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VersaTrust has been serving the Texas area since 1997 , providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Marketing your SMB with Pinterest

Last October, Pinterest launched its first paid advertising service, “Promoted Pins,” which is geared toward large enterprises. Recently, a similar product named “DIY Promoted Pins” was released for small- and medium-sized businesses. This shows how popular social media has become in helping to establish an online presence for your business, and here are some tips to get you started.

Know your audienceAccording to a study conducted by Ahalogy and AcuPOLL Precision Research, Inc., Pinterest is largely used by women, mostly “Millennial Moms.” If your typical customer demographic is predominantly male, your marketing efforts would probably be better spent elsewhere. But if your business caters to women between the ages 15-29, you should consider creating an online presence on Pinterest.

Think like a content marketerUsers are looking for engaging content, which is why 59% of active Pinterest users go for Pins that lead to blog posts, articles, and even photos. The most popular topics on the platform are more visual (e.g., food, fashion, decor, etc.), so if you don't have highly visual content, then infographics, images from blog entries, and even photos of staff members also do the trick.

Look for inspirationGetting stuck in a creative rut happens to the best of us, so check out the boards that are saving your Pins to get some fresh insight. There's a good chance that people saving your Pins have related content that can help you gain insight into what your typical customer is interested in. Not only that, it also helps you identify trends and come up with new ideas for a marketing campaign.

Categorize your boardsBy creating and properly labeling multiple boards -- one for each of your products or services -- your users are able to engage not only with your general content but also with content they’re more interested in.

Determine posting frequencyExcessive pinning might overwhelm or simply annoy your audience, but not pinning enough might cause followers to lose interest. Create a posting schedule and gauge audience reaction before making any changes to the frequency of Pins.

In order to surpass the stiff competition, you’ll need all the help you can get, and that includes social media marketing. If you have any questions about Pinterest and how it can help your business grow, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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What to look for in a VoIP distributor

With a quick Google search, numerous VoIP distributors instantly appear. The problem is knowing whether they will meet your business’s needs. To attract consumers, these professionals throw around superlatives such as 'the best' or 'world-class' -- but that doesn’t always mean they are. Before committing to a distributor, here are some things you should take into consideration:

Highly-trained technical supportA good VoIP distributor will provide technical support both before and after the sale. But a great VoIP distributor will offer highly skilled, well-trained, and certified support. Make sure your distributor’s IT team has been trained on the latest advances in VoIP technology and has obtained the appropriate certifications.

Provisioning capabilitiesProvisioning means providing service to the user. This includes the hardware, wiring, transmitting the voice and data, and especially the final configuration. It can also refer to configuring the hardware and software in order to provide service. In other words, when a device is provisioned, it works. Ask your potential distributor how many stations and ports they have available, and whether or not they offer custom provisioning packages.

API servicesCheck whether your VoIP distributor offers Advanced API services. Short for Application Program Interface, an API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications that specify how software components should interact. It helps streamline your ordering process and ensures your hardware will arrive correctly provisioned on your service platform.

Training programsBefore committing to any VoIP distributor, be sure to check their educational resources. How often do they offer webinars on new products? Do they provide training and educational material on their websites and product portals? Also, check whether your VoIP distributor will create custom training materials for you and your customers.

Remember, a VoIP distributor that offers a complete suite of telephony services helps you overcome your business's phone service obstacles and lets you better serve your customers.

For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Make your SMB stand out on social media

To truly make an impression on consumers, small- and medium-sized businesses are pulling out all the stops. Standing out from your competitors could increase your chances of earning revenue. Many SMBs are now turning to social media and content marketing strategies to gain a competitive edge. Stay one step ahead of the rest with these tips:

Come up with and implement a media crisis management planIt’s normal for businesses to go through a crisis or two. Avoid embarrassing public relations nightmares by having a social media crisis management plan in place and ready for implementation.

Create buyer personasSocial media data is a great tool to gather information about your potential customers, and in doing so, create buyer personas. Buyer personas are comprised of generalized characters that help build an ideal picture of your business in the market. Key demographic information includes age, location, and even reasons for buying and product-related concerns.

Track the impact of your content marketingWhen it comes to content marketing efforts like blogging and social media, it’s essential to have a system to measure results. You can measure how these efforts impact your brand awareness by using metrics such as social media reach, brand mentions, media mentions, and branded searches.

Integrate user-generated content on social mediaBusinesses can utilize social media as a way to interact with consumers. This includes sharing some of their content on your own channels. Not only are user-generated content more cost-efficient, they also shorten the customer’s path to purchase.

Use Hootsuite to manage Twitter chatsA Twitter Chat happens when you use Twitter to talk about a common interest with others during a preset time. It's like an online chatroom where you add to the discussion by tweeting. Efficiently managing tweets and responses is integral. Fortunately, applications like Hootsuite simplifies the whole process. It easily monitors, searches, and saves Twitter Chats onto the Hootsuite dashboard for future reference.

Create better live broadcastsLivestreaming on social media platforms such as Facebook, Periscope, and Instagram is quickly gaining popularity. Before starting a livestream for your business, take time out to practice and prepare an outline before you roll the cameras. Don’t forget to promote it prior to the broadcast, and make sure you come up with a short and catchy video description.

