Blog

December 16th, 2013

BusinessValue_Dec09_BOne of the most popular marketing tools for small to medium businesses is email marketing. When done well, email can be a great way to connect with your customers and grow your business.  However, one downside of this type of email blast marketing is that there’s always a good chance your emails will be blocked by spam filters.

If you’re new at email marketing, or even if you’re an old hand at it, you’ll need to know a bit about spam filters.  First, there are no set rules that all spam filters use.  You may notice that some filter nearly all spam, but others filter only the most obvious spam messages.   And, often users are permitted to add their own rules that either allow or block messages from specific senders or with specific words.

1. Take a look at your content

Because some email scammers include hidden HTML or other coding that the recipient won’t see in an email, many filters are now set up to scan the code of an email as well.  You should use a reputable email marketing service provider like MailChimp or Constant Contact.

Make your email message eye catching but informative.  The most successful emails tend to provide useful information like how the product or service can be used, updates from the company, and even industry-related articles. 

2. Know the common spam trigger words

Many email providers scan the subject line of emails for potential spam words. If your email message contains any of these words, it’s likely that your recipient will never see your message.  You already know to avoid words like “enhancement” and you’d never refer a body part, but did you know that using a $ or a ! in the subject line may trigger a spam filter?  Read more about common trigger words here.

3. Audit your subscriber lists

In order to maximize the percentage of users who open your emails, clean out your subscriber list on a regular basis. Take a look for email addresses that have been deleted, or users who no longer work at the business. By auditing your subscriber list, you raise the chance that your emails will be opened and read by more recipients.

You should also look into the email addresses themselves. If you are sending an email to a general account i.e., sales@company.com, you may not be actually reaching a real person, but an account that automates tasks instead. Try to send your email to individuals instead of general accounts.

4. Test before you send

Testing your email before sending it out to your audience will help in ensuring that your email makes it through spam filters. The best way to test is to look for a spam testing solution. These solutions allow you to theoretically send the email to a number of different services and clients, before presenting you with a report on whether your email managed to get through to the main services.

You can test the email itself in different browsers. While many browsers will allow you to view most emails, they will often render them slightly differently e.g., text will be bigger, or content may not expand to fit screen size. If the content looks weird to the viewer, there is a high chance that it will not be read and may be flagged as spam instead.

5. Ensure you follow established verification procedures

There are verification procedures that those who send bulk emails must pass. These various procedures essentially let the different email services know that you, as the sender, are a legitimate business and not a spammer.

Many of the bigger email service providers have set guidelines on their websites for bulk senders, so try looking on the Internet for the different guidelines. Some of the more general requirements include:

  • The email be sent from the same IP and email address.
  • The same name, address and information is in the From: header of every bulk email you send.
  • Ensuring that the DNS (Domain Name System) records and address you use points to your company and are correct.

Of course, this can take time and some knowledge of how the Internet and email works, so one option is to work with an email expert who can help you set up your server or third-party platform so that emails from you will be verified. If you’re looking for a way to make your email marketing efforts more successful, or to ensure that they make it through spam filters, please contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
October 25th, 2013

BusinessValue_Oct16_BMarketing is an important business function and one method of marketing is email marketing. There are so many different schools of though on email marketing that it’s no wonder that many companies still struggle with developing campaigns that actually work.

Here are 4 tips to help you develop a successful email marketing campaign.

1. Database
If you have had an email newsletter or marketing campaign for more than a couple of years you likely have a large or fair-sized contact database. A problem many businesses run into is that their contact databases are simply out of date. Emails are sent to accounts that have been closed, or to recipients who have moved jobs. An out-of-date database can really hurt the effectiveness of email marketing. So, with this in mind,  check after every newsletter or emailed campaign for bounced email messages.  Take the time to delete bounced email addresses from your list and to update information like names, positions, email addresses, etc.

2. Purpose
When developing a campaign take time to define the purpose, what do you want the recipient to do. From there, develop the content and layout around that purpose. Be sure to define the type of people you want the email to reach because this will make it easier to define a recipient list from your database.

3. KISS
Many email marketing initiatives fail because there’s too much information or has an overly complex layout and sign up procedure. Write content that gets to the point and tells what the audience needs to know in a clear and concise manner.

