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November 15th, 2013

2013Nov14_Productivity_CA successful business is built on many different essential components. Communication is one of those elements and without successful interactions you likely wouldn't remain in business for long. The main form of communicating these days is through email, which many business owners and managers struggle with. Sure, they can write an email but they often fall flat with the subject line and the consequence can be wasted time trying to keep track of email content, or the risk that an email won't be opened by the recipient.

Here are five tips on how you can write better subject lines for your emails.

1. Standardize where possible

There is a good chance that as a business owner or manager you often have emails asking the same question or that you send out similar emails on a daily, or regular basis. In order to be more effective and save yourself a little time, why not standardize the subject line for similar emails. For example, if you send out a weekly update with important information to suppliers, use the same subject line such as - 'Weekly Supplier Update DD/MM to DD/MM'.

If you and your employees use a standard format like this you could see a decrease in requests and confusion over content and what exactly the email is about. This in turn means fewer reply emails and questions and therefore more time to focus on other tasks. If recipients get used to seeing this standardized subject line then they know what to expect from an email and the message about what the email is about is more easily communicated..

2. It's ok to use some abbreviations

Despite whatever your teachers might have stressed about grammar through school, abbreviations and acronyms are actually fine to use in email subject lines. The key here is to only use those that are commonly known. For example, FYI (for your information) and RE (regarding) are perfectly acceptable to use.

If you are going to use specific acronyms or abbreviations that people may not know, you need to reference the meaning in some way. An easy way to do this is to use them in the body of the email first, and explain what they mean the first time you use them. For example, WRT (with regard to) which is increasingly used but not necessarily universally known.

3. KISS your subject lines

We don't mean actually bend forward and smooch your monitor - that would be a little weird. What we mean is 'Keep It Stupid Simple'. When writing subject lines try to keep these as simple as possible. Don't use confusing words and don't write long sentences. That being said, don't go too far the other way either. Sometimes one to two word subject lines may not be enough to get across the point of the email and may actually provoke questions or confusion. Take a look at the subject you write and ask yourself if it is as simple as possible, yet clear enough to avoid any misunderstanding.

4. Be as specific as possible

While keeping it simple is important, you also need to keep subject lines specific. A great subject line will tell the user exactly what the email is about. For example, if you are inviting customers to a webinar on your newest service, a subject line that says something along the lines of: 'Webinar in November' is ambiguous and likely to get ignored.

Writing something like 'New Service Webinar Invitation Dec 16' is much more specific and likely to create that necessary spark the interest for users to click open the email and read on.

5. Write actionable subject lines

The reason many of us send emails to colleagues is because we want them to do something. We want them to act. Because most people are busy, and don't want to spend time trying to decipher what a sender wants then simply adding the intention and desired action in the subject line can be worthwhile.

For example, if you need a colleague to edit the monthly sales report putting a line like 'Monthly sales report' may cause the employee to either ignore it, or put it to the side for later, largely because they may think it's a report, or not something that they need to act on. A subject line like 'Edit Monthly Sales Report' immediately informs the recipient that you are requesting an action. It also saves you time having to go into lots of information in the body of the email too.

Looking to learn more about how you can save time and improve productivity in your organization? Get in contact with us today to see how we can help.


Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
November 14th, 2013

2013Nov13_Facebook_CSecurity, both offline and online, should be something that is top of mind for business owners and managers, especially when it comes to interactive platforms like Facebook. While social media sites do generally have the user's best interest in mind, the developers of these systems do introduce changes from time-to-time. Recently, Facebook announced that they will be eliminating a security feature and this could cause some confusion.

If you have logged into Facebook recently, you may have seen a notice at the top of the News Feed page informing you that, "In a few days we'll [Facebook] be removing an old Facebook setting called "Who can look up your Timeline by name." Seeing this message could create a bit of confusion as to whether it is a big deal to take real notice of or not.

What did this setting do?

In previous versions of Facebook, starting from when Timeline was introduced, you could type in individual or company names to bring up their Facebook Timeline. This security setting allowed you to set who could find your Timeline if they entered your name.

