Monthly Archives: December 2017

Financial Benefits of Moving to the Cloud For Business

Why move to the cloud? There are plenty of good reasons, but mainly it makes good business sense. You can call it efficiency, or call it doing more with less. But whichever spin you prefer, cloud computing lets you focus on what’s important: your business.

Cloud computing can be used for almost all types of applications, not just business security. While the idea of cloud computing can sometimes seem hard to grasp, it’s clear that it saves its users money – especially SMBs, including small office/home office (SOHO).

Plenty of oh-so-clever industry people will tell you what cloud computing is and isn’t. Here’s my simple view: It’s what we used to call software as a service (SaaS), but it’s set up so it’s easy to switch on, simple to expand and contract, and usually has a usage-based pricing model.

Read on to discover why moving to the cloud will save you money in five ways (six, if you’re picky)….

1. Fully utilized hardware

Cloud computing brings natural economies of scale. The practicalities of cloud computing mean high utilization and smoothing of the inevitable peaks and troughs in workloads. Your workloads will share server infrastructure with other organizations’ computing needs. This allows the cloud-computing provider to optimize the hardware needs of its data centers, which means lower costs for you.

2. Lower power costs

Cloud computing uses less electricity. That’s an inevitable result of the economies of scale I just discussed: Better hardware utilization means more efficient power use. When you run your own data center, your servers won’t be fully-utilized (unless yours is a very unusual organization). Idle servers waste energy. So a cloud service provider can charge you less for energy used than you’re spending in your own data center.

3. Lower people costs

Whenever I analyze organizations’ computing costs, the staffing budget is usually the biggest single line item; it often makes up more than half of the total. Why so high? Good IT people are expensive; their salaries, benefits, and other employment costs usually outweigh the costs of hardware and software. And that’s even before you add in the cost of recruiting good staff with the right experience.

When you move to the cloud, some of the money you pay for the service goes to the provider’s staffing costs. But it’s typically a much smaller amount than if you did all that work in-house. Yet again, we have to thank our old friend: economies of scale.

(In case you worry that moving to the cloud means firing good workers, don’t. Many organizations that move to cloud computing find they can redeploy their scarce, valuable IT people resources to areas that make more money for the business.)

4. Zero capital costs

When you run your own servers, you’re looking at up-front capital costs. But in the world of cloud-computing, financing that capital investment is someone else’s problem.

Sure, if you run the servers yourself, the accounting wizards do their amortization magic which makes it appear that the cost gets spread over a server’s life. But that money still has to come from somewhere, so it’s capital that otherwise can’t be invested in the business—be it actual money or a line of credit.

5. Resilience without redundancy

When you run your own servers, you need to buy more hardware than you need in case of failure. In extreme cases, you need to duplicate everything. Having spare hardware lying idle, “just in case,” is an expensive way to maximize uptime.

Instead, why not let a cloud computing service deal with the redundancy requirement? Typical clouds have several locations for their data centers, and they mirror your data and applications across at least two of them. That’s a less expensive way of doing it, and another way to enjoy the cloud’s economies of scale.

Bonus benefit: climate change

Whether or not they believe in global warming, many organizations want to do something about it. This is either because their customers want to do business with green companies, or simply through a genuine desire to emit less CO2 , or other gases believed to warm the planet.

By moving to the cloud, you’ll be greener in two ways. First, you’ll be saving energy, as we talked about earlier. Second, you’ll be taking advantage of the work that your cloud service provider has done to reduce its data centers’ carbon footprint. Think of it as saving money that you might otherwise spend on carbon offsets.

It’s Reality

Cloud computing is now a proven, mainstream alternative for SMBs and SoHo. Moving to the cloud will save you money, not just for your cloud security needs, but for many other types of data center workloads.

The Pinterest for Business

Creating your account

To use Pinterest, you first have to sign up for an account. For businesses, it’s really important that you make sure you specifically sign up for a business account. Using the main sign-up page creates personal accounts — to create a business account, go here.