All small- and medium-sized businesses are fighting for the same thing: the consumer’s attention. Business owners can’t afford to just blend into the background; if you don’t make a good, lasting impression, you might lose out on an opportunity to make money. And if you’re relying on social media and content marketing strategies to help you, make sure you are doing it right. If you have further questions, feel free to contact us!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Ugly websites cost your business big time

Good things come to those who wait, and this is especially true for small- and medium-sized businesses that plan on creating an eCommerce website. According to Vistaprint's study on 1,800 consumers, 42 percent of respondents are “very unlikely” to buy from unprofessional or ugly websites. Go through your site and ensure everything is in order. These key indicators might help:

A variety of clean photosAlways take photos under professional lighting to really get the best images of your products. When customers are browsing, it’s normal for them to want to see as much detail as possible, so try to include as many photos, from as many angles your prospects might want.

Clear descriptionsThe last thing you want to do is to confuse your customers. That’s why it’s important to include all of your products’ technical information and dimensions before creating simple and straightforward product descriptions.

Establish policiesReturns and refunds are an inevitable part of online shopping. In fact, a large percentage of online shoppers make purchase decisions based solely on how streamlined the returns policy is. Make sure to establish clear policies for returning and refunding items that are easy to find for customers.

About pageCustomers unfamiliar with your brand need a story they can relate to on your website. In your About Us page, include information on who you are and what you do that sets you apart from the competition. Whatever you write, make it accessible from any page on your site.

NavigationFix broken links, make navigation straightforward, and remove outdated pages. You can’t sell 404 pages to customers, and if your site doesn’t make it easy to find what they’re looking for, game over.

DesignNot everyone is a web design expert, luckily you can always hire one. If your budget is tight, there are DIY site builders specifically geared toward small businesses. Or with a relatively low monthly expenditure, you can hire a managed website provider.

With more revenue originating online, small- and medium-sized-business owners can’t afford to overlook the importance of creating a fully functional eCommerce website. Prior to going live, it’s essential to go through your entire site and resolve any mistakes before consumers see them. For further information on completing eCommerce websites, feel free to call us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Five tips to prevent VoIP eavesdropping

Eavesdropping is the intentional act of secretly listening in on a conversation, usually not for the best of intentions. Although today the act also includes VoIP telephone systems, it’s not a recent trend. As exemplified by the SIPtap attacks of 2007 and the Peskyspy trojans of 2009, cybercriminals have had their eye on VoIP ever since it was introduced to the market. Here are five tips to combat VoIP eavesdropping:

Never deploy with default configurationsEveryone wants to get things rolling as quickly as possible, but this often results in VoIP phones being deployed with their default configurations. You don’t want to do this because it allows the bad guy to search vendor documentation. Depending on your VoIP solution, you should have the option of changing default handset configurations. Otherwise, you’ll need to come up with a manual process to change phone defaults when you roll handsets out to your employees.

Listen to your handset vendorsAn ideal example of VoIP handset vulnerabilities happened in 2015, when Cisco detected vulnerabilities in IP phones which enabled an unauthorized attacker to listen in on phone conversations. If it weren't for those security alerts, several companies could have found themselves victims of VoIP eavesdropping. The lesson learned here is you must regularly monitor advisories from your hardware vendor. Without proper monitoring, you won’t know how susceptible your corporate VoIP phones are to being eavesdropped.

Update session border controllersAnother tactic to combat VoIP eavesdropping is to constantly update your session border controllers (SBCs). By doing so, you’ll be updating your VoIP’s antivirus software; because cyber threats are constantly evolving, your security products should as well. Routine SBC updates are essential for secure SIP trunking as well as responding to new threats.

Encrypt VoIP callsMany cloud VoIP providers offer call encryption guidelines, and some even offer it as a premium service. If you work in a regulated industry like healthcare or finance, encrypting VoIP calls are essential to staying compliant. Work with your VoIP provider and auditors to determine the best encryption options for your communications infrastructure.

Build a hardened VoIP networkAnother method to fend off VoIP eavesdropping is to build a hardened VoIP network that includes:

  • IP private branch exchange (PBX) using minimal services so that the hardware can only power the PBX software
  • Firewalls with access control lists set to include call control information
  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol lookup, and signaling and management protocol
  • Reinforced end point security with authentication at the endpoint level
In order to effectively combat VoIP eavesdropping, businesses need to take a holistic approach. This includes policies, deployment, as well as security practices to ensure malicious agents are unable to tap into your calls. Feel free to contact us for further information on how to protect your business.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Benefits of social media policy reviews

Does your business have a social media policy? If so, when was the last time you updated it? If you're taking too long to answer these questions, that isn’t a good sign. Because you should be conducting regular reviews, at least annually. You'd enjoy innumerable benefits, and deter your employees from obsessing over Snapchat filters in the process.

Avoid legal troubleDo you remember Chipotle’s social media debacle in 2015? It lost a lawsuit for firing an employee that posted negative content on social media because it turned out that Chipotle’s social media policy violated federal labor laws. That’s why you should work with your legal team to keep your policies up to date: so they comply with the Federal Trade Commission and the National Labor Relations Board.

Protect company informationSocial media policies can actually help safeguard sensitive data from hackers and cyber attacks, especially in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) working environment. Employees must know the proprietary company information that must never be shared, as well as understand that confidential information -- such as marketing tactics, non-public financials, and future product launches -- are to be communicated only ‘internally.’ A good example is General Motor’s social media policy, which clearly spells out what can and can't be disclosed to the public.

