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May 26th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May26_CIn the event of a disaster, businesses must make sure their servers, data and critical documents are safe and secure. But that’s not all, for it is essential that you ensure the security and peace of mind of your most valuable asset — your employees. With that in mind, here are five business continuity mistakes to steer clear of in order to ensure your organization will live to tell the tale.

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

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

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

Mistake #2: Using only words, not actions

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake #4: Not dealing with your employees first

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

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

Mistake #5: Reacting rather than communicating

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 25th, 2015

164_Biz V_CBeing a business owner, you know more than anyone that making mistakes is natural and that you have to be willing to fail if you want to succeed. You also know you can accomplish more - and more quickly - if you can learn from the mistakes of others before making the same missteps on your own. This philosophy applies to many areas of business and life, but did you know that it also applies to IT? Here are five mistakes to avoid when investing in new technology.

Investing in the newest technology instead of the best fit

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

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

Believing everything will magically work together

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

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

Assuming your team doesn’t need support and training

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

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

Forgetting to create a budget

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

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

Failing to get staff input

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 25th, 2015

SocialMedia_May25_CBusinesses today rely on social media marketing to extend their online presence to potential customers. If you’re interested in social media marketing, chances are you already have a Facebook account to announce your company’s latest news and products. But when it comes to social media marketing, Twitter is another powerful tool to drive more traffic to your business and increase brand awareness. Still unsure of how to use Twitter to great effect in your marketing attempts? Here’s what you need to know.

Tweet regularly

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

Follow trends

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

Use visuals

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

Retweet great content

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

Track mentions

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

Integrate with other marketing efforts

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 21st, 2015

164_Office_CIf you’ve already jumped on the Google Apps or Office 365 bandwagon, you may feel that the classic Microsoft Office package installed locally on your desktop is a bit dated. With Office 2016 set to launch in autumn of this year, Microsoft is making some changes to adapt one of their best selling products to the modern workforce. Here are four of the most exciting features.

Cloud focus for Outlook attachments

Microsoft knows that sharing attachments amongst co-workers and teams can be a hassle. With many collaborators still sharing documents and files the old fashioned way - attaching it to an email and then sending to others - it’s easy for users to get confused and send an incorrect or outdated version.

To solve this problem, Microsoft is gently nudging us to use the cloud. Now when you add an attachment to an email, you’re now asked if you’d also like to share a link to a file on your OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint account.

Showcasing easy ways to use Office better

If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t using Office to its full potential. And who can blame you? Between Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more, there are literally hundreds of features and tools you can use - if only you had the time to discover them all.

To help you get the most out of Office, Microsoft has now added a Tell Me box in the top center of your program title bar. This tool gives you an easy way to get questions answered. For example, if you want to project your desktop screen to a second monitor or create a graph in Excel, simply type your question into the Tell Me box and Microsoft will find the answers that most closely fit your search criteria.

Sway

Look out PowerPoint, here comes Sway - the new, hipper Office application that makes creating fluid, stylish presentations easy. With Sway, you can now gather content from various sources across the web, and then easily organize it into a presentation that can be viewed on a smartphone, laptop, iPad or other device.

What makes Sway more exciting than PowerPoint is in the process of gathering content: simply drag files, photos or video from YouTube, OneDrive and various social networks into the app. Once you have your content, you can easily organize it and adjust your design to create a unique look and feel for your presentation.

Better Data Protection

With Office 2016, Microsoft has raised the bar for data security. Now administrators can set and enable Data Loss Protection policies for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Unlike in older versions of Office, administrators now have a range of security options at their disposal. For example, they can prevent data from being copied and pasted outside of Office 2016 applications, restrict files from being sent to certain individuals, and implement file-level encryption for Word, Excel and Outlook.

Want to learn more about Microsoft Office 2016? Have questions about other Office products? Give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 20th, 2015

164_Prod_CAn unfocused staff is a recipe for a lack of productivity. And with distractions like social media, broken equipment and technology, and employees who’d rather spend their day chatting than doing their job, it may seem impossible to get your team to produce the results you desire. So what’s a business owner to do? Here are four tips that are sure to get your staff more focused and productive.

Set clear goals

In order for your employees to produce results and reach their productivity potential, they need to know what is expected of them. At some organizations, it may be perfectly acceptable to spend one hour surfing the Internet everyday and seven hours working; or it may be considered normal to count a lunch break towards the eight hours worked. The truth is that more and more employees are bouncing between jobs from company to company, and each organization has a different set of standards and expectations. If it’s not communicated to your employees what yours are, you can be certain that they’ll make up their own.

Additionally, your employees need to know what results you expect them to produce. Maybe that means they need to sell a certain volume of products each month, or maybe it means they need to consistently score a four-star customer satisfaction rating. Whatever it is, your employees need to be aware of your expectations and have some sort of goal to shoot for. This gives you a way to see the results each employee is producing. Then you can try to find a solution to increase the productivity of your lower performing staff.

Be personable with your employees

Have you ever had a boss that rarely interacted with employees and that everyone feared? Maybe he stayed locked away in his office most days or ignored staff members as he quickly strode through the office never cracking a smile. Do you think employees want to produce results for a boss like this? They might, but it may be out of fear of losing their job rather than genuinely wanting to help that boss and the company at large.

Interact with your employees. And not only about work. Ask them how their weekend was. Find common interests to talk about. Take the time to get to know them. It’s easy for employees to not produce results or care about their job if the business owner is unapproachable and distant. On the contrary, if the owner is personable and friendly with staff, it is harder for an employee to slack off and not commit to the company’s growth. It’s natural for employees to work harder for a person they know, rather than one who’s “all business” and persistently unavailable.

Listen to your employees’ feedback

To go along with being personable, take the time to gather and listen to your employees’ feedback. If you show that you value their opinions, they’ll feel part of the team and organization. When this happens, they’ll be more committed to your goals and will want to see the company succeed as much as you do.

Of course that doesn’t mean you need to take every bit of employee feedback and run with it - it simply means keeping an open mind. Your team will respect you more and work harder for you as a result.

Provide reliable equipment

This is a no brainer. But if an employee doesn’t have the reliable equipment and tools to complete their job, their productivity levels will plummet. A broken computer, crashed server or faulty Internet connection will have your staff twiddling their thumbs and playing with their phones in no time. If it’s your technology that’s the culprit in this situation, Managed Services represent an exceptional solution to prevent your IT from ever breaking down in the first place. What does that mean for your staff? Less downtime, more productivity and more results.

Interested in discovering more ways to boost employee productivity? Want to learn how Managed Services can ensure the reliability of your IT and prevent downtime? Contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 14th, 2015

WindowsNews&Tips_May14_CMicrosoft was so keen to distance itself from the Windows 8 embarassment that it completely abandoned logic and skipped number 9. Determined to win back its users, the software giant plans to launch the brand-new Windows 10, packed with significant improvements and powerful features. Below we’ve listed a few awesome new Windows 10 features worth checking out.

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 comes with a new Internet browser called Microsoft Edge. Formerly named Project Spartan until around three months ago, Edge is officially a replacement for the aging Internet Explorer. Edge allows you to add notes, while accessing web pages, for future reference. It also comes with a new reading mode that removes all the other distracting elements of a web page and leaves you with just the text. This allows for a good reading experience, not to mention faster loading time.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s personal assistant and the rival to Apple’s Siri. When Cortana first arrived in preview versions of Windows 10, there were several bugs and compatibility issues. But Microsoft has been working hard to address these. Just like on Windows Phone devices, you can interact with Cortana using either text or natural voice queries. Cortana can perform many basic tricks and tasks, such as taking notes, scheduling meetings, setting alarms, calling people on Skype, and playing music. She can also scour your computer, OneDrive account, and even your business network to find files based on your input.

Continuum

Windows 10’s Continuum feature is designed to make the OS work seamlessly on hybrid desktop and tablet devices. Users are able to switch between touch and desktop modes, depending on the device they’re using. When you unplug your keyboard and mouse, a small popup will appear asking whether Windows should switch to tablet mode. Once tablet mode is enabled, all the windows on the desktop will immediately go to full screen. On the other hand, if you plug in a keyboard and mouse, Windows 10 will launch another pop-up asking whether you wish to return to desktop mode. Another impressive feature of Continuum is the ability to connect your Windows Phone with a PC, essentially turning your smartphone into a pocket-friendly desktop.

Start Menu

The absence of the the Start menu in Windows 8 caused dissatisfaction among most Windows OS fanatics. Microsoft won’t make the same mistake twice. And so the Start menu will be returning to Windows 10 at the front and left of the home screen. When opened, the menu splits into two columns - one the traditional list of programs, the other app-style icons. A universal search function has been added to the Start menu, making for easier file browsing.

Windows 10 is made first and foremost for desktop users, whereas its predecessor Windows 8 was aimed at mobile and touchscreen devices. Microsoft has hinted that Windows 10 will be launching in late July 2015, available in 190 countries and 111 languages.

If you’re looking to incorporate Windows OS into your business, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 13th, 2015

164_Security_CCloud computing marketing can be deceiving. When you see an image of the cloud, it’s often a happy, bubbly white puffball floating delightfully in front of a blue sky background. Its presence is both calming and reassuring, and makes you believe that anything is possible. Security would never be an issue, right? Ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked, and they’ll give you the definitive answer. While it’s worth noting that not every cloud provider has had security breaches like Dropbox, the point is to be aware that cloud security is not something to be taken lightly. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself as a business owner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_CIf you enjoy being able to use Facebook Messenger without seeing endless advertisements, then prepare to be disappointed. It appears that those days are numbered, since the social networking giant has announced its plans to make the service ad-supported. Though the move will likely prove unpopular with regular users, it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know about the change.

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_CWhen it comes to working in the office, a lot of things can hamper your productivity. Some of them are easy to deal with, such as redundant email checking and social media updates, while others are more difficult to handle, such as sudden power outages. The latter can be a real productivity killer, especially if your company relies heavily on Internet connectivity to perform day-to-day operations. But there are several methods to ensure productivity, even during power outages - here’s how.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_CWell, you created a business page for Facebook, you patted yourself on the back, kicked up your feet and waited for the flood of new business to come in. How’d that work out for you? Probably not so well. But this doesn't mean you should give up and turn your back on social media. This is a brave new world for all online businesses so you should expect a steep learning curve. To help you along, here are some tips about how to better track your social media ROI to see what’s working and what you should drop.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

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

So how do you measure ROI?

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

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

Tagging Urls

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

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

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

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

Google Analytics

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

Call Tracking

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.