• Freshen your website with new fonts

    If your website was designed a while ago, chances are the choices of fonts at the time were limited. It is now possible to choose from a wide variety of freely available fonts,a and that can help...

  • Manage customer interactions, improve sales - CRM explained

    What CRM is...and how it can help Today I'm going to introduce you to CRM, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. This is a term used to describe a system which helps you manage your...

  • Email Everywhere!...No Kevin Bacon in sight!

    Get your Inbox, Sent, Deleted, Contacts, Calendar - on both Desktop & Mobile. You probably get your email on your mobile already, but can you see your other folders and contacts too? Personal...

  • How to have a website you can edit yourself

    Why edit yourself? A website you can edit yourself is par for the course these days. Most web developers are able to offer it. These days, with the web being all important in your presence in the...

  • Get your forms signed - on a mobile device!

    Do you have staff turn up at businesses or sites, and need to fill out forms and have them signed? Fed up of the paperwork floating about, getting lost, having big delays in being processed? Would...

  • Cloud backup services appraised

    This article will give a quick breakdown of cloud backup services, as based on my experience in researching and implementing them for clients. The primary remit has been a fire and forget service...

Freshen your website with new fonts  

google-fonts

If your website was designed a while ago, chances are the choices of fonts at the time were limited. It is now possible to choose from a wide variety of freely available fonts,a and that can help liven up a dated looking site.

History

Websites have long been limitied to the fonts that were available on your computer. These could be Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetical, Tahoma, and a few others, most of which are looking dated these days, and your typography ends up looking generic.

 

Enter embedded fonts

There are now well coded services that take advantage of modern browser standards, and allow embedding of custom fonts on your website. Importantly, these are cross-platform and cross-browser compatible. That means the website should look similar on most devices, even with your crazy new fonts! There are a couple of methods available. You can upload the font files to your website, or put in a line of code which tells the website a remote server it can get the fonts from. I find the latter much less hassle, and the main services like Google are reliable.

 

Why not just make an image?

Your logo may well be made up using a fancy font, which is fine, it is an image. However for the bulk of your website text this isn't an option. Search engines need to be able to read the text, and it is way too laborious to make website content as images.

 

Example use

I primarily use Google Fonts. They have a nice variety, and sticking to one service means less learning curve. Here's an example of how to use their Open Sans font:

Visit https://www.google.com/fonts, find the font you like, click the quick use button: quick-use, and follow the instructions.

Here's how works in the coding:

  1. Add this line to your <head> section:
    <link href='http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>

  2. To use the font in CSS, your style would contain this entry:
    font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif;



That all might be a bit code heavy for you if you're a small business owner, but any half decent web developer can do this. Here's Google's own guide:

https://developers.google.com/fonts/docs/getting_started

 

Good font choices

Open Sans is a great replacement for Arial as the main website text. It is very readable, and looks a bit more modern. It also has a good range of weights.

open-sans

Roboto is also good, and a handy replacement for Helvetica, which while a very good font, isn't free!

roboto

Aller gives a slightly alternative look, without messing up readability too much.

aller

Remember, less is more! Don't get carried away making things look too fancy, or the site will end up fussy and imbalanced. Using the new web fonts can really add a bit more zing to a site without much work.

 

Other services

Other embedded services include fonts.com and fontsquirrel.com

 

Conclusion

Don't let your site date too much, otherwise it's putting people off! New embedded fonts are a great way to breathe new life in without spending a great deal.

 


 

Manage customer interactions, improve sales - CRM explained  

zoho-crm

What CRM is...and how it can help

Today I'm going to introduce you to CRM, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. This is a term used to describe a system which helps you manage your interactions with your customers. On a simple level, this could mean an address book and post-it notes, but at a much more sophisticated level, there are CRM software products which aim to enhance your sales by use of recording activities, measuring and reporting on efficacy of marketing campaigns, and providing tools like mass email.

When you start to look at CRM products, it can start to bend the mind with the management style terminology.  I'll try and unbend it a little. Imagine having a list of all your prospective customers, those people you are hoping to do business with. You make contact with them, either en masse or individually, and these contact events are stored in a system. Based on your research and the feedback from them, you can start to target those with more prospect of converting to business, and great expected revenue.

I could go much further into the ins and outs of CRM systems, and may only scratch the surface. They can be quite big and scary. The best thing is to do your own research based on what you think you need, and what you can read on the website of the provider. What I can do is outline a few systems, and introduce you to one I picked for a small business:

 

Case study, Zoho CRM, affordable for small business

Some of the market leaders are Salesforce, SAP, and Microsoft Dynamics. However in the world of small business, these are quite expensive and perhaps too complicated. I went on the search a while back for a small business client to find a solution that was well made, mature enough not to vanish in a year, affordable yet sophisticated to fulfill the client's requirements.

