technology best practices for small business growth
Updated: 53 min 45 sec ago
Politicians are “now” getting hip to the “gig” economy – to the world that many small businesses know quite well. I’ve been using Elance (now WeWork) for years and have used Craig’s List on occasion. The freelance economy is not new and of course Uber has made it much more popular to be a “gig” worker.
While I think it’s great that more politicians are interested in the world outside of a “9 – 5” job and outside of owning a traditional small business – my hope is that our elected officials appreciate this economy and not seek to legislate it.
The NY Times reports that politicians are not just interested in Uber but also in other companies – such as Thumtak who bring together service providers and those seeking their services.
There’s a growing debate over when an employee is an employee vs a contract worker and I hope that this one very special aspect of the freelance (or gig) economy that politicians appreciate and don’t make it harder and harder to hire talented contract worker.
For companies just starting up – hiring smart professionals from any number of reputable talent marketplaces is a great idea. You can find designers, programmers, researchers, event staff, project managers and more.
The post The Freelance Economy Is Now Cool. But Will Tough Legislation Come? appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Hurricanes are no joke. Those of us in the North East saw the devastating damage of Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Jaoquin thankfully missed us this season – but what if it hadn’t. Would you have been ready?
The NY Times writes, that smart business owners have simple (and some complex) plans in what to do in the event of a disaster.
Some things to consider:
- Do you have insurance (to cover every aspect of a hurricane – fire, flood, wind, etc)
- What about emergency funds set aside to cover things that insurance won’t cover (whatever that might be) and operating expenses
- What are critical areas of your business that the hurricane might affect
- Are your employees trained
- Do you have a current and active backup of everything (not saved near your place of business)
- If you need a physical location – do you know how to operate from home OR do you have a backup location ready if you are using machines and other similar equipment
- Do you have a list of all your employees and their records
- Do you have a list of customers and their records
- Do you have a list of suppliers and their records. Do you have relationships with these key suppliers are alternative sources of supplies.
It’s hard to plan for the unknown – but we’ve had enough natural disasters that you can read up on the challenges that others have gone through.
Check out FEMA and other resources for help in developing a plan for your business – and your family.
The post Is Your Business Ready for the Next Hurricane Jaoquin? 9 Things to Think About. appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Google’s rolling out new advertising services. One will allow advertisers to target eyeballs based on email addresses. Another feature will allow, as Facebook already has, advertisers to upload customer lists and let Google find “similar” lists of customers to market to.
What does this mean for your business?
It’s going to get easier and easier to target customers. Therefore – do you know who your target customer is?
At the same time, some consumers are going to resist such micro targeting and be very slow to give you contact information.
See the full WSJ story here.
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Many of us have used Microsoft Outlook for years – sending and receiving zillions of messages. Well a nice collaboration upgrade is coming.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, new versions of Outlook will let you “like” an email and bring others into the conversation with an “@” notation and their name.
Sounds simple – yes. But it’s a good thing.
Now your emails can be much more collaborating and useful.
The post Microsoft Outlook Is Getting More Social appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Despite some small business owners feeling less positive about the economy and growth compared to earlier this year, Capital One’s Spark Business Barometer, an ongoing survey measuring the perceptions, trends and financial conditions of small business owners also found that even amid the current economic climate, women and millennial-owned businesses have a positive outlook.
My suspicion is that even males and older business owners are feeling the same thing!
In addition to their optimism, the business owners surveyed admitted to having increased sales in the last six months.
The Spark Business Barometer shows that while slightly less than a third (31 percent) of overall business owners reported improved financial positions over the past year, a large portion of those surveyed, over 50% reported that business overall was doing pretty good.
