Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stay On Top With Google Alerts

Have you ever wondered if anyone is saying anything (good or bad) about your company on the Internet? Or, what are your competitors up to? Google Alerts will send you that information - automagically, and as often as you like.

Yet another free service by Google, their "alerts" are basically memorized searches that will email you the results. Let's say you are insanely interested in Madonna. You can add her name as an alert entry for 'news' and you will get an email (daily, weekly or as it happens) that will contain all news-related items by Madonna. Better yet, the email will be formatted like a search result, so you can easily scan and click only the headlines that interest you.

Since there are potentially unlimited topics to configure as an alert, it's easy to get carried away. But that's ok! Add and remove topics at will. You can also go back and change the frequency of email notifications. Additionally, you can setup the alerts to be sent to a RSS feed reader, like Google Reader.

I have found Google Alerts to be a great tool for filtering the information that I find interesting so I can be more efficient online.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Negotiating with Vendors (Part I)

Here's one area where business owners can fall into a costly trap. Vendors making big promises in the pre-sales process only to underdeliver after the check is cashed. There are a few ways this can be avoided.

Get the Demo

If it's software that you are buying, get the demo version up and running for about 30 days (10 days at least). This will give you time to make sure it's easy to deploy and you can see it in action for a few days. Talk to the vendor about customizing the software to conform with your process. Most software these days should be easily customizable without costly consulting charges.

Any vendor worth dealing with should have a complete set of testimonials. These may be found on their website or in their product literature. Get the names of large and small current customers and talk to them about their experience. Ask about the vendor's post-sales support. Ask about their implementation. Was it on time? What kinds of problems arose? How were they handled?

Are there free options?
Within the last 8 years, hundreds of websites have popped up providing valuable tools and resources. If you are looking to implement a software solution, try searching for "open-source" software. Open source refers to the fact that the source code for the software is openly available at no cost. A group of developers join in on maintaining the software and adding functionality.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Whose "Process" Is It Anyway?

Process is defined as steps required to manufacture your products or the means to provide your services.

A clean and efficient process is the key to applying any technology solution successfully. The wrong, or inefficient process, will lead you to spend $100k on an unnecessary system.

The efficient process will save you money when implementing technology and should increase your profits. It is vitally important for your business that you examine all your processes BEFORE implementing any technology solution.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adwords Primer (Part II)

In order to really get a clear picture of your campaign effectiveness, you should have Google Analytics tags coded on your landing page. These tags will allow you to see where your visitors are coming from and which keywords they used. You can even link your Adwords campaign with your Analytics account and see actual conversion rate.

The goal of any online campaign is to achieve the highest possible conversion rate. Google makes it very simple to determine the conversion rate, but they don't guarantee ad results. The best performing ads, according to Google, are the ones that are extremely relevant to the search term and that have a compelling message on the landing page.

Your landing page, or the page that shows up if viewers click on your Adwords ad, should be clean and compelling. The landing page should drive a specific action like filling out a form or testing your product/service.

The key to a successful Adwords campaign is trial and error. You will need to test various keywords at various times of the day/week. You will also need to test variations of the ad copy to optimize clickthru and conversion rate. It all takes patience and a little bit of money and time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

4 Key Points When Considering New Technologies

A technology solution should meet at least one of the following four criteria:

1. reduce operating expenses
2. automate existing (efficient) processes to enable growth
3. provide an effective means to communicate
4. enable your business to improve its products and/or services

Before the first dime is spent, insure that your examine these criteria.

If your internal processes are efficient, then applying a technology solution will automate your operation. This in the only true path to a proper return on investment (ROI).

On the flipside, if your process is inefficient, then applying technology will be costly and likely work against itself. Technology for the sake of technology is not going to solve anything.

In fact, without the proper process and strategy, you will likely create problems and reduce your margins by applying the wrong technology solution. A technology "solution" should always solve something.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adwords Primer (Part I)

Google Adwords can be an efficient strategy to drive more potential clients to your website. Notice, we say "can be" since advertising on Google's search engine can be expensive and not very efficient if managed incorrectly. This article will serve as a primer to get started with a simple, yet effective Adwords campaign.

