Becoming More Tech Savvy
16. Up to Date
Here are some of the most effective and least expensive items you may want to buy to bring your older computers back up to speed:
Hard Drives. One of the most important features of any computer is its ability to store large amounts of data. Whether you need desktop drives to back up your primary hard drives or store your digital video files, or a portable large-capacity drive to carry a hefty business presentation, there are several solutions that may help meet your needs.
CD-ROM/R/RW and DVD-ROM/R/RW Drives. Upgrading to a speedier CD-ROM drive may be just what you need to give your system a valuable boost in performance.
Processor Upgrades and Accelerators. Processor upgrades and accelerators allow you to increase the overall performance of a computer by allowing it to process information faster. Accelerators do this by shifting operational functionality and providing additional cache memory, thereby freeing up the computer's main processor so it can do its real job-running software applications.
Memory. While everything that has already been mentioned can help increase the usability of your current computers, one of the most tried and true ways to improve performance is to simply install more random access memory, otherwise known as RAM.
17. Shopping List
If your company is going to expend the time and resources on new technology purchases, they need to be worthwhile. Keep in my these three tips next time your company is ready to do some serious tech buying:
- 1. Renegotiate existing contracts for services such as network support and consulting. Telecom is especially ripe for bargains. Start by setting benchmarks for rates and auditing bills to ensure you're not overpaying. Then instead of buying all long-distance, local phone and other telecom services from one vendor, dual-source it. Vendors will treat you better and charge you less.
- 2. Make sure you need whatever new technology you do buy. Inventory all PCs, printers and software. Look for opportunities to consolidate purchases, standardize configurations and root out duplication.
- 3. Set up a system to keep doing it. Pick a team of people from IT and other departments, and meet with them regularly to discuss what they need and how to save on it.
18. Buy Smarter
Investing in technology for your business doesn't have to send you to the poor house, as long as you know how to get the most out of what you can spend. You can't afford to have a key business hardware component go down without protection. A warranty will give you peace of mind. It's as important to know when not to skimp as it is to know when to go for the extra discount.
Discount stores have decent-size technology sections and can net you good value on everything from laptops to printer cartridges. What you won't get is a lot of one-on-one service. If you're sure of what you want, go ahead and look out for good deals. If you need to ask questions, go somewhere else.
You can also save money by working closely with a value-added reseller (VAR). This is a good route to explore for large purchases where you want the reseller to also be the installer. The reseller will be up on the latest special offers and promotions that fit your needs. Selecting the right VAR is also important. See how long they have been in business and whether they have experience serving your particular market.
19. Leave No (Paper) Trail
Drowning in paper? Technology can help you reduce or even eliminate your need for paper. Try the following nine options to free your office from stacks and stacks of paper that threaten to overwhelm:
- Computers: PCs, laptops and handhelds can be combined for document creation mobility and flexibility, stamping out rampant paper use.
- Scanners: Scanners create digital images so that documents can be exchanged electronically and preserved easily. When scanning, remember to employ image compression to maintain network performance, and make sure to choose a single, standardized electronic document format so that images can be indexed and searched easily.
- E-mail: E-mail is a great substitute for paper memos. Effective e-mail systems should allow users to filter content and file messages electronically by topic. They also should let workers combine e-mail with fax and voice-mail retrieval in a unified messaging system.
- Storage systems: Affordable, robust storage technology is essential for high-speed, centralized electronic information management. Check out low-cost systems built upon RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) technology or iSCSI-based storage-area networks.
- Fax over IP (Internet protocol): The boring old fax goes high-tech with a Web- or e-mail-based fax capability that eliminates the need to send hard copies.
- Wireless local area networks: Wi-Fi LANs are spreading like wildfire, making electronic information mobile, portable and easily accessible to workers anywhere.
- Secure remote access: Virtual private networks (VPNs) ensure that home workers and road warriors get secure, confidential access to the company intranet, abolishing the need to lug around a briefcase full of documents.
- E-learning systems: Workers in training can say good-bye to books and binders when they use online or Web-based training systems.
