Thursday, December 29, 2011

Your Extreme Makeover

Your Extreme Makeover
By: Tony Rubleski, Mind Capture
At the end of each year, before I set my annual goals for the upcoming year, I take stock and look back on what I’ve learned, good and bad, in the preceding year. I can tell you that 2011 was a wild year full of many closings and promising new beginnings within my own life.
This ability to self-reflect is powerful, yet so few people do it consistently beyond a few New Year’s resolutions that are often broken or forgotten within 2-3 days into the New Year.

To help inspire and keep you motivated long beyond the first week of January, I’ve included a ‘Mind Capture Nation’ favorite from the article archives written six-years ago that I’d like to share with you as we wrap up the final days of December. Enjoy!

What if you had only one day to live?
What would you do? Who would you call? What would you say to those you love and trust the most? These are heavy questions, but I encourage you to stay with me and read onward.

I’m often baffled by how unhappy most people seem these days. I use “seem” because far too many people let others dictate their attitude and outlook on life. When you wake up each day, ask yourself this simple yet profound question: what am I thankful for? By asking this, you’ll quickly develop a habit of building positive energy and productive thoughts.

I’m not Dr. Phil or Oprah by any means, and I’m thankful to be who I am. While these two people are wildly successful and living life fully engaged and at full throttle, I can’t imagine how plain and routine the world would be if we were all exactly like them.

In the business world, where I spend most of my waking hours, I often find the most successful people have three common characteristics from which we can all learn from and apply to our everyday lives.

#1. They are problem solvers, not complainers. For every problem they solve, they are aware that new ones can quickly sprout up like weeds. These successful people look at problems as temporary roadblocks that are a natural part of life. The key difference with them is that they ask positive questions to solve the issue at hand.

Most people would rather give up, complain or simply turn around and ignore the problem. Winners know that this is not a productive or solution-based strategy to employ.

#2. They strive to learn and improve each day. School is never out for the pro. Each day is a new world of people, experiences and knowledge from which to learn and gain perspectives. In life, not everything stays the same; change is the only constant. Stability is a good thing, yet to ignore the changes and new information is to live in a perpetual state of denial.

#3. They realize the present moment is valuable and not to be wasted.  Yesterday is in the past, and tomorrow is only a dream. Time is finite and cannot be replaced. Each day they strive to get better, serve others and live life to its fullest.

These three characteristics share an important commonality: the ability to take life one day at a time and treasure the importance of each new sunrise. Planning ahead is necessary, but taking action each day is central to making gradual and long-term positive change a reality.

In closing, I’d like to issue a challenge: imagine that each day could be your last. Again, arise each day by giving thanks and counting your blessings, not your problems. Build momentum to help yourself and those around you.
The world has a never-ending need for your skills, talents and leadership abilities. It would be a tragedy to live most of your life regretting the past or endlessly thinking about your future. Spend more of your precious time on today.
Yours in Success,
Tony Rubleski signature image
PS. If you know someone who would benefit from the Mind Capture E-Letter send them to

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2012 Social Media Business Trends

Is Social the Future of Business?

As the end of the year draws near, it’s time to start looking at social media trends for 2012. Businesses should get ready for seismic shifts on the digital landscape.

Competition will intensify as the rules of marketing are further altered by social media, mobile web and all in real-time. For businesses that don’t start embracing social media, 2012 may mark the beginning of their declining growth and profit.

According to Nielsen’s “The Social Media Report,” social media use is commonplace, with over 4 to 5 Internet users engaging in social activity across a wide variety of platforms. Social networks and blogs are the top online destinations, accounting for 23% of time Americans spend online. Pew Internet and American Life Project’s August 2011 report states that nearly two-thirds (65%) of all adult Internet users now use social networks. The skyrocketing growth of social media has broad implications–beyond consumer behavior.

While some businesses are evolving or even transforming how they buy and sell products, many are fast becoming social businesses. In a Fast Company article by Drew Neisser, “Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business he explains the reasons why every company should be thinking about becoming a social business. According to Neisser, IBM is moving themselves and their clients “well beyond social media into a new era of collaboration, insight sharing and lead generation it calls social business”.

