Top of Mind Networks

Release 1 of Surefire 2.0 is live!

June 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

We are very pleased to announce that release 1 of Surefire 2.0 is now live. This will be the framework for all future releases. I have created a short demo video you can see below detailing all of the new functionality. But here are a few bullet points detailing the highlights in case you don’t want to watch the video:

  1. Adding New Contacts – Data entry has been simplified. We got rid of the multi-page data entry model for adding a new contact. Now all contact info is on a single page and the only data required is the first and last name. So now if you meet someone at the grocery store and want to add them to your Surefire database, all you need is a name. although an email address would certainly be nice so you can send them emails.
  2. Notes – You can now add notes under each contact in your database. This will allow you to keep a conversation log each time you talk to someone. You can also view all recent notes for your whole database on the notes summary page, just to keep tabs on what you have done lately.
  3. Activities – You can schedule calls or meetings with your contacts. You select the time and date and it will add the task to your “My to do list” for that day. You can mark these activities as done once completed to remove them from your list.
  4. Static Groups – Very simply functionality; you create a group, then scroll through your contact list to add contacts to the group.
  5. Dynamic Groups – With a static group, you add and remove people from it. A dynamic group adds and removes contacts based on a specific criteria. So you can create a dynamic group for all VA closings you did in 2009. And based on their loan criteria, past clients will be added or taken out of this group.

Most of this is very basic functionality, but still a huge step above what we had before. The next step is to take this functionality a step further. Very soon you will be able to take those groups you have segmented out and send email blasts to the contacts in those groups. We will do another update once that is done… estimated dev time 2 weeks.

If you are having trouble viewing this video or would like to see a larger version so it
is easier to see please click
here.

There a couple of flees with this video I am going to go ahead and call myself out on, I promise the next one will be better:

  1. My microphone is awful so the volume is kind of low, you may need to turn your speakers up to hear it.
  2. I accidentally selected 2007 as the ‘end closing date’ instead of 2006 in the dynamic groups demo. I saw it at the last minute after all video editing had been completed and I didn’t think that was worth going back and starting over for.

Surefire 2.0 Live Training – Weekdays at 4pm EST 1pm PST

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Surefire 2 dot 0 Logo

We’re very excited to have officially released the Early Adopter version of our new Surefire 2.0 interface.  We know this transition is going to be easier on some folks than others and we are here to help!  Here’s the action plan:

1)  Every day at 4pm EST, 1pm PSTwe’ll be holding a live Surefire 2.0 Training and Troubleshooting Session.  Instead of making everyone jump through hoops with GoToWebinar registration pages for every session, we’re going to post the Webinar Training link right here on the Top of Mind Blog each day 15 minutes before the training begins.

CRITICAL NOTE:  We’ll be limited to 200 attendees on these training calls.

CRITICAL NOTE #2:  To Participate, Please Go To the Top of Mind Blog at 4pm EST and follow the instructions

If we find that more than 200 people are trying to attend our Training Sessions, we’ll make adjustments accordingly.

2)  We’ve added a link to the old Surefire client login for those of you who would like to gradually move toward the new system.

3)  We want to hear from you with any bugs or improvements you need to see.  The best way to address them is by emailing Sherwood Lawrence at slawrence at topofmind dot com or calling the office at 404-943-9910 x117.

Thank you for the positive – and even the not-so-positive feedback!

We are working around the clock and will be making constant improvements.

Vendor Spotlight: Eventbrite

January 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been practically ignoring the Top of Mind Blog for the past month while preparing for Mortgage Revolution. I’ll talk more about MRev in another post later on.

Right now, I want to tell you about a company that is so freaking awesome, I just had to call them up at 6 am on a Saturday morning and keep the customer service guy on the phone for 45 minutes telling him what a fantastic company he works for.  Needless to say, he agreed with me.

headerlogo-transThis company is called Eventbrite.  (Full disclosure:  I only endorse companies I like.  I don’t receive any compensation in any manner whatsoever.  This review is from the heart.)  During the first 120 days of our MRev planning, it was complete and utter chaos.  We were all just volunteers.  None of us had ever put on a seminar before.  The first paralyzing snafu occurred when we decided to incorporate as a nonprofit with the name “Mortgage Revolution” (all MRev profits go to charity) in the State of New York.  There was so much red tape to go through, we didn’t end up receiving our incorporation documents for almost 6 months… which meant we couldn’t create a merchant account… which meant we couldn’t accept credit cards… which means we couldn’t pre-sell MRev tickets.

