What is Ransomware?

Maybe you haven’t been a victim of ransomware, but you’ve certainly heard of it. Ransomware hacks are in the news daily. According to a recent study published by McAfee Labs, ransomware growth increased by 58 percent for Q2 of 2015. But whether you’re a consumer, business owner, or government entity, the question is not “Will I be a victim of ransomware?” Instead, the question everyone should be asking is “When will I be a victim of a ransomware disaster?” Fortunately, falling victim to a ransomware attack doesn’t have to result in a disaster—if you have a proper backup policy in place.

Ransomware first arrived on the scene in 2005. The first known ransomware strain was Trojan.Gpcoder, which affected Windows operating systems. Although ransomware attacks still use screen pop-ups that notify users of the attack and the amount of money required to unlock a computer, other ransomware attacks are more sophisticated and use “unbreakable encryption.” That usually means if your data is not backed up you will not be seeing it again unless you pay the ransom. And, unfortunately, just because you pay the ransom in return for a decryption key does not guarantee that the key will work and that you will get your data back.

Ransomware can infiltrate and spread throughout your systems in a matter of minutes; all it takes is one wrong click. This type of malware typically enters a network through its weakest link—social media or an email with an infected link or attachment. The bad news is that ransomware is easy to create and deploy. The good news is that you can fight ransomware with a solid backup plan.

Have you ever asked yourself: “What would happen to my business if I lost all of my data?” Having a backup plan in place is not just a sound operational practice, it’s often required by law or regulation. For example, HIPAA requires healthcare organizations to have and test a viable data backup and disaster recovery plan. The same holds true in the financial services industry; both the OCIE and FFIEC have made this a priority in their enforcement and audit practices.

If you do not have a backup plan in place, today is the best day to develop one—and EMC is a great place to start. Mozy and Spanning (both by EMC) offer data protection and data restore no matter where your important files reside. Mozy is an endpoint solution that backs up files on your computers to the EMC cloud. Spanning protects your born-in-the-cloud data for Salesforce, Office 365 (including One Drive), and Google Apps (including Google Drive).

Make no mistake about it—ransomware is a growing threat to all businesses and consumers. In 2014 alone, there were 2,122 confirmed data breaches! Fortunately, there are steps you can take in order to harden security against these types of cyberattacks. First and foremost, businesses must have a legitimate backup plan in place. In addition, we strongly recommend testing your backups periodically to make sure they’re intact and up to par. Equally critical is the ability to restore your data to a specific point in time before the ransomware attack occurred.

Real Estate for Small Business Owners

Whether to lease, purchase or build a location for their venture is among the most important decisions a small business owner makes. Each has its pros and cons.

Buying vs. leasing

All things being equal, deciding whether to buy or lease property usually boils down to how long you intend to remain at the location. If you think the property will suit your needs for a minimum of seven years, you’ll save money by purchasing the space. Buying is more expensive, but you build equity in the property and the value should appreciate. You have a better idea of your ongoing monthly costs if you have a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage. Rental rates are more subject to market forces and are less predictable.

However, things aren’t always equal, so consider whether you want to tie up your capital with a mortgage rather than rent and use those funds to grow your business. Future expansion is another consideration. If a purchased property doesn’t easily lend itself to expansion, you’re better off leasing. The bottom line is always whether a particular investment helps your business grow.

Tax considerations

You can deduct all or most of your lease expenses. If you buy, you can deduct your interest payments, but nonresidential real property depreciation expenses are written off over 39 years. Ask your attorney or accountant whether leasing or buying makes the best financial sense for your situation.

Location, location, location

Location can make or break a retail business. It’s a situation where you usually get one chance to do it right. Do your homework, and identify your customer demographic and where they are likely to shop or use your services. For your type of business, how important is customer proximity? While competition is good, you don’t want a location where you have too many direct competitors. You pay a premium for a top location, but it also drives your business.

When considering a location, do some traffic monitoring at peak hours for your operation. If the volume isn’t appropriate for your needs, look elsewhere.

Site history is important. There are places where no one stays in business very long. Find out what businesses were previously in the location, and what happened to them. Success or failure doesn’t just lie in management; certain areas just aren’t conducive to retail establishments.

