F8 2011: News From Facebook's Huge Event

               Facebook announces sweeping changes at F8, their annual developers conference. Here's a review of all the new features and changes that they've introduced.

To start things off on a happy a note, comedian Andy Samberg gave his best impersonation of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Andy Samberg impersonates Mark Zuckerberg at F8 2011

New Profile Design

The revamped profile now called 'Timeline' looks different with a new focus on photos and events. The user can choose what activities they'd like to share in their continuous stream, highlighting moments from his or her life, starting from the present day, moving back chronologically to the first day he or she was on on Facebook and before.

Introducing Facebook Timeline - #F8 2011

       The timeline now functions as a personal online scrapbook, with the most important photos and text that users have shared on Facebook over the years. It is Facebook's attempt at growing from an online hangout to a homestead, where people express their real selves and merge their online and offline lives. The timeline can go back to include years before Facebook even existed, so users can pretty much add photos and events from the day they were born.

P.S ~ Timeline won't be available to users for "a few weeks," so savor that old profile while you still can (or start to get excited for the new one!).

Read more about the new Facebook at their official blog,

A Revamp of How You Interact And Share

Interacting with the content posted on Facebook: In addition to "Liking" videos, articles and posts about what your friends enjoy, you can now take part in these activities with your friends in real-time. These changes are made possible through Facebook's Open Graph platform


A New Class of Social Apps on Facebook: Apps That Share Automatically

          Facebook is partnering up with a whole bunch of websites, mostly those that previously had fb plugins, and app-makers, to bring content that can be shared and consumed on the Facebook platform. Notable app genres include music apps like Spotify and Rhapsody, streaming video apps for Netflix and Hulu and news apps for the New York Times, Washington Post. Facebook's "new class of social apps" can post updates to your Timeline automatically. Apps no longer have to ask for permission to post content to Facebook over and over again. Instead, a new Facebook permissions screen explains exactly what type of stories will be shared the first time you give an app permission to post to your Facebook. Once completed, it will no longer have to ask for permission 

New Layout For Updates Posted 

       The Timeline is wider than the old profile and displays content in two columns. Posts appear in a continuous stream in chronological order, from top (most recent) to bottom (oldest). The layout is very visual and emphasizes large pictures and important events.

Videos With Friends

The Open Graph brings deeper video integration to the Facebook platform. For example, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings explained at f8 (and in a subsequent blog post) that users will be able to watch movies together--right from Facebook--with the Netflix movie streaming in a separate window. Though Hastings noted that this concurrent watching isn't allowed in the United States, he said that a bill is currently in Congress to legalize it. Other streaming sites like Hulu, YouTube, Daily Motion, VEVO and more will all allow for concurrent watching with Facebook friends.

Yearly, Monthly Navigation

The Timeline will feature a navigation panel along the right side of the page. This list of years, which can expand to display months, allows users to quickly jump to a spot in their timeline and view their posts from that moment in time. You can also manually scroll up and down through the timeline to search activity by month and year.

Introducing Music Discovery

Facebook now helps users discover new music. As part of its larger entertainment initiative, Facebook will launch a music dashboard, which will display music-specific notifications and updates, and also show which songs are currently popular within one's network of friends. 

Facebook has a New Friend: Spotify, The Soundtrack to your Social Life. 

Other music partners include Rhapsody, turntable, Songza, mixcloud, Slacker Radio, Rdio, Deezer, Mog, tunein, iHeartRadio, earbits and Soundcloud.

Stories Inside Facebook

When a friend posts a news article or story that they've enjoyed, you can read it within Facebook. A few of the participating publications include: Digg, Fipboard, Gawker, The Washington Post, USA Today and others.

Many apps will be available starting today, though you can expect the new Timeline profile in about "a few weeks," according to an official Facebook blog,

Coverage of Mark Zuckerberg Presenting at F8 2011

If you have a large network on Yahoo profiles here's some extra developments that you can look forward to

As read on Technorati

..........Yahoo will announce a relaunch of Yahoo Profiles and their “all in” integration with Facebook Connect, including on the Yahoo home page. We’ve all known deep integration with Facebook was coming, but until now it wasn’t clear exactly how deeply Yahoo would go.

Read More at, http://techcrunch.com/2010/06/06/yahoo-goes-all-in-with-facebook-here-are-the-screenshots/

If you are slightly skeptical of all the new changes, additions and developments here's a slightly critical take by Bianca Lambert of The Huffington Post,

........' What do you make of the changes? Are these new apps creepy or convenient? Are you excited about the new information you'll discover, or worried about what might come to light? . '...........

Read more at,   Facebook's 'New Class Of Social Apps' Could Be Big Business For Site, Big Burden For Users

                     I personally believe that these new developments will greatly empower users in many ways, along with giving the Social Network and its millions of profiles a more personal touch. Ultimately it all depends on how, why and for what reasons they may or may not be receptive to some of the new features. Unlike most other technology companies the greatest challenge and test for a Social Network or a Social Network based business is off course the emotional appeal that it has with its users. We live in a Knowledge based Society where information can be both advantageous and refreshing. Adding that bigger dimension to staying in touch is what I believe facebook might just accomplish with this before the end of 2011. Most people should be quick to catch up with all the new stuff that they will now have access to based on how well the developers at Facebook and their partner sites have implemented and presented these features. Apart from the transitioning process another key factor off course is the ease of use and being able to turn off or disable certain features. ( Something that Facebook has done well every time it introduced something new).

 P.S ~ I think I'm really going to enjoy being able to do so much more with facebook. Reaching out to 800 million users at once is a noteworthy achievement that will go down in history, perhaps a small indication of all the possibilities that the future has in store . Keep up the good work guys. Best Wishes and KUDOS to You ALL :)

~Posted by Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Speeding Up Your Prototyping Process

              Engineers who get too hung up on perfecting a prototype often lose sight of the bigger picture and waste precious development time. Here are a few ways you can speed up your prototyping process to get your invention or product to market faster.

One of the most famous stories of prototyping done quickly, cheaply and spot-on came from the inventor of the cyclone vacuum. In 1978, James Dyson ripped apart a conventional vacuum and attached his own cyclonic filter using cardboard and duct tape. The crude model was a far cry from today's Dyson robotic cleaning machines that appear to be straight out of Michael Bay's effects department, but his experiment worked: Dyson proved the cyclone technology would function on a small-scale household product, and the first-ever bagless vacuum was born.

What Dyson didn't do was spend a long time making his prototype look pretty or incorporating all the functions he wanted in the final product. His quick, resourceful prototype let him zero in on his main feature and improve the design from there.

Engineers who get too hung up on perfecting a prototype often lose sight of the bigger picture and waste precious development time. Here are a few ways you can speed up your prototyping process to get your invention or product to market faster.

Speed Up Your Prototyping: Be Resourceful

The Dyson example illustrates the first key lesson of prototyping: Even if you're trying to engineer the most complex, mass-produced machine, that doesn't mean you have to start with a fully functioning materials lab.

Many designers mock up a website or new app on paper before they even put any functionality to it, says Alan Nguyen, an entrepreneur, former CEO of the Yan Group, a Web-mobile-TV music channel platform.

"Just start building it," he says. "You can start with paper cutout."

With the prototype, you're usually just trying to show off one element of the product, whether it's the design or a specific function, so there's no need to fret about constructing every part of it out of consumer-grade material or technology.

"You need someone to learn how to Photoshop basically," Nguyen says. "You don't need Flash or to actually code interactions."

Many successful entrepreneurs decide to do this kind of in-house mock-up to save money and time instead of hiring an outside firm, he says.

Bill Lucas, director of curriculum at the Luma Institute, which is based in Pittsburgh and focuses on educating innovators on human-centered design, says he encourages entrepreneurs to rifle through the junk drawer to find materials to round out a prototype. One group working on a project cut Tylenol tabs in half to represent buttons; another working in a conference room turned coffee cups upside down and used them as knobs.

"That kind of clever resourcefulness we find just absolute delights in the people we put through these learning experience," he says.

Speed Up Your Prototyping: Don't let Perfection Get in the Way

Don DeGraff's company, From Patent to Profit, which helps fast-track product development, advocates a very specific approach to quick and cheap prototyping. The company, which lists Kleen Kanteen among its success stories, tells inventors to create only a very crude prototype—out of balsa wood or other basic materials—that conveys the purpose and potential of the idea. Then, they make a video showing it off, put it online behind a password-protected site and begin showing it to potential investors or manufacturers.

"If they show interest, then and only then do you start spending money on the actual prototype," he says. "Now all of a sudden you've got an unbiased company or person looking at your process. And you've spent minimal dollars getting it out."

This not only helps inventors save money but also make sure they're appealing to the right parties.

"They're going to get the visual very quick if it's something they're interested in," he says.

