Let Your Company Culture Stand Out

cultureCompany culture is more important than you may think.

As a business owner, it’s in your power to set in place a company culture that either elevates the spirits and productivity of your employees, or one that undermines your employees’ efforts and minimizes the chances of your long-term success as a business.

Here are some ways that, as a business owner, you can set the right company culture in place from day one….

  1. Set Policies in Place

Company policies need to be written and distributed to every employee. Setting policies in place that cover company culture is a great way to get your company atmosphere across to everyone who works for you.

If your company culture is of concern to you – and it should be – you can easily write out an entire section of your company policies that is devoted to culture.

  1. Decorate Accordingly

Your office décor should reflect your company culture. A work environment with an open door policy should have glass walls, half-height cubicle partitions or an open floor plan.

A company culture that models itself after some place like the Google headquarters might have brightly painted walls, artistic light fixtures or modern sling chairs.

In essence, anyone visiting your offices should be to make a good guess about your company culture just by seeing how it’s decorated.

  1. Lead by Example

Your employees and department heads will take their lead from you, so lead by example. How you dress, behave and interact with everyone will influence how others behave while you’re around, and even when you’re not looking. Your company culture will influence the people who apply to your company, too.

As the following article looks at, if you’re wondering why many top engineers choose company culture over big names, it’s often because they are seeking a mentor in their field. Leading by example may mean you get to hire the best employees in the talent pool.

  1. Set Props in Motion

Props in the workplace help to make it the environment for work that you want it to be. If you’re going for a fun place to work, a kid’s basketball hoop on the wall makes sense. If you’re seeking a company culture of success, posters with inspirational sayings makes sense.

A company culture that values families would do well to have a bulletin board where employees can post pictures or announcements of their kids making Little League.

  1. Reward Accordingly

If you want to have a company culture that values education, then you should reward those employees who want to advance their career through continuing education or certification.

When other employees see that the path to promotion is paved with education credits, they will be quick to follow suit. The result is that your workforce will be highly educated and motivated to improve themselves through education.

Don’t let your company culture happen accidentally.

With some proactive steps and thinking, your company can be a great place to work and be a good example for the rest of your community.

About the Author: Kate Supino writes extensively about best business practices.

Hammer Home a Career in Construction

construction2You’ve always loved construction. You have a great workshop, love to build and it’s been your hobby for years. Lately, you’ve been thinking it may be time to turn this hobby into a career.

With the economy getting stronger and more homes being built and renovated and other buildings going up, construction is a hot career now and it may be just the thing you’re looking for.

But how do you get started?

In the event you are going about how to start a career in construction, keep some of these tips in mind:

  • If you can, look for someone to apprentice with – Construction is one of the careers where apprenticing is a smart idea. You can usually get paid while apprenticing and learn excellent skills, not only in construction itself, but in running a construction business, like billing, quoting and other customer service aspects.
  • Figure out what aspect of this career you want your role to be in – There are laborers, skilled-trades people, supervisory and management positions. Think about where you want to be on the ladder and focus your training/education/experience on that.
  • Get a degree – Look at degrees in the fields of construction, architecture, and engineering. Some specific ones are construction science, building science, architecture and construction technology. A minor in business management is not a bad idea either. You can also classes through a community college or trade schools.
  • Look into accreditations and training – This additional things can make your more credible and valuable. Things like OSHA certification will add to the list of your attributes and give you an edge during the hiring process, whether through a company or on your own.
  • Join professional organizations – Not only does this look good on a resume, but it can help with connections when job seeking and also offer valuable professional information.

This can be an exciting, new door opening for you. Construction can encompass a plethora of venues, from building houses and other buildings to interior work and renovation.

With sharp skills, professionally, personally and in that of construction, you may be off to a great new career.

About the Author: Heather Legg is an independent writer focusing on topics pertaining to education, owning your own business and social media.

Is an IT Service Broker a Good Call for Your Business?

ITCould your business benefit from an IT broker? Or to take a step back, what is an IT broker anyway?

