Phantom Charges: Small Ways that Tech Savvy SMBs Can Rack Up Big Savings

Phantom Charges: Small Ways that Tech Savvy SMBs Can Rack Up Big SavingsFor small-business owners, every square foot of office space and every piece of equipment is part of how money is made. But it’s also how business dollars get spent.

Overhead is a daily reality for small businesses. In fact, when it comes to utilities and human resources — it’s an hourly reality. And any way to trim that overhead is key to driving success.

One strategy, when it comes to controlling overhead, is to tackle the “phantom charge”. These are the incremental, often small, expenses — and also the missed savings —  that add up every year.

What follow are five such “phantoms”, ones that you can tackle right away with some advice from the experts at LivingPlug.

1. Stop Phantom Electrical Costs: Your printers, copiers, and other devices and appliances still draw energy, even when they’re not in use. For example, a desktop computer in sleep mode costs nearly $22 per year. Printers run at least $6 annually. Multiplied by the number of devices in your shop, storefront, or offices, this can really add up. The good news is that you can control it by simply unplugging, powering down, or implementing “smart” outlet devices that limit that passive draw.

2. Utilize Automatic Cloud Storage: The data that small businesses generate demands attention. Safe, secure, and frequent backups are key to ensuring your future — but staying on top of the tasks associated with that kind of rigorous backup takes time. And time is money. So, automate your backup to the cloud with a service that automatically grabs all user-generated content and stores it.

3. Benefit from Mileage Tax Deduction: Don’t let the money you stand to save by deducting business-related travel from your taxes pass you by. A device like CarCheckup helps business owners track mileage. Simply plug it into the onboard diagnostic port.

4. Stop Wasting Billable Staff Hours: Small businesses are often plagued by wasted time on phone calls to vendors and providers. Systems that feature endless wait times and phone trees eat up the hours you’re paying for as an owner. Implement an app such as FastCustomer. This helps eliminate that time-suck by navigating those phone trees and ringing your employee back when customer service is actually on the line.

5. Replace Store-Bought with In-House Treats: It is widely known that free food and drinks make for happy employees. But, forgo soda purchases at the grocery store and make your own lower-cost, high-quality in-house treats with a gadget like the SodaStream. The results are not only tasty and typically better for you, but your office will save about about $720 per year for a staff of four (and another feel-good benefit is that your office will also produce less waste).

Time and money, and missed savings. From the way we power our printers to the care we take when tracking business expenses, make this the year you eliminate the phantom charge — in all its incarnations.

 

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5 NFL Injuries Leave Fans Wishing They Could Restore From a Backup

One of the great things about restoring from a backup is that, in a way, you’re travelling back in time. You’re going back to that special place in time before your two-year-old dumped your laptop in the tub, or before your hard drive finally decided it’d had enough of your 24 hour gaming sessions.

With the NFL preseason in full swing, the fact that 300 pound men are now crashing into each other at full speed has hastened the return of everyone’s least favorite event in sports – the injury. The loss of a player due to a unforeseen injury can alter the outcomes of games, success of teams, and in some cases, the careers of coaches or front office types. Even though we’re only a few weeks into the preseason, there are already quite a few players who’s season is already done due to injury.

NFL Backups and injuries

Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

Here are five players fans wish they could restore to a previous, uninjured version:

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles – Torn ACL

Chip Kelly’s arrival as Eagles’ head coach signaled a changing of the guard in Philly. Kelly’s up tempo offense is not without it’s doubters, but with players like Maclin (and fellow receiver Arrelious Benn, also injured) hopes were high in the City of Brotherly Love that Kelly’s fast paced style of play would restore the Eagles to the top of the standings. With Maclin out for the season, Philly fans are hoping they can simply hit the restore button next season, and won’t need to reset everything after a year or two of the Chip Kelly experiment.

