Category Archives: Small Business

The SMB Will: How to Protect What You’ve Built

The Small Business WillLegacy is important. It’s crucial. It’s part of the reason we draft wills. And while it’s a given that caring for legacy is part of what we do when it comes to family, what about when it comes to the infrastructure and ideas that surround your small business?

“There’s a common misconception that a will is just about distributing financial assets,” said Charley Moore, founder of Rocket Lawyer. But company “owners also need ‘business-wills’ to make sure their businesses can live on, even if they don’t.”

Moore and his colleagues offered some advice on how to make a business will happen, highlighting estate-planning tips that owners can use.

  • Address Different Business Structures: When creating a business estate plan, understand the ramifications of the corporate structure you’ve selected. Sole proprietors, partnerships, LLCs, and S-corporations each present different legal challenges.

“It’s important to plan for both disability and death,” said Christopher Johnson, an estate-planning attorney who consults with Moore’s company. “For sole proprietorships and single-owner LLCs and corporations, make sure you’ve given thought to who could take over for you, and how they would do it. This can be done with durable powers of attorney and trusts, and making sure the agent or trustee can handle your business or hand it off to competent people.

“For entities with multiple owners, be sure you have a buy-sell agreement with the other owners and that it coordinates with your LLC operating agreement or corporation’s by-laws,” he said. “If you have an S-corporation, be sure to have ‘qualified subchapter S trust’ language in your trust to keep its tax status. And if you have a trust, be sure to transfer your company to the trust. You can use an assignment form, or re-issue the shares or units in the trust name.”

  • Create a Buy-Sell Agreement: This document details what happens should a principal member of the team leave the business, either voluntarily because of sickness or death.
  • Pick a Knowledgeable Heir: To protect your business in the future you need to designate a successor. Remember, no one knows your business better than you right now, but the next owner has to fill that role — so make sure the heir to your legacy has the smarts and know-how to run things in your place.
  • Death & Taxes: Whether you own your business yourself or share it with partners, consult an accountant, as the IRS offers tax breaks for death and estate taxes.

Digital Considerations

A new survey by Rocket Lawyer showed that 93% of those polled were unaware or misinformed about what would happen to their digital assets should they die.

Don’t leave the decisions about your business’s digital details to someone outside the loop. From your company’s Twitter account to the intellectual property sitting in your servers, each component of the increasingly cloud-based way we work is part of a well-crafted will.

 

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WiseRadar, your startup’s most important newspaper

WiseRadar AppIn the news! Yahoo acquires Qwiki, buys Bignoggins, and will live-stream this year’s Emmy Awards. But wait!

Ask yourself: Should I read this?

Unless you are Google, you probably can’t spare the time because it’s not relevant. For small business owners and entrepreneurs, there’s a new solution for filtering through all the noise in the news to discover the most relevant stories for your business.

Welcome, WiseRadar, “personalized news for the startup world.”

Founded by Jean Friesewinkel, a developer, engineer and former business consultant at Bain & Company, WiseRadar aggregates and curates news about your competitors, customers, and market into a simple, digestible email.

Users start with the first step, which is to “setup your radar.” You add competitors that WiseRadar will help monitor. The list of companies comes from the Crunchbase and AngelList directories, but you can also request to add unlisted businesses. Then, voila! What you do with the competitor news and your extra free time is up to you.

As the co-founder of Blank Label, a luxury menswear company, I decided to sign up for WiseRadar and give it a whirl. After I received beta access, I added nine businesses to my radar (WiseRadar recommends adding ten). Shortly afterwards, I received my first curated email digest.

The email begins with a friendly greeting, “Welcome, Danny! Your radar is up and running.” And then prefaces with:

To make the most of our beta, here are three things you should know:

  1. Morning reports. Your digests will arrive on weekdays at 7am, and will include up to 5 stories relevant to the companies you’ve added.
  2. No noise. We make it a principle to only send relevant stories. But if you don’t receive anything for a while and think you should have, please let us know!
  3. We’re here to help you. You can simply reply to your digests with questions or requests. We’re just getting started, and we’ll always be listening.

Below is your first digest. Enjoy!

The meaty part of the email included links to five stories about companies on my radar.