If you want to find the best IT solutions for your business, an IT broker can help you to do just that, by listening to your needs and helping you to find a solution that meets them.

What is an IT Broker?

You can think of an IT broker as just like an estate agent or a stock broker, but for IT services instead of houses or stocks.

An IT broker will work with you to assess the IT needs of your business, and find you the best possible solution to match both your needs and your budget.

IT brokers can help you to find everything from Cloud services to software as a service to big data solutions. Whatever the IT needs of your business, a broker can work with you to find what you need.

A good IT broker is familiar with the different IT solutions available to you, and where you can source those solutions, making them well placed to advise you on which one is best for you.

What Are the Advantages of Using an IT Broker?

An IT broker can be really helpful to your organization when you’re looking for IT solutions.

Using an IT broker offers three main advantages:

  • Their in-depth knowledge of your industry and the services available means that they can offer solutions you might not have considered, and can give you a wealth of knowledge that would have cost you valuable hours in research and learning;
  • They can work with a range of vendors to negotiate the best prices for you, including bundling different options together to make you savings;
  • They can arrange to get your new IT options up and running quickly and with no hassle for you.

Using an IT broker takes the IT stress off your shoulders, allowing you to focus on your business while still getting the IT solutions you need.

Do I Need an IT Broker?

You might be wondering if you need an IT broker for your business. The chances are you won’t need one in every instance where you need an IT solution, but there are some situations where an IT broker is a definite advantage.

The article “What is An IT Service Broker and Do You Need One” gives the example of those times when you need a solid IT infrastructure quickly but you don’t have the right tech staff, or the time to hire them.

In other words, if you need an IT solution but you also need specialist knowledge to help you find that solution, an IT broker can help you.

An IT broker can also help you if you are choosing between several different options to meet your IT needs, for example the decision between moving all your business communications to the Cloud or using a hybrid Cloud.

When choosing your IT broker, do be sure to look for a broker who has plenty of experience in both your industry and with your size of company, and who will offer you a wide range of options rather than pushing the services of one vendor in particular.

If finding the right IT solutions seems confusing, complicated and time-consuming, the services of an IT broker could be a valuable investment for your business.

An IT broker can source the best IT solutions to meet both your needs and your budget, helping your business to run effectively and grow strong.

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn is an author who writes on topics including social media, SEO that works, and finding the right IT solutions for your small business.

Is Your Business Too Heavy on Texting?

resized_textingBusinesses today incorporate a variety of marketing strategies, many of them using text messaging as a marketing tool. This can be to a great advantage to a business, as it gets information out quickly, succinctly and efficiently.

However, it can become too much for your customers. And with that can come some dangers that your business may face, including loss of customers.

There has to be some happy middle ground where your business keeps communication flowing through text communication and gains new customers and more business without repelling anyone through text messaging.

You’ve got to learn and incorporate good texting strategies, and that not only includes when and what to text, but also when and what not to text.

As the article Is your business sending too many texts: Here’s how to tell: asks….

  • Are you seeing more opt-outs than usual? That may mean something is wrong with your texting strategy, including sending too many texts.
  • Do you see less redemption of offers than you used to? This could be that customers are ignoring or deleting your texts now.
  • Are you receiving complaints? If customers are actively telling you that you’re sending too many texts, well guess what, you probably are.

Some good strategies to follow:

  • Send your texts during work hours. No one wants to be woken up in the early hours of the morning or late at night with a marketing text, no matter how good it is. Even if they quiet their mobile device and it doesn’t wake them up, it’s not great to wake up to a slew of marketing texts on the phone.
  • Limit the number of texts you send to one or two a week. It’s okay to send every week, that keeps it consistent, but limit them. Too many can be overwhelming and will often go unread.
  • Proofread what you’re sending. People won’t hesitate to opt out if your texts are full of bad grammar, spelling and even too much text talk. Keep it professional and proofread!

Why Are Too Many Texts Bad?

Can’t customers just ignore your texts if you send too many? Sure they can, but don’t you see the frustration here?

