The 15 Best Tools for Collecting Customer Feedback

SmallBiz Technology - 4 hours 49 min ago
What’s the best tool for soliciting feedback about your product, service or website, and why does it work well?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Asking and Listening

Ask customers, members of your team and trusted people around you. It doesn’t matter the platform, be it a survey, email or in-person conversation. What matters is that you really listen to what they have to say with an open mind, impartially and without getting defensive. It can be tough sometimes, but it’s always worth it.

– Ophir TanzGumGum

2. Wyzerr

Customers usually dislike surveys and feedback forms, as they are long, repetitive and boring. Wyzerr‘s “smart” forms adapt as the user answers the questions, using gamification to entice responses. The result is more consumer responses and fully completed surveys.

– Beck BambergerBAM Communications

3. Analyzing Behavior Patterns

Nothing speaks better than actual user data, that is why we spend a lot of time analyzing patterns of behavior within our products. Also, A/B tests will give you a much more relevant and applicable answer — we utilize them a lot. We found out that customers were never interested in features users supposedly like in surveys once we implemented them in our app.

– Ivan Tsybaev, Trucker Path, Inc

4. Emailing

Email is still one of the best tools for soliciting feedback. With a bit of digging, you can reach just about anyone. If you’re already collecting customer data, you should have access to numerous people who can provide you with valuable feedback with regards to your product, service or website. Your email list is also an invaluable resource for conducting surveys.

– Ismael WrixenFE International

5. Doing Monthly Calls

We keep in monthly contact with every single client. This helps build our relationship with each client. In turn, they feel more comfortable giving us honest feedback about the work we are performing. Because of these calls, our clients feel comfortable calling or emailing us anytime there is an issue. It also helps to eliminate problems in the early stages.

– Phil LaboonEyeflow Internet Marketing

6. Shopper Approved

For my website, I use Shopper Approved. Shopper Approved is easy to set up, provides feedback from only individuals who have purchased your product, and allows you to display your rating on PPC ads and organic SERPS, as well as on your website. I personally read every review, and the real-time feedback helps us spot trends and potential issues with our site.

– Patrick BarnhillSpecialist ID, Inc.

7. Using Third Party Companies

Hiring a third party company to conduct customer interviews, surveys, etc. is the best way to elicit unbiased, honest and useful information from actual buyers or potential buyers. This works well because you have eliminated any factors that might influence someone’s opinion. They can speak freely and unabashedly.

– Andrew KucheriavyIntechnic

8. UserTesting.com

UserTesting.com gives you unedited videos of people using your site and talking about their experience. These are people from your target demographic, trying to accomplish tasks you set out for them. As soon as you watch three or four, you’ll notice patterns in use, which will inform you on how to improve your product design.

– Aaron SchwartzModify

9. Invision

The InVision app makes it easier than ever to prototype and test new web or app designs. This tool allows you to invite team members or even customers to collaborate by providing notes and feedback right on top of the design mockup. It’s easy to use because the mockups are accessible online from anywhere, by anyone you invite, and the UI is quite intuitive.

– Andy KaruzaFenSens

10. SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey works well because it’s easy to implement and has multiple features that allows you to gather all of the feedback and data you could ever need. You can completely brand the surveys and deploy them via email or social media, in addition to housing them on your website. Several third party integrations are also available. For example, we have used the platform together with Mailchimp.

– Jonathan LongMarket Domination Media

11. Qualaroo

Qualaroo is a great tool that lets you set up a question or set of questions that pop up for users on your website. It’s easy to set up and runs automatically, which can give you more results than an email survey or reaching out to users individually. Best of all, the tool comes pre-populated with many questions you can ask your users, such as Net Promoter Score or Signup Hesitation.

– Mattan GriffelOne Month

12. MixPanel

What users say and what they do are two totally separate things. It is great to hear the thoughts of your users, but to get the whole picture you need to see how they use your product. There’s no better way to do this than to drill down into individual actions and users (far beyond what Google Analytics provides), and this is where the event-based analytics of MixPanel shine through.

– James SimpsonGoldFire Studios

13. Using Post-Project Client Surveys

A short survey at the end of the project works great. Keep it to a few questions that are critical to learning how to improve, why you were chosen, what went wrong/right, and perhaps ask for a testimonial. Disgruntled clients give the best feedback on how to improve. Happy clients give excellent testimonials.

– Peter BoydPaperStreet Web Design

14. TryMyUI.com

It’s a pretty awesome tool because not only does it cost less than most usability testing services out there, it gives you the same services. You get a video of the user’s screen as he or she uses your website. You also get written answers to a questionnaire. If you have your own users, TryMyUI will actually curate and send your questionnaire out to your own users at their email address.

– Cody McLainSupportNinja

15. Desk.com

We’ve been using Desk support for our support for the past year and find it one of the easiest ways for our customers to solicit feedback, questions and suggest features out there. It’s easy to use, quick to install and works like a champ. We couldn’t live without it and our customers feel the same.

– John RamptonDue

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Categories: SMB

Using CRM To Nurture Your Best Leads into Sales

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/28/2016 - 21:37

It’s a fact: not all leads are created equal. You might be tracking them all in your customer relationship management (CRM) software, but you absolutely should be treating them differently.

 

Determining which are your best leads — in other words, those most likely to turn into customers — can help you increase your conversion rate and boost sales. Also, putting more focus on your most likely prospects in your pipeline will save you time (because you won’t be chasing dead-end leads). But how can you figure out which are the best leads?

 

First, Categorize Leads

Did you realize that 73% of new B2B leads aren’t ready to make a purchase? That doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing, but you will want to handle them differently than you would a lead who’s ready to buy.

 

Create “buckets” for your contacts. These buckets might include:

 

  • People you’ve met in person
  • People who downloaded an ebook
  • Social media contacts

 

You could also categorize them by how they ended up in your lead funnel, such as “downloaded our 10 Reasons to Invest in Financial Software ebook,” which you’ve targeted at a particular audience.

