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Making The Web Work For You -- 7 Applications To Maximize Your Web ROI

Never fear, we’ve found some terrific applications for you to “Maximize Your Web Surfing ROI!” The list of applications contains a mix of browser “plug-ins,” cloudbased applications and local applications.

Before we get started though, allow me to make a quick plug for security. No matter what applications you use while on the Internet, securing your system is the best way to increase your overall web ROI. Make sure your operating system is kept up to date and you have current antivirus / malware / spam defenses in place. Never download software from Warez or Torrent sites or in response to pop-up offers of any kind.

Since we started by talking about security, the first application I’ll tell you about is one that will help you organize all of the passwords and site log-ins you use every day.

Application Name: LastPass
Website: www.lastpass.com
Type: Browser Plug-in

LastPass is designed to work with all of the major browsers, including those found on the most popular smart phones. Last-Pass is designed to create and manage all of your passwords and common web data in a secure online vault. The only thing you have to remember is one ultra-secure password for your LastPass account itself.

Each time you visit a site that requests you to create a password, LastPass will offer to generate and store a random password, containing a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters, designed to offer maximum security. It then stores this password, along with the site ID in your “vault.” The next time you visit the site, LastPass will automatically fill in your login information.

For sites that you have already set up passwords for, LastPass will offer to remember your existing login information for future visits. Once you install LastPass, I highly recommend you use the LastPass password generator and change all of your existing passwords.
LastPass can also store commonly requested information, such as your name, address, etc. to make it easy to fill out web forms with a single click. You can have multiple profiles for home, work, etc. Best of all, you can securely access your LastPass Vault and password data from work, home and your Smart Phone. Want even more security? LastPass now offers fingerprint access control and encryption! There is also a multi-user commercial version of LastPass available for organizations that want to centralize web password management.

Application Name: nitro pdf
Website: www.nitropdf.com
Type: Desktop Application

Ironically, despite the information on the web being electronic, one of the most frequent tasks people perform on the web is, you guessed it, printing! Tens of millions of pages of content are printed from the web every day. This printed information is either for temporary use, for reference or to share with others. Often it is thrown away within hours of being printed.

Nitro pdf is a tool that allows you to “print” any web page you visit to a pdf file that can be viewed, stored, shared and indexed, without needing any paper or a connection to the Internet. Pdf files, made popular by Adobe Acrobat, can be viewed on PCs, Macs, Linux systems and most current smart phones.

This particular application is useful both on and off the web, allowing you to create pdf documents from any application you would normally print from. One of the most frequently used web applications for nitro pdf is printing copies of forms and receipts that are created online.

Application Name: Evernote
Website: www.evernote.com
Type: Plug-in/Desktop Application

If you’ve read my previous reviews on mobile applications or heard me on SBAM’s new radio show, Business Next, you already know I love Evernote! Evernote is a “Cloudbased” service, with corresponding browser and desktop applic

Yes, Social Media is even for you, and you and you!

Social media marketing is growing in popularity and is being used by companies small and large. Through the networks for social media marketing, people share information, share opinions, tell people what they think about products, share their positive and negative experiences with brands or products and services that they’ve bought, and even influence buying decisions of their buddies who are on these networks. That’s why social networks have become a powerful tool for companies of all sizes to listen to, learn, and understand what their target audience may be saying about them or their products and services.

Social media marketing is fun. Social media marketing is addictive. And Social media marketing is labor intensive. Social media marketing is a huge opportunity for small business owners because it helps level the playing field. Small business owners can reach global audiences and extend their reach just as if they were a larger company because they can leverage the Internet to do so.

Impact of Social Media on Our Daily Lives
Our daily lingo has changed to include cryptic phrases like “tweet me,” “hit me up online,” and “skype me.” If you haven’t succumbed to this cryptic phraseology, Congratulations! But then again, don’t get too happy, you’re going to start talking in the same weird lingo very, very soon!

As if the weird lingo (including short forms such as LOL, ROFL, BTW, L8TR, etc.) isn’t enough of a shock to deal with, almost on a daily basis our emails are bombarded with invitations to join this social network or that. Yes, I know right! There’s barely enough time in the day to do our work, never mind join yet another network!

The Business Owner Dilemma
To go online or not? To engage on social media platforms or not? How to find the time? How to determine how much time to spend online? Who to assign to do the online marketing? Hire an outsider or give it to the admin to do it as part of her job? Do it themselves or hire an intern? How to calculate ROI (return on investment) of their online investment? And so on and on and on…you get the point!

Social Media is Just Another Channel
As a business owner, you must look at Internet Marketing as “yet another channel and the MOST cost-effective channel” to promote your business.

If we could all afford to place an ad on a billboard that is on the most popular highway in town, we’d all do it, right? Similarly if as business owners we could afford radio and television advertisement, we’d all do it in a jiffy. But those media are all expensive and not really cost-effective for most of us.