It’s kind of difficult to gauge how many people are going to attend your event when you can’t even sell them a ticket!  Eventbrite solved this for us with a few clicks of my mouse.  We created our event online – and Eventbrite handled all the ticket sales – even including the credit card function.  Once the event is over, they wait 5 business days and cut a check for the proceeds to you.  Now THAT’S easy.

One of the other really cool features of Eventbrite is their suite of communications tools.  Let’s say you want to send a quick email to every registered attendee of your event… you can do this within Eventbrite in about 2 minutes.  No managing a database.  No worrying about getting blocked by SPAM filters.  Just a clean, easy way of communicating critical details & news.

Bear with me here… there are a lot of other killer features I loved about Eventbrite.  Perhaps my favorite:  the ability to create “discount codes” on the fly.  If I was on the phone with someone who wanted to come to MRev and needed some sort of group discount, I could click a button and build a special discount code just for that person (or group of people).  You couldn’t imagine how handy this is until you start receiving the calls with one-off requests.

Okay, final thing… once you’ve created your event and determined how much you’re charging for tickets, Eventbrite creates a widget for you.  You simply copy the embed code (just as simple as embedding a photo in a blog article) and drop it wherever you want it.  Your promotional partners can do the same on their sites.  This Eventbrite tool’s functionality knows absolutely no boundaries.

So if you’ve ever thought of hosting an event – say a first time home buyer seminar – and want to save yourself a world of pain… just create a free Eventbrite account and get to work.  They make their money by attaching a nominal fee to each ticket sold (kind of like Ticketmaster!).

Productivity Gained

December 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Last week I posted an article about the loss of productivity our office (and more specifically me) experienced after upgrading from Office 2003 to Office 2007 with a Microsoft Exchange Server. This post is to serve as the yin to that post’s yang.

There was in fact a pretty large learning curve associated with the upgrade, especially with Word and Excel. I feel I had become pretty darn efficient with both of these programs, and familiarizing myself with a new console proved to be kind of annoying. But I suppose some of that can simply be chalked up to simple resistance to change.

So last week I exposed a lot of the problems that can occur with an upgrade like this. Now I want to concentrate on the reasons to make such an upgrade. I can make the statement with no exaggeration that my email efficiency has at least doubled. I can check/send email from home, work, my mobile device, or any computer for that matter and all of my inboxes are in sync. If I send an email from my phone, MS Exchange adds that email to my sent items folder, so I no longer have to worry about what emails I have and have not responded to. I literally used to CC myself on all emails I sent from my phone just so I would have record of that sent email. This annoyance is no longer necessary. The same holds true for webmail (accessing email on the go via a web interface). This used to be just as clunky as phone email. Now with the MS Exchange internet interface I can access my email from any web browser with 90% of the functionality I have with my actual install of Outlook.

The annoyances of using the old webmail and the old cell phone email were so bad that it really kept me from doing any sort of actual work outside the office. I only responded to what I considered emergency emails. Now I am confident that I can be just as efficient in clearing out my inbox from the comfort of my own couch while my wife watches reality TV as I am sitting at my desk at work. And as a business owner that is huge for me. I have seen the light and honestly don’t think I could go back to ‘regular email’.

And the absolute best part is that since we are on an Exchange server now I can add my SPAM rules on the server level, not on the client level. In other words I can create rules that mark emails as SPAM before they even get downloaded to my inbox (and in turn synced with my phone). Another crutch I used to have with working on the go is that I got triple the amount of SPAM as I did regular email. So sorting through the SPAM to find the 1 or 2 actual emails on my phone was unbearable. I don’t think I have received a single piece of SPAM email to my phone since the change.

So for those business owners, branch managers, and IT guys out there; if you want to give a pretty solid boost to your employees in email efficiency I highly recommend giving MS Exchange a shot. You will get pushback up front, but they (like me) will see the light after only a few days of using it.

Shey, you are the man; thanks for making this happen!

