Social Media Efficiency: Getting Better Results Faster
Most businesses now use social media, but for a small business it can be overwhelming to try to get it all done – especially when you’re the one running the business. Social media can become a huge time-suck and make you feel like you’re spending lots of time without getting the results you want.
How do you avoid this?
There are numerous strategies that you can use to stay focused and improve your return on investment, or ROI. They work beyond social media as well, and you can apply them to your general productivity.
1) Prioritize Your Efforts
When it comes to social media there is no end to what you could do, the question is what you should do. Prioritizing seems obvious yet often we end up spending time on things that don’t really have a big impact.
It’s easy to get lost in social media, so be intentional about getting focused on results. Over the last few years social media has become much more competitive – businesses are now better off doing a few things well vs. many things poorly.
Once you’ve prioritized it is also helpful to think about your activities as efficiency or effectiveness. Is this something I should aim to do quickly or well?
For example, as I am figuring out best practices for Facebook ads and testing different things my goal is to aim for effectiveness – I need to put in some time to do things well.
On the other hand, posting to Twitter is something I want to be efficient at – I need to quickly post a few status updates a day that fit within my content plan.
2) Create a Time Strategy (and set a timer!)
When it comes to social media tasks they can usually take as much (or as little) time as you allow them to. In order to protect your ROI, it’s helpful to decide how much time you are willing to invest in a specific activity based on what it is worth for you.
When I have new employees I ask them to write a blog post. Many of them spend 4+ hours on their first post. For the first post that’s okay – I want them to feel comfortable with what they are writing, but on an ongoing basis a blog post isn’t high impact enough to justify that time investment. After their first post I set a limit – write a post in 45 minutes or less.
It is a little like cooking dinner – you can make a meal in 30 minutes or 30 hours. In theory, the 30-hour dinner will be much better, and there may be times that it is worth the investment (like Thanksgiving). But for the day-to-day meals 30 minutes to an hour will create a pretty good meal.
Think about ROI and decide how much time you will allow tasks to take up. Set a timer and manage your time closely.
3) Have a Plan and Workflow
In order to effectively manage your time it is important to have a plan and a workflow for every activity.
For example, if I log in to LinkedIn without a clear agenda, I can easily find myself 20 minutes in without having accomplished anything. I’ve scrolled through some news, liked a few updates, and checked in on a few friends.
Instead, if I login with a clear plan I can make those 20 minutes really work for me. I use a checklist that prioritizes what I am going to do on LinkedIn and challenge myself to spend my time efficiently adding value. My LinkedIn checklist looks something like this:
- Respond to connection requests
- Scan “people you may know” and add people
- Comment on 5 posts from high-value contacts
- Add a status update
- Create 2 posts in groups
The key to success is knowing what matters to drive value for my business and focusing on what matters most to me.
4) Use Automation and Tools
Tools, tools, tools. The most common things that people ask about in social media are which tools to use. There are tons of social media tools and different people find value in different tools based on their unique needs.
Investing in tools, processes, or systems to help you to become more efficient is a no-brainer. I once worked with an ad agency that manually created reports for their clients. They could have easily automated this for $50 - $100 a month and instead spent 10+ hours a month creating reports manually. Not only did they spend a lot of time, but the automated reports from a tool would have been better vs. what they were creating.
Determine if a tool will allow you to execute better or faster, and start by looking at the tools that have the potential to save you the most time.
Keep in mind that there are MANY tools available to achieve most tasks, and they are often fairly similar. Start evaluating a tool by thinking about what you really want to achieve. Then evaluate a handful of tools that have the features that you really need and do them well.
One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make is signing up for tools that they don’t have the capacity to really use. Make sure that you have the capacity to use the tool to really get results before you spend time researching and money signing up for it.
I’ll share some of my favorite tools on the free webinar I’m doing with Verizon Small Business. You can join in here!
5) Repurpose and Re-promote to Maximize ROI
One of the best ways to get more bang for your buck with social media is to re-promote and repurpose your content.
So many businesses create great content and then move on to the next post. If something does well for you – use it again! Some businesses on Facebook re-promote the same post 10 times a year to maximize the impact. On Twitter businesses can re-promote the same thing a number of times a week.
If the content is evergreen, meaning it isn’t tied to something time-based that would make it seem outdated, you can re-promote it even more to really maximize your ROI. Also, keep in mind that not everyone sees every post – so it is ok to repromoted your content.
You can also repurpose your content. If you have a blog post that performs well, consider turning it into a video or an infographic. You can also take the same idea and reposition it into a few different posts that will resonate with different audiences.
Being efficient in social media is extremely important if you want to drive impact and maximize your ROI.
Do you want to learn exactly how to do this? Join my Free Webinar with Verizon Small Business!
In this webinar we’ll cover how to:
- Avoid the social media time-suck
- Prioritize your efforts
- Create a strategy for how to spend your time to maximize results
- Use automation to drive your social media
- Build a workflow to manage social media effectively
- Identify top tools to use to get more out of social media
- Repurpose and re-promote content to maximize your impact
Is your business ready for Small Business Saturday?
Small businesses are a big part of America; they employ 48% of the private workforce and make up 99.7% of all businesses. That’s why we’re passionate about events that support and celebrate small businesses. The upcoming Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity to raise your business profile with local shoppers and members of your community. We spoke to two small business owners—who have been participating for over four years—to find out what the annual event means to their business.
Better publicity for local businesses
Louis Ditcher, owner of Louis Neil Watchmakers in Philadelphia, PA, participates in Small Business Saturday by offering customers special offers and discounts. He thinks it’s a great event for businesses and would encourage everyone to participate. “It doesn’t take me a lot of time—American Express sends me the free materials to use so there’s really no reason not to do it.” Plus, the free publicity helps raise the profile of his business, so if customers need their services in the future they know where to look. Louis adds, “If one person sees it and comes in that wouldn’t have come in for any other reason, then it’s already a bonus.”
And Tanya Sucic, owner of Cherry Lane Flower Shop in Southampton, PA, agrees. “It’s definitely something small businesses need to be involved in, and it’s so easy to participate.” Tanya’s store has also been celebrating Small Business Saturday each year. “We always try and promote Small Business Saturday as much as possible—we make use of all the free assets American Express supplies and add ourselves to their online map. We rely quite heavily on American Express to help promote our business during the event, as they have the scale and reach that our small budget just can’t compete with it.”
Without events like Small Business Saturday to help bring attention to them, small businesses can often feel forgotten in the shadow of larger mass-market companies. “It’s so important that people see the value of small businesses,” Tanya explains, “We are the experts in what we do. As long as we’re presenting things in new and unique ways, and always offering great service, that’s what’s going to help keep small businesses alive.”
Shopping small isn’t just a one-day thing
It’s not just about one day of publicity, events like Small Business Saturday are a great way to get people thinking about how they can support small businesses all year round. As Tanya explains, “Each year throughout this event we hope to gain more walk-ins, but it’s also about getting customers to understand the importance of supporting and shopping in their local brick and mortar stores.” She adds, “Shopping small is something that we should all be doing throughout the year, not just on November 24.”
That’s why we need to be encouraging not only consumers, but businesses too, to participate in this event. Without the participation of local businesses, the event wouldn’t be as successful as it is. And the more businesses that join in, the more of an impact it can have on consumers and local main streets. “Small businesses are important to local communities on so many levels.” Tanya says, “The more dollars you spend there, the more that stays in the community to support other local services and initiatives. It really is that simple.”
How is Verizon supporting small businesses?
Verizon is happy to partner with American Express on Small Business Saturday. We’re always looking for ways to help our small business customers; whether it’s through our Small Business Rewards program, our products and services, or supporting events like these. Louis can see the value, “it’s nice to know that some big companies are there with ideas for you when you need them.” And Tanya agrees, “I love that Verizon is able to support us with our technology, and that they promote events like this. And as a small business owner, it makes me feel better knowing that someone like Verizon has my back.”
Our Small Business Rewards program rewards small businesses every day for just doing the things they normally do. It gives businesses the chance to earn points and use them to redeem gift cards to help towards their business expenses. Both Louis and Tanya are members and actively check the site daily for new rewards and learning materials. “It’s a win-win situation. If you’re doing business with Verizon anyway, why not reap the rewards?” says Tanya. If you’re not already a member, consider joining today.
Get out there and promote your business
Small Business Saturday is fast approaching, but there’s still time to register your business and participate in the event. It’s free to join and American Express has lots of materials for you to download and use. Just like Louis and Tanya have done, this is your opportunity to get involved and support your local community—all while raising your business profile. Discover more information about the different ways you can participate here.
Get involved and promote the shop small mentality—not just on this Saturday but on all days, and help keep small businesses alive.
The content of this post is solely from Verizon, not American Express.
Let’s get serious about cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is important. You know that. We know that. But why are so many businesses not doing enough about it? It can be for a number of reasons, from lack of knowledge to lack of budget. But just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. There are plenty of things you can do that can have a huge impact and won’t break the bank.
Each year, Verizon produces the Data Breach Investigations Report, which looks into real incidents and breaches across a variety of industries. This report helps highlight the biggest risks to businesses and can help you identify where your own security could be strengthened. But we know our report can seem daunting, and small business owners are often too busy to read it in full. That’s why we’ve pulled out the recommendations that are most practical and actionable for small businesses like yours, to help you understand how you can better protect yourself.
Are you making these 3 common mistakes?
We all make mistakes, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is when we keep making the same ones. And when it comes to cybersecurity that’s what a lot of businesses are doing. Whether it’s using the same passwords for multiple accounts, failing to back up data, or falling for phishing—companies are still doing it, and the consequences could be severe. Now is the time to improve your defenses, train your employees and learn to stop making these same common cybersecurity mistakes. Read our guide for actionable tips your business can use right now.
Avoid these 3 common excuses.
“It’ll never happen to me,” “I’ll sort that next week” and “I can’t afford better cybersecurity.” Sound familiar? These are just some of the reasons small businesses procrastinate when it comes to cybersecurity. But tomorrow could be too late—don’t wait to be the victim of an attack before looking into your defenses. There are plenty of things that you can be doing right now to help avoid becoming a negative statistic in our next Data Breach Investigations Report. Read our guide now.
3 simple rules to improve your cybersecurity.
Protecting your business from threats can seem daunting, but effective cybersecurity doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It doesn’t matter if you already have policies in place, or if you’re a complete beginner, there are simple things you can do to improve your defenses—from correct disposal of data and devices to better management of employees and their own devices. Read our guide for real actionable tips your business can use right now.
All businesses are at risk from cyberattacks—no matter their size. And all businesses can do more to improve their cybersecurity. Give your business the protection it deserves and don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today.
Follow our tips and get proactive about security. And for even more advice, talk to one of our security experts.
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SD-WAN: Networking made simpler
The appetite for bandwidth among businesses large and small is increasingly voracious, as are expectations for application versatility and performance. Yet the bandwidth that is essential for application access and reliability is not getting any easier to manage by yesterday’s IT processes. To better harness costs and network complexity, many businesses are looking to the public internet for connection options and custom configurations that can be made simpler by SD-WAN.
Software-defined operations enabled by SD-WAN help simplify IT work and securely connect multiple locations. With the technology, bandwidth can be dynamically distributed from a central location to any other location on the network through a single interface. If a preferred route degrades, another one can be assigned quickly and easily. A centrally controlled WAN allows the IT lead to execute numerous operations in minutes, eliminating multiple manual operations.
To put it simply, the benefits of SD-WAN can return value to organizations in several strategic ways. Chief among them:
Reduced complexity--Centralized management enables and simplifies unified standards for quality of service (QoS) and security across the network.
Increased efficiency--With SD-WAN, data is routed based on each application’s requirements, as well as current network conditions.
Sustained availability--Near real-time decisions can be made to redirect traffic to the service that is most suitable at any given time. Secondary network connectivity and inexpensive broadband allow for a cost-effective way to keep the network up and running.
Cost control--Businesses can use premium connections when needed, and low-cost routes for less sensitive purposes, such as posting to social media. Pricey bandwidth can be more closely managed when inexpensive internet connectivity can be designated for noncritical applications.
The bottom line is that SD-WAN holds great promise as a simple means for helping companies of almost any size tame network operations, enable security, continuity, and innovation for every branch location and transition to advanced business communications. To learn more about software-defined networking, check out the free webinar, Simple, Secure Networking with SD WAN on November 1st at 2 PM
Refresh these 3 critical areas of your online marketing and web presence for a great 2019
The end of 2018 is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to touch up our business plans and make some resolutions to really grow our brands in 2019. It’s also time to plan and budget for online marketing.
Here are three critical areas of your online marketing and presence which you should keep in mind --especially if you’re a small business owner who strives to improve your business in the New Year.
Your content mix and amplification
Many small businesses could gain a competitive advantage if only they’d invest more effort into creating a better content mix. Every piece of content is a form of advertising – even your tweets – and by focusing on higher quality and farther reach, you can get more leads. If you currently blog and post on social media, that’s a start – but consumers are expecting videos, slideshows, infographics, Instagram stories, and even memes from the brands they follow. In short, start thinking about your media the way you think about your core business.
