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2014

The rise of mobile has certainly changed the face of business as we know it, and mostly for the better. Now that pretty much everyone has a smartphone, it is important that those phones are equipped with the right tools to keep up with the hectic life of a business professional. Having to put something off until you can get back to the office or hotel room could cost time, money, and even sales. That makes having everything you need in one mobile package a smart choice.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Take a look at these five apps that will add functionality to your phone – and life - with ease:

 

Audio Memos

 

Audio Memos is a great app that lets you record audio quickly and easily, whether you’re leaving yourself a reminder or recording a meeting or lecture. Lifehacker called it “the best voice recording app,” and it’s easy to see why – it’s simple, easy to use, and incredibly useful.

 

The app can even be set to start recording when it hears voices, so you can avoid long silences at the beginning of your recordings. Use the various extensions to trim your recordings, compress them for email, and upload everything to Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Google Drive, or simply send messages via email.

 

CardMunch

 

What do you do with those 20 or 50-odd, assorted business cards you’ve collected after you leave the conference? Most of us do a quick sort, and even then, the ones we keep often just get tucked away. Is there a better way to organize them? You bet.

 

With CardMunch, you just snap a picture of a business card and the app does the rest. It automatically converts the text on the business card into an address book contact using your mobile phone’s contact system. Snap a picture, ditch the card. Additionally, since CardMunch is owned by LinkedIn, you can take that contact information and add the person as a connection on LinkedIn, making it easy to view even more info through their profile right away.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

MightyMeeting

 

MightyMeeting is a powerful tool that ensures you are never unprepared for a meeting. You can:

 

  • Store PowerPoint presentations and PDF files and share them any way you want to.
  • Set up online meetings that anyone can connect to using their phone, tablet, or computer.
  • Download documents to your device before you head out to a spot where you know that you are going to be without an internet connection, and use Nearcast to share them over Bluetooth between any iOS devices in the room.
  • You can even create an interactive whiteboard that everyone can use to share ideas.

 

TripIt

 

I travel a lot, giving speeches and what not, and TripIt is my go-to travel app. Here’s how it works: with each travel reservation you make – car rental, flight, hotel, etc– you simply forward the confirmation to TripIt and the site combines them all and sends you back a master calendar/confirmation/itinerary. The elegant itinerary then syncs with Apple and Google Calendars. It also contains weather info for where you are going, as well as maps and directions for each stop on your travels. TripIt Pro adds real-time flight information, a flight finder, and more to an already robust app.

Hightail

 

This is another of my favorite business apps. Hightail is a great way to share large files that might otherwise be practically impossible to send. The app lets you send files up to 2GB instantly from your computer or mobile device, and store an unlimited amount of files online. Such large attachments usually upset regular email servers.

 

At Hightail.com (formerly YouSendIt), you can see who has downloaded your files, and even control who can and can’t make changes to those files. Finally, you can also sign documents through Hightail and return them immediately, making sure that contracts, mocks, and other documents take as little time as possible to get approved.

 

These apps help make your phone or tablet the only device you need to get everything done. Do you have an app you can’t live without? Share it with us.



About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here






Rainy_Day_Fund_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

If you lost your best-paying client today, how would you make up the difference in income until they were replaced? If the economy stalled and your customers put a hold on orders, could you keep your business running until things picked up? Setting money aside in a rainy day, or emergency, fund can help you stay afloat during severe or unexpected downturns in your cash flow. It takes discipline and planning to open and maintain them, but they should be part of the overall financial strategy for practically every business. Here are three expert viewpoints on how best to manage them.   

 

Ask three key questions

While the general idea of a rainy day fund is probably understood by most business owners, the particulars are often up for debate, even among financial professionals. "It's not a fund, but a collection of funds," says Stephen Nelson, a Redmond, Washington-based CPA. "The most important part is that you've got enough cash to keep the business going."

 

Nelson says that money in one fund might cover your expenses if a client is late in paying or if a vendor demands payment sooner than expected. A second fund could be tapped if you lose a major customer or a vital employee departs, along with the income they generated.

 

There is no one formula to figure out the amount of cash to set aside, but Nelson breaks the problem down by starting with three questions. First, how much extra cash does your business need to smooth out any short-term bumps? "If your small business is scrambling to pay the bills, the simplest thing is to have a bigger business or checking account balance," Nelson explains. "You just have to keep adding cash until you're out of scramble mode."

 

Rainy_Day_Fund_PQ.jpg

Second, how much would you need to survive a major disruption, such as the unexpected cancellation of a big order? Nelson admits that it is difficult to plan for something like this and suggests doing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats—or S.W.O.T—analysis to come up with contingency plans.