 

Next, Score Those Leads

This part is fun, and a bit like a game. You can assign points to each lead to give it a score. The higher the score, the better the lead. You can give points for things like:

 

  • Job title
  • Location
  • Interactions with your brand (downloaded whitepaper, attended webinar)

 

Also take away points for any negative actions that a lead takes, like unsubscribing from your email list.

 

Decide on Nurturing Techniques

Even if a lead ranks high on your scoring matrix, she might not be ready to buy from you right now, so it’s imperative that you invest the time and energy in nurturing her appropriately. If you can further break down your bucket of high-scoring leads into where they are on the buyer’s journey, you can give what each lead needs at the particular stage she’s in.

 

For example, if a lead is in the Consideration stage, she’s past needing to be informed about your general category of product. Now she’s comparing you to the competition. Make it easy for her. This is the ideal time to send her a free graphic that puts you (in a favorable light without being promotional) against the other top players in your space. Remember: you want to communicate that you’re trying to help her on her buying journey, not push her into a decision, so focus on being informative, not salesy.

 

Leverage that CRM

Your CRM platform can be hugely helpful in nurturing your best leads…but only if you maximize your use of it. Take copious notes about your leads’ activities, and tag each contact with that lead scoring information. You can even more a contact from one category or stage of the buying cycle to the next so you can easily view everyone who’s at the same stage.

 

These days, we have so much data at our fingertips, that chasing bad leads is nearly obsolete. Instead, put your efforts toward ensuring that those ideal leads grow to love and trust you, and eventually become customers.

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Categories: SMB

Comcast Business Webinar on August 2 – How to Build a Strong Team

SmallBiz Technology - Tue, 07/26/2016 - 19:33

No matter how small your business is, you likely rely on others to help you along the way, whether it is full-time employees, part-time staff, or freelancers who help you with one-off projects. A small business is only as strong as its team, which is why I am excited to tell you about a free, upcoming Comcast Business webinar that will help you with building, growing, and keeping your team.

This webinar is part of Comcast Business’s “Connections to Growth” series – “a year-long series designed to help you transform your business and drive growth in your company.” Each week the Connections to Growth website is updated with new blog posts on business topics like leadership, culture, training and technology. The series also features special live webinars like the one I’m telling you about today. Here are the important details:

Topic: Building, Growing and Keeping Your Team

Date: Tuesday, August 2nd

Time: 12-1 PM CDT

SIGN UP FOR THE COMCAST BUSINESS WEBINAR HERE

This is a FREE webinar, so I hope you can join me! I will be participating on the panel, along with Julie Wilson (the Executive Director of the Institute for the Future of Learning) and Gene Marks (founder of the Mars Group.) During the webinar we will discuss what it takes to build a great team, including training the team, retaining your best team members, and creating a team that helps you with your current and future needs as a business.

The webinar will include lively discussion, best practices, and thought-provoking questions and answers. Secure your spot by registering today. After registering, you’ll get a confirmation email with the information you need to join the webinar.

This Comcast Business webinar is perfect for small business owners who want to cultivate a team that will make their business strong and successful! See you on Tuesday, August 2nd.

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Categories: SMB

Smart Hustle Recap: Finding Your Niche, Avoiding Legal Issues & More

SmallBiz Technology - Mon, 07/25/2016 - 15:45

When you run a small business, it’s important that you find your own place in the market. Many a small business has failed because of trying to be “everything to everyone.” On the other hand, those that have succeeded have done so because they’ve carved a specific identity and targeted a specific market. If you need help finding your niche, you’ll enjoy our interview with High Cotton below, in which James Hill explains how they’ve carefully and artfully carved their own unique niche in the fashion apparel and accessories industry. We’re also sharing advice that will save you from common legal mistakes, and entrepreneur lessons from the founder of Inga’s Lingua.

Finding Your Niche

As a small business, it is important that you define your identity, values, and market. It not only helps people understand who you are, but it also gives you a roadmap for how to drive your company forward, including marketing and product development. In this interview with James Hill of High Cotton, we learn about a company that “started with a yard of fabric on the kitchen table” and then grew into a million dollar business. They did this by targeting a very specific market and building an identity that would resonate with this group. If you could use some help finding your niche, this article is for you.

Click to read Developing a One-of-a-Kind Brand: James Hill and the Story of High Cotton

Small Business Legal Issues (And How to Avoid Them)

Your small business is driven by your passion but, unfortunately, if you make the wrong legal choices the business can quickly go off course. This article explores five of the most common legal mistakes that small business owners make, regarding legal structure, intellectual property, shareholders, investors, and payroll taxes. You’ll learn more about each of these important small business legal issues and also how you can avoid making disastrous legal mistakes.

Click to read 5 Common Legal Mistakes that Can Hurt Your Small Business

Lessons Learned About Becoming an Entrepreneur

The road to becoming an entrepreneur isn’t paved, and each person who sets down that path experiences his or her own bumps along the way. In this interview, we speak with Inger Stapleton, the owner of Inga’s Lingua, an educational program helping busy professionals learn the Spanish language.  Inger shares three of the most important lessons she’s learned from becoming an entrepreneur. Some of her points will be familiar for those who have entered the world of entrepreneurship, and other points just might surprise you.

Click to read Lessons Learned and the Importance of Setting Goals and Being Flexible – An Interview with Inger Stapleton

You may have noticed a theme in the articles chosen for this week’s Smart Hustle Recap: all are about the road to becoming a small business owner or entrepreneur, and how the choices you make along the way can either drive your success OR your failure. Finding your niche, avoiding legal issues, and learning as you go are all strategies that can drive your success. As you’re cruising down the road of entrepreneurship, take a quick break to get these and other lessons on SmartHustle.com.

