How the Cloud Can Be Useful for Your Small Business

cloud-computing-small-business-it-support-austinA survey conducted by Microsoft in May, 2014, found that only 30% of small businesses were using cloud technology. This was a surprising statistic considering 60% of those surveyed believed that technology assisted their business in increasing revenue, and another 60% felt that technology helped them to compete with similarly sized and larger companies.  The top three concerns about using technology, expressed by those surveyed, were: the cost of upgrading; security; and ease of accessing content from multiple devices.  Cloud technology adeptly addresses two out of three of these concerns and enables small business owners to maximize their flexibility.

Cloud technology refers to centralized data storage on the Internet that makes it possible to access that data anytime, anywhere, and from any device.  There are multiple benefits of using the cloud for your business.  The cost for file storage, when compared to physical file storage, can be greatly reduced. It is easy to save files and access them on the cloud, even for non-technical small business owners.  The cloud offers flexibility and scalability because how it is used can change as your business changes and grows.  There is also a savings in updates and maintenance because most cloud applications automatically update themselves, versus having an IT person support your system.

Along with using the cloud for data backup and file storage, other benefits of using the cloud for your small business include being able to work from anywhere, anytime, and on any device.  Having a versatile mobile office enables many small business owners to be more efficient in their practices. It also assists in communication and information sharing with staff, customers, and suppliers.

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top concerns associated with using cloud technology.  Security of data stored in the cloud, and loss of control of that data, are the primary issues faced by those businesses using cloud technology.  These are the same issues faced by small businesses when looking at outsourcing any tasks or information, and are addressed in the same ways – by asking questions and identifying with whom you are doing business. Knowing the following can aid in better security and control in the cloud: what data your business will upload to the cloud; what security requirements, such as HIPAA, may apply; how the data and services impact the daily operations of the business; and what requirements apply if or when the cloud service ends.

Understanding how the cloud can benefit your small business can aid you as a business owner in making those decisions to use this accessible, affordable, and versatile technology to increase your business profitability and success.  As with any decision as a small business owner, it is important to research how this tool can improve your business practices, and which cloud applications will best serve your business.

Darcy Shaw, Program Coordinator, Del Mar College Small Business Development Center

10 Ways to Improve Your Small Business

businessgrowthSmall business owners are always watching for ways to improve their company. From streamlining important processes, to saving money on utilities, to hiring better team members, there are dozens  of things that can make a good small business even better. If you’re looking for ways to improve try one of the following tips.

1. Crunch the Numbers

If you’re so busy with the daily operation of your business that you don’t take time out to monitor your business financials, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Crunch the numbers daily, weekly, and monthly so that you know where you stand financially and can make more sound business decisions. Invest in a bookkeeper or bookkeeping software if you are overwhelmed by numbers.

2. Use To-Do Lists

Give yourself a few tasks to accomplish each day and write them down. Then, when it’s time to cross them off your list, you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished. To-do lists are excellent for helping you with time management and prioritization.

3. Jump start Your Morning

Resist the urge to ease into your work by drinking coffee and surfing the Internet from your desk. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes at most to catch up, and then get started on your to-do list for the day. Set a timer if you need to.

4. Take Time Out to Learn Something New

Make learning a part of your job responsibilities. Read a small business blog for the latest tips and trends, enroll in an online course or one at the community college to learn a new skill, or attend a conference to brainstorm with other small business owners.

5. Let Go of Worries and Stress

Learn to limit the amount of time you spend worrying. Whether you delegate responsibilities to competent staff or set aside a few minutes to meditate, make a habit of freeing yourself from negative, stressful thoughts. When you do, you’ll be a better problem solver.

6. Upgrade Your Technology

Another way to improve your business is to upgrade your technology. You can get faster, more powerful machines, invest in new software to simplify your daily tasks, or make your small business completely mobile. Withimproved technology, your business will be more efficient.

7. Green Up Your Small Business

If your business embraces green practices, you can do more than just save the environment. Going green in many cases helps you create a more efficient workspace while reducing the amount of money you spend on supplies and utilities.

8. Hire Based on Character

You’ve probably seen the quote: “Hire character. Train skill.” There is a lot of truth in this statement, and putting this into practice means surrounding yourself with a positive, hardworking team that can tackle anything with the right attitude. Any skills an employee doesn’t already possess can be learned on the job.

