Archive for July, 2013

3 Cool Things You Can Do with Gmail

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

A lot of small businesses use Google’s Gmail for their business accounts. Gmail is free, it sounds professional enough (more so than Yahoo or Hotmail, anyway), and it comes with plenty of useful features like filters, forwarding and POP/IMAP, chat, the ability to link several accounts, and integration with Google Docs.

But there’s more to Gmail than most people realize. Here are a few great features you might not know about.

Send a text message

Using the Chat function, you can send SMS text messages to your Gmail contacts. To enable this, go into Settings and click on Labs, and then search for SMS in Chat. Click on Enable and save your settings.

Then, to send a text:

  • Enter the name of your contact in the “Search, chat, or SMS” box on the left side of your inbox (you must have the Chat feature on to see this).
  • In the options box that appears, select “Send Text (SMS)”.
  • Enter the phone number you want to text in the dialogue box and click Save.
  • In the Chat window that appears, type your message and hit Enter. The message will be sent as a text.

Automatically file your attachments

It’s a pretty common practice for many people to just leave messages with attachments in their inboxes, so they can find them again. Unfortunately, it’s not a good practice—because you have to search for them every time you need them.

The attachments.me add-on for Gmail can help you get organized and save your attachments to a better storage platform. You can set up the service to automatically copy your incoming attachments to the cloud service of your choice, whether you use Google Drive, Box, SkyDrive, or Dropbox. And if you don’t use cloud storage, attachments.me lets you see all the attachments in your Gmail inbox in thumbnail form, and sort or search them quickly.

Organizing incoming mail with labels

If you’re not already using Gmail’s labels to filter your email, you’re missing out on the biggest selling point for this platform. It’s an easy way to categorize messages, show you what’s important at a glance, and find the information you need fast.

To filter with labels:

  • Click on “More” in navigation pane to the left of your inbox
  • Scroll to the bottom and click “Create new label,” and enter a name for your label
  • Find and open an email that represents what you want to filter, such as messages from a specific client, or a daily status report
  • From the “Reply” dropdown box, select “Filter messages like this”
  • Click on “Create filter with this search” and choose the label you created

Now, when similar messages arrive they’ll be automatically labeled—and you can just click on the label in the left navigation pane to see only those messages.

Are you getting the most out of your Gmail account?

Does Your Alexa Ranking Matter?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

One of the main goals for any small business involved in online marketing is to increase traffic to their website, blog, and social media pages. Of course, it’s important to measure and analyze traffic, and that’s why many marketers use Alexa to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns.

But should you worry about your Alexa ranking? If your small business website’s AlexaRank is somewhere in the millions, should you be working on improving your numbers—or are there better ways to improve your online visibility?

What is an AlexaRank?

The Alexa Traffic Rankings are a widely accepted authority on website traffic levels. Alexa.com computes these rankings on a daily basis, using a combined measure of page views and users, or reach. To arrive at the Alexa ranking, these two numbers are averaged over time, using the prior three months of traffic data.

So, your website’s Alexa ranking reflects both traffic levels and the number of unique visitors you receive.

Top Alexa ranked sites

Alexa monitors web traffic for sites all over the world, and refreshes its list of the top 500 global sites every day. The current top 10 websites by AlexaRank are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google
  3. YouTube
  4. Yahoo!
  5. Baidu (the leading Chinese search engine)
  6. Amazon
  7. Wikipedia
  8. QQ.COM (the leading Internet service portal in China)
  9. Windows Live
  10. Taobao Marketplace (the leading online shopping destination in China)

It’s interesting to note that three of the top 10 Alexa ranked websites originate in China—the country with the biggest population in the world. India is the second most populated country, and the United States is third.

What this means for your small business website

Your AlexaRank can serve as a rough indicator of website traffic, but improving it shouldn’t be the focus of your online marketing efforts. As a small business, it’s more important to focus on traffic quality over quantity. Getting the right people to visit your site will be more valuable than having a lot of visitors.

Potential exceptions are businesses that rely on advertiser revenue as a primary profit stream. Alexa Rankings are important to advertisers, and you can charge more for ad space on your website when you have a high AlexaRank.

So if you’ve been frantic over improving your Alexa ranking, you can relax. Focus on building quality traffic through content marketing and good SEO practices, and your online marketing strategy will succeed.

Square for Small Business: Take Your Money and Run

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Obama taking donations via Square mobile payment system

Whatever kind of small business you’re running, the ability to accept credit and debit cards will net you more customers and faster payments. But merchant accounts can get expensive, with per-transaction fees, monthly minimums, and equipment leasing costs all taking a bite out of your profits.

Enter Square. This ingenious little plastic dongle attaches to your iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone, and lets you swipe customer cards anywhere for on-the-spot payments. Created by entrepreneur Jack Dorsey—whom you might know better as the inventor of a little social network called Twitter—Square is easy to operate, and a lot more cost-effective than merchant solutions.

The accessory, called the Square Reader, plugs into your device’s headphone jack and syncs with the free Square Register app to process payments. The reader itself is also free. You’ll pay only 2.75% per transaction, which is lower than most merchant solutions, with no additional fees and next-day deposits.

Any type of small business, from babysitters and dog walkers to consultants and retail stores, can benefit with Square. It’s simple and straightforward, and you’ll never miss another opportunity to make a sale when you’re carrying a register in your pocket.

3 Great Cloud Storage Options for Small Business

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Cloud storage can be a real lifesaver for today’s small business. The flexibility of being able to access and share your files from anywhere with a connected device is invaluable. With cloud storage, you can work on projects whenever you have a few spare minutes, easily share content with your staff or clients, and quickly pull up the information you need—all without having to run back to the office when you need to look something up.

There are hundreds of cloud storage platforms to choose from, but not all of them will be right for you. These three cloud services offer the right blend of features and pricing for any small business on the go.

Box

A big service with a little name, Box delivers cloud storage solutions and more for small business. In addition to secure online storage, you can organize files into folders, collaborate virtually, set permissions for viewing and access, transfer large files quickly, and access the app from any platform. Box also offers additional features for business, including a sales portal and secure Deal Rooms for virtual meetings and transactions.

What does it cost? Box is free for single users with up to 50 GB of storage, and business plans for three to 500 users with 1000 GB of storage cost $15 per month. There is also a 14-day free trial available.

Google Drive

This storage solution, paired with Google’s popular productivity suite, is ideal for small businesses—especially those already running Gmail. Google Drive fuses Google Docs with cloud storage, so you can save, share, and collaborate in real-time on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

What does it cost? The first 5 GB of storage are free. If you need more space, you can pay $2.49 per month for 25 GB, or $4.99 per month for 100 GB.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Like all other Microsoft products, this cloud storage solution is a strong choice for Windows-based users who are running MS Office. Microsoft SkyDrive offers excellent integration with the Windows operating system, particularly Windows 8 and the Windows Phone platform, because it syncs not only files and folders, but also apps and system/device settings.

SkyDrive is also available for Mac, iOS, and Android platforms as a straight storage solution with Office integration.

What does it cost? SkyDrive gives everyone with a Microsoft account (formerly called a Windows Live ID) 7 GB of free storage. For more storage, the annual (not monthly) cost is $10 for 20 GB, $25 for 50 GB, and $50 for 100 GB.

The Productive Home Office Checklist

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

If you work from home as a freelance writer, entrepreneur, or small business owner, you probably already know that having a dedicated work area—separate from your home life—is crucial to getting things done. But is your home office truly set up for productivity, or is it just another place in your house?

Here are some quick essentials for making your home office a more productive place to work.

  • Have a door that closes. If at all possible, your home office should be located in a separate room with a door. Having a closed door not only lets family members know that you’re working, but it also helps you get into work mode, which makes it easier to stop thinking about the laundry or the dishes crying out for your attention.
  • Evict the television. If you have a TV in your home office, move it out. The temptation to stop working and turn on that show you keep missing can be tough to resist. Not watching television in your office also helps to reinforce the separation between work and home.
  • Get a comfortable chair. You may be using a folding chair or a wooden one from the kitchen set, either to save money or to avoid getting comfortable so you’ll keep working. The problem is, you’re likely spending eight hours a day or more in that chair—and potentially doing long-term damage to your back. Invest in comfortable seating for your home office.
  • Have a place for all your things. It’s too easy to simply set a pile of papers down in your home office and then start piling more things on top. Disorganization can quickly lead to clutter. Invest in shelves, filing cabinets, or whatever else you need to stay neat and organized. Clutter is distracting and costs you valuable time when you have to search for what you need.
  • Check your lighting levels. Insufficient light decreases productivity, especially over the winter months. Make sure your home office has windows to let the sunlight in—or if windows aren’t possible, enhance the lighting with strategically placed lamps.
  • Get the right tools for the job. Don’t deny yourself the latest advances or gadgets if they’ll help increase your productivity. Could you benefit from a second monitor, a wireless mouse and keyboard, or a faster Internet connection? Upgrade when necessary to make your home office life easier.

Finally, don’t forget that you’re allowed to place your personal mark on your home office. It should feel like a workspace, but you also want to be comfortable and happy while you’re there—because that helps to increase productivity, too.

3 Weird but Effective Ways to Improve Productivity

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Catching up on e-mail...

For freelancers, small business owners, and anyone whose productivity is tied directly to self-discipline, it can be hard to stay focused and productive all day. You may be fired up and cranking out work for most of the morning, but as the day wears on, it’s harder to keep your mind on the tasks at hand—and it’s especially difficult to keep going when no one but you is enforcing when you can end your day.

You’ve probably heard that healthy snacks, brief work breaks, and the occasional power nap can help you stay productive. But if that isn’t working for you, try some gum, music you don’t like, or cute animals.

Chewing gum boosts your brainpower

Researchers at St. Lawrence University performed a study with students who chewed gum a few minutes prior to a test, and a control group who didn’t. The gum-chewing students scored noticeably better than those who went in gum-less. The exact reason isn’t known, but researchers believe the marked results are due to a neural arousal caused by chewing. So when your focus is flagging, try popping some sugar-free gum to improve productivity.

Listen to music—but not your favorite tunes

The neuroscience of music states that listening to songs releases dopamine, which improves your mood. This makes sense to anyone who’s gotten through an afternoon song by plugging into their preferred playlist. However, music service Focus@Will suggests that listening to music genres that oppose your preferences can actually boost your focus.

The reasoning behind this theory is that music you listen to for fun creates associations with good memories and good times—which draws your focus away from what you should be doing, and toward what you could be doing. So choose a music stream with a different feel from what you usually listen to, and perk up your productivity.

Look at cute pictures of animals

You finally have an excuse to look at all those adorable kitten and puppy pictures online—it actually improves your productivity and concentration by a significant amount. A study conducted by Hiroshima University in Japan found that after viewing cute, pleasant images of animals, participants were able to increase their focus on performance by 44 percent.

Go ahead and visit your favorite cute animal website, or watch a couple of funny animal videos on YouTube. After a short cute-break, you’ll find yourself able to get back to work easier.

4 Reasons Websites Underperform

Friday, July 12th, 2013

How To Check Website Google Rankings

For a small percentage of businesses, websites are stairways to riches—but for most companies, they are little understood entities that result in poor search engine rankings, little or no visitors, disappointing sales, and weak interaction. To surpass the fierce online competition, companies must deploy a well-rounded website marketing strategy.

Is your website failing to deliver? It could be due to any of these five common reasons:

You treat your site like a brochure.

Successful websites aren’t static sales documents–they are dynamic, ever-changing entities. Unlike a brochure, your website must constantly improve and change as your business evolves. Use it to document new and exciting services or products. In addition to text content, you can add video, audio, infographics, blogs, polls, reports, books, and much more.

Keep your website fresh with new content. A website with outdated content will get ignored, or even downgraded, by search engines. Websites that are frequently updated are considered valuable. You can never have too much content or too frequent updates.

You don’t tell stories.

People love good stories—and every business has one, even yours. Websites with compelling narratives are excellent reputation builders. Tell stories about how and why you started your business, or about the services or products you offer. Share customer success stories. When you share your story, you not only showcase your personality, but you also invoke emotion and foster loyalty.

You underestimate the importance of mobile compatibility.

Mobile Internet usage is skyrocketing. If your site is not mobile optimized, a large number of prospective customers will be unable to view it. A mobile-friendly website enables prospects to browse and interact with it on a screen as small as a few inches. It is realistic to expect half of your site visitors to use a mobile device to view your website. Mobile compatibility is no longer just another cool feature to have – your site can’t succeed without it.

You ignore the power of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

For many small businesses, advertising is out of the question. You can save money by optimizing your website for relevant search phrases. Unique, value-adding content is a solid foundation for good SEO. Search engines reward websites that are frequently updated with new content. For example, a web designer could have a collection of articles dealing with website design topics. If you are a web designer in San Diego, relevant keyword phrases like “San Diego web designer” and “San Diego web designer” should be included on your website.

Making updates is a complicated process.

The easier it is to make updates, the more likely they’ll happen. The easiest website platforms are known as CMS (Content Management Systems). Some of the most common are Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. The CMS enables you to make content updates in a matter of minutes, without help from your web designer, so you have full control over your site. A website that’s frequently updated is rewarded by more visitors and higher search engine rankings.

This is a guest post from George Meszaros, the CEO of Webene, a San Diego web design company.

Get More Done with This Super-Flexible To-Do App

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Whether you’re a freelance writer, a small business owner, or a busy CEO, you know that organization is the key to managing your time and boosting productivity—and the majority of successful people use some form of to-do list for time management.

The classic to-do list has gotten a lot of attention in the world of programs and apps. Today, there’s no need to keep a pen and paper handy when you can choose from thousands of electronic forms of this handy tool. One of the best out there is a free program called Remember The Milk.

The advanced to-do list for people on the go

It’s a cutesy name, and it might make you cringe a little, but Remember The Milk is a lot more than a novelty. This program is perfect for keeping track of everything in your personal and professional life, with an ultra-simple interface and more cross-platform compatibility than just about any other to-do app out there.

A few things you can do with Remember The Milk:

  • Add, organize, and prioritize your tasks any time, from anywhere—even offline
  • Choose the type of organization that best suits your style, from lists to tagging to virtual sticky notes
  • Smart task searching uses an intuitive, advanced search engine to find what you’re looking for, even if you don’t remember what you named the task or when you scheduled it
  • Set up reminders that can be sent via SMS, email, instant messaging, or any combination, so you’ll never miss a task
  • Share, send, and publish tasks with your contacts—the app can be integrated with your email for easy sharing

Supported platforms

Remember The Milk is available in app form for both iOS and Android platforms (the iOS app supports adding tasks with Siri). It also integrates easily with Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and Google Calendar. You can install the app on every device you own, and sync it so your tasks are always available.

This program is especially ideal for small business owners, many of whom use Gmail or Outlook for their primary email. Learn more about Remember The Milk here.

Face Time

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

DCEB Success 2011 video shooting backstage. Eva Byrne. head shots

If you’re like most of today’s small businesses, you’re pretty involved in online marketing. How would you rate your efforts in the highly competitive digital world? When your online marketing attempts just aren’t going anywhere, but you’re doing everything “right,” it may be time to look in the mirror—and make sure that’s not where you’ve taken your business photo.

Today’s online environment is highly visual, and you need a professional, good-looking headshot to make a memorable impact. Here are a few good reasons to pay attention to your photo:

  • In the absence of personal interaction, people connect with images before text. Your professional headshot is the key to gaining the trust of prospects and customers online.
  • Using a consistent, attractive photo of yourself will strengthen your brand and help you achieve higher recognition and visibility across all channels.
  • Content with images—including headshots—gets 94 percent more views than content without images.
  • An unprofessional photo that’s clearly a selfie or otherwise homemade can actually turn customers off your brand, because it looks like either you don’t have the budget for pro images, or you simply don’t care about professionalism.
  • You need a professional headshot to claim authorship on Google+, which can give you a huge boost in search engine rankings.

So if you’re struggling to make a splash online, get a professional headshot and make sure it appears on everything from your website to your social media profiles—anything that’s online and associated with your business brand. It’s a worthwhile, one-time investment that will ultimately be worth a thousand words.

Can Freelancers Really Work from Anywhere?

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Writer

Every freelancer dreams about working on some sun-drenched tropical beach, free from the constraints of a typical office job, or maybe poolside with a drink in one hand and a laptop near the other. It’s the perfect scenario for those who work from home—but is it really a good idea?

It’s important to remember that “work” is the key word in “work from home.” If you try to set up shop in a distracting environment, and the part of your job that brings in money—the actual work—will suffer.

So where should a freelancer get down to business? Here’s a look at some common work-from-home environments, with pros and cons for each.

The beach

PROS: It’s the beach. A nice breeze, refreshing surf (hopefully, not where it can reach your laptop), and the joy of doing your job while you sit in the sunshine.

CONS: Unless you’re lucky enough to own a private beach, there are probably other people around. Chances are, it’s noisy and crowded. Oh, and that comfortable sand? Your laptop doesn’t like it—and it will get everywhere. Plus, there’s no place to recharge your batteries.

The coffee shop

PROS: When you leave your house to go to work, it feels more like an actual job. If there’s a friendly coffee shop nearby that doesn’t mind you camping out for hours, you’ll have a short commute. Plus, there’s coffee and snacks that you don’t have to fix yourself, and outlets to recharge your laptop.

CONS: Like the beach, it may be crowded and noisy—though most coffee shops have lulls. There could be distracting music playing. And working long-term at a coffee shop can get expensive when you keep buying all that java.

The library

PROS: A quiet atmosphere, power for your laptop, and all the research material you’ll ever need at your fingertips. Many libraries also offer free Wi-Fi, making email and online research easily accessible.

CONS: You have to be quiet. If you’re the type who can’t sit still for long periods of time and needs to get up and move around, or you have a tendency to talk to yourself when you’re really into the work, the library might not be for you. And with fewer libraries around these days, you could end up with a long commute.

At home

PROS: No commute. Work in your pajamas. Access to the comforts of home. Privacy and the freedom to do anything, even if you do your best work while performing jumping jacks and singing show tunes.

CONS: In a word: Distraction. If you have family, you’ll need a separate room with a door for your office, so everyone knows that when you’re in there, you’re working. You also have to fight the urge to abandon a tough project and tackle the laundry or the dishes—because you’re right there, and they need doing. It takes a colossal amount of discipline to successfully work from home.

So, where do you work—and how’s that working for you?