Category Archives: Small Business

The Holiday Office Party: 5 Do’s and Don’ts for SMBs this Season

The office holiday party is a long-held tradition, and it has been the scene for many a faux pas. The office holiday party may be the time to loosen ties and lift spirits, but it’s not the time to throw caution–businesslike behavior–to the wind. In fact, SMBs must be careful to steer clear of common mistakes that could come back to haunt them long after the snow is melted and the punchbowl stored.

Holiday Office Party

Rocket Lawyer offered some advice on keeping holidays happy and complaint-free:

  1. Get a gift from Uncle Sam. Expenses for your holiday party should be tax-deductible, as long the party isn’t overly lavish or wholly unrelated to work activities. Keep receipts. The IRS wants to see the business that’s supposed to come with your holiday celebrations.
  2. Make sure you’re driving the sleigh. When you’re planning your party, make sure you have written contracts with all of your holiday vendors–from the DJ to the caterer–with each clearly stating payment and cancellation policies.
  3. Don’t get caught underneath the mistletoe. Nearly 45%of Americans have seen someone share inappropriate personal details about themselves with a co-worker or supervisor at a work event, according to a 2012 study from Caron Treatment Centers. Especially at events that alcohol is served, make sure you have a game plan in place when it comes to dealing with behavior that could potentially lead to a sexual harassment claim.
  4. Check your list twice. Typically, event spaces will require you to release them from liability at a holiday party. Think about what kinds of situations insurance might have to cover, and, if needed, purchase a short-term policy to cover the event.
  5. Keep an eye on the eggnog. Fifty-seven percent of workers have witnessed a fellow party-goer drive under the influence, and 64% have called in sick due to a hangover the day after an event, according to the Caron survey. If alcohol is served at a company event, you may be liable for accidents that happen because someone has consumed too much. It’s wise to offer cabs and coordinate designated drivers in advance of the party to protect everyone’s safety. It’s always a good idea to serve food, and then to limit the amount of the time the bar is open.

A happy holiday business function comes down to details and a lot of common sense.

 

MozyPro Online Business Backup

 

6 Best Practices for Storytelling Through Data

Tell Your Story With DataData science is a discipline in which art meets science. Quantitative best practices are only part of your project’s analytical framework. At the end of the day, numbers need to tell stories that appeal to a wide audience.

“When telling stories through the data, you need to be able to place yourself in the shoes of the listener,” said Matti Aksela, vice president of business analytics at Comptel, a company that automates customer interactions. “In many cases, that is someone without your own knowledge of the statics, models and underlying assumptions.”

Keeping a balance among stories, data integrity and results is a mission-critical task for businesses and department groups of all sizes. Whether you’re running a marketing team, small business, or engineering team, you need to make sure that you tell a quantitative story that connects with a range of audiences.

“Think about a really classy restaurant,” said Aksela. “Will they serve their food just thrown onto the plate?”

Indeed, presentation is key. When telling a story through data, it’s important to have an idea of where you’re headed in terms of your messaging, flow and most valuable takeaways, say experts. This can be especially challenging for SMBs, with limited time and staff, but the following best practices will serve as a guide:

1. Jump into your research with a blank slate

As tempting as it is to seek out “shocking findings” in your data, remember that you are, first and foremost, a scientist. Data-driven stories will unfold through objective analysis. If you’re fishing for information, you may miss out on a story that hasn’t yet been told–something that an open mind can help you uncover.

2. “Read” between the data lines

If you’re building a regression model, test the impact of adding one or two additional variables. Come up with a hypothesis that you hadn’t yet considered. Test it. Measure it as part of your analytical framework.

Some of the most engaging stories are ones that aren’t obvious. Keep your eyes peeled for a new spin on an old topic. Instead of telling the same story over and over, seek out nuances in your data.

3. Incorporate multiple storytelling mediums

People process information differently. Some prefer visual tools like infographics. Others thrive on podcasts and lectures. Hands-on demonstrations are also valuable for teaching core concepts. Make sure that your messaging appeals to a range of learning types.

4. Validate your findings

This concept sounds more complicated than it actually is. In a nutshell, “validation” means testing your numbers against common sense. Can you reasonably explain the trends that you’re finding? Can you come up with an alternative explanation? Talk through your logic, trying to anticipate any and all possible counter arguments.

