Choose a website host based on your needs

cloudhostingThe 2016 Technology Checklist continues…

“Hosting” is a term attributed to keeping your website visible on the internet.  Any website on the internet is sitting on a “host” including the major sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  There are all kinds of hosts from good to bad, small to big, secure to insecure, and everything in between.

If you are in the market for a host, you’ll want to pay attention to the details since distinguishing factors in hosts include government regulations and data security.  Some hosts are small startups comprised of a few college graduates who just set up a few servers and aren’t too concerned if your files get hacked since they assume your website is a toy.  Other hosts specialize in securing data to HIPAA or SOX compliance standards which increases associated costs since they require more human skill and manpower.  There are loads of choices but I’m only covering two for time constraints: WeeblyAWS and HostGator.

Weebly
The Weebly website is the simplest interface I have come across for creating a quick website.  Plain and simple – you enter your business name then choose a related template that fits the look you prefer.  There are very few technical details to understand for this website.  Because it’s so simple, most support is self-directed using a support based forum.  The downside of simple is a higher cost in monthly fees and little help.

HostGator
If you want to custom build your website, have source code access using electronic file transfer abilities (FTP), or the ability to create a WordPress website then a host like HostGator is a good start.  HostGator may be a funny name but they’re one of the larger and more affordable US based firms – located in Houston, TX to be exact.  I feel they’re a good start for non-compliant small businesses.  The downside of many hosts like HostGator is lack of bandwidth expansion. Only so much internet (bandwidth) can get through the pipes to a server so your website goes dead if too much traffic hits it at once.

AWS
Think of AWS as HostGator on steroids.  Expansion through AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a superb feature for a moderate cost since it expands bandwidth as needed.  Where does this make a difference?  Imagine you spend a few thousand dollars airing late night TV commercials for a product.  Traditional hosting only allows as much traffic as the server and bandwidth can handle which means your server freezes up and won’t respond if it gets too many customers at one time.  An AWS expandable server will keep taking as many customers as come since it “expands” on the fly.  You, the customer, pay for what is used so you will pay more for all the visitors, but it’s well worth the cost since losing those customers to a dead website would mean losing revenue.

Your Choice
So as you can see, there are many answers and many more questions.  You’ll have to put some research into it and find the right answer for your project.

Plan your full circle techno-marketing cycle

entreleadership_podcast_139I love absorbing information related to business so listening to podcasts has become a daily occurrence.  That said, I had already written a marketing related article based on my business and marketing background when I inadvertently came across a podcast that summarized all my thoughts and a lot more.  Donald Miller is a digital marketer, but he specializes in full life-cycle business branding which gives your business a consistently branded approach across all marketing platforms.

Take a listen at this link.  It’s the EntreLeadership Podcast number 139 featuring Donald Miller.  Enjoy and get more tips from the 2016 digital checklist!

Determine whether or not you will sell your product or service on the internet

kioskEveryone that wants to has the ability to sell online these days thanks to modern easy-to-use website creation software like WordPress plugins or the GoDaddy website builder.  The simplicity makes entrepreneurs ask the next question on our 2016 checklist – does ecommerce makes sense for my business?

How do you answer this question?  That depends on your audience and type of buyer.  If your product or services sells mostly to an older age group, maybe not.  Buyers older than 50 years of age looking to buy new shoes will most likely visit an in-person store where they can try shoes on instead of buying online.  The long-term habit of most 50 year old consumers would statistically make building an online shoe store targeted at this demographic a waste even though there are anomalies.

Selling music to teenagers online would be a win – assuming you choose the right location – location, location.  Yep, just like the real world, location matters.  Your own website selling music would probably lose, but add a song for sale in iTunes or the Amazon MP3 store and it will be noticed.  Another thing to think about is buyer preference.

If your buyers want to talk to you by phone before ordering, it might also be a waste of time building an online store since a phone order would be quicker from the consumer perspective.  In this case, they are already there talking to you on the phone so why would they leave the phone then go back to a website to place an order.  The simplest answer to this question is to play a case scenario in your head as if you were the buyer.  Better than that, give a few of your first beta-buyers a 25% discount to tell them how they would prefer order.  This process can save you a lot of development time in the long-run and it will leave your first few customers happy since they received a discount.

