Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why Are Small Businesses Embracing Cloud Computing?

In 2015 the percentage of small businesses in the United States, Canada, the U.K., and Australia  that ran their operations in the cloud was 37 percentage. Only a year later an Intuit study reveals that the number has grown significantly - to 64 percent. In addition, 68 percent of these same small businesses use mobile or web-based apps in their day-to-day operations. A few years ago in 2014, Intuit predicted that by 2020, 80 percent of small businesses will have embraced cloud computing. This is an amazing shift in the way small business is being done, and it’s occurring practically overnight.

Of course, what small business owners are concerned about now is what they’ve always been concerned about: controlling costs and increasing productivity. So why are they embracing cloud computing and apps?

Cloud computing fully utilizes hardware, and businesses can therefore do more with less of it. This means that companies have pay less money to buy, install, maintain, upgrade, and fix their on-site computers and servers. They also will have lower electric bills because they will not have to power all of the equipment they had to before cloud computing. For a small business like a family dentist, eliminating the headache of any unnecessary on-site IT - while simultaneously backing up records off-site - is worth it.

Collaboration is also much easier in the cloud. Take Google docs, for instance. Any number of employees can easily access and edit a single document without having to purchase compatible software or hardware. They can also access them wherever they are - as long as they have access to a computer or device and wifi. Easy, universal access to documents allows small businesses more flexibility. It’s possible to run a small business without renting physical space now since employees can and do work from home or wherever they are comfortable and productive. That can mean enormous cost savings and completely eliminated barriers to entry.

What are some reasons that some small business owners are avoiding employing apps? There are a number. First of all, there are so many apps available, that many people feel unsure of which ones work well and best meet their needs. Secondly, there’s the cost. In the previous small-business model,  software was an upfront cost. After the company purchased it, it could be used as much as and for as long as desired. Adopting cloud computing and apps means having to pay multiple monthly or otherwise regular fees that may go up over time. Also, once businesses make the switch to a specific service, they may feel like important aspects of their operations are held hostage to outside services over which they have neither control nor input.

Finally, companies want the apps they use to be simple and easy to use. The business landscape is still made up of at least three generations of people. Those people are not equally comfortable with computers, mobile devices, or apps.

Still, most business owners must feel the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages because the speed with which this change is happening is startling. When most of business is cloud dependent, this may have additional ramifications for how and where business is done.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Often Should You Update Your Business's Blog?

Any business with a website should be aware that maintaining only a stagnant web presence isn’t good either for improving your reach or customer base, increasing interest in your products or services, or satisfying Google’s algorithm (and improving your chances of being found in Google searches). The shorter of version of this is: if you have a website, update it. Specifically, you should be putting out original, accessible content on your blog on at least a semi-regular basis.

Many small business owners don’t know what kind of content is appropriate, though. It’s more complicated when the business’s specialty isn’t general audience. A dermatologist can talk about skin and skin care for an infinite number of blog posts. All people have skin and have therefore experienced skin problems. A vendor that sells and installs engineering software can only write so many posts about why to purchase that engineering software from that company. Businesses with more targeted products or services must think outside the box more.

What makes a good blog post? This is what Corporate Conversions, a West Michigan marketing company, has to say:

A web post should:

  • Be at least 400 words long. SEO copywriting guidelines suggest 250 at a bare minimum, but unless a post has a number of pictures, you need four or so paragraphs to tell a story.
  • Center around topics within your industry that people have questions about. These can be news stories, how-to articles, or even items of controversy. People who Google topics involving your industry might find you via those new articles, and you may gain new customers.
  • Have pictures. Everyone loves them. The more original, interesting ones you can add, the better. If you can show your employees enjoying themselves or demonstrating what your company does, that’s great.
  • Highlight company changes, updates, or interactions with the community. If your company does volunteer work or raises money for a good cause, talk about it!
  • Include links - both outside and inside. Link to your own content so that new readers have exposure to it. Link to external articles that illustrate your points or give your readers more to explore.

These are the basics of what needs to be included, but the most important thing is to know your audience and write to engage it. The best blog pieces will be watercooler content - meaning, people will want to talk to other people about it because it either raises questions, is entertaining, puts forward an opinion that can be discussed, or otherwise captures some emotion. The more eyes you get on your blog content, the more people will know your name and what you do.