Where oh Where is the World's Data Being Stored

Data is important when telling your story. We’re generating more and more data each day. Do you know where it’s all being stored? Find out in our “Where oh Where Is the World’s Data Being Stored” infographic.

5. Look for confounders

Confounders are “hidden” variables that affect both the causes and effects in your analysis. For example, you may think that a hard drive failure caused a system failure when, in reality, the two were not related at all. There could have been a virus (the confounder) that caused both to fail independently of one another. Don’t assume that correlation is causation, and always look for alternate outcomes in your results.

6. Put faces to the numbers

People are the heart of great storytelling. Include real-life narratives to make your findings as tangible and human-interest-driven as possible. Your job as a storyteller is to make people care.

 

MozyPro Online Backup For Businesses

 

Closing the Deal: Mobile Tech Catches Up with the Critical Signature

Signing Document on PhoneDeals require a signature, and the signature needs to have reliable legal standing–no matter where, when or with what the deal is done–including mobile.

In the past, small and midsize businesses have been able to cover most of their bases by signing documents by fax. It has been more challenging to come up with a model that works with mobile technology, but business owners say the technology is now catching up to what their old fax machines could do. And, as buyers of the latest mobile devices equipped with fingerprint-sensitive hardware have found, the transmittable fingerprint is changing the landscape even further.

Mobile tech and closing the deal

In a recent j2 Global survey, more than 32% of 1,100 SMB leaders said they closed a deal in 2013 on their smartphone or tablet.

Beth Ann Alitt, owner of Alitt Insurance, based in San Marcos, Calif., is accustomed to faxing paperwork back and forth for signatures, but plans to also use mobile fingerprint signatures moving forward.

“As a small-business owner helping local businesses and residents obtain almost every type of insurance possible, I fax daily to process paperwork under tight deadlines,” said Alitt. “Last year, I faxed on a cruise and even at a Paul McCartney concert in London.”

Alitt is in good company. One-third of owners polled in the j2 Global survey said that the tipping point for using mobile devices is the advent of fingerprint signature features. Alitt said these features “will help me close even more deals on the go.”

In fact, about 70% of those surveyed said that digitized fingerprint signatures will help them to close more deals.

The new “office”

If the j2 survey is any indication, small-business owners need plenty of flexibility when closing deals. The j2 survey also showed that:

  • — 74% of business owners have closed a business deal at a restaurant or bar;
  • — 23% said the train or inside a car was an environment in which they’d closed a deal, thanks to their mobile devices;
  • — More that 30% sent or received a fax on a plane, or in an airport, via mobile tech;
  • — 20% sent or received a fax via a smartphone or tablet at a sporting event; and
  • — Deals have also been closed in the dentist’s office, at casinos, waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite.

All of this suggests that the very notion of the office is changing.

“The mobile device is the office,” said Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing for j2 Global. “That means that deals need to get done anywhere. Same with contracts, invoices, expense reports, and any other document that keep a business moving.”

 

MozyPro Online Business Backup

 

SMBs Target Gen Y Buyers this Holiday Season

Holiday ShoppingWith Thanksgiving coming late in November, this year marks the shortest holiday shopping season in more than a decade. Small-business owners are moving quickly to make the most of the time they have. For many SMBs, this means tapping into the buying power of millennials.

Half of some 1,000 SMBs that Manta polled in September and October say that, with Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 28 this year (leaving only 25 days for the traditional gift-buying span), they’re adjusting their sales plans for the holidays.

Offering hope for a successful season is Gen Y, which continues to be a potent buying force. These younger shoppers–the so-called “millennials” who reached adulthood around the year 2000–represent some $1.3 trillion in consumer spending, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

By targeting millennials, SMBs are also changing the way they market and sell, according to the Manta data. Business owners say that some 30% of their millennial customer base is mobile-based, and about 20% of the owners surveyed expect an increase in mobile business as millennials complete their holiday gift lists with online purchases.

“We’re seeing the astounding effects of the continued shift to online holiday shopping — especially from mobile devices — to the small business community,” says Kristy Campbell, director of marketing at Manta. “With the changing demographics and mobile habits of millennials coming to the forefront, these trends will continue to accelerate and gain importance.”