- Check that your branding is unified. Is your tone consistent across your website content, blog posts, videos, and social media channels? You should periodically archive old social media and blog posts which might have seemed like a good idea a few years ago, but don’t currently match your brand. A tip is to check engagement—meaning the likes, comments and shares your posts have received. Posts with low engagement probably fail to match what your audience expects from your brand.
- If you invest in high-quality blog posts, videos, and infographics, but see little return, chances are you need to invest more in content amplification. This is a missing piece for many business owners. Content amplification means utilizing all available outlets so your content is viewed by as many eyes as possible. Pay-per-click (PPC), social shares, influencer shares, repurposing for newsletters – these are some methods to amplify content so it is not limited to the source page but promoted across the web.
- If you find creating or amplifying content to be tedious or too time consuming, outsource it. Many boutique agencies work with small businesses that have limited budgets—or consider hiring someone on a part-time basis.
The buyer’s journey
The point of your content is to generate leads, right? And it’s amazing when site visitors show up, you have what they need, and they immediately call, email, or buy. Unfortunately, this rarely happens on the first visit, especially if you sell complex solutions or have a lot of competitors. Instead, today’s buyers perform a significant amount of research before they are ready to buy. They hold the power in their quest for information, which helps them make the best possible choices within their budget.
What does this means for small businesses? Rather than focusing exclusively on closing the final sale, they also need to pay attention to micro-conversions along the buyer’s journey. This means converting visitors into subscribers to your newsletter, attendees to an online webinar, viewers of a video, downloaders of your PDF, or repeat readers of your blog (see why your content mix is important?). It is similar to how salespeople are trained to “close the next step” if they cannot close a deal at the moment – meaning to get agreement for a follow up call, a meeting with higher-ups, or some other action which gets the buyer to say yes and keep them engaged.
Audit your buyer’s journey online. They key to do this is to examine your analytics. Ask questions such as:
- Where are our visitors coming from?
- Which are the main entry pages?
- How long do they stay and what do they do?
- What can we improve and test on high-bounce pages for better results?
- What micro-conversion can we go for based on the pages they visit?
- Where do most visitors exit the site, and what can we do to engage them further?
User privacy and security
This year’s new GDPR laws, while specifically applying to websites with visitors from the EU, nevertheless forced many businesses to rethink how they handle user information. The general public is also more aware of data and privacy issues, thanks to the troubles Facebook has had – including its CEO testifying before a Senate hearing regarding its user data monetization efforts. The demise of Google+ after user data was compromised further illustrates the need for every business owner to keep their data as secure as possible.
- Install a SSL certificate on your website. This is increasingly important, as it could affect your search engine rankings. Google’s Chrome browser display a “Not Secure” notice right in the address bar for all websites lacking an SSL certificate, potentially scaring off visitors.
- Use strong passwords everywhere and change them often. Leave no device without a lock screen when not in use.
- Change passwords when employees leave.
For more tactics to improve your business please register to attend my webinar Top 10 Small Business Growth Tactics for 2019 on November 14th at 11 p.m. PT.
I will cover 10 great highly effective small business growth tactics including:
- How to leverage your biggest competitors to find new customers of your own
- An email tactic to increase your open rate by five- to tenfold
- A simple homepage design element to boost credibility and prestige
- How to get free publicity and brand yourself as a trusted expert
- Tips to make your marketing more viral and rise to the top of Google search results
- Social media influencer tricks for increased engagement and sales
It’s FREE, and will definitely be worth your time, I promise. REGISTER.
How to get high paying clients
My good pal Paul faced a crisis in 2009 when the Not-So-Great Recession was really starting to get into full swing and we were all realizing just how serious it really was.
For many years, my buddy had ridden the Southern California real estate gravy train. The market in L.A. seemed to go nowhere but up, up, up, and getting clients was a breeze. His income was in the mid-six figures for many years in a row, and he thought he was a real estate whiz kid.
The double-whammy of the recession and the drop-off in the L.A. real estate market brought him back to reality. Suddenly, deals were very tough to come by and his income took a big hit.
It was against this backdrop that Paul learned a business secret that he shared with me and which I would like to share with you today.
Not knowing what to do, he set up a meeting with his mentor – an old real estate pro. My friend explained the problem, and this is what the master told him:
“Paul, markets go up and markets go down. Obviously, we are in a down market and I don’t see that changing for a while. So, if the market isn’t going to change, you have to. Here is what I suggest: Put your time, energy, effort, money, marketing, and resources into doing bigger deals. It takes just about the same amount of effort to do a deal for a commercial property at $2.5 million as it does to do one for a house for $250,000, but you will get paid ten-times as much. If you are only going to do a few deals a year now because of the market, make sure they are big deals.”
And so that is what my friend did. He dug in and learned everything he could about commercial real estate. He took marketing classes. He learned about selling to corporate clients. And it paid off.
Though he only did but one deal the next year, it was for a 10-unit apartment building and his commission was enough to keep the dream alive. And now, here, a few years later with the real estate market booming once again, Paul is sitting pretty in his “new” occupation. “It was a tough lesson,” he told me, “but a very valuable one. I am a better person, and businesses person, because of it. And I am making more money and having more fun than ever.”
So, how does this relate to you?
The answer is that you too should consider looking for bigger clients; ones with bigger budgets that have bigger needs. Bigger budgets mean bigger paydays. So the secret therefore is, you have to seek out and find corporate clients, government contracts, and high net worth individuals and partners.
I believe in this strategy so much because not only does it make a lot of sense, and not only have I seen it work for others like my pal Paul, but it has worked for yours truly as well. As you can see, I am a writer; I create small business content – articles, blogs, webinars, videos, and so on. There was a time when I focused my energies and marketing on selling to non-profit associations, like chambers of commerce.
The problem with non-profits is that, well, they don’t have much profit to spend, do they?
And then I remembered Paul’s story. Duh! The answer was right in front of me. I pivoted, changed direction, and began to focus my energies on selling to corporate clients instead. And it has made all the difference. I more than doubled my income in a little over a year by employing this strategy.
So, where do you find these bigger clients and how do you sell to them? Here’s how:
Take my upcoming free Verizon webinar.
Verizon and I have teamed up and I will be presenting a webinar entitled, “How to Get High Paying Customers and Clients” on Wednesday, October 15, at 1:45 eastern. In it, I will not only share a half dozen unique and different ways to find these high-paying clients, not only how to sell to them, but I will also explain what they are looking for in partners and why this economy is the best time to jump on this powerful strategy.
And, like I said, it’s free. Hope to see you there!
After the webinar: Barry Moltz answers your questions
Thank you so much for attending the latest in our small business webinar series: “How to market your business on a shoestring budget”, featuring Barry Moltz. We hope you found it helpful and left with plenty of tips to help move your business forward.
Sadly, there’s not always enough time during the live webinar to answer all of your questions. So we’ve put your additional questions to Barry and here are his answers.
How do I start a customer referral program?
If customers say they’re happy with your product or service, ask them there and then for a referral. In my speaking contracts, I put, “the cost of this speech is $X plus one referral if you are delighted after my presentation.” And always encourage people to post reviews on social media.
What about a membership program?
I’ve always liked this idea. Offer customers substantial benefits for a minimum amount of money per month—it binds the customer to doing business with your company frequently.
What value can I generate from sharing/posting content from other experts compared to creating original content from my own knowledge?
You should produce at least 50% of the content yourself so customers see you as a resource as well as a curator of good ideas.
Do you think offering a discount to a customer if they refer someone to your company would be a good idea?
I think a thank you note, email or a very small gift is better.
What app/site helps you ask for testimonials automatically? Where should you have testimonials posted? Yelp, LinkedIn Facebook?
You can't expect a client to post on several sites. Instead, you want to provide a platform where they can easily share their feedback—here’s some good advice on how to do this. You can also use tools like Review Trigger.
Sometimes customers have unreasonable expectations and that can result in negative reviews. You want to be as empathetic and understanding as possible. Other customers realize that not everyone will be satisfied, but they want to see if, and how, you respond to concerns when there is a problem—this can be a big factor in whether they decide to do business with you.
What was the marketing tool that worked best for you when you first started out?
For me, the best marketing tools have always been email and social media.
How often do you post on different platforms daily (at a minimum)?
LinkedIn, 1; Twitter, 3; Facebook, 2; Instagram, 1; Pinterest, 1.
Other than yourself, who could we look to for impactful new small business practical advice?
With so many resources available for free on the internet today, it can be hard to find sources you can trust. That’s why Verizon is a great starting point—it brings together the best small business experts to offer you monthly guidance and ideas in its free, informative webinar series.
How do you deal with unsubstantiated negative reviews?
If by unsubstantiated reviews you mean fake ones by people who have never tried your product, then report them to the review site.
Are negative reviews by your competitor legal?
I’m not a lawyer, but I believe they are if they actually tried your product or service.
What platforms are out there that allow me to show my expertise?
Find out where your expertise can be valuable. Search on Google and social media sites where people are having discussions about problems you can help solve.
What was the name of the title generator link?
If you were unable to attend or want to refresh your memory on Barry Moltz’s webinar, “how to market your small business on a shoestring budget”, you can listen to the replay now.
A few stark facts speak volumes about business continuity planning. Why it matters:
- For the 233 weather and climate disasters since 1980, overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2018)1
- Roughly 40-60 percent of small businesses do not reopen after a disaster; having a disaster plan in place can increase a company’s odds of survival2
- For businesses in the middle of the market, the cost of a day-long outage can range into the tens of thousands of dollars
Unplanned events, whether natural or human-caused, are inordinately tough on growing businesses. In every market sector, ransomware is rampant and malware regularly infiltrates systems that are critical to essential operations. Severe weather always seems to hit at the worst possible time. However, preparing for disaster recovery through business continuity planning can be affordable for businesses of any size. Here are three simple steps to help maintain operations.
Step 1—Evaluate business impact.
- Employee security and connectivity
- Rapid return to normal communications and collaboration
- Continuous customer support
Business size—Midsized companies can benefit from a wealth of secure business applications via cloud-based unified communications (UC). Smaller and start-up businesses can control the costs and other limitations associated with traditional communications systems by embracing the reliability of the cloud. Enterprise-grade tools such as VoIP can help with managing tight IT budgets while keeping employees and customers connected, virtually anywhere.
Business situation—More and more businesses operate in multiple locales across varying time zones to access the widest possible markets. Assess whether geographically dispersed offices can communicate more efficiently, with less equipment to maintain and provision, as the business grows, or when normal operations are interrupted.
Employee productivity—For more businesses in particularly competitive markets, employees work remotely all or part of the time. They do so to better address customer needs on the customer’s terms. Traditional workplaces where cubicle dwellers work a 9-5 routine are giving way to models that better accommodate employee needs and help maintain business continuity. These market-friendly trends are made possible by technologies designed and priced to outfit any business with collaborative unified communications. They enable employees and customers to remain securely connected almost anywhere they live and work.
Step 2— Outline recovery and implementation issues.
- Resource requirements
- Human and hardware limitations relative to capacity and bandwidth
- Team buy-in
Cost—Consider solutions that control costs associated with, for example, additional or legacy equipment in multiple office sites. An entirely cloud-based platform delivers the latest in VoIP technology while helping to hold down capital costs. Challenge providers on the basis of cost and capacity options to get a flexible plan that meets business requirements for the right price.
Complexity—Solutions can and should adapt seamlessly to the business. Opt for platforms that limit time-intensive decisions and convoluted processes. Look for scalable UC products. The best of these use secure, reliable technology to provide integrated voice and data services, collaboration tools, mobility, contact center services and advanced call features across any number of business locations.
Implementation—Select a business-continuity plan the entire team can support. It can be implemented quickly and efficiently, involving the fewest possible distractions from the core business. With cloud-based UC, the complexity of running a system becomes the supplier’s responsibility. The supplier also is responsible for providing, consistently and securely, UC features such as voice, video and wireless.
Step 3—Build, test and implement a framework.
- Aligning requirements to available, affordable services
- Identifying success criteria
- Reconciling weaknesses through trials
Planning—Create a plan for communications migration. The plan will match requirements to services that comprehensively address business needs. For example, a hybrid cloud solution may ease the path to UC and the cloud for companies with existing equipment and two or more locations that are networked. Digital voice plans can offer dozens of calling features at a wide range of price points for lean and growing businesses that are highly mobile and operate in fast-moving industries.
Testing—Failure to test can result in significant losses due to downtime. At the same time, testing can be disruptive and resource-intensive. Think ahead about needed management buy-in, planning phases and execution. Also consider how corrections will be handled when a trial reveals a problem or flaw.
Implementation—Choose a qualified, committed partner. The right service provider will be deeply invested in delivering services tailored to each business client’s situation, requirements, resources and budget. The provider will be immediately accountable for performance milestones and service benchmarks. The best also will offer customer care in real time. Consider whether training and consulting services will be needed as the business evolves.