Experts say the quest for perfection or focusing too much on details is something that often trips up engineers and entrepreneurs in the early stages of development. They spend too much time trying to make it look neat instead of focusing on showing off its features.

"It doesn't have to be perfect, as long as it conveys the idea of the full concept its getting out, it's fine," Nguyen says. "Sometimes paper is better. You don't want someone to basically judge it because one is prettier than the other."

Startup adviser Amir Khella says you need to think more like a hacker and less like a coder in these situations. Hackers know how to put things together quickly, test them, and solve problems. This way you focus more on validating the idea of the product instead of worrying about fixing bugs in the CSS code or other meticulous details.

That's the premise behind his latest venture, Keynotopia, which lets users design quick and easy interfaces and interactive mockups for web, mobile and desktop apps without touching a line of code. Khella followed his own advice: he launched the site in three hours with a $47.50 budget, and got his first paying customer within 10 minutes.

How to Speed Your Prototyping Process: Focus on the Variables

That also means you need to be not afraid to fail, sometimes over and over again. Good prototypes should focus on highlighting specific features of a product—the cyclone suction power in the vacuum, for example. You want to show people specifically how your product will vary or improve on what already exists.

You don't want to be spending time fleshing out every feature of the product, Lucas says.

"Don't go broad and deep," he says. If you do, "for all intents and purposes, you're making the whole thing build out."

Khella says he recommends inventors create three to five quick prototypes at a time to figure out which one is best, which makes you a more objective judge of the product.

"In my experience that's the difference between success and failure," Khella says. Too often, he says, he gets e-mails from app developers and engineers asking things like "How can I prototype with live data?"

"That shows maybe the person is getting lost in the details already," he says. "It kind of takes the experimenter's mindset instead of the perfectionist's."

How to Speed Your Prototyping Process: Know your Tools

The biggest boon to at-home inventors in recent years has been the availability of affordable, easy to use 3-D printers. The machines from companies such as MakerBot allow users to draft objects using 3-D software and print their own small objects at home, from small machine parts to full-sized gadgets.

"The first thing to do is to make sure you're working in the world of 3-D modeling," says Bradley A. Cleveland, president and CEO of Proto Labs. "If you can imagine any kind of crazy geometry, you can print it on a machine."

Proto Labs specializes in CNC machined and injection-molded parts for functional prototyping and custom one-off projects. If you're going that route with your prototype to see how it actually functions—instead of pasting together coffee cups, for example—it's important to educate yourself on the resources available before you start building.

"You really have to be careful to understand your production needs before you're done with the prototyping phase," Cleveland says. "A little bit of time spent up front spent education yourself on the prototyping processes can save you some big headaches."
- By Tim Donnelly.

Preparing to Launch Your Start-up?

                Preparing to launch your start-up means more than simply making sure you have a viable product and potential customers. Here are five tips on how to prepare yourself to be a founder.

John Bradberry was fascinated by the idea of how someone may prepare to start a company. Bradberry, himself an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, has worked for two decades as a consultant to small business owners, and he found himself attracted to the story of one of his clients, Decision One Mortgage founder JC Faulkner. “I wanted to understand why it worked so well, how did he bring the pieces of the puzzle together, and how does that apply to start-ups of other types,” Bradberry says.

For answers, he went first to academic research on the subject, and then thought back on his own experience as an entrepreneur. “One of the concepts that crystallized for me was readiness,” Bradberry says.

In his book 6 Secrets of Startup Success, Bradberry puts forward five steps that he says will help a person prepare to start a company. While laying the foundation for a successful company means making sure that one has a marketable product or service that will reach paying customers, founders who have already achieved some measure of success say that a dose of personal preparation may help a founder weather the early stages.

Here are Bradberry’s five steps, along with words of advice from entrepreneurs who have learned the value of personal preparation.

Step 1: Clarify your reasons and your goals.

Property management company Renter’s Warehouse has been the most successful of Brenton Hayden’s start-ups, but his failed companies have come with their lessons, too. Hayden, who calls himself “a great salesman,” was working at Kellogg’s until he was laid off eight years ago. After someone tipped him off to the money to be made in real estate, Hayden found a job working for someone else in the industry. He lasted about six months. “I realized I could do most of this on my own,” Hayden says.

He launched Renter’s Warehouse in 2006. Since then, he has launched a number of other companies, none of which has met the same degree of success. After his tax accountant suggested that starting another company may help him qualify for deductions, Hayden started a limousine company in 2008. “In short order I became the number one most booked limousine company in Minnesota,” Hayden says. And though Hayden says his limousines were the nicest in the Minnesota area, his company stalled. Hayden wasn’t losing money, but he wasn’t supporting the company, either; his attention was elsewhere. He broke even every year, running his limousine services at below-market rates. Other limo companies in the area tried to keep up, but since they were in business to make money, they couldn’t beat his rates. “I am pretty much sure that I am responsible for the total collapse of the limousine business in Minnesota,” he says. Hayden sold the company on New Year’s Eve of 2010.

“Really do your research,” Hayden advises any entrepreneur, whether they are starting their first company or their fifth. Don’t rely on a great idea, he says. “I call great ideas the death of your company and your personal finances. Often if you’re starting up they’re both going down the drain.”

Step 2: Understand your entrepreneurial personality.

Southwestern Missouri isn’t the first place most people would think to start a company selling spices. Yet that is exactly what Jeff Brinkhoff chose to do, building the company out of his father’s milk barn with $25,000 in cash. “It was a one man operation until I found somebody to help me package the first few orders,” Brinkhoff says. Nine years later and with $6.3 million in revenue, his company—Red Monkey Foods—is No. 465 on Inc.’s list of the fastest growing privately-held companies.

As for how he managed to build his company from its beginnings in a town of 800, Brinkhoff says that it was “a matter of tenacity.”

The most important quality any entrepreneur can have, Brinkhoff says, is the determination not to fail. “The first thing when you look at the bottom line when you go into this is you have to think one thing and one thing only, and that’s ‘I will not fail,’” Brinkhoff says. “And you have to be careful that it is not ‘I will not fail’ while you’re going down the wrong path.”

Step 3: Map your skills and experience.

Bryan Janeczko worked at Morgan Stanley before founding NuKitchen, a start-up he sold to Nutrisystem two years ago. Now Janeczko has a new venture, an online start-up incubator called Wicked Start. Understanding one’s own experience is critical in the early stages of starting up, he says.

“Many entrepreneurs I speak with have great ideas and even a great plan, but 99 percent of them have no practical industry-related experience,” he says. Like many entrepreneurs, figuring out what he did not know almost cost him his business. Janeczko said he was health conscious before founding NuKitchen, an online diet service, but he didn’t have any experience in food service. “That nearly put us out of business after losing $500,000 over the course of one year,” he says. “The solution is to either moonlight part-time, volunteer, or—better yet—take a paid role in as senior a position as possible in a business that most resembles your business model. At minimum, bring on a co-founder with the experience to help you.”

Step 4: Leverage your relationships and resources.

When Bradberry advises entrepreneurs to leverage their relationships and resources, he means that they should contact all sorts of qualified people in business who can help them make connections and network and make all sorts of other judicious business moves that will nudge them toward profitability. And then there's A.W. Pickel III, who chose to leverage the relationships of his young children and the resources provided by a professional skeptic who was expert at downing a six-pack.

Pickel was 36 years old, an employee at a savings and loan bank, and married with four children when, after working a late night preparing files that he says probably netted the bank about $15,000, his boss chastised him for leaving the light on in the executive washroom. Pickel decided he had endured enough.

When starting a company, “get counsel from different sources,” Pickel says.

For Pickel, that meant sitting his four children around the kitchen table and asking them for suggestions for his new company’s name. “Their name was Pickel’s Mortgage,” Pickel says. “That didn’t fly.” And if wisdom can come from the mouth of babies, why shouldn’t everyone have an ounce of truth to dispense? Pickel felt he needed to get some advice from someone who would tell him the truth, who would not be uncomfortable telling him his idea was a disaster. “I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve, but I do go to Church,” Pickel says. “One of the guys I had gotten to know was a guy named Joe Gray. He’s one of the least religious guys I know.” Because of that, Pickel says, he felt that he could trust Gray to be skeptical. “I knew he would shoot straight,” Pickel says.

Step 5: Position yourself for high performance.

Founders have to be ready to deal with whatever challenge may arise, Bradberry says, because—no matter how well-prepared the founder is—his or her company will almost certainly take an unexpected turn. “I find that often the biggest and most healthy businesses look very different from what the founders first envisioned,” Bradberry says. “They responded to what the market was telling them and it was something they could execute on.”