Small businesses continue to struggle to keep up with the pace of technology, and lack some tools that drive efficiency. As small businesses work to establish themselves and grow, they struggle in key areas that limit growth opportunities. According to the Barometer, some of the top challenges business owners face include finding efficient ways to operate business (34 percent), managing business expenses (32 percent), managing cash flow (25 percent), and finding the right software, technology, and/or management tools (16 percent). That being said, business owners plan to increase investments in key areas such as: solutions that drive efficiency (34 percent), expanded workforces (20 percent), and new technology to improve client interactions (18 percent).
How can small business owners take steps to optimize their operations amid this time of decreased optimism? During times of economic uncertainty, business owners need to look for opportunities to drive efficiency and streamline operations; and technology can help with both significantly. Investing time in learning about these new technologies, being resourceful, and open to how new technology can help protect small businesses from fluctuations by saving time and money and ultimately drive growth. A few more suggestions:
- Invest your time – in order to fully understand the benefits of technology, you have to dedicate time, change your approach in how you used to operate your business, and incorporate them into your overarching business model.
- Talk to experts – there are many experts and resources to find out more information on technology.
- Banking/Mobile Solutions: Today’s highly innovative banking and mobile solutions are designed to help business owners manage and grow their business.
The post Capital One Study Shows Small Biz Have Challenges But Also Big Opportunities appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
It’s great to see that ecommerce is growing on Twitter, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Twitter is going to make it easier, to “click” and buy through Twitter, like Amazon does. But keep in mind – Twitter is NOT Amazon. While Amazon is a destination for shopping and spending money – Twitter WAS designed as a place to socially share information.
My warning to YOU? Be careful how you use Twitter. While today it still is a great place to share information – in the coming months it might turn more and more into a blinking-clicking destination of annoying advertising and pushy content.
The WSJ writes – The company on Wednesday said it has joined with several e-commerce sites to make it easier for merchants of all sizes to sell their wares directly on the social-media service.
Local boutiques and big brands plugged into online commerce platforms Shopify Inc.,Bigcommerce Inc. and Demandware Inc. will be able to add a “buy button” to a tweet allowing users to click through to purchase a product.
Retailers can also turn regular tweets with a buy button into an ad. The buy button will only be available to U.S.-based merchants.
As Seth Godin has shared with us, many times – be sure to share useful content with your tribe, don’t SELL them – but share with them and endear them to you. Or as Gary Vaynerchuk writes in “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” – give MORE information and then a touch of a “sale” – that’s the winning combination.
The post Is Twitter Turning Into A Landfill of Advertising, Noise and Junk appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
We think we know what sales is all about. Customers are interested in our product or service, we hound them until they buy. Of course some companies don’t do sales this annoyingly but some version of it.
However, growing companies are finding that by layering smart data onto their customer databases, they’re able to boost their sales success.
The WSJ writes: Some of these tools can seem creepy. Software from startups including ClearSlide alerts salespeople when a potential client reads a pitch email, so they can follow up just when the prospect may be most receptive. It also tells them whether a prospect lingered on the message once they’ve opened it, signaling substantial interest. 6Sense uses advertising technology software known as cookies to help customers identify the job titles and companies of the people who have visited their website.
Whether you’re using a tool like Infusionsoft, SalesForce, HubeSpot, Zoho or tons of others, it’s critical that you not just look at contact information. Try to layer your customer and prospect data with other information – to determine INTENT and psychographic information. Knowing that someone is male or female is good – but you also need to know how they THINK.
Use smart sales tools to make smart marketing decision and increase your revenue and profit.
Here’s a chart from the WSJ which illustrates this point:
The post Why Growing Companies Use Data Driven Sales To Boost Revenue appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Customer service is amazing. It’s even more amazing when it works right. However, what happens what things go wrong? What happens when you screw up? What happens when you have an “un-reasonable” customer? It’s time to “Hug Your Haters”.
Join Jay Baer for an informative, engaging and lively discussion about customer service in a digital and social world. Presented by Infusionsoft and hosted by Ramon Ray this webinar will give you answers to questions you didn’t know you had and give you best practices for better customer service in a world of Twitter, Blab and Facebook Live.
