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

Wifi

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, 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)

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.

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.