To be ready for whatever challenge or opportunity may arise, founders should try to keep their personal lives in order. If one is like Pickel, that may mean finding time to retreat from the world. “My wife says I am wildly entrepreneurial on the outside, but that I’ve cautiously thought through all the options on the inside,” Pickel says. He sets aside time in the early mornings to contemplate the day ahead. “What I do is in my mind I go out a year or two years, and then I examine those consequences. You can’t think when everybody else is yelling at you. You have to do it when no one else is around.”

Upgrade to the iPhone 5 ???

             In the world of tech, Internet rumors often turn into cold hard facts—sometimes overnight. With Apple, a company that never pre-announces products, gossip about the iPhone 5 coming this month (or next) have persisted for some time.

Most experts agree: all signs point to an imminent release. The companies that make iPhone accessories have hinted at a new device, and the timing makes sense for a pre-holiday release of the next wonderphone that will surely astound.

So what is a business to do? According to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, the answer is the same as always: Be prepared. Your business should be nimble enough to handle the upgrade smoothly, and that usually means assessing the need of employees (e.g., do they need a touchscreen phone or one intended for messaging?), and re-visiting contract arrangements with wireless providers.

Another important step: IT should be ready to handle any new security and management challenges with the device, which often means using a tool like MobileIron that can track new devices deployed in your organization.

Dulaney also had one more piece of advice: don’t buy an iPhone 4. The current version will be discounted or discontinued when the new model comes out.

iPhone 5 Features
Of course, deciding whether to upgrade is the hardest step of all. That’s where rumors can help you evaluate the forthcoming device, instead of making an impulse decision for employees once the iPhone does start shipping.

Rob Walch hosts a popular podcast called Today in iOS, so he has heard most of the rumors. He explained some of the new advancements.

The first one has to do with the camera. The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel camera, and it’s not bad. There aren’t as many features for adjusting white balance and other settings like you’ll find on an Android phone. Walch says the iPhone 5 will likely sport an 8-megapixel camera. He says iOS 5, the operating system that will run on the iPhone 5, has new features for a camera, including quick access buttons.

Another important spec: The iPhone 5 will likely use the same A5 processor in the iPad 2. That means it will run faster for just about every function, and it’s even possible that Apple will include some of the ground-breaking apps that now work on the iPad 2, including GarageBand and a movie-editing tool. Walch says the iPhone 5 will probably have 1GB of RAM instead of the 512MB on the iPhone 4. With more RAM, the iPhone 5 will handle more robust apps and run faster.

Walch says other features will include support for both GSM and CDMA networks, which means U.S. users could bring the iPhone overseas and still expect it to work. And, there might be an HDMI port that lets you connect up to an HDTV.

Small Business Prep
Crystal Kendrick, the president of the marketing firm, The Voice of Your Customer, says her company is considering an iPhone 5 upgrade. They are slowly transitioning to an Apple platform anyway, moving to Mac laptops and desktops and purchasing the iPad 2 for employees.

“The most compelling iPhone 5 features are the upgraded camera, faster processing system, and hot spot options [for sharing a 3G connection], and compatibility with our office products,” she says. “Having a single manufacturer reduces the cost of training, repairs, upgrades, accessories and communications plans.”

One way that Kendrick is preparing her company for the iPhone 5 is to eliminate existing Wi-Fi networks as a cost saving measure and because they will be superfluous when they start using the built-in iPhone hotspot features.

She says another important business strategy for her company is relying on “grandfather” clauses where she can keep using existing contracts for voice and data on phones, even after they upgrade to a new model.

Philip Chang, a partner at the PR firm Carbon in Chicago, had an interesting point to make about why his company plans to jump on the iPhone 5 bandwagon. The main draw has to do with the apps. Businesses are constantly evolving in how they communicate with new apps like LiquidSpace and GroupMe, which often appear first on the iPhone. Chang says, the iPhone 5 will just encourage new app development, and not being able to use these apps will cause problems in communicate between his team and with their customers.

“Nothing else on the market enables its users to share and create content as effectively or easily as the iPhone,” he says. “It gets the most attention from developers when it comes to rolling out a new communications tool.”

Chang is also interested in the faster processing, and the better camera capability (especially for recording high-def video clips).

Upgrade Plan
As Dulaney noted, businesses of any size need to have a plan in place for phone upgrades—the strategy of random upgrades for select employees usually does not work. It’s better to decide now who will get the upgrade, how much that will cost, how the company will support the devices, and to be ready for security issues.

Walch even goes a step further. Even though Apple has not released any details, the rumor mill is churning at full speed. He says it is best to work out the actual approvals for the new device, using iPhone 4 pricing of about $300 per phone. That way, your company can be ready to make the purchase at launch instead of waiting for the approvals—and possibly not being able to get one until 2012.

There’s always a sense of excitement with a new product launch. With Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO, all eyes will be on the new device to see if it lives up to expectations. The experts suggest being ready for something special.

Zuckerberg Converts His 5+ Million Facebook Fans into Subscribers

             Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has accumulated more than 5 million subscribers, thanks to a simple trick.

On Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a Subscribe button. It allows a user to follow anybody’s public updates, regardless of whether they’re Facebook friends. This one-way subscription model is like following somebody on Twitter or adding somebody to a Google+ Circle.

While some users are worried about the privacy implications of the the opt-in feature, many are using it to subscribe to other users, particularly Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, the Facebook CEO is amassing subscribers at a breakneck pace.

Since Wednesday morning, Zuckerberg has acquired more than 5 million subscribers, and that number is rising by the minute. The count is rising so quickly that the site can’t even properly display his total subscriber count (check out the screenshot to see what we mean).

There’s a caveat to this, though. Five million people didn’t suddenly decide to start subscribing to the Facebook CEO’s feed. Instead, Zuckerberg converted fans of his old Facebook Page into subscribers of his personal page. A cached version of Zuckerberg’s fan page shows that he had 5,203,153 fans just before he made the switch. That’s around the same amount of people now subscribed to his account.

We believe that number will continue to rise as Facebook migrates the rest of Zuckerberg’s fans to his personal account and new people start subscribing to him. The social network has been converting many fan pages into subscribers in the past day and plans to launch a do-it-yourself conversion tool in the next few weeks.

Now we have to ask: Is Zuckerberg the most-followed person on Facebook? Let us know in the comments if you find anybody else who comes close to Zuck’s numbers.

Rise of the Cloud Continues

              New Ventana research has confirmed that organizations are moving to the cloud now and will accelerate the pace of doing so in the near future. At least 20 percent of five different line-of-business functions use cloud-based applications, and within 12 months, at least 40 percent of eight of nine functions will.

Ventana Research undertook this benchmark research with the co-sponsorship of Information Management to assess levels of maturity, trends and best practices in organizations’ use of business data in the cloud. The research analyzed information from 141 qualified IT personnel responsible for managing cloud data.

Ventana found an increasing number of cloud-based applications in use. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of those using cloud-based applications have five or more deployed today, and 32 percent expect to have that many within a year.

For most organizations (65 percent) the most common pattern of data movement is between on-premises applications, but now as many must combine cloud-based data and on-premises data as need to combine on-premises data sources (both 86 percent). The research found that over the next two years cloud-based applications will grow faster than on-premises applications. Overall, organizations’ largest gap between needs and capabilities not yet addressed is in moving cloud data on-premises.

“A little bit of regressing is going on. We knew that with on-premise processes data quality and governance processes need to be followed,” says David Menninger, VP and research director for analytics, business intelligence and information management at Ventana. “With respect to cloud, these issues are resurfacing, and some are forgetting of the lessons of the past.”

All basic information management functions need to be addressed in the cloud, says Menninger. In this study, only 15 percent have completed a data quality initiative, only 5 percent a master data management initiative, and only 13 percent a data governance initiative for cloud data.

Menniger notes that only about one-fifth (21 percent) of organizations fully trust cloud-based data; more than twice as many (46 percent) fully trust data from on-premises applications. He suggests that putting automation tools in place and educating within the organization as well as getting processes established will help address cloud data trust issues.

Additionally, Ventana recommends that IT should find a way to collaborate with line of business. “We found when IT and line of business work together, the line-of-business groups are more satisfied,” says Menniger.

AGILITY IS WHAT THE FUTURE IS MADE OF: How Agile is Your Organization?

              There is a new (well, maybe not that new) methodology being used in IT to develop applications called “agile.”

Agile promises to deliver usable applications quicker and exactly the way the users need them. It has been around for more than 15 years and now seems to be gaining acceptance as a valid approach to IT development.

I learned about agile years ago, and there was something about it that I liked immediately: When business users needed something changed in a project, the developer made the changes. No muss, no fuss; the change got made, and without a lot of time or effort spent documenting the change request, getting multiple approvals, and revising the project timeline. It all might sound like a recipe for catastrophe, but agile has its own set of rules and processes to keep things under control. Without the bureaucracy, IT projects under agile are completed quicker and with higher satisfaction ratings from both the business users and the IT team.

