Friday night while some people were going out to dinner or the latest movie, Susan and I finished dinner and settled into a raucous game of Scrabble. Yes, I said raucous because when we play Scrabble, it is an intense challenge trying to beat Susan at this game. She is really good.When I was a kid and played Scrabble, I always felt that my vocabulary and spelling skills were a benefit to winning, and usually did win a lot of the time. However, Susan has taught me that it is not just how many letters that you use, it is how you use the letters. It turns out that I played the game and Susan plays the strategy.In business, we sometimes find ourselves playing the game. We know what needs to be done and because of our upbringing and being taught an employee mentality since we were children, we go to work in our business as employees rather than entrepreneurs. We are in essence playing the game. Business however requires a strategy to win. Much like playing Scrabble, it is not the number of hours that we work that makes us successful. It is the strategy in the way that we work that makes the difference. We can be employees in our business or we can create jobs for employees in our business. The choice is ours.When we are looking at our business from day to day it is easy to get lost in the details of our daily tasks. We become overwhelmed with the minute details, trying to play all of the roles that are required to keep the business going along the path of our vision of what it is supposed to be. We find it difficult to see how we can trust others to fulfill those roles and do the job as good as we might. It is hard to let go.The truth is that as we continue to hold on to our task load, we defeat the purpose of having a business in the first place. To work less and earn more. Thus we find ourselves burnt out, depressed and just plain tired of all of the crap that goes into running the business.Many people at the point of frustration simply give up and go back to the world of being an employee. Rather that take the steps that could ultimately make the business work, we break down and give up, thinking that it is hopeless and that we can never change. I recently read a book called "The E Myth Revisited". It talks about business and how to shift the thinking from being an employee to being an entrepreneur. It is a very easy read and it has a lot of really good ideas in it. I highly recommend it. So what does this have to do with Scrabble? Nothing really except that without the strategy I usually lose. In fact in the more than 30 times I have played Susan I have only won one time. Is it because I am stupid? Maybe. however I believe that that is not the reason. I believe that Susan wins because she has a strategy to win.One day my strategy will be as good as hers. One day I will win many games in a row. Until then, I will continue to work on my strategy. I will develop my strategy based on what she does to win. I will observe, copy, emulate and downright mimic what she does and then modify it to my own style.Isn't that how we win in business too?
The best advice for small business owners today is to establish an online presence. It doesnt matter if your company consists of fifty people or just two, having a website is valuable to companies of all sizes. As ecommerce becomes a more important part of company sales, businesses that do not have a website will be losing out on both customers and revenue. Fortunately it is not too difficult to design a company website for your products and services. Unlike in the past, today there are many valuable web builder tools that allow users of all skill levels to design their own site. Many companies offering these products will often let customers test drive their "web builder" tools before actually committing to a purchase. This gives you the chance to become comfortable with the tools and see how they can help you in designing your site. You then have the option of signing up for a paid subscription of your choice.A website is a good idea even for companies that are doing well without the help of online sales. In todays highly technical world, companies that do not have a website may be viewed as outdated or unprofessional. This is especially true when you consider the age group of your potential customers. Younger adults who have grown up using computers are much more likely to order from a company that offers their products online. There arent too many companies today that would tell you they couldnt benefit from additional sales. Web builder tools allow small business owners the opportunity to make their company products available to customers of all ages across the globe.If your business frequently deals with customers from other countries, you know what a hassle it can be making contact because of the different time zones. A website allows you to make sales from anywhere in the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even while you are not at work, your business can be earning sales via your website. Once your business develops an online presence, you may find the majority of sales are made online. Using web builder tools to design your site just makes good sense. Its both fast and efficient and can increase your sales earnings in just a short time.Web builder tools not only save you time and money designing your site but can also save time and effort when dealing with customers. Think about all the calls you or your employees answer regarding products, services, or payment plans accepted. With a website, you can offer all of this information to customers at the ease of their fingertips. Theres no need for them to contact you when all of the information is provided online. This not only is convenient for both you and the customer but it also increases your chances of making a sale. Many times customers may not want to bother emailing or phoning for more information. If they cannot find what they are looking for, they may go else where to another company that offers the product or service they are looking for. Web builder tools allow you to effectively design a site that contains information about all of your products, company background, and payment methods accepted. This can be a valuable resource in gaining additional customers.Even if your company sells a variety of different products, there are web builder packages available to meet your needs. You can choose from a variety of different products and package sizes, many of which include web hosting, domain name, blog design tools, photo image editing tools, shopping carts, email accounts, and various design templates. Options can also be upgraded or added when needed. With all of the flexibility offered, web builder tools can benefit all types of businesses in designing their website.
