Heartbit Computer Solutions Ltd Blog

Quick Solutions To Business

Month: February 2010

Never Miss a Customer E-mail

Responding quickly to client e-mails is important for businesses that make customer service a top priority. But this can be a challenge when you are travelling and cannot check e-mail from your desk.

Mobile devices with e-mail capabilities have become the answer to this problem for many business travellers. These devices include “smartphones” and Wi-Fi-enabled Pocket PCs. They give you the ability to receive and send e-mail wherever you go as long as the devices can connect to the Internet. And technologies are now available that ensure that messages are delivered promptly so that you can respond to important communications quickly.

Common Mobile Mail Delivery Methods … and Problems
There are two popular ways for small business employees to access e-mail from mobile devices. One option is to take advantage of a mobile Web browser such as Internet Explorer Mobile to access Web-based e-mail. With a device that is connected to the Internet, you could use Internet Explorer Mobile to log on to a Web-based mail site and see and read the same e-mails as you would on your office computer. However, Web-based mail interfaces are often difficult to use on small mobile screens and access times can be slow.

Another option is to access messages using the e-mail software – such as Outlook Mobile – that is installed on the device. You can configure your mobile device to synchronise your e-mail and other data from your e-mail server at fixed time intervals. However, your messages will not arrive in real-time using this method. For instance, if you set your device to synchronise once every hour, a message that arrived on the e-mail server one minute after your last “sync” would not arrive in your inbox for another 59 minutes.

Instant Delivery Technology Now Available
Fortunately, there is now a technology that instantly delivers messages to your device with no waiting for inbox synchronisation or need to log on to a Web-based e-mail page. Called Direct Push, it makes accessing your e-mail on the road even more convenient.

With Direct Push technology, an e-mail server – such as the one included with Windows Small Business Server 2003 – can automatically send a mail message to your mobile device as soon as it arrives at the server. You don’t need to check your e-mail. There is no delivery lag time. As long as you have Internet connectivity, you have instant delivery, and the inbox on your mobile device mirrors the inbox on your computer back at the office. This allows you to give your customers the immediate attention they expect – even when you’re away from your desk.

More Direct Push Benefits
Direct Push is not just for e-mails. Other information stored on your e-mail server – including calendar, tasks and contacts – are also synchronised using Direct Push. If your assistant updates your schedule back at the office, or if you add a new contact on your PC, your mobile device will automatically get an update in real time.

Furthermore, Direct Push-enabled devices have advanced security features built in. Imagine, for example, that you accidentally left your phone in the back seat of a taxi. You might worry that another person may find it and have access to confidential business information stored there. However, Direct Push-enabled devices allow you to send a “remote wipe” signal from your e-mail server back in the office. This will wipe out any data on your device so that your sensitive information is deleted and not available to others.

To take advantage of Direct Push technology, two things are required. One is a Windows Mobile 5.0 powered device updated with the Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP). All Windows Mobile 5.0 devices either come with MSFP or can be updated with MSFP for free. The other requirement is that your e-mail must be delivered by an e-mail server using Exchange Server 2003 updated with Service Pack 2 (a free update). Exchange Server is included with Windows Small Business Server 2003.

Keeping up with your e-mail is no longer a luxury. It is a business requirement. Direct Push technology, however, allows you to keep up with the pace of business even when you are far from your desk.

Back-Up Now or Be Sorry Later

Data is a vital business asset, but also a fragile one. For instance, a hard drive crash, a virus or a natural disaster could instantly result in the loss of all your customer lists and financial records.

Unfortunately, most businesses don’t talk about making a back-up copy of their business data until after such a disaster strikes. By then, it’s too late.

You can easily create a back-up file so you can restore critical business information on your computers, but it requires planning and consistent effort. Here’s what you need to do.

Decide What to Save
The first step involves deciding what data you need to protect. You probably do not need to back up any of your word processing, spreadsheet or other types of programs. Programs can be re-installed from their original disks. Even in a major disaster, it should be relatively easy to obtain replacement disks.

What you need to be concerned with is anything your business creates. This would include

·         Databases, including customer contact data and ordering records, as well as inventory information

·         Financial software data files, including spreadsheets

·         Documents, including important correspondence, memos, work products and anything related to your business plan

·         E-mail, especially messages that contain critical data like customer queries and contact information

·         Website files, unless your site is hosted by a third party elsewhere

·         Any other data that would create a significant hardship if it were lost

You may also want to save system configuration files and other settings files, such as your internet bookmarks, but these are not as important as the other files.

Before going any further, make sure you have a list of folders that contain files you need to back up.

Using Back-up Software
Now that you know what you need to save, you need to start making regular backups. While you can make backups by manually copying your important files, if you have a lot of files or folders, that process is very labour intensive.

It is better to use back-up software. One choice is the back-up package that came with your operating system. Both Windows XP and Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 include tools for backing up. The back-up tool that ships with Microsoft Windows XP Professional is already installed. (If you use Windows XP Home Edition, you will need to install it from the installation CD.)

SBS 2003 R2 offers a more secure infrastructure that helps protect your business from unauthorised users and data loss. It offers automatic data back-up and the ability to retrieve accidentally deleted files or restore previous versions.

To set up Windows Backup, click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, then click Backup. Click Next to acknowledge the opening screen, then select Back-up Files and Settings and click Next.

