SMBs in the New Year: Focusing on 2014

2014 CalendarIf you’re a small-business owner, you may not be able to think of a recent year that’s been so transformative: 2013 marked a banner 12 months for technology IPOs, and it heralded the introduction of the Affordable Care Act.

So, how does all of this affect SMB professionals’ outlook for 2014? Things are looking positive, according to a new poll of more than 1,000 small-business owners by Rocket Lawyer. Some 80% of SMB pros surveyed say optimism is the watchword for the coming year.

Opportunities: Growth sectors

Owners of small and midsize businesses are looking at a fairly topical slate of growth areas in 2014.

With all the talk in the news about tech companies such as Twitter going public and healthcare systems undergoing unprecedented change, perhaps it’s no wonder that polled owners say technology (36%) and healthcare (27%) are regions of opportunity in the coming year.

Meanwhile, growth in 2013 looks to be a mainly marketing-focused effort.

  • More than 40% of the owners say marketing will lead their 2014 to-do lists.
  • 25% indicate fundraising will be the primary focus.
  • 13% of the polled SMB professionals cite product development as a priority.

Healthcare: The ACA in 2014

In light of the predictions of doom by numbers of politicians, it’s perhaps somewhat surprising to hear what SMBs have to say about the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

  • 75% said that the healthcare act’s implementation will not affect their hiring plans.
  • Less than half (45%) say they’ll not enroll in the ACA in 2014 (or even 2015).

Among those who will not enroll, the reasons given include having fewer than 50 employees (40%) and/or having a healthcare plan they’re already satisfied with (30%).

With all of this in mind, the poll also shows that the outlook is also on the uptick for would-be employees, especially freelancers.

For them, the big picture looks like this: More than one-third (37%) of the SMB owners said they planned to hire on new staff in the first half of 2014, and more than half of those new hires, the owners say, are expected to be independent contractors.

That’s promising news, and a strong way to start a new year–for employers and employees.

 

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The Truth About Online Gifting and Greeting Over the Holidays

Christmas Gift CardsFrom digital gift cards to electronic greeting cards to online invitations, how far can you go when it comes to a digitizing your holidays? Based on research conducted this year, the answer is “far.”

Digital cards and e-cards–once viewed as impersonal, lazy and thoughtless–are now being touted as convenient, customizable and efficient–not to mention eco-friendly and affordable.

Indeed, JibJab Media CEO Gregg Spiridellis sees e-cards as more than just an alternative to paper. “In today’s culture, e-cards are not only accepted but often preferred,” he said. “Much as most people use paperless billing, cards and invites have made a similar shift to reflect the lifestyle of the 21st century.”

JibJab is known for its popular animated electronic cards that feature users’ uploaded photos.

“[They] allow for a much higher entertainment value, complete with singing, dancing, and really fun humor,” he said.

That interactivity is something you just can’t find on paper.

James Hirschfeld, founder of Paperless Post, agrees that the acceptance and use of online cards and invitations is only trending upward.

“Even in a market where retail-based holiday card sales are declining, we’re seeing a 65% increase in online holiday card sending this year,” he said. “Online cards reach recipients where they spend most of their time: the Internet.”

When it comes to digital gift cards, the numbers are also climbing: It’s estimated that $29.8 billion will be sent on the cards this year. According to the National Retail Federation, 81% of holiday shoppers will buy gift cards this season. They’ll spend an average of $163, which is the highest amount recorded in the survey’s history.

Of this year’s holiday online shoppers, an online InComm survey found that 77% will buy digital gift cards as opposed to the plastic counterparts. Forty percent of those surveyed said they’d prefer an emailed gift card as opposed to a paper printout.

Sites like Gift Card Mall, Gift Rocket, and PayPal’s new Digital Gifts make electronic gift card purchases easier than ever. Many digital gift card retailers give purchasers convenient options, including flexible dollar increments plus the ability to immediately print a certificate and present it in person, or schedule it in an email for later–complete with an online redemption code.

If these trends continue, “Cyber Monday” may become “Cyber holiday season.”

“We live in a digital age,” Spiridellis said. “It’s clear that the cultural acceptance is there for electronic cards to be perceived as containing the same thoughtfulness and care as a paper card–just adapted for today’s generation.”

 

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Built to last

Somewhere in an attic or a cellar most of us have a box full of audio cassettes or VHS tapes. You might even have 8-tracks, mini discs, Betamax tapes, and LaserDiscs. They were all leading-edge technology when you bought them. You invested time, effort, and money in these various formats, but over time, they all became obsolete. To a certain extent, that’s natural but, when you have to invest time, effort, and money all over again on a new platform, it can be both frustrating and expensive. How many times do you have to buy the same Beatles album?

Cloud backup is reaching a tipping point, just like the one the home entertainment industry experienced. Established cloud backup providers who aren’t keeping up with changing customer tastes and technologies are seeing customers lured away by competitors and new services.

