Blog

December 12th, 2014

productivity_Dec12_BWhen first introduced, email was viewed simply as an electronic version of memos and business letters, and were usually formatted thus. Over time, email has become much more informal, leading to a more natural form of communication. While this is great, there can be times when emails come across as unstructured and unclear, leading to frustration and even a loss of productivity. PAR is an effective way you can avoid this though.

Better email structure for small businesses

In order for your emails to be clearer and to get the overall message across easily, you might want to implement a PAR structure. This three part framework has been used by many business owners and managers to improve overall communications, and consists of:

Problem

At the very top of the email, below the salutation, provide a brief yet clear overview of the problem which is the subject of the email or the reason you are making contact. When writing this overview don't assume anything, including shared knowledge or agreements, unless you have discussed these with all recipients beforehand. The key here is that you are looking to be able to summarize the main issue.

If you need more than two paragraphs, then you should probably create a longer form report that is attached in the email. The reason for this is because the vast majority of people will simply scan an email, and if it's too long, they will usually skip it, or possibly miss key points. If it is easy to scan and read, then there is a greater chance all parties will be on the same page.

Beyond this, if you are struggling to come up with a short explanation or can't clearly summarize the problem in writing, then email may not be the best medium to be using. Opt instead for a meeting or phone call to discuss the issue more fully.

Action

After stating what the problem is, clearly mark any proposed actions or recommendations using a relevant heading, then specifically lay them out in an easy to read format. You want to be as specific as possible here, ensuring that all parties understand what you want to happen and the actions they will need to take as a result.

For example, if you use vague language, such as: "I need this by the end of the month", people may only carry out what you are asking for on the very last day of the month. Instead, you might be better to give a specific delivery date, and possibly a set time, so that any deadlines are clearly defined. Bulleted and numbered lists can really help here, as long as they are clear and understandable and don't muddle the issue.

Results

Finally, identify the expected results based on the actions you want the recipients to take. This helps ensure that every recipient knows what they should be striving for, as well as serving as an indicator of whether the problem has been specifically solved or not.

If the results aren't met, you have a good opportunity to look back at the process and see if there is any room for improvement, or try to pinpoint exactly why something went wrong or didn't happen as you planned. This in turn, if leveraged correctly, can help improve overall productivity.

Looking to learn more about increasing productivity in your office? Contact us today to see how our systems can benefit your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
December 11th, 2014

BusinessValue_Dec11_BThe end of the year can be a stressful time for all. Businesses are busy preparing to finish the year and are usually tied up planning for the year ahead. This often means looking for new, yet affordable, business systems that can make tasks and business operations easier. To help, here are five free or affordable business systems that could be a real help to your business.

  1. Canva If you are a business owner, chances are that you aren't the world's best graphic designer, unless you run a graphics company of course! In order to design graphics, icons, flyers, and even posters you need specific graphics software. This can be expensive and the software is not going to be easy to use for design novices. You may even need an in-house graphic designer. This is where Canva comes in.

Canva is an online app that allows users to quickly and easily create professional looking graphics using drag and drop functionality and a wealth of free, or affordable, stock images. In other words, you can create designs in a short amount of time.

The service itself is free, but some images do need to be purchased.

  1. FreshBooks Most business owners are not certified accountants either, and even if you understand the basics of accounting and tracking of finances, the money side of your business is often a full time or at least a specialized job. If not handled correctly, this could spell disaster for your business. One solution is cloud-based FreshBooks.

FreshBooks is accounting software that allows you to invoice clients, track payments, accept payments, track expenses, and access financial reports at the click of a button. Beyond this, you can connect FreshBooks with your payroll services to ensure that your employees are paid on time.

The platform offers a free plan that allows you to track and manage one client, while paid subscriptions start at USD 19.95 a month.

  1. Hootsuite Many businesses have a presence on more than one social media network. While this is a great way to reach out to the highest number of customers, it can be a chore to manage and maintain a presence on all of these networks all of the time. Hootsuite is specifically aimed at this task.

