After learning about Out-Smarts expertise in the SEO and Google Ads fields at first hand, she engaged our company on a one year contract and saw enormous value and an ROI that produces results year after year.

About Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada

The Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada is a national not for profit organization led by Canadian dermatologists. They offer hope and help to acne and rosacea sufferers by providing independent, reputable and current information on these conditions and raising awareness. We were honored to work with an organization that strives to improve the lives of Canadians.

SEO Project

Sue wanted to see an increase in traffic to both of their websites to spread their message to a larger number of Canadians across the country. In order to do this, we provided SEO services (META review, keyword research, update SEO foundations and framework), Google Ads (Google Ads account plan, set up, ad creation and management including negative keywords, extensions), Google Analytics (traffic reporting, conversion tracking and analysis), and consulting services.

By implementing these strategies, we were able to produce significant results for the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada. Here is a snapshot of the results we produced for each website.

The Results

Acne Action:

Overall increase in traffic 62%

Increase in organic traffic 40%

Paid search went from 0 – 20,000 visitors

Rosacea Help:

Overall traffic increase 200%

Increase in organic traffic 45%

Paid search went from 0 – 18,000 visitors

What Our Customers Have to Say

In the words of Sue, “We’ve seen our sites’ rankings improve a lot, traffic to the site has doubled and we have developed a much better understanding of how to work effectively in this important area thanks to Out-Smarts! Highly recommend Mhairi and the team for website SEO projects.”

Why We Loved this Work

For an organization like the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada, an increase in traffic can directly impact the well being of thousands of Canadians across the country.

Being Virtual: Top Virtual Business Tools We Can’t Live Without

Since its inception in 2002, Out-Smarts has been a virtual organisation.Being a Virtual Business | Out-Smarts We had a brief flirtation with bricks and mortar a few years ago but it wasn’t a good fit.

A virtual organization is an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication. Virtual organizations do not represent a firm’s attribute but can be considered as a different organizational form.

Or in plain English – a business that has no physical location that depends on technology to operate effectively.

Virtual Business Benefits

In 2018, a business like ours doesn’t need to have an office. The ubiquity of online tools makes that possible. These tools make it easier to start and grow a business since your overheads are much lower (which is especially important in a place like Vancouver where office space is at a premium). But big businesses are clueing into the benefits too.  Telecommunications giant TELUS has a goal of having 40% of their team members working on a mobile basis, 30% working within TELUS buildings, and another 30% working from home full time.

Not only does being virtual keep your costs lower but it’s also way better for the planet as well. Teams who work from their home office don’t have to drive or take public transit which means less pollution being emitted into our planet each day. It also leads to higher scalability. With a physical office, increasing your staff often requires moving into a larger office space. With a virtual team, you can scale up your business without worrying about the extra costs associated with the required square footage.

Even back in 2002, it was possible to run a business virtually as long as you had an internet connection (although those were a lot slower back then), good processes and communication channels in place. This still rings true, although it’s much easier now thanks to cloud computing, apps and social media.

More importantly, though, working for a virtual company is good for the soul. It gives your team more flexibility to put their lives and families before their work (which is the way it should be anyway), it gives them more flexible work hours and no commute time which makes them happier and more likely to stay not to mention more productive. Happy Team = Happy Company = Happy Customers.

Of course, no good thing is without its drawbacks. With a virtual business, there is a risk of isolation, less cohesiveness, and a lack of camaraderie amongst employees. In a virtual environment, there is much less opportunity for spontaneous conversations that could lead to collaboration or new ideas. There’s also the chance that things can get lost in translation or misconstrued in electronic communications. To tackle this at Out-Smarts, we make sure to stay on top of our social side, and even schedule it into our calendars each month. We have weekly update calls with our team members, take the time to ask about our respective weekends on Monday mornings, and get the whole team together for beers once a month.

We’ve come a long way since 2002 when it comes to optimizing our virtual business, but we’re always keeping an eye out for new ways to improve our company culture and create a rewarding experience for customers and team members. Along the way, we’ve picked up an arsenal of tools that have become mainstays for productivity and efficiency. Here are our favourite tools for running a virtual business:

Virtual business tools that we can’t live without:

We’ve never met our bookkeeper, she lives in the US but that doesn’t matter – online accounting and invoicing software (Quickbooks) allows us to easily share financials.