Mozy is built upon a foundation that enables us to evolve our service as we move into the future. This past summer, we enhanced the underpinnings of our industry-leading cloud backup service to launch a new, more flexible data protection and access platform. This enabled us to launch the next generation of Mozy a few weeks ago, adding new features such as Mozy Sync and tools for greater flexibility for mobile devices. Our goal has been simple: Future-proof our business by building upon a foundation that allows us to bring the newest data protection and access features and services to our partners and customers—and at a faster pace.

Moving from one cloud provider to another can be just as frustrating as—and a lot more expensive than—rebuilding your movie collection again. That’s why it’s key for businesses to take the time to evaluate potential cloud partners carefully. Price and features are important, but no less important are sustainability, longevity, security, scalability, and a host of other criteria that must not be overlooked.

To help businesses whose backup providers have closed their services, Mozy is providing access to a free IDC white paper that offers advice on how to select a replacement.

There’s one reason Mozy is doing all this: We’re your partner in the cloud for the long haul.

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.

 

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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.

 

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Technically Speaking: Links of the Week – December 16

Each week we scour the internet to find the best stories on technology, digital living and news of note. This week features a tongue-controlled wheelchair, a bra that affects your appetite and blinking gloves for cyclists. All that and more in the return of Mozy’s Technically Speaking.

Blinkers on your hands: New gloves shed light on bicycle safety

Lighted Bicycle Gloves

A bright new idea on Kickstarter is calling for bicycle safety. The company Zackees has developed turn signal gloves that light up with LED directional arrows so cyclists can let cars in traffic know when and where they’re turning, says Amanda Kooser of CNET. The invention could also be used for skateboarders and runners, among others. The gloves can be powered by either regular or rechargeable coin cell batteries. For $69 you can get a set of gloves in classic black spandex.

The bra that keep you from eating too much

Could your bra stop you from eating too much? According to CBS News, Microsoft is working on a new bra that lets wearers know when their bodies are stressed so they can be warned not to binge-eat. Researchers say the bra monitors wearers’ heart rates, detects emotional stress and alerts wearers via their smartphones when the hunger they’re feeling probably isn’t real. And gentlemen need not worry: While the working version is designed for the female form, the company says it’s developing one for men, too.

Tongue-controlled wheelchair helps people with paralysis

Wheelchair

Thanks to a new wireless device, people with paralysis can control their wheelchairs by moving their tongues, according to Mashable. The device consists of a headset with wireless sensors and a tiny magnet. The headset measures changes in the magnetic field as wearers move their tongues, and then it sends signals to a smartphone to control the wheelchair.

The wheelchair has gone through a clinical trial in which people with paralysis of all four limbs were able to use the chair to successfully maneuver through an obstacle course.

New service blocks mobile location tracking

Is big brother watching? Not if AVG can help it. Parmy Olson of Forbes reports that the security firm AVG is launching the first location-blocking service for mobile devices. The company is adding the feature to its free PrivacyFix app for Android.

“The update to AVG’s free app … is the first of its kind to be offered by an established security company, and lets Android users block location tracking by Wi-Fi networks in retail stores or public venues, says Olson.

 

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Mozy Named One of Utah’s Best Companies to Work For – 2013

Yesterday, Mozy was honored for the 5th straight year as one of the 35 best companies to work for in the state of Utah — by Utah Business Magazine. While our headquarters is in Seattle, Washington, Mozy maintains a large office in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and also has offices in Boston, Massachusetts; Cork, Ireland; London, England; and Shanghai, China.  We’re very proud of the culture and work environment we’ve created that have lead to this award, which was won from the voting of the employees themselves vs. other companies in Utah. Here are the highlights:

Mozy’s Best Companies to Work For Video

Utah Business Magazine’s synopsis:

Mozy was founded as a tech startup in 2005; since that time, the company was acquired by EMC, a global firm with a large footprint, and has grown to nearly 200 employees in its Pleasant Grove location. Even so, the company has maintained its creative, laid-back startup culture.

“Mozy’s culture thrives on creativity and innovation. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to our products,” says an employee.

Everything from the colorful office décor to a relaxing game room to plentiful snacks are geared to keeping the creative juices flowing. Mozy hosts monthly summer activities like bowling, laser tag and private movie screenings, which “have proved to be a big success in generating employee interaction, higher morale and time away from the office to relax and have fun,” says Steve Jensen, senior manager of public relations.

Even though employees routinely show up in shorts and flip flops, they are dedicated to Mozy and their own professional growth. “I love how we have a career path for each employee and how we are encouraged to move up in the company wherever we will excel and enjoy our work the most!” says another employee.

  • Fully stocked break rooms
  • XBox, ping pong, foosball and outdoor basketball
  • Telecommuting options
  • Education reimbursement and free, onsite training opportunities

See the story here.

Battle of the Streaming Bands

If anything could qualify as the end of the debate between whether the future of digital music lies in downloads or streaming, it could be the launch of iTunes Radio. The fact that Apple–the pay-per-download giant–is placing bets on music streaming is very telling, but the September release of iTunes Radio has also opened for debate another question: Which provider will offer the best service?

“An arms race is afoot,” RCA Records President and CEO Tom Corson told Rolling Stone.

And, thus, the battle is on among music streaming companies, from the long-running Pandora to the rumored YouTube streaming service. Though the war is sure to be a lengthy one, some industry experts are weighing in on who is faring best so far and why.