Obviously, if your business doesn’t need walk-in traffic, location is less crucial. That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need convenient access to major roadways or other requirements dependent on the nature of your enterprise. Industrial or office parks may offer better opportunities and costs than buildings located on main corridors.

Building

Building an office or store exactly to your specifications is probably the dream of most small business owners. New businesses may have high tech needs that an older building’s infrastructure can’t accommodate. If it’s an option, pursue it, but consider the downside. Building is time-consuming, and you may need approvals from local planning or zoning boards. Environmental or other property issues can stop a project in its tracks—perhaps permanently. Cost overruns are a given.

Commercial real estate broker

You’ll save yourself a lot of valuable time with a good commercial realtor. Unless you have expertise in negotiating leases, you aren’t likely to save money forgoing a realtor and finding and leasing property on your own. You want a realtor whose sole—or at least major—representation involves commercial tenants. As with other professionals, word-of-mouth helps find a reputable realtor. So does asking local businesses in your intended area which broker they used and whether they would recommend the person. Brokers often specialize, so find a person familiar with your type of business and its needs. A broker should know about any municipal ordinances or zoning that could affect your business—issues you certainly don’t want to discover after you’ve signed the lease or purchased the property.

20th Century Encryption Technology

Secret or deceptive methods have been use for centuries to cover up private messages to keep them out of the hands of enemies or those without the need to know. Steganography or the practice of concealing information dates back at least 500 years. In the digital age our messages have advanced from Morse code to digital code transferred through the Internet. From the 20th century and beyond we still look for ways to protect or conceal our messages just as they did centuries ago, but now we use encryption. Check out this infographic on the evolution of encryption technology, which has abounded throughout the last century and continues to do so today at an accelerated rate.

http://graduatedegrees.online.njit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/20th-Century-and-Beyond-Encryption-Technology-01-1.pngNJIT Computer Science Online

Selecting a Business Structure

When you’re starting a small business, you’ll have to decide what type of business structure suits your particular enterprise. There are pros and cons to each type of business structure, and some may not be applicable to your situation.

Sole Proprietorship

If your small business consists of just you and perhaps your spouse, a sole proprietorship is the simplest way to go. Basically, you are the business and the business is you. You file taxes under your Social Security number. The downside is personal liability. If your business fails, creditors can claim personal assets such as your home and bank accounts.

Partnerships 

If you’re in business with one or more partners, a general partnership agreement may make sense structurally. In a general partnership, profits and liability are divided equally among the partners. Other types of partnerships are geared toward special projects or are limited according to investment percentages. While a partnership must file an informational return each year with the IRS, each partner reports income and losses on their individual tax return.

Limited Liability Corporation

An LLC makes sense for many small businesses, as it provides personal liability protection and can consist of various members—not shareholders. For IRS purposes, an LLC is not a tax entity. Proceeds are passed to members, who must pay tax on them. The members themselves decide how these proceeds are divided. Although regulations vary by state, an LLC is relatively easy and inexpensive to set up. You’ll need to:
      •      Choose a business name. This cannot conflict with an LLC of the same name in your state.
      •      File articles of organization. This paperwork includes your business name and the names and addresses of members.              In most states, this document is filed with the secretary of state.
      •      Generate an operating agreement. Some states require creation of an operating agreement, and outlining your LLC’s              structure and its regulations.

If your business operates as an LLC, all members are considered self-employed. That means they must pay the self-employment tax when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.

S Corporation

The IRS defines an S Corp as an entity electing to pass through income, losses, deductions and credits to their shareholders for tax purposes. Unlike larger “C” corporations, S Corps are not required to pay federal corporate income tax on profits, although some states require S Corps to pay taxes on income. The IRS limits an S Corp to 100 shareholders—all of whom must be U.S. citizens or legal residents—but there’s just one class of stock. Besides individuals, estates and certain trusts qualify as shareholders, but not partnerships or other corporations. As with an LLC, these shareholders report income on their personal tax returns, with taxation at their individual rate. Shareholders must pay taxes on income in the year it is earned, not distributed.