Hootsuite is a tool that allows you to manage your social media accounts from one platform. Using Hootsuite you can schedule posts, set up streams, establish keyword tracking, and track engagement. It really is a one-stop-shop for all of your social media platforms.

Hootsuite offers a free subscription which allows you to manage three social media profiles, while a business subscription starts at USD 8.99 and allows you to track up to 50 profiles and gives you access to more advanced analytics and features.

  1. Podio Managing projects and ensuring that all employees are aware of what they should be doing, and what others are doing, can be one of the toughest tasks for any business owner. Sure, spreadsheets and communication work to a point, but there is always room for error and of course improvement, which is what Podio provides.

Podio is a project management app that allows you to easily manage projects, tasks, deadlines, and even files. Using an intuitive dashboard that all users have access to, employees and managers can easily see who is doing what, as well as what needs to be done and what has already been done.

Podio is free with limited features for five users and costs USD 9 per user, per month for the full subscription plan.

  1. CoSchedule If you have a blog, either on WordPress or hosted by WordPress, sharing the articles you post on your social media profiles is a great way to increase content reach and interaction. However, it can be time consuming to actually create posts on each different platform, unless you use CoSchedule.

With CoSchedule you can write your social media posts for a blog article and schedule them to be posted once the article goes live. Think of it as automating the sharing of your blog articles. This will save you time, while making it easier to manage your content, largely because the calendar included in CoSchedule is easy to work with and gives you a good view of your content.

CoSchedule is USD 10 per month, per blog.

If you are looking for more affordable ways to improve your business operations, contact us today to see what boost we can offer you at a price you can afford in 2015.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 3rd, 2014

Security_Dec01_BWhile there are many different types of malware out there, the good news is that with many threats we know where they come from and their purpose. Recently, news broke of a new form of malware called Regin that is causing quite a stir in the security community, largely because it's tough to deal with and not much is actually known about it. This has naturally caused some security concerns for businesses, but what threat does this malware really pose for companies?

What exactly is Regin?

What is most interesting about Regin is that a number of security experts seem to not really fully understand it. They know that it exists, they know it is complex, and they know it is one of the most advanced pieces of malware ever created. But, they don't know what exactly it does, or where it comes from.

What we do know is that Internet security firm Symantec is credited with first bringing Regin to public attention, and that it has been around since at least 2008. So far, the company has said it is similar to the Stuxnet virus that was supposedly developed in (or by) the US and used to attack and subvert the Iranian nuclear program.

Regin is known to infect Windows-based computers and at its core is a backdoor trojan style of infection. From detected infections it is looks like the purpose of the malware is not to steal information but to gather intelligence and facilitate other types of attacks.

What makes this malware so powerful and disturbing is that it is much more advanced than other infections. Using various encryption methods it can hide itself extremely well, making it difficult to detect. It can also communicate with the hacker who deployed it in a number of different ways, thus making it a challenge to block or stop. As a result, it is far from easy to actually figure out what exactly this malware is doing and why.

Who has been infected?

According to various security experts we have been able to compile a list of companies and organizations that have been targeted to date. These include:
  • Telecommunications companies
  • Government institutions
  • Financial companies
  • Research companies
  • Individuals and companies involved in crypto-graphical and mathematical research
At the time of this article, no known attacks have been carried out against companies in the US, Canada, or the UK. The main countries targeted so far have been Russia and Saudi Arabia, along with a smaller number of infections in Malaysia, Indonesia, Ireland, and Iran. A total of 10-15 countries have been targeted since the malware was first discovered in 2008.

Is this a big deal for my company?

Just because your company is operating in a country that hasn't been affected thus far, doesn't mean that you aren't at risk of being attacked by this malware in the future. If you operate in any of the industries or sectors listed above, you could still be at risk, especially if you do business with clients in infected regions.

For now, however, it appears that Regin is only infecting larger government bodies and large companies outside of North America and much of Europe, so the chances of you being infected are relatively low. Although as with any threat, this can change at any moment.