Windows Back-up will now ask you which files you want it to save for you. You probably do not want to select All information on this computer as that will make copies of everything, including all of your program files. If you have installed a lot of software, you will end up with a huge back-up file that is too large to save.

If everyone keeps all of their important files in their own My Documents folder, you can select Everyone’s documents and settings. Otherwise, you should select Let me choose what to backup and select every folder you identified as important. When you are done, click Next.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 also comes with a Back-up Configuration Wizard that allows you to specify the folders you would like to copy, whether the back-up should be saved to a hard drive or a tape drive and how frequently the backups should be performed. You can also use the tool to launch a back-up manually.

Understand Your Storage Options
The back-up tools will create one file that contains all of your important documents, but you need to tell it where to save the file. By default, it will want to save that file to a floppy disk, but if you have a lot of information, you may need dozens or even hundreds of disks.

Another option is to save the back-up somewhere on your network or onto a second hard drive in your computer. Just click Browse and select the location where you want to save the file. Give the file a descriptive name and click Next.

While this type of back-up will give you some protection if a hard drive fails or if a virus strikes, in the event of a fire or natural disaster, you are likely to lose the entire computer — and therefore all of your data. For that reason, you should regularly copy your back-up file onto a CD, DVD or external drive that you can store in a protected location far away from your place of business.

You will find the back-up file in the folder you specified in Windows Backup. If the file is less than 640 megabytes, you can use a CD burner to save that file onto a standard CD-ROM. If it is larger, you will need to use DVDs. Make sure your burner is capable of writing to recordable DVDs.

You can also use reusable media, such as flash drives and external hard drives. Check the size of your back-up file to determine how much storage space you will need

More Back-up Advice
Here are some additional recommendations to follow when performing backups:

Stick to a schedule. Don’t forget that your data is only as secure as your last backup. If your hard drive crashes and you have not backed up data in a month, you have just lost a month’s worth of work. That is why it is so important to back up your data on a regular basis. You will probably want to back up the files to your hard drive or network server every night. The back-up tools enable you to select back-up frequency and times.

Off-site storage. While it’s a good idea to back up data onto your network or a tape every night, you also need to set a schedule for saving your files on a CD, DVD or removable storage device that you can transport off-site. To determine how often you need to make those backups, simply ask yourself, how much data can your business afford to lose?

Practise restoring your data. It’s best if you never need to use your backups, but it is nice to know that restoring your data requires barely more effort than it took to back it up. If you’re using Windows Small Business Server 2003, there are procedures for restoring everything from entire servers to single files. Windows Back-up also enables you to restore your files using the back-up file. You should test your back-up procedure before you need to use it, however. Use a computer that’s not connected to your network and that has only the operating system installed. If you test the backups on your existing network, there’s a chance you could accidentally overwrite new files with old data or miss identifying potential problems

Backups are great insurance against disaster and system failure, but this insurance policy is good only if you take the time to regularly back up your system

Surge Protection -The Problem with Power

There are two unfortunate realities of the electronics age; the utility simply cannot provide the clean, consistent power demanded by sensitive electronics, and the customer is ultimately responsible for the health and safe operation of his equipment.

A study by IBM has showed that a typical computer is subject to more than 120 power problems per month. The effects of power problems range from the subtle-keyboard lockups, hardware degradation-to the dramatic-complete data loss or burnt motherboards. According to a survey by the Yankee Group, almost half of the corporations researched put their downtime costs at upwards of $1,000 per hour, with nine percent estimating costs up to or more than $50,000 per hour.

Sags, surges, noise, spikes, blackouts. what really happens to connected devices when they experience a power anomaly? A lightning strike is a frequent example, although it is just one of countless problems that can strike your equipment.

Imagine lightning has just struck a nearby transformer. If the surge was powerful enough, it travelled instantaneously through wiring (AC, network, serial, phone lines and more) with the electrical equivalent force of a tidal wave. For PC users, the surge could have travelled into your computer via the AC outlet or phone lines. The first casualty is usually a modem or motherboard. Chips go next, and data is lost

Clearly, businesses are becoming more and more reliant on a utility power supply that is pushed beyond its capacity. Despite advances in the capabilities of modern personal computers, a momentary power outage is still all it takes to lose your data. More dangerous is the loss of previously written files, or even an entire hard disk, which can occur should a power problem strike while your computer is saving a file. Network fileservers constantly writing to disk are particularly susceptible.

Unfortunately the situation won’t be getting better anytime soon. It takes approximately a decade to get a new power plant on-line, and concerns about nuclear power and fossil fuels have stifled the construction of new generating facilities. In the United States, for instance, spending on utilities has dropped from 2.3% of the Gross National Product in the 1960’s to less than 1% today.

It’s been said that there are two types of computer users: those who have lost data because of a power problem, and those who are going to. Over the past few years, we’ve helped create a new class… those who have recognized the need for protection and taken steps to ensure that they’re prepared for the inevitable.

Power problems are the largest cause of data loss

Here are a few statistics that quantify the true costs of systems downtime:

Power Failure/Surge: 45.3%
Storm Damage: 9.4%
Fire or Explosion: 8.2%
Hardware/Software Error: 8.2%
Flood & Water Damage: 6.7%
Earthquake: 5.5%
Network Outage: 4.5%
Human Error/Sabotage: 3.2%
HVAC Failure: 2.3%
Other 6.7%
Storm Damage: 9.4%
Fire or Explosion: 8.2%
Hardware/Software Error: 8.2%
Flood & Water Damage: 6.7%
Earthquake: 5.5%
Network Outage: 4.5%
Human Error/Sabotage: 3.2%
HVAC Failure: 2.3%
Other 6.7%

Source: Contingency Planning

The anatomy of a power disturbance

Surges, spikes, blackouts and brownouts…what really happens to your computer when it experiences an out-of-bounds power anomaly?

