April 30, 2015

Email has become the primary communication tool of business. Telephone calls, in-person meetings, so 20th Century. Email is fast, inexpensive, incredibly simple to execute.

And now there are new social tools businesses are using to communicate.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  These, too, spread the written word at near-light speed.

And there’s the rub.  These forms of communication are all about the written word, and that presents a unique set of risks.  All of us have sent and received emails that miscommunicated what we wished to express, requiring us to clarify our message, apologize for hurt feelings, and possibly back pedal to safer ground. Here are five suggestions for how to avoid those types of communications:

Double-check EVERYTHING before hitting Send.
We have all had that “Oops” moment – you hit Send only to realize in the flash of the email disappearing that you replied to the wrong person or sent incomplete/private/incorrect information.  Yes, we’re only human, but as we’ve all come to work at breakneck speed and multitask to the point of lunacy, that is not a reason to be careless or impatient when communicating via the written word.  Re-read everything before sending, including the To, CC, and BCC fields.  One extra step could save on a world of aggravation.

Slang, smiley faces, cutesy borders, obscure and difficult to read fonts…not!
Business emails are not the place to indulge your creativity or try out new emojis (unless you’re sending to a friend or family member). Your colleagues and clients should receive emails that are professional, crisp, and to the point. Even though ;-P conveys your thoughts, not everyone may appreciate you sticking your tongue out at them.

Check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Spell check and autocorrect won’t catch everything; in fact, they can make things much worse.  That’s why adding “pardon the mistakes” to your mobile device email signature only buys you so much leeway.  Every communication you send is to reinforce your professionalism.  Typing in all lower case or CAPS, misusing there/their, or writing a paragraph with nary a comma or period chips away at that professional image, and that is always to your detriment.

Reply all WILL make you very unpopular.
Just because twenty people were on an email doesn’t mean they all need to receive your response. A crowded inbox is a pain; so is a long email chain with twenty voices. Be careful with “reply all” and consider carefully whether the email has to be read by everyone.  This is most true if what you’re sending does not put one or more of those on the email thread in a positive light.  Think of criticizing your boss through an email on which she/he is CC’ed.  Not good.

How do you “sound”?
In-person and telephone communications allow you to manage your tone, manner, and rate of speech so you can always tell how someone is reacting to what you say.  The written word?  Not so much. You send an email, wait for a reply, and only then will you realize that you are in trouble (and often it is too late to do anything about it).  How words “sound” in your head may not be how your recipient (audience) reads them.  Subtly is a difficult proposition via written communication, so be sure to choose your words carefully.  Don’t use all CAPS.  Realize certain word combinations are like a jab and right cross in boxing.  A 2nd opinion never hurts.  Have someone else read your email before sending

You will send and receive thousands upon thousands of emails each year.  It may seem daunting to follow the steps above for every email, but our goal is to make you aware that one wrong keystroke can lead to problems and confusion that were never intended, but do damage to your business.  If you’re ever in doubt, don’t send the email. Wait a bit, perhaps make a phone call or schedule a meeting.  There’s nothing wrong with the old-fashioned communications methods that have served us so well in the past.

#PokeTheBear

 

April 23, 2015

Gremlins really exist in technology. Can almost guarantee you’ve been a casualty of their chaos. You leave work for lunch, fresh air, or to go home, and upon your return you find something amiss with your technology.  Nothing looks different, but it’s just not working.  Sound familiar? Given how much your business depends on technology nowadays, any disruption to your IT is inopportune, frustrating, and let’s be honest, scary.  But guess what, your issue may be just a little hiccup and not a full-fledged disaster.

If technology is not your area expertise, your first instinct is to reach for the phone to call your IT support.  It’s natural.  You’re stressed thinking of all the possible repercussions to being down, and time is always of the essence, so you want things back to normal ASAP.

But before you hit that speed dial button, take a couple deep breaths and see if you can do some basic troubleshooting to quickly rectify the situation and eliminate the frustration that comes from misbehaving technology.  Plus, you’ll feel accomplished and won’t have to spend on that support call.

These 5 quick steps can be done by any level of user:

Restart your computer.
Think of how recharged you feel after a good night’s sleep or a solid nap.  Well rebooting your machine is a similar process, but for your machine.  Save anything you can, then shut down the computer – follow the standard process for your type of machine – and count to 20 before restarting. More often than not, that will fix the issue.

Make certain all devices are plugged in & power strips are turned on.
Every IT support company has a story about a frantic customer who reports that some piece of their technology isn’t working, only to find out when the tech arrives that the device wasn’t properly plugged in or their power strip had been turned off.  Simple as it may sound, this is more common than you think.  Always do a quick check to ensure power is in place for all machines and devices.  (Yes, this may require you to crawl under your desk.)

Don’t ignore updates.
You do this at your own peril.  Updates are not done to annoy you; they’re often fixes to issues that you may be experiencing or will experience without the updates.  We know many people who ignore updates, and they’ve all received stern lectures from us as to why they shouldn’t.  Updates can be run most any time and can be the answer to whatever issue you’re experiencing.  So go check to see if you have any to run.

