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Related News

Technology with a Touch of Gray: The Case for Upgrading

By Chad Paalman is Vice President, NuWave Technology Partners. From Focus on Small Business, SBAM’s member-only magazine.

Midway through 2010, you send an email using Office 2000 on a PC that proudly announces its compatibility with Windows XP, call your customers on a telephone system that’s older than your high school age children, and prefer to avoid thinking about the longevity of your office server.

Just when you convince yourself to hang on a bit longer, you get more bad news: Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP after April 2014 (at the ripe old age of 14).
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question many business owners will wrestle with this year.

70 percent Move to 7

This year, Windows XP turns 10 years old, decidedly geriatric in the software world, and even seriously long in the tooth for durable goods such as household appliances.
Is it worth it to upgrade to Windows 7? Well, yes.

According to a survey conducted by Computer World earler this year, 67 percent of IT professionals declined to upgrade from Windows XP to Vista. Windows 7 is another story.
The new operating system loads quickly — especially compared to Vista — is more stable, removes intrusive user access control pop ups, improves on document sharing, and makes remote access to corporate networks far easier.

From the standpoint of IT support, the operating system streamlines user configuration management, delivers better device compatibility, supports legacy programs, and affords improved integration with Windows Server 2008. The same Computer World survey reported that 70 percent of IT managers plan to upgrade to Windows 7 within the next year.

Finally, the recent arrival of Office 2010 may seal the deal. For small businesses in particular, it may be especially cost effective to purchase hardware preloaded with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010.

Cost Saving Convergence

For those on the fence about upgrading their telephone architecture, the key selling point comes down to the convergence of voice and data communications — commonly known as Unified Communications (UC) — that integrate voice, messaging, instant messages, conferencing and CRM systems.

By bringing together these services on a platform such as Microsoft Office Communications Server 2008 software, UC can significantly reduce travel, telecom and IT costs, leaving your business leaner, greener and more efficient.

For employees, UC integrates email inbox, voicemail, fax and IM platforms in a single environment, eliminating the redundancy of having separate tools, networks and support teams for each service. For customers, UC provides unparalleled access to key employees whether they’re in the office, working from home or on the road.

Beyond the added capabilities, implementing an IP based phone system can significantly reduce business phone service expenses, especially if you operate several offices or need to add phone lines.

Virtual Office, Virtual Servers

Since the purchase of your office server back in the halcyon days of the Bull Market, server technology has come a long way. Today’s servers are far more efficient in power usage and resource utilization, all because of a cutting edge technology: server virtualization.
Translation: Today’s server hardware supports multiple installations of server software, unlike old servers which can only support one installation. That means, a single server box can mimic several servers: each can host a variety of operating systems (Windows Servers, Linux, etc), Microsoft Exchange servers, SQL servers and Web hosting.

Since one server is doing the work of several servers, you will use less electricity to operate the server and keep

Communication Basics Can Help Businesses Connect

By Barbara Lezotte, APR,  president of Lezotte Miller Public Relations Inc.
From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine


Technology has multiplied the ways companies can communicate with clients and customers, making marketing, advertising and public relations decisions all the more complicated. Which type of communication will connect a company to clients and customers most cost effectively? Business owners and managers can maximize their communication budgets by knowing a few basics.

While communication is a topic that Focus has covered in the past, technology has expanded our options and at the same time made it much easier to spend money uselessly – thus it’s important to continue to keep effective communication tips top of mind and as small business owners, realize the pros and cons of the various types of communication while at the same time managing the “zig and zag” of weighing many other opportunities for our businesses.

1. Advertising, marketing and public relations are not synonymous.

In this era of “integrated marketing” the three often overlap and can be confusing, but they each have a different role and can accomplish very different goals. Advertising is the best understood since most people are bombarded by it daily. Yet it will not work for every business. Very simply, advertising is purchased visibility in newspapers, on television and radio, on web pages or in outdoor formats such as billboards and bus cards. The advertiser controls the message and seeks to create action by potential customers. The ability to select from such a wide array of formats allows any organization to target its audience, however, care must be taken to be sure dollars are not wasted on a particular medium that will not deliver the desired audience.

2. Marketing involves activities or efforts outside of the advertising realm that draw clients or customers to a product or service.

Marketing is distinguished from advertising in that it reaches out to specific populations through mediums outside of the paid advertising arena. It may include product sample distribution, a complimentary service to acquaint a potential customer with the company or social media efforts to build awareness with potential customers.

3. Public relations, perhaps the least understood, is a process in which particular publics or audiences are provided information designed to educate them, change their behavior or persuade them to support a specific issue.