We’ll use a nearby lightning strike as an example, although it is just one of countless problems that can strike your system.

The utility responds to overvoltages by disconnecting the grid. This creates brownouts and blackouts. If the voltage drops low enough, or blacks out, the hard disk may crash, destroying the data stored on the disk. In all cases, work-in-process stored in cache is instantly lost. In the worst case, password protection on the hard drive can be jumbled, or the file allocation table may be upset, rendering the hard disk useless.

Virtual Meetings Cut Travel Costs

The travel industry is taking its hits right now, and I hate to add to it. But times are tough, and your business needs to scrutinise its travel budget to find ways to cut costs. This is about economics.

Alternatives to business travel — such as Web conferencing with Microsoft Office Live Meeting or similar products — continue to improve with advances in Internet and related technologies, most agree. We’ll address the options, including video conferencing, teleconferencing, online collaboration tools and the Web conferencing I mentioned, in detail below.

But first: When do you absolutely need to meet? Here are some scenarios mentioned by experts:

  • You are meeting a new client
  • You are introducing new people — perhaps your replacement — to an ongoing but important business relationship
  • You are attempting to close a significant sale or cut an important deal
  • You are delivering a product that you must demonstrate.
  • You need to resolve a controversial or complex problem, or discuss top-secret matters such as an acquisition or merger
  • You need to meet with an attorney to discuss legal matters
  • You need to solicit money from an investor.
  • You are making sales or training presentations and your materials are best presented in person.
  • Your competitors are meeting face to face with a client you want.

Perhaps you could add other scenarios specific to your company or industry. The point is, meetings remain critical to the success of your business.However, there are many meetings where technology can substitute for travel easily and effectively.

“You generally need to find the wherewithal to make that initial contact face to face,” says Diane Parks, an information technology products reseller. “But once you have established a relationship, technology can save you time and money for your later meetings.”

“Virtual meetings” may not be as much fun, but they can allow you to get a lot of work done at less expense. Here’s a rundown of the alternatives:

Video Conferencing

What it is: An interactive use of video, computing and communication technologies to allow people in two or more locations to meet — either one-on-one or in groups of up to a dozen people or so — without being physically together. Video can be streamed over the Internet or broadcast over television monitors.

Pluses: High-end video conferencing systems (such as those owned by many larger corporations) can bring together large groups of people in disparate locales to hear speeches and presentations in a broadcast-quality setting. But video conferencing today also can be done on the cheap, with inexpensive webcams and free or low-cost software, such as Microsoft NetMeeting. (NetMeeting is included with installations of Windows XP and Windows 2000).

Minuses: Unless you go to a video conferencing centre, audio and video equipment must be purchased. (NetMeeting, for example, requires a PC sound card with a microphone and speakers, as well as a video capture card or camera for video support.) Most video conferencing providers charge by the hour, so you may feel pressured to end on the hour and leave business undone.

Web Conferencing

What it is: Video conferencing without the video — or, put another way, teleconferencing with the addition of the Web for interactive presentations, using PowerPoint, Excel or other documents. Audio can be transmitted by telephone and/or PC microphones.

Pluses: All you need is Internet access and a phone. You can make presentations at once to as many as 2,500 people in different locations. You don’t have to e-mail the PowerPoint slides or other documents to your audience ahead of time — you use the visuals and highlight points in real time. Other participants can also use drawing tools to make points or take control of your presentation as well. NetMeeting works well for Web conferencing as well.

Minuses: It’s certainly not the same as meeting in person, and you miss out on people’s facial expressions and body language, unlike video conferencing. But for straightforward business plan reviews, sales meetings, software demonstrations and customer presentations, it works — and brings a lot of people from far and wide together for one meeting.

Teleconferencing

What it is: Teleconferencing services are offered by long-distance carriers or independent service bureaus using sophisticated call connection “bridges” to join many different phone calls into a single conversation.

Pluses: Calls can be set up quickly and easily, at relatively low cost. All you need is a telephone. Accompanying documents can be faxed, e-mailed or shipped overnight to meeting participants in advance, if necessary.

Minuses: Teleconferences work well for simple information sharing and straightforward decision-making that require no visual presentation. But they are not a suitable way to discuss more-complicated matters, which could be presented better via Web conferencing. Teleconferencing also is not a desirable way to begin or even further an important business relationship. But, in a pinch, it can accomplish a lot.

Online Collaboration Tools

What are they: While e-mail remains a key business tool, this discussion will focus on extranets — private websites that allow you to share files, documents and use message boards with selected customers or partners.

Pluses: Having an extranet per se won’t take the place of a long-distance meeting using one of the alternatives above. But it can, over time, reduce the need for some meetings by allowing you to have ongoing communication and document-sharing.

Minuses: You can communicate in real time using chat or instant messaging, but most communication is not interactive. Extranets, however, effectively can turn a teleconferencing session into a Web conferencing one if all of the participants have access to the private site.

5 Ways Blogging can Help Your Business

Not long ago, a diary was a deeply personal thing — a journal of thoughts and observations, kept under lock and key and often buried in a dresser drawer.