Join the webinar and have a chance to win a copy of Jay’s new book “Hug Your Haters”. Everyone will get a free download with Jay’s insight on customer service.
Register for the webinar here.
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Shopify is one of the leading ecommerce platforms for small businesses. It’s partnered up with accounting platform Xero to enable Shopify customers to easily manage their sales using Xero.
This sounds simple, but integrating ecommerce and accounting is a BIG time saver for busy business owners.
While the focus here is on Shopify and Xero – the principle of integration should not be lost. If you’re doing double entry on any of your software seek to find ways to integrate one software’s data into the other. You’ll save time, reduce errors and have less stress.
Xero’s press release reads: Until now, Shopify’s merchants had to rely on manually transferring data between front-end and back-end systems. With the new integration between Shopify, the ecommerce platform and Xero’s cloud accounting software, manual processes can now be automated. This solution allows for the transfer of a Shopify merchant’s ecommerce storefront, point of sale, and mobile transactions (including sales, tax, shipping costs and refunds) directly from Shopify to Xero, enabling easy reconciliation with bank statements. This integration will enable retailers to:
Increase efficiency. Quickly import orders from Shopify into Xero as invoices, and have tax rates synced, and sales automatically categorized. Eliminate manual data entry and greatly reduce the risk of error.
Work smarter with an end-to-end solution. With this seamless connection between e-commerce and accounting, a retailer can have real-time visibility into overall business performance, and be empowered to grow.
The post Accounting and Sales Integration Reduces Stress: Xero and Shopify Partner Up appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
You know and I know that no one likes advertising. Sure, we anticipate the Super Bowl ads and some others like GEICO’s are pretty darn interesting. But overall advertising is an interruption.
The best marketing is when you identify your target customer, when they know what you sell and know it will help them and when they buy it. Pretty simple.
Seth Godin provides 7 rules in regard to how to “defeat” ad blocking software, read the full block post here.
- The best marketing isn’t advertising, it’s a well-designed and remarkable product.
- The best way to contact your users is by earning the privilege to contact them, over time.
- Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products.
- Horizontally spread ideas (person to person) are far more effective than top-down vertical advertising.
- More data isn’t the point. Data to serve explicit promises is the point.
- Commodity products can’t expect to easily build a profitable ‘brand’ with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.
- Media properties that celebrate their ads (like Vogue) will continue to thrive, because the best advertising is the advertising we would miss if it was gone.
The post Seth Godin’s 7 Rules To Survive The “Ad Blocking” Movement appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Running a small business isn’t easy. And when you’re limited to just one or two people managing the entire thing, cloud-based tools are the perfect solution to increase productivity and improve efficiency. Tools are available to cover the major areas of business operations, and can scale to grow as your business does. Run your business with tools similar to what enterprises use, at a price that won’t break the bank.
Contact Relationship Management (CRM)
Using a CRM tool like Insightly makes managing client relationships and projects much simpler. Keep track of where all of your customers are in the sales and marketing funnel, send all leads to a central location, assign tasks, identify sales opportunities, and more. Plans start at free and go up with usage and features.
QuickBooks Online® lets you manage all your accounting without the hassle of software licensing on your desktop, with plans starting at $10.36 per month. Access it from anywhere there’s an Internet connection, so you never have to worry about forgetting to reconcile your receipts again. Plus, as an added bonus, it integrates with a number of tools, including PayPal™ and FreshBooks.
Due offers online invoicing and time tracking for individuals and teams. It integrates with popular project management software, BaseCamp, and pricing plans start at free.
Office Suite/Document Management
Google Apps for Work™ gives your business access to an outrageous number of tools including: Gmail, Docs, Drive, Sheets, Hangouts, and more…all for $10 per month or less. Get all the features of Gmail with a branded domain email, plus word processing, spreadsheets, video conferencing, file storage, and more.