What we recommend is that you ensure your antivirus and antimalware solutions are kept up to date and always switched on. You can rest assured that eventually experts will learn more and block this malware from infecting systems. Beyond this, working with an IT partner, like us, who can ensure that your valuable data and systems are secure, is also be a good idea. The same goes with watching what you download and any emails you open. If you don't know or trust the source, don't download any program, open an attachment, or read an email connected to it.

Looking to learn more about the security of your systems? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
December 3rd, 2014

BI_Dec2_BBusiness intelligence, and more specifically the metrics that support it, is among one of the most important processes a company can integrate. While it can be tough to get started, many companies find success to begin with by tracking overall sales metrics. There are a ton of sales metrics you can employ that can give you a better overall picture of your business, and here are five of the most common.

The sales pipeline

This metric is often employed by businesses to show current sales opportunities and estimate the number of sales or revenue the sales team will bring in over a set period of time, usually a couple of months. When employed correctly, team members are better able to track and remain in control of their sales. Managers can also be assured that targets are more accurately set and reached.

When companies set up their sales pipeline metrics they often set out to measure:

  1. Average time deals remain in the pipeline.
  2. Average percentage of converted leads.
  3. Average worth of every deal.
  4. The number of potential deals in the pipeline.

Overall sales revenue

This metric is often seen to be the most important sales-related metric to implement, largely because it provides managers and owners with a good overview of the health of their company and overall performance. In short, sales revenue allows you to accurately view the profitability of your business, even if your profits aren't presently growing.

Beyond giving a useful whole-business overview, this metric can also uncover exactly how much each sale influences or contributes to the bottom line. This can be calculated by using the standard profit-ratio equation - net income over sales revenue.

Accuracy of forecasts

Any sales manager knows that forecasts are just that, predictions. But, because so much of sales is based on informed speculation it is important to track the overall accuracy of any future forecasts. By doing so, you can uncover gaps in processes and reveal any forecasting tools that need to be improved.

From here, you can track improvements and tweak forecasts to ensure that they become as accurate as possible. After all, if you can show that you are meeting your goals, or are close to meeting them, you can make more reliable decisions and be assured that your company is doing as well as it appears to be.

Win rate

The win rate, also known as the closure rate, is the rate that shows how many opportunities are being translated into closed sales. Because this rate looks at the number of sales, you want it to be as high as possible, especially when you look at the time your sales team puts into closing sales.

While a high rate is preferable, low win rates are also useful largely because they can highlight areas where improvement is needed. For example, if your team has constantly low win rates across the board, then it could signify that there is a need for more training on closing sales, or that sales staff may not be knowledgeable enough about the products or services being offered. A fluctuating rate could show increased industry competitiveness and highlight when a sales push could be beneficial.

Loss rate

The loss rate can be just as important as the win rate, largely because it focuses on how many potential customers did not purchase products and/or services from you. It can really highlight problematic areas in the early sales process. For example, by tracking the loss rate you may be able to see that response time is low, causing potential customers to walk away.

Essentially, when measured correctly, you can use loss rate to improve the overall sales process and hopefully bump up your overall win rate. You can also compare the two rates to really see how big of a gap there is and give your team a solid goal to try and find ways to reduce this gap.

If you are looking for solutions that allow you to track and measure your sales and any other data you generate, contact us today to learn how we can help turn your data into valuable, viable business information to lead your company to better success.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 25th, 2014

Hardware_Nov25_BThere are a large number of pieces of equipment that businesses rely on in order to be able to operate, with one of the more common being the Wi-Fi router. Because so many businesses are going mobile, and using laptops more often, it is essential that these companies have strong wireless routers. The only question is: What features should a good office router have?