One of the hottest business social trends in 2011, leveraged by both large and small size businesses, has been social commerce. Social Commerce is essentially word-of-mouth applied to e-commerce. According to Brian Solis, “Social Commerce is rising quickly, but this isn’t a story about technology, it’s a story about how and why people make decisions.” Take a look at this amazing Infographic Social Commerce Timeline created by Useful Social Media that depicts the evolution of this new process. Social Commerce is redefining the way brands and consumers interact.

One of the best examples of Social Commerce is the mobile app which lets you share deals with family and friends via Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS. According to David Williams, vice-president of product management at AT&T Interactive, “Gas is just one of many everyday essentials where a few simple factors: location, price and brand, brought together in a thoughtful design can help direct users toward smarter choices and quicker decisions.”

The process for migrating from social media to social business will vary depending on the nature, size and strategy of your business. But you should be aware of some of these emerging social trends and tools as you consider how to capitalize on opportunities and achieve your business goals.

So what are the social media trends for business in 2012 for….[building communities, brands, mobile, etc.]?  I posed this question to several industry experts (crowdsourced the community) and here is what they had to say:

….for building communities?
Jason Falls (@JasonFalls), author of No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing and CEO of Social Media Explorer.
“Businesses are more and more looking at social media marketing as a strategic business driver now, so you’ll see a lot more insistence on accountability, measurement and quantification of what social media means for companies. From a community building standpoint, that means community managers are going to be challenged to delineate the value of those community members versus non-community members, make logical arguments for why and how a community’s growth is positive for the business and illustrate how they affect the bottom line revenue of a company. It’s going to challenge many to think beyond the comment, like and fan. But it will make us all better.”
…for mobile?
“In 2012, mobile will move to center stage in social, as everyone has a phone, with close to a majority of those being smartphones. Location-based messaging between people, and especially between people and businesses of all sizes, will increasingly be initiated by individuals as they tap into their personal networks and networks of those around them to seek and share information. Besides being highly personal, mobile will become the social conduit.”
…for customer service?
“In 2012, more companies will consider use of social monitoring and analytics to help them understand sentiment, key influencers and the types of people chatting about their brand. In addition, growth of the social space will raise the importance of dialog between customer service groups and social media teams. This improved collaboration can lead to an integrated plan to better handle inquiries via the various channels.”
…for crowdsourcing?
Peter H. LaMotte, President, GeniusRocket, Inc.
“2012 will be the year that “Crowdsourcing” stops becoming a buzzword and starts becoming one of the most cost effective ways for small to medium sized business to engage their stakeholders. The term too often associated with contests, is actually a reliable means of message virality and real-time engagement. Marketing, customer service, sales, and PR can all be given a huge boost through the use of their crowd, especially via their social media platforms.”
…for small businesses?
“Biggest trend in social media for small business? One that has already started but now many are getting the fruits of their labor: networking. Finding each other to share stories and learning. Finding talent to join the business. Finding prospects to try to convert to customers. For networking, social media is the small business owners’ best friend.”
…for retail?
“With the advent of in-network apps like Spotify, Hulu and Netflix directly within Facebook, users are going to rapidly gain a sense of comfort with the idea of Facebook as a marketplace. In 2012, the trend will be toward the addition of other non-digital shopping apps on Facebook, allowing consumers to literally buy goods and services directly from their Facebook Timeline. Things like gym memberships, vacations, cleaning services and more will become available on Facebook.”
…for B2B?
Billy Mitchell (@BillyMitchell1) Billy Mitchell- MLT Creative, Partner/Senior Creative Director
“2012 will further separate the pretenders from the purposeful. B2B marketers that don’t take ownership of social media as part of a strategic inbound engine will be an endangered species by the end of 2012. Small businesses will realize Social Media is far from free and the trend will be serious budget increases for creating content, automating tools, and the human resources to sufficiently scale engagement with their marketplace.”
…for technology?
Scott Brinker, President and CTO of Ion – Author of Chief Marketing Technologist blog
“In 2012, marketing technology will continue to converge. We’ll see social media features embedded into more products, from CRMs and marketing automation systems to web content management and landing page optimization platforms. These technologies that reach deeper into the customer experience lifecycle will reveal more nuanced metrics for tying social influence to business value. Likes, follows, and +1′s will be more meaningful in the context of specific customer experiences rather than an abstract performance measurement unto themselves.”
…for marketing?
Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael) – Sr. Director, SAP Global Integrated Marketing – Co-Founder of Business 2 Community
“’The social media trend for business in 2012 will be less media or marketing and more social. Social media will move beyond marketing, PR and customer service and will become an extension of an entire businesses employee, customer and partner base. Real-time response management, tracking and alerts will be the tools of choice. Response managers will be on the hiring plans of many more companies and social selling will begin to become a reality in many more organizations. In effect, we will start to see businesses truly engaging with the market in a people-to-people model.”
…for advertising?
Michael Ancevic (@mancevic) Senior Vice President – Creative Director at Mullen
“Social media is truly now the mainstream media. So one of the big trends next year is that social will continue to become nearly everyone’s primary source of content and interaction. Because of this, we will see early adopters who have learned along the way to make their advertising content relevant and interesting finding that it becomes easier and easier to ride this trend and get their customers to pass content along for them. Of course like any successful marketing campaign if that content accurately reflects the strategic business objective, it’s a huge win with positive long-term implications.”
…for PR?
“Social Media for PR is evolving from a listening post and ratings game to a strategic tool that provides insight and analytics into customers, prospects, competitors and thought leaders. Never before have PR practitioners had the opportunity to gain real-time insight into customer, prospect and competitor behavior and be able to shape conversations based on that data. We will see more data crunching and analysis and more strategic and targeted responses. As more and more content moves to mobile, we will also see more creative uses of content, more app development and more use of the comment function for thought leadership. New forms of press releases optimized for mobile readers will evolve. PR will also embrace new types of content marketing geared to mobile. All in all, it will be a productive time as PR rises to meet the technological opportunities.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Your Business Ready to Evolve?