Many people opt-in to marketing texts to receive relevant information and promotions. They don’t need multiple texts regarding the same thing or information that doesn’t pertain to them.

Yes, they could delete the texts but at some point, they’ll probably opt-out with some frustration. This could mean the loss of their business. Worst case scenario, you could be looking at a lawsuit.

Reports have been made that over the past few years, people have brought lawsuits against companies for sending too many texts.

You don’t want this to happen, so keep your texts to a minimum.

About the Author: Heather Legg is an independent writer focusing on subjects pertaining to social media, small business and working from home.

Is Your Advertising What it Says it is?

relationshipsIs your advertising true and clear? As a business owner, advertising is your key to getting your message across to your customers.

Good advertising will engage them with your brand, communicate what need your products or services can meet, and give them strong incentive to choose you over your competitors.

But what if your advertising is a little misleading? Of course you would never lie to your customers, but it’s surprisingly easy to exaggerate, or be less clear than you realized.

What are the consequences of misleading advertising and how can you make sure your advertising is what it should be?

False Claims Can Harm Your Brand

Making false claims in your advertising can harm your brand. If your product doesn’t do what you say it does, your customers will quickly realize that your claims aren’t true.

Say for example you are selling a skincare product and you claim it can clear acne, guaranteed. If it doesn’t, your reputation will suffer. So as not to risk damage to your reputation, be careful to never claim anything for your product or service that isn’t true.

Focus on the genuine benefits to the consumer and communicate those – you’ll build a solid reputation based on real quality.

Unclear Advertising Can Damage Trust

Advertising doesn’t have to be false to be problematic. Unclear advertising can also cause your business some problems.

Say for example you are offering a free gym workout session, but only with a paid membership. You need to be clear about the terms and conditions, or your customers could end up disappointed.

Whether you are making a special offer or encouraging customers to sign a contract, be sure to carefully set out the exact nature of the deal. If in doubt, use disclaimers to help make your point.

Whenever you release an advertisement into the world, be sure you’ve checked it carefully for clarity and truthfulness first. That way your customers will know they can trust you to be upfront.

Be Wary of Lawsuits

As the article “Home Inspector Advertising Can Make or Break You” points out, an unhappy customer who decides on legal action could be a recipe for disaster for your business.

A lawsuit can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, plus the damage to your reputation can’t be measured in monetary terms. Take steps to avoid the risk of lawsuits by checking out any laws or regulations governing your sector, along with advertising laws.

Time spent learning now is better than time spent in court. It’s also a good idea to make sure your insurance is always up to date.

Be Mindful of Testimonials

Testimonials can be a powerful advertising tool. Knowing that people like them have used and loved your product or service can help build trust with your customers. However, do be mindful that your testimonials need to be truthful and verifiable.

When you gather testimonials, always be sure they are from clients who genuinely love and appreciate your business, and who are giving a true representation of it.

Advertising is your way of getting your message out there. Make sure the message is the right one by being honest and clear, so you can build a relationship of trust with your customers.

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn is an author who writes on a range of topics including social media, SEO that works, and how to keep your advertising strong.

Is Your Cyber Security Plan All Business?

cybersecurityDo you have a solid cyber security plan? No matter how big or small your business, a cyber-security plan is a must.

In fact, statistics from the National Cyber Security Alliance show that nearly half of all small businesses have been victims of cyber-attacks. An attack can cost your business time, money, and even your reputation.

Lost Time and Money

When your business is the victim of a cyber-attack, you’ll lose time sorting out the problem. An attack can cause you to lose money in many ways, including lost orders or payments, or having to pay to have the problem fixed.

If the attack slows down your business, makes your website unavailable, or compromises your customers’ security, your reputation will suffer. It’s clear that you need to do all you can to protect your business from a cyber-attack. That’s why having a solid cyber security plan matters.

So just what should you build into your plan?

Keep Software up to Date

Any software you use in your business should be kept up to date. The most recent versions of software are an important part of keeping your software safe from attacks.

