When most people think of transforming a business they think of moving to a new location, changing up their business strategy, expanding marketing efforts, hiring new employees and most of all they think of the dollar amounts associated with these upgrades.
But there's another more effective and more cost efficient way to transform a business — technology. The cloud has been the single most transformative tool to happen to small businesses since the advent of modern computers. Cloud technology enables even microbusinesses to compete with much larger enterprises by increasing efficiency and improving productivity.
Another major benefit of modern technology is improved security. Cyberattacks are a real threat to businesses of all sizes and the right technology can help protect sensitive customer data and prevent a breach that will be costly in both dollars and eroding customer trust.
For more information on how modern technology can protect your business from security threats, watch the below video from SMB owner and technology evangelist Ramon Ray. Be sure to download our latest eGuide for more information on how technology can transform your business.
The year of EMV migration is upon us and for U.S. SMBs that means significant changes when it comes to processing customer payments.
Have no idea what I mean by EMV? You're not alone. You've likely seen the tiny gold design on the front of many credit cards during transactions in recent months, but thought of it as more decorative than deliberate. Short for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, EMV is a payments standard in which the designs — which are actually computer chips — are embedded into credit cards to create a unique impression.
EMV, which was part of an executive order President Obama issued to implement enhanced security measures for consumer finances, makes it near impossible to create fraudulent cards.
On October 1, 2015, businesses of all sizes are required to have updated POS terminals and backend software to begin accepting chip cards. The date isn't actually a deadline, it's the timeline for a liability shift. Simply put, if you haven't made the shift by October 1, your business, instead of the credit card company, becomes liable for incidents of credit card fraud.
Of course, SMBs who are always watching their bottom lines, are worried about the added cost of upgrading a POS system to be chip ready. While the switch will indeed require an up-front investment, it’s more than worth it to prevent financial and/or legal trouble in the future. Still wondering why you shouldn't put off making the switch to chip? Here are three great reasons:
Don't worry. Your card reader won't turn into a pumpkin and suddenly become unusable after October 1. You'll still be able to swipe cards and process transactions as usual, but your business will be at higher risk. Small businesses often can’t afford to take on this kind of liability and being ahead of the game will make your SMB appear even more trustworthy and appealing to customers new and old.
For more information on the switch to EMV, visit VisaChip.com. Join the conversation on Twitter using #ChipReady
While many today might find it difficult to imagine doing business without the help of a computer or competitive research without the convenience of the Internet, it wasn't all that long ago that the world transitioned from hard copies to hardware. Since the introduction of personal computers in the early 70s, technology has evolved rapidly to touch nearly every aspect of our lives. I've been lucky enough to witness the technology evolution up close. Still, it was only recently that I realized the impact of technology on small business lending. I'm excited to share those learnings in the below post from guest contributor Ty Kiisel, an author with 25 years of experience helping businesses achieve financial success. Be sure to read Ty’s previous posts on borrowing from friends and family and building a strong business credit profile.
I once attended a technology luncheon where Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, offered the keynote address. It was fascinating to hear about how he left his high-paying job as an investment banker to sell books online from his Seattle garage. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last several years, you know that Amazon is now a $175.1 Billion dollar company that has changed the way we buy books, electronics, and just about everything else.
What's more, Amazon isn't the only company breaking old rules by leveraging the power of the Internet and technology. Companies like Zillow are changing the way we buy a house. Companies like Expedia, Airbnb, and Kayak have changed the way we plan a vacation; and companies like Uber are even changing the way we hail a cab.
Today there are companies within the very traditional, oak paneled, three-piece suit world of small business lending that are using technology to turn that on its head too. They're making the application process easier, speeding up the time it takes to get a loan approval, and streamlining the entire process to put more capital into the hands of small businesses all over the country.
In his keynote, Bezos identified two things game changers do with what he described as "missionary zeal." I'm convinced there are lenders doing these things today and changing the way small business owners will access capital to fuel growth and fund other needs in the future:
Looking at the small business loan experience from the perspective of a borrower, this seems like something many traditional lenders have forgotten; but it has created a great opportunity to introduce a new paradigm. Not too long ago the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported the average small business owner spends roughly 33 hours going through the process of finding a loan. That's almost an entire week spent away from the important work of running their businesses.
The weeks- or even months-long process of securing a traditional small business loan is simply too cumbersome and inefficient to meet many business' financing needs. Particularly when there are so many new, technology-driven online lenders, who can give a business owner an answer — yes or no — in as short as a few minutes. By giving loan officers the right technology, and a new way of looking at small business borrowers, these lenders are making capital available to more business owners than ever before—and faster than ever before.
The traditional small business loan process has remained fundamentally the same for the last 100 years. And, simply throwing an application online doesn't really do much to change that. The impact small businesses have in local communities, and collectively all across the country, is too important to rely on inefficient and antiquated ways of looking at borrowers, qualification criteria, and lethargically manual processes. There is so much more data available today (that technology makes easy to access), that lenders can access in a fraction of the time they could just five years ago.
I'm convinced that new approaches to lending will put more capital into the hands of the very businesses that create two out of every three net new jobs in our country and help local communities grow and thrive.
One of the biggest challenges faced by small business owners is accessing the needed capital. Thankfully, forward-thinking lenders are using technology to remove the friction associated with the small business loan process and putting capital in the hands of entrepreneurs who will use it to grow businesses and create jobs.
For Example, here at OnDeck we've put over $2 Billion dollars into the hands of small business owners while streamlining the application process—often funding loans in the afternoon for business owners who apply in the morning. Streetshares, is creating a marketplace where small business owners can pitch their ideas to both retail and institution investors and find out within minutes if they're approved for a small business loan up to $50,000. SmartBiz, another innovator has turned the typical weeks-long ordeal of securing an SBA loan into a 30-minute approval process and funding in as little as seven days. Even the Small Business Administration is introducing new technology to streamline the SBA loan process with the introduction of their matchmaking tool LINC.
Even non-lenders are getting into the act with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter helping entrepreneurs, who might not have much luck at the bank, launch new projects and create new products. And, non-profit lenders like Kiva Zip offer 0% interest micro-loans to entrepreneurs who can take smaller dollar loans and turn them into a big impact for their businesses and the communities where they live and work. No matter your business funding need, there's a tool to help.
Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small businesses’ biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible.
For many small businesses owners and entrepreneurs, summer is the busiest time of the year, especially if you’re in the wedding, construction or tourism industries. Add in summer events and managing vacation schedules and you could quickly become overwhelmed by lists of have-to-dos and need-to-dos.
Fortunately, there are a host of productivity tools to help streamline your efforts and add a bit more time back to your day. You can use those added moments to grow your business but don't think it has to be all work and no play.
Below are five enjoyable things you can do with your extra time that have the potential to help your business grow this summer.
Have more ideas for summer fun or business growth? Share them with me on Twitter @Cindy_Bates.
As a frequent tweeter, I've noticed far higher engagement when I have a photo or graphic element to accompany my tweets. That got me thinking about the power of visuals. According to MIT, the human brain can process and identify images in just 13 milliseconds. Written info, on the other hand, takes a lot longer to process. With the amount of information growing and attention spans shrinking, it's becoming clear that the future will be much more visual. I reached out to Anita Campbell, an entrepreneur and CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends to discuss how the visual trend can be utilized by SMBs. She shares her strategic insights in the below post.
Recently my team was debating whether to use a bar chart or a pie chart to illustrate sales data when a new employee asked why we were spending so much time on such a low value activity. "Why not just embed the spreadsheet?" she asked.
I was surprised and intrigued by the question, but the answer is simple: because a chart saves the viewer valuable time and energy by providing near instantaneous context and clarity.
Our challenge, like that of most businesses today, wasn't in collecting and presenting data, but pulling meaning out of it. When done properly, data visualization solves this challenge because it takes advantage of the fact that human beings are visual creatures. A good chart packs more of a punch than a column of figures or a block of text. It persuades by isolating and highlighting a few bits of relevant data so the viewer isn't overwhelmed with irrelevant detail that may obfuscate the point.
Today's powerful software tools help us gain insights from data. We just have to use them wisely.
More Choices in Dashboards and Business Intelligence Software
Business dashboards — such as the free Power BI tool from Microsoft — excel at making data obtained through business intelligence software meaningful. With these tools, small business owners can get from data collection to understanding and insight faster, and with less manual effort.
The challenge for us as business owners is knowing how to use the computational power of these of tools to organize data into charts and graphs to help us, and our employees, extract meaning out of our company's information. That's where knowing some best practices around data visualization come in handy.
A good chart points out relationships between data points, such as by:
One of the charts we use in our business is a production time chart. Knowing how long it takes to produce our product (in this case content) helps us allocate writer and editor time. And it helps us project cash flow to know standard turnaround times and determine capacity to take on more work.
Here is a spreadsheet showing our actual turnaround times to produce five different types of content.
As you can see, you glean some information from the spreadsheet. But it's hard to make sense of it and use it to make business decisions. That's because there's a lot of detail and it's not presented well.
The average figure further confuses matters. If we were just to look at a raw unweighted average for all content types, we might assume it takes at least one week to turn around most of our content. However, that's not true.
For some types of content, it takes just a day or two. Other types of content can take two weeks to turn around, because an interview has to be scheduled, transcribed and then written up (the "Founder interview" types of articles). In other cases, considerable research has to be conducted pushing times out further (the "Product choices list" types of articles).
Now, here's the same data, but grouped and averaged by product type, and then presented in a bar chart so you can see it at a glance:
Doesn't the bar chart make it much easier to tell instantly which types of articles have had the longest turnaround times?
And doesn't it now become a simple matter to estimate standard delivery times and understand what's a realistic expectation, now that we have a clear view of the right data?
That, you see, is the value of a good chart.
Anita Campbell is the founder and CEO of Small Business Trends, an online publication focusing on providing news, tips and advice to help small businesses be successful. She also operates BizSugar.com, a social site dedicated to helping small business personnel spread their thought leadership.
When I think of July, a few things typically come to mind: sunshine, backyard barbecues, fireworks and summer vacation. This year, in addition to those things, July also sparks another thought: End of Support for Windows Server 2003.
The final day of support is July 14. I've been sounding the alarm on my blog for months because of the increased risk of cyberattacks and customer attrition business owners can face when they fail to upgrade their technology. With less than 30 days until end of support, many business owners who were previously unaware of the need to migrate or put it off until now are wondering where to turn.
There are plenty of resources available. A good place to start is TechNet Radio, where Kevin Remde and Eric Mills have launched a new three-part series on the topic. In the first episode, they discuss why you should migrate now to a supported operating system before it's too late. The second episode discusses various planning and migration tools that are available to help your move from Server 2003 and the final episode spotlights key concerns SMBs need to be aware of if they are still running Windows Server 2003.
Be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed to stay up-to-date on the latest news on end of support.
When looking to start or grow a business, a common thought is, "I need a loan." You pull your documents together, check your credit and march into the bank to ask for capital. What many don't realize is that they're missing out on key steps in the process that can help build the foundation for long-term success. In his third post for my blog, Ty Kiisel, an author with 25 years of experience helping businesses achieve financial success, discusses how to balance the desire for a small business loan with the actual need for one. Be sure to read Ty's previous posts on borrowing from friends and family and building a strong business credit profile.
A memorable commercial for Paul Masson Wine, a popular California vintage in the '70s, featured Orson Welles and the line, "We will sell no wine before its time."
When contemplating a small business loan, a business owner should be thinking, "I will not apply for a loan before it's time."
Many small business owners leverage borrowed capital to fuel growth and fund expansion. The challenge is recognizing when is the right time to pursue a small business loan. The right financing can help a small business grow and thrive, but the right financing at the wrong time can do more damage than good.
With that in mind, here are three questions that should help you determine whether or not you're ready for a small business loan:
1. Is my business ready to take the next step?
Whatever the next step is for your business, the answer should include an honest evaluation of where you really are. Do you have a business plan? Are you profitable? Do you have a sound marketing strategy in place? Have you identified what you would do with the extra capital if you were approved for a small business loan?
I grew up in a small business family, and my perspective has largely been shaped by what I experienced working with my father. In his opinion, and I agree, borrowed capital is needed to provide added value to the business. Borrowing to build a new warehouse was a good use of borrowed funds. The same was true of a machine tool that could produce a positive return on investment by manufacturing a part that could be sold with an increased margin. While there were times when borrowing made a lot of sense, there were many things he felt shouldn't be purchased with a small business loan but rather with cash flow. He took a very conservative approach to borrowing money for his business and still managed to be successful.
2. Do I understand my options and which might best fit my needs?
Small business lending has changed a lot over the last few years. In fact, small business owners now have more options available to them than ever before. And, in the same way Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman's alter-ego), "With great power comes great responsibility," let me suggest that small business owners become savvier about small business financing if they intend to leverage loan options.
Choosing the right loan option starts with identifying a clear loan purpose. Short-term financing needs like buying inventory, ramping up staff to fulfill a new contract, or purchasing office equipment are very different than the financing required to purchase a new warehouse, buy heavy equipment, or other long-term financing needs. While a five- or 10-year term loan might be a good idea for the latter, there are other options that might be better suited for the former. What's more, looking for the wrong type of loan to meet your financial need could potentially cost more than it should in time and interest.
3. Do I understand my current credit situation?
As a small business owner, both your personal credit score and your business credit profile are used to evaluate your credit worthiness. Additionally, some lenders will dive deeper into other business metrics like annual revenues, cash flow and time in business to complete your credit evaluation.
While every lender is a little different, it's important to know how you and your business stack up so you can pursue the options that offer the best odds of success. For example, a small business owner with a personal credit score of less than 680 is not likely to get approved at the bank. And, a personal credit score of less than 650 will potentially disqualify him or her from a small business loan with the SBA. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but if your credit score is 600, it might make sense to look for a loan where you have a greater chance of success.
Many of the new online lenders will approve a borrower with a lower score, provided other business metrics are in place, but most lenders will want to see a credit profile at least a year or two old. That doesn't mean early-stage startups don't have options. Crowdfunding, non-profit lenders, and friends or family are all options available to very young companies without a year or more under their belt.
The answers to these three questions will help you determine whether or not you're ready for a small business loan and help you start looking in the right place. What's more, being able to answer these questions with a loan officer may even put your application on the top of the pile.
BusinessLoans.com is a great resource for more information about the types of financing available, which loan purposes might be a good fit, and what it typically takes to qualify.
Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small businesses' biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible.
Many businesses are born because entrepreneurs have a strong sense of purpose – there's a problem to solve or a passion they can offer the world. As a business grows, it's infused with an electric sense of possibility from new people and ideas. But it's often during these times of growth that entrepreneurs feel like their grasp on everything is slipping away.
We approached Gino Wickman, founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), a business system that helps companies mold strong leadership teams for long-term success. Gino, an entrepreneur since the age of 21, is the bestselling author of Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. In the below post, and this great video, he shares his insights on breaking through to the next level without losing sight of yourself or your business.
Most of our clients come to us because they're hitting a ceiling. It's a natural phenomenon that many companies experience once they passed the startup phase. Now they're a successful small or mid-sized business, but they've grown to a point where sheer passion and drive isn't enough to carry the organization forward. There's a need for systems, process, structure and leadership.
One of my favorite examples is Sachse Construction, a Detroit-based commercial construction firm, which has been an EOS client for over 10 years. Founder Todd Sachse's business was hitting a major ceiling when he reached out to us, but he couldn't point to a specific reason or problem.
In our decades of helping small businesses get unstuck, we've been able to take this intangible feeling of frustration and get to its core. Fundamentally, it's about the people – after all, businesses run on human energy.
What Sachse needed was an operating plan to harness this energy and channel it in the right direction. We got to work helping Sachse build a strong leadership team with laser focus. First, we got the business owner and the leadership team into one room for a series of full-day sessions. The idea was to give them a holistic approach to treating the entire company, rather than just symptoms.
Below are a few tips we used during these sessions that you can use in your own business:
1.) Share your vision for the company – The first step is to get the leadership team's ideas out of their heads and into writing. This lets you see where there's overlap with the rest of your team and where there's almost no alignment.
2.) Get your leadership team to agree on answers to eight core questions – To do this in a structured way, we use the EOS Vision/Traction Organizer, which you can download for free. The basic questions are:
3.) Develop a vision statement based on your answers – Every effective leadership team has a strong vision statement that defines who they are, what they do, where they are going and how they will get there. This will inform every decision within the company for years to come. It's your guiding light, even as people come and go.
4.) Create a solid leadership team based on the vision – This was a real challenge for Sachse because there ended up being some changes to the original team. This isn't unusual, though. I'd say about eighty percent of the time, we end up making changes to the leadership team.
But this isn't a value judgment or indictment. Rather, it's about defining the core functions of the business. Put simply, the leadership team is made up of the people who head up these major functions. For this process, I use an Accountability Chart and the People Analyzer to ensure the right people are in the right seats.
Once the new leadership team and vision statement are in place, then the answers to formerly confusing decisions seem to come into focus. You get unstuck. This is when companies begin to see a shift in culture that cracks the ceiling.
As for Sachse Construction, over a decade later, they've experienced incredible growth – as much as 400-500% – through a recession in one of the hardest hit cities. But over the years, they've had to get unstuck more than once.
If you find yourself getting stuck again, go back to the vision your leadership team agreed on and work towards getting everyone on board again. Once you have the structure in place, it's as simple as reviewing, refining, and reminding yourself about the core focus that gave you passion and purpose in the first place.