Creating an S Corp is more expensive than creating an LLC. You must initially file as a corporation, then submit Form 2553 to the IRS, signed by every shareholder or shareholder representative. One caveat: The IRS tends to scrutinize S Corps more than other types of small business structures.

Your attorney or accountant can advise you on the best business structure for your particular small business.

So You Want to Bring Your Pet to Work

You can see it in his big, wet eyes: He wants to go on the hunt with you. Every day you leave for work, he follows you to the door as if to say “You are TERRIBLE at hunting! You never come home with game. Take me, I can help!” If only you could show him that the hunt got pretty boring over the last 10,000 years, he wouldn’t make you feel so bad about leaving him alone at home. But then again, bringing your number one fan to work might make the time pass a bit quicker…

Having your pet at the office can be a lot of fun for everyone, but it can also be rife with anxieties. It’s best to take a few steps before bringing your quadruped pal into the rat race. When it comes to bringing your pet to work, this breaks down into two categories: Dogs and non-dogs, such as cats, small rodents, birds, snakes, and so on.

The rules for everything that isn’t a dog are quite simple: Unless you are planning on keeping your pet in a cage or your pet is a professionally trained animal that responds to your every beck and call, don’t bring your pet to work.

That may sound unfair, but it’s important to remember that cats and specialty pets are semi-feral, terror-prone animals. Hamsters in a ball are awesome and lap cats can stop wars, but one misstep and you’ll be at your office past 9 p.m. trying to lure your pet out of a ceiling vent with your lunch leftovers. It’s not that you can’t bring your non-dog to work; it’s just that it’s pretty much a terrible idea. If you Google “bring your pet to work,” the first 20 returns replace “pet” for “dog.” Save yourself the stress; leave Mittens at home.

Even if your pet is a highly intelligent loyalist that literally evolved to be a friend and ally to humans, there are still quite a few precautions to take before bringing him to your place of business.

1. Get unanimous approval
This will come as a surprise to most pet owners, but not everyone loves animals. Some people have terrible allergies to dander, others have deep-seeded fears and bad memories, and some just genuinely think of pets as stinky filth bombs. Unless management has set aside a day for everyone to bring pets, email your boss to get the OK. Then get in touch with your co-workers to make sure it won’t inconvenience them. If your pet has any quirks or special needs, inform everyone so they’re all prepared to interact with your little buddy.

2. Be a good owner
This is just a formality bullet point because you’re already a good owner who keeps your pets up to date on shots. Have him wear a collar with a license tag and have a leash or harness ready. Play with your pet for a half hour before you head into the office so he’s feeling loved and a little lazy, and make sure to take him outside every few hours for relief and stimulation.

3. Train your pet
This doesn’t mean your dog has to be ready for a video shoot or obstacle course, or even that it has to be particularly smart. Your pet doesn’t have to be Westminster ready, but it has to know not to poop in the office. It also can’t be barking/hissing/squawking/whipping all about the office while people are trying to work. You want everyone to enjoy meeting your pet and for your pet to enjoy being involved in a part of your life it is normally cut out of, and part of that means having pet that can reasonably control itself.

4. Create a safe place
The key here is to make your pet feel at home instead of territorial. Bring in a favorite blanket or pillow and a baby gate the day before and set up a private spot for your pet to retreat to if the experience becomes too much. Have some treats at the ready for rewarding and leading. If you know there will be other animals there (preferably of the same species), introduce everyone in a neutral space where they can all get to know each other. You can also bring toys for them to smell and get accustomed to one another as well as trade.

5. Total responsibility
As the person who spends the most time with your pet, you know that he has a unique personality on par with any human you know. But that can often blind many pet owners to the fact that a pet is still an animal that operates on instinct and that can’t be reasoned with. Accidents happen, so you have to be on your pet immediately to step in and prevent or fix any problems. Wherever Fido goes, you go. Whenever Fluffy has an accident, you switch jobs to custodian. And if, God forbid, something terrible happens with a co-worker, you should be prepared to replace damaged property and foot medical bills.

Once you take these precautions, you’ll be ready to introduce your pet to your colleagues. And with any luck, you’ll have a new office mascot.