When you have persuaded people to talk about your content to others, then you have created truly successful, sometimes even viral, marketing. It doesn’t get any better than that. Word of mouth operates as both advertising and recommendation. It also builds trust in your company and your brand - if it’s positive. It’s your job to build and channel positive web content.

If you don’t know what to write, make a list of questions your clients or customers ask about, and address them one by one. It’s also helpful to bring up industry concerns or happenings, or successes your business has recently had. Focus on the practical ways your products or services benefit people. Those things are easy to discuss over the watercooler.

If you feel stumped about what to put on your blog, remember that something is better than nothing, and even simple posts with pictures will be interesting to many people. Talk about your business’s service ethic, highlight your employees’ skills, or link to interviews people have done with other publications. The name of the game is new content, updated regularly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Could Your Hobby Become Your Small Business?

Most people spend their entire lives working for someone else, sometimes doing work they enjoy and other times just earning money to pay the bills. They dream of retirement when they will have enough money to do something they love to make a bit of money and keep busy. Some entrepreneurs have figured out ways to make their hobbies pay, either by focusing their energies and knowledge in very specific ways or by creating side businesses that do not take too much of their time but are still financially and personally rewarding.

Suppose you like coin collecting and have a real passion for it. You are familiar with which coins have very high value, what coins other collectors discuss and search for, and which lower value coins can be located easily and sold for a profit. You’ve read extensively about or even seen famous coin collections exhibited. With this sort of hobby, it’s not the coins you manage to acquire that gives you a marketable advantage - it’s your knowledge of both coins and coin collectors and your ability to bring the two together. Collecting has given you that skill set, and setting up an online storefront/ecommerce site would be a straightforward way of making that available to others. Beyond that initial investment of time and money, all you’d have to do to make your business viable would be to spend more time on your hobby.

This seems like a win-win situation, doesn’t it?

There can be complications, however. A lot of hobbyists dabble in making money, selling to friends or acquaintances or just when they need a little extra cash. They ease into business creation so slowly they don’t realize they are failing to act like business owners, whether that means detailed record keeping or declaring income to the IRS. Obviously, this can get them into trouble - the more trouble the more successful they are.

A long-standing IRS rule is that the income you make doing your hobby is considered business income if you’ve made a profit for three out of five years, including the current year. Obviously, the more money you make, the more it would benefit you to consult a tax professional and ask for advice. You do not want the IRS to dun you for thousands of dollars because you were better than you thought at your interests.

It gets more complicated when you lose income because, while the IRS counts every bit of money made as income and expects you to report it, it only allows you to deduct losses against gains. So if you make $2000 selling coins and lose $775, you are responsible for paying taxes on the net $1225 of profit. If you simply lost $775 this year on your hobby, that’s just bad luck for you.

It’s always best for a business owner to keep scrupulous records and remain apprised of any tax laws that might apply to them, but don’t let those considerations scare you away from trying to build a business with any knowledge or skills you’ve picked up because of your love for something. Chances are that if you’re in expert in something, there’s a way to benefit from that expertise somehow. A little bit of brainstorming into the how could result in money in your pocket.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lean Thinking Remains a Critical Business Concept

In today’s competitive economy maximizing customer value and minimizing operational waste is a necessity. The working term for this is lean. Organizations that are lean recognize what customers value and the ways in which to increase that value. Whether a product or service provider, they aim to do this with zero waste.

Rather than focusing on optimizing separate functional departments, lean thinking focuses on improving the organization in a more holistic manner: how products and services flow through the the entire value stream. Consequently, an organization that undergoes lean transformation eliminates the waste of unnecessary labor and space within that stream. Beyond the savings achieved with such changes, organizations are subsequently much more flexible in meeting changing customer desires.