If you’re starting a business that requires significant financial investment up front, finding the funds to put your business plan into action can be a challenge. It’s tempting to look to those closest to you for support, especially if you’re a young entrepreneur who lacks a strong credit history or doesn’t know how to navigate the bank lending system. While many have found success with the financial help of family and friends, it’s important to have a formal plan in place. In his second post for my blog, Ty Kiisel, an author with 25 years of experience helping businesses achieve financial success, provides practical advice to get the money you need and keep your relationships intact. If you missed Ty’s first post, you can read it here.
Borrowing from friends and family continues to be a successful place for small business owners to find capital. What’s more, it’s not just startups or very small companies that find cash this way, either. According to Pepperdine University’s Q1 Private Capital Access Index for 2015, 89 percent of the companies with revenue between $5 million and $100 million found success borrowing from family and friends.
However, the challenges of borrowing money this way are real. In some circles, these loans are even called 3-F Loans (Friends, Family, and Fools), because so many people take a cavalier approach — and a failed loan can make family gatherings or class reunions problematic. With that in mind, I suggest putting the terms in writing and formalizing the agreement, as well as consulting with a lawyer or an advisor. While a written agreement might sound like overkill when borrowing from your parents or your old college roommate, doing so helps avoid uncomfortable conversations down the road.
With that in mind, here are four things you might consider including in a business loan agreement with friends or family:
Approaching a small business loan from family or friends formally not only ensures that everyone understands the terms and helps eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding, it demonstrates that you don’t take their loan lightly and are willing to take steps to ensure both parties are protected. It’s easy to make bad decisions when things go wrong, so making good decisions ahead of time helps avoid potentially awkward moments between family members or longtime friends.
If you’re interested in learning more about Friends and Family financing, click HERE.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney or trusted advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
About the Author
Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small businesses’ biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible.
How often have you thought about moving your business to the cloud? Maybe it’s crossed your mind to upgrade your technology but you’ve hesitated, for one reason or another, to make the move. If that’s the case, I’m hoping the below guest post from “SmallBizLady” Melinda Emerson will help ease any fears. Her no-nonsense approach to business has led her to a successful career as one of America’s top experts on entrepreneurship. She frequently speaks on the power of cloud technology to help SMBs compete with larger enterprises.
Some small business owners are of the “if it ain’t broke…” school of thought. So, I get why a lot of business owners continue to use outdated technology. They’re resistant to moving their files and operations to the cloud. It’s change. And we fear change.
But should we? Even if your current way of doing things doesn’t appear to have any cracks in it, I encourage you to take a closer look.
Ways Your Current System Fails You
So, there’s no red light flashing in your office. No flares being shot to indicate an emergency. And yet, there may be problems brewing beneath the surface.
If your technology is outdated, it could be warding off new customers who would rather work with a brand that is cutting edge. And if you insist on continually updating that legacy system, refusing to even consider how cloud computing might help, you could actually be paying more for the privilege (if you can call it one) than you would by moving to the cloud.
Maybe you assume the learning curve is too steep for you and your staff to use cloud-based platforms, and so you continue to waste time with workaround processes like using a spreadsheet to log information that today’s cloud software could handle in a flash.
Whatever the excuse, it’s time to put it aside and seriously consider how cloud computing can help your business thrive. Start by banishing the below roadblocks.
Concerns About Security
Security is a major concern among businesses of all sizes, especially given the high profile data breaches we’ve seen in the news. But cloud computing is safe and you can take your own measures as well – monitoring who has access to your cloud files, changing passwords regularly, and installing a firewall.
Unwillingness to Let Go of Current Investment
Maybe you spent a hefty piece of change on your last enterprise system, and you want to squeeze out every penny’s worth before you make any moves to the cloud. Although the investment served you well, today there are more tech-savvy solutions that will benefit your company far beyond the depreciated cost you’re trying to eke out.
Fear of Cost
Speaking of cost: is that your excuse for not moving to the cloud? It shouldn’t be. The cost for cloud storage and services keeps dropping as more players enter the space and as more brands realize the benefit.
New Technology = New Complexity?
This excuse goes back to that “fear of change” we discussed at the start. You worry that introducing a new platform will take you and your team offline, and that it will be a challenge to get back to full productivity. The secret is: today’s cloud technology isn’t designed for only the super tech-savvy. It’s designed for you and me. It’s completely intuitive, easy to learn and support-driven. After spending even an hour on a new platform, you’ll likely feel like a master.
Don’t let stubbornness and lack of knowledge about the cloud keep you from making a smart move for your company. Cloud computing can help you and your team be more productive, not to mention save you money from what you’re currently spending to put Band-Aids on your old system.
The pending Windows Server 2003 EOS makes now an ideal time to migrate to the cloud.
For more information on modern technology, visit the Microsoft Modern Biz page.
About the Author
Melinda F. Emerson, “SmallBizLady” is America’s #1 Small Business Expert. She is an expert on small business startup, business development, and social media marketing. Forbes magazine named her the #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com. Melinda is also the author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, 2nd Edition and the ebook How To Become a Social Media Ninja.
When working to get a small business off the ground, few things are more important than access to capital and credit. I recently blogged on this topic for the HuffingtonPost and I'm thrilled to continue the conversation with below guest post from Ty Kiisel. Ty is an author with 25 years of experiences helping businesses achieve financial success. This post is the first in a series of three pieces where he'll share advice and practical tips for SMBs.
All small business owners share two things in common regardless of the industry they work in, the products they sell, or the services they provide—they have both a personal credit score and a business credit profile. Your personal credit score will always play a role when lenders make decisions about your business creditworthiness, but it's also critical to build a strong business credit profile. Here are four tips that will help:
Knowing where you are today will help you create a plan to move forward. It's hard to move the needle in a positive direction if you don't really know where you are now. A good credit profile can make a difference in your success rate when applying for a loan, how favorable the terms are for your business, and even the interest rate you'll pay.
Fortunately, the credit bureaus are motivated to make sure the information they report is as accurate as possible. Thus they all offer a dispute process so business owners can correct any verifiable errors. Ensuring your profile is accurate, with each of the major reporting bureaus, is one of the first and most effective ways to start building a strong credit profile.
If your business is an early-stage company, finding vendors that offer the goods and services most business owners need (like Staples or Home Depot), and report to the credit bureaus, can be a good way to start building your business credit profile. There is no shortcut to a strong credit profile—or to strengthening a less than perfect profile.
Establishing a record of paying on time is the single most important thing you can do to show potential vendors, and lenders, they can trust you to pay them back as well.
While there are some small business owners who are unaware they have a business credit profile in addition to their personal credit score, you can't afford to ignore it. Because many small business owners rely on borrowed capital to fuel growth and fund their working capital needs, a good profile may often be the difference between qualifying for a loan and leaving empty-handed.
About the Author
Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small business's biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible.
May 4 kicked off the 52nd Annual National Small Business Week, which means a flurry of events and activities will be happening across the nation to celebrate the more than 28 million small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. To start the week, I was honored to contribute a blog to the Huffington Post discussing the importance of capital and credit for women entrepreneurs, and I’m excited to end the work week at the InnovateHER event in D.C., where Microsoft will join forces with the SBA to award $30,000 in prizes to three lucky entrepreneurs who offer products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families.
Throughout the week, Microsoft Stores will celebrate by hosting events, presentations and product demonstrations to share how Microsoft solutions can help your small business do more, so be sure to search on your local area to find upcoming events related to NSBW and more. I hope you’ll get involved during NSBW by visiting a few of your favorite local shops. Keep me posted on your NSBW activities and celebrations @Cindy_Bates.
During a recent offsite meeting, my team had the privilege of seeing improv in action and most importantly, getting in on the fun. I’ve been a longtime fan of improv comedy for its ability to inspire creativity and cause spontaneous eruptions of laughter, but I was amazed to learn how easily it can translate into the business arena. Our session was led by Meagan Flanigan alongside a dynamic cast from Second City Works, the business solutions division of the improvisational comedy theatre, The Second City. After the meeting, I came across a great article Tom Yorto, CEO of Second City Works, wrote for the Harvard Business Review, where he shares tips for your team to cultivate clearer communication and engage more deeply. I’m already implementing some of the principles we learned, including embracing the ensemble mindset, and I hope your business can learn the benefits of improv-based learning as well.
You can find Tom’s article on improv exercises that can change the way your ensemble works here: https://hbr.org/2015/03/3-improv-exercises-that-can-change-the-way-your-team-works. Let’s start a conversation on Twitter @Cindy_Bates @TomYorton to discuss how your SMB is utilizing Tom’s tactics.
Premera — a major health insurer based in Washington State, has been in the news this month — but not because of a major advancement in healthcare or a customer milestone. Instead, the brand is under scrutiny as a result of a cyberattack that may have exposed the personal information, including the medical records and social security numbers, of more than 11 million people.
Unfortunately, these types of attacks are becoming news-making headlines for businesses of all sizes. For the majority, a cyberattack is the beginning of the end. Sixty percent of businesses who fall prey are forced to shutter their doors within six months, according to a recent study cited by the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology.
SMB owners must realize that with each transaction or piece of information shared, customers are also providing a measure of trust. By using outdated technology that leaves information vulnerable to cybercriminals, you’re risking not only the data, you’re risking your business.
During a technology audit prior to the Premera breach, federal officials conducted vulnerability scans and found that the company failed to implement critical patches and other software updates in a timely manner. Auditors also found that several servers contained software applications so old that they were no longer supported by the vendor.
“Failure to promptly install important updates increases the risk that vulnerabilities will not be remediated and sensitive data could be breached,” the auditors wrote, without knowing they were foreshadowing one of the largest cyberattacks of 2015.
Incidents like this, combined with the upcoming Windows Server 2003 End of Support, make now an opportune time to reevaluate your technology to ensure the security of your customer data and the safety of your business. In fact, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a cybersecurity alert because no patches will be available for critical security vulnerabilities discovered after public support for Windows Server 2003 ends on July 14, 2015. Gartner also sounded the alarm over potential security risks after end of support.
For SMBs less familiar with technology, the first step is to determine whether or not you have a server. If you have a business email address that’s not associated with a service such as Hotmail or Yahoo, or if you host a small website, it’s likely you have a server. Contact the IT person or partner who helped set up your hardware to determine whether or not your business is utilizing Windows Server 2003. If so, you can find important next steps here.
It can take up to 90 days for a small or midsize company to migrate, so the best time to get started is now. Waiting until the last minute just puts your business at more risk and waiting until after the final patch is like sending an open invitation to cybercriminals.
Many SMBs, such as Karen M. Hazleton, CPA have already upgraded to newer versions of Windows Server or Microsoft Azure. These businesses are seeing real benefits, including improved performance, higher reliability, and increased flexibility in responding to customer needs. Read Karen’s story here.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. After the breach, Premera is now obligated to offer two years of free credit monitoring and identity protection services to those affected, but that will only go so far. Once you lose a customer’s trust, there is very little you can do to get it back.
When you’re a small business owner, every week is small business week. Fortunately, once a year, it’s official. And rightfully so due to the crucial role SMBs play in the U.S. economy. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create roughly two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Annually, since 1963, the SBA has taken the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners and others from across the nation through National Small Business Week (NSBW). This year, NSBW will be celebrated May 4-8, under a theme of “SBA: Dream Big, Start Small.” Other recognition events throughout SBA’s 10 Regions and 68 Districts will be held throughout the months of May and June.
During NSBW, there’s a sense of pride and excitement in the air — a feeling that anything is possible. NSBW is an opportunity for SMBs to celebrate the hard work they do throughout the year and to speak with one voice about the issues that matter to them the most.
There’s an added layer of activity this year thanks to the SBA’s launch of the InnovateHER challenge. Throughout March, local competitions were hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA’s resource partners and other local business organizations. The SBA sought entrepreneurs who have created products or services that will have a measurable impact on women and their families, fill a need in the marketplace and have the potential for commercialization.
Those entrepreneurs selected by local judges will make it to the semi-final round. An executive committee of SBA officials will review the semi-final nomination packages and select up to 10 finalists who will compete for a total of $30,000 in prize money, provided by Microsoft.
Events will take place in Miami, Los Angeles, San Antonio, New York City and culminate in Washington, D.C on May 8th, where the 10 finalists will pitch their products and ideas to a panel of expert judges. I’m eager to see the innovations from these women and learn about their products and their journeys.
In addition, across the country our Microsoft Stores will celebrate NSBW by hosting events, presentations and product demonstrations to share how Microsoft solutions can help your business do more. The week will conclude with special networking events featuring keynotes and interactive presentations. Also in May, the stores will hold an exciting digital event for business-owners, partners, and local associations, which will be broadcast live and feature thought-leaders discussing the future of technology and the opportunity for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Stay tuned for more information.
I urge you to check with your local store for details and take advantage of activities happening in a city near you. As more details come available I will post here on the blog and share via Twitter.
For more information on NSBW, visit https://www.sba.gov/nsbw/nsbw. Join the conversation on Twitter #DreamSmallBiz.
It’s a distinct pleasure to introduce this contributed article. The Small Business Administration, and its leader, Maria Contreras-Sweet, do so much for entrepreneurs across the country and we at Microsoft certainly value the close relationship between our organizations. The InnovateHer challenge is a unique opportunity for female entrepreneurs – Good luck to all the participants!
Until 1988, if a woman wanted to start a business in America, she could be required to get the signature of a spouse or a male relative to take out a loan. That changed when Congress passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act, a civil rights milestone that gave women entrepreneurs access to capital on their own merits.
America has come a long way since then. Women-owned businesses today have an annual economic impact of about $3 trillion and account for nearly 30 percent of all businesses in this country.
In 2015, our workplace policies must adapt to the fact that both parents in a majority of American households are now working. More than 40 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner. But many cannot access flexible hours, paid leave, job sharing, and other worker-friendly policies.
To support women in the workplace, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently launched the InnovateHER challenge. As demands on women and families grow, the need for products, services, and technologies that address their unique challenges increases. So the SBA created a competition in which entrepreneurs are challenged to create a product or service that:
Women provide a unique perspective about what products and services would enhance their everyday lives. Women invented the dishwasher, the paper bag and the disposable diaper, as well as products such as Kevlar and the circular saw.
InnovateHER recognizes that women can play a unique role in formulating innovative ideas to balance the demands of work and home. Products pitched in this competition have run the gamut from online babysitting services to better breast pumps to seatbelts customized for pregnant women.
As we wrap up Women’s History Month today, the SBA concludes a series of local competitions across America, where entrepreneurs have pitched their ideas to a panel of experts. Ten local winners will be chosen to participate in a national competition in Washington, D.C., during National Small Business Week. Stay tuned for updates on how to watch a live stream of the final “pitches” as we get closer to the event this May.
In the meantime, the SBA is working every day to help more women entrepreneurs get the support they need to launch and grow.
Today, just 6 percent of venture capital partners are women, and just seven percent of venture capital funding in the United States goes to women entrepreneurs. A Harvard Business School study asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, narrated by women and men. Even when the scripts for the pitches were exactly the same, only 32 percent of investors said they would fund the woman, compared to 68 percent who would fund the man.
Access to credit is the No. 1 issue facing women entrepreneurs today. In the last year, SBA has taken some major steps to unlock capital. The SBA zeroed out fees on smaller loans of $150,000 or less, and we introduced a new field-tested credit scoring model to reduce the time and cost for banks to make approvals. Our goal is to get more credit into the hands of underserved borrowers, including women, so they can start up or scale up.
This mission is personal to me. I immigrated to America with my family at the age of 5 from Guadalajara, Mexico, with no economic advantages. But what we did have was the belief that America is the land of opportunity. As an entrepreneur and a community banker who started three small businesses before joining President Obama’s cabinet, I believe we should give women the choice to be whatever their skills allow and hearts desire – from a homemaker focused on the family to a home maker building the next house on the block.
Our future prosperity depends upon the ideas and ingenuity of our women entrepreneurs. To learn more, contact your local SBA district office or resource partner, or request a meeting with a loan officer. The SBA is here to provide you with the capital and counseling you need to get in the game.
Contreras-Sweet is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama’s cabinet.
There’s an old saying that goes “if you want to catch fish, go where the fish are.” When it comes to your SMB, the “fish,” are your customers and with more than 74 percent of all online adults using social media, it’s likely a good place to catch their attention. From review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, to the opinions and content shared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, customers are talking about your business on social media. Below, Marty Zwilling, founder and chief executive officer of Startup Professionals, outlines how to get started in social and connect with your customers.
Social media is so pervasive in today’s world that every entrepreneur believes instinctively that they know how to use it for their startup. Many soon find that what you do in a personal context doesn’t necessarily translate to your business, and measuring business value is quite different from measuring personal satisfaction. When it comes to social media for your business, expect a high learning curve, but rest assured it’s not rocket science.
Social media is now one of the key marketing tools, but not the only one, so the challenge is to manage the resource tradeoffs effectively by constantly assessing payback versus cost. Startups should begin by selecting just a few of the vast array of social media offerings out there, and customize based on results.
I agree with my friend Lon Safko, and his classic book “The Social Media Bible,” which asserts your team can be successful at social without the cost of an expensive expert or agency, by following these five basic steps:
With social media, a key element of success is focus on the message. Never “sell” or push out your message like conventional advertising. The trick is to listen first, add something of value to the conversation, and pull the customers to you because they trust you and want more. According to Lon, the keywords to remember are to be “sincere, authentic, and transparent.”
Startups are in an ideal position to capitalize on the fundamental shift in power to the customer, who now has real control over your brand message. Companies have to communicate, rather than just pontificate. Customers see what their peers are saying in blogs and product reviews, and how you respond to these, and this impacts their buy decision more than any advertisement.