Gmail-Enable Your Private Email Address

gmailYou most likely have heard of viruses and malware, but I’ll summarize these terms as ‘digital contact’ as opposed to human contact.  In the real world, humans are exposed to sickness and viruses through contact with others; humans spreading germs through touch for example.  The computer world operates similarly which brings us to number 4 on the 2016 checklist.

The only way your digital device can be given a virus is through digital contact.  Email is one of the easiest ways electronic viruses spread, and transfer can occur by opening an unknown email or clicking an unverified link on the internet.  The simplest way to avoid viruses spreading through email is to let a service like Gmail take care of all the grunt work associated with virus protection.

Even if you have your own website name, you can sign up with Gmail for free and use their application to send and receive email.  Their 24/7 up-to-the-minute virus scanning filters will not let you receive viruses or malware which makes it well worth the free price tag.  You’ll simply be notified that an email was received but quarantined allowing you the choice of whether or not you should open it.

The only ‘gotcha’ for your free service is allowing Gmail computers to scan through your email for anonymous marketing purposes.  Assuming all the legal mumbo jumbo on their website is correct, their marketing scans do not divulge personal information to third party vendors.  I have nothing to hide in email so I say it’s well worth the free price tag.

Make a cell phone your primary business phone number

Number 3 on the 2016 checklist is creating a mobile office using a cell phone as opposed to traditional brick and mortar.

There will always be a need for traditional landline phones for those who need to meet with clients in a private or more personal setting, but VoIP is taking over that realm very quickly.  There are also still many landlines in use for home offices, but they are outdated and very expensive.  The great thing about modern technology is the ability to grab a virtual number from the cloud and forward it where needed.  The most beneficial solution I have found is Google Voice although there are many competitors.

Go Mobile

Google Voice lets you search for and obtain available telephone numbers in your area.  The only point to keep in mind is that you are searching virtual and cell phone numbers.  At this point, Google does not have a way to transfer a landline phone number to their service, but that really doesn’t matter if you’re starting your business from scratch.  And don’t worry about people finding your number if it changes in the future.  Most people Google a business name or search the number through other online forms.  Any future numbers you grab will be updated on the internet within a few days should you decide to change it.

Google Voice changes over time since it’s a free service so stay updated on their services at this link.   Save money by avoiding the overhead associated with office space by working out of your home or vehicle when possible.  When you’re ready to upgrade and able to afford VoIP, do your research or send me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Create your online presence with social media

smedia
pic cred: entrepreneur.com

You probably have heard the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”.  That saying holds true for businesses using social media in 2016 which is step 2 in the 2016 checklist.  And if you are in the business of attracting new customers, you WILL need a social media presence.  The key is to ensure you’re not wasting time in the wrong places.  I’m sure you have heard of the popular social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but there are many other social media sites.  And don’t discount local social media.  Local media sites most likely don’t have the large footprint of international social media, but the customer is most likely well connected to the local community making them a loyal business sell.

know your target market

Just like marketing your product or business name on radio or TV, choosing the right social media presence is a result of knowing your target market or specific type of customer.  It can get tricky considering you, as a small business leader, only have so much time in the day so this social media presence may be another area you should outsource to the experts.  If you prefer the diy social media, be sure you don’t waste your highly valuable time in the wrong place.  As an example, don’t use github if you knock on the front door of local businesses to make sales.  Thinking of Facebook?  Facebook message posts are usually tailored to an older audience so you would want to choose Instagram if teenagers are your primary audience.

In terms of outsourcing, there are businesses that will completely drive your social media presence from A to Z so you don’t lift a finger outside of infrequent email communication with your social media expert.  There are so many details on this subject that it’s hard to cover them all in one post.  I came across this good Forbes article from last year that covers social from the sales aspect.  But it all comes back to knowing your customer and reaching them through a social media niche.  Take a look at how these companies are using social media.

 

Buy your business domain name (aka: your dot com name)

Registering your domain name is step 1 of 16 and it’s a must in our mobile driven world of commerce.  A lot of small business owners get hung up on finding a catchy domain name like the Googles and Yahoos of the world which can also be referred to as a dot-com name.  Don’t waste time here!  Name your business in the real world, find a domain name using a registrar (more details below), then come back later to find a more unique or catchy name if needed for marketing purposes.

