How to Choose the Right Software for Your Business

As the Internet and mobile technology expand into more areas of our business, there need to be systems in place- both on a personal and professional level- to ensure that these changes are actually bringing us the benefits they promised.

Small Businesses Are Slowly Integrating New Technologies

Over the past 15 years, there has been an increasing pull among small business in particular to adapt emerging technologies. Along the way, there have been many enticing “assurances” that all of these digital tools will enhance the way they do business.

For example, according to a recent study from SAP SE, the small and medium-sized companies that have integrated digital technology into their operations tend to experience faster growth than the companies that do not.

But, many of the nation’s small businesses are still dragging their feet when it comes to adopting some pretty essential new technologies. According to a recent State of Small Business Report, by Wasp Barcode:

  • 48% of small businesses either do not track their inventory with a digital tool or use a manual process
  • 55% of small businesses do not track assets digitally or use a manual process.
  • While 62% of larger small businesses (101-499 employees) use or plan to use Web-based or subscription-based software, only 36% of smaller businesses (5-10 employees) do.
  • Just 43% of small businesses prefer to purchase software directly from the manufacturer; most prefer to purchase it through online or brick and mortar retailers.

These numbers reveal a big gap between where many small businesses are now versus where they will likely need to be in the next 5 to 10 years technology-wise in order to stay competitive.

But, as more and more of the nation’s smallest businesses jump on board the digital bandwagon, success will be affected by how systematically this technology is integrated into their operations.

How to On-Board New Technology in Your Small Business… The Right Way

Whether you are buying a new accounting tool, setting up a point-of-sale system, or incorporating a whole project management suite, bringing new technology into your business should be a process that takes into consideration the needs and preferences of all the key players in your business. This includes your employees, your customers, and your business’ leadership. If you fail to consider the needs of any of these groups, then you could end up choosing the wrong solution.

How do you bring it all together? Here are a few things to consider for each of the three main groups mentioned above:

Employees. Since your employees will be the ones most using the new technology, you should really start here. Deciding which technology to bring in will depend on a few factors, namely:

  • How many employees will be using the platform or device?
  • Where will technology be used: in an office, on the road, in-person client meetings?
  • What other platforms and devices are your employees currently using? Does the new technology need to be compatible with it?
  • What kind of technical support do you need? Do you have on-site IT help? If not, then how savvy are your employees with the new technology?

Customers. While your customers may not directly interact with the platforms you are considering, their habits and needs may affect the types of platforms that would be most appropriate. There are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Do you offer your customers a personalized experience? If you need to save a lot of personal data, then how sensitive is this data? Information, such as addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers, will need to be stored in a way that offers some protection against hackers.
  • Will the product affect the user experience in any way?

Leadership. Last, but not least, you need to consider how the technology you choose will fit into the big picture of the business. In other words, how will it help the company’s leadership to reach both short-term and long-term goals.

  • Do you need technology that can be easily learned and used?
  • How much can your company afford to pay for this technology- both now and in the near future?
  • Finally, what are your growth projections over the next 5 to 10 years? Do you need a solution that will scale with your business?

Once you are in touch with the needs of all the major groups within your business, you then need to narrow down your options by focusing on the following criteria:

The nexus between price and features. In short, you need to determine what you can reasonably afford to lay down for this new platform. But, this budget should be made after you have thought about what features you will need- both now and over the next few years.

Where, when, and by whom. Many platforms come with restrictions on the number of users or the types of devices that can be used. Make sure you are clear about your needs before you invest in a new technology.

Integration and collaboration. Finally, you need to take a look at the platform from a big picture perspective. Will it integrate with existing technology, as mentioned above? Plus, will it enable collaboration among various teams, customers, and business partners? While this may not seem so important now. It could be if your business is on the verge of a major growth spurt.

In short, by being clear about your business’ needs- both now and in the future- you will stand a better chance of choosing the technologies that can bring some real returns.