It’s important to make this distinction because business accounts, while free like personal Pinterest accounts, give you access to features to help your business thrive on the platform, like analytics tools.

To sign up for a business account, you need to enter your email address, a password, the name of your business and your website (though including your website is optional). You also need to select what type of business you run from a drop-down menu. From there, you can set up your profile.

When you log in to your Pinterest account, you’re taken to your home feed. Your home feed shows you all of the most recent pins from the other Pinterest accounts you follow and features endless scrolling for seamless browsing.

Across the top of each page you visit on Pinterest, there is a large search bar. To the left, you’ll see the Pinterest logo (which takes you back to the home page when clicked), as well as menu options for Analytics and Ads. To the right, there is a drop-down menu, which displays links to all of the categories you can browse through on the platform.

Next to that, you’ll see a “+” button and a chat bubble button.

The + allows you to quick-add a new pin or create a new ad, and the chat button pulls up a drop-down menu with three options: News, You and Messages. News displays trending pins and other site updates; You shows your notifications from when other users interact with your pins, and Messages pulls up your messages with other Pinterest users.

Clicking your profile picture pulls up a drop-down menu with options to go to your profile to see all your boards and pins, as well as to access your settings, billing, ads support and the platform’s Help page, and to log out of your account.

So what exactly are pins and boards? Well, in simple terms, pins are the content you share on Pinterest, and boards are how you organize that content — sort of like visual bookmarks. Before you can start pinning anything, you need to create your boards.

Creating your boards

To create your first Pinterest board, go to your profile and you’ll see a red Create Board button.

Once you click, a box will pop up with the information you need to fill in. You can enter a name for your board and a description of what your board is about (these are optional, but should be filled out as they can help people discover your boards more often), and select a category for it (also optional, but very important for the same reasons). In addition, you can choose to keep your board secret, so that only you have access to it.

At the bottom of the box, you’ll also see an option entitled “Collaborators,” with a text box where you can invite other Pinterest users by username or email. Adding other users to your board creates a group board, which will show up on both your profile and the other users’ profiles; everyone added to the board can contribute pins.

Once you’re done filling out your board’s information, just click Create, and you’re done. From there, you can start adding pins.

To create subsequent boards, simply go to your profile page and in the space to the left of your existing boards, you’ll see a rectangular gray space with a Create a Board button. From there, you’ll follow the same steps.

Adding pins

You can add pins to your Pinterest boards in a few different ways. To add your own content to Pinterest, go to the board you want to pin to (or use the + button from the top of the page) and click the Add a Pin button. A box will pop up with the options to add a pin from the Web or from your computer.

If you decide to add a pin from the Web, Pinterest will prompt you to enter a link to the page you’re pinning from.

Once you enter the link, you’ll be taken to a page that shows all of the images from that website, as well as existing pins that were created by others from that website’s domain. You can then select the picture you want to pin by hovering over the image and clicking the Pin it button.

This will open a box that allows you to enter a description for your pin. It also allows you to choose a board for your pin, so if you started by selecting the wrong board, you can change it without going back. You can also create a new board to pin to, and choosing this option will let you name your new board, and select whether or not you’d like to add collaborators or keep the board secret. You’ll have to go back into this board later to edit it if you’d like to add a description and choose a category. When you’re done perfecting your pin, click the Create button. Pinning content from the Web will ensure that your pin links back to the website it came from.

If you choose to add a pin from your computer, Pinterest will prompt you to select and upload an image file.

From there, the process of adding a pin is the same as above. Regardless of the way you choose to add your pins, you can always go back to specific pins to edit their descriptions, move them to different boards or delete them altogether.

To pin from the mobile app, go to your profile tab and click the plus button. This gives you the option to create a new board or pin from your phone’s photos, the Web, your clipboard (photos you’ve recently copied) or to pin your location if you use the maps feature (part of Pinterest’s “Rich Pins”).

All pins must include an image or a video in order to be added to Pinterest.

