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.

PartnerPower: 3CX Review

I started on the 3CX telephone system journey with my customer hat on. I believed I could do it all. So, I jumped right in without, you guessed it, reading the manual (RTM). I quickly discovered that this was my first telephony rodeo in a 3CXwhile and I needed help after I tripped up on a security certificate implementation. Help isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean the 3CX is overcomplicated. Just the opposite as I discovered 3CX is very powerful and I needed the help of a certified 3CX partner.

I reached out to my favorite telecom expert, Allen Miller, a well-known 3CX consultant based in Cincinnati, OH (Allen Miller Computer Consulting; www.MillerManor.net). Full disclosure: Allen and I worked together nearly a decade ago on a now discontinued Microsoft small business phone system. I credit Allen with introducing me to the world of VoIP. Needless to say, I trust him when it comes to everything telephony.

Over the course of a few working sessions, Allen and I configured 3CX for a test network at my company, SMB Nation. In the first session, we completed the server-side installation starting with the security certificate matter through the naming conventions and administrator authentication. We did this on a small Lenovo ThinkCentre desktop unit. And therein was one of the first magical 3CX experiences. This big-league phone system can run on tiny computers. Literally. Loosely translated, I’m saying the 3CX, which can scale well through mid-sized companies, has low overhead and hardware requirements. I was officially impressed!

Also, undertaken in the first session was configuring the external firewall. We configured the SMTP email connection to the email server capabilities as well.

At the end of the first session, I realized I “didn’t know what I didn’t know” about the 3CX system and its robust strengths are indeed its asset. I could see where I was of wise mind to secure the services of a subject matter expert (SME) like Allen. I recommend this as your very first step in working with 3CX!

In the second session with Allen, we set up the client side with desk phones. I offered to re-flash a few old Cisco phones from yesteryear for this stage. Allen overruled me. He was very strict in his beliefs to not only use approved phones on the 3CX support phones list but to use a specific few brands he had successfully worked with.

Allen shared that “Some suggestions – I am partial to Yealink phones.  The one I use is the T48G which has a lot of soft buttons that you can use for speed dials which I like.  I think you have a T46G which is nice with fewer buttons.  They also announced a new line in the last couple weeks called T4S series.  I believe these have blue tooth and Wi-Fi if those matter to you.” Yealink it was and a shout out of appreciation to 888VOIP.com (888VOIP also hosts 3CX Training events which are very useful for partners to get help toward their 3CX Certifications. Visit http://www.888voip.com/events/) for providing our test bed. This intercompany cooperation from all aforementioned parties is a credit to 3CX for having built a reputation where stakeholder and suppliers work together and want to cooperate. I’ve worked with other vendors where such a community didn’t exist.

By the end of the second session, we had successfully configured the desktop phones including assigning extensions, basic call rules, identities, etc. At this point, we had the server-side and the client side ready to go.

In the next and final session, we secured dial tone. Allen had arranged for carrier services to make the phone real and ready to roam in the wild using a SIP Trunk Allen provided from vendor/partner Vitelity.com. Again, deferring to my consultant, he quickly configured the proverbial last mile to give me dial tone. I then ran both traditional and secret tests. First, I called myself from my mobile phone to confirm the 3CX system was operational. Then I answered a Craigslist ad for boating merchandise where I normally wouldn’t want someone to know my real phone number. I asked them to call the phone number I had been assigned and the phone rang as expected without problem or concern. The call fidelity over my broadband connection was excellent.

Mission accomplished. A bona fide 3CX system was up and running real time and big time. I’ve had the test bed up for over a month. No drama. And, again, I want to reiterate, hire a 3CX partner as your first step. Don’t be like Harry as that was my second step. LOL.

Customer Evidence
Not content to simply share my own experience, I wanted to seek out 3CX customer evidence to balance my opinions. I didn’t have to look far. Since the first of the year, I’ve been working with CSG Services, a well-respected Seattle-area vendor in the technology ecosystem. CSG Services provides services to Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, CenturyLink and other clients. It’s stock in trade is a number of global call centers. You know it takes telephony seriously. It depends on 3CX which is a testament right there. In this scenario, I’ve been using 3CX via the native softphone application. This is the basic CSG Services configuration for 3CX: softphones, not desk phones, for each of its 100+ employees in its call centers. While not my preference (I still prefer a desk phone), I grew increasingly fond of 3CX once I hooked up my Sennheiser professional headset, freeing me from a four foot USB headset cable and allowing to walkabout and pace on calls within Bluetooth range.