The question I’ve worked on for a while is this: “Why can’t whole agile organizations operate in an agile way?” When a process or operating rule sits in the way of getting stuff done, shouldn’t it be as easy as just changing the process? Do we really need to touch base with multiple areas for input and get their approvals and sign-offs? And is it really the end of the world if a changed procedure needs to be changed again because something was overlooked or doesn’t work?

There are, of course, processes that fall outside the realm of what can be changed in an agile way. For example, controls under the Sarbanes-Oxley domain must be vetted and documented appropriately, and processes with the potential to negatively impact customers must be implemented with great care. Outside those types of things, plenty of processes can be changed easily and do not jeopardize the organization — such as the requirement that a supervisor sign off on an insignificant task, like making copies in a copy center.

Maybe it’s time for organizations to look for ways to implement agile, both for IT projects and as an overall operating style. The benefits could be significant for a company that accomplishes more processes faster. And satisfaction would be greater.

How to Choose the Right Web Server

              Running a business online means that your business needs to have an effective website, but often overlooked by businesses is the importance of the Web server. The Web server that houses your website is as important as the look and feel of your website. So how do you choose a web host, and do you need more than just a host?

Consult With Your Developer
Before you decide which hosting service to use, I recommend discussing the details and functionality of your website. Understanding how your website will be developed and how supportive your development firm is will help you decide what hosting firm to use. If you already have a website, discuss with your developer the traffic and bandwidth to understand what you may need for growth. Once you are educated on the type of structure that will be used to build your website or needed to grow your website, you can research the firms recommended by your developer as well as hosts you may already have in mind. You may need to graduate from a shared hosting service, which leads us to looking inward.

Look at Your Business Needs
How much support do you think you will need from your hosting company? If you're creating the website yourself or hiring a temporary contractor for the project, you may want to look at a host that provides more service support. Every hosting company has a support department, but what they consider support may differ from what you have in mind. If you're a solopreneur, you may want a firm that can help install applications. This is a task often performed by outside developers, but some hosting companies will provide this level of support -- for a price.

Uptime of your website is something most hosting firms market, but what about backups? Backups are not only needed when a site goes down, but also when someone makes an error. I can't begin to tell you how many people have accidentally renamed or overwritten a file and needed a backup restored. How quick is your host to respond to your needs? Response time can have a huge impact on any business and this is something to consider when reviewing your host. But response time and resolution time are two different things. Be sure to explore both. Don't get caught up in the marketing message; understand how firms escalate tickets and solve problems.

How Many Sites Do You Have?
It is not uncommon for marketing purposes to have more than one website. If you have more than one website, do you want a separate hosting account per site or a VPS? Virtual private servers can be a great solution to control the management of many websites, and will give you or your developer a root-level connection to handle installing Web services. VPS environments also you provide you with a hybrid of shared and dedicated applications, and, depending on the provider, a different level of support and resources.

Your website location matters both in terms of supporting you as a business owner and delivering a fast experience for your customers. Make sure to choose a quality solution that fits both objectives.

Why You Don't Want to Be the Low-Cost Leader

               When you select a pricing strategy--that is, decide how you wish to price your products or services--what is your goal? The first answer that comes to mind may be to maximize profits, but that isn't a good enough answer.

Think about it this way: When your company develops new products or invests in a new marketing campaign, what's the goal? To maximize profits. But that doesn't tell you what types of products to develop or which customers to target or what message to deliver.

Both Ikea and Mercedes want to maximize profits--and they use very different pricing strategies to do so--but we don't think of Ikea and Mercedes in terms of their pricing strategies. We think of them in terms of their products and positioning. Ikea is a fun, designer, starter furniture store; Mercedes is a luxury automobile manufacturer.

Both companies set their pricing strategies to be consistent with their overall goals and the vision of who they are. Price follows their corporate strategy--not the other way around.

What is your overall strategy? It's the general description of how you compete in the market. It is your sustainable competitive advantage. Your strategy should be based on how your product or service differs from your competition, from product features or location to marketing or the breadth or focus of your offering. It can be many things, but it shouldn't be price.

Related: How Pricing Can Power a Turnaround

Why not? Because pricing is not a sustainable competitive advantage. Prices can change almost instantly. Your competitor can change prices just as quickly as you can. What if you find that optimal price, that psychologically perfect price that magically makes all customers want to buy from you? Your competitors will copy it--immediately. Any competitive advantage you may gain with pricing is not sustainable.

The one time that pricing can be a corporate strategy is when the company is positioned as the low-price leader. That's Walmart. If you adopt low price as your strategy, then your business must be continually focused on lowering and controlling costs--like Walmart. You are attracting the price buyers, customers who are not loyal, but are looking for the lowest price. Once a competitor figures out how to sell a similar product for less, they will charge lower prices and you will struggle. If another company figures out how to sell products for less than Walmart, Walmart will be in trouble. Knowing this, Walmart maintains a laser-sharp focus on keeping costs down. If you make low price your strategy, you have to be like Walmart, continuously lowering your costs so your competitors don't catch up.

You may be thinking about a different price-based strategy. "My product is as good as a Lexus, but less expensive. I'm going to make that my strategy." Don't do it. You may be able to have that product positioning for a short while, but it's not sustainable. The market will morph, and your position may or may not exist in a few years. You have competitors on both sides of you, above and below, either of which may be able to steal your position, because your position is just price.

Related: Five Signs It's Time to Change Your Prices

Consider Walmart's discount retail competition. Kmart is having a difficult time competing with Walmart. Same-store sales continue to decline even as they come out of the 2010 recession. On the other hand, Target's same-store sales figures are growing rapidly. What's the difference? Although there are many factors, one is that Target has a unique positioning. It is described as "trendy," "cool" and "a hip discounter." Kmart may have the Martha Stewart brand, but the company as a whole doesn't own a position. There doesn't seem to be any real differentiation between Kmart and Walmart--other than price, which Walmart wins.

Target's success isn't based on price. They could not beat Walmart in a low price battle. Target's success is because they own the unique positioning of "hip discounter." There is only room for one company with lowest prices, and that company is Walmart, at least for now.

The strategy of low-cost leader is a rough-and-tumble position. Everything is done without frills. Once you get too comfortable, someone else hungrier than you will do it with less and steal your position. This is not a fun position to defend.

Even for companies that aren't low-cost leaders, you must still focus some of your energy and resources on costs. Target, Kmart and every company in a competitive situation still win and lose customers based on their prices. And to have competitive prices, they must maintain relatively low costs. Price is a factor in every customer's decision, and if one company's costs are much higher than another's, then they run the risk of losing on price.

10 Things Every Small-Business Website Needs

             The Web is full of horrendous sites, and we're not just talking about bad design. There are many other elements besides how your website looks that go into making it customer-friendly -- not to mention something that inspires them to actually do business with you.

From thorough contact information to customer testimonials, here are the essentials that every small business website should have for it to effectively help you do business.

1. A clear description of who you are
Someone who stumbles upon your website shouldn't have to do investigative work to figure out what, exactly, it is that you do. That means clearly stating your name and summing up your products or services right on the homepage, says John Zhuang, of Web-design and SEO-optimization firm Winning Interactive.

"Tell people this is the right website that they have been searching for," he says. "[A clear description] will attract the visitor's attention immediately within 2-3 seconds, and encourage them to stay on your website longer."

2. A simple, sensible Web address
Don't make things complicated.

"Your domain name is like your brand. It should be easy for a user to type it into a Web browser or an e-mail address," says Ron Wright, the founder of business Web design and online marketing firm Accentix.

He adds: "I always recommend the .com domain as users are conditioned to type that extension when they enter a Web address. For non-profits or organizations, I usually recommend using a .org domain for branding purposes, but also recommend having a .com version of the domain in case a user accidentally types the .com address."

Wright also suggests avoiding dashes (which can cause SEO headaches) and numbers (which can cause confusion for customers).

3. An easily-navigated site map
Clear links to the most important pages, and a site map, are crucial for guiding visitors to the information they're looking for.

"Be sure your navigation is clearly laid out. I always recommend using dropdowns in the navigation menu so the visitor can see the content under every heading from virtually any page. You want to make it very easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for, or what you want them to know," Wright suggests.

4. Easy-to-find contact information
You wouldn't want to lose a customer to a competitor just because you made it difficult for them to get in touch with you.

"Not every online visitor has the patience to click through every page on your website to find the contact information," says Zhuang.

"The best place for the contact information is the top left or top right corner of the home page," he recommends. "It is also a good practice to include contact information in every page of the website in the footer or side bar or even in top right corner, which helps the visitors to find it more easily."

You should also be sure to include several ways for them to contact you -- phone, e-mail, and a standard contact form, are all good options. Forbes also suggests including your address, and even a link to your location in Google maps.

"One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to force only one way to reach them," says Wright. "The point is to make it very easy for users to communicate with you on their terms."