The web has a way of changing things. Now, a diary of thoughts, observations and insight — posted on the internet — may be a way to boost your business.

Web logs, or “blogs” as they’re better known, have become a way to engage readers and potential customers of businesses big and small.

A blog is a journal posted on a website, updated on a regular basis and containing news, opinions, ideas and brainstorms. It might also have links to other sources of information, other websites and other blogs.

Many blogs cut both ways, inviting readers to post feedback on what they see. While that can apply to everything from sports and entertainment, it can also generate interest — and, ultimately, income — for your business.

No, blogs aren’t for everyone. But see how they can accomplish these five basic business objectives.

1. Expose a New or Little-known Product or Idea
For Grant Smith, blogging makes a world of sense on a number of levels. Smith operates a business that provides streaming video e-mail and related video communications products. Since many prospective clients might know little about video e-mail, Smith says his blog is a natural way to provide specifics.

“I began blogging to get established in the technology,” Smith says. “It can have a positive impact for business. Readers are always looking for more ways to find out information about companies and for ways to interact.”

That, in turn, can lead to a more informed customer and a more time-effective sales process. Rather than taking time to pitch your product or service to a client who may not need it, a blog supplants you as an information source. If a prospect contacts you, that’s great. If not, you’ve wasted no time in explaining something that generates nothing in return.

2. Improve your Search Engine Rankings
Blogging also puts you in touch with prospects in other ways. As any company with a position on the internet realises, website visitors that come via Google, MSN and other search engines can provide numerous leads. Blogs can add to the frequency with which search vehicles identify you and your company, particularly if your blog allows readers to post a response.

If done properly, blogs have a tremendous benefit relative to search engines, according to Brad Fallon, president of SEO Research, a search engine marketing firm. “With blogs that allow comments, every new post and every new comment becomes an additional web page filled with additional keywords to be picked up by the search engine spiders,” he says.

3. Position Yourself as an Expert in an Industry or Field
Blogging also can also prove an effective marketing tool to establish yourself as an authority in your field. Not only can that generate leads, it also sends a positive message about your credentials through the marketplace and also gives your business a face and a personality.

4. Influence Public Opinion

Blogging also allows users to bypass traditional journalistic venues and, in effect, become a publisher of their own thoughts and viewpoints. For Steve Rubel, vice president of client services at a public relations firm, blogs are also fast becoming a powerful influence on public opinion.

“Blogs have evolved into legitimate alternative sources of news on niche and micro-niche topics,” Rubel says. “Anyone with a passion and dedication could become an amateur journalist. I feel some of these sites — in aggregate — are having just as much sway on public opinion as larger, more established media brands.”

5. Engage in a Forum Openly with Your Customers
Just as important, blogs that solicit reader comments can provide a sense of immediacy with your customers. In one respect, that’s a ready source of feedback on what you’re doing right and what you need to improve.

15 Tips for Timely Effective Search Engine Keywords

What’s attracting paying customers and boosting profits today? Here’s one proven strategy: Using keywords effectively to market your business online.  For free or “organic” search, it begins by figuring out the keywords used by your preferred customers as they search for what you sell on engines like MSN and Google. For pay-per-click search, where you bid for positions on results pages, it starts with figuring out the keywords used by your preferred customers. In other words, it all starts with keywords.

Here’s a swift lesson in solving the keyword puzzle.

First Things First

Let’s get this straight. Targeted search marketing is not plug and play. It’s complicated and time-consuming. Every day, it’s a moving target. Plus, search is increasingly competitive, so you can quickly get pushed off the page (organic) or outbid (paid).

“Search is like golf,” “It’s not that hard to do it halfway right and get results. But like golf, there’s a whole other dimension to search that almost no one has scratched.” Given the complexities, success comes faster by harnessing expert help, such as an experienced consultant or inexpensive automated software.

What’s the Good News?

Search engine marketing is a bargain. You know almost immediately what works and what doesn’t, which lets you shift tactics and keywords on a dime. And even when done only “halfway” right, search marketing can be amazingly effective.

Keyword Tips

While experts may be better at drilling into engine algorithms and analytics, you’re the smartest bet for figuring out keywords that define your business and that will draw serious traffic.

So stay on top of the keyword process. These 15 tips will help.

1. Research, test, and learn. Industry sites such as Overture and Wordtracker now make it easier to select keywords. Their free online tools give you a popularity barometer of keywords and offer suggestions about choices. “However, if you don’t get the right percentage of click-throughs to impressions, it can cost you time and money,” says Pedro Sostre, an online marketing pro. You want traffic that converts into customers, not lots of visitors. Move slowly and build on what you learn.

2. Choose phrases. “Don’t just look at one keyword. Look at hundreds of phrases,” advises High Rankings’ Whalen. The more specific the phrases, the more likely you’ll attract exactly the visitor who’s looking for what you sell.

3. Mix and match. While you’re brainstorming with friends, staff and experts to come up with key phrases, make sure you run the gamut from broad keywords to specific ones, so you reel in all possible prospects.

4. Don’t overlook the obvious. The HTML title tag at the top of your browser window is a prime factor in search indexing. “Clients waste their title tag by including only their company name,” says Rosemary Brisco at ToTheWeb, a search marketer. “The tile should include search terms and ‘call to action’ messaging to entice prospects to click on your link when it is presented in the search engine results page.”