Most likely backup: Riley Cooper

Brian Bulaga, OT, Green Bay Packers – Torn ACL

Yes, we’re not excited about talking about an offensive lineman either, but Bulaga has been a mainstay in the Packers’ trenches for the last three years, serving as the critical “blindside” protector to all-everything quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Some pundits had picked the Packers to finish first in their division, and while Rodgers and the cheeseheads are used to playing (and winning) in the face of adversity, Bulaga’s absence will be a blow (perhaps literally) to the Packers and their star QB. One can only hope Bulaga’s backup (rookie David Bakhtiari) will be up to the challenge.

Most likely backup: David Bakhtiari

Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks – Hip injury (labrum)

Harvin’s arrival in Seattle was a source of excitement for the fans of the beleaguered Seahawks, who made their first visit to the playoffs in two years with rookie QB Russell Wilson calling the shots. Harvin was to be the featured weapon for an already powerful offense, but hip problems sidelined him before the season really got started. While the Seahawks’ receiving core certainly isn’t lacking in talent this year, fans are anxiously hoping the rumors about Harvin being “restored” to the team in late November or early December come true.

Most likely backup: Doug Baldwin

Dustin Keller, TE, Miami Dolphins – Torn ACL, PCL, MCL, and dislocated kneecap (Essentially his entire leg was blown up)

While Dolphins fans may be hoping to restore Keller to his previous consistency at tight end, Keller himself is pushing for a quick recovery. After spurning the New York Jets to sign a one-year deal with the Dolphins, Keller was banking on his status as young quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s check down option to produce a monster year and a correspondingly large contract. Now out for the season and rehabbing a gruesomely shredded knee, Keller and Dolphin fans are left to wonder “what if”. There are even a few questions as to whether Keller will see the field again in Dolphins teal and white, or in any other uniform for that matter.

Most likely backup: Charles Clay

Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens – Fractured and dislocated hip

Technically Pitta suffered his hip injury (which drew some similarities to Bo Jackson’s career-altering hip injury in 1991) earlier in the year, but it still casts a shadow over the Ravens’ efforts to defend their Super Bowl title. Pitta had his best reason as a professional in 2012, and his 61 catches and 7 touchdowns were a result of his chemistry with gun-slinger QB Joe Flacco. 13% of Pitta’s catches were for more than 20 yards, so Ravens fans are hoping someone is there to pick up the slack.

Most likely backup: Ed Dickson.

Of course, as the season continues, NFL fans will continue to find their team’s outlook changed due to injuries across the league. Owners, players, and fans alike know that in a game as rough and aggressive as football, a backup plan is key.

The Small-Business Report Card: Mid-Year 2013

Small Business Report CardFor small-business owners, the key issue this mid-year is economic growth. Everything else remains a secondary consideration in mid 2013, and some of the numbers are surprising.

Even as Congressional Republicans met during the dog days of July to consider immigration reform, only 3% of owners polled in a new Rocket Lawyer survey said that the matter was a top priority for the country. And, surprisingly, a mere 10% tagged healthcare and the still-evolving reality of healthcare exchanges to be a major factor for them in the past six months.

Economic and small-business growth, however, remained at the top of the list.

Nearly half (43%) of the owners polled said it was the main concern they held for the remainder of 2013, and more than half (55%) said that their small business had grown — or even boomed — during the first part of the year.

Let’s look a little closer at some of these numbers, especially at those surrounding issues that one might have expected to be higher up among owner’s concerns.

Health Care and Immigration: Where SMBs Stand

The healthcare stats tell us that there are two things going on among the more than 1,000 owners who participated in the poll: (1) awareness versus non-awareness of the issues is about evenly split (2) a surprising number of owners who are aware aren’t especially concerned about the outcomes of these matters.

  • Just more than 50% said they are aware of the new healthcare exchanges geared toward small businesses.
  • When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, 59% who are paying attention to it say they believe the legislation will increase employee healthcare costs. However, 29% said it will have no effect.

Immigration issues seem to be more squarely in the radar, but there’s still a remarkable suggestion of ambivalence about the outcome — at least according to the numbers that came back.

  • Some 64% of respondents said they are aware of the immigration reform plan.
  • 23% of respondents said they support reform.
  • 28% claimed they do not support the reform proposal.
  • Nearly 50% said they do not know how they feel about the issue.