My experience on the 3CX customer side is this. It’s battle tested in the CSG Services call centers. It has passed the test. By the way, it’s running 3CX on an Azure instance (that’s a whole future blog).

Goodness of Fit in an O365 World
Finally, I thought about how 3CX, a real phone system, fits into the Office 365 community. To me the answer is very simple. Microsoft is not a telecom at its core but a software company. I think you must strongly consider 3CX as your telephony solution when you are running Office 365. ‘Nough said.

Next Steps
Click HERE to learn more about 3CX.

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7 THINGS YOU CAN OUTSOURCE A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT

About one third of the people in the world are entrepreneurs today. And about half of them are not successful in this fast growing economy. One of the biggest reasons of this failure is because they are handling there business without any mentor or a helper. What do they think of themselves? Superman-Virtual AssistantThe man of steel?
Nowadays, entrepreneurs are focusing more on increasing their business revenue. They want to do all the tasks alone, and don’t have the time to do it. Then the downfall begins. The only person that can leverage your working hours and help upfront your business is the virtual assistant. There is no harm in hiring a competent virtual assistant, seriously. They become a part of your business and can remove that entrepreneurial stress from you-somehow.
Now, most of the entrepreneurs are oblivious of what and how they can outsource. They didn’t know what could a VA do for them or what tasks should we give to them.
Here are 7 main tasks you can give a Virtual assistant to increase or improve your business.

EMAIL MANGEMENT OF FILTERING:
Checking emails again and again in your inbox while doing a hard tasks will probably be a waste your time. A virtual assistant will manage your inbox and respond to most of emails on your behalf. Managing emails is easy but you should provide your account, password and some guidance to reduce the risk of getting an error.

DATA PRESENTATIONS:
Doing the research and collecting the data is a hard process. But turning that data into presentation or excel can be a time waster for entrepreneurs. Hiring a virtual assistant having an expertise in Microsoft programs can give you great benefit of saving time you would be wasting on smashing your head to make a word document or presentation.

BOOKKEEPING:
To hire a Virtual assistant to manage all the bookkeeping like making invoices, recording payments and extra bills is probably the hardest task to give. Because in this, you have given personal information of accounts and password to him or her. But if find a trustworthy virtual assistant, then thank God for this because that assistant will shave your working hours and that billing-paying stress too.

ONLINE RESEARCH:
If you are having a content writing job, you would know how hectic is it to gather all the information by doing research. So why not hire an assistant to find that relevant information. All you need to give is clear and sound instructions and a topic. So, easy, right?

 

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5 Ways to Effectively Combat Data Theft and Data Loss

Data theft is no more targeted at only large companies. To be fair, large companies can spend on building firewalls and pay for top notch enterprise security. Small businesses are being targeted and why not?!

Attackers want easy targets, but you are also not going to let your hard work slide into the wrong hands. You do not want third data lossparty information stolen, or the record of clients compromised. Whether you are an individual entrepreneur or a small business owner, the last achilleas heel you want attributed to your operations, is your inability to keep data safe and secured. You do not also want to lose your hard-earned client data because windows will not start or because your hard disk crashed. Here are 5 ways to effectively combat data theft and data loss;

  1. Acquire a MiFi or a Personal Hotspot
    The ability to work on the go is a model which increases productivity. Sometimes the idea is not to move away from the office to work at the coffee shop, but it does happen, that you will receive a call requiring you to remotely solve a technical issue on your online shop to enable waiting customers make purchases. A situation like that can make you hurriedly connect to the open Wi-Fi at the coffee shop, forgetting that you are exposing your entire company to attackers. If you can acquire a MiFi, great, but if you are on a tight budget, speak to your network provider about the option to expand your data package to include a Personal Hotspot. This is a feature available in both Android and iOS. That way you can securely connect to your own network and not risk connecting to a public network which might just be betting on the wrong horse.
  2. Learn to Create Impregnable Passwords and Data Backups
    The password needed to log into your laptop should be close to impregnable at least. Always include CAPS, NUMBERS, lowercases and Symbols. Be shrewd about it, and do not concentrate all the characters in your password at one side of your keyboard. There is also the possibility of your laptop getting stolen. Make use of the free cloud space Google Drive and OneDrive offers. Budget for more if you must, because a hard drive can crash unexpectedly. Make local backups as well and change your HDD to SSD if you can afford it.
  3. Storage and Backups are not Enough
    So, you have been prudent by backing up your data online and locally on an external hard disk. That is not enough. Ransomware lurks all over the internet. Other malwares that can compromise data are multiplying. You need a strong anti-virus software which comes with a firewall that will manage your network connections and keep your computer safe when you connect to the internet or plug in a USB drive that is not yours. You also have to regularly keep an eye on the software which is responsible for syncing your files with your cloud storage to make sure backups are up to date.
  4. Collaborated Efforts can go Wrong
    Mistakes do happen, but some people are just careless and negligent by nature. These days collaborating on a project in shared files and folders are great, but there is always the danger of one colleague wrongfully deleting some files or exposing his/her computer to a data theft. You need to have your own local backup for whatever file your team is working on. Do not assume everyone will be careful, because all your efforts can go down the drain because of some elementary mistake by a colleague. Always assume the worse and look out for yourself and the team.
  5. Use Secured Links and Send Password Protected Documents
    Your business exists for your customers and you need them to achieve short and long term goals. As a small business, you cannot have your reputation ruined for mistakenly sending the right file to the wrong client. If that ever happens, only a password can save you, because you know only the right client has the password to access that file. Enterprise level security grants secured file sharing platforms and systems, and that makes working remotely safer. Small businesses cannot always afford such a service. Beware of sending sensitive links, and make sure there is some level of security created for clients to access their private data.
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Microsoft releases Outlook.com Premium in the U.S. for $20 a year until March 31

outlook

Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Microsoft’s Hotmail email service became Outlook.com in 2012, and since then the company has reworked it into arguably one of the best email services on the market. As a part of Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity platform, Outlook.com offers a full range of email, contact, calendar, and other capabilities to compete with services like Google’s Gmail.

Outlook.com has been going through a complete revision to its online experience, and Microsoft has been previewing a premium subscription that adds even more functionality. Now, Outlook.com Premium is officially available, although only to users in the United States, as Thurrott reports.

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Advertising with Little or no Budget

Small and medium businesses are constantly faced with maximizing their marketing and advertising budget, which unfortunately, comes in dribs and drabs. They want to stay competitive, attain brand awareness, even brand loyalty … but the issue is always a budget which throws cold water on all those goals. marketing on a budgetThe good news is, the 10 points below might just put you (yes you, the small business owner) on cloud nine; call it the “five-finger discount” to achieving marketing and promotional goals with little or no budget!

  1.  Your first target market should be friends, family and acquaintances. Do not underrate the power they have to recommend your product or service to others in their circles. Also, market all the time. Utilize your time at the coffee shop by telling a stranger about your product. If you drive, take the bus or train sometimes and share the unique features of your product or service with strangers.
  2. Learn to give recommendations and referrals. Believe that that favor will be returned. If your shop is on the same block with another small business, recommend their products or services. However, you should do this only after you have used their product or service yourself. You do not want to recommend a substandard service or product to dent your reputation. You can even heighten the idea by collaborating with other small businesses in your environment to promote each other’s products. You can agree to leave flyers or brochures at each other’s shop.  
  3. Get an attractive logo and a catchy phrase. Make it available on your products, website, emails and anywhere possible. Be shrewd with branding; one that easily identifies your product or service. 
  4. Attend public events and give a speech if the opportunity presents itself. You do not have to be an expert in giving public speeches to take this up. For instance, if you know someone in the community who passed on, pass through the memorial service and ask the family members to share some few words. Make yourself known through supporting people in the community. They will surely return the favor.
  5. Create a blog for your business. Dedicate some few minutes weekly to write a post about the services you provide or the unique features of your product. Take advantage of developing trends when they relate to your products or services and write about it. Provide useful information on your blog and optimize words which will promote your goods or services.
  6. Create a loyalty program which would not take so much away from your profit. You can give discount coupons or voucher codes which will make customers make a return.
  7. Make follow ups and ask for feedbacks. Contact customers about their experience with your product or service to create or build a lasting relationship. Studies have shown a positive correlation between good customer services and recommendations.
  8. Give free trials in new markets. Be confident to entice customers to try out your product or service. Do not forget that people are more likely to purchase a product or service they have tried.
  9. Associate yourself with a group which is involved in community service or charity events. Organize blood donation events, get involved in volunteering activities and create relationships.
  10. Finally, tap into the power of social media. Do not underrate the power of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and any other social media platform out there. Do not be shy to ask for retweets. Grow your followers, generate interesting content on pages and beware of plagiarism. Try to be creative and make sure you have your products or services at the back of your mind at all times.


If these strategies will cost you anything at all, that will be time, but believe in the short, medium and long term returns they promise. If you have to take a free course online to learn a new skill to enable you implement any of these, try coursera.org and edx.org. The primary theme which seems to run through all these strategies is to engage people and create relationships. The money helps, but even those with the money to advertise are also engaging people. Above all, make your product or service kick-ass!

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