Pandora

Right off the bat, Pandora’s early entrance into the music streaming game gives it 70 million advantages over the new services. With all of those active users, Pandora also has the support of long-time advertisers. Indeed, CNBC reports that Pandora runs advertisements for eight to 10 minutes per hour.

Spotify

Spotify allows users to get more hands on with their playlists than Pandora, with hand-curated collections of songs. The Huffington Post calls Spotify “more robust” than other streaming music services. In addition, it’s integration with Facebook is a unique feature that makes the music listening experience more social, even for lonely office workers.

Backing Up Celebrities

How many GBs would it take to back up some of today’s most popular musicians, performers, and other celebrities? Find out in Mozy’s infographic, “Backing Up Celebrities”.

iTunes Radio

Though comparatively late to the music streaming scene, iTunes Radio already has two big advantages over the longstanding Pandora:, according to CNET: human-curated stations and global music rights. There is also potential, states CNET, in the combination of iTunes Radio, Siri and automobiles. “iTunes Radio is a clear threat,” said BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield in the CNET article. “[Siri is] key to giving iOS an important place in the car and beyond, and making iTunes Radio a true ‘Pandora Killer.’”

YouTube Music

A YouTube music streaming service is still officially a rumor, but there is lots of buzz about it nonetheless. Forbes predicts that such a move would essentially be a rebrand–although a smart rebrand–of Google’s existing service, Google Play Music All Access.

“YouTube … is a brand that everyone knows, and most kids already use it to discover their music,” wrote Bobby Owsinski in the Forbes post. “Adding a streaming music function becomes only just a new YouTube feature, not a new service.”‘

So, music streaming services, get ready to rumble! What all this ramping up means to the consumer is that the future of music has been decided. Notably, the expansion of iTunes’ scope from digital downloads only to streaming seems to be an indication that the industry in changing gears. Almost certainly, the features of each service will evolve as both the technology and competition heats up, and the broad reach of better established brands like iTunes and YouTube will give the original names in streaming–such as Pandora and Spotify–a run for their money.

One thing is for sure: Music lovers who want more songs at their fingertips–at all times–will be sharing the victory with whichever service rises to the top.

 

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Seene Enables iPhone Users to Make 3D Photos

Welcome to Mozy’s App Profile, where we introduce new programs seeking to improve the way we live and socialize. This week, Mozy takes a look at Seene, an app that adds a whole new dimension (pun intended) to the way users take and share photos.

Seene AppPeople have long been touting 3D (a.k.a. the third dimension) as “the future of technology.” But while 3D technology has advanced dramatically—as seen in movies such as “Avatar” and “Gravity”—it’s always had an associated exclusivity and exorbitant price that was prohibitive for the masses.

But the new Seene photo app, by Obvious Engineering, is looking to extend 3D technology to all–or, at least, to all smartphone users.

“The [Seene] team shares an interest in helping people better connect with and understand the world that they see via their mobile phone,” said Obvious Engineering founder Andrew McPhee. “With Seene, we wanted to use some of the technology we have developed to evolve what it means to visually share your life with others.”

Seene captures both image and depth information as a user moves his or her phone around a subject. The app then builds up a depth map (3D model) of what the user is looking at.

“This radically changes the viewing experience because as soon as viewers move their phone even slightly, the three-dimensional surface that supports the captured image accentuates the depth of the photo,” said McPhee. “This provides a powerful impression of occlusion through depth and movement, making it feel more like you are looking at something real instead of a 2D photo.”

Seene is hardly alone in the 3D photo app arena. Other popular 3D photo apps include Jittergram, 3D Camera and Scubo. But the big difference between Seene and its competitors is that McPhee’s app utilizes non-stereoscopic 3D photo formats. Essentially, what this means is that users don’t need any special glasses or additional hardware or server processing to view 3D pictures. The result is a format that is “instantly enjoyable and inherently shareable,” according to McPhee.

The million-dollar (at least) question for McPhee is whether Seene can eventually dethrone photo-sharing giants such as Instagram and Vine.

“We wanted to test the waters and see if people were ready to share something more than static images and video frames,” said McPhee. “The public response has been a resounding yes, and we have had more than 700,000 downloads since we launched a little over a month ago.”

The next step for Seene is to fully integrate with the likes of Twitter and Facebook, as well as with email and text. For the time being, Tweets and Facebook posts feature a 2D preview of what are called “seenes.” Tumblr has fully embraced the 3D photo format, enabling users to view seenes as they were natively intended.

Integrating with Twitter and Facebook are the next logical next steps, but McPhee has a vivid plan laid out for the future.

“We’re looking to evolve people’s expectations of how they can share their life with a new medium that is enabled by the mini-super computers that we as a generation now carry around in our pockets,” said McPhee. “Merging image, shape and interactivity is a good starting point, and we think this has the potential to succeed on a mass scale.”

Competing with Instagram and Vine is a tall order, but, as McPhee noted, “The thing that is wooing users is the ability to share the world as it actually looks—not as a flat representation.”

Download Seene for free at the App Store.

 

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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.”

 

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