9. Improve Customer Service

You can never go wrong when you implement improved customer service practices, because your customers are your business. If you continue to make them happy and give them the support they need, the improvements will spread throughout your company.

10. Accept a New Challenge

Stagnation is not an option for those who want to improve. If you start to feel too comfortable, accept a new challenge. Business growth comes from trying new things, so look for an opportunity to offer a new service, open a new store location, or break into a new market.

You can tackle each of these tips one by one or try implementing a few at a time. The important thing is that you continually strive to build a stronger and more profitable business.

NAICS Codes & SAM: Listing Solicitation’s Code Not Required

NAICS Code ImageContrary to a common misconception, a contractor need not list the solicitation’s NAICS code in its SAM profile in order to qualify for contract award.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO confirmed that the government may award a contract to a small business even if the awardee does not list the solicitation’s NAICS code in its SAM profile.

The GAO’s decision in High Plains Computing, Inc. d/b/a HPC Solutions, B-409736.2 (Dec. 22, 2014) involved a Social Security Administration procurement for video teleconferencing support services.  The solicitation was issued as an 8(a) set-aside under NAICS code 517919.

After reviewing competitive proposals, the agency awarded the contract to National Cable Contracting, LLC.  An unsuccessful competitor, High Plans Computing d/b/a HPC Solutions, filed a GAO bid protest.  HPC contended, in part, that NCC was ineligible for award because NCC did not list NAICS code 517919 on its SAM profile.

The GAO noted that it had examined a similar question in 2007 under the old ORCA system.  In the 2007 case, the agency made award to a firm even though the firm’s ORCA profile did not contain the solicitation’s NAICS code.  The GAO upheld the agency’s decision because “there was no apparent statutory or regulatory requirement for the NAICS code in a solicitation to be listed in an offeror’s ORCA entries, and because the record showed that the contracting officer had a reasonable basis to conclude that the firm was eligible for award under the solicitation’s size standard.”

The GAO wrote that the circumstances in this case were “essentially identical” to those in the prior decision.  “In particular,” the GAO continued, “HPC has failed to identify a statute or regulation requiring that the NAICS code in the solicitation be listed in an offeror’s SAM record, and the record shows that the contracting officer had a reasonable basis to believe that NCC was eligible for award under the solicitation’s size standard.”  The GAO denied HPC’s protest.

In my experience, there is a good deal of confusion–among contractors and government officials alike–regarding the listing of NAICS codes on an offeror’s SAM profile.  As the High Plains Computing case demonstrates, an offeror is not ineligible for award simply because it does not list the solicitation’s NAICS code on its SAM profile.

See more at: http://smallgovcon.com/gaobidprotests/naics-codes-sam-listing-solicitations-code-not-required/#sthash.v4HxEXeZ.dpuf

For help with Government Contracting: contact your nearest Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). Funded through Cooperative Agreements between the U.S. Department of Defense and state and local governments/institutions, PTACs provide free and low-cost assistance in virtually all areas of government contracting

By Steven Koprince   Posted to Smallgovcon.com  on December 29, 2014

SMALL BUSINESS CHECKLIST: SCOUTING OUT A LOCATION

google-maps-iconHere’s your guide to finding the perfect spot for your small business.

As the saying goes, three things matter in property: location, location, location. Here are the top things to consider when your small business is on the real estate hunt.

Costs

Does the space work within your budget?

Consider:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Shared expenses, like lawn/garden care, snow removal, driveway/sign maintenance or exterior lighting
  • Utilities
  • Moving costs
  • Property taxes
  • Insurance requirements

Accessibility

  • Is it easy to find and give directions to?
  • How close is it to major roads, suppliers, public transportation, restaurants or other key vendors?
  • What’s the traffic flow? (Check City-Data.com or your state or city’s department of transportation.)
  • What parking is available, and do any other businesses share the same parking areas?
  • How many entrances are there to the parking lot? Is the location on a divided road that offers limited options for turning left or turning around if a customer misses the entrance?
  • How easy is it for potential customers driving by to see your sign or building?
  • Is there a loading dock or other access for delivery trucks?

Physical Workspace

  • Is it somewhere you and your staff would like to spend the day? Consider lighting, amount of space, amenities and ability to alter the space.