Essential features

For the vast majority of users, there are five main features that all wireless routers must have in order to make them useful in the office. They are:
  • Network type - Look at any router and you will quickly see that there are a number of different networks available. The four most commonly found are 802.1b, 802.1g, 802.1n, and 802.11ac. These designations are for how fast the router can transfer wireless data, with 802.11ac being the fastest of these four. Most offices should be able to get by on n routers, but those who have users connecting via Wi-Fi and cable may do better with 802.11ac routers - which are backward compatible with other slower network versions.
  • Throughput - This is closely associated with the router's network type, and is usually one of the first things listed on router boxes and specifications. To spot the router's throughput, look for Mbps. This indicates the speed at which the router is supposed to transmit data from your connection to users. It is important to note here that if you have a 100Mbps Internet connection, but buy a router that is only say 80 Mbps, then the total speed will be the lower figure, 80Mbps. Therefore, it would be a good idea to get a router with a higher throughput, or a close throughput, to your main Internet connection.
  • Range - This is particularly important for users who will be connecting via Wi-Fi, as they will likely not be sitting right beside the router. Generally speaking, the further you are from your router, the slower and weaker your connection will be. As a rule of thumb: 802.11ac and n routers will offer the strongest connections and greatest range. But this will all depend on where the router is placed and any natural barriers like concrete walls, etc.
  • Bands - On every single router's box you will see numbers like 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz. These indicate the wireless radios on the router. A dual-band router will have both a 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz radio which allows devices to connect to different bands so as not to overload a connection. Those who connect to a 5Ghz band will generally have better performance, but the broadcast range will be much shorter than the 2.4Ghz radio.
  • QoS - Quality of Service is a newer feature that allows the router administrator to limit certain types of traffic. For example, you can use the QoS feature of a router to completely block all torrent traffic, or to limit it so that other users can have equal bandwidth. Not every router has this ability, but it is a highly beneficial feature for office routers.

Useful features

As well as the above features, which are essential for business Wi-Fi routers, there are also some useful features that may help improve overall speeds and usability. Here are three of the most useful, but not essential:
  • Beam-forming - This is a newer feature being introduced in many mid to high-end routers. It is a form of signal technology that allows for better throughput in dead areas of a business or home. In other words, it can help improve the connection quality with devices behind solid walls, or in rooms with high amounts of interference. By utilizing this technology, routers can see where connection is weak and act to improve it. While this is available on routers with many network types, it is really only useful with routers running 802.11ac, so if you have devices compatible with 802.11ac, then this feature could help.
  • MIMO - Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output is the use of multiple antennas to increase performance and overall throughput. Most modern routers don't actually use multiple antennas or extra antennas to increase performance, instead utilizing this concept to ensure that more devices can connect to one router with less interference and better performance.
  • Antennas - Some routers, especially those geared towards home use, don't have physical antennas, while other higher-end routers do. With many wireless routers, the idea behind antennas is that they allow the direction of the best connection to be configured. It can be easy to think that these antennas will help improve connection, but when it comes to real-world tests, there is often only a nominal improvement if the antennas are configured and aimed properly.
While these features can help improve the overall connectivity and speed of a wireless network, they are not necessary for most business users. If you are going to be tweaking networks however, then these may help. Beyond that, concepts like beam-forming only work well if you have a wealth of devices that are 802.11ac compatible and these are still less popular than devices that are say 802.1n compatible.

Features to watch out for

There are a number of router features that manufacturers often tout as essential, important, etc., when in reality these features are often more about marketing and will pose little use to the vast majority of users.
  • Routers with advertised processor speeds - With many pieces of equipment, the processor speed is an important indicator as to how fast it will run, and how well systems will run. With routers however, there is usually a small requirement for processing power. Sure, some features like firewalls require processing power, but the vast majority of routers have the power to run these. Therefore, advertised processor speeds with Wi-Fi routers offer no realizable benefit to the majority of users.
  • Tri-band - While many routers have dual broadcasting bands, some newer ones are now tri-band. The idea and marketing behind this is that with a third band, throughput can be dramatically increased and this is often reflected in the speeds manufacturers say these routers can offer. In reality however, this often isn't the case, as all this extra band really does is allow for more devices to connect. You will most likely not see an increase in overall connection speed.
  • Patented or trademarked features - Almost every router these days will have individual features (also known as proprietary technology) that the manufacturer includes with the idea that it makes the router that much better, or at least uniquely different, than any other. While many of these features can be useful to some users, they should not be the main reason to select a router.