By: Jennifer Hice on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For many small business owners, the terms rebrand, reinvent and redesign may as well be evil, four-letter words. However, the world is constantly changing, and as such, a business should be built to evolve in such a way that they can weather the storm. Change is always going to be difficult and will cause even the most successful entrepreneur to experience a burning case of anxiety. Yet, one’s ability to adapt is absolutely necessary in order to foster and sustain growth, both personally and professionally. While the idea of dismantling and rebuilding a brand you have spent years creating may sound like the worst idea of all time, doing so could mean the difference between watching your company fail and seeing it continue to succeed. When done correctly, rebranding can be the very change needed to spark new life back into your business. In fact, there are always going to be reasons you need to adjust and tweak your business plan. After all, a business’ brand is its identity, and as strange as this may seem, it has a certain personality, or life, of its very own. As such, it could easily perish if left stagnant and unchanged for too long. A successful brand has the ability to evoke a positive response in its audience. So, given the limited resources and capital you may be managing as a small business owner, how do you remain on top amidst this ever-changing economic climate and corporate environment?

Businesses change for a number of different reasons, including advances in technology, an increase in competition and the like. Consider the introduction of the Internet for a moment. The web has dramatically transformed the world of business marketing and communications as a whole. A business’ ability to reach out to their current and potential customer base is virtually limitless. Moreover, in today’s technology-driven environment, information about you and your company is available on demand.

For example, let’s say that you own a small dry cleaning business. You’ve always had a fairly steady stream of regular customers, until a chain store, offering discounted dry cleaning services, opens in your area. There’s no question that both your level of service overwhelmingly outshines that of your new, corporate competitor. However, ABC Corporate Dry Cleaning utilizes a number of different technology-based communication platforms in order to drum up and even steal your business. For instance, they utilize Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to frequently post status updates featuring coupons and perks for new customers, establishing a relationship with the very customers you are desperate to reach. Also, they’ve written the content on their website in such a way that it is now “optimized”, allowing search engines like Google and Yahoo to recognize their site’s domain name as a credible and valuable. This credibility prompts Google to rank your competition’s website above your own when search results are displayed. With just a few quick strikes of the keyboard, a potential customer has already found and interacted with your competitor. I know what you’re thinking…Not cool, Google. Not cool! So, make Google work for YOU instead! Take a moment and research the term, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Read more about the simple and affordable things you can easily do to help your business remain relevant, searchable and competitive.