What's in a domain name?  Your online credibility.  Pic Credit: TechTimes
What’s in a domain name? Your online credibility. Credit: TechTimes

Domain names are cheap compared to most business expenses.  Good deals can be found for just a few bucks or you can pay all the way up to 35 per year for a dot com.  There are new extensions that are costing crazy amounts of money, but stick with the dot com extension if possible since it will be the cadillac of domain names for years to come.

Make sure to keep the name simple when possible.  If your company name is named Kim’s Accounting, then buy kimsaccounting.com or kimsllc.com (LLC assuming you incorporated).  Your first point of interest is getting an initial website presence on the internet even if you’re still stuck in the planning stages of your new venture.  This web presence being online early allows search engines like Google some time to find and catalog your website.

Where should you get a domain name and what is a registrar?
Registrars lease domains to me and you so you can think of them as a wholesaler and you as the buyer.  There are many registrar choices so I say look at the most reputable first.  Keep in mind that registrar is the company that keeps ownership of your domain which means they ultimately control your web presence.  Choosing a reputable registrar is important.  Put your trust in a company that plays keep-away and they could steal your online name-brand.  I actually had this happen early on with the website registrar 1and1.com, but I let them keep the domain since I wasn’t using it anyway.  Also keep in mind that a downed-website can drive you insane if you don’t know what is keeping your website offline.  For that reason, you’ll want registrar customer service by phone or chat available 24/7 along with an organization that uses redundant servers that failover to backup servers if power outages occur. Lack of backups will result in your website going dead.

I will not promote one registrar over another since there are many good alternatives everywhere you look, but I can offer some tips based on my experience.

  1. Don’t register through a host
    A web host is a company that physically keeps your website files present on the internet.  This is technically a separate function from a registrar, but many hosts and registrars have started cross-promoting both services.  I have purchased a domain through a host before to get a free domain or whatever other promotion was enticing at the time, but I always recommend you transfer the domain to a large independent registrar as listed in step 2.  Why?  You are at risk for losing your domain if you forget to pay your hosting bills or even if your credit card expires without your knowledge.  Nobody cares what excuse you make cause they legally own your domain so make sure you don’t let that happen by using a registrar that is independent of your host.
  2. Choose a large registrar: GoDaddy, eNom, Network Solutions or Tucows
    Even registrars like NameCheap are resellers (for eNom in particular).  Whatever registrar you choose should be attached to these wholesaler names.  Not only are their names more reputable, but they can resolve issues with the large clearing houses due to their vast behind-the-scenes resources.
  3. Don’t lose your domain due to negligence
    Ever gotten your power or water cut off cause you forgot to pay your bills?  Domain names are no different.  Set calendar events to remind you to verify your domain contacts and always keep your registered owner email address valid.  If you forget to renew or pay for your annual domain renewal fee, the domain name will be lost or sold to someone else.  Make a point to stay current with your on-file credit card and email address so you don’t lose your domain name.  Domain contacts (the owners and controllers of the domain) are also required to verify a valid email address on a regular basis.  You are required to acknowledge these contact validations so ignoring them could result in loss of the domain even if you paid your bills.

I will note that there are loads of great companies out there.  When customers ask me for a one-stop-shop, I suggest GoDaddy.  It is very popular although more expensive than other registrars.  I stopped using them a while back due to their increasing costs, but I can’t speak well enough for their services and always-on customer friendly contact center.  They are probably the best choice if you want to be as hands-off as possible with your web presence.  You’ll benefit as a newbie with their cheap web hosting if you get a bundle deal (website, hosting, and registration) although remember what I said in step A above.  You’ll also benefit from their 24/7 telephone support.  They are very good at upselling other not-so-needed products so get ready to say no a lot.

Don’t see your question answered here?  Contact me for more details.

 

The Crucial RAM Effect

Is it time for a computer upgrade but you just don’t have the $1,500 to drop on a new super cool computer?  Upgrading your existing computer RAM can make a huge performance difference if your normal RAM usage is around the 75% mark.  That’s where the crucial effect comes in to play.

