Study Shows Data Gives the Edge

Francis Bacon said that knowledge is power.  In today’s world, that saying couldn’t be more true.  Recent findings by the Economist Intelligence Unit has shown that companies that have a data-driven culture rate themselves ahead of their peers financially.

Relying heavily on data is nothing new.  The general tradition is to have data analyst to go over the numbers to make recommendations.  However, there is an emerging culture of having the data integrated into the day-to-day doings of business.

With data is more hands, it allows employees to understand what and why they are doing.  Individuals with the gumption may even make recommendations of their own.  As long as they use the data to present their case, there’s no out right reason to dismiss them.

In the end, having more minds thinking about the data will edge out those who limit the pool.

Nothing Beats Free: Part 3 in an ongoing series

Opening a store is a large undertaking, whether brick and mortar or an online establishment.  It is easy for costs to get out of hand.  Here are some free or free-for-now software to help get your online store off the ground and save you cash.


The 5.2x version of AgoraCart is open source and free, though version 6.0 is coming soon.  AgoraCart is PA-DSS and PCI-DSS compliant, meaning it is secure.  This software is all about plug and play.  After getting the software you can drop in various features like a Pay Now button.  AgoraCart supports 10 different methods of shipping and payment.  You also set it to send thank-you notes to customers.  However, it should be noted that the free version comes with no support other than an internet forum.

Paint.Net was originally created as an alternative to MS Paint.  Now, it has grown to include a tab to help with image manipulation.  Basic recoloring, cropping, and 3D rotation will allow you to make your product photos that much better.  A picture may worth a thousand words, a really good picture is worthy of a sale.

Fedex’s Rate Finder

Making the sale is only half the battle.  Using Fedex’s rate finder, you can get a better picture of what it’ll cost and how long it’ll take to get there under different plans.  This will help you predict how much it’ll cost to ship your product out and what kind of promises you can promote.

You can find more about your IT needs here.




Is Cloud Accounting Right For You?

Everything seems to be going up into the cloud.  Is accounting in the cloud for you?  Should your books be accessible from anywhere?  Here are a few things you should know before answering those questions.

So Who Owns What?

Unlike desktop versions of software, cloud based products tend to be subscriptions based.  People still run their old versions of Quickbook and Word that ran on Windows 95.  This won’t be the case with cloud based software.  The advantage of this is that with cloud based software like Office 365, you can pick and chose what features you want.  Desktop software tend to come out in one format or a tiered system.  Now you can pick and chose what you pay for.

Where Is Your Data?

If you’re using a cloud based software, then your data is stored offsite.  It’s not on your local hard drive.  It’s some where out there, in the cloud.  So is it secure?  Well, you paying another company to store your data and give you access to it all the time.  This is the biggest crux that the cloud community has to deal with.  But think about your ATM.  You could have all your money stored locally, like in a shoe box under your bed.  Or you give it to your bank and they give you access to your money via tellers, ATMs, etc.

Who Is It for?

In my opinion, cloud based software is really for the medium guy.  If you’re a tiny business and you can count your daily sales on one hand, then this isn’t for you.  A simple double ledger spreadsheet in Excel would do you better.  If you’re a mega-corporation then you would build or higher your own accounting department and have an in-house system.  However, the medium business that is always on the go and in flux will have use for a cloud based accounting system.  As your business grows and changes the cloud is more apt to scale.  It’s going to be easier than making that tough choice to spend a whole lot of money on a software upgrade.

Remote Technical Support: Faster + Cheaper = Better

Computers and the internet have changed the way just about every kind of service works. Hospitals share test results with doctors instantly. Banks move money electronically with less and less need for paper checks or cash. And it’s no different when it comes to taking care of the computers themselves. Nearly universal high-speed internet means that remote IT support is now very often a faster, cheaper and more effective option than onsite services.

An experienced IT provider these days can often diagnose problems in your network almost immediately without every setting foot in your office. That’s especially true for companies that have some or all of their IT in the cloud, but even if all your data is sitting on a server in the closet or a C drive under your desk, you can invite an off-site tech worker into your network over the internet. An expert working in an office miles away can operate a virus-infected computer remotely, just as if they were sitting in front of it. They can even get on the phone with you at the same time and talk you through the problem so you can watch out for it in the future. And they can do all of this in a fraction of the time it would take them just to drive to your office.