Geo-Targeting & Proximity Marketing are a Big Deal for Small Business

I have mentioned here before that small businesses in particular cannot afford to ignore mobile marketing and the enormous potential it has to reach consumers. Countless studies and surveys all point to the fact that consumers are spending more time on their mobile devices to access information and connect with others via the web. In fact, according to a recent Statista report, by 2017, over 63% of mobile phone users will be accessing the Internet through their mobile phones.

These devices are also playing an increasingly prominent role in the purchasing process. U.S. mobile commerce sales via smartphones and tablet computers are projected to surpass $142 billion dollars in 2016.

As consumers have become more confident and comfortable with their mobile devices there has been a rapid development of marketing techniques and tools directed at attracting the attention and purchasing dollars of mobile device users. While it is safe to say that the field of mobile marketing was in its infancy 5 years ago, today we are beginning to see some signs of maturity. Numerous low-cost, easy-to-use tools and platforms are springing up, making mobile marketing doable and approachable. Even social media giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been scrambling to incorporate mobile marketing and commerce into their feature set.

Mobile is currently the fastest growing segment of digital advertising in the US. Research conducted by Business Insider has found that spending for mobile advertising will surpass $42 billion by 2018.

Why Geo-Targeting and Proximity Marketing are Important

All of this is good news for small business owners working with limited marketing budgets. With mobile marketing it is easier to ensure that marketing dollars are being directed at the right people and at the right times. Herein lies the greatest key to success. On mobile, the marketing race will be won by the businesses that truly understand their customer base and their purchasing habits.

If you are just getting started with mobile marketing then there are two key concepts that you need to be aware of:

The first is geo ad targeting. In the most basic sense geo targeting involves determining the geographic location of a mobile user and delivering customized content to that user. Location targeting helps you focus your marketing efforts on the places where you will find the right customers, while at the same time restricting it in locations that are not relevant. You can specify a location to target based on the user’s country, region, city, zip code, organization, IP address, or ISP, among other criteria.

One popular area where geo ad targeting is taking off is pay per click advertising. These ads appear only to users who live in selected locations and are doing location-specific keyword searches. Google’s AdWords location targeting, for example, gives advertisers the ability to choose in which geographic locations their ads will appear. So, people who do a search for “coffee shop Boston free WiFi,” will see PPC ads in their search results for relevant local cafes and shops. Another example, a person living in Dallas, TX doing a search for “music lessons guitar,” may see ads for locally based music teachers and schools offering music courses.

The second technology that small businesses should be paying attention to is proximity marketing. Proximity marketing uses Bluetooth or WiFi technology to send real-time marketing messages to mobile-device users who are in close vicinity to a business.

In other words, with proximity marketing you can reach the right person with the right message at the right time. So, if you own a cafe, you could send a promotional message or coupon to a customer who happens to be near the location of your store during the lunch hours.

The benefits to both approaches in terms of ROI is self-evident. But more than this, mobile marketing enables a more intimate form of advertising that can not only generate more sales, but also more loyal customers. And, that’s something all small businesses can use.

Should You Use Periscope in Your Business?

Ever since Periscope officially went live a few months ago, a growing number of people, businesses, and organizations have been trying to figure out how to take advantage of this live video streaming app while it is still relatively new and not so popular yet. If you are running a small business, you may be wondering if you should jump in yourself.

But, before you dive in consider this: while Periscope may have a lot of potential uses for small businesses in particular (and I’ll get to some examples below), you first need to be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish on this platform. You need to be sure that your activity will add real value for your business. If not, then Periscope can quickly turn into an addictive social media black hole.

What is Periscope?

Periscope is an app for iOS and Android developed by Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein that allows uses to live-stream video from their mobile phones. The company behind the app was purchased by Twitter for a reported $100 million in March 2015, and was officially relaunched later that month. One important result of Twitter’s acquisition of the app is that Periscope can be used in conjunction with Twitter, enabling users to get instant updates on new live streams.