Not every computer allows RAM upgrades.  Even some that do allow RAM upgrades require you to replace the chips that are already in your computer while others let you add to present RAM.  Crucial.com makes the process of determining RAM needs very easy by installing their software which scans your system to determine what is installed!  Even better is the fact that Crucial lets you use their software to determine what is needed then you can go online and find the RAM somewhere else if you find a cheaper price.

taskmgrI have used Crucial many times.  Their prices are competitive and I have only bought RAM from other sites like Amazon or NewEgg when I found special deals.  No this is not an advertisement.  I actually like Crucial that much.

Not sure if you need RAM?  Assuming you are using Windows, right click the task bar then left click on “Start Task Manager”.  Left click on the Performance tab and watch your memory usage as highlighted in this screenshot.  You could benefit from more RAM if your memory stays above the 75% percent mark on a regular basis.

 

16 Technology Must-Haves for Small Business in 2016

Automate your small business in 2016

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Being a small business owner is hard, especially if you do most or all of the work yourself.  But small business is still the driving force of the US economy.  According to Forbes, over 50% of the US population works for one of the 28 million domestic small businesses.  In addition, 52% of small businesses are home based.  But it sure does seem hard to compete with the “goliath” organizations in business even when you have a better product.  The best way to compete is doing exactly what big corporations do: automate daily processes that waist your valuable time using the items from the following checklist.

In case you are new to this site, my Small Busy-IT blog posts are specifically designed to make technology simpler for small business.  Whether you hate technology or consider yourself a techno-geek, I’m starting this post assuming you have no knowledge of technology and making sure your business has covered the basics in 2016.

Take a minute to pretend you haven’t even opened the doors of your business and you are deciding how you should use technology to reach new customers and drive revenue.  Also keep in mind that whatever you learned five years ago is most likely out-of-date so we’ll start with what works today in 2016 knowing you’ll need to revisit this subject every year for the rest of your business life.

growth
Progression

One second… I’m receiving an ESP message from you.  To answer your thought, yes it is very frustrating navigating so much change in technology.  I have professionally lived this change in technology for 16 years, personally lived it since age 7 using gadgets and gizmos, and it still frustrates me daily due to rapid advancements.  But change will not stop.  If anything, it will progress especially as mobile adoption accelerates.  That’s why you need to find a good expert to rely on who will keep you in sync with advancements because you can NOT avoid technology.  Outsourcing is an option, but ignoring could result in the loss of your business.

Finally – The List

Here are the items I’ll be covering over the next few blog posts.  Any new or existing small business must have the following in 2016:

  1. Buy your business domain name (aka: your dot com name)
  2. Create your online presence with social media
  3. Make a cell phone your primary business phone number
  4. Gmail-Enable your private email address
  5. Determine whether or not you will sell your product or service on the internet
  6. Plan your full circle techno-marketing cycle
  7. Choose a website host based on your needs (AWS expansion vs HostGator)
  8. Do NOT buy a server – Do buy a mobile device
  9. Secure your mobile device
  10. Secure your business or home internet to avoid hacks
  11. Go OpenOffice
  12. Get your books in order “accounting” for everything
  13. It’s time to float in the cloud
  14. Work out your workflow
  15. P&L Monthly
  16. Electronically plan your maintenance

Trust – but verify – the cloud

I’m sure you have heard companies promoting “the cloud”.  If you run or manage a business, you have probably also wondered if you should move your data to the cloud.  There are three questions that must be answered by a vendor before you’ll have enough details to decide.

  1. Is data encrypted and secure both at rest and in transit?
    Securing a website address by using https:// is only step 1 of the equation because that same data sent through a website input form travels through many servers once submitted.  Every server and database touched needs to be secured.
  2. Does your vendor have redundant data centers?
    If your vendor runs their own servers, do they have a plan if those servers go down?  Many large vendors will have multiple server warehouses (better known as server farms) spread across the country.  If a server at one location goes down, a cloud based provider should be able to continue business at one of its other redundant data warehouses within minutes if not seconds.
  3. Can you continue business without access to your data?
    Put the worst case scenario in your mind when it comes to going without your data.  If you can’t take a revenue hit being offline for 30 minutes, then a cloud provider may not be for you. On the other hand, you may be okay if you can continue business on paper while you’re systems are offline.  Your paper downtime process will require someone to physically go back and enter data into your systems, but that may not matter to you as long as revenue keeps flowing.