Also, consider the recent commoditization of cell phones. A large percentage of the population now communicates almost exclusively using their smartphone. Gone are the days that business use flashy and expensive direct mail pieces to capture the attention of their target audience. Today, companies are reaching out to consumers with text messages, e-mails and smartphone-friendly applications that can load fully functional websites with just a tap on a touchscreen. It’s incredible. Regardless of the size of your business, there are so many ways in which you can take advantage of technology and make it work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Let’s use the example of the dry cleaning business again. Remember, you run a small, family-owned dry cleaning business that’s been serving the local community for almost 10 years. So here’s an idea…when people come in to drop off or pick up their garments, ask if they’d like to receive coupons and information on weekly specials via email. You’ll be amazed by how many people will gladly opt-in to receiving your messages. Before you know it, you’ll have your very own e-mail distribution list. Moreover, your customers will feel as if they are receiving valuable and relevant communication pieces from your business. You’re will not be deemed “junk” mail. You’re 10 percent off e-mail coupon will be saved, printed, utilized and appreciated. Plus, in today’s economic climate, many consumers select their service providers based not only on financial value, but also on how valuable they feel as a customer. As a small business owner, you are truly the backbone of America’s economy. You employ locally based employees, and your business supports the local community. You’d be surprised to know how many consumers will go out of their way to support you, wanting you to succeed. Just be sure you’re giving them the chance to do so by continuing to adapt and evolve in such a way that you’re able to communicate effectively and remain accessible.

Another way to ensure your business survives the rough seas of change is to focus on your existing customer base. They are your “bread and butter,” so don’t lose them! Customer retention and satisfaction is key! Think about creating and providing some value-added products or services, expanding your current offerings. For instance (using the dry cleaning business example again), you could develop a safe and cost-effective way to provide 24-hour drop off and pick up service for your customers. You could create a Refer-a-Friend Rewards program. You could even develop a VIP Program, providing customers with a unique and fun way to earn their way to achieving Bronze, Silver, and Gold status based on frequency of visit or dollars spent. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and expand the vision of your business. Sit down, brainstorm and develop new and interesting ways in which you can engage current and potential consumers. Network with the local business community and strategic partners in order to foster an environment of mutually beneficial growth and support. For example (yup, another example using the dry cleaning business)…your store is located next to a popular clothing boutique, heavily frequented by local shop-a-holics. Business idea: Why not partner with said boutique, which happens to sell many items that are dry-clean-only, and have them staple a coupon for cleaning services to their customer’s receipt at the time of checkout?

It really doesn’t take a lot of extra time or money to keep your business thriving. Maximize your resources. Ride the winds of change on to new horizons, rather than allowing them to knock your small business down. In today’s ever-changing business environment, adaptability is key. Embrace change…make it work for you, rather than against you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Small Business Balancing Act

By: Jennifer Hice on Sunday, September 25, 2011

By definition, America’s small business owners are self-employed, sole-proprietors, contract employees, freelancers and the like. They do not have the luxury of running to the human resources department to ask a question about their health insurance. They are the human resources department. They can’t simply submit an expense report to the accounting department for processing. They are the accounting department. They don’t call the marketing department when they need a new sales brochure. They are the marketing department. It’s no secret that in order to succeed, small business owners must possess the ability to wear all of the hats necessary to keeping their business afloat.

As the owner of a freelance writing company, I can easily shift from researching content ideas and completing a project, to balancing my quarterly budget and submitting my estimated taxes to Uncle Sam. As a creative writer by trade, I am happy to admit that crunching numbers is simply not my strong suit, yet as a business owner, it’s still a hat I must happily wear. Little did I know that when designing my business cards using a free website, that I should include the additional titles of Marketing Director, Sales Director, Creative Designer, Web Designer, Accounting Manager, Computer Tech and Customer Service Representative below the Owner and Principal Writer section of my card! Managing multiple job functions can be overwhelming amount of work at times, several elements of which are often outside the scope of my preferred areas of focus and expertise. However, the additional responsibilities provide me the luxury of additional freedom, greater flexibility and larger opportunity for growth. The trick, however, is finding a way to juggle the ever-expanding list of duties and creating a method by which to tame the madness. Striking a reasonable and attainable balance is the key to success.

First, it is important to take an “inventory” of all the current duties you’re managing on behalf of your business. This includes both your income-generating activities (providing your service, selling your product, business development, etc.), as well as your operational tasks (accounting activities, filing insurance claims, etc.). Once you’ve compiled a list of duties, it is fairly simple to identify attainable goals within each category. For example, when creating my own list of business-related tasks, I set a goal regarding my accounting duties. I created a reminder on my calendar to input my expenses into QuickBooks at the close of each month, a goal which is both attainable and helpful, especially when it’s time for me to review my quarterly numbers. Just like anything in life, a little organization and some realistic goal setting can go a long way.

