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Welcome to our website

Build a Relationship

 What do we mean by relationship-building?

When we talk about the competency of relationship-building in the world of business, we are referring to building strong relationships with partners and clients – about using interpersonal skills to network in an effective way.

What does a competent relationship-builder do?

Somebody who is competent at relationship-building focuses on understanding the needs of the client and getting the best possible results. This competency promotes an ethic of client service and so an understanding and anticipation of a client’s changing needs is essential. Stress and conflict are other issues that a competent relationship-builder will manage – keeping composed and acting as mediator when conflicts arise.

How can I start to develop the competency of relationship-building?

First identify the business plan goals of your department and decide what your role is going to be in helping to achieve those goals. You will need to study the business plan and learn as much as possible about your clients’ activities, interests and needs. This information might be available in their own annual reports or in client surveys conducted by your company. Talking to your clients about how you can best meet their needs is also a sensible first step to take.

Seven steps to becoming an effective relationship-builder:

  1. Draw up a plan of what you need to do in order to give your clients what they want. Discuss your ideas with your line manager and then do what is necessary to implement the plan.
  2. When the plan has been set in motion, schedule regular meetings with your line manager to review the progress that you are making and make any necessary adjustments.
  3. When you are working as part of a team or group within a department or a company it is important to assess your contribution to the group’s work. Think about how your efforts help or hinder progress.
  4. Make a weekly analysis of your commitments. Set yourself a goal for each week so that you follow them through. Make an effort to do what you say you are going to do – and also, to do it by the time that you say it will be done. If you get into the habit of doing this it will become like second nature.
  5. Build up a file of contacts and classify them in a way that is meaningful for your particular work context. Then you will know exactly who to call with any queries or when you need information.
  6. Don’t just wait for feedback to come to you, request it from a variety of sources – from your line manager but also from colleagues, clients and people who you supervise. Listen to what they have to say and act accordingly.
  7. Build informal relationships with the people who are working around you. Make a point of greeting people who you normally don’t speak to. Ask them about their interests and make it a goal to practise small talk with them. Listen to what they say and remember so that you can ask about a particular interest the next time you meet.

Multiple Intelligences

 Everybody has a different approach to learning and the more we understand about the type of learner we are, the more effective our studying should become.

Howard Gardner first introduced us to the idea of Multiple Intelligences in 1983. He believes that there are several types of intelligences that can’t be simply defined from one IQ test. He categorises intelligences under the following headings;

1.  Verbal linguistic – having a good verbal memory, being interested in words and how language works

2.  Analytical / logical – being able to investigate and have a scientific approach to learning

3.  Musical – being sensitive to sounds and rhythms

4.  Visual spatial – being imaginative with a good visual memory

5.  Kinaesthetic – being receptive to touching objects to enhance your memory

6.  Interpersonal – being good in group work, listening to others

7.  Intrapersonal – being aware of your own personal goals and motivations

8.  Naturalist – understanding the link between nature and humans

It’s important to understand that these intelligences work together and it would be unwise to think of ourselves as having only one or the other. Labelling learners as a particular type of learner could stop them from exploring all of their intelligences. So instead we should think of ourselves as having dominant intelligences.

When you are next in a classroom ask yourself these questions to think about how you learn:

  • When I hear a new word do I need to see it written down to know how it’s spelt?
  • Am I interested in grammar and how English tenses are put together?
  • Are my notes kept neatly in a methodical way?
  • Do I keep a personal dictionary of newly learnt words?
  • Does my personal dictionary help me to remember the words?
  • How easy do I find it to hear differences in sounds?
  • Does drawing pictures of new words help me to remember them in English?
  • Does touching an object help me to remember what it’s called?
  • Do I enjoy listening to the teacher and taking notes?
  • Do I prefer working on my own or with other people?
  • Do I know why I’m learning English?

This list of questions is obviously limited but it’s a good start towards becoming a more effective learner. The more you are aware about your dominant intelligences in the learning process the more you can exploit them to make learning a more enjoyable and rewarding journey.

Business Plan Vs Business Model

 A business plan is essentially a more detailed version of your business model. A business plan has been traditionally understood as a physical document, although increasingly this view has changed as business plans have migrated online. The business plan format very much depends on the context and business plans are often verbalised via presentations where a presenter pitches their business plan to an audience. Business models are more likely to take the form of either simple verbal descriptions or one page visual representations which can either be produced before a business plan or as part of the same planning process.

It is also worth noting that there are increasing numbers of business plan critics who argue that their composition is too time consuming and that people need ‘to get building’. Some of this criticism has come from software developers (many of whom are proponents of the Lean Start-up Methodology).  I personally feel their arguments are a little simplistic and that entrepreneurs need to map out a viable business model and a business plan in tandem. I also think that the arguments are more valid in an Internet business context, where it is relatively easy to bootstrapa low-cost website which can be used for feedback and constant iterative development.

If you are looking to build a new business and are about to draft a business plan, you should also spend time working out your optimum business model as well as drafting a visual representation of it.  You can use the following framework to map same. In recent years there has been significant innovation in the range of business models, and some of them may be of relevance to your offering. Finally, it is also worth noting that some business models such as the Internet bubble model have largely had their day. Very few investors will invest in businesses these days that have advertising at the heart of their business model.