Public relations activities are generally not used to influence direct sales of a product or service, as are advertising and marketing; however, PR activities may improve the public’s understanding of a company, which could indirectly impact its sales. Public relations programs are often confused with publicity efforts because practitioners often work through the news media to carry a message to specific audiences. Giving reporters and editors background information, interviews with sources and additional in-depth facts all help make media coverage more complete and accurate. Beyond the media, public relations efforts continue with well targeted communication designed to reach a specific audience of stakeholders or constituents. Public relations is all about public relationships, not simply publicity.

4. Making decisions about where to put marketing dollars requires an understanding of your client or customer base and the type of communication that will produce the best results.

Is yours a service business with a broad array of potential clients or a more narrow, well-defined customer base? Do you sell a product to a wide variety of customers or is your product of use to only a particular category of the population? Do your clients come to you directly or is there usually a referral source as a middleman? Before deciding wh

Looking for Continual Growth? Weed.

By Perry Ballard, Chairman of the Board of Perry Ballard Incorporated
(From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

Continual (Not Continuous) Growth is an Astute Business Goal

Continual” growth is intermittent.  Random opportunities bring you new income. You have time to absorb the work before developing the next opportunity. “Continuous” growth is like neverending water from a fire hose. Soon you can’t keep promises, make pressure errors due to haste and reduce or eliminate profit. With water or work, continuous makes it tough to catch your breath…and the end result can be fatal.

One practice to reach continual growth is periodic weeding.

Every business has unprofitable clients, products, services or machines that consume valuable time, resources, effort and dollars. That drain keeps you from developing profitable customers. You know it’s true. But it’s hard to identify and categorize each candidate and determine action to get back to a profitable situation.

A helpful tool is the Boston Consulting Group Growth-Share Matrix (BCG Matrix).
The BCG Matrix is covered in the strategic planning chapter of every marketing textbook. It helps guide effort and resource allocation and offers a way to make business decisions based on logic rather than emotion – not an easy thing to do.

A BCG matrix puts opportunity for market growth on the vertical axis and market share (your strength) on the horizontal axis.

The following examples use “products” but you can substitute clients, machinery, employees or any element key to your success. The analysis is the same.

Upper right quadrant is QUESTION MARKS. It’s where most products, services and clients start out. You have a relatively small market share, but the growth opportunity is great. Others may have a similar product so you are fighting for market share and need to differentiate your brand. You don’t know how much sales will grow, but there is real opportunity here and you want yours.

STARS is the upper left quadrant and where you’d like your QUESTION MARKS to transition. These products have high sales growth opportunity and you own a substantial share of the market. It might be a product you invented or a feature you improved. (Think iPhone or a client who really relies on you.) STARS are the easiest to identify because you wish you had dozens more of them.

CASH COWS sit in the lower left quadrant. This product has limited growth opportunity, but your market share is significant. These established brands generate cash to pay your other bills. (Established clients with a fixed budget are cash cows.) The market demand may be flat, but you make money on every sale. STARS hopefully become CASH COWS as the market matures.

Finally, the lower right quadrant is the DOGS. No growth, little market share. Think any number of small, local beer companies that were sold during the Budweiser/Miller expansion fights and before the local craft beer craze emerged. Eventually nearly every product, service, even whole industries become DOGS. (Think mimeograph machines.)

Identification is relatively easy; action is harder

Each BCG quadrant has an optimal approach. Each is difficult for distinct reasons, especially determining when a product has shifted, but recognition is the key to profit. Move your QUESTION MARKS, but where? Invest time and dollars to build them into a STAR so they can grow into a CASH COW? Or weed them if they begin to bark like a DOG? Monitor them closely and base your move on rational analysis.

The danger with QUESTION MARKS is falling in love with the product and making excuses. A QUESTION MARK should become a STAR or a CASH COW within a VERY reasonable time frame. Otherwise it’s a DOG with a QUESTION MARK tail. (A QUESTION MARK b

The Four Pillars of an Internet Presence: Pillars Three & Four

By Wendy Williams

In the first article of this series, “The Four Pillars of a Robust Internet Presence for Small Businesses,” printed in the November/December issue of Focus, we talked about the changeable content on your website being the ground zero for crafting the business message you wish to share and reviewed the strategy for putting this message out into the world within a different context by sharing links out via social media channels. In this article, we talk about the second two pillars: eNews programs and personal interaction.


Pillar #3

The eNews program. T his method of communicating with your audience can reinforce the outreach from the first two pillars, but add a level of permission-based and direct messaging into the mix. It can be the most powerful channel, if done with a few important strategies in mind.