5. Invest in education. Run a pay-per-click campaign for a few weeks to learn which keywords pull. That way you don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort optimising your site pages for keywords you don’t yet know will work. Armed with the pay-per-click data, you can then optimise and shift to organic search.

6. . . . Or, if you love graphics. Search engines don’t read graphics or Flash animation. If your site relies on Flash or illustrations, then pay-per-click is a smart bet so you don’t have to optimise your site.

7. Join the club. Each industry has its own buzzwords and jargon. Use those to draw the insiders you want to reach.

8. Review results. You’ll waste time and money if you don’t keep checking which keywords attract which customers. Then you can winnow out effective keywords and track which ones pull from which engines. You also learn which engines deliver customers who choose certain wares or services.

9. Be your own customer. Every month or so, visit a search engine and input the keywords you’re using and considering. You might be surprised at the results. Also, call your top customers and ask them what keywords they currently use.

10. Use your keywords consistently. An Overture study found that users gave a nearly 50% higher “likelihood to click” to listings in which the keyword was included in both the title and the description.

11. Leverage location. As a small business, you’re may be dependent on regional or local business. So, “use word combinations that include your city’s name and surrounding suburbs or towns from which you draw customers,” says Jim Caruso, chief executive of MediaFirst PR.

12. Be a bad speller (or at least know how to be one). Research the keywords that your customers might use but spell incorrectly. “You’d be amazed at how often prospects misspell common words,” says ToTheWeb’s Brisco.

13. Add content. Keywords work best when there’s actual content for engines to cruise and find. When you have post relevant articles, information or reports, competitors and other sites tend to link to your site, which adds to your traffic. As broadband penetration increases and users find searching for information much easier, content is becoming ever more critical.

14. Map pages to keywords. Rather than sending a potential customer to a landing or home page, try to link your keyword descriptions to exactly the page that offers the item or information the user wants.

15. Be honest. Finally, you’ll get better long-term results with keywords that actually represent your services or products. Be honest. Hyping your business or shading the value of what you offer via juiced-up keywords will only disappoint searching customers. And what good will that do you?

Why Free Email Marketing can cost you

You’re not a professional spammer. You run a legitimate, upstanding business and you’ve chosen to reach people online through e-mail newsletters. Smart move: E-mail marketing is inexpensive and effective, if done right. However, if you’re using a free e-mail service to distribute your newsletters, you’re probably not reaching all of your intended recipients, and some of your company’s credibility could be called into question.

If the e-mail address you’re using doesn’t include your company name, but instead uses Yahoo!, Hotmail or some other free service, your recipients may be deleting your newsletters or promotional mails before even reading them — especially if the mails end up in their “junk mail” folder.

“It certainly won’t boost your image,”  “But I imagine that is how a lot of people get started.”

Spam filters steal from you
What’s worse, many customers may really want to receive your newsletter, but the mails get sucked into a spam filter, never to be seen again. You may get a bounce-back message about it, or you may not. The point is, you’re a legitimate business and you may be coming off as a spammer — or at least a novice. Why? Because the e-mail address you’ve chosen doesn’t reflect and underscore your business credentials.

Yes, I’d understand if it’s a community land care group leader trying to get out the next project schedule. Or maybe a netball mum trying to get word out about the next team barbeque. But you are running a business.

And if you are serious about being a professional, you should invest the relatively modest fee to get a professional e-mail marketing service, using online tools such as Microsoft’s List Builder.


Here are six reasons why:

1.       Free services won’t allow your users to “opt-in” or “opt-out” automatically. There are zillions of newsletters out there, and subscribers deserve a say in which ones they want to get and which ones they want to keep getting. With most professional e-mail marketing services, recipients can opt-in or opt-out of a subscription easily, without having to send you a heated e-mail reply or change their e-mail address. Unsubscribe links are included with every message.

2.       With free services, you can’t provide professional-looking HTML newsletters or promotional mails. With a professional service, you can design e-mail announcements and newsletters that are clean and attractive and reflect the professionalism your business pledges in the products or services it provides to customers. List Builder provides basic HTML templates, enabling you to create effective mailings in minutes (the mails will be formatted in text for customers who can’t receive HTML mails). You also can design your newsletter easily in Microsoft Publisher, allowing for more flexibility in the visual presentation of your mailings. Also, you can preview and test mailings before they go out.

3.       With free services, you can’t personalise your e-mail newsletters, unless you send them one at a time. You don’t have the time to do that, do you? Didn’t think so. So it appears you aren’t personalising your mails. With List Builder’s personalisation features, you can address your subscribers by name in each mail and can customise your messages based on their profile and demographics.

4.       With free services, you can’t really track the effectiveness of your e-mail campaigns. Wouldn’t it be smarter to know, by the numbers, what is working and what isn’t? With a professional service, you’ll be able to track the number of mails that are opened and the links that your subscribers follow. You’ll know better the rate of bounce backs and people who unsubscribe. You can quickly respond to customer inquiries with auto-response e-mail messages. You can create targeted campaigns based on demographics or survey responses. You’re better off because you’ll know what not to do.

5.       With some free services, you’ll encounter strict limits on how many e-mails you can send out in a given period. Hotmail, for example, allows you only to send to 50 recipients at a time. On top of that, it has imposed a 100-mail-per-day limit, in an effort to discourage spammers from using the free service. If you’re not a spammer, you shouldn’t be restricted like this. List Builder enables you to mail newsletters to up to 150,000 subscribers at once (for larger e-mail campaigns, a service called Campaigner from Gotmarketing.com is recommended).