Best Business Phone Systems 2017

Ooma Office is designed specifically for very small businesses. The system, which works for businesses with up to 20 employees, can be set up in minutes and requires no special wiring or phones. The system includes a variety of features that allow small offices to present themselves in a professional manner, such as an autoreceptionist, ring groups and a voicemail-to-email feature. In addition, the system is available as a virtual-only phone system for businesses that only want to use mobile phones.

RingCentral Professional is specifically designed for businesses with on-the-go employees. The service connects business phone lines to remote workers on their mobile and home phones. While other providers also offer this service, few do so with such a wide range of features — including a mobile app and the use of a “softphone” on the employee’s computer — for such a low cost.

ShoreTel’s phone system has all of the tools and features a business needs to run a professional call center. The system is available as an on-premise or cloud-based solution. The call center services, which are tacked on to ShoreTel’s regular business phone system, include a variety of call queue options, integrations with numerous CRM solutions and call recording. It also offers several valuable supervisor tools, including the ability to listen in on agent calls.

To determine the best business phone systems, we started by listing all of the vendors that have good reputations online (i.e., services that other websites favorably and consistently reviewed). Then, we interviewed small business owners to discover new systems to add to our list.

We ultimately settled on the following 19 phone systems to consider as best picks: 8×8, AT&T, Avaya, Booth, Cisco, Dialpad, ESI, Fonality, FreedomVoice, Grasshopper, Jive, Mitel, Nextiva, Ooma Office, Phone.com, RingCentral, ShoreTel, Toshiba and Vonage. (See full list of business phone systems and their websites below.)

Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, and reading user comments. We also contacted each company’s customer service department and posed as business owners to gauge the type of support each provider offered its users. Finally, we considered the pricing that was available on these services’ websites or what was quoted to us during customer service calls.

Our process involves putting ourselves in the mindset of a small business owner and gathering the data that would be readily available to such an individual. We perform all of our research by visiting company websites, making calls to customer service departments and interviewing real users.

We analyzed each system based on the following factors:

  • Deployment options
  • Level of service
  • Reliability
  • Customer service
  • Calling features
  • Collaboration tools
  • Mobility options
  • Cost

Here is a full list of business phone-system providers and a summary of what each company claims to offer. This alphabetical list also includes our picks for best services.

1-VoIp – This VoIP service provider offers different plans based on the number of users a business has. The smallest plan accommodates up to five employees, while the largest one supports up to 100 users. Plans include digital call forwarding, cellphone redirecting, extension monitoring, call parking, intercom service, call waiting, autoattendants, digital queues, custom on-hold music, voicemail, call recording and other features. 1-VoIP also offers SIP trunking services.

3CX – 3CX is the developer of a software-based and open-standards IP PBX, which replaces proprietary PBXs. With integrated WebRTC web conferencing, softphones for Mac and Windows, and smartphone clients for Android, iOS and Windows phones, 3CX offers companies a complete unified communications package.

*8×8 – 8×8 is a hosted VoIP-based phone system that includes personalized voicemail, three-way calling, caller ID, call waiting, transfers, call forwarding and chat. The system offers an online dashboard to manage communications, with call history, voicemail notification and calling from a PC. 8×8 also provides autoattendants, corporate directories, on-hold music, conference bridges and ring groups. In addition, the service’s mobile app allows staff members to manage their business communications from anywhere. Besides its traditional business phone systems, 8×8 also provides contact center services.

All Call Technologies – All Call Technologies is a virtual phone system. There is no equipment installed in your office and no changing of your current phone carrier. All Call Technologies’ virtual receptionist answers your calls with a professional greeting and gives callers the options they want. Outgoing greetings are professionally recorded and programmed to your specifications. The Backup Attendant service takes calls only when your office lines are busy or not answered, while the Auto Attendant service plays a menu greeting immediately when someone calls. In addition, an Entrepreneur and Partner plan provides one, central phone number with extensions to reach you, your partners and staff via cellphones.

Allworx – Allworx provides a complete portfolio of VoIP systems, IP phones, network switches and advanced software options. Allworx is available to small and medium-size businesses through a network of more than 1,000 independent resellers in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. The company also offers Windstream IP Simple, a managed monthly subscription service that combines Allworx with VoIP and data services from Windstream.

AT&T – AT&T Business in a Box is a VoIP solution for small businesses and satellite locations that provide the benefits of advanced voice and data technology, without the complexity of having to manage it. This solution enables voice and data services to work over a single network connection and device. The company also offers AT&T Unified Communications Voice, a cloud-based IP telephony solution that offers a range of voice features, as well as contact-center solutions.

Avaya – Avaya’s contact center and unified communications technologies and services are available in a variety of flexible on-premise and cloud-hosted options. Avaya’s Communicator lets employees access instant-messaging tools, voicemail, conferencing and video. The Avaya systems, which support up to 250,000 users, also offer mobile options that allow employees to access voice and video communications from mobile devices.