Going paperless in professional offices, such as those of CPAs, sometimes could become inconvenient for the professional to work. When a CPA is working on a clients tax return and needs to refer to prior year return, it is easy for her to look at the paper printout while working on this year return on the computer. However, if her filing system is paperless it would be very inconvenient for her, sometimes, to switch between screens to take a look at the prior year return and come back to this year return back and forth. This could even result in use of more paper than before if the CPA ends up printing a copy of the prior year return to refer during the return preparation and then destroying it. That would result in her printing almost all her clients prior year returns and then destroying them because she has an electronic copy of the return.The technology available at this time makes it easy to avoid this problem. Over time it has become more and more easier for CPAs to go paperless as some of these inconveniences have been addressed by the available technology.A small investment can help CPAs resolve this problem forever and would save them all the inconveniences related to it. Windows XP allows the use of multiple monitors with one computer. This feature is already there in the Windows XP. However, the user would need to buy a special video adapter to attach to the computer to connect multiple monitors. Multiple means up to 10 monitors can be attached to one computer. There are numerous benefits of this convenience in Windows XP.If all your prior client documents are already in electronic format on your server and you need to refer to several of them at once to work on a particular project, you could open each of those on separate monitors connected to the same computer. This would eliminate the need to switch between different screens each time you need to look at another document.The set up for connecting additional monitors to your Windows XP computer is not very complicated. If you use a notebook computer you can use the feature of Dualview which is also available in XP. You can just connect an external monitor to your notebook and set up your XP, from Control Panel, for Dualview. The limitation with Dualview is that your notebook or laptop monitor would always be the primary monitor. The other feature, that of multiple monitors, allows you to set any of the monitors as the primary monitor.Once you set up your computer with multiple monitors, you can eliminate one of the major inconveniences that staff faces in a CPA offices, that of referring to multiple documents from the file and having to switch between screens while working. Even if you have already become comfortable switching between screens on one computer, you may still want to test out this feature of multiple monitors and you may be pleasantly surprised by the ease it brings to your life. The details on setting up multiple monitors are explained on the Microsoft website.
Dont think your small business is at risk? Think again. Whether you realize it or not, your business has valuable information and assets that probably are not protected right now. Your business likely has confidential client information, proprietary business knowledge or just internal knowledge that you wouldnt want to be exposed to criminals or competitors. The loss of this information could have a devastating impact to your business. While business insurance is an important part of your protection, it cannot protect clients from identity theft or your business from unscrupulous employees or competitors. No matter how big or small, your business needs to have a security and recovery plan in place that determines what risks you have, helps protect against those risks and sets plans in place to handle the most likely types of losses you may experience. Your plan should also look at the both the physical and the virtual aspects of your business. Start by considering the types of risks to which your business may be vulnerable. What if your business information was lost or stolen? Do you have customer files or records, tax receipts, bank statements, business plans, customer work products? Next, consider the physical aspects of your business that may be vulnerable. Do you have unique office equipment, inventory, computers or trade specific tools?Finally, look at how you do business. Do you rely on technology, the internet or employees with unique skills? Does your business model depend on repeatable processes that are unique to your business?Now, consider what would happen to your business if these parts of your business were lost, destroyed or stolen. Could you continue operating if you lost your client files? Could you be sued by customers if their personal information was exposed? Could you be the target of negative publicity? Could your competitors benefit if they gained access to the information? What if you lost email access for a day? What if that key employee suddenly left for another job? What if your office space caught fire or was flooded?Your security and recovery plan should put in place the safeguards and policies and procedures to prevent some of these risks and the potential to negatively impact your business. Physical access to buildings is relatively easy to control although most small business have little more than a lock on the front door. Should you consider locking file drawers? Is inventory controlled? Does every employee have access, even to things that are not part of his or her job? Could a disgruntled or fired employee return to the workspace after hours with an extra key copy?Your plan should consider how to protect the virtual parts of your business also. Do you have backups of any important files? Do you have passwords, account numbers and other keys securely guarded? Do your computers have virus and firewall protection and is it up-to-date? Do