Blog

May 25th, 2015

164_Biz V_AAs a small or medium sized business owner, you likely have your hands full. Between managing your staff, looking for growth opportunities and keeping clients happy, you probably have little time to dedicate to new technology purchases. Being so busy, it can be easy to make a mistake when choosing an IT solution. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of common IT investment missteps that every business owner needs to avoid.

Investing in the newest technology instead of the best fit

It’s the job of every marketer to make you believe the newest technology on the market will resolve all your problems. And while the latest cloud or virtualization offering is likely to make things better for many individuals and organizations, it isn’t going to work for everyone.

Don’t let the flash and hype of a new product deceive you. Take the time to think about the results you’re trying to achieve with technology. Make a list of them, and when you’re done match those criteria with the product that fits. Any good IT provider will be happy to serve as your consultant to ensure you make the best choice.

Believing everything will magically work together

As technology evolves, it is inevitably becoming simpler to use. Consumers want user friendly products and solutions that are easy to implement, and nowadays that’s what they’re getting - at least most of the time. Because of this belief that all products are going to be plug-and-play, many business owners hold the misguided assumption that any new technology they implement is automatically going to synchronize with their other IT. It is simply not true.

Though many technologies are compatible with one another, your business is taking a big risk - that could result in massive downtime and wasted money - if you implement a new tool that doesn’t integrate well into your current system and workflow. Be smart, do some research or consult with an IT professional before making a purchase.

Assuming your team doesn’t need support and training

Now that you’ve found the perfect fit technology and you’re sure it will integrate into your current IT setup, you go ahead and purchase it. You let out a sigh of relief as you kick back and let your sparkly new IT solution power your company to new levels of success and profits in a SMB “happily ever after” fantasy. Sound too good to be true? That’s probably because it usually is.

Don’t forget that not all of your employees are going to instinctively know how to use the new technology. Consult with your IT provider to see if they offer support and training. If not, you may want to look elsewhere or find an alternative solution before you buy.

Forgetting to create a budget

More and more IT solutions are packaged with pay-as-you-go monthly pricing. While this is a great way to help you avoid large upfront capital investment, if you implement too many different technologies too fast - and without thinking about the recurring costs - you could quickly run out of money before having properly created a complete technology platform.

Think about what you’re comfortable spending on IT before you open your wallet. Do some research, and either draft a budget on your own or acquire the assistance of a consultant to help you along.

Failing to get staff input

It’s wise to consult with the employees who will be using the new technology you implement, on a daily basis. It’s even wiser to do it before you purchase it.

The truth is that not all of your employees may be on board with the new product. They may actually even know some downsides to it you weren’t aware of. Regardless, it’s smart to consult with them beforehand, or you may find yourself in a constant fight getting them to adopt it.

Need to consult with an IT professional to create a complete technology solution for your business? We’re happy to serve you in any way possible.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 25th, 2015

SocialMedia_May25_AMuch of a business owner’s attention in social media marketing is directed towards Facebook. But Twitter is also a great platform to focus your marketing efforts on - and, when implemented properly, could give you a high return on investment in the long run. So how are you to leverage the power of Twitter to improve your business’s bottom line? We have compiled a list of top Twitter tips to get you started.

Tweet regularly

Consistent tweeting indicates an active, healthy profile. If you only tweet only once a week, or worse still once a month, most of your followers will forget about you. You’ve worked hard to get them to follow you, so make an effort to keep them engaged by interacting with them on a regular basis. Make sure you tweet relevant or useful information, content your followers will read, retweet, and favorite. Come up with a tweet schedule and refer to it when you’re running out of ideas.

Follow trends

It pays to stay on top of the latest happenings in your industry. Try to put your business in the light by following relevant hashtags and trending topics. This way you’ll always have something new to share with your followers. Add trending hashtags to your tweets, in order to reach new users that have similar interests.

Use visuals

People tend to understand visual content more than text. You should try to create a dynamic experience for your Twitter audience by adding different types of media to your tweets, such as images and videos, which are proven to receive more views, clicks, and shares than plain-text tweets.

Retweet great content

Don’t be afraid to retweet when you see something worth sharing with your followers. Retweeting somebody else’s Twitter content has its own benefits - you create a good relationship with other influencers on Twitter, and it shows your followers that you’re an active member of your online community.

Track mentions

Know what’s being said about you by tracking brand mentions and keywords. This is a great method to provide distinctive customer service or to reach out to new customers. For instance, when someone is tweeting feedback on your products or services, take the opportunity to respond politely. And when you see someone tweet about their needs for a specific service you can provide, jump in to the conversation and introduce your company.

Integrate with other marketing efforts

Twitter is much more effective when integrated with your other marketing activities, such as email subscriptions. For example, if you’re running a promotion or contest via Twitter, let your email subscribers know about it, since they are another customer base who want to receive messages from you - that’s why they signed up in the first place.

