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Archive for the ‘Email’ 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

 

USE A PASSWORD VAULT!

05 Jun 2016

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of technical consulting for individuals and lots of small businesses. The one thing that is almost universal with all of those people is – they don’t use a password vault. But they REALLY need to use one.

Why? Because, if someone gets access to their computer, or steals their computer, or hacks it, those people can either lose all of their passwords, or worse, someone can login to many website and do malicious things. (Ya know, log into your bank, transfer money, send dirty or scam emails to hundreds of thousands of people, lock you out of your bill pay, etc.)

So – the best solution I’ve come across (and I LIVE WITH EVERY DAY) is LastPass. Right now – GO CREATE A LASTPASS ACCOUNT! – www.bit.ly/LastPassVault

Create a LastPass accont! - DaveTavres.com

Seriously. Right now. Go do it. Get started.

Even the basic free account will do more for your online security than you currently have with that Word or Excel file, or that book in the desk with all the family’s passwords in it.

Once you’re comfortable signing into the site and adding your accounts, you can move on to the really useful features like auto-login and shared folders.

What is auto-login? You install the Chrome or Firefox extension to your web browser, and when you go to a website that is listed in your LastPass Vault, LastPass can do an auto-login, or can let you choose the username and password to login to that site with. Not only is this a huge time saver, it’s far more secure than typing it out each time, or pulling up that file or book to find the password (when I’m standing at your desk and see the file or the book, now *I* know where to find ALL your passwords. If I’m not a good person, I effectively have access to ALL of your websites!)

Now you might ask, ‘What are shared folders?’ Good question!

If you upgrade for $12 A YEAR, you can have a single folder that is shared with your spouse, partner, friend, family, etc., and everyone can use that one folder for the commonly shared sites. The upgrade also lets you install the app on your mobile device to auto-login there too!

There are few things that I insist people do with their technology. This is one of those things. If you’re still using papers, sticky notes, books and a ‘clear-text’ file on your computer for passwords, it’s just a matter of time before someone steals your logins.

Create a LastPass accont! - DaveTavres.com

 

One-click unsubscribe

04 Nov 2014

Unsubscribe - DaveTavres.comOver the years email spam has gotten better and worse. ‘Better’, in that the “Unsubscribe” link that is required by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 has made it much easier to stop unwanted email. ‘Worse’, in that more companies/groups around the world can now get your email so much easier than before, so you actually get more junk email than ever before.

Another ‘better’ comes in the form of that wonderful “Spam” (or ‘Junk’) button in Gmail and other web-based email systems. When enough people click that button on the same email, the email service companies can easily flag that email address, or even the text of the message, to help find and filter those messages in the future. In some cases it also stops other junk mail from the same address from hitting your inbox at all.

Something many (legitimate) companies have implemented since 2003 is the “One-click unsubscribe” link in their marketing emails. I’ve put this to great use for a number of years now. While it isn’t always true ‘one-click’, sometimes it’s just two clicks – once to click the link in the email and a second click to confirm that you want to stop getting those emails. Here’s the rub though. When a legit company makes you re-type the email address to remove yourself.

Hertz junk mail - DaveTavres.comThis is bad.

The majority of companies do ‘one-click’ well. It’s easy to be removed, quick and painless. I honestly don’t mind automatically getting signed up for spam when I order from a company, as long as that magic link is there. But when I have to re-type my email address, that’s when I click the good ‘ol SPAM button. While it’s not a legal requirement to do one-click, getting flagged as spam should be a lesson to the company that they need to make it easy to remove myself.

Being flagged as spam is a BIG hassle for a legit company. I’ve worked on marketing email projects from the development side and can confirm that companies do not want to be flagged as spam. The more times your company is flagged as sending spam, the less likely your emails will get delivered in the future. And the companies get notified about every single message that gets flagged as spam. It’s for this reason that I mark emails as spam when they aren’t smart enough to auto-fill my email address in the ‘one-click’ process.

So, if you’re a company who sends out emails to thousands of users at a time, be sure to do it the right way – because users don’t care about what you want, they care about how easy it is to stop getting junk email.

 

Thanks, Dave

17 Sep 2013

InboxIn the era of text messages, email and online profiles, all of our communications are automatically tagged with our identities. Whether by a phone number, or more likely a name programmed into a device that corresponds to a phone number, a name attached to an email account or a name, photo and an ‘About’ page that tells your friends more information about you than most of them know anyway, most communication we have with others in this digital life has been pre-announced, announced and probably even preconceived. So do you still need to sign emails with a salutation and name?

