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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Learn to say no. If something doesn’t fit with your priorities or schedule, don’t try to make it fit.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
For many small business owners hoping to finish the current month with a positive cash balance, planning for the retirement years often gets short shrift.
With so many immediate demands for his or her attention, it’s hardly surprising that he or she devotes little or no time to thinking about what seems to them the distant future.
In “Saving for Retirement: A Look at Small Business Owners,” Jules H. Lichtenstein of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy takes a close look at the retirement savings behavior of America’s small business owners.
What he finds raises concerns about the lack of business owners’ preparedness for their so-called golden years.
Lichtenstein relies on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 Survey of Income and Program Participation, which focused on the retirement savings plan participation of 4,922 business owners, a nationally representative sampling of small business owners across the United States. Of those surveyed, 91 percent owned businesses with less than 10 employees.
The Census Bureau survey found that 36 percent of the business owners had an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), but roughly two-thirds of those had not actively contributed to the IRA in the current tax year.
Keogh and 401k
Ownership of the other two primary retirement savings vehicles — Keogh and 401k — was even lower. Less than 2 percent of the business owners surveyed had a Keogh plan, and only 18 percent were participating in a 401k savings plan.
Another study produced by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy focused primarily on small business owners over the age of 50.
It found that most small business owners predicted they would retire on average at age 72.6, compared with an average of age 68.4 for most employees.
Whether that later anticipated retirement date represents a lack of financial preparedness for retirement or a passion for their business isn’t clear, but the study did find that older small business owners tend to think about retirement less frequently than employees.
Business owners looking for some guidance about how to build a retirement plan may find that automated planning tools can simplify and expedite the process for them, especially given some may be too busy or not up to speed on all the financial options out there.
Gets Low Priority
Alyssa Gregory, About.com’s expert on the issues confronting small business, points out that in many cases, small business owners have left full-time jobs that provide retirement benefits. And in getting their businesses off the ground, retirement planning is not high on their priority list.
Gregory suggests that business owners seek out the professional counsel of their small business accountant or a financial planner in an attempt to decide the best way to start saving for retirement.
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a regular columnist at Schwab.com, in early 2014 offered an excellent review of the retirement savings options available to small business owners.
In addition to writing her weekly column, Schwab-Pomerantz is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the creation “of positive change through financial education, philanthropy, and volunteerism.”
Schwab-Pomerantz says the SEP-IRA (Simplified Employee Pension-Individual Retirement Account) is an excellent choice in that it allows a high level of savings with only minimal paperwork.
Although an SEP-IRA works for business owners whether or not they have employees, the plan is particularly beneficial for sole proprietors because it allows contributions as high as 20 percent of net self-employment income up to a maximum of $52,000 for 2014.
Individual 401k Plans
For business owners who have no employees apart from their spouse, Schwab-Pomerantz gives high marks to Individual 401k or Individual Roth 401k, which allows even higher contributions that a SEP-IRA but also calls for more extensive paperwork.
Owners of businesses with 100 or fewer employees might find the SIMPLE-IRA (Savings Incentive Match for Employees) a good choice for employers who want to provide a retirement savings plan for their workers — and themselves — but keep their contributions to employee plans to a minimum.
One of the drawbacks to this plan is the limit on contributions to the employer’s own plan, which for 2012 is $12,000. If you’re over 50, you’re allowed to make an additional $2,500 catch-up contribution each year.
Finally, there’s the regular IRA.
Of this option, Schwab-Pomerantz says, “The good news is if that you can contribute to both a small business retirement plan and a regular IRA and potentially get a tax deduction for each, depending on your income.
No matter which option works best for you, keep in mind that you’re also in business to have a comfortable retirement.
About the Author: Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.
In today’s increasingly wired world, network outages — both limited and total — can deal a devastating blow to your business. And if your business is a small one, it is probably less able to cope financially with the consequences of such outages than would be the case with a larger company.
Whether you lose the link between your headquarters office and an outlying branch office or experience a loss of connectivity throughout your business’s operations, each outage has repercussions that may have a lasting impact on your company.