If you want to implement Twitter to your business’s social media marketing campaigns, get in touch with us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 13th, 2015

164_Security_AWhile many IT providers often tout the revolutionary benefits of the cloud, very few address the security aspect of it. But the fact of the matter is that when you’re using a cloud service, you’re moving information out of your hands and into those of a third party. So doesn’t it make sense to take precautions? Dropbox alone has previously had the accounts of nearly seven million users hacked. That being said, it’s wise to take precautions and ask the right questions of a cloud computing provider. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of actions you can take to ensure security when you're in the cloud.

The cloud is playing more and more of a significant role in business. Yet, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, very few of them seem to be taking cloud security seriously. According to a recent survey, the "Security of Cloud Computing Users Study" , only 50 percent of those surveyed had investigated the security of the cloud services they used.

To ensure you put in place proper security measures when beginning your cloud venture, here are five actions every small business owner should take.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place - this is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask where the location of the physical cloud servers are - when you have “the conversation”, don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be stored in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center area with proper security afforded to them.

Create unique usernames and passwords - your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Take the time to come up with a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols - IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a reliable technology choice.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud - whether you do it yourself or your cloud computing provider does it for you, this is a must to ensure security.

When it comes to trusting the security of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. The provider should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, it’s a clear sign of a red flag.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_AMost companies measure and gauge their performance and success by analyzing data. And the fact that we humans are visual creatures means our ability to interpret visual data tends to be far greater than with written words. This is the reason most businesses turn to dashboards as a business intelligence tool to present data in a way that’s easy to understand. Dashboards have become a critical part of any analytics process. Here are some common uses of dashboards across various business functions.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_AIt has surely been a long time coming, and now it is official - the days of advertising-free conversations on Facebook Messenger are numbered. The social networking giant has confirmed that its private messaging service, a recent addition to its suite as a standalone app, is to become supported by advertising. While the move is unlikely to prove popular with ordinary users, it marks an interesting development for social media observers and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_AFor many businesses, social media is the the wild frontier of marketing. More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon but it can seem a lawless place. This is why many newcomers tend to waffle around with no clear strategy and call it quits if they're not making fast progress. But while it's true that social media can seem challenging when you’re first getting started, it pays dividends if you're willing to put in a little time and effort. This is why we’ve put together some practical tips that will help you measure your social media ROI more easily.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_AIn today’s business world, companies with a business continuity plan (BCP) are more likely to survive a disaster than those that don’t have one. There are several components to consider when it comes to planning a BCP, some of which are more important than others and must be included in order for a BCP to be successful. If you’re looking to create a BCP, or already have one in place but aren’t convinced of its efficiency, check out these must-read principles.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 29th, 2015

Security_Apr29_AData breaches occur every day, even to the most secured firms and well-known financial institutions - and it could happen to your company as well. How can you be sure that your network is completely protected from hackers? As a business owner you can’t afford to face a data breach, since it could cost you the two things that matter most to your company - clients and reputation. But employing even the most basic security measures can discourage many hackers enough for them to abandon their malicious attempts. Here are some tips to safeguard your corporate data.

Get rid of passwords

We are all accustomed to setting passwords to our online accounts, and the tip is always the same - set strong passwords, and change them regularly. But according to Verizon, a global communications and technology leader, a quarter of data breaches analyzed in this year’s report could’ve been stopped if the victimized company had applied more than a password in its defenses. The problem is that passwords can be used with any computer, which is why companies like Facebook and Google have replaced passwords with USB tokens. Tokens, when plugged into a company’s computer, act as a verification device and an extra layer of security.

Encrypt all data

Encryption is a great obstruction to hackers, since it scrambles and descrambles data each time someone tries to read it. Encryption also causes compatibility issues if the data is not being accessed via the company’s own network systems. While applying encryption can be costly, it is certainly well worth the money if it can protect your business data from leaking into the wrong hands.

Keep systems up-to-date

The technology world is moving at a fast pace. Hackers are always upgrading their tools to take advantage of outdated security systems, and so companies should do likewise to protect their valuable resources. Yet many companies who use software don’t install updates immediately. If the update intends to close security loopholes, delaying an update exposes you to external attacks. So install software updates as soon as they come out in order to give hackers no reason to penetrate your systems.

Back up frequently

Although you’ve implemented several security layers to your data, sometimes hackers can find their way in. This is why you need to back up data frequently, whether it’s on-site, off-site or by way of cloud backups. In the worst-case scenario if your systems do get infiltrated, you can restore lost data from those backups and quickly strengthen security.

Monitor connectivity

Many businesses have no idea how many computers they have, so it’s very hard to keep track of which computers are online. Sometimes a company’s computers and servers are online when they don’t need to be, making them a tempting target for attackers. With that in mind, it’s advisable to configure business servers properly, ensuring that only necessary machines are online and that they’re well-protected.

It’s much more expensive to fix a data breach than to prevent one. If you’re looking to check your business IT systems for potential threats, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 28th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Apr28_AEveryone knows that business intelligence is of vital importance to ensure that a company grows and develops, but the business intelligence of today differs greatly from that which was talked about in the past. Much has changed in the world of business intelligence in recent years, and if you are stuck in your old ways then you are not doing all you can to advance your organization forwards. Be on the lookout for these woefully outdated mistruths in your approach to business intelligence - and then be prepared to kick them into touch - so as to propel your company to the next level.