Define which kinds of social media activities are and aren't allowedAlthough posting offensive or insensitive material on a company-branded social media page being is an obvious no-no, it still happens. For the people handling your company’s social media, what precautionary mechanisms are in place to avoid a public relations disaster? Are there rules for different platforms? Beyond that, however, is a lot of gray area when it comes to if and how employees will be held accountable for what they post on their personal profiles. When social media policies clearly outline how employees should behave online and the punishments that come with violating that agreement, you can deter rogue employee posts and avoid a viral fiasco.

Effective social media policies need to be fluid and responsive to the fast-paced modern business environment. Taking the time out to perform yearly social media policy reviews will save your employees a lot of confusion while helping your company steer clear of potential PR and legal nightmares. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to use Snapchat for your business

A growing number of small- and medium-sized businesses are turning to social media to help facilitate growth. The reasons are obvious, social media is easy-to-use and capable of reaching an enormous amount of users. That being said, you might be missing out on one of the fastest growing platforms available: Snapchat.

Over 71 percent of Snapchat users are under 34 years old; as of 2015, the social network boasted over 100 million active users. It’s an ideal marketing option for businesses targeting a millennial audience. If you’re still unsure about Snapchat for your small business, consider these statistics:

    • 58 percent of college students are likely to purchase a product from coupons sent over Snapchat
    • 65 percent of Snapchat users contribute content on a daily basis
    • Only 1 percent of marketers are taking advantage of Snapchat, which means you can be an early adopter and gain a competitive advantage
Snapchat is a social media application that allows users to send pictures and videos - called “Snaps” - to others. The media sent can only be viewed for 10 seconds or less (you can specify the length), after which it disappears for good. You can add a Snap or multiple Snaps to create your own “story” which can be viewed by others for 24 hours.

The reason Snapchat is getting the attention of marketers is that it allows users to personally interact with brands. Instead of regular content, you audience gets a candid, behind-the-scenes look at your business. Also, by using Snapchat regularly, you’ll be able to keep your brand in the forefront of your audience’s mind. Then, when they’re making a purchasing decision between you and your competitors, they’ll choose you because of the relationship you’ve established with them. Now that you know what Snapchat is, the next step is to gain followers.

How to grow a following on SnapchatUnlike other social networks like Twitter and Instagram, hashtags don’t suffice when you want to get your audience’s attention. They have to find and add you - not the other way around. Even if you want to add other users so they could add you back, you can’t base the search on vague terms -- you have to know their Snapchat username to add them. Basically, Snapchat has no native discovery features.

In order to gain followers on Snapchat, you’ll need to use your online presence as well as other social media sites to create awareness and entice others to follow you. Here are some easy methods to get the ball rolling:

    • The “Add Me URL” feature - share a custom URL on other social media platforms that allow other users to quickly add you as their Snapchat connections. To do so, replace “yourusername” in the following URL: https://www.snapchat.com/add/yourusername
    • Promote your username in your social media profiles - promote your Snapchat username by posting it in other profiles to encourage people to add you. You can also share your username in email signatures, blog posts, and even your company website.
    • Share relevant content - plan an interesting series of Snaps to share with your followers and post all the details on other social media accounts along with your username and/or QR code image, this gives followers an incentive to connect with your brand.
    • Snapcode image as your profile picture on other social networks - take a screenshot and crop your Snapchat QR code image (Snapcode) and set that as a profile picture on your other social media accounts. Anyone who points their Snapchat camera at the code will automatically add you to their friends list.
Snapchat is one of the newest social media outlets to date. If you start building your brand on it now, you’ll be taking a huge step ahead of your competitors - especially now that Snapchat is catching up to Facebook and other social media giants. If you would like to know more about what Snapchat can do for your small- and medium-sized business, feel free to give us a call!
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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The right social media platforms for SMBs

Social media marketing is tricky, to say the least. It’s difficult to allocate the resources that create the desired effect, especially when so many platforms are available. Facebook might be the biggest name in the industry, but that doesn’t mean it will suit your organization. Instead, business owners should familiarize themselves with all the available options.

FacebookAccording to the 2017 Wasp Barcode State of Small Business Report, Facebook is the most utilized social media of all the options. Out of the survey’s 1,100+ respondents, 68 percent used Facebook as an integral part of their marketing strategy, with LinkedIn coming in second at 39 percent.

One of the contributing factors to Facebook’s popularity is the fact that it’s currently approaching a total of 2 billion personal users, making it the first place companies go to when they want to increase their brand awareness. Other marketing-specific reasons businesses choose Facebook are social media referral traffic, terrific conversion rates for e-commerce traffic, and a huge impact on user purchasing decisions.

YouTubeYouTube is considered an undervalued social media resource for two main reasons. Firstly, although it’s the second-largest search engine on the internet, it still looms in the giant shadow of its rival Google Search. But when properly utilized, YouTube allows you to create channels for your products or services to be discovered by users, with little more than search optimizations.

Secondly, Google actually owns YouTube, and videos are reportedly 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than other organic content. Keep in mind that video production quality is more important than ever, so your content needs to be well-produced in order to make an impact.

Google+Engagement and content on sharing might pale in comparison to Facebook, but an active Google+ page measurably contributes to the Google search ranking of your website -- just another way you can ensure your site’s position on the first page of Google results should be done. Also, Google+ has hundreds of millions of users and some of the platform’s features -- such as live Hangouts -- can be utilized to share content across all Google channels, including YouTube.