Uh oh, could you be infected with a virus or malware?
It’s an unfortunate reality of technology now, but one of the biggest causes of disruptions to your systems are viruses, malware, and other such infections.  Even with the best protections and conscientious use of your technology, you will eventually suffer some sort of infection.  Run anti-virus, -malware, -spyware, etc. scans on your machine to see if there’s anything to be removed.  That might just do the trick for you.

You’re probably not a trailblazer, so do a quick search.
Assuming that you have access to the Internet, GTS (Google That Stuff).  The issue you’re experiencing has most likely happened to many others.  See what they have to say about a fix.  You may be able to find solution(s) right from your search.  Any solution will probably feature a step-by-step guide to a potential solution.  Just DON’T download anything that says it’ll fix your computer issues, etc.  That can be a recipe for disaster.

If you have no luck even after taking all of the above into your own hands, then most certainly pick up that phone to call your IT support.  Just remember to be patient. Your tech support person is going to do all they can to help you, and will probably ask you if you performed some or all the steps above.  There’s no magic to it – a lot of solutions are trial and error, but they’ll be with you until the issue is resolved.

#PokeTheBear

April 16, 2015

Technology is now a fact of life. You encounter it all day, every day, both at home and at work (and for many of us, there is little differentiation now).  While technology at home offers many conveniences, a good bit of it is not required to maintain your lifestyle; business is a much different story.  Technology is a must to remain relevant, connected, and thriving in the modern business world.

Here are three reasons how technology keeps your business going.

Communication is key.
In our digitally interwoven lives we communicate on a near constant basis with an ever-expanding network of clients/customers, vendors, support personnel, etc.  We send and receive emails by the thousands, post to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day, and maintain a digital profile accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Keeping your business above the noise of other companies and on the radar of your most important clients and customers requires outreach and engagement.  The communication avenues offered by today’s technologies are the tools your business can utilize to achieve such as objective.

Efficiency has never been so easy.
Gone are the days of cheap desktop rolodexes and leather-bound account ledgers and calendars.  Technology, like CRM databases and do-it-yourself accounting software, has made it functionally easier and more straightforward to oversee customer- and vendor-related lists, financial records, and contractual obligations. Heck, a small device connected to your smartphone can now handle all your credit card processing needs.  You can use cloud-based services to save and share work with anyone around the globe (or on the International Space Station).  There is even the capability to be in two places at once using tool like virtual meetings or remote desktop software.  All this helps you make better use of your time and resources.

Data. Data. Data.
The foundational resource of your successful business must be an awareness of the data behind it. Technology helps you keep track of the “numbers” – people, dollars, gigabytes, etc.  A program as simple and inexpensive as Google Analytics can be the difference between floundering under the status quo and seeing a future trend for new products or services.  Data only work when properly analyzed and leveraged to grow your business.  The technology exists now for businesses of all sizes to find the key numbers in their companies and use that knowledge to grow and prosper.

Technologies are ever evolving (remember the Betamax?).  While it can overwhelming, know that IT can be a difference maker for your business.

#PokeTheBear

April 09, 2015

-- 12345
-- password
-- Your pet's/child's/grandchild's name
-- abcde
-- qwerty

The list goes on of the passwords people continue to use online.  (Don't ask us, we tell 'em to change them.  We can only do so much.)

Your passwords don't have to be as blatantly hackable as the ones listed above, but make no mistake about it, it's no longer rocket science to penetrate (true technical term) your password-protected accounts.

If the likes of Target, JP Morgan, and The Home Depot can be hacked, the ugly truth is so can you.  But don't leave the front door open for intruders to waltz in.

Here are four tips on how to make your passwords difficult to break:

Size counts.
The longer the password, the more difficult it is to crack.  Use a combination of alphanumeric and special characters; make them as long as the site allows; and do not use words found in the dictionary.

Get creative.
Think of 3 or 4 sentences and select the first two letters from each word, add a number and symbol, and viola, you have a new password. How about the title of or lyrics from a song? Select the first letter from each word, add a number or two and special character, tada.  New password.

Love your password? That’s great, but don’t use it for more than one account.
I know this is a tough one because most people abhor having different passwords for similar websites and accounts. We know it is difficult to keep track of your growing password list, especially when the passwords contain random letters, numbers, and symbols, or are based on convoluted sentences. Relax, you don’t have to keep the information in your brain because there are many password management tools to help you keep your passwords safe (they'll also generate passwords for you).  Heck, we're OK if you use a password-protected Word or Excel file (but that's for another posting).

Test your password.
It’s a good idea to test a password similar to yours (but not your actual password) to see if how strong it is. Try How Secure Is My Password (https://howsecureismypassword.net/).  Again though, don't use your actual password.

And if all else fails and your imagination is at low ebb you can always use a password generator http://passwordsgenerator.net to assist you in coming up with a secure password.

Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), keeping a list of your passwords on your desk, on your phone, tablet or laptop, or even pinned to your bulletin board (yes, I’ve seen that!) is asking for trouble. Common sense, a little dilligence, and following the advice above should afford you enough protection to drop your paranoia meter into the acceptable range.

#PokeTheBear