5. Customer testimonials
Honest words from others help make your products or services more tangible to customers who are visiting you online.

"They help your potential customers to build trust in you, especially if you are new," Zhuang says. "[And they] help shoppers to confirm whether the product [or] services meet their needs."

"People love to hear stories from real people," he adds. "They help people [find out] other things you haven't said [on] your website."

6. An obvious call to action
"Tell the online visitors literally what you want them to do with clear tones of commend," says Zhuang. "For instance, you may want them to call you now for free quote, or sign up to your exclusively online coupons, or add products to the online shopping cart, etc."

And, he adds, call attention to your suggestion -- by using special buttons or highlighting the text, for example.

7. Know the basics of SEO
Your website won't do you as much good if no one can stumble upon it. Become familiar with the SEO basics to make it more accessible by search engine.

"You don't need to employ mysterious, ninja, black hat SEO types to rank well on the search engines. Simply make sure your website is coded correctly," Wright says.

That means using the correct keywords throughout your text, putting in plenty of links, naming your page titles and URLs correctly, and employing the magic of images and videos.

8. Fresh, quality content
For many businesses, your website is your first impression on a customer. You want to give them what they're looking for, and perhaps even give them a reason to keep coming back.

Wright says, "The user is looking for something. Make sure you give it to them.... [and be] sure your content is original, well written and valuable."

Fresh content is a goldmine for SEO, as well. You can keep your content from getting stale (and give your company some personality, too) by incorporating a regularly-updated blog or connecting in your social media feeds.

9. A secure hosting platform
Having your online information hijacked is a nightmare, and, should it happen to your business, it could cost you customers.

"It is imperative that you have a secure, trustworthy hosting company to keep the bad guys out and your content up and running," says Wright. "It is also very important to keep your content management system updated in order to stay one step ahead of the hackers."

10. A design and style that's friendly to online readers
As Forbes puts it, "Web surfers have the attention spans of drunken gnats."

Zhuang describes it in more detail: "Online visitors often scan through a Web page to sample the content first when they open a new Web page. If they feel like they are on the right page, they will slow down to read the full story. To enhance user's experience on your small business website, you need to organize the content for scanning."

He recommends three style points for online writing to keep in mind:

Break things down into short paragraphs, with headers if necessary
Use bullet points
Highlight important words or phrases.

Wright adds, "In the end, simplicity and basic colors are the best bet. Again, the content is the focus, not dancing clowns at the top of the page."

The Benefits of Framing Out Your Website

           Suppose you're sitting at Starbucks with your corporate architect to discuss plans for an office renovation. You grab a napkin and start sketching desktops and conference areas with your pen. Some of the lines don't show up, and the napkin bunches up and tears, but you're quite pleased with your rendering--until you catch sight of your architect rolling her eyes.

Same goes for creating or redesigning your company's website. You can produce a forest of Post-it notes along with crude renderings in an attempt to communicate your point. Or you can employ sophisticated online wireframing tools or software to translate your vision into a website prototype.

Tools for Framing

While you can certainly use just about any graphics application to wireframe a website, more feature-rich options are available, including:

• Protoshare: Robust online wireframing tool that allows you to create rich, interactive website prototypes that you can share and collaborate on with others.

• Gliffy: Online diagramming tool with an intuitive interface.

• OmniGraffle: Mac-friendly software for wireframing.

• LucidChart: Create, collaborate on and publish highly polished wireframes online.

• Axure RP: Wireframing software for both the PC and Mac.

A wireframe--a stripped-down visual representation of a web page--helps you identify usability problems and market positioning opportunities early on, before you sink a lot of money into graphic design and programming. Until relatively recently, wireframes were in the sole domain of professional web designers. But today you can find dozens of wireframing tools online (see box), all with a free trial period, that simplify the process.

No real expertise is required to wireframe your site. Use the online tools to convey your ideas of what the site should look like and include. Because you're not a designer, you're not aiming for perfection; you're simply trying to convey a starting point that includes elements you feel are key to telling your story, positioning your company or brand, or drawing attention to a call to action or navigation scheme that is important to you. Your web designer will take it from there.

"I love it when clients provide wireframes," says Jerry Chrisman, owner of Grip Media, a graphic design and web development agency in Portland, Ore. "It helps me get a better idea of exactly what the client wants, and it speeds up development and avoids unnecessary complications."

So do yourself and your designer a favor. Wireframe your site before heading out to that meeting at Starbucks.

A New Model to Help Improve Website Usability

         For centuries, artists and writers have struggled to marry form and function. Click around online for a while and it becomes clear that web designers still grapple with the challenge. Achieving the optimum blend of text, graphics and white space eludes most companies. Too much text is likely to overwhelm, while too little leaves users guessing what the graphics represent. Too much white space wastes valuable real estate, while too little makes users feel cramped and confused.

How to create a clickable moment
The online experience results in a series of action-oriented visuals, where graphics, text and white space translate into actions. To create more clickable moments, do the following:

Keep it simple. Remove superfluous text and graphics to eliminate clutter and distractions and boost performance.

Imply more by showing less. Use white space strategically to showcase and amplify vital elements.

Account for menu-to-content asymmetry. Navigation menus on the top or right columns, though relatively smaller than the main image, tend to attract more attention.

Communicate purpose and intent through hierarchy and deliberate design. Layout should not appear haphazard.

Learn more about Oneupweb's Zen Triangle of Design at Oneupweb.com.

The optimum blend for any given industry or application varies. According to a June 2010 study published by Oneupweb, a digital marketing agency in Traverse City, Mich., it may require more of one ingredient and less of another to accommodate differences in user behavior (how people tend to interact with a certain genre of sites), online constraints (including two-dimensional screens and browser compatibility) and the nature and depth of the content. E-commerce and higher-education sites, for example, must incorporate more textual content, whereas B2B sites tend to make greater use of graphics and white space.

Oneupweb developed the "Zen Triangle of Design" as a model to measure and evaluate how effectively a design balances these three elements. With calculator and grid paper in hand, you can quickly determine whether a particular page's design offers a good user experience or if you may need to make adjustments. Perfect balance is not necessarily the goal. As Oneupweb makes clear, "there is no magic wand or golden rule for designing a good website." But the method does provide a benchmark--a quantitative measure--to consult for guidance.

Remember, website usability is not all about aesthetics. Functionality also plays a key role; users need to be able to go from point A to point B as quickly as possible. They demand quick access to prices, rates and other decision-making details and even quicker access to the point of sale.

A Zen Triangle moment could help you find the balance of aesthetics and functionality your site's visitors crave.

Tips for Interior Pages of Your Website

             Everybody knows the importance of making a positive first impression, but if you assume prospective customers first encounter your website through its homepage, think again. Natural search results drive users to individual pages that best match each user's search query, and often that page is not your site's homepage.

On the more than 25 websites I manage, nearly four of every 10 visitors enter the site from somewhere other than the homepage. They land on a page for a specific product or service, the About page, a page for a blog entry or even the Terms & Conditions page.

Unfortunately, most business owners and marketing managers focus 90 percent of their attention and resources on designing a stunning homepage and treat the other pages as an afterthought. Don't make this mistake. Give every page the same care and attention you devote to your site's homepage.
Interior Page Must-Haves
Every page on your site should contain the following elements:

• Company logo and tagline

• Consistent navigation, including search

• Call to actions both above and below the fold

• Clear, concise, compelling and grammatically correct copy

• Consistent design and color scheme to establish brand presence

• Advertisements to promote featured products, services and special offers

Check your website's analytics to identify where visitors most frequently enter your site, and ask yourself whether each page channels visitors to the information you want them to see and to the actions you want them to take. If any one of these pages fails to support your business-related goals, it's time to make some changes.

If you are unsure of your site's purpose, this is the first issue to tackle. You should have a clear purpose for your site before you build it, but if you skipped that step, formulate a purpose now.

Every page, not only the homepage, should communicate your site's purpose and steer visitors to the desired call to action. If you built the site to sell products online, every page should direct traffic to product pages. If the site's purpose is to encourage visitors to call in for an estimate, every page should include a phone number.

Remember that with the long-tail nature of search, you never know which door a customer is likely to walk through when entering your site. Make sure every entrance offers a greeting, projects an air of professionalism, presents relevant content and actively serves your purpose for building and maintaining the site in the first place.

Insurance Diaries: Why I Got Owners Insurance for My Home Business

             A funny thing happened to me recently while I was reporting a story for Entrepreneur.com on what insurance you need for your home-based business. I found some experts and got great advice on the types of policies available, and the coverage you need to protect your personal assets from a customer lawsuit.

In the process, I found out something important: I needed this insurance for my business. I was crazy not to have it.

Here's the story of what I found out, and what insurance I got for my home business:

I've been a freelance writer since 2005, and freelancing is a booming business at my house these days. Activities now include my husband's videography business, which involves more than $10,000 worth of videography equipment he uses to make videos both for my websites and for other clients.