Snapchat and InstagramIf your target audience is on the younger end of the scale, Snapchat is the way to go. The important thing to keep in mind when you want to connect with 18-24 year olds is to always be fun and creative. Your content doesn’t need to be overly-polished or corporate. Currently, there are over 100 million active users on Snapchat.

As for Instagram, it boasts over 400 million monthly users as well as a more well-rounded user base in terms of age and geography. The content on Instagram should look more professional and more artistic, and there’s an added benefit of direct integration with Facebook every time you post a new picture or video.

YelpReview sites might not be the purest form of social media, but Yelp is another great way to connect with users and respond to (hopefully positive) feedback. If you’re concerned about the controversy and negativity that have arisen from Yelp reviews, the Yelp team is known for helping businesses improve their online status and rise above the harsh comments.

If you still have questions about social media platforms and how to utilize them to your advantage, feel free to contact us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How VR helps with business growth

Most people tend to think that the concept of virtual reality has a place with The Jetsons family, but not so much at the office -- think again. Recently, more and more businesses are exploring ways they can mesh virtual reality with daily business operations to possibly help benefit customer service and even employee satisfaction. Take your business to the next level by embracing three dimensions instead of two. Here’s why:

Create your own virtual product prototypes

With the help of virtual reality, you’ll no longer have to rely on manufacturing when you want to see what your product physically looks like and how it might work. These virtual products allow you to make any changes before going through with production. According to Abi Mandelbaum, CEO and co-founder of YouVisit, “Model creation in VR, for example, can save companies time and money, as these types of models or prototypes allow viewers to examine a product and make changes without the time or expense of building a physical model.”

Virtual designs for engineers

Especially beneficial for engineers, architects and other professionals that work with building or engineering large structures, virtual reality helps save both time and money. As an alternative to small models or 2D renderings, VR offers a more immersive experience that helps design and replicate structures.

Virtual tours

Let’s say that you’re a real estate agent showing houses to potential buyers. Your buyers might be in a different state or simply don’t want to spend time going from house-to-house. Virtual reality allows customers to see what the home looks likes in a three-dimensional setting without them having to actually be there.

Showing all the angles of a product

In order to entice buyers into making a purchase, they must first get an idea as to what it’s actually like, and they need to see as many angles as possible -- especially for products that customers don’t get to physically touch. With virtual reality, customers are given a better idea of what your product is like. Abi Mandelbaum says that “Virtual reality can allow current and potential customers to explore a product before they commit to making a purchase. Furthermore, VR completely immerses customers, helping place a product directly into their (virtual) hands or empowering viewers to see a product in action.”

Take customers on an adventure

If you are in any tourism or adventure-based business, you can use virtual reality to give customers a taste of what to expect from the attractions. Imagine that you have an amusement park and want to attract customers’ attention. You can opt to offer a short VR replication of one of your rides so people can see whether or not they’d like it. Or if you own a resort or campground, you’ll also be able to create reality versions of whatever activities you offer.

VR has the potential to take your small- and medium-sized business to the next level if done properly of course. If you have any questions about how you can mesh virtual reality with your company, don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call. We’ll be more than happy to assist with your queries.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Skype for Business and its benefits

Skype for Business (as hinted in the name), is the corporate-oriented version of Skype. Besides the snazzy title, Skype for Business possesses unique office applications that will benefit your company. Yet, many business owners pose the same question: how important is it to adopt Skype for Business? Here are three reasons that might help you embrace Skype for Business a tiny bit easier.

Cloud PBX

Skype for Business is designed for simple management, with Cloud PBX (public exchange servers) allowing you to store and transfer data via the Internet as opposed to a computer or other hardware that the end-user owns. With Skype for Business, you are able to easily record and store any audio or video conversation history. You can also store instant messages for future reference in a separate email folder.

In order for a cloud PBX system to work, it requires an IP connection or Internet phone for the necessary Internet connection. From there, you can access it through a personalized account from any Internet-enabled device capable of running the Cloud PBX’s interface. Your cloud PBX service provider is in charge of storing and managing all the data, meaning that your calls are connected to their recipients via the Internet. Your service provides “redundancy,” which backs up all your data in the event they were to get lost or corrupted because your computer crashed.

Expanded Capability

Over the past decade, webinars have become quite popular, mainly due to the fact that they allow important meetings to be held without having to converge at the same location. It’s like having a video chat with your friends. Whereas Skype allows up to 25 participants, Skype for Business accommodates up to 250. Other nifty features include:
    • Skype Meeting Broadcast - broadcast meetings for up to 10,000 people in large webinars.
    • PSTN Conference (or Dial-in conference) - allows attendees to join a meeting via landlines or cellphones.
On top of all that, Skype for Business is fully integrated with a host of other useful office applications. You have access to Microsoft Office (e.g., Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc.), and you can share files with other participants throughout the meeting.

Enhanced Security Control

With Skype for Business, users have better security control through the authentication and encryption of private communications. So you have better access to guest accounts, and you can enable or disable certain call features to enhance communication.