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Categories: SMB

12 Ways Small, Relatively Unknown Businesses Can Use Technology to Attract the Best Talent

SmallBiz Technology - Fri, 07/22/2016 - 14:00
How can a small, relatively unknown business use technology to attract the best talent?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Source Online and Build Relationships in Person 

My friends at TangoSource have done a great job sourcing talent by creating a community through events. These events provide mutual value for talent and the many notable businesses in attendance. They use social media, specifically LinkedIn and MeetUp, to attract talent to the events. Once at the event, they are able to cherry pick talent and build a relationship with attendees.

– Andy KaruzaFenSens 

2. Highlight Growth

Small business can offer something that others can’t: growth. Employees want to evolve and grow, and small businesses can offer that at a much faster pace than a larger company can. One of the biggest reasons someone looks for a new job is the lack of growth opportunities at their present company. Highlight that and you will get people who value it and want to invest themselves in your business.

– Phil LaboonEyeflow Internet Marketing 

3. Build Community on Social Media 

If you are the little guy, you’ll need to create superfans on social media in order to attract top talent. Building community on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter gives your company a human advantage that larger competitors can’t pull off. Why not start a podcast or a blog that will attract people who are constantly consuming content to make themselves better? This is where top talent lives.

– Matt WilsonUnder30Experiences 

4. Partner With Organizations on an Email Blast 

First, identify who you’re looking to hire. Then identify where they hang out online. What do they read? Identify some organizations that you can partner with to reach your target audience. Whether the organization is a specific college career center or a media outlet, there’s sponsored (or free!) opportunities to get your employment opportunities a mention in an email newsletter.

– Brett FarmiloeMarkitors 

5. Publish a Technical Blog

The vast majority of the people applying to work for us have found us through our blog. We blog about the technologies we are using, open-source libraries we are writing and anything else interesting within our field. Not only does this get us traffic to our website, but it shows prospective hires what to expect before they even submit an application.

– James SimpsonGoldFire Studios 

6. Create Something Potential Team Members Can Use 

Side projects are great for marketing your brand, both to potential customers and potential team members. If you create things they love to use, you’ll build up your brand to them. Then, add a CTA that states you’re hiring and get your users to send in some applications. Buffer does this well on their dashboard, and Crew uses their side projects like Unsplash to gain traction.

– Jared BrownHubstaff 

7. Give Back to the Community of Developers You Seek to Hire 

If you are using an open source stack for your company and you want to attract the best talent, start giving back to that community. Either offer to host their meetup groups in your city and sponsor the pizza or offer to contribute code to their projects, if you have the technical expertise and the bandwidth. Either way, give and give until they line up to be part of your team.

– Lane CampbellCreately 

8. Rely on Contractor Sites 

After the market crashed in 2008, many experts decided to take their skills online in order to work a more flexible freelance schedule. These incredible professionals are easy to find on freelance job platforms. Outline the specific talent you need and then post those job listings. Interview a few experts to find the right fit for your company.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now 

9. Hire Talent Through Total 

I love Toptal, the network of freelance software developers and designers, for its ability to connect me with only the top tech talent out there. It’s a great source for talent that has already been screened, saving me time and money on the search.

– Cynthia JohnsonAmerican Addiction Centers 

10. Produce Creative Content Marketing 

There is no correlation between the size of a business and the ability to think outside the box. If you spend time making videos and content that no one else has done before, you’ll skyrocket past your generic, templated competitors.

– Carter ThomasBluecloud Solutions 

11. Leverage AngelList 

Leverage AngelList. A surprising number of companies fail to complete their profile, but we built an amazing profile that helped us to tell our story so that potential hires understood our mission, culture, team and stage. Then we ensured that we were regularly featured on the platform in order to gain more exposure and attract the best candidates.

– Ajay YadavRoomi 

12. Show Personality Through Interactive Apps

Employees want to work for companies where they can make a big impact, grow, and where they are compensated well. Small businesses that want to attract the best candidates need to emphasize that people can make a big impact and grow their career. Businesses that show authenticity on a platform like Snapchat or who include videos on their website usually stand out to candidates.

– Chris SavageWistia

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Categories: SMB

Financial Tips & Advice from Russ Fujioka of Xero

SmallBiz Technology - Tue, 07/19/2016 - 14:43

If you are a business owner, then you know how challenging it can be to keep your finances and accounting in order. And the larger your company grows, the more you need a system in place to help streamline this important task.

One such company that is trying to help businesses with this very endeavor is Xero. In this interview, we talk to Russ Fujioka, Xero’s President for the Americas region. He provides us with some vital financial tips and advice that are useful to all entrepreneurs.

Xero

Xero is a New Zealand-based company that was founded in 2006. Since then, it has been one of the fastest growing Software as a Service companies in the world. They are leaders in the New Zealand, Australian, and United Kingdom cloud accounting markets. Over 1,400 employees are located in 20 offices across the globe. Forbes even identified them as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company in both 2014 and 2015.

The business was started because they wanted to change the game for small businesses. Their cloud-based accounting software helps people do their accounting anytime, from anywhere. It enables millions of small businesses to thrive by using better tools, information, and connections.

Russ Fujioka’s Financial Tips for Small Businesses

One of the more important aspects of running a business is keeping your finances in order. And we find Russ Fujioka’s advice incredibly valuable:

1. Invest in Technology

Many small business owners either feel strapped for cash or think they are not technologically savvy. Because of this, they might avoid making an investment in software that can actually help their business. Russ stresses that when you purchase software like the kind Xero offers, it takes an entrepreneur’s attention away from everyday details and allows them to re-focus their attention on taking action that will grow their business. Xero software automates financials which frees up time for small business owners.

2. Get an Accountant, Bookkeeper, or CPA

Not all entrepreneurs are skilled at accounting or keeping their finances in order so don’t be afraid to outsource those jobs. Accountants, bookkeepers and CPAs are trained to deal with money, and so you should seriously consider hiring one of these people long term. Then, you can put your efforts into other business-growing activities.