Use a clean layout with ample white space and only use essential information. Images and design should also drive attention to the most important content.  Beyond that, content should also be optimized for mobile devices. Because so many people read email on phones and tablets if your content doesn’t scale to fit smaller screens it will likely just be deleted.

4. Get help!
Email marketing can be complex. Try working with different email marketing providers to see what works for you, your content and what provides the best results. Email services like MailChimp or Constant Contact have easy to use tools to help you design and manage your own email marketing campaign.

We’re always happy to answer your questions about IT related topics.  Call us at 203.987.4566 or email support@virtualdensity.com.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
June 26th, 2013

BusinessValue_June25_BOne of the common goals businesses have in regards to marketing is ensuring that their reputations are managed properly. Many business owners make sure that their corporate reputation is as it should be, but often forget to look at their own reputation. However, this can be important, especially if your name is associated with the business. Do you think your personal online reputation could use a boost?

Here are five tips that can help you manage your personal online reputation.

1. Be a little vain Growing up you were probably told that showing a high opinion of oneself isn't a positive. However, when it comes to your online reputation, being a little vain and promoting your good points, especially in relation to your business, could help define how others perceive you. It is a good idea to visit the major search engines and search for your name - full name, nickname and any aliases and see what comes up.

Be sure to also look at the different categories of search. For example, look at Images, News, Blogs, etc., on Google. You can also set up a Google Alert which will notify you whenever new content mentioning your name is posted. You can do this by visiting Google's Alerts site, entering your name in the Search Query box, setting how often you want the alerts, (we recommend once a week), and pressing Create Alert.

2. Secure your own little slice of the Internet It is a good idea to try and buy your own domain name, e.g., www.yourname.com. You can use this to create a website all about you, where you place a personal blog, pictures, etc. If you maintain the site, you can also link it to your social media profiles. If you keep this updated and keep up momentum then you may see a boost in followers. The best part is that this can be fairly inexpensive. Even if you don't launch a website straightaway, securing a web domain that is your own gives you options in the future, which you might want to use to promote aspects of your business, as well as yourself.

3. One platform to rule them all There are a wide variety of websites dedicated to content. Sites like WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc., are all versatile and allow you to post nearly any type of content, or even create your own website. These sites usually allow you to link your personal domain name to them, so when someone enters this name they are taken directly to your content.

4. Get social Social media is a powerful reputation tool, and having a personal profile in the same place as your business profile can be beneficial. Be sure to fully fill out your profile information and be as active as possible, sharing content you produce, find, or generally enjoy. If you want to really interact that it is worthwhile to be on the major social media platforms - Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Pinterest.

5. Follow one of the golden rules of the Internet There are many rules when it comes to being on the Internet. One of the most important is: Watch what you put online. There are many stories of people sending an email, or posting a public Facebook post with content that is harmful to their reputation, when they intended this to be private.

In general, it's worth remembering that with anything that appears on the Internet, even if it's private, there is always a chance it will at some point become public. Therefore, you should think twice before posting anything that you definitely always want to keep private, or that could harm your reputation.

If you would like to learn more about managing your reputation, or that of your business, please contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 23rd, 2013

BCP_May15_BTake a moment and think about your business.

Are you prepared for a disaster? If you are like most business owners or managers you have some form of backup, maybe even a basic disaster recovery plan. While that’s a start, recent disasters around the world have shown that a simple backup is not enough.

Here are five tips to help ensure that your business is fully ready for the next disaster.

1. Back it ALL up
While it can be tempting to only backup the most important data and programs, it can be a chore to identify what is deemed to be important. A file that is non-essential today may become essential in the future. If it’s lost due to a disaster, this could prove to be a problem.

A good idea is to look for a backup solution that covers all your data and programs. But, having a full backup solution isn’t enough, you also need to ensure that recovery is easy and can be implemented quickly.

2. Look into tiered recovery
Establishing a tiered recovery method means identifying the value and importance of existing systems and utilizing a recovery method that meets needs. It would be a good idea to identify mission critical systems and adopt a recovery method that can have these systems up and running as quickly as possible. From there you can tier different systems and find recovery methods for each of them. For example, archived files are likely not needed right away, so they can be recovered at a later date, using a slower recovery method.