Knowing which tools to utilize is vital to help you get the upper hand. By utilizing what’s best for you and your business, you won’t have to search for success; it’ll come looking for you instead. For any questions regarding Skype for Business and its functions, feel free to give us a call or send us a message. We’re more than happy to help you any way we can.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Twitter’s new dashboard app for SMBs

Fishes are known to travel together in schools. They do so as a defense mechanism against predators or as a means to find a mate. Rarely do we see a fish making its way through the ocean unaccompanied. Schools of fish are the Twitter equivalent of celebrities or public figures, whereby lone guppies are SMBs struggling to make a splash in terms of their online presence. Allow Twitter’s latest stand-alone dashboard app to lend your business a helping hand.

According to Noah Pepper, Twitter’s product and engineering manager, “For businesses, Twitter is a place to share news, tell stories, and have conversations that support, educate, and delight their customers.” On top of that, he states that “It's a place for authentic interactions – but we know that creating these kinds of connections isn't always easy for businesses that are time and resource-constrained.” Because of this, Twitter has developed a brand new application that helps lighten your social media load -- enter Twitter Dashboard.

Twitter Dashboard specifically caters toward small- to medium-sized businesses, helping them to establish a fast, efficient and affordable means to manage their online presence. It helps you easily track and engage with audiences. The free app is still in the beta phase but is available to all businesses in the United States via iOS devices. There’s also a desktop web version as well.

With the help of Twitter Dashboard, social media managers can schedule tweets and set up customized feeds with the sole purpose of tracking what’s being said about a particular business. There are tools in the app that aids in tracking keywords as well as brainstorming ideas for potential tweets.

Here are some examples from Noah Pepper:

  • Say you work at a restaurant. You can come up with something like, “Your team is as unique as your business. Tweet a surprising fact about one of your team members.” This helps remind you to share some of the recent recognition your chef has received.
  • Or if you are an interior designer, when you see the tweet “Share the love. Like and Retweet kind words from your customers,” you’re prompted you to Retweet the next customer’s reaction to one of your projects.
Twitter Dashboard may not be of much use to savvy online marketers, but for those who have just dipped their toes into social media, it might help build the confidence needed to take flight. And this is exactly what Twitter needs if it's aiming to increase overall platform engagement.

Small- and medium-sized businesses should seize every opportunity they can to grow. Leverage the power of social media and see your company spread its wings and fly, soaring amidst the chirp of the blue birds tweeting. For further questions about Twitter Dashboard, feel free to give us a call, follow us, tweet us or give us a direct message -- we’re always ready to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to get the most out of your VoIP data

Big data is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, but rarely in conjunction with SMBs. VoIP has often been touted as a way for small businesses to access enterprise-level functionalities, and better access to customer data is one of the many ways to do exactly that. Keep reading for coverage of the best ways to leverage your VoIP data to increase conversions and provide better service to your clients.

Time/Date Data

One source of information that nearly any VoIP system should be able to easily access is time, date and duration of calls. As a small or medium-sized business, you probably work on a tight budget. Properly analyzing this data can be invaluable when deciding how many staff you need on the phones and on what schedule.

For example, you may notice that on Mondays you get a rush of calls in the morning, but by Tuesday afternoon the lines are dead. Just asking your employees when the phones are dead may work, but consider looking for more specific trends to better assign call responsibilities to your staff. You may find that there is a particular combination of time and day that simply doesn’t generate a need for anyone to work the phones.

The more agreeable the person on the other end of the line is, the more likely they are to vote for your company with their dollars. If you’re making outbound calls, pay close attention to when you see the most success. Everyone knows that no one likes to get a call during dinner time, VoIP allows you to take this one step further and find other stress points in your call schedule.

Location Data

Location data is also easy to track and a simple way to make your call strategy more agile. Understanding how purchasing or support habits differ between different locations can improve your marketing, customer service and client retention.

Ask your VoIP service provider about call-routing options so that whoever answers your phones is an expert on the area the caller is from. With the right amount of preparation you can help a client on the other side of the country as if your company was right around the corner, and there are few things as valuable as being helped by a local.

Customer Intelligence

Combining your VoIP services with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software opens up entirely new data points. How many times have you called a support line with an issue and have had to explain all of your history with the company? Even if you somehow did win the customer service lottery and got the same representative every time, the chances of them remembering you and your story are slim to none. With proper CRM integration, your VoIP system can route callers to the same service representative every time they call and provide your staff with a detailed support history.

Customer Habits/Personalities

Analyze client call habits and predict how to contact them and offer assistance before they even realize they need it. Does your data show that one of your clients generally calls once a week, but missed last week’s? Give them a call and check up on them.

If you want to really get in the weeds with your data, you can begin to match clients with your service and sales representatives based on ‘personality’ data. Data points like staff’s age, gender and average call time can potentially be used to route customers to the best possible representative.

Product/Service Trends

Whenever possible, tie data to specific products and services in each call and look for the most consistent patterns that result in a successful contact. If you notice that most of the customers that buy your flagship product come back and buy an accessory to it within three months, stop dumping money into marketing the accessory products during the original sale and trust what your data tells you. Follow up in a month and ask if they’re interested in that ancillary product.

You may be thinking that some of these data points were accessible with your legacy systems by simply logging the information separately. Tracking data that way is prone to user error and requires a pre-meditated plan. VoIP services track all of your data, all the time. Your SMB can easily view and analyze up-to-date data in no time. This agility and efficiency can revolutionize how you design your customer interaction strategies.