Above all, don’t forget to observe your competition and their social media activity. Learning from their mistakes and building on their best practices can save you time and money.
Finally, remember that it takes time to establish and optimize your social media presence. Use the five steps listed above to start slowly, leverage your time effectively, stay one step ahead of your competitors, and enjoy the success that social media can bring to your startup.
Marty Zwilling is the founder and chief executive officer of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. Marty is a veteran startup mentor and contributor at publications such as Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Huffington Post. Check out his blog or contact him directly via email or Twitter.
By Joe McKendrick, contributor, Forbes Insights
For small and midsize businesses to advance into the digital economy, three things are necessary: vision on the part of business leaders, dependable technology and trust in that technology. For businesses working to establish a digital presence, the online world can be a very scary place, with no shortage of news cycles about the latest hackings into major corporate systems. Evolving to a digital enterprise requires complete confidence that the technology solutions and information companies use to transact business is timely, reliable and secure. To assure this level of trust, it’s important to bake security into all processes, applications and data environments. Every small to midsize business needs to establish a culture of security.
A new survey of 100 business leaders, conducted in December 2014 by Forbes Insights in partnership with Microsoft*, confirms that IT security is top of mind for many, and progress is being made to better secure digital assets within growing companies. However, substantial segments of small to midsize businesses have yet to embrace many of the practices and protocols that are required for secure IT environments.
The survey clearly identified priority areas small to midsize businesses should consider when making the journey to becoming a digital business. Trust was identified as the foundation of this change and hinges on having highly secure systems. A culture of security must develop as the business increasingly moves online. Here are ways to successfully ensure a culture of security in the digital age:
Educate and raise awareness
IT security is the responsibility of everyone in the entire company, not just an IT administrator or a single department. Employees and managers need to understand corporate IT security policies and procedures. They should receive regular updates on how to handle security threats, such as viruses, phishing and other email scams. Periodic training on the proper ways to handle data, log-ins and use of personal devices in workplace settings is also beneficial. Three out of five executives report they do not yet have a formal online corporate security policy. Such policies are critical for laying the groundwork and maintaining support for active security efforts. (See Figure 1.) Most businesses are communicating Internet security policies on a widespread basis — 77 percent will attempt to bring all or most employees up to speed on new policies. Such guidelines may provide employees direction on the use of their own mobile devices, as well as advising on the proper handling of sensitive corporate data.
Along with communicating policies, employee training is a vital part of building a culture of security. Employees need to be acquainted with the processes — and regulations — for handling sensitive data, opening emails, avoiding scams and frauds. Such training is supported at most companies, but more than one-third admit they provide no training at this time to their employees. (See Figure 2.)
To a large extent, the businesses surveyed apply a very light touch when it comes to bringing their workforces up to speed with security training. The most popular strategy, employed at 55 percent of sites, is through regular company-wide emails detailing updates or providing tips. About 41 percent admit that they provide only informal guidance to their employees, with the expectation that the employees will learn the right procedures on their own.
About half of the surveyed group do invest in training with 52 percent reporting they get more actively engaged by offering in-house coaching or guidance by their IT teams. Another 23 percent will invest in either online or on-site training programs. (See Figure 3.) Most executives indicate they make the effort to personally understand online fraud, the steps they can take to help guard against it and what they can do if they fall victim to it.
Trust, but verify
Many of today’s data breaches originate from the inside of organizations, often the result of simple human errors. No IT security strategy is ever complete without checks and balances on the inside, even if it’s to avoid simple mistakes. In addition, ensure that outside providers, such as consulting and cloud services, have strong security policies and procedures.
Seek to prevent, versus repair
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applies well to IT security. However, the survey finds many businesses may be lagging in their ability to keep up with technology enhancements. (See Figure 5.) In addition, many businesses are missing the latest solutions and protocols that can provide the assurance that the IT infrastructure is well secured. (See Figure 6.)
Preventative strategies include encrypting data, strictly regulating its replication and requiring strong passwords that are regularly changed. Keeping up with releases, updates and patches also is an effective prevention strategy. Maintaining the most up-to-date versions of technology is key to having a robust IT security environment.
Security is one of several driving factors for regular technology upgrades. A majority of small- to midsize-business executives say they make their technology upgrades when it becomes apparent that their current capabilities are lagging. (See Figure 7.) Close to one-third, 29 percent, report they make upgrades when they are presented with product support issues, suggesting that many procrastinate on moving to new technology until forced to do so due to the end of vendor product support. A good example of this is the upcoming Windows Server 2003 end of support quickly approaching on July 15, 2015.
Share the knowledge and learn from others
Close to one in five executives readily admit they are aware of security breaches that impacted their organizations within the past two years, but only one in four have an appreciable level of confidence that another breach can be prevented. (See Figures 8 and 9.) Involvement with user groups, professional associations, business groups or online communities provides opportunities to learn best practices for increased confidence.
A well-designed culture of security should always be part of a business’s plans to advance into the digital economy. Transactions need to be trusted, customers need to have the assurance their data is in secure hands, and corporate operations need to run unimpeded. The digital economy is built on a foundation of trust, and small- and midsize-business executives can take a leadership role in assuring that trust.
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*All respondents were with organizations of 250 or fewer employees. Forty-six percent of respondents were owners, presidents or vice presidents of their firms, while another 41 percent were managers or supervisors. All were involved in technology purchase decisions for their companies.
Recently, I was honored to announce the winners of our Microsoft Small Business Contest. I was inspired by the stories of creativity and triumph and thankful for the thousands of people who voted for the 10 finalists. In the end, Citizen Frederick, which opened just nine months ago, took home the top prize of $20,000 and Microsoft technology. Because the co-founders behind Citizen Frederick are not only small business owners but new business owners, I thought it would be great to share a bit of insight on their early success. Below Antonio Rico and Nolan Kulbiski share five tips that have been critical to their success – and can help you start your business off on the right track.
Even if you’re not a citizen of Frederick, you can still find Citizen Frederick on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and visit their online store. I love the t-shirts from their private label and hear they’re planning to use a portion of the prize money to develop even more designs. I look forward to seeing what’s next from this talented team.
Next week (Feb 21-28) is National Entrepreneurship Week (NEW), which means it’s a great time to network with other small business owners, expand your current business or develop a plan to turn your idea into a thriving enterprise.
NEW takes place annually to raise awareness of the opportunities in place for entrepreneurs and elevate the importance of entrepreneurship to local, state and national government organizations. It’s also a great time to encourage others, especially students, to seek a similar entrepreneurial path. I’m inspired by President Barack Obama, who said “Entrepreneurs embody the promise that lies at the heart of America — that if you have a good idea and work hard enough, the American dream is within your reach.”
New business creation dropped like a rock during the recession, falling 31 percent, the biggest drop in the last four decades, according to the Kauffman Foundation. In order to right the ship and create economic renewal, we need a new sense of possibility. Recently, the Small Business Administration (SBA) introduced a new online matchmaking service, LINC (Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital) to do just that. LINC is aimed at providing a simple way for entrepreneurs to connect with prospective SBA lenders.
In a similar spirit, on Thursday, Feb. 26, Microsoft Stores across the U.S. will host 2-hour networking events to bring together business students, small business owners, Microsoft partners and startup organizations to share insights and experiences. In addition to these events, here are a few other ways to take action during NEW:
I hope you’ll end this week excited about the value Microsoft Stores and the local business community can bring to your entrepreneurial pursuit. To find a local event near you, click here.
Thanks to new technology, it’s an exciting time for small and mid-size businesses. That’s because many are finding that increased access to new technology – such as cloud and mobile solutions – can provide access to services that were never within their reach before, helping them grow and be more productive.
They are also finding that using old or outdated technology can hinder a company’s ability to do business in a number of ways – from security risks and compliance issues to not being able to implement even modest changes or updates in software, all of which can significantly hamper a company’s ability to be successful and competitive.
A Shift In Technology
The beginning of one era in technology often means the end or phasing out of another. For example, to accommodate the shift toward modern technology used by a growing number of small and mid-size businesses, Microsoft will end support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015.
This means that security patches and updates will no longer be available after this period, resulting in a less stable and less secure technological infrastructure if no action is taken. However, the good news is that a variety of easy-to-integrate options are available for those ready to upgrade, including Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud platform. Cloud solutions such as Azure are designed to provide small and mid-size businesses with the ability to scale up or down to take advantage of opportunities or cut costs, all based on their needs.
Many small and mid-size businesses report that moving to a cloud platform like Azure provides a range of benefits – including increased backup capacity, enhanced disaster recovery capabilities, consistent compliance with regulatory demands and access to the most modern applications. These benefits can help small and mid-size businesses move faster, reduce costs and, ultimately, be more productive.
Now is the time to plan your transition – and we’re here to help. For more information, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/business/windows-server-2003-ends-in-july/. To find a Microsoft partner in your area to assist in your cloud transition, visit www.pinpoint.microsoft.com.
As an SMB owner, it’s likely you have worked for years to build reliable and trustworthy products or services. You’ve reviewed every process, hired the right employees and connected with consumers. But there is another critical step to building lifelong customers – establishing trust. Trust can be the differentiator between a successful business and a shuttered one and can go a long way in helping your business stand out from the competition. The best way to create an atmosphere of trust is to ensure the safety of your customer data. Use the below infographic to help you prevent cyber fraud in order to protect your customers and your business.
A lot has changed in the past decade since Microsoft launched Windows Server 2003. Capabilities that were previously only available to a large enterprise are now affordable and accessible to businesses of any size – hardware is less expensive, devices are smaller, virtualized operating systems are more efficient, and robust collaboration solutions like Office 365 are available at a fraction of the cost compared to maintaining them on-premises. In addition, the way we work has changed as well – we’re more mobile and more social in the workplace than ever before. However, despite all of these advances, many companies large and small are still running on outdated technology.
There’s never been a more important time for companies to upgrade their technology to help them grow more efficiently and more cost effectively. That’s because support for Windows Server 2003 will end on July 14, 2015. For businesses that do not upgrade to more modern technology, it can result in a less secure and stable infrastructure.
Once support for Windows Server 2003 is over there will be:
Change Brings Opportunity
The good news is that migrating from Windows Server 2003 could signal the beginning of a new stage for your business, providing it with additional capabilities that are now more affordable and accessible for companies of any size. For example: By upgrading to the latest on-premises operating systems and cloud platforms, like Windows Server 2012 (R2) and Microsoft Azure, companies can have the flexibility to scale their businesses up and down based on their needs without a large up-front capital cost, and they have access to enterprise-grade security, disaster recovery, and much more.
When upgrading, all business owners need to consider their options and decide on what makes the most sense for their company. Microsoft offers the following tips to help you find out which solution might work best for your company.
The first step is to discover what applications and software you have running on outdated technology like Windows Server 2003.
There are several self-service tools that can help with this process, such as the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit, to help you assess your current IT infrastructure and determine what platform might be best for you as a next step. You can also contact a Microsoft partner to help you make this decision.
Once you’ve identified what applications and software need to be moved off your outdated technology, create a transition plan that will create as little disruption as possible for your employees. If customized applications are blocking your migration, connect with your Microsoft IT partner to formulate a plan.
Choose where you’d like to move your current workloads and applications. For example, you can choose to keep your applications on-premises with a new server like Windows Server 2012 (R2), move to the cloud on a platform like Microsoft Azure, or do a combination (or hybrid approach) of both.
Several vendors offer do-it-yourself tools to assist in the decision-making process and in the migration itself, including Dell ChangeBASE, Citrix AppDNA, AppZero, Refresh IT, BlueStripe and Microsoft Services JumpStart for Windows Server 2003. Make sure to ask your Microsoft partner or team for any additional migration deals in place.
Remember, if you have any questions along the way, there are local experts – Microsoft partners – that can assist you with this transition during any step or simply help you determine what the right choice is for your business.
Cloud on Your Terms
If you are still trying to determine which type of cloud is best for the specific needs of your business, whether it’s virtualization on-premises or in a Public Cloud with Microsoft Azure or with a hosting partner, here are few questions and answers that may help:
To learn more, visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/windows-server-2003/ or to find a Microsoft partner, visit https://pinpoint.microsoft.com/.
If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you’ve likely seen my passion for sharing tips and tricks to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. I’ve shared insights on everything from how to say thank you to your customers to how to choose the right technology for your business. Of course, it’s always great when we can learn from others – that’s why I look for opportunities to share content from guest bloggers about their entrepreneurial journeys. I encourage you to become a contributor. It’s easy to do, just click here. A great contribution example is the post below by JT Ripton, a business consultant whose work you may have read in Entrepreneur or on Business.com. He shares his advice for how to keep customers coming back again and again. I hope it inspires you to share your insights.
It’s no secret that repeat customers are good for business, but new statistics suggest they do even more for your bottom line than originally thought. A recent analysis by SumAll, an analytics company, revealed that 25 – 40 percent of the revenue of the most established businesses in the company’s network comes from repeat customers. Further, the analysis showed that the more repeat business a company has, the higher its revenue.
Loyal customers are invaluable to sustaining a business, but what can a company do to create them? Here are five strategies that will help you improve the percentage of customers who return.
First impressions can make or break your customers’ long-term loyalty, so it’s important to provide superior customer service from the very beginning. Once a customer experiences a great level of service that can’t be found elsewhere, they will come back not only for your product but for the experience.
Profit margins on the purchases of repeat customers are higher than those of new customers because there are no costs tied to acquiring them. To build loyalty, you need to reward it. Offering a rewards program or a loyalty card is one option, but that’s not the only way to show your appreciation. For example, you might send a thank-you note to customers with an exclusive discount code for future purchases.
Regular communication with customers is imperative to retention. Reach out to customers through a newsletter, emails, surveys, or social media to send updates and offers. Twitter is especially useful for businesses as an easy way to keep in touch, and some companies might also benefit from a smart phone app to further engage with customers. According to TechRepublic, not only do these apps allow you to better target local customers and collect data about their behavior, but they also offer the opportunity for more comprehensive customer support.
You can’t keep customers coming back if you aren’t attuned to their needs and wants. For this reason, every company should have some form of a customer relationship management (CRM) system to collect and track information about customers, such as buying history, contact information, and birthdays. Microsoft CRM Online is one such example. With this information, you can give your customers a personal touch by sending a birthday card or email with a discount on a favorite product.
For companies that do a lot of sales through their websites, customers have little incentive to check back often if the content rarely changes. Keep your site dynamic by updating your content regularly and consider adding a blog. Fun, interesting blog posts, especially those linked to social media, encourage customers to visit the site regularly and afford an opportunity to share updates or highlight new products.
Customers who feel acknowledged and heard are more likely to return, so make sure your staff responds to comments and questions in a timely, positive way. Have customer service reps monitor your channels of communication and respond within a specified time period. Keep these interaction positive, particularly when customers have complaints.
Keeping a customer loyal starts from the initial meeting, and superior customer service from the start will have them coming back for more. When a customer feels that they’ve treated with respect and friendliness, the perception of your company in the mind of your customers will trend positively, which in-turn will increase the likeliness of them coming back for more.
Remember that repeat customers spend more and cost less, so the return on your investment in them is huge. The aforementioned SumAll study suggests that companies devote about a quarter of their marketing spending to retaining these customers, focusing on delivering a positive, rewarding, and personalized experience. Doing so just might help to keep loyal customers around for years to come.
JT Ripton is a business consultant and freelance business and marketing writer out of Tampa. Follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.
I wanted to bring your attention to a great article highlighting the value a customer relationship management, or CRM, solution can bring to your business. CRM is a very fast growing technology category which many SMBs are using to help reduce costs and increase profitability. In fact, in the US the CRM market grew 52% between 2013 and 2014.
Microsoft’s CRM solution, called Dynamics CRM Online, has been deployed by small and medium sized businesses across the US and is helping those businesses strengthen relationships with customers and increase ROI on their sales and marketing campaigns.
Today we are announcing the availability of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online through the Open Licensing program – a simple cost effective way for SMBs to purchase the latest Microsoft products and services – so there’s no better time to connect with a partner to understand how Dynamics CRM Online could benefit your business.
Be sure to read more over here.
By Joe McKendrick, contributor, Forbes Insights
To compete in today’s global economy, business managers need to have the right tools, as well as open minds. There are plenty of incredibly useful tools to choose from, and many of them have made their way into most businesses – such as mobile smartphones, tablet computers, social media accounts and cloud accounts. It’s important to have such tools – today’s consumers expect the companies and organizations they deal with to be just as tech-savvy as they are.
Still, is having all these enablers enough to transform your business into a 21st-century digital contender? Perhaps, but usually it takes something else – an underlying, unifying foundation that connects all these shiny new tools to your core business. To achieve the full benefits of mobile, cloud, data analytics and social media, a company’s mission-critical systems need to be agile and open enough to enable these new ways of doing business.
That’s why modernization is so vital to today’s small to midsize businesses. Yesterday’s platforms- such as Windows 2003 – will not adequately support all the new directions businesses want and need to go. By re-platforming to a modern operating system, such as Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Microsoft Azure, business will be able to support and take advantage of the new tools and technologies that are emerging.
Installing new software lays the foundation that helps organizations begin their modernization journey. As they progress on this journey, the myriad possibilities of digital technology will open up to them. The following are potential steps to consider for building a digital business on top of a modern technology foundation:
To begin the process, check out this free e-guide, which shares the experiences of small to midsize businesses across the country that are leveraging technology to modernize. This article also provides guidance on how to safeguard your business against viruses, spyware and malware, which can be major security concerns for small businesses. The Office Insiders video series also offers: insights on why the cloud matters to your business; benefits of and best practices for increasing mobility in a small business; and tips for creating a social media strategy.
