Network Automation’s Key Role in Your Company’s Success

Turning your fragile and precise network settings over to an automated system may be a difficult thing for traditional business owners to handle. But in the digital age, it is imperative for businesses to remain agile and efficient – and network automation enables you to do exactly that. Manually operated networks are at the mercy of the natural human limitations of speed, focus and consistency.

networkAutomation provides all three of those crucial elements in their maximum capacity – all with a smaller drain on manpower and financial resources.

Save Precious Resources

As the following article shows, you may look at “How network automation helps your company improve”.

First of all, it costs less and dramatically reduces strain on your IT department by automatically handling run-of-the-mill tasks that they would have to otherwise do themselves.

Do you want to pull an already overly taxed IT pro off of a job just because the network was interrupted? Allow your IT department to keep other projects on track by automatically running your network.

Automated Networks are Fast Networks

Most processes run faster when they are automated. Manually regulated networks not only are at the mercy of human error and time limitations, but if the person who is in charge of the network leaves the business – specifically if they leave suddenly – it is nearly impossible to maintain continuity.

Automated systems are better at recognizing new devices, which is an absolute must if you’re part of the BYOD revolution. When network changes are made, it is far more difficult – and time consuming – for people to get the network running again afterward.

Automated Network Configuration Backup

Network configuration backup is a crucial, yet often overlooked component to network stability and data security. If there is a disaster or network interruption, a recent backup point is the surest way to a quick recovery and reduced network downtime.

On the data side, configuration backup dramatically reduces the chance of accidental data leaks or intentional breaches by outside hackers. Only around one-third of companies perform network configuration backups regularly. Of those that do, 20 percent still do their backups manually. This is time consuming and leaves room for human error. Automatic network configuration backups keep your data safe and your network prepared for problems.

Whether it’s to unburden your IT staff, to ensure consistency and speed or to guarantee that your network configuration will be backed up correctly on a consistent basis, the clear benefits of automation are among the only guarantees in business.

About the Author: Andrew Lisa is a freelance tech writer. He covers business technology and Internet security.


Being Sure of the Right Surety Bonds

Surety bonds are a great failsafe for your business, but choosing the right surety bond at the right rates isn’t always a sure thing. Depending on the type of contract, your business has a number of surety bond options to choose from, so it’s important to make the most educated decision possible.

financial statementsHere are just a few reasons why your business might want a surety bond and how to get one at a reasonable price:

Pre-qualification Advantage

Surety bonds create a safety triangle for your business by inviting a third party into the business contract. This triangle protects your business from unfulfilled obligations and contracts by guaranteeing the obligation is performed. With that said, a huge advantage for your business with surety bonds is contractor prequalification.

Surety bond companies require that any party your business signs a contract with is prequalified to do the work. This gives your business the financial peace of mind that any obligations mentioned in the contract are completely fulfilled. In the event contractual agreements aren’t met, your business receives the benefit of the bond.

Other Financial Benefits

With a surety bond in place, your business always receives the financial protection of the bond and the risk falls solely on the other party.

As the following article shows, in addition, when it comes to “Surety Bonds: The Process, The People, and The Price”, the premiums you pay are applied to the financial backing of the surety company.

This means your business is paying for a protection guarantee, not just a contract middleman.

Does Your Business Need a Surety Bond?

Well, that depends on a few factors. First of all, whether or not your business needs a surety bond with an outside contractor largely depends on the value of the contract. For instance, a construction contract with a value of $150,000 or more does require a surety bond.

Although your business may not have a contract valued at that amount, there are other types of common contracts that require surety bonds. Small service contracts and certain supply contracts require ongoing surety bonds for example.

If you’re unsure whether your business needs a surety bond, you can contact the Small Business Administration or your local surety bond company to find out.

How to Save Money on Surety Bonds

Just like any other service that benefits your business, there are costs involved with hiring a surety bond company. The costs and premiums are usually minimal depending on the size of the contract, but there are still ways to save money during the surety bond process.

Among the ways to do this:

  • Pairing with Pre-qualified Parties – Pairing with pre-qualified contractors saves the surety bond company time, which saves your business money.
  • Improving Your Credit Score – Surety bond rates are based on your business’s credit score among other factors. Improving your business’s credit score makes you less of a risk in the eyes of the surety bond company, this will result in better premiums.
  • Extended Bonds – In some cases, buying your surety bond for longer periods of time results in lower rates because the cost of the bond will stay the same until it’s time to renew.

If your business is about to enter into a contract with an outside party, then it’s important to consider the surety bond pointers above.

About the Author: Adam Groff is a freelance writer and creator of content. He writes on a variety of topics including risk management and small business.


Are Your Employees Becoming Too Social?