you have internet and email usage policies in place to protect your employees form harassment charges? What about remote employees or workers who take work home? In todays highly mobile environment vital business information can now be easily accessed outside of your physical controls? Do your employees know how to safeguard laptops, cell phones, flash drives or even print outs of business information once they leave your workspace? What if a laptop is stolen from a workers car or home or hotel room? Do you have a backup of the data that was on the laptop? What if your employees are accessing your information from a coffee shop Wi-Fi? How do you know if your clients and business are protected? Lastly, your security and recovery plan should consider how you would handle the most likely losses. For instance, if the computer that holds all your sales information crashes, you should probably have a plan to immediately restore that information from a backup. Where is the backup tape or disk kept? Who has access to it and most importantly, who knows how to restore a backup? If you office is flooded, how quickly can you relocate? Can some employees work from home or other remote locations temporarily? If client information is stolen, do you have a way to contact them?Most small business owners likely have taken first steps like purchasing insurance and putting locks on the front door. Unfortunately, few have taken the time to really understand the potential risks to their business. Taking the time now to at least put together an informal plan will go a long way in the event of a real disaster or other loss. Even the best planning obviously wont protect against all disasters but it can certainly lessen the impact to your business once one occurs.Aubrey Jones is President and founder of Riverbank Consulting, Inc. Since 1996 he has worked to protect internet banking clients for one of the top US financial institutions including serving as a Risk Manager.
No two small businesses are alike, but most want to be like their larger counterparts in some key respects. For example, even if you own a company with only a few really great customers, you want to be visible enough to attract new customers, boost your odds of securing repeat business and do all you can to improve customer satisfaction. The key, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is having a business Web site. The SBA's own Web site notes that the Web "levels the playing field between small business and big business" because it is such a dynamic, inexpensive medium for advertising and customer service. "The Internet is making it possible for small- to medium-sized businesses to compete with the big guys," the SBA said.Conventional wisdom says that any business without a Web presence these days is at a distinct disadvantage, but the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) small-business research exposes a surprising gap. The IDC research found that of the 6.8 million businesses in the United States with fewer than 10 employees, only 3.8 million have a Web site. "That means 3 million U.S. small businesses-or 44 percent of the total-aren't using the Internet to promote themselves online or engage customers and prospects," said Ray Boggs, vice president of Small/ Medium Business and Home Office Research at IDC. "In today's connected world, companies that take that step generally find that having their own Web site can deliver a significant opportunity to grow their business, especially if the site is updated regularly."Clearly, small businesses (and many of their customers) are online, yet more than half aren't exploiting the full power of what the Internet can do to help build their business. That power includes creating a dynamic Web site to attract and retain customers, taking advantage of search engines to heighten awareness of a company in today's global marketplace, and communicating with customers around the clock or at their convenience.What stops small businesses from stepping up to this level? For many, the barriers are cost, complexity and inconvenience. By its nature, a small business typically has a small budget and an equally small staff. Unlike the larger companies it competes with, a small business generally can't afford to spend thousands of dollars to buy a server, create a complicated infrastructure and hire an IT technician to keep it all running smoothly.The good news is that some new offerings are cropping up that allow you to establish a Web presence without heavy-duty in-house technical resources and a big cash outlay. For example, Microsoft Corp. has a new Internet-based service called Microsoft Office Live, which at the most basic level provides a small business with a domain name, e-mail accounts and a Web site for free.* It's one of the quickest and easiest ways today to get your business on the Internet. And, because it's supported by advertising revenue, and the advertising is designed to be unobtrusive and not appear in the customer's public-facing Web sites, the basic offering is free. Yes, it's free, and you can sign up to test-drive the service at http://www.officelive.com."I need an attractive, easy-to-navigate Web site that I can update frequently and efficiently. With Office Live, I can create a slide show of a sailboat race and have it online before the boats even get back to the dock," said Elizabeth T. Becker, a freelance writer and photographer and owner of Seaport Photography. "That means I get to spend less time in front of my computer and more time behind my camera. It's smooth sailing." Becker's Web site can be seen at http://www.seaport photo.com.With such an all-in-one solution, a small-business Web site really is a no-brainer. Look at it this way: In a day and age when the majority of Americans use the Internet regularly, it's highly likely that a large percentage of your customers do, too.