According to Manta, it will be important for SMBs to focus their content development and brand awareness campaigns not only on mobile and social channels, but also in terms of tone and frequency.

Manta recommends creating engaging content mapped to your company’s strategic timeline. “Make the tone of your e-mails and social media posts reflective of the timeline for consumer shopping behaviors,” suggests Manta. For example, develop content and begin outreach early using phrases like, “Get ahead of the holiday rush!” Later, as you move closer to the end dates, Manta, build urgency into your subject lines, tweets and Facebook posts. For example, use subject lines including phrases such as, “There’s still time!” or It’s not too late!”

With your holiday sales on the line and precious little time to make your goals, it may pay to focus on millennials and target their habits and the channels they tend to spend the most time on.

 

MozyPro Online Backup for Business

 

SMBs and Mobile Security: 5 Ways to Keep Your Company Safe

Mobile SecurityIt’s more the rule than the exception these days that mobile devices are employees’ preferred computing endpoints. The ubiquity of mobile devices, combined with near 24/7 use, can provide a big boost in employee productivity, but it also increases the risk of data compromise exponentially. SMBs, which often work with a mix of in-house and freelance professionals and may have fewer security and IT resources than larger companies, are especially vulnerable. However, there are steps that companies can take to mitigate risk while exploiting mobile technology.

A recent Forrester survey shows that some 43% of small-business owners say they’re prioritizing data mobility. Indeed, sensitive company information is increasingly being accessed and stored on mobile devices–some corporate-owned, some personal–which increases the risk of compromise.

Companies have to take precautions to make sure that data is protected, but they don’t have to panic: Here are five crucial steps organizations must take to keep data, employees and customers safe, even in the ever-changing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment.

  1. Analyze: Root out potential pain points that may arise from the use of personal devices for business purposes. For example, is there information that simply should not be accessed and/or stored on a mobile device? Are there categories of users who absolutely must have mobile access to certain applications and data? Will that access warrant increased security measures?
  2. Engage: Survey the types of mobile systems used by your employees now, and keep an eye on device, mobile operating system and app news–you want to anticipate what mobile hardware and software employees will be using in the future, as well.
  3. Set policies: Policy is key: You must explicitly inform users about what they can and can’t do, and get them to sign off on these rules. Policy should determine, among other things, what devices will and will not be supported. When it comes to who gets access to your network, set parameters based on employee/contractor role and location. Also, your team members invite greater risk every time they connect to unsecured wireless networks, download and install unapproved apps, visit possibly malicious websites, and/or leave their mobile device unattended. Your policies should cover these activities, as well,
  4. Plan ahead: Map out the procedures to be taken when devices are lost, stolen or damaged. Encourage reporting and honesty.
  5. Implement monitoring and defense: Research vendors and decide what kind of IT technology and assistance makes sense for your business. Spending money on technology like internal app scanning and external monitoring can save you the expense of financial damage and ruined reputation by finding evidence of spam and malware activity before it becomes a public disaster.

You can’t stop every criminal out there or prevent every end user from doing careless things. However, with some thought and planning, you can keep your small business — and its staff, customers and partners — safe while providing them with all of the opportunity that mobile technology affords. A little work now saves a lot of grief later, so spend some time on your mobile data security plan.

 

MozyPro Online Backup for Business

 

Website Lessons Learned from Williams-Sonoma

Is your website as classy as your brand?

For Williams-Sonoma, Inc., the goal is to match great looking Web pages with top-shelf analytics to keep track of customers.

“Data science is brand building here,” said Mohan Namboodiri, VP of Customer Analytics for the San Francisco-based retailer. “We have a heritage of scouring the world for fantastic products,” he told the audience at the Teradata 2013 Partners conference earlier this month in Dallas. “We bring that same sensibility to doing our data analytics.”

While Williams-Sonoma began with a traditional brick-and-mortar store and a mail-order catalogs, the company has “come of age online,” he said.

Namboodiri explained that there are several routines and techniques the company uses to track customers. Here are some of the highlights:

Williams & Sonoma

Segment users by persona

  • Williams-Sonoma groups site visitors into various usage clusters and behaviors. These groups can help Namboodiri’s team understand what different online shoppers are trying to do and how they’re using the site. This both helps inform site navigation and improve conversion rates.