Axvoice – Axvoice is a cloud-based system for independent entrepreneurs, and single-office and home-office professionals. The service has more than 30 inbound and outbound calling features, including caller ID, caller ID blocking, music on hold, simultaneous ringing, do-not-disturb options, call filtering and anonymous call rejection. In addition, the system allows employees to manage their voicemails via the web.

Birch – Birch’s TotalCloud PBX is a cloud-hosted phone system that supports your entire workforce. With this system, you can transfer callers, put them on hold with music, set up conference calls or have the phone answered by an automated attendant who can direct callers to different departments. TotalCloud PBX allows you to route callers around the way you do business.

Booth – Booth is a virtual phone system that allows you to run your business through your cell phone. Booth works by creating call rules that allow you to route calls based around time of day, who’s calling, or through an integrations platform. Through the integrations platform, you can connect with software that you already use, such as Google Calendar, and have calls sent to a voicemail, or a colleague, when you are in a meeting, or to your cell phone when you’re available. Booth’s other features include autoattendants and business hour rules, among others.

BroadConnect – BroadConnect is a business VoIP service provider that has many advanced features, such as video and audio conferencing, mobility, custom IVRs, voice broadcasting and call analytics. The company offers a variety of types of phone systems for businesses of all sizes, including hosted PBX, SIP trunking and call center solutions.

Everything You Need to Know About Pinterese for Business

Pinterest is a platform that allows users to share and save content to virtual collections called pinboards (also referred to as simply “boards”). The social network has both a website and a mobile app, and was launched in 2010 by co-founders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra. Initially, the website was available only in a closed beta model, and users could join only by invitation until August 2012, when Pinterest opened to the public.

The platform has a unique demographic in that the vast majority of its more than 100 million active users (according to Venture Beat) are female. A comScore study found that approximately 71 percent of Pinterest users in December 2014 were women, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Creating your account

To use Pinterest, you first have to sign up for an account. For businesses, it’s really important that you make sure you specifically sign up for a business account. Using the main sign-up page creates personal accounts — to create a business account, go here.

It’s important to make this distinction because business accounts, while free like personal Pinterest accounts, give you access to features to help your business thrive on the platform, like analytics tools.

To sign up for a business account, you need to enter your email address, a password, the name of your business and your website (though including your website is optional). You also need to select what type of business you run from a drop-down menu. From there, you can set up your profile.

When you log in to your Pinterest account, you’re taken to your home feed. Your home feed shows you all of the most recent pins from the other Pinterest accounts you follow and features endless scrolling for seamless browsing.

Across the top of each page you visit on Pinterest, there is a large search bar. To the left, you’ll see the Pinterest logo (which takes you back to the home page when clicked), as well as menu options for Analytics and Ads. To the right, there is a drop-down menu, which displays links to all of the categories you can browse through on the platform.

The + allows you to quick-add a new pin or create a new ad, and the chat button pulls up a drop-down menu with three options: News, You and Messages. News displays trending pins and other site updates; You shows your notifications from when other users interact with your pins, and Messages pulls up your messages with other Pinterest users.

Clicking your profile picture pulls up a drop-down menu with options to go to your profile to see all your boards and pins, as well as to access your settings, billing, ads support and the platform’s Help page, and to log out of your account.

So what exactly are pins and boards? Well, in simple terms, pins are the content you share on Pinterest, and boards are how you organize that content — sort of like visual bookmarks. Before you can start pinning anything, you need to create your boards.

Creating your boards

To create your first Pinterest board, go to your profile and you’ll see a red Create Board button.

Once you click, a box will pop up with the information you need to fill in. You can enter a name for your board and a description of what your board is about (these are optional, but should be filled out as they can help people discover your boards more often), and select a category for it (also optional, but very important for the same reasons). In addition, you can choose to keep your board secret, so that only you have access to it.

At the bottom of the box, you’ll also see an option entitled “Collaborators,” with a text box where you can invite other Pinterest users by username or email. Adding other users to your board creates a group board, which will show up on both your profile and the other users’ profiles; everyone added to the board can contribute pins.

Once you’re done filling out your board’s information, just click Create, and you’re done. From there, you can start adding pins.

To create subsequent boards, simply go to your profile page and in the space to the left of your existing boards, you’ll see a rectangular gray space with a Create a Board button. From there, you’ll follow the same steps.

Adding pins

You can add pins to your Pinterest boards in a few different ways. To add your own content to Pinterest, go to the board you want to pin to (or use the + button from the top of the page) and click the Add a Pin button. A box will pop up with the options to add a pin from the Web or from your computer.

If you decide to add a pin from the Web, Pinterest will prompt you to enter a link to the page you’re pinning from.

Once you enter the link, you’ll be taken to a page that shows all of the images from that website, as well as existing pins that were created by others from that website’s domain. You can then select the picture you want to pin by hovering over the image and clicking the Pin it button.

This will open a box that allows you to enter a description for your pin. It also allows you to choose a board for your pin, so if you started by selecting the wrong board, you can change it without going back. You can also create a new board to pin to, and choosing this option will let you name your new board, and select whether or not you’d like to add collaborators or keep the board secret. You’ll have to go back into this board later to edit it if you’d like to add a description and choose a category. When you’re done perfecting your pin, click the Create button. Pinning content from the Web will ensure that your pin links back to the website it came from.