Cubicle Courtesies

Look, it’s no secret that an office job can be a pain. You aren’t paid for commuting, there’s never enough real sugar for coffee, and the thermostat is never set to the right temperature. To top it all off, our co-workers were not selected for their social compatibility. Not since high school have we been forced to interact with such a motley crew.  It’s astounding that work doesn’t more often devolve into an unintelligible screamfest of petty grievances.

But the fact of the matter is that we will end up spending a third of our adult lives together, so it behooves us to try and treat each other with respect. If we can all do each other the following kindnesses, it’ll be the weekend before you know it.

1. Decorate tastefully

The easiest way to make work bearable is to make your cube into a sanctuary. Family photos, band lithographs, and graphic art are all great, so long as they are tasteful. Exercise common sense, though; no nudity, for example. Boticceli’s Birth of Venus is a welcome exception, but keep your framed Leonard Nemoy at home. You should also feel free to bring small religious items, but, to quote “The Man,” “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” That is, you’re here to work, so keep it low-key and, most importantly, the private matter that it is. The main point here is to decorate in moderation. Minimizing how much beige is in your field of vision is one thing, but too many pictures and knick-knacks can be distracting and send the message to your bosses that you’d rather be anywhere but here.

2. Keep the humor light

Humor is great for making and deepening personal connections, and pinning up cartoons is a great way to let your co-workers know that you’re more than just another person in a cube. But humor gets a lot of people in trouble. Far Side cartoons are ubiquitous on cubicle walls because they are unexpectedly funny yet unoffensive. But do yourself a favor and keep anything political like Tom Tomorrow to your Facebook timeline. Memes are also dangerous territory, as many are politically or sociologically oriented and are the textual equivalent of being screamed at. Unless, of course, it’s an Office Space meme; so long as it isn’t clearly directed at any of your co-workers.

3. Neutralize your smells

First off, if the office smells like anything other than paper, plastic, and carpet, it smells bad. You can do your part by showing up bathed and in clean clothes. Don’t bring scented candles to work, don’t keep an open car freshener in your drawer, and absolutely do not wear perfume or cologne. This isn’t singles paper pushing, it’s your job, and so long as you don’t smell like you just went swimming in the East River, no one cares if you wear designer fragrance. Not to mention, there are some people who are genuinely allergic to their components, so just don’t do it.

Then there are your food smells. The break room invariably becomes a hodgepodge of rather strange smells, but that is where they should stay. For those of you who like to work through your lunch breaks, stick to cold lunches like sandwiches or salads. Heating your meal just makes it smellier, so if you’re having fish or something particularly spicy or fragrant, suck it up and endure the small talk with your co-workers in the break room. You never know, you might find you actually like them.

4. If I can hear you, you are too loud

Speaking of table manners, if you’re going to eat at your desk, chew with your mouth closed. This goes double for gum. Actually, no matter where you are, don’t smack your food.

For many, phone calls are unavoidable, so make sure your ringer is turned down. If you need to take or make a personal call, do it on your cell phone outside of the office. When it comes to intraoffice communication, there’s little reason to call or pop in. It’s 2016; if it can’t be asked or expressed in an email or instant message, it’s because your computer has exploded.

And for the sake of your ears if not your cube mates, turn your music down. Ask any 13 to 25 year old—your music taste stinks. It doesn’t matter what it is, no matter if it’s reigned atop the Billboard for 20 weeks; or if it’s Pitchfork’s current favorite coveted album; or if it’s your buddy’s avant-garde, lo-fi foray into salsa-soweto-polka-fusion; nobody wants to hear it. It goes without saying that, unless you have been dubbed the office DJ, you should only listen to music on headphones, and at a volume that isn’t spilling out in sharp, tinny screeches. You were probably not hired to be a musician, either. Incessant whistling, finger tapping, or bouncing your leg is annoying—yes, to everyone. And if you love to sing, Stewie Griffin has a message for you:

6. Find your own dang supplies

You’re more likely to be told to “keep your hands to yourself” in sexual harassment training, but you should extrapolate that to mean “keep your hands within your cube.” Just because someone is out of their cube doesn’t mean their stuff is up for grabs. The only supplies you get for free are the ones out of the supply closet. If you didn’t get it out of the closet or with your own money, it’s not yours. Quickly borrowing a nearby pen is one thing—so long as you immediately return it. But if you’re constantly snagging highlighters or someone’s staple remover until they ask for it back, then you are why work doesn’t buy better pens. Your office manager would be happy to order you a new stapler, so leave Milton’s alone.