Business intelligence should be simple

For too long now, business owners have been fed the idea by business intelligence tool providers that the means by which we understand our organization’s success should be as easy to digest as possible. That has led companies to take an overly simplified view of business intelligence. It is one that just doesn’t deliver the same depth of useful analytical detail that we need if we are going to really understand what’s behind growth (or lack of it). Nor does it allow us to genuinely develop a sense for the direction our companies need to be moving in - and how to get them there.

While simple business intelligence tools will work just fine for some organizations, the majority of us need to be demanding more complex, sophisticated tools to manipulate and generate value from the wealth of data that is at our fingertips. We are in an era where there is still value to be gained, but you have to dig a little deeper for it - and if you’re using outdated software that just isn’t up to the job, you’re going to struggle.

Big data is the be-all, end-all

We have no problem with big data - large-scale changes in industry practices, and our understanding of the ways our businesses work and grow, depend on it. But there’s a mammoth difference between using big data for the sake of it - because we’ve got into the mentality that its ability to deliver industry-wide improvements means it’s the magic cure for our organizations - and putting in place solutions that enable our front-line staff to actually use it.

After all, what’s the point in generating terabytes and terabytes of information if our outdated business intelligence tools aren’t capable of empowering non-technical staff to gain true insights into customer behavior, sales patterns and the like? Recent business intelligence sector developments mean that our companies can benefit from quality tools to visualize simple data collections, but the ability to do the same on a larger scale is still lacking. The lesson? If you’re looking to reap the rewards of large-scale data collection, equip your team with the tools that allow them to perform quality analysis.

The cloud alone is the answer

“The cloud” is the IT industry’s latest buzzword, but too often it gets touted around as an all-round solution that will solve each of our woes, without us really understanding its true purpose or how we can get the most from it. This is particularly the case in relation to business intelligence, where company owners are frequently led to believe that they can instantly enhance their business intelligence capabilities simply by moving everything upstairs to the cloud.

We’re big fans of the cloud and believe that with proper understanding and implementation it can pay real dividends. But the truth is that simply repeating your usual business intelligence routine - but doing so in the cloud - isn’t going to change much. If your business intelligence tools are too conventional and don’t offer enough flexibility, that will still be the case even if you put cloud technology over the top of them. It’s important to address the underlying issues before you contemplate a move to the cloud, so that you can truly reap the advantages of both changes.

If you’re guilty of being stuck with an outdated, or just off-center, view of business intelligence, give us a call to see how we can update you and help you to get the most out of it.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 27th, 2015

164_Soc_AIn today’s Internet loving culture, social media is becoming a necessary function for growing your business. And rightly so, because it’s a great way to expand your outreach, find new customers and share valuable information about your business or industry. But there are certainly some social media no-nos that need to be avoided. Along with that, there are also actions that will give you a strategic advantage and boost your reputation. So when it comes to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, here’s how to network like a pro.

Facebook

Many people think of Facebook as a useful platform to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues. However, in a business sense, it can be used to exchange ideas and opinions, promote your brand, and interact with customers.

A proven strategy to grow a more engaged network here is to share informative, valuable articles that will benefit your followers. Additionally, posting photos that emphasize your unique selling proposition and mission is a strategic way to personalize your brand.

There are, however, a few no-nos when it comes to Facebook. With Facebook being predominantly a place to connect with family and friends, it’s easy to fall into the trap of posting whatever comes to mind. So when you’re wondering whether or not you should post a particular comment or image, ask yourself, “Would I be okay publishing this on the front page of a newspaper?” If the answer is no, it’s best to hold off on hitting the post button. Finally, if you’re using the platform in a business sense, avoid sharing pictures of your dinner, newborn baby or anything too personal. Your customers are likely to be confused or turned off.

LinkedIn

The social network that is most obviously suited for professional purposes is LinkedIn, and it’s an exceptional platform to grow your business. To do that, it’s important to keep your company information up to date and remain active on the platform. A couple of ways to generate activity are to share or comment on articles, join professional groups and update your network with current company milestones, events you’re attending and other news about your organization.

When it comes to growing your network on LinkedIn, there’s a big debate as to whether or not to connect with every Tom, Joe, Dick and Sally who sends you an invite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but as far as brand awareness is concerned it makes sense to connect with more people. However, it’s a good idea to take a moment and do a quick profile check on the potential connection. Not everyone retains a professional profile and image on LinkedIn, and connecting with the wrong people could potentially hurt your reputation.

Twitter

Want to connect with people from around the world, stay on top of trends and share your ideas with professionals you respect? Twitter is the platform to do just that. Like the other two platforms mentioned above, you can also share articles and advice, and ask questions.

An element that makes Twitter especially unique is the hashtag, and you can use it to take your networking to another level. For example, if you’re attending an industry event or other networking opportunity, you can search Twitter for the associated event hashtag. This will help you discover who will be in attendance - like colleagues and professionals you’d like to meet - which gives you a great opportunity to maintain and grow your network.

Interested in finding out how else you can use social media to boost your business? Send us a message to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media