If you choose to add a pin from your computer, Pinterest will prompt you to select and upload an image file.

From there, the process of adding a pin is the same as above. Regardless of the way you choose to add your pins, you can always go back to specific pins to edit their descriptions, move them to different boards or delete them altogether.

Choosing the Right Email Marketing Software

  • Email marketing is essentially the online version of direct mail. Instead of sending fliers and coupons to a customer’s home, email marketing sends those same items digitally to a customer’s inbox.
  • Whereas the impact of direct mail can be difficult to track, email marketing lets businesses see exactly who is opening their mail and which emails are leading to sales.
  • Businesses can use email marketing in a variety of ways, from building brand loyalty and finding new customers to encouraging loyalty and repeat business.
  • With email marketing, you have a choice of do-it-yourself software or full service agencies that do all of the work for you. You can read more about the differences between the two below.
  • Email marketing offers businesses several advantages over other types of marketing strategies. Cost is a key differentiator, as email marketing doesn’t require any printing or postage fees. Using email marketing software, it typically only costs businesses several pennies to send out an email, as opposed to at least 15 cents per piece of direct mail.
  • With email marketing, businesses can see which emails were received, which ones went to addresses that were no longer active, which ones were opened, which ones were deleted before they were read and which ones enticed clients to click through to the website and make a purchase.
  • The main drawback to email marketing is that some consumers may consider the emails to be spam and hold it against a brand’s reputation. If customers feel they are being bombarded by unwanted emails from a business, they will be less likely to become new or repeat customers.

Businesses can go in a variety of different directions when using email marketing. The various types of messages businesses can send out via email marketing include:

  • Newsletters: A quick way to regularly keep customers informed on any business news or upcoming promotions. Newsletters are typically sent on a recurring basis, such as every week or month.
  • Promotional campaigns: These emails let customers know about upcoming sales. These emails can be sent in the days leading up to the sale, as well during the sale, as a reminder for customers.
  • Invitation emails: This kind of message keeps clients up to date on upcoming special events. Invitation emails can be sent weeks or days before an event occurs as a way to encourage a customer to attend.
  • Catalog emails: Sent as a way to highlight products or services.
  • Lead-nurturing emails: Designed to keep brands at the top of mind for prospective clients. These emails are sent out regularly until a potential customer is converted into a paying customer.
  • Survey emails: Sent as a way to find out more about customers’ needs and wants.
  • Transactional emails: Sent after a purchase is made, as a way to confirm the transaction, say thank you and encourage the customer to shop with you again.

Now that you have a better idea of what email marketing entails and how it might benefit your business, the next question you need to answer is if you want to handle the process on your own, or hire a dedicated agency to do all of the work for you.

  • Email marketing is offered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) from a variety of vendors.
  • Email-marketing software provides businesses with all of the tools needed to create and execute email-marketing campaigns. This includes templates to get started, design tools to develop eye-catching messages and contact-management solutions to collect and store customer email addresses.
  • Once you create the message and decide whom you want it sent to, the software provider then sends out the emails for you from its own servers.
  • The software features a variety of analytics that monitor what happens with your emails to help determine the success of each campaign and how you can improve your campaigns in the future.

Cost: While some providers have a pay-as-you-go option, the majority offer monthly plans that are typically based on the number of contacts you are sending emails to and how many campaigns you plan to run each month. Costs can range anywhere from $10 to $15 to send emails to 500 contacts a couple times a month, to $4,000 to send out 4 million emails a month.

Pros and cons: The largest advantages of email-marketing software are that you can do it all on your own for a relatively low cost. The tools make it easy for those without any type of HTML or design experience to create and execute a variety of email-marketing campaigns. You are also provided with an assortment of data to determine if the campaign was a success. The downside of email marketing software is that you are, for the most part, on your own with it. While most vendors provide support options, getting it designed and sent out in a timely manner ends up falling on your shoulders.

3 Reasons Angel Investors Will Fund Your Company

Exceptional management is vital for any business. Three-quarters of survey respondents said the management team of a startup was their biggest consideration for investing.

“Startups are not only about the technology or business idea but also very much about the people behind them,” said Swati Chaturvedi, CEO and co-founder of Propel(x). “A compelling, experienced team that can sell the vision and the potential impact is key to success, and something savvy angels look at closely.”

Some exceptional qualities to have as part of a management team are integrity, clarity of strategy and approach, professionalism and determination, Chaturvedi said.

Angel investors want to understand exactly what they are financing, especially for startups in the tech field. More than 50 percent of respondents claimed this as one of their top reasons for investing, and 94 percent find it helpful to have subject-matter experts explain the technologies within their company before investing. In fact, many choose not to invest in specific businesses due to their inability to grasp their technology efficiently.

“The easier we make it for angel investors to discover, evaluate and participate in science and technology startups, the more we’ll see money going into these worthy companies and the benefits to humanity accrue,” Chaturvedi said.