We’re all just marching towards 5:00, so in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, be excellent to each other.

Is it OK to date someone from work?

Lost somewhere in our most cherished childhood classics, behind the castles, knights and ball gowns, are the insidious plot lines that are the “cubicle courtships.” But I guess putting the glass slipper on Barb in Accounting doesn’t exactly have that fragrant, fairy-tale feel. That, or the timeworn maxim, “Don’t poop where you eat,” removed the shimmer from the show completely. The truth is that work romances can work, and many a wedding toast will attest to this. But the question therein: Should those work romances be worked for? Should you rebel against company policy, explicit or otherwise, in pursuit of your own “happily ever after”?

The short answer: Yes, so long as you write your own script like an adult, and not a senseless fable chaser. The long answer: If you find yourself in a position where a mental assessment between career and courtship is spearheading your journey forward, congratulations: you’re an adult, with adult ideas and adult capabilities. You’ve likely worked long enough in your career to have both tested and challenged your competence. And if you’re asking yourself the question of whether Prince (or Princess) Charming is worth the pursuit, it means you have something more to lose than a glass slipper. But love is the most potent of potions, and neither a call from Human Resources, nor a disapproving side-eye from a colleague, can ever really tarnish the pungent elixir of passion.

You may not be a Capulet, but there is a cap you let vulnerable to flux in your professional head space should you opt for dating within your company. Engaging in an office romance takes up much of the mental energy conventionally reserved to declining old Facebook event invites and making strides in Candy Crush. The most inconsequential events, from stolen glances in the hallways to response times in email threads, will be weighted by a stockpile of emotions, none of which have any influence in facilitating said professional events. And that’s just the prepossessing burden that comes from attraction. Action is a whole new ball game (how quickly we moved from royal balls to ball games; the limit for metaphors in love does not exist).

When it comes to dating in the workplace, action consists of two big milestones: (1) when to make the first move, and (2) when to go public. If your primary concern replaces the “when” with “if,” don’t do it, abort mission, send the carriage back home, sit back down on the bench. Dating, whether in the workplace, a distant castle, or somewhere on the Facebook feed you abandoned to read this post, only ever works out well when both parties are sure of what they want. Not sure? Don’t experiment with your job on the line! And if you’re sure? If you know that you have found the person worth the inactive Twitter timelines, if you’re comfortable with never getting past Level 87 in Candy Crush, if you know that this relationship could potentially ruin your 9-5 three months from now, but not giving it a shot would be a greater pain…then go for it.

The bottom line is this: Love is not the illustrious pursuit at the wrong end of some universally implied corporate code. Love and romance are human things that humans do, and if you’ve been promoted in life to a paying job equipped with bosses, colleagues and fax machines, then you’re probably responsible enough to navigate love without destructing the life you’ve built. Whether that love exists in the workplace, or anywhere else, is just a locational tidbit.

How to Build a Website from Scratch for your Small Business

In today’s world, having a website is no longer a luxury for your small business; it’s an essential extension of your business. Websites allow you to connect with your customers by setting a tone for how your product is perceived in the marketplace. The trouble is, few small business owners have any experience setting up websites. Recently, a wave of new website builders have made it easy for small business owners to create and customize websites for their businesses that they can tailor to their specific needs.

Many of the popular website builder products such as Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace.com all offer you the option to host the site as well as register domain names, but usually comes at a cost. These sites also allow the basic website novice to build a beautiful site without much design experience. You can always use a site like GoDaddy or Register.com to host your site, but because of the ease that many of the website builders provide, it’s much easier and more convenient to go through whichever builder you end up choosing.