 

Third, how much money would you need if you had to close your business and find other work? "You don't want to be in a situation where you've depleted every bit of cash you have," Nelson says. "You're going to have some period of transition that will be different, depending on your business. You have to have a plan for this. Even if you're a successful entrepreneur, you may end one business before you're ready to begin the next one, so you need to be able to fund that."

 

The six month plan

While it would be tempting to use funds in a rainy day account to help pay for regularly scheduled expenses—such as payroll taxes, utilities, and insurance premiums—small businesses should draw from them for emergencies only. Still, this can be interpreted broadly.

 

"You try to estimate what could happen and then put money aside for that," says John McCoy of Westerville, Ohio-based McCoy Wealth Advisors. "Let's say the air conditioning decides to go out when it's 110 degrees or you've got to buy a new computer—these were things that you weren't expecting to happen that could hurt."

 

Like Nelson, McCoy says that there is no universal way to calculate an adequate dollar amount to store in a rainy day fund, but a careful analysis of your cash flow and expenses can point you in the right direction. For example, a business that derives 90 percent of its income from one client should have sufficient funds to cover its sudden loss—and then some. "When you're trying to replace customers, there is always a lead time to sign up new customers and then there's a lead time to get your first check from them," McCoy says. "It's not a quick process in a lot of instances."

 

McCoy says that a good target is to have at least three to six months of cash reserves in the fund. While each business is different, having a business plan that is reviewed regularly can be a good tool in figuring out an amount to have on hand.

 

View them like insurance

Depending on their circumstances, experts say that some businesses might prefer to have funds that last longer.

 

"You should set aside six to nine months of business expenses," says John Bonesio, co-founder of Roseville, California-based Simply Great Lives. "Business expenses mean keeping the lights on, paying the employees, and keeping the business open. It's not a percentage of income. It's an amount so that your business can survive six to nine months if you're not generating income."

 

Bonesio says that businesses should track what they spend their money on, do what they can to minimize expenses, and use the savings to fund the rainy day account. He prefers using a regular savings account or some other type of investment vehicle where the money is liquid and available whenever the business needs it.

 

"In a sense, having all the money in a savings account costs you because you're not getting a good return on your money. But you have to think about this rainy day fund like insurance. It costs you to have the insurance," Bonesio says, "but you're glad you have it when you need it."

It was shocking news really: during the holiday rush of 2013, cyber-criminals hacked into the checkout system of Target and stole the credit card numbers and other personal information of up to 70 million customers.

 

The crime raises all sorts of questions, but a main one is this: How could a company as big as Target, with undoubtedly oodles of fraud protection systems and people in place, be the victim of such a huge theft?

 

This is where it gets interesting.

 

It turns out that a small business was to blame.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

The theft occurred after a Target HVAC sub-contractor was hacked. The contractor had access to the Target computer system in order to handle business, and the crooks installed malware onto the contractor’s computer. Then, according to Gizmodo.com, “after lifting the contractor’s login information, the hackers were able to test their malware on a small number of Target’s registers totally undetected between Nov 15 and Nov 28. Two days later, the hacking software spread to ‘a majority’ of Target stores and was actively collecting data from live customer transactions between Nov 27 and Dec 15.”

 

If you think cyber-crime, identity theft, hacking, and all the rest are the domain of big businesses, you are flat-out wrong. According to a recent survey by Intel Security, 6 out of 10 cyber-attacks are now directed towards small businesses. Why? Because we are easy pickings, that’s why. Just ask Target.

 

Or, better yet, ask some experts. I did. Recently, I interviewed top cyber-security experts for a video series for the aforementioned Intel Security. What I learned was alarming. It turns out that, for a variety of reasons, cyber-criminals have decided that the easiest way to ill-gotten riches is by hacking small businesses. Here’s why:

 

Lack of security: The crooks couldn’t get into Target’s system through Target directly, so they focused on the one area where the company was vulnerable – via its 3rd-party small business vendors. By most estimates, more than 75% of small businesses have no cyber-security software installed on their computers or system, despite this being the first line of defense.

 

Longer shelf life: When a big company like Target gets hacked, it becomes big news, and as a result people immediately begin to close bank accounts and change passwords. This means that the shelf life of the stolen data is pretty short.

 

But that’s not the case when the victim is a small business. It takes much longer for a small business case to be investigated, for people to be informed, and so on. In this case, the data taken can be used and sold on the black market for a lot longer. Stealing from small business is good business if you are a crook.