Naturally, angels look for opportunities that will benefit them as well. Forty-nine percent ranked potential ROI as their top motivator for making an investment decision.

While some investors are indeed looking for financial compensation, not all are primarily interested in just the money. Some want a different kind of return: The ability to solve the world’s biggest challenges through the businesses they fund. Nearly one-third of angels will choose to invest in a company based on its connection to important social issues.

“Having an impact matters, especially when it comes to investing in things like curing diseases, feeding a growing global population, fueling the planet with clean energy and even taking us into space,” Lisheng Wang, Propel(x)’s co-founder and head of investor development, said in a statement. “Science and technology startups especially should take note that when raising capital, they should emphasize the impact of their solution besides potential returns to investors. It’s not only about the ‘what,’ it’s also about the ‘so what?'”

11 Mobile Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses

Yelp is more than just a reviews site and go-to app for finding local businesses and deciding where to eat. It’s also a great place to incentivize customers via the Yelp mobile app. For instance, a restaurant can offer free drinks or appetizers, and a medical clinic can offer special discounts on select treatments — all customers have to do is check-in from their phones. The Yelp app also makes it easier for customers to contact you using call-to-action buttons, such the ability to call your business, visit your website or place a mobile order with just one tap. Yelp also lets you create and publish local ads, making it easier for nearby customers to discover your business while searching for ones just like yours.

The easiest way to reach customers on their mobile phones is by texting them. Mozeo aims to make texting customers a breeze with its easy to use dashboard and text messaging management system. To connect with your business and agree to receive communication, all customers have to do is text a keyword followed by a unique short code. For instance, Denny’s restaurants had customers text the word “Dennys” to 24587 to receive special deals, and Heineken used the word “USOPEN” to run a national text-2-win contest. In addition to deals and contests, Mozeo can also be used to send text notifications, reminders, verification codes and account alerts (such as when a password has been changed), as well as hold two-way conversations to provide customer support.

Another popular form of mobile marketing is using mobile devices to find out more information about a product simply by scanning a bar code or quick-response (QR) code. ScanLife’s Mobile Engagement Platform goes the extra mile by letting customers scan everything from UPC and QR codes to NFC, images, print ads and even actual objects. After scanning, customers are taken directly to websites, videos and other interactive sources. Such technology was once only available to large companies with generous marketing budgets, but ScanLife gives small businesses access to the same high-tech consumer mobile engagement solution on a small business budget.

Figuring out marketing budgets and gauging returns on investment (ROI) can be challenging for small businesses, particularly when it comes to mobile marketing. Convertro eliminates the guesswork by delivering key insights into mobile ad performance, allowing small business owners to make well-informed mobile marketing decisions. This platform can track all mobile elements on the path to purchase by creating customer profiles, no matter what devices they use to engage with your business. For example, if a prospective customer sees a mobile ad on his or her tablet, sees an ad for the same product on her smartphone two days later and then finally makes the purchase on his or her laptop, Convertro’s cross-device attribution technology accurately determines the impact of the mobile activities toward the final purchase. If small business owners have this information, they can make data-driven decisions on how to shift their ad spending toward the most efficient and profitable channels with the greatest ROI.

Sometimes, what small business owners need is a comprehensive mobile marketing solution. SUMOTEXT is a mobile relationship management platform that offers a wide range of mobile marketing solutions. These include mobile coupons, mobile loyalty programs, mobile wallets, mobile alerts and mobile giving (for donations). SUMOTEXT offers four flexible service options based on your business’s needs: self-service for do-it-yourself campaigns; managed services, including dedicated training, execution and support; hybrid services that combine an account manager and in-house execution; and API for advanced users.

Mobile marketing is all about sending texts and alerts at the right time and place. Thumbvista, a mobile marketing company that specializes in geofencing and location-based messaging, can help. After customers opt in to receive text messages, Thumbvista lets businesses collect specific demographic information and use it as filters to better target consumers — for instance, by gender, age and location. Then, Thumbvista’s geofencing technology lets users set up a “geofence” around the target perimeter — using buildings, blocks, miles and other locations — to trigger where, when and to which customers alerts and text messages should be sent. By letting small businesses tailor their mobile marketing campaigns, Thumbvista lets them create more effective and relevant messages while providing ultimate control over marketing spends and ROI.

The beauty of mobile marketing is that customers can also do the work for you. Foursquare, a mobile app that connects people to businesses, engages customers by allowing them to check in, recommend and create conversations about local businesses they visit. Categories include food and coffee, shopping, the arts, nightlife, outdoor activities and more. The app also connects to Facebook for an even wider net of potential and repeat customers. Foursquare has more than 45 million users and 1.5 million registered businesses.

Is email marketing part of your marketing strategy? With the majority of mobile users now checking their inboxes on smartphones and tablets, it’s more important than ever to make sure customers can view emails the way they were intended. Email marketing service MailChimp offers mobile-friendly email templates that make emails look good on any device. Users can choose from professionally designed templates or create their own. Spare customers from emails that aren’t formatted correctly for their device, and put the focus on your message instead.

