Unfortunately, spam is an inevitable part of today’s digital world.  The bad news is if you have your spam settings set too tightly, you will lose good emails.  If you receive new prospects via email, you may miss out on good clients and revenue.  If you have your settings too loose, you have to take up extra time to wade through the spam emails.

Here are some tips and facts that can help you control it.

Anti-virus software

Desktop-based (not cloud-based) anti-virus software is a must anyway, and most have an anti-spam component that can be activated to mark spam and move it to a junk folder in your Outlook or email software.  You can then periodically review and delete the items in the junk folder.

Web hosting software

Many website hosting packages come with SpamAssassin which you can set up via your website’s control panel.  You can choose whether to delete the spam and you can set the level of deletion which is based on an email scoring system as to how spammy it is.   Your webmster can help you set this up.

Third-party email

About half of all businesses have gone to third-party email solutions such as Google mail, Rackspace, Office 365, and many others.  Many of these have built-in spam protection on their servers.

Gmail, which is free, is also very popular and filters the spam automatically.  You can set up your gmail account so that it sends from your business email.

Challenge and response software

Some business owners have gone to a challenge and response software such as SpamArrest.  All emails coming in require validation via a captcha (those boxes that have you prove you’re a person and not a robot by entering letters and numbers) on the sender’s part.

Old email addresses

Older email addresses are subject to more spam than newer ones.  Also, if you use common emails such as info@yourdomain.com, you probably get more spam than most.  Start over every 3-5 years with new emails.  It is worth the time.

Too many email addresses

Spam will come in to all the email addresses you use, so if you have two email addresses, you may get twice as much spam.  Keep the number of email addresses you use to an absolute minimum.

Scrapers

Avoid placing your email address on your website or in public forums where it can be “scraped” by robots that will place your email on lists without your permission.  Even so-called reputable companies employ scrapers; it’s more common than we’d like to think.

Also, some of the more aggressive websites will capture your domain and/or email address from cookies, so beware.  With Google Chrome, you can browse “incognito,” and we recommend you do that.

If you’re challenged with spam, try one or more of these ideas to save time.

Wow, can you believe that 2015 is half over already?  Now that we’ve crossed the halfway mark, it’s time to see if we’re on track for our 2015 goals.  To do that, we need to see if we’ve met our mid-year milestones.

Managing By Milestones

A milestone, in project management terms, is simply a point along a project timeline.  It’s marked so that project managers recognize when that portion of the project has been completed.  We can use milestones to see how we’re faring toward financial goals as well.

Assuming our business is not seasonal, we should have earned half of our target revenues for 2015 as of the June 30, 2015 income statement.  If we’re falling short, we can recognize that and perhaps add some promotions or sales to spike revenues so that we can correct the shortfall before the year has ended.  If we’re ahead of the game, we can see what is working so well and make sure to replicate it.

Either way, with milestones, we can be more proactive in reaching or surpassing our goals.

By the Numbers

Some of the numbers you may want to set milestones for include:

  • Revenue to date
  • Expenses
  • Profit to date
  • Debt paid down or debt taken on
  • Assets acquired or sold
  • Number of employees added or lost or both
  • Number of clients added or lost or both
  • Accounts receivable aging

Project Performance

Milestones don’t have to be numeric.  You can also use them to determine if you’re on track with internal projects.  Perhaps for 2015, your goal was to replace 5 PCs and convert your shopping cart software.   You can set milestones to monitor specific phases of these projects or just monitor when you start and complete them.

Mid-Year Milestone Report

Document your accomplishments in a mid-year milestones report.  It feels good to write them down, plus you’ll have a history of how much you accomplished as well as what worked.

The report can include the milestones as well as a narrative explaining the performance to date.  If you’d like our help creating this report, please feel free to contact us.

Accounting for milestones can help you become more proactive toward reaching your business goals.  Plus, it’s great to see how far you’ve come since the beginning of the year.

Cool Tech Tools:  Customer Portals

If you have a business where you have to send documents of any kind to your customers, then you may benefit from a portal.  You can save time on customer service and possibly postage and labor.  You will also look most professional while increasing service delivery.

What Is a Portal?

A portal is software in the cloud that allows users to upload and download files from a secure space that only they have access to.   For each client you have, you can set up a private virtual filing cabinet where only you and the client will have the key.  Your client will have their own user ID and password into their area of the portal.  There, they can upload and download documents.  Some portals also have secure signature capability to help you take the paperwork out of obtaining signatures.

How Can I Use a Portal?

Think of all the paperwork that occurs between you and your customer, and that will give you several ideas about how to use a portal.  If your business is data-intensive, you will definitely benefit from a portal; imagine moving all of those documents out of email and into a clean, private filing folder in the cloud.

Businesses that would benefit the most include:

  • Any small business with remote employees: a portal can be where they pick up and drop off work.
  • Mortgage companies where the loan officers are collecting a great deal of information for the underwriters.
  • Construction companies: each subcontractor could access the schedule, estimates, material details, invoices, and certificates of insurance.
  • Real estate agents to collect the details of home purchases and sales
  • Accountants, attorneys, consultants, coaches, and other professionals who deal with private customer information.
  • Web design, ad agency, and marketing companies

Types of documents and files you can upload and download from portals include:

  • Contracts, estimates, and legal documents
  • Invoices and credit card authorizations
  • Instructions and training materials and aids
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Brochures and marketing materials
  • Reports and spreadsheets
  • Forms and applications, blank and completed
  • Graphics, drawings, and photos

You don’t necessarily have to set up a portal for every client; perhaps it’s cost-effective to use a portal on your largest customers or vendors.

Where Can I Find a Portal?

One of the leading vendors in the portal space is Citrix Sharefile.  You can find them here:  http://www.sharefile.com/.  Your industry may have specific solutions for you as well, especially if you have regulations such as HIPAA that you need to follow.

You may also have heard of DropBox and Box.net.  These companies offer file transfer and don’t have a dedicated user area, so they are useful, but a bit different than a portal.

Look for software that provides each user with their own unique login, and that will distinguish the software as a true portal.

If you decide to implement portals for your business, you can private-label them with your logo and place a direct link to your portal login page for easy client access.

Using portals will keep your inbox cleaner, save time looking for lost emails and documents, and help you look professional in the eyes of your clients.

If you need cash fast, there’s nothing like having a sale to increase your bank account quickly.  Here are ten excuses you can use to tell your customers you’re having a sale.

1-      It’s Your Birthday (or Your Business’s Birthday)

We all feel generous on our birthday, so why not have a sale on your special day.  You can even tie to discount amount to your day of birth.  For example, if you were born on the 14th, then you can offer customers 14% off.

Similarly, you can hold an anniversary sale on your business’s anniversary date.  It’s a good way to let customers know how long you’ve been in business.

2-      Your Partner Is on Vacation

If you have a business partner, you can use the excuse, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”  You can pretend that your partner knows nothing about the sale, but has left you in charge and you’re going to have this sale.  The customers will enjoy the reason and feel like they are getting away with something fun.

3-      Holidays

Most stores have holiday sales, and you can too.  There are so many unusual holidays that you can tap into just in case the holidays are at an inconvenient time.  Here’s a website that will give you a list of special days, weeks, and holidays: http://www.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/

4-      The Full Moon

Why not?  It might be the best sale you’ve ever had.  The next full moon is July 2, 2015, and you’re in luck because July has a blue moon (when two full moons occur on one month) on July 31, 2015.

5-      Small Business Saturday

November 28, 2015 is Small Business Saturday.  It’s one day after Black Friday and the Saturday before Cyber Monday.  Small Business Saturday is relatively new, but has been gaining momentum in the past few years.

6-      Tax Holidays

In some states the sales tax authority provides exemptions for a few days on selected categories of items.  For example, in August, Texas allows one weekend where sales tax does not have to be paid or collected on school supplies.  You may not even have to mark down your items to generate a crowd for sales tax holidays.  Here’s a Wikipedia page on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_holiday

7-      Old Inventory Items or Overstock Conditions

A great reason to have a sale is when you have old inventory items you need to clear out.  Similarly, if you’re overstocked on certain items, a sale will help them move.

8-      Your Kid’s College Tuition Is Due

You can have a lot of fun by advertising that you simply need to make your tuition payments.  Customers will get a smile out of helping you out and relating to a familiar need.

9-      The Stock Market

If the stock market goes up or down, you can have a sale based on its performance.

10-  Seasonal Dates

Dates such as the first day of summer, Spring Equinox, or even April 15th, tax day (in the U.S.) can be potential sales days for your business.  Think about seasonal dates related to your industry.

Try these ten ideas to get your sale noticed.

Do you have employees who need to work together as a team?  Or perhaps you need to work as a team with your customers and vendors.  When people of different backgrounds get together for a common goal, there are often four stages they go through before they become a true team or family.

Four Stages of Teams

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman noted that there are four stages in which teams evolve:  forming, storming, norming, and performing.  Two goals are crucial for teams:

  1. To reach the optimal stage, performing.
  2. To build trust, respect, and open communication during all four stages of the process.

Forming

In the forming stage, team members begin to get to know each other and what their goals are.  This is a good time for the team to set ground rules that cover how often the team should meet, how they should communicate, and what their objectives will be.  This is an ideal time for the team to assess their strengths and challenges.

Storming: Team Conflict

In the storming stage, conflict begins.  The diverse points of view of each team member present as team conflict.  Team members need some tools in this stage to avoid clashing egos and turf wars.  Have team members actively listen to other team members’ viewpoints to better negotiate through the problem-solving the group needs to perform in order to get their goals met.

Don’t let a team get stuck in this stage because emotions that simmer under the surface will blow up.

Both active listening and assertiveness training are great tools to help teams learn how to manage the conflict and work through the issues that come up during the storming stage.  Employees also need to learn how to deliver feedback and bad news in an effective, non-threatening way.

Norming: Becoming Complacent

The third stage of teambuilding is norming.  In this stage, team members can become complacent and agree with the group to avoid conflict.  The leader must challenge the group not to fall into this type of groupthink, which results in terrible decisions.

Performing: The Optimal Stage

In the final stage of teambuilding, performing, the group has found their synergy.  They perform at their highest productivity and quality.  They have built trust among team members to get the job done constructively and without personal conflict.

Which stage is your team in?  Knowing the natural stages will help you move your team to the optimal stage, performing.