The first link was the only one that was truly relevant, although outdated — nearly four weeks old. The second story featured a new startup we had never heard of, which I shall soon add to my radar, and briefly mentioned a competitor I listed. The third and the fifth stories mentioned a competitor, but were irrelevant because they featured a business we didn’t care about. The fourth story came with a bad link.

Although my remarks seem critical, the fact is, the companies on my radar have been quiet lately. As a user of Google Alerts, to keep tabs on the competition, I have heard the crickets chirping over the past months.

Tools like WiseRadar, which aim to provide a more sophisticated version of Google Alerts, are important because they minimize the distraction that comes from too much news.

I am a reformed news junkie. When I first fell in love with startups back in 2009, I read every-and-any article TechCrunch published. And I was busier than I ever could have imagined. But being busy isn’t the same as being productive.

Getting caught up in the hype of news is one of the biggest traps small business owners and entrepreneurs fall into that leads to massive bouts of non-productivity. (Email is another.)

People, small business owners and entrepreneurs especially, are an emotional breed. We are attracted to news that shocks or ‘wows’ us. For this reason, catchy headlines from Mashable and picture slideshows from Business Insider easily fill up an afternoon that could have otherwise been used towards creating real value. When I came to this realization, I deleted the bookmarks on my web browser and started doing real work.

Simply put, read less news. You’ll be happier, and your business will thank you.

For beta access, apply with your LinkedIn at the WiseRadar website.

 

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Online Careers: What a Workforce of 1 Billion Means

Online Careers: What a Workforce of 1 Billion MeansA new study of the freelance workforce tells us that there are close to one billion freelancers and that number is growing.

And what’s driving that phenomenon? Productivity, competition for high-quality talent, and reduced hiring frictions.

All of this may be paving paving the way for a future full of “yes” when it comes to small-business employers. Freelance professionals are enjoying fresh attention in 2013.

“What is clear is that online freelancing appears to be an answer to worker happiness in terms of increased flexibility and quality of life, as well as to increased financial independence,” according to an annual impact report recently released by Elance. From what’s driving freelance and business choices to how those decisions are affecting bottom lines — here are some highlights of the study.

1. High Quality Talent Is an Attractor: In the past year alone, there has been a 153% increase in freelancers online with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That means that employers are increasingly likely get used to searching for the right individuals with the right skillsets in the digital space. The longer that goes, on the more entrenched the concept will become.

2. Online Workers Like Their Independence: Sixty-nine percent that answered the survey said they were happier when freelancing versus working in a traditional onsite job. The average freelancer estimates they have 28 more personal days than they did working in a corporate environment. This is another recipe for keeping the online workforce of 1 billion at those numbers or better. Appealing work environments bring new participants. That’s just intuitive.

3. Small-business Owners Perceive Online Searches as a Competitive Edge. Hiring freelance talent to fill part-time needs suggests a competitive edge to 85% of companies, the study said.

4. Reduced Hiring Friction Helps Bottom Lines: According to a new measure of Labor Department data, the average hiring time under traditional methods is 23 days. That’s time and effort on the part of HR, and that’s lost or negatively affected productivity when a position is left open. By some measures, the survey suggests that online hiring can shave that turnaround to just 3.3 days. There isn’t a small-business owner on the planet who’d balk at that, if the skills and experience of the candidate selected are as solid as anyone hired under the old way.

If bottom lines go down for the employer, and incomes increase for those freelancers getting hired, then the future of this new way of thinking about workers and job fulfillment stands to become more and more the norm in 2014 and beyond.

 

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The Big Data Business Bookshelf

The Big Data Business BookshelfBig data is everywhere these days, and many of us are trying to come up to speed on the technology. There are several books out now on this topic, and here are some tips for figuring out which ones are worth reading or best for newbies.

A good place to start is Frank Ohlhurst’s Big Data Analytics: Turning Big Data into Big Money. This is a business process and workflow treatment of the topic: you won’t find any code samples or URLs of open source repositories here. Ohlhurst, who worked with me at CMP and still writes numerous product reviews for the IT trade press, talks about ways to secure your data, structure it, and mine it for value and insights. It is a great book to give your boss.