Surrounding Area

  • Is the surrounding area popular and safe?
  • Will nearby businesses provide support or competition? (For example: Rather than a strip mall with a tattoo parlor, auto parts store and hardware store, a better location for a teenage clothing boutique would be near a salon, shoe store and coffee shop or bakery. This would complement the other businesses, and all would attract a common demographic.)

Legal

  • Are you signing the lease as an individual or a company representative? If required to sign as an individual, you will personally be liable if the business defaults on the lease.
  • Is subleasing allowed? You might want this option down the road if finances are tight.
  • Is the area zoned for your type of business?
  • Are there restrictions or requirements about lighting, sign size/location, parking times, hours of operation and workplace compliance standards?
  • Can you hire a real estate attorney who specializes in commercial leases to make sure the contract’s language and terms are favorable?

Long-Term Considerations

  • How long is the lease? Negotiate for flexibility and a shorter-term lease to allow for the unexpected. Get a feel for the space and surrounding area and make sure you’re on sound financial footing before making a long-term commitment.
  • Is the landlord easy to work with?
  • Are there any upcoming traffic revisions that will change access to the property? (Check with local transportation authorities.)
  • Are there nearby parcels of undeveloped commercial property that could radically change the area’s environment when developed (like a big-box store or out-of-character project)?
  • Are other tenants doing well and planning to stay?
    Tips were provided by Tanya Keefe, co-owner of Sense-sational Therapy in Fort Gratiot, Michigan; Walt Batansky, a site selection consultant with Avocat Group in Tampa, Florida;Ken Barrett, president of a chain of Washin Golden Springs Coin Laundry stores in Alabama;Hope Gibbs, founder of PR and publishing firm The Inkandescent Group in Richmond, Virginia; and Kevin Hoult, a business adviser services manager in Bellingham, Washington.

10 Habits That Make Everyone Hate You on Social Media

social-media-mistakesYOUR VAGUEBOOKING AND CONSTANT RETWEETING MAY BE ANNOYING EVERYONE. HERE’S WHAT YOU’RE DOING THAT MIGHT MAKE PEOPLE CLICK “UNFOLLOW.”

More than one out of every seven people in the world use Facebook, and people post well over 200 billion tweets per year. We have a lot to say.

However, many people might find a lot of our musings incredibly annoying. It’s human nature. Note the following 10 techniques guaranteed to get you unfriended and unfollowed.

1. ALWAYS SELLING

One of the worst sins, says Nika Stewart, owner of social media managementcompany Ghost Tweeting, is posting only when you have something to promote. It’s cheesy and it’s spammy.

Social media is a conversation. No one wants to have a conversation with a door-to-door salesman.

2. SENDING AUTOMATED MESSAGES TO NEW FOLLOWERS

You may think sending a direct message to a new Twitter follower is a great idea, but experts advise to tread lightly.

“Thanking new connections and welcoming them into your community is the right sentiment and can lead to the beginning of terrific relationships,” says Stewart. But auto direct messages on Twitter, she explains, “are generic, and lack any personal information. So in many cases, they make you look uncaring and offend your target.”

3. OVERSHARING

Even if the only connections you have are your 10 closest friends, status updates and tweets are less private than you think. If you’ve forgotten who all your friends are, then definitely save the details of last night’s hookup for a carefully chosen few.

“You should be texting them, rather than posting in a public manner,” says Catherine Cook, cofounder and VP of brand strategy at MeetMe.com. Or better yet, call people one at a time to yak.

4. NOT THANKING PEOPLE

If someone answers a question, or shares your content with an enlightening comment, then acknowledge them. Ignoring them is much like disregarding someone who holds a door for you. It’s bad karma.

5. REPOSTING TOO MUCH

Sending the same link 10 times in two hours may marginally increase the chance people click on your post. But if people stop following you because of your digital clutter, then you don’t come out ahead.

6. SHARING CHAIN LETTERS AND URBAN LEGENDS

Anything that puts unwanted social pressure on people to take action is a bad idea. Likewise, before you share something shocking, do a quick Google search to find out if it’s on Snopes, the urban legends website.

7. VAGUEBOOKING

This is defined as posting a status such as: “I guess I know now who my real friends are.”

“[Vaguebooking] is designed to get the comments,” says Cook. Vaguebooking status updates are “usually something that’s just drama between friends,” she adds. That sort of drama doesn’t win you new Facebook friends or followers.