I ended up with Zoho CRM. Zoho provide a number of online applications, of which their CRM is one. I found it easy enough to use. There was something of a learning curve, and I had to learn quite a bit about my client's processes. There are a number of Youtube videos which help explain the concepts. CRM is a concept rich approach, and taking this path can mean quite a bit of head scratching and rethinking the way you work. The outcome however should be that your operation is enhanced by using the tools.

Zoho CRM has a number of modules, some being Accounts, Contacts, Leads. We used Accounts to store existing client companies. Contacts to store contacts within those companies. We could use Zoho CRM to link Contacts to their associated Accounts. Leads are used to store prospective customers who will be targeted by marketing. Once a Lead takes up business, they are converted to an Account & Contacts.

 

Marketing campaigns and other features

The current client now has 35,000 leads they have obtained from a business contact database agency. We are now formulating a marketing campaign, including Zoho Campaigns, which provides very well produced email newsletters. Zoho CRM has a number of very useful plugins. I configured their Google Apps plugin to synchronise the Zoho CRM Contacts database with their centralised Google email contacts. The company now shares the same global contact database in Zoho CRM and email using Outlook on the desktop, and iPhones and Android phones.

Another benefit of using a CRM properly, is that all customer related activity is stored in the system. So for example, a customer calls to talk about a quote you just sent them. You write a quick note that is entered on their Contact and recorded with the time and date. This way anyone else in your organisation can quickly see what the state of play is with that customer. That way no matter who talks to the customer, they always know what is going on.

 

Pricing

Zoho CRM has a very affordable pricing structure. It is free for up to 3 users, $12/user/month for Standard edition, and goes up from there giving more features. The standard feature set has mostly been enough. We purchased a couple of addons, like the Google Apps one to synchronise the contacts, and the Mobile one to place the app on some of the client's smart phones.

 

Conclusion

So to conclude, if you are feeling like you haven't really got a good control of your customer relations, CRM may be worth considering. It does take some learning, but like any business reshaping process, it is worth doing in the long term.

 

 


 

 

Email Everywhere!...No Kevin Bacon in sight!  

bacon

Get your Inbox, Sent, Deleted, Contacts, Calendar - on both Desktop & Mobile.

You probably get your email on your mobile already, but can you see your other folders and contacts too? Personal accounts like Gmail give this functionality, but it can take a bit more work to get it for your business email. There are a number of solutions, here's one that gives you all your email folders, contacts, and even calendars on Microsoft Outlook, and the same on an Android mobile. Outlook categories are maintained between desktop and mobile too!

desktop-tablet-mobile

 

STAGE 1: Choose where your stuff is stored.


gmail

I am presenting two options for storage here: 


Option 1: Email, contacts and calendar stored on Gmail, Google's free email service.

    1. Create a Gmail account.
    2. Either use the Gmail email address or:
    3. Get the Gmail account to pull in your website emails:
      1. Use the following guide to continuously retrieve your website email https://support.google.com/mail/answer/21289?hl=en
      2. Use the following guide to be able to send email from your business email address: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/22370?hl=en
    1. Use Gmail to store all your contacts. You can import them from other programs. From the Gmail Contact manager, click More, then Import.


Option 2: Email stored on the same server as your website, contacts and calendar stored on Gmail.

    1. With this option you leave the email on your own website server. Read further down this page for ways to access.
    2. For contacts and calendar, make a Gmail account.

 

 

STAGE 2: Configure Outlook.

outlook

  1. Note that the type of email access I am suggesting here is a technology called IMAP. This is only really properly usable from Outlook version 2010 and above.

  2. If you chose storage Option 1, follow this guide to configure Outlook to access your Gmail account using IMAP: https://support.google.com/mail/troubleshooter/1668960?hl=en

  3. If you chose storage Option 2, follow this guide to configure Outlook to access your business account using IMAP: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/286197

  4. Take a backup of your contacts and calendar. If they are normally stored on Outlook, follow steps 1 & 2 here: http://www.wikihow.com/Back-Up-Microsoft-Outlook If they are normally stored on Gmail, do this: http://www.howtogeek.com/68863/how-to-downloadbackup-your-gmail-google-calendar-and-docs-data/

  5. Purchase and download gSyncit http://www.fieldstonsoftware.com. It allows you to synchronise your Gmail contacts and calendar with Outlook. I have used it extensively, and would say it is an excellent and solid tool, well worth the purchase. The company releases regular updates to keep up with any changes Google make to Gmail.

  6. Once you've installed gSyncit, configure it to synchronise Outlook with your calendar and contacts: http://www.fieldstonsoftware.com/software/gsyncit3/getting_started.shtml. One note is that I often limit the number of days in the past the calendar is synchronised, this speeds things up. 

 

STAGE 3: Configure your mobile.

android

  1. You may already have added your Google account to your mobile, in which case there's nothing to do. If not, or your mail Google account on your mobile is different to the one you just set up for email, follow this guide to add another: https://support.google.com/coordinate/answer/2604692?hl=en

 

 

Bacon-free conclusion:

It can be very handy to get all your business info from different devices. Hopefully this article can give you ideas how you might like to do it. You can also use tablets in the same way. If you don't like Outlook, you could use Gmail directly. If you are an iPhone or Blackberry user, it is possible to access Gmail data from those devices too!

Enough of the Bacon-free zone...he is the man after all!...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T2FpCDlyNg

 

 


 

How to have a website you can edit yourself  

Why edit yourself?

A website you can edit yourself is par for the course these days. Most web developers are able to offer it. These days, with the web being all important in your presence in the market, having regularly updated content is vital. It shows your visitors that you are active in the development of your business, and search engines like Google treat it as a positive activity for ranking your site.

 

Options available, free:

blogger-logo-small

So how do you go about having a website you can edit? Well there are a couple of options available. Firstly is a free site like a blog, try https://www.blogger.com. You can actually end up with quite a nice looking site with such tools. The main restriction is the level of control you have over the look of your site, and whether you can plug in extras like an online store.

 

Options available, paid:

This takes me to the second option, a content management system (CMS). The setting up of which isn't really for the faint of heart, but if you have good tech skills it's possible. The real learning curve is adapting a CMS to a website design. It takes a lot of coding and fine tweaking. Of course any good web developer can do this for you. Essentially, once set up, you can log into your website from anywhere, and edit any text and images you like. From the content editing point of view, it's not really any more difficult than editing a Word document, or posting on Facebook. Here's a couple of the most popular CMS systems out there:

 

Joomla

joomla logo black

Joomla is free to download and use. It is a mature product, and millions of sites have been created using it. It has a large variety of add-on features, a good development community, and is pretty easy to get support. As it is a well used product, should anyone want to have work done elsewhere, there are plenty of developers around who can work with it. That way no-one is tied into some bespoke system.

I develop the majority of my sites in Joomla (this site is Joomla!). I use it because of the wide range of support available, and the ability to use extensions to achieve almost anything. Some of the useful add-on features include picture slide-shows (check out my home page), video players, mailshot tools, full online store systems. The list goes on. Check out the extensions website for an idea of how much is there: http://extensions.joomla.org/

 

Wordpress

wp-header-logo

Wordpress is one of the other mature and widely used CMS systems out there. It is perhaps a bit more polished than Joomla, though not quite as versatile. The differences are fairly minimal. I have chosen Joomla for it's marginal greater flexibility, and it is easier to stick with one system as it takes quite a while to learn the coding behind the scenes. Wordpress has a good support and development community, and a quantiful range of extensions: https://wordpress.org/plugins/

 

Conclusion

Whatever route you go, it is the trend to have an owner-editable website, and for good reasons. A pretty good site can be had for free, and a good developer can build you an editable website with all the functionality and finesse you could want. That is the joy of modern web technologies!

 


 

Get your forms signed - on a mobile device!  

Do you have staff turn up at businesses or sites, and need to fill out forms and have them signed?

Fed up of the paperwork floating about, getting lost, having big delays in being processed?

Would you like a simple, cheap way of having it all electronic?

 

What the customer wanted:

Recently I had a request by a company that sends it's engineers to construction sites to do maintenance checks. The engineer has to fill out a form, which involves ticking boxes, writing down readings and descriptions of their findings, and getting the customer to sign it off at the end of the visit.

Suffice to say they were getting fed up of lost and delayed paperwork, and wanted to computerise the process, but not have it cost a huge amount. I appraised a number of solutions, and came up with one that costs $9.99 per mobile device per month. Given how versatile and resilient the system is, that's a fantastic price! It allows use on iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets. Given that many people have one or the other, or that Android tablets can be had cheaply, it means there's no great outlay on equipment.

 

My solution:

DoForms is the product I settled on. There are a number of other good similar products out there like devicemagic. I settled on DoForms as it provided reporting, which some of the others lacked. It might not be a feature used straight away, but in the case of my client, they may in the future decide to look at all sites with a certain measurement.

The process was simple. I created an account, and then recreated the client's maintenance checklist using the form creator. Basically I clicked on a numeric question, and could fill out a prompt, such as "Valve pressure in bar:". You add questions in a sequence like you would write a page from top to bottom. The last couple I added were a date selector, and a signature box. Most smartphones are touchscreen these days, so you can either have the customer draw their signature on the screen, or you can buy capacitive styluses from eBay for very little.