Next is Big Data Analytics: Disruptive Technologies for Changing the Game by Arvind Sathi, a data architect for IBM. This is another great book for beginners, and identifies use cases, goes into more detail on the business processes and shows some of the main architectural elements of Big Data.

If you’re looking for something short and sweet and also free, try What Is Data Science? by Mike Loukides. You get some concrete examples of different kinds of data analysis tools and techniques and practical, real-world examples galore.

Then there is Enterprise Analytics: Optimize Performance, Process, and Decisions Through Big Data by Tom Davenport and several other authors. It covers a wider ground than some of these other books. It addresses topics including Big Data topics and a variety of other analytic techniques.

A more general overview of the major players behind Big Data is The Little Book of Big Data by Noreen Burlingame. It is a short read but a quick way to see who are the vendors making waves with this technology, including Hortonworks, Cloudera, Datameer and Karmasphere.

If you want to get more down and dirty into the technology, then the Hadoop: The Definitive Guide by Tom White is for you. White will take you through building your first Apache Hadoop cluster, the ins and outs of the Hadoop file system, how to set up MapReduce jobs, and using some of the other tools such as Pig, Zookeeper, and Hive. White works for Cloudera, one of the main commercial forces behind Hadoop.

Once you want to get more training, check out Cloudera University and Hortonworks University: both vendors have extensive programs on a multitude of topics relating to Hadoop and its offshoots, some paid and some for free. And Big Data University has dozens of courses all for free too.

 

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The Business of Your Well Being: 5 Steps to Better Living and Working

The Business of Your Well Being: 5 Steps to Better Living and WorkingOne in four small-business owners would pay $500 for one extra hour in their day.

That’s according to a recent survey conducted by eVoice, looking at how time management and office tasks are changing with the continued ascendancy of the cloud.

Turns out, time is the most valuable asset for small-business owners — 38% said so in the report — outpacing computers, mobile phones, and the company’s office/storefront as well.

With that in mind, what follow are five essential tips for time-management tactics — from learning to “pilot” the cloud to empowering employees your promoting better work habits for better living. Put the best use of time in the spot of MVP!

Time Management: Tips for Working and Living Right

Time management isn’t just about getting work done, the purpose is also to help small-business owners maintain a healthy work-life balance. Leveraging technology can help professionals reach that goal. Here are five ways to approach time-management strategies:

1. Empower your Employees: Learn to let go of the day-to-day tasks that are taking up your time. Instead, focus on the big picture. Not only does this help you to take charge of larger business issues, but your employees will learn and grow by taking on tasks normally assigned to the boss. That’s empowerment. Take a hard look at what you’re spending the most time doing every day. Whatever doesn’t fall into must be done by you category can be reassigned to an employee instead.

2. Learn to Pilot the Cloud: Cloud services can be big time savers for small-business owners. From business communications to document services, applications like Google Docs allow business owners to collaborate in real time with employees; EZ Balances is a simple app for business owners to use when tracking their spending; and Evernote allows business owners to keep track of notes and needs on the fly. And all your cloud-based materials are always accessible. And as any Mozy user knows, in addition to convenience, the cloud also provides security that your files will remain safe.

3. Streamline Communications: A virtual phone number enables small-business owners to work from anywhere without worrying about missing an important call or losing touch with the business. Just designate where you want to get the call — cell phone, office, home, hotel room, wherever. Most allow you to pre-screen incoming calls, cutting out the time consuming but less necessary chats till later. Even better, most virtual phone systems are equipped with voicemail-to-text features. Checking messages just got faster and easier as well!

4. Prioritize the DIY: As a small-business owner it’s tempting to do everything yourself. A whopping 90% of owners told eVoice that they fill the role of at least three different employees at once. As you began to categorize what tasks you could better delegate to your employees, in Tip 1, also work up a list of what you could outsource entirely, hiring a specialist rather than spending hundreds of hours doing it on your own.

5. The Business of Your Well Being. A recent Gallup Daily study found that employees who exercise and eat right are more enthusiastic and engaged in work. No kidding, right? But the same goes for owners at the top. Take the hint and make sure you give yourself a few hours each day to relax and give some attention to things other than business.