The Details
securecloudKeep in mind that every business will have different requirements.  If you build reports and work out of your house, you can probably stand being out of commission for a few hours.  If you run a physical storefront, every minute of downtime means money lost.  Assuming you need to err on the side of caution and have little ability for downtime, let’s dive into exactly why these questions are so important with a real-life scenario comparison.

Humans get sick when they are exposed to viruses and bugs. Computers are no different. Most computer viruses are no harm until the user mistakenly opens a file that contains a virus.  Once exposed, viruses can create a nightmare. Cloud based systems, Google Gmail as an example, have been developed and made more user friendly over time even containing features that warn users when a virus is present.  Even though the virus is present on a server, Google systems are smart enough to quarantine the virus in a place where you can’t accidentally infect your computer.  These cloud based features can be deployed instantaneously compared to the early days when the user had to manually download updates.  Score one for the cloud using Gmail!

Similar protections are available in many cloud-based forms of software, but the most important fact is the Gmail features many of us have come to appreciate were developed based on user feedback.  The more users, the more accommodations for their preferences.  And the quicker the feedback of new problems (or viruses in this case), the quicker Google can update their software.  That means the previous days of discovering a virus, writing an antivirus update, then waiting for the user to update his or her software are gone.  Some users chose to ignore antivirus updates in the past which ensured a virus infection.  Cloud based vendors can now bypass the whole update process by going from discovery to deployment of required updates within minutes.

Why is the cloud more efficient for most small businesses?
Experts maintain cloud systems compared to Joe Schmoe who stops by a small business once a month to run software updates. And the truth is maintenance on servers can be a pain that most small businesses don’t want to waste time dealing with. In addition to software updates, the small business has to deal with hackers trying to hack their network when servers are run in house.  Network security in a massive cloud data center will be much more secure than most small businesses could ever compare.  And I almost forgot to mention that physical hardware can more easily be stolen from a small office compared to Pentagon-like security at huge data centers like Amazon or Google.

256bit_sslThe one caveat to trusting the cloud is trusting your cloud provider. They must be able to answer details of the following.  If the expert of the company avoid answering these questions, you might want to find somewhere else to do business:

Do they use the highest SSL or TLS for data in transit?
This is a techie way of saying protect your remote data in many ways. For instance, PayPal requires a minimum of SSL 3.0 or higher to use their site.  Your vendor shouldn’t take less than the PayPal standard since they’re required to work with most any PC in the world.  Most website users have become accustomed to making sure a website is secure if they input credit card information, but that same information could be insecure in other ways.  Lets say your website protects a credit card number by using a secure link (aka: the https:// standard protection).  That is great, but it doesn’t protect data once it leaves the website heading for the processing payment gateway.  We’ll refer to this as transfer of data as everything happening behind the scenes.  This is where you need a reputable company with staff that KNOWS THEIR STUFF.  The only way to know – do your own thorough investigation asking about your vendor’s credentials and how many staff they have devoted to security of data.
Do they encrypt data “at rest” in the database?
Your vendor may a secure website address (eg: https://www..), but that doesn’t mean the data stored in the database is secured or encrypted.  The “at rest” terminology just means the data has found its resting place and is not being transferred between servers or network equipment.

encrypt

What is your vendors action plan if they are attacked?
Depending on the nature of your business, your vendor shouldn’t tell you they plan on shutting down all their servers.  That may have to occur for a few minutes, but the majority of cloud vendors have ways of segmenting their network or trapping the hacker into one zone and continuing business throughout the rest of their network.

 If you are talking to the expert at your cloud provider and he/she cannot answer the above details, you might want to look at switching to another provider.  No answers doesn’t mean they’re a bad vendor, but it does mean your business will probably be offline for a while if the vendor is attacked.  Why?  No experience means that vendor will have to learn on the fly and you don’t have time for that.