With free services, you’re managing your e-mail lists the hard way. Adding e-mail addresses manually to one or a few lists is not a good use of your time, and it also poses a high risk for getting addresses wrong. Professional mailing services let you track subscribers in a database and import customer information easily from other programs. You also can use customisable surveys to automate sign-ups and to collect customer demographics and other data. Your cancellations and non-valid e-mail addresses will be handled automatically

Email Marketing Harness the sales power of e-mail

E-mail marketing is not only very affordable but also extremely effective. Depending on your metrics (opened messages, click-throughs or conversion rates) and your targets (new, existing or best customers), e-mail marketing can yield response rates that range from a satisfying 5 percent to a remarkable 50 percent or more.

On the other hand, the cheap cost of entry generates a sea of spam – that is, the tide of unsolicited bulk mail messages or e-mail marketing done wrong. Spam has obviously made consumers wary and annoyed.

Target customers with personalised e-mails
Permission-based e-mail marketing campaigns are a cost-effective way to reach new and existing customers.

Increasingly, you must make sure to gain opt-in-registration, prior contact or permission-from your recipient or customer before sending any e-mail marketing.

With that in mind, here’s how to launch an e-mail campaign.

1. Define your goals. No marketing can succeed with an unlimited or shifting horizon. You must set goals that will define your success. When it comes to e-mail marketing, campaigns tend to get better results when there’s a clear call to action, perhaps with the added urgency of a time-sensitive opportunity. Typically, e-mail marketing can:

  • Announce special deals, sales or discounts
  • Invite customers to events, VIP parties, or conferences
  • Offer news or information that drives performance or decisions

At the outset, carefully define what you want from the campaign. Then focus on the messaging and distribution that will achieve it.

2. Connect with customers. Different designs and messages will yield different results. The idea is to customise batches of messages in order to emphasise benefits that speak to specific customer needs. Electronic tools make it much easier to segment customers and sales leads according to key characteristics.

You can quickly group customers into smaller market chunks of similar demographics, purchasing history or other qualifiers by using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager. You’ll find seven pre-formatted Account reports, such as Accounts by Rating or Neglected Accounts.

Or you can customise reports, and then export those tailor-made reports into Microsoft Office Excel 2003 for further analysis.

3. Manage the list. If you’re developing your own campaign, first create your mailing list. Then select the style of your e-mail publication.

Don’t forget to keep updating customer information. When a new customer contacts you, create an entry for them in Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager. Business Contact Manager enables you to consolidate all interactions with a given customer in the Contact History section, including e-mails, tasks, appointments, notes and documents. If you send out your e-mail campaign to your Business Contacts in Business Contact Manager, this activity will be captured automatically in each recipient’s Contact History.

4. Personalise. Personalise. Personalise. Recent surveys indicate that recipients more readily sign up for e-mail marketing when offered a prize, entry in a sweepstakes or the like. They’re also more inclined to register and input personal data when they’re already customers of the sponsoring company.

So the more you reward customers for giving you access to personal information and the more familiar they are with your products or brand, the better your responses tend to be.

To get customer buy-in, try using name-personalisation messages. Make sure you test several subject lines, message copy and landing pages before the launch.

If you want to use attention-grabbers like video or animation or audio, costs will rise. But you can still do quite a lot with text and links to a website or special landing pages.

Some message dos and don’ts:

  • Make it short and compelling. Don’t include detailed product descriptions or windy stories about the company’s history
  • Use lots of short titles and bulleted points or highlights so customers can take in information at a glance. You may want to set up a summary at the top and jump-link to information that follows, so users can quickly access what interests them.
  • Always set up a way for customers to easily update their information or unsubscribe.
  • Check messages from time to time to make sure the information is still timely and up-to-date. (Need we mention proofreading?)
  • Never spam – not anyone for any reason.
  • Match your format and message to your customers. Try to include some point of difference or attitude or special service that makes you stand out.

Finally, support your campaign. Don’t simply send out your messages and sit back. Plan specific follow up, say, by sending automated bounce-back replies or by integrating the e-mail campaign with other channels, such as phone calls or direct mail. The last thing you want to do is generate customer interest and then be unprepared to act on it.

3 Tips For Better Search Engine Ranking

Not long ago, a diary was a deeply personal thing — a journal of thoughts and observations, kept under lock and key and often buried in a dresser drawer.The web has a way of changing things. Now, a diary of thoughts, observations and insight — posted on the internet — may be a way to boost your business.Web logs, or “blogs” as they’re better known, have become a way to engage readers and potential customers of businesses big and small.

A blog is a journal posted on a website, updated on a regular basis and containing news, opinions, ideas and brainstorms. It might also have links to other sources of information, other websites and other blogs.Many blogs cut both ways, inviting readers to post feedback on what they see. While that can apply to everything from sports and entertainment, it can also generate interest — and, ultimately, income — for your business.

No, blogs aren’t for everyone. But see how they can accomplish these five basic business objectives.

1. Expose a New or Little-known Product or Idea
For Grant Smith, blogging makes a world of sense on a number of levels. Smith operates a business that provides streaming video e-mail and related video communications products. Since many prospective clients might know little about video e-mail, Smith says his blog is a natural way to provide specifics.