The Mobile Equation

What owners did seem sure about: mobile tech is become firmly entrenched in the way that they do business. Close to half (47%) said they use mobile apps every day for business purposes. Within those respondents, the answers break out further along demographics of age.

  • Gen Y (ages 18-30) and Gen X (ages 31-47) reported the highest rates of mobile use: 62% and 58%, respectively, say they use mobile apps every day for business.
  • Only 27% of those ages 67+ say they use mobile daily.

Finally, optimism about what respondents maintain is the main issue this year — growth — seems to be on the rise. That is, 74% of the respondents said they were hopeful for an even better second half of 2013.

“This is good news,” said Charley Moore, founder and executive chairman of Rocket Lawyer. “Main Street businesses are increasingly optimistic and focused on growth.”

 

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Technically Speaking: Links of the Week – August 19

Each week we scour the internet to find the best stories on technology, digital living and news of note. This week features some futuristic hologram projects and a music poster that does more than just hang on the wall. All that and more in this edition of Mozy’s Technically Speaking.

New Disney Creation Allows People to Feel Objects Made of Nothing but Air

AI Real Vortex

Disney has once again managed to create something so spectacular it boggles the mind. The company has found a way to use air cannons to project hologram-like objects into the air, reports Kyle Vanhemert of Wired. Disney Research in Pittsburgh has created Aireal, a device that lets users feel ghostly objects created purely with puffs of air. With these new cannons, the projected images can not only be touched, but they feel like the actual objects they are representing. The creators of Aireal are exploring a variety of ways for which it might be used. These include incorporating it into large-scale augmented environments, baking it into telepresence gizmos, and even distributing units around living rooms. The ultimate goal, however is to “tear down the boundaries between the physical and digital altogether and to make the entire world interactive.”

Could We Soon Have Full-Sized Holograms in Our Living Rooms?

It may soon be possible to have a conversation with a life size hologram in your very own home. David Szondy of Gizmag writes that the company Provision has created a life-size holographic projector called Holovision. The projector could be unveiled as soon as next year of Provision is successful with its current $950,000 Kickstarter Campaign to fund the development of new technology for the device. The Holovision projector uses what is called aerial imaging to produce 3D images without special glasses. It also has a digital LCD screen and a concave mirror to produce the illusion of a 3D image floating outside the projector. Creepy or cool? You be the judge.

Play the Drums on This Interactive Music Poster

Beat Poster

It looks like any ordinary music poster. A flat piece of paper with photos of some drums and “It’s the Beat” written across it. But there’s a catch. With this poster, users can actually create music. According to Mashable the company Novalia has created interactive posters with the hopes of preserving the print medium by turning formerly static objects into usable interfaces. The posters are able to produce up to seven sounds, and owners can either play along to their favorite songs or create their own beats. The key component of the poster is touch sensors that are printed with electrically conductive ink and attached to a circuit board, allowing it to recognize when the drum graphic is touched. There are two versions of the poster: one that connects to the iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth, and a standalone version that transforms the poster’s surface into a speaker.

Make your (or somebody else’s) side projects happen via Sideprojectors

SideProjectorsIf you’re a creative type, you may have an endless list of world-changing projects that you have brainstormed, blueprinted and prototyped.

If you’re a businessperson, you are probably capable of executing and growing great projects, but are short on things-to-build.

If you fit into either category, you’re soon-to-be in luck.

SideProjectors, formerly a tiny community of creatives and moonlighters who showcased things they were working on or had worked on, is developing a marketplace to buy and sell side projects.

The revamped site is to-be-launched, and promises to be a dead-simple solution for finding “someone who can potentially take over your projects. Alternatively, if you are looking for interesting projects that others have paused on, SideProjectors would be a great place to discover them.”

Keeping side projects alive

Instead of quitting a languishing side project entirely — it’s always difficult to let go — put it up for sale so you can live vicariously through its success or watch it burn in flames knowing at least someone tried.

The entrepreneurial-minded no longer have to start from scratch and can move on from the wannabe stage, ridding themselves of the excuse, “If only I had a great idea…”

Of course, not every side project will become a full-blown business that will launch you into the Wall Street Journal. Many are destined to fail. Some will evolve into completely new ideas.