Remote technical support can sometimes even work for physical problems with your hardware. With smartphone cameras and webcams, it’s easy to share images of your machines. A technician can diagnose a problem based on data from the network, tell you just where to point a camera and then explain the problem they see. They may be able to tell you to switch where a cable is plugged in, or order you a new piece of equipment to replace something that’s on the fritz.

What’s the benefit of this switch? It’s the same as in any industry. Doing things over the internet—moving data from one place to another—is quicker and cheaper than moving a person the same distance.

Managed IT Services Pricing: Are You Overpaying?

With companies more dependent than ever on complex networks, mobile devices and electronic solutions for everything from bookkeeping to compliance, managed IT services are looking increasingly attractive. But choosing a provider can be an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. Some managed IT services companies set their prices based purely on how many devices you use. Others let you pick and choose from a variety of services on an a la carte basis. And still others have a tiered system where “gold” level clients get quicker service and more total hours of support than their “bronze” counterparts.

The key to choosing wisely is that there’s no one perfect managed IT services package. What you need is the best package for your business. And that means you need to have a clear idea of your specific needs going into the process. How many networks do you use? If your IT is hosted on site, do you want to move it to the cloud, and, if so, how will the transition and continuing network management fit into your overall plans? Do you have employees who work from home, or who use mobile devices on the road?

If you take a look at your use of IT service over the past few months, you can probably get a sense of your needs. How many tickets have come in from employees, and what issues did they reflect? Do you need frequent hands-on help at your office, or can remote assistance typically handle the problem?

It’s also a good idea to go through worst-case scenarios. If your network suddenly went down on a Sunday at 4 p.m., would it be an emergency that had to be handled immediately or a minor inconvenience that could wait until Monday morning? If one of your field reps working on the other side of the country couldn’t get help logging a new phone onto your network, how bad would that be?

There’s a reason people say time is money. If a long wait time for help from your managed IT services provider would keep your workers twiddling their thumbs, that’s just as much of a problem as overpaying for services you don’t need.

Of course, what you really want is to avoid both those problems. So before you go shopping for managed IT services, make sure you know just what your needs really are.

How to: E-mail Auto-Responder

E-mail is the most cost-effective way to stay in contact with your customer base. No stamps or waiting time is required and it can be received from anywhere.  So what’s the most cost-effective way of e-mailing?

An auto responder is a quick way to easily reach everyone in your contacts list.  There are several apps that you can use like Constant Contact and iContact.  For our purpose, we’ll use iContact.

First you need to import a contact list.  What’s the point of having an auto responder if you have no one to send e-mails to?

iContact has four ways to import contacts: one-by-one data entry style, uploading a text file, copy and pasting into a form, or using sign up forms.

Next you’ll want to divide up your contacts so you can focus your message.  Most people will either fall into a customer, a prospect, or other, such as a supplier.

In iContact, this is done via the My List tab.  After that is done, now is the time to create your actual e-mails.

The biggest reason I’d recommend using a service rather than building your own auto responder script is simplicity.  All of the aforementioned apps above have step-by-step templates that make professional looking e-mails.  That way, you can make a something that’s unique without having to hire a graphic designer.

Now, go forth and start your e-mail marketing campaigns!

LinkedIn Endorsements: How do they work?

In today’s economy, plenty of perspective employees will look for any advantage to land that job. They may be elated to find an endorsement in their LinkedIn account.

What is an Endorsement?

When you fill out a LinkedIn account you also fill out any relevant skills.  An endorsement is when someone else gives you a “thumbs up” regarding any of these skills.  It’s essentially a shorter version of a LinkedIn recommendation.

Employers can look at a profile and relevant skills.  Any endorsements will also be visible.  They can then go to the profile of the endorsers and see how they connect with the perspective employee.

How are they managed?

If you’re an employer, you should know, that of the up to fifty skills that LinkedIn allows, only ten skills are allowed to have endorsements.

If you’re looking for a job, you can go to Edit Profile option and manage your endorsements under the skills and expertise tab.  It’s best to keep endorsements from family members and people only tangentially connected to you to a minimum.

Does it work?

Endorsements are part of a quick overview.  It’s a good way for an employer to glance over the strengths of a perspective employee.  If the endorsements match the needed skills then perhaps a deeper look is needed.  And a chance is what most would-be employees want.

Shorter, More Productive Meetings: Yeah there’s an app for that

Less Meeting is an app that works with Outlook or through your web browser.  Like it’s name suggests, the app is geared towards making business meetings more productive and thus having them less frequently.

Step One: Setting Up

This app allows you to sync your calendars across various platforms including your Google Calendar and iCalander.  Selected contacts can then be invited and reminded of meetings.  Well begun is half done, as they say.

After you meeting time set, the app allows you to fill out a short outline of what you want to cover.

Step Two: Setting Limits

Probably one of the most intriguing aspects of Less Meeting is the workplace culture that it tries to create.  Meetings are designed to have a thirty minute limit.  Metrics allow you to measure what everyone is done who is attending the meetings.

For example, any notes taken or documents submitted are tracked centrally.  This allows the person running the meeting to see productivity during the meeting.  Thus, the best practices can be deciphered.  Like how Jim needs to be sent two reminders for every meetings because one just isn’t enough.

Step Three: Be More Efficient

Less Meeting has plenty of built in typing shortcuts so you can take notes more quickly.  It’s a little clunky at first, but as time goes on it goes better.  As stated before, all notes are tracked so they can be easily organized and presented.  These notes can be exported via e-mail.

Step Four: Follow up

Meetings are ends in and of themselves.  They’re tools to make sure things get done.  Less Meetings has a follow up feature.  You can assign tasks based on the notes taken during the meeting and send to-do lists to various employees.

After the lists are send, your employees can then write back saying that they have completed their tasks or require clarification or help, etc.

Step Five: Go Forth

Meetings are always going to be a drag.  With the Less Meeting App, maybe they’ll be less of a drag.  The pricing is based on the number of users, ranging from $12-8 a month.

Keeping Up Appearances: Managing Your Online Reputation

It’s often an adage that you should always be on your best behavior when in public because you don’t know who is watching.  Sitting behind a computer, it’s easy to forget that your business’ online persona is out for the public to view…forever.

However, all the ways to protect your online reputation revolve around the principles of neutrality and politeness.

On social media, never get in any type of argument.  It’s always better to extend an olive branch rather than trying to put a snarky customer in their place.  Better to appear that you are a company that cares about customer concerns than an eloquent debater.

Off that point, although your business is local your online presence is more far reaching.  Expressing views that are not vital to business’ image is risky.  Perhaps expressing your values attracts customers, but it may alienate some.  It’s something to consider if you ever expanding your business into another area.  Anything put online, stays there.

And unlike Vegas, what’s on social media is very public.

Using Managed IT Services for Savings

We all know that you get what you pay for, right? You can’t expect to pay rock bottom wages and get the best employees, or spend next to nothing for a great office space.

When it comes to technology, though, things are different. Some companies are still using old-fashioned software at a big up-front cost, and paying big money for professionals to set up new computers and troubleshoot their networks. But forward-thinking businesses can cut out much of this expense with new managed IT services offerings.

Thanks to cloud technology, many companies can get the latest software, the precise amount of storage they need, and all the back-up and compliance services they want, for less than they might have paid for a much less sophisticated system a few years ago. For example, Office365 and other providers now provide Exchange email hosting in the cloud for as little as $4 a month. That means getting your email out of you on-site server, eliminating the need to have an IT consultant fix any problems it might develop.

Another excellent value you can find with managed IT services is a fixed monthly fee that covers the maintenance of all your on-site systems. Beware of contracts with an added fee to address problems that occur—for a flat fee, an IT company should keep things from breaking and also fix any problems it fails to prevent.

Of course, sometimes you need extra services, whether it’s redoing your phone system or setting up network connections for new employees. Most managed IT services companies will let you pre-purchase blocks of hours at a better rate than you can get by calling the company out of the blue.

The options available with modern managed IT services can be complicated, but if you pay attention to your alternatives you can often find ways to get better service for less money. And that’s certainly more than you can say for just about any other business expense.