- Video: Verizon Business Digital Voice
- Testimonial -- 163rd Improvement Council: Reliable Phone Service
Learn more about the features and affordability of Business Communications from Verizon. Find out how we can help you boost competitive position, better control costs and maintain business continuity when the unexpected occurs. Contact a Verizon business specialist
 NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview.
© 2018 Verizon. All rights reserved. The Verizon name and logo and all other names, logos and slogans identifying Verizon’s products and services are trademarks and service marks or registered trademarks and service marks of Verizon Trademark Services LLC or its affiliates in the United States and/or other countries. All other trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners. 180815-1411
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- business continuity
Send your business back to school
We can all benefit from going back to school
It’s that time of year again when parents are rejoicing, and children are lamenting. That’s right, it’s back-to-school season. We normally associate this with children, as they start their new school year ready to broaden their horizons, but why should we limit ourselves? Why not use the start of the academic year as an opportunity to broaden your own horizons—and those of your business?
Learn and grow
Your kids may not be excited about going back to school, but they should be. Learning new things is one of the most exciting things we can do and leaving school doesn’t mean we need to stop. In fact, now couldn’t be a better time. Whether you choose to brush up on a fresh topic, attend a training course or even head back to school yourself, more knowledge can only ever be a good thing. And your business will see the benefits.
For a more hands-on training experience, try online courses—YouTube hosts a number of free streams you can attend and sites like Lynda are always available and cover virtually every topic you could need to know. But if you only have one free hour a month, consider a more concise learning experience. Webinars are a resource that provide focused, topical information in a shorter format. Verizon offers a monthly, no-cost webinar series. We’ve covered topics from social media marketing to learning how to optimize your business for voice search. Plus, our webinars are available to play back whenever you want—just visit our website.
New school year, new you
As children prepare themselves for the academic year ahead, with the purchase of new school supplies, why not do the same for your business? Now we’re not saying you should completely revamp your business (this isn’t an extreme makeover) but it might be a good time to take a step back and consider what is and isn’t working. Think about any outdated technology or processes that could be refreshed, or whether any employees could benefit from new training. The easiest course is to do nothing—particularly if everything seems to be working fine. But there’s always room for improvement—and shaking things up is what leads to innovation.
Kids will be adjusting to their new timetables, with new lessons and topics—should you be taking a look at how you use your own time? Think about how you spend it, both personally and professionally—are there areas you would like to focus on more or is there an end goal you would like to reach? By creating yourself a new timetable you can start to plan the areas you want to focus on and map out your personal and business growth. By taking a moment to really look at your business, you can identify what needs your attention and what doesn’t—and you can dedicate your time constructively. For some inspiration, or just to help get you started, you could join the US Small Business Administration—it’s designed to serve small businesses and is filled with plenty of resources and expert advice to help with any situation.
Make new friends
Schools encourage students to make new friends by splitting up friendship groups into different classes—while we’re not saying you should hire a whole new team, it is important to work with different people. Why? Because other people can offer different perspectives, broaden your mind and help introduce new ideas. If you’re always working with the same people, your perspective can become narrowed and it can be hard to see alternative solutions—but introduce someone new and things can get a lot more interesting. Try speaking to someone from a different department or branch—or if your team is a little smaller, try reaching out to other businesses, partners or suppliers that you would love to learn from, and pick their brain over a coffee. You’d be surprised how many people would love to chat if you just ask.
Networking events can be a great start. Even something as simple as engaging with others on social media can help you meet new people and diversify your network. If you’re not already using it, LinkedIn is a great free resource—it’s the social network of choice for business. You can connect with new people, find new clients and follow industry trends and topics.
Pick up a book
Whether you’re an avid reader or you’ve fallen off the wagon, now is the perfect time to pick up a new book. Learning from others and from training courses is great, but sometimes the simplest pleasure and greatest learning experience comes from the written word. Anything you could possibly want to learn has already been written down somewhere; head to your local library, join a book club or just search the internet for inspiration. Business books and white papers are great for brushing up on a topic and developing new skills, but don’t underestimate the benefits of reading fiction—it has been proven to help you be more open-minded and creative.
And you don’t even have to limit yourself to books—in fact you definitely shouldn’t. The internet has so many resources available, and you’re probably already accessing many of them daily. Connect with publications online or through Twitter to get snippets of information and decide if you want to read more. Resources like these give you up-to-date information and help you stay ahead of industry trends. The business section of the newspaper or business-focused publications are prime resources for helping you understand what is going on beyond your storefront—and many of these can be accessed online. For more focused advice, start following business blogs; sites like Hubspot are a great resource for marketing tips, The Khan Academy has interviews from entrepreneurs to help inspire you, and our own Business Markets Blog offers advice on everything from technology and communication to diversity and marketing.
Oh, the places you’ll go
Don’t wait for the school bell to get started. Start learning something new today. Kids are preparing for their future with every new lesson they attend—it’s time your business did the same. Whether you decide to develop new skills, attend a training course or meet with others to discuss ideas—there are many resources available, so try them and see what works for you.
Don’t become complacent about your personal development; you may have come this far already but expand your knowledge and who knows where you could go in the future.
Most small businesses get caught in an endless cycle when it comes to marketing and sales. They only have time to do marketing when their sales are down. But once revenue starts to pick up because of these efforts, they stop having time to do marketing. Their sales then start to shrink, and this cycle starts all over again. This keeps their business flat and prevents them from ever growing their company. Small-business owners need to know how to develop a sustainable marketing plan even if it is on a limited budget.
Here is where to start:
- Content marketing. This is an easy way to stay in front of small business prospects to showcase expertise, so they think of the company when they are ready to buy. It involves sharing expert knowledge on social media, through websites, video or by sending emails. Where to start: On at least a weekly basis, send single subject emails solving a problem prospects may encounter. Get involved in conversations on social media where that advice is also offered. Unfortunately, many small businesses spend too much time on social media every week without a clear strategy.
- Hire a content writer for the company blog. Many small-business owners complain they have no time to blog or create content for their site. However, the more branded content a company blog has, the higher it will rank in the search engine rankings. Where to start: Find a journalism student or get an article written for as little as $1.25 a post by a freelancer through a crowdsourcing site like UpWork.
- Get more reviews. Consumers now trust online reviews from people they don’t know almost as much as a referral from friends and family. Where to start: Ask customers. This can be noted in the bottom of a receipt, attached to a follow up email or in person after a sale. This can be done automatically through solutions like FiveStars.
- Practice organic search engine optimization (SEO). Every post and page should have keywords, so search engines can easily index this information. If customers can’t find a company when they're looking for a solution, it will never be chosen. SEO enables a company to target the keywords and links that can get it on page one of search engines and increase its traffic. Where to start: If the website is built on WordPress, there are free plugins like Yoast SEO that can help. It is also important to claim the company’s listing on Google My Business.
- Execute a well-managed search engine marketing (SEM) campaign. This is not to be done alone, since a poor campaign can burn through $500 very quickly with little results. Where to start: For the novice, start testing advertising with Facebook rather than Google. Facebook offers a narrower search for prospects that look like the company’s customers on a smaller budget.
- Send 500 postcards to targeted customers. Direct mail is making a comeback, since there's more email spam and less physical junk mail than 10 years ago. Where to start: Use a vendor like Office Depot to design and print postcards for about $10. Repeat similar mailings to the same customers at least six times on a monthly basis.
- Buy a plane ticket to see a key customer. There's still nothing that can replace a face to face meeting when it comes to building a relationship with a customer and then landing the business. The best time to buy a ticket is on the weekend and fly on a Tuesday. Use services like Upside that can compare fees across airlines and other Internet ticket sites.
- Earn PR. Get the company’s story in front of news people, but make sure it connects to what is actually going on in the news, not just a pitch about products. Where to start: Many businesses use the free service from called HARO. However, for more targeted results, check out Dan Janal’s PR Leads service to get more reporters and high-quality interviews.
How Mobile Ate the Web: Join Us for an Informative Free Webinar
By Anita Campbell
The trend is clear. The use of mobile devices to go online has outstripped computer usage.
In 2015, Google for the first time announced more searches were taking place on mobile than on desktop in 10 countries -- including the U.S. Then eMarketer noted that 83% of Internet users use a mobile phone to go online -- at least some of the time.
Today, more total time is spent online using mobile devices instead of computers. According to Comscore, 65% of the minutes spent online are through mobile devices in the U.S.
Your customers and the public have not completely abandoned desktop and laptop computers. Instead, what we are seeing is a gradual shift. They are using mobile devices far more in their browsing habits.
But if you’re like most of us, you still view your website mostly on a computer and not on a smartphone (like your customers).
And you’re not analyzing traffic data with an eye toward improving the mobile experience.
It’s time to capitalize on the mobile web.
On August 15, I will be giving a webinar and answering questions, and I hope you’ll join me. I will outline 7 ways for small businesses to capitalize on the mobile web.
We'll look at the latest trends, including:
- AMP (accelerated mobile pages) - and why they are not for everyone.
- Whether you need a mobile app -- or maybe a Progressive Web app would be better.
- Mobile templates vs responsive websites.
- The search engine "knowledge panel" for your business - and how to make sure yours presents your business effectively.
- The mobile-first Google index - what it means.
- Leveraging third party reviews and their impact on mobile visitors.
- And much more!
Mark your calendar and register for this informative session today.
Title: How Mobile Ate the Web -- and 7 Ways Small Businesses Can Capitalize
Date: Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 2:00 pm Eastern time
Register here to reserve your spot:
Conquering the New World of Voice Search
By Rieva Lesonsky
Are you one of the millions of Americans who use digital voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri (or HomePod) or Microsoft’s Cortana? You’re not alone. Last year, according to the Voice Report, about 33 million voice search devices were in use. And ComScore projects by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice-based.
While digital assistants make consumers’ lives easier (I rely on Siri and Alexa several times a day), they also complicate our entrepreneurial lives. Think With Google has compiled some statistics, underscoring how much of a paradigm shift is taking place:
- 62% of consumers who own digital assistants are likely to use their devices to make a purchase
- 58% of those who regularly use digital assistants use them to manage or create shopping lists
- 44% of regular users order products using their digital assistants at least once a week
With such widespread usage, your search engine optimization (SEO) strategies need to go beyond computers, tablets and smartphones and incorporate digital assistants and voice search. Here’s how you can do that.
Voice search optimization tips
First, review your desktop SEO results. According to a recent study, websites that rank high for traditional Google search results generally also perform well in Google voice search results. To ensure your voice search tactics pay off, consider these tips:
1—Use conversational keywords
Consumers approach voice search differently than conventional search. When we search in a browser, we tend to keep things short. We might write, “Best ice cream shops near me.” But, when we use voice search, Google reports, we speak as if we’re talking to a real person. In fact, 70% of users of a Google Assistant ask questions in natural language, and most (53%) say talking to a digital assistant feels “natural.” So we might ask, “What’s the best ice cream shop in Long Beach?,” or if we want to narrow our search, we might say, “What’s the best ice cream shop in zip code 90712?”
Optimizing for voice search means using different keywords—ones that would answer conversational type questions.
Voice search users are frequently multitasking when they call upon a digital assistant. We could be driving, walking or taking a hike. Or we could be watching TV, reading a book or shopping at the mall. Other times it just may not be convenient to type something into a browser window.
So, it’s imperative your website is optimized for mobile usage (it should be anyway) and search. Currently, 40% of consumers prefer to complete their entire shopping journey on mobile devices. Despite that, mobile conversions are still lower than desktop because the mobile user experience is subpar. Slow load times, long-form fields, and poor user experience usually leave people frustrated—and headed to one of your competitors.
Yes, the “keep it simple” principle applies here. Your content must be easy to read. A recent study shows the average Google voice search result is written at a 9th-grade reading level. Review your website copy to make sure it meets the “3 C’s.” You content needs to be clear, concise and comprehensible. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short.
Many voice searchers are looking for information about a local business. If you want local consumers to find your store, office or restaurant, you need to claim your listings in the numerous local directories, including: Google My Business; Yelp; Bing; Yahoo; YP.com & local maps listings.
What do consumers want from your small business?
Owners of digital assistants expect their devices to deliver more information to them:
- 52% want to learn about deals, promotions and sales from businesses
- 48% want businesses to deliver personalized tips and information that help make their lives easier
- 42% want to learn about a company’s upcoming events and activities
- 39% use their devices to get more information about a business, such as hours of operation and location
This isn’t all that surprising considering deals are big drivers of consumer buying behaviors these days. Most shoppers say they would allow businesses to track them in-store (via mobile tracking) and send them push notifications if they received discounts and coupons in return. Here’s what else they want in exchange for allowing you to track and message them:
- 61%—Discounts, coupons
- 47%—Loyalty rewards
- 34%—Faster checkout
- 11%—New product notifications
- 11%—Personalized recommendations
Voice search is just one of many shifts taking place in the way small businesses market their goods and services. You also need to know how to find—and reach the right prospects—and how they can find you.