You can also “re-pin” content from other Pinterest users, as opposed to adding your own content, and it’s good to do a mix of both. Re-pinning is an easy way to be more active on Pinterest when you don’t have your own content to share, plus it can get other Pinterest users to notice your brand.

To find content to re-pin, you can browse through your home feed, look in specific categories or search certain keywords in the search bar. When you want to re-pin an existing pin, hover over the image and click the red Pin It button. You’ll then be prompted to select or create a board, and you can either leave the previous user’s description or write your own.

Rich Pins are a special type of Pinterest pin that make using the platform more straightforward and seamless. These pins include extra information beyond just the image, click-through link and the pinner’s description. Currently, there are six types of Rich Pins:

  • Place pins: Place pins are a special kind of rich pin that allows users to create a map with the content they share. To enable place pins, you simply check off the “add a map” option when you create or edit a pinboard. Selecting the map option overlays your pins onto an actual interactive map (as opposed to the typical solid-color background). You can then add places to your existing pins and pin new places as well. Place pins include important details like addresses and phone numbers — perfect for mapping out restaurants and other attractions when you’re planning a trip.
  • Article pins: Just because Pinterest is highly visual in nature, doesn’t mean it’s not a good place to share written content. So long as an article features an image, it can be pinned to Pinterest. But article pins make it so that users can automatically see the article’s headline, author and a story description — making them much more searchable and distinguishing them from other content on the platform.
  • Product pins: Product pins make shopping via Pinterest a lot easier. Unlike a regular pin, these Rich Pins show where the product you’re pinning can be purchased, the current price and a direct link to the product page. Additionally, product pins prices’ are updated in real time, and if a user pins a product pin to one of his or her boards, that user will be notified when the product’s price is lowered. Since many Pinterest users create boards that serve as wish lists for things they want, product pins are a great way to convert pins into purchases.
  • Recipe pins: Pinterest is already a huge hub for foodies, and you can find just about any recipe imaginable on the site. Recipe pins take sharing food on Pinterest to a whole new level. Unlike a regular pin, which would show an image and a description that is manually entered in by the pinner, these recipe-specific Rich Pins show users important information like the necessary ingredients and their amounts, cooking times and serving info. Recipe pins also display details about whether a recipe is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, etc., making searching for – and determining which recipes you can make – a lot simpler. And users can still click-through to the website from which the recipe came to see detailed instructions and more photos of the recipes they’re pinning.
  • Movie pins: Great for film buffs, these Rich Pins show more details about the movies you pin. Movie pins include information like the year a film was released, its rating, the director and the main stars of the film. When pinning from different movie websites like Netflix, Flixter and Rotten Tomatoes, pinners will also see how those websites’ users ranked films as well.
  • App pins: Pinterest’s newest addition to the rich-pins family allows you to share and download apps directly from the platform. Currently, app pins only work in the United States, and with iOS apps.

To use Rich Pins, you need to follow a simple two-step process.

  1. Add the appropriate metadata to your website content. This metadata is different for each type of Rich Pin, but you can add multiple types to your site, and Pinterest will prioritize them.
  2. Validate your Rich Pins and apply to get them on Pinterest. Once you’ve completed step one, you have to enter your site’s URL into Pinterest’s validator page to make sure there are no mistakes with the metadata. After everything is finalized, you can click Apply Now.

You can find out more about applying for and enabling Rich Pins on Pinterest’s developers page.

Pinterest is, unlike other social networks, much more about saving and sharing content than it is about interacting with other users. However, it’s still a social network, and like any other social network, Pinterest does give users ways to connect with other people. Repinning and using group boards are a few ways to interact with other users, but there are other methods as well.