The bottom line is to streamline, refresh, and recalibrate. That extra hour in the day doesn’t have to come at such a steep price! Work with the tips above, and you might carve out even more time for making progress — and you’ll feel better about the way you go about it to boot.

 

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Could Voxer Be the Future of All Mobile Communication?

If you’re young and American, you’re likely already answering texts more often than phone calls. According to Jeffrey Kluger of Time, “Americans ages 18-29 send and receive an average of nearly 88 text messages per day, compared to 17 phone calls.” Silicon Valley startup Voxer is betting that it knows how people will want to communicate in the future…

The app does not currently include a conventional call function, it does utilize a PTT (push to talk/transmit) technology–which is essentially a “walkie talkie” or “talking text” feature. Voxer’s reasoning is that users would rather not receive so many phone calls.

“We believe there’s a time and a place for every form of communication–but every form of communication also has its drawbacks,” said Nicole Strada, the Director of Marketing at Voxer. “Everyone knows how annoying it is to get called when they’re in the middle of an important meeting or conversation. If that happens they have two choices, pick up the phone and be rude to people in the room, or let it go to voice mail which people hate checking.”

Given the obtrusive nature of phone calls, Voxer perhaps addresses this by prompting users to listen to the message live, or just keep it for later. There’s no longer the guilt associated with screening calls, or the immediacy of taking a call either.

In addition to the PTT function, users can also send normal texts, photos, location messages, and even start conversations with groups of friends. But unlike most texting, which access your cellular carrier, Voxer can be accessed with a simple WiFi connection–and there’s no expensive roaming or international charges.

“We’ve heard stories of people from all over the world entering in a group chat through Voxer,” said Strada. “[This] allow[s] them to connect with their friends who are in other countries simply and easily because Voxer works on either 3G, 4G, or WiFi. [For instance], soldiers in Afghanistan are connecting with their family members stateside and college friends are reconnecting with past classmates scattered all over the world.”

Yet as interactive as Voxer appears to be for the average user, the app company is also actively looking to attract small, medium, and larger businesses to make the switch.

“Voxer Pro (the ‘business account’ version of the app) works on iOS and Android phones, providing live and recorded voice, multimedia messaging, location stamps, and administrative control,” said Strada. “[The] unique admin portal [...] makes it easier for businesses to keep control of who is using their system, [and] to communicate with employees or customers. [...] Other PTT solutions only work in limited geographical areas, and as WiFi and data networks become more ubiquitous this will improve Voxer Pro accessibility even more.”

It’s a far easier sell for the average user to integrate Voxer into their daily communication routine, but attracting businesses will certainly present the larger hurdle. Even though Voxer has “considered” adding a VoIP feature into the fold, the app company is content with how they’ve currently presented a new, more creative way to interact with friends, employees, and even prospective clients.

Voxer is a free app that can be downloaded in the iTunes Store or Google Play Store.

 

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Reeder App Might Become The Google Reader “Spinoff”

Sometimes spinoffs can be extremely successful. For instance, “Cheers” was one of the most popular television shows for twelve seasons before ending in 1993–but its spinoff, “Frasier,” matched its success, staying on-air until 2004.

Reeder, which is an iPhone and iPad app that was once used in conjunction with the soon-to-be-defunct Google Reader, will now attempt to go solo in an attempt to retain the plethora of shocked and saddened Google Reader users. While it isn’t a “spinoff” in the traditional sense of the word, for Reeder’s sake, the RSS feed-based app can only hope it doesn’t go the way of “Joanie Loves Chachi.”

What makes Reeder’s independence so noteworthy is that there doesn’t seem to be any precedent in app history. Even though it is common for an app or company to pivot, Reeder’s new outlook is more of an unorthodox expansion than a pivot. The near-future death of Google Reader (on July 1, officially) should have, in fact, put apps like Reeder out of business. But instead, developer Silvio Rizzi embraced the market-shattering development.

According to Reeder’s site, Rizzi stated:

“Unfortunately, it’s still too early to have answers to all questions I got the last couple weeks. Probably most importantly, one thing that’s clear: development of Reeder will continue after July 1st.”

Rizzi also mentioned that the updated Reeder app will look to integrate Feedbin as well as support for standalone/local RSS feeds. In addition, Reeder will soon “add more services [that users] can choose from in the next weeks and months.”