Why is Facebook removing it?

Before the more recent changes to Facebook, such as the introduction of the new search feature, the only way to find Facebook users was to search for them. Now, users can be found in numerous ways and the most obvious is by using the new Graph Search (Facebook's new Search Bar).

Because of the numerous ways to find profiles, and the related security settings, Facebook has announced that they will remove this security setting largely because it is redundant. It should be noted that Facebook isn't removing the ability to search for users by name, just the setting that controlled who could see your Timeline.

What will happen now?

The biggest change is that now anyone will be able to look up your name and find and view your Timeline on Facebook.

Should I be worried about the removal of this privacy setting?

For businesses, this change is actually a positive one. All users will be able to find your Facebook Page, which is something you want. You are still in control as to who can see individual posts and updates. In general, your Page will continue to be visible, but the chances of seeing increased visits solely due to this development are pretty slim.

That being said, any change to the security settings on Facebook mark a good time to conduct an audit of your Page and Timeline. Log into your Page and press the Lock icon in the top-right. Take a look at security settings, including who can see what content. For many businesses, this should be public - as long as the content posted on the Page is aimed at being openly viewed.

If you are posting pictures or updates that you only want a select group to see, be sure to set the security settings when you create posts. This can be done by pressing the arrow beside Post. It is a good idea to look through your Timeline and ensure posts, updates, Likes, shares, etc. are shared with the appropriate people. You can do this by pressing on the cog in the top left and selecting Account Settings followed by Privacy and Activity Log beside Review all your posts and things you're tagged in.

Looking to learn more about the role of Facebook in your business? Contact us today to see how we can help.


Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Facebook
November 13th, 2013

2013Nov12_BusinessValue_CTesting is an integral part of any project. It usually  happens near the end of the development cycle and is important in helping businesses figure out what works best and what customers will react best to. One of the more common tests used by companies the world over is the A/B test. While invariably useful, is it really all it's cracked up to be?

A/B tests defined

The concept behind A/B testing is to release two different versions of  what is being developed, to see which performs best. This can cover a wide variety of business processes from traditional direct marketing to websites and even email marketing.

A good example of A/B testing would be developing an email marketing campaign where two different versions of an email are sent out with the goal of getting people to visit a page on your website. Version A may have slightly different content and images from version B, and half of your list would receive A with the other half receiving B. You then track the responses and visits to your site to see which version has worked better.

The information gained from this type of testing can then be used to improve future email campaigns or products and zero in on what is really effective in getting clients to do what you want.

A/B tests can actually vary in purpose. The most common being testing the difference between two versions of the same idea. Other times version A is a current version, while B contains improvements and is sent out to gauge customer reactions to these new developments.

What benefits can a business gain from A/B tests?

Compared with other testing methods, A/B testing offers four concrete benefits:

  1. It's cheap - While it may incur costs developing different versions, most of the time this is fairly minimal, with small differences between them. And, when it comes to testing, you can usually just split the groups in half, with no need to develop completely new groups for each version. Finally, when the test is complete and data has been gathered, it is usually not time consuming or costly. You can usually just decide to use the one that performed the best - with little need to invest in any big changes.

  2. It can accurately measure performance differences - A/B testing makes it easy to measure performance differences between two options. You really just have to collect the relevant data and then compare the results. Beyond that, this type of testing makes it easy to measure the difference between two options, even if this is small.

  3. It measures actual behaviour - During the development stage, it can often be difficult to accurately guess how products or different versions will fare when released to the public. By employing A/B testing, real customers are the ones who are testing, so you can better judge and see how your target market will react. This can go a long way in helping you create desirable products and services that will be well received.

  4. It can resolve trade offs - When unsure about wording, strategy and outcomes you can conduct an A/B test to see which option works best. A good example of this is offering a coupon. Do you offer it in the email or do you put a code on your site? If you include this in an email, other customers may react negatively if  they don't get the same discount. A/B testing can help you figure out what style works best, while minimizing problems.

When should they be used?