 

Lack of preparation: According to Todd Shipley, author of Investigating Internet Crime, small businesses do not have the know-how or resources to fend off cyber criminals, and as a result, they are more and more the victims of cyber-crime.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

So what should you do? Here are four top tips from the experts:

 

  1. Install software: Cyber-security software is a must-have these days. Do you have it?
  2. Train your staff: The main way that crooks get to small business is by installing malware on the system. They often do this by getting an unsuspecting employee to click on a link in an email that looks perfectly reasonable, but is not. That link installs the malware. Or, the employee downloads an “update” that is no update at all. It’s so important to create some strict security protocols and policies for your small business, and then train your people on how to follow them.
  3. Backup: Have you heard of the CryptoLocker virus? Here, the malware locks up your data and it cannot be unlocked until you pay a ransom of, say, $300 or so. Then the crooks unlock it. Because the amount is not outrageous, many small business people just pay it. But whether you do or you don’t, you know the drill. Backup, backup, backup. The one way to beat malware is to have a good backup system to move forward with.
  4. Beware of social media: While social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are great for networking and promoting your business, putting too much about yourself out there can make you a prime target for hackers. For example, cyber thieves browsing on Facebook could find out your birth date, name, address, and pet’s names…enough to hack into your passwords. Be sensible about what you make public.

 

The time is now to upgrade your security system because you never know – you just may be the next Target.

 


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Outsourcing_body.jpgby Karl Anderson.

 

For many entrepreneurs, the word outsourcing brings to mind large corporations shifting jobs to lower-wage workers in foreign countries. While this is a particular type of outsourcing, specifically referred to as offshoring, outsourcing actually is a much broader concept referring to any job functions handed off to a third party. In fact, there are many types of outsourcing that are commonly available to small businesses. If you operate a small business, you’ve no doubt discovered some tasks that can be delegated. While outsourcing certain tasks can provide cost savings, it also can help benefit businesses by helping them to run more smoothly, meet customer demands more efficiently, and build a diverse network of freelancers with specific talents. In 2010, the software company Intuit calculated that, by the year 2020, more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.

 

Whether you call it outsourcing, subcontracting, or hiring freelance work, with a careful approach you can build strong relationships with off-site professionals and achieve your specific project goals on your schedule. Freelance workers can be found in your own community or on the other side of the world, but they can save you time, money, resources, and headaches, and they can help you be the best resource for your customers in a competitive marketplace.

 

Achieving business goals

Ultimately, outsourcing is a way to garner expertise from business professionals when it is not affordable to hire full-time employees. In the current economic climate, most small businesses find it crucial to be extremely efficient with resources. Furthermore, savvy managers understand that sometimes a job requires an outside expert on a short-term basis.

 

Outsourcing_PQ.jpg

Matt Amundson, president of First Security Bank in Hendricks, Minnesota, says that outsourcing is particularly valuable to his small business. To be successful, his company needs to work with a wide variety of contract workers, and smaller regional banks are no exception. Amundson always does a cost-benefit analysis to determine when to bring in outsourced labor and for which jobs.

 

Amundson has found it advantageous to outsource various services, and this has streamlined his business and freed up more time for his full-time staff to meet customer needs. For example, he subcontracts payroll, tax work, accounting, short-term staffing, and IT services, including the development of mobile apps.

 

“Outsourcing is an industry of its own, and many companies providing workers are small businesses themselves,” he notes. By bringing in outside professionals for individual projects, he is able to support other local businesses.

 

Outsourcing is evolving

As technology advances and economic trends change, businesses are turning to outsourcing to help meet new demands and solve new problems.

 

“Electronic media transformation has been huge,” Amundson says, and he points to small startup services that can now be developed and implemented very quickly. “The speed has come up exponentially.” As a result, businesses like his are able to meet customer demand for faster services.

 

Jason Krapf owns and operates Today’s Vibe, a boutique creative marketing agency in Philadelphia. His business focuses on strategic web development and design, search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing, as well as less traditional marketing campaigns for all types of clients. While much of the work is handled in-house, Krapf occasionally outsources some types of jobs, including SEO. “We also outsource some data entry, whiteboard animation creation, very basic graphic design, and other coding projects,” he adds.

 

Krapf points out that, for small businesses looking to outsource, there are now numerous web-based communities connecting domestic firms with outsourced work from all over the world. “This has helped streamline the process, and the mediation role of these companies takes some of the frustration out of outsourcing work,” he explains. “Many sites will require services be packaged in much smaller increments, allowing small businesses à la carte access to outsourcing many of their daily demands, with short turnaround time, no retainer fees, and some of the cheapest labor available in the world. Now a roofing contractor in Maine can order SEO services from India in $5 bundles, rather than paying a domestic firm $500 for the same work.”