Another interesting feature of the platform to keep in mind is the fact that live streams are recorded and remain on the site for 24 hours only, after which they are deleted. You do have the option to save your broadcast, however, which means you can then promote the recording on another platform, such as YouTube or your own website. If you would like to learn more about how to use Periscope, there is a good beginner’s guide over at Small Business Trends.

How Periscope Could Help Grow Your Business

Before we get into some of the potential uses, there are a few points that small business owners should keep in mind. The first is that from an SEO perspective, creating content that disappears after 24 hours could be a waste of your time and resources. Moreover, once your broadcast is over the stream is gone, so you can no longer interact with your viewers. Finally, you may find your viewers’ comment stream distracting while you are trying to do your broadcast.

There are some ways around these issues. For example, you could make sure that you save and promote the recordings of your show. You could also encourage viewers to connect with you on another platform (maybe you could offer them a good freebie in exchange), and if you find the real-time commenting distracting, then make sure you do a kind of show that will allow you to interact with viewers.

So, now let’s get into why you should consider Periscope. If you are catering to a young crowd (those 18-25 years old), then it’s almost a no-brainer. Why? Because these people grew up eating, drinking, and breathing in the internet and social sharing. No joke. There’ll already be on this platform, so you might as well meet them there.

Aside from this, the spontaneity of the platform has a certain game-like feel to it, and the fact that recordings disappear after 24 hours means that there is a sense of urgency as well. Viewers will be more motivated to show up if they feel like they’ll be missing out if they don’t.

Now, let’s get to some examples of Periscope in action…

  • An up and coming web design company could do a live website critique
  • A real estate agent could give a live tour on a property
  • A business consultant could do a live Q and A session or interview a famous guest
  • A fashion consultant or designer could offer fashion and beauty tips
  • I know some writers who share sections of their new books as they are writing them

You get the idea? The possibilities are endless. Just make sure you are clear about what you want accomplish and how these broadcasts will help your business and your bottom line.

Leverage 3D Printing in Your Small Business Without Buying a Printer

The 3D printing industry has been generating a lot of attention lately, and it’s with good reason. While the concept has actually existed for three decades, over the past few years 3D printer technology and equipment has gotten much more accurate, faster, and cheaper. This has generated a 3D printing market for both small business and even home use, and this market is expanding rapidly. In fact, sales of printers, materials, and services will reach about $3.8 billion this year, compared to $2.5 billion last year, and is expected to top $16 billion by the year 2018.

3d Printing for Small Business and consumersFor small business owners and entrepreneurs in particular, 3D printing technology represents a quick, cost effective way to get their hands on product prototypes and even conduct small scale manufacturing and processing. Artists are able to create and quickly replicate unique items and designs for sale. Toy makers routinely use 3D printing to make small figurines or action figures. Jewelry designers use 3D printing to create original works such as rings, bracelets, and pendants in a range of materials including precious metals. 3D printers have even been used to create human prosthetics, cars, and bikes.

While the possibilities may seem endless, one of the biggest drawbacks to this technology is the cost of the equipment. Even though prices have been coming down, most serious 3D printers on the market still cost several hundred to several thousands of dollars.

If a 3D printer is out of your budget, you can still leverage this technology in your small business. Here are three possible options:

Online 3D Printing Services. Over the past couple of years a number of online companies have cropped up that allow users to create digital designs and have them printed and then shipped to them or directly to their customers. Some platforms even allow users to set up their own online storefront to both showcase and sell their designs. Currently, the most popular online 3D printing services include:


Local 3D Hubs. 3D Hubs is an online network and community that connects consumers and small businesses with local 3D printers and their services. 3D Hubs now has an international presence and allows those in need to 3D printing to track down a local 3D printer for jobs both big and small. The advantage of turning to a local printer is that it tends to be cheaper especially if the quantity needed is very small. Items can also be picked up that day.

Professional 3D Printing Shops. The fact that so many small businesses and entrepreneurs are embracing 3D printing technology has not been lost on some of the biggest brands catering to consumers and the small business community. Case in point, UPS, Staples, and Radio Shack have all made recent forays into 3D printing services.