Side projects are good, but startups are better

Side projects allow creators and developers to build things for fun and feed their entrepreneurial spirits. But there is a caveat: turning a side project into a successful business requires a committed entrepreneur.

David Hauser, founder of Grasshopper writes, “The biggest problem with side projects is that the lack of commitment dilutes the startup talent pool, hurts the side project or startup, and in turn kills great startups from succeeding. If you’re looking to start a business, take some time to consider whether or not you’re ready to be all in.”

That’s where the SideProjectors marketplace intends to help. Not only can it help vet ideas, it can also find that committed entrepreneur that good projects need.

Sign up for an early invitation into the SideProjectors community at its website.

 

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Mobile Pay and the SMB: 3 Tips for Now, How, and the Future

The Future of Mobile PayMobile payment is a new idea for many small-business owners. From the farm stand to the conference floor, swipe technology that turns smartphones and tablets into virtual cash registers stands to become the new norm, but implementing the apps and making sense of the process still represents a learning curve.

Like small business itself, the tech isn’t standing still, either. Magnetic stripes are on their way out, some say. Chip-and-PIN devices are picking up steam, say others. One thing’s for certain: it’s important to stay current with the latest mobile-pay possibilities and the best practices that go with them.

With some expert help, we take a look at the now, how, and future of mobile payment — a tip-sheet to help put your SMB on the cutting edge.

Mobile Payment: Getting Started (and Getting It Right)

“The U.S. is a great market for mobile payments,” said Dan Wagner, founder and chief executive officer of Powa.

Wagner offered the following ideas for implementing and refining the technology within the small-business environment, from day one to the point that even more sophisticated choices come into play.

  • Get out there. First, embrace the mobile payment idea as a strategy for growth. Mobile-payment technology is revolutionising the way small businesses can approach their clientele. “The idea is to mobilize your sales team and do business where your customers are, not where your registers have always been,” Wagner said. That is, mobile payments shouldn’t be a reactive addition to your business — something you implement just to keep up. It needs to drive the way you do business, going forward.
  • Trade differently. One example of driving the way you do business is to use mobile phones and tablets to extend your trading capability in-shop. Mobile payment can eliminate daunting line-time for customers during busy periods. They’re easy to bring out as second points-of-sale in an unexpectedly busy afternoon and multiple devices can be deployed by a number of staff over a predictably busy period, whether it’s Valentine’s Day for a florist or Christmas for a toy store.
  • Adapt (and Adopt). There are many different options out there, but one deciding factors should be compatibility. Be compatible; as magnetic stripe cards begin a phasing out process, investing in a mobile payments device that only accepts magnetic stripes will mean you could be left with an outdated piece of equipment. Small-business owners should also resist the temptation to invest in technology for the short term. Wagner expects that chip-and-PIN and near-field communication transactions — already common in Europe — are expected to become prevalent in the U.S. by 2015. Choose an interface that stands to stick around for longer than a few quarters.

Lastly, do your homework. The cost of taking transactions is another major issue that will affect your choice, Wagner cautioned. Some mobile payment devices charge considerably higher rates than others, so shop around before putting down your cash.

 

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Technically Speaking: Links of the Week – August 12

Each week we scour the internet to find the best stories on technology, digital living and news of note. This week features a pen that’s tough on spelling errors, IFTTT for iPhone, and Google re-instating voice calling. All that and more in this edition of Mozy’s Technically Speaking.

Spell-Checking Pen Vibrates When You Make an Error

Learnstift Pen

Although some people ignore it, spell check is one of the most useful tools on our computers. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a spell check for all the handwritten work handed in to teachers and professors? Or a heads up that cereal is spelled wrong on the shopping list? Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOM reports that there is now a pen with a spell-check feature to help ensure there are no errors in your handwritten notes. The Lernstift pen was created by two fathers hoping to help their children detect spelling and handwriting mistakes. The pen combines electronics and connectivity to gently vibrate when a person using it spells a word incorrectly. The pen is currently on Kickstarter and can be had for a pledge of about $162.

