034: [Deep Dive] Tech Stack Framework

Today we’re digging into the Tech Stack Framework. I developed this framework as part of my Virtual CTO services – we’ll get into those more later in this episode.

In 2010, when I first started out building WordPress websites for clients, I knew I wanted to put together a website that would support their business. Trouble was, I was also just starting out and didn’t have a deep understanding of the online infrastructure required to support their businesses. This left me feeling quite accomplished with the website I delivered but anxious that I hadn’t met the actual needs that we were trying to fill.

So, I went on and dug into my intuition to make sure I firmly understood what else is needed online to truly support a business. And I dabbled – I dabbled in Facebook Ads. I dabbled in copywriting. I dabbled in email marketing. I dabbled in landing pages and funnels and membership site and online courses. As I dabbled, I took copious notes (mostly in my head) as to what was a fad, what had serious potential and what was going to stand the test of time.

I have easily been in 50 or more different software services for myself and for clients. These run from tools for hosting your business website and email marketing to content creation, planning, scheduling and delivery tools. And from calendaring, scheduling and event tools to shopping carts and online accounting software.

And because many software founders care deeply about the impact that their product has for their clients, we have tons of great tools – something for everyone!

I have my preferences, for sure, but my philosophy is that my role is to meet you where you’re at to create a supportive foundation for your business goals. If something is working, we don’t need to change it for change sake alone. But if something is causing headaches, not providing enough value or otherwise impeding business growth, then it’s time to circle back on that tool or system and determine how to correct course.

This brings us to the tech stack. This is a term I’ve adopted to encompass all the online systems and tools that a business uses to operate. It includes client-facing systems, back-office systems, content creation systems, marketing systems and lead-generation systems. I love a good tech stack… but without a framework a tech stack is only as good as the individual components – the framework addresses the critical thinking piece called “How does this all fit together and allow tech to support your business goals.”

The Tech Stack Framework is a process by which we can make the most of the systems and tools in your business.

The framework is a pyramid. The pyramid sits on a pedestal which represent the different audiences that interact with your business. These audiences are those internal to your business, your clients and the public.

Our audiences are people not tech tools, which is why they are not part of the pyramid. But they are a necessary entity to the checks and balances of the systems and tools we use in our businesses.

The base on the pyramid is called Base Tools. Base tools include those primary functions that allow us to showcase what we do, sell our products and services and deliver them to our customers and clients.

The layer on our pyramid is Support Tools. It contains the systems and tools that integrate with the base tools to allow them to work together, do more and drive your business towards your goals. At this level, we focus on tools and systems that allow us to create, manage and track.

The next layer contains our Growth Tools. These are the tools that help us to have systems around storage, visibility and learning.

Above this layer is a thin layer called Document. Our document layer is directly beneath the capstone because without it the tools in the Base, Support and Growth layers do not fully describe the landscape upon which business goals are realized.

And, this means that the pinnacle of the pyramid is your business goals! Without a well-documented, strong foundation it is going to be far more difficult to fully integrate online business initiatives.

Let’s take an example of the framework in action. This is a sample client, let’s call her Jenny, who delivers online training. She is a hybrid of four of my clients from the past year.

First, we identify the stakeholders we are going to evaluate our tools for. For Jenny it’s her blog readers, newsletter subscribers, social media followers, her students and herself.

Her base tools consist of Instagram, Facebook, Stripe, Thinkific, WordPress and ActiveCampaign.

Once we identify Jenny’s tools, we need to elaborate to be clear exactly how that tool is being used.

Instagram and Facebook are where Jenny shows up to the public, along with her ActiveCampaign emails and WordPress website which contains her blog. She interacts with her students on Facebook, via ActiveCampaign and provides content inside Thinkific. Stripe is her payment processor and integrates with Thinkific. Thinkific also integrates with ActiveCampaign so that her student list on the email system matches her student list on Thinkific.

Often there are overlapping uses of tools and within your tech stack blueprint, and this is perfect. It reduces the number of tools in use. In fact, you can reduce your tools by finding tools that overlap in functionality which is often done at every layer of the pyramid.

Now for WordPress we list out other details such as where it’s hosted, where the domain is registered, what theme we’re using, what plugins we’re using and how the WordPress website interconnects with the other base tools.