  • Likes: Liking a pin is the easiest way to interact with another Pinterest user (and save a pin for later, if you don’t have time to pin it right away). Simply hover over the pin you want to like and click the heart-shaped button. As with favoriting a tweet on Twitter or liking a Facebook post, this will notify that user, and you can access your liked posts from the “Likes” tab on your profile page.
  • Comments: You can also add comments to other users’ pins. To do so, click on the pin you want to comment on. This will pull up a larger window with the pin and more information about it (especially if it’s a rich pin). Under the pin, you’ll see a comment box where you can type in and share what you want to say.
  • Sending pins: You can also send pins you want to share with other users (or non-Pinterest users, even) by hovering over pins and clicking the send button. A box will pop up that allows you to search for other Pinterest users by username, or type in an email address to mail the pin to. Additionally, you can find friends from other social networks to send pins to as well.
  • Tagging users: Just like on Twitter, you can tag users using the @ symbol on Pinterest. When you’re writing a description for your pin or adding a comment to someone else’s pin, just type in the @ symbol and the username of the person you want to tag, and they’ll be notified.
  • Messages: You can also send private messages to other Pinterest users by clicking the Messages option in the notifications box at the top of the page. Simply select “New message,” type in the user you want to talk to, and hit “Next.” This will open a small chat window at the bottom of your screen where you can drag and drop pins and send instant messages.

Karen Leland, branding, marketing and content expert at Sterling Marketing Group suggested using these features to promote other brands.

“Build your brand by engaging with the community via repinning, commenting on and liking other pins,” she said, adding that tagging other users in your pins’ descriptions is a good way to reach out, too.

Pinterest users can use hashtags when sharing their pins, as with other social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. However, Pinterest has its own unique search system, so hashtags are not the most effective way to make your content searchable on this social network. Hashtags are more effective if you use your own, brand-specific hashtags, and less effective if you were to share a pin with the hashtag #recipes, for example.

While you may be tempted to put hashtags in your business’s description (like on Twitter) or in your boards’ descriptions, don’t do it — hashtags on Pinterest only work in pin descriptions, so if you put them elsewhere, you’ll only waste your time and look like you don’t know how to use the platform.

What’s more important on Pinterest is that you use proper keywords when describing your pins and boards, keep your boards organized (i.e., don’t pin recipes to a fashion board by accident) and categorize your boards correctly. Hashtags are really only a bonus on Pinterest, whereas on Twitter they can make or break how successful your posts are.

Unlike other social networks, Pinterest does not give you many profile customization options. That doesn’t mean that you can’t show off your brand, though. Pinterest allows you to upload a profile picture, use a custom username, and write a summary about you or your business. You can also list your location and your website.

While you can’t change the layout of your Pinterest page like you can on Tumblr or upload a banner image like on Facebook or Twitter, there are other ways to make your profile unique. You can name your pinboards with clever phrases that are both searchable (i.e., contains the proper keywords) and relatable to your brand. You can also enter a short description of each board that explains what that board is about and how it aligns with your brand. Additionally, you can choose cover photos for each board that relate back to your brand and are visually stimulating. While you may not be able to change much about your Pinterest profile, you can still successfully represent your brand with the options the platform gives you if you get creative.

To see what’s trending on Pinterest, click on the drop-down menu in the search bar and select “Popular” (if you’re on mobile, go to the search tab and select the same category). The Popular page will show you a feed of the most popular pins on Pinterest at that time.

Above the popular pins, you’ll see a banner of the top interests on Pinterest at that time. You can click these interests and see the popular pins in those topics in addition to related topics.

Knowing what’s trending on Pinterest can help you decide what types of content to pin. For example, if you see a lot of DIY projects trending, that would be a good time to find and share DIY content that can relate back to your business, if at all possible. Any time you can relate trending topics back to your brand, you make your business more discoverable on Pinterest.

Pinterest recently launched Promoted Pins, a paid advertising option for businesses. So far available only in the United States, this option allows you to pay to promote your best pins. In doing so, you can target specific audiences, choose to pay for either pin engagement or visits to your website, and track how your ads are performing.

To access Promoted Pins, you’ll have to sign up for the wait list. For more information (and to sign up), go to Pinterest’s business page.

To access your account’s analytics page, simply click Analytics at the top of the page. This will pull up a drop-down menu with three options: Overview, Profile and Audience.