So the bottom line is, even if you don’t have the money to invest in a 3D printer, there are plenty of ways you can still take advantage of this technology to help drive your business forward.

How to Use Public WiFi Spots Safety As a Business Traveler


If you have to do a lot of traveling for business, then you probably appreciate all the opportunities to connect to public WiFi hotspots when you’re on the go. While the number of hotspots is growing in coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, airports, and even public areas like parks and buses, they also represent ripe opportunities for hackers to steal the sensitive information both on your mobile device and the websites you are accessing.

As a business traveler, you not only have to worry about your personal information, but you may also have sensitive business data, such as customer profiles as well as connection to a company intranet, that you need to protect. While it is best to stay away from accessing your credit card information, bank account information, or performing a financial transaction of any sort on unencrypted free wireless service, there still are some simple steps you can take to help make sure your data is as safe and secure as possible when using open public WiFi.

  • Install a reliable firewall on your device and make sure that the firewall is enabled before connecting to an open WiFi hotspot.
  • If you use a web-based email service, such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook make sure your login, email composition, and email browsing all use a secure https connection.
  • Get a virtual private network (VPN), which is a service that encrypts all of your internet traffic making it undetectable to hackers.
  • Opt to use your cellular or mobile network connection instead for sensitive transactions. There are several ways that you can do this: you can use the mobile broadband connection on your mobile device; if you are using a laptop, you can tether your phone to your computer, and the phone can act as a modem; purchase a dedicated mobile modem; or get a mobile hotspot.

Again, in situations where you must use open WiFi without any protections then make it a point to refrain from conducting financial activities or using any platform where you need to login and keep those prying eyes away.

How to Use Google Helpouts to Grow Your Small Business

Earlier this month, Google officially opened the doors on a Helpouts page specifically for Small Businesses. Though Google launched the service in November 2013, it is still a relatively unknown platform, and that means there’s a lot of opportunity. The possibilities that this new service offers for small businesses owners is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Those small businesses that get in there now, stand the best chance maximizing the benefits when the platform becomes more popular later on.

HelpoutsHelpouts are private, face-to-face video sessions with professionals and experts in a variety of fields and topics, such as WordPress, YouTube strategies, website reviews, computer repair advice, QuickBooks and bookkeeping . The platform works much the same way as joining a video conference using Google Hangouts. Google allows users to get in touch with these experts to ask them questions and get guidance. Some Helpouts are free; others you have to pay for and at the moment, rates vary significantly between one expert and another. Helpouts are integrated with Google Checkout, so users can simply tap into their Google Wallet account in order to purchase a live video session.

While the benefits to users are pretty self-explanatory, those who are experts in a given area now have a further means to establish their credibility and monetize their knowledge. Moreover, all of this also helps them to build up their brand.

Why Now is the Time to Get Involved with Google Helpouts

As I mentioned above, Helpouts is still in the beginning stages, and it has yet to create real momentum, and that fact opens the door for professionals looking to capitalize on the potential exposure and income stream. The earlier you join and start offering Helpouts, the more exposure and clients you will likely receive even if you do it for free right now. Not only will you be able teach on certain topics before anyone else, but once you start receiving customer reviews, you’ll rank higher than those who enter the game later.

There are other reasons to jump on the bandwagon as soon as possible. For example, you’ll have instant global reach without the need for a website or a ton of online promotion. You’ll also have the flexibility to schedule Helpouts during the most suitable and convenient times. Finally, the platform itself is extremely easy to use and feature-rich. For example, you can share information with viewers from Google Drive, there is also screen sharing, screen control access, remote computer access, and you can even opt to have a recording of the Helpout stored in the participant’s Google Drive account.

If you want to get started offering a Helpout of your own, you’ll will have to request an invitation. You can do that here.

In the meantime, you should take a look at what is already being offered in your area of expertise and take notes on what seems to be working, and what isn’t. Look for ways to position yourself and your services as different from the rest. And, put some real thought into what you can offer.