This is where people are flocking to search, recommend, discuss, and influence buying decisions. So why shouldn’t you be there?

Social Media for Lead Generation
You go to networking events to meet people in person to help showcase your business. The more you meet them the more you learn about them and their business. Over a period of time, this becomes your trusted network for leads and new business opportunities.
Similarly, social media websites allow business owners to conduct networking except it is online so it provides ease of use and allows you to reach a wider audience. The purpose however remains the same as face to face networking: build relation-ships with others, create a trusted network, find new referral sources, and influence buying decisions.

Traditional Marketing Versus New Media
Internet marketing doesn’t replace the need for traditional marketing activities that still do work. There are traditional marketing methods that do work such as email marketing (Yes, I call it traditional), radio, television, and yes even billboards and direct mail. These traditional marketing methods can complement your social media activity or vice versa.

Tax Reform Plan Means More Jobs for Michigan Workers

The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) says that the tax reform proposal, announced April 12 at the state Capitol by the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senate Majority Leader and Speaker will lead to strong small business job growth. “There is no doubt in my mind that small business owners will use the tax savings in this plan to hire workers and grow the Michigan economy,” says SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler.

An SBAM survey found that 63% of fast-growing “second stage” companies said they would use the savings from tax reform to add jobs. “That’s tremendously significant because these second-stage firms have traditionally been the job creators in our economy and they are poised to grow employment,” Fowler says. “The elimination of the Michigan Business Tax and the end of double taxation of small businesses will be a shot-in-the-arm for these companies and our entire economy.”


Do You Have an AED In Your Small Workplace?

by Tracy Panich, Regional Director of Preparedness and Health and Safety for the Mid Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

On average 500,000 Americans die of cardiac arrest each year. The American Red Cross warns that sudden cardiac arrest occurs most of the time with no prevailing symptoms or warning signs. Statistically, one out of every three American women dies as a result.
The American Red Cross is encouraging CPR training and public access to automated external defibrillators (AED). All businesses, with as little as two employees or more than 1,000 should be prepared for this type of emergency. Approximately 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest incidents occur at work or outside the home.

Businesses Need to be Prepared.
Starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) right away can be beneficial; however, an automated external defibrillator is needed in some cases to return the heart to normal rhythm. The current survival rate for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is under seven percent, with CPR alone. If a shock from an AED is delivered in the first minute after a SCA, the survival rate increases even more; up to 86 percent. With widespread access to defibrillators, it is estimated that an additional 50,000 lives could be saved each year in the U.S.

According to a recent survey, one of the main reasons people fail to act in an emergency situation is because they are afraid of doing something wrong. Taking a class at the American Red Cross will help ease these fears and instill confidence. Find a class near your location by going to www.redcross.org.

AEDs are user friendly, light weight portable devices and require minimal maintenance. The American Red Cross:

  • Has taught more than 15 million people how to respond to and prepare for emergencies that occur in their homes, schools, workplaces and communities.
  • Has assisted in placing thousands of AEDs in public buildings nationwide. Some businesses are required to have AEDs available for public use according to state and federal law.
  • Can facilitate the purchase of AEDs or answer questions about AEDs for your business. The American Red Cross makes training your staff easy with many options, your life, the life of a loved one, or coworker may depend on it. For more information visit our website at www.redcross.org.

SBAM June 23 Annual Meeting and Networking Luncheon Features Gov. Snyder as Keynote Speaker

Gov. SnyderThe Small Business Association of Michigan’s Annual Meeting and Networking Luncheon, June 23 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing, features a keynote address by Gov. Rick Snyder. The program also includes recognition of the 2011 Small Business Innovation of the Year, Legislator of the Year and Advocate of the Year; and introductions of the 2011-2012 SBAM Chair and Board members.

Single tickets are $40 ($50 after June 3); or a table of eight can be purchased for $300 ($325 after June 3). Tickets can be bought online or by calling (800) 362-5461. 


DIVERSIFICATION – One Path to Increasing Revenue

By Nancy Boese, Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Companies have different stages of development and the decision to diversify into new markets or new products can be daunting. There are several situations that indicate a company may be ready to diversify. Companies should consider diversifying for any of the following reasons:
  • One customer is over 50 percent of the total revenue
  • One industry is over 50 percent of the total revenue
  • Company has reached a plateau in sales and the market is saturated
  • Company has reached a plateau in sales and opportunities are available
  • Company has excess cash and can purchase a business to expand its markets

There are many options to solve these situations. One factor to consider is the risk the company is willing to take to expand. A renowned business tool is the Ansoff matrix. The Ansoff Matrix provides four options for diversification:

  • Market Penetration: The company increases revenue with existing products in existing markets. The intent is to increase its market share.
  • Market Development: The company sells existing products to new market segments.
  • Product Development: The company develops new products/services to sell to its current customers.
  • Diversification: The firm grows by developing new business opportunities with new products for new markets.