Despite the grandiose plans, Reeder’s potential to monopolize on the Google Reader void isn’t clinched quite yet. Even though the app might arguably be in the best position to cash in, they’re not the only tech company throwing their hat into the “Google Reader replacement” ring. Feedly, a similar news aggregation app, immediately saw their own base climb by three million new users within two weeks of Google’s announcement. In addition, Feedly, unlike Reeder, already has an Android app in place. Also, Digg, a popular social news website that averages hundreds of thousands of unique views per month, announced their legitimate plans to compete for displaced RSS-feeders.

Competition aside, if Silvio Rizzi and Reeder follow through on their promises, and turns its app into a the most user friendly, and viable Google Reader replacement, they will not only become a RSS mammoth, but also, become the gold standard for dependent-apps-turned-independent.

Reeder is now a free app for the iPad, but will cost $2.99 for the iPhone. Download Reeder at the iTunes Store.

 

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Uninterrupted Work Flow in 3 Virtual Offices over 3 Different Continents

Working Around the WorldImagine working on your laptop in a coffee shop where the barista only speaks Mandarin.

Living in Shanghai, China is unlike any other experience. But working in a foreign country doesn’t necessarily have to be so different.

At least, if you can set up a virtual work station, you won’t ever have to worry about adapting to new office dynamics. Work whenever you want, however you want.

The must-haves are a comfortable work space, a reliable internet connection, and your data backed up to the cloud.

China. Argentina. Morocco.

At times, the air and noise pollution in Shanghai got to me. As did the communication barriers.

But whenever I needed to get some important work done, I just had to pay for a nice cup of coffee before I could begin pounding away at my keyboard, tuning out the foreign world around me while increasing my productivity.

When I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, there was WiFi everywhere, and in some cases, it was free. WiFi was available in bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and even public parks and plazas.

Then, after a day’s worth of hard work, I’d gorge on empanadas baked in the shop around the corner, or several slices of “fugazetta” pizza from local gem, El Cuartito.

Around Morocco, you can find a strong connection at McDonald’s. But when the popular fast food chain is out of sight, the big telecom providers offer contract-free Internet connections. Meditel offers a portable USB key that lets you connect your computer to its 3G network all around the country. Best of all, it’s cheap and it’s prepaid.

Keeping Security in Mind

Whenever I was on the road, whether I was traveling between Shanghai and Beijing or crossing the border from Argentina to Uruguay, I always made sure my laptop was wiped clean of any sensitive data and that those critical files were only available in the cloud.

Bag, laptop, passport, and wallet stolen. 

I have been fortunate enough that I have never been robbed or pick-pocketed while traveling. Knock on wood. But a friend I was traveling with once had her bag stolen out from under her seat at a Starbucks in Buenos Aires. The worst part was that she had kept her laptop, passport, and wallet in that very bag.

Throughout my travels, for personal and professional purposes, I’ve made it a point to keep important documents and possessions in secure places (i.e. passport and credit cards in the hotel safe, or sensitive work documents in a reliable cloud server). So, if I was robbed or mugged, it wouldn’t be a total inconvenience. Or if my computing and mobile devices got damaged, at least my work would be safe.

 

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Business, Marketing, and Big Data: 5 Key Tips for Bringing Them Together

Business Marketing DataThe explosion of social media and online/mobile commerce over the last few years has created a treasure trove of information. For many leading business people, deft analysis of this “big data” is the new key to making better business decisions.

Whether you’re a three-person shop or a sales force of dozens, one of the key benefits of big data is that its massive analytical potential can lead to the discovery of results-oriented patterns within massive sets of incoming information — exactly the kind of material that social media and commerce-based sites tend to generate.

But how to leverage it?

It’s not enough to simply amass the raw info.Strategists from small-business owners to large enterprises need to integrate that big data with the “on-the-ground” tactics.

To get a start on that, we turn to several experts who are working on the tools to effect just this kind of integration. They bring us five tips for better marketing, using big data as a primary approach.

Bringing Big Data to the Marketing Table

We turned to Mark Cerullo, senior manager of Campaigner email marketing, to help isolate the five basic principles to help owners achieve those goals in the big-data realm.