“I began blogging to get established in the technology,” Smith says. “It can have a positive impact for business. Readers are always looking for more ways to find out information about companies and for ways to interact.”

That, in turn, can lead to a more informed customer and a more time-effective sales process. Rather than taking time to pitch your product or service to a client who may not need it, a blog supplants you as an information source. If a prospect contacts you, that’s great. If not, you’ve wasted no time in explaining something that generates nothing in return.

2. Improve your Search Engine Rankings
Blogging also puts you in touch with prospects in other ways. As any company with a position on the internet realises, website visitors that come via Google, MSN and other search engines can provide numerous leads. Blogs can add to the frequency with which search vehicles identify you and your company, particularly if your blog allows readers to post a response.

If done properly, blogs have a tremendous benefit relative to search engines, according to Brad Fallon, president of SEO Research, a search engine marketing firm. “With blogs that allow comments, every new post and every new comment becomes an additional web page filled with additional keywords to be picked up by the search engine spiders,” he says.

3. Position Yourself as an Expert in an Industry or Field
Blogging also can also prove an effective marketing tool to establish yourself as an authority in your field. Not only can that generate leads, it also sends a positive message about your credentials through the marketplace and also gives your business a face and a personality.

4. Influence Public Opinion

Blogging also allows users to bypass traditional journalistic venues and, in effect, become a publisher of their own thoughts and viewpoints. For Steve Rubel, vice president of client services at a public relations firm, blogs are also fast becoming a powerful influence on public opinion.

“Blogs have evolved into legitimate alternative sources of news on niche and micro-niche topics,” Rubel says. “Anyone with a passion and dedication could become an amateur journalist. I feel some of these sites — in aggregate — are having just as much sway on public opinion as larger, more established media brands.”

5. Engage in a Forum Openly with Your Customers
Just as important, blogs that solicit reader comments can provide a sense of immediacy with your customers. In one respect, that’s a ready source of feedback on what you’re doing right and what you need to improve.

Online Identity Theft- Recognition, Prevention, Protection

The Internet has given identity theft a new lease of life. Online identity theft involves fraudulently gathering confidential information from the vast data pool generated by the online world by exploiting the anonymity inherent in email, instant messaging (IM) and web-based communication.

Identity thieves exploit basic psychology. Human beings want to be open, co-operative and trustful, which can prompt us to divulge confidential information about our organisations when we’re online, without really knowing who we’re sharing it with or who may ultimately end up in possession of that data.

Identity theft is conducted by well-organised, highly professional international gangs who devote enormous resources to identifying weak points in defences and developing ingenious ways of feeding the huge online black market in company information.

There are several ways identity theft is conducted in the business sector:

  • Spear phishing involves an externally spoofed email purporting to come from an internal source being delivered to a recipient in a specific company. Sophisticated phishing scams are still targeting the business sector and phishers are devising increasingly clever ways of cloning the pages of companies’ bank accounts to capture their user verification data.
  • Targeted trojans are computer viruses designed to infiltrate a particular company, access sensitive data and leak it out to an external controller. Once it has installed itself, the trojan may await a chance to log the keystrokes used during the two-factor authentication that protects business bank accounts, or it may hook into the computer’s web browser, let its victim complete authentication on a banking website and then turn the session over to the external controller. Targeted trojans can pilfer confidential data on products, services and customers and may lurk in unsolicited emails or wait for the victim to download infected software or toolbars from a rogue website. They are often embedded in an email attachment apparently from a trustworthy source.
  • Today’s informal world of social networking poses another key source of danger as it requires only small nuggets of information to be effective and breach corporate defences. According to research by comScore, close to nine million Australians used social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter in June 2009, many of which exchanged details about their lives and their jobs – the kind of data that identity thieves hiding behind assumed identities are keen to access. According to a survey carried out by CMO Council and AVG in August 2009, less than a third of social networkers in Australia take actions to protect themselves online.
  • WiFi can create significant risks in terms of online identity theft. Unsecured systems and unencrypted communications give criminals the opportunity to hijack computers and steal information. Identity thieves also target public WiFi hotspots in places such as airports, hotels and railway stations. In some cases, fake WiFi routers and interfaces obtain victims’ user or credit card details; in others, a memory stick or computer disk accidentally left behind at a public hotspot can provide a criminal with confidential data.

Identity theft is a multi-billion dollar world of online crime that now outstrips the global drugs trade in scale. In October 2009, the Veda Advantage Identity Crimes Report revealed one in five Australians aged 16 or over have been victims of identity theft.

Online identity theft can have a devastating impact on an organisation. Bank accounts can be accessed or taken over with stolen data, corporate reputation and customer/investor relations may be irreparably harmed, credit ratings may be affected and a company’s registered details may even be changed without its knowledge.

For individual employees, online identity theft can lead to financial loss, profit erosion, lost orders and ultimately lower salaries. Employees found responsible for leaking confidential information online may find their own careers compromised.

Developing knowledge and awareness that enable employees to make the right decisions whenever using the Internet is key to combating online identity theft. Alert IT departments, effective email/web security systems and fit-for-purpose acceptable use policies are only part of the solution – it is the vigilance of individual employees that will decide whether a company maintains the integrity of its key data.

Some steps your business can take to protect itself against the threats of online identity theft are:

  • check the privacy policy of any website where you submit confidential data and don’t submit unless it has a clear and comprehensive policy
  • choose passwords that are unique mixtures of letters and numbers and remember to change them regularly
  • dispose of data securely, whether in paper or electronic form
  • discourage employees from including key company information in social networking profiles
  • discourage employees from working on sensitive or highly confidential material in public WiFi hotspots.

