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Small-Business Networking: Internet Connections Eclipsing the Old Face-to-Face?

Here are the numbers: 74% of small-business owners in a recent poll say that networking online is as, or more, important than meeting with their networks face-to-face.

The number is among the results of a new survey conducted by Manta, an online community-builder for small businesses.

Small Business Online NetworkingThe survey numbers are of the kind that make you sit up and address some long-held notions. The idea that the importance of online networking is eclipsing person-to-person? It is absolutely contrary what old-school networking strategies have emphasized for so long.

But then, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Consumers and business owners, nowadays they’re on the web. Mobile business accounts for some 1 billion workers. And small-business owners are freshly focusing on the facts.

Let’s take a closer look, talk to some owners about the change, and find out what else the survey can tell us about the development of networking on the web.

Connecting Online: One Sweet Step at a Time

Sherry Sheppard owns i love cupcakes, in Largo, Florida. For her, getting online and bringing her concept to new people is an integral part of her work.

“Continuous customer support and tools,” Sheppard says of her Internet networking experience, “have really helped us leverage creative ways to reach people. New and innovative opportunities to market to and connect with people online has really helped get our specialty cupcake bakery noticed, which has proven to be vital to our ongoing success.”

To what extent?

Sheppard says that 70% of her business comes to her via online networking. That’s more than just frosting on the cake.

Running the Numbers: Online Networking on the Rise

Of the 600 small businesses polled, Manta’s survey helps paint the picture of not only how many owners say web-based networking is important, but it also gives us a sense of how much time they’re spending doing it throughout the year.

  • 52% say they dedicate half or more of their business networking time to online channels in 2012.
  • Percentage of owners who say they give all their business-networking attention to the web: 7%
  • 36% of the owners said that half or more of their new customers in the past year found them through online channels.
  • Company websites are still leading the pack, when it comes to driving business. 24% of the owners said so.
  • Close behind is Facebook. 19% of the owners polled said The Social Network was the chief driver of business from the web to their services.

Building Businesses Online: Standing Out in the Crowd

The numbers certainly tell a story. But the thinking behind these stats is perhaps best summarized by one small-business executive who’s competing for customers daily.

“Since there are so many avenues to connect with people today, it’s important to consistently stand out from all the noise,” says Joseph Buczek, president of Indiana and Missouri-based Lighthouse Construction and Restoration, Inc. “In the architectural and remodeling industry, I have a lot of competitors and I need to be where my customers are – and that’s online.”

 

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Links of Interest – October 1

Samsung Confirms Galaxy Note II for All Major U.S. Carriers

Samsung has confirmed that the much-anticipated Galaxy Note II smartphone will be available on Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular in the U.S. by the middle of November.

Smartphone aficionados know the current Galaxy Note smartphone for its 5.3-inch display. Not be be outdone, the new one is even larger, and features a 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED touch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, according to PCMag.com.

The Galaxy Note II will also come with a 1.6-GHz, quad-core Samsung Exynos processor that’s optimized for LTE, plus 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. Each Galaxy Note II has a microSD card slot that allows for expandable storage of up to 64GB.

The Galaxy Note II will arrive on each carrier preloaded with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, making it the first Samsung smartphone to run Google’s most advanced version of Android out of the gate.

Photos, Videos Bigger in Twitter Redesign

Mozy on TwitterA redesign of Twitter’s Website and mobile apps could generate new revenue streams by placing greater emphasis on photos and videos.

In other words, a picture is now worth 140 characters, writes the San Francisco Chronicle’s Benny Evangelista.

Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, announced that the  company has completely overhauled its iPad app, updated its website and revamped its iPhone and Android apps to make visual elements such as photos and videos more prominent.

Costolo told the show hosts — including Ryan Seacrest and his nearly 8 million Twitter followers — that the microblogging service was responding to Twitter users who wanted better ways to express themselves.

“What we’ve heard over and over again from our users is they want to bring more of their personality to their profile pages,” he said.