3. Keep copies of all keys and licenses
With the amount of software and programs businesses use on a daily basis growing, it’s a good idea to keep copies of the activation keys (the string of digits and letters you enter to activate the full version of software) and purchased licenses.

While many of these are now distributed electronically through email, there are still software developers that distribute keys by mail or with the physical install CDs. If you lose the codes in a fire, you’ll be out of luck and have to purchase the software again. This is an extra charge you likely don’t want.

4. Pick the right recovery locations
The best recovery plans offer numerous backup solutions which are hosted in different locations. A good provider knows this and will utilize data storage centers as far apart as possible. If you choose to backup your own data, do not keep the backups in the office.

If you are preparing for a big disaster, you need to have physical locations that you can move to if your main business location is damaged or destroyed. Optimal plans will have more than one location identified and have them as far apart as possible. This will minimize the chances of losing full operations and increase your business’s ability to bounce back quicker.

5. Match your recovery plan to your business
There are so many different backup and recovery options that it can be tough to pick one. The best course of action is to look at your systems and how they work. If you operate strictly offline, a cloud based backup solution likely isn’t your best bet. Or, if you operate fully in the cloud, a physical tape or hard disk backup may not be optimal.

 

If you are looking to beef up, or establish a disaster recovery plan, call us 203.987.4566 we can help you find the optimal solution that meets your needs and your budget.

 

 

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 16th, 2013
Summary: Public clouds have the edge over their internal counterparts in security, reliability, and elasticity, according to the author of a new book on enterprise architecture.

To see many of the advantages of cloud computing without its risks, many enterprises are turning to private clouds, which are service layers contained within their firewalls that look and feel like public clouds. But these private clouds may actually be less secure and reliable than the public services.

Data Center NASA Photo credit NASA Office of the CIO
(Image: NASA; Office of the CIO)

That’s the view of Jason Bloomberg, who said private clouds often add up to more trouble than they’re worth. In his latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution: How Cloud Computing, REST-Based SOA, and Mobile Computing Are Changing Enterprise IT, Jason outlined the reasons why public cloud may ultimately be a better choice for enterprises.

You may not agree with Jason’s premise about on-premises — in fact, I expect violent disagreement. And this is more of an either/or argument, rather than raising the possibility of blended strategies, such as employing public clouds as test beds, but keeping applications in production within private clouds.

That said, here are Jason’s arguments for public cloud and against private cloud:

  1. Private clouds tend to use older technology than public clouds: You may have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new hardware and software, but try getting your organization to agree to that every year.
  2. Public clouds shift capital expenses to operational expenses: It’s pay as you go, versus building an entire datacenter, no matter how virtualized it may be.
  3. Public clouds have better utilization rates: With private cloud, your organization still has to build and maintain all kinds of servers to meet spikes in demand across various divisions or functions. Public cloud offers the same spare demand on a pay-as-you-need-it basis.
  4. Public clouds keep infrastructure costs low for new projects: With private clouds, you still need to scare up sometimes scarce on-site resources for unplanned projects that may pop up.
  5. Public clouds offer greater elasticity: “You’ll never consume all the capacity of a public cloud, but your private cloud is another matter entirely.”
  6. Public clouds get enterprises out of the “datacenter business”: establishing private cloud probably gets you in deeper into the DC business than with traditional on-premises servers.
  7. Public clouds have greater economies of scale: No private cloud can compete with the likes of Google and Amazon on price. And the public providers are constantly buying boatloads of the latest security technology.
  8. Public clouds are hardened through continual hacking attempts: Thousands of hackers have been pounding Google and Amazon for years now. The public cloud providers are ready for anything at this point.
  9. Public clouds attract the best security people available: They seek out the top security experts, will pay them top dollar, and treat them as the most important part of their businesses, which they are. Do traditional enterprises treat security teams this way?
  10. Private clouds suffer from “perimeter complacency”: “If it’s on the internal network, it must be secure!” ’nuff said…
  11. Private cloud staff competence is an unknown: Your organization may have a lot of talented and knowledgeable people, but is data security the main line of your business?
  12. Private cloud penetration testing is insufficient: Even if you test your applications and networks on a regular basis (which man organizations don’t), these only tell you if things are secure at that exact moment.
April 12th, 2013

BusinessValue_April02_BWhen it comes to operating a business, you’re always balancing costs and profits. And you’re probably eager to cut costs whenever possible. One area that has probably demanded a large investment is technology. The problem with technology is that it can be hard to keep costs at bay.

Here are five ways you can reduce IT spending.

Backup everything
If your business is like most other small to medium companies, the majority of your important files are located on one server or maybe spread across a couple of computers. Hardware doesn’t last forever and the machine where you have your data stored on will eventually stop working.

When it does, you’ll have to replace it, and your files that were on it could be lost. The cost to recover them will be high. To minimize this risk, you should invest in a solid backup platform that runs on a regular basis.

Yes, this will cost money now, but would you rather have a copy of your systems and data from yesterday which can be easily implemented when you have a problem, or would you like to pay to maybe recover year’s worth of data? Or worse, not be able to recover the data at all? Backups will save you costs in the long-run, not to mention the stress they will help you avoid.

Have a strict anti virus policy
Even if you tell your employees not to download programs or browser extensions, they’re still going to do it.  Simply having computers and devices accessing the Internet through your network puts you at risk. If your systems are hacked or infected, you can lose data, face high recovery costs or worse.

Minimize the chance of malware infections and the risk of being hacked by having antivirus software and security solutions installed on every computer. This makes it easier for you or your IT partner to ensure your systems’ antivirus software is up to date and scanning when it should be. This will minimize the chance of infection and keep costs down.

Document everything
The more your company grows, the more technology you’ll use.  If you document all of your systems, computers, software, etc. including where it’s located and when it was implemented. You will be able to track things down quickly when needed, thus managing your systems better.

Look into a CRM/ERP/HRM solution
There are so many software solutions out there that can help you plan and run your operations. If you’ve been tracking customer or employee data by using a simple spreadsheet, you could be getting more out of a tailored solution.

Solutions like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or even Human Resources Management (HRM) sfotware can help you spot hidden costs or even plan more efficiently, which will reduce costs well into the future.

Look for fixed-price solutions
A major problem with all technology related systems is that predicting costs is nearly impossible. You simply don’t know when/if an important piece of hardware will fail. This becomes even harder if you don’t have expertise in tech.

One of the best ways to save money on IT costs is to outsource. Almost every IT provider offers flat-rate services that cover your systems with anti-virus and patching and can provide network documentation for all your hardware and software.  Since it’s a regular, fixed, monthly cost it makes budgeting for IT easier.  You can then focus on your business, and over time will see a decrease in IT costs.

If you are looking to cut your IT expenses call us 203.987.4566.  We can help you reduce your IT expenses and make your business more profitable.

 

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 1st, 2013

BCP_March20_BOperating a business is never easy. There is always an element of risk, and always external forces that threaten your business. As such, many disasters are simply beyond your control. These disasters are a part of business, and with extreme weather changes we experience today, owners and managers need to be prepared for almost anything. For many companies, the only way to prepare for adverse times is by developing a Business Continuity Plan.

Companies are generally hesitant to adopt a formal Business Continuity Plan (BCP) because they’re unfamiliar with the subject matter and fear the perceived costs and complexity involved. We don’t deny that plans are usually on the complex side, but there are good reasons as to why your company should adopt one. Here’s five.

1. Your business will be perceived as more valuable
Banks, venture capitalists and other investors tend to err on the side of caution, and as such will usually look to businesses that appear to be stable as more viable investment vehicles. Companies with a BCP are often seen to be more valuable, as they can address diverse situations better than those without. As a result, they will make the investor more money over time.

2. Compliance
Big companies in a number of industries have had continuity plans for years and many have started to look for suppliers and vendors with continuity plans. Beyond that, some industries and government bodies have made BCP a requirement. If you are a vendor, supplier or even in specific industries, it is a good idea to have one in order for to ensure business runs smoothly.

3. Potentially lower insurance premiums
Operating a business is filled with risks, and business managers are often looking for ways to minimize it. One way includes the purchase of insurance – many industries and situations require you to carry it. Generally, insurance providers will give more favorable rates to companies that take steps to minimize risk. A solid BCP will go a long way in showcasing how risk-averse your company is, which could lead to lower rates or at the very least, stable rates.

4. More efficient communication
Developing a BCP involves constant, company-wide communication in order for it to be successful. For many businesses, this involves collaboration between team members who don’t normally work together on a regular basis.

A BCP also fosters communication plans during disasters, both within the organization – most employees have a role, and will need to work together to pull through – and outside – customers, suppliers and other stakeholders will be contacting you. If your employees know how to communicate what needs to be done, effects of the disaster will be minimized.

5. Survival
Recent natural disasters around the globe have highlighted that businesses without a plan will most likely be forced out of business. Having a BCP will minimize the chances of this, while preparing your business for survival.

If you are looking to implement a business continuity plan, or improve on an already existing one, please contact Christopher Furey at Virtual Density today. We have affordable and effective solutions and can customize one just for you.

March 29th, 2013

Security_Feb20_BImagine you’re at the airport waiting for a flight when you look down only to discover that your laptop is missing. This isn’t a great thought, especially since many of us have important files and programs that we can’t afford to lose. The problem is, if your device has gone missing, and your files aren’t safely synched to the Cloud,  the chances of you recovering it are slim. The good news is that there is a solution that makes it possible for you to track your device.

Prey is an Open Source – free – program that you can install on your computer or mobile device and track it when it’s missing, or been stolen.

How it works
First you have to download the software – from here – onto your computer (Windows, Mac or Linux are supported), and sign up for an account. Then, you’ll have a couple of options: You can either sign up for an account with Prey and access a control panel through the website, or install it as a standalone which is recommended for advanced users as it requires some server configuration.

If you chose to go with the Web option you sign up for an account and install the software then register your main device along with extra ones like an Android, or your iOS device. Once you have downloaded Prey and linked them together, you are ready.

For mobiles, you can send these a text (from the Web Control Panel) which will initiate the established options you have pre-set for when your phone goes missing.

How Prey finds your device’s location depends on the device. For laptops, it can turn-on your Wi-Fi connection and try to connect to the nearest access points. It can take the IP address of each Wi-Fi access point and from there get an approximate location – in some areas as close as 200 feet. On your phone, it turns on the GPS (if available) and tries to connect to Wi-Fi networks in range. These two combined can generate a fairly accurate location.

All this tracking information is sent to your inbox in the form of a report, which can be tailored to meet your needs.

What makes this program different from other similar ones is that it can be installed across multiple platforms and managed from one account. It’s also free, which makes it even more attractive. There is also a Pro version which allows you to track more devices, for a monthly fee (USD$5 for 3 devices up to USD$399 a month for 500 devices).

Prey is just one of the many device tracking programs, and installing one may be a good idea, to give you a greater chance of retrieval if your phone or computer is lost or stolen. Do you use one already? If so, which one? If you would like to learn more about Prey and the other device tracking programs please let us know, we may have a great solution for you.

March 21st, 2013

BusinessValue_March06_BLots of entrepreneurs do everything themselves.  They’re running a small business with no room in the budget to hire help.  And once there is money to hire help, some entrepreneurs just aren’t great at delegating within their company, let alone to specialists outside.

The key to running a successful business is knowing what you’re good at.  And know what you’re NOT good at. Once you know that, you can start delegating!  

Finding a trusted partner to help you manage your IT – email, website, servers, desktops and the like can seem daunting.  But, finding the right MSP will have a direct impact on your bottom line, and can help make your company even more successful than it already is, or at least increase profits to get you there. However, there are many more reasons companies outsource. Below are our Top Five:

