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10 Reasons Your Business Needs Cloud Services

By Richard Sink

Reprinted with permission from MasterCardBiz.com

http://www.mastercardbiz.com/2014/03/12/10-reasons-your-business-needs-cloud-services/

With cloud services, small businesses reap the benefits of not having to deploy physical infrastructure like file and e-mail servers, storage systems or shrink-wrapped software. Plus, the "anywhere, anytime" availability of these solutions, means hassle-free collaboration among business partners and employees using the ubiquitous browser. Cloud services also provide entrepreneurs, small offices, and mom-and-pop outfits access to sophisticated technology without the need of an IT consultant or tech worker on the payroll.

For small to mid-size business owners migrating some or all of their systems to the cloud environments presents the usual tech-related issues, but the problems are compounded by having data stored and managed remotely, by external organizations and often in multiple locations.

But this actually misses the bigger picture of cloud services. IT cost savings and speedier deployments are just the first 10 percent. The remaining 90 percent is what happens to the business itself. According to Joe McKendrick, an independent analyst in Forbes, it's the transformation, enabling it to react to market opportunities, communicate and collaborate internally and externally, design and test new products, and become more agile.

Here are 10 benefits of adopting cloud services for your business:

  • 1. More Flexibility
    Time and money, or the lack of both, are challenges we all face today. Say you want to design and test a new product line. With the availability of on-demand cloud resources, new configurations can be up and running within hours or minutes, so that helps reduce the time element. Since users will only be charged for that amount of time they use the service, it helps reduce the money needed. On-demand cloud resources provide the way to try out new ideas without extreme investments in supporting systems.
  • 2. Easier Transitions
    One of the great sticking points of many mergers is the months, or even years, it takes to bring data and records from one system into another. Sometimes, it never happens. Even government agencies have this problem in a big way, especially when efforts are made to consolidate agencies or departments. There are agencies today that have workers manually coding information from one system to another. It still takes a lot of time and work. With systems in the cloud, however, the transition is much faster. End-users in the conjoined organizations can readily and rapidly access cloud-based systems.
  • 3. Tested Processes
    One of the concerns about cloud services is that they're built to the lowest common denominator, and thus leveling the playing field for all business customers. At the same time, cloud services are based on the collective learning and input of customers, and new customers immediately are exposed to processes, formulas and interfaces that are well-tested and proven to deliver the best business results.
  • 4. Sharper Strategy
    These days, in a hyper-competitive global economy, the advantage goes to organizations that are adept at leveraging the latest technology resources. Cloud services free IT executives to think and act strategically. IT leaders provide the insights needed to select the right technology resources for the business, be they from the corporate data center or from an outside service provider.
  • 5. Better Services
    As many organizations can now build out their own cloud architecture, they are establishing online services that not only can be delivered to internal users, but outside their firewalls as well. In addition, organizations using third-party services are incorporating those services into their own bundles of offerings. As a result, they are offering various online services to customers and partners. For example, UPS and FedEx, provide tracking and logistics applications to customers from their enormous data centers.
  • 6. Improved Options
    Google Offers is a self-service tool for all businesses in the U.S. to easily create offers and attract customers to their locations. Using the simple offer creation tool, businesses can create their offer in minutes and showcase it to local customers across Google, including Google Maps.
  • 7. Complete Remote Support
    Remember the days when you had to have a clunky, expensive network set up so the computers in your office could talk to one another? The cloud now facilitates shared access in ways we'd only ever dreamed of. You can connect to your support team when you have a problem and give them access to your laptop from anywhere. They can work directly on your machine, and you can get back to work in minutes.
  • 8. Centralized Printing and Scanning
    Picture a sales rep in the field who enters an order and can send it to the warehouse printer to be packed and shipped. That rep can also send the order to billing department's printer so the invoice can go out in the mail the very same day. We're just now beginning to see all the efficiencies we'll soon take for granted that rely on printing across the cloud.
  • 9. Smarter Phone Systems
    If you're in a remote location and have access to a Wi-Fi network, you can access your office phone anywhere, anytime. Your mobile phone rings, and you can tell from the incoming number that the call had been transferred from your office via a VoIP PBX.

    I use a Private Box Exchange (PBX) with Voice over Internet Protocol. That is, I share extensions set up in the office that are all coordinated and routed by a cloud-based phone system. That lets me route a call that would have gone to my office to my cell phone wherever I'm at. The client who was calling has no idea where I'm physically located.
  • 10. Easier Bids and Proposals
    You can set up a dedicated Web page or directory for use with prospective clients. When you can't make a visit in person, the very next best thing is a phone call during which you can both see the proposal and even edit it in real time during the call.

Richard Sink is the founder of Critical Connections. He has 20+ years tech experience and 9 years of experience in business optimization. He is especially passionate about technology and business optimization. He is well versed in how new technologies, SEO campaigns, web development and social media strategies can solve business problems, improve business processes and achieve a competitive advantage that will positively impact the bottom-line results. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+

Data Mining 101: Simple Ways To Use Business Metrics To Make Better Decisions

By Ryan Ausanka-Crues

Reprinted with permission from CitiBusiness.com

Successful businesses have always analyzed their company's numbers to help them make business decisions. In the past, though, sophisticated data analysis—the kind that finds patterns and trends by looking at numbers in different ways—required systems and infrastructure that only big companies could afford.

Today, it has become cheaper and easier to collect and process data by orders of magnitude. A small business in just about any field can now approach decision-making with data-driven rigor, and without spending a lot of money.

Start With The Problem

I've found that, too often, businesses focus on solutions rather than the problem they're trying to solve. For example, the management at a medical office I recently worked with wanted to increase revenue. They sent an email to company decision-makers asking for ideas, and many respondents suggested that the company do appointment scheduling online.

That might have been the solution, but what was the problem the company needed to solve? They needed to define that first, so they could seek the data they needed to evaluate and validate a solution. Was the problem low utilization of imaging equipment? Could it be that scaling by hiring another person in the scheduling department was too expensive? In this case, the company decided the primary issue was that they needed to decrease the number of appointment no-shows.

Identify The Data Needed To Measure Your Goal

Having clearly defined the problem you want to solve, or the insight you want to gain, you can now make sure you're collecting the right information. For example, the medical office began to gather data on specific issues, such as "How does appointment lead time affect no-show rates?"

For another example, let's say you're a restaurant owner who wants to get more customers and increase revenue. Don't jump on a possible solution right away—"Let's try social media" or "Let's offer an online coupon." Instead, define the data that could help you achieve your goal.

One piece of data you want could be "What type of customer is leading to revenue at different times of the day?" Your lunch customer may be different than the one you see at happy hour, dinner and so on. Are they families, travelers, or workers from a nearby office park?

You could collect this data by giving brief demographic surveys to diners, with the incentive of a discount on a future meal for completed surveys. Or you could have your cashiers or waiters write down their notes and observations about each transaction or table.

Let's say you find that at lunchtime the majority of your customers are office workers who come from within a half-mile radius. That's a big-impact, actionable piece of data that will lead to more targeted and effective marketing. Maybe you send menus to all nearby businesses or offer a discount for patrons with a business card from a nearby business.

Depending on your point of sale system, you can probably also analyze your revenue on an hourly basis. Maybe you find that from 11 a.m. to noon you're only getting a fraction of the business you're getting from noon to 1 p.m. Armed with that information, you may decide it makes sense to offer an early-bird special to boost your traffic.

Keep It Simple

It's best to begin your foray into data-driven decision making with basic tools and advance to more sophisticated setups once you've learned where your data lives and what is valuable. In terms of simplicity, it doesn't get much better than Excel. You can input most forms of quantitative data into Excel and run reports. As you get used to collecting and analyzing data, you may find such manual processes too time-consuming. This is the time to add complexity, and where the advances of the digital age have truly democratized data-driven decision-making. Most computer systems (POS, ERP, ERM, and so on) have programmatic ways to access data that allow developers to inexpensively write sophisticated dashboards. These can automatically aggregate and process the data, as well as provide customized reporting dashboards to surface important metrics.

Measure, Before & After

A lot of business owners base their decisions on intuition—"I know who my customers are and what they're looking for." That may be true, but it never hurts to measure. The most successful companies always want to validate their intuition with information that can make it even more effective. Establish your baseline data before you try something new—online scheduling, a daily special, an ad—and use that to judge success. You may be surprised by what the data tells you.

Ryan Ausanka-Crues is the CEO of Palomino Labs, a Redwood City, CA-based holistic digital product consultancy that unlocks the potential of software to change people and industries.

Mobilize Your Marketing, Make More Money
An easy, effective way to connect your business with customers on the go

By Zach Cusimano

Reprinted with permission from CitiBusiness.com

Ignoring mobile marketing is simply not an option for any business—especially a small business. According to recent research, more than 9 out of 10 smartphone owners look for local information on their mobile device, and 3 in 10 will make a purchase in the near future. Mobile searchers are ready to spend.

For a small business, this is a golden opportunity, but it's one that not enough business owners are taking advantage of. Surprisingly, fewer than 5 percent of business websites are mobile-optimized.

The good news is, taking steps toward mobile marketing is easy and inexpensive. As you begin your company's journey toward mobile optimization, keep some basic principles in mind:

Responsive Design Is A Must

When your website is created in responsive design, the site will be able to detect a user's screen size and automatically adjust to that size. Also, Flash design is a big no-no, unless you don't want anyone who uses an iPhone (which doesn't support Flash) to view your site

If you're working with an existing site and don't want to do a full redesign, do a quick search for a mobile app or mobile website company that has the ability to create a mobile version of your site in minutes. For something like $10 to $20 a month you can create a subdomain to which mobile users are automatically redirected.

Keep It Simple & Valuable

While graphics are key to a good user experience, too many images or images that are too large can slow a download, especially over a 3G network. So if you're posting a menu, for example, don't make it a huge PDF.

Your mobile site shouldn't have 20 tabs, including a photo gallery, list of events, background, and every detail about all the good stuff your company does. The content should have a clear value by easily offering up what a mobile user is most likely to need: opening and closing times, directions, and contact information. A restaurant site will need a way for users to make a reservation; if it's a store site, there needs to be a way to make a purchase; if the site is for a professional services firm, perhaps one-stop directions to the office, or a concise description of what the firm offers.

Be sure to try out your site on your own phone to gauge its ease of use, and pay close attention to user feedback so your site can evolve as needed.

Mobile Apps Can Up Your Marketing Game

With an app, you can have much more robust user engagement because you can take advantage of more components on a smartphone. An app can do cool things with geo-location coupons, or push notifications (opt-in messages that automatically appear on the user's screen). As an example, you can send a notification that anyone who comes in by 3 pm will get a free appetizer with a meal, or that massages will be 15 percent off regular price for the next hour. Apps can help enhance your loyalty programs, enable social referrals, and much more. For example, a contractor could enable a potential client to send a photo of a broken wall so that he can reply with an estimate for repair.

Mobile marketing is gaining so much traction, so fast, that it's a matter of when, not if, your business will jump in. Just as having a website has become a must for a company's aura of legitimacy, having a mobile website will also become the norm. The smartest companies are jumping on the trend now—and saying hello to significant revenue that would otherwise be left on the table.

Zach Cusimano is COO at Bizness Apps, the leading mobile app and mobile website platform for small businesses.