Archive for the ‘Mondays with Mike’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Secure Your Data On The Cloud

12-15 Secure cloud data smallI’ll be honest.  One of my biggest concerns about converting my business to run on the Cloud was the security of my information.  And lest you think I’m unduly concerned, you should know that I used to work in computer forensics.  My background in retrieving information that people most definitely didn’t want recovered has taught me one lasting lesson: absolutely everything you do on your computer leaves a record – even if you try to eradicate it.

So I know a thing or two about how information is stored, recovered, shared, and protected.  I knew that data security was a potential problem when I moved all of my apps and programs to the Cloud.  It turns out that if you’re going to work on the Cloud, your information is vulnerable – simple as that.  What you can do, though, is take some steps to protect your valuable files.

First, for files you store online, consider encrypting or encapsulating particularly sensitive information.  It turns out that one of the biggest companies for online storage was opening files in order to extract information for a preview function.  Dropbox neither asked nor disclosed that user files were being accessed, but when a few users employed a program that notified them when files were opened, the practice came to light.  Now Dropbox didn’t have an ulterior motive, but clients who thought their materials were completely private and inaccessible were, well, wrong.  Encrypted and encapsulated files are safer.

But even if you take steps to protect the information you store online, what about your personal device when you’re accessing those files?  Even if you take the smart step of password protecting your computer, if you walk away while you’re signed in, the documents you’ve opened – or the sites you’ve saved passwords for – are vulnerable.  Make sure you take steps to protect the individual devices used by you and your staff when you access sensitive information.

Another big vulnerability arises when we access information stored on the Cloud while we’re using public wi-fi.  You stop, grab a latte at Starbucks, and you check an email, review and edit a proposal from a colleague, and you get back on the road.  The problem is if you’re not taking practical steps like disabling automatic file sharing or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network,) then you’re making it far easier for unscrupulous folks to access your data via a shared, public network.

The last really big hole in your cloud defenses is your email, and that’s no small thing.  We correspond about sensitive information every day, and here’s the thing about email:  you can practice good password hygiene – changing it regularly, not using your dog’s name or your birthday – but there’s no foolproof way to ensure that email is secure both on your end, and on your recipient’s end.  You should be careful about your email security, but here’s the best advice I can give:  never, ever put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard.  It’s simply impossible to protect everything from everyone, whether it’s someone inside our outside your company.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now don’t take all of these warnings and recommendations as another excuse to delay converting your business to run on the Cloud.  The Cloud’s not going away, and in fact, it’s more common and more useful every day.  Best practice is to go in with your eyes open and with a plan to protect the information that’s most vulnerable and most valuable.    


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.


Mondays with Mike: Why A One-Star Review Can Be Good For Your Business

Yelp ReviewsIn the olden days, you might have had to pick up a phone book or ask a neighbor if you wanted a recommendation for a business – whether it was a restaurant in an unfamiliar city or a contractor to fix something around your house.  Now, though, it’s possible to find reviews of nearly any business online.  That means consumers have access to more information than ever before about your company and the quality of service it provides.  That’s a great thing!

But bad reviews are inevitable.  What do you do when you see a lousy review about your company?  How you handle customer complaints is critical in terms of managing the public perception of your business, and what you do depends on what sort of review you’ve been given. 

There are basically two types of bad reviews:  ones that are unjustified, either from jealous competitors or from customers without legitimate gripes who would have been impossible to please, and then there are the legitimate complaints.  How you react is different for each instance. 

Say you’re a roofing contractor, and you periodically check out your reviews online (which EVERY business should be doing.)  You discover that one of the recent reviews complains of costs going over budget and construction deadlines missed – things you absolutely know aren’t true.  It could be that your competition is making up stories to win business away from you.  It could be that a customer mixed up the name of your business and posted a review for the wrong company. 