  1. Standardize Best Practices. Big data can give you a dynamic, real-time view into the behavior of prospective buyers. Use it to help discern content type, frequency, and sequences that yield the best results. For example, if your data reveals that a video demo followed by a personalized email yields the best results, standardize the practice.
  2. Segment for Success. Use big data to segment your audience into specific subgroups. You can combine a number of data factors — such as job title, location, items and services purchased, or pages viewed — to create an audience segment. You can then create highly targeted communications specific to each group. For example, you can deliver tips specific to CMOs in a specific industry or create a bundled offer to buyers who have purchased a specific product or service in the past.
  3. Up Your Game with Integration. Integrate information from different systems to capture, analyze, report, and then act upon the intelligence you have collected. Multi-channel information can be used to gain visibility into user behavior and help you tailor smarter strategies for reaching and engaging your audience. For example, your website, CRM data and e-mail campaigns all yield streams of information. By pooling these individual streams of information you gain greater insight into your customers’ behaviors, likes, dislikes, and buying patterns. You can use this to not only customize more relevant content but also to tailor the delivery channel and timing.
  4. Use This, and Then Use That. Use big data to create automated triggers based on user behavior. Develop specific follow-up actions prompted by customer behavior. For example, a visitor that reads a blog post on marketing may be prompted with a message that directs them to a marketing-software demo. An opt-in form may trigger an immediate follow-up call from a sales representative. An abandoned online shopping cart might prompt a follow-up e-mail with a special offer for completing the transaction.
  5. Data Strengthens Data. The inflow of big data can help you to become more efficient about what is captured, stored and used. You can identify the data that is most relevant for your business. You can save time in analysis but also store only what is important to your business needs, thus saving on data storage costs.

 

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Prezi Offers Visually Stunning Way to Share Ideas

Prezi Presentation AppSome speakers bore their audiences to tears by using presentations that have nothing but slides with dull lists and bullet points. As the material blends together and their listeners slowly drift off to a faraway place, the presentation fizzles. Whether or not the information was good becomes unimportant–all because the way it was presented was tedious and boring.

Professional speakers and lecturers are turning towards technology to engage their audiences and communicate their ideas. Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Organizational Psychology understands the power of a good presentation. His TED Talk called “You’re Not That Great: A Motivational Speech” kept audiences rapt and earned him a place as one of Monster.com’s12 thinkers to watch in the world of leadership and organizational development.

What was Crosby’s secret for keeping the presentation interesting? Well, for one he had some very interesting information (he’s currently writing a book based on it). But Crosby also credits Prezi, cloud-based presentation software with a zoomable canvas that allows you to create visually captivating presentations that lead audiences down a path of discovery.

“Since Prezi is dynamic, beautiful and novel, my participants engage at an increased level which makes my job easier,” Crosby said.  ”I can’t count how many times I’ve had someone come up to me after a presentation and have them ask me, ‘What was that software you were using?’ It immediately makes me and my work memorable.”

Prezi’s software allows users to present from any device. Choose between the freedom of the cloud, the security of your desktop, or the mobility of the iPad or iPhone. Prezi is also three dimensional, allowing users to guide their audience through the presentation, rather than just flip from slide to slide. Users can also zoom out to show the overview of the Prezi, zoom in to examine the details of their ideas, or simply move freely through the Prezi and react to the audience’s input.

TED Talks - PreziPrezi is starting to become the technology of choice for many other TED Talks speakers as well, including Peter H. Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, the co-founder and chairman of Singularity University.

“Prezi is helping reinvent the art of presentation,” Diamandis said. “Farewell, one-dimensional thinking. Hello motion, dynamism, flexibility and power of inter-connection. When I gave my TED Talk, I chose Prezi to bring my ideas to life.”

While Prezi has almost immediately caught on among professional speakers, it’s also become popular within other sectors, including business. According to Prezi’s Kelly Hook, currently 80 percent of the Fortune 500 are utilizing Prezi to facilitate presentations and the company just hit 20 million users and 2 million iPad downloads.

So whether your next presentation is to TED or to your sales team, consider using Prezi to step outside of the PowerPoint box.

For more TED Talk videos, including many using Prezi, check out their YouTube channel. WARNING: May be addicting.

 

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