Dropbox® is an ideal solution for businesses that need file sharing/collaboration, and file backup protection. With free and paid plans up to $15 per user per month, you can choose the storage space that best fits your needs, and upgrade at any time. With free automation tools like IFTTT (If This, Then That) and Zapier (free for 5 zaps, premium prices depend on number of additional tasks), you can even set email attachments to automatically save to Dropbox, saving you time and protecting your files.
Productivity and Workflow
Hubstaff is a ridiculously cheap project management time tracking tool that’s particularly useful when working with freelancers who telecommute. Once the software is installed on the user’s computer and the project is started, screenshots are taken are random intervals, without disturbing the user. This ensures the freelancer you’ve hired is actually working on your project, and keeps track of time spent. Hourly rates can be set, and manual time can be added. Multiple team members can be managed on a single project, and multiple projects can run at the same time. Various plans determine the number of staff and number of projects that can be active, so you can scale up as necessary. Premium pricing plans max out at $10 per month.
Trello is a free card-based project management/workflow tool. The card-based system allows it to be adapted to any workflow setup, from customer service and support to freelance assignments. Create boards, share boards with various staff members, and collaborate together using cards on the boards.
Email and Email Marketing
Boomerang for Gmail is an extension that allows you to schedule emails. This is great if you have to work strange hours, and want to be sure your email is seen – but don’t want to forget to send the email at a certain time. You can also set reminders for yourself to follow up on important emails, to keep a cleaner inbox. It’s free for a limited account, and goes up from $4.99 per month as you add features.
MailChimp is a free email marketing platform. Create and manage one or more email marketing lists, keep track of who’s opened your emails, etc. Emails can be personalized and automated, and sent at any time. The free-forever plan allows you to send 12,000 emails to up to 2,000 subscribers.
Quote Roller is a proposal tool starting at $19 per month that helps automate sales documents. Automate quotes, project proposals, and contracts. Spend time getting all the documents created now, to send them in a matter of minutes later. Follow what happens after you send the documents to clients, and even address their concerns with real-time comments.
For an extra efficiency boost, integrate these tools with your CRM. With a central location for these core areas of business operations, your processes will run smoother, making you more productive in less time. Who says you have to be a corporate giant to look and run like one?
The post Totally Cheap (or Free!) Tools To Make Small Business Operations Easier appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
There’s an old tale that Apple products don’t have viruses.
What is true is that Windows computers, because they were more popular, have been more virus prone.
Hackers, like all criminals go where the money is.
Of course Apple is now a dominant operating system (on computers and mobile devices) so hackers are definitely targeting it.
The New York Times writes, “So far about 40 apps with malicious code, or malware, have made it into the App Store, said researchers at Palo Alto Networks, an online security company that is investigating the incident. In a blog post, the security company said the breach could potentially affect hundreds of millions of users.”
What does this mean to you?
If you’re using Apple products – protect yourself. Ensure you have a good anti virus program and anti malware installed on it. But of course software alone wont’ work – be vigilant, use complex passwords, be smart.
The post Surprise: Apple Products Are Susceptible To Viruses and Malware appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
A few days ago, Microsoft’s Skype was offline, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. It’s a big deal – sort of. It’s more of an inconvenience – except for the few people who might have needed to Skype during the outage.
What’s the alternative to Skype or any other hosted (cloud) service? Creating your own service.
So think about it – Microsoft (or any other big company) can run your online systems, invest the funds to keep them up and running 99% of the time. OR you can do it yourself and try to do it on your own – with a 99% or more up time rate. It’s not easy.
Get my point? Big companies can better run the systems you need, in the cloud, better than you can do it yourself.
Sure it’s annoying when these systems go down. But most of the time, these systems are much better than you can do on your own.
The post Skype Was Offline. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Care and Still Trust Cloud Computing. appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
If you accept credit cards and don’t know what EMV is – you need to know.