Whatever the case, though, you must address the complaint.  Since the review is posted publicly, I suggest replying to the review and asking the customer to get in contact with you so you can resolve the problem.  If time passes and there’s no response, then publicly state that you don’t see a record of the transaction, and you can only conclude that an honest mistake was made in posting the review. 

Your goal in addressing unjustified reviews should be to convey to prospective customers that you’re a reasonable, honest, and conscientious business owner, and you take criticism seriously.

Likewise, if you see a legitimate complaint – that your restaurant gave slow service on a particular Friday night – then you should step up publicly and apologize for any inconvenience and offer some way to make it up to the customer if you feel it’s appropriate.  If prospective diners see that you offered to buy a round of drinks to make up for the fact that you were short staffed, they’re going to understand that you’re serious about customer satisfaction.  Apologize when appropriate and make it right.

A lousy review is not the end of the world.  Every thriving business has them.  The good news is consumers are increasingly savvy about review analysis.  They look for authentic reviews – which won’t all be positive – and they look to see how business owners react when they’re criticized.  Flipping out, accusing customers of being unreasonable, or making excuses for less-than-ideal customer service is NOT the way to respond to criticism.  Be deliberate.  Be fair, and above all, be vigilant about responding.   


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

11-17 stop sign small

If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.


Mondays with Mike: 9 Unique Ways To Use The Cloud

11-10 Business in the cloud smallI was an early adopter of the cloud for my business, simply because I need to be able to work, collaborate, and stay in contact with my staff and clients regardless of where I am.  I’ve become a cheerleader for the cloud because of the unprecedented flexibility I’ve grown accustomed to.  Thinking about converting your business to the cloud?  Wondering how it can benefit your company?  Read on for nine unique ways the cloud can boost your business.

  1. Bids and proposals.  Though having all of your apps on the cloud lets you work while you travel, sometimes it’s just impossible to make an important presentation in person.  One of my favorite remedies is to create a dedicated web page for a particular prospective client and review it – including editing the page – while I’m on the phone or a video call with the client.  It’s the next best thing to being there in person, and it’s incredibly efficient to end a meeting with a document containing everything you’ve negotiated.
  2. Video.  I’m not talking about cute cat videos, here.  I’m talking about high quality videos that let you reach out and create detailed, specific impressions on prospective clients.  Don’t get caught in the YouTube or Vimeo trap.  There are other players like LongTail Video that will let you create infinitely customizable, slick, professional videos that show off your company’s unique offerings.
  3. Printing and scanning.  Your sales rep takes an order, sends the packing slip to the printer in the warehouse and the invoice to the printer in the billing department.  Can’t get more efficient than instant order processing and billing facilitated by cloud-based apps in real time.
  4. Capturing your thoughts.  Evernote is a classic app for recording notes, pics, links, music – anything you don’t want to forget.  Another new fave of mine is Writer by Big Huge Labs.  It gives me a distraction-free interface that’s perfect when I’m working on a chapter in my latest book or when I’m jotting down article ideas. 
  5. Phone systems.  Using a Private Box Exchange system lets me and my staff route our calls from our office extensions to our mobile phones.  That way when a client calls my New Jersey office, the call reaches me instantly, no matter where in the world I am.  It’s invisible tech that lets my clients reach me reliably, whether I’m in Italy or Istanbul.
  6. Tech support.  Gone are the days when you have to physically hand over your laptop to your IT support person.  Now, regardless of my physical location, our virtual network lets me give my tech guy access to fix any problems that arise while I’m out in the field. 
  7. Music storage and access.  I’ll admit that this use is more personal, but having access to virtually any song ever written makes travel so much more pleasant.  Whether you use Google Music’s free service or whether you’re a paid subscriber to Pandora, it’s never been easier to access great music from anywhere on the planet.
  8. Language translation.  As more business is done internationally, the need for reliable, convenient translation apps grows.  The abundance and improving quality of both paid and free translation apps means that you can reach more customers than ever.Real world navigation.  Whether you use a separate device or one of the many smartphone apps, getting to where you need to be has never been easier.  My favorite recent development – integration of Waze (crowdsourced, real-time traffic information) with Google maps.  Now you can get your route, complete with detailed, audible directions and you get Waze’s notifications about road hazards, police presence, and traffic reports.