"Hey Marty,

When I get more details, I’ll let you know what the next steps are.

Thanks,
Dave

Is it enough to just give the facts, the comments, the notes, the details… and leave it up to the reader to look at the “From” address? Or the auto-signature? When someone opens an email or a text message, is there any possible chance that they don’t already know who the message is from?

Certainly in ‘personal’ correspondence your acquaintances know who you are – even the customer service person who reads your email question knows who you are before they open the message. So what’s the importance of the salutation and closing?

Not too many years ago, when people still got letters – hand written letters – it was possible that you weren’t immediately notified of who sent you a card or letter, unless they put their name in the return address corner of the envelope. If you didn’t get that address introduction, you were more likely to start reading the scrawl or missive by instantly looking at the bottom of the text to see just who signed it… then you’d start at the top.

While I rather enjoy saying “Thanks,” followed up with my next on the next line, as a way of formally closing my interaction, more and more I feel it’s redundant and out of place. I often think to myself “Do I really need to sign my name? I interact with this person 10 times a week and I often haven’t written something worthy of a ‘formal’ closing.” Fifty percent of the time, I still add a farewell and sign (type) my name. I think it feels more personal.

So is there an official etiquette for digital communication between known parties? If there is, I’d like to know what it is. And why I should follow it.
Thanks,

 

Mobile phone apps and security

11 Apr 2012

People love their smartphones these days… and with good reason. They can be amazing tools for business and fun distractions from the mundane parts of life – like standing in line at the post office or waiting to be picked up from the airport. There’s a problem though. Those fun and handy apps can be setting you up for embarrassment, failure or good ol’ fashioned identity theft.

Live Free or Die HardIf you saw the movie “Live Free or Die Hard”, you’ll recall the premise that one bad guy who sold software to large companies and government agencies had a back door entrance into those same secure systems – allowing him to take control of everything from street lights to phone systems to fire alarms. Yes, that idea is somewhat far-fetched, but that’s because [most] large corporations and government offices pour over software to insure that it’s safe to run in their systems AND that it doesn’t allow for hackers to get in and access private data. But… what if they did that on a smaller, but huge scale? Like… mobile phone users?

Mobile phone game cradleMillions of people install and play Angry Birds, but it would be a good guess that 99% of those people did NOT look at the security and permissions needed to enjoy that game. Angry Birds is not one to worry about, but there are PLENTY of others you SHOULD worry about! Today, everyone and their dog now publishes mobile applications. Some let you fake-burn ants with a digital magnifying glass, others record your voice and change it to sound like a chipmunk and some let you track your weight loss or scan barcodes to lookup prices. Simple, fun or useful tools – at least, we hope so. Some apps that are probably installed on your phone right now have access to your address book, emails, photos and text messages – and can very easily download that data to a server in any country in the world. Hopefully they aren’t using it to send spam, or worse… (Remember when Paris Hilton’s phone got hacked? That was just the beginning.)

Motorolla Triumph - AndroidI recently got a new phone that was better than my ancient one, and I happily started installing apps that I couldn’t run before. This new phone included a flash for the main camera which, as many people are aware, makes a great flashlight when you’re fumbling to get your key in the doorknob or looking for that piece that fell under the couch. The problem is this – WHY does an app that just needs to turn on the light, need access to your precise GPS location? WHY would it need full internet access? WHY would it need the ability to read and write to your memory card or see the phone numbers of incoming/outgoing phone calls?! I am NOT exaggerating! I refused to install at least 8 different flashlight apps because they wanted access to do waaay more with my phone than just turning on the light!

There are NUMEROUS apps out there that ask for these permissions and more, that people just don’t pay attention to when installing that ‘fun game that everyone loves.’ Don’t be fooled – just because it’s available on the the iTunes App Store or Android Marketplace does NOT mean it’s trustworthy! And NO, just because an application has over 2 MILLION downloads also does not mean it’s safe! However, there are plenty of apps that ask for lots of permissions – but they offer more than just a silly game – they’re useful, they can be a great resource and some even come from reputable companies.

Trust - Honor - Honesty - Liberty - Rights

The take-away from this is – beware. You wouldn’t hand your phone (or phonebook) to a stranger at Disneyland while you went on a wet ride – so why are you doing it when you install applications without learning more about them (or the company/person who wrote them)?