When A/B tests are used correctly, they can be a valuable tool in helping you add value to your business. That being said, they aren't great for all types of testing situations. In general, A/B tests are most successful when they are applied to projects with these three parameters:

  1. There must be only one clear goal - A/B tests work best when there is only one goal or outcome to measure. For example, which version of an email gets the most clicks, or which page gets the most amount of visitors clicking on a 'call to action'. If you try to measure more than one goal at a time, the results can get complicated.

  2. The outcome must be measurable - If you cannot measure an outcome easily from this type of test, then you likely won't be able to pick an option that works best. For example, it is difficult to easily measure satisfaction from A/B tests compared to what customers prefer.

  3. Designs need to be complete - A/B testing works best when you have a complete, or near complete, product, email, etc. The key here is to conduct A/B testing and possibly make minor changes to implement the option that provided the better results. The options are viewed to then be the final version employed.

If your project meets these requirements, then A/B testing will likely be useful and could help you improve your business profitability. To learn more about harnessing and gathering data from these and other types of testing, please contact us today.


Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 28th, 2012

One of the biggest storms in recent memory hit the Eastern US in early November causing widespread destruction. There is always a lesson to learn from events like these, regardless of your location. For businesses, the storm made owners and managers pause and wonder if they are prepared for such a large scale event. They are forgetting to look at the smaller disasters that can be equally devastating. One such potential problem revolves around essential passwords, and who manages them.

Search for Terry Childs online and you'll find a number of articles about a former Network Administrator for the city of San Francisco who is currently in jail for supposedly doing his job. His job, as a network administrator, was to manage the city's network. When he was asked by his boss for the passwords to critical parts of the network, he refused on the grounds that the request went against the established network policy.

Issues like this: One employee or vendor in control of vital passwords, can pose a big problem to companies, especially during times of disaster. Imagine if you work with an administrator who is based in New York, and they lost power during Sandy. What could you do if your network crashed, or you needed access to your system and someone else has all the passwords?

The most crucial factor is you shouldn't trust one person or organization with passwords to vital systems. We don't mean personal passwords to systems, we mean passwords to vital systems, like servers or Internet connections. If one person has the passwords, there's just too much risk. If they are disgruntled, they have the power to do some serious damage, and if they are injured or are no longer alive, you'll face untold amounts in lost profit, and fees in recovering passwords and information.

There are a number of things you can do to mitigate problems like these.

  • Keep a password list - It could be a good idea to keep a physical list of the more important passwords. This is an important document, so it's a good idea to not leave this one lying around. If you have a safety deposit box or safe in the office you can put the list here.
  • Set passwords to the position, not the employee - Many companies will often give passwords to one person who will be in charge of these. When they advance, or if they switch roles, they will often take a password with them. Instead, look at organizing this a different way around: Assign a password to the position rather than an individual so that when they leave the person filling their role is given this password instead.
  • Assign a person to be in charge of passwords - This is a good idea, especially if you work with Managed Service Providers. A person of authority within your organization should be the main contact person, and they should have copies of all passwords given to outside companies.
  • Change passwords regularly - To avoid having employees steal things it's a good idea to change your passwords on a regular basis. If an employee leaves a position and is in charge of an important password, you should take steps to change this scenario even if you trust the person.
  • Create the right policy - If you are going to share passwords, or have a limited number of people who know them, it's a good idea to create a policy that clearly defines: what position has access to what; what happens when someone leaves; how to recover passwords; how many backups will be kept; how and when the password is to be shared. Basically you want to ensure you aren't caught flat footed. With employees, confidentiality agreements that explicitly state what they can and can't share and the consequences of breaching the policy should also be clearly defined and followed.
  • Pick who to trust - Important passwords shouldn't be shared with everyone, and you should take steps to vet the trustworthiness of the person or company you will be giving passwords to. If you have an established sharing process, and a vendor you're considering working with is pushing a policy that is different from yours, it may be a good idea to look for someone whose policies are closer to yours, or who can work around your policies.
If you are in the unfortunate position of not having the passwords to your system, it's a good idea to get in touch with IT professionals like us, as we are often able to recover systems and passwords, or at the very least, reset them. After you recover your systems, it's a good idea to test for vulnerabilities, especially if the last person in charge had a tendency to not share information. We can help with this and any other concerns with password management and recovery, so please contact us if you would like to learn more.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 20th, 2012