Join me on Wednesday, July 18 at 2 pm ET, for a webinar, sponsored by Verizon. You’ll learn about voice search and I’ll share my best tips, tricks and tactics for business owners, including social media best practices, creating killer content, secrets of email marketing and how to conquer the new world of voice search.
Increase Your Sales with the Latest Social Media Tips
Justin Blaney, Serial entrepreneur, professor, #1 bestselling author of 15 books
Social media is the Wild West for businesses who want to grow huge without having access to the incredibly expensive traditional customer acquisition paths of our past (TV ads, Sports Sponsorships, expensive retail locations, printed catalogs, etc.). There are a lot of people spending money on social media and getting almost nothing for their investments. Likewise, there were a lot of people who went West to make a fortune in gold, but never realized their dreams. Since tactics are changing so quickly, and very few people have a clear path toward success that can be relied upon again and again, you have to be scrappy, innovative, bold and strategic if you’re going to win in this new Wild West of customer acquisition. Below are 11 tips that are most relevant in 2018 for success in online marketing.
- Try everything you can afford. Mix up search (keyword-based ads like Google and Bing search results), interruption (where an ad interrupts a customer and calls them to action like most ads on Facebook), mobile, desktop, various social networks, and even the optimizations within those networks (lead form, landing page, local, wide targeting, narrow targeting, unique keywords, etc.)
- The faster and cheaper you can find out an idea doesn’t work, the more ideas you can try. The key to success in this new fast-paced, changing world is to try as much as possible as quickly as possible. Since everyone is constricted by budget on some level, the faster and cheaper you can find out an idea won’t work, the quickly you can kill the idea and reallocate that money and time to the next idea. It takes a lot longer to prove an idea works than to prove an idea doesn’t work. That’s why your goal isn’t to find something that is successful so much as eliminate ideas that aren’t successful. When you find something that isn’t failing completely, that is when you invest more in it, testing it on a larger scale, honing your strategies, and eventually you may find that you have a concept that is working well for you.
- Try using tools in ways they aren’t intended to be used. It might seem counter intuitive, but hacking tactics can be a great way to stumble on a lucrative loophole. It takes a bit of tinkering around but I’ve found some really great strategies that yield some of the highest ROIs by using a screwdriver as a hammer. For example, in Facebook you select an objective, perhaps to drive people to your local store, but you can place a link in that ad that actually drives people to a landing page while advertising it to people who are near a particular address. Because of the way Facebook’s algorithms are always changing, you could possibly stumble on a way to drive traffic to a landing page less expensively.
- Find ways to reach customers in the blue ocean. Everyone tends to copy each other and do what’s easy, like all the people swimming on top of each other at a busy beach. But if you can find a way to go way out in the ocean where people are still cruising by on yachts and cruise ships, perhaps you will be the only person competing for their business. For example, if everyone you are competing with is targeting the same keywords on a Google campaign, the cost of those customers is going to be very high. In this scenario, whoever is willing to lose the most money on a customer is going to “win”. But if you can find keywords that none of your customers are using, perhaps by attracting customers in a more roundabout way, or if you can find an entirely different path to reach your customers in a way that your competitors haven’t thought of, you can reduce your cost of customer acquisition by as much as 99%, or more. I’ve actually seen these concepts reduce the cost of a lead from $160 to $0.50.
- A/B test everything. Assumptions in marketing can be deadly. You should always test every idea against a benchmark of success. When you stop testing ideas and attempting to improve your ad results, you are giving your competitors a great gift because the one who tests the most and keep trying new ideas wins in this new social networked and digital world.
- Stay on top of our changing internet world. Email still works, but it’s become more dead every year. Try WhatsApp, Text messages, push notifications, anything else to have direct contact with your customers.
- You should never rely on a social network like Facebook to show your posts to people who have liked your pages. We can rely on social networks to do what’s best for them, and that isn’t always what’s best for you. Facebook is a great example of a situation where advertisers spent a fortune building up a following there only to find that Facebook reduced the amount of organic (unpaid) exposure until it has become essentially zero. Facebook owns your page, they own the likes that you’ve accumulated and they own every post you share. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket, use social networks to gain your audience, then find a way to cut out the social network as soon and cheaply as possible. This will give you direct contact with your customers, something that no one can ever take from you.
- Be genuine. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s as relevant as ever. You may be able to find some robot that gets you followers on Instagram, but it’s going to be very low quality followers, and you have a lot of risk of getting caught and ruining your brand. Gaining followers naturally is actually a great way to test your concepts too. If you can’t gain an audience organically, it could be because you haven’t created a product that is resonating. If you pump up your results with fake growth, you are missing an opportunity to find resonance with real consumers, and it is that resonance that can propel you onto the biggest stages.
- Always compare results to a benchmark. Do not invest any money without proving that it’s a better use of your money based on actual results than whatever your current benchmark is. Your goal is always to establish a benchmark, then improve upon it without resting or every assuming that you’ve gotten as good as you can. You can always find ways to get customers more effectively and cheaper.
- You need a funnel from first hearing about you to a purchase. You cannot expect to post your Kickstarter on Twitter and have purchases result from this organically without some kind of path between the two points. A funnel can include a multistep plan to convert new interested parties into highly valuable long term customers. Funnels include emails over time, multi touch processes, the addition of other push notifications, and very small and easy to accept calls to action that slowly grow into more costly calls to action as you gain trust with the customer. You want to help your customer take baby steps toward you rather than expecting them to get married to you the first time you meet. These are just a few of the top tips to consider when marketing in 2018 on social media. If you have any of your own ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments. And please be sure to tune into the upcoming webinar on this subject. We’re going to spend an hour going through these points and more to help you become the best marketer you can be.
Sales is Dead: Why Social Content is the Best Sales Tool
Ramon Ray, editor, Smart Hustle Magazine – www.smarthustle.com
No one cares about you.
No one cares about your business.
Everyone is distracted.
No one’s paying attention.
These things are all hard to realize but they’re true – with one exception.
They’re true until you, dear business owner, earn the attention of your prospective customer and are able to show them that YOU have a solution to their need.
Hard core selling is a short term strategy to generate short term revenue. If you want to succeed for the long term, if you want to build relationships with your customers and potential customers, first seek to educate them. Seek to get them to know, like and trust you. Seek to build a fan base of those interested in learning more from you.
Social media is the best gift that business owners can use to educate their customers. Supported by a website and blog, social media is the best way to consistently deliver a message to customers who want to hear it.
Instead of asking someone to buy your legal services or sign up for your logo design services, educate them. The lawyer who specializes in real estate should use LinkedIn to do a weekly 2 minute video with tips and stories to educate his customer on what they need to know to better invest in real estate. Over time, he’ll find a growing following who are looking forward to his knowledge.
The real estate lawyer, for example, won’t have to do any selling. From his or her followers, a certain percentage of people will seek him out.
When you take the time to educate your customers, to add value to them, you won’t have to CHASE down new clients, instead clients will be chasing you down.
Twitter’s a great way to frequently and succinctly share content of interest to your potential customers and somewhat related to what you do. Maybe you have a doggie day care business, what if you’re sharing every day cute pictures of your dogs and tips on caring for your dog? Over time your Twitter (or Instagram or Facebook) followers will see YOU as the expert in dog care and will seek you out for their needs.
Am I saying that “selling” is dead? Of course not – selling has its place.
However, what I am advocating is that you spend less time selling and more time educating your customers.
Each time you educate your customers it’s yet another occasion to remind them that you’re there for their needs. It’s another time to give them an opportunity to seek you out for your expertise.
Instead of focusing on 4 potential customers and trying to have them buy from you. Focus on educating 400 customers. If 10% of them buy from you, that’s 40 customers.
People are much more willing to be educated and given valuable insights than to be sold to.
Another advantage to leveraging social media for educating your customer is that you build your personal brand. The business owner with the stronger personal brand will often be more successful in their market. Your market might be defined by your local geography – a small town near Portland or Dallas or Atlanta. Or it could be a particular industry niche – like fire safety for tall buildings or organic fruits and vegetables.
For very small businesses, empower your traditional sales team to be educators. To seek ways to provide value to their customers and not just in the mode to “make a sale”. Instead urge them to use their smartphones to take video, record podcasts and overall make the customer a smarter customer.
By spending less time selling and more time educating you’ll get more sales.
Channel Partners: Survival of the fittest
You don’t need me to tell you that the partner channel is undergoing massive change. That’s nothing new, but the pace of change feels faster than I’ve seen in my 25 years in the business. New technologies, growing security risks and dramatic changes in customer expectations are demanding rapid transformation. Only the best will thrive; will you be one of them?
By Bill Hooper, Managing Director, Verizon Partner Channel
The partner channel has always been fiercely competitive. And in the last four to five years, we’ve seen an enormous number of mergers, consolidations and acquisitions in the telecommunications industry. Many of the smaller, niche companies are being absorbed by larger ones. Meanwhile, customers are demanding lower prices than ever, reducing profit margins.
While competition is a perpetual challenge, I’ve found the biggest thing affecting the partner channel is the speed of technological evolution. I’ve seen many channel partners struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Some are determined to stick with selling their dated product sets and older network elements—but this can make it harder for them to stay ahead of the technology curve. Products like SD-WAN are in high demand, and if you don’t have the capability to offer these advanced solutions then your customers will look elsewhere. And they will take all their business with them.
Several years ago, you might have sold an internet connection and voice services to a business, and that would have been fine. Today things are very different. Customers want to work with someone that can provide data networks, voice services, advanced security solutions and 4G LTE wireless backup solutions—to name just a few. As a result, Partner Program Members need much deeper technology expertise to stay relevant. And achieving that is no easy feat.
Train to stay ahead of the curve
There’s no simple answer to these challenges, but there are steps you can take to improve your chances of staying competitive. One of my key recommendations is having a robust training program. Your employees need to be informed about the latest technologies and services—so they can anticipate your customers’ needs, instead of reacting to them.
Verizon is investing enormous amounts of time and resources into training our Partner Program Members. Each week our product specialists run two-hour training classes which our master partners and their sub-agents are encouraged to attend. These sessions delve into the specifics of our products and services, so the people out selling in the field can spot opportunities and provide useful advice and guidance to their customers.
We invest so much in this training because our channel partners’ success matters to us. When our partner channel does well, Verizon does well. And we know that great channel partners are hard to come by, which is why we’re willing to put in the hard work to attract and retain your business.
To put it simply—we’re in this together. And we’ve found that ongoing training is the best way to stay ahead of the technology curve, which is evolving so rapidly. It gives our channel managers and partners the toolset they need to solve challenges their customers face on a daily basis.
Innovate or be left behind
Innovation is also incredibly important. Take security, for example. Even just five years ago, you didn’t really hear most carriers talking security services. But that’s changed dramatically. Now security solutions are an essential offering for any telecommunications provider.
Earlier this week, I was watching the news and I saw that another major retailer has been hit by a data breach. Millions of consumers’ credit card details have reportedly been stolen and are being sold on the web. I don’t know what kind of security solution this company had in place, but if the tale follows previous ones it’s likely we’ll find out that the breach could have been prevented—and damage to its reputation and finances avoided.
And it’s important to realize that it’s not just large corporations at risk. Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 58% of data breach victims are categorized as small businesses. Unfortunately, some channel partners are still stuck in the past in terms of security and technology—and not surprisingly they’re being left behind. If you fail to innovate, your customers will soon suffer for it.
Learn from the success of others
It helps to look at the channel partners who are doing it right. I once worked with a relatively new company which had decided to branch out on its own and become a channel partner. They already had a number of strong relationships with customers. Despite this, it took a long time to get their business going.
Over the next few years they worked hard. They looked at customer billing problems, service issues, and how to improve their customers’ existing networks. It wasn’t glamorous work, but focusing on their customers’ needs and tackling these basic IT problems was a sensible starting point. They also invested a lot of time in getting their customers up to speed with the fundamentals of the new technology. Today, this company is one of the largest channel partners in their region—so all that hard, gritty work has definitely paid off.
It might sound clichéd, but the truth is that success doesn’t happen overnight. You need to stay ahead of emerging technology, continually train your employees, offer innovative security and use your knowledge to deliver real benefits to your customers. You can’t afford to rest on your laurels—change is a constant.
Work with a supportive vendor
I’m a firm believer that technology vendors should provide both solutions and support to help their channel partners grow. Your success is key to our own, so let’s help each other out.
Verizon has recently announced a new package that will address their customers’ biggest telecommunications and connectivity needs. This new solution will enable channel partners to provide a data network installed entirely on Verizon’s facilities. It will also have advanced voice communications services and security solutions as part of the package. And on top of that, Verizon will provide 4G LTE backup for the data network.