Make a habit of installing the latest versions of the software you use regularly – schedule it the same way you would schedule any other regular appointment.

Install Virus and Malware Protection

Virus and malware protection will help you guard against cyber security threats. Just as you should update your software regularly, you will need to update your security software regularly too.

Schedule regular scans – you can do this automatically so you don’t have to remember. Always check your scan reports, and don’t ignore any potential threats.

Keep Your Data Safe

Both your business and customer data can be kept safe with data encryption. This is especially important if you are asking your customers for personal information or payment details.

If your customers’ data security is compromised, it will be hard for your reputation to recover, so take precautions before a problem can arise.

Be Wary of BYOD Risks

Many businesses these days have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, allowing employees to use their own phones, tablets or laptops at work or when out and about. This can open your business up to potential threats though, as your employees might not be following the same security protocols as you.

The article “No Business is too Small for a Cyber Security Plan” suggests using a smart-use policy to educate employees on how to keep their devices safe.

Have Usage Policies in Place

Establishing usage policies for your business software and data can help keep you safe from cyber threats. These should include setting out who may access software and information.

Consider setting different levels of access so that your employees only have the access they need to carry out their tasks.

Don’t Forget Your Hardware

Cyber security doesn’t stop at your software – you also need to be aware of any potential threats to the hardware you are using. As well as making sure your premises are secure, you can consider using CCTV for extra security.

Tracking software on any mobile devices can help to find them if they go missing, and remote lock software means that anything that is taken will be useless to the thief.

Educate Your Employees

Your employees are one of your best assets when it comes to cyber security. By educating your employees on the importance of cyber security and encouraging them to follow all the necessary steps, you can get your whole team on your side.

Building a culture of cyber security into your everyday operations will help you mount a good defense against threats.

A cyber security plan will help keep your business data and software safe.

Start planning today and establish how best to look after your software and connections to keep your business secure.

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn is an author who writes on a range of topics including social media, SEO that works, and how to keep your business safe from cyber threats.

How Do I Get My Raise?

handsThink you deserve a raise, but not sure how to get one? Here’s a hint: It takes more than working hard on daily tasks.

Follow these tips to effectively ask for and receive a raise:

Earn It

Before you can even begin thinking about asking for a raise, you must first earn it. Contrary to the beliefs of some, pay raises aren’t required outcomes of quarterly or yearly reviews.

If you aren’t doing your job to the best of your abilities or are failing to bring innovation to the company, then you aren’t going to get a raise even if you ask for it.

Speak Up

As the article, “Hey workplace manager, is it time you got a raise?” looks at, you need to speak up! As a standard rule, the world (including your workplace) will take as much as possible from you by giving as little as possible in return. If you want a raise, chances are high that the only way you’ll get it is with a direct ask.

So, stop waiting for a raise to appear on your paycheck and take the reins on the change.

Research

Do you know the average pay rates of those in similar positions within your industry? If not, research this data prior to asking for a raise.

While you may not need to reference the data during your meeting with senior leadership, this is important info to have in your back pocket, just in case.

Use Proper Timing

A first step to effectively asking for a pay raise is to determine the best timing for the request. Perhaps your yearly review is approaching and this is the standard occasion within the business to ask for a raise.

If you’ve been working diligently the past several months and have accepted an increased workload, asking for a pay review meeting outside of your normally scheduled review may be in line.

Be courteous about your senior leader’s time. Send an initial email asking for the best time to schedule a meeting to discuss your performance.

Schedule the meeting by sending out a calendar invite for the best date chosen by your senior manager. During the meeting, keep your remarks on topic and listen attentively to any feedback.

Also, be aware that you likely won’t receive a response to your request for a raise during the meeting.

If you don’t receive a response within a few days, email a thank you note to the senior manager with an offer to provide additional insight into your workload, if needed.

Think about the Company

The health of the business is the main concern of your senior leadership. With this in mind, don’t center your request for a raise on the fact that you want a raise. They won’t particularly care about what you want.