Second, it is incredibly important to set aside equal time for working “in” your business and for working “on” your business. For instance, it’s incredibly easy for me to get sucked into a writing project. I can spend hours refining my words, researching clever new angles for a piece and the like. However, while I’m spending valuable time writing (working “in” my business), I often neglect vital tasks like responding to client e-mails (working “on” my business), which will ensure the continued growth of my company. I need to make a point to take a few moments out of each day to engage with current clients, to research potential new opportunities and to set new client meetings on a regular basis. While my talent for writing may be the “bread and butter” of my business, my skills are rendered useless if I don’t have any projects or new clients in the pipeline.

Speaking of new clients and project pipelines, no matter how large your portfolio of clients and no matter how promising your sales projections, always remember the importance of customer service. Maintaining strong, meaningful and one-on-one relationships with your clients and/or customer base is essential for the long-term success of your business. People do business with those they trust, those they like and respect. If you lose that personal relationship, you run the risk of losing the customer all together. Remember, maintaining this relationship is not as cumbersome as it may seem. Small, genuine gestures, like a handwritten ‘thank you’ note can go a long way.

As your client / customer base begins to flourish and business grows, you may also begin to contemplate hiring employees. If this is the case, be sure to take a close look at the various aspects of your business and identify those tasks you enjoy, as well as those you would prefer to hand off. For instance, my time is better served forging relationships with new clients and completing writing assignments than it is managing the accounting activities of my business. That said, before I impulsively hire someone to take over the accounting functions of my business, I have to analyze my current budget to see if the expense of a new-hire is even feasible. The numbers won’t lie. If I can’t afford to bring additional help on board, then I’ll get to enjoy another year of managing my own books. However, if I can still remain in the black after hiring a full-time or even a part-time employee, making such a move could ultimately provide me the additional freedom to take on more writing projects, which ultimately yields an increase in revenue.

Despite the sometimes comical need for small business owners to be skilled in the art of juggling, the ability to run a successful business, effectively and efficiently, is incredibly empowering. Moreover, for the small business owner, the phrase, “I’m bored,” is essentially impossible to utter. The ability to perform multiple job functions across a variety of disciplines affords small business owners the unique opportunity to make their dreams of success become a reality…on their own terms and at their own pace.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Shift Towards Self-Employment: America’s New Economy


By: Jennifer Hice on Thursday, August 25, 2011

America’s independent workers, otherwise known as the country’s small business owners, freelancers, contractors and consultants, account for approximately 31 percent of the total labor force in the United States. Not only are the contributions of this ever-expanding group of individuals essential to rebuilding the nation’s economy, their ability to thrive is contingent upon much-needed changes to current legislation. At present, federal and state labor and tax laws favor big business and tend to place heavy burdens on the backs of America’s small business owners. Given the obvious necessity for small businesses to succeed, why then are the more than 40 million Americans who are currently self-employed struggling to stay in the black, even when business is booming? Simply stated, it’s time to repeal the outdated regulations that continue to stifle their growth and hold them back!

First and foremost, it is important to understand that as a nation, we are functioning within an extremely obsolete employment system, one that finds its roots in the 1930’s, a time in which companies were forced to offer healthcare, pensions and other benefits in order to retain its workforce. Today, this outdated system is hindering more Americans than it is actually helping, and a growing number of small business owners and up-and-coming freelancers are left unprotected, overtaxed and unable to thrive. Within the past decade, the United States has experienced a massive shift towards self-employment within its workforce, a trend which suggests that the country’s economy is becoming more mobile and decentralized. In fact, close to one-third of the country’s workforce is now comprised of self-employed freelancers, contractors and consultants. While the nation’s workforce structure has changed dramatically, its federal and state laws regarding matters of business have remained the same. Dated legislation has left the self-employed, a sizable segment of the U.S. economy, unable to take advantage of crucially important protections and benefits routinely enjoyed by “traditional” employees working for larger corporations.