What are the Risks?

There is risk involved with each quadrant. The Market Penetration quadrant with existing products and existing customers is the least risky, takes the least amount of money, and provides the quickest results. The highest risk section would be Diversification. This area takes the longest to develop and requires extensive investment of time, people, resources, and money. The Product Development and Market Development both have a higher level of risk than using the Market Penetration strategy. The level of risk for these two areas is dependent on development time, financial commitment, and company resource requirements.

To determine which opportunity the company should pursue, several steps need to be completed.

1. The first is to conduct market research. This can include any or all of the following: Primary research, which could include surveying current or future customers, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and various other techniques. A wealth of information is also available through secondary sources. Research conducted by various government offices, trade associations, or private companies can help provide a base for discussion and analysis. For example: If the company decided to use the Market Development Strategy and wanted to diversify geographically, information could be gathered on the area’s economic situation, number of customers in the area that meet the target market definition, and other vital information.

2. Once the information has been gathered and analyzed, the company needs to establish what they want to accomplish with their strategy. Establishing realistic goals that will accomplish the outcomes desired by the company is vital to evaluating if the diversification strategy is working. The outcomes should be easily extracted from the accounting system or customer relationship management system.

3. Reaching an agreement on which diversification strategy to use can be the most challenging step. There are different decision making models which can be utilized. In general, the company wants to determine which opportunity will best help accomplish the goals already established. In addition, the company may need information on costs, staffing, new infrastructure requirements, etc to identify the best diversification strategy.

A Business of One is Really a Business of Many

By David Fant, chairperson of SBAM’s Strategic Communications Advisory Committee. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Sitting here in my home office, I got to thinking about the idea of a company of one. Working alone can be a daunting task. Basically isolated, so many distractions (television, the kitchen, the couch for a nap are just a few) that focusing can be difficult at times. I remember when I first started my business 20 years ago. My wife would come home from her work, ask how my day was and I would recount the various talk show topics of the day. Her immediate question to me was, “Are you actually doing work? ” To which I answered, “Yes, I am!” But in the beginning business is slow and prospecting is difficult-so you find distractions to fill your time.

Now, 20 years later, I find myself in a totally different world. I have clients who need the attention, vendors who need prodding to get me information I need. Marketing, accounting, client meetings, administrative work – not to mention volunteer work with the Small Business Association of Michigan, the American Marketing Association and the Advertising Federation – all take up time and energy in the day. However, I got to thinking about my business and what resources a business of one may need to have at their finger tips and came up with a daunting list of support options for a company of one.

Accountant – This person is critical to understanding your cash flow, what purchases will most positively impact your bottom line, and most importantly, your accountant can provide you with a realistic view of profitability today and in the future.

Banker – If you need a loan, or cash to build/grow your business, your banker can be your best friend. He can also help you better understand your needs for bank accounts and how to best utilize them to maximize your cash flow and minimize processing costs. In addition, your banker is in touch with hundreds of other small and large businesses and may be able to assist you in identifying new or growing markets.

Trade Associations – Meeting others is one way of getting out of the office. Networking can be the lifeblood of a business when first starting, and later on in a business life cycle you become a resource for others to turn to for advice.

Customers – Each of them can provide input regarding new products/services to sell, and they can offer ideas as to other areas you may want to expand in to. Last year, a client of mine told me about a conference I should be a sponsor for. I decided to try it and got eight new clients with gross sales over $20,000. Not bad for an investment of $2,500. Use your customers as a sounding board for new/innovative ideas.

Vendors – The number of new products in the marketplace never ceases to amaze me. Talk to your vendors, see what’s hot, what’s working and what’s not. This knowledge can help you in the long run develop new and innovative products and services.
Family – There is no one more attuned to my business than my wife. She can tell when something isn’t going well. She will listen, offer advice – she is someone who I can count on to help me talk through a problem or issue that I am having difficulty solving. An asset often over looked in a small business.

What does this all mean? A company of one is not just you. It’s you and everyone you come in contact with. Everyone has friends/family/customers/vendors/service providers who can and will help you when needed. All you need to be is open, willing to share and most importantly, be willing to ask.

David Fant is a long-term SBAM member and the chairperson of the Strategic Communications Advisory Committee.

SBAM's Rob Fowler on Detroit Free Press online chat: today, noon - 1 p.m.

Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, and Jennifer Owens, vice president of business development at Ann Arbor SPARK, will participate in an online chat on Tues., March 22, noon - 1 p.m. at freepopinion.com (Detroit Free Press website.) The topic is the impact on Michigan companies from potentially losing tax credits in Michigan’s next budget and the opportunities for other types of funding for growing businesses. Rob will certainly weigh in on the governor's tax/budget plan, "economic gardening" and growth opportunities for second-stage companies. We invite you to participate!
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