3. Don’t Do It Alone

Sometimes small business owners feel as if they need to know it all – and do it all – by themselves. But Russ points out that there are many people out there who can mentor and give advice along the way. In fact, he suggests that you assemble a team of trusted advisors made up either of professionals and/or friends who have different experiences that you do. Their assistance can greatly benefit you and your company.

The Takeaway

The ultimate goal of technology should be to help businesses alleviate mundane tasks. Too many people work too many hours that don’t actually lead to their businesses growing and thriving. Follow Russ’s financial tips by putting some thought into how you can invest in technology to make your business the best it can be. Investment in technology is the key to your business’s growth..

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Categories: SMB

Smart Hustle Recap: 3 Outstanding Smart Hustle Interviews Take You Through the Small Biz Journey

SmallBiz Technology - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 22:23

If there is one thing Smart Hustle is known for, it’s one-on-one interviews where Editor Ramon Ray speaks to entrepreneurs and small business owners about their journeys, including the challenges, successes, and their advice for other small business owners. Last week, there were three outstanding Smart Hustle interviews, and we’re putting the spotlight on them in this Smart Hustle Recap. For inspiration and tips, check out what we learned from Alvin Perry, Laina Gossman, and Dawn Dickson.

 On Passion and Humility

Many a small business is driven by passion, but for every passionate business owner who starts out, there is another waiting in the shadows, uncertain of how to take that passion and turn it into a realistic business idea. Our interview with Alvin Perry of P5 Designs shows how it can be done. We chronicle Alvin’s journey from Corporate America to successful business owner, showing how a little humility and hard work can make your dreams a reality.

Click to read Be Passionate and Humble: Business Advice from Dr. Alvin Perry of P5 Designs

On Handling the Logistics

Our next interview almost takes off from where we left you in the Alvin Perry interview (although not intentionally). So you have passion, and you have found a way to turn it into a viable business idea. How do you deal with the logistics of actually getting your product made and your business off the ground? Like Alvin Perry, Laina Gossman started a product-based business and was challenged with figuring out how to actually get that product manufactured. Her interview shares the steps she followed to find manufacturers, select the right one for her product, and then get the product made and out to customers.

Click to read Using the Power of the Internet to Build a Manufacturing Business: An Interview with Laina Gossman

On Executing Your Vision

If you’ve followed this series of interviews, you’ve learned how to take your passion and make it into a business, and how to iron out the logistics of getting your products made. But what happens after that – when your business is up and going, but you encounter people who have other opinions about how you should run the business and what the ‘end goal’ should be? Should you stay true to your vision, or pivot based on the ideas of others? In this interview with Dawn Dickson, we learn that it’s best to use a mixed strategy. Dawn shares with us her unique vision for her company, and how she is carrying out that vision, but also how pivoting slightly from that vision at critical moments has helped her survive.

Click to read Following Your Vision & Knowing When to Pivot: Small Biz Advice from Dawn Dickson of Flat Out of Heels

Smart Hustle interviews are what makes Smart Hustle such a unique website for small business owners. The business stories we are used to hearing are those of wildly successful entrepreneurs whose status many of us will never obtain (nor do many of us want!) There are actually thousands of small business owners just like you who are dealing with the same challenges you are facing and whose inspiring stories can motivate you to keep pushing forward, even on your toughest day. Check out the interviews above (which contain written text as well as audio if you’d rather listen!) and for other Smart Hustle interviews, visit SmartHustle.com.

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Categories: SMB

With AWS, India Looks AWSome

AMI Partners - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 15:49
The big news of the day was certainly the launch of Amazon Web Services’ cloud data centers in Mumbai, India. With this deployment, AWS is joining other global players such as Microsoft, IBM and the New York based Digital Ocean, just to mention a few.
Categories: SMB

New Email Authentication Rules Will Impact Your Email Delivery: Understanding DMARC

SmallBiz Technology - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 21:24

Have you ever received an email claiming to be from a specific brand or company, but it clearly wasn’t? Well, you’re not alone. And to prevent these type of “phishy” emails from reaching your inbox, email authentication standards have been put in place. That’s where Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) comes into play.

I’ve asked Jacob Hansen, Deliverability Consultant, at SendGrid to help us better understand DMARC.

What exactly is DMARC?

DMARC is an email protocol that uses SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) to determine the authenticity of an email, or prove that an email is coming from where it claims to be coming from. DMARC was created to prevent phishing, but in turn, due to the complexity of some of its details, it has made it that much more difficult for email marketers to reach the inboxes of their target customers if not implemented correctly.

While many email providers currently have DMARC policies in place, Microsoft and Gmail are expected to update their policies sometime this year, which will directly affect how marketers send email. Under the new policies, no one other than Gmail will be able to send email from an @gmail.com email address, and no one other than Microsoft will be able to send email from @outlook.com, @hotmail.com, @live.com and @msn.com email addresses. Yahoo already has a similar policy in place, and therefore only Yahoo can send email from a @yahoo.com email address.

What does this mean for email marketers?

This means that email marketers can not use Gmail or Microsoft email addresses to send email through an email provider. All email must be sent from an owned domain. In most cases, brands own their own domains, however for smaller brands and companies, if email is sent through a Gmail or Microsoft domain, it will no longer be delivered even if it is wanted mail. Without complying with this update, marketers may see their deliverability rates drop.

Complying with DMARC standards will help marketers control their sending reputations, increase visibility into their programs while keeping mail relevant, and establish consistent policies for dealing with unauthenticated mail.

