SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

CMIT: Start Over Opps 4 AARP Crowd

In advance of CMIT Solutions’ annual convention next week (Vancouver, WA), I reached out to CEO Jeff Connally for a check-in. Simultaneously I noticed a LinkedIn update for former Microsoftie Kevin Remde having secured a CMIT Solutions franchise territory for the Maple Grove, MN-area. Seems like a “start over” story for this techie in the works.

CMIT Solutions has grown to be the largest computer-related franchise in the US with over 200-locations. It has evolved from the days of Ms. Iceland in its doublewide booth at the SMB Nation 2008 Fall Conference

to emphasize technology solutions, not just a ‘puter guy break-fix business model. What I believe sets CMIT Solutions apart is its unflinching commitment to marketing, learning and operations excellence. In its own words, CMIT Solutions says “…helping people and businesses to be more productive and to success through the intelligent application of information technology.” 

Kevin

Figure 1: CEO Jeff Connally awarding Kevin Remde (right) his owners school completion certificate!

In my view, a franchise should be a few things for a new owner to enter a specific line of work. It should provide training (that’s the above referenced marketing and operations excellence), promotion, collaboration (think of fellow franchise owners in non-competing territories as being in a peer group) and the ability to be instantly in business with a marketing bill of materials such as branding. I also liken the CMIT Solutions community as a way to fight owner loneliness (that’s a true medical condition).

Ironically the core SMB Nation audience isn’t necessarily the “best fit” for CMIT Solutions. Why? Because SMB Nation members, will aligned with respect to CMIT Solutions’ demographic persona(s), are already experienced and established business owners in the tech sector. Not that many of “us” couldn’t benefit from the CMIT Solutions “way” lemme tell ya.

One of the ideal CMIT candidate personas is Remde. Remde is north of 50-years old, received his severance after serving many years at Microsoft (some might remember Kevin as a Sr. Technical Evangelist on the vaunted Microsoft TechNet event and content motion. He is technically top heavy and, with all due respect, a corporate guy who has spent the bulk of his career signing the back of paychecks (endorsement for deposit) versus signing the front of the paycheck (making payroll). In short – the ideal CMIT Solutions candidate is seeking the next great thing post-corporate career (as a member of the hard core corporate enterprise “50+yo and out crowd”). What I like about Remde is what he alluded to in his “open for business” letter that I recently received: learning. Not only is Remde a continuous life learner but he espouses the passionate narrative of helping others “learn, learn, learn!” That makes sense given his role on the TechNet team. Coupled with CMIT Solutions’ learning paradigm, it’s about as good as it gets.

There you have it. CMIT Solutions has enabled Remde to tap his passion to marry his technical experience with a long-held desire to own a business and provide employment for others.

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5 Processes SMBs must Automate to Stay Competitive

The era we live in is highly automated. At home, you may already have the doors that automatically lock once you leave the house, smart lights you can turn on/off using a single button, or an audio system you can control via your phone.

The same goes for your business. The beauty of today’s machine learning and AI-powered technology is that they give us the newton s cradle balls sphere action 60582opportunity to make almost every aspect of our businesses simpler and faster. By investing in the right tools, you can get rid of boring, repetitive tasks and finally focus on those practices that can help you grow your business.

With this in mind, here are a few basic things every small business should automate.

1.  Social Media Marketing

Today, social networks are the foundation of creating firm relationships with your customers and providing them with stellar customer support.

Your followers expect you to be active 24/7 and social media management tools like Buffer or Hootsuite can help you here. They allow you to schedule, upload, and edit numerous posts at once, across different social networks. These tools also make the process of finding and curating industry-relevant content much simpler.

To tailor your marketing strategies to your target audience’s needs, you need to know what they think of you. And, social networks are a perfect place to start your search. You can use tools like Awario, Mention, Social Mention, Topsy or Talkwalker Alerts to stay on top of your customers’ discussions and provide them with instant, real-time feedback.

2.  Search Engine Optimization

Statistics tell us that 93% of all online experiences start with search engines. This is why SEO is still an inevitable part of your digital marketing campaign. Now, to boost your rankings, you have two options- to hire an SEO agency or simply do your SEO on your own. If you go with the latter option, you will have to hire an in-house team of marketers and invest in the right tools to automate your marketing efforts.

You can use Moz Keyword Explorer, Google Keyword Planner, KW Finder, or Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to target and optimize your site for relevant keywords.

There are numerous content marketing tools like BuzzSumo that will help you come up with relevant topics and create an awesome story around your keywords.