Use cookies to model and score customer behavior

  • Each browsing session is tracked with a unique cookie to determine what customers are doing. Data is used to provide feedback to personas; allowing the company to group customers and test the performance of the personae.

Guide customers based on their actions

  • Various triggers have been programmed to respond to particular customer actions. For example, if a visitor searches for an item that’s put on sale in its stores, he would be guided to the best way to buy. “It could be borderline creepy, but it is a sale and so saving customers money trumps that,” he said.

Apply online data to retail forecasts

  • The more online visitors buy a particular items, the more the company stocks them at retail outlets. This information impacts Williams-Sonoma’s supply chain and even inventory decisions of stores in particular neighborhoods. Namboodiri’s team analyzes these purchases over time to help improve each store’s inventory moving forward. Given the number of different furniture styles, colors, and options, you can imagine this can be quite critical to having the right goods in the right stores.

Like any great Web storefront, Williams-Sonoma recognizes that design and analytics will always be a work in progress. That’s why Namboodiri and his team constantly experimenting with other ideas to keep things fresh. At the Teradata conference, there were no shortage of great ideas. By developing a website that elegantly weaves together design and analytics, good things happen for both company and customer.

 

MozyPro Online Backup for Business

 

Which designer and developer tools are better? Pencil Case knows

PencilCase AppFor designers and developers, their tools mean everything. Without the right software, apps, programs and websites could never be perfect.

Of course, to an artist and a coder, nothing is ever perfect, but the right tools may help make the job or project easier, helping creators to produce their best work possible.

Enter Pencil Case, which rates tools for designers and developers, so creatives and coders can “discover, collect and share” resources such as Dribbble, GitHub, InVision, and more.

A peek inside the beta

An email invite to the Pencil Case beta reads:

“Pencil Case is a free-to-use web-based app which aims to help designers and developers – just like you – ensure they’re always equipped with the best tools. Create lists (known as ‘pencil cases’) and save up to ten of your most valuable resources inside each one. We track how popular each resource is and display the results in a searchable chart, so everyone can see what’s popular and what’s new, and who’s using what. This helps you find the best tried-and-tested resources, determined by like-minded creatives, with a focus on quality over quantity.”

The web-based app currently hosts 523 resources, and it allows members to “suggest a resource” that isn’t yet listed.

Search “editing” and Pencil Case provides 23 results for tools under the slightly narrower category “image editing.” When ranked according to popularity (the number of times a resource appears in members’ pencil cases) we get:

  1. Adobe Photoshop
  2. Adobe Illustrator
  3. Sketch
  4. Pixelmator
  5. Adobe Fireworks
  6. Slicy
  7. Enigma64
  8. Pixel Dropr
  9. Retinize It
  10. Adobe InDesign

Click on any of the listed resources to expand, revealing a short summary of what it is and why it is awesome, Then jump to the product’s website, “view” what Pencil Case has to say about it and which members added it to their cases, or save it to your own case.

A better pencil case

This isn’t kindergarten anymore. And although the name evokes innocent memories of primary school, Pencil Case is no doubt a service for big kids.

In April, Pencil Case had nearly 500 members . As the community grows, the number of showcased resources will increase and the site’s rating quality will improve.

Although Pencil Case’s web-based app is a bit limited, Edward Williams, the site’s founder, assures users, “We’ll be constantly updating the website so visit regularly and follow @pencilcaseapp on Twitter for updates.”

Why care?

Designers and developers are often so overwhelmed with information and choice that it can be difficult to decide what tools to use for their next project.

Apps like Pencil Case will make it easier for creatives and programmers to discover the best tools on the web, so instead of spending egregious amounts of time finding and researching tools that will take your project to the next level, you may soon be able to identify the right programs that will help you build better.

Request an invite for the Pencil Case beta at its website. Or get direct access thanks to Erlibird.

 

Free MozyHome Online Backup

 

SMBs and iOS7: Tips to Adapt to the New Look and Feel

If you’ve spent untold hours developing a good mobile app, how do you react when the operating system changes the way it looks and works almost completely?