Teamwork – This project management tool has recently come to the top of our list of must-haves. Team members can see all ongoing projects, tasks, and deadlines at a glance which helps keep everyone on track. It also enables us to give clients an insight into what we do for them and lets us set deadlines, hours and stay on top of communications.

Boomerang for Gmail – This is a tool for anyone battling an overstuffed inbox! Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to be sent out at a later date, set reminders to follow up, and take emails out of your inbox until you need them.

Google Docs and Google Drive– We are able to share all of our documents and spreadsheets and it’s perfect for collaborating on a project in real time. We’re also able to categorize our projects and link back to Teamwork.

Google Calendar – The integration with Google Calendar and the rest of the G-Suite tools makes this an easy choice. We use it to schedule meetings, pencil in vacation time, and invite attendees to events. It also integrates with Google Maps which helps by calculating trip times and sending prompts for when you need to leave.

Office 365 – This classic suite of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive is a mainstay for creating content.

1Password – It took us a few tries to find a password vault that worked well for us. We found 1Password to be the right fit for our company as it lets us store documents, logins, and other confidential information in one place.

SquareUp – This is a free point of sale app that lets us accept card payments, manage invoices, and give digital and printed receipts.

WordPress – We build all of our websites on WordPress. We love the versatility of being able to create beautifully designed custom websites on a trusted platform.

Hootsuite – We schedule, manage, and monitor social content for our clients through Hootsuite.

Grasshopper – Virtual phone systems like Grasshopper have helped us run our business through our cell phones. We can host phone extensions for everyone on our team, set up call forwarding, voicemail, and more.

JoinMe and Zoom – For a team to work together towards the same goal, there needs to be the occasional conference call. We like web conferencing tools like JoinMe and Zoom, and even use them for meetings with out of town clients.

Skype – For getting in touch with clients in the US, we rely on Skype for free online calls, messaging, and affordable international calling to mobiles or landlines.

With the use of the tools above, office communications are available to us from almost anywhere in the world. These technologies we’ve adopted not only streamline communication but provide practical services that empower our team to stay on task and stay engaged.

Need help growing your business? Contact us to find out what we can do.

Website Launch: Salt Spring Sea Salt

We have a new website launch for Salt Spring Sea Salt that we’re excited to share!

Owners Philippe Marill and Carolyn Kvajic, a husband and wife team, first introduced the gourmet finishing salt at the island’s popular Saturday market. In just a few years, online sales have grown exponentially. Salt Spring Sea Salt is now available in select retail shops in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and the United States. Salt Spring Sea Salt is getting noticed for many reasons, from the purity of the product and process, to the exceptional taste.

WordPress Website

Phillippe and Carolyn needed a website that suited the needs of their growing business. We created a custom web design with full ecommerce capabilities to draw customers in and reflect their west coast values. Sea salt is a niche market, so we wanted to create a site that conveys their natural approach to harvesting and the simplicity of island living. We started from scratch and figured out exactly what our clients needed, and worked our way out from there, creating a website with clean lines and beautiful images of Salt Spring Island.

It was the pairing of a French culinary tradition with a natural West Coast resource – along with a dash of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit – that created Salt Spring Sea Salt. Established in 2014, the Canadian company is based on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and is garnering international recognition for its pure, handcrafted fleur de sel.

Phillippe and Carolyn are passionate about producing a gourmet finishing salt that rivals the very best French sea salt, and providing their customers with exceptional service. This dedication to quality has garnered a lot of attention – from a Royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to being featured as a Pit Stop on The Amazing Race Canada.

SEO and Analytics

We worked with Salt Spring Sea Salt to make sure that they didn’t just have a beautiful website, but a search engine optimized one as well. We wanted to make sure that they had all the tools in place to boost their fleur de sel to the top of their niche in Google searches. Providing SEO services on all of our websites ensures that our clients get a increase in online visibility and can generate more business.

We are proud to work with clients like Phillippe and Carolyn to help them achieve websites that are not only beautiful to visit, but are intuitive to navigate and deliver results.