Web Threats- Anatomy of an Attack

The World Wide Web presents a wealth of opportunities for abuse. Data leakage, fraud, identity theft, compromised confidentiality, impaired computing capabilities, financial loss, legal action, damaged reputation. All can result from an inadvertent visit to a malware-infected website and all have the potential to seriously undermine a business.

‘Bad guys’ no longer rely primarily on email to pursue their nefarious objectives. Malware-infected sites polluting the web have grown significantly. MessageLabs Intelligence estimates that Internet users now make more than 100 million visits to malicious URLs every month.

Protecting your business is no longer simply a question of avoiding ‘dodgy’ or unknown websites. Mainstream sites are also being deliberately infected by cyber-criminals with spyware, Trojans and other business-compromising malware.

The rise and rise of web threats

Cyber criminals’ underlying aim in concealing malware within a website is to take control of visitors’ computers. Once achieved, the scope to exploit the infected computer is almost limitless.

Fundamentally, any web-based attack comprises three components – the set-up, the hit and the aftermath.

1) Set-Up

The attacker decides why they want to gain access to someone’s computer. For example, they may want to steal sensitive data. They may want to track browsing habits or keystrokes, which could provide access to vital bank account passwords. Or they may want to recruit the machine to a botnet – a ‘robot network’ of computers that, unknown to their owners, can be used by remote controllers to fire out spam or malware-propagating emails. The relevant malware is then obtained and placed on the web.

2) Hit

The attacker compels potential victims to download the malware. For this to happen, the victim first needs to visit the infected website.

They might arrive at the site in the course of their normal browsing behaviour. Alternatively, they might be led there by adverts, links in spam emails, instant messages, social networking sites or blogs, ‘sponsored links’ on internet search engines or malicious links designed to appear high up on search engine results. If a machine is already infected, a further possibility is that results generated by major search engines will lead not to the website indicated but to a malware-infected site.

In some cases, the victim then has to be lured into taking a particular action for the malware to be downloaded. Examples include:

  • a ‘click here to install’ button that purports to let the victim download important software updates
  • a ‘you’re infected – click here to remove the virus’ pop-up alert
  • malicious files placed in areas where the victim expects to download music, software, movies etc.
  • In other cases, however, no action on the part of the victim is required for the malware to download itself.

Obviously, techniques that require no action from the user deployed with increasing frequency, present an acute danger to web users.

3) Aftermath

Once the malware has installed itself on the victim’s machine, it performs the tasks it was designed to do.

The downloaded program may collect personal data, open ports to let the attacker further access the infected computer, change registry values, start or stop services/processes, edit and move files, or modify email, web browser and other software settings.

Such actions will, in turn, open up a range of options for the attacker. They could:

  • hold the victim to ransom by locking them out from their computer and demanding cash in return for a password to unlock it
  • recruit the computer to a botnet and use it to send spam, steal credit card data, perform distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks etc
  • tell the victim their computer is infected (via ‘scareware’) and then charge for downloading useless remedial software, or download more malware to the victim’s machine
  • steal personal information, monitor activity and collect data (passwords, email addresses, bank details etc)
  • edit files so that visiting frequently browsed web pages results in the victim being redirected to malicious websites
  • hijack the clipboard and alter material which, when pasted later (e.g. onto a site with user-generated content), contains different information such as a malicious weblink.

No safe haven

When web threats first started to appear, there were simple actions web users could take to reduce the likelihood of malware infection. For example, web users could avoid dubious corners of the internet, such as pornography sites, sites offering illicit software, music and movie downloads.

Today, there are still many websites set up purely with malicious intent. These are commonly advertised to potential victims in spam, spIM (spam over Instant Messenger), blogs and social networking pages.

Attackers can place malicious files on perfectly legitimate sites. Visitors to a legitimate site can also be redirected to another site where malware is embedded. Another option is when the attacker adds scripts to a legitimate site. These then automatically download malicious files from elsewhere. An even bolder technique is known as ‘clickjacking’. Here, the attacker alters what happens when a button or link is clicked on, with malicious code being executed instead of the proper function.

So why is it now comparatively easy for the bad guys to subvert reputable websites in this way?

Many websites harness multiple media types. Scripts, plugins, databases, other sites/servers may contribute to a website’s overall content. Not all of them may necessarily be under the control of the site’s owners.

A website can consist of up to 200 components. It only takes one of these to be compromised for a visitor to download malware onto their machine. Such a component could go unnoticed for some time. It’s usually the Internet security community that spots them first and alerts legitimate websites that they’re serving up malware.

Attackers prey on the all-too-widespread belief that legitimate sites are ‘safe to surf’. They can do this by registering domains that look very similar but are not identical to legitimate sites – a technique known as ‘typo-squatting’. In doing so, they hope users won’t notice that the URL they’re following is not quite what it seems and leads to an infected website.

Defending your business

For any business, the World Wide Web represents a potential minefield. Nothing can be assumed to be ‘safe’. Without effective security in place, any organisation could find its operations fundamentally – and perhaps even critically – compromised. Indeed, it could unknowingly find its machines not just become infected but also play a role in espionage, extortion and other serious criminal activities.

What are you doing to make sure your company isn’t at risk?

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