With all-in-one solutions like this, we can help our Partner Program Members to meet their customers’ needs in the most efficient way possible. This means both parties get the best results and can focus on growing their business. I’m very proud to be involved in this new initiative and can’t wait to see the impact it will have on our partner channel.
Bill Hooper, Managing Director, Verizon Partner Channel North American Agents, has over 25 years of sales and operations management experience leading both indirect and direct sales organizations. Prior to working at Verizon, he led the channel at XO, and before that sales organizations at Qwest/CenturyLink for over 15 years in Houston Texas and Atlanta Georgia. While there, Bill led his global account teams to work collaboratively with channel partners to win large enterprise accounts increasing revenue annually. At Verizon, Bill continues to drive significant enhancements for the Business Partner Channel with investments in automation, innovative sales programs to strengthen relationships with channel partners, and other key initiatives designed to create an excellent experience for the Verizon and former XO partner community.
Not so long ago at the end of the day and on my way home from work, my sweet wife called me and asked that I pick up some dinner from a new little Chinese place our friends had raved about. So, I pulled over and Googled the name of the place, figuring I would find their site and menu, give them a call, and pick up some takeout. But it didn’t work out that way.
The place didn’t have a website.
I was fairly flabbergasted but then again, not really, because I know that sad stats: Recent surveys show that – even now – just about half of all small businesses still do not have a website. Some say that is foolhardy, others explain it away, but I call it small business malpractice.
Given that we are living in an uber-competitive digital world, the fact is that if you want to survive (let alone thrive), you simply must help customers find you online. How do you do that? Here are the 5 key steps:
- Create a memorable brand: What is a brand? Essentially it is your business reputation, personality, and promise all rolled into one. Take Starbucks for example. If any business has a specific, memorable brand, it is Starbucks. So, what does Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Shultz have to say about branding?
“Customers must know that you stand for something.”
Look, there are 30 million businesses in the U.S., and 99% of those are small businesses. That is a lot of competition, especially today with everyone’s limited attention span. Your job then if you are going to get noticed, is to give people a reason to notice you. You do that by having a specific brand that is attractive to the consumer. You could be, for instance
- The organic grocery store, or
- The sedation dentist, or
- The friendly lawyer
Whatever the case, a great brand is one that offers people a specific, desirable benefit. Once you know and have that, then step two is to
- Create tools that reinforce that brand: As we all well know, small businesses have limits with regard to marketing, both in terms of budget as well as time and expertise. What works then when looking to have people find and choose you is to reinforce that brand in all you do. You need to
- Have a website that, not just explains who you are and what you sell, but emphasizes your desired brand
- Create social media handles, pages, and posts that highlight that brand as well
- Have signs and signage that does the same
- Have a team that understand what your business is about and what it is you are seeking to accomplish with this branding effort
The point of all of this is to begin to create a specific idea of who your business is in the public consciousness. You need to give people a hook to remember you, and your brand is that hook.
- Organically market your business and brand: The great news about marketing today is that it can be so affordable. Back in the day, marketing was very expensive, but these days, between websites, social media, e-newsletters, SEO and the like, marketing can be very inexpensive, even free, while also being quite effective.
Of particular importance are SEO and social. Search engine optimization is vital because search is still how a lot of folks find new businesses. The same is true for social. While a deep dive into SEO and social media marketing mastery are beyond the scope of a blog like this, suffice it to say that it would behoove you to learn these tricks and techniques. It is actually not all that hard and can reap great rewards.
- Advertise: We all know that Page 1 of Google is the brass ring of marketing. It can happen, and indeed does every day, but it typically takes time. The good news is that you can still get there by using pay-per-click ads. Similarly, Facebook ads have been proven to be very effective for reaching a specific audience. Offline advertising that reinforces your online efforts can be very valuable too.
- Remember the rule: Finally, remember that when it comes to marketing and sales, there is one Golden Rule:
Repetition is the key, repetition is the key, repetition is the key.
What is the key? See? It requires repeated reinforcement to be remembered and chosen; to be heard above the din. The good news is that if you do it right, they will remember and find you, and even stop by for your world-famous Kung Pao Chicken.
Securing a Small Business Network: it even sounds daunting! The days of installing Norton Anti-Virus on your computer and thinking you are safe, are over. Today you need to take a layered approach to securing your network. Think of it as a puzzle, with each piece playing an important role. No one solution solves the problem; it's various products, devices, solutions, and software that must all work together to secure an environment. In my upcoming webinar with Verizon, I’ll discuss the top seven ways you can protect your Small Business Network. Here’s a sneak preview of what you’ll about learn at the webinar.
#1 – Replace Your Router with a UTM Gateway
Unified Threat Management, or UTM, is a buzzword in technology today. The idea is to block security threats before they enter your network. Traditionally a network gateway consisted of a Router or Firewall while the workstation or other devices would handle AntiVirus, AntiSpam, Web Filtering and other security functions. A UTM Gateway combines a Router, Firewall, Anti-Virus, Anti-Malware, Intrusion Prevention, Content and URL Filtering, etc. into one device. This device analyzes incoming network traffic before it enters your network and can throw out suspect data before it has a chance to infect your computers.
#2 – Install Content and URL Filtering on your Computers
Content Filtering is the process of controlling the content that a computer can access on a network. This can be as simple as blocking broad categories of websites, such as pornographic or violence-oriented content. Going further, Content Filtering can be used to block things such as pop-ups, advertisements, URL redirects, cookies and even Flash or Java-based content.
URL Filtering is allowing or denying access based on the URL or origin of the requested content. This can be used to block specific websites that an organization does not want its employees accessing, such as monster.com or facebook.com. Instead of filtering based on broad categories, this is a granular approach to filtering. Many URL filtering services include dynamic block lists which will prevent access to websites that are known security threats. This can significantly reduce the risk from zero-day threats, which are so new that most anti-virus software is not yet aware of them.
#3 – Implement Software Restriction Policies
Software Restriction Policies define the files and file types that are allowed to execute on your computer. Similarly to how a firewall will allow or disallow traffic based on specific parameters (source, origin, port, protocol, etc.), Software Restriction Policies can allow or reject programs based on their location on the disk, filename, file type, etc.
There are essentially two ways to implement Software Restriction Policies: Whitelisting or Blacklisting. Blacklisting allows any program to execute by default unless it matches a restriction defined by an administrator, specifically file type, file name, or file path. For example, a Blacklist restriction might say that any file named Spotify.exe cannot execute. This would effectively block the program Spotify from running on a computer that is subject to this policy. For a brief analogy, think of Blacklisting as the TSA's No Fly List. Anyone can fly on an airplane (with a ticket and proper ID) as long as they are not on the No Fly List.
Whitelisting, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach. By default, no programs can run unless they match specific allowed criteria. In a Whitelisting scenario, you may have a policy that will enable C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\Excel.exe to execute. This would allow Microsoft Excel to run, but any other program would be disallowed. You can think of Whitelisting as the lock on your home’s front door. No one is allowed in unless they have the key to unlock your door
Whitelisting is a more effective strategy to keep your computers secure; however, it can require more time and effort to implement and can be more intrusive to the end user.
#4 – Filter Incoming Email for Spam
Spam Filtering is the process of separating the "good" email from the "junk" email. It's the same thing you do when you get home from work and stand over the trash can with that day's mail. You filter the junk into the trash can, and you keep the important items.
Spam email can be overwhelming without effective filtering. It is estimated that there are over 14.5 billion spam messages sent daily. In addition, some estimates indicate that 73% of all email traffic is spam. These aren't just advertisements for the next gadget or miracle pill, many of these messages contain malware, viruses, phishing scams, etc.
Spam is also very costly to a business. Without a solid spam filtering system, employees can spend a significant amount of time identifying and then deleting spam that arrives in their inbox. Nucleus Research Inc. did a study that found spam costs U.S. companies over $71 billion per year in lost employee productivity.
#5 – Install Endpoint Security Software on All Workstations and Servers
Think of Endpoint Security Software as one of the last lines of defense in our layered approach to securing your SMB network. Endpoint Security Software is installed and runs on each of your workstations and servers. A decade ago, Endpoint Security Software was essentially Anti-Virus software (Think Norton or Symantec Antivirus). That type of software only had to look out for viruses involving rogue code. Fast forward to 2018 and Anti-Virus software is just a small part of Endpoint Security Software.
Today, it is expected that your Endpoint Security solution will include Anti-Virus, Anti-Malware, and Anti-Ransomware. Many leading solutions include things such as Sandboxing (A way to safely execute suspicious applications/code), dynamic firewall and port protection (To prevent Trojans and/or Ransomware from downloading payloads), Email protection (Anti-Spam, Anti-Virus, Anti-Phishing), Browser Protection and URL Blocking, USB Protection, the list goes on and on.
#6 – Make Sure You are Installing Patches and Updates Regularly
Patching is the process of approving and installing updates to the software, hardware, and operating system installed on your computer. The term "Patching" is normally used when addressing a security risk. "Updates" usually refer to an improvement or an upgrade in a software package. Security Firms, Hackers, Software Companies, and Hobbyists are continually finding defects and exploits in software. When these vulnerabilities are identified and made known to the software companies, the software company should quickly release a patch to resolve the vulnerability. For example, Adobe Flash is one of the most exploited applications of all time. When a new exploit is identified, Adobe will release a patch to resolve the threat. Your computer is considered vulnerable until you install the latest Adobe Flash patch.
#7 – Restrict User Accounts
Local Administrative Rights give you full access to a computer. This allows you to install programs, remove programs, modify and delete any files on the computer (regardless of which user created them), and change any settings/configurations that you wish.
The number one reason why you should be restricting administrative rights is to combat malware, ransomware, and viruses. If a user opens an infected email attachment or clicks on a link they shouldn't, the malicious program can only execute using the permissions of the end user. As a result, if the end user has Administrative Rights, the malicious code/program can likely do whatever it was intended to do on that computer. However, if the user account doesn't have permission to execute programs or edit specific files, the malicious code won't be able to execute. In an adequately secured SMB network, the end user is always the weakest link. Restricting local administrative rights dramatically reduces this risk.
The layered approach that Banks Technology Services uses to secure our client's networks was developed over many years of seeing what works and what does not. No single piece of this puzzle will secure your network. Each piece focuses on a particular attack surface, and together they minimize the risk to your Servers, Computers, and your data. Be sure to register for my webinar, on Wednesday, March 21st, to learn how each of the pieces should be tailored to your specific business needs. I look forward to answering your questions during the live Q&A session.
- Everyone's Tags:
- Zero Ethics
Gender diversity is good for business—and there’s research to back it up. MSCI Inc studied the performance of US companies between 2011-2016 and found that companies with at least three women on the board had returns 11% higher than those with none.1 A study of companies with high market values by Credit Suisse found that those with at least one woman on the board outperformed their peers by 26% over six years.2
There are several reasons why gender diversity could be good for your bottom line. One is “diversity of thought”. Research has shown that having employees from different backgrounds can help to improve creativity and innovation.3 Gender diversity also helps you reflect and understand the needs of your customer base. Unless you’re targeting an all-male consumer group, a gender-diverse workforce can help your salespeople, leadership and marketing teams to attract and empathize with customers from all walks of life. And this can ultimately improve your sales and customer loyalty.
On the other hand, gender discrimination can hurt your business in many ways. When you discriminate during the hiring process—either internally or externally—you limit the pool of talent you can draw on. And you risk negative exposure and long-term damage to your brand if any kind of discrimination is exposed, especially now that gender diversity issues are gaining prominence in mainstream media.
Practical ways to increase diversity
It’s hard to argue with diversity in theory. But as the owner of a small to mid-sized business, it might not seem like a high priority or you might worry about how to achieve it—especially if you don’t have a dedicated HR department, or you’re faced with strict budget and resource constraints. But the following practical steps can help you to attract a more diverse workforce and create a fairer and more inclusive environment.
Encourage balanced recruitment
The obvious way to improve gender diversity at your business is by hiring more women—but you need to tread carefully to avoid reverse discrimination. Instead, you should continue recruiting candidates based on their merit and suitability, while striving to make your advertised jobs equally attractive to all genders and demographics.
One of the best ways to attract more women candidates is by implementing flexible working policies. Women are disproportionately affected by the restrictions imposed by strict office hours that conflict with childcare and family commitments. Fair paternity leave can also help employees to share family responsibilities, and in turn this supports the progression of women in the workplace. A 2016 study found a strong positive correlation between paternity leave and the number of women in leadership positions.
Pay attention to the language used in your recruitment ads—what underlying messages are you sending? Take care to avoid traditionally masculine and feminine words. During interviews, ask questions about candidates’ achievements and experiences, not their personalities. Too often assertiveness is praised in men while being perceived negatively in women. And possessing typically masculine traits doesn’t necessarily make someone a better candidate for a managerial role. To avoid these inherent biases, aim to have a mixed-gender panel of interviewers when possible.
Improve policies and transparency
Pay inequity is still pervasive in many industries and can be difficult to address. One important step you can take is implementing transparency about salaries with your staff and stakeholders. This often forces companies to take a real look at whether they’re paying employees fairly for equal work. And there’s growing legal pressure to comply with this, as a number of states and local governments are adopting new pay equity laws.