8. HIJACKING THE BANDWAGON

If you’re interested in contributing to a trending hashtag on Twitter, by all means read and post along. But sometimes people just look at the list and think: “It’s trending! I should use it,” says Cook. “Well, why is it trending? Don’t just hop on.”

You’d hate to post a link to your old travel trips for Rio de Janeiro when it turns out the hashtag has to do with a major natural disaster that just hit the city.

9. LACKING DECORUM

“The broad philosophy is that you should have a bigger filter online than you do in real life, and I think the reverse is actually the case,” says Cook. We say stuff online we’d never tell people to their faces. Even though in most cases, our private nastiness won’t be eternally recorded; whereas our social media posts will.

If you feel the need to insult a whole class of people, swear like a sailor, or post a political screed, ask yourself if you’d do it in front of 100 assembled coworkers, or in front of all your relatives at the Thanksgiving table. If you would, fine. But you probably wouldn’t.

10. BAD ENGLISH

Posting. Periods. After. Every. Word. Or going over the top with ALL CAPS!!!!! On social media—as well as in more traditional communications channels—your choice of language can emphasize a point. You don’t need extra help with punctuation.

Ten Essential Questions to ask a Website Designer

Webdesign, Layout, Website1. What other websites have they created?

Ask for a portfolio. Ask if they have built any sites similar to what you are wanting. Are these sites easy to navigate? Do they have a “national quality” look to them?

2. Do they have an office?

I know this may sound like a strange question, but one of the problems we have in the website development industry is that anyone can claim to be a “website designer.” Many so-called webmasters actually have full-time jobs somewhere else and “do” website design at night. Ask to have your first meeting at their office. This meeting will give you a definite feeling of how stable and successful they are

3. Do they use cheap templates or will they build a site that reflects who you are?

Many so-called website designers will take your logo or company name and slap it onto a pre-made template, having your site ready in 10 minutes. The result is often an amateurish mess that makes your company look small. Your company is not like every other company out there. Your website should reflect that fact.

4. How long does a typical website project take?

You will get a broad range of answers on this one. Of course, the answer depends on the complexity of your project. If you only need a few pages of information published, your site can be ready in a matter of weeks. However, if you need some interactive elements (blogs, forms, shopping carts, etc), understand that the process could take longer.

5. Do they have separate graphic designers, developers, and programmers?

Building a website correctly and professionally requires a combination of many skill-sets.

Graphic Designers build the “pretty” part of your site. They are the creative member of the team. Professional graphic designers follow critical guidelines when building your site. Issues such as white space, balance, complimentary colors, and flow are used to put your site’s “look” on par with national companies, like Amazon and Google.

Developers put it all together. Their specialty: HTML and CSS. These two terms are the primary building blocks of successful websites. You don’t need to know what those terms mean (unless you want to impress people at parties), but your developer must be an expert at both. They take the graphical pieces built by the graphic designer and arrange them into an actual website page. They insure that when someone clicks on a link on your site, they go to the correct page. Demand a good website developer.

Programmers make sure the interactive pieces of your site work correctly. They install, test, and launch forms, blogs, and shopping carts for your site. If people are going to buy something from your site, make sure it works. Customer trust is a finicky thing. One bad experience will probably end any future business with someone. Choose a company with a proven record of providing accurate, bug-free programs.

6. What is their rating with the Better Business Bureau?

Have other people had good or bad experiences with them? Only do business with companies that have an “Accredited” rating if possible.

7. When the website is complete, will you OWN it or will they?

Believe it or not, in the state of Texas, if someone builds a website for you, THEY own it. That’s right, even if you paid them for it, the company that built your site legally owns it. Make sure that the company you do business with “waives” ownership and transfers all legal rights to your site over to you. That way, if you ever become dissatisfied with their service, you may take what they created to another developer and not have to start over. Some unethical companies will actually hold your site hostage and not allow you to take it elsewhere. Demand full website ownership in writing from any website designer you do business with. (Learn more: http://copyright.lib.utexas.edu/whoowns.html; http://www.zolmedia.com/Techville/2004/WHOIS-Ownership.aspx; and http://www.digitalmousedesigns.com/websites-faq/who-owns-my-website/ )

8. How much do they charge for hosting?

Typically, you will pay a one-time price for the website and a monthly price for hosting. The hosting price can vary from a very small “hosting only” price to one that includes updates to the site. Make sure you understand EXACTLY what you will be charged every month by this website design company.