How do I pick the best router?

Go to any hardware retailer and you will quickly find that the sheer number of wireless routers out there is overwhelming. Sure, they all do the same thing, but some will be better than others. One thing to try is to look at the user submitted reviews of different routers online. While the manufacturers may claim one thing, it is the real-world users who can shed the best insight into products. Try to find more business-oriented reviews rather than views based on domestic use.

What we recommend is to contact us. We can work with you to help you find and set up the best router for your business. Get in touch today to learn more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
November 25th, 2014

BCP_Nov24_BRegardless of your business's location and industry, there is always a chance that you may experience a disaster at any time. Be it man-made, or natural, any disaster, if not properly prepared for, could spell trouble for your company. That's why a Disaster Recovery Plan is essential. To help ensure that your plans can see you through the worst, here are five tips based on lessons learnt from businesses that have battled disaster.

1. Have a full copy of your data backed up outside of your operating region

Almost every company, regardless of size, has backup measures in place. These backups can be either physical or digital, and are supposed to be carried out on a regular basis. If a disaster strikes, having access to your data can help ensure that you can recover your systems and resume operations in the minimal amount of time.

While backups are great, if you keep your backups in the same area as your main systems, or even if your offsite backups are in the same region, there is a chance that a large disaster, like a flood, or power outage, could also affect these backups too. One of the best solutions is to keep a current backup offsite, and outside of your operating region, with most experts recommending at least 150 miles (250 km) away from your main business area.

How do you achieve this? The best option is to use cloud-backup. Many providers host their backup service at a number of different data centers in various locations, so that should a disaster strike both your business and a nearby data center, your data is still safe at other centers.

2. Realistically test your plan

It can be tempting to simply develop a plan and then test it in a closed environment once or twice a year, make some changes where necessary and then sit back and hope it works. In truth, for any plan to really be effective it needs to be tested in a realistic environment. If this is not carried out then there is a possibility that the plan could fail when activated.

Because disasters come in almost any form and size, you are going to want to first identify as many potential problems as possible. From here, test your recovery plans based on these scenarios and see how effective they are. Be sure to also involve your colleagues and employees, as they too will need to know what to do when disaster strikes and what their role in the recovery of data is.

A good way to look at these tests is to think of them more as practice runs. As with anything, the more your practice the easier and more effective it becomes. In this case, good practice could literally save your business.

3. Update your plan as you update your systems

When you develop a recovery plan, you need to base it on the systems and technology you currently have in your business. However, these systems and devices may not be in use six months, to a year from now, or you may introduce new systems and improvements.

As soon as you make any changes, your existing recovery plan could become obsolete. Therefore, you need to ensure that when you introduce new systems or technology you are also updating the recovery plan to cover and fit with these changes.

4. Create an accessible plan

Many experts agree that having a physical plan that employees can see and access during a disaster is one of the best ways of ensuring that it is actually implemented properly. Therefore, when you develop a Disaster Recovery Plan make sure that all of your employees can access it at any time. This includes during and immediately following a disaster.

Beyond this, you need to make sure that the plan is consistent. If you update the master plan, but fail to update the copies you store in say a public cloud, or at different worksites, this will lead to confusion and even an increased recovery time or complete recovery failure. When you do update your plan, let all parties involved know that it has been updated and remind them where they can find copies of the plan.

5. Don't be the only fully-trained disaster recovery expert in your company

As a business owner or manager it can be easy to try and run everything yourself. Afterall, it is your business and you know exactly how to look after everything, right?. The problem is that if you are the only fully-trained disaster recovery person you are making yourself the weakest link in the plan.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 21st, 2014

Security_Nov17_BOver the past few years there have been a number of issues and rulings made by various courts in the US regarding the overall freedom of the Internet and how it is to be managed. By now, many of us have heard of Net Neutrality, but it may seem like an issue that won't affect small businesses. However, in mid-November, President Obama delivered his stance on the issue, thereby bringing it to the forefront of modern politics.