But the redesign also signals new advertising opportunities for Twitter, which has reported success with ad products like its text-based Promoted Tweets. Could there be a Promoted Photos in the works?

Snow on Mars: NASA spacecraft spots ‘dry ice’ snowflakes

A spacecraft orbiting Mars has detected carbon dioxide snow falling on the Red Planet, making Mars the only body in the solar system known to host this weird weather phenomenon, according to Space.com.

The snow on Mars fell from clouds around the planet’s south pole during the Martian winter spanning 2006 and 2007, with scientists discovering it only after sifting through observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The Martian south pole hosts a frozen carbon dioxide — or “dry ice” — cap year-round, and the new discovery may help explain how it formed and persists, researchers said.

“These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds,” lead author Paul Hayne, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. “We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide — flakes of Martian air — and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface.”

 

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Mobile Business 101: Communicate Better, Collaborate Better (Here’s How)

Mobile Business 101What’s more impressive than a mobile workforce 1 billion workers strong?

It’s this: a mobile workforce topping the 1.3-billion member mark.

That’s the recent prediction by the International Data Corp., which tracks workforce trends. That’s a lot of employees communicating all at once via a whole spectrum of devices.

When it comes to small businesses, the success of going mobile largely depends on a well-planned and smartly implemented communication system. Mobile small-biz professionals need to plug into best practices to keep everything running smoothly, out there on the road.

Let’s look at four ways to do just that, (with some advice provided by industry experts at eVoice to help out). It’s time for a quick study of mobile business 101.

1. Unify Your Company’s Mobile-Comm Profile

No matter how sophisticated your network of mobile employees, if you’re presenting your customers with the concept of a company, stick with a single central phone number that they can call. Thanks to technology, anyone can connect to the trunk number, and then get connected to a representative’s roaming mobile device.

In this age of cloud-based systems, that’s the reality. Virtual phone systems mean that the call, to the caller, will sound  just like the conventional greeting and menu-option environment that they’ve come to expect. It doesn’t matter where the person picking up the call is actually speaking from.

2. Deploy Voicemail as a Prioritizing Tool

It’s an old trick, but it’s still a good one when it comes to protecting employees’ valuable time. Prioritize calls by what virtual-phone software tells them about the incoming caller allows them to divert certain conversations that they can get to further down the line, and bump the most important calls to the top of their response list. Virtual voicemail means that the mobile worker can — again, thanks to cloud technology — access the account from anywhere during the day.

3. Circumvent the Dead Zones: VoIP Helps Eliminate Carrier Loss

Versatile and professional communication from anywhere, in this mobile work-world: that does  sound appealing.

But many of us know the truth about office-ing from our smartphones: dropped calls, cellular dead zones, these things mark the surefire path to frustration for the client and the small-business.

Clicking over to a virtual phone system can help, one that bounces hard-to-connect calls to the Internet and replaces a potentially shaky carrier with hardwired Wi-Fi whenever its possible to get online. It can make all the difference when that important call catches you out in the country. (Especially if you’re tethering for Internet anywhere.)

4. Cloud Conference 

When it comes to demos, real-time brainstorming, and all the business-class communication that used to have come solely from the board room, the cloud is now the conference room for mobile workers.

According to one recent survey conducted by ConferBlogs, 77% of employees and owners of small- to medium-sized businesses say that web conferencing saves them travel time, travel costs, and connects them to more people than traditional face-to-face meet-ups.

There is certainly more than one option out there, when it comes to the tech that can drive these mobile communications strategies.

From Adobe Connect to MegaMeeting, from Vocalocity to the suite of tools that come with eVoice, the range of services — and prices — allow small businesses to pick and choose what suits them best.

Start with these tips and get your mobile workforce talking —  and conferencing, and sharing desktops. All these points of integration will make them part of a dynamic and moving workforce, soon to be 1.3 billion strong.

 

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Getting Started With Email Marketing

Getting Started With Email Marketing

Getting Started with Email MarketingEmail is a part of many marketing budgets, strategies and concepts for big businesses. If you’re just starting out or are looking to expand your current online marketing efforts beyond the basics of social media, it’s time you made email marketing part of your next campaign. From determining whether you should send out newsletters or retargeted emails, getting started with email marketing can seem a bit overwhelming.   Here are some of the questions you may be asking yourself, and the answers.

How Do I Create a Database?

Before you get in to the design or messaging, you need to have a list of emails that you’re sending your email marketing campaigns out to. If you don’t have contacts to send your campaign messages out to, there is no way you’ll be successful. In order to create a database to use for your email marketing efforts, you should:

  • Start by collecting and organizing the emails of past and current customers. You may already have these, but if you don’t a call or direct mail card can help you head off in the right direction.
  • Ask for an email address in exchange for an offer. A basic clipboard on your counter or form on your website, that says “Sign up here to receive discount coupons via email!” or “Sign up here to get our free Newsletter via email!” will get your list going.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t ask for too much information up front; you could scare someone off. All you really need is a first name and email address. The rest of the information you ask is up to you, but the more information you require the more likely someone is to say, “No thanks.”
  • Have a privacy policy in place. Let customers know how you plan to use the information they provide. Look at similar sites and companies to get a feel for what you should be doing – including getting the permission of customers to send them emails.

Should I Use HTML or Plain-Text?

If you have no experience in email marketing campaigns, creating and designing brand new one may seem overwhelming. However, there are a number of tools out there to help you get started. MailChimp has a number of resources available for those getting started with email marketing. When it comes to the design of your email campaigns, consider:

  • Testing the email before you send. HTML emails can look different than expected when they are opened. Run the test on a few different free email services such as Yahoo!, Gmail, MSN and Hotmail to make sure it’s what you expect.
  •  CSS vs. HTML vs. Plain-Text. CSS doesn’t work too well in an HTML email, HTML images are sometimes ‘broken’ and plain-text is the most consistent. However, HTML is more like the world we live in – colorful and full of imagery – and is often considered the best method for email marketing campaigns.
  • Keeping the design simple. Place your logo in the upper-left hand corner, keep your call to action above the fold and avoid adding so much pizzazz that the important things get lost. Using a few images is great, but keep your message in mind!

What’s the Message?

What you hope to get from your email marketing efforts will contribute greatly to what your message should be. If you’re looking to showcase a product or indicate an upcoming event, your message needs to be a compelling reflection of that. Keep in mind why you’re sending these emails out and gear your content towards the right audience.

  • Your call to action, which is based on what you want those receiving your emails to do, needs to be above the fold. This means having the CTA in sight, without any scrolling necessary, when someone opens the email.
  • Be interesting! Put yourself in your customer’s shoes to consider what they want to read and receive in an email. Your tone, content and design all need to reflect this. Track the results of your efforts to see what is working best with your audience.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes, of course there is! Email marketing takes some time and isn’t an overnight process. Always include an opt-out option and stay up to date on your results reports. Knowing what is successful and what isn’t is the best way to move forward.

  • Make sure you send emails from a non-personal email address. Instead of sending out blasts from janedoe@xyz.com, consider info@xyz.com, newsletter@xyz.com, etc.
  • Segment your audience. Your campaign may not apply to everyone in your database so organize each person by different demographics including age, location, interests, conversion likelihood, etc.
  • Send your emails early in the week. Emails typically have a lifespan of 3 days, so sending out your messages on Monday or Tuesday will often be better than sending out on Friday. Of course, it depends on your audience.

An email marketing company can help you with your email campaign efforts. But, if you’re more of a DIY marketer, take each of these questions into account and make sure you have a plan in place before sending any emails out. There are a number of resources, including HTML email templates, online for free. When it comes to getting started in email marketing, you need to have a goal and related call to action, design, and overall messaging in mind. Remember, this is a branding opportunity and you need to make the most of it.

Author Bio: Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as web design and online marketing. She is a web content writer for Business.com. 

The views and opinions of  this post are solely those of the author of the post. Mozy does not specifically endorse any of the commercial products or services mentioned in this post.

 

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Desktop KVM switches add convenience to using more than one computer

If you’ve got two or more computers — say, a desktop and a notebook — or perhaps two desktops and a notebook — or three notebooks — switching among them can be a nuisance.

It’s particularly a nuisance if you want to be switching back and forth among systems during over a session, like if one is your “business production” system, another is your testing platform, plus you’ve got a notebook for when you travel.

One way to do this is to use “remote desktop/remote control” software like GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, TeamViewer, VNC, or the many other offerings. These programs let you manage your computers via WiFi or Internet connections, or even from a smartphone or tablet like an iPhone or iPad.

If your computers are going to be right next to you, another option is a KVM — K for Keyboard, V for Video, M for Mouse (or other pointing device, like a trackpad or trackball) — switch.

A KVM switch is the computer equivalent of the input selection button on your television that lets you toggle between the cable, DVD player, or that old VCR.

A KVM switch lets you connect multiple computers — how many depends on the switch — and with the touch of a button, change which computer the keyboard, display and mouse are connected to. Unlike using remote desktop programs, only the computer you want to use has to be on — or you can have multiple computers on, and be switching among them like you do among windows within a given computer.

Many data centers use KVM switches to let IT admins connect to several machines from a single terminal. But KVM switches can be useful for office, home office, and home users as well.

To connect up a office/home KVM switch, you plug your keyboard, mouse, and display (some KVM switches support two displays) into the back. You then connect a KVM cable between the KVM and the computer — typically, the KVM cable includes a video cable, two USB cables, and A/V cables. Connect the KVM power supply, and, optionally, plug peripheral(s) into the KVM’s front-side USB ports — and you’re ready to go.

I’ve been using KVM switches for more than 25 years. While I typically only have one computer running at a time, KVM switches are a great convenience when I’m testing a new machine or need to access my travel notebook.

Though data-center-grade KVM switches can cost up to several thousand dollars, office/home-class KVMs are much less expensive.

KVM switches start at around $20 for two-to-four-machine switches. For example, NewEgg.com is currently listing the “IOGEAR GCS612A MiniView Micro PS/2 Audio KVM Switch with Cables” for $25.99 (MSRP $29.99). A four-to-eight port KVM that supports two video monitors and with other features may run you several hundred dollars — and would be worth it.

Don’t hesitate to bargain hunt for slightly older machines — but check the notes at the bottom of this article, and also see whether the price includes a set of cables

The KVM switch I’ve been using for the past five or more years is an IoGear MiniView Symphony.

KVM Switch

It’s got four ports, meaning it accommodates and can switch among up to four computers.

KVM Switch

It has two front-side USB ports for peripherals. Pressing a computer selector for a few seconds switches these USB ports to that computer. It also has a four-port Ethernet switch built-in.

KVM switches don’t seem to wear out, but they may not meet the requirements of your newer computers or displays. In particular:

1) Older KVMs may not connect to Windows 7 machines.

2) Older KVMs may not support the video resolution you need.

While remote-desktop software may be the wave of the future, KVM switches are an inexpensive, easy way to meet for basic needs of switching between systems.

 

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Cloud Links of Interest – September 17

Why the iPhone 5 Launch Will Be the ‘Biggest Upgrade in Consumer Electronics History’

Why the iPhone 5 Launch Will Be the 'Biggest Upgrade in Consumer Electronics History'The iPhone 5 launch isn’t just going to be big, according to Topeka Capital analyst Brian White, it’s going to be the “biggest upgrade in consumer electronics history.”

White lists a number of reasons why he thinks the iPhone 5 will be a big hit — bigger screen, LTE capability, faster processor, iOS 6 — but in the analysis he misses the wood for the trees, according to an article on ZDNet.com.

He fails to mention that the vast majority of Apple customers don’t care about the hardware specifications at all. It’s going to be big because it will be the first major redesign of the iPhone since the iPhone 4 was released back in June 2010, ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes.

“Consumers like a redesign because it means that their new handset doesn’t look like everybody else’s handset,” writes Kingsley-Hughes. “To people who like to pore through endless specification sheets and hardware teardowns, it seems odd that people will base their purchasing decision on something as simple as a product looking different, but they will.”

New App MindMeld Heralds the Era of Anticipatory Computing

Shouldn’t computers know what you need without you having to tell them? A new app from Expect Minds and entrepreneur Tim Tuttle called Mindmeld hopes to think ahead and help deal with more and more data, according to an article on GigaOm.com.

MindMeld is an iPad app that uses Facebook’s open graph and identity to help create quick audio or video conferences. Add a few people and start talking. But here is where things get interesting: As you speak (or other participants speak), the app listens and starts surfacing information pertaining to what you are talking about, according to GigaOm.

Om Malik writes ”For instance, if you are talking about an upcoming meeting with, say, someone like [Malik], then in near realtime, it would show you my Wikipedia page, surface my recent blog posts, show GigaOM location on a map, and other such information. And as fast as the topic shifts, the system brings up relevant information for that new topic. Sometime in the future, the company will be able to access data from your Dropbox or Google Docs account and when it does, Cisco’s WebEx division should reach for a proverbial bottle of migraine medicine.”

Tim Tuttle started Expect Labs, the company behind the app, two years ago to develop a platform that would “continuously pay attention to what happens in your life and pick up ambient information and then start to surface relevant information.”

Tuttle believes computing habits are evolving from desktop-bound to completely mobile, essentially changing usage behavior for users everywhere.

Cloud Computing Revs Up the Auto Industry

Cloud computing has already changed several industries and the next stop looks like the auto industry and the driving experience as we know it, according an an article on CloudTweaks.com.

Three main areas of the automobile industry could experience the greatest impact of cloud computing: partnerships and integration, the manufacturer-dealer-customer chain and auto infotainment.

 

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Beyond “My Documents” — Organizing your files to make things more findable

Beyond My DocumentsLike the stuff in your office, closets, bookshelves, and everywhere else in your physical life, the number of data files on your computers (including cloud storage and online backups) keeps growing.

If you use your computer for business purposes — and even if you simply use it a bunch for personal reasons — that means you quickly have too many files to simply have all in one directory, just like your bills, correspondence, and other paperwork really need to be organized.

Tools like Windows 7′s built-in indexing, or the “Find” command in your file manager, may make it surprisingly easy to find a file quickly, similar to how Google (and other web search engines) help you find online stuff.

But, just like there’s no substitute for good labeling and organizing your paperwork into named folders and file drawers, that’s no substitute for good practices in naming and organizing directories and files, so that you can find things later on.

One reason is you may not remember the right keywords to search for. Another reason is you may have to look through a drive or directory using a different machine or OS — or a cloud back-up — which doesn’t have that index, or support as easy searching within files.

I’ve used two methods that since I started with computers — going back to the pre-Windows days of DOS, and working on Unix systems:

  • Giving files and directories self-explanatory names
  • Organizing my directory structure in a logical manner

A directory called STUFF, or NEW, isn’t helpful. Especially if I haven’t look at it recently. Directory and file names should tell you exactly what the file is. For example, I give directories names such as:

  • AA_WORK (current projects — I’m using the “AA_” to force these alphabetically at the top of the directory listing)
  • AA_ARCHIVES (projects I’m done with)
  • AA_PERSONAL (home, health, family, etc.)

For files, let’s work through a recent project of mine, a review of Bluetooth Keyboards. I called the finished product “Dern-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc” and the invoice that goes with it “Dern-2012-137-TabletPubs-03-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc.”

Of course, there are also several files associated with the writing of this project:

_assign-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
_sources-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
notes-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc
xcr-TabletPubs-Review-BluetoothKeyboards.doc (xrc is my shorthand for an interview transcript)

Notice that each document contains the project name (Review-BluetoothKeyboards) and the client name (TabletPubs — a pseudonym, of course).

As a freelance writer, I keep a directory for each client. Within each client, I maintain a directory for each project. Within TabletPubs, I have:

  • Feature-TabletsInEnterprise
  • Feature-Windows8-MythOrMenace
  • Review-BluetoothKeyboards
  • Review-FunAccessories

My general point: I should be able to know, or at least have a good idea, of what a file and directory are about from their names — and if for some reason I find a file in a place I don’t expect (typically because the application saved it in the wrong place) I can quickly figure out where it should go.

And, equally, I should have a good chance of finding the directory or file based on a name search, without having to search inside the files. (I’m not opposed to searching file contents, but that can often turn up way too many matches.)

Directories for active projects are in the directory AA_WORK. Once a project is finished, I move it to AA_ARCHIVES.

Anything else about my business other than projects is in AA_ADMIN, such as CONTRACTS (with a sub-directory for each client), INVOICING, RECEIPTS, TECHSUPPORT, TRIPS.

The same applies to non-business stuff, e.g. under my PERSONAL directory, I’ve got directories like CAR, DIRECTIONS, DOG, HEALTH, HOUSE.

One last tip: I also use this organizational approach to simplify and reduce my file backup requirements. Stuff I want backed up goes in one set of directories. Stuff I don’t care about, like manuals I’ve downloaded, articles I want to read, presentations I was sent for articles I was doing, vendor press kits, all go under one top-level directory like STUFF2SAVE_BUTDONTBACKUP.

Of course, I periodically rethink how I’m labeling and organizing my files — often as new topics and groups of things emerge. The same is true for my paper files, my shoeboxes of electronic doohickeys, etc. But generally, I’m able to find something quickly enough, so it must be working, at least, for me.

 

September is National Preparedness Month

The concept of being prepared is a bit like insurance – it doesn’t really matter and you don’t really need it until something bad happens. Because it’s not always an urgent need, it’s easy to forget about it.

MozyHome customer Beth Lutz found this out when her home caught on fire and she lost valuable family pictures:

“It’s easy to imagine the impact of a disaster on the physical items in your home or business, but we often overlook the value of what’s stored on our computers, servers, and tablets,” said Dave Robinson, VP of Marketing at Mozy. “The irreplaceable photos, videos, financial documents, and business files on your laptops and servers are just as susceptible to fire and water damage as the furniture, printers, and file cabinets. Both are important and need to be protected.”

Mozy recommends a few simple steps to make sure your digital assets are protected:

  • Store copies of important physical documents in a safe place locally as well as offsite.
  • Sign up for an online backup service – to protect everything important on your computer.
  • Make sure your antivirus software is up to date.
  • Consider investing in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) if your area is prone to power surges or failures.
  • Scan important physical documents so you have a digital copy as well.
  • Keep a hard copy list of your important passwords, and consider using a password manager program.

Disaster can strike businesses, too. Pelindaba Lavendar farm in the San Juan Islands lost their building to a fire:

No matter the emergency, September is an ideal time to get started with your preparation. A good place to start is the FEMA checklist found at www.ready.gov. Mozy’s secure online backup offers you peace of mind, knowing that your files are protected in the case of a disaster.

 

Cloud relaxes the “9-to-5” working stigma

The New 9-to-5Rush-hour traffic jams and crowded commuter trains could soon be a thing of the past now that employers across the globe have spoken: It’s OK to get to the office at a time that’s convenient for you.

That’s not to say that employers are fine for every day to be a WFH (working from home) day. But they appreciate that most white-collar workers are busy on their smartphones, tablets or laptops while away from the office. And they believe workers should be cut some slack about when exactly they arrive at their desks.

According to our new research, the average boss has no problem with their employees showing up for work as much as 32 minutes after their scheduled start time, safe in the knowledge that they’ll have been working long before they arrive.

And they’re right! The average person has already put in 46 minutes of work before they walk through the office door.

However, employees have yet to realize the flexibility their bosses are willing to offer them, with 76% of employers taking a relaxed attitude as to when employees clock in, but less than half of workers believing this to be the case.

But employees expect a bit of a give and take in return for the time they’re putting in after hours – by carrying out some personal tasks during “work hours.” The majority of employees in the U.S., as well as in the UK, Ireland, France, and Germany, said they often fit in personal activities, such as online shopping and social networking, during the day.

And what’s driving this change? The cloud! Being able to access files remotely, use mobile apps and remotely log in to get documents from the office means that we’re now able to work when and where we choose.

So, if you want to go to your kid’s school play in the afternoon, you can still be in contact with the office for anything urgent, and you can finish up any work when you get home in the evening.

Which means, it’s goodbye to 9-to-5 and hello to spreading your work and personal life throughout the day when it’s more convenient for you

You can read all the findings from our research here: The New 9-to-5

What difference has mobile working made to your working patterns? We welcome your stories in the comments section.

Toy Story 2 and Why Backup Matters

Pixar’s Toy Story 2 was almost inadvertently deleted due some careless key strokes and a bad backup. Check out the nerve-wracking video on Tested.com.

Like many of you, I have also lost data from time to time as a result of stupid decisions, or a misplaced command (as with the Pixar folks) or even worse circumstances. It is worth recounting some of those tales to show you how important it is to start thinking about your backups.

Backups usually only matter when you lose something, and then you go into a panic state trying to figure out what you actually lost and where you can retrieve the most recent copy of your files. A survey from Mozy found that a mere 15% of small companies actually use cloud backup to protect their business. So why not take some time now and come up with a solid backup strategy for all of your data? Obviously, using a cloud-based backup service such as Mozy is one part of the picture, but you should also consider some other things. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my past mistakes.

Files Aren’t the Only Thing to Back Up

One of the most important things that I do is write a weekly email newsletter to my clients and potential clients. I have been doing it for 16 years or so. The LISTSERV was once maintained by a friend of mine, on a machine sitting in a second friend’s basement. Well, that arrangement wasn’t working for me when the basement flooded and the machine had to be taken offline. I realized that the only thing that I didn’t have a backup copy of was the actual email names on the list itself, which were easily obtained by sending the listserv a simple command. Luckily, the server was eventually brought online and I could get the names from it. Now I send that command every week to get a fresh copy of my subscribers. This could happen to you: part of a good backup strategy is remembering things such as my email list that don’t fit into neat categories or simple files that are on your own hard drive.

Keep Backups of Backups

Another time I lost my laptop from the trunk of my car: I was in a suburban shopping mall and someone saw me put some packages in the trunk before I headed back for some more shopping. Luckily, most of what was on that laptop was backed up, or so I thought. My emails were using Lotus Notes, which automatically backs up the entire stream on my company servers. When I got a replacement, some of the email addresses were missing. Where did they go? No one knew. This shows that you should never take anything for granted, and have backups of your backups.

Don’t Trip Up on Trips

As a result of losing my laptop in this way, whenever I travel I think about what happens if it were to be stolen or lost? I try to always have a backup of the new work that I created when on the road on some other device: such as in the cloud or on a USB stick that I carry separately.

How often have you been working on a document, only to have the computer freeze up and lose some work? This is a minor nuisance, and most modern versions of word processors have auto-save features, but still. Be prepared.

Test Your Systems!

How did it end for Pixar? Luckily, one team member had made her own independent backup copy and took it home. This gets across my final point: always test your backups to make sure they are actually current and you can restore something from them.