It's all sitting around in the house. Customers sometimes come to over to look at their footage, and business deliveries arrive, too. Then of course, my husband goes out to clients and public locations to shoot videos.

In other words, it's liability city. None of this stuff is covered by our homeowners' insurance policy, I learned.

"If a UPS man slips and falls on your porch making a business delivery, you have no coverage," one expert told me.

The video equipment could be stolen, or lost in a fire or earthquake. Video equipment could be damaged or stolen on location. Clients or delivery men could slip and fall on our property.

I learned there are three basic types of coverage, two of which are too rudimentary for anything but a hobby small business. Adding a rider to your home insurance covers only a few thousand dollars of losses, for instance. For most of us, the answer is a Business Owners Policy.

It costs about $500 and gives you $2 million of coverage against loss, theft, injury and other liability. Pretty affordable for what you get. It took minutes to call my homeowners' insurance company and get them to draw up a BOP for me. And, hey, it's a writeoff.

The last thing I learned about getting business insurance: It can help your business land big clients, too. I just got a freelance-writing job with a major government agency, and they required that I show proof of insurance. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to get a contract worth over $10,000.

So not only do I sleep better now knowing we're protected from potentially losing our home in a customer lawsuit, but I've got more cash flow. Seems like a win-win.

Social Climbers: How Franchises Are Using Social Networking

                Whoever said there's no such thing as a free lunch obviously never visited the Facebook page of Einstein Bros. Bagels. Last year, Einstein Bros. launched its Bagel Bonanza promotion, giving away a bagel and cream cheese to anyone willing to sign up as the franchise's fan on Facebook. At the time, Einstein Bros. had only 4,700 fans across the social network, but when the digital coupon campaign wrapped up a week later, that number had skyrocketed to more than 300,000.

Einstein Bros. revived Bagel Bonanza during the spring, and it continues rewarding its online followers with discounts, menu previews and nutritional information. By the end of October, it had more than 600,000 Facebook fans.

"Social media is a place where consumers want to be," says James O'Reilly, chief concept officer for Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, the Lakewood, Colo.-based parent company and franchisor. "We're not a national advertiser, so we decided to make social media a pillar of our marketing efforts. It's a whole new channel for businesses to engage their customers in a two-way dialogue."

Einstein Bros. is far from the only company embracing social networking as a marketing platform: Nearly 75 percent of franchise businesses are now leveraging social media, according to a 2010 survey published by market research firm Franchise Business Review. And consumers are responding--69 percent say they're more likely to patronize a local business if it offers information on a social networking site, per a recent comScore research study.

"We've never been a big mass-media advertiser, and we've never been able to compete on a level with the larger casual dining restaurants that own the airwaves. We can't out-shout them with our marketing budget," says Jen Gulvik, vice president of marketing and creative director for Houlihan's Restaurants in Leawood, Kansas. "But it's still essentially free to play in social media. We can be in this space and do as well, if not better, than our larger competitors. It levels the playing field."

Houlihan's has been aggressive and creative in building out its social media footprint. In early 2008, the company introduced HQ, an invitation-only online community of more than 10,000 regular customers (or "HouliFans") across the United States. The HQ site is a direct channel for Houlihan's to solicit patron feedback on ideas and product plans, encourage word-of-mouth viral campaigns and invite insiders to members-only tastings and events. In addition, Houlihan's boasts a Facebook page and a separate page spotlighting Coaster McGee, its sassy in-store mascot. In September, Houlihan's began giving away orders of french fries to diners who check in at participating locations via mobile social network Foursquare.

Houlihan's also encourages its 94 U.S. franchise locations to nurture their own social media presence, and Gulvik says, 19 franchisees now maintain their own Facebook pages.

"We're not a traditional, conventional company. We're very cognizant of not acting chain-like," she says. "We know that consumers automatically give you a lower mark if you're a chain. There's a perception that chains equal ‘bad' and ‘cutting corners.' We want to communicate the flavor and personality of each restaurant and the community it serves."

That doesn't mean every franchisee--or every franchise, for that matter--is a good fit with social networking. Social media efforts demand the same care and attention as any other segment of your business.

"Unlike TV and radio, social media is a two-way medium, and it needs to be treated that way," O'Reilly says. "You have to have your Facebook page staffed with full-time people to help answer questions or handle issues in real time."

Gulvik agrees. "It's inexpensive to play in these channels, but it's time-intensive. You've got to make sure you have people dedicated to it," she says. "We tell our franchisees you can't just put up a Facebook page and ignore it. Putting up content is the easy part--engaging with the guests is another thing. You've got to be in there every day."

Among franchises active in social media, 45 percent tell Franchise Business Review they've leveraged tools like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter to boost brand awareness, and 24 percent are pursuing new customers. But 11 percent are looking at social networking as a way to recruit franchisees.

"Social media is a part of every marketing campaign we have. We have a presence on various social networking sites, and many franchisees have their own sites as well," says Christie Wells, customer experience and communications manager for Häagen-Dazs Shoppe Co., a gourmet ice cream business in Minneapolis. "These are awareness opportunities for us, and we're using them to get the word out there that we're looking for franchisees."

In mid-October, Häagen-Dazs launched Ice Cream Boss, an interactive Facebook game designed to offer potential investors the scoop on owning and operating a store. Each week, Ice Cream Boss features a new story or situation unfolding in the virtual Häagen-Dazs Shop, challenging Facebook fans to offer suggestions and feedback on how best to resolve the issue.

"Our goal is to encourage people who are interested in Häagen-Dazs to play the game, then move into the franchise world," Wells says. At press time, Ice Cream Boss had only been online about a week, and Häagen-Dazs had yet to bring aboard any new franchisees as a result of it. "But we already have people playing the game and actively learning about the brand," she says. "That's great from a lead generation and contact standpoint."

"Social media is here to stay," Wells says. "The different sites and formats may change, but we're definitely keeping our focus on the medium. We want to make it a major part of our plans for expansion and shop marketing."

O'Reilly of Einstein Bros. shares Wells' enthusiasm for the platform. "The heart of the social media opportunity is that we're continuing to get better at building a dialogue with our fans. We can understand what they want and what they don't want, and respond in ways consistent with our brand equity," he says. "Consumers are smart and they're savvy, with opinions that need to be respected. Social media is the best way to keep them engaged."

By the Numbers: The Census Report on Franchises

Quick, did you know that nearly half of the optical stores in the United States are affiliated with franchises? Or that there isn't a single franchise company that sells luggage and leather goods?

Probably not. Actually, few knew until last fall, when the U.S. Census Bureau issued its first Economic Census Franchise Report. In 2007, when the Census Bureau surveyed 4.3 million businesses that have paid employees, its forms included questions about franchising for the first time. The results, which were released in September 2010, show that franchises account for 10.5 percent of all businesses and support 7.9 million workers in a work force of 59 million. Franchising sales account for nearly $1.3 trillion of $7.7 trillion in total sales.

The numbers came as no surprise to the International Franchise Association in Washington, D.C., says spokeswoman Alisa Harrison, because they closely match information gathered by accounting firm Pricewaterhouse-Coopers for the IFA's annual Economic Impact of Franchising reports.

"What did surprise us," Harrison says, "was that franchises appear in 295 different industries."

Franchising dominates several obvious industries, such as fast-food restaurants (59 percent) and hotels (47 percent). But it is barely present in others, such as musical instruments and supplies (1 percent) and driving schools (.04 percent).

The report, Harrison says, "gives us better information to present to policymakers when lobbying for issues related to our franchise community." It can also be a useful research tool for IFA members and for groups thinking of launching a franchised business. The IFA has allocated funds from its 2011 budget to hire a researcher to analyze the information and make it more user-friendly, she adds.

The Census Bureau conducts a business census every five years. The IFA is working with the bureau for the 2012 survey to include questions for businesses that do not have paid employees, such as sole proprietor accounting franchises. Owners of real estate franchises, Harrison says, might also fit into that category because their agents are independent contractors.

To find data from the report, go to the IFA's website, franchise.org, and type "2007 Economic Census Franchise Report" into the search engine.

Six Tips for Surviving a Cyber Security Threat

             You can lower your risk by slimming down what online security pros call your "attack surface." And that means going beyond simply installing anti-virus software.

Don't assume partners have your back. If you depend on outside sources for technical firepower--outsourced services, cloud solutions and the like--come at it with eyes wide open. "Many business owners think their web hosting provider is taking care of the security of their website," says Neil Daswani, co-founder and chief technology officer of security firm Dasient. "Not so. At the low monthly fees at which many hosting services are made available, the web hosting provider does not scan the websites for vulnerabilities or malware."