- Advanced printers: Printers that print on both sides of a sheet can significantly reduce paper use.
20. Back It Up!
At any time, you could lose your computer equipment, whether it's a laptop that gets stolen or a desktop that's lost in a house fire. So be prepared: Back up your data weekly-or even daily. Some backup options include portable hard drives, DVD-writers and online data.
There are also several networked data storage options, including:
- Direct Attached Storage: Known as DAS, this technology attaches storage media (like disk arrays and tape backup) directly to servers.
- Network Attached Storage: Called NAS, this standalone, self-contained solution connects directly to a LAN, rather than to a server. The separation of data from servers tends to improve performance.
- Storage Area Network: SANs create a separate, dedicated high-performance network that is highly secure and scalable.
- iSCSI SAN: This type of SAN offers most of the strengths of the Fibre Channel SAN, but it's easier to install, has lower-cost connections, is much easier to manage and grows with your business.
- Managed Storage Network: Managed storage services are offered by specialized service providers. Businesses can contract with these providers, who implement and maintain the storage network on an outsourced basis.
Regardless of which backup method you choose, remember it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your data.
Get Your Marketing Act Together
21. Marketing on $4 a Day
Research shows consumers need to hear a message at least three times for them to have name recognition and recall, and nine times before they become a customer. One-time or sporadic tactics are ineffective in increasing awareness, acceptance, preference and demand for your product. You can create more marketing momentum with daily action. One way to do this is to use a $4-a-day marketing program.
The basic strategy is to contact 10 clients, prospects or contacts each day, five days a week. You can contact them by phone, fax, e-mail, letter or postcard. You can send out press releases, sales or follow-up letters, brochures, special offers, information sheets or thank-you notes. Your cost is about 55 cents to print and mail five letters for a total of $2.75. The telephone calls or faxes cost about a quarter each for a total of $1.25. You do the math. If you're communicating by e-mail, your costs will be even less. Your goal is to create a combination of daily activities that help you communicate with existing as well as potential customers.
22. Take Time for Marketing
The key to maintaining a year-round marketing program, without those nasty peaks and valleys that can cost you so dearly, is effective preplanning. Have you written down your annual marketing plan? It doesn't have to be elaborate-just an outline will do, so long as you also schedule your tactics in a contact management software program or even on a paper calendar. With an outline and schedule for your basic marketing tactics, you can "gang" production and planning. For example, a monthly e-newsletter is a terrific way to maintain contact with prospects and takes less time than making individual phone calls. Each quarter, you can plan three issues at once, picking your topics and compiling content so that on the designated monthly mailing dates your newsletters are ready to go.
There's no hard and fast rule telling you exactly how much time you should spend marketing your businesses. In the fastest-growing businesses with sales of $1 million or less, the owners tend to spend from about 25 percent to nearly 40 percent of their time in sales and marketing every week. However, if your business is new, you may need to devote about 60 percent of your time for a while to get it up and running. The most important thing is to maintain a consistent effort. This will keep your growth rate steady and enable you to more effectively build your business over time.
23. Follow the Rules
If you think most rules were made to be broken, you may want to think again. Sometimes thinking outside the box can produce surprisingly positive results, but generally not at the expense of tried-and-true rules for effective marketing. Case in point: Recently, an e-mail marketer got dismal results from a mailing to a previously well-proven list. What went wrong? The solicitation was 500 words long, had a nebulous subject line and offered only a dull white paper. Next time, this entrepreneur will do well to play by the rules-with a 250-word maximum, a clear subject line that lets recipients know what the e-mail is all about and a more compelling offer.
Thanks to the billions of dollars businesses invest in advertising every year, all aspects of it have been studied. For instance, we know that in magazine ads, one central photo or image works better than several small ones, while in newspaper ads (particularly those that feature product sales), several photos work well to capture the attention of readers. Often, marketing is not a do-it-yourself job. If you're unsure about the rules for each medium, it's a good idea to hire experienced professionals.