Instead, focus the request on what you’ve done for the company and how those actions are directly linked to sales increases, employee production and more.

These facts should make a strong case for why you deserve to earn more of the company’s money.

Think you deserve a raise?

Increase your chances of earning the amount you desire by researching the pay levels of those with similar work statuses, make a case for why you should get a raise and be cognizant of the mindset of your company’s senior leaders.

About the Author: Shayla Ebsen is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience both in the corporate and freelance settings.

What It Takes to Meet the Self-Service Expectations of Today’s Students

Students expect easy access to university services from wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.

Whether it is the university website, registration information, the course catalog or looking up grades, today’s students, regardless of their generation, want to access these services online, without logging in to multiple systems.

Universities have to provide students online access to more than just course content in a learning management system. Students need to be able to access administrative systems to choose classes, register and pay for them, lookup their grades, and order their transcripts.

Building a system that interfaces with all the necessary systems to access all of that information is not always easy. There are access issues, identity management concerns, and disparate systems that all have to be pulled together into some a portal you design for your end users.

Analytics are also starting to play a role in self-service systems, too. Presenting a personalized user experience based on information the system knows about the user and their viewing habits is something people are familiar with from sites like Amazon. People are beginning to expect the same type of experience from all of the sites they interact with online.

Meeting Self-Service Expectations at the CVN

Columbia Video Network (CVN) has been offering fully online programs since 1998 and has always had online systems for remote students to use to access important information and university systems.

We always look for ways to provide the best online experience for our users. We pride ourselves on being a very customer-centric organization, paying a lot of attention to the level of service we provide to students and faculty.

When we redesigned our website recently, we took the opportunity to update all of the content. Our Frequently Asked Questions pages—statistically the most visited pages on our site—are very important because they contain answers to commonly asked questions. Updating and making those pages easy to access on the website has decreased the number of calls we get from people asking the same questions.

We are also building an online help desk system that will allow users to track requests they submit. Tracking questions and help desk tickets gives us insight into problems and provides opportunities for us to improve our documentation and communication.

The changes we made to our website were received positively by prospective students and by our existing users. We made sure that the information existing users needed to access was easy to find and we improved the look and functionality for new visitors.

Communication plays an important role in the success of technology projects. We try to be proactive communicating changes and we hold online information sessions that we record and post for people to review at their own convenience. The way you market and communicate change to your users can have a real impact on the success of a project and the time it takes for people to make the changes you want them to make.

We spend a lot of time evaluating existing processes as a group internally, discussing the best ways to make improvements. I am a big proponent of well-documented systems, and as we make changes, we create documentation that can be distributed and create training materials, too.

Reflecting Back: Overcoming Some of the Challenges of Adapting Processes

Self-service systems require the coordination of information from different departments on campus. Coordinating what is needed from each area and finding ways to get data in a format that is useable can be tricky but application programming interfaces (APIs) and standards like Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) are making it a lot easier.

Communication, training and support pose significant challenges when changing or upgrading your systems. You can build the most efficient system with all the features you know people will want. If people can’t use it, or it doesn’t work the way they think it should, you will wind up with dissatisfied users.

Getting regular feedback from users through surveys is a good way to understand if you are meeting their needs. If you design a survey well, people are usually willing to give you their honest opinion, then the rest is up to you. You have to be willing to listen to the feedback you get and integrate it into your plans.

Success here truly hinges on good, effective communication with all stakeholders. If you are clear about the changes being made and you provide training and support for your users, you will have a much more successful rollout and better adoption of your systems.

This post first appeared on The EvoLLLution

The Socializing of Medicine

medicineSocial media is everywhere. When you want to go out to dinner, you oftentimes check out your restaurant on social media. When you want to go to a new fitness class, you very well may take a look on social media.

So what about your medical needs? Should you use social media here? An overwhelming yes is the answer.

Social media can provide a lot of information in the medical world. Patients can use it for a variety of reasons, from questions about medicine to information on a new doctor. Just be careful, though, and remember your doctor is your best source of information, but social media can help, too.