What is Net Neutrality?

In order to define Net Neutrality, we should first look at the main idea behind what the Internet is: a free and open medium where individuals can express and house thoughts, ideas, and more. It was founded on one principal, and one principal alone: All information and Internet traffic MUST be treated equally.

This free, open, and fair principle is what we call Net Neutrality. In practice, this idea prevents Internet providers, and even governments, from blocking legal sites with messages they disagree with, and restricting access to services and sites that don't meet their business needs.

What exactly is the issue?

At this time, major telecommunications companies providing Internet access are trying to push legislation through the US court systems that will essentially make it legal for them to throttle Internet speeds; asking other providers to pay fees in order to speed up access to sites and to even block some sites.

There are laws currently in place, set by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that prohibit providers from collecting, analyzing, and manipulating user traffic. In other words, according to the FCC, the role of the Internet providers should be to simply ensure traffic and data gets from one end of the network to the other.

Last year, it was uncovered that US telecommunications giant, and Internet Service Provider, Comcast demanded that Netflix pay them millions of dollars or they would limit the Internet speed of Comcast users trying to access the streaming service. Netflix tried to negotiate but the result was that Comcast did indeed cut user speeds. Netflix paid to avoid this from happening again. This act is an obvious breach of the main tenet of Net Neutrality: Equal access for everyone.

Combine this with the January 2014 ruling that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in regards to this topic and the increased lobbying by telecommunications giants against Net Neutrality, and you can quickly come to realize that the Internet as we know it is under threat.

How will this affect my business?

If nothing is done, there is a very high chance that you will be paying higher rates for Internet-based services (because the providers will be asking other companies to pay to guarantee speedy access which will then be passed along to you via higher rates). You may even be forced to use services you don't want to use because they offer better access speeds on your network.

Beyond this, because so many businesses rely on websites and the hosting companies that enable us to access them, there is a very real risk that these hosts may have access speeds cut. This in turn could mean that it will take more time for some users to access your website and services. Think of how you react when you can't access a website, you probably just search for another similar site which loads easily - now imagine this happening to your site. In other words, you could see a decrease in overall traffic and therefore profits.

What can I do about this?

First off, we highly recommend you visit The White House's site on Net Neutrality, and read the message that President Obama has recently posted there. To sum it up, he believes that Net Neutrality should be protected and the Internet should remain open and free. He has even laid out a plan with four rules that the FCC should enact and enforce:
  • No blocking - Internet providers are not to block access to any legal content.
  • No throttling - Internet providers cannot slow or speed up access speeds based on their preferences.
  • Increased transparency - The FCC is to be more transparent and push providers to follow the Net Neutrality rules.
  • No paid prioritization - There is to be a ban on providers insisting other companies pay to have equal access speeds.
You can bet that this plan will be met by stiff resistance both in government and by the telecommunications companies themselves. The FCC is an independent organization and it is up to them to select whether or not they want to enact President Obama's plan. One thing you can do is to publicly submit your comments to the FCC via this website. Any comments made will be seen by the FCC and are are publicly viewable. In the past, enough public pressure has been able to sway FCC decisions, so share this article and the links in it with everyone you know, asking them to take action as well.

What about other countries?

For now, the Net Neutrality battle is largely US based. The vast majority of Internet traffic starts or at least passes through the US. This means that if the telecommunications providers (many of whom own international subsidiary providers) can limit access to sites in the US it could very quickly become a world issue. Beyond this, other countries often follow laws that the US enacts, so it could only be a matter of time before we see similar bills passed in other countries.

In short, this is a major issue that could see the end of the Internet as we know it. If you would like to learn more about Net Neutrality and how you can help ensure the Internet remains free and open, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 19th, 2014

SocialMedia_Nov17_BFor an effective social media strategy, most businesses realize that they need to have a presence on more than one major social platform. While this has led to the creation of Twitter accounts for businesses, many struggle to generate content and posts due to the character limit. To help, here are 10 tips that can increase the effectiveness of your Twitter campaigns.