You can also invest in link building tools like Dibz to find relevant link building opportunities and drive quality traffic to your site.

3.  Customer Relationship Management

Did you know that 86% of customers would pay more for a better customer support? Given these facts, it’s not surprising at all that customer relationship management (CRM) can make or break your business. Now, providing customer support is probably the most powerful way to connect with your customers and humanize your brand. This is why many businesses avoid to automate it.

However, there is nothing bad in today’s CRM automation. With the rise of AI, it has become more natural and it helps you do things you cannot do on your own.

First, the implementation of artificial intelligence makes your self-service content smarter. Modern chatbots are already able to impersonate real-life conversations and provide to-the-point and reliable answers to the questions asked.

Second, they allow you to offer exceptional customer support 24/7. Automated customer service helps you give real-time feedback and instantly address the problems your customers face.

Third, better customer support boosts customer experience, resulting in skyrocketing conversions and customer retention.

Finally, automating customer support helps you save money. Namely, statistics show that, compared to traditional call centers, AI-powered voice responsive services help you save up to 80%.

4.  Office Management

Effective office management improves the overall workplace performance, encourages better collaboration, and saves you both time and money. Of course, automating your workplace doesn’t mean replacing people with machines. 

Start with project management tools like Basecamp, Asana or Trello that will help your employees work on an important project simultaneously and leave comments, share documents, and download files instantly.

If scheduling meetings, finding the right time for everyone, and sending circular emails has become too tiresome to you, you should go with the tools like Doodle. With it, you can select stuff like dates, time, and places and invite your employees to vote. Once all votes are in, you just need to choose the option that works for everyone.

Use tools like Smashfly or BreezyHR to automate your hiring process instead of sifting through the mountains of job applications manually.

You can also invest in a smart bot like Spoke to answer repetitive internal questions for you. Your employees can ask you questions via email, Slack, and similar platforms and get the answers instantly. Most importantly, Spoke is based on AI, meaning that it collects insights from every conversation so it can reply to similar questions faster in the future.

5.  Financial Management

To stay competitive, you need to know where your money flows or comes from. This means knowing to read your financial statements and monitoring a bunch of your invoices, taxes, bills on a monthly basis. And, if you don’t do it properly, you may put your business at risk.

If hiring an accountant is not an option for you, you can always consider investing in the right cloud-based accounting software such as QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Zoho Books, or Xero. These tools automate repetitive tasks, such as recurring invoices, bill payments, or payment reminders. They keep track of all your credit card transactions, classify all your expenditures, and help you monitor them in real-time. Most importantly, they can automate your financial report creation and offer regular data backups so you don’t have to worry about the safety of your sensitive data.

Conclusions

In the world of sophisticated technologies, not investing in your business automation means missing out on the opportunity to improve your customer satisfaction, save money, and boost your workplace performance. By leaving monotonous tasks to your software, you and your team can finally focus on some other, more creative aspects of your job.

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The Future of Internet of Things

Everything changes so rapidly! We have evolved from the dial-up connection to superfast 24/7 available internet connection. We are globally connected with others, work from home, have friends on the different continents and travel super fast from one destination to another.

With all of these valuable things that the internet evolution has brought, internet of things iot ts 100709714 largeunfortunately, comes a big issue – privacy. With social media and routers that hold all of our private info, imagine your coffee maker and the car having more info about you? Imagine that all of your devices are interconnected with you. It is pretty intriguing, right? That concept is called the Internet of things!

And it is an interesting concept. For those who are getting to know this idea for the first time, it could sound pretty weird. In order to understand the concept and its future, we should first define the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of things as an idea could lead us to a life that we could only dream of, although, it is not necessarily in a good way. The interconnectedness sounds pretty cool and exciting when you imagine the outcome and then move on with your regular life. But, imagine a day in a world where billions of your private data flow from one device to another and impact the course of your action. For example, your car is connected to your calendar, so it knows where you should be that exact day and it starts to count the best route for you to come just in time.

You are probably wondering, how in the world is this possible? Well, we should start from the basis. Internet of things is including all the devices that have an on and off switch to the Internet. That will include everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.

The Internet of Things and Net Neutrality

As the broadband internet has become widely available, the cost of Internet connection proportionally decreased. Furthermore, there are more devices that have WI-FI option and sensors in them, plus technology costs are going down. These conditions are a perfect foundation for the Internet of Things (IoT).