Productivity Lost

December 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Over the Thanksgiving holiday week our entire office upgraded from Outlook 2003 to Outlook 2007, and also upgraded from ‘normal email’ to a MS Exchange server. This transition, like many, had its hiccups. First and foremost spell check no longer worked for me. And when you are as horindus a spellar as I am, spell check is an absolute must. It turns out since I was on Word 2003 that spell check feature no longer worked for Outlook. So I had to upgrade to Office 2007 as well just to get that feature working again. And when you do as much work as I do in both Word and Excel, this upgrade came with a huge loss in productivity as none of my menu commands are in the same places they used to be. Plus our entire sales force lost access to our ACT database. Fortunately this is a short term problem since we are launching our own killer Contact Management System in January.

The color-coded follow-up flags in Outlook also no longer exist. There is a new concept of categories that I had to get used to in order to arrange my inbox by type of follow-up action item I had. And if that was not enough, I now also had duplicate contacts and a duplicate calendar. And when I first booted up my machine I had about 27 Outlook reminders going off… some of which were from months ago.

I am a huge technology geek and typically love having the latest and greatest gadgets. But when messing with your ‘day to day’ stuff, it is important from a planning perspective for all offices to be cognizant of the very sizable learning curve and loss of productivity you may receive from your employees in the short term. On the surface it may make sense to make a change like this during a holiday week; but my devil’s advocate theory to that is that when your employees return to the office after being gone for 6 days, they kind of need to play a little catch up anyway. So maybe large scale upgrades like this are better suited for midnight Thursday night on a normal week, that way everyone at the office has had the week to prepare for the change and make sure they are caught up with their current workloads.

A Tweet Is Not a Status Update – LinkedIn Misses The Mark

November 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

LinkedIn has long been a successful tool for users to build their online, professional identity. Notice that I stressed the word professional. The status update is a relatively new feature of LinkedIn; and in my opinion has been a very useful tool for starting discussions… up until now that is. LinkedIn is in danger is causing people to tarnish that professional identity with SPAM.

twitter                linkedin

I think LinkedIn totally missed the mark with their Twitter integration. The idea in and of itself is not a bad one. And I think if this new integration was used properly it could prove quite useful. But when setting up the integration you get 2 options: either include all tweets or all tweets including the #li or #in hashtags; and my gut tells me the vast majority of users will select the include all option. So now each Tuesday when I get my LinkedIn updates email I will gradually get less and less use out of it. I typically pay attention to each and every status in this email, and it has been invaluable to me in keeping up with my friends, colleagues, and clients. In fact just last week this very email is how I found out our client, Brian McRae, just landed a spot on the St. Louis Fox affiliate talking about the new Homebuyer Tax Credit. But in the coming months I will see less and less useful updates like this one, and more updates like “@mortgagecrm great article on #mrev” and have no idea what they are even talking about.

And the truth of the matter is that a tweet serves a different function than a status update (LinkedIn or FaceBook). A status update is typically way more descriptive in nature. Any outside party looking in should be able to read a status update and have a pretty solid idea of what the author is talking about. Whereas a tweet is by in large more chaotic in nature; often times containing dynamic information such as a comment directed towards another user or a link to another website. Tweets are also very commonly simple syndication of new blog posts or automated messages. The bottom line is that a large percent of the time if you look at a single tweet by itself you will have absolutely no idea what the author is talking about. And I really don’t want these messages in my LinkedIn email updates. LinkedIn would have been better off either forcing users to select the #li #in option (or at least making it the default option), or just displaying the Twitter feed on that user’s profile page vs. making the latest Tweet the user’s status.

Does Easy Web Content Syndication Help or Hurt Web 2.0?

November 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Remember when email was the killer app?  Sure, it’s still all that, but Generation Y is all a-twitter with a wave of new communication technologies.  Faster.  More interactive.

Posterous Illustration

Posterous Illustration

Blogging’s all the rage today – well at least it is for me.  It’s still a pure form of expression.  But I’m not sure how I feel about web apps like Posterous yet.  Posterous (and there are a bunch of others) syndicates our content in multiple places simultaneously.  So if I wanted to, I could write this article one time and syndicate it all over the web with the click of a button (Twitter, Facebook, other blogs, etc).  Sounds like a good thing right?

Well doesn’t that remind you of spam email?  In the old days, if we wanted to “syndicate” an email message to multiple people, there really wasn’t a clean and easy way to accomplish that.  Today, you can find an email service provider on every street corner to blast a campaign out the door.