When you select Overview, you’ll be taken to a dashboard where you can see several boxes containing statistics about your profile, audience and more. In one box, you can see data on your profile’s average daily impressions and viewers; and in another, you can see your average monthly viewers and average monthly engagements. You can click More in either of these boxes to see graphs of all your data. Selecting Profile or Audience will take you directly to this data as well. Below those boxes, you’ll see data on how many impressions your pins are receiving.

Through Pinterest analytics you can learn valuable things about your audience demographics, like gender, location and other interests, what devices visitors to your page are using, along with what your most popular pins are.

You can learn more about navigating and understanding your analytics data here.

  • Connect to your other networks. You can connect your Pinterest account to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Gmail and Yahoo accounts, and can choose to log in with Facebook and/or Twitter (instead of typing in your email and password) as well. Connecting to your Gmail and Yahoo accounts allows you to find and connect with your contacts who already have Pinterest accounts, and when you connect to your other social networks, they’ll be displayed on your profile so pinners can easily find you elsewhere on the Web.
  • Use the Pinterest bookmarklet or browser add-on. Pinterest offers both a bookmarklet (a button that you can drag to your browser’s bookmarks bar, which, when clicked, allows you to pin content from the websites you visit to your Pinterest boards) and a browser add-on for Google Chrome. The browser add-on appears as a small Pinterest logo next to the search/address bar, and works similarly to the bookmarklet.
  • Add a Pinterest board widget to your website. This is a great way to let visitors to your website know that you’re active on Pinterest. Just choose the board you want to share, paste the URL into the widget maker, choose the size you want, and click the “Build It!” button. Then, embed the code on your website somewhere visitors will see it.
  • Add the “Pin it” button to your website. Have you ever gone to a website, hovered over an image and seen a little red Pinterest button pop up? That’s Pinterest’s Pin it button, and it allows Pinterest users to easily pin your content to their boards directly from your website. Adding the Pin it button to your website makes it simpler to share content from your website — meaning more people are likely to do just that.
  • Watch your percentages. Achieve balance with the content of your boards by posting specific amounts of certain content. Leland said that, in general, 40 percent of your boards should be motivational and inspiring, 40 percent should be instructional and educational, and only 20 percent should be directly about your brand (things like announcements, contests, etc.) Although it’s important to see what works with your audience by looking at your analytics page, and adapt your strategy that way, too.

You can find the bookmarklet and browser add-on as well as more information about creating a board widget or adding a Pin it button to your website here.

Pinterest may seem like a simple platform, and it is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find cool and unique uses for your pin boards. There are a lot of ways that businesses and users alike can use Pinterest for purposes other than just sharing products, recipes or articles (or as previously mentioned, planning a trip with the maps feature). Here are a few ways to take advantage of Pinterest:

  • Create gift guides. Don’t just pin your latest products to your boards. For holidays (or other special, relatable occasions), turn your pinboards into gift-themed gift guides. Include your own products as well as other brands, so that it doesn’t look like one giant advertisement for your business. Other pinners will love browsing through your products, and you’ll probably be more likely to make a sale.
  • Show off playlists. Since you’re not limited to solely pinning images, try pinning music videos from YouTube to create a playlist board. With a huge fitness community on Pinterest, this could be a great way for fitness-related companies to stray from the norm of sharing workout guides and exercise gear, for example.
  • Make a reading list. Save thoughtful articles and books related to your business with Pinterest by creating pinboards of all the good reads you think your visitors and customers would be interested in. You can also create secret boards with all the articles and books you’re dying to read in your spare time, so they don’t get lost or forgotten in your bookmarks folder.
  • Plan an event. From a business trip to the office holiday party, Pinterest makes planning events (perhaps surprisingly) easier. Just create a secret group board with everyone who’s working on the event, and each person can pin or repin helpful ideas, locations and tips.
  • Redesign your office space. Moving into a new office or redesigning your old one? If you can’t or don’t want to hire a designer for any reason, create a secret group board and invite your employees to contribute ideas. Pinterest has a plethora of DIY projects and décor ideas just waiting for you on the Web.
  • Do giveaways. If you’re holding a contest or promotion, pin it to the relevant boards on your Pinterest page. Leland noted that pins with a call to action like this see much more engagement on the platform.