At 42 million-strong and growing, the nation’s freelance workers have the unique ability to influence important legislation essential to their success. Their ability to thrive is contingent upon necessary changes to tax and labor codes, which are currently impeding their growth. The self-employed are, in effect, bearing all costs and risks that were previously shouldered solely by larger companies. Consider this scenario: Amy and Christy are both accountants, both of whom have earned the same undergraduate degrees and certifications necessary to provide the same services to their clients. However, Amy is employed by a large accounting firm, while Christy, who was recently laid-off due to corporate budget cuts, is now self-employed and offers her services as a freelance consultant. According to the IRS, consultants like Christy earn, on average, about a third less than people in similar positions employed by larger companies. In fact, the self-employed contractor, Christy, is responsible for paying both the employer and the employee portions of Social Security and Medicare taxes, totaling approximately 15 percent of her total income. Moreover, as an independent worker, she is unable to receive unemployment insurance or file for worker’s compensation. Worse still, Christy is taxed as if her small company was a medium-sized business, yet she cannot write-off health insurance premiums or other reasonable business expenses that larger corporations deduct with ease. All the while, Amy, still offering the same services at the same level of skill, enjoys the protections offered by her corporate employer, complete with affordable health coverage, a tax-exempt 401K retirement savings plan, as well as many other benefits associated with her employment. What incentives, assurances or protections does Christy have to ensure her ability to remain solvent or even make it out of the red all together?

In an economic climate that no longer revolves solely around an employer and its employee, America’s independent, self-employed community desperately needs the same basic securities currently offered to large businesses. For example, freelancers must be able to buy unemployment insurance in order to stabilize their income. They must also have a way to legally protect themselves from late or unpaid payments from clients. Most importantly, they MUST have access to affordable healthcare. In fact, this particular need is the subject of one of the largest and seemingly most insurmountable hurdles for America’s self-employed community. Freelance workers are often unable to afford staggeringly high healthcare premiums, and even now, despite the promise of healthcare “reform,” access to quality, reasonably priced coverage continues to elude the average contract employee.

So, what can be done to ease the burden currently placed on the backs of America’s self- employed? Well, for starters, Congress should restore the Small Business Jobs Act that was passed in 2010. The legislation, which expired at the end of last year, allowed freelancers to fully deduct the amount of their healthcare premiums, before assessing Social Security and Medicare taxes. Additionally, it would be wise to amend labor laws in order to provide consultants with legal recourse through which they can pursue issues of non-payment for services. Such an amendment would provide much needed relief for freelancers, shifting the burden of proof away from them and on to the company from whom they did not receive payment. Moreover, it would be wise to encourage cities to postpone or even eliminate unincorporated business tax for contractors, especially during the beginning stages of their new business venture.

It is clear that the economic future of this country rests in the hands of its small business owners, its entrepreneurs and its up-and-coming self-employed communities. This self-starting group currently generates the largest source of new job creation in the nation today. In fact, their positive influence on the job market will only continue to rise in the coming years. Supporting and strengthening their ability to function and thrive is paramount to economic recovery. More importantly, helping small business owners and freelancers build a strong and viable foundation for their start-up businesses will ultimately allow them to grow, creating more jobs along the way. The strength of America’s capitalistic system is based on the premise that anyone with a good idea and a willingness to work has the opportunity to succeed! To those who are currently self-employed, know that you are a catalyst for change. Defeat the odds and continue to save this nation’s economy, one successful small business at a time! 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Keeping Connected in a Mobile Business World

By: Javi Calderon on Sunday, August 07, 2011
Keeping the Company Connected in a Mobile Business World:

There is no question that today’s business landscape calls for businesses to be flexible and mobile. With more work getting done outside of the office, the demands on a company’s communications systems are higher and more diverse than ever before. In any competitive business environment dependable communication is a must.

Data and voice service providers have developed a myriad of solutions to meet the ever-growing and unique needs of their customers, aiming to provide communications solutions that help expand a business’s capabilities instead of constricting them.

Certainly, the days of rigid job descriptions are over; instead of focusing on one task, employees in today’s businesses are constantly asked to coordinate with different groups, colleagues and clients on a variety of projects -- and they rely on communications tools that are as adaptable as they are.

As much as the Internet may be one of the underlying causes of this shift to mobile business, it is also the tool that has allowed the telecommunications industry to keep up with (and facilitate) the mobile worker. Innovations like broadband Internet, and VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) provide companies from micro businesses to billion-dollar corporations with reliable service, a litany of useful features to help them stay connected, and flexible options to fit the solution to the need.