Not everyone reads your blog, and not everyone subscribes to social media
The first thing businesses must accept is that no matter how much effort you put into blog posts and conversing with your audience on social media, much of what you have to say will slip through the cracks. People hunt and peck around the Web for information they want, and you are lucky if they manage to discover your site.  A good eNews program, however, has the ability to turn all this effort into a narrative, driving your audience to your website so that nothing really slips between the cracks. On top of that, is MEASURABLE.
So how does an eNews Program Work?

Once you decide how often it makes sense to send out an eNews program, the best plan is to populate it with content (articles and posts) you have already created on your blog. Thus, your eNews becomes an aggregated email that highlights everything you wish to share since you sent out the last eNews. So if you decide to include a blog post you wrote or want to share a conversation you had about a topic on Facebook, you simply include all the links in your eNews.  Everyone who receives your eNews has REQUESTED to receive it, which is a great reason to make sure you are sharing material they are going to be delighted to get in their inbox. One example of a service that can manage an eNews program is Constant Contact.  The metrics in the back end are great as they show you how many people clicked on which links, how many people “opt out” and don’t wish to hear from you anymore (this can be an important clue that you need to think about the eNews using the perspective of your audience a bit more), and even how many people forwarded the eNews or shared it via social media. It’s great data.

In most eNews programs, such as Constant Contact, there is also an option to attach a URL containing your newsletter in the eNews. This is an important option to consider as you can then copy the url into a site such as bit.ly (which also utilizes tracking information) and put this optimized link into a Twitter post and on FB for sharing. For example, one of client only has 200 subscribers, but they get over 350 page views of each eNews because of the sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

How often should a company send out an eNews?

This is an interesting question to consider. If you send it out too often, without something compelling at its core, your eNews can quickly be regarded as “junk.” The rule of thumb would be to send an eNews out as often as you have something important to say (from your customer’s perspective, not yours). For many businesses, I think it is safe to say that quarterly will work well. For a business that has a lot of scheduled events, perhaps monthly would work better. One client, a Fish Market, sends their eNews every Friday. It seems like overkill in theory, but it works because the primary mission of the eNews for this particular business is listing what perishable items are available

Background Checks Best Bet

(Reproduced with permission from Accident Fund Insurance Company of America)

There was once a time when a person could walk into a store, grab the “help wanted” sign from the window, and with as little as a handshake, walk out with a job. But the world keeps growing, the job pool keeps getting bigger and the times — well, they are a changin’. As people, we want to have faith in others, but as employers, we have to be especially cautious, as our hiring decisions affect many people. Hiring just anyone off the street is no longer a safe bet.

High stakes

Today making a snap hiring decision could leave you out of the hiring game for good. Statistics show that 30 to 40 percent of job applicants exaggerate or lie on applications and resumes. And Occupational Health and Safety Magazine states that “negligent hiring” lawsuits are on the rise. These suits implicate employers and hold them responsible for the actions of their employees. Industry statistics show that one poor hiring decision can cost a business as much as $100,000 or more.

Lay your money on the check

A much safer bet is the professionally done background check. They’re quick — typically taking between 48 and 72 hours to complete — and range in price from $100 to $200, depending on what information you want to find. The more comprehensive the search, the more it will cost. If you are a small business owner, the costs may seem high, but in the long run, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you are still concerned about the fees, go to www.esrcheck.com and read “How to Avoid Hiring a Criminal for Under $20.00.”

Playing it safe

While there may have been a time when background checks were something employers did after the decision to hire was made, experts recommend that Human Resource departments and business owners take a new approach to the way they view the hiring process. Safe hiring is something all businesses should adopt as a way to protect their employees, their business and their time. Employment ads should state that background checks are performed. Policies and procedures should be in place regarding hiring processes and background checks, making sure that each applicant is handled in the same manner. Making it known that background checks are part of your hiring procedure will deter people with something to hide, and encourage those who wish to be considered, to lay all their cards on the table. In the long run, you will save yourself a great deal of time, money and effort by adopting a safe-hiring plan.

A winning hand

You simply can’t lose when taking a proactive approach to hiring. You will get the best candidate for the job while ensuring the safety of your workers and your business. Background checks are completely legal, if followed according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which protects job seekers and employers. Employers have a right to know whom they are hiring. Conducting background checks is your best bet for warding off unwanted job applicants and costly lawsuits.

This article was reproduced with permission from Accident Fund Insurance Company of America. Founded in 1912 and rated “A” (Excellent) by A.M. Best, Accident Fund offers low-cost group rates with a 5 percent up-front discount on workers compensation insurance as well as possible long-term dividends. For more information about SBAM’s program with the Accident Fund contact your independent insurance agent, or at the Accident Fund you may contact Theresa Ross (517) 281-9813 or Beth Goodman (517) 202-5121 for more information.
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