If you are unfamiliar with Adwords - this is Google's main advertising engine. You can see it in action by going to and entering popular search terms. The search results will have up to three sponsored listings at the top, along with several sponsored listings in the right margin. These "sponsored listings" are what advertisers (or you) will bid on via Adwords.

The first thing you will need is a Google Adwords account. Google has consolidated many of their services so that you can use the same logon for all of the them. Once you have created or linked your login, you are ready to create your first campaign.

Creating the campaign should only take about 10 minutes to complete. You will start by clicking on +Create New Campaign and follow the prompts.

When writing the actual ad copy, think from the readers point of view. Make the ad simple, yet enticing. You'll want to create curiosity, but make sure the message is VERY relevant to your product/service. Take a look at some ads that show in the top 5 slots for various keywords.

Friday, October 24, 2008

3 Tips For Speeding Up Your Computer

Even though we've been working with Microsoft products for over 20 years, sometimes very strange things happen on our perfectly configured computers.

Here are three things we look for immediately to speed up a system:

1) Remove all unnecessary programs that are running the systray (the systray is all the little icons in the bottom right next to the clock). You can turn them off permanently by going into msconfig.exe and unchecking the programs that shouldn't be there. Just be careful with what you are unchecking.

2) Uninstall programs that you will never use again. Go to Startup>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs (only on Windows XP).

3) Finally, AFTER unwanted programs are removed, clean out your Windows registry by using a registry cleaner. We recommend RegCure.

As always, make sure your virus scanning software is up to date and run full scans once per week. We recommend AVG - the free version works just fine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

4 steps to creating real-time online proposals

Here's a simple method for creating online proposals. By using Google's 'publish' feature in Google Docs, you can quickly create a unique webpage that is your proposal. No HTML required. Best of all, the webpage is dynamic. When you make a changes to the proposal, your customer can view the changes immediately.

No more emailing documents around and wasting precious time during the sale close!

Here are the steps:

1) Login to your gmail account and click "Documents" in the upper-left.

2) Once inside Google Docs, click on New > Spreadsheet.(Alternatively, you can upload an existing Excel spreadsheet if you have one.)

3) Format your new spreadsheet to resemble a proposal, complete with a signature line. (You can also choose a Template from the "New" button.)

4) Now, click "Share" in the upper right and then choose "Publish as Web Page." Also check the box "Automatically re-publish when changes are made"

That's it. Copy and paste the hyperlink that appears and drop it into an email to your client. If you have to make updates to the document, just tell your client to click on the link in the original email and they will see the updates.

They will see an option to print the document.

TIP: Put your fax number right on the document with instructions to sign and fax. Done deal.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

10 Reasons To Love Gmail

1) All contacts and email content is immediately searchable.

2) The 'Star' feature gives you a quick and easy to-do list.

3) It's free and ubiquitous.

4) The 'archive' feature lets you maintain a clutter-free inbox.

5) You can send/receive emails from multiple addresses. (i.e. or

6) Virus scanning on incoming messages (again, free).

7) Access from just about any cell phone.

8) Gmail can host your corporate email system (again, for free).

9) Perfect functioning spam-filter.

10) Did I mention it was free and ubiquitous.

Monday, July 28, 2008

4 must-have online tools (and they're free!)

Software companies finally got smart. The good ones anyway. Can you use a free project management tool? How about 2GB of free online backup? For small businesses, the 'free' version may be all you need to get the productivity you need. In this eBook, you will find four online tools that boost your productivity and not cost you a dime.