24. Focus Your Marketing Efforts
Casting too wide a net is a mistake often made by entrepreneurs with big appetites and small budgets. They want to try a little bit of everything-advertising in multiple magazines and newspapers, online ads on a variety of sites and a list of special events-but with limited budgets, they end up with a tiny presence in each. As a result, ads and promotions get minor attention and their entire marketing budgets are wasted.
When it comes to advertising, bigger is usually better. Large, four-color magazine ads generally produce better results than small, black-and-white ads. To maximize results from your marketing program, narrow your media choices and consistently run larger ads with enough frequency to get noticed.
Similar advice holds true for special events. Instead of taking a small, obscure booth in a half-dozen community events, purchase one or two major sponsorships per year to ensure that everyone who attends the events will be exposed to your message.
25. Makeover Your Marketing
Have you recently had flat or lackluster sales? If you're predicting more of the same in the coming months, it's time to reassess your marketing strategies.
- Study your audience. The clearest sign that your marketing needs a makeover is when it stops resonating with your target audience. The first step is to understand your customers' hot buttons by reviewing published articles and research. Look beyond how and what your prospects buy. It's also vital to have input from B2B customers. Visit their job sites to discover the challenges they face and what they hope to gain by working with you.
- Add value through innovation. Entrepreneurial companies excel at innovation. New products and services are created and old ones are tweaked. So shake off your stagnant marketing approach and find new ways to communicate the value of your company's innovations to your target audience.
- Set the competitive pace. Does your competition define your marketing strategy? If you spent recent years reacting to your competitors' marketing messages, it's time to start setting the pace. Monitor their innovations and how they market, but develop your own campaign that addresses your audience's hot buttons and focuses on adding value.
Making Time for Time Management
26. Filling Your Time
It's essential that you make time tangible because it moves so fast and it seems so amorphous. But if you think about it, managing your time is identical to organizing your space. A schedule really has boundaries; it has edges. If you start to think of your schedule as a container into which you need to fit a limited number of objects-your tasks&3151;you start to get more selective about which you'll put in. And if you group similar tasks by category, you can have a better handle on the kind of balance you're achieving.27. Preparing for Tomorrow, Today
At the end of each workday, take a blank sheet of paper and write down everything you must accomplish tomorrow in the order the tasks should be done. The next day, you won't have to decide what to do first, and crossing off the things you accomplish will give you great satisfaction. Don't let the simplicity of a to-do list fool you; it's one of the best time-management tools ever invented.
You should create to-do lists each day or at least weekly. This will give you an overview of what to expect each week and give you time to make any changes in advance. Use it in combination with a calendar, and keep in mind that to-do lists are for tasks to be completed, while a calendar is for recording appointments.
28. Is This Worth My Time?
Throughout the day, periodically stop what you're doing and ask yourself if what you're doing is the best use of your time. Ask yourself these few questions:
- Is the task you're working on a top priority?
- Is the task going to increase your business or income?
- Does the task correspond with your goals?
- Is it a task that someone else could handle, leaving you free to handle more important tasks?
If you answered no to any of the questions, switch to another task or delegate the task to someone else.
29. How Long Will It Take?
One skill entrepreneurs should tackle first is the skill of estimating how long things take. And that's a very simple skill to develop; you just have to concentrate on it. If you ask the best time managers to do anything, they say, "How long is that going to take me? I have to gather the equipment. I have to set it up. I have to check for batteries. I have to sit down and think a little bit." If you go through this process, then you're in the position to make smart decisions about which tasks you will do, which tasks you won't, what you should delegate, and how you can create shortcuts. It's a breakthrough skill.30. Where Does the Time Go?
Examine where your working hours are going each week. You'll need to keep a log of your time for several weeks. Once the log is complete, sit down and evaluate where the time went. Upon reviewing the log, for each entry ask yourself: Is the task necessary? Then, if it's necessary, ask: Should I be the one who performs it? Immediately drop from your future schedule those unnecessary tasks, as well as any undertaking that doesn't contribute to the business in a real way.
For the other tasks, make a simple T chart. In one column, list the really important stuff that only you should do. In the other column, list the work that should be done by others. Finally, delegate those duties that should be done by others.