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.

Brelsford to Zielinski: Sell Me A Laptop

Over the past year, I’ve worn out a Lenovo laptop as a road warrior. In a pinch, I went up to the SMB Nation mini-storage and grabbed a third-tier brand laptop to get me by until the annual Lenovo Accelerate conference this past week in Las Vegas. My intention was to ask the newly installed president Matt Zielinski just one question: sell me a laptop. I believe the president role in a large company such as Lenovo should be akin to rainmaker not bottle washer. Zielinski’s career path is on the sales-side, not operations. Could he sell me a laptop?


Before I give you the answer – I want to provide some context.

Mobility
One year ago at the Lenovo Accelerate conference in Orlando, I was on my last legs with my Nokia 1020 Windows-based phone. Milanka Muecke, Director of PR, Customer Center and Community Relations sold me on a Moto Z Play phone. How? She demonstrated the “mods” that snap on to the back of the phone including the HD projector, the JBL sound system and backup battery. Worked for me as it’s Android-based so I can also get appy. And that’s why there is a basis for me viewing the annual Lenovo Accelerate conference as a Spring buyers show.

FUN FACT: I actually wrote my blogger notes in the big stage keynote with my Moto Z Play 2 mobile phone using the Google Docs word processor to supplement my audio recording device. I’ve never done that before, always being the blogger with the laptop. The keynote summary highlighting Lenovo’s partner pillars will be my next blog.

Lucky 13

A primer on Zielinski https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-zielinski-34a2642/ . As you can see in the figure below, Zielinski is one tall dude with more years ahead of him than behind him. He framed up his career as two chapters of a book (although I’d offer he has more chapters ahead). The first chapter was 13-years at AMD where he enjoyed a successive and progressive career path resulting in his role as Corporate Vice President and General Manager, Global MNC Sales. Then he shared another 13-ism. He’s only been in role as President for Lenovo North America for 13-weeks. He’s in the process of relocating from Austin, TX to Raleigh-Durham NC with his wife and two children.

lenovofig1

Figure 1: Guess which one is Zielinski in this pic?

The Answer
I asked my question: Sell me a laptop. Proving he’s quick on his feet, Zielinski responded rapidly. He shared that he’s played piano since he was three years old (yes – he’s “that guy” we all have heard of). By analogy he offered that when he plays his Steinway piano, he “just plays better.” Not a bad answer for being ambushed in our 1:1 interview.

Floor tour
Armed with Zielinski’s answer, I took that view point into a private 7:15am trade show hall tour (seriously – a 7:15am meeting in Vegas?!?!?). I was on a mission to discover what my next Lenovo would be. The short answer is that I’m eyeing the Lenovo 480s family to balance functionality, budget and durability (I first and foremost respect the lifetime duration I’m able to consistently maintain my Lenovo models for; in fact, my son has a Lenovo laptop he has used for four (4!) years studying aerospace at CalPoly). I’m not feeling the need for the more flashy/cute Lenovo laptop SKUs such as 2:1 because I’m increasingly leaning on my Moto Z Play 2 phone for the “fun stuff” (for example – in the near future I’m adding the Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod to improve and enhance my blog pics). I want my laptop to be a working dog; not a show dog.
lenovofig2 

Figure 2: Lenovo T480s model on the tradeshow floor at Lenovo Accelerate

Finally – I end with some “fun photos” from the tradeshow floor – all before 8:00am in Vegas!

 Lenovofig3  lenovofig4

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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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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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Leveraging the Power of AI to Stop Email Scammers

Staff members are on the frontline when it comes to cyberattacks against their employers. They’re increasingly seen by hackers as a weak link in the cybersecurity chain. That’s why most threats today come via email, aimed squarely at tricking the recipient into downloading malware, divulging log-ins or making wire transfers to the attacker. Trend Micro predicts cumulative losses from Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks alone will hit $9 billion this year.

As attacks get smarter, so must we. That’s why Trend Micro is SMB Nation WhatsYourX Banners 220x150introducing two innovative new offerings to help in the fight against email scammers. One is a new AI-powered feature designed to improve BEC detection while the other will help IT teams train their employees to spot phishing attacks. It’s one more step towards taking the fight to the bad guys.

The email threat

There’s no doubt that email is the primary threat vector for attackers targeting organizations today. The Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Network™ blocked more than 66 billion threats in 2017, over 85 percent of which were emails containing malicious content.

BEC is an increasingly favored tactic as the rewards can be huge. It’s hard for many organizations to spot because attacks typically don’t contain any malware; they rely mainly on social engineering of the carefully selected recipient. That recipient, usually in the finance department, is sent an email impersonating the CEO, CFO, or other executive requesting that they urgently make a wire transfer or reply with sensitive data. With average losses topping $130,000 per incident, it’s no surprise that we saw an increase in attempted BEC attacks on our customers of 106 percent between 1H and 2H 2017.

This is not to underplay the impact phishing continues to have on organizations around the globe. By targeting employees, attackers can spread malware and covertly infiltrate networks to steal sensitive data and IP. Results from the Black Hat Attendee Survey last year illustrate the impact this trend is having on organizations.

  • IT Leaders cited phishing as their #1 security concern
  • Phishing was identified as the most time-consuming threat
  • The weakest link in IT security was cited as end users being tricked by phishing attacks
  • 19 percent rated phishing as the most serious cyber threat to emerge within the past year, second only to ransomware

Taking action

The potential financial and reputational damage of such attacks is obvious. In the face of these rising threat levels we must hit back — and we have, with two new free tools.

Writing Style DNA includes new AI-powered technology that learns how executives write so that it can spot impersonation attempts, and sends a warning to the implied sender, recipient and the IT department. It sounds straightforward but requires serious computing power and smart AI algorithms to achieve. For each user, a personal model is created using 7,000 features of writing characteristics to train the system — things like punctuation and sentence length. We convert emails to meta data before analyzing, to protect customer’s privacy and meet compliance requirements.

Focusing on the writing style in the body of the email complements existing techniques that analyze behavior and intention. Some of these current techniques can fail if, for example, the attacker uses compromised accounts at legitimate domains to hide the true origin of the email. It’s one more tool to help IT teams push back the rising tide of email threats, and it will be made available at no extra cost as part of Cloud App Security (CAS) for Office 365 and ScanMail for Microsoft Exchange (SMEX),

First line of defense

Technology is a vital layer of defense to keep email threats at bay. But what about your employees, who are often thought of as the ‘weakest link?’

We can help here, too. A new free SaaS-based phishing simulation service can help IT teams train employees to spot attempted attacks before they have a chance to impact the organization. Phish Insight is all about enhancing awareness of your staff. All it takes is one administrator, four steps and five minutes to run a real-world exercise designed to mimic what employees might see at their desks.

With the detailed reporting results, displayed in a handy graphical interface, IT teams can then tailor their education programs to make lasting behavioral changes.

Phish Insight is now available free of charge to all organizations of all sizes around the world. The service has been available for a year in Asia and has generated huge interest as organizations leverage it to turn their weakest link into a formidable first line of defense. As email threats continue to rise, we’d encourage you to take a look.

To stop phishing and social engineering attacks it is critical to make both your people and your technology smarter. Phish Insight trains your people to better spot phishing attacks and Writing Style DNA confirms the authorship of an email to prevent CEO fraud and other types of BEC attacks.

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