( )
You have probably suffered the minor (or major!) tragedy of a crashed hard drive. Eventually, they will all stop spinning. Mozy in an online data backup service that will automagically encrypt, transfer and store your most precious files. For individual users, they give you 2gb in the free account. Not bad at all. Depending upon your broadband connection speed, the initial backup could anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Once the first complete backup is done, subsequent backups will finish much quicker. To get started, you need to download the client software and install on your computer. They have a version for PC and Mac. They also have a Pro version for Windows servers or multiple computers.
Google Apps (
Google Apps is THE killer app of the last 10 years in this authors opinion. It is possible to create all types of standard documents using Google Apps. And, again - it's free. Google Apps offers word processing, spreadheets, presentations and online forms. All Google apps run in a browser, of course, and can be used with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, among others.

One killer feature for their apps is the collaboration and publishing. You can create a standard "word-like" document and invite other people to collaborate and view the document online. The best part, your original version stays in-tact. Once an invited users edits your document, a new version is created and all past versions are saved separately. You can revert to any version at any time. Think about how valuable that is for contracts and legal documents. No more emailing redline documents.

Here is an example of a sales proposal published using the spreadsheet app. You can also view the original version of this article, which as created using the Google Apps word processor.

Google Reader (
Google has so many products and services to use other than their search engine. The Google Reader is significant because it can aggregate just about any content that is viewable on the web. Content aggregation or "feeds" is nothing more than email-like threads of information that is specifically chosen by you. If you like sports, biking and fishing, you can "subscribe" to those topics using Google Reader and it will consolidate articles or websites and present to you all on one page. And it's real-time. As new content is published, you will see the updates on your personalized reader page.

This is great for business too. If you are an accountant for example, you can subscribe to tax updates, local business events and even the competition and it's all visible in one place. There is no limit to the content to which you can subscribe. This can also be overwhelming, so choose wisely.
BasecampHQ (
37signals is a killer software company. Their mantra is to create software that provides a core set of highly valuable features. Not a ton of bells and whistles - just elegant web-based software solutions. They have several products, but Basecamp is their flagship product and it provides automation for project management.

As with all their software, Basecamp is highly collaborative in nature. You can login and create a project, add several tasks and milestones within 10 minutes. Then, notify everyone involved in the project about their role and keep track of progress. No training is required to use Basecamp and their support is incredible. For $12/mo. you can run three projects at a time. Great for freelancers and small businesses.

Another cool feature is the file storage. Any type of file can be uploaded and shared with the project team. Oh yeah - you can subscribe to your project updates via Google Reader and watch progress in real-time!

There are plenty more free online services, but these can boost productivity without adding any overhead. Check out our blog for more helpful information.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Remote Support" eBook

As promised, the remote support eBook has arrived. Click here to download.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Windows registry cleaner will help windows if slowing down

You would think that an IT pro like myself wouldn't experience a Windows XP slow down. I found RegCure and was a bit skeptical, but it worked.

RegCure offers a free scan to show you how many meaningless entries are stored in your Windows registry. Mine had over 1200. So, with the 60-day guarantee in hand, I bought the license and cleaned up.

Day two, without a doubt, Windows runs better. Webpages load faster, even text entry is a bit faster. Prior to cleaning, I would reboot every other day.

Highly recommended. Click here to download the free scan from RegCure.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Microsoft Office-less" experiment

Don't get me wrong - I like Microsoft. As Google expands on the functionality in Google Docs, I'm seeing less and less a need to use Microsoft Office. I had one computer rebuilt and will be purchasing a laptop (probably macbook) and I am determined to not install the $400 MS Office suite.

Since I am going between and iMac and PC now, along with sharing and collaborating on documents with my partner, Google Docs IS the answer so far. I'm sure there will be limitations, but I haven't found any showstoppers yet. One minor hiccup is getting my old "Word" documents imported correctly into Google Docs. Some of the formatting is off, but nothing that wasn't fixed in 30 seconds.

Regardless of functionality showstoppers (if I find any), the collaboration factor wins BIG!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Free e-book in the works

IT costs are dropping for small businesses. This new e-book highlights some of the methods and services that are helping business owners keep more of their precious capital.

Due out by 5/21/08.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The people at Quickbooks Online are listening

As I was sending yet another reminder to one of my clients about an invoice, it hit me. Why am I sending an email with a .pdf of an invoice?