  • Protect your brand. Publishing a DMARC record protects your brand by preventing unauthenticated parties from sending mail from your domain. In some cases, simply publishing a DMARC record can result in a positive reputation bump.
  • Increase visibility into your email program. Reviewing and consuming DMARC reports increases visibility into your email program by letting you know who is sending mail from your domain. You’re able to get a better look into who is trying to act like you.
  • Establish a consistent policy for unauthenticated mail. DMARC helps the email community establish a consistent policy for dealing with messages that fail to authenticate. This helps the marketing email ecosystem as a whole become more secure and more trustworthy.

The takeaway

There is no confirmed date for when Gmail and Microsoft will be updating their policies, they have only specified within this year. But it is a best practice to comply with DMARC regardless if you don’t already. Businesses sending email from a Gmail or Microsoft domain will need to take immediate action to begin sending from an owned domain to ensure the deliverability of their email and success of their email programs. By adhering to DMARC protocols, all brands are setting the standard for authentic email and helping customers receive the mail they want most.

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Categories: SMB

Email Personalization Works: Hilton Garden Inn “Welcomes Ramon” via Email

SmallBiz Technology - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 16:16

What a nice, personalized, welcome email from the Hilton Garden Inn, welcoming me to their LA hotel.

As a small business owner you can use EMAIL in a powerful way to engage and bring a deep personalized connection to your customers and potential customers.

While you can do many of this on your own, you can also hire someone to help you do it.

Email is not dead – it’s a powerful way to connect and reach someone right in their email box.

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Categories: SMB

11 Ways Small Companies Can Use Cloud Computing to Get Ahead of Their Competitors

SmallBiz Technology - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 14:00
How do you see small companies using cloud computing to get ahead of their competitors?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. It Will Allow More Time for Growth

One of the top priorities in any small business has to be growth. As a small business owner, you have to devote as much time as possible to generating new leads and business. Cloud technology allows for business owners to make quick decisions and keep information organized for employees. Now, businesses get to save money and focus their attention on making more.

– Phil LaboonEyeflow Internet Marketing 

2. It Helps Companies Stay Ahead of the Competition 

Like anything, cloud options are constantly evolving. The larger a company, the harder it is to train and adapt to the latest and greatest versions, and that’s where small companies really have the advantage. The key, of course, is in staying aware of new advancements and adopting them before the competition.

– Sam SaxtonMylen Stairs 

3. It Benefits Recruiting and Enhanced Remote Work Environments 

Cloud computing technologies have made it much easier for teams around the globe to feel more connected than ever before. If you leverage this in the right way, it can help you attract top talent outside of your company’s home base, and keep that talent because of a structure that’s easy to work within.

– Mark KrassnerExpectful 

4. It Improves Reliability and Accuracy 

Uploading project data and files onto the cloud gives companies an agile advantage, more reliability, and makes for less errors. When everything is stored in a centralized, secure location, there’s less confusion, miscommunication and data loss. Project managers won’t have to dig through files to find the current copy, and clients can access and edit information in real time.

– Jared BrownHubstaff 

5. It Reduces IT Overhead

IT services – specifically servers – used to prevent many small companies from competing with larger companies. In 2016, the need for IT services, and hardware (servers) has almost been eliminated due to cloud computing and seamless integration offered by many online services. Without these IT overhead costs, smaller companies can compete on a more equal playing field with larger competitors.

– Tim McHughSaddleback Educational 

6. It Allows for a Faster Turnaround for Client Services 

Cloud technology puts all of your resources, such as designs, files and strategy implementation in one place. Leveraging this to provide a faster turnaround for your services will help you take a leap forward in your business. When clients experience an easy-to-use, seamless process, they’ll definitely tell their colleagues and return to you for more work.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now 

7. It Enhances Collaboration With Customers and Clients 

Cloud computing definitely increases the collaborative capability that allows you to become more supportive to your customers, as well as brings you closer together in your professional relationship. It also increases the collaboration among your team to get work done faster, speeding up what you can deliver to customers so they are happy to have a solution quickly.

– Drew HendricksButtercup 

8. It Allows You to Spend Money on Core Services, Not Data Center Assets 

If cloud services existed back in 2000, my first company could’ve saved over $10,000,000. Back in the early 2000s, it was normal to spend seed or early stage capital on data center assets if you wanted to create an online business. Today it is downright irresponsible to do that. Cloud services completely eliminated this barrier to entry for new and small businesses, and it allows for new levels of  innovation. Money can be better spent on the core products and services.

– Tim MaliyilAlertBoot 

9. It Allows You to Work From Anywhere 

Using cloud-based software to run our company has allowed us to work from anywhere. We’re a completely remote team; our “office” is a company-wide wiki that allow us to discuss our projects and stay on top of our goals. It allows our employees to be anywhere in the world and cuts overhead.

– Brian David CraneCaller Smart Inc. 

10. It Improves Response Speed 

A small company can use cloud computing to basically tap into information or respond to a client from anywhere in the world. This fast response time is one way to really impress customers or clients, where a competitor may need to wait until Monday morning office hours to respond, while a small company already answered on a Saturday morning or Friday night.

Angela RuthDue 

11. It Keep Costs Under Control 

Startups no longer need to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to web servers to test an ambitious idea. They can instead use Amazon Web Services, spend $10 a month to test it, and scale up if and when they need more capacity. This slashes the capital needed to enter data intensive businesses. It means you can test the water without betting the farm.

Richard KershawWhoIsHostingThis.com 

The post 11 Ways Small Companies Can Use Cloud Computing to Get Ahead of Their Competitors appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.

Categories: SMB

Collaboration Tools are Important But Email Is Still Essential: Faceboook Agrees

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 19:38

Even, Facebook, the leader in “social communication” agrees that email, for business to business communication is still so important.

Facebook recently signed up to use Microsoft Office 365 for its corporate communications as reported by the WSJ.

Of course Facebook’s own internal social workspace service, Facebook at Work competes with tools such as Slack, Skype and other more collaborative tools and services.