DoForms has an advanced feature of question logic. So if the person filling the form out had a question that said "Was there any water damage? Y/N.", and they answered Yes, the form would then ask the question "Where was the water damage?" If the answer to the Y/N question was No, it would skip the next question, making the form filling quicker.

 

How long it took:

The form I was copying was a side of A4 with about 15 questions. That took me 15 minutes to recreate on DoForms. After that, I saved the form, and marked it as published. I then added my phone as a device by registering it's number on the DoForms website. Then I downloaded the DoForms app to my phone, logged into the account, and the app fetched my new form from the DoForms server. All of this fiddling around on the phone took about 5 minutes, at the end of which I had a very easy to use form. The signature box worked great, and I couldn't see much need for a stylus, except to give confidence to customers.

One killer feature of DoForms is that it works when there is no mobile signal. Say your worker goes to visit a site with poor or no mobile signal. They can fill out forms, which are stored on the phone or tablet. As soon as they come within range of a mobile signal or wifi, which could be hours later, the forms are automatically uploaded. Once on the DoForms website, you can see them in a list, and read all the results.

 

Conclusion:

There are more good addon features of DoForms, such as transfer of information to other systems like Quickbooks accounting, SaleForce CRM, and other databases. This makes it nicely scalable and connectable. It's good to see such a nicely made and solid product. From my usual poking around, the company seems to be one of the leaders in this market, so I would have confidence in good continued support and provision for new devices.

 


 

Cloud backup services appraised  

This article will give a quick breakdown of cloud backup services, as based on my experience in researching and implementing them for clients. The primary remit has been a fire and forget service that is cost effective.

Backup can be a minefield. Most don't do enough of it, and many services fail to work consistently or reliably. The ideal system is one the user doesn't have to think about, and isn't too expensive. I have tried a number over the years, and if you're after the simple and quick answer: Crashplan for overall backup, Dropbox with packrat for basic backup and reliable sharing, and Sitevault for website backup (yep, don't rely on your hosts for backups!)

One of the problems is that many products come and go. When selecting solutions, as well as costs, I try and get a feel for how long the product has been around, how good the support is, and how long it is likely to remain around. If you are going to invest time and effort in setting something up, then you don't want to do it only to find in a year's time the company does away with half it's support staff, or just folds altogether.

So on to the choices:



OVERALL BACKUP:

Crashplan (crashplan.com) is a product that provides a service that backs your data up to online storage with unlimited capacity. The backups happen as you work, so no need to remember to start it off. Most business owners have good intentions, and forget very readily. Backup for one computer is $60/year, and up to 10 computers is $150/year. There is a business option of $10/computer/month. They also have a free product that can backup to a local drive like a portable hard drive or memory stick on a schedule. I don't really suggest local backups much as they get lost, left in the office (there could be a fire).

Cloud backup does require a reasonable speed internet connection, though that depends on the amount of data you have to backup. If you need a rapid restoration, you can order a drive containing all your data to be shipped from the US. Prices start at $130 plus the price of the drive and shipping.

The other feature that is really important with backup is data retention. This means how many versions of your data are kept, and for how long. So if you deleted a document three months ago, you could still get it back. Crashplan offers unlimited retention. Crashplan also has status reports to let you know when backups fail and suceed. This is another vital feature to business owners who don't really want to be checking it too often. Though I would still suggest sticking a calendar reminder in to check every month or two. Belt 'n' braces is the name of the game with backup.



BASIC BACKUP AND SHARING:

Dropbox (dropbox.com) is one of the longest running cloud sharing services out there. Having tried a number of other ones, it's also about the only one that works. The others either have badly written clients that slow down the computer, or poor features and performance. You can have 2GB storage for free, or 100GB for $100/year. Larger storage is available at higher rates.

Basically you install the software on any device you want, and the dropbox folder is shared over the internet accross all the devices with dropbox installed and logged onto your account. This is wonderful for roaming workers, and works very well. Beware to unselect when dropbox asks you to upload the contents of your phone or digital camera, it sucks space! (Unless you want those things shared/backed up).

Dropbox free has 30 days data retention. If you have the 100GB pro account, you can add a feature called PackRat for $40, which provides infinite data retention. For one client I have both Dropbox and Crashplan installed, double-tap!



WEBSITE BACKUP:

SiteVault (site-vault.com) provides a cloud backup product for websites. This backs up all your files and databases. Web hosts usually say they back up files on a regular basis, but in my experience when asked for a recovery, their backup has been known to be corrupted, or not as frequent as promised on their website. Backups also aren't really the responsiblity of the hosts. I'm about to start a comprehensive trial of SiteVault, so will post back my findings soon.

My initial research shows them to be one of the most dominant and long running contenders in the market. Their prices look good too. They don't work on subscription, rather on one-off fees. 5 websites for $40, 15 for $60, 50 for $100. More on them soon!

So my final words are three: backup backup backup! :)