My heading might appear to be a strange statement to make considering I run an IT company.  But I stand by it.  Let me explain:  Many small businesses I come across are initially hesitant to meet with me or my staff.  “But we already have an IT guy”, they declare.  And indeed they do;  It’s the owner’s son-in-law, or the guy from the computer shop across the road, or an employee’s brother who is studying IT at university, or the guy they called once from the yellow-pages.

In any case, they’re making the assumption that my company wants to become their “IT guy” when in fact that’s not our intention at all.  We aren’t the “IT guy”.  The IT guy is the guy they call when a computer breaks, or when email isn’t working, or when they want to know how to stop those damn pop-ups.   But I’m here to tell you that the IT Guy is a dying breed.

As technology becomes more and more ubiquitous and it penetrates deeper within core and critical systems and processes throughout small businesses, you don’t want to be relying on your IT guy.  He’s usually a whiz on computers, but he’s not necessarily full bottle when it comes to business consulting.

You see, the line between technology consulting and management consulting is becoming increasingly blurred.  Technology underpins and provides the tools for so many critical business functions that companies like mine employ business experts to provide true ongoing business solutions and services that fundamentally improve our customer’s businesses.   And small businesses really must engage in a long term partnership with a technology company that understands their business , first and foremost, if they truly want to maintain a competitive edge and be innovative.

If you don’t have a partnership with a technology company that understands business you’re likely to be left behind in the wake of your competitors.   IT companies are changing their business models to a more consultative partnering approach, and most are dropping the old fashioned adhoc break/fix type support altogether.  So if you rely on your IT guy there will inevitably be one day soon he’s not available to assist you when you need urgent support, and you might just find yourself up a familiar creek with-out a paddle because you don’t have a strong partnership with an IT company.  I believe the number of IT companies willing to answer your call to provide adhoc support will reduce as their business models shift to managed services with long term clients who look to them for business improvement, not just IT support.

So if you only have an IT Guy, do yourself a favour and make a committment to have a meeting with an IT company and be sure to talk to them with an open mind about how they can help you be a better business.

You want your PC fixed ‘cause it’s broken? – call the IT guy.  You want to make an ongoing and long term improvement to the way you do business?  – call your technology partner :)

January 24th, 2012

It's not enough to simply put LinkedIn on the radar of your social networking marketing strategy. These tips will help you maximize the value from this unique professional social networking tool.

With a still-growing user base of at least 120 million, LinkedIn has become THE professional social networking tool of many businesses. While Facebook is still the major network on the personal side, LinkedIn's importance in the business-to-business world is growing.

With LinkedIn, your social networking strategy doesn't have to be complex, and smaller companies, in particular, can quickly see results with just a little effort. Here are a few pointers to help you maximize the positive effect of your LinkedIn connections.

Be comprehensive. "Short and sweet" may be the rule of thumb in any other kind of forum, but for professional purposes it's always best to include as many credentials about you and your business as possible. It's helpful to give potential clients and connections the full story on your strengths which means listing past employment and work experience, academic backgrounds, pertinent skills, competencies and certifications, and even educational backgrounds. It's important to understand that many of the people who will enlist your services will only have your online credentials to go on, so give them a complete picture of what you've done and can do.

Customize your URL. When you create a LinkedIn profile, the site auto-generates a URL for that profile. But did you know that you can customize and change that URL? By changing it to reflect your business, it makes you much easier to remember and find.

Be involved. Much like in Facebook, a LinkedIn profile is useless if you simply post and forget. It's essential to keep your info up to date, and interact with people by posting questions and comments. Proactive, educational input into the groups that serve your potential clients will build a good impression with professionals who are looking for the services or products that your company supplies.