Do you worry about your employees wasting their time on social media while on the job? You’re not alone. Many employers are concerned about the role social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest play in slacking off while on the job.

social_istock_000013528921xsmall1Research by Salary.com shows that 41% of employees spend time on Facebook every day with other social networks such as LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter also getting a mention. So just how much time is this wasting, and what is the best approach to help stem the amount of work hours lost to the pull of social media? The answers may surprise you.

Heavy-Handed Approach Isn’t the Answer

Salary.com found that 21% of employees admitted to spending up to five hours per week on social media. For a company with 100 employees that’s more than 5,000 hours of work time lost each year, or more than $36,000 dollars if you’re paying minimum wage. It’s understandable that if your employees are wasting time on social media, your reaction is to put a stop to the problem.

If things are out of control and you need to get a better sense of what is going on, there’s no doubt that blocking sites like Facebook can seem attractive, and in fact you could pop along to any major retailer like Walmart and find a security camera to help you keep a closer eye on your employees. But is that really the best way?

To really get a handle on your social media problem, you need to understand why your employees are wasting so much time, and what you can do about it in collaboration with them instead of by fighting against them.

During their survey, Salary.com discovered that employees waste time because they aren’t challenged, because they’re bored or unsatisfied with work, or because they lack an incentive to work harder or are struggling with long hours.

To tackle time being wasted on social media, you need to tackle the underlying issues. Once you do that, you might find that social media can in fact be your ally.

Tackling the Underlying Issues

If you want your employees to waste less time on social media, the answer is to tackle the underlying problems.

Here are some tips to help you do just that:

  • Get to know your employees – Talk to them, take surveys, discuss their needs and get a feel for what they would like to change and what would help to motivate them;
  • Cut down on meetings. Long meetings add to boredom and surreptitious social media checking. Streamline meetings to make sure they’re genuinely helpful and consider having no-meeting days;
  • Consider flexibility – If your employees are overworked or overstressed, they won’t be productive and will be more likely to turn to social media. Can you introduce working from home or more flexible hours to help your employees work better and smarter?
  • Co-create an internet policy – Having a policy will help everyone to know what is expected of them, but don’t design it and demand adherence. Instead, create it in collaboration with your employees so you can come up with something that you all benefit from;
  • Find ways to motivate your employees – From varied tasks to a new challenge that suits their capabilities, to rewards for goals reached, make sure your employees have reasons to get off social media and engage with their job.

Social Media Breaks Can Actually Benefit Your Business

It’s easy to start seeing social media as your enemy, but in fact in moderation a little social media can be your friend.

Of course if you’re using social media to promote your business it has many benefits, but what about employees checking their personal profiles? How can that help your business?

Corporate wellness experts Keas conducted research into the use of social media at work, and the results were surprising: Employees who took breaks to use Facebook were 16% more productive than employees who took breaks without social media, and 39% more productive than those who didn’t take breaks at all. How can that be so? The answer is simple.

A short break, such as quick surfing on the internet, gives employees a chance to connect with the outside world and have a short rest. Its stress relief, pure and simple, acting as a mental refresher and making it easier to concentrate again afterwards.

Being open to social media within reason can foster more connections and friendships within your business, leading to a happier team, and showing you to be flexible and in touch with the way your employees choose to communicate.

Instead of fighting social media in the workplace, take a measured and sensible approach; your employees will thank you and you may even see a rise in productivity.

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn is an author who writes on subjects as diverse as employee satisfaction, marketing, social media, and SEO.


Getting to the Cloud with Your Business

The cloud has been around for several years, but many businesses are just now taking advantage of its benefits. Still others are considering it but hesitating out of concerns or a lack of understanding. If you have a new or small business, you may not see how it can work for you.

Businessman pushing shopping cartThe biggest advantage of the cloud is that it works for businesses in all industries and of all sizes.

Understanding the Cloud

A lot of terminology is used in technology that many business owners and managers may not understand or pay attention to. However, it is important to understand exactly what the cloud is so you know if it offers benefits for your business.

Cloud technology allows businesses to store programs and various data on the internet instead of using a server or hard drive. It can be used for any department in an organization.

The article, “6 Steps to Establishing a Cloud Call Center”, even discusses how to create a call center using the cloud. Every department from human resources to accounting to operations can utilize the cloud for programs and data they need.

According to a report sponsored by Virtustream, about 54% of businesses use some form of the cloud either with private or public cloud options.

The numbers are expected to grow with the increase in off-site workers and mobile employees that need to access information or programs from wherever they are.

How the Cloud Benefits Your Business

Every business or organization has different reasons for using the cloud. However, one of the most common benefits seen in utilizing cloud storage is in cost savings over other solutions.