True or False? Upgrading to new technology is costly and takes too much time. Only big companies need to invest in data security protection. Employees are most productive only when working in the office. You may hold these misconceptions, or business myths, as truths. I want to encourage you to reconsider and not let them hold your small business back.
We recently partnered with small business expert, celebrated author and technology evangelist, Ramon Ray, on a video series to bust these business myths and show how modern technology can improve productivity.
The first video in the ModernBiz Myth Busting series, “Pardon the Interruptions” highlights the positive impact flexible work options have on small businesses. After enduring distracting small talk employees often face in the office, Ramon makes an important point: you can be equally, and most likely more productive working remotely as being at the office. In fact, according to a BCG study, which surveyed small businesses who have adopted the cloud, more than half (58 percent) say their employees get more done and work better together (61 percent) through the use of cloud technology.
Mobile and cloud technologies provide small businesses the ability to collaborate wherever, whenever, including outside of the office. Contrary to popular belief, these technologies are often less of an investment than traditional hardware, while allowing for greater flexibility.
Whatever the size of your company, investing in modern technology will help increase customer affinity and provide your business with a competitive edge.
To learn more about modern technology options for your business, check out our video, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ModernBiz.
Many will recall 2014 as the year of the data breach. From individuals to major brands, it seemed that no one was immune to the threat of a cyber attack. While 2014 was particularly worrisome, these types of breaches have been on the rise in recent years and are predicted to be a continued threat. Between 2013 and 2014, nearly half of all U.S. adults had their information hacked and an estimated 432 million accounts were breached. In 2012, 29 percent of small businesses were victims of a cyber-attacks. According to a recent study cited by the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology, roughly 60 percent of small businesses close within six months of a cyber attack.
While the breaches making national headlines are often the result of sophisticated hacks, far greater and more common threats stem from much simpler causes including employee or contractor mistakes, lost or stolen hardware and procedural errors. Thankfully, there are ways to help protect yourself and your business, starting with learning how to identify potential symptoms of online fraud. Here are four easy-to-follow tips:
For more tips on protecting your business, check out this great post from Allstate Business Insurance. We’ve partnered with their experts to offer a free, online fraud webinar, which will discuss this important issue for small businesses. Sign up for the free webinar on January 20 at 11 a.m. PT to learn more about online fraud including detection, prevention and recovery strategies. Share your tips with me on Twitter @Cindy_Bates or by using hashtag #SafeguardYourBiz.
As a small business owner, you’re likely to invest in the latest security systems to protect your home and office locations. You install motion sensors and use cameras to keep a watchful eye on your business, but the next step of protecting your data often goes overlooked. With data breaches on the rise, it’s increasingly important to take action to protect yourself, your customers and your business. In the below post, Mike Barton, president of Allstate Business Insurance, offers practical tips you can implement today to help keep your business safe in the digital era. Want to learn even more ways you can protect your business? Register now for the Protecting Your Business Against Online Fraud webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 11 a.m. PST.
When you hear of another large retailer that’s been hit with a data breach, it’s easy to assume that data thieves only target big businesses. Unfortunately, the latest data breach report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) lists a number of small and medium-sized businesses that have been hit, too.
The start of a new year is a crucial time to make sure you have safeguards in place to help protect your company against data theft. Here are six tips:
Train workers well. Establish basic cyber-security practices, and make sure employees are well-versed in handling sensitive customer and corporate information, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says. The agency suggests that your plan include training in avoiding phishing and malware attacks; the plan should also require employees to change email and other passwords regularly.
Keep computers updated. Yes, it’s time-consuming (and sometimes costly) to continually upgrade operating systems and software. But up-to-date programs are a simple way to help prevent viruses and online breaches, according to the FCC. The SANS Institute, a research and education organization focused on information security, outlines 20 common Internet security challenges – and plans of attack to fix them.
Safeguard your company’s Wi-Fi. To make it tougher for criminals to get inside your company, the FCC suggests hiding your Wi-Fi network’s Service Set Identifier (SSID) so your network name isn’t publicly visible. Be sure to password-protect your router, and update the password regularly.
Secure mobile devices. If you or your employees work on laptops, tablets or cell phones outside the office, the FCC encourages you to password-protect them, encrypt sensitive data, and install security apps to help prevent data breaches while away from your company’s network. You may even want to establish a virtual private network (VPN) that employees can access instead of connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Consider data compromise insurance coverage. This coverage can give you peace of mind if your business’s client, vendor, or employee data files (or financial information) are stolen or damaged. This increasingly popular type of policy could help cover the costs of informing victims about a data breach at your company, providing them with credit-monitoring services, rebuilding your data files and more. An experienced business insurance agent can help you decide whether this policy is right for your company.
Mike Barton is the president of Allstate Business Insurance. He was named to Business Insurance’s list of “Power Brokers” and is a nationally recognized speaker on subjects ranging from reforming health care in America to business strategies for improving health, engagement and productivity.
By Joe McKendrick, contributor, Forbes Insights
For small- to midsize-business executives, the digital revolution offers opportunities not imaginable just a few years ago. Markets across the globe can now be reached with a few clicks of a mouse. The latest and greatest applications are available for immediate use, with no need for installation or setup. Detailed answers to any and all market questions are just a split second away. Customers are ready and eager to help spread the word about a company if they are happy with their experience.
Welcome to the digital age, where everything is connected. Thanks to significant advances in information technology, small to midsize businesses now have access to the same powerful, secure and networked technology resources that large corporations enjoy. These resources – which can be drawn from onsite data centers, from the cloud or from a combination of both – help deliver insights from data analytics, faster time to market, and highly customized products and services to customers, as they need them.
These digital technology advances are part of an ongoing evolution that began with the computerization of rote functions across small to midsize enterprises – such as maintaining customer records, or automating general ledgers and accounting sheets. This accelerated over the past decade, as businesses learned to automate their order-to-cash processes, capture essential customer information and store it securely in powerful databases, while providing employees the tools to quickly access important information and make decisions. Infrastructure solutions, built on Microsoft Windows Server 2003, paved the way for small to midsize businesses to enter the information age and to make computing power ubiquitous across their enterprises.
However, while these solutions have served many small to midsize businesses well over the past decade, it’s time to adopt the next generation of computing to move to the next level. While Windows Server 2003-based applications have been very effective at computerizing core business operations, this older technology has reached its limits. (Microsoft has announced it will be ending support for Windows Server 2003 in July 2015.) The software and underlying hardware in Windows Server 2003 was not designed to run or effectively integrate with today’s generation of applications, or to support greater mobility and cloud access. If a company wants to run components in the cloud or enhance connectivity with suppliers and customers, additional workarounds are required.
Small and midsize businesses now have compelling choices for advancing into the digital era. They can continue to build, deploy and maintain applications and data in-house, through a powerful new generation of resident servers; go to the cloud for the same resources; or employ a combination of both in-house and cloud technologies for their needs. The latest infrastructure solutions on the market, both on-premises-server and cloud based, provide development, deployment and infrastructure services, and support many different programming languages, tools and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems.
A new generation of on-premises servers blends high levels of processing power with access to networked or cloud resources, enabling small and midsize business to have access to the same technological capabilities as their larger counterparts, without the overhead costs of maintaining an IT infrastructure.
Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, based on Windows Server 2012 R2, enables businesses to take advantage of a wide range of IT resources, including on-premises applications, as well as cloud-based applications and services such as Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Microsoft Azure. Windows Server 2012 Essentials provides automatic backup and quick-connect VPN, data security, virtual operation, cloud service integration, remote access, file and print sharing, data backup and restoration, and other core server capabilities in one integrated package. Small and midsize businesses can choose which applications and services run on-premises and which run in the cloud. For example, they can run an on-premises copy of Exchange Server, subscribe to a hosted Exchange service or subscribe to Office 365.
With a cloud-centric option, businesses can access and run the latest business applications – as well as existing applications—and connect those applications, data and services to any end-user client or device. Workloads can be moved between on-premises and cloud environments with the click of a mouse. With unlimited scalability instantly available, small and midsize businesses can launch promotions or new market initiatives without worrying about overwhelming their infrastructure with more transactions or data than it can handle.
Microsoft Azure, available with Windows Server 2012 or as a standalone service, enables businesses to quickly scale up or down to match demand, and small and midsize businesses pay only for what they use. Small and midsize businesses can see substantial savings in on-premises data center costs, because they will not be required to pay for and maintain extra, unused server capacity. Companies can use hundreds of terabytes, and even petabytes, of Azure-based storage – a key benefit as big data grows, along with various unstructured file types, such as video files and sensor data.
Cloud-based solutions such as Azure are always highly available. It offers automatic data storage, backup and recovery. In addition, security is assured, through identity and access management technologies, as well as Active Directory, which provides an identity and access management cloud solution to help control access to thousands of Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications in the public cloud.
The stakes in moving to a more digital-capable platform are high for small to midsize businesses. Businesses cannot afford the risk of relying on old technology that serves to just help them “get by.” That’s because it’s a different world than it was five to 10 years ago. Not only are small to midsize businesses competing against their counterparts across town, but they are also competing against startups from around the globe. Business managers need to be able to reach out and actively engage with customers, suppliers and employees. They need to have data available that provides the intelligence to understand the forces shaping their markets, as well as the preferences of customers. They need the flexibility of accessing applications from both their PCs and mobile devices. Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Microsoft Azure make it easy for businesses to transition to this digital reality. In the process, they will be able to fully participate in today’s digital marketplace.
The digital age is here, and now is the time for small and midsize companies to begin building for the future.
If your company is ready to embrace new technology, there are a variety of resources available through both Microsoft and our partners to help guide the journey. For example, resources on the SMB Business Hub are a great place to start your Windows Server 2003 migration plans. It features on-demand webinar content, a migration planning assistant and other valuable information that will help small businesses discover, assess, target and migrate to modern technology. Be sure to discuss details with your technology partner, or Microsoft can help you find one through Pinpoint.
With the New Year just around the corner, many SMB owners are recounting the ups and downs of the past year and looking for things they can do better heading into 2015. For some, that means streamlining budgets. For others, that means getting a better grasp on the elusive work/life balance. For me, it means looking for ways to assist SMBs in increasing productivity to help them get back a bit of one of the world’s most precious resources – time.
As I look for ways to improve productivity before the ball drops to ring in 2015, I’ve shared a few tried and true methods below that will help you start your year off strong.
I want to hear from you. Share your 2015 business resolutions on Twitter @Cindy_Bates.
SMB owners often have a number of titles – CEO, bookkeeper and office manager to name a few. One title that not many recognize is “marketer.” If you want your business to succeed, you have to market it effectively. Fortunately, you don’t need a big budget or a fancy title to effectively market your business. Marc Prosser, a contributor whose work you may have seen in Forbes or VentureBeat is an expert on marketing and is sharing his advice in a series of posts on how to take the fear out of marketing. In the first post below, Marc offers tips on using small size to your advantage. If you have great advice for SMBs, become a contributor to my blog. Click here to submit your ideas.
Online Advertising: Make Small Size a Big Advantage for Your Business
I like to call SMBs small, but mighty when it comes to advertising. As a small business, you can generate big results with a modest budget using online marketing.
There are two basic forms of online advertising: Banner ads and pay-per-click (PPC). In broad terms, you can think of banner ads (aka display ads) as the graphical ads that appear on many of your favorite websites. PPC advertising can be thought of as the text-based advertising you see on search engines like Bing. As the name suggests, the advertiser only pays when a potential customer clicks on the ad. Both forms of advertising can be used effectively by small businesses. In fact, SMBs have two distinct advantages over larger enterprises when it comes to advertising:
The option to work with smaller websites – When I worked for a major company with a big budget, I needed to provide my sales team with tens of thousands of new leads every month. As a result, we focused only on sites with millions of visitors. On the other hand, SMBs can focus on forming relationships with the owners of small sites targeted to their geography and customer base to get more ad inventory, leads, custom opportunities and negotiate better pricing. Make owners of smaller sites feel like working with you is financially worthwhile. Offering a small site $50 per month to put your ads on their website, may not be seen as worth the time it will take to put the ad code on pages. On the other hand, offering $600 upfront to put your ads on a site for the whole year, may get them excited about the relationship.
The ability to pivot quickly – Larger enterprises tend to get bogged down by red tape and long approval processes. Alternatively, SMBs are able to look at results of their marketing efforts and quickly change their approach. For example, if you’re a dentist and the display ads for one social campaign are not leading to a desired increase in office visits, owners can quickly make the switch to PPC ads using geo-targeted search terms (i.e. Lincoln Nebraska dentist).
Online marketing makes it easy to target likely customers to generate both new leads and sales. By making smart advertising decisions, businesses can reap the benefits of marketing without a big name or a big budget. Below are a few tips to get you started:
I love the holiday season. For me, the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year is full of the things nearest and dearest to my heart – friends, family and food. It’s also a time when many SMB owners are busier than ever – managing surges in sales, attending or holding events and strategizing for the next year. Often, that doesn’t leave much time to find the perfect gift for someone else or to buy yourself a present that could give your business a needed productivity boost. When faced with an already full to-do list, it’s always easier to shop with a few suggestions in mind. Below, I’ve listed a few of my personal favorite things that would make great gifts for the business owner or busy person in your life.
Surface Pro 3– If there’s one gift on my list that I know will keep on giving, it’s the Surface Pro 3. I replaced my laptop with one of these a few months ago and I haven’t looked back. The Surface Pro 3 is extremely lightweight and easy to travel with, letting me get work done from anywhere whether I’m at my desk, on a plane or in front of the TV at home. If you already have or you’re planning to purchase a Surface Pro 3, consider adding the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station to your list. It’s revolutionized the way I work, turning my tablet into a complete desktop workstation. This is great for those who work from home because it can easily connect an HD monitor and your favorite accessories via multiple inputs and five USB ports.
Microsoft Band– Wearable devices are all anyone is talking about but the new Microsoft Band takes the market to a whole new level by focusing on health and productivity. Check out the great video on the website, which will help you see just how many moments you’re missing looking down at your devices. Remember to look up, especially during the holidays.
JBL PowerUp Wireless Charging Speaker – Music is another great way to unwind. I love the JBL PowerUp because I can listen to songs and charge my phone simultaneously. This speaker is especially handy for dual users, those who leverage both work-specific and personal devices to get work done.
Movies– I’m a huge fan of movies. In fact, I’ve seen every Oscar winning movie for the past 50 years. Curling up with a bowl of popcorn and watching your favorite movie is a great way to wind down at the end of a busy week.
Quality Time– Thanks to technology, we can be close to loved ones during the holidays even when we’re physically far apart. I have a standing Skype date with my 4-year-old nephew every Sunday where he brings me up-to-speed on his week while we share activities – sometimes I even play the piano for him. When you’re close to family yet operate a business remotely, the recently introduced Skype for Business lets you connect via video with employees, coworkers and customers. Free Skype calls can also help boost your bottom line.
Love something on my list or have additions you can’t live without? Let’s keep the conversation going. Tell me about your favorite things on Twitter @Cindy_Bates #BizWishList.
Small businesses are doing amazing things in communities across the country. Not only are their owners ambitious, passionate and incredibly driven people, but small businesses also are driving the resurgence of our economy. In fact, according to the SBA, SMBs are responsible for more than half of the nation’s jobs and account for 54 percent of U.S. sales. There are great stories behind every one of these small businesses, and Microsoft wants to hear them.
We’ve recently launched the Microsoft Small Business Contest for entrepreneurs and small business owners to share their experiences. From now until January 11, SMB owners can submit a two-minute video describing their beginnings, successes, or even challenges, for a chance to win $20,000. Check out the Microsoft For Work Facebook page for more details, and follow the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #MSSmallBizContest.
Need inspiration for your video? Entrepreneur and small business expert Ramon Ray is rooting for you, watch this as well as our own video about the contest below.
We can’t wait to see all the amazing stories from across the nation.
I’ve always thought of small-business owners as heroes. They’re the women and men who battle for success despite obstacles, fears, physical challenges and mental exhaustion as they work towards success. As we approach Veterans Day and the end of National Veterans Small Business Week (NVSBW), I want to recognize the unique heroism of America’s veterans who own small businesses.
Veteran-owned businesses contribute more than $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy every year and employ nearly 6 million, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). During their military service, veteran owners learn to be dynamic leaders and tremendous problem-solvers. Those core skills may account for the fact that veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than others. Did you know one in 10 small businesses is veteran-owned? Even the hit TV show “Shark Tank” – which I happen to be a big fan of – is supporting NVSBW by dedicating an episode (Friday, 11/7) exclusively to veteran-owned businesses.
Microsoft is a proud supporter of veterans and just last year announced a new program to provide software development training and testing to active-duty service members transitioning out of the military. The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) has had great success in preparing U.S. service members for certification as developers, applications engineers and IT project managers. On November 6, Chris Cortez, the executive sponsor of MSSA and Microsoft’s VP of Military Affairs will be speaking at an event, which you’re invited to attend if you live in the Washington DC area. The breakfast conversation, sponsored by Microsoft and VISA, will feature solutions to help transitioning service members by expanding education and hiring efforts for service members and veterans.