Popular Website IFTTT Comes to iPhone

IFTTT, a universal automator that allows users to build “recipes” or groups of apps merged together, is now available on iPhone. IFTTT (“If This Than That”) makes apps more useful by merging features with other apps. For example, a recipe of YouTube and Facebook would allow users to easily post their favorite videos directly from YouTube to Facebook. According to Time Magazine, “the new IFTTT iOS app does exactly the same thing as the existing web-based version, but with an interface that’s been nicely rethought for the small screen.” The app is free and currently available in the iTunes app store.

After Users Complain, Google Brings Back Voice Calling to Hangouts

When Google updated its Hangouts feature in May it took away outbound calling services and left many users feeling slighted. Now, according to Todd R. Weiss of eWeek, the company has responded and restored voice calling to Hangouts in Gmail, Google +, and Chrome browsers. The move shows a pretty quick response from Google, which saw voice fans take to Google blogs and Google+ pages to complain when it was taken away. And not only is outbound voice calling back, but it’s also better than ever. Google has added new features to the service, like the ability to add multiple phone numbers and video participants to the same call, and an integration of the Google Effects app, which allows callers to play sound effects (like applause or laughter) while they are on the line.

The New Vacation: The Always-Connected Employee (and Why Employers Should Pay Attention)

Employees Working on VacationVacation is supposedly a time for relaxation and rejuvenation away from the office, but a new survey of more than 1,000 U.S. employees suggests that we’re not feeling very good anymore when we unplug.

In fact, many of us are not unplugging from work while we’re away at all.

According to a new survey by networking company Pertino, nearly one half of Americans say they are less stressed on vacation when they are connected to the office. And so, nearly 60% of the polled employees confessed that they regularly work — check e-mail, take calls, etc. — while on vacation.

So, if this is the new normal in our mobile-connected world, let’s look at how Americans are staying in touch with the office this summer, and what that means for the business owners for whom they work.

Employee Vacations Have Changed

One reason that employees work from vacation is that mobile tech has made the office only a click or swipe away.

In fact, 36% of the employees polled said that the beach was their office while on vacation, thanks largely to the ever present smartphone and tablet. Combined, these devices account for 81% of the ways workers connect when it comes to putting in hours from their vacation spots.

And while many are working from the locations where they’re supposed to be relaxing, the numbers tip a bit in terms of who is doing all this extra-office labor.

  • 64% of the men polled said they logged in from vacation.
  • 57% of the women polled said that working from vacation was now a norm.

The Vacation Security Problem: Why Business Owners Should Care

One problem with all of this remote connectivity is not so much that business owners are against the productivity that it breeds, but it’s that the way these employees are logging on can pose a threat. Here’s what the survey revealed about that:

  • 32% of work-from-vacation employees are using unsanctioned or unsecured cloud-file sharing services to access business-related data.
  • 35% of the employees in the survey are simply taking their devices away, loaded with important business files.

Neither of these are scenarios that small-business owners or IT departments want to face.

Rule one, when it comes to vacationing employees and remote access: your business’s policy has to be that they only log in via networks that provide authentication and encryption of traffic over public Wi-Fi and the Internet.

The Healthy Employee: Division of Labor and Play

Beyond the potential of compromised data, another overarching problem of employees working from vacation is that, long-term, they’re courting burnout.

What to do? Encourage healthy vacation habits when it comes to working off the clock.

If it’s almost impossible for many employees, especially senior managers and IT pros, to completely unwind while away, then a key to getting relaxed can sometimes be to not unplug.

But vacationing employees should instead develop a schedule that segregates work and play times. Communicate this division of hours to your family and work associates, then keep to it. Set aside a designated time everyday to connect with office and then spend the rest of the time focused on fun in the sun.

 

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Chirpify: A Social Media Wallet

Welcome to Mozy’s App Profile, where we introduce some of the new programs seeking the way we live and work. This week, Chirpify makes buying on social media easy.

The prestige of carrying cash is for the Baby Boomers generation. Credit cards are convenient for swiping inperson, but aren’t always the most seamless option while shopping online. And while PayPal is the most secure online payment form, the tool itself simply hasn’t kept up with the infrastructure of new social media.

