The Stella Way team streamlined business processes and improved customer experience with Zoho One

The Company

Kat Sorbello is an experienced learning and development consultant who started her journey in training and development in 2007. Passionate for education, Kat's journey consisted of learning about different training techniques, designing and redesigning training content, and launching online courses. Between 2007 and 2018, she transitioned from trainer and assessor, to developing learning content, to where she is now; an instructional designer.

With 10+ years of worldwide experience in the education industry in five different countries, in 2018 Kat introduced The Stella Way. Kat and the team now provide innovative consulting and agency services that empower people to build sustainable and scalable online courses.

"We help two types of clients. The first are those wanting to turn their one on one consulting sessions, or books, into an online course. Our job is to help them through the course creation phase, which involves developing the course curriculum, creating structure, and compiling the content to put it onto an LMS or online course platform for sale. This work is very hands on and collaborative with our clients. The second are businesses that want accredited and non-accredited courses created. It could be anyone from a private business training their staff, to a training organisation delivering units of competency, certificates, diplomas, and more to a wide range of students. In this case, we usually transform their existing offline content to digital, whether it is transforming their learning content into interactive activities, or turning their assessments into true online assessments."

Kat Sorbello

Kat Sorbello, Founder, The Stella Way

The Challenge

When Kat first created The Stella Way in 2018, she started choosing software that would help her manage daily operations. For the first few years of business, she used MailChimp for lead management, marketing emails, and her website; Gmail for contact management and operational emails; AirTable for CRM functionality, marketing calendars and data analytics; Wave for her finances; and Trello and Asana for project management.

While these systems worked well for their respective functions, the challenge was connecting them so they work would be seamless. At times, it was a struggle to keep track of everything. "My process before Zoho One was very disconnected. I was using a mixture of anything and everything," Kat shared.

Kat always planned to look for another platform. "I knew MailChimp, Trello, and Wave were only going to be a short-term thing." What made the move necessary, was when Wave decided they were no longer going to support clients outside the United States or Canada in 2020.

"They couldn't offer me my account anymore, but they said they were connecting with Zoho Books, and that Books was offering me one year free," she noted. "I had to look into this, because one year free is great, but then I thought, What if it's going to be $500 a month after that and I've invested time into Books already." By the time her free year was up, Kat transitioned to Zoho One, an all-in-one solution starting at $60.50/month which included Zoho Books, Projects, CRM and a host of other Zoho products.

Over the next few years, as The Stella Way grew quickly, having separate products for every little function became unsustainable. It was good enough in the startup stage, but as the business expanded, it needed more stability and connection across all systems.

The Solution

Over the next few months, as Kat trialed Zoho Books, she heard more people talking about how they were using and liking Zoho. She also remembered using Zoho Projects in the past for a previous role.

“There were a few things that happened. Wave stopped servicing me but helped me transition to Books, and I heard people saying good things. I remembered using Projects back in the day. Then I saw Zoho One, and thought it's time to move to that, or at least, it's time to try it out.”

Kat Sorbello

Kat Sorbello, Founder, The Stella Way

Besides using Books, the first app Kat started working with inside Zoho One was Zoho Sites, which is what her current website—The Stella Way—runs on. After that, she started using Zoho CRM, which is one of her most used apps today. The CRM is where all leads, contacts, and deals for The Stella Way are stored and managed. An integration with their Gmail account helps Kat and her team track and visualise all customer emails.

"In the CRM, you can get a really good overview of every email you've sent, so I have it connected to my Gmail," Kat noted. "I can easily go into the CRM and see all of the emails that concern a certain client, rather than searching through my Gmail account for multiple different emails."

After using Sites and CRM for a few months, and liking the look and feel, the team decided to continue their Zoho One subscription.

Zoho SalesIQ was the next app they deployed. "Now that we've been using SalesIQ for a while, and have had lots of visitors using it, the best part has been gaining visibility into how people landed on my site, what they are clicking on, and what they are looking for," Kat said. Not only is this helpful for making business decisions about the website and content, it also helps the team have more targeted conversations when they reach out to customers.

Zoho Projects has become a big part of The Stella Way and how they do business, too. This is where all projects are tracked, including budget, time frames, and specific tasks.

"I recently hired several consultants to help," Kat recalled. "The ability to add external consultants in certain projects, down to the task, has been really helpful."

Kat manages all of her tasks in Projects as well, and has it integrated with Zoho Books to make invoicing easier. "Because I track my time against projects, I can be in a client project, click invoice and from there it will take me directly to the invoice created in Books; I then check it, download it, and send it to the client for payment," she explained. "I can also send my clients a thorough report of exactly what has been done. Instead of just '14 hours work this week,' they get an insight into the milestones, tasks, and subtasks that went into creating their project."

She also works on multiple different projects for the same client, and because of this, prefers to send out the invoice manually, rather than sending it straight from Books.

