Buyer's guide: 4 steps to finding the right economic development tools
When investigating new softwares and workflows, it can be challenging to find the right set of economic development tools. Economic development departments across the nation have different budgets, familiarity with digital tools and willingness to invest in solutions that may increase the efficiency and efficacy of their work.
After talking with our customers from all across the nation, we’ve identified a 4 step process to find the tools that could work for you.
Step 1: Understanding your department’s goals, process and willingness for adopting new economic development tools
The first step in investigating new software purchases is understanding your own department’s process and needs. As mentioned earlier, different departments have different sizes, priorities and budgets that factor into investing in new solutions. Before purchasing a new software, make sure you’ve answered the following questions:
1) How many people will be using these tools?
Some software require you to pay per user, while others allow you to create unlimited user profiles. If you have a small team, you might not have to worry about this. But, it may be worth considering if you are anticipating hiring, have interns or even share information among other departments.
“Bludot allows me to share the contact management system with every single Department, so that if they need to contact a certain company, they can look it up in the Bludot system.” Shelley Burcham, Economic Development Administrator for Lathrop, CA
2) What is your team’s willingness to learn new technologies?
Learning new technologies can be scary for some team members. If you are unsure about your team’s ability to be trained on new software, you may want to focus on solutions that are easy to use or that are developed for economic development teams.
If you think your team will require lots of help, it will be important to have responsive customer service. Oftentimes, smaller teams and startups are very user-centered and will give in depth 1:1 attention to customers—even taking their feedback to directly shape updates in the product.
“Once people got into Bludot and they get around a little bit it's very intuitive. You spend a couple days in there making a couple entries, talk to [the team] a few times and you're on your way.” Christopher Bruno, Director of Economic Development for Fairfax, VA
3) What is your authorization process?
If you are trying to build an entirely new workflow process with technology, there are quite a few providers that can offer various parts of these solutions. Is it easier in your organization to get approved for one provider? Do you need to go through an RFP process? It may be easier to look for an all-in-one solution.
“Right now we obviously have Outlook, but we also have SharePoint, we have Slack, we have Teams, we have Zoom, we have Google Meet and we have Bludot… We have all of these platforms and I'd like to cut down on two or three of them and I think Bludot can help us do it.” Christopher Bruno, Director of Economic Development for Fairfax, VA
4) Finally, what is your budget... or do you even have one?
There are funding opportunities, such as the USDA NIFA SBIR Phase II grant, which allows economic development platforms such as Bludot to be provided at a deeply subsidized rate.
“I would encourage any rural county to see if Bludot can help because we have such limited resources and this has helped us stay organized.” Jonathan Goering, Economic Development for Thrive Allen County in Iola, KS
Step 2: Decide where you want to ramp up your strategy
When building up your toolbox, there are many ways that you can increase your efficiency at work and solve future problems. Below are common use-cases where the right technology can solve the problems at hand.
1) Succession planning
Projects have long timelines that can surpass the time an employee will work for an economic development department. It’s important to create a succession plan for how the organization can continue to operate successfully with planned or unplanned departures. The right tool can keep information visible to the entire organization and keep projects and communications running smoothly.
2) Maintaining relationships with businesses
Important information about your local businesses, such as contact information, notes, revenue and even problems they are facing, tend to be stored within the brains of economic development professionals. By using a CRM built for economic development, it allows a team to share and read the story of this business all in one spot.
“Bludot allows you to keep in touch with your businesses. There's turnover, people leave, move on to different positions, and in Bludot you're able to capture all that new information.” Shelley Burcham, Economic Development Administrator for Lathrop, CA
3) Enhancing your community engagement
Listening to your community and local business is a key factor in creating a cohesive city. Having a platform that allows you to track emails, surveys and reports can supercharge your community engagement strategy.
4) Promoting your businesses to the community
Help your residents easily find businesses without the need for Yelp or Google profiles. If your internal directories can be used as a Small Business Directory, this makes it easier for residents to go out and support your business.
Step 3: Research economic development tools and talk to your peers
Once you figure out your priorities and criteria for the tool you’re looking for, take some time to research the solutions on the market. Oftentimes, our partners will turn to peers in the space to hear how they found the right solution for them. You can also sign up for demos (demonstrations from the product team at the company) as well as free trials to test out a new software.
Step 4: Time to decide!
Congratulations! You just leveled up your set of digital tools in your economic development department.
Finding the right set of tools for your department can be challenging, but with the right questions and resources, you can upgrade your department’s workflow with ease.
If you’re ready to research economic development tools, schedule a call with Bludot today.