A recent study by Experian indicates that Americans now spend an average of sixteen minutes per hour on social media websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Chirpify hopes to be the new way to click and buy on these platforms.

Chirpify has developed an integrated, in-stream technology that would enable users to buy, sell, raise money, or even donate simply. Unlike competitors Ribbon or Soldsie, with Chirpify, all users have to do to purchase an item is reply with “buy” or a “like,” and the funds are instantly withdrawn from your account (which can be linked to PayPal). There’s no email confirmation barrier or off-site voyages–it’s all streamlined.

The on-the-fly ease of Chirpify makes it an instant marriage for small business owners who actively market their products online. In fact, that’s how Chris Teso, the founder and CEO of Chirpify, found his inspiration to create the payment tool.

“The impetus for Chirpify came from spending many years in the advertising industry.,”said Teso, whose Oregon-based company currently employs just around a dozen people. “Working with big brands, I saw again and again that their advertising was limited to creating ‘awareness’ or ‘engagement’ — which they hoped would eventually lead to a conversion or transaction — but there was no way to connect the dots directly. I built Chirpify to give that advertising a way convert instantly, in the moment, wherever it lives.”

The approach is already being adopted by the billion-dollar sports and music industries.

Back in February, Tim McGraw, who has sold more than 40 million albums, began to integrate Chirpify technology onto his Facebook page to boost the sales of his latest release. To date, Chirpify has also partnered with Adidas, Green Day, Lil Wayne, and Snoop Dogg. And the Portland Trailblazers, Timbers, and Thorns–all professional sports franchises in Chirpify’s hometown–also decided to utilize Chirpify to integrate an untapped medium to interact with fans. .

“The Portland Timbers and Thorns [for instance] have been offering their fans exclusive experiences via social channels — such as VIP passes to pre-game warm-ups and post-game autographs — using Chirpify as a direct social response platform,” Teso said. “It’s mainly a way for them to thank and reward their fans, but also to establish Facebook and Twitter as a two-way channels for more than just cheering on the team.”

Chirpify is free to use for buyers, but sellers incur slight fees. For the “basic” account, sellers incur a 5% (of the purchase) plus $.30 fee. The basic account also enables sellers to place their item or product on Chirpify’s “social storefront” web site.

If you plan on using Chirpify a little more often, the site offers an “Enterprise” account too. Enterprise sellers get a discounted 2.9% (plus $.30) fee, as well as a flurry of tools. These additional tools include promo/coupon codes, giveaways, e-commerce integration, umbrella accounts, priority support, real-time data, branded registration, account direction, and promoted listings.

With Chirpify adding upwards of 300 new users every day, and boasting a 5% conversion rate, the company is steadily building a new atmosphere of e-commerce. Assuming all the security intangibles are sorted out, it wouldn’t be surprising to witness a huge influx of clothes, electronics, and other big industries jumping on the Chirpify bandwagon to make online retail that much more seamless for prospective customers.

 

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Vote for Mozy – Small Business Influencer Awards

Small Business Influencer AwardsMozy’s MozyPro cloud backup service for business has been nominated for a 2013 Small Business Influencer award in the “Apps” category.

The 2013 Small Business Influencer Awards “honor companies, organizations, vendors, apps and people who have made a significant impact on the North American small business market.”

We need your help! Click here to cast your vote for MozyPro cloud backup in the Small Business Influencer awards. You can vote once every 24 hours between now and September 9, 2013, when the voting will close.

93% of all companies that suffer significant data loss close within 5 years. Traditional backup solutions can be expensive and take weeks to implement, leaving small businesses vulnerable to revenue and productivity loss. MozyPro was designed specifically for SMBs.

Over 100,000 businesses trust Mozy to back up their data. Many of these customers are small businesses who use MozyPro to ensure that their data is safe and secure and is being backed up on a regular basis. One of these businesses is Dr. Earl, a dentist in Las Vegas, Nevada. Learn more about Dr. Earl’s Mozy story in this video: