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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Internet Basics for Small Businesses

17 Mar 2017

This article is intended for small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations with limited or no experience with technology and the internet. If you have someone you consider to be your “tech person”, consider reviewing this document with them to get their opinions on each point. If they aren’t very familiar with each point, you may want to have a second “tech person” person involved in decision making to make sure your decisions are well planned and understood.

The points below are laid out in order of importance.

Domain hosting - Google Domains | DaveTavres.comDomain hosting

Also called a ‘domain registrar’, this is a company that you pay each year (or for multiple years at once) to control your domain on the web. Your domain is the “.com” or “.org”. It is not your website – it’s just the domain. Think of your domain just like you think of your main phone number. You can have many services attached to your phone number that may not be provided by your phone company; voicemail, 800 numbers, call forwarding, etc. Your domain host does the same thing – it directs your domain name to IP addresses that handle the ‘behind-the-scenes’ internet traffic. This is called DNS or Domain Name Services. DNS is like the yellow pages for phone numbers. If the yellow pages have your name but the wrong phone number, people can’t reach you.

Use a well known, trusted domain host who doesn’t charge more than $15 per year for a domain. Some companies say they offer better service or features for the higher cost, but don’t fall for that. Domain hosting, by itself, is all you need. After years of bad experiences, I now actively tell people DO NOT USE GoDaddy, if at all possible! I’ve had many clients who make mistakes and get charged hefty fees for their ‘help’. There are LOTS great alternatives. However, only if you must, GoDaddy will work for your needs.

I do recommend Google Domains – www.google.com/domains.

Approximate cash cost: $12/yr.


Web hosting - A2Hosting | DaveTavres.comWeb hosting

A web host is the company that actually ‘serves’ your web pages to visitors. This does not have to be the same company as your domain host. After many years of this work, the ONLY benefit I’ve seen to having the same company host the domain and the website is that you only have to login to one website to do administration. However, that also means that if that account gets ‘hacked’, both your domain and your website can be compromised at the same time.

Web hosting has a wide range of costs. If you’re doing a WordPress site (which I cover later in this article) you probably don’t have an expensive web developer and a huge website with a lot of content and logic. So you you can get away with about $6 per month hosting (about $72/yr). Most likely, that will give you all the storage and bandwidth you’d need for your website. If you’re a niche business/group that gets a lot of website traffic because you have something unique and popular, spending $15 per month (about $180/yr) should cover the needs of even a medium sized organization. Don’t be fooled into paying $30 or $60 a month or more for web hosting. It is not worth it! As of 2014, the technology has become ‘easy’ for a hosting company to manage – so there’s no need for you to pay two or FIVE times the cost. If you do have a large, complex business and website (think RedCross.org) this document is not for you. If you’re a large organization, a better choice would be to work with a web consultant for a comprehensive strategy – which means you should not be reading this document. Go hire a consultant or full time developer and they’ll know how to help.

Approximate cash cost: $90/yr.


G Suite Email hosting | DaveTavres.comEmail hosting

Many web hosts will bundle your website with your email. If you’re a 501c3 non-profit, don’t do it. You have a free option from a huge company that REALLY knows how to handle email – Google. Google’s Gmail is huge and well managed and guess what… they will give non-profits free email hosting – using YOUR domain. The program is called “G Suite for Nonprofits”. There are other very useful features of this program, but email is likely your biggest benefit. It allows you to create email accounts for everyone in your organization and Google does a really great job of filtering junk email. Yes, there can be a small learning curve of people learning how to use web-based email, but you’ll benefit from everyone having email. Oh, and the best thing is – it’s free. As long as your have your 501c3 IRS determination letter as a PDF, they’ll give you this service.

If you’re not a non-profit, the price is $5/per user, per month – which is well worth that minimal price.

Now, just like with the other items in this article, you will want a tech-savvy person to set this stuff up for you. Getting G Suite for Nonprofits setup is not trivial, but once it’s setup correctly, you should have smooth sailing for years to come.

I’m not going to expand further on this, as you absolutely should use this service from Google. It’s a no-brainer. Free for nonprofits, very low cost for businesses. 30Gb of email storage per person, email is accessible from any computer connected in the world, and the great Gmail app for smart phones. And the built-in safety and security of Google. So, just do it.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


Photos - Flickr | DaveTavres.comPhotos

We all know that people look at pictures more than they read, so photos are very important. If you want to get attention and interaction, you need a lot of images. Images tell your story better than words – at least when you have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. This gets a bit more into the ‘social marketing’ discussion, but if you’re using new media well, you’ll have A LOT of images after a few years. Managing those images becomes very difficult.

The short answer here is Flickr. You need to setup an account using your business or non-profit information. Make the account generic so that when the current president or tech-person moves on, the account still belongs to your organization. Then you need to create a few albums, upload a bunch of photos and, here’s the important part’, add meta-info! What’s meta-info? It’s the title, description, tags and locations of each image. Why is this important? Because Google and other search engines “crawl” (or “index”) everything. The words in an image’s title or description can bring new visitors to your website. Which could mean a new customer, volunteer, online sale, or donation. Also, Flickr has a large community of people who pour over photos the way others pour over catalogs. Remember, pictures tell a story… but that meta-info gets the story to the people.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


Website - WordPress | DaveTavres.comWebsite

Finally! Yes, your website is very important, but if you don’t have the items above in place, your website just won’t be as effective. Most small businesses and non-profits don’t have the money to hire a full time web developer or even a consultant which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to do a website. So now I say this magic word – WordPress. WordPress is a “content management system” (CMS). It started as a ‘blogging’ platform, but over the years has been transformed into the easiest and simplest way to create – and manage – your website information. Why? Because you get a system that’s basically ‘WYSIWYG’ (What You See Is What You Get) – You type in an article, drop a photo or two into the middle and hit publish. Poof! It’s online and it looks good. You don’t need to hire someone to make changes. YOU can edit and add content (with a little training).

Approximate cash cost: $0.


SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

“SEO” is not what it was in the 1990’s. Google, MSN, Yahoo, all the major search engines have “fixed” the “flaws” in their systems that allowed people to get an unfair advantage (or ‘game the system’) and they regularly change the algorithms on how page ranking is displayed specifically to keep people from ‘gaming the system’. Instead, search engines use content and links to help judge page ranking. That means more content, better content, with links to other large websites that are connected via logical content. (That means, don’t link to Microsoft unless you are talking about software, etc.)

There are things that help with SEO, such as Google’s Webmaster Tools. Making sure your site is properly indexing, and displays navigation, and has your name as text (rather than graphics) all help search engines to find you and rank you.

This does take time to setup, but usually does not require much ongoing work – so DON’T fall for those “SEO Marketers” – unless they are going to write content about your business – and I hope they aren’t. YOU and your staff need to write one or two articles a month to add to your site.

Approximate cash cost: $0.

Watch this 2010 video from Google’s old head of Search to learn how Google put those fake SEO marketers out of business (specifically, the ones who “promise” to get your site to show up at the top of the search results. This change took place in April 28th – May 3rd of 2010)


Social Media/Marketing | DaveTavres.comSocial Media/Marketing

As of 2014, this is the age of social media. If you don’t have at least a Facebook page, Twitter feed and a website, you basically don’t exist online. And be sure to connect your Twitter to your Facebook so that everything you post on Facebook auto-posts to Twitter. SUPER time-saver there. Then, be sure to use Flickr and Pinterest to help catch people’s attention and maybe get some ideas too.

Now, with regard to “How often should I post on social media?” I have found that posting interesting facts, history, info, etc. once or twice a week keeps most people interested and engaged, without overwhelming the majority. And, try to engage your audience – ask a generic question, get a discussion going. On special occasions you can do multiple per week, but that shouldn’t be the norm. If you do “Today in history” type posts, those are usually okay 3+ times a week. Oh, and EVERY POST should include a photo. Remember, photos are what grabs people to read the text. Yes, social media marketers will tell you that 2-4 posts per day is needed, which may be true for your business, but that’s a lot of content, which equals a lot of time and/or money.

Oh, and seriously, make sure you have a ‘friendly’ Facebook address. Here’s an example of a bad address: www.facebook.com/pages/The-International-Printing-Museum/162469617149182  -  Here’s a good address: www.facebook.com/printmuseum. You can fix this by simply going to the ‘About’ section of your Facebook page. AND, use correct capitalization!

Also, at least 50% of the time, try to post a link back to your main website content. If you don’t have directly related content, just put a link to your site. When people share Facebook and Twitter posts, that web address goes with it! And use hash tags now and then. Facebook and Twitter both support them and other services use them as well. Do one or two hash tags, but probably not more than five. For example, a post about the Disneyland Railroad should have hash tags at the bottom like: #business #NonProfits #help #technology

Your business listings

No one uses the yellow pages anymore. Make sure your business information is correct everywhere possible, even if you have to create the profile. Here are some sites to start with: LinkedIn, Google Maps, Google My Business, Bing Places, Yelp, Yahoo Small Business.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


Emails - SendGrid | DaveTavres.comEmails

SEND EMAIL! Well, first, collect emails – then send emails. SendGrid or MailChimp are a good, free and easy way to create and send good looking emails. You NEED to practice these first. Look at other BIG businesses and non-profits’ emails to see how they do it. COPY THEM. They have paid someone with expertise to design and layout their emails – get it for free and try to mimic those emails in look and content. And when it comes time to sending messages – make sure you have practiced ahead of time – don’t do this for the first time when you’re rushed and trying to get it working.

The ‘collect emails’ part is VERY important. Your website must have a way for people join a mailing list. MailChimp makes this very easy to integrate into your website, or you can just share a link that takes people to a customizable page on SendGrid or MailChimp where they can join your email list. If you’re concerned about keeping ‘members/donors/etc.’ in a separate list from the ‘potential members/interested/fans’ list, that’s also very easy to do in MailChimp. Your website should, at the VERY least, let people join the ‘interested’ list.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


Online sales - Woo Commerce | DaveTavres.comOnline sales

If you have products to sell, sell them online too. Using WooCommerce’s free WordPress plugins and a free WordPress store template and a ‘free’ Stripe or Square account, you can sell online. The question really is: can you monitor and ship orders in a timely manner? If the answer is no, DO NOT SELL ONLINE. What does “timely manner” mean? If you post on the website that orders are shipping twice a week, but you only get to it twice a month, that is not timely.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


GuideStar | DaveTavres.comGuideStar

For non-profits, get on GuideStar! www.GuideStar.org is the main site for finding and tracking non-profits. There are some companies that will give freebies to nonprofits IF they can find your verified account on GuideStar. Plus, they have a lot of free resources to help small-to-medium sized groups.

Approximate cash cost: $0.


Become a Venue | DaveTavres.comBecome a Venue

Renting out you space or location as a venue for corporate events or parties can bring in big bucks for minimal cost to your organization. Companies will often hire their own catering, entertainment and party rentals to stay within their budget – which means all you have to do a make sure someone is there to open the door for the people to setup the tables and chairs. But how do you get known as an event venue?

Have information visible to your regular visitors – they are the people helping to plan their corporate party. If they remember seeing a poster or taking a flyer or reading an email with a mention about your space being for hire, they’ll bring that tidbit of info to their planning meeting and you might make some money. Once a year you could even do your own event and invite the businesses near you and the local party and corporate event planners from the yellow pages (okay, LinkedIn, Google and Yelp!) In any case, know who your market is! You might even just send snail-mail postcards to every event planner on the web who’s in your ZIP code. Then, maintain that list of names and email address to let them know when you’re running a special on your space.

Oh, and give something away with your venue rental! Free passes or discounts off your merchandise for the evening, private tours, items from your merch shop – or even a big-ticket item that the company (or the event planner) may enjoy as an incentive to bring their business to you. Other venues don’t do it – so stand out. Those items (big or small) can help sway the planner.

Approximate cash cost: $500 – $5,000 (if you throw an ‘informational’ event)


Other internet tools for business and non-profits | DaveTavres.comOther internet tools for business and non-profits

 

Business card scanning

28 Sep 2016

Franklin Planner - DaveTavres.comLike many people, I’ve probably gotten thousands of business cards over the years. For at least 8 years I carried a Franklin Planner, but by 1998 I went digital. I’m also a bit of a contact-hoarder. I make notes for many of the contacts I make, because I like to go back to give business to people I’ve actually met in person, or when someone else says that they need someone for a particular service, I like to connect people.

Over the years I’ve tried entering all of these cards into my contact list, but now and then I get lazy and they get tossed into a box with dozens (or hundreds) of other cards. I’ve looked for solutions – and there are plenty out there – but I didn’t really want to buy a business card scanner, as scanners are kind of out-dated today. Smart phones can take photos at such high resolution, and OCR is pretty common.

Permissions - DaveTavres.comI’ve been looking for an mobile app-based option, or even a desktop application that would quickly take an image, read the edges of the card, crop it, then convert the characters to text and hopefully import the information into my contact list. (I use Google Contacts) Oh – and I’m somewhat paranoid / I don’t trust most app developers, so anything that was a mobile app needed to have REALLY limited permissions. What I found were LOTS of mobile apps that wanted WAY too much access to my device. What I really hoped for was something that would just create a vCard file that I could then import – which means the app doesn’t have (or need) access to my contact list. Most people install apps without checking the permissions, which is begging for a not-so-honest app developer to scrape a user’s information – and contact lists – for the purpose of spamming or phishing all their contacts. I’m not one of those people. At least now, the latest versions of Android give users much better control over their device, so they can disable access to each part of their phone, for each application.

Office Lens - DaveTavres.comSeveral apps on the store had some of the features I wanted, but they wanted way too much access. Then I found articles talking about how LinkedIn use to have a tool called “CardMunch”, but they shut it down and sent it to Evernote. I’m a OneNote guy, so I wasn’t too keen, but I downloaded the latest desktop and mobile version of Evernote, then went hunting for the ‘business card scanner’ feature. Guess what? Now it’s a paid feature. 10 seconds after I saw that, Revo was removing any trace of Evernote. Then I remembered that OneNote does OCR on images you add to pages, so I started reading up on that. It turns out, Microsoft has recently partnered with someone to release “Office Lens” for Android, iOS and Windows, and it integrates with OneNote – AND, it creates a vCard! Wow… they read my mind!

After playing with it for a few minutes, I setup my phone on the desk, connected to the phone via TeamViewer so I could go faster with the mouse and keyboard, and within 10 minutes, I had scanned over 40 cards that had stacked up on my desk. Wow. I was impressed. It isn’t the best solution out there, but for free and fairly easy to use, it’s a winner!

Step 1 – Lens ‘finds’ the card, and you snap the pic.
Office Lens OCR result - DaveTavres.comOffice Lens - Step 1 - DaveTavres.com

Step 2 – Check the image, save or delete it.Office Lens - Step 2 - DaveTavres.com

Step 3 – Choose where to save it to.
Office Lens - Step 3 - DaveTavres.com

 

Should domain name WHOIS info all be public?

09 Sep 2016

Should domain name WHOIS info all be public? - DaveTavres.comI bought my first domain in the early 1990s, when NetworkSolutions was the ONLY company allowed to sell domain names, as they were the only public domain registrar. If I recall correctly, domains were $150 per year. That was a lot of money back then, especially since I was only getting paid $15/hr doing technical support for Internet In A Box.

Internet In A Box - DaveTavres.comIn the early 90s, WHOIS info wasn’t a data mining source, and it wasn’t even something that most people understood. I doubt NetSol even offered a “Keep your info private” option. Today though, there are scammer companies that collect and store WHOIS information every minute of every day. They send out fake invoices to get you to either transfer the domain to their registrar for outrageous annual fees, or they come up with some other scam using technical and official sounding information that non-geeks wouldn’t understand – so they send in a check.

On the other hand, sometimes there are domains that people should be able to figure out who owns them, whether for legitimate entrepreneurial ventures, or because they simply want to contact the domain owners for philanthropic endeavors. Or, sometimes you just want to know why someone has a domain that they aren’t using.

The question is… Should domain name WHOIS info all be public?

Google Domains - DaveTavres.comDomain names are part of the public thing we call “the internet”. So why shouldn’t whois info be public? If you want to find out who owns a coffee shop or other business, you can go to the City Clerk’s office and look up the information. However, many businesses do have lawyers’ names and addresses (also called a ‘Registered Agent’) on file, you still can’t “easily” find out who owns the business. But, it is possible to go through public records to find out who actually owns a business. Not so much with domain names.

If you pay the extra fee (or not, if you use Google Domains, which adds privacy for free), the registrar will put their own address and phone number, and create an obfuscated email forwarder, so that you don’t get bothered by the scammers – or the legitimate people – who want to find out who you are.

I think public benefit services, which the internet has become, should probably have information publicly available. And you should be able to access public records to find out who owns a domain, just like finding out who owns a business. But right now with WHOIS, that’s the only record. You can’t find out who owns a domain without a court order. I’m thinking that needs to change.

WHOIS - DaveTavres.com

 

Old vending machine idea

05 Aug 2016

Old vending machine idea - DaveTavres.comI’ve wanted one of these old cigarette vending machines for years. I remember these as a kid, and there’s something magical about the mechanical pull that dispenses goods.

Ideally, I’d like to get one and have it professionally stripped, cleaned, re-painted and have all the mechanicals cleaned up and well-oiled. Then, find an interested business where the machine would stand out and be a point of interest for their customers.

Then, I’d like to engage someone like my friend Rick Boxeth and his delicious, hand-made, chocolate covered caramels, to box them up cigarette-pack-sized boxes of four-packs of chocolates, and vend them through this classic design. Or maybe use the same boxes to sell gum or rock candy.

Cigarette vending machine idea - DaveTavres.comCoin-op vending machine idea - DaveTavres.com

 
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Alaskan Farms

12 Jul 2016

As I was shopping for a new house, I saw some amazing photos of ‘open-air’ homes. Homes that have giant doors the size of walls that can be opened up and create an amazing open space feeling. I thought about cooling a space that size, and wondering if the right airflow design could keep an ‘open-air’ home cool, even on the hottest days.

Open-air Server Farms - DaveTavres.comAlaskan Farms - DaveTavres.com

Being the geek that I am, I suddenly flashed over to server farms, and thought – ‘What if you had an ‘open-air’ server farm in an always-cold climate like some parts of Alaska?’

Rose and flower farmers have giant tents with roll-up flaps that they hurriedly roll up and down depending on the wind, temperature, sun, and other environmental variables – so why not computer controlled doors that partially (or fully) open and close based on the inside and outside temperatures?

Yes, there are other issues, like wild animals, dust and debris, etc. but there must be simple solutions for those issues as well, like large screens and air-filtration systems – which should cost less to run than the tremendous cost of massive air-conditioning units that currently power server farms around world (and sometimes in places like Las Vegas, where power isn’t cheap, and the heat can be 100+ degrees in the summer!)

Plus, for places like Alaska and Canada where some parts have year-round snow and cold temps, these server farms could be a tremendous source of new business.

Oh, and I wasn’t actually looking for a new house – a nice picture of a huge mansion just scrolled through on Facebook :)