Do you feel like you could be getting a better ROI from your VoIP services by taking another look at your calling data? It could be as simple as better organizing your usage statistics, or as intricate as installing specialized analytics software. Regardless of how you want to go about it, we’re the ones to do it -- contact us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Enterprise level virtualization for clients

The word ‘Community’ is derived from the Latin term communitas meaning ‘things shared by many or all’, which hints at our innate desire to connect with others. With the Internet being such a powerful medium, connecting people regardless of their locations has never been easier. Imagine thousands and thousands of people that are genuinely interested in what your company does -- that level of attention would not only propel but possibly skyrocket your business to heights you didn’t think possible. But before running, we must first walk. Here are five tips for building an online community for your business:

Make sure your customers are passionate

The number one rule of online community is that it should be a place where like-minded people are genuinely interested in your brand and are able to engage, if that’s not the case, it won’t be any different from throwing a party that everyone ignored. Make sure you have brand appeal, pick up on vibes your customers are giving off and figure out what they really want. The size of your online community isn’t what’s important, customer’s annual revenue and genuine passion for your products play a much bigger role.

Loosen the reins

It’s an undeniable fact that you have put copious amounts of time and energy into building and managing your business - so you can’t help but develop an attachment to it. What business owners have to realize is that your company really belongs to your users. This is a difficult obstacle to overcome, but when you are still clinging on for dear life and discouraging open discussion, you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot. Several times.

Another rule to follow is NEVER delete a post (unless it’s spam), under no circumstances would you want to hide negative feedback. Online communities might be the reality check you’ve been looking for, so accept honest feedback with open arms.

Create a rich experience

Thriving communities are the ones that engage in numerous activities, the same can be said for online communities as well. An example to help put things in perspective is bird watching. Let's say one community only has support forums dedicated to basic subjects whereas the other community offers a feature request area that allow customers to give their thoughts on what they want to see next as well as a visual library on local species. Ensure that there’s always something for your community to do.

Invest in infrastructure

Dedicated team members and the right software are essential components required in taking on an online community - don’t pinch any pennies here. Growing the team and utilizing suitable tech resources are necessary steps that (although nerve-wracking) need to be taken. Entice customers further by tying up all the technological loose ends, make it easy-to-use and devoid of downtime.

Don’t stress over measurements

We live in a time where numbers hold immeasurable power and people expect dashboards to show trending activity constantly. It’s a fact that measuring the ROI of an online community is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There is one way of measuring your community’s value, not with a measuring tape, but by looking at the number of posts.

If you're aiming to establish higher brand credibility, corporate integrity and customer loyalty but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it, just give us a call! We’ll help you with any questions you may have about building an online community for your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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A guide to virtualization and licensing

Software licensing has been a thorn in everybody’s side for as long as we can remember. It’s no surprise that as software begins to help us to consolidate and combine pieces of hardware through virtualization, we’re confronted with this problem yet again. SMBs are often unfortunate victims of licensing models that favor individual or enterprise purchasing, without enough options in between. Why don’t we delve a little deeper to see how your business can tackle virtualization while taking this legal necessity into consideration ?

Why are licenses an issue?

Virtualization is a complex topic, so let’s have a quick review. Most people are starting to work the concept of cloud storage into their everyday lives. Think of virtualization as a cloud where your server(s) store their hardware capabilities and your network computers can pull from that cloud as needed.

In this scenario, let’s assume employee A and employee B have two identical desktop computers with barebones hardware. Employee A needs to perform some basic text editing while employee B needs an in-depth scan of your client database. With the right infrastructure management, both employees will connect to your business’ server for the necessary physical processing power and server-hosted software. That means employee A will request the appropriate amount of processing power to edit text (which is likely very little) from the server, while employee B requests a much larger chunk of RAM, processing and harddrive space for scanning the database.

Understand so far? Because it gets really tricky when we start asking how many licenses are required for the server-hosted software. Licensing models were originally based on the number of physical hard drives with installed copies. However, in a virtualized environment that’s not an accurate reflection of usage. Using the most recent platforms, administrators can divide up their CPU into as many virtual machines as the SMB requires.

What do current virtualized licensing models look like?

Sadly, the virtualization and software industries are still deciding what’s the best way to move forward. The very vendors that sell the software required to manage the creation of virtual machines and segmentation of your server disagree about which model to use.

The company behind the popular VMware software has switched to a per-virtual-machine model after a huge response from customers, while other powerhouse vendors like Oracle and Microsoft have stuck with the per-CPU-core model that is based on server hardware capacity.

In any software selection process there is almost always the option of open source software. Under the open source model there are no licenses and usage is free, and just last month, AT&T committed to virtualizing 75 percent of its office under the OpenStack cloud computing platform by 2020.

What should I do?

In the end, software license considerations and total cost of ownership calculations should be a huge factor in how you plan to virtualize your SMB. When discussing the possibility of an infrastructure migration with your IT services provider, make sure to ask about the advantages and disadvantages of different virtualization platforms compared with their licensing models. You may find that paying more for hardware-based models is worth it, or that open source platforms provide you with everything you need.

No matter which platform you choose, remember to list every piece of licensed software in your office. Find out which licenses you can keep, which ones you’ll need to update and most importantly what the license migration will cost you in the short and long run.

This might seem like too much to handle at first. The process of virtualizing your SMB alone is enough to have you reaching for the aspirin. By contacting us you can avoid the headache entirely; we’ll walk you through all of the steps necessary to guide your organization through this next step in modernizing your business model.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Google Slides Q&A goes interactive

Slideshow presentations are only as good as the tools used to create them. With Google’s recent update to its Slides software, that baseline just got a huge boost. One of the biggest advantages of Google’s Drive software suite are the cloud-based features, and with the newest update to the Slides program you can explore a whole new way to interact with your audience. Keep reading to find out just how great this new feature is.