Smart Strategies to Stretch Your Startup Dollars

A simple way to save money as a new business owner is to set spending and expense limits. However, a surprising number of business owners don’t have a formal budget, said Carissa Reiniger, founder of small business support community Thank You Small Business.

“There is so much power in knowing what is going on in your business, for better or for worse,” Reiniger told Business News Daily. “Managing the finances of my business is not something I naturally enjoy, so I’ve put rules in place to help me stay on track. I advise setting up a standard time every week or month for reviewing and managing your budget.”

“When you don’t pay yourself, you take money out of the business elsewhere to cover your own expenses,” Segal said. “Giving yourself a salary forces you to make everything in your budget work.”

Thatcher Spring, CEO of GearLaunch, said entrepreneurs should always do as much as possible with what they have before they add more fixed costs.

“At my company, we only hire when there is too much for the current staff to reasonably accomplish without additional help,” he said. “I’ve also found that hiring less-experienced, smart, adaptable employees, instead of only those that are senior and highly experienced, can help keep salaries under control.”

When you created your business plan, you might have envisioned all of the latest office equipment, lavish holiday parties and enough staff to take on big projects. However, not all of those business luxuries are guaranteed.

Office Evolution founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said small business owners can suffer from a lack of flexibility in their grand plans.

“Your ego and vanity can get in the way,” he said. “You want that car or that perfect sign, but it just isn’t a good fit for the core of the business.

Hemmeter recommended looking into short-term solutions, like using shared office spaces and hiring freelance workers, until you can afford to make long-term commitments such as acquiring private office suites and hiring full-time employees.

Spring added that business owners should always plan for every effort to take longer than expected, whether it’s launching a new website, signing up customers, sourcing new products or hiring employees.

“Make sure you always set aggressive goals, but realize that there will be unexpected terrain on the pathway to success,” he said.

Startup costs for a new business add up, but there are tips and tools for finding the best areas to spend the money and those where you can cut back a bit. Spring noted that there are numerous cost-effective, self-service tools available to small business owners who want to save money by taking care of their own branding and website development.

However, it’s wise to be wary of “free” opportunities, warned Raad Mobrem, CEO and co-founder of Lettuce Apps (acquired by Intuit).

“Free tools can be a bad idea — they’re free for a reason,” Mobrem said. “Always pay for the important things, like software. You can ask for discounts with B2B services. People understand that you’re a small business just starting out, and if they offer discounts, you’ll want to work with them in the future.”

That said, spending money on the lowest-priced items can mean getting the lowest quality. As a result, you may have to replace things multiple times, and that can be more expensive than going with a pricier option in the first place.

“It’s a huge mistake to go as cheap as you can,” Hemmeter said. “It doesn’t look very professional.”

One area where you may want to splurge is your company culture, Spring said. You can invest in small items, such as snacks and comfortable work furniture, which don’t necessarily cost a lot but produce meaningful intangible value. “Having a great office environment will improve productivity,” Spring said.

After you follow the initial tips to save money and reduce the startup costs of your new business, it’s just as important to make sure your expenses stay on track as your business grows. Seek financial advice from accountants and fellow small business owners, and then go over your expenses and try to cut back where you can.

“Find an accountant that acts as a business adviser,” Segal suggested. “Look at your profit and loss with him or her every month, and see if anything is creeping up. Be very conscious of your numbers.”

As you adjust your budget each month to save money, you’ll be able to start investing in bigger, better things for your business. Mobrem’s advice is to plan your budget in terms of stages.

“Analyze and think about your long-term goals with your budget,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘If I hit this goal, where should my budget go next?'”

6 Alternative Financing Methods for Startups

Angel investors invest in early-stage or startup companies in exchange for a 20 to 25 percent return on their investment. They have helped to start up many prominent companies, including Google and Costco. Mark DiSalvo, CEO of private equity fund provider Semaphore said, “You are likely to get an investor who has strategic experience, so they can provide tactical benefit to the company they are investing in.”

Venture capital is money that is given to help build new startups that are considered to have both high-growth and high-risk potential. Fast-growth companies with an exit strategy already in place can gain up to tens of millions of dollars that can be used to invest, network and grow their company frequently.

Brian Haughey, assistant professor of finance and director of the investment center at Marist College, said that because venture capitalists focus on specific industries, they can generally offer advice to entrepreneurs on whether the product will be successful or what they need to do to bring it to market. However, venture capitalists have a short leash when it comes to company loyalty and often look to recover their investment within a three- to five-year time window, he said.

Through this process, a service provider will front you the money on invoices that have been billed out, which you then pay back once the customer has settled the bill. This way, the business can grow by providing the funds necessary to keep it going while waiting for customers to pay for outstanding invoices.

Eyal Shinar, CEO of small business cash flow management company Fundbox, says these advances allow companies to close the pay gap between billed work and payments to suppliers and contractors.

“By closing the pay gap, companies can accept new projects more quickly,” Shinar told Business News Daily. “Our goal is to help business owners grow their businesses and hire new workers by ensuring steady cash flow.”

Crowdfunding on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo can give a boost to financing a small business. These sites allow businesses to pool small investments from a number of investors instead of having to look for a single investment.