Every day brings another reason to convert your business to the cloud and free yourself to reach more clients, work more efficiently, and operate more cost effectively.


Mondays with Mike: 6 Creative Ways To Make Sales Internationally (Even If You Think You Can’t)

11-3 International competition smallAs the marketplace expands to cover more and more of the globe, you’re going to realize your competition may not just be the guy across the street.  It might be a guy in Mexico or China.  The big difference in having competition in another country is that you can’t simply focus on defensive measures to preserve your business.  You must start thinking about offense – what you can do to increase your market share by expanding your client base.

Say you own a little pizza shop.  Now I’m not going to pretend that it’s a good idea to figure out ways to deliver pizzas to China, but what I am telling you is that you can find a way to market yourself overseas.  Here’s how you can make it work:

  1. Convert your offering to information.  Pizzas don’t travel well, but books and videos do!  Whether you create a series of videos sharing your tips and secrets on running a small business, or whether you create a recipe book based on your Italian grandmother’s recipes, one of the best ways to cultivate business all over the globe is by creating a unique product that’s easily marketable online.
  2. Embrace the power of Skype.  While you may not be able to shake the hands of the folks buying your new recipe book in other countries, what you can do is have a small bookshop conduct a Q&A Skype session for the people buying your book.  You can use Skype to meet your fans and give them a personal connection to you and your brand.
  3. Leverage your culture.  The US has cultural capital, and there’s no reason not to cash in on it!  Establish yourself as a uniquely American business (with a plan that will work in other countries as well.)  If you’re selling your business model and sharing coaching tips, you can even promote cross-cultural awareness by encouraging your new international contacts to share the difficulties and successes they face in other countries.
  4. Play up the pen pal effect.  So you’re helping other businesses get on their feet … why not send them a little piece of your home country?  Receiving fun mail is increasingly uncommon.  Just think about how excited your international customers would be to get a handwritten letter from you.  Whether you reach out to bookstores selling your wares, or whether you ship a personalized thank you to people working on establishing a business that’s modeled after yours, your contact will make your brand memorable.
  5. Find a way to handle other currencies.  Whether you use PayPal or one of the other services that facilitates money transfers among different currencies, make sure you’re prepped so pesos and euros don’t keep you from completing sales.  Being able to work with other currencies lets you reach far more clients.
  6. Establish a local presence.  Once you get a foothold in another country, it’s important to signal your appreciation for and dedication to that business.  Whether you schedule personal appearances or establish a local bank account, consider getting more deeply involved in those communities who support your business.

It’s a big old world out there, and there are more potential customers every day.  Think big.  Think global.  Find some way to package your business for an international audience, and you’ll reap the benefits.


Mondays with Mike: The 5 Cloud Mistakes That Will Cost You Big-Time

10-27 Business in the cloud smallI’m a cloud evangelist.  I work out of my backpack, and running my business on the could lets me work from anywhere on the planet, all while providing the highest level of customer service.  While I’m a huge fan of the cloud, I also know some folks who have underestimated the cost of converting their companies to run on the cloud.  Here are some things to avoid if you’re looking to make the leap.