Here are some other advantages to moving a business to the cloud:

  • Versatility – Businesses can use the cloud to store just about anything. They can store projects, customer data and other information for easy access. It allows them to create virtual workspaces for collaboration.
  • Flexibility – With the cloud, companies can hire workers from anywhere instead of being limited to the local applicant pool. Information can be shared through the cloud so employees in different states or countries can work together. It also allows employees to locate information or use programs while they are traveling or meeting with clients instead of waiting until they get back to the office.
  • Efficiency – Workers can get more done in less time with easy access to the files or programs they need.
  • Cost-savings – Many businesses see the savings they can enjoy by not having to purchase on-site servers or hire extra staff to manage the information. Other savings include not having to install hardware or software updates or not making new purchases every time an employee is added.

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from cloud technology.

Whether it is to create a call center for a small business or hire new talent from another state or country, cloud storage gives a business more opportunities and a greater chance at success.

At the end of the day, any business can and should take advantage of this technology.

About the Author: Joyce Morse is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including business and technology.


9 Old-School Time-Management Habits You Should Adopt

You will find many applications to download to your smartphone to help you manage your time, especially if you run a business. There are software programs and many other high-tech gadgets that promise to add more hours to your day. However, sometimes the old-school methods work even better.

check_iStock_000016849530XSmallHere are nine of them, no technology needed:

  1. Set priorities. Know which things are most important or have deadlines and focus on them. Keep these to a minimum so that you don’t start feeling too overwhelmed.
  2. Learn to say no. If something doesn’t fit with your priorities or schedule, don’t try to make it fit.
  3. Be willing to change your methods. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a more efficient way to do it now. It’s easy to get in a rut of doing the same thing the same way, but it’s beneficial to take a fresh look and see if you can improve.
  4. Take care of you. Make time for yourself and form good health habits so you will have more energy. It’s much easier and faster to complete tasks when you feel good physically and mentally. That may mean getting more sleep, eating better, exercising, or just finding time to be quiet and rest. But the benefits will be a clearer focus, sharper mind, and increased energy.
  5. Look ahead. When you take time to look into the future, you can see potential problems and challenges before they happen. This can allow you to change course and either avoid them or be better prepared to deal with them. For example, if you check your calendar and see an appointment in the afternoon that cuts into your work time, you can either choose to arrive early to get everything completed, ask for help, or find another solution.
  6. Break projects into tasks. Large projects can seem insurmountable, but they look more manageable when you break them down into separate tasks. You can focus on what needs to be done by what deadline and make sure you stay on track. It also provides a better measurement of how you are coming along on the entire project to know if you need to allocate more time.
  7. Stop doing what is no longer important. It can be too easy to continue doing tasks that once served a purpose but are no longer worthwhile. Take inventory to find out if there are any tasks that can be removed from your list.
  8. Know when to complete difficult tasks. You are more productive at certain times of the day, so make that your time to work on critical or important tasks. You’ll give your best effort with less time because you’ll have more energy.
  9. Ask for help. When you are a manager, it’s called delegating. But everyone can use some help sometime. If you see that you are falling behind on a project, ask for assistance before you are stressed out. It will be easier to maintain your focus and stay productive.

Being a good manager of your time is not just a decision you make; it’s a lifestyle that must be implemented.

Practice these nine habits and you’ll notice how much more time you have, not to mention improve your business habits and online reputation for those running companies.

About the Author: Joyce Morse is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including SEO and small business for MediaShower.com.

 


Are Your Employees Properly Covered?

Do you have your employees’ back so to speak? For the small business owner, choosing the right health insurance plan for your employees can seem like a daunting task. For employees, health insurance is a key benefit that can make a difference between whether they choose to work for your business or one that offers better coverage, which means it’s important that small business owners don’t shy away from offering a range of benefits to their employees.

What are some of the things you can do to help you choose health insurance that offers affordability for you and quality coverage for your employees?

insure

Remember That One Size Doesn’t Fit All

It’s all too easy to go for the first health insurance plan that seems to more or less meet your needs.

However, when it comes to health insurance, one size doesn’t fit all. Before shopping around for your plan, take the time to map out what kind of plan and coverage will best suit your business.

What you need from your plan will differ if your employees are mostly in a certain age bracket, for example, as opposed to spanning different ages.

It might be worth offering your employees more than one health insurance choice if you find that one plan doesn’t offer the best coverage across the board.

Talk to Your Employees

Set aside some time to talk with your employees and find out their opinions. Asking which benefits they would find the most useful will help you to make appropriate choices that will be well-received. Employees might offer you insights you hadn’t thought of and will give you a feel of where the general sentiment lies. Talking with your employees also means you can start a discussion about their health care spending, such as making healthy choices or opting for generic medication instead of more expensive brand name options.