We are always ready to help you build your business, so let us help you build your customer connections.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 1st, 2011

While there is truth to the sentiment that social networking sites like Facebook can put a damper on productivity in a business setting, it is also true that Facebook can be used to help a business become a bigger online presence in its chosen market and help establish better rapport with potential clients.

When it comes to Facebook, the usual default attitude of businesses is to shun it completely. And while there is merit to the argument that social networks, Facebook especially, can hamper and derail productivity in an organization, there is also a lot Facebook can do to help your business grow.

Reports cite that as many as 800 million people around the world are on Facebook that's a larger-than-life audience that makes marketing experts giddy with excitement. When you think about it, Facebook presents a huge marketing opportunity for you and your business to connect with a lot of people who may become potential clients in the future. Think of having a Facebook page as a mini-website of sorts, one that supplements and complements your main website.

Since it's a medium to establish rapport with potential clients, experts suggest that a business Facebook page must contain more interesting content related to your business, of course designed to attract readers and visitors, rather than hard-sell information about your products and services. Your Facebook page serves as a complement to your website, not a duplicate of it. If you consistently serve up interesting and useful information, people will then go to your website to see what you're all about.

Also, don't hesitate to establish more personal relationships with people who visit your Facebook page the 'likers' and the people who comment and ask questions. Answer queries promptly and make yourself visible. One of the points of having a Facebook page is so people won't feel intimidated by a stiff corporate front a Facebook page tells them that you're a company that's willing to hear them out and listen to what they want.

If you want to know more about how to use Facebook pages to help your business grow, please give us a call and we'll be happy to sit down with you to draw up potential strategies to increase your online presence and potential client base.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic General Tech
May 23rd, 2011

happy woman with laptop  IT can change the way you do business, much in the same way that the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes to sell music online. But to make IT a business tool, it needs to add value. To learn how it can do so for your business, you’ll want to look at all the activities your business performs that earn profits.

Differentiate your company and increase your profitswith IT

It’s easy to think of IT as a tool that comes with a costbut doing so is a big mistake. That’s because IT, when used properly, can be a strategic asset. It can make your information more accurate, improve your employees’ response time, and even differentiate your company in the marketplace.

To make IT a strategic asset as opposed to a tool, it needs to add value. To determine where to make improvement, you’ll want to look at your value chain, which includes all the activities your business performs, and ask which ones earn profits. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, better IT could result in more efficient supply purchasing. If you’re a retailer, better IT could result in fewer units needing after-sales service and repair. Focus on improving IT in those areas and you’ll likely improve profits.

An added benefit of this exercise: The use of IT in a new way may create even more opportunities for your company. For example, the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes, and now mp3 downloads have overtaken CD sales. Even small businesses can experience this. Case in point: The invention of iTunes has given many startup software companies a distribution channel for apps that otherwise may not have been invented. But the idea doesn’t have to be visionary in this way: YourLittleFilm.com, a small business that creates custom short films, used customer relationship management (CRM) software to help follow up on business leads, and got a 10 percent response rate.

How and where you add value with IT developments will depend on your business model. There is little point, for example, in automating production if your customers cherish hand-made products. However, you might find that investing in a CRM system might give you a more efficient way to track your customers’ preferences and provide them with a more personalized service.

Using your IT as a strategic asset gives you tools to manage clients worldwide, increases your visibility, and lets you compete with much larger players. Contact us to find out how you can use technology to gain an edge.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Articles
August 24th, 2010

Having an efficient IT system is one way a business can improve productivity and earn more. But IT technologies are constantly changing and upgrading, and those who don’t keep up can lose money in the process.

In this day and age, few businesses (if any) can survive without an IT arm. Every business, big or small, needs someone, or preferably a group of people, on hand to fix computer problems, check networks, monitor software – to generally make sure that their operations are running smoothly.

One question, though: have you ever stopped to consider whether the cost of maintaining your in-house IT system is worth it? For instance, consider your internet connection. Let’s say that a conservative estimate of the efficiency of your business without an internet connection is at 50%. And if your business makes a $1 million a year, then $500,000 depends on your internet connection. If your monthly bill for that connection is $500, or $6,000 annually, you earn $500,000 – $6,000 = $494,000. Now, if you decide to switch to a cheaper DSL connection, which is about $50 per month or $480 a year, you get a much higher figure: $499,520.

