Category Archives: Business Technology

September 11, 2014

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.

WifiAs 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.

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May 25, 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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November 25, 2013

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.

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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, Amazon.com 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.

(Image Credit)

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Zoho Targets Small Business Owners With “Pay What You Want” Campaign

Among corporate circles, Zoho is practically a household name as a robust customer relationship management (CRM) solution. But, for smaller companies, the range of products and services are often too much and too complicated.

zohoThat’s about to change, though. Several weeks ago, Zoho introduced a new CRM product specifically for small businesses called Zoho ContactManager. What’s interesting is not so much the effort to target smaller companies, but more it’s unique pricing strategy. After a 30-day trial (no credit card required), you can pay whatever you feel like paying, from as little as $1 a month.

The new ContactManager is an entry-level, cloud-based contact manager intended for small businesses that need to organize, share, and manage a broad range of business contacts. It gives users a unified view of activity related to a given contact, including email and social media activity, all in one place. The platform is also supported on a wide range of mobile devices.

Though there are other platforms out there already doing this for small businesses, Zoho brings with it, its vast experience and knowledgeable of the CRM and data management industry. This new product is particularly suitable for those who have yet to make the jump to any CRM solution, and instead are relying on “old fashioned” methods like an Excel spreadsheet.

Why would Zoho offer such a valuable service with such a “crazy” pricing model? Well, for one, it removes a lot of barriers, making it extremely cost-effective to at least give the platform a test drive. Plus, many small businesses may jump on board out of shear curiosity. Those who stick it out with the service may then pay more for add-ons and other product extras later on. Plus, if any of these small companies experience a major growth spurt down the road, they can then become customers of the full-featured CRM solution.

It definitely looks like a win-win for both small companies and Zoho in the CRM space.

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Three Things To Do When Your Business Website Goes Down​

What steps should you take when you find out that your website is down? Though some web hosting services advertise “100% uptime,” in reality, it’s false advertising. Even if you invest in the best possible hosting service, a website’s server and associated apps can and do malfunction from time to time.

under-construction-965280-mIt’s not hard to find proof of this. Over the past couple of weeks, several high profile services experienced downtime causing a stir among industry watchers that even trickled down to investors. The first was Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft apologized for a recent outage that took nearly three days between between Aug. 14 and Aug. 17 to fix up. On its service status page, the company blamed a system that interacts with a protocol used by most mobile devices. “This incident was a result of a failure in a caching service that interfaces with devices using Exchange ActiveSync, including most smart phones.”

The next major site to experience some downtime was none other than Amazon.com. Though the company is most know for it’s online shopping, it also offers premium hosting services. Ouch! Amazon’s downtime was much more contained than Microsoft’s- lasting only 15 to 45 minutes (depending on who you ask). Jittery investors actually sold Amazon stock as a result of the outage. Even Google’s recent five minute outage was enough to cause a stir.

Now, if people were all abuzz over the possible monetary losses of such big name brands, where loyal customers and users were pretty likely to just wait out the glitch in services, imagine what such an outage would do to your business website? Even if you have built up a loyal following, when your website goes down and you have done little to prepare for it, it can cost you both sales and your business’ reputation.

Here are three things that you can do to help minimize the damage:

Create a custom error page. Instead of letting visitors be greeted by an error code, you can upload a branded placeholder screen. This gives the impression that you have the technical issues under control, and that they are being dealt with. For a quick tutorial on how to upload a custom error page in your cPanel, see this video.

Set up website uptime monitoring. Use a service that let’s you know instantly when your site down via emails, tweets, and SMS so that you can take action right away. There are several options to choose from. You could use a proprietary platform, such as Pingdom. You could use a freemium service, such as those listed in this post over at Hongkiat.com. Finally, you could give this totally free hack from Digital Inspiration a go.

Keep your customers updated. Once you’ve established that the site is down, you should give your readers a heads up with status updates via email and social media. Again, this gives the impression that you are on top of the situation, and the added effort can help save your online reputation.

In short, experiencing website downtime is a given part of doing business online. How you handle it will make all the difference, potentially saving you lost sales and customer respect.

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Must Have Tech for Small Business

The importance of having the right tech tools on hand is undeniable for small business owners. If you’re not up-to-date and using all of the available channels and options available to you, you’ll eventually be left behind. Think about it this way: using tech ultimately makes your business seem bigger, giving customers greater confidence in your brand and your products.

“Small businesses can do BIG things using low-cost technology and readily available expertise,” says Ramon Ray, Journalist and Editor at Smallbiztechnology.com.

So what types of technology will launch your business? It goes without saying that you should already be setup with internet, a computer and a smartphone device, but we’ve got a few more suggestions, from the basics like a website and social media to more advanced tools like mobile hotspots and cloud storage.

Website
If you’re brick-and-mortar small business, having a website gives you the chance to brand yourself to a much wider audience. If you’re an online retailer, a website is obvious. There are plenty of easy-to-use website builders that offer e-commerce and other fun bobbles, including blogging tools, which, with constant content, will allow for search engine web crawlers to find and share your brand with the world. Also, don’t forget to make sure your site is mobile-friendly, or Google won’t give you the attention you want.

 

Social Media
The small business customer service game is played out largely on social media these days, making your business’s presence on Twitter and Facebook more important than ever. Having accounts on Vine, Instagram, and Pinterest give you an even greater edge with their visual branding possibilities. A constant social presence gives you the opportunity to get to know your customers, share brand activities, and offer new and exciting ways for customers to connect. Don’t forget to claim your business on Yelp, too!