 Know What You Will Pay and What Is Covered

As mentioned in “Key Health Insurance Terms“, it’s important to compare different health insurance plans. When choosing your plan, cost is an important consideration. When looking at a potential plan, make sure that it’s clear what you will be expected to pay, what is deductible, and how much the co-pay costs are. If your employees are going to contribute to the plan, it’s vital that the amount they are expected to pay both for the plan and for any treatment can be comfortably managed on their current wages. You and they also need to know what conditions are or are not covered, and any restrictions such as needing to use specific doctors or hospitals.

Get Help from a Broker or Association

An insurance broker will have access to many health insurance plans, and will be able to help you choose the right one for your business. Buying insurance directly can be complicated; a broker can offer you advice so you can see for yourself which plan is best suited to you. Before using a broker, shop around and look for personal recommendations from other business owners to make sure you are working with a competent and reputable broker. You may also find it helpful to investigate business associations who offer insurance to their members, often at a lower cost than you would pay to cover your employees alone.

Health insurance is a good investment in your employees, providing you with a powerful selling point and showing your employees that you take their well-being seriously. Finding the right plan needn’t be a headache: Decide on what you need, read the small print, and don’t be afraid to seek professional advice and you will soon find the plan that offers your employees the best coverage while offering your business the best deal.

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn writes on a wide variety of topics, including social media, small businesses, health insurance plans and SEO.


Why Your Business App Matters

Today Americans and consumers around the world rely heavily on their smartphones not just to communicate but also to quickly locate the information they need to make informed buying decisions.

If your business — small or large — isn’t actively competing to reach this vast market, your competitors that are will be better positioned to reach prospective customers, an advantage that will be reflected in their bottom line in the long run.

telecomMobile Apps Build Business

To reach today’s smartphone-centric consumers, you’ll need a mobile app that quickly and simply tells users what your business is all about, describes the products and services it offers, and provides them with an easy way to get in touch with your business or to order on the go.

Mobile apps (stripped-down computer-type applications designed specifically for mobile phones) aren’t new.

In their most simplistic form, they began to appear in the closing years of the 20th century. Typical of those early mobile apps were arcade games, calculators, calendars, and ring tone editors.

21st Century Apps Explosion

All that changed in the early 21st century. Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in June 2007 led to explosive growth in the availability of mobile apps and added to the lexicon the now familiar refrain, “There’s an app for that.”

According to a December 2013 article at Forbes.com, mobile apps available to iPhone users were closing in on the 1-million mark as the year was coming to an end. Close behind are apps designed to work on smartphones that use the Android operating system.

As business grows ever more competitive, company owners should take advantage of every opportunity they can to serve existing customers and attract new ones so that their businesses will continue to grow and prosper.

Ideal for Start-Up Companies

Although the benefits of having a mobile app apply to businesses of all sizes and ages, an app can be particularly beneficial to start-up companies that need to get the word out to the widest possible audience without spending a fortune to do so.

Because there are hundreds of thousands of apps available to smartphone users, you’ll need to launch a campaign to market your business’s app to potential users.

In “How to Market an App to Consumers,” writer Edward Lakatis offers some helpful suggestions about how to promote your app, including the use of social media to reach the users that are most likely to need your products and/or services.

If you need further incentive to join the ranks of businesses with their own mobile apps, consider for a moment some of the many ways in which an app can make it easier for customers to do business with you and stay abreast of your company’s latest news and developments.

Among them:

  • Customer Service – Having a mobile app gives existing customers and those interested in learning more about your business an easy way to get in touch with you, ask questions, and report problems with your products and/or services.

In developing your mobile app, you can build into it new ways in which customers can interact with your business.

Although much depends on the nature of your business, one example of this sort of creative thinking is a service now available through the mobile apps of dozens of U.S. banks. Customers can deposit checks to their accounts by snapping smartphone photos of the front and back of each check, thus avoiding a trip to the bank.

  • Promote Products/Services – No matter how basic and limited your line of products or services may be, from time to time your company will find ways to make them even better. By alerting your customers to these product/service refinements via your mobile app, they stay up to date with what’s available and can consider all these factors when making buying decisions.
  • Virtual Storefront – For businesses that sell online via their websites, adding a mobile app is pretty much akin to opening a new branch outlet in the old brick-and-mortar retail marketplace. Now, your business can reach those customers who increasingly rely on their smartphones to not only communicate but also to transact business.
  • Maximizes Your ROI – In an article at com, writer J.T. Ripton offers some words of wisdom for small businesses who worry about whether they can afford to develop a mobile app: “You probably can’t afford not to invest in one.”

Ripton goes on to note that the average cost of developing a mobile app is about 1 percent of a company’s annual revenue, according to data from Distimo, an app-analytics company.

“While the cost of developing an app may still seem daunting, it pales in comparison to the brand enhancement and additional sales that it could generate,” added Ripton.

About the Author: Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.

 


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