For example, the innovation of cloud computing can be used to simplify IT processes -- in order to free up man-power, do more with fewer employees, or simply reduce costs -- or as storage for company files: as a backup or a way to grant mobile workers with access to necessary documents.

In terms of flexibility, not only does VoIP provide a long list of features like conference calling, virtual receptionist, and “follow me” features, but it even allows for business owners to chose whether they would like to have the service connected through their old phone systems (integrated voice service) or replace them with one that will be fully managed and maintained by the service provider (hosted voice service).

If efficiency and flexibility are the keys to business success, they begin with reliable and responsive communications and equipment. The business world is a battle of the survival of the fittest, the only way to succeed is to adapt and evolve.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Will Google Plus Be the New Small Business Frontier?

By: Brent Barnhart on Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Small businesses owners are often pulled in many directions when it comes to how to market their business online through Social Media. We’ve heard about how Twitter can help you engage and acquire new customers. We’ve been told the importance of getting into peoples’ Facebook feeds. We understand how LinkedIn helps small businesses network and create new partnerships. The Social Network as we know it seems incredibly diverse with lots of moving pieces.

Yet now it appears that the game has changed thanks to Google.

With the release of Google Plus, there’s a whole new component to the social web that will inevitably have a lasting impact solely because it belongs to Google. Realizing that Google represents the king of search and the cornerstone of how businesses get found online, what will their Social Media platform have in store for small businesses? Will the king of search also become the king of social?

Regardless of what we don’t yet know, we do know that Google Plus is here to stay. The numbers don’t lie; with over 10,000,000 users confirmed within the first two weeks of release, there’s no denying that people are strongly interested in what Google has to offer in the social space. Those numbers are doubly impressive when you take into consideration that the service is still invitation-only.

There’s great speculation that Google Plus will emerge as the ultimate Social Media content-sharing platform. Businesses more or less cater their websites and content specifically to what works best in the eyes of Google in order to increase their search rankings. Now that Google have presented us with their own Social Media platform, we can only assume that Google Plus will play a role in search engine ranking factors as well. As experts have been racking their brains to figure out the importance of links on Facebook and Twitter for years, we can also assume that content and links shared on Google Plus will have significant impact on search rankings as well.

But as the game continues to change, we can only assume. Content marketers are still experimenting with Google Plus in its early stages, but small businesses should definitely take notice. If you’re blogging or producing content for your business, look into Google Plus as a platform to begin sharing.

Speaking of sharing content for your business, there’s one very noticeable aspect of Google Plus; there are no business-specific profiles…yet. Google is, as of now, discouraging businesses to get on board immediately but have assured the business community that something is coming from them.

What exactly that something is remains up in the air, yet Google Plus’ Product Manager, Christian Oestlien,  claims that Google understands that their “product as it stands now is not optimally suited” to the needs of businesses.  Oestlien further elaborated in a recent video, explaining what businesses may look forward to including “rich analytics” and possible integration with Google AdWords. Such integration is seen as having huge potential for both Google and businesses utilizing pay-per-click advertising, as AdSense ads have been unable to reach Social Media users on Facebook and Twitter. The Google Plus business platform is supposedly scheduled to be released later this year.

Yet a huge hurdle for Google Plus remains, both in the business and consumer world; incentivizing users to come and join. Many people have already spent years growing their followings on Twitter and Facebook, and for a business to attempt to take one or both followings into a whole new Social Network is a rather daunting challenge. This holds true for consumers as well, who’ve invested hours and hours to finding and reconnecting with contacts through Facebook. What’s going to make people move to Google Plus? Businesses may surely be incentivized to join so that they may be part of “the next big thing,” but what about consumers? The initial buzz is impressive, but will the following continue to grow at such a rapid pace? Likewise, will either Twitter or Facebook take a hit as users find it difficult to manage so many different Social Media platforms?

Businesses have committed a lot of time, effort and research into sharpening their Social Media strategies. Google Plus is definitely throwing a wrench in the machine, and businesses may have to really rethink their social strategies in order to succeed. We’ll see later this year what Google Plus offers directly to small businesses, but the future is looking bright as Google appears to be focusing ample time and energy on making sure that businesses get an optimized social experience. Time will tell whether or not Google Plus will dominate the Social Network, but small businesses will surely be taking notice as the platform continues to evolve.