  1. Keep posts on the shorter side - This may seem ridiculous, after all there are only 140 characters allowed per tweet, but keeping tweets short allows users to add their own comments and ideas when they retweet. Try keeping your tweets below 100 characters.
  2. Twitter is not about promotion - Studies have proven that tweets that promote a company or product don't usually do as well as messages that are more conversational in nature. If you want to ensure maximum interaction, aim for a mixture of tweets that consists of about 80% conversational and 20% promotional.
  3. Know what time to tweet - Each market is different, so take the time to research tweeting habits. If you see that the majority of your target audience is active during after-work hours, then it would make sense to tweet when they are more likely to be online. Remember, many Twitter users are connecting via their mobile devices, so you are probably better off tweeting during lunch hours, as well as pre- and post-work.
  4. Know what days to tweet - Much like knowing what time to tweet, it is a good idea to also know which days are best to tweet in order to maximize engagement. For example, if you are trying to interact more with other businesses (B2B) then it is best to tweet on days when the companies are open and an owner or manager is more likely to be looking at business systems and social accounts. Customers, however, are usually more receptive to messages on days when they aren't working e.g., Saturday and Sunday.
  5. Use hashtags - Hashtags in Twitter allow for categorization and make tweets searchable. For example, if you use the hashtag #fresh in a tweet and then search for 'fresh' on Twitter, you should see similar posts using the same hashtag.
  6. Use hashtags sparingly - There is a common trend in social media to use hashtags for nearly every word. This makes posts difficult to read and usually leads to people not sharing or retweeting your content. Instead, try to work one to three hashtag, at most, into your tweets naturally.
  7. Realize Twitter moves fast - The average trend on Twitter lasts about one hour, to one day. So, if you see a trend developing or beginning, act quick to join the conversation. Posting after the trend has faded will usually lead to tweets being ignored.
  8. Don't act on every trend - Trends come and go so quickly on Twitter that it can be tempting to try to jump on each one, or as many as possible, in order to get your message out to as many people as possible. However, not every style and subject will be relevant to your business. By shoehorning content to fit trends you could come across as insincere and lose interest from followers.
  9. Watch who you follow - Following people is one of the quickest ways to grow your own follower base - usually because users will follow those who follow them. But, when it come to business, you want to be sure to follow users who are relevant. For example, follow your customers, strategic partners, and even competitors. Following Twitter users who aren't relevant to your business is not going to get your messages read by the right people.
  10. Keep an eye on Twitter - In order to effectively spot trends and see what your target market is saying, it is worthwhile to use a program like Tweetdeck, which allows you to see all tweets, track hashtags, topics, and more.
If you would like to learn more about using Twitter in your business, contact us today to see how our services and solutions can boost your social media presence.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
November 13th, 2014

Security_Nov10_BIn October of last year news broke about a new form of malware called Cryptolocker. This malware posed a particularly large threat to many business users and led to many quick and important security updates. Now, almost a year later, it appears that the second version of this - CryptoWall - has been released and is beginning to infect users.

What is Crypto malware?

Crypto malware is a type of trojan horse that when installed onto computers or devices, holds the data and system hostage. This is done by locking valuable or important files with a strong encryption. You then see a pop-up open informing you that you have a set amount of time to pay for a key which will unlock the encryption. If you don't pay before the deadline, your files are deleted.

When this malware surfaced last year, many users were understandably more than a little worried and took strong precautions to ensure they did not get infected. Despite these efforts, it really didn't go away until earlier this year, when security experts introduced a number of online portals that can un-encrypt files affected by Cryptolocker, essentially neutralizing the threat, until now that is. A recently updated version is threatening users once again.

Cryptolocker 2.0, aka. CryptoWall

Possibly because of efforts by security firms to neutralize the Cryptolocker threat, the various developers of the malware have come back with an improved version, CryptoWall and it is a threat that all businesses should be aware of.