If you have people telling you that you can DITCH email and that you don’t need it anymore, in favor of some online post it board they’re wrong. Being able to directly email someone a message – not in a shared message board – is still an important way to community.

Collaborative tools like Jive, Slack and others are great for group collaboration, tracking projects and discussing projects. But when you need to email your boss, or email an attachment to a client – email is best.

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Categories: SMB

Easily Transfer Data From iPhone or iPad with iKlips Duo Thumb Drive

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 18:59

Getting data into your iPhone or iPad via your camera or other means is pretty easy. However, when you want to transfer lots of data from these devices to another device – it’s not so easy. Especially when it’s lots of data.

There’s a new gadget I was introduced to, iKlips Duo, which is a USB thumbrive that has an iPhone adapter on one end and a USB adapter on the other end.

Transfer files fast and easy.

Services such as Dropbox, FileShare and others are great for transferring files with the Internet , but when you’re offline or have VERY large files, a gadget like iKlips might be better.

 

 

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Categories: SMB

Video Production Tips for Small Business

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 18:00

Video is one of today’s most important marketing tools. It’s estimated American adults spend more than five hours per day watching video online. SMBs shouldn’t be afraid to jump into video. Your options range from low cost, DIY videos to polished, professional marketing video. Wondering where to start?

 

Why You Need Video

You should be using video to get more customers, but what makes it different from other marketing approaches? Customers get more information in a shorter amount of time by viewing one well-made video. Videos give your customers an impression of you and your business. It’s more personal than an email or blog post. Video is used in marketing in many ways today. Short videos posted to Vine and Instagram are short and easily shared. Tutorials and vlogs on your website or YouTube are a bit longer and more informative. Whether you film it yourself or hire a professional, video is one marketing tool you need.

 

DIY Video

Small businesses often take the DIY approach to save money where possible. Apps such as Vine and Instagram make it possible to create short videos. They’re free and simple to use. You can make new videos quickly, edit clips, and reach all your followers instantly. This option is excellent for things like contests, previewing new products, and even speaking directly to your followers, such as Q&A videos. Doing it yourself isn’t without pitfalls, however. While apps make it seem easy, they can’t make a poorly shot video look good. Take a few steps to make your DIY videos look their best.

 

Storyboard. Use paper or software to plot out each scene for your video and the dialogue or narrative that goes with it. Come up with a few versions, then narrow it down to the best one.

 

Lighting. Poorly lit videos look awful. Make sure you have at least one bright light source. Whether it’s sunlight through a window or a floor lamp aimed at your product, be sure the thing you’re filming is brightly lit.

 

Script. Stumbling over your words makes you sound like a novice and increases editing time. It helps to practice speaking a few times before shooting, even if it’s only a few second clip for social media. The script is even more important when filming a longer video, such as a tutorial for YouTube.

 

Sound. Tiny smartphone microphones aren’t the best at capturing clear sound. Be sure there is silence when you’re filming (unless background noise is intentional). Try using the earbuds with mic that came with your phone for clarity. You can also purchase a microphone that plugs into the 3.5 mm jack on your phone or a clip-on mic.

 

Stability. Don’t make your customers nauseous with shaky video. Invest in a tripod before shooting videos for your business. Choose a full size tripod or a little Gorillapod® depending on what and where you’ll be filming. Some lower end tripods can droop or slowly move while filming, so look out for that while testing it out.

 

Image licensing. Avoid getting sued by only using commercially licensed images and video clips. You’ll either need to purchase a license, get permission from the creator, or use Creative Commons (CC) images. Be aware “free to use” and CC works are not always commercially licensed. Read the fine print to be sure you’re allowed to use the image.

 

Professional Video

Even if you’re able to film a decent video yourself, you may not realize just how labor intensive video editing is. It can be a lengthy and complex process to get to the final, polished version of your video. While you may be capable of doing the editing yourself, it may make more sense as a business owner to pay a professional to spend hours creating a great video for you while you focus on other responsibilities.

 

Hiring professionals to create your video will ensure a polished final product. The obvious difference in quality gives the impression that your business is trustworthy. When it comes to video ads, tutorials, help videos for your product, and any video featured prominently on your website you’ll want to consider investing in a professional to create your videos. The impact it has on your customers is invaluable.

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Categories: SMB

Is Your CRM Data Safe From Hackers?

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 17:56

In an age where customer data is constantly being hacked and leaked, it’s vital that any data your business collects on your customers is behind a wall of security. With cybercrime costing the global economy close to half a trillion dollars a year, protecting yourself needs to be a priority.

 

No business wants to have to break the news to their customers that their personal information has been compromised due to a security breach. Use these tips for top-notch security to ensure your business never has to make that painful announcement.

 

Keep Passwords Strong and Difficult to Guess

Strong passwords are the first line of defense. If you’re worried about being able to remember passwords, create a naming convention. Start a word that’s easy to remember, and spell it with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Then, attach something, either at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, that reminds you what the account is for. For example, you could use FAC for Facebook, GMA for Gmail, etc. Avoid using things easy to guess, like pet names and birthdates.

 

For a Star Wars fan, “skyw4!kerFAC” would make a strong Facebook password that’s easy to remember.

 

A naming convention should make your passwords easy to remember (or work out), so you won’t need to write them down. Don’t use the same password for everything – that makes it really easy for hackers to take over accounts and wreak more havoc.

 

Use Secure Servers

Host your website on a secure server. You may have to pay extra for security certificates, but that HTTPS will help you. In 2014, Google announced secure sites will get a small ranking boost. If your business takes online payments of any kind, SSL is highly critical.

 

Keep Firewalls and Antivirus Running

Make sure you have firewalls and antivirus software on all computers in your network, and any others remote workers may be using, to keep data on your local machines safe. These should always be running since your computer is “always on” the Internet, and these should always be kept up to date. Run scans on a regular basis to remove viruses and other malware hackers could use to access your data.