Consequences of Outages
In its overview of the potential damage that a network outage can cause, Hughes Network Systems LLC lists some of the likely consequences a business might experience:
- No longer able to access the applications and data they need to do their jobs, your employees sit idle and your company’s productivity grinds to a virtual halt;
- The reputation of your business takes a hit when existing and prospective customers as well as suppliers cannot engage with your company’s employees in a meaningful way because access to relevant data has been temporarily lost;
- The loss of sales of products and services that would otherwise be transacted results in a direct decline in revenue. Depending on the magnitude of the network outage, future sales may also be negatively affected;
- In your business’s efforts to work around the network loss, your company will experience unbudgeted expenses associated with the rental of equipment, hiring of temporary staff, travel expenses, and overtime costs.
May Put Data at Risk
Network outages can sometimes expose your business’s sensitive data to outside hackers who gain access during a period when the system’s security defenses are temporarily disabled.
Although the vast majority of data losses associated with network outages are temporary in nature, some network failures may result in the permanent loss of data that has not been backed up on an outside system and thus unaffected by the outage.
While the actual dollar costs of network outages vary widely based on the size of the company and its network, NetworkComputing.com reports that network services’ company MegaPath estimates the average cost of downtime at $212,200 an hour.
For companies that are web- or network-based, that hourly figure can soar to dizzying heights. During an August 2013 network outage that lasted between 30 and 40 minutes, Amazon.com lost between $3 and $4 million.
Human Error a Factor
“The Main Cause of Network Outages and How to Prevent It,” a posting on the blog of BackBox.co, offers some interesting facts and figures about the role that human error plays in triggering many such outages.
“2013 Cost of Data Center Outages,” a survey conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Emerson Network Power, examines the root causes of network outages among the 67 data centers covered by the survey. The report also offers comparisons between the primary causes of 2013 network outages and those reported in an earlier 2010 survey.
UPS System Failures
Despite the confidence-inspiring nature of their names, the failure of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems accounted for 24 percent of all data center outages in fiscal 2013. That represented a significant decline from 2010 when UPS system failures were blamed for 29 percent of all outages.
Accidental/human error accounted for 22 percent of all data center outages in 2013, down slightly from 24 percent in 2010.
In a disturbing sign of the times, cyber-attacks, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, were blamed for 18 percent of 2013 outages, skyrocketing from only 2 percent in 2010.
Network outages caused by extreme weather events showed no change from 2010 to 2013, accounting for 12 percent of outages in each of those years.
Outages caused by water, heat, or computer room air conditioning (CRAC) failures made up another 12 percent of 2013 outages, compared with 15 percent in 2010.
Generator failures caused 7 percent of data center outages in 2013, compared with 10 percent in 2010. The failure of IT equipment accounted for 4 percent of 2013 outages, down slightly from 5 percent in 2010.
Given the negative impact network outages can have on your business, what are you doing to stay connected?
About the Author: Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.
It’s a rather obvious point but it bears repeating: the way that businesses market their products and services will make or break the success of the business itself. However, many businesses make the mistake of letting marketing materials lag behind in exchange for higher quality customer service or products. While these are also important elements to a business, poor marketing materials can ruin the chance for future profit no matter how great the customer service is.
Instead of neglecting this aspect or marketing, consider the benefits of creating a booklet that not only advertises your products and services, but also contains informative content that will inspire sales.
Research the Audience
Before you can even start creating the content for your booklet, it is important to understand who the audience is and what their needs are. Entrepreneur.com offers some great questions for researching and understanding your audience. The demographic to which your products appeal should directly correlate with the way you present those products in the booklet.
Create Clear Content
Useful content is the core element in marketing. People now have the ability to delete emails, skip commercials, and ignore magazine ads. That means that content is even more important to marketing than it ever was before. People want to be educated clearly and quickly on the information they seek. It makes content creation detrimental to the success of marketing materials.
- Use SEO in everything you write. Search engines will determine how broad your audience will be.
- Keep PR in mind. Instead of trying to sell your products and services, write informational articles that help them understand the need for your services.
The Content Marketing Institute offers great tips to successful content marketing strategies.
For booklets, creating organized and eye-catching designs is important as well. Booklets that are attractive and colorful are more likely to be picked up than those which aren’t. Before you begin, you need to understand what sort of booklet you need to create. If you are creating a handy booklet with instructions, the design will be different than a booklet for a community project.
Audience is also important in design. Young adults are going to be attracted to more colorful, creative, and splashy designs. Middle-age adults look for creativity combined with function and practicality. The elderly are less impacted by color and more by how easy the content is to read and how practical it is.