Serve up a safe site. Often malware distributed online is spread through legit websites. Criminals scan the internet for vulnerabilities in web applications and install bits of inconspicuous code into the site's server that infect users when they visit that site. Unfortunately, small-business sites are favored for such sneak attacks. "Those things are typically caused by small businesses not having the software on the server patched and up-to-date," says Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor at security firm Sophos. Crooks also infiltrate third-party advertising companies, infecting code or setting up shell companies to dupe businesses into placing "malvertising" on their sites. According to Dasient, in the last quarter of 2010, 3 million malvertising impressions were served to consumers each day.

Lower your app profile. PCs from big box retailers come junked up with superfluous free apps, and the situation worsens with add-ons, plug-ins and shareware. More apps mean more avenues for hackers to attack. Wisniewski's advice: "Get rid of any software you don't need." Then, ensure remaining systems are patched and up-to-date. Michael Sutton, vice president of security research for cloud security provider Zscaler, says, "Look at browser plug-ins such as Java and Adobe Reader. These are the top two outdated components that are targeted by attackers."

Buy a "banking machine." The same protections the banking industry extends to consumer victims of identity theft are not necessarily extended to businesses. Because your liability is so much higher, it makes sense to dedicate a super-protected netbook or PC solely for online banking tasks.

Encrypt data. If you adhere to step one, assume data sent to cloud storage providers and the like is at risk. If there is sensitive customer information included in that mix, "Make sure that important data is backed up and encrypted," Daswani says. "Cloud-based backup services are likely to keep several copies of your data at multiple data centers and will generally be much more reliable and fault-tolerant than keeping a copy of data on a second hard drive in the same location as your original drive."

Think before you click. A lot of security comes down to common sense. Be vigilant about the links you're clicking through Facebook, e-mail and even search results. Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Technology and Response, puts it simply: "If something seems suspicious, don't click on it."

How to Move Your Business Data into the Cloud -- Safely

           Q: Which business apps should I put in the cloud, and which should I keep in-house to avoid a security breach?

Cloud services are rapidly becoming a more efficient, more scalable and less costly way for small businesses to manage data, applications and websites. Both public and private cloud services let businesses keep IT overhead low while encouraging flexibility for users to access corporate data from just about anywhere on any device.

But some high-profile outages and mishaps within the last year serve as a reminder that outsourcing IT to the cloud does not come without risk. Last April, a cloud data center outage affected Amazon Web Services clients. A Google Gmail outage two months earlier resulted in some business clients losing e-mails.

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Companies like Microsoft and Dropbox also have had problems, and though overall such occurrences may be rare, businesses should pause before migrating their IT assets en masse to the cloud, says Gregory Potter, data analyst at market research firm In-Stat. "Small businesses can make great use of cloud services, but nothing is 100 percent reliable," he says. "You just have to be smart about these things and plan for the possibility of disaster."

Start by looking at how you want to use the cloud, and what type (public or private) best fits your needs and budget, Potter says. Some small businesses use cloud services primarily for productivity applications--services like Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Microsoft's Office 365. Services from Mozy, Dropbox and Apple also can be used to store content and archived files now clogging desktops and office servers. In addition, small businesses can use the cloud for web hosting from providers like Rackspace, Amazon and Verizon.

"The great advantage to using cloud hosting is that it is immediately scalable, so that if your website suddenly gets a large number of hits, you can be confident that it won't crash or slow down to a crawl," Potter says.

Public cloud services have the advantage of being inexpensive--as cheap as $5 per user, per month--but they are also the services that have grabbed headlines for their disruptions. A private cloud service, involving rental servers from a company like VMware, is a more secure option, Potter says.
"A private cloud is definitely more secure than a public cloud, but you are buying servers and software, and it could be cost-prohibitive," he says.

Ultimately, employ common sense. "Maybe start by doing e-mail and some productivity stuff through the cloud, but maybe not mission-critical functions and sensitive business data," Potter says. "You may also want to have your own local IT backup to the cloud service … just until you find your comfort level."

Affordable Video Hosting for Small Businesses

According to industry predictions, video alone will account for more than 82% of all internet traffic by 2021, making it one of the top marketing trends of the year. However, video material is much heavier than text-based content and places a large strain on your website servers, which is an issue for your server.

A contemporary content marketing plan thus includes a video hosting website or service. Without server slowness or website outages, you must be able to post and distribute high-quality movies with your audience.

Should I Host My Own Videos on My Own Server or Use a Video Hosting Website?

Video may significantly burden your server with even a little quantity of traffic, regardless of whether you have a dedicated server or virtual machine.

A standard homepage with photos should take up no more than a few gigabytes, however a single 720p movie frequently takes up more than 100.

Therefore, ten viewers watching a minute of HD video on the server uses a gigabit of bandwidth. For the same bandwidth, you may get a thousand or more visits to a website with both text and images.

A single video might easily push you above your allotted bandwidth in a matter of days since web hosting plans often place a limit on it. Because of this, using a third-party video platform is typically preferable.

10 Best Platforms for Hosting Videos in 2022.

Entrepreneurs and small-business owners often think that incorporating video into their marketing or communication plan -- let alone configuring a website for video -- is costly, complicated and beyond reach. 

Online video is expected to account for half of all consumer Internet traffic, according to a recent Cisco report. 

Nearly 60 percent of those online will watch a video before reading the text on any given webpage -- and they’re more likely to make a purchase.

These findings should prompt businesses of all sizes to see the urgency of matching the growing demand for video-related content with videos of their own.

Growing Pains for Social Entrepreneurs

                The appeal of "doing well by doing good" is enormous. Perhaps that's why there are an estimated 30,000 social entrepreneurs applying business practices to solving problems of pollution, poor nutrition and poverty. But despite all the good feelings that come from solving our society's problems, the ability to take a social enterprise to the next level while growing and protecting the bottom line is quite a challenge.

"It is not easy to do a social enterprise," says Gautam Kaul, managing director of the Social Venture Fund at the University of Michigan. "In private enterprise, the sole aim is my shareholders. With a social enterprise, there is something more -- social impact -- [while] growth is misplaced," he says.

Still, there are a few guidelines that are important to keep in mind if you have an eye toward growth for your social enterprise.

Stay focused
Perhaps the biggest pitfall social entrepreneurs experience as they try to grow their enterprise is broadening their focus and product lines too quickly. A lot of startups make that same mistake.

"We have to stay very narrow, keep it very simple and just focus on bottled water," says Jeff Church, co-founder and executive director of NIKA Water. His enterprise is a for-profit company that donates 100 percent of its profits to support clean-water projects in Uganda, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nicaragua. For his part, Church focuses on selling the water and donating the profits.

Other social entrepreneurs give the same advice. "The last thing you want to do is get a reputation for not focusing on your mission," says Andy Gold, an IT consultant who has a nonprofit enterprise that donates IT and other services to charitable organizations.

That said, some believe it's important not to rely too much on the mission as the enterprise grows. As with any business, the entrepreneur needs to ask, "What is the value [I'm] providing the consumer?" says David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books, a business that collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.

Remain competitive
Don't confuse helping society with ignoring the need to be business-savvy. While consumers may be willing to shift their buying behavior, they will only do so as long as the quality and cost are comparable to other similar products, says Church.

Indeed, many social entrepreneurs rely on the mission to sell their product or service. That may work initially, but it won't work in the long run as they try to scale up the business. For Murphy, "It's the selection, the online experience -- all the brand promises must be met. They come here because they want a great book at a great price," he says.

It's also imperative to think about capital structure -- creative use of debt, early-stage equity, and how to secure capital to finance growth. "It seems in the social-enterprise sector, people don't think about outside capital, which is essential to scaling up," says Murphy. To that end, there definitely is capital available. Foundations donate an estimated $200 million annually to social enterprises. There are also several venture funds that invest in social enterprises.

Hire great talent
A company -- whether for-profit, not-for-profit or a social enterprise -- is only as good as the talent it can attract and retain. In some cases, because of the appeal of the mission, a social entrepreneur can attract employees who wouldn't otherwise take a lower-paying job. "Working at a startup and being at the start of something socially engaging and important [allowed me to be] able to hire two really great candidates at a lower wage," says Church.

Still, social entrepreneurs should do what they can to remain competitive when it comes to attracting potential employees. Murphy of Better World Books created an incentive stock pool. "Top talent will be drawn to something exciting like a mission, but you also have to pay attention to incentives to draw in great people," he says.

To be sure, the best way to build up a social enterprise is to run it like you would any business. "In the beginning, you have to be three parts businessman and one part social [entrepreneur]," says Church. "… As you get the business successful, then you can begin to make it three parts social and one part profit.

Is Your Status Quo Killing Your Business?

                The more things change, the more they stay the same -- especially in business. And that's the problem, according to global business consultant, Rebel Brown.