 

Check Permissions on All Applications You Use

Keep employees in line with the right permissions on everything you use. This way, only the people who need access to sensitive information have it. Don’t share files with more people than you have to. While your employees are likely trustworthy, you never know when a disgruntled employee may leak private information online.

 

Back up Data on Physical Drives

Always have copies of data on physical drives – whether they are external hard drives, CD/DVD-ROM, or flash drives. Even if the data isn’t breached, there’s always a possibility the hard drive will fail – as all of them eventually do. This way, you’ll be able to load your data onto a new machine and keep working.

 

Consider a Cybercrime Insurance Policy

If your business deals with a lot of risky information, or you just want extra peace of mind, you could invest in a cybercrime insurance policy. These policies can be quite pricey, depending on the level of coverage you want. However, they will help recoup some of the costs in the event there is a data breach. This can also assist with regaining customer trust after a data breach.

 

No plan is ever 100% fool-proof to protect your business data, but implementing these strategies can go a long way toward prevention. It’s also a good idea to only collect data your business needs, and to use a privacy policy so employees can follow best practices. Security is one of those things that is much better to be proactive, rather than reactive.

 

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Categories: SMB

Smart Hustle Recap: Do You Need a College Degree? Plus Content and PR Tips

SmallBiz Technology - Mon, 07/11/2016 - 20:09

Recently on Smart Hustle we approached a very interesting topic, a topic on which I’m sure everyone has their own opinion: do you need a college degree to start and run a business? Or can you find success by taking a non-traditional path? Gather your thoughts and then check out our interview with Charles Bonfiglio below for insights from a successful franchisee who did not take the college path. Last week was a short week due to the 4th of July holiday, but we’ve also got some great articles with tips on using content to boost your biz and how to find success with PR. Get your weekly dose of Smart Hustle in the recap below.

 

Do You Need a College Degree to Start a Business?

Instead of going to college, Charles Bonfiglio went to work for a franchised automotive company right after high school. He worked his way up to becoming the top performer, then became a franchisee himself. After decades of experience in the franchise, he left to start his own company in 2007. So can experience alone set you out on the path to success or do you need a college degree? Join the discussion by checking out this article.

Click to read Do Entrepreneurs Need a College Degree? An Interview with Entrepreneur and Franchisee Charles Bonfiglio

How to Grow Through Clever Use of Content

Is content a tool for every business, or does it only work in certain industries and areas? In this interview with Julie Tupler of Diastasis Rechab, she argues that everyone, regardless of industry, can use content to grow. Julie is a nurse who focuses on one specific ailment – diastasis recti. Using a combination of books, DVDs, guides and more, she has created a booming business in this specific niche. The article explores how you too can use content to grow, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer or a videographer.

Click to read Boosting Your Biz through Content: An Interview with Julie Tupler of Diastasis Rehab

Your PR Cheat Sheet

Every business owner wants media coverage, but getting the attention of PR is another thing entirely. If you’ve ever tried to navigate the scary world of PR, this article for you. This cheat sheet covers all the basics of how to get your business in the spotlight, including developing a story, finding media contacts, writing a pitch and following up.

Click to read The Power of PR: Your Cheat Sheet to Getting Media Coverage

So what do you think? Do you need to go to college to start and run a successful business? Is content a good strategy, no matter what industry you’re in? Could adopting the right approach help you get the media coverage you’re looking for? Come contemplate these issues with us by reading the fore-mentioned SmartHustle.com articles – and if you have a comment to share, join the discussion in the Smart Hustle Community.

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Categories: SMB

How to Hold a Glitch-Free Web Conference

SmallBiz Technology - Fri, 07/08/2016 - 14:00
What is one best practice for hosting a glitch–free web conference or webinar virtually?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Hardline Your Connection

Never trust Wi-Fi. Get an Ethernet to Thunderbolt adapter and keep it plugged in the entire time. Your speed will increase 5-10x, and you’ll have virtually perfect uptime.

– Carter ThomasBluecloud Solutions

2. Prepare for the Worst

While you may not know there will be a blackout or fire alarm in the middle of your web conference, make a list of the potential worst case scenarios and then determine how you can address them should they arise. Prepare for the worst so your audience is impressed that you managed to keep the conference going against all odds. Even if the unexpected doesn’t happen, you have peace of mind.

– Drew HendricksButtercup

3. Plan for Success

The most important element of any webinar is preparation. Six to eight weeks in advance of the event, outline key dates and required assets, and assign responsible individuals. Don’t forget to include dates for a full event dry run, finalization dates for all presentation materials and video content, and opportunities to test technology in advance of the event.

– Curtis Thornhill, Apt Marketing Solutions

4. Test Before Hosting

Even if you have heard great things about a web conference platform, you don’t want to just assume it will work. Instead, run a test first to make sure everything works, such as whether your presentation will load and how the meeting works with the web conference tools that are included with that platform.

– Angela RuthDue

5. Find the Right Platform

Scout out a platform that’s easy for participants to register and join. Your target audience might not register if they have to create an account or jump through other hoops just to join. Also, make sure your platform works well on a variety of devices because not everyone will be joining from a computer. Find one that includes a mobile app or can be connected to via phone.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now

6. Have a Moderator

You need to test and have a moderator who is actively assisting. The speakers should be concentrating only on their presentations and not having to worry about the technology. This moderator can also handle any emails, IM, social media pings and calls with issues. Think of contingencies in case of computer crashes, internet outages, clients unable to connect and so forth.

– Peter BoydPaperStreet Web Design

7. Ask Participants to Help

No matter the webinar software platform or the number of times you practice and run through the presentation, technical difficulties are bound to happen while live. To reduce the technical errors, begin your webinar/conference by checking the audio and slides/screen. Simply ask people to locate the chat box and type “yes” if the sound/screen is working. Bonus: this kickstarts engagement.