But you don’t need to travel to an event to find veterans who own small businesses. You can turn to Twitter or Facebook to follow the #VetBizWeek hashtag created by the SBA. Posts to this hashtag focus on NVSBW and exchanges around this weeklong event. In addition, the SBA established the #MyVetBiz hashtag for veteran-owned businesses. If you’re a veteran, you can share your stories there. If you’re a supporter of veteran owners, you can congratulate your colleagues and learn from their experiences. Or you can simply tell the world about a vet-owned business in your community.
I had the chance to interact with Tee Rowe, CEO of America’s Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) about how their organization works with veterans. He mentioned programs focused on helping veteran small business owners improve profitability, expand market share, and explore export opportunities.
“America’s veterans are strong contributors to our economy and we are proud to help our Veterans build and grow a thriving business as they transition from military service” he said. “America’s Small Business Development Centers are committed to helping our veterans with targeted training, counseling and mentoring to start and grow a small business.”
In partnership with Microsoft, ASBDC has free on-line training for Veterans and all Small Businesses to become more tech and business Savvy with Global Classroom. Click here to find out more.
I’ve already begun participating in this week’s dialogue on Twitter. That’s where I discovered the Veteran Owned Business Directory, a free listing of nearly 20,000 businesses owned by veterans. I found the site of Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema that is highlighting a different Arizona veteran-owned business each day. I learned about a seminar sponsored by the city of Palm Bay, Florida, on how to start a veteran-owned business.
Across the country, we’ll find hundreds of resources and stories like these. They can help all of us learn from our nation’s military veterans how to best succeed in business. Visit #VetBizWeek and #MyVetBiz to enlist in the conversation.
In my experience, the most successful small businesses are those that make the most out of their investment in technology.
They are the practitioners who are empowered to respond quickly and professionally to clients and the online entrepreneurs who can expand the capabilities of their websites. They’re often small companies reaching out to national and global audiences through email marketing. However they operate, those business people who best capitalize on technology consistently find a speedier and more productive route to their markets. Research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found SMBs leveraging technology grow revenue and profitability at a much faster rate. According to BCG, if just 15 percent of low-tech SMBs and 25 percent of the mid-tech SMBs became high-tech SMBs, the result would be 2 million more jobs and an additional $357 billion into the U.S. economy.
We at Microsoft want every small business to realize the full power and value of accessing online technology. We recently announced the availability of three new Office 365 plans to help businesses thrive. We continue to offer small businesses affordable solutions that empower them to better serve customers and are excited about several other programs we’ve launched with partnering companies.
For micro-small business with a single entrepreneur, we recently collaborated with GoDaddy to create a small-business package called Get Online Today. For just $1 a month in the first year, this program enables even the smallest of businesses to get online with a complete Web presence. The package includes:
Of course, there are many types of small businesses and those who are “micro” today can need to grow exponentially tomorrow. GoDaddy also has a Business Premium offer that’s available for up to five employees. We’re committed to helping businesses through every phase and these GoDaddy offers are an easy and affordable way to get your hands on the same types of online tools that your much larger competitors are using.
Online customer relationship management (CRM) is another tool that SMBs can take advantage of to gain a competitive edge. Microsoft Dynamics CRM online can help reduce costs and increase profitability by organizing and automating business processes that nurture customer satisfaction and loyalty in the sales, marketing, and customer service fields. For those businesses using Salesforce, they now get the benefit of Office 365 through our new partnership with Cirrus Insight. This powerful combo lets you view Salesforce information in Office 365 and use email templates for easy tracking to see who opened your emails, when and where.
In addition, you’ll want to be sure you’re using the most efficient hardware to avail yourself of what online technologies can provide. Consider the Surface Laptop Replacement Bundle to help you upgrade your equipment. You can receive as much as $150 off the full-powered Surface Pro 3 PC/tablet and the Surface Pro Type Cover and Docking Station when they all are purchased together.
Open the door to Office 365 for your business, in conjunction with GoDaddy and CRM and carry the full-featured Surface Pro 3 to enter the business arena armed with all the capabilities needed for drawing the most from your technology. Don’t just think big – think smart and harness the smartest technology to propel your business forward.
For more information on how to get the most from your technology and sharpen your business’s competitive edge, check out Microsoft’s ModernBiz website.
An essential characteristic of a modern business is your capacity to do business anywhere. Technology enables an organization to cultivate a cohesive, collaborative approach while providing flexibility in when, where and how your team gets work done. According to Staff.com, one in four workers work from home at least some of the time and telework has grown 73 percent in the last six years.
We approached CEO and founder of FlexJobs, Sara Sutton Fell, for her perspective on the future of work and how small businesses can embrace a flexible work style. Sara is also the founder of the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative, is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, and was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
Technology is impacting small businesses in unprecedented ways. From email and video conference calls, to doing business across time zones in a matter of seconds, technology has completely reshaped the way business is done. And in my experience as the founder and CEO of a startup turned small business, I believe it has opened up so many possibilities for how, when, and where we work, as well.
When I founded FlexJobs in 2007, I had a vision in mind — I wanted to create a top notch service that would help people find flexible jobs that support work-life balance. This goal was personal for me, as I had just given birth to my first son. It was the anticipation of my upcoming motherhood that led me on my own (frustrating) search for job opportunities that were both professional and flexible. The frustration I experienced inspired me to start FlexJobs.
In starting my new company, I realized that I wanted to “walk the walk” of work flexibility, not just “talk the talk.” For me this meant creating a work culture that was based in telecommuting and flexible schedules, ideally leading to a healthy work-life balance for our team members. This was somewhat of an experiment, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome — not only for myself as a working mom and CEO, but also for the amazing, productive, happy, and successful company it has allowed us to build. Here are a few of my most valued tips for how other small businesses can utilize flexible work options for their own success.
Use flexible work options to optimize productivity.
With tuned-in and healthy management techniques, flexible work options have been shown in repeated studies to boost workers’ productivity levels. Without the stress of work-life conflict, workers can better focus on doing their jobs well. Flexible hours help people better manage their personal obligations without needing to take time off. And working from home helps people avoid in-office distractions, save time otherwise spent commuting, and focus on their jobs better. The great news for small businesses is that flexible work isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition–you can craft a flexible work program that works for your company.
Keep your costs low.
Another important factor for a small business is the cost of operating. With flexible work options, you’re able to lower your costs while increasing your productivity. At my company, for example, because we all work from home, we have no central office, and therefore no real estate costs. As a business just getting off the ground seven years ago, this was a huge asset. Similarly, flexible work options can give you an edge in hiring the best candidate for the job regardless of location (if the job is 100% telecommuting), or tapping into other candidate pools, such as the highly-educated, under-utilized candidate pool of women who left the workforce to take care of their families (if the job is part-time, flexible, or alternative schedule).
Focus on the most important things.
One of the main reasons that flexible work options are good for small business is that they shift your mindset to focus on the things that really matter. Small business owners know better than anyone the value of time. In the 20th century, managers focused on face-time–a person’s ability to be in the office–rather than on the quality or output of their efforts. Today, however, technology makes it much easier to focus on what really matters. So, what matters to your business? What are your goals? And how can flexible work support them?
Allowing your team to work from home or have flexible schedules is especially suited for roles like sales and business development, administrative roles, web development, customer support, and operations–the core parts of most businesses! Once you decide to utilize work flexibility, the next step is crafting a custom program that incorporates flexible work options that fit your company well, and help you meet your goals. Lay a solid foundation for yourself, and flexible work will help your small business grow and succeed.
Read more from Sara on The Huffington Post
On my way home from the office late last week I heard an interesting story on NPR about why women lag in winning government contracts. I paused to turn up the volume because the host was speaking about two of my favorite topics – successful women in business and unique business opportunities. While listening, I found one statistic particularly jarring: In the 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses, it has never met that goal.
I’ve met with countless SMB owners who have earned federal contracts and I know the impact it can give a business – opening doors, building connections and fast-tracking growth. The question is how can we help level the playing field for women who now comprise a third of all U.S. small business owners? Below, I’ve listed five practical tips to offer women a jumpstart on taking their businesses to the next level.
Don’t think your small business is a match for the federal government? Think again. The government is the largest buyer of products and services in the country. It spends 23 percent of its contracting budget with American SMBs. For additional inside tips on winning government contracts, download Braddock’s The Winning Edge, which was sponsored by Microsoft.
October is a time when many small business owners in areas vulnerable to extreme weather like hurricanes and tropical storms are bracing for the worst-case scenario, but small businesses everywhere need to consider whether they are ready for the unexpected.
According to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40 percent of businesses hit by a disaster never reopen. And another 25 percent close within two years. These are very jarring, yet real, statistics to think about when we’re talking about the future of your business.
Here in Seattle, we’re more likely to be concerned with earthquakes or flooding than hurricanes, but there’s another type of disaster, the kind that’s virtual instead of physical, which unfortunately means no city is immune. Technology disasters like system failures or hacking can be devastating to businesses of all sizes and contrary to popular belief, small businesses can be targets for cyberattacks.
Fear not. Modern technology can act as an insurance policy, assuring business continuity against even the most dangerous of threats. Follow the three tips below to help your business avoid or quickly recover from any disaster, whether it’s technology or weather-related.
Anyone who’s ever faced disaster knows things can quickly get out of hand when the skies darken or your screen goes black. The first action you should take to protect your business is to create a plan well in advance of when you actually need it. There are some great resources available to assist you, including the SBA. Microsoft also developed a Disaster Preparedness eGuide to help you ask the right questions and develop a more robust plan. Has your business survived or avoided the impact of disaster? Share your story in the comment section below.
Last week my team had the privilege of having Erik Wahl, an artist, best-selling author and speaker on creativity, deliver an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation during a team meeting. His creative approach to presenting business concepts and enthusiasm for all to pursue increasing levels of excellence resonated with all of us. It is clear that to achieve such a well-crafted message much time was invested and that takes discipline and persistence. Please enjoy some words from Erik on this topic below and learn how you can encourage creativity to thrive at your small business.
In my book UNthink, I researched and wrote about framework of innovation and how to unlock our mind to unleash our natural creative genius. A good portion of the book was strategically focused on how to tackle the process of dreaming up a new idea. I have shared far less about the lonely work I do to bring ideas into action. – Innovation into actionable substance. – My personal dogged approach to grinding through resistance to discover unchartered territory.
I have found some of my greatest creative breakthroughs occur when…(are you ready for this)…I am laser focused and militaristically disciplined.
The paradox of creativity is that structure creates freedom. I am a naturally creative spirit who has built my business with extreme orderliness and attention to detail. The strength of this structure gives me greater confidence and freedom to create.
In studying the masters;
– Beethoven sat down every day at daybreak, regardless of season, and composed until 3:00pm.
– Kafka started writing at 11:30pm each night.
– Mozart taught lessons by day and composed only in the evenings.
– Picasso ate lunch each day with his family in silence and only allowed visitors one day per week.
– Mark Twain awoke at 5:30 am, ate a hearty breakfast, and wrote until 5:00 pm.
When fanatical discipline is combined with empirical creativity, the challenges of mental fatigue and mind-blocks are no match in the pursuit of excellence.
The only things these individuals have in common is the rigidity of their daily routines, carving out the pockets of quietude to listen to their inner creative voice.
Until you and I build up the capacity to focus like the masters, let us begin by adhering to the cheeky mindset of Peter De Vries…”I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
As a small business owners I think it is imperative to apply the same principals of disciplined structure to bring innovation to market. Dream. Create. Inspire. Execute. Creativity without actionable substance is like river without banks.
Our modern workplace has evolved from a physical office to anywhere we can effectively get work done – whether it’s at home, on the road, or in a public space. That means the way we communicate must evolve to be equally flexible. With a host of fresh business communications options, such as instant messaging and video conferencing and in light of our multi-location and multigenerational workplace, it can feel like we need a more defined strategy for how and when to use which tech tools.
Recently, Microsoft launched ModernBiz, a website geared towards helping businesses at every stage. The site contains an abundance of information and insights on how business owners use technology, including this statistic – 61 percent of SMB owners use smartphones and tablets to read and send emails on the go. This got me thinking about different criteria for deciding which communications methods to use in various situations that arise in a mobile world. One way I found to start visualizing the tools and timing is to plot them out in a Steven Covey-like grid, with “Not Urgent/Urgent” at one axis and “Tactical/Strategic at the other.” Here’s my take:
My personal practice is to build awareness around people’s communications preferences in order to improve relationships and the quality of interactions. I take my cues from how and when my colleagues are most responsive. For example, some people limit texting to personal use, some people are rarely at their desks, and others only occasionally sign into IM.
I’d love to hear about your experiences communicating with colleagues and employees in the modern era. Share your personal practices in comments section below or contribute an article of your own.
By most definitions, small businesses are small only in size—not in their ingenuity or potential impact on their markets. The smartest small businesses think about technology in the same way that larger companies do: "What technologies can help me streamline business processes, stay close to my customers, improve my offerings and make my small business appear on par with larger enterprises?"
Increasingly, the answer is customer relationship management (CRM) technology. In fact, a study of the adoption of cloud-based applications by small businesses, conducted by Dell and Techaisle research, found that CRM was by far the most adopted, up from 34 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2012. Below are a just few ways CRM can help your business grow
CRM technology can be more than a tool for customer service, marketing, and sales. It's also a platform for building services to support customer needs.
One small business that has used CRM technology to build innovative services is HealthStatRX, a specialty pharmacy that manages medication and therapeutic monitoring for patients with chronic conditions. With just 20 employees, HealthStatRX adopted technology that today provides an unparalleled depth of services. No other drug specialty pharmacy has a solution that tracks patient medications, medical conditions, lab results, drug interactions, pharmacy fulfillment, positive outcomes and direct patient communications, providing a comprehensive profile of care for each patient to guide the proper management of medications and therapies.
The objective for HealthStatRX was to help patients manage their conditions and thereby reduce the likelihood that they would be readmitted to the hospital. Lower readmission rates mean healthier patients and can save hospitals and home healthcare companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
To achieve its goal, the company built a new kind of offering on a platform that used Microsoft Dynamics CRM online. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the front end for patient care coordination that helps manage how and when chronic patients take their medication. It also manages the dietary needs of patients. HealthStatRX was able to produce a nearly 70 percent reduction in hospital readmissions. They were also able to slash costs dramatically, but its real ROI is the positive outcomes for patients and the lives that it saves.
Whatever the size of your business, chances are that you, too, can significantly enlarge your offerings and your market impact with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. To read more about CRM and how it can serve as a platform for your biggest and best business ideas, visit the Microsoft Dynamics website.
Grow or die. It's a mantra permeating almost every business book you read. Based on my experiences running a business group at a major brand and growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I know growth doesn't come easy to any business. But new research shows small- and mid-sized businesses have an ally in their quest for growth: Technology.
New research from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found U.S. small- and midsized businesses (SMB) that leverage technology had 10 points higher job growth and 11 points higher revenue growth than "low-tech" SMBs. The same study concluded that if just 15 percent of low-tech SMBs and 25 percent of the mid-tech SMBs became high-tech SMBs, the result would be 2 million more jobs and an additional $357 billion into the U.S. economy. A recent article on CNBC presents a strong case for using technology to increase job growth.
The main difference between the tech leaders and tech laggards is that tech leaders use cloud technology, or web-based applications for things like email or productivity apps like Word and PowerPoint. I've seen some small businesses use cloud technology to become more relevant to their end customers, such as offering customer support via video calls. I've seen others use it to help teams of employees based in many different locations work together seamlessly.
Business organizations are taking notice of the critical role technology plays in the success of the small business segment. Chambers of Commerce in some of the country's largest cities, such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the DC Chamber of Commerce, have made technology education a priority for their members. Both Chambers recently introduced the e-learning Global Classroom platform, designed to help small businesses become more tech savvy. These cloud-based custom portals offer hundreds of online courses and thousands of video tutorials from technology and business leaders including Microsoft, Franklin Covey, Emily Post and WIN Learning.
I'm eager to check in with these programs months down the road to learn how many businesses have seized this tremendous opportunity, and hear what it has meant to their businesses. I also want to recognize the incredible work of IT services providers across the country, many of which are small businesses themselves, who work hard to help SMBs get up and running with the right technology for their business. If you're in need of professional IT support, check out Pinpoint.Microsoft.com, where you can filter by your location, industry, company size and other specialties to find an IT expert who can help you ensure you're using technology to your best advantage.
Did you know that more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business? Read the business section of your local newspaper, listen to virtually any political candidate, or simply take inventory of what your family members and friends do for work, and it's clear just how critical a role small businesses play in the fabric of American life.
Every year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) hosts a week of events in different cities across the U.S. and activities designed to recognize the pivotal role of small business owners to our national economy and culture. This week is National Small Business Week, and if you own a business, you may be interested in the discussion and resources being highlighted during local events and webcasts throughout the week. Here's some of what's in store:
Small businesses are the heart and soul of the U.S. economy, and NSBW is all about giving you the tools to succeed. Find locations, web conferences, schedules, and other NSBW information here, and please let me know what you learned this week that will keep your business strong and successful in the future.
The key to the most compelling entrepreneurial success stories is often about finding a better way to do something that had been done a thousand times before. In fact, challenging the status quo is key to achieving higher levels of performance in practically any endeavor. Andy Papathanassiou helps teams challenge the status quo for a living.
In 1992, Andy was hired by the famed NASCAR racing team Hendrick Motorsports as the first ever "pit crew coach," where he revolutionized the process of what happens when race cars come into the pit during a race. A former college football player at Stanford University, where he also earned a bachelor's in Economics, and a master's in Organizational Behavior, Andy combined his lifelong passion for athletics with his business training to revolutionize Hendrick's entire pit program.