I believe that it’s important to get as granular as possible during the early phases of working with the framework, it’ll make the process of adding new systems or tools to your tech stack and tech stack blueprint far easier! And, knowing how the systems and tools connect, will make it far easier for someone else to work in your business and support your goals and initiatives.

Let me ask you — If you were to hire someone tomorrow, would you know how to get them on board with your tech stack? If not, let’s have a tech strategy session to get you started! As always, strategy sessions are available at https://techofbusiness.com/strategy-session/

OK… with these components alone, we’ve got a business! Jenny is now able to let people know she has online courses, give people a way to purchase and then access the courses.

But that’s not enough to create a thriving business, so let’s move up to the next layer of the framework. The tools on the support layer do not add functionality unto themselves, they add support to the tools in the base layer.

For Jenny we have a significant amount of content creation so the tools she uses are Camtasia, Canva and Google Docs. These tools clearly support the tools that provide value to the stakeholders.

Also within the support layer we add our project management tool: Trello, password manager: LastPass and QuickBooks for accounting.

As we work through each layer of the Tech Stack Framework highlighting the connection between tools on adjacent layers will take your tech stack diagram from a list of tools to a usable and living blueprint.

Moving to the growth layer, we are exposing the tools that support creation, management and tracking, which as we’ve already mentioned support our base tools that allow us to sell, deliver and showcase our products and services.

The growth layer is the most cluttered ring and often where more and more tools are plugged in as a business grows. For Jenny’s business our primary growth tool is creating a feedback loop, so we have Typeform on this layer. We also list Google Drive on this layer as it is her central cloud storage location. Go back to episode 11 https://techofbusiness.com/011/ for a rundown of cloud storage options.

Just as we did for the tools at each of the other layers, listing out the name of the tool is not going to make it very usable. For Typeform we list out how it connects to Google Drive and ActiveCampaign. And for Google Drive we list out the file structure and hierarchy. We take the time to describe how these tools are used to support the elements on the layer below. This is what makes our tech stack blueprint a working document.

Jenny also has Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel on this layer. These are going to allow her to expand her reach, understand her traffic and so much more.

One of the keys to the Tech Stack Framework and blueprint is that it positions you to think toward your goals and initiatives. I encourage you to link your tools together as closely as possible, either using integrated tools within the software or using Zapier. It’s incredible the automations that we can build… but that conversation is for another day, and another episode…

When we work together, with me as your virtual CTO, we will work through the Tech Stack Framework several times. We may work through it solely for your internal stakeholders or for your paying stakeholders. We may skip some of the forward-thinking steps. We may even work through it as a checks and balance for a new project or initiative. The idea being that our framework helps to make sure that the tech stack blueprint accurately reflects the tech we are using in our businesses. And each subsequent iteration helps the blueprint become more fully developed.

Now, I didn’t leave out the last layer of the pyramid – I just saved documentation for last!

The documentation layer is like the icing on a cake – it really completes the tech stack visual. Documentation consists of the plain language version of the tools and how they connect as well as a changelog.

The changelog is what gets updated when anything is added, changed or removed in the tech stack. Even when a new system or tool is being tested, I believe that it needs to go onto the blueprint – you may just fall in love with the tool and we don’t want to forget to document it!

I recommend having a directory in your primary cloud storage location and call it __Documentation__ with two underlines on either side. This will make sure it’s the first folder in view when viewing alphabetically.

There are several ways that we can work together to create your tech stack blueprint and beyond.

As I mentioned in the intro, the Tech Stack Framework is the first step when bringing me into your business as your Virtual CTO. The Tech Stack Framework can also be worked through in an intensive VIP day. VIP days are available both in person and virtually.

All packages are listed on https://techofbusiness.com/work-with-me/ and it would be my absolute pleasure to jump on a quick call with you to determine the best package for you and your business goals.

No matter your current online footprint, adopting the Tech Stack Framework will help you create a strong foundation.

As I was discussing tech stacks with business owners just like you, the most common fear that came up was “I just don’t know what I don’t know” followed quickly by “I’m worried that I’m going to break something.”

Let’s nip that in the bud and give you the freedom to feel confident that your tech is supporting your business. It’s all about ease and flow!

Thank you so much for hanging out with me on the Tech of Business podcast today. Please head into the Tech of Business Community on Facebook by going to https://techofbusiness.com/community/ and ask your questions about the Tech Stack Framework. There is a dedicated thread to today’s episode, number 34.

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