  1. Thinking the cloud is free.  Sure, you may be able to find a music service that gives you access to your tunes at no charge, but if you’re looking for full functionality – the ability to collaborate, buy, sell, communicate, and store data on the cloud, you’re going to have to pay for it.  Even the simple problem of data storage may end up costing you more if you use the cloud, rather than hardware, but in exchange for the higher fee, you get the ability to access your data from anywhere.  It’s important that you accurately assess fees before you dive in, though.  Monthly subscriptions for cloud storage can add up, so you need to do your homework.
  2. Stopping at storage.  Data storage is what most folks think of when they contemplate uses for the cloud, but what many people forget is that simply storing the data doesn’t go far enough.  You may need data analysis.  You may need credit card processing.  You may need automatic backups.  Each service you add raises your prices each month.  Make sure you account for everything you’ll need.
  3. Thinking there’s one cloud.  It’s a big sky full of lots of clouds.  You may use Nextiva for your communication needs, while your accounting may be handled by QuickBooks.  Those are separate clouds, and they don’t necessarily work easily together.  Finding fixes when you need to move data from one cloud to another can be costly.  Think about it – the slide show you create on Google Drive doesn’t necessarily port perfectly to PowerPoint.  You have to find workarounds, and those cost time and money.
  4. Assuming all your apps will work on the cloud.  Quite simply, they won’t – though more do each day.  If you’re wedded to a particular accounting program or to a specific phone system, you may have trouble converting your apps to the cloud.  There are fixes – PC Anywhere and My Cloud Anywhere can help with the conversion, but you’re going to have to pay for their services.
  5. Getting locked in.  The more customized your cloud configuration is, the harder it will be to move data from cloud to cloud.  Proprietary coding and formatting differences can make it a nightmare to work among a variety of apps.  Your best bet is to be agnostic – minimize your attachment to any one proprietary system – and you’ll find it easier to move from one app to the next with a minimum of difficulty and expense.

Yes, the cloud costs money.  And yes, it can be a hassle to navigate all of the options and functionality.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!  The ability to collaborate at a distance, maintain communication regardless of location, and exceed customer expectations from anywhere on the globe is absolutely worth it.  


Mondays with Mike: 4 Marketing Fails And What You Can Learn From Them

Some marketing campaigns are more successful than others.  You might be unhappy with an ad that leaves consumers scratching their heads or that doesn’t make your product very memorable.  You may want to take a big chance – roll the dice on a new campaign that will cement your place in consumers’ minds and hearts.  As we are bombarded by more and more images, slogans, and ads, companies are having to be increasingly creative in making a lasting impression.  

 

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Be careful, though!  It’s possible not to just miss the mark, but to miss the target altogether and end up with a full-blown marketing catastrophe.  Here are a few ways in which marketing can be a huge flop – and more importantly, what you can learn from the failures of others.

  1. Unintended Consequences.  How certain was Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, that his company could protect the financial security and identities of its users?  Certain enough that he posted his social security number on the company’s website and even on billboards.  How big was the fail?  By last count, Davis’ identity has been stolen at least thirteen times, and to add insult to injury, the Federal Trade Commission even fined Lifelock $12 million for making false claims in its advertising.  Takeaway:  Think your ad campaign through.  Don’t set yourself up by failing to anticipate the logical outcome of your marketing strategy.
  2. Underestimated Cost.  In the early 1990s, Pepsi developed a marketing campaign designed to boost its flagging sales in the Philippines.  They printed numbers on the underside of bottle caps and ran a contest, promising to award 1 million Philippine pesos to the lucky winner with the winning number.  An error in the number selection process resulted in the wrong winning number being announced – a number that had been printed on 800,000 bottle caps.  A contest that was intended to have a $2 million in payouts ended up costing Pepsi over $10 million in legal fees and restitution.  The moral:  Run the numbers, and then run them again.  Make sure you’ve accounted for all of the costs of your campaign, even if it doesn’t go the way you’ve planned.
  3. Inability To Control Content.  Making the most of social media means that companies have to react lightning quick to comments from users who expect interaction.  The trouble, though, is that when comments are live and public, you can end up with some embarrassing or inappropriate messages on your company’s page.  Take Qantas Airlines as an example.  Despite the fact that they’d grounded their flights due to a contract dispute, they introduced a campaign inviting customers to share their dream flight experiences.  The hashtag #QantasLuxury was quickly coopted by frustrated fliers who were trying to get to a funeral or home to a pregnant partner about to deliver.  If you invite the public to participate, make sure you can control the content.
  4. Unintentionally offensive.  Motherhood – the sacred institution.  It’s associated with love, warmth, caring, and … housework?  Mr. Clean’s Mother’s Day advertisement prompted women with a catchy encouragement: “This Mother’s Day, get back to the job that really matters.”  The photo of a woman cleaning pressed all the wrong buttons with many consumers.  Make sure that the message you’re sending isn’t going to inadvertently piss your customers off.  Do a little test marketing!