Lean thinking found initial success in many manufacturing organizations during the late 1980s (most notably through the Toyota production system). Unlike a new technology or cost reduction program, lean thinking focus is long-term, strategic and operational. As such, eventually service organizations (even governments) started to translate lean thinking for their own processes.
Getting rid of waste requires discerning what is essential and nonessential work with regard to running a viable business. Obviously, eliminating nonessential waste should be the first priority. It constitutes work that the customer does not value and what the business does not require to remain viable. Necessary essential work, the non-value adding work that is required for a company to remain viable, should be reduced when necessary. How do lean businesses do this?
Initiating lean thinking involves a process called value stream mapping. A value stream (as referenced above) is simply the sequence of activities involved to produce or deliver a good or service. Examples include order processing, design, and raw material conversion. In contrast to viewing an organization as a series of function-based silos (Human Resources, Purchasing, Finance, etc), value stream mapping creates a bird’s-eye view of the organization’s entire work system. In all, value stream mapping reveals the organization’s information flow and workflow alongside a summary timeline. The mapping reveals what is in place with respect to these three components, not how they work.
By mapping an organization’s current state operations, opportunities to operationalize lean thinking become readily apparent. Ideally, a team of department leaders from across the organization meet to generate ideas for improvements. Eventually, a “future state” map of operations takes place. Once lean thinking ideas are agreed upon, a company's transformation plan is produced in league with a leadership sponsor. Such a plan is the first step toward creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Women Fail To Break The Glass Ceiling

Although women make up more than 50% of the American workforce, relatively few of them move into corporate senior leadership positions. Despite the fact that women are making great strides in leadership development and educational attainment, today they  account for only two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

So why the disparity? Is it simply traditional sexism? Or is something more complex going on? In The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - Or Hurt - How You Lead, Carol Kinsey Goman asserts that the difficulty lies with women “being subconsciously recognized by their peers as acceptable leadership material.” In a University of Delaware study nonverbal responses by females “elicit visible non verbal cues of negative affect.” In particular, “females speaking up and taking a leadership role receive fewer pleased responses and more displeased responses from fellow group members than males leaders offering the same input.”

These unconscious, negative nonverbal cues come in the form of head shakes, frowns, and eye-contact avoidance, and they tend to be mimicked throughout a group. This reinforces the idea that women should not speak up or take leadership within any group. This finding is suggests that it’s not simply men refusing to acknowledge the work contribution of women. In part, it points to how unconscious gender expectations play out in the work world, even in mixed company. It also reveals how body language cues play out with regard to gender.

So what can women do to combat this situation? Becoming aware of this dynamic is an important first step. Knowledge is power, so to speak. Recognize, for instance, that angry outbursts tend to lessen the perception of a woman's power and competence - just the opposite of what happens when men become assertive or forceful.

With regard to specific body language cues, Goman reminds female leaders to practice several commonly-advised leadership behaviors: retain a calm and authoritative voice (“curb your enthusiasm”), employ a firm handshake, and dress like a leader, avoiding sexy outfits as counterproductive. She also suggests that female leaders smile selectively, claim their space (stand when presenting their ideas and broaden their stance), watch their hands, speak up, avoid tilting their heads, and keep their eyes at eye level to mid-forehead when they converse,

Although females leaders face unfortunate discrimination because of the unconscious bias against them, they can fortify their position by avoiding specific body language cues that undermine their credibility. Women who must interact regularly in fields that are overwhelmingly male, like computer science and engineering, need to do their research on how better to navigate the trickier social waters they face.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Body Language Can Reveal Client Intentions

Negotiating with a client on transaction details can be a tricky proposition for those not trained in negotiation skills. Boning up on traditional deal making behavior can be helpful, as is learning to read up on body language cues.

Translating body language can be pretty straightforward, especially when people around you aren't trying to hide their feelings. Take a buyer in a strong negotiating position: she may choose to show disagreement about a proposed price without actually saying anything. In such a situation, her body language might include furrowing of eyebrows, pursing of lips, baring teeth, or touching the back of her neck. These are fairly common body language cues that can be easily discerned.

In contrast, a buyer with little negotiating power may seek to hide their distress. Here, body language cues might only be revealed through more subtle pacifying behaviors. The latter term includes those actions that have the effect of calming others down. Examples include leaning away, touching one’s face, hand rubbing, or playing with a necklace (for men, covering or stroking their necks). Even licking the lips or playing with hair may serve as a pacifying behavior. Other subtle body language cues that reveal distress or discomfort include the sudden interlocking of legs or ankles around the legs of a chair, eye blocking with the hands, and squinting.