 

CrazyEgg
A bit of a more advanced tech tool for small business owners, CrazyEgg is the king of heat mapping, which helps you figure out the ins and outs of how customers are experiencing your website. You might think aspects of your website are winning out, but through heat mapping you’ll probably discover that your customers are more attracted to certain links and images than other calls-to-action. CrazyEgg will give you the advantage in understanding your customers and being able to better cater to their behaviors and needs.

 

Social
Having a social media plan is a great, but knowing how to analyze and understand what’s happening on social is even better. Hootsuite and SproutSocial are amazing tech tools that allow you to create reports about your interactions, your posts, and your users. Curious about your demographics? Where those Twitter followers are coming from? Maybe you want to know the best time of day to post. SproutSocial gives you the upperhand on all of these things, even allowing you to create competitor reports so you know how you’re social plan is competing.

 

Mobile Hotspot
No matter where you are, as a small business owner you should always be able to access your company’s files, inventory, emails, and anything else you need to feel connected. Enter the mobile hotspot. The “hotspot” — a small device that plugs into your computer — essentially is a mobile wireless router that allows you to access the internet no matter where you go. Whether you’re at the airport heading to an investor meeting or sitting in a coffee shop, a mobile hotspot keeps you connected.

 

Cloud Storage
If you’ve got a mobile hotspot available, then setting up a cloud network will make your life all the more easy. Using cloud storage through DropBox or Google Drive gives you access to all of your important files no matter where you are. No need for large servers back at home or having to rely on someone to send you something at the last minute because you don’t have the files on your computer — with cloud storage, you have secure, convenient access to everything.

 

Of course there are hundreds of other amazing tech tools available to small business owners, ranging from point-of-sale systems to smartphone apps that will keep your operations running smoothly. However, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or newbie to the small business tech game, we recommend thinking macro until you’re comfortable and then getting down to the nitty gritty micro tech tools. Think big, and your customers will, too.

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Clearing Up Cloudy Online Security Issues

For a small business, storing information on the cloud makes a lot of sense…and dollars. The most common rationale for choosing SaaS is to save money on infrastructure, servers, IT and licensing fees. However, security is a pressing concern in connection with any data that’s out there in the Webosphere.

 

Hacked

Hacker attacks are unpredictable and can take a number of damaging forms: data tampering or defacement (the #1 motivation, according to the 2009 Web Hacking Incident Database Annual Report), data theft, denial of access to online information.

Learning to keep cloud-based business info secure is an essential management survival skill.

 

Hack-resistant?

Before signing up with an online data storage system, check the Collective Intelligence Framework’s open source sites to see whether (and if so, how often) the cloud company has ever been hacked. This will indicate which service providers to avoid.

 

Know Who You’re Dealing With

Who’s handling your data? Know exactly who has access to your data and what measures they’re taking to protect it. Request the right to audit so that you can verify the security practices actually meet the standards spelled out in your contract. Find out what happens to no longer needed data from your company. Ensure that your SaaSprovider is certified in security standards by the International Organization for Standardization. Above all, pinpoint a human being you can hold accountable if security is compromised; responsibility for breaches is all too easily sloughed off and lost in the clouds, so to speak.

 

Caveat Emptor!

Cloud storage providers can be ingenious but they are not infallible. Furthermore, their primary purpose is to facilitate information storage and access, while security concerns may suggest just the opposite. To take a well-known example, Google states in its Terms of Service:

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google … a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works …, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

In other words, while you technically retain ownership, Google can do pretty much whatever it wants with your info. So consider encrypting highly sensitive client or financial information.

 

Backup

Just as ‘location, location, location’ is the key formula in real estate, ‘backup, backup, backup’ is a simple formula for protecting your cloud data in case of loss or theft. The trusty external hard drive’s life of usefulness is not over yet.

 

Chain of Fools

Avoid linking your online accounts, otherwise known as “daisy chaining.” The last thing you want to do, in case of hacker attack, is open the door for them to move through your Amazon account, say, to your email and social media accounts, marauding and pillaging along the way.

Google offers a two-factor authentication system to improve security. When you wish to log into your account, a temporary password is either texted or generated via smartphone app for an extra layer of protection.

 

Remote Wiping Services – The Dark Side

Use remote wiping services with caution. While in theory these services improve security by allowing you to remotely erase data from your laptop, smartphone or tablet if it is lost or stolen, the reality may be frighteningly different. Hackers can gain access to your wiping service and merrily wipe clean your still-very-much-in-use device. An independent wiping service is safer than one that is part of an SaaS package.

 

‘Fake It’

One ingenious tip for protecting password protected accounts is to simply input fake answers to personal questions of the “What was the name of your elementary school?” variety. Then you’ll have to keep track of all your little white lies, but a password manager/wallet will make quick work of that.

 

Be Prepared

Plan ahead. Put a data theft protection program in place before an attack occurs. Even more useful is preparing an action plan, ready to implement should a determined hacker make his way through all the protection you have in place. Once again, encryption is your best friend. Researchers at MIT are currently developing end-to-end encryption that allows information to be used without ever decoding it, for example, by ascertaining whether two pieces of data are identical. This is an excellent means of protection, as it ensures your data is usable only for your purposes and not for malicious intent.

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