DO: understand the difference between hosting sites, domain names, and website builders. Check to see if your preferred website builder also offers hosting abilities and domain registration. You can usually import a domain and hosting duties with the popular website builders, but make sure that’s all taken care of before you move on to the next step.

DON’T: choose a host before determining your website builder. While it might be cheaper to have a separate host and builder, a lot of times it’s more confusing and can lead to issues down the road.

Today, website builders make it easy for novice computer users without any coding skills to build attractive websites that offer a range of services that fall in line with just about any small business’ needs. Of course, if you want a truly customized site, there will be a learning curve and some coding involved. If your end goal is to have a user-friendly site for things like e-commerce, attracting more customers to your physical location, or even something as simple as giving your business an online presence, there are simple solutions that can get you off and running in just a few hours.

Once you’ve chosen your website builder and have set up hosting duties and registered your domain, you’re ready to create your website. You might want to start with a template that has already been created to get started. While builders allow you to start from scratch, a lot of the difficult legwork has already been taken care of and you just need to add text and pictures.

E-commerce sites that offer point of sale (POS) systems and allow you to take payments often can be found on the same website builders, but there are specific templates you’ll need to use. A lot of times the costs are higher with these templates, but there are useful and convenient apps that will help you get off and running without much trouble.

DO: look through the most popular website builders to determine which one best fits the needs of your small business. If you don’t want to pay a third party to help with coding, make sure to choose a site allows novice users to launch.

DON’T: forget to do your research. Sometimes the most popular sites offer the most customization features for websites, but can be difficult to understand. Know what you want from your site and make sure you match your website builder with the site that aligns best with your small business’ needs.

Most website builders and hosting sites offer unique business emails that go along with the name of your site for an additional cost so you don’t have to use a personal email once your website is set up. Many other features can be accessed through your website builders, like the ability to make newsletters, blogs, monitor traffic, upload social buttons, and manage comments.

The final thing to remember is that you can design a site and see what it would look like before you ever have to pay a dime. Make sure you try a few sites to see what each has to offer, then choose the one that’s right for your small business.

DO: start building. You can basically build a site to the point that it’s ready to launch before you pay, so the best thing you can do is to play with some templates and find what is right for you.

DON’T: choose a plan before you recognize what features you’re paying for and what all comes with a certain plan. Templates are usually free, but there are costs associated with registering domain names and monthly hosting fees. There can also be costs with upgraded features that you need, so recognize what you’re getting and only get what you need; you can always upgrade if there is something else you need.

Building a website to fit your specific needs is no longer as daunting as it once was. Today’s new tools remove much of the complexity so that you can be up and running quickly—and making your presence known.

Must-Read Business Books for SMBs

The year’s nearly half over, and small business owners are likely looking eagerly ahead to a summer break to recharge their batteries, refuel their relationship, and rethink their businesses. To prepare for that break, it’s time to start looking for invigorating summer reading, and that includes finding the best business books for small businesses.

Maybe you’re chasing a new angle on web marketing, or seeking innovative sales insights for your team. Maybe your staff just needs a refresher on general business practices. In all cases, these books below will help offer plenty of new knowledge and wisdom to drive your company’s fortunes ahead for the rest of the year.

A Company Of Owners: Maximizing Employee Engagement: Dallas, Texas-based PhD and sought-after keynote speaker Daren Martin has written a very helpful book for business owners on best practices in working with employees. How can an SMB owner motivate and captivate employees, to try to turn them into business owners? Martin’s book (his second published this year) lays out clear insights and thought-provoking solutions to better manage a small business’s most important assets—its employees.

Tech PR Blueprint: How Any SMB Can Become an Industry Giant: Written by public relations pro Dave Costello, this book shows SMBs how to use technology and great PR tactics to help your company earn brand awareness, product reviews and industry recognition. Costello writes about successful PR and marketing strategies that he’s used for hundreds of clients, using modern web marketing practices like content marketing, SEO, and social media. For SMB owners who feel they are falling behind on modern Internet marketing practices, this book’s a sure winner.