That’s a question that small-business owners have to answer when it comes to iOS7. Love it or hate it, the radical aesthetic and functional changes to Apple’s mobile working environment are here to stay, and for businesses with iPhone or iPad apps, it’s time to prepare users for app redesigns as well.

iOS7

Image Source: Apple

But SMB customers aren’t always early adopters, and if they’ve come rely upon your mobile app as a go-to service, you don’t want to lose them while they’re catching up to the technological times. So, how do you please everyone, without (a.) falling behind the forward leaners or (b.) outstripping the more cautious among your clients?

We turn to some experts for tips and advice on what to do to adapt to the iOS change and also keep your users happy.

Version Shock: 3 Tips for Avoiding It an iOS7 World

Recent reports suggest that nearly 1/3 of Apple users still haven’t upgraded to the newest version of Apple’s operating system. Some people just aren’t ready for the change, and there were even early reports that the operating system made some users feel sick to their stomachs.

On the other hand, as a business owner with customers that fall into that other ~70%, you can’t let the change-resistant overstate their case. So, how to walk a line?

Here are some tips, with guidance from developers at Roambi, one company that has been building business-productivity apps for iPhone since the very beginning of the App Store.

  1. Make sure the current version of your app is up-to-date. It may be hard to do while your app-development team is working to create the newest version of your app, but it’s important to perfect the existing version of your app before moving on to the next version. Any bugs or glitches should be fixed now so that you can focus on the next iteration of your app.
  2. Notify your customers. Not everybody is an early adopter, and this newest version of Apple’s operating system represents the biggest design shift from Apple yet, so make sure your customers know why you are changing your app and have an idea of what to expect. Sending an email to your user base or making a video tutorial with FAQs will be essential.
  3. Listen to your users. Even Apple’s newest edition of its operating system wasn’t perfect the first time around. Be prepared to receive feedback from your users on your new app and make notes on what can be improved for the next time you want to push an update.

Whether it’s you that codes for your small business or you work with tech-savvy team, if you’re ready to sink into some deep app-redesign, avail yourself of this set of key project notes from Apple’s development pages — including further advice on keeping iOS6 support intact.

Create and innovate, and with a quiver full of these tips you’ll know you’re aiming for the bullseye when it comes to new adopters, but still hitting the mark for your users who want to stick with iOS6 a little longer.

 

Mozy Mobile Apps for Android and iOS

 

After the Shutdown: SMBs Weigh-In on the Showdown (and Who’s to Blame)

Government ShutdownThe rhetoric isn’t over, but the U.S. government shutdown is, for the moment, at an end. With a late-night vote on Oct. 16, the House of Representatives dragged itself across the finish line of a 16-day endurance lap that was meant to test the resolve of the President, the Senate, and — to their chagrin — the American people.

Throughout the process, we heard a lot from politicians about closed monuments and parks, and about the outrage prompted when those resources weren’t available. But what really happened on the ground? What about the business owners that felt the shutdown’s impact?

“The shutdown is about more than national parks and zoos, landscaping and passports,” says Crystal L. Kendrick, president of The Voice of Your Customer. To her, the larger concern about federal offices going dark was “the effect of this shutdown on federal contractors, medical research, and federally funded social services.”

Now, as the dust clears, small-business owners are ready to talk. Here are the stories of several, and what they experienced as the federal government drew the shades for over two weeks in 2013.

Federal Contracts: Hitting Pause on Cash Flow

The Voice of Your Customer works with clients to penetrate niche markets via surveys, focus groups, and media campaigns. Part of its business comes from U.S. government contracts.

“As a result of the government shutdown, our contracts and work assignments were put on hold,” Kendrick says. “Additionally, our invoices were not being processed. What is more is that few federal RFPs have been released since 1 October, so the future workload of federal contractors will be affected as well.”

And the effect ripples across not only Kendrick’s company, either. The freelancers with whom she works will feel a pinch as well.

“We have delayed spending with our contractors and other suppliers,” she says. “We now have idle resources and delayed receivables. We have assigned our staff to other internal activities and we are using other resources to manage our cash flow.”

Bureaucratic Freeze: Licenses, Taxes, and Loans Take a Hit

If you’re a freelancer in need of that new permit, or you’re resolving a complicated tax scenario, the shutdown likely created new problems for you. So says Michael Raanan, president of Landmark Tax Group.