With CryptoWall, the transmission and infection methods remain the same as they did with the first version: It is most commonly found in zipped folders and PDF files sent over email. Most emails with the malware are disguised as invoices, bills, complaints, and other business messages that we are likely to open.

The developers did however make some "improvements" to the malware that make it more difficult to deal with for most users. These changes include:

  • Unique IDs are used for payment: These are addresses used to verify that the payment is unique and from one person only. If the address is used by another user, payment will now be rejected. This is different from the first version where one person who paid could share the unlock code with other infected users.
  • CryptoWall can securely delete files: In the older version of this threat, files were deleted if the ransom wasn't paid, but they could be recovered easily. In the new version the encryption has increased security which ensures the file is deleted. This leaves you with either the option of paying the ransom or retrieving the file from a backup.
  • Payment servers can't be blocked: With CryptoLocker, when authorities and security experts found the addresses of the servers that accepted payments they were able to add these to blacklists, thus ensuring no traffic would come from, or go to, these servers again. Essentially, this made it impossible for the malware to actually work. Now, it has been found that the developers are using their own servers and gateways which essentially makes them much, much more difficult to find and ban.

How do I prevent my systems and devices from being infected?

Unlike other viruses and malware, CryptoWall doesn't go after passwords or account names, so the usual changing of your passwords won't really help. The best ways to prevent this from getting onto your systems is:
  • Don't open any suspicious attachments - Look at each and every email attachment that comes into your inbox. If you spot anything that looks odd, such as say a spelling mistake in the name, or a long string of characters together, then it is best to avoid opening it.
  • Don't open emails from unknown sources - Be extra careful about emails from unknown sources, especially ones that say they provide business oriented information e.g., bank statements from banks you don't have an account with or bills from a utilities company you don't use. Chances are high that they contain some form of malware.
Should your files be attacked and encrypted by this malware, then the first thing you should do is to contact us. We can work with you to help find a solution that will not end up in you having to pay the ransom to recover your files.

If you are looking to learn more about CryptoWall malware and how to boost your security and protect your data and systems, then we could you your first line of tech defence.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 12th, 2014

Productivity_Nov10_BAs a business owner, you probably send out emails pretty regularly. Some of these emails are likely to colleagues who will then send a message to a third party on your behalf. This inevitably entails going back-and-forth between you and your employee. This can cut down productivity and lead to mistakes. One way to avoid this is to pre-draft the message that will be sent along.

What exactly is a pre-draft?

The idea behind pre-drafting an email message is that it helps to reduce the amount of back and forth between two parties when one of the parties is contacting a third party. If you have ever had an employee draft a message that came from you then you are likely well aware of the number of emails that can go back and forth before the email actually goes out.

Essentially a pre-draft is a message included in the original message that is to be sent along to a third party. When you include a draft message, the person who will be sending the message can then just cut and paste the content, personalize it, maybe tweak a sentence here or there, and then send it along.

How do I create one?

If you are currently working on an email message that will be sent by another employee on your behalf, try to come up with the outline and basic message yourself. It's best to clearly mark this message in the original email by using a flag like: "Message to send", and changing the actual message to another font or color.

Because most of these messages will be personalized, include placeholder text where your staff member can personalize the message. For example, To . This not only makes it easier to spot areas that need to be personalized, it also means messages can be sent out quickly and easily.

When is this useful?

To be honest, pre-drafting won't work for every type of email you send. But, there are some situations when this comes in handy, including:
  • When you are asked to provide a testimonial on a service. You can write a basic testimonial with areas for customization.
  • When you need to send follow up emails connected to a recently sent email campaign or message. You can draft a basic follow up message that can then be customized as your employees see fit.
  • When you want to post something on numerous social media sites. You can simply write the post once, then provide spots to customize based on the network.
  • Introductions and references. If you have been asked to provide a reference or an introduction, then draft a standard message which can then be changed as needed.
If you mark these emails as a pre-draft, or place them in a pre-draft folder, they can then be quickly found and modified in the future.

Looking to learn more about increasing productivity in your business? Contact us today to see how our systems can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity