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May 26th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May26_AEvery business owner knows that having a business continuity plan in place is crucial to the success of their organization. Yet even if your business continuity framework is at the ready, when the unexpected does happen the question that many overlook is how confident they are in taking care of the backbone of the business — their employees? With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five deadly business continuity mistakes to avoid at all costs.

Mistake #1: Assuming your employees will be there to support you

Companies that survive unexpected incidents are the ones that thought about their employees’ needs. It is important that your management team are aware of the business continuity plan’s SWOT analysis, which examines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you face in a disaster. Review and obtain formal management sign-off on the SWOT analysis and have your management team make decisions in advance about actions that require expenditure.

Review decisions on paying all employees during a period of business interruption for a minimum period of time. Communicate your strategy and message to your employees to let them know that you will be there to support them and their families in the event of a crisis. This way, your employees will have peace of mind knowing you and the company are there for them, and in turn they will be there to support you.

Mistake #2: Using only words, not actions

Once you have your business continuity plan documented and your SWOT signed off, you need to think about the small stuff to ensure your plan is executable. This includes logistical considerations like food, travel and living requirements, medical aid and monetary support.

Walk the walk and ensure your medical providers have made arrangements in advance. Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place to make sure your employees have access to people who can give them support in the event of an incident. Staff will remember if you provided them with care and support, and will remember even more clearly if you didn’t.

Mistake #3: Not showing your employees how the plan will work

While many business owners worry about downtime, they overlook the fact that explaining the plan and its execution to employees is critical to minimizing lost productivity.

As part of your maintenance program, include your employees as well as your security, medical and EAP team in the testing process. Execute a live test where various providers can demonstrate their capability to support your employees. This way, your employees will know that you care and can have faith you will be able to support them when the tables have turned.

Mistake #4: Not dealing with your employees first

When an incident occurs, the first assessment most businesses make is to determine the impact it has on the company. But how do you execute that process without people? When disaster strikes, your employees will naturally want to be taking care of their families, not your business.

Ensure your crisis management team addresses the people issues first. Where are they? What do I need to do for them? Are there any special employee needs I must address? After having accomplished this, you gain the ability to show your people that you’re in control and that you truly care.

Mistake #5: Reacting rather than communicating

In the event of a disaster, the most important thing to get right is communication. It is imperative that your employees know you can provide them with the most up-to-date information.

Set up a toll-free hotline so your employees can call in for regular updates, or create an open forum where your employees can tell you what you could have done better and what failed. With that, you provide consistent messaging and you can eliminate second-hand information and employee guesswork, while gaining insight into what could have been improved.

If your business continuity plan takes into account that your employees are your biggest assets, you’ll have peace of mind knowing the core of your organization is still standing strong even if the worst should happen.

Looking to learn more about business continuity and how it can help your business? Contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 26th, 2015

164 A_Biz IntelFor businesses that want to track how much traffic their website is receiving, a Google Analytics account is a no-brainer. However, while it’s easy to use this powerful application to measure traffic, how do you know if those visitors are engaged with your website content or just bouncing the second they hit your homepage? Engagement is as important as traffic - follow the four steps below to learn how to track this metric.

How do you measure engagement?

Just because a page receives a large amount of traffic, doesn’t mean it has quality content on it that visitors value. Half of the visitors to your most trafficked blog post or service page can easily bounce within seconds. So to figure out which pages your customers like, you need to measure engagement. And the easiest way to do that is by looking at the amount of time a visitor spends on a page.

Generally speaking, if a visitor is on a page for five minutes or more, they’re likely reading, watching or listening to some form of content you posted. Of course there’s the off chance that maybe he or she took an extended bathroom break after landing on your page or forgot to close it and continued surfing the web in another window. But if a consistent number of visitors are spending several minutes on a given page, you can feel confident that most of them are engaging with the content.

Why does engagement matter?

Simple. The more your visitors engage with your content, the more likely they’ll visit your website again or - even better - become a loyal customer.

You can measure engagement by following these four steps in Google Analytics:

1. Track engagement over a long period of time

We’re not just talking a month or two, but more like years. This will show you which pages are performing best in the long run. To do this, open Google Analytics. Then in the top right corner of the screen, input your date range and then click Apply.

2. Measure all pages

You need to look at time spent on all your pages to see what’s performing best. In the navigation bar to the left of your screen, click on the following in the order below:
  1. Behavior
  2. Site Content
  3. All Pages

3. Compare the average time visitors spend on a page

Under the main graph that displays visitor numbers to your site, you'll see a search box with the word “advanced” next to it. To the right of that, you'll see five buttons. Click on the second button from the right - the Comparison button. To be sure you’re clicking on the correct one, hover your mouse over it and the word “comparison” will pop up.

Slightly below the comparison button and to the left, choose Average time on page as your secondary metric.

4. Mind the Green bars

After you’ve followed the above steps, green bars will appear to the right of some of the pages displayed. The higher the bar, the greater amount of time a visitor is spending on a page.

With this data at your disposal, now you can understand what content your customers find valuable - and then focus on creating more of it.

Want to know more about how to gain valuable insights from your business data? Give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 25th, 2015

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

Investing in the newest technology instead of the best fit

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

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

Believing everything will magically work together

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

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

Assuming your team doesn’t need support and training

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

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

Forgetting to create a budget

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

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

Failing to get staff input

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 25th, 2015

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

Tweet regularly

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

Follow trends

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

Use visuals

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

Retweet great content

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

Track mentions

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

Integrate with other marketing efforts

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

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

Marketing insights

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

Tracking sales opportunities

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

Social media management

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

Financial reports

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

Project collaboration

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 7th, 2015

164_HW_AGoogle’s new Chromebook, the Pixel, is finally here. Those who’ve been patiently awaiting its arrival, or are curious about giving it a try, might be wondering about the pros and cons of this new laptop. We’ve taken the time to break it down for you and list the important features you need to know about when considering whipping out that credit card.

Pros

Slim and lightweight - who doesn’t love a sleek, compact new computer that’s easy to pack up and take with you on the go? The Pixel weighs in at 3.3 pounds and is only 0.6 inches thick. If portability is something you’re looking for in a laptop, then the Pixel is certainly an attractive option.

High-resolution touch screen - want a hi-res screen that’s more advanced than Apple’s latest offering? The Pixel doesn’t disappoint and surpasses the latest MacBook with a high-resolution touchscreen that is 13 inches, 239-pixel-per-inch.

Battery life - For people on the go, battery life is one of the main considerations when choosing a laptop. And in this respect, the Pixel truly delivers. Not only does it promise 12 hours of battery life when fully charged, but it can also charge up to two hours of battery in just 15 minutes.

USB Type C ports - still scratching your head wondering how the Pixel’s battery is able to charge so quickly? The USB Type C ports are what gives it this ability. Additionally, these ports speed up data transfers.

Cons

Price Tag - for a computer that relies heavily on a working internet connection, many users may question the $999 price tag. With previous versions of the Chromebook costing less than $200, it might be hard to justify purchasing the new version when it still has relatively limited capabilities.

Lack of storage space - when it comes to storage space, the Pixel only offers 32 and 64GB options. To help users swallow this deficiency more easily, the company is offering a free terabyte of storage on Google drive for three years. For those who want to create and edit documents on Google Docs, this is a near perfect solution. But for those who would like to actually edit and create documents on the Pixel itself, their options are limited. Downloading the familiar Microsoft Word, as well as other other apps and software, is not possible.

There’s little doubt that the Pixel’s new features, design and capabilities are impressive. But at the end of the day, it’s still a Chromebook - meaning it will be as heavily reliant on the internet as its predecessors are. And you have to ask yourself, is a Chromebook - regardless of features - really worth $1,000? Ask yourself what you'd really be using it for, how often you work offline and whether you're getting good value when compared with other laptops on the market.

Have more questions about the Pixel or other new hardware on the market? Give us a call and talk with one of our qualified hardware consultants.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
May 5th, 2015

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

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

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

So how do you measure ROI?

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

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

Tagging Urls

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

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

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

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

Google Analytics

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

Call Tracking

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

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

Backup strategies are tested regularly

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

All employees are involved

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

Identify and prioritize critical functions

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

Succession plans exist for key employees

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.