“The shutdown had a significant adverse affect on my business since my tax practice is dedicated to resolving IRS tax disputes,” Raanan says. “No IRS live assistance was available, no paper tax returns were being processed.”

And all those wage levies, tax liens in need of removal, and IRS approval for licenses and escrow issues? All on hold.

Similarly, if you had a loan application in with, say, the U.S. Small Business Administration, you can almost certainly expect that process to be slowed by the backlog caused by the shutdown.

The Finger of Blame

It’s clear that partisan wars are fought by more than one side. But small-business owners and U.S. citizens have shifted in how they answer the question of who bears the blame for the 2013 shutdown.

A Manta flash poll of 1,000 small-business owners allocated blame for the shutdown like this:

  • Congressional Democrats: 12%
  • Congressional Republicans: 22%
  • President Barack Obama: 30%
  • Tea Party: 8%
  • Both Democrats and Republicans: 24%
  • Other: 1%
  • Don’t Know: 3%

By Oct. 13, a Pew Research poll, its findings not confined to small-business owners, showed different results when it came to assigning blame.

  • Republicans: 46%
  • Obama Administration: 37%
  • Both: 13%

Steve Silberberg, owner and head guide at Fitpacking, a company that takes hikers on trips to national parks and forests, placed himself squarely in the mid-October 46%.

“I consider Congressional Tea Party members to blame for the shutdown,” says Silberberg, focusing on those members’ efforts “to defund the Affordable Care Act and convince me that it will place undue burdens on my business. They shut down my business.”

 

MozyPro Online Backup For Business

 

A New Market Gets a New Measure: Independent Workers Earned $1.2 Trillion in 2013

A New Market Gets A Big Financial BoostThe independent workforce is up nearly 10% from 2011 — that’s some 18 million professionals generating over one trillion dollars, according to a new report. These independents, contractors, consultants, and freelancers are not only making a living for themselves, they’re providing work to others. To the tune of $96 billion.

How is that possible?

Here’s the math: more than a quarter of independent workers hire other freelancers, and this year’s MBO Partners State of Independence Report says that these approximately 18 million indies are putting the equivalent of 2.3 million fellow freelancers on the books. To a large extent they’re doing this virtually. The 2013 report reveals that the new virtual team-up is big business, with independents assembling into collaboration teams to meet customer demands.

“This year’s report shows the tremendous economic impact of independent workers,” says Gene Zaino, chief executive officer of MBO Partners. “And [it] validates that independence is more than a viable career path; it’s a job creation engine.”

And there’s no sign of slowing down. By 2023, it is projected that more than half of all private-sector workers will have logged hours as independent pros.

But who are these workers and where are they taking us, exactly? Let’s see what else the study’s numbers have to say.

  • Mainstream Presence: Independence is driving what looks an awful lot like a structural shift. MBO Partners’ 2013 workforce index, a measure created to track the private sector, shows an 8.2% growth since the base year in 2011. And the study’s authors expect growth to hit 24 million by 2018. As it stands, nearly 10 million households can credit at least half of their income to the work of independents.
  • Economic Engine: Independent workers have generated close to $1.2 trillion in total income in 2013. They also spend. When it comes to non-payroll/contractor outlay, on average, they’re putting down about $8,500 per year per solo worker — that’s $150 billion, annually.
  • The Confidence Factor: Sixty-four percent of the indies polled reported a high level of satisfaction with their work style — that’s down a bit from 2012, but still greater than in 2011. The study shows that 77% plan to continue as either sole proprietors (63%) or expand to a larger business model (14%).
  • Multi-generational: Of the 17.7 million independents, 1 in 5 are Millennials (21-33 years old), 36% are Gen X (34-49 years), 33% are Boomers (50-67 years), and 11% are matures (68+).

And here’s one more interesting detail from the report. Independence has a new name, or a bunch of them.

That is, according to MBO Partners, just 3% of independent workers chose freelancer as their primary title. Instead, the survey got responses that ran the gamut, from self-employed to business owner, contractor, consultant and entrepreneur. Seems the independent professional is building a whole new kind of persona. And they’re taking a seat in their own kind of corner office.

 

MozyEnterprise Online Backup