Consider the important elements of design:
- Font — It needs to be easy to read, but reflect the branding of the company as well.
- Color Pallet — Sticking to a four color pallet keeps designing easier, while giving you the flexibility to create what you need. When choosing colors, consider the audience. The older the audience, the more subdued the tones should be.
- Layout — Yes, it’s a booklet, but some designs require a bleed from one page to the next. It also includes the size of the pages you plan to print. Consider what sort of layout will work for your needs and your audience.
You can’t just create a document and ship it off to the printer. There are different important aspects of printing, especially booklet printing, to consider before sending it to the printer.
- Bleed — It is recommended to leave anywhere from 1/8 in. to 1/4 in. around the edge to be trimmed in printing. This is called the bleed.
- Resolution — Different printers require different resolutions for printing quality. Adhere to these standards to keep from having blurry or pixilated images.
- File Format — Printers required high quality DPI file formats. These are often RGB or CMYK for best printing results.
If unsure what to do, contact a company that specializes in these services. They can advise you on what you need to know to print with them.
Author Rachel is a freelance writer and young professional who most enjoys writing about business best practices.
With more than 7 million students taking one or more online college courses in 2013, the growth of online education remains robust, showing few signs of slackening within the foreseeable future.
Babson Survey Research Group’s most recent report on the state of online education found that nearly 75 percent of academic leaders view the learning outcomes for online education as the same or better than face-to-face instruction.
Will I Pass Muster?
While this speaks well of the increasing quality of online education, it doesn’t address the question that most concerns students pursuing online degrees. Simply put, they want to know how well their online diploma will stack up against a traditional degree when they start competing for work in the job market.
In a March 2014 article on USNews.com, education reporter Devon Haynie noted that prospective employers’ views of online degrees have undergone a dramatic change for the better over the last few years.
Haynie cited a 2009 literature review by Cleveland State University, which concluded that most human resource managers, executives, and other gatekeepers viewed online diplomas in a negative light.
These negative perceptions were attributed in part to the large number of “diploma mills” that operated online during the late 1990s and early 2000s. These so-called online schools happily supplied a degree to anyone with the money to pay for it.
Opinions Turn Positive
Today, however, prospective employers very rarely question the quality of an online degree, according to Susan Fontana, a regional vice president of Manpower, an international recruiting company.
In fact, Fontana told Haynie, sometimes having an online degree can work in a job candidate’s favor, because certain employers attach a high value to the grit and determination it takes to earn a degree while juggling multiple commitments.
Other Factors Considered
There seems to be little question that most employers look more favorably at online degrees than was the case only a few years ago. At the same time, it’s clear that hiring managers will still scrutinize the reputation of the degree-granting institution and the curriculum behind the degree in evaluating the job candidate.
In the piece What Do Employers Think of an Online Degree?” author Carole Oldroyd points out that the size of the hiring company may also play a role in whether an applicant with an online degree gets the job.
Oldroyd cites recent statistics showing that the vast majority of smaller companies express no preference for traditional over online degrees. Larger companies — those with 500 or more employees — are more evenly split in their sentiments about the relative value of traditional and online degrees.
Growth of e-Learning
Helping to reshape the public’s perception of online education or e-learning is its growth at virtually all educational levels. Technological advances, such as webcams that are now standard on virtually all PCs and tablets, facilitate face-to-face contact between teacher and student for counseling or special instructional sessions.
More students in elementary and secondary education are learning online — both in and out of the classroom. The growing pervasiveness of online education among pre-college students is helping to pave the way for broader acceptance of such programs as a whole.
Key Points to Consider
Because not all online college degree programs are created equal, students who are considering pursuing an online degree should keep sight of these criteria, which CollegeNetwork.com says will probably be closely checked by prospective employers:
- Ensure that the online degree program you enroll in is operated by a college or university that is regionally accredited.
- Online programs offered by brick-and-mortar institutions generally are viewed more favorably than those that operate exclusively online. Even though you may never take any in-person classes, getting a degree from a college or university that has a physical campus tends to lend added credibility to their online diplomas.
- Getting an online degree from a widely recognized institution also generally carries more weight with hiring managers than a similar degree from a college or university that has no name recognition.