 

At the same time, Krapf expresses some unease about using the current online freelance marketplaces. The quality of the work has not been consistently reliable, and he is concerned about the type of living the international freelancers are earning. “Still, I didn’t have a choice but to use it,” he says. “It hurts domestic creative companies too. It’s hard to stay competitive in the market share I was targeting with Today’s Vibe.” Krapf is currently launching a new company with his business partner, and says he wants to try to phase out internationally outsourced SEO, if possible.

 

How can small businesses find freelance help?

There are a number of marketplace websites where small business owners can find third-party professional resources online. Some of the most popular sites to find freelance assistance for small projects include:


  • Freelancer.com (one of the largest online marketplaces for outsourcing work)
  • Fiverr.com (a site to recruit help for $5 "micro-jobs," including basic IT assistance)
  • GURU.com (another large outsourcing marketplace, where freelancers are "matched" to job needs)


On the other hand, sometimes the best way to find quality assistance is through existing networks of business associates. Amundson has had success simply by calling up industry peers and seeing if they have any recommendations. He has also networked local trade associations to look for external help. However, due to the sensitivity, regulations, and security concerns inherent in his industry, Amundson is always careful to do thorough vendor assessment.

 

If you operate a small business, it may be well worth your time (and money) to consider outsourcing particular tasks or individual projects. Given the acceleration of communications technology and the trend toward specialized freelancing, the best person for the job might be someone in another country, or just someone down the street. Whether you need help developing a polished website, processing company payroll, manufacturing and printing, or publishing content that adds value for your customers, there is almost certainly someone out there who can help you achieve your business goals.

Instagram_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.


Instagram is the photo-sharing social media site with 150 million active users, 70 percent of whom check their Instagram accounts daily. More than a third check several times a day. Those kinds of numbers can be exciting for small business owners who want to promote their businesses.


Instagram is the easiest way to attract your ideal followers and gain new clients,” says Sue B. Zimmerman, owner of SueB.Do, a seasonal apparel store on Cape Cod. Using Instagram, Zimmerman increased sales at her shop over 40 percent in a single year.


Take a look at these six ways to leverage Instagram for your small business:


1. Educate yourself

If you’re not already familiar with Instagram and its functionality, you’ll want to learn how to use this powerful tool specifically for business. Bola Olonisakin, creative director and online strategist at GTech Designs, a marketing agency specializing in web design, custom content, and social media, recommends going directly to the source. “To assist the numerous entrepreneurs who are discovering its benefits, Instagram set up the Instagram For Business blog containing tips, brand spotlights, and news from Instagram headquarters,” she says.


2. Use the right images

“Every business owner needs a visual strategy,” Zimmerman says. However, knowing what type of images you want to share is only the first step. “Strategically using hashtags on your Instagram posts can extend your reach and helps with SEO,” she says. A critical part of a visual strategy is knowing how you’re going to share your Instagram images on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Used properly, Instagram can allow a business owner to be effective and efficient.


3. Create a posting schedule

While Instagram originally developed for people to share their images in real time, you don’t need to use the tool that way. Many business owners create pictures or videos that can then be posted at a later date. “It isn’t necessary to post every day, but it is advisable to determine a schedule and decide what to post and when to post it,” Olonisakin says.


Instagram_PQ.jpg4. Go behind the scenes

“One of the great things about Instagram is that you can really use it to humanize your brand,” Zimmerman says. She recommends using video to show behind the scenes action in your business, such as product creation, setting up displays, and more. “Share pictures of your team members,” she says. “People are more likely to support your business when they feel like they know you.”


5. Provide content of value

How-to videos, incentive offers, and genuinely entertaining images give people a reason to follow your Instagram account. Once you have followers, make sure to encourage engagement, Olonisakin says. “When you post an image or a quote, encourage people to react to it,” she says. “If it’s a quote, ask people if they think that it is true or not. If it’s food, ask people to post whether they would try it. The more posts you get on an image, the more other people are likely to see it.” Don’t forget that social media is a two-way street. “Engage with your followers from other social media platforms by following them,” she adds. “‘Like’ their photos. Leave comments.”


6. Keep it local

For many small businesses, emphasizing local connections is a key part of their marketing strategy. “You can create very niched Instagram accounts by giving each one a distinct name or handle,” Zimmerman says. For instance, you can create Instagram accounts for specific aspects of your business, such as a bridal retailer who also sells prom dresses and special occasion wear in addition to wedding gowns. For businesses in destination locations, consider including that location in your handle. “This can be extremely valuable, as it helps people discover your business when they’re visiting,” she adds.


When used correctly, Instagram can be an effective tool for promoting your brand. The app is available free through iTunes, Google Play, and the Windows Phone store. You may soon find that it becomes one of your most effective social media marketing tools.

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