Make sure to read the fine print of different crowdfunding sites before making your choice, as some sites have payment-processing fees, or require businesses to raise their full stated goal in order to keep any of the money raised.

Businesses focused on science or research may be able to get grants from the government. The SBA offers grants through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Recipients of these grants are required to meet federal research-and-development goals, and have a high potential for commercialization.

Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?

You most likely have high expectations for your company. However, blind optimism may cause you to invest too much money too quickly. At the very beginning, it’s smart to keep an open mind and prepare for issues that may arise, experts say.

While every type of business has its own financing needs, there are some tips that can help you figure out how much cash you’ll require. EntrepreneurDrew Gerber, who started a technology company, a publicity firm and a financial planning company, estimates that an entrepreneur will need six months’ worth of fixed costs on hand at startup.

“Have a plan to cover your expenses in the first month,” Gerber said. “Identify your customers before you open the door so you can have a way to start covering those expenses.”

When planning your costs, don’t underestimate the expenses, and remember that they can rise as the business grows, Gerber said. It’s easy to overlook costs when you’re thinking about the big picture, but you should be more precise when planning for your fixed expenses, he added.

Indeed, underestimating costs can decimate your company, McCahon said.

“One of the main reasons most small businesses fail is that they simply run out of cash,” she said. “Writing a business plan without basing your forecasts on reality often leads to an unfortunate, and often unnecessary, business failure. Without the benefit of experience or actual historical financials, it’s easy to overestimate a new company’s revenue and underestimate costs.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are various types of expenses to consider when starting your business. It’s important to differentiate these types of costs, in order to properly manage your business’s cash flow for the short and long term, said Eyal Shinar, CEO ofFundbox, a cash flow management company. Here are a few types of costs for new business owners to consider:

1. One-time versus ongoing costs. One-time expenses will be relevant mostly in the startup process, such as the expenses for incorporating a company. If there’s a month when you have to make a one-time equipment purchase, your money going out will likely be greater than the money coming in, Shinar said. This means your cash flow will be disrupted that month, and you will need to make up for it the following month. Ongoing costs, by contrast, are paid on a regular basis, and include expenses such as utilities. These generally do not fluctuate as much from month to month.

2. Essential versus optional costs. Essential costs are expenses that are absolutely necessary for the company’s growth and development. Optional purchases should be made only if the budget allows. “If you have an optional and nonurgent cost, it may be best to wait until you have enough cash reserves for that purchase,” Shinar said.

3. Fixed versus variable costs. Fixed expenses, such as rent, are consistent from month to month, whereas variable expenses depend on the direct sale of products or services. Shinar noted that fixed costs may eat up a high percentage of revenue in the early days, but as you scale up, their relative burden becomes negligible.

Another important aspect of a startup’s financial planning is to project the business’s cash flow. Bill Brigham, director at the New York State Small Business Development Center in Albany, New York, advised new business owners to project their cash flows for at least the first three months of the business’s life. Brigham said to add up not only fixed costs but also the estimated costs of goods and best- and worst-case revenues.

If you borrow money, make sure you know not only how much you borrowed but also the interest you owe, Brigham said. Calculating these costs puts a floor on the revenues needed to keep the business viable and provides a good picture of the cash necessary to start it up.

Gerber recommended starting a business without borrowing at all, if possible. Borrowing puts a lot of pressure on any business and its owners, as it leaves less room for error, he said.

Once you get your business going, use QuickBooks or FreshBooks, which can connect directly to a bank account, to track expenses throughout each month and during tax season, Shinar advised.

Once you’ve determined your costs and cash-flow projections, you’ll need to consider how to pursue financing. How you obtain funds will affect the future of your business for years to come. Personal savings, loans from family and friends, bank loans, and government loans and grants are just a few of the many types of potential funding sources. Many companies are financed using a combination of sources.

One place to go for help is SCORE, which advises small business owners. Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, this volunteer organization partners with the Small Business Administration and offers training and workshops for people who want to be entrepreneurs. Most important, SCORE offers counseling from people who have been in the business you might want to be in, and who know the specific issues that you’re likely to encounter.

What Does the Age of Big Data Mean to Your Business?

Big data is the term used to describe the enormous datasets that have grown beyond the ability for most software to capture, manage and process the information.  But volume is not the only way to define big data. The three Vs generally used to describe big data also include the multiple types – and sources – of data (variety) as well as the speed (velocity) at which data is produced.

If you need more perspective, think about this for a second: According to IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created over the past two years. That amounts to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created every day.

How can big data help me?

Big data may seem to be a bit out of reach for SMBs, non-profits and government agencies that don’t have the funds to buy into this trend. After all, big usually means expensive right?

But big data isn’t really about using more resources; it’s about effectively using the resources at hand. Take this analogy from Christopher Frank of Forbes who likened big data to the movie Moneyball: “If you have read Moneyball, or seen the movie, you witnessed the power of big data – it is the story about the ability to compete and win with few resources and limited dollars. This sums up the hopes and challenge of business today.”

Specifically, it shows how organizations with limited financial resources can stay competitive and grow. But first, you have to understand where you can find this data and what you can do with it.