My buddy Chris Brown made this argument for me the other day when he unintentionally posted a photo of his family at lunch to the entire Mortgage Revolution Fan Base, in addition to every other spoke in his web presence.  Think of it this way:  why are the New York Times and Wall Street Journal considered to be elite publications?  The simple answer is that their content is expressly written for their loyal readership.  They employ their own journalists and therefore provide a unique mix of content you cannot find elsewhere.  On the other hand, lesser respected publications fill their pages with less unique content and more syndicated content (ie:  AP, Reuters, etc.).

I want my internet to stay unique – perhaps that’s the traditionalist in me.

But regardless of what I want, simple syndication is here to stay.  We’re dealing with issues of clutter with email today (spam filters) and it will be very interesting to see how we deal with the issue of content clutter online (Google?).  Does anyone see it differently, I’d love to hear your take in the comments if you do.

Want Mad Speed and Efficiency in 2010? Add This Bad Boy To Your Holiday Wish List and Go Double Wide!

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Call it epiphany by accident.  I never understood why anyone could want or need dual monitors – unless they’re in graphic design or day trading.  So when Sherwood found an extra Dell 19″ monitor laying around, he set me up like this:
Going Dual Monitors 

Going Dual Monitors

Minutes add up to hours.  Hours add up to days.  Mundane details like these take me half the time they used to:

1)  CTRL-C, CTRL-V

Say I’m adding a new contact into my database.  The old way was to re-key everything.  Then I started copying and pasting.  But alas, with one monitor I’d need to maximize then minimize.  Then maximize and minimize again.  Hell, it was easier just typing the dang information.  But now, I open my database in one screen and the person’s contact information in the other.  Say I’m adding 5 new people per day and I’m saving a minute for every person I add?  There’s 5 minutes whacked right?

2)  Social Networking

As you can see above, I have my inbox in one screen and Facebook in the other.  So while I’m answering client emails and making phone calls, I’m also having a blast going back and forth with Genuine Chris who just got dissed by a prospect.  This article isn’t about Facebook.  But hopefully you can see the value in keeping an eye on what your sphere of influence is up to in real time.  By the way, congratulations to Tim Davis who just accepted a Regional Sales Manager position with Bank of America.  I just hope B of A continues to let you play online TD – you are the man.

3)  Streaming Bond Quotes and Financial News

My buddy Dan Dadoun has not two, but FOUR monitors on his desk.  He uses his set up to keep on top of shifts in the marketplace.  I’ve also seen him streaming Fox Business Channel and occasionally Sesame Street.  Dude’s a big Elmo fan.  Who isn’t?

4)  Blogging

Hey Mark Madsen, are you reading this?  Believe it or not, Madsen has built several killer mortgage blogs using an ordinary laptop.  I can’t wait to see what he can accomplish once he’s increased his working palate to 38″.

Here’s the best part though.  Check out what kind of a deal you can get on 19″ flat screen monitors today!    What a no-brainer.  By the way, you’re going to need a video card that allows you to plug two monitors into your computer.  But once you do go double wide you’ll never go back!

Google Is #Trending

October 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

readerGoogle announced a few updates to Google Reader last week that I thought were interesting. For those of you who are relatively new to the blogosphere and do not know what Google Reader is or how and why to use it, please read here for the Benefits of Using Google Reader. Anyway, last week Google announced the addition of the new Explore section for their Reader application. One of the features of this new addition is the Popular Items sections. In the spirit of the #trending topics functionality that Twitter provides, Google Reader now uses algorithms to track well-liked images, videos, and pages from the internet and order these items to help you find popular content. This does not always find you content related to your other feeds, but in my limited use of this feature I have already found some off-topic, yet very interesting things.

Another feature that has apparently been around for a while that I never knew about is the Recommendations section. This was tucked away somewhere that I never bothered looking at, but they have now moved it to this new Explore section. This section uses your Reader trends and even web searches to generate a list of feeds that Google and their infinite wisdom think you might like. Using this functionality this morning I actually found a really cool blog that I will now follow.

Google Reader is a killer application for anyone looking to stay in tune with what is going on and the latest trends in their industry. And with this new functionality it just got better. I typically spend about 30 minutes to an hour a day going through my list, and now I can get even more out of that time.

Social Media Revealed

August 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

This is an awesome video someone shared with me over at Broker Outpost. If you don’t have a good website, a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook page, or a blog; YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS VIDEO. I am obviously a big proponent of social media and the statistics shared in this video even shocked me. Enjoy!

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