5 reasons why you should outsource IT

  1. Increased control of operational costs - Most MSPs group their services together into monthly plans, meaning you have one cost associated with the IT department. Overhead expenses such as staffing, overtime hours, and operational costs, as well as software licenses, etc., can all be included in a flat monthly fee.  When you’ve got it all bundled into one monthly cost, you’re not worried about the huge bill that comes every time something breaks.
  2. Take focus away from IT, refocus on business functions -  Seemingly endless tech issues can take your focus away from key business functions. MSPs take care of all this, allowing you to re-focus your efforts and energies into running your business.
  3. Access to better resources – The best and newest tech is often pricey; well beyond the budget of a vast majority of small and medium sized businesses. And an MSP can provide the latest tech along with the experience to support it, allowing you to get more for less.
  4. IT functions are beyond current abilities – If you are like most small to medium companies, you might have one person on staff who’s you’re designated IT person.  And that person may or may not have a dozen other responsibilities within the organization.  Or maybe you and your colleagues simply lack the knowledge and experience required to run increasingly complex technical systems. The employees at MSPs eat, sleep and breathe tech, and can provide expert IT support and knowledge.
  5. Reduced risk from IT failure - Technical systems are built to be robust. However, they aren’t perfect and will eventually fail. This could mean lengthy downtime, increased costs and lost data. MSPs reduce this risk by actively monitoring your systems and offering back-up services which will reduce productivity loss and lost business.

3 things you can expect from an MSP
There are a wide variety of MSPs, serving many industries, but there are three things you should expect from any MSP.

  1. Flexibility - IT companies have access to a wide variety of vendors, tech and resources. This means they should be able to develop scalable solutions that meet your companies needs as you grow.
  2. Product experts - The main business objective of an MSP is to provide IT services.To do this they need employees who know their stuff. To get the best, most hire staff with specific qualifications and certifications and experience with the systems offered.
  3. Long-run cost savings - In the short-term it is entirely plausible that internal staff are cheaper than a monthly MSP. Factor in the cost of purchasing technology, maintaining it, plus the cost of recovery, and the cost of retaining an internal IT team will skyrocket. Most companies you outsource to offer a flat rate monthly fee, and will be able to maintain your systems longer. This means lower replacement costs and increased uptime, which in the long run make outsourcing a viable, cost-efficient option.

Got questions about your organizations IT?  We’ve got answers.  Call us today 203.987.4566 or email us at sales@virtualdensity.com for a no-obligation discussion with an IT professional.  We’ll help you find the products and services that fit your business, no matter what size it is.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
March 8th, 2013

MobileGeneral_Feb13_BHow many times have you been in a meeting only to have a participant’s phone ring or vibrate? This is a common occurrence and to many, this is the type of interruption that drives them nuts. While smartphones have changed our lives, mostly for the better, there are still times when we don’t follow common etiquette.

Here’s six cell phone etiquette tips you should practice to ensure you show respect to your peers and people around you while on your phone.

  1. Watch what you snap – Almost every phone has a camera these days, and we can’t help but take pictures of nearly everything. While it is convenient to take pictures with your phone, there are times when it’s not a good idea, such as in a meeting, for example.
  2. Indoor voices - How many time have you heard someone yelling into their phone on a busy street. This is often because they think that they can’t be heard by the person on the other end. The vast majority of modern phones have powerful enough microphones and noise cancelling technology to enable users to talk with an indoor voice, even while out on the busy street. If the person you’re talking to can’t hear you, try cupping your other hand over your mouth and directing the sound towards the phone.
  3. Darn you autocorrect! - Most phones use touchscreen keyboards as their input for text. This can be quite inaccurate, so OS developers created autocorrect, which often picks the wrong word, leading to some potentially embarrassing situations. When typing on your phone, be sure to always read over what you have written before you hit send.
  4. Resist the beep - One of the most annoying things about smartphones is that every time a notification sounds some people rush to check it. When you’re in meetings, or talking with customers/employees, ignore your phone until you are free to answer/check. If you are expecting an important call, excuse yourself before turning your attention to your phone.
  5. Pick the right sounds- You can set the phone to vibrate, ring, or for lights to flash, etc. If you are in a meeting, it’s best to set your phone on silent, as even vibrate is enough to distract these days. Really, the only time your phone should “ring” is when you have it in your pocket, or are in a loud location and unlikely to hear it.
  6. Turn it off every now and then - Smartphones bring the ability to be always connected, which can be both good and bad. Sometimes being constantly connected leads to higher stress, and increased work hours at the expense of your personal life. You shouldn’t be too afraid of spending a bit of time away from your phone every now and then.

What are your etiquette rules in regards to phone use? Let us know.


Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org.
Source.