You should also have a formalized “equal opportunities” policy in place. This is a manifesto which reinforces your commitment to equality—stating that employees will not be discriminated against based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or other factors that have no bearing on their ability to do a job. It should include a formal grievance process for any employees who feel they’ve suffered discrimination.
When designing such policies, be sure to take feedback from women and any other under-represented groups in your business. Ask them if you’re doing enough to create an inclusive environment and assess each team’s understanding of equal opportunities policies. Asking questions through a diversity and inclusion focus group or employee panel is a good way of achieving this.
Support mentorship programs
To work towards closing the gender gap, especially in sectors like STEM, it’s important that we empower the next generation of women. Try to make your business and its career opportunities more visible to them. You could do this by connecting with young women’s programs in local schools and universities or hosting a mentorship program for female graduates.
Verizon is a proud sponsor of the Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) mentorship program—which helps to inspire, encourage and prepare high school girls for rewarding careers in the tech industry. The collective holds day events and build-a-thons, where young women get hands on with the latest tools to create real products, while networking with successful women leaders in the field. Verizon has also launched the Ad Fellows program with several partner agencies, an eight month marketing fellowship for college graduates from diverse backgrounds.
Enhancing workplace diversity and bridging the gender gap isn’t an easy task. Despite decades of progress, women are not yet equal in the workplace: pay inequity, harassment and discrimination remain problems. But as these issues become more visible, so do the steps we can take to make a difference. No matter how big or small your business, we all have our own part to play in building a fairer, more equitable world.
3 Scientific American, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, October 2014.
By Barry Moltz
Most small business owners avoid sales because it makes then uncomfortable. But even if you have a great product, you can’t grow your business without actively selling. This upcoming webinar will share simple and quick shortcuts to keep every company’s sales pipeline full and turn prospects into customers.
The sales hacks will include:
How to get prospects to reply when they don't. It happens all the time. You make a great sales call on a prospect and they say they want to buy your product. You set up an appointment for the following week to solidify the details. You call and email over and over again, but never hear from them. What happened? This hack will show you a proven technique to get a reply from the customer (positive or negative), so you can close this sale or move on to others that are truly interested in buying your product.
How to get a referral from your customers. The best way to get a new customer is a referral from a satisfied one that you have. This immediately puts you at the front of the line for anything that referred prospect wants to buy. The problem is that most small businesses don’t have a systematic way to get ongoing referrals for their company. This hack shows you when and how to ask for a referral that will get you a new prospect every time.
How to get online reviews from your customers. Almost as valuable as a specific referral from a customer is a positive online review. Most buyers believe reviews from past buyers more than any paid company advertising. Studies show that 85% of shoppers trust these types of posts from people they don’t even know as muc.... This hack shows you how to encourage online reviews, when they should be posted and where they can be most effective.
How to deal with negative online reviews. It’s a fact of business that not every customer will be satisfied with your product or service. Increasingly, they will go online and post a negative review about their experience. The most important thing is not to get mad or ignore this feedback. This hack will show what steps you can take to turn this negative review into a positive experience for the customer and everyone else that later reads this post.
How to deal with an angry customer. People get mad and frustrated if their purchase experience does not go exactly the way they expect it. The biggest mistake that many companies make is that they ignore the customer or end up arguing with them. Most customers just want to be heard and shown a bit of empathy. This hack will demonstrate how to turn this bad situation of an unhappy customer into an advocate and gain invaluable feedback that helps your business continuously improve.
By Anita Campbell
Want to stay ahead of your competition? Want 2018 to be the year you not only achieve but exceed your business goals?
If so, join me for a special webinar on January 24th. We’re going to put on our strategy hats and cover five important trends. Most importantly, you’ll learn concrete tips for how to use these trends to drive more profitability, get your business efficient, and grow sales.
In my publication, Small Business Trends, we make a point of tracking and explaining key trends. Here’s why you need to stay on top of these marketplace trends and learn everything you can:
- Customer habits and expectations are changing. Customers have gotten used to the level of service provided by behemoths like Amazons. They now expect the same of our businesses, even if we don’t have the resources of Amazon.
- The competition moves incredibly fast. The barriers to entry are lower. Today’s competition can come out of nowhere and go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, what with low-cost technology, wireless communications and the ability to source staff quickly.
- Technology is experiencing a whirlwind of change right now. “AI” which stands for artificial intelligence, was voted the marketing word of the year for 2017. That ought to tell you something about the promise of new technologies.
Trends like these are challenging businesses of all sizes and especially small businesses.
Mark your calendar and register for this informative session where we’ll cover these 5 key trends: The Automation Revolution Rise of Amazon Expectations The Instant Customer Service Trend The DIY Dichotomy Always-On Operations We will explain what these trends mean for your business. Get ahead of the curve and lead in your marketplace, by understanding how to capitalize on these trends for growth and profit. We’ll “think big” -- but also discuss how to “execute small” to make concrete progress.
Title: 5 Trends that Will Drive Your Profitability and Growth in 2018
Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 2:00 pm Eastern time
Register here to reserve your spot:
This year, we’ve seen the Internet of Things go enterprise-grade and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) move from something being talked about to something that’s going live. It will be interesting to see how they develop in 2018. And there are plenty more technologies on the horizon, which experts are already billing as the next big thing.
We take a look at three technologies set to make their mark in 2018: augmented reality (AR), automated security intelligence and cryptocurrencies. Large enterprises are already starting to implement these technologies to help streamline their operations, improve customer experience (CX) and strengthen their security. But they’re not just for enterprises. They could prove key for smaller businesses too.
Security intelligence automation
As your IT ecosystem grows, so do the cyber threats to your business. In a more connected world, where your perimeter is forever growing as you connect more things, businesses are more and more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. And that means security needs to be a priority, not an afterthought.
No defense is invulnerable. You need to be ready to respond to attacks fast. Strong cybersecurity is based on intelligence and being able to spot and act on the real threats to your business. The latest security solutions are using increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to identify unusual patterns, detect possible attacks and trigger the right response. AI won’t replace human intelligence any time soon though—instead it’s augmenting it. There’s still a big role for security experts who understand the real threats posed to your business.
AR overlays your natural environment with virtual information, which augments what would normally be available to the user. For example, AR glasses have been developed for surgeons performing complicated back surgery. These project 3D models of the patient’s spine onto the lenses, helping the surgeon to get quite literally under the skin of the patient and carry out procedures far more accurately than they would otherwise be able to.
AR isn’t just for surgeons. New applications are emerging all the time. One way AR is being used to great effect is as part of the recruitment process. It can give prospective employees an insight into what it’s like to work at an organization, what the culture’s like and if it’s for them, before they start. That can cut down on the time it takes to onboard new employees—and improve staff retention. With more realistic expectations, new recruits may be more likely to stay.
We’re likely to see more uses of virtual reality (VR) too—for example, to deliver better quality training. One insurance firm has introduced VR-based training for its claims adjusters, who explore and assess the damage caused to customers’ houses from major catastrophes such as earthquakes. Using VR, the adjusters can experience simulations of these and other incidents, helping to improve their job-readiness from the outset.
Cryptocurrencies are a form of digital currency that use cryptography to secure and verify the transaction. Bitcoin is the best-known of these cryptocurrencies, but is by no means the only one: Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin are some of the others widely available. While some cryptocurrencies have attracted negative publicity because of their volatility as an asset class, when used purely as a means of payment, they have a number of advantages. For small and medium businesses (SMBs), perhaps the most relevant is that they can make transactions cheaper and more efficient: they can cut down on processing fees and speed up clearing times on payments.
Another bonus for SMBs is that cryptocurrencies can be easily added to payment systems by opening up a merchant wallet account. This account can be integrated with existing points of sale, giving potential customers greater flexibility when it comes to paying. That’s why many SMBs are already starting to pay attention to cryptocurrencies.
These are just some of the technologies that could begin to have a big impact on your business in 2018. They can offer simulated situations to help improve training for employees, add to customer payment options for better CX and spot cyber threats before you do to help maintain the security of your systems. It’s time for small organizations to start investigating the possibilities.
Technological and digital innovations have changed many industries beyond recognition. From retail with its wide adoption of e-commerce, financial services and its increasing digitization, to traditionally offline industries such as agriculture—it seems no sector has escaped the rise of technology.
For established firms and sectors, this disruption often comes as a shock. Even firms with an apparent stranglehold on their sector have crumbled as new upstarts have emerged. For instance, Blockbuster has gone bankrupt, while Netflix has gone global.
Missing the warning signs
A common lament among these businesses is “we didn’t see it coming.” But the signs are normally there. Netflix actually approached Blockbuster just to be rebuffed.
Firms often miss these signs because they’re looking in the wrong places. Many expect mega-disruptors such as an Uber, an Airbnb or an Amazon. The reality is often less dramatic.
In recent years, the most interesting and successful innovations have come not from exciting new product developments, but from business models and customer experience. More commonly, a firm has simply listened to what its customers need and taken steps to meet their expectations. Uber, for instance, recognized that consumers wanted a cheaper, on-demand taxi service—and delivered it.
What could work better?
The secret is not to try and pre-empt what you think customers will want, but to listen to what they actually want. Once you’ve identified unmet needs, you can start to plug these gaps. This is a strategy firms of all sizes can follow.
Organizations tend to think that withstanding disruption means large investment in the latest tech. But often small changes can make a big difference to overcoming customer frustrations and keeping their business.
You need to talk to customer to understand their pain points. These could be anything from having a generic website contact form that makes it difficult for customers to reach relevant people within the firm, to a physical store that’s open when customers are at work. Just adding a contact name or an “about us” section on your website could reduce customer frustration and improve lead generation. Small changes can have a big impact.
Managers and other decision makers spend much of their time focused on achieving their immediate targets, whether that’s scouring sales reports or haggling with suppliers. They can get caught up with the daily grind and along the way miss what customers really want. This can lead to services or products that are good enough, but not exceptional.
People will often put up with products that are clunky simply because no one has suggested a better one. Exploring these areas can transform customer experience. Until Heinz developed easy squeeze ketchup bottles in the 1980s, customers had long put up with coaxing the condiment out of unyielding glass bottles by either bashing the top or inserting a knife into the bottle. Consider whether you’re really addressing the underlying problem, or simply alleviating the symptoms. If someone else does come up with a product that genuinely solves a problem, the chances are your customers will opt for that.
Look around and listen
If you’re going to avoid disruption, really listening to customers can prove more important than examining what regional sales reports say. You should also keep track of what your competitors are doing. What improvements are they making that you might be able to follow? You could look outside your industry for inspiration too.
Uber wasn’t invented by a taxi driver, or Airbnb by a hotelier. These companies were able to look at the respective industries from a detached vantage point and apply best practice from tech to transform customer experience.
Last, but not least, pay attention to your employees. They’re often the first point of contact with the outside world and can provide invaluable feedback about how seemingly mundane processes can be streamlined for the ultimate benefit of the customer.
If you actively listen to those around you, you’re more likely to see what’s coming.
With email still recognized as the most effective and easiest form of online marketing, some small business owners might be bewildered at their lack of results with this marketing channel. After all, if it’s so effective and easy, then why are they not getting much business from it?
It all boils down to choosing the right tools and developing the best strategy, something which I teach to my private consulting clients all the time. Now you get to learn some of my marketing secrets thanks to Verizon’s webinars for small business owners like you, for free.
In my upcoming webinar for Verizon, How to Get the Most Bang from Your Buck (and Save Time) with Smarter Email Campaigns, I will expand on the knowledge I shared in my previous seminar How to Develop a World-Class Email Advertising Program Without Spending a Fortune. (I highly recommend you watch it)
I delivered that webinar this past July, and it was a hit! Hundreds of attendees learned how to start an effective email advertising program for very little money or even free, and the response was tremendous, with letters thanking me and requesting more information still coming in to this day. This showed people were hungry for more, and so I am going to dive even deeper into effective email advertising and cover things I wasn’t able to in the last webinar.
This webinar is organized around the five things I teach my consulting clients in order to get the most bang for the buck and save time with smarter email campaigns:
- Know Your Customers: The first thing to do is figure out who you are trying to sell to. By knowing your customer, you can tailor your messages to each group. A CPA might have several different customer groups: small business owners, individuals who need help dealing with the IRS, firms that need training/setup help with Quickbooks, etc. Each of these customers is being sold a different service, and should be targeted individually. In my webinar I will teach you to establish your customer personas, so you can target more effectively.
- Develop Great Offers: To cut through the clutter and avoid being generic, you need to create great offers which spur the buying decision. This means creating killer subject lines and email bodies and layouts which work. Regardless of your industry, you can create excitement with your emails to increase open rates and clickthroughs. I will show you how.
- Align Your Forces: Rather than send out random emails every once in a while, I teach clients to plan campaigns which align all marketing channels, including social media, print, and PPC. I will share some tools and templates you can use to stay organized and keep track of what to send next from all channels.