About Latest VoIP Solutions

Many SMBs and SOHOs are walking away from their traditional phone companies and moving to the Internet for their telephony needs. In tech jargon, they’re switching from POTS (“plain old telephone service”) to Voice over IP (VoIP, pronounced as one word). Read on to find out what it is, why you should use it, and what to watch out for.

VoIP lets you make phone calls over the Internet with a number of advantages over your landline. It gives you low calling rates, especially when making overseas calls; excellent voice quality, rather than the muffled squawk of a traditional phone; and extra features (or easy access to the hard-to-use features you already have).

A phone using VoIP is different from a regular phone; instead of connecting to an analog phone line, it connects to a computer. That computer is usually called a VoIP gateway, and it’s the bridge between the handset and other telephone users.

Breaking it Down: VoIP Types

Cloud vs. Local

The gateway connects you to the regular telephone network, or to other VoIP users. Your gateway might be on-site, or it might be a hosted service—“in the cloud”—that you connect to via the Internet.

Running it yourself might be a good option if you have the expertise in-house, but for most people, a service is the simplest and least expensive option.

Which System?

Classical VoIP is based on Internet standards like SIP and RTP. The best-known example of a commercial service like this is Vonage; the best-known in-house product is probably the Cisco UCM Suite.

Some newer systems are based on a different standard, called Asterisk. This is a robust, battle-tested system supported by many vendors, including Fonality.

(Normally, you can ignore all this nerdy alphabet soup, but it’s helpful to know which standards your system uses, in case you ever need to know about compatible add-ons.)

No discussion of VoIP software would be complete without mentioning Skype. It’s probably best known as a consumer-focused, free, peer-to-peer service, but the company also offers a service aimed at businesses of all sizes. It’s not just a program you run on your computer; you can also buy dedicated desk phones that work with Skype.

Security

One of the advantages of VoIP over regular phone service is the extra security. In the VoIP world, voice scramblers aren’t just the preserve of the military.

It’s similar to working with a secure website, such as your bank. By enabling encryption, you get privacy for your business communication, plus authentication (i.e., protection against call rerouting).

While we’re on the subject of security… remember to stay safe. If your users connect to any Internet services—including VoIP—make sure they’re protected with business-class security.

Also, check with your provider about emergency calling (911 in North America, 112 elsewhere). Some providers do a better job than others of routing your call to the correct dispatcher for your location.

Equipment Types

What do you want on your desk? With VoIP, you have three main choices:

  • A regular, wired phone: To connect to a VoIP system, you plug each phone into a bridging device, known as an analog terminal adapter (ATA). The simplest type of ATA has two sockets: one for the phone and one to plug into your computer network.
  • A dedicated digital phone: These all-in-one devices plug straight into your network. Because they’re designed to work with your VoIP system, they often have extra buttons to control special features — for example, there might be a “call back” button, so you don’t need to remember arcane commands like *69.
  • A softphone: This is VoIP software that runs on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. Skype is the program that most people think of, but other VoIP systems can also work with software-only phones. Some examples are AOL Instant Messenger, Cisco IP Communicator and Jitsi.

Other Aspects to Consider

If your power goes out, a traditional phone continues to work because your phone is powered by the phone company, not your building’s power. However, with VoIP, you’ll probably lose service if you lose power. Think about keeping a traditional phone and/or a cellphone as backup.

You may or may not be able to keep your current phone number. Ask your intended provider about number portability, before committing.

VoIP doesn’t always work well for uses other than voice calls, such as fax machines, security systems and satellite TV receivers.

Disconnect from Confusion

While VoIP can provide great rates, clear calls, extra security and handy features, it can also be a frustrating alphabet soup of telephony and computer jargon. Knowing your company’s needs and your own comfort level with acronyms and equipment will help you choose the option that’s right for you.