Notebook computer vendors are now more aggressively pushing to have you buy a mobile wireless card that’s built into your computer. Nothing to lose, nothing to break – and you might just get a sweet deal. Read the story on Small Biz Technology…
Notebook computer vendors are now more aggressively pushing to have you buy a mobile wireless card that’s built into your computer. Nothing to lose, nothing to break – and you might just get a sweet deal. Read the story on Small Biz Technology…
You’ve probably had this experience: Your printer tells you it’s time to change the cartridge, but you dismiss the message and keep printing. Days or weeks later, you’re still using the same cartridge and thinking to yourself that rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated. Read the story on Entrepreneur.com…
As a busy small business owner, you may not have had time to learn much about social networks. Or, you may think that social networking is just a way that teenagers “meet” other teenagers through the internet using applications like FaceBook or MySpace . However, many small businesses have found that social networks are a great way to get new customers and retain existing ones. According to Forrester Research (November 2008), membership levels in the leading social network sites are as follows: Bebo : 40 million Facebook : 120 million LinkedIn : 30 million experienced professionals representing 150 industries MySpace : 110 million Reunion : 32 million Second Life : 16 million Twitter : 5.57 million What is social networking? Social networking web sites allow you to connect with friends, family, and colleagues online, and to meet people with similar interests. The largest social networking sites have millions of members. Common to most social networking sites is the viral nature of building contact or friend lists and sharing with them. It is an exponential process. Mary knows ten people who each know ten more people – and soon there is a network of hundreds of people communicating with one another about what is happening in their lives. When new members join a social networking site, they provide profile information about themselves and their interests. They also have the option to join groups that have similar interests within the social networking space. For example, on MySpace there are 34 group categories, each with tens of thousands of separate groups. Many individual groups have over 10,000 members. People in the groups and forums provide information to one another about their experiences and thoughts. For a small business, the utility of social networks comes from these groups with similar interests. Here is a sample comment about a local dentist I found on a recent forum post: “Awesome Orthodontist (name withheld)! He’s got a great staff and they all have a great sense of humor … I live downtown Dallas and it’s worth the drive”. This type of unsolicited endorsement, read by potentially thousands of people, is worth much more than a paid ad. Social network members will trust words from people just like them more than they will believe slick advertising or yellow page listings. Social networking success story This recent news story illustrates the power of social networking: “ Electoral triumph built on a Web revolution ”. As Barak Obama considered running for President of the United States, he had a meeting with Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape and a board member of Facebook. Obama wondered if social networking could help him. “It was like a guy in a garage who was thinking of taking on the biggest names in the business,” Andreessen recalled. “What he was doing shouldn’t have been possible, but we see a lot of that out here and then something clicks. He was clearly supersmart and very entrepreneurial, a person who saw the world and the status quo as malleable.” The rest, as they say, is history. How your small business can take advantage of the power of social networking Tune in to what is being said about you on social networking sites. If someone asks a question that is within your expertise – help them. Track online comments about your organization or your products. If there is misinformation, provide corrections. Register with LinkedIn – this is a site specifically committed to linking businesses and professionals. Join in. Add your own comments to the blogs or upload short videos. Who is more qualified than you are to talk about your company? Small business owners are very busy people, and monitoring and interacting with social networks may seem like another task on your already full plate. This is where your IT consultant can help. By setting up monitoring and tracking alerts on your system, you can optimize the time you spend on these important activities. Your IT consultant may also suggest software services that help you assess the return on your investment.
It’s almost impossible to find a company today that does not have a website that provides at least information about the company and ways to make contact. This is known as Web Technology 1.0, and it favors large businesses with significant resources to apply to their web presence. Today, meet Web 2.0, the next generation of internet-based information sharing. It’s richer and deeper in content, and broader in scope. So, what exactly is Web 2.0, and how can your small business take advantage of this new technology? What is Web 2.0? In the good old days (about four years ago), the web was comprised of sites published by companies that described their services and products – it was often nothing more than advertising. The web was flat and the information flow was one way. Web 2.0, on the other hand, favors quality information content and supports interaction. To appreciate Web 2.0’s advances, it is helpful to understand why people use the internet. As well stated by Janice Redish in her book on writing web content that works, “People come to the internet to answer a question or get help completing a task. They want information that is easy to find and understand, is accurate, up to date, and credible.” Web 2.0 is all about content that provides real information. Because many people now have access to broadband which supports fast downloads of data, Web 2.0 encourages expanding content types to include audio and video presentations. Finally, Web 2.0 takes advantage of links and tags. Links are websites referenced in your writing that add related content to the topic. Clicking on the link takes your visitor to the referenced site. Tags are metadata, which is data about, well, data. According to Master Media News , “ A tag is a relevant keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip, etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.” How Web 2.0 can help your small business Web 2.0 can level the playing field between you and your larger competitors – those with bigger budgets. Remember: web searchers do not care if you are a large, well-established company or a small business just getting started. They simply want information and help. If you do that well, you will be perceived as credible, and you may win over a new customer. Your website embraces Web 2.0 by offering meaningful articles about your products, the technology behind them, and by helping buyers make an informed purchase decision. This is not selling; rather, you are educating and helping. When implementing the Web 2.0 philosophy, your site provides links to other sites that may help a customer or potential customer, even if that means mentioning a competitor. You are solving the searchers’ challenges by doing some of the search work for them. You can also encourage your visitors to add comments or suggest additional links. A powerful way to use Web 2.0 strategies is to post short, how-to videos about your products. For many people, pictures are more believable and provide better training than words. Think of the questions customers ask you, and offer video answers with the credibility of an expert. If this all seems to be beyond your capability, ask your IT consultants to help. Your IT consultant can add interactive services to your site and help create video and audio files, as well as suggest low-cost methods to increase the quality and quantity of information on your site.
Reading this article will help you understand just what an Intranet is and how it can help your company be more organized and your teams more productive. And Why Should I Care? People are your most valuable and expensive resource – are they working smart and in a well organized way? Intranets are not new, and they are very popular among companies of all sizes. Intranets are a technology companies tend to love because of their easy implementation and the many benefits they offer at a low cost An Intranet is an internal network built using the protocols and standards of the Internet. It’s an intra-company network that offers access to the same type of resources as the Internet but is limited to company’s employees (or selected outside users) only. Intranets are not expensive to implement and they offer many benefits, which probably explains why they are so popular. Some of the benefits of having an Intranet include: Better communication . Having an Intranet server where all the relevant information your employees need stored in one place reduces the time spent in locating information through normal, people-dependent channels. With Intranets, you just go to the server and get what you want. Increased productivity . When all the information your employees need is easily accessible, they spend less time communicating unnecessarily and more time doing their immediate jobs. Improved teamwork . Intranets are great for facilitating teamwork because when everybody has access to the same information, it is easier to be a more effective team player. Improved learning and knowledge management . Constant learning is a prerequisite for success in almost any business, and if you want to keep your employees in top shape, you need to make their learning experiences as easy as possible. When all the information they need is updated regularly, and above all is kept in one place, all it takes to learn is a desire and access to the location (i.e. your Intranet server’s knowledge base). Cost-effective . Unlike many custom applications, Intranet solutions are not expensive, yet they come packed with useful features and functionalities. Easy to use . The fact that Intranets use the technologies of the Internet means that your employees will not have to learn new programs. Actually, very often the only thing one needs in order to use and Intranet is a Web browser! Easy to adapt to your needs . While it is true that there are many Intranet servers and not all of them are equal, most of the best on the market provide extensive customization possibilities. If you implement a Intranet server that is packed with features, in the beginning you might have some difficulty figuring out what exactly you need. However, your IT Consultant will know your company’s needs and will select the features you need to use right away, and then gradually enable new features as you need them. If you’re wondering what it takes to implement an Intranet, the answer is easy – just some time and a small investment. There are many Intranet-ready solutions and one of the best for a company of up to 50 computers or so is the Microsoft Windows Small Business Server (SBS). Microsoft SBS includes many nice features and one of them is an Intranet. So if you are already using SBS for your company network, just ask your IT Consultant to enable the Intranet features. What Now? Evaluate your business and talk to your team about your common workflows and document organization to find areas where you could be working better. Work with you IT Consultant to implement the best Intranet solution for your company’s needs.
Reading this article will help you understand the pros and cons of internal IT Staff or external IT Consultants. In today’s world you’d be hard pressed to find a company that does not use computers, the Internet, and other information technology on a daily basis. In fact, there is hardly a company that does not rely on computers and networks for its mere existence. Whether we like it or not, IT plays a significant role in every business, and if you don’t ensure that your information system is working properly, your business is at risk. Do You Really Need an IT Consultant? Since your information system is so crucial to your business, you can’t afford to compromise with its quality. Technology is a pretty complex field, and unless you are a tech guru you might not be able to handle it on your own. But even if you can, you most likely have better things to do. As a small business owner your time is spent more productively focusing on your core business activities than on desperately trying to keep your network up and running. Additionally, downtime is not cheap, and it costs far less to hire a good IT consultant to maintain your network for you than to experience the losses of downtime. You are lucky if you have not already learned the hard way that relying on amateurs in IT, medicine, law, and many other fields is very dangerous, so you will hardly want to experiment in your own company with trying to become a first-class IT expert. While there are small business owners who do have the skills (and time) to manage their network, the majority prefer to have somebody else do it for them. Keeping in mind the speed at which information technology develops, it is quite understandable that many small business owners, even if they are IT-proficient, aren’t able to keep up with this constantly changing field. Therefore, many small business owners agree that the best solution is to hire a specialist. Employ an IT Specialist Full Time — or Hire an External Consultant? After you have decided that you need to hire somebody to maintain your information system for you, the next step is to decide whether you need an in-house expert or an external consultant. Depending on your specific situation, both alternatives have their pros and cons. Hiring an in-house IT specialist — This is a good choice if you have 30-40 or more computers or use complex applications that require ongoing maintenance. However, generally speaking, hiring an in-house IT specialist is rarely the best option for small companies who don’t need the level of IT attention to justify a full-time IT expert on payroll. Having a part-time IT expert is also an option, but very often it’s difficult to find a good IT expert who is willing to work part time. Also, for many people, a part-time job is only a temporary solution until something more permanent comes along. Because of this, part-time employees often leave when you need them most. And even worse, they leave taking important information about your systems with them, so when you finally replace them, it takes the new person valuable time to become familiar with the configuration of your network and applications. Hiring an external IT consultant — This could be the better choice, and not only in terms of money. The advantage of hiring an external IT consultant is that you call them only when you need them, avoiding costly full-time salaries. Hiring an experienced and knowledgeable IT Consultant gives you the best of both worlds: part-time, highly specialized help, and the consistency and reliability of a full-time employee. However, In most cases, it’s best to have an IT Consultant on a monthly fee – and that’s certainly what our clients prefer. Companies that get out of the ”fix-it-when-it-breaks” mode of thinking benefit from relying on an experienced IT Consultant as a trusted advisor, performing preventative work and helping them plan for the future. This is known as Managed Services. What to Look for When Hiring an IT Consultant Hiring an IT consultant is not that different from hiring in-house employees, but it certainly has its advantages. To get an idea of what to look for when hiring an IT consultant, you may want to read this article . You don’t handle complex legal issues without your attorney – do you want to entrust the smooth functioning of your business to chance or unqualified hobbyists? What Next? Review your business plans, and determine if you are happy with your current IT capabilities and performance. Talk to other businesses and associates and learn how they are using IT to better manage their business. Get their recommendations for IT Consultants and interview a few until you find one that meets your needs and standards.
Reading this article will help you take control of email by reducing unwanted email and making your email time more productive. If you’ve never experienced the feeling of drowning in emails, then you are an exception. If this has never happened to you, publish your email address in a couple of sites where spambots get emails for spamming from and you will see how it feels to get dozens of junk emails a day. However, even if you are not drowning in spam, you still can receive many other unwanted messages a day, and soon you will discover that if you don’t know how to manage your inbox, the information overflow can be enormous. Here are some tips on how to manage your inbox effectively: Create separate folders for separate projects/people . One of the ways to deal effectively with information overflow is to separate the different streams of information. If you keep all your messages in your Inbox folder, soon it will contain thousands of messages, and it will be more difficult to find the message you need. You can create separate folders for different projects/people and file the emails into these folders. Create rules . Rules are one more way to optimize the flow of emails. Different email programs have different rules available, so you may want to check with your particular program to see which it offers. Almost always you can at least set rules for automatically moving/copying messages to/from a certain person to a separate folder. Use new message alerts . Very often you can configure alerts for new messages. If your email program does not have this feature enabled by default, you should consider enabling it. Manage spam filters . Spam filters are also part of inbox management, and depending on the amount of spam you receive, managing spam filters could take a lot of time. However, one of the important issues you must have in mind is that if your spam filters are not properly set, they could cut legitimate messages as well. So, set your spam filters with care. Use flags . Flags are a really useful way to separate a message from the rest. As with many of the other advanced inbox tricks, different email clients offer different flag systems, but almost any program offers flags for marking incoming messages as important, urgent, etc. If you have never used flagging, you will be surprised how easy and effective it is. There are many more tips, all of which are good to know. Actually, we are just scratching the surface and we could add more ways to optimize your inbox use! But if you apply even the tips above, you will experience significant improvement in terms of effective email use. Isn’t it time you took charge of you email?
Why you should care… Email is perhaps the most important productivity tool available – yet its potential as a time waster is well known. It’s essential that you master this critical business tool and make it work of you. Email is one of the most indispensable collaboration tools for any business. Email has become such an integral part of our lives that we can hardly imagine life without it. Using email is not difficult. Using it effectively, though, is not easy. Everybody has experienced spam and how unwanted emails clutter up our inbox. Likewise, many of us have overlooked an important message that has gotten lost in an overflowing inbox. However, these are not the only cases when people are using email ineffectively. Here are some tips that will help you use email more effectively: Keep several email accounts . Having only one account means that generally you will be receiving dozens of messages a day, much of which is spam or is otherwise unwanted or unimportant. But even if your spam filters are working properly, you still should have several accounts. For instance, you should have a business company domain and be careful of using this to register or subscribe to services, and you should have another account for personal use with Gmail, Yahoo, MSN or another similar email service. Answer emails quickly . Good communication etiquette requires that you don’t keep people waiting for your reply. While you can’t be expected to answer emails immediately (unless it is an urgent matter, but then you’re better off using the phone), answering within a reasonable timeframe –one business day or less – is acceptable and increasingly expected. Manage your inbox . Even if you have several accounts and each of them is for different kinds of emails, your inboxes still will get cluttered. Managing your inbox effectively is one of the greatest improvements you can make in email use, so you may want to check this article on using email rules for advanced tips on effective inbox use. Use Folders . There are many emails that you want to keep after you have read them. Create a system of folders that makes sense to you so that after you’ve read and responded to an email you can move it out of your Inbox where it will distract you, to a folder where you can find it later if necessary. Distribution lists rules . Spam wouldn’t exist if there were no people who sent it. So, give your contribution to having a world with less spam and do not send unsolicited mails in bulk. Make sure that you are sending your emails only to people who want to receive them. Even better, check that you comply with the provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Do virus checks . Actually, the place for this tip is not near the bottom of the list — but let’s hope that your corporate security policy takes care of this and that you are not solely responsible for protecting your email against viruses and other malware. It might sound obvious that you should do virus checks, but even though email is a primary channel for virus distribution, many people still forget about virus checks. Don’t be one of them. Use advanced email tools . Going beyond the basics is always a challenge and as your experience with email grows, you will discover that it can offer much more than just sending and receiving emails. For instance, many email programs have a calendar function, which you could also use to improve your scheduling and collaboration within your team. Or saving emails that you need to act on later as a Task with a reminder so you can move it out of your Inbox. Using email is simple, yet in some ways difficult. The more you learn, the more questions you have. However, it’s a business fact of life today that you can’t live without email and you need to master it.
Reading this article will give you an overview of tools and technologies that will help you and your teams collaborate effectively and productively. Collaboration and teamwork can make or break a company. Long gone are the days when your employees could work independent of each other. In today’s market, if you want to stay competitive you need to use collaboration to the fullest. Thanks to various tools and technologies, this task is simple. Which Basic Collaboration Technologies Are Right for Me? Every business needs to use some kind of collaboration technique. In fact, there is no business in today’s world that can survive without basic collaboration technologies such as a company Intranet , email server, a fax/print server, or a time management functionality (for instance, electronic calendars). These technologies are so fundamental that most likely you have been using them for ages. So, as you might be surprised to learn that you are actually already using collaboration technologies but you just didn’t know it! However, you may also be surprised to learn about additional tools that you may not be using today that will help improve your company’s collaboration efforts. In addition to the basic collaboration technologies you have used for years, new ones are emerging all the time. Below is a list some of the most popular groups of collaboration technologies you can use in your day-to-day operations. To learn more about each collaboration tool, just click on each link to read our related articles. Conferencing tools . Audio and video conferences become a daily necessity for many companies. No matter whether you use audio and video conferencing to communicate with your distributed team or with suppliers and clients from all over the world, these collaboration technologies can be very useful. Document and application sharing . When many people work with the same document at the same time, it is very inconvenient when you have to wait for your colleagues to finish his or her tasks with that document, so that you can proceed with your work. Document and application sharing make that inconvenience history since it’s now possible for many people to work simultaneously on the same document. Workflow and project management . Workflow and project management technologies will help you manage your business more effectively by minimizing downtime and increasing the performance of your employees through organizing tasks better. Online collaboration . Even if you don’t have many (or any) tele-workers and remote workers, online collaboration tools are great because you can access them from everywhere and you can work at any time you please. Additionally, you can share these tools with your suppliers and clients and further improve your sales and customer service process. Change management . Maintaining multiple versions of the same document is too much of a hassle, but not when change management technologies handle this for you. When you use these technologies, you can maintain as many versions of a document as you like, and all of them will be neatly organized and readily accessible. Knowledge management . Knowledge is power, and there is hardly a company that will not benefit from a company wiki or other form of knowledge management system. The collaboration technologies listed here are just a sampling of what’s available. There are literally hundreds of collaboration technologies and depending on your particular needs you may choose one or another. Of course, it is best if you can find an all-in-one solution, such as Windows Small Business Server (SBS), which includes many or all of the technologies you need.
In business today the choice of a technology advisor can be a critical success factor in this article you’ll learn how to make the right choice. Maintaining your small company network in good shape is not an easy task, and you are probably perfectly aware that doing it on your own is not the best way to invest your time. When you want to hire somebody to maintain your company network for you, basically you have two choices – to employ somebody onsite (as a full-time or part-time employee) or to outsource the task to an external IT Consultant . After you have decided that your small company does not need onsite IT staff and you will need an IT Consultant, the next step is to choose one. Choosing an IT Consultant is not so different from choosing an onsite employee, but still there are specifics you need to be aware of. Sometimes this task is a very easy one when you can ask your business associates to recommend somebody. But if you want to choose the IT consultant on your own, here are some points to consider: 5 Key Steps in Choosing an IT Consultant Technical competencies . Needless to say, this is the most important factor because if you hire somebody whose technical competency is not satisfactory, this will certainly lead to a lot of trouble. If you are a non-technical person, you are hardly in a position to judge the technical skills of the candidates, but if you ask them about the certificates, degrees, diplomas, and other similar documents they possess, this will give you a clue if they are technically competent or not. For instance, IT Consultants with Microsoft Small Business Specialist certification have passed rigorous exams on small business technology. Ability to work with people . Sometimes technical people are not the best communicators. But IT Consultants are supposed to be half techies, half business consultants, so for them being technical is not an excuse for lacking basic business and communication skills. That is why it is key to choose someone who can communicate with you, explain things in a way you understand, answer all your questions, and not just talk in jargon — someone who can help you understand how technology matters to your business and can help it grow. Availability . Availability is a key factor for your decision because if you hire somebody who is not available when you need him or her most, what’s the point of having an IT Consultant if you can’t rely on him or her? Usually it’s best to hire locally, because when their office is near, they are more likely to be able to arrive quickly on your premises an emergency. Also, very often problems can quickly be solved remotely, so it is equally important that the IT Consultant you choose provides remote support as well. Recommendations from clients . It’s always good to know how the candidate has handled previous clients, so feel free to ask for recommendations from their clients. Can they handle all your IT needs? When you choose an IT Consultant, you would like him or her to be the single point of contact for all your IT needs. While it’s not always possible for your IT Consultant to necessarily complete all of your technical needs him or herself, he or she should be able to manage the process on your behalf. (For example, if you want a software application to be developed especially for you, you’d better contact a dedicated software development company, but your IT consultant could be the one to handle the process for you.) Therefore, it’s best if the consultant you choose can meet all (or at least most) of your IT needs – from purchasing new hardware, to maintaining the network, to providing support for the applications you use on a daily basis. Wrapping Up These are some of the points you need to have in mind when choosing an IT consultant. It is important to choose carefully. If you want to establish a long term “trusted advisor” relationship with your IT Consultant, just like with your attorney or accountant, you must choose the best — not necessarily the cheapest — IT Consultant. Remember, your IT Consultant is a key partner in the viability of your business and your success! What Next? Sit down with your team and become clear on your IT needs and goals. Ask associates or key advisors such as your accountant for recommendations Interview and select carefully. The best IT Consultant should be a trusted advisor just like your accountant or attorney. Take your time and find someone you can trust and work with for the long term