- Automate: The more you can hand over to an email or marketing automation platform, the better. There are some free or cheap tools which will help you tie all your online marketing together so you can run your business and serve customers as opposed to tinker with your computer all day.
- Measure & Refine: If 1000 people open an email, but none respond, there is something very wrong. I will teach you what to look for to gauge success and some tools to improve your conversion rates.
Other things I will cover:
- Advanced tips to increase sales using email
- How to make people respond NOW
- Develop killer subject lines and offers using questions, how to’s, commands, lists or controversy.
- Learn the best day and time to send an email
- Decide between HTML and text emails for your business
- Automate mundane marketing tasks
- Easily optimize for both mobile and desktop audiences
- Make each campaign better than the last
- and many more tips and tricks of the trade!
All small business owners and marketers interested in doubling or tripling their sales from email marketing are highly encouraged to attend.
If you missed the first seminar, I HIGHLY recommend watching the playback here, and email me at email@example.com to request a copy of the presentation to study and share with your team.
Delighting your Customers with Today’s Communications Technology
by Andrew Roth, Field Marketing Manager at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @AJRothCA
Many small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are already using advanced communications technology to delight their customers. These days anything from booking a doctor’s appointment to hiring a party magician can be done online. The latest communications innovations are helping organizations improve every step of the customer journey, stand out from the competition and delight their customer.
Leveraging the latest communication tools
There are hundreds of accessible and affordable communications tools that SMBs can use to deliver great experiences. For example, by upgrading your traditional phone lines to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) based system, you enable your customers to call you from any of their digital devices. You can set up “simultaneous ring” to help make sure no call goes unanswered. And by integrating VoIP with your CRM platform, your employees can give customers an even more personalized experience.
VoIP also supports video calling, which can help to bring you closer to your customers. For professionals who offer in-depth client consultations—such as, architects, engineers and designers—an HD video call can be as effective as meeting in person. Share your screen, interactive portfolio or online presentation, and showcase your work before the customer even sets foot in your office.
When customers have an enquiry, they should be able to contact your business in a way that suits them. Often, they will choose to do this through social media—an increasingly popular channel for customer queries. Some companies are even using chatbots to meet the growing demand for 24/7 service. These bots can be programmed to offer helpful suggestions, manage booking times or redirect customers to relevant webpages.
If your customers want to book your services online, there are increasingly sophisticated tools to help them to do this. Online booking systems have been around for years—but the service doesn’t have to stop when the customer hits send. Today’s booking apps can be integrated with your customer’s existing calendars, setting automatic notifications and sending friendly SMS reminders so they never miss an appointment.
Of course, it’s not just online experiences that matter. Communications technology is making a difference in-store as well. Employees equipped with tablets can answer customer queries faster. If you have reliable, secure free Wi-Fi, customers can find answers themselves and experience the best of online and physical CX.
Delivering the best customer experience
The latest innovations can surprise and delight, taking your customer experience to the next level. And they’re no longer just the province of big enterprises. These advanced communications tools are increasingly affordable and accessible, and there are many off-the-shelf solutions. But they do rely on your underlying IT infrastructure to operate efficiently.
Your network connectivity needs to be robust enough to handle all your customer traffic, applications and data. When customers are interacting with your business online they expect a quick and seamless experience—delays and slow loading times just won’t cut it. Network solutions like Managed SD-WAN can help you to get more from your bandwidth, enhancing your website and mobile app performance, and
improving your experience of VoIP.
It’s also important that you make security a priority. The more customer data you collect, the more responsibility you have to keep this personal information safe. A data breach could ruin your reputation for years to come. Not only that, a security breach could jeopardize your entire business operation—what happens if your mission-critical systems crash? What happens if your VoIP goes down and customers are unable to contact you?
Some simple precautions, like two-factor authentication, are relatively under-used, but can make a massive difference to your security. Consider Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection to keep your critical systems online. And if your business accepts card payments online or in-person, make sure you’re compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Read our 2017 Payment Security Report to understand the biggest challenges facing your industry.
Keeping network connectivity and security in mind can help your SMB to leverage the latest communications technology—and deliver an experience that delights your customers consistently.
Top 3 Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners
Numerous surveys report one of the biggest challenges small business owners and entrepreneurs face today is attracting and retaining customers and clients. So, how do you do that? Marketing is a key component of that, obviously. But then what? Do you rely on the tried-and-true traditional marketing methods or jump into the today’s digital marketing pool?
If you want your business to be successful, you need to marry digital marketing and traditional marketing—updated, of course, for today’s tech savvy consumers.
The goal is to foster customer loyalty, because loyal customers spend more money with you, and refer their friends to your business. Here’s how you can dive in.
One of the best ways to attract and retain customers is through social media marketing, which is the modern, digital version of one of the most effective customer attraction tactics ever—word-of mouth marketing.
Creating and maintaining a social media presence is a must today—but, despite it’s proven value, too many small business owners don’t take social media seriously. As consumer markets continue to shift to younger demographics that tend to embrace digital marketing, business owners need to go where the shoppers are—and that’s social.
First, “claim” your spot on all the major social platforms: LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. I’d also suggest you consider Snapchat, Yelp and any social platform that caters to your industry, such as TripAdvisor or Houzz. This will enable you to use them when you want, and prevent anyone else from using your brand.
Social media engagement “rules”:
- Go where your customers are. Ask them what platforms they prefer and start engaging with them there.
- Be consistent. Post at least several times a week, daily if you can. Create a schedule.
- Use photos in your posts. They increase click-throughs and conversions.
- Use 3rd-party apps to manage your social accounts
- Make a trusted employee responsible for social posting—not an intern.
The most important thing to remember about social media marketing is that it’s marketing. Use it to make connections, provide information and promotions, cement existing relationships and drive traffic to your blog, website, or small business.
I’m sure most of you have heard the expression, “content is king.” Content marketing has emerged in the past decade as a key component in reaching new customers and maintaining loyal customers. But, according to Contently, businesses have been misled about the ability of content alone to grow your customer base. This has led to, Contently says, content marketing programs being “cut off from paid marketing programs...In many instances, these programs are even disconnected from organic social distribution and email marketing efforts.”
Instead, Contently says, “The old rules of marketing still apply: You need to create a powerful message based on audience insights and then put that message in front of people.” In other words, “You can’t succeed at content marketing without marketing your content.”
Like social media, content needs to be produced on a regular basis, and scheduled in advance. Content can take many forms, including:
- White papers
- Case Studies
- Blog Posts
- 3rd-party/Analyst reports
- Video/Motion graphics
You don’t need to be a journalist to craft the content you need. To be effective, content should be relevant to your target market, engaging, and written to trigger a response.
Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to reach your target market. As I mentioned several months ago, over 90 percent of consumers check their emails daily. Even more important to small business owners, 74 percent of consumers actually want businesses to market to them via email. And it’s effective—66 percent of consumers bought something online due to email marketing.
It’s key to have your marketing emails designed for mobile viewing. Nearly three-quarters of consumers delete emails that don’t look good on mobile devices. You’ll also want to avoid these other common email marketing complaints from consumers:
- Get too many emails
- Emails are not relevant
- Emails are too hard to read
Marketing is vital to the survival of your small business. Even if you sell the best products or offer the best services, if they’re not marketed—and marketed well, they will likely remain a secret from consumers.
There’s a lot more to learn about the “musts” of small business marketing. To find out more, please join me on September 27th at 2 ET for a Verizon small business webinar on “Marketing Musts for Small Business Owners.”
by Steve Marinetto, Senior Manager of Marketing at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @smarinetto
Our world is increasingly interconnected. We have more ways of communicating than ever before: emails, texts, voicemails, even emoticons. But sometimes a phone call is still the fastest way to get your point across, especially in a business setting. It’s quick, it’s direct, and it captures those subtle emotional cues that are sometimes lost in other forms of communication. You don’t have to guess if your client is feeling frustrated or delighted; you can hear it in their voice.
While the humble telephone isn’t going anywhere, it has undergone a modern transformation. Many organizations have already ditched the traditional landline in favor of VoIP (voice over internet protocol), which lets them make phone calls over the internet. VoIP works by converting analog voice calls into packets of data. The data is transferred across an IP network, either public or private. With VoIP service, you can connect with landlines, mobile phones or computers.
You’re probably already familiar with the technology. If you’ve ever used Skype, Whatsapp, or Facebook Messenger to call a friend, you've experienced VoIP in action. And while it’s a popular tool for social connectivity, it also offers immense benefits for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Is it time your business switched from traditional phone lines to an entirely VoIP system?
Why should your business invest in VoIP?
If you’re still on the fence, here are five of the many benefits that VoIP offers for SMBs.
VoIP costs less than traditional phone service, and there are pre-packaged options available to suit businesses of all sizes. If you decide to work from a satellite or temporary location, there’s no need to spend extra money renting an office space with a phone line. Just login from wherever you are and you’re ready to make calls.
It’s flexible and portable
VoIP lets your employees login from any computer or smartphone and make calls using their work number. This makes it perfect for remote workers or those who are travelling for business. Because VoIP is in the cloud, you can transfer calls between devices as needed. Of course, to achieve all this you’ll need a reliable network and good connectivity.
You can serve your customers better
Today’s consumers want to communicate with your business on their own terms. Whether they’re at work or on the road, VoIP makes it easy for them to connect with you from their smartphone or laptop. You can set up transfers or “hunt groups” so calls always get answered. And you can integrate VoIP with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform to track conversations and individual customer data, so your employees can give customers a more personalized experience.
It’s packed with cool features
Many VoIP services, such as those offered by Verizon, provide features that help your company handle calls more efficiently. Set up a virtual assistant to help customers self-select a staff member to speak with. Use three-way calling to instantly add a third party to a call. Receive email alerts when you have an incoming call, or push voicemails directly to email.
With a private IP network, you can connect your different business locations securely, without having to send data over public networks. This helps to protect your customer data and confidential information. Voice encryption, client authentication and firewalls can also bolster your security.
VoIP is just the start
VoIP has great potential for most SMBs. It can improve your bottom line, customer experience, staff morale and data security. But VoIP is just one part of your business communications strategy. There’s also every other aspect of business communications to manage such as emailing, texting, video calling and document sharing.
Organizations are taking control of their total communications ecosystem using unified communications tools. These typically offer a scalable, cloud-based platform for all your business communication needs. They allow you to integrate tools for voice calling, messaging, video conferencing, file sharing and more. Your employees can share information seamlessly and collaborate on virtually any device.
Consider evaluating Verizon’s highly customizable UCCaaS (unified communications and collaboration as a service). We’ll help you create a tailored communications and VoIP system that works for your organization size, IT setup and industry requirements. Why settle for outdated and expensive telephone systems when it’s so easy to make the switch?
by Brian Stacy, VP of Customer Experience at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @brian_stacy44
How do you order a pizza, buy a pair of sneakers, or rent a car? There’s a good chance a mobile app is your starting point, even if it’s not the whole journey. You might discover the sneakers on Instagram or Facebook, learn and explore more about them in the mobile app—even asking questions via chat or by reading online reviews and finally purchasing them online. This is the new normal. Today our consumer touch points are increasingly integrated—we expect a seamless omnichannel experience, but that often begins in a mobile app.
The vast majority of Americans now own smartphones. For millennials and Gen-X, ownership is almost ubiquitous. And thanks to the fast, reliable connectivity provided by 4G and in the future 5G, they’re using their mobile devices to consume media, organize their lives and research and make purchases. Consumers are turning to their mobiles to check reviews of products and prices when in store. And they’re not waiting until they’re back home to book that vacation—they’re doing it straight from their phone.
For many consumers, the first thing they’ll turn to when they’re thinking about making a purchase—be it new clothes or a new car—is a mobile app. Mobile is where the customer journey begins. And that’s why it’s something that every organization should be embracing.
Speed and convenience
On most occasions, consumers want speed and convenience. That’s what the best mobile apps offer—ecommerce on the go. They can help to streamline the entire buyer process, making your service more attractive to busy people seeking convenience and instant gratification.
Mobile apps can also help win new customers and encourage brand loyalty. Many customers’ view of your brand will be based on social recommendations. They’re more likely to trust a brand if they’ve seen good reviews online—and especially if it has been recommended by friends or family. From your mobile apps, customers can instantly share their purchases on Instagram, or send push notifications requesting a Facebook review. This can help you to build brand awareness quickly, and attract a wider audience.
The benefits don’t end there. Mobile apps can save your business time and money. Imagine you’re a busy hotelier or restaurant owner—a mobile booking app could mean your staff spends less time answering phones and taking manual reservations, freeing up time for other proactive guest activities to create experience differentiation.
The ecommerce landscape is rapidly evolving and there’s huge potential for innovation. New and upcoming trends include sophisticated AI chatbots, digital assistants and virtual reality shopping. If used wisely, these features can enhance the user experience, differentiate your organization and enable rich personalization.