According to Tom Hughes, Vice President of Small Business Product Management at AT&T, EMV stands for “Europay, MasterCard and Visa.” If you’ve ever seen a credit card that had a chip embedded in it, you’ve seen EMV. These cards have been standard in Europe for more than 10 years because they’re more secure than magnetic stripe cards. Magnetic stripe cards have static data (it doesn’t change), which makes them easy to clone. The chip makes it more difficult, and costly, to counterfeit because the data that is transmitted changes each time the card is read. This means less fraud.
Here’s three questions to ask Tom recommends you ask yourself – to help you decide.
Calculate your risk – Consider the cost of replacing your point-of-sale (POS) terminal vs. potential risk. Whether you replace it now or at a later time, eventually all businesses will have to replace their POS terminals.
Upgrade your POS system – Consider using an EMV compliant credit-card reader on a wireless device for an ultra-secure mobile solution. This is also a chance to upgrade other options, such as near field communication NFC technology, which lets consumers use their mobile devices to make payments at the point of sale.
Educate your staff – Educated employees translate to better-educated customers. Merchants can help customers better understand this change and what it means for them.
I recommend checking out Shopkeep (who we’re in partnership with) for the EMV solutions to your retail store.
The post Should You Upgrade Your Credit Card Processing? Three Questions To Ask About EMV Ugprades. appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
Facebook, understandably, wants to restrict as much data as it can, about its customers. In part to protect their privacy, but I’m guessing also to use the data for itself and to sell the data to partners.
The Wall Street Journal writes, “Dozens of startups that had been using Facebook data have shut down, been acquired or overhauled their businesses. Political consultants are racing to find new ways to tap voters’ social connections ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
“Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away,” said Nick Soman, who collected the locations of Facebook users’ friends to enhance his anonymous-chat app, Reveal. He later sold the app to music service Rhapsody International Inc. Mr. Soman said he admires Facebook, but learned a lesson about relying on third parties for a key component of his app.”
What should this be telling you? It’s best o build your own database of customer and prospect information. Drive people to your own web site, provide them something of value in exchange for contact information. Over time you can nurture more and more information from them based on their purchases and online indicators.
You can read a step by step guide to creating lead magnets here, from Infusionsoft.
Social media is great – but the social networks own that data – you (the marketer) do not.
The post Facebook Shows Why Having Your Own Customer Data Is Important appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.
There is no end to the amount of information you can find on any subject on the internet. The trouble can sometimes be, however, discerning if the information and information source are reliable. In order to help those looking for the best eCommerce tips, strategies and solutions, I recently compiled a list of 20 eCommerce experts to follow on Twitter.
In a recent article that I wrote for Endicia, the online shipping software provider, I shared 20 eCommerce experts that I feel anyone looking for solid online strategies, tips and solutions should follow. Each expert has years of proven experience in the field and the content and information they provide has helped thousands of people grow successful online retail businesses.
Some of the experts included on the list are:
You can check out the full article and list on Endicia’s Savvy Shipper blog site.
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HP continues to innovate with new technology geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses. In a recent announcement, they revealed an array of new Pro Series computers and next generation printers designed to meet the needs of small business owners.
Listening to Small Business
HP’s new products were designed in response to a survey of SMB business managers, who were asked to indicate their top concerns regarding technology. Results showed that SMBs are looking to:
- Find new ways to boost productivity
- Solve security threats
- Manage IT costs
This input was used to create the latest HP technology now available and coming to stores in October.
Latest HP Pro Series Releases
Among the HP new releases are a selection of new Pro Series options. Pro Series PCs balance world class computing and manageability with built-in security that protects critical business data. The latest models include:
With the growth of telecommuting, freelancing and working on the go, this notebook was designed with the mobile workstyle in mind. It comes in 13”, 14” and 15” diagonal sizes and was designed to be 17 percent thinner and 12 percent lighter than the previous generation. It features the 6th Generation Intel Core processor and a range of security features including HP BIOSphere, TPM and an optional fingerprint reader. This ProBook model was released in September and starts at $499.