I recently invited Andy to lead my team in a pit crew simulation exercise, which gave us an incredible appreciation for the fast-paced, precision-focused world of car racing â€“ and some lessons we could apply to improving our own performance as a team. Here are a few of the surprising parallels between motorsports and business:
You can check out Andy Papathanassiou's website to learn more about his “Over the Wall" philosophy. What sports or other activities do you liken to the business world? Share in the comments below.
As someone who frequently finds career inspiration in unexpected places, I'm always on the lookout for learnings from individuals who have found success in a particular field, be it business, sports or personal life. Several months ago, my team and I had the huge honor of having Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson join us at my annual All Hands team meeting. Russell talked about his pursuit of excellence and his winning mindset.
The Seahawks then went on to win the Super Bowl, which was a thrill for all of us who call Seattle home. After the big win, I read an article about how the Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll is strategizing to win the Super Bowl again. In the article, Pete also talked about the mindset that it takes to win, and win again. He said, "There's a whole mentality that goes into how you get there, then once you get there, you continue."
Many small businesses find it challenging to maintain and repeat their initial successes. Perhaps they have a high volume of traffic during a grand opening period, but then struggle to keep customers coming in after the new business hype wears off. Approximately 543,000 new businesses are started each month, but even more shut their doors.
In the spirit of winning, and winning again, here are a few insights from Pete Carroll:
Has your business found a way to make success repeatable? Tell me in the comments below.
I've always looked to professionals from diverse backgrounds for insights into how they achieved success, and with all of the Olympics media coverage over the last few weeks, it's clear that the strategies and insights of world-class athletes are ones many businesses could apply to their own success. Here are four insights I picked up from some USA Olympic medal winners:
The sacrifice, the preparation, the ambition and risk-taking â€“ there are many things small business owners can relate to in the stories of world-class athletes. Who do you gain inspiration from outside the business realm? Share in the comments below!
In addition to these Olympic inspirations, Microsoft also had an incredible experience in Sochi: powering the infrastructure, systems, information management and communication of this year's games through many of our technologies. We even joined the ranks of record-breaking performances, delivering the largest-ever audience on an authenticated stream for any sporting event in history. More than 2.1 million people tuned in to watch NBC Sports Digital's record-setting stream of Team USA versus Canada in the semifinal hockey game, powered by Windows Azure. We're so proud to be a part of Olympics history!
Small business owners face many non-negotiable capital investments, but technology doesn't have to be one of them. By opting for cloud IT services for things like email, productivity apps, storage and collaboration tools, you can realize a number of financial benefits.
1. Right-size IT spending. With cloud services, you pay on a subscription basis for what you use. It's easy to add or subtract users â€“ a particular benefit if your business needs to scale up or down on a seasonal basis.
2. Make IT an operating cost, not a capital expense. Small businesses no longer need to buy the same expensive server hardware that large companies can much more easily afford. Physical email servers and the resulting electric bills used to be a significant expense for the small business Traderscoach.com, which educates people on how to make the right investment decisions. Looking for a more cost effective solution, the owners chose Microsoft Office 365, a subscription-based cloud service providing email, instant messaging, on-demand web and video conferencing and productivity applications. As a result, the business cut IT costs by an amazing 80 percent.
3. Let IT experts handle your IT. Business owners are busy running their business. By moving to the cloud, small businesses can offload the bulk of their IT management to the service provider instead of doing it themselves.
4. Always have the latest and greatest version of your technology. A cloud service is always up-to-date with the latest versions of software, including security patches and service packs, eliminating the need to refresh your software every couple years.
Are there other areas of your business where you've been able to move turn a fixed capital expense into a more manageable operating expense? Share it in the comments below.
I was recently reading The Seattle Times over breakfast when I came upon the story of an Australian woman named Audette Exel, an entrepreneur using her business to power some incredibly inspiring community development projects. After reaching out to her on LinkedIn, and learning she had a trip to Seattle planned, I was fortunate enough to meet her in person. An accomplished professional and investment banker by trade, Audette runs a corporate advisory business, the proceeds of which go directly to fund The ISIS Foundation, which carries out health, education and other development projects in remote areas of Nepal and Uganda.
I'm inspired by her innovative approach to pairing business principles with charitable work. Hers is an unconventional model for funding nonprofit development projects, but it contains some key lessons for the entrepreneurial journey:
Are you using entrepreneurial principles or business skills to improve the world we live in? Share your story in the comments below.
Did you know the technology you use has an impact on what current and potential customers think of your business? Those are the findings of a survey we recently conducted, in which 90 percent of respondents said they would â€“ or would consider â€“ taking their business elsewhere if a company uses outdated technology.
About 60% of respondents said they consider a 5-10 year old operating system or desktop computer to be "outdated." That means the estimated 30% of small businesses that are still using the Windows XP operating system (introduced over 12 years ago in 2001), are running their business on technology that definitely falls into the category of "outdated." Come April 8, 2014, businesses running Windows XP will no longer receive security updates or technical support, leaving them vulnerable to potential security threats.
Businesses that are using outdated technology are not only exposed to reputational and security risks, but are also missing out on some amazing capabilities that have finally become accessible and affordable to SMBs only in the last several years. There is a wide array of versatile, touch-enabled Windows 8 devices, from slates and tablets to All-in-Ones, now available to match every mobility and productivity requirement. And cloud services like Office 365 offer all of the well-known Office apps like Outlook email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as cloud storage, IM, and voice and video conferencing, for as little as $6 per user per month.
If you want to learn more about what it takes to modernize your technology and why it matters, download this free e-guide. And let me know in the comments below how using modern technology has benefitted your business.
Moving away from outdated technology can help you win more customers
It's no secret that it costs significantly more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. As you take time to reflect this time of year on all you're thankful for, there are a few ways of saying thanks that can help deepen your customer relationships and strengthen the fabric of your business.
Here are three ways of thanking the MVPs in your business that will make you stand out from the pack:
Guidance for preparing your business to withstand the unexpected
Is your technology hurting or helping your business?
You know that anxious feeling that follows a major purchase, like a new car or a new home? It often comes from wondering if there’s something the seller didn’t tell you, or not being sure you got the best deal possible. I hear from a lot of business owners that the same sense of anxiety can creep in when it comes to investing in your business.
It’s especially the case when spending on areas outside your core area of expertise, from marketing advice to technology. Working with an IT expert is one of the best ways to be sure you get the technology that will deliver the most value for you. I’ve written here about Microsoft’s network of IT services providers who are dedicated to serving the technology needs of small and midsized businesses.
iCorps Technologies is one of those partners. Their blog has lots of advice for SMBs looking for IT expertise, from how you can increase IT security and productivity, to ways you can lower your IT costs.
Do you work with a technology expert you trust? Feel free to give them a shout out in the comments below!
Have you ever noticed an airline pilot lugging a black briefcase on their way to the next flight? Those briefcases aren’t filled with personal effects, but are 40-pound flight kits containing charts, maps, manuals and guides. Delta Airlines recently made a move to replace those bulky flight kits for its 11,000 pilots by giving them each an electronic flight bag in the form of a Microsoft Surface 2 tablet. The cockpit will now be a paperless workspace for Delta pilots, with all Delta cockpits projected to be paperless by the end of 2014.
The concept of the paperless workspace – whether it's a cockpit, a cubicle, a reception area or remote jobsite – is exciting for numerous reasons: reduced clutter, improved data security, cost savings and environmental benefits, to name a few. Here are 5 steps you need to take to begin creating your version of the paperless cockpit:
Going paperless has a lot to do with being able to get work done from anywhere. Does your business use technology that gives you flexibility in where you can work? Share your story on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #getitdone.
Businesses have long used email marketing to maintain relationships with customers, present offers and spark repeat business. But it can be hard to cut through the clutter in customers' inboxes and get it right. Over on the Microsoft for Work blog, Richard Israel of Constant Contact shares four essential email marketing strategies to boost repeat business and referrals.
If you want to go a step further in deepening your online marketing expertise, you might want to check out a new series of free seminars presented by Constant Contact and Microsoft at Microsoft retail stores nationwide. At each event, a small business marketing expert will teach you how to build your business with online tools spanning email marketing, social media and productivity. For more information and to register, visit the event page. Registration for the first of these events in October has filled up quickly, but space is still available for many seminars in November, and additional events will be added soon for December and beyond.
Let me know what you learn!
You want to save money. You want to get more done in less time. And you want technology that just does what it's supposed to do. Here are three ways you can ensure you're making the right technology decisions for your business.
If you're thinking about a tech refresh and want to ensure the best return, consider checking out Business Technology Simplified, a new online course series developed in partnership by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Microsoft. Three, 30-minute, self-paced courses make it easy to learn how to make the most of your technology investments and give your business a competitive edge.
Most small business owners I talk to recognize the value that the right technology can deliver their business, but many of them aren't sure where to start when it comes to evaluating and implementing the right mix of technology for their business. That's why I'm looking forward to presenting a webinar this week on Sept. 26th that will cover how to make effective technology choices on a small business budget. "Big Business Tools on a Small Business Budget: 3 Essentials for Business Success" is a free, live event for which you can view the full program and register to attend here. USA Today columnist Steve Strauss will moderate the interactive session, including facilitating real-time Q&A.
I'll cover how to assess whether your business could benefit from a technology facelift. I'll also talk about the technologies that every small business should consider if you want to be more productive, more mobile and more secure. And I'll show you how to connect with expert advice to help you make the most beneficial technology decisions.
If you're not able to attend the webinar, check out the following resources on a variety of topics pertaining to technology for SMBs:
If you are planning to attend the webinar, I'd love to hear what you're hoping to learn in the comments below.
I enjoyed a recent opportunity to talk to Elizabeth Gore, who chairs the United Nations Foundation (UNF) Global Entrepreneurs Council, to learn about the organization and its efforts in areas such as health, the environment and women's issues, among others. In case you're not familiar, the UNF was established to support the UN in solving a range of global issues, from eradicating poverty to improving healthcare in global communities. The UNF is known for carrying out innovative campaigns that not only raise awareness of these important issues, but also have true impact â€“ campaigns like Nothing But Nets, which has sent more than 7 million bed nets to locations throughout Africa that are threatened by malaria.
I was especially impressed by how the UNF seeks to infuse its work with innovation and creativity by drawing on the insights of entrepreneurs. Its Global Entrepreneurs Council is a team of some of the world's brightest young entrepreneurs who serve as advisors and bring innovative thinking to the issues the UNF is addressing.
And now you can help shape the UNF's agenda with your own input by responding to the MY World Survey, which will be used to frame the United Nation's development agenda for the next 15 years. Survey respondents are asked to vote for the six changes they think would make the most difference to their worlds.
I'm drawn to this effort because I appreciate the approach the United Nations is taking to address global problems â€“ an entrepreneurial and collaborative approach that involves big thinkers and ordinary citizens alike.
To date, more than 85,900 people from 194 countries have participated in the MYWorld survey. If you'd like to participate in the survey or learn more, click here.
Imagination Yoga is a small business with a mission to inspire real change in the lives of children, teaching them concepts like compassion, concentration and relaxation. Approximately two years ago, I had the opportunity to spend the day with the founders and learned firsthand about the daily challenges and needs of their small business. At the time the owners discussed their plans for growth and how important it was to retain their true mission while bringing Imagination Yoga to more areas. One thing they didn't expect was how critical a role technology would play to make that happen.
Imagination Yoga is like many small businesses in that it began with a specific culture and mission. Franchising the business had always been a future consideration, but the owners were concerned that growing in this way might threaten the core of what makes Imagination Yoga so unique.
Still, they decided to move forward with franchising and have established two additional successful locations. I was excited to hear from the owners, who shared how technology, and specifically Office 365, has helped enable this expansion. It gave the company an infrastructure that improved communication and collaboration. This has helped to preserve the company's identity and mission in the midst of franchising.
If you're thinking of franchising your business but have concerns like the Imagination Yoga owners did, take time to consider the role technology plays in your organization. How would you rate the way it's impacting communication and collaboration? Does it make employees more productive? Does it enhance your culture? If you can answer affirmatively to these questions, you have a solid foundation for franchising your business.
There are of course a number of other issues to consider when it comes to franchising, such as whether your business is easy to duplicate, whether it has a superior product or service, and if you have the financial means to franchise. The SBA has a great article that addresses these and other issues surrounding franchising. I encourage you to check it out if you're in the exploratory phase.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic of franchising, too. What kind of roadblocks, if any, are you experiencing in the franchising process? Has technology helped your organization through these challenges?
For those who live and work in hurricane-prone areas, the months of September and October can be tension-ridden. While not all businesses and homes run the risk of being affected by this type of event, the truth is disaster can strike small businesses anywhere. It just might take the form of a break-in or fire, or a virtual disaster like network failure or security breach among other possible scenarios.
No matter your small business's geography, it's important to prepare for disasters before they strike. How prepared is your small businesses? Here's a quiz that will provide insight on where you stand.
Try answering the following true/false (or "I don't know") questions:
If you answered "true" to five or more of these questions, way to go! You're well on your way to withstanding disaster. If you didn't fare so well on this quiz, you're not alone and there are steps you can take to prepare your business for the unexpected. Many of these recommendations also will benefit your business whether or not disaster ever occurs.
For valuable information on where to start, I encourage you to check out Microsoft's Disaster Preparedness e-guide. It's full of tips, business strategies and technology guidance that all small businesses will find useful in preparing for disaster. What types of advice do you find most helpful?
Back-to-school season is upon us, and even though I no longer have to prepare for classes, I still enjoy the fresh start that the new school year brings. New beginnings can be cathartic, and I appreciate how the transition from summer to fall motivates me to look at my work with a fresh perspective.
If you feel the same, I challenge you to take your business "back-to-work" this year. Check out these great "work supplies," which will help your small business with its own fresh start this fall:
A business' employees have the potential to be its greatest asset. Developing loyal, skilled employees with a passion for the business doesn't happen on its own and requires a concerted effort. It's an effort that can make a world of difference when it comes to the success and reputation of a company. Here are four ways you can start investing in what could be your business' greatest asset:
Any ideas you would add to this list? What's worked for you when it comes to nurturing your employee base?
I love to hear from SMBs how they successfully transition management of the business from one generation to the next. In succession planning, preserving the company's legacy while also making strategic investments for future success is critical. Oftentimes, investing in technology is just what the business needs to move forward successfully and it can be done in a way that keeps the company's legacy intact.
Bea's Insurance Agency in East Palestine, Ohio is a great example of a company that has handled a succession plan successfully. Bea's has been serving consumers and commercial entities since 1999, when Bea Hromyak first started the company. Now, agents Kerri and Jeffrey Stewart, Hromyak's daughter and son-in-law, run the business.
Kerri and Jeffrey have made some changes when it comes to the way the business operates, but all in the name of maintaining the company's commitment to personal customer service. They needed to ensure that one of them was always in the office during business hours to respond to customer needs. Yet, given that Kerri and Jeffrey are the business' only employees and frequently must meet with customers outside the office, coordinating their schedules became a daily headache that hampered productivity.
Technology was just what the Stewarts needed to build on the solid foundation of customer service Bea established. They turned to Office 365, a set of web-enabled tools that lets them affordably handle email messaging and calendar and contact sharing.
Now, the Stewarts can easily coordinate meetings and guarantee an in-office presence at all times. Moreover, Office 365 will grow with the business, supporting the Stewarts' future plans of adding more agents as well as managing and sharing policies online with SharePoint Online.
The Stewarts inherited a healthy business with a strong legacy, but they also inherited a real productivity challenge that threatened the company's commitment to personal service. To their credit, they responded by seeking a solution that would further their business and honor its trademark quality of service.
What about your business? How are you preserving its original values while also moving forward and growing?
For career-minded individuals, small business owners in particular, taking a vacation and truly unplugging can be a challenge. I make it a point to take time off to recharge, but at times I also find it hard to detach myself from the demands of the office. Here are some guidelines I find useful:
I hope this helps any of you on the fence about taking a vacation this summer or those looking for ways to leave the office with fewer strings attached. Any tips you would share in regards to successfully vacationing as a small business owner?
Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) recently took place in Houston. It is the information technology industry's largest annual event held in honor of our partner ecosystem, which consists of IT service providers from around the world.
You may not realize it, but in the U.S. Microsoft works with roughly 30,000 partners that help SMBs learn about and implement our wide range of products and services. WPC gives my team an opportunity to engage with our partners face-to-face and share the latest about Microsoft's offerings for SMBs, including cloud solutions and details on the newest Windows 8 devices.
WPC 2013 served as our partners' chance to learn about the latest technologies for small businesses, including solutions for the cloud, and details on the newest hardware, like Surface and Windows 8 devices from our OEM partners. Often, attending partners are small businesses themselves, which allows them to evaluate new technologies from their customers' vantage points, since they frequently have the very same needs and concerns themselves. The conference also helps to facilitate relationship-building among partners and creates opportunities to share best practices, explore new ideas and collaborate.
At the conference, partners shared a high level of excitement around Windows 8 and the wide array of PCs and tablets now available to help small businesses operate more efficiently. (Click here to see some of the new Windows 8 PCs, Ultrabooks, and tablets). In speaking with partners at the event, I continued to learn about the challenges their SMB customers face â€“ namely the needs for increased productivity and mobility. Fortunately, for those small businesses without IT staff, SMB-focused Microsoft partners are available to help you address these challenges.
WPC is a celebration of the Microsoft partner community, and together we form an even larger community of businesses focused on growing and thriving through the power of our customer relationships. I encourage you to explore ways you can collaborate with a Microsoft partner to boost your day-to-day and long-term business objectives through technology.