9. How much are updates once the website is launched?

Websites are not billboards. You don’t launch them and forget about them. Technically, a good website is ALWAYS under construction. Your website should change every month in order to keep it fresh and relevant. Ask your website developer how much updates are. If they charge an hourly rate, ask if it is in one-hour minimums or is it broken into 15 or 30 minute increments. Some website developers will include some updates in their hosting plan. Ask for details.

10.
Do you have the ability to update the website yourself?

Depending on your technical ability and desire, you may want to update parts of your site yourself. Find out exactly what parts of the site you can update and which parts must be updated by the website design company. While various website design companies offer varying degrees of customer updating, there is no standard. Get specifics.

Bonus: Do they help your website get found in the search engines?

Most people focus so much on the “building” of the website, they give no thought to how it will be found. Keep this in mind. The old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” is not true. Simply having a website does not guarantee visitors or customers. People must FIND you. Ask your website design company about website promotion services.

Why look for a Website Designer? Why can’t I just build the website myself?

Many companies on the Internet offer “Easy Sitebuilders” options for non-technical business owners. However, in order to make these tools simple, most custom options are removed. Your final result will no doubt appear to be a cookie-cutter template copied by hundreds of other small businesses. As I mentioned above, your company is unique. Your website should be also. While a content management system is a great idea for your website, make sure it offers enough features to make you stand out in the crowd!

Adapted from The Key to Choosing an Amarillo Website Designer by Eric Spellman: http://www.ericspellmann.com/amarillo-website-design.html

‘I’ve heard good things’: Build positive business buzz via customer testimonials on your website

Customer ReviewsFew phrases make a business owner happier than “I’ve heard good things.” (“Do you accept cash?” would be another.) And kind words about your business — especially from new customers — do a heck of a lot more than make you feel good. They make you more successful.

That’s because positive buzz about your business is contagious.

If I tell my Aunt Gladys about the mouthwatering linguini carbonara I had at the new Italian restaurant in town, she’s MUCH more likely to go there the next time she gets a craving for Italiano. Then she’ll probably tell someone else, and so on. And let’s not underestimate the power of social media. My Facebook® friends might be tempted to share the luscious linguini pic I posted. The same pic could score a few Pinterest® pins. And that five-star review I left on Yelp® while waiting for my cannoli to digest? That’s word-of-mouth on digital-age steroids.

A recent survey found that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and more than half of those surveyed said they’re more likely to use a local business based on positive online reviews.

Without a doubt, positive feedback cultivates customer trust and drives sales. For potential customers, it eliminates some of the mystery surrounding what it’s like to do business with you. It breeds confidence. It boosts your credibility factor. That’s why it’s so important to include customer testimonials on your business website.

How do you collect customer testimonials?

  1. Just ask. If you’ve got a physical store, you might keep a “We love feedback” sign on your checkout counter next to a simple feedback form and bowl of candy (or granola or rub-on tattoos). Shipping online orders to a select group of repeat customers? Give them a personal call to thank them for their business, and ask if they’re willing to provide a testimonial for your website. Do the same with happy customers you’re engaging with via social media. Research shows that about half of social network users respond to requests for feedback; you can up those odds by reaching out to social followers with whom you’ve established a strong online connection.
  1. Add a feedback link to existing customer communications. Do you send emails to your customers? Like monthly newsletters or surveys or promotions? If so, you’ve got a great opportunity to collect customer testimonials. Include a link to a feedback form on your website. You might even add that link to your email signature. And you definitely should include a feedback link on your business’s social media profiles.
  1. Use third-party resources and local review sites. People take stock in the opinions of others, which is why business review sites like Yelp® and Angie’s List™ are so popular. (Not surprisingly, reviews with poor grammar and spelling knock credibility down a notch.) Keep tabs on your business’s reviews, and share positive feedback on your website with a link back to the original source.

Make it really easy for customers to testify by offering to email a short feedback form for them to fill out. (Always ask permission to publish your customers’ comments.) And if they’re comfortable with it, ask them to include a photo. Think about how many credibility points you’ll earn with a pic of your happy customer using your product. Or, even better, a video snippet. That. Is. Invaluable. Marketing.

A former small business owner and newspaper journalist, and a published nonfiction author, Andrea Rowland helps craft compelling communications for today’s go-getters through her work as an editor at GoDaddy. Connect with Andrea on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business.