Currently, Google Helpouts is for business-to-consumer services only. But, according to Google, there are plans to add business-to-business Helpouts in the future. So, Helpouts is something small businesses owners should definitely keep their eyes on. Even if the platform has yet to take off, the potential to help small businesses in the future is huge.

Small Business Owners Still Struggling with New Technologies and Platforms

A new survey released last month from Brother International Corporation and SCORE shows that when it comes to new technologies, small business owners are still ambivalent.

tablet-pcAccording to the Brother Small Business Survey 2014, 72% of small business respondents claimed that new technologies will offer a bigger return on investment than taking on new employees in 2014. But, while the survey seems to indicate that small business owners believe that the use of new technologies will help to both increase efficiency and keep them competitive, they are still having difficulty keeping up with the latest and greatest technological innovations. A total of 63% of small business owners say they feel overwhelmed by business technology choices.

Moreover, about 50% responded that they are concerned that investing in technology too quickly will negatively affect their return on investment, while the other half worry that they will lose their competitive edge if they don’t adopt new technology early enough.

All that being said, technology-tool related investments are still the top priority for many small business owners in 2014. Based on the survey, about 40% listed smartphones and tablets the most important tools for running their businesses. Many also consider customer relationship management programs (32%), social technologies (21%), and cloud services (15%) to be essential.

According to John Wandishin, Brother Vice President of Marketing, “Our survey shows that while small business owners understand the value of new technologies, they are still a bit overwhelmed and struggle with choosing the right time to adopt them to have the greatest impact on their business.”

A bit of a post script…

From what I’ve seen, the results of this survey are a pretty accurate reflection of where the majority of small business owners are finding themselves regarding technology. What’s interesting, however, is that among those who do adapt new technology and platforms into their operations, the vast majority are still not seeing an adequate return on investment. Some of this may be due to unwarranted hype, while a part of it may be due to the incorrect application of these new technologies within the business.

Whatever the case, technology is a tool, not a magical sales pill. How helpful or effective new technologies really are in helping small businesses stay relevant, competitive, and productive depends primarily in how it is used within the business. So take the results of the above survey with a grain of salt and make the effort to get a grip on the real needs of your business in terms of technology and beyond.

The Biggest Mistake Business Owners Make on Google+

If you have been paying any attention to the clash of the social media titans, you’ve probably heard about the explosive growth Google’s newish social network, Google+, has been enjoying- especially over the past year or so. While many in cyberspace have been quick to criticize for Google for practically force feeding G+ to the masses, there’s a growing movement of people who are starting to realize that there is an important trend silently playing itself out.

Google PlusWith it’s introduction and continued development of G+, Google is really ushering in a new era in the creation, exchange, and consumption of digital information- one that will increasingly rely on multi-media platforms and be influenced by your online profile as well as those in your network. It’s what is commonly known as the “social web.”

The key take away here is that Google+ is not just another social network; it’s just one part of a bigger user experience, and because of this, business owners in particular cannot afford to ignore it.

Many people already know the power and influence of having an optimized local search presence. These days, that means if you run a brick and mortar business, you need a Google+ business page, or your visibility online will be extremely impaired.

But, there’s more. Google+ has a number of amazing features, specifically, it’s searchability, and it’s Hangouts On Air, which offers a pretty seamless user experience across several platform’s and mediums. Plus, did you know that you can actually embed a Google hangout within a sales page? Imagine the potential over there…

That said, the biggest mistake small business owners make with their G+ accounts is that they don’t optimize them, and use them, or at least, they don’t use them enough. Whatever you think about Google, it almost doesn’t matter. There is a reality to doing and/or advertising a business online, and if you’re not going to subscribe to Google’s way of doing things, then soon it will just be somewhere else, like say Yahoo!.

Even if you don’t have so much time to put into G+, you should definitely make it a point to completely fill out your business profile and include in it important keywords. You should connect it to your business website and any other sites where you contribute content. You should also update it every now and then with fresh content. That little bit of effort will already put you several steps ahead of countless small business owners who have avoided G+ completely.