I'm inspired by how technology can be used to solve real problems and alleviate global challenges. Anything is possible when passionate and talented people have access to the right tools and support. This is why I'm a huge supporter of the world's largest student technology competition, The Microsoft Imagine Cup. It's a powerful way Microsoft connects great thinkers with the resources they need to address global issues.
We've tracked this year's group of students on their Imagine Cup journey exhibiting the same perseverance, creativity and commitment to vision as the entrepreneurs I work with every day. In May, the U.S. phase of the competition culminated with the national finals in Silicon Valley. The top teams from regional competitions pitched their ideas to a host of investors, entrepreneurs and technology professionals for a chance to win cash prizes, support for their business concepts and the honor of advancing to the Worldwide Finals in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 8-11.
Advancing to the finals means one talented team is that much closer to its idea coming to life and making a meaningful difference in the world. This year's finals were reformatted to feel more like a real-world springboard for tomorrow's entrepreneurs. Teams from across the country took top spots in various categories, but only one of the final 10 would be awarded the National Team honor.
Competing in the Innovation category, Team P'oli Ahu of the University of Hawaii at Hilo earned the right to represent the U.S. in the Worldwide Finals with its "Help Me Help" app, which aids communities in times of need by utilizing a smartphone's camera and location capabilities to capture images and locations of hazards as they arise. These students harnessed the power of their intelligence and teamwork to create a tool that has real-life implications and a very positive impact.
As small business owners, I know you're working hard every day to connect your products and services with genuine customer needs. The Imagine Cup provides a natural opportunity to reflect on how we're using our individual strengths and talents to improve our customers' lives, and I hope it motivates you to envision how your business can put something good out into the world. To follow the story of Team P'oli Ahu as it competes in the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals, please follow our social channels, including Twitter and Facebook.
For most small businesses, relying on one person to fulfill multiple business roles is nothing new. From restaurant owners who moonlight as bookkeepers, to shop managers who maintain the email server, keeping a small business running often requires multitasking.
According to SMB-focused market research firm AMI Partners, one in three small businesses rely on an "Involuntary IT Manager" to tackle their IT operations. The Involuntary IT Manager is typically the most tech-savvy employee on staff, who â€“ either under direction or by necessity â€“ is called away from primary duties to tend to IT needs.
While this is not an ideal arrangement, all of us familiar with the realities of running a small business understand there aren't always resources to fund formal IT support. IT multitasking can carry a hefty price tag: according to the AMI study, Involuntary IT Managers lose more than 300 work hours per year managing IT â€“ valuable time that could be devoted to their core responsibilities. Just think of all the ways small businesses could invest in their companies and grow if they were not losing the time of these valuable employees!
For the 60 percent of survey respondents who said they were looking for solutions to make IT management easier, there are powerful, affordable cloud-based solutions that can help. Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based business productivity suite, is an ideal way for small businesses to lighten the load of Involuntary IT Managers. Office 365 gives you simplified administration, industry-leading anti-malware and anti-spam protection, and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee, which will allow your de facto IT expert to focus on business contributions that are more in line with his or her role and experience.
As a small business owner, you will probably never stop looking for ways to get more done with less. If having an Involuntary IT Manager has been one of your solutions, know that the cloud can be an invaluable asset to maximize your employees' talents. Does your business have an Involuntary IT Manager, and if so, what are you doing to make his or her job more effective?
This week we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week, and cities across the nation are holding events to show their support of our nation's entrepreneurs. Today is filled with excitement on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., where successful local business leaders and small-business owners will lead informational sessions and workshops designed to give entrepreneurs an edge.
The day started with a panel discussion on how technology can help businesses break into private- and public-sector supply chains. Joe Koreis, president and CEO of thriving small business Clarus Fluid Intelligence, LLC, joined SBA Administrator Karen Mills and me to share his company's success story. It was an inspiring session, leaving the small-business owners in attendance with a sense of how technology and resources can help them reach their goals. The day also will feature breakout sessions on women’s business ownership, speed mentoring, global entrepreneurship, social media, cyber-security and supply chain diversity.
It's not only Seattle-based entrepreneurs who get to experience support like this; through June 21, similar daylong events will be held in Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. If you're not in one of those markets, Microsoft is proud to present all events via live stream on www.sba.gov/smallbusinessweek.
Additionally, Microsoft Store locations across the country will hold V.I.P. events, presentations and product demonstrations to share how Microsoft solutions are helping small businesses realize their potential. I urge you to check with your local store for details and take advantage of activities happening in a city near you.
We also invite you to share how your business is using Microsoft technology to do amazing things. It's as easy as using one of our social channels (@MicrosoftSMB on Twitter or the Microsoft SMB Facebook page) to share your story, and your submission could be featured in a future Microsoft campaign. For Twitter and Instagram submissions, be sure to use #AmericaWorks to flag your submission; for Facebook submissions, upload a photo, video or post to our Facebook page. All entries must be received by 5 p.m. PST on June 28.
I hope you take advantage of the many ways National Small Business Week can help your small business thrive.
Over the last year the number of conversations I've had with Small Business owners about migrating to the cloud has increased significantly. When the cloud emerged as a viable solution for small businesses, many business owners were hesitant to explore the cloud because they weren't clear on the ultimate value it would provide. More and more I'm hearing detailed questions about specific features and benefits of the cloud, which tells me that small-business owners are now more familiar than ever with the cloud.
Many businesses recognize that the cloud can deliver real return on investment, including cost benefits and the ability to quickly scale operations. However, security in the cloud remains a recurring concern.
The difference between cloud security perceptions and reality was revealed in a recent survey by the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing team. The study identified significant disparities between the views of business executives who have and those who have not adopted the cloud.
Among those who have yet to embrace the cloud, 60 percent expressed that data security concerns inhibited their adoption. They also felt using the cloud would result in a lack of control over the privacy of their data (45 percent) and that they were not confident in the reliability of the cloud (42 percent). On the other hand, those using the cloud indicated that security and privacy protections were enhanced since implementing a cloud solution, including the following:
The study also found that those using the cloud are realizing better levels of support and service when unexpected outages do occur. All of these benefits translate into time and money savings, which can be reinvested into core areas of your business.
I encourage you to keep learning more about what the cloud can do for your business and to keep security top of mind as you evaluate cloud-based solutions.
On the heels of tax season, it's natural to feel a sense of relief that it's behind you. But taxes shouldn't be considered a one-time activity, they need to be kept in mind year-round as part of building and executing your business strategy.
In fact, now is a great time to take stock in your business tax strategy and technology investments to drive business returns next year. And while I'm not a tax expert, we have several within our SMB community that are, one of them being Microsoft Partner IntrapriseTechKnowlogies.
A non-traditional CPA firm, Intraprise has expertise in not only SMB tax matters, but also in IT consultation. Since this is such a relevant cross-section of experience for SMBs, I asked the firm's CPA Donny C. Shimamoto to share his top tips for tax and technology planning:
This translates to an economic benefit for the SMB. For example, if an SMB has maximized its Section 179 deductions for the year, it wouldn't have the option of deducting the entire purchase price of an IT asset. The business would still have to spend the cash and could only claim deductions as the asset depreciates. With a cloud solution, SMBs can deduct as they go. There are exceptions and potential limitations in either case, so be sure to consult with your tax advisor to analyze your specific circumstances and options.
Specific budget allocations for each of these investment types can be determined with the guidance of an experienced consultant like Intraprise. My hope in sharing this information with you is to equip you with the knowledge to make wise financial and technology decisions that propel your business forward.
What are you doing right now to improve the return on your technology investments in the future? If you have best practices of your own, we would love to hear them. Please share your comments below.
Attention, time-crunched SMBs: Are there features of your Microsoft solutions that would help you work even faster, smarter and betterâ€¦if only you had a moment to discover and familiarize yourself with them? If you have just 1 or 2 minutes to spare, you could be on your way to unlocking the full potential of your technology. Microsoft's "Insider Minute" video series, designed specifically for SMBs like yours, is a resource to help maximize your use of Microsoft technologies.
Each video tutorial focuses on a single feature of a Microsoft Office or Windows product. For example, a tutorial detailing how to open a PDF document in Word 2013 begins with a short introduction, followed by clear, step-by-step instructions on how to edit the PDF content as if you had created it yourself. Another video demonstrates how to video conference with Microsoft Lync, and there are dozens more at your fingertips in the online video library.
The video format is so valuable because you can see and hear the process in action, which can be so much more effective at reinforcing a topic than simply reading about it. I point SMBs to the "Insider Minute" series all the time, because I know that business owners who are already focused on getting the most out of their time, people and resources, need efficient solutions.
At Microsoft it's our mission to empower SMBs and I encourage you to visit the site to access tools and the information necessary to compete and thrive. These videos are a quick yet powerful asset I hope you'll put to use for your business.
There was a time when SMBs didn't typically compete for the same sized customers and in the same marketplace as their larger counterparts, but that era is long gone. As a small business owner, you've surely noticed the impact that a connected, global marketplace has had on your company, including an increased pressure to present as polished an image as the larger businesses with which you're now directly competing.
As a result, your customers â€“ existing and prospective â€“ expect a professional experience when interacting with your business. To fulfill this need, there is a wave of new business technologies that enable SMBs to affordably enhance the professionalism and sophistication of their appearance. Office 365 Senior Product Manager Jon Orton's recent post in the Small Business Premium series highlights Office 365's advantages in helping SMBs present an image more professional than ever before.
The article dives deep into how low-cost, cloud-based technology like Office 365 can create and project professionalism, such as:
A first impression in today's marketplace is more than superficial â€“ it can mean the difference between landing and losing your next piece of business. What elements of your business image are you most in need of â€“ and excited about â€“ upgrading? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Many small business owners I've worked with have told me that their entrepreneurial spirit was on display at a young age, perhaps through an early attempt at an informal "startup" or by virtue of working for the family business. Having grown up in a family of small business owners, my appreciation for how rewarding it is to launch a business was formed when I was a child. And it's this understanding that makes Microsoft's annual Imagine Cup competition so special, and something I look forward to every year.
The competition, in its 11th year, is Microsoft's premier student technology competition where young adults from around the world are urged to use their imagination and passion to create a technology solution to a key challenge in the world today.
This year, the competition's primary focus is to enable top student entrepreneurs to realize their start-up vision by providing them the mentorship and resources to be successful. For example, in March, Microsoft hosted a StartUp Boot Camp where 15 Student Accelerator teams presented their initial concepts to Microsoft executives to collaborate with seasoned technical experts and learn practical next steps for making their own startups a reality.
A series of similar challenges have taken place around the country, and as of today the field has been narrowed to 10 college-based teams ready to compete on the national stage. One might be from your hometown or alma mater, and all are worthy of our support and admiration:
These teams are competing in the U.S. Imagine Cup Finals Demo Day, starting today (May 13) in Silicon Valley. In the finals, students will present their business pitches to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs and technology professionals. The team that will represent the U.S. at the Worldwide Finals in St. Petersburg, Russia July 8-11, 2013, also will be unveiled at the U.S. Finals.
If you ever had to present a business plan in order to obtain financing or start your own business, I'm sure you can relate to the excitement these students are feeling as they prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
My team and the small businesses we work with share in the Imagine Cup competition's passion for providing the support and resources to bring smart ideas to life and to the marketplace. To learn more about the Microsoft Imagine Cup, be sure to watch live coverage on May 13 through our social channels, including on Twitter @MsTechStudent and Facebook. We encourage you to use the official hashtag #ICUSFinals.
To learn the results of the U.S. Finals please visit www.imaginecup.com. I would love for you to share your earliest experiences and memories of striking out and starting up. Please share in the comments below.
I recently came across a PBS special called "The Happiness Advantage," based on a book of the same name by Shawn Achor, a former Harvard lecturer and currently CEO of positive psychology consulting firm Good Think, Inc. The TV program and book focus on how principles of positive psychology can be applied to increase professional performance. As someone whose management style tends to favor collaboration and camaraderie within my team, I was drawn to the notion that happiness and optimism can have a beneficial impact on productivity and business results. So I invited Shawn's partner at Good Think, Michelle Gielan, to come speak at an offsite I recently hosted for my team.
After reading "The Happiness Advantage" and hearing Michelle speak, I'm convinced that a culture of happiness at work can sharpen any organization's competitive edge. And there's plenty of research to back it up. One study found that happier doctors determine the right diagnosis in patients nearly 20 percent more often than their less happy counterparts, and happier salespeople outsell their pessimistic colleagues by 37 percent.
When our brain is in a positive state, we are more creative and able to imagine greater possibilities â€“ the first step to achieving those lofty outcomes. As Michelle shared with my team, simple changes to your mindset and those of your employees can translate into a more effective and productive work culture. Here are a few tips to inject a little more positivity into your everyday:
"The Happiness Advantage" asserts that the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce, and I believe this to be true. Is happiness one of your business values? If so, I'd love for you to share what you're doing to promote positivity in your business. Please leave comments below so we can all create a business advantage with something as simple yet powerful as happiness.
Entrepreneurs are motivated to start businesses for many different reasons, and we recently surveyed women who have started businesses to uncover the top motivators for female entrepreneurs in particular. Among the top responses were the desire to be one's own boss, to achieve greater financial independence, and to have greater work/life balance. But over half of the respondents said they were motivated by the desire to turn their hobby or unique expertise into a full-fledged business. I love that so many women business owners stated that as a motivation because I think there's a special spark to businesses born of the owner's personal passions or interests.
One of our small business customers is a perfect case in point. Chaundra Smith's natural beauty products company Naturally Me sprang from Chaundra's efforts to create affordable, high quality skincare products for her children. She soon recognized that her own experience likely meant there was a market for reasonably priced natural beauty products, and Naturally Me was born.
What makes Chaundra's story even more exciting to me is how she has used technology to fuel her success. Naturally Me has just six employees spread out across three states and two time zones. The team needed the ability to communicate and collaborate on new products, marketing strategies and customer communications. So the company adopted Microsoft Office 365, which gives them professional email on the company's own domain, access email from virtually anywhere, shared storage space, and the ability to conduct web meetings during which they can all view documents and presentations from their respective locations. Chaundra credits Office 365 with making Naturally Me look "like one of the â€˜big dogs,' not a small, six-person company."
You can read the stories of other women who have started their own successful businesses in a new exhibit created by the National Women's History Museum in partnership with Microsoft. The exhibit highlights the role of technology in empowering female entrepreneurs, and profiles a few Microsoft customers who have used technology to fuel productivity and success.
For more insights on what motivates women to start their own businesses, see this infographic, and if you're a small business owner, share what motivated you in the comments below.
PS: Monday, April 8 marked the one-year countdown until Microsoft will end support for the decade-old Windows XP and Office 2003. This means if you’re running XP or Office 2003 as of April 8, 2014, you will no longer receive updates for either product from Microsoft. If you're looking to upgrade your small business, see what your options are here.
Your employees may get along with one another just fine, but getting them to truly collaborate at work can be a different thing entirely. Collaboration goes beyond working side-by-side in a friendly fashion. It's about being able to fluidly share information, leverage other's strengths and tap available resources in the most efficient manner. Ensuring your employees can effectively collaborate with one another can have a real notable impact on your business performance.
One way to know whether true collaboration is happening within your business is simply to ask employees if and where they experience bottlenecks in their daily work flow. Here are a few of the most common barriers to collaboration that we hear from our SMB customers:
If these scenarios sound familiar, have no fear – there are many affordable technologies that can make your team work better together without requiring them to make major changes in the way they already work. For example, Microsoft Office 365 offers two tools in particular that make collaboration a breeze:
With SharePoint Online, your team can store and organize important documents in a central location, meaning people can work together on documents from wherever they are, and everyone will know where to find the work they're collaborating on.
Lync Online gives employees the ability to view others' online status and location, start IM conversations, make audio and video calls over the Internet (which can save you money on phone lines), and hold online meetings with people inside and outside your organization. Lync meetings also offer the ability to share documents, presentations and virtual whiteboards among attendees.
Collaboration is worth getting right, because it drives business efficiencies that will set your business apart. You can learn more here about the full range of collaboration and productivity tools in Office 365. And share your secrets to fostering collaboration among your team in the comments below.
I've always enjoyed studying history, both for enjoyment of the stories from bygone eras, as well as for the lessons learned by those who came before us. Several months ago, I read that the number of women-owned businesses grew 44 percent between 1997-2007 â€“ twice as fast as male-owned businesses. I found that to be a remarkable statistic, and started thinking about how the experience of entrepreneurship has evolved throughout history, especially for women. I became particularly interested in where the growth in the number of women starting businesses intersected with the evolution of technology as a key enabler for those who start and run businesses.
My team and I recently became acquainted with the National Women's History Museum (NWHM), the foremost authority on women's history in the U.S. I was impressed with its leadership team and their mission to educate Americans on how women have helped shape the nation. We began talking with NWHM about producing an exhibit about the history of women's entrepreneurship. Fast forward to today, and I am thrilled to announce the launch of that exhibit, "From Ideas to Independence: A Century of Entrepreneurial Women."
Created by NWHM in partnership with Microsoft, this new online exhibit examines the evolution of women's entrepreneurship from the early 20th century through present day. It explores key obstacles and triumphs that women have faced in starting businesses over the past century, which business owners – male and female alike – can relate to and learn from.