Big data strategies

Ideally, big data can help resource-strapped organizations:

  • Target their market
  • Make better decisions
  • Measure feelings and emotions
Targeted marketing

Small businesses can’t compete with the enormous advertising budgets that large corporations have at their disposal. To remain in the game, they need to spend less to reach qualified buyers. This is where it becomes essential to analyze and measure data to target the person most likely to convert.

There is so much data freely accessible through tools like Google Insights that organizations can pinpoint exactly what people are looking for, when they are looking for it and where they are located. For example, the CDC used big data provided by Google to analyze the number of searches related to the flu. With this data, they were able to focus efforts where there was a greater need for flu vaccines. The same can be done for other products.

Decide

Big data can be like drinking from a fire hose if you don’t know how to turn all the facts and figures into something useable. But once an organization learns how to master the analytical tools that turn its metrics into readable reports, charts and graphs, it can make decisions that are more proactive and targeted. And only then will it have an intimate relationship with the “big problems” affecting the business and an understanding of how to improve its situation.

Social eavesdropping

A majority of the information in big data comes from social chatter on sites like Facebook and Twitter. By keeping a close eye on what is being said in the various social channels, organizations can get a bead on how the public perceives them and what they need to do to improve their reputations.

Take the paper “Twitter mood predicts the stock market” as an example. Johan Bollen tracked how the collective mood from large-scale Twitter feeds correlated with the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The algorithm used by Bollen and his group predicted market changes with 87.6 percent accuracy.

Imagine what you could do for you organization if you could track how people felt about you.

Considerations

Data has always presented a problem when it comes to security; it’s a primary target for cyber attacks because the bad guys know that it is one of the most valuable resources a company has.

And with the growth of mobile devices used to access, analyze and input all of this data, the threat is even greater. Throw in the need for endpoint security and some big picture protection issues come into play.

However, with proper planning companies can secure data stores, on-site resources and mobile devices while harnessing big data as a tool to help them reach their goals.

Review of Bluetooth Attacks and How to Secure Mobile Workforce Devices

Bluetooth is best known as the wireless technology that powers hands-free earpieces. Depending on your point of view, people who wear them either:

a) Look ridiculous (especially if shining a bright blue LED from their ear);
b) Appear mad (when apparently talking to themselves); or
c) Are sensible, law-abiding, safety-conscious drivers.

Whichever letter you pick, insidious security issues remain around Bluetooth attacks and mobile devices. While most of the problems identified five to 10 years ago have been straightened out by now, some still remain. And there’s also good reason to be cautious about new, undiscovered problems.

Here are a few examples of the mobile security threats in which Bluetooth makes us vulnerable, along with tips to secure your mobile workforce devices.

General software vulnerabilities

Software in Bluetooth devices – especially those using the newer Bluetooth 4.0 specification – will not be perfect. It’s unheard of to find software that has zero security vulnerabilities.

As Finnish security researchers Tommi Mäkilä, Jukka Taimisto and Miia Vuontisjärvi demonstrated in 2011, it’s easy for attackers to discover new, previously unknown vulnerabilities in Bluetooth devices. Potential impacts could include charges for expensive premium-rate or international calls, theft of sensitive data or drive-by malware downloads.

To combat this threat: Switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

Eavesdropping

Bluetooth – named after the Viking king, Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, thanks to his abilities to make 10th-century European factions communicate – is all about wireless communication. Just like with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth encryption is supposed to stop criminals listening in to your data or phone calls.

In other words, eavesdropping shouldn’t be a problem. However, older Bluetooth devices use versions of the Bluetooth protocol that have more security holes than a tasty slice of Swiss. Even the latest specification (4.0) has a similar problem with its low-energy (LE) variant.

To combat this threat: Ban devices that use Bluetooth 1.x, 2.0 or 4.0-LE.

Denial of service

Malicious attackers can crash your devices, block them from receiving phone calls and drain your battery.

To combat this threat: Again, switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

Bluetooth range is greater than you think

Bluetooth is designed to be a “personal area network.” That is to say, devices that are more than a few feet away should not be accessible via Bluetooth.

However, you’re not safe if you simply ensure there’s distance between you and a potential attacker; hackers have been known to use directional, high-gain antennae to successfully communicate over much greater distances. For example, security researcher Joshua Wright demonstrated the use of such an antenna to hack a Bluetooth device in a Starbucks from across the street.

To combat this threat: Once again, switch off your Bluetooth!

Bluetooth headsets

Wright has also demonstrated serious flaws in many popular Bluetooth headsets. By exploiting these vulnerabilities, attackers can eavesdrop on your conversations with the people around you, not just your phone calls. Built-in hands-free car kits can also be vulnerable.

The device becomes, in effect, a mobile bugging device, transmitting everything it hears to an attacker.

To combat this threat: Make sure you change the default PIN code to something hard to guess. And yup… switch off the headset.

See the Bigger Picture

It’s vital to develop and communicate company policies for mobile device security – including Bluetooth – so that your business’s data aren’t compromised and your users can work safely when mobile. While all mobile devices present risks that need to be addressed, Bluetooth security is one often-overlooked piece of the mobile security puzzle.