And if you have a bit of time, explore some of the new features, like Google+ Communities. Even if your peers aren’t on G+, there’s nothing to stop you from bringing them there. In many cases, you may even have a richer experience than you would on other platforms, such as Facebook.

So, the bottom line is, whether you like it or not, Google+ needs to be a part of your online marketing mix, and hey, you may just find it to be a pretty useful place once you get there.

Is a BYOD Policy Right for Your Small Business?

Requiring employees to bring their own mobile devices has the potential to save your small business a significant amount of money, as the cost of purchasing and managing the devices is greatly minimized and employee productivity soars. But, your savings can be significantly compromised if your don’t implement a thought-out, comprehensive BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program

laptop-and-cellphone-1269437-mA recent study by Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, reported that big corporations can save over three thousand dollars per employee each year with a BYOD program that gives employees the ability do their jobs from their personal devices. Much of these savings can be attributed to the fact that companies no longer have to foot the bill for new devices and data plans.

Many employees also prefer to use their own devices instead of having to carry around two sets of equipment- one set for business use, and another for personal use. This fact alone can lead to greater productivity.

But a BYOD program is not without its cons, and in many cases, these cost of these drawbacks, which include things like implementing new security measures, network improvements and support, can far outweigh the benefits.

So what does this all mean for your small business? The reality is that the cost of BYOD will vary significantly from one business to the next, and a lot will depend on the real behavior of your employees. What information will they need to access, and from which devices, and how much more will they work when all barriers have been removed? You also have to consider the real cost to purchase the devices and data plans versus the added costs necessary to maintain a BYOD infrastructure and the all-important security system.

If you choose to implement a BYOD policy, make sure you spend time figuring out how you will pay for services, for example, who’s going to pay for the voice and data plans? There are a couple of ways you can handle cost-sharing, but it’s important to pick one that will be agreeable to your employees. You will also need to create acceptable use and security policies that include a detailed rundown of the consequences of violation.

In short, if you are considering implementing a BYOD program in your small business, you definitely want to spend some time going over all the pros and cons. If there are more pros than cons, then go for it, but do it responsibly. If the cons are coming out ahead, then a BYOD program just doesn’t pay no matter how happy it may make your employees.

Do Shoppable Hangouts Spell a New Era in Ecommerce?

A few weeks ago, four top fashion designers announced that they had agreed to host live shoppable video hangouts using Google+ Hangouts on Air. As those who attended the events relate their experiences, it’s very clear that ecommerce will look very different a few years down the road then what it does today.

Shoppable Hangouts on AirDuring each event, hangout participants from around the world were able watch their favorite designers talk about their products and hear about upcoming fashion trends. As the designers spoke, the featured items were available for shoppers to browse and purchase along the right side of the screen. There was even the option to add items to the Google Shopping Shortlist for those who weren’t yet ready to buy. The hangout also featured a Q&A session with the designers at the end.

Putting aside my personal opinions about what this is going to do to our off-line existence (why go to the store when you can have such a personalized experience from the comfort of your own home?) it’s very easy to see why consumers will be so attracted to this form of online shopping.

This goes way beyond the online shopping experience to be had on, say, where customers receive personalized product recommendations. As Belle Letz of IPG Mediabrands put it on Twitter, it’s the “Home Shopping Network for the digital age.”

I certainly won’t argue on that one.

The announcement of shoppable Hangouts instantly reminded me of another Google initiative that’s not officially open for business just yet: Google Helpouts. With Helpouts Google wants to connect experts via live video to those who are willing to pay for their advice or assistance. It’s a different service, but the idea behind it is the same: instant, personalized, “face-to-face” online commerce, and it promises to bring a “small business feel” to even the biggest of online retailers.

In short, Google’s Shoppable Hangouts will allow retailers, experts, and other influencers to communicate directly with customers and help to increase brand loyalty as a result. Whatever your personal feelings are about this new trend, if you are running a small business, it’s something definitely worth paying attention to.

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