For example, the desire to gain control over one's economic situation is a reason many entrepreneurs starting up their own businesses, and women of the Great Depression era often launched their own businesses as a creative means to generating income. The public attitude that discouraged women in non-traditional economic roles was in direct competition with the fact that families faced incredible economic hardship during these years. Rather than seek outside employment and face societal judgment, many women began their own businesses to survive. Another shared experience among entrepreneurs is the struggle to secure new business financing, but women entrepreneurs had to jump through additional hoops until as recently as 1988: until that year, some states still had laws that required women to have a male relative sign for a business loan.
The exhibit also reinforces Microsoft's belief in the power of technology to help people and businesses realize their full potential. It takes a thoughtful look at the pivotal role technology has played in helping women get businesses off the ground. In recent years, cloud technology like Office 365 has played a particularly significant role in reducing costs and contributing ease and flexibility to the process of starting and running a business. In fact, in a recent Microsoft survey of female business owners, more than 80 percent of respondents who had started businesses in the last five years said technology was critical to starting and running their businesses. The exhibit features stories of several small businesses, like staffing firm MomCorps and children's retailer Babesta, both of which increased productivity through Office 365 has been key to their ability to start, grow and thrive.
As you follow the journey of women's entrepreneurship through the exhibit, you will find inspiration in the stories of how women have been successful taking their business ideas from concept to reality. For our community of self-starters, their challenges reflect the challenges that every small business owner faces.
I hope you'll visit "From Ideas to Independence: A Century of Entrepreneurial Women," and that you'll be inspired. I'd love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter using the hashtag #womenpreneurs.
March is National Women's History Month, providing occasion to focus not only on the positive impact generations of female entrepreneurs have had on our national economic landscape, but also on how we can continue to support women in business and technology.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I've always been inspired by women who take a business idea from concept to reality. Today, women business owners continue to make a significant and growing impact on our economy. As of 2012, there were more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing 7.7 million people. Clearly, supporting women in business addresses a real economic imperative for our country.
Microsoft has a strong tradition of advocating for women in business, and I thought it fitting this month to share just some of the many initiatives we're involved in. You might consider looking further into some of the organizations and initiatives below to help you advance your own networking, diversity efforts, community involvement and business growth:
At Microsoft, we want to do everything possible to help women make their mark on the world. Next week, I'll be announcing an exciting new partnership with the National Women's History Museum that will shine a light on the evolution of women's entrepreneurship.
How are you going to make history this month, and beyond? I'm excited to hear your ideas, so please share in the comments below.
Customers are the heart and soul of every business â€“ or at least they should be. Staying in touch with what your customers want and how they feel about your products or services can very often mean the difference between earning new and repeat business, or watching business dwindle.
At Microsoft, we hold our customers in the highest esteem and have made it a top priority to continually seek, gather and respond to customer feedback. Perhaps you have actually participated in a Microsoft focus group, survey or in-person meeting, but even if not, you're still benefitting from the insights your peers in the SMB community are sharing with us.
What we hear from customers directly informs the products and resources we offer to help you meet your business goals and take your company to the next level. In case you're not aware of how powerful your feedback is, take a look at just a small sampling of the ways it's transformed the work my team and Microsoft as a whole are doing to serve small and midsized businesses:
To say that we would be nothing without you isn't hyperbole. In leading the group that serves Microsoft's SMB customers, I am focused on understanding what you want from technology, what challenges you face in your business, and what would make life easier for you. I encourage you to proactively share your thoughts with me, right here.
How can Microsoft help your business grow and thrive? Please share in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!
Office 365 ProPlus includes the latest and most complete set of fully featured, rich Office applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath and Access — delivered as a service, on up to five devices. People can now simply sign in to Office 365 from any of their devices, and their documents and personalized settings roam with them, allowing them to quickly pick up right where they left off. IT departments also get the control they need, including the ability to run Office 365 ProPlus side-by-side with other versions of Office and tools to streamline and manage updates for their users. Office 365 ProPlus is available as a standalone offering for $144 per user for an annual subscription and is included with the updated premium Office 365 Enterprise offerings and the new Office 365 Midsize Business.
Office 365 Midsize Business is designed for medium-sized businesses with 10 to 250 employees. This service includes Office 365 ProPlus as well as the enterprise-quality email and collaboration tools Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online, plus simplified IT tools to maintain control while reducing complexity. Pricing is $15 per user per month.
Office 365 Small Business Premium is designed for small businesses with one to 10 employees. In addition to the complete set of rich Office applications, this service includes business-grade email, shared calendars, website tools and HD videoconferencing capability in an easy-to-manage service that does not require IT expertise. Pricing is $12.50 per user per month, or $150 per user for an annual subscription.
In a future post, I'll be highlighting some of the collaboration components of Office 365 critical to the success of every small business. For more information and a free trial, visit this page.
If you are a small business owner, you are a master of creativity, whether you realize it or not. Every business starts with the seed of an idea, and whether you've brought a business idea from concept to reality, or grown a company you inherited or bought, you've proven your creative capacity. When you consider that creativity is a constant and evolving process, you can view it as fuel for unlocking ongoing potential within your business.
Small businesses are especially well-suited to generating creative concepts and bringing them to fruition. In this case, smaller can be better, providing relatively more flexibility and nimbleness than many large enterprises are able to achieve. But the key to ensuring a creative environment within your business is to foster and encourage it within yourself and among employees. Here are a few ways to do just that:
Everyday creativity provides a competitive advantage that cannot be duplicated by others. Building a culture of creativity within your small business, where innovative thinking is a natural, daily output, is key to the long term health of all businesses.
What are your secrets for fostering creativity in your small business? Share them in the comments below.
If you run a small business, you know that time is an organization's most valuable and sometimes elusive commodity. The right technology is crucial to helping you be as efficient and productive as possible. That's why I'm so excited about Office 2013. Chances are you know and probably use Office, but if you don't yet know Office 2013, read on for some of the reasons why I'm loving it.
Office 2013 isn't just a refresh, it's reimagining of what familiar tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint can help you accomplish. There are a host of new features that I've been delighted to discover. These new features help busy small business owners in many different ways; here are a few:
Businesses of all sizes seek greater productivity and efficiency. 2013 can be the year your business achieves them. To learn more, visit the Office page on Microsoft Business Hub.
Are you using the New Office? If so, share your favorite features in the comments below.
to evaluate how employees are performing and how they can improve, it also benefits your business to regularly assess how technology investments are serving the business and whether changes can be made to move your business forward.
When evaluating your technology and how well it supports your business objectives, I recommend that you structure the process by considering the following three technology priorities:
Productivity and collaboration â€“ Consider how your technology enables employees to get things done, share information and work well as a team. Solicit employee feedback on where they experience bottlenecks in workflow and inefficiencies in their daily work tasks. Do the programs they use integrate well with respect to internal and external communications? Also, examine how well employees can communicate with one another and if they have a difficult time knowing when their colleagues are available. Depending upon what you find, you may want to explore enhanced productivity solutions that work across tablets, PCs and the phone to help your employees work better and smarter.
Mobility â€“ Think of mobility, or the ability to work from anywhere, as a spectrum. If your business falls on the lowest end of the spectrum, then it lacks any capabilities to allow employees to conduct work outside the office. The highest end of the spectrum characterizes businesses that give employees secure access to the business anytime, anywhere and from nearly any device. Where does your business fall on this spectrum? You may have many of the tools that promote mobility, but still need plans and policies in place to facilitate smarter, more secure, remote working. Or, perhaps you could be leveraging existing remote capabilities to access a wider talent pool in disparate geographies.
Security â€“ If only securing your business were as simple as locking up your office each night, right? Security is indeed multifaceted, thanks to the ever-changing and increasingly complex world of digital dangers. What measures does your business take to guard against security breaches, and do they include protection such as anti-virus software and malware removal? Have you considered the role cloud-based technology can play in improving your security? Do you have a plan in place for how you will respond in the event of a security breach? If these are solutions and processes not yet explored or implemented within your business, a performance review of your security measures can help point you in the right next direction.
I realize I'm only scratching the surface when it comes to explaining how to evaluate these three areas of your business' technology. The good news is that now I can point you to a resource that will further assist you in assessing your technology â€“ the Microsoft Assess Your Tech eGuide. This is a great resource for any SMB decision maker wanting to leverage business technology to the fullest, but needing a little direction when it comes to taking tangible actions in this area.
After taking a look at this e-guide, let me know what you think. Any areas where you want to see your business improve? Any areas where you're pleasantly surprised to see that your business is faring pretty well? Please share in the comments below.
When I talk with small business owners about their growth plans, the conversation often involves going after new types of customers. But there's one potential customer type that isn’t on the radar of many small businesses, even though it should be – local, state and federal government agencies.
Did you know that the government is the largest buyer of virtually every business product and service in the U.S., and that the U.S. government intends to spend a quarter of its budget with small businesses? In order for a small business to work with the government, they require a formal contract, but the process of securing such a contract can be cumbersome â€“ so much so that in 2012, the federal government missed its small business contracting goal for the eleventh straight year. In response, President Obama recently signed legislation to help small firms compete for more federal contracts.
My team and I are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to support the success of small businesses. That's why we sponsored the brand new 2013 edition of the Procurement Opportunities Guide, produced by Braddock Communications. This e-guide (which you can download here) simplifies the process of pursuing and securing government contracts, and provides clear guidance to help you:
We partnered with several of the country's top small business organizations to bring the Procurement Opportunities Guide to life, including the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC), the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC) and the Minority Business Roundtable (MBRT). These organizations and their affiliated local offices provide tremendous support and expert guidance to small businesses across the nation. I want to thank them for the work they do to advance the success of small businesses.
It takes knowledge, patience and persistence to secure a government contract, but understanding and committing to the process can be the first steps in taking your business to the next level. I hope you'll find the Procurement Opportunities Guide a valuable resource in helping your business consider new ways of growing your business.
Has your business worked with the government? Share your best practices in the comments below.
In my role, I frequently think about the different technology challenges small businesses face specific to their vertical industries. For example, I've recently learned more about the compliance requirements of businesses in the healthcare industry, and the unique considerations healthcare SMBs must factor in when making technology decisions. There are some critical standards they can't afford not to pay attention to!
Even if you don't work in the healthcare industry, odds are you're aware of the attention paid to the security and privacy around health data. The last time you visited the doctor's office, you likely signed a "HIPAA form," acknowledging your doctor's adherence to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA was enacted to safeguard the privacy and security of patient health information even as the U.S. healthcare system moves to electronic means of managing that information.
Large hospitals and healthcare companies have entire staffs dedicated to ensuring they stay compliant with HIPAA, but for small healthcare businesses with limited staff and resources, just understanding the requirements can be a challenge. And when it comes to implementing basic technologies like email and calendaring software, some small healthcare practices may unknowingly be using solutions that don't address HIPAA compliance requirements.
One small healthare clinic in Phoenix, AZ, recently found this out the hard way. Last year, Phoenix Cardiac Surgery (PCS) was fined $100,000 for HIPAA compliance violations after they used a free online email and calendar tool that inadvertently made patient appointments publicly accessible. PCS was just trying to make it easier for patients to schedule appointments online, but the selected technology failed to meet standards set forth by HIPAA, and ultimately PCS did not have satisfactory assurances from its vendor in the form of a required HIPAA business associate agreement (BAA), which documents the safeguards for storing and transmitting patient information.
Instances like this shed light on the importance of ensuring the technology you use for your business adequately addresses the compliance requirements of your industry. That's why Microsoft invests in designing our products to help businesses stay compliant across a variety of industries.
In healthcare, it's why we designed Office 365 from the ground up with to address HIPAA . For example, Office 365 offers healthcare organizations the assurance of a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA), created in collaboration with top academic medical centers, government entities and other healthcare providers to ensure it meets the broad needs of the healthcare industry. In fact, Office 365 is the only professional cloud-based productivity and email program that offers a BAA . With Office 365, healthcare businesses can benefit from cloud-based communications and collaboration tools like email, calendaring, instant messaging, voice and video conferencing, shared workspaces and access to Office Web Apps such as Word and PowerPoint,while alsoaddressing their HIPAA compliance requirements.
(I would also note that Microsoft's BAA also covers our Windows Azure cloud platform services , and Dynamics CRM Online solution, meaning our healthcare customers can benefit from all of our cloud solutions, including infrastructure cost reductions, flexibility, reliability and state of the art security, while remaining compliant with HIPAA.
Texas-based family medical practice Mihills Webb, recently transitioned to Office 365 with the help of Microsoft partner US Medical IT. The doctors at Mihills Webb can rest assured their technology is covered by the industry-accepted HIPAA BAA in Office 365, while their staff can be more efficient and productive, and provide better care to patients. Mihills Webb calculates that implementing Office 365 has resulted in a savings of 30 days of medical assistants’ time per year. (Check out a video on MIhills Webb's experience with Office 365 here.)
Is your technology currently addressing the compliance standards of your industry? Share your challenges or best practices in the comments below.
And for a free trial of Office 365 visit www.microsoft.com/office365/trial.
There's no getting around it: when it comes to parting with capital, or even taking on new operating expenses, many small business owners wish they had a crystal ball. You can have very specific growth ambitions for your small business, and still be uncertain about which investments to make and when – especially in an economic environment like the one we’ve experienced in the U.S. over the last several years.
But there are plenty of companies that have made the right investments and seen great results. One of my favorite success stories is about the revitalization of one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the U.S., after it closed its doors in 2009.
Founded in 1865, family-run Faribault Woolen Mills once manufactured nearly half the woolen blankets in the country. The company came across tough times during the economic downturn in the late 2000's and closed its doors in 2009. Family members bought the company in 2011, attracted by the historic brand that stood for quality and the opportunity to revive excellence in American manufacturing. The new owners were committed to modernizing systems and infrastructure while staying true to the traditional textile manufacturing process.
The new owners took a methodical approach to identifying what they would need in order to make their vision work. They boiled it down to four things they would need to be successful:
Faribault selected cloud-based Microsoft Dynamics as an end-to-end solution that meets all four critical needs. The company uses Microsoft Dynamics GP for accounting, business management, and inventory and bill of materials management, as well as to process online orders. The integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM gives Faribault the means to not only share information among production and financial functions, but also across sales and marketing, enabling a high level of customer service. And by opting for a hosted, cloud-based solution the company was able to deploy the solution quickly, minimizing the need to purchase and maintain costly infrastructure, which requires additional training and staffing.
Faribault Woolen Mills is now able to deliver a quality product at the best possible price. Sales growth has allowed the company to add new jobs to the local economy, growing from 38 to 50 employees during their first year back in business, and now to more than 100 employees in 2012.
I believe that the key to Faribault's success the second time around was recognizing how technology would be critical to their success in today's marketplace, and narrowing it down to the specific technology solutions that would enable their vision to become a reality.
We love hearing SMB success stories like Faribault's. Microsoft Dynamics is currently inviting companies to share their stories for a chance to win a free business transformation—including $45,000 in free software and services. Visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics/wintogrow to view videos that have already been submitted by other companies and share your own story.
Most of us are focused on giving gifts to others at this time of year, but while you're at it, why not think about your own personal wishlist for yourself and your business as well? In the spirit of Oprah's famous "Favorite Things" list, I thought I'd share some of my favorite technology for SMBs right now.
Must-have technology for every small business: One of the things I find most exciting about the state of SMB technology today is the functionality and affordability of technology that's available for critical business functions, like email, productivity and collaboration â€“ and how easy it is for small businesses to deploy. Office 365 secure, anywhere access to email and calendars, Office Web Apps, instant messaging, conferencing and file sharing, with a predictable cost structure and the ability to easily add and remove users as your employee base evolves. If you're not already using Office 365, now is the perfect time to check it out! Microsoft is now offering a 90-day free trial offer for businesses with up to 10 users. You can sign up for this new free offer through the end of February.
Most useful gadget for work and play: I love the look and feel of the new Surface â€“ it's extremely durable, but also ultra-light and stylish. With an integrated Kick Stand for hands-free viewing, a cover you can type on, the power of the Windows 8 RT operating system, and the ability to customize the Start Screen with the apps you use most for at work or at home, it's the perfect device for both work and play. If you haven't seen this short video on Microsoft Surface, you'll enjoy seeing how sleek, powerful and versatile this device is.
Favorite app for staying organized: For environmental and convenience purposes, I've been making an effort to move from paper notebooks to making digital notes and to-do lists. Microsoft Office OneNote has made the transition easier, with the ability to create tabs for different meetings or topics, powerful search capabilities to help me easily bring up relevant notes, and features that make it simple to share information with my team members.
Favorite apps for supporting local small businesses: When I'm on the road for work and want to do a little shopping or need to grab a bite to eat, I always try to find a place that captures the local flavor. For guidance, my go-to app is Bing Local, a trusty companion that provides easy access to ratings, directions and the website for small business in close proximity to my location.
Best laptop carrying cases: If you're in the market for a carrying case that works just as well for a meeting across town as it does for hassle-free air travel, look no further than the Briggs & Riley Speedy Mini. It's extremely compact, backed by a lifetime warranty and has a classic look that will stand the test of time. If you're looking for something a little roomier, opt for the L.L. Bean Carryall Briefcase, which comes with a new, lighter-weight design for increased capacity and can be customized with your business' logo.
Best tech-friendly fashion accessory: One of the best inventions I've come across this year are winter gloves that you don't have to take off in order to use your smartphone. Isotoner Smartouch Tech Stretch Gloves are a great option for checking email or surfing the web while out in chilly weather. They also come in a fleece-lined version for a little extra warmth.
And finally, for even more gift ideas suited to SMBs check out this slideshow of must-have SMB devices.
How about you? What's on the top of your tech gift list this holiday season? Do you have any favorites of your own to share?