“I don't want the invoices sent automatically. I prefer to review it to make sure it's accurate before sending. This also gives me an opportunity to audit every invoice. I check that the right work has been uploaded, and I haven't missed anything. Not having the automation doesn't really delay the process for me.”

Kat Sorbello

Kat Sorbello, Founder, The Stella Way

Kat also recently started using Books to pay the businesses GST. "I did this completely through Books and it worked really well," said Kat.

Obviously, as an online course creation business, Kat and the team need something to actually create the courses. Prior to Zoho, they used Thinkific to create and sell online courses, and they continue to do so alongside Zoho Trainer Central. So far, Kat has only used Trainer Central for her free courses. "Because I already have everything set up on Thinkific and it's working well, I haven't used Trainer Central for paid courses yet. But for the free courses that I do offer on it, it's been great," said Kat.

Zoho Bookings is another important part of Kat's business. This is how her website visitors and clients book meetings with her to discuss the initial details, and even have milestone chats. She uses Zoom for most of her online meetings. "I mostly use Zoom, but it depends on the client. Sometimes I'll use Zoho Meeting, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet."

Initially, Kat set up an integration using Zoho Flow. "I had started using Flow before Zoho had built an integration between Zoho Bookings and Zoom. When someone booked a meeting with me, I wanted that schedule in my calendar with the Zoom meeting link. The API call had to go from Bookings, to Zoom, to my calendar," Kat continued. "Now the integration has been built natively, I don't use Flow for that anymore, but it's great to see the growth and progression."

On a smaller scale, The Stella Way uses Zoho Sign for easy digital customer contract signing, Zoho Campaigns for sending out marketing emails to their audience, Zoho Forms to collect website visitor details, and Zoho Social for curating social media content.

Benefits and ROI

With Zoho One, The Stella Way has been able to consolidate all their applications into one system that works seamlessly together to run the business. Instead of managing several different subscriptions, Kat and her team have all the necessary apps available in a centralised dashboard which has allowed her to streamline processes, reduce costs, and increase productivity. "I would say I use at least 10 apps very regularly, if not every day, at least a few times a week," she remarked.

Being a technically savvy person, Kat had no trouble getting started with Zoho One. Having already used Projects in the past, and recently starting with Books, Kat said it was an easy transition. "Compared to the disconnected apps I was using before, I've found Zoho One to be very intuitive and easy to use." As with any new application, there's always something to learn and explore.

"When I saw Zoho Flow, I was very intrigued and definitely went through a lot of rabbit holes there. Also, with Sites, at the start, there were a few little things I found difficult, but once I learned how to do it, it was easy. I also moved from a MailChimp website, which is basically moving from a landing page that almost looks like a PDF, to Zoho Sites which has the capability to have animations and is a lot more advanced. So it was a challenge for sure, but not difficult."

Kat Sorbello

Kat Sorbello, Founder, The Stella Way

Another benefit Kat and The Stella Way team noted after using Zoho for over a year, has been the automating process. Kat uses scoring rules inside Campaigns to determine which of her website visitors will become serious leads. As part of her business is offering free downloadable templates for course creation on her website, she uses this as a lead source. When a visitor downloads a template, they are considered someone interested in her services. "They are not a lead yet, just someone that's interested," shared Kat. They then go into an email funnel, and depending on what they open or don't open, and what they click on or not, they get sent through the funnel.

"Depending on the result of that onboarding series, they get put into another group," Kat began. "Based on their rating, which shows how interested they are in The Stella Way, they get pushed into the CRM, at which point I get an email that tells me I should make direct contact with that person. Now they've turned into someone a little bit more interested. I could have the system send an automatic email, but I prefer to send emails that I write individually for each person I'm reaching out to. Campaigns is great because I can see every email they've opened and have context into what they're interested in before having to ask."

Lastly, Kat mentioned Zoho's customer support being helpful when needed.

“The support has been great. Firstly, it's pretty easy to go online and find the information I need. If I can't find what I'm looking for, I can open up an online chat, or a ticket. It's always been a quick and easy process. There's no beating around the bush to get an answer. In regards to functionality, sometimes they can't help because I want an app to do something that it doesn't do. In the past, I've used Zoho Flow to get around this, but they also take the feedback on board for future updates of the apps.”

Kat Sorbello

Kat Sorbello, Founder, The Stella Way

Looking Forward

"Now, the focus is to improve all of the content we have, including content on the website, how people access it, how we collect data from the website and more," Kat proclaimed. "Basically, we want to improve everything we have before adding anything new into the mix."

In January, The Stella Way finished some accredited training projects to get ready for the new school year. "We're also starting some more accredited training courses that will need to be ready for the next school semester, so there are a lot of exciting projects happening at the moment," Kat announced.

Thank you to Kat and The Stella Way team for choosing Zoho. We appreciate you, and we can't wait to see what you get up to in the future!