– Wesley MathewsHigh Level Marketing

8. Use a Reliable System

One of the best ways to deter customers and annoy them is to make them download software to see your presentation or webinar. So one best practice for hosting would be to have an easy to use, reliable system (at EVENTup we use join.me) that does not require the viewer to do anything further than tune in, which makes the whole operation run much smoother.

– Jayna CookeEVENTup

9. Invest in a Quality Microphone

Invest in a quality microphone. There’s a reason your favorite radio host, podcasters and DJs use them. Copy what the pros do and sound like a pro. You don’t need to go crazy — a $100 to $200 one will have you sounding awesome instantly.

– James McDonoughSEE Forge creators of FAT FINGER

10. Rent a Private Office at a Co-Working Space

When I’m traveling I don’t like to take risks hosting webinars or virtual events, so I will often research a co-working space that will rent me a private, soundproof office with a dedicated Internet line. Many cities have these options now and I have found these spaces to be more reliable options than hotel Wi-Fi.

– Natalie MacNeilShe Takes on the World

11. Expect Problems

In five years I don’t think I’ve run or attended a single error-free live event — the technology is just too unpredictable! So we stand ready with a team to engage attendees, answer questions and send an email if plans change. It can’t be perfect, so consider what could go wrong and know how you’re going to communicate with your audience.

– Kelly AzevedoShe’s Got Systems

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Categories: SMB

Building a Website for Your Small Business? This Checklist Will Help

SmallBiz Technology - Thu, 07/07/2016 - 22:01

This article is brought to you in partnership with Verisign, the global leader in domain names and internet security.

Many small businesses find a website to be instrumental to their growth as a business. However, many small business owners aren’t sure where to start or are intimidated by the process of building a website. Our friends at Verisign, the registry operator for .com and .net, have provided a checklist to help guide you, whether you’re building a website on your own with a DIY website builder or outsourcing to a professional.

Determine the Purpose of Your Website

Every website has a purpose, whether it’s simply to serve as a brochure or to sell products. Decide what your website’s purpose is going to be before you begin, then plan your content around it. To get started, it’s often best to determine the elements that are critical as you launch your website, knowing that you can always expand your website later. For an e-commerce site, for instance, you could put some of your most popular items online as you get familiar with the fulfillment process, then gradually add more items as your business grows.

Choose and Register a Domain Name

One of the most important things you’ll do as you build a new website is choose a domain name. Dot com (.com) and .net are among the most popular domains for businesses that want to reach their customers online.  Since your domain name, or web address, will be used on your promotional materials, it should be memorable, but it should also contain your business’s most essential search terms. Internet search users are likely to click on a keyword-rich domain name that includes at least one of their search terms, compared to a domain name that does not contain any of the keywords.

Plan Your Website

Before taking the next step, carefully map out your website, deciding what pages you’ll have and how they’ll connect to each other. This will give you an idea of the scope of your site, including what services you’ll need. Once you’ve mapped your site, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to hire a provider to design your site or use one of the many DIY tools available. With your plan in place, you’ll know exactly which elements you need to include.

Locate Web Hosting

In addition to your domain name and website developer, you’ll also need a service to host your site. Some web hosting providers include website builders as part of their services, so you may want to search for this before you make any final decisions about your website’s creation. You can use a service like WordPress that offers hosting for free, but you’ll need to forward your domain name to the WordPress site. This will ensure that when someone enters the domain name you’ve created, they’re immediately directed to your content.

Promote Your Website

Even the best-designed website will be useless unless customers can find it. You’ll need to put effort into getting the word out about your website, including filling it with content that will make it rank well in web searches. In addition to quality content creation, you can also experiment with paid search engine placement, which will give your site visibility to your target audience. Make sure you also promote your site on your existing channels, including using signage in your store, adding it to your print materials, and linking to it on various social media platforms.

A website is the first step toward getting the word out about your business. When you take the right steps from the start, you set up a basic site that you can build on as your business grows. With the right domain name and publicity, your site will help you compete with others in your industry who already have great websites.

This article was written in partnership with Verisign, the global leader in domain names and internet security. All opinions and experiences expressed are my own.

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Categories: SMB

Google Calendar Went Down. Don’t Give Up On Cloud Computing.

SmallBiz Technology - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 16:57

The Wall Street Journal Reports that Google Calendar was inaccessible last week, for a few hours. Sure – that’s a LONG time and it could be another online service next week. However, for me, the world of online computing – internet based software – is still a great (the best) option for your business.

Online service providers have the resources and the incentive to ensure their applications are working at a 99% uptime (or more) and for the most part they succeed.

Keep in mind, when your server or computer goes down, you have to fix it or hire someone to fix it for you.

Long live cloud computing.

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Categories: SMB

Facebook Changes Algorithms (Again) To Focus on Friends and Family: Build Your Email List.

SmallBiz Technology - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 01:59

I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, if you want to succeed in digital marketing ONE of the things you MUST do is to build your email list. Collect email addresses at every opportunity – especially on your web site. Facebook is changing its algorithm to ensure it gives TOP news feed posts to friends and family.

You’ll have to purposefully use the drop down menu of the like button to tell Facebook you want to hear more from your favorite brands, if you want to hear from them.

The NY Times writes – Adam Mosseri, the Facebook manager in charge of the news feed, said in a recent interview that informing and entertaining users was also part of the company’s mission. But he made clear that news and entertainment were secondary pursuits.

“We think more, spend more time and work on more projects that try to help people express themselves with their friends or learn about their friends or have conversations with their friends,” he said.

So yes, use social media, post engaging content and be organic. YES – purchase advertising on social networks to buy more visibility to your content. But it’s important to ALSO build your email list so no matter what algorithms are changes on social networks, you still have a direct way to reach your customers, prospects or fan base – via email or text or even traditional mail!

While social media marketing is powerful – email marketing can be just as powerful or even more powerful.

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Categories: SMB
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