"As much as we all acknowledge how the world has changed over the last two decades, businesses and corporations tend to continue doing things the same way they've always done them," said Brown, a consultant who has worked with companies as diverse as Silicon Graphics, NeXT and Verity, as well as startups in the U.S. and abroad.

"I can't count the number of times executives have told me, 'Well, that's the way we've always done it.' The truth is that most companies talk about change far more than they actually engage in it. That's because they are afraid of making any change out of fear -- of Big Bang disruption, of the wrong change or of leaving the safety and comfort of the known. We're stuck in the way we've always done it -- and that's a big reason why our economy is stuck in neutral."

Brown, author of Defy Gravity, believes that the key to evolving and prospering is to not only challenge some of our most basic business assumptions, but, in some cases, to reject them outright. Brown has proven through her past client engagements that businesses that let go of the status quo will begin to rise above their competition, defying gravity in a sense. In order to start that process, Brown wants executives to start questioning some of the most common sacred cows of business, including:

It's Our Best and Biggest Seller -- Sometimes clinging to the cash cow can lead to a complacency that prevents new companies from staying in sync with what the market needs. Instead, these companies become slavish to the needs of one client, and ignore the changes in the marketplace. What's worse is that the big seller may represent strong revenue, but all the extra attention this client commands may actually mean that it's big only in revenue, but not in profits. What's worse is that your company may end up completely incapable of surviving if that big seller stops selling, because myopia has prevented them from evolving to meet the changing needs of their customers.

They're Our Biggest Customer -- Are they? Sometimes our best customer commands more attention than the rest, which cuts into the actual profitability of that customer. It may also take our attention away from other customers who could account for as much profit, if the time and effort were taken to help those relationships grow. Moreover, focusing on a very select set of big customers makes us myopic to the changes in our industries, often preventing us from capitalizing on other opportunities for growth and expansion.

It's a Huge Opportunity -- The big deal, the dream client, the huge order -- all things that businesses strive for -- may not wind up being that profitable in the long run. We'll discount, deal, sacrifice strategy, dedicate extra resources and throw out the baby, the bathwater and the tub to get those deals. And once we have them, we celebrate and take our victory lap, but what have we really won? We rationalize that we'll make up whatever we spent to get the deal over the lifetime of the contract. We justify the extra effort by thinking if we can get this big domino to fall, other big ones will follow. But the reality is that those plans aren't always sure things. Remember, huge opportunities aren't always inherently opportunities for success. They can be opportunities for failure, as well.

"Let's face it, two years ago, we never expected the emergence of social media as a way to communicate with and market to our customers and prospects," Brown added. "And five years ago, many didn't expect the web would become the major revenue driver it's become. So, if the world around us is changing so dramatically, so quickly, why do we cling to the oldest ideas in business? If we truly want to defy gravity, we must first untie the tethers that bind us to old assumptions. We can use our innate human abilities to learn to think differently about our businesses by listening to our markets and shifting our perspectives -- from gravity to growth."

Winning Government Contracts: Five Things You Need to Know

             The U.S. government is the biggest consumer of products and services in the world. And some $500 billion of Uncle Sam's ever-expanding budget goes to small businesses, resulting in huge opportunities for those that know how to navigate the waters of government contracts.

However, many small-business owners have no clue about how to get involved with government contracts. Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN's adviser on government contracting and a federal contracting expert for nearly two decades, mentors entrepreneurs who are looking for profitable relationships with the government. She says many miss out on potential government contract revenue because they don't know how the business of government works. "A government agency works similarly to a corporation and has different purchasing methods," Martin-Rosa says. "Some agencies prefer to break up a contract and award it more quickly, while some prefer to bundle all services into one and award the big prize to one small business that can then subcontract it out to partners." Martin-Rosa believes the key to success in obtaining government contracts is to research how the different government agencies operate and see how your unique services can be instrumental.

The first step in procuring government work is to make sure you're registered with the Small Business Administration office serving your customer base. Confused about what to do next? Here are five things you need to know.

1. Make Yourself Known to Government Agencies
You need to make sure government buyers are aware of your company and its strengths, even before you actively pursue a specific government contract. Maureen Borzacchiello, owner of trade-show display manufacturer Creative Display Solutions, learned a lot about how to make her services known to the government when she worked directly with Martin-Rosa as part of the American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement (VIP) Mentorship Program. "I was doing exhibits and trade shows, and I discovered that the federal government is very peculiar about how they purchase their products and services," she says. "When I was searching for companies that had already landed contracts in my industry, there were about 40 different North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and keywords." NAICS codes identify businesses by categories, grouping together companies that use similar processes to produce goods and services. Go to the Small Business Administration's site and find out what government agencies are purchasing and how they are finding these services, then make sure your business is coded properly so that you can get on the radar of the most appropriate agencies. Keep in mind, some agencies may be interested in products or services that you would not necessarily think about pitching -- but can be just as lucrative. "Besides creating trade-show displays, I also store them, which was how I got the attention of the federal government, because they don't have a lot of storage facilities," she says. Put all products and services on your search page.

2. Find Out Where the Real Opportunities Are
Do market research by searching government contracting opportunities at the Federal Business Opportunities website. Ask yourself, "Which types of contracts would fit with my own company's resources?" Make a list of contracts that have already been awarded and research the types of companies that won them. What made them successful? Borzacchiello has built a roster of government clients by seizing upon opportunities. "One of the visits I had through my mentorship was to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. I discovered that in 2014, they are celebrating their 100th anniversary and are replacing all their signs, which gave me a great opportunity to talk about my services." Keep in mind that hundreds of other companies are approaching government agencies, so you need to be aggressive, even if you are inexperienced or your company is very small. "Your best opportunities will happen when you start small and go after small contracts," Martin-Rosa stresses. "Don't make assumptions about where opportunities lie. Do real research and find out what government agencies are really looking for from small-business owners."

3. Register Your Small Business Properly
To register to apply for government contracts, you need to provide your company's federal tax ID number (EIN), DUNS code, NAICS code and checking account number. Your first task is to register an accurate, thorough business profile on the primary government vendor database, the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), so that government agencies can research you as a potential client. One of the most overlooked steps is registering your business with the Dynamic Small Business Search, an extension of the CCR database that can greatly increase your government-contracting opportunities. You also need to get your small business on the General Services Administration (GSA) schedule. The GSA is the purchasing agent for the government and has a budget of tens of billions of dollars. It simplifies the purchasing process and represents federal, state, and regional buyers and helps establish long-term contracts to supply more than 11 million products and services. As a small-business owner, you may qualify to be an "approved vendor" on the GSA Schedule, which can help increase your credibility and make you more visible to other potential government buyers.

4. Follow the Current Market Conditions
If you want to build relationships with government organizations, you need to follow current market conditions and research hot topics. Stimulus money has changed the products and services the government is purchasing and the way small companies are doing business. "Going green" will continue to be a hot topic far into the future and has fueled the growth of Borzacchiello's company. "Everything is green now, so we decided to make going green important to us," she says. "We decided to produce new assets that are more sustainable and take a full strategic approach, not just for the exhibit elements we create, but for everything else we do. We try to reduce the carbon footprint for ourselves and our clients and make going green one of our key competencies, and because this issue has become very important to government organizations, they notice." Understand what potential buyers want and show them you can provide what's relevant and important to them. "It's all about where the money is," Martin-Rosa says. "If there is a lot of money allocated to green products, there will be more money appropriated for green businesses."

Martin-Rosa also notes that looking at the government contract procurement forecast is essential to keeping up with market trends and conditions, but small-business owners must pay attention to other sources to make sure they don't miss other opportunities that don't necessarily make the forecast. There are many services you can sign up for to receive automatic notifications of contracts to keep apprised of the ever-changing climate. You can sign up directly through the Victory in Procurement website or through sites such as U.S. Federal Contractor Registration.

5. Don't Forget to Network
Many government agencies hold procurement conferences and seminars throughout the year. It's a good idea to attend those conferences to network and build relationships with government decision makers, while increasing your knowledge about how the government spends. Because the federal fiscal year ends in October, the summer and fall represent hunting season, when networking is especially important. "Government organizations will not take a risk on a small business, so you need to build solid relationships," Martin-Rosa says. "Bite off little pieces, and if you sell products, make sure you accept credit cards. There are 230,000 federal government purchasers alone that have buying authority to purchase products and services of up to $3,000, and in emergencies, of up to $20,000. Let yourself be known via CCR, do your homework and identify four to five agencies where you will focus a majority of your marketing and relationship-building efforts."

Government contracts take a long time to procure, so be patient. On average, it takes people 18 to 24 months to secure their first contract. But, often, once you're in, you're in. Borzacchiello sees time management as key. "I try to set aside a specific time each week to work on government contracting," she says. "But don't let your meat and potatoes business fall to the side. Determine how many hours you can work on securing contracts and block it off in your schedule, as if it's a meeting with a client."