Actually, it didn't hit me until I was walking later that morning. I should be able to send the "transaction" directly to my customer's payable ledger. It was a minor epiphany, since we regularly send transactions (paypal) all the time.

So, I sent an email to Quickbooks online support suggesting this feature and they responded within 15 minutes. My suggestion included the idea of a queuing mechanism on the customer side, essentially approving and receiving the transaction into their ledger. Completely removes data entry errors (and effort) and could improve my cash flow.

The Quickbooks rep was very excited to tell me that it was an "awesome suggestion" and they would put it in the feature queue. We shall see.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Facebook for Business

I am seeing many examples of people and businesses using Facebook to extend their brand. Facebook pages provides a simple and easy way to create a mini-site about your business/brand and attract new fans/prospects/customers.

Guy Kawasaki has a great post that summarizes some basic steps to get started. He pulled these from Jesse Stay's I'm on Facebook - Now What??

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Using Salesforce and Google Docs (part I)

I will be posting a series of articles on using the newly integrated Salesforce with Google Docs. ETS uses Salesforce for incident management. We have also been "light" users of Google Docs to create and share documents and spreadsheets internally.

Installation of Google Docs within Salesforce was a breeze. Just clicked on the "get started" link and was brought to the setup module for our Salesforce instance. There were five options to add Google Docs and we added all five. Clicking on "add" for each one prompted a license agreement and then it was complete.

One minor snafu was that in order to use the integrated package, you need a Google Docs Business account. This did exist for our domain (setup months ago), but all the existing Google Docs were under my personal account.

So, in order to get the functionality you need your domain and users configured on Google Docs for Business. This is a bit of a hassle since Google has no current linkage to our email users. For example, in order for the user to get all the functionality running on GD/SF, you need to have defined as a salesforce user AND a user on Google Docs with all email settings configured.

I *think* this means that needs to be setup on GD to be the primary mail client. Which of course means that you would need to setup the POP3 settings in gmail so that email will flow. More to come on this...

Another hiccup occured when we tried to create a GD from the SF interface and was prompted for the GD login. Entered the credentials for the business account, but received a "server error" on the GD side. Still don't have this working..

So basically, nothing is working, but I am confident that we will work out the configuration to getting it going. Once we do, we'll put it here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

AskMike - Free Tech Support

AskMike is available to solve your technical issues - for free. Any technology, any problem. If Mike is stumped, he'll post an article for a solution.

Call 847-960-3252 to talk to Mike.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Implementing Tech Projects - Part V

Phase V - Project Review & Closure

Now that the technology solution has been successfully implemented and everyone has been trained, you will need to setup measures to ensure that the solution is effective.

1. Create an anonymous survey for employees to provide feedback.
a. Survey questions should include: overall project success, training materials and responsibility impact.

2. Develop metrics that can measure the profit and/or efficiency that was achieved as a result of this project. This will help you identify the true return on investment.

3. Continue to refine training.

This phased approach for managing a technology project is meant to be a guide. There are many details within each phase that would be too lengthy to describe here. There are also many books on this topic.

Here is a website that is a great reference for project management:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Implementing Tech Solutions - Part IV

Phase IV - Implementation

So now you have confirmed that the pilot is solving some or all the problems identified in phase I, now you are ready to rollout the full solution. It is very important to closely manage your vendor and be sure they are delivering what they promised within their proposal.

1. Create a project plan that consists of key milestones for the implementation of your solution.

A sample plan is shown below:
* Project Kick-off
* Budget review
* Set timelines for remainder of project
* Determine training requirements
* Technology install/enhancement
* Document the changes in your existing workflow
* Create a forum for employees to provide feedback during this process
* Develop a suite of tests that verifies the newly installed technology does not break any existing processes.
* Develop a suite of tests that verifies the newly installed technology meet the expectation of the proposed solution.
* Insure your timelines are being met and budget is not growing.
* Implementation complete
* Begin training

2. After the solution has been installed, consolidate all the documents and training materials in one repository for quick reference.