Benefits to Patients

How exactly will social media benefit a patient seeking medical care?

Let’s take a look at some of the ways….

  • Patients can prep for an appointment -Patients can use social media to know more of what to expect from a doctor and an appointment. Patients can learn the 5 critical questions to ask every patient that many doctors will ask or they can read about the physical aspect of an appointment. This can lessen some of the anxiety of walking into the unknown.
  • Patients can learn about the doctor and facility before going – With social media, patients can read up on the doctor they are seeing, the facility they are visiting and any other information about their upcoming appointment. With social media, patients can read real accounts, both positive and negative.
  • Patients can find information after a diagnosis – For instance, a patient diagnosed with migraines can look to social media for what other people have done for help. They can ask their Facebook friends or hashtag migraines on twitter. Though social media shouldn’t be the end all be all to a diagnosis and treatment, it can help.
  • Patients can find online support – Maybe getting to an actual support group is tough for a variety of reasons, but patients can find support online through social media. This can be very beneficial when dealing with any condition from anxiety to cancer to allergies. Support groups are easily accessible and patients can reach out at any time through social media.
  • Patients can find information out about medications – Through social media, patients can learn about medications, including side effects and effectiveness. This can help in deciding what to take.

Again, social media should not take the place of medical attention and treatment, but it can be a supplement providing support and information.

Check out some sites and see how it can help you before and after, even during, an appointment or treatment.

Here’s to good health!

About the Author: Heather Legg is an independent writer covering topics related to health, social media and working from home.

Pros and Cons of Online Investing

investOnline investing has been around for more than a decade now and it has affected the lending process in some very big ways.

However, online investing and lending comes with its fair share of risk.

Here are some pros and cons of investing with online lenders and the impact the process is having on the business world….

Online Investing Pros

More and more investors are creating relationships with online lenders and delving into the world of investing. Why? Well, there are a number of financial benefits that go along with the practice of online investing.

They include:

  • Execution – Unlike traditional investment transactions, online investing involves fewer formalities, which makes the process much faster. Investors can find lenders online, vet them quickly, and decide how much of an investment they want to make within a matter of minutes. This allows for faster investment deals with a wider range of lenders.
  • Cost – Online lending has fewer fees and better interest rates than bank lending. Although this doesn’t sound like a benefit for online investors, it actually is. Because costs are so low, lenders process many more transactions per day, which results in more profit for both the lender and the investor over time.
  • Convenience – Online investing can be completed from the comfort of the investor’s own home. There is no traveling required. This gives investors the opportunity to make a number of investments each day and increase profits across a stronger, more diverse investment portfolio.

Online Investing Cons

As the following article looks at, while the pros mentioned above are attractive, investing with online lenders requires careful consideration with each transaction. There is more room for error with online investing as well as a handful of other risks.

Things to consider:

  • Little to No Support – Online investing doesn’t necessarily have a go-to protocol like traditional investing does. This means there is little support in the way of resources and investment advice. Inexperienced investors can end up losing money jumping into an online investment too quickly.
  • Security Threats – There are a variety of security threats when sharing personal information online. From information breaches to crippling viruses, online investing comes with more security risks than traditional investing. This is especially the case because financial documents and personal information are involved.
  • Fraud – Fraudulent lenders are also a growing concern for online investors. There are ways to vet investment candidates, but online investment opportunities are growing at a rapid rate and not all lenders have lengthy backgrounds. This makes it easy for investors to choose business partners that aren’t exactly reputable.

Impact of Online Investing on the Business World

Traditional investing through banks, venture capitalists, and other physical locations will always be the norm. However, online investing and lending is quickly making a name for itself in the business world. As a result, businesses and borrowers are able to secure business loans that were once unavailable due to strict lending practices.

With more businesses getting loans faster and cheaper, online investing is creating a more versified and competitive business environment.

When it comes to online investing, it’s plain to see that there are a number of pros and cons to consider.

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