Maybe the most important factor for the IoT is net neutrality regulation. According to experts, without net neutrality the future of IoT is uncertain. But, why is that the case?

Net neutrality ensures that you can use the device you want to. Current net neutrality rules imply that the internet provider is not allowed to stop you from connecting any laptop, tablet, smartphone, or WI-FI router you prefer to your home network. However, without net neutrality, everything will change.

For example, broadband companies and cell carriers could create unfair conditions on the market. They could let internet traffic to flow faster to one brand of phone or computer over another.

Charter Communications have started testing 5G technologies in 6 cities earlier this year. It is predicted that Charter Spectrum Internet 5G network will be the first network designed to be scalable, versatile, and energy smart for the hyper-connected internet of everything world. 5G platform will impact many industries including automotive, entertainment, agriculture, manufacturing and IT. As industries are preparing for 5G, we’ll see the issue of net neutrality come to the forefront.

Let’s sum it up! If the internet providers have the power to decide which gadget or home appliance you should or shouldn’t use, they create winners and losers on the market. That would be the worst case scenario for you, competition and the future of the IoT.

Internet of things and smart cities

Basically, everything that can be connected will be connected in the future. Although it is scary and dangerous on some levels, interconnectedness can be great for the environment.

If we take a look at a broader picture, the Internet of things can be applied to things like transportation networks: "smart cities" which can help us to reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; this would be helping us understand and improve how we work and live.

The truth is that the IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can't even imagine or fully understand.

Internet of things and security

Security is a big issue, and it is in the center of attention today. But, can you imagine how it would look like with billions of devices being connected together? What can people do to protect their information? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and get access to your entire network? If we are discussing privacy and safety today, we don’t even want to know how the conversation would go if the internet of things becomes our reality.

Another logical question arises – where are they going to store that amount of data?  Billions of information have to be stored somewhere, and that would be a huge challenge for the companies

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Top 4 Free Applications for SMBs

Even though most people may not realize it, small and medium businesses are the backbone of the economy. In 2016, there were 28.8 million small businesses in the US, which translates to 99.7% of all American businesses – and in fact, since the 1970s, 66% of total net new jobs are generated by small businesses, which also make for 55% of all jobs in the marketplace. Yet only 50% of those businesses are set to surpass five years and only one third will survive for at least 10 years. This means that SMB owners have to play it smart in order to increase their chances in a highly competitive market – so why not take advantage of free applications that could be ideal for your enterprise?

1. Project Management

One of the most important questions you have to deal with as an SMB is how to deal with managing various projects among the few people that you employ. There are software tools out there that can help make that easier for you, by streamlining communication between team members and allowing you to stay on top of the workflow. Asana, one of the most popular PM apps, is free for the first 15 users, making it great for small businesses. It has a flexible interface and visually documents progress, while it can integrate with services like Evernote, Google Drive, MailChimp, and WordPress.

project management

 

Source: Pexels

2. Traffic Management

When your SMB has a website – as most businesses today do – then sometimes managing traffic can be daunting. A load balancing tool such as HAProxy (High Availability Proxy) allows you to allocate load across multiple servers and help optimize system performance and speed. HAProxy is a free and open source (FOSS) application– it is included in some Linux distributions, if your system runs on Linux, or it can be downloaded separately. Due to its elaborate nature, though, it also requires IT expertise to set up and maintain – so having the right people on board in-house or hiring outside help is crucial.

3. Productivity

Especially when working in small numbers or when you are freelancing, time can really fly. A good time tracking app can help both you and people on your team stay more focused on the task at hand and spend less time distracted by social media or less important tasks. RescueTime is a time management app that tracks where you allocate your precious time by website and application and allows users to set productivity goals. The basic version is completely free, but if you want features like blocking certain sites or breaking down offline activity, then you’ll have to upgrade to premium for a little extra. RescueTime is flexible across platforms and can be used on Mac, PC, and Linux, but its app is currently only available on Android.

prodactivity

Source: Pexels

4. Team Communication

Besides specialized project management apps, it is nice to have a tool dedicated to internal communication in order to make sure that everyone is up to date and colleagues can get easily in touch when needed. Slack is your best friend – and its basic version is free for an unlimited number of users, although it comes with space and feature limitations. You can create a shared workspace with organized communication channels, customized notifications, searchable messages and mandatory two-factor authentication for extra security.

So if you’d like to increase productivity while on a budget, there is no better way to do it than to look out for these free software tools and choose which one right for your company’s needs.