Need inspiration? Keep an eye on larger brands that are leading the way in mobile customer experience (CX). Retail giant Sephora has released an app which scans your face and lets you try on makeup virtually. It matches your chosen look with real products you can purchase online or in-store, creating a tailored shopping experience.
Concierge apps like Pana are changing the way we travel. Book your sightseeing, flights and hotels within the app, or use the built-in chat support to instantly connect with travel agency professionals. Running late for a flight? Grab shows you the nearest restaurants in your airport. Order your food within the app, and grab it as you rush to the terminal. You can even forward on meal receipts for expense reporting.
Mobile CX is already harnessing the power of 4G. The arrival of 5G promises to enhance this even further, with predicted speeds of more than a gigabit per second. Customers will be able to quickly download videos on the go, vastly improving the mobile app experience. The future of mobile CX looks promising.
Where should you start?
Whether you’re planning to develop your own mobile app, or simply make your existing website mobile friendly, there are certain things you should keep in mind. Here are three key considerations for your mobile strategy.
Using content delivery networks (CDNs) can enhance your mobile app performance. CDNs help provide a smooth user experience by accelerating the speed of content downloads. This is especially important if your customer base is spread around the globe. Even a second-long delay can cause a drop off in your mobile conversions—so it’s important that your app is lightning fast, no matter where your users live.
One of the most crucial considerations is payment security. Consumers put their trust in you each time they make a purchase online, or within an app. To protect both your customers and your business, get up to speed with security requirements including the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and The Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA DSS).
Don’t fall into the trap of going mobile for the sake of it, or blindly following your competitors. Your mobile app must work for your customers—not frustrate or impede them. Begin by tapping into your existing consumer base. Conduct journey mapping research to find out what they want, and how you could improve their experience. Think about every possible touch point on your customer journey, and try to create a seamless omnichannel experience which makes their daily lives easier.
A guest article by Ramon Ray, entrepreneur, global speaker and best selling author.
For the past few years, I’ve come to realize the simplicity of social media marketing. Sure, there are some complex parts to it, but it’s really about four key areas.
Frequency, Relevancy, Engagement and Analytics – FREA.
Once you’ve defined your target audience and you know to WHOM you are speaking, the rest fall into place. This doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work, but if you follow these four principles you’ll do just fine.
If you’re out of site, on social media, you’re out of mind. In order to make social media work for you, you must ensure that you’re constantly posting content to educate or entertain your audience.
On Twitter you can post several times a day. On Facebook, more than twice a day might get annoying. LinkedIn, keep that to no more than once every 2 or 3 days. Instagram, like Twitter, you can post frequently.
Whatever you do, definitely post and post often. There’s a lot of content online and posting once is never enough. It takes strategic repetition to ensure a wider audience sees what you’re posting. This same repetition is also important to build trust, credibility and get someone to take action.
If you’re not posting the right content to the right audience you’re wasting your time. Ensure that what you are posting is of value to your audience. It’s easy to post irrelevant content – and just press “submit” on our favorite social networks. Smart marketers know their audience and ensure they are giving them information they really want and find useful.
Engagement is one of the most important pieces to the marketing puzzle. If the content you’re publishing is boring (not interesting) no one’s going to notice it. No one’s going to pay attention to it.
It’s important that you use engaging images, video and headlines. Your content should CAPTURE attention and should be so interesting that whoever’s reading it wants to share it with others. Engaging content doesn’t mean it must be FUNNY. It can be serious. But it’s GOT TO BE INTERESTING.
Now that you’re posting and engaging with your community, it’s critical that you measure your results. You want to know, for example, who is the audience that’s reading your content. Another data point you want to know is what content is being read the most. These questions and others are easily found out with Google Analytics for your web site. Facebook has very rich analytics tools to review the traffic to your Facebook page. Each of the social networks have varying degrees of analytics tools to measure your traffic and audience.
Overall it’s essential that you leverage the power of social media in a strategic and purposeful manner. Not using social media can have the same results as using social media, but not using it correctly. You want to leverage content as a way to BUILD a community of fans and followers. You can then nurture this community to become your customers, brand Ambassadors and champions.
Join entrepreneur, best selling author and global speaker, Ramon Ray in a FREE webinar on August 23, 2017 at 2pm ET hosted by Verizon Business Markets as he shares how to use social platforms to DRIVE your business forward.
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by Karin Aviles, Creative and MarCom lead at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @Karin_MktgSmart
You have a great reputation with your regular customers. But how can you establish a wider customer base and cultivate even greater loyalty from those who already know you? And how can you do that when you have a limited marketing budget?
Organizations, large and small, are building new customer bases using the tools available to them online — many of which are inexpensive or even free. Digital marketing might seem like an obvious path if you’re an online business, but it’s also important for more traditional bricks and mortar or mail-order businesses. And it’s about much more than just building an attractive website. It’s about using all the channels available to you in a way that’s right for your business.
Five tips for improving your online visibility
When you’re trying to determine the right approach, a good place to start is by looking at what other organizations in your field are doing — check out their social media or even sign-up for their email newsletters. But here are some digital marketing pointers to get you started.
Many SMEs aren’t using social media at all to generate new customers and clients — and that means they’re missing a huge opportunity. Today, when people are looking for tips for a great local restaurant or a reliable plumber, they take to the web. For instance, parents often turn to social media or local online groups for recommendations on rainy-day family activities or child-friendly restaurants — if you’re not online and part of that conversation, you could be missing out.
People expect your business to be online. And when they find you, they expect you to interact with them. So if you’re going to get the most from being on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, don’t just post content regularly, ask your followers questions and answer their questions — get social with them and extend your reach. And be ready to reply to the negative comments as well as the good. Think of that 1-star TripAdvisor review for the hotel you were thinking of staying at. It really put you off until you saw the owner’s response, which put the complaint into context.
Great digital marketing requires great content. A well-written post, blog or even an email can help drive potential customers to your site. If someone’s in the market for a new stereo, your online review of the latest models could send them your way. Your point of view on current market conditions could help develop their trust in you as a financial adviser. Your regular emails mean your dealership is in their mind when they come to upgrade their car. And of course, sending emails means you need addresses to send them to. A customer email list is critical to your digital marketing strategy and could be key to a wave of new business.
Be eye catching
Engaging people isn’t just about the quality of your writing. Paying a little bit of money to promote your post on Facebook, for example, can help you expand your reach and communicate with more potential customers.
And remember, pictures tell a thousand words. Rather than writing detailed customer case studies, some organizations are telling their stories with photographs on Instagram. If you want your post to stand out, accompany it with a graphic.
You should also consider the use of video. Improved mobile connectivity means that people are increasingly consuming short video content. And you don’t need a studio to shoot one — you can record an HD video from your smartphone. So instead of writing how-to guides or product reviews, why not produce videos instead. Many guitar shops are doing just that to promote the latest kit. And the best bit is that Facebook now prioritizes video content above posts with just images or text, so you’d be nearer the top of people’s feeds.
If you want to keep people engaged, you need to post regularly. But don’t overdo it. Providing a regular flow of helpful and insightful content will have more impact than overloading people with banal comments. They’re likely to switch off if all they ever see in their social feeds are posts from you.
Ideally, you’d know exactly when someone was planning to buy a new waffle maker or to book their next holiday. While mind reading is impossible, there are solutions that can analyze data such as customer behavior and purchase patterns to trigger notifications at the best possible time. They also enable greater personalization of content.
You’re using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But where are you sending your customers? What’s the state of your website? You don’t necessarily need an e-commerce solution. Your website might be informative and drive enquiries your way. And you don’t need all the bells and whistles — your site just needs to be easy to use and navigate. But what you do need is to be mobile friendly. Your new potential customer could be checking you out on their smartphone, and they’re going to lose interest pretty quickly if your site is difficult to use on a small screen.
You could grow from local to global
Don’t expect to see immediate returns from your efforts. Even the largest enterprises struggle to link downloads of their latest white papers to sales. But use the tools available to you and digital marketing could help you improve the visibility of your business and boost your customer base. That could even see you grow from a local business to a global one.
by Karin Aviles, Creative and MarCom lead at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @Karin_MktgSmart
A team of first responders arrives at the scene of a catastrophe — with limited communications or connectivity, how can they help survivors or even know where to look? At the recent Operation Convergent Response (OCR) event, Verizon brought together emergency responders and tech innovators to demonstrate the difference technology could make in a disaster scenario.
Welcome Shawn and Jeff. Can you tell us a bit more about the event — what was your aim? Who was involved?
Shawn: We brought together around 200 first responders, public safety officers, and state and local officials with technology providers and businesses for the event. We simulated real-life disaster scenarios — from hurricanes and floods to buildings collapsing and terror attacks — to see how multiple organizations could come together as a coordinated response and how the latest technology innovations could help them respond faster and more effectively.
Jeff: We created the most realistic test that we could. Our participants went in with no idea of what to expect. We wanted an accurate reflection of how response services would work together and use the technology.
Shawn: We were able create a space in which the community of first responders could innovate together, surrounded by a showcase of some really exciting new technology that they might not have otherwise seen in the context of their core missions. For example, in one of the scenarios, we had a robotic device designed by a creative start up provider that acted as a casualty detection platform. It can autonomously roll through a city looking for survivors, tell doctors on the other side of the world where they are, and use GPS to guide first responders to extract the survivors.
Shawn, you mentioned you had businesses at the event — what role do they play in emergency response?
Shawn: Many municipalities and businesses today have security cameras — getting access to provide unique intelligence when responding to an event or putting together the pieces afterwards. It can give first responders a much better picture of what they’re about to face or what happened. And it’s not just video footage they can share to help out. Some businesses are already sharing this info with agencies. They operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and are constantly deploying data connections for commerce transactions. Monitoring when these connections go down can tell responders a lot about the scale of an incident.
Jeff: Imagine if every business provided emergency response units with timely access to that kind of information. If a hurricane struck a coastal city, instead of going in blind, first responders could have access to a library of video footage from local businesses’ security cameras. Businesses can become a real multiplier in this environment — just think about the difference it could make if you could see the eye of the storm before heading into it.
Shawn: Accessing that data relies on having connectivity available. And, of course, connectivity is also vital to keeping communications open between first responders. OCR really highlighted just how important secure communication is in tackling emergencies, and how new innovations can help. A breakdown in communications can be the difference between life and death in these scenarios.
If a city is hit by a hurricane or flooding, regular communication channels are likely to go down. What kinds of innovation were on show to get them back on line?
Shawn: At OCR, we deployed a number of innovative solutions that can be used to tackle this challenge — from a truck-mounted LTE tower to cell sites in backpacks. In addition to our Cell on Wheels (COW) solution, one very popular innovation was the LTE balloon we deployed. We tethered an air balloon to fly around 100 feet above us and provide an instant 4G LTE network for responders’ voice and data communication.
Jeff: With our tech keeping communications up, response services were able to share real-time data about what was happening on the ground. This was vital to success in every single emergency scenario.
Shawn: It’s not just about having open communication channels though — they also need to be secure. Just think how helpful it would be to terrorists if they could listen in on emergency responders’ conversations or see what they could see.
Yes, that could compromise an entire operation. So, how can that data be kept secure?
Jeff: We demonstrated that particularly well in one of our scenarios, where we simulated a VIP convoy being attacked by terrorists. The VIPs were taken hostage in a nearby building. We used a drone and dropped a bouncy ball that let us capture high-resolution, real-time imagery on the roof of the building — we didn’t want this footage falling into the wrong hands. While our first response crews were looking to tackle the situation, we had a group of hackers trying to compromise their communications. We were able to keep those all-important communications between first responders secure using Verizon’s software-defined perimeter (SDP).
Wow, can you tell us a little about how SDP works?
Shawn: Essentially, SDP forms a network from scratch at a specific point in time. It takes whatever assets we have out there — whether Wi-Fi, Li-Fi or LTE, for example — creates a zero-trust environment and wraps it all in a strong security layer. Because the network exists at a particular point in time, even if an attacker manages to find it once, it won’t be there the next time they look. Imagine SDP as a one-way mirror — when cybercriminals knock to enter, or even just stand outside and attempt to look in, we’ll be looking straight at them.
Thanks Shawn, that was a great explanation. It sounds like there was a lot of impressive and innovative technology showcased at the event. Did anything stand out as particularly exciting or effective?
Jeff: I couldn’t single out one particular piece of technology. What was really impressive was how we were able to integrate so many different technologies and give first responders the means to collaborate effectively. It was great to see them all working together, augmented by technology.
Shawn: I absolutely agree, Jeff. I think it’s also really important to make the point that this was never intended as a one-time event to show off some cool technology. We wanted to help facilitate a more involved, more connected community of first responders and technology providers. I think the event really helped to move that forward and hopefully the community will now build on it so we can help make emergency response even safer and more successful in the future.
Thank you both for your time, that was really insightful. For a glimpse of what went on at Operation Convergent Response, take a look at this video.