Once you’re on the lookout for such cues, you’re likely to see them rather frequently. A colleague might touch her neck dimple (instead of her necklace) when asked about her career aspirations. This is a cue that more may be going on with her than you know about. Asking the right kind of follow-up questions might lead you to more information than you knew was there when the conversation began.

The caveat here however is that attempts to read body cues can be fraught with misinterpretation. For instance, a speaker who is folding his arms under questioning might be deemed defensive or guarded. However, he might simply be cold! Body language experts recommend watching for body cues in clusters, such as the speaker folding his arms, turning his body away from you and/or avoiding eye contact. If the nonverbal cues back each other up, you will be able to feel more confident in determining how the people around you are feeling.

Reading body behavior can save business people an enormous amount of time, especially for those seeking to decipher more ambiguous situations. A thorough understanding of body language can serve as a powerful tool for those seeking to deepen their interpersonal relationships.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

How to resolve generational tension at work

Currently, with the Baby Boomer generation beginning to reach retirement age and the Millennial generation transitioning from college to work (or work to college), relationship dynamics in the workplace are in a bit of flux. While it's true that there is always an older generation retiring and always an upcoming generation entering, so many changes have occurred over the past fifty years - roughly the time since the Boomers were the entry generation - that there is more potential for conflict in terms of work ethics, social habits, and technological capability, as well as the ever dangerous politics, religion, and values. Let's break down these big three.

Work ethics - As a generation, Baby Boomers have the greatest loyalty to corporations, which from a management standpoint makes them more ideal workers and less likely to leave. They also believe that hard work and ambition leads to success and have been willing to put in the hours to achieve that. In direct contrast, Generation Xers are far more cynical about corporations and authority and are much more likely to invest time in things they see as directly benefiting themselves. Millennials, raised in a rapidly changing environment with an emphasis on praise, have shorter attention spans and will leave a job that they do not find rewarding or doesn't give them enough positive feedback or rewards - or at least that is how older generations criticize them, as less loyal and more demanding. Gen Xers see Boomers as workaholics and company men who got better breaks in the college and employment markets and don't want to retire and vacate the best positions to younger employees. Boomers tend to see Generation Xers as unmotivated and lazy, wanting promotions but unwilling to sacrifice personal or family life to get them.

Social habits - Of the three generations, the Boomers are least comfortable with change. Generations X and Y were raised within a rapidly diversifying society and don't mind working with people of differing races, ethnicities, religions, or sexual identifications. Younger workers are also more familiar with a rapidly changing employment landscape and are more likely to be open to alternative work arrangements, whether that be part-time work, shared time, online commuting, or consulting. Baby Boomers often prefer face-to-face interaction and training opportunities, while Gen Xers and Millennials are comfortable with online training options, email, and texting. Older workers sometimes find an over-reliance on gadgetry to be annoying and may wish to limit it within the office setting.

Technological capability - The younger the worker, the more likely that they've been exposed to rapidly changing technology and are comfortable both with what exists now and what may exist in the future. While plenty of flexible and tech savvy older people exist, Generations X and Y are better with computers and technology, and they more seamlessly apply old tech skills to new tech applications.

Obviously, the best combination of people for any organization is one that contains many complementary strengths and skill sets and people who can easily get along with each other. A multi-generational group can be a great asset for any organization. Unfortunately, since the economy collapsed in 2009 and work became both scarce and not as well paid, people of all generations have been duking it out for what is there - and blaming each other for what isn't.

Anyone in charge of managing a combination of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials should remember that people are individuals before they are members of their generations. Not all Millennials are plugged in 24 hours a day, and not all Boomers are putting in the last days until they can get their 30-year company pins. Patterns are a useful jumping off point, but they are not everything.

If your company workplace is experiencing generational tension, try to arrange some opportunities for communication. This may be outings or social events, it could be a part of regularly scheduled meetings too. Sometimes getting to know each other outside of work expectations is the best way to break down boundaries and get people to know and empathize with each other. This could be accomplished as simply as forming a baseball team or a bowling league or by creating a company vegetable or herb garden.

Remember, the more your employees see and like each other as people, the less likely they will be to mentally assign each other to generational groups and stereotype. This holds true for any other type of group tension as well which is why fostering both communication and a sense of community is critical for building a cooperative workforce in your company or organization.