You could argue that the DSL is the wiser option, but when you look at a deeper level, a slower internet connection may also hamper your company’s productivity – let’s say, by 10%. So with only a DSL connection, your business operates at 90% of its total possible productivity. Considering the previous figures, a loss of 10% in productivity means a loss of $100,000. Subtract that savings from the DSL connection, $5,520 – you get a whopping loss of $94,480. So when you think you’re saving by getting a cheaper internet connection, you are actually losing more money. Inversely, if you subscribe to an even better connection that costs you $10,000, productivity can increase by $15,000.

The same principle applies when your IT infrastructure is not up to date, with slow computers, outdated software, and other problems. In a company with 10 employees who bring in an annual average of $65,000 each, even losing productivity for just 35 minutes a day due to IT handicaps can cost you $47,000. Hardly chump change! But hiring an IT provider who charges $20,000 a year can offset that lost productivity and even make your business run better, by as much as $27,000. It’s also noteworthy to mention that employing an IT firm can count as a legitimate business expense, thereby lowering your tax liability to about $8,000 if you peg corporate tax at 40%.

IT is important to a business. If you doubt that, just try doing without it for a week – just shut the whole thing down. For most, that’s out of the question, but operating with old software and hardware is almost just as bad. However, many businesses cannot spare the resources to continually upgrade their IT systems.

Enlisting the services of an IT firm changes all that. IT Service Providers are constantly on the lookout for better technologies – both hardware and software – that can make your business function much more efficiently and cost effectively. It’s what they do. And the costs are minimal. If you’re wondering how much better your company might operate with an IT Service Provider, we’ll be happy to sit down with you and run some numbers.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Articles
March 23rd, 2010

smartphoneHold on to your mobile devices: IDC predicts 20.9% growth in smartphone sales from 2009 through 2013. Symbian and Research In Motion (RIM) remain the market leaders, but you can be sure that competition will intensify with giants Microsoft, Google and Apple in the mix.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft announced the release of Windows Mobile 7, officially named Windows Phone. The announcement, made at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, came soon after the debut of Apple’s iPad. Early hardware partners were announced, including Dell, Garmin-Asus, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and HP. While hesitant to give any specific dates, Microsoft says to expect Windows Phone handsets to hit the shelves “in time for the Holiday season of 2010.″

Business users will find the ”Office” particularly interesting: a center where users can access Office, Outlook, OneNote, and SharePoint Workspace on their mobile device. A feature called the “Marketplace” will also be useful, allowing you to easily find and download certified applications and games.

Meanwhile, news has been circulating recently on websites such as The Wall Street Journal, Mashable and VentureBeat about Google’s plans to sell third-party software for its Android mobile platform. While an app store for their smartphone OS has existed for some time, many have criticized it for not being business ready, with its lack of a more stringent review and vetting process for apps. However, all that’s expected to change with the launch of a new app store completely filtered for business-ready apps.

You can be sure that Symbian, through its sponsor Nokia, is not taking all of this sitting down. Soon, you’ll be able to download the popular VoIP product, Skype, for free from Nokia’s Ovi Store. The app will work over a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection – GPRS, EDGE, and 3G – and you’ll be able to call, instant message, text message, share photos and videos, receive alerts when your contacts are online, and import a phone’s address book.

Not to be left behind, RIM also made a recent announcement of its plans to develop a new browser for its Blackberry products. Many have felt that the company’s products has been outperformed by the competition in terms of its web capabilities and UI. With this announcement, it’s believed that the Blackberry will finally have support for websites with AJAX, CSS, and HTML5, although no mention of flash was made.

It’s truly exciting times for mobile device users. If you spend your day connected to customers, partners, and employees, you can see the value in these capabilities, with even more useful useful devices that really help you stay in touch and work on the go.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Articles