What is Google Slides?

Google Slides is a free web-based presentation creator. You can create, edit, store and share slideshows via Google’s Drive client that allows for live collaboration and presenting across the internet. Although Slides is most functional when using online desktops, offline and mobile functionality have made it a formidable competitor to more expensive software from Microsoft.

With the most recent update, your mouse cursor even doubles as a presentation laser pointer!

Enabling the Q&A Feature

Earlier this month, Google added an important feature that allows presenters to interact with their audience via their mobile devices. To enable it, click the arrow directly next to the Present button in the upper left corner of the slideshow editor. Next, click the drop-down item marked “Presenter View”. After that you should have two windows open, one that displays your presentation in your original web browser and a smaller “Presenter” that displays a number of options. In the bottom of the "Presenter" screen there should be a Start New button for a Q&A session. If you’re a Google for Education or Google for Business user, you’ll have the option to restrict who can ask questions via the presenter window.

Getting the audience involved

After enabling the Q&A tool, a short and easy-to-type link will be shown at the top of every displayed slide. Audience members can navigate to this page in order to submit questions.

Audience members who open the page will see a simple screen with an “Ask a question…” dialogue on their mobile device. Loading the site will consider them an anonymous user unless they log into a Google account. If they’re logged in, their picture and name will be associated with any submitted questions. However, self-conscious members have the option to abstain from signing in, or they can check the “ask anonymously” box when submitting their question.

Answering participant questions

After a question has been submitted, it will be displayed in both the presenter window you have open, and the communal window displayed on the audience’s mobile site. This gives them the option to upvote or downvote questions submitted by other viewers. When you see a question you want to address, or has too many upvotes to ignore, you can click the Present button in your presenter window and the question will be displayed alongside the author as a new slide. Clicking Hide will take you back to the last slide to continue the rest of the presentation as normal.

If you’re running a presentation with a particularly large number of participants, ask anyone submitting a question to include their email address. The Q&A history can be reviewed under the Tools menu for following up with answers afterwards.

Keeping a presentation interesting and engaging could mean the difference between acquiring a new client and converting your conference room into a place for audience naps. Efficient use of Google Drive software can reinvigorate your collaboration and presentation workflows. Contact us for advice on all things Google in your office!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Lower your costs with virtualization

For the past year Strem Chemicals, a Massachusetts-based company which manufactures and markets specialty chemicals, has utilized virtualization. This process has seen them improve in several areas such as cost reduction and even disaster recovery. This is one of thousands of companies that has saved a substantial amount of money since incorporating virtualization into their business model. With that in mind, here are couple of ways SMB's like yours can use virtualization to enhance cost benefits beyond the bottom line.

Virtualization puts IT in control

When a new product launches, virtualization lends a hand by matching spending with fluctuating workloads. For instance, ACI Speciality Benefits, a provider of employee assistance programs and other wellness services, virtualized its desktops with Cisco systems and VMware solutions. By balancing the workload with the introduction of virtualization, this allowed the company’s IT department to develop even more detailed budget reports. So how can this virtualization feature help your business? In your next meeting, virtualization can enable you to present a matrix with a direct correlation of how spending affects the total cost of ownership as well as return on investment (ROI).

Virtualization also helps with power savings because it reduces the number of physical servers needed, meaning less electricity and fewer backup batteries are required. But overall, the reason why it has gained traction amongst SMB's has more to do with the fact that it enhances control and management of technology.

Scale your business

For iStreamPlanet, a video streaming provider for live events such as the London 2012 Olympics and Sunday Night Football, cozying up to virtualization required little persuasion. In 2010, the company incorporated virtualization into the development of a cloud-based Software as a Service platform for video workflow management.

“Media processing is an ideal service for a cloud-based, virtualized environment due to fluctuating workloads that require scalable compute, storage, hosting and management services,” Dan Penn, director of software engineering says.

It also aids in ensuring that software engineers and operating teams work closer together while testing and deploying across private and public clouds. Vince Tan, IT administrator for Strem Chemicals advises SMBs to embrace virtualization since they are the ones that normally have limited IT staff and resources. Establishing a virtualized environment grants you more scalability and reliability.

It seems that the adoption of virtualization would be beneficial in keeping up with the times, and since many have already made the virtual leap there would be no shortage of peers to consult with on the matter - yes, you are not alone.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact our experts for more information on virtualization and its benefits for small and medium-sized businesses.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Security tips for the small business

It’s been said so many times that many small business owners are likely to block it out, but the truth remains: cyber criminals target SMBs. Perhaps the reason for this ignorance is that when an SMB falls victim to an online attack, it’s not breaking news. But this time, in a recent NY Times article, a cyber attack wasn’t focused on the Ashley Madisons or Dropboxes of the world. This time the focus was on a small business who is lucky to still be in business after a serious cyber attack.

Last holiday season, Rokenbok Education, a small, California-based toy company of seven employees realized its worse nightmare. During the busiest time of the sales year, the files in their database had become unusable, infected with malware. The hackers used ransomware, a malware designed to hold a business’s data hostage, to encrypt their files and demanded a payment to make them usable again. However, instead of paying the ransom, Rokenbok restructured their key system. To do this it took four days. That’s four days of downtime, lost sales, and confused customers who likely lost confidence in the integrity of their company. Luckily this did not put Rokenbok Education out of business. But many SMBs aren’t so fortunate, and are forced to close after such a security debacle.