 

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Data Protection Best Practices for SMBs

Data protection comprises of a mix of services, all poised to ensure that IT environments do not experience data loss, data leakage and downtime. Data protection technologies hold a special place for Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMBs).

Importance of Data Protection for SMBs

As businesses grow they rely on digitalization and the data generated, as a result. Data can be classified into different types Data Protectionsuch as mission critical data, frequently accessed data, infrequently accessed data and archival data. Each type presents its own unique storage requirements and challenges. The most important type of data among this chunk is mission critical data. This is the type of data that fuels all of the processes of the IT environments of a business. If this data is lost or compromised, the business experiences an outage or downtime.

Outage or downtime tends to be very costly for businesses; they incur financial repercussions and reputation damage. If an SMB does not have adequate data protection technology and techniques, then they are more susceptible to data loss or downtime and in turn financial costs and reputation damage. In the worst case scenario, an SMB may not even recover from it.

That’s why data protection technology is very important for businesses and especially SMBs.

Now the question is “What are Data Protection Technologies?”

What are Data Protection Technologies?

The major part of data protection technologies can be severed into two: Backup and disaster recovery. Backup and disaster recovery technologies are sometimes confused with one another; however, the two are very different.

The comparison between the two is an explanation for another time but the concise difference is that backup is meant to prevent data loss in all its entirety; while disaster recovery services reduce downtime by prioritizing the restoration of mission critical data.

Data Backup Options for SMBs

Data backup options for SMBs can all be summed up in two major types: Cloud backups and On-premises backups.

On-premises backups require SMBs to acquire an infrastructure, set it up and then endure the dynamic costs of maintenance, power, cooling costs and an IT professional or a team that manages the infrastructure for them. The plus side to on-premises backup appliances is that they deliver reduced latency; if an IT environment is focused on faster data flow, then backup appliances are probably the better fit.

Cloud backups enable SMBs to acquire backup services without the acquisition of infrastructure and without initial costs. Cloud backup service providers deliver pay-as-you-go payment models. Instead of commissioning a backup infrastructure that has storage resources which sit idly until they’re used; SMBs can acquire the storage space that they need with cloud technology and then scale up later to add more space.

The most well sought after attributes of cloud technology are scalability and cost effectiveness.

The downside of cloud backups is that each time a backup file is retrieved, the process incurs charges. This requires detailed management of the backup and restore processes; otherwise, cost efficiency is compromised.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) Options for SMBs

Similar to backup solutions, disaster recovery solutions also come in two major forms: on-premises disaster recovery and cloud disaster recovery.

On-premises disaster recovery solutions comprise of an infrastructure that replicates data using combinations of technologies like data replication technology and snapshot technology. Disaster recovery solutions tend to be quite expensive because they need optimized technology to reduce RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives) and RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) as much as they can.

Cloud disaster recovery solutions are less taxing and less expensive than on-premises disaster recovery solutions. However, as with all cloud based services, latency remains an issue. For IT environments that cannot tolerate latency, on-premises disaster recovery technology is the better option.

Till this point, we are now familiar with backup and disaster recovery technology and we know why data protection is important for SMBs.

Let’s explore some data protection best practices for SMBs.

Best Practices – What SMBs should do to efficiently protect their data

Before indulging in the best practices, I’d like to mention here that each business has their customized data requirements. This implies that what’s best for one IT environment may not be for another; one shoe does not fit all. It’s better to scrutinize your data requirements before setting up data protection solutions.

With that in mind, here’s a general set of recommendations pertaining to data protection for SMBs.

Setup a Hybrid Solution – Cloud and On-premises

Instead of setting up a single on-premises or cloud based solution, I recommend setting up a hybrid data protection solution that uses both of them.

Initially, acquire a backup appliance for all your backup purposes and setup cloud disaster recovery services with it. As the data grows, you can either scale-out the appliance or you can set it up with a cloud based service. The compatibility depends on the appliance and the vendor. It is important to make sure that the desired services are being offered before the acquisition of the solution.

The initial setup will accommodate all the SMB’s data requirements and as the requirements increase, the SMB can use cloud connect services or cloud gateway appliances to tap into the cloud and utilize the different storage tiers offered by major cloud service providers.

With this setup, SMBs can have a scalable solution that’s optimized to address all their data requirements and is cost efficient. This sort of a setup is basically future proof; SMBs don’t have to worry about future expansion.

The cloud disaster recovery service will ensure that downtime is reduced while keeping the cost implications in check.

That sums up my insight about the subject. What’s your take on it? Comment below and remember to share with other professionals.

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