It’s the splashiest, most outrageous marketing campaigns that garner the most attention.  Fortune does indeed favor the bold, but you need to ensure that your advertisements don’t end up costing you business.  Learn from the mistakes of others.

 

 

 


Mondays with Mike: How To Get Your Entire Business Running On The Cloud In One Day

Stocksy_txpe7e51ee740B000_Small_134978A lot of business owners put off making big decisions – like transitioning their company to running on the cloud – because they fear change.  They’re reluctant to undertake a major overhaul because they know that difficulties will arise, and there will be a learning curve for their staff.

 

For the most part, they’re right.  Change is a struggle.  But it’s a struggle worth taking on.  My advice to entrepreneurs considering making the switch to a cloud-based office is to take a deep breath, get a few things in place ahead of time, and dive right in!  If you follow these steps, your transition will be smooth and will put you on the road to flexibility you’ve only dreamed of.  

 

The key to a seamless transition to the cloud is doing your homework and making a workable plan.

 

First, you want to pick your date.  There actually is a very best day for major business transitions – January 1st.  While everyone else in the world is sleeping off a hangover, you have a full day to make you changes and start working out the bugs before the world returns to work.  A new fiscal year makes record keeping easier, and since you’re likely to do little actual business, you’ll be able to focus on your transition.  Working out the kinks on a slow day lets you troubleshoot without the stress of impatient customers.

 

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all the applications and programs you use and sort them into three categories:  apps you use daily, ones you use monthly, and ones that you use occasionally or only for special purposes.  How frequently you use an app will determine exactly how you transition it.

 

For apps you use daily – word processing, phone service, accounting – you’ll ideally want to port all of your information directly – say, from QuickBooks to QuickBoooks Online.  If that’s not an option, you’ll need to find a full replacement.  Keep in mind that any replacement will have differences, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with those differences ahead of time.  Apps you use monthly can be replaced by cloud-based alternatives, and apps that you use infrequently may not need to be cloud-based at all.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money looking for alternatives for programs that you seldom use.

 

Once you have your cloud-based applications selected, you should select your test users, and I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on your IT people for this task.  You want to get a feel for how the folks who will actually be in the trenches – the ones who will have to use the new tech to do their jobs – will interact with the new programs.  Once your test users are comfortable, you’re ready to roll the cloud out to the rest of the company, using your new experts as support staff.

 

If it’s possible, you should plan to run parallel for a few weeks.  Now I know that running parallel is double the work, but if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you did it.  Keeping the old system up for a brief period ensures that your customers don’t experience any troubles getting the same great service they’re used to.

 

Finally, since your business is now cloud-based, you need to develop an emergency plan – figure out what you’ll do if something goes wrong.  Think I’m overreacting?  When Superstorm Sandy swept through my neck of the woods, I managed to keep my business running from an emergency shelter.  How?  I’d already planned and tested how my office would handle needing to work in less-than-ideal circumstances.  Knowing that if the power goes out you can still do business is key.

 

Is it a lot of work to get your business up and running on the cloud?  You bet!  Is it worth it to get flexibility and increased productivity?  Absolutely.  While making the transition in a day may not be ideal, it is possible, which demonstrates that you shouldn’t be afraid to make the leap.




 
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