So why do security breaches like this happen to SMBs?

There are many reasons, but a common one is that small and medium-sized businesses often focus on profits over security. And really, it’s hard to blame them. When you’re small, you want to grow your organization as quickly as possible. And you likely think that because you’re small, no one is going to attack you. However, nowadays hackers are on to this way of thinking. They know that SMBs don’t focus as much on security, which make them a perfect target. In fact, according to Timothy C. Francis, the enterprise lead for Cyber Insurance at Travelers, 60 percent of all online attacks in 2014 targeted SMBs.

So what can your business do to protect itself against online attacks? There are a range of options, but it’s best to start off with an audit of your current security system to see where the holes are. This audit should check areas of risk which include customer data, employee access, and assets such as servers, computers and all Internet-enable devices.

After that, an obvious thing to do is to strengthen your passwords. While this has been said thousands of times over, many SMB owners do not take heed. Clay Calvert, the director of security at the Virginia-based firm MetroStar Systems, notes that hackers analyze how we create passwords and use big data analytics to crack them. “They have databases of passwords,” Calvert said. The best way to create a strong password is to make it long with a mix of characters. Password managers that encrypt your passwords can also help.

Aside from passwords, there are many other ways to boost your business’s security that include installing a firewall, keeping your antivirus up-to-date, and moving data over to the cloud (instead of storing it on company servers). Also, since many security attacks occur because an employee clicked on a malicious website or link, training your employees is a smart move. A good way to start this training is to create an employee manual that includes security guidelines they must follow. For ongoing training, you can keep them up-to-date on the latest security threats through email updates and regular meetings. Once you feel confident that your employees are up-to-speed and your security practices are updated, you can try hiring ethical hackers to test your systems and try to break through your security. This will let you know if there are any security holes you missed.

Calling in a security specialist

However, if all of this sounds far too much to bother with, consider outsourcing your security to a service provider that specializes in digital security. This can oftentimes save valuable time and money in the long run. Best of all, this can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a security specialist watching over your business.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start with your business’s security, we’re happy to help perform a thorough audit and provide you the digital security solution you need to keep your business protected. Security worries don’t have to keep you up at night, and we can help you implement the measures that will protect your business from disastrous security problems.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Don’t virtualize without answers

For small or medium-sized business, getting a leg up on the competition can be the difference between simply surviving and thriving. One way of doing this is by embracing virtualization. Many SMBs have used virtualization techniques to great effect, but implementing a change can be difficult and time-consuming. Here are a few questions you should ask before virtualizing your office.

Sure, virtualization does sound fancy and expensive but, if done correctly, it can be of great benefit to your company. The process involves removing your physical equipment and instead running everything on virtual machines. This allows you to reduce expenses on equipment like servers - and, depending on your needs, even computers - while also freeing up valuable space in your office.

Before you start enjoying these benefits, or even beginning the process of virtualization at your company, there are questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer. We’re going to reveal three of the most important ones you should consider.

Who will handle the project?

Like any massive IT project, who will be overseeing the implementation of the new technology is vital to its success. There will be a lot to consider depending on whether you have an in-house IT department or utilize a Managed Services Provider to take care of your technology. Let’s take a brief look at the things you need to think about with each one.

In-house IT department - If you have IT staff on-site, the most cost-effective option would be delegating the virtualization to them. However, being cost-effective and being practical don’t always align in this situation. Before trusting your IT department with this project, you’ll want to get a better idea of their current workload, as well as what experience they have with virtualization technology. It could be in everyone’s best interests to outsource the project if you don’t believe your IT staff has the time or experience to get the project done.

Managed Services Provider - A lot of MSPs can help with the planning and execution of virtualization projects. This is normally a good thing, but make sure to ask a lot of questions in order to get a better understanding of what they do and don’t offer. Realistically, they should be able to make recommendations for your specific company and industry that align with your business goals. If you notice a lot of broad generalizations or get pigeonholed to a specific hardware manufacturer, you might consider talking with one or two other IT providers about your virtualization project.

Will you virtualize everything at once, or a little at a time?

This is a question that takes a lot of SMB owners by surprise. Many believe virtualization to be an either/or scenario, but the reality is that you can virtualize as much or as little of your technology as you want. Some businesses who are confident in the technology do it all at once, but a lot of companies take an incremental approach to their virtualization projects.

Normally, your answer to this question will come down to who’s managing the project and what your budget is. It’s not unusual for a business to start by virtualizing a few of their servers at a time. This allows you to better see just how the process works and what the benefits are. However, if you’re ready for a full-scale office virtualization, then by all means go for it; this will allow you to streamline everything into one project.

What about your applications?

Before you start the virtualization process, it’s good to come up with a list of which applications, if any, you need to be hosted at your premises. Sometimes a company may have one or two applications that they do not wish to be hosted on virtual servers. This is something you will want to take into account before the project begins, especially if you are virtualizing all of your servers. There is nothing worse than ditching everything only to realize afterwards that one or more of your applications need to remain on a physical server at your office.

We can help your organization turn virtualization into a realization. And if you’re impressed by our rhyming skills, you should check out our IT project management skills. We can help your business with all of its technology needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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