This all-in-one computer was designed with collaboration in mind. It also uses the 6th Generation Intel Core processor and features an articulating reclining stand that allows you to choose the best angle whether viewing alone at your desk or collaborating and presenting in front of a group. Other features include a 20” diagonal screen, noise reduction software, a 1MP HD webcam and an optional 10-point capacitive touch panel. This computer should be available in October and starts at $679.
Within this series HP has released the HP ProDesk 400 G2 Desktop Mini which maximizes productivity and functionality in constrained spaces, and the HP ProDesk 400 G3 Microtower, which offers HP’s highest performance platform at an affordable price for SMBs. This series will be available in October and starts at $479.
Latest HP Printer Releases
HP’s latest printers were designed to maximize seed and efficiency for SMBs who want to improve productivity while lowering energy consumption. Each printer on this list is designed for small teams of 3 to 10 users printing up to 4,000 pages per month.
- HP LaserJet Pro M402 Series
This monochrome printer is the most energy-efficient of its class. It’s compact and works well in small spaces. It will be available in October and starts at $269.
- HP Color LaserJet Pro M452 Series
This printer delivers fast color printing at a rate that is up to 48 percent faster than previous models. It will be available in October and starts at $399.
- HP LaserJet Pro MFP M426 Series
This monochrome, multi-function printer can boost productivity with dual side scanning and a range of scan options including scan to email, folder, USB and cloud. Like the other printers on this list, the M426 series is faster, offering up to 100% faster 2-sided printing then previous models. It will be available in October and starts at $449.
- HP Color LasorJet Pro MFP M477 Series
This new release is similar to the M426 series, with dual side scanning and scan to email, folder, USB or cloud functions. In terms of color printing, it offers up to 150% faster 2-sided printing than previous models. It will be available in October in starts at $529.
HP’s new releases remind us all that today’s technology can do more for small business owners. The right technology can make your business faster, smarter, and safer.
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Technology has changed the way people work and using the right technology solutions in the right ways allows business owners to do more in less time. That was the theme of a recent Twitter chat I hosted with HP – The Business of NOW: Positioning Small Businesses to Thrive.
As part of HP’s BusinessNOW technology solutions site, the hour-long chat focused on questions such as:
- What is the biggest challenge in your office you wish you could solve?
- Do you have security and virus protection on mobile devices?
- What kind of technology are you using to better serve your customers?
We quickly discovered the small business owners are passionate and serious about finding ways to work smarter with technology to improve their productivity. And they are also serious about security. HP offered a great tip for staying secure on mobile devices:
“Help keep data safe by encrypting access, ensuring user authentication every time, and protecting against data loss.”
Here are some more tips from the chat:
Want to find more technology and productivity tips? Check out the HP BusinessNOW site.
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It’s that time of year again. Time to nominate your favorite organizations, vendors, apps and people who have made a significant impact on the North American small business market for the 2015 Small Business Influencer Awards.
Now in it’s 5th year, the Small Business Influencer Awards celebrate the best of the best in small business. Produced by Small Business Trends and Smallbiztechnology.com, phase I – the nomination phase – will take place until October 15, 2015. After that an all-start panel of judges will review all the nominations and choose this years winners in each of the six categories.
The six main Influencer categories are as follows:
- News Outlets (media companies)
- Corporations (providers of products and services to the small business market)
- Media (individual journalists, reporters, broadcasters, bloggers)
- Leaders (executives or other key employees that are part of corporations serving the small business market)
- Experts (mavens, authors, speakers, consultants)
- Apps (software, mobile apps, tablet apps)
In addition there are two special categories:
- Small Business Marketing Campagn of the Year
- Small Business Growth Story of the Year
Do you know someone that should be nominated? Click HERE to visit the nomination page and submit your entry!
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