Small Business Financial Management Kit for Dummies: Yes, it’s one of those “dummies” books, but one that can help any small business owner in the challenging world of financial management. How does a business owner best decide whether to invest in new capital expenditures or make some quick talent hires instead? The answers might lie in this guide that helps an owner understand the company’s financial status, how to plan budgets, manage financial forecasts, get a handle on cash flow, best ways to increase profits, and much more.

#AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness: #AskGaryvee is the latest great book from social media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. This self-made hustler has written other essential business books, delivering insights earned from his background as a wine store owner to a multi-media superstar in the world of fast-moving Internet and media businesses. Gary writes with a plain, clear, and sometimes hilariously profane urgency, encouraging business owners to take risks in new avenues and find new ways to succeed in business.

These are just among the many new books that have been published in 2016 around the needs of small business owners. If you’re not an avid reader, and have missed some of the classic business and leadership books, here also are a few quick links to get you up to speed.

•     The Small Business Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in Your Small Business
•     The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
•     Think and Grow Rich!

 

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3 Must-Have Apps for Small Business with Remote Teams

More small businesses and startups are turning to the virtual team concept to help keep costs low. Thanks to the Internet, your employees can work from virtually anywhere. While that’s great, the question that still lingers in many small business owners’ minds is this: “How do I ensure my staff members function as a cohesive unit when they aren’t operating in the same physical location?”

Thanks to some terrific apps and technology providers, there are many slick solutions to help your team function harmoniously. Here are three of my favorite small business apps focused on communication.

3 apps for remote team communication and collaboration

1. Jell

Even with the best video conferencing platform, daily or weekly “stand-up meetings” can be a groan for your remote employees. If I’m honest,  they can be a groan in person, too! Jell takes the tedium out of the stand-up meeting by turning it into more of a reporting process that’s quick, easy, and transparent.

Each day, team members fill in the answers to three core questions:

•     What did you accomplish yesterday?
•     What are you planning to do today?
•     What challenges stand in your way?
Once Jell captures this information, the status update is distributed to the team and recorded in a central location. On paid plans, you can set organizational goals, add additional questions, and more. Jell integrates with Slack or HipChat, and there is an app for smartphones, too.

2. Grasshopper Virtual Phone System

Depending on the type of business you run, you may need a toll-free line or local line along with extensions for your employees. Fees for telephony services and hardware can get costly. That’s where Grasshopper can save the day. Grasshopper offers a variety of features that make your small business look and sound more professional. With Grasshopper, you can get extensions for employees, a company directory, main greeting, voicemail, professional text messaging options, and more. Your employees can use their existing home office or mobile phones to make, take, and transfer calls.

The mobile app is one of the nicest features of the Grasshopper service. The app, available for both iPhone and Android smartphones, allows your employees to call customers, prospects, and vendors while displaying your toll-free or local business number on the caller ID. This capability keeps their mobile numbers private. Users can also manage call forwarding, listen to company voicemails, send texts from your business, and manage faxes directly from the Grasshopper mobile app.

3. Hootsuite

Hootsuite has been around now for several years and is used by countless individuals, thanks to its easy-to-use features and free plan option. But there is a lot more to Hootsuite when you move to the Pro plan. (Disclosure: I am a Hootsuite Brand Ambassador, which is a volunteer position.) With the Hootsuite Pro plan, you have access to more social platform profiles and have the option to add additional team members to help you manage and monitor social media marketing efforts. You can set user roles and create approval workflows, too.

While it’s a useful tool for marketers, a Hootsuite Pro plan can be an excellent solution for small customer service teams as well (up to 10 members). Imagine having your reps at the ready not only to answer phone calls and emails but to tackle those publicly posted customer complaints, too! Your customer service supervisor can assign customer issues through Hootsuite to a particular rep. Plus, well-known support desk platforms such as ZenDesk and FreshDesk integrate directly with Hootsuite. It’s an opportunity for your team to turn possible social media disasters into customer delight.

What are the right apps for your remote team?

These are just a handful of the collaboration and communication tools available to small business owners. Although the above are my favorites, they are not necessarily the right choice for every business. When considering solutions for your remote team, determine what you are trying to accomplish with each app. Take a free trial. Ask for employee input, and then help your employees through the change process.
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