small business tools

How Businesses Across Industries Are Making Big Data Digestible

Big data is intimidating. Quality data, on the other hand, can and should be a core decision factor in everything connected to your business. Data-based decision making, in fact, is starting to be a unifying factor among small and medium-sized businesses looking to survive and thrive in competitive environments. You might have heard about big data, the idea that the rise of digital technology has overwhelmed businesses with so many data points that they can be difficult to analyze. What should be an opportunity quickly becomes a problem, as your decision makers drown in analytics without the ability to differentiate and evaluate. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. Increasingly, thanks to new technologies and a better grasp of the depth of big data, businesses of all sizes are beginning to use it more effectively to their advantage. The Increased Usability of Big Data A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review returned a promising result: in 2017, 80 percent of businesses deem their big data and analytics investments to be successful. Used correctly, decision makers across industries state that it can decrease expenses, suggest new innovation technologies, helps in launching new products, and creates more revenue. In other words, as HBR points out: Big data is already being used to improve operational efficiency, and the ability to make informed decisions based on the very latest up-to-the-moment information is rapidly becoming the mainstream norm… About half of the executives (…) predict major disruption on the horizon, as big data continues to change how businesses operate and compete. Companies that fail to adapt do so at their own competitive and market risk. The same survey also saw a shift in the challenges facing big data adoption. Technologies that include the plethora of options to optimize data collection and analytics software are no longer the problem. Now, the biggest challenge is cultural, as companies run into road blocks looking to change their culture toward more data-based decision making. For businesses across industries, that shift is excellent news. The fact that the challenges are now qualitative means that implementation of a data-based strategy is no longer impeded by structural hurdles. Big data may still be intimidating, but a clear road map to success has been drawn. New Technologies that Build Big Data Capabilities When looking at companies’ priorities in data analytics, this shift can be seen in action. VentureBeat outlined five ways in which companies of all sizes are starting to utilize data analytics to their advantage: Predictive analytics, allowing your business to better understand what your customers need before they have to ask for it. Getting customers excited about their own data that can be relevant to their relationship with your company. Improving customer service efforts by providing quicker, more proactive, and more relevant assistance for any issues that inevitably come up. Identifying customer pain points through better audience analysis, allowing you to address underlying issues through core value propositions. In the healthcare industry, saving people’s lives through improved treatments. All of these […]

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Using Office 365 in Your Small Business: 8 Little-Known Features You’ll Love

Microsoft Office 365 has quickly become one of the go-to office suites for small business, and it’s no wonder: Office 365 is a powerful suite of software that’s simple to use. Whether you’re new to Office 365, or just interested in ideas and features of Office 365 that can help improve your productivity and teamwork, here are 8 little-known features of Office 365 that your business is going to love: Office 365 Co-Authoring: Are you tired of working on a document, only to go back and edit it but find you’re locked out until somebody else’s edits are complete? Office 365 allows everyone edit a document at the same time in Word, PowerPoint or Excel. While they’re editing, you can see the changes in real-time, as well as who is doing the editing. Forget the pain of emailing attachments and waiting. You can approve or reject the edits as soon as they’re made, too. Chat Via Skype: While you’re poring over those edits, you may find a mistake or something that needs clarification, but it requires a more detailed explanation than another edit line. Instead of picking up the phone, just click the “Chat” button to begin chatting with everyone working in the document over Skype. Even if you close the document, you can still talk with everyone involved on the project. Managers love this feature – it leaves the management to them, not the “micromanagement”. Forget Attachments, Just Send Links: When you’re working with a ton of documents, spoofing by a bad actor that’s looking to phish information from your company is common in the internet security world. Every day thousands of these spoofing emails go out worldwide, and sometimes a tired executive or two will inevitably click them. The solution to this? Make your workplace an attachment-free zone. This way, your workers can assume any email with a document attached is a spoof. Use the cloud version of Outlook (the Outlook Web App) and link to the file on your cloud. Once you’ve made this a business practice, you’ll have strengthened internet security and have a protocol in place for all of your documents. (You can also set individual security settings for all of these documents, too.) Turn Your Notes Into Calendar Items: Microsoft’s note-taking tool, OneNote, is easily used inside of Microsoft Outlook. Using the OneNote, you can create a to-do list that can convert into deadlines and reminders on your calendar. Using OneNote, you can also automatically add calendar meeting details such as date, location, time, schedule and attendees, to your notes. You can even then use OneNote to email the meeting notes to your attendees — kind of like an electronic secretary. Teach Your Inbox to Sort Your Email: You’re a small business, so you don’t run a mail room, but your Outlook email can end up in disarray if you don’t use Microsoft’s Clutter tool. If you use Outlook 2016 for Windows, “Clutter” will help you filter low-priority email, saving time for your most […]

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Office 365 or Google Docs? Finding the Perfect Solution For Your Small Business

The increasing popularity of cloud computing has brought with it countless benefits for small business owners. Among the largest is the rise of productivity solutions that allow you to share documents and spreadsheets, while improving your email efforts and maximizing your storage capabilities without having to worry about an on-premise solution. But within this cloud productivity market, you have a number of options that can easily seem confusing. Microsoft’s Office 365, for example, has engaged in a fight for supremacy in the space with Google Apps, a similar solution that claims to offer many of the same capabilities. Which works better for your small business? The below evaluation can help you answer that question, using 6 distinct variables. 1. Range of Features Naturally, the first variable to consider should be the actual programs that are part of each suite. Both alternatives offer a relatively similar range of products, from word processing to presentations and cloud storage. Office 365, however, does come with a couple of additions to which Google has no alternative. More specifically small businesses can take advantage of Publisher as a solution to design print materials, in addition to the basic (and well-known) Access database. Both can easily help you improve the way you run your small business, giving Office a crucial advantage in this area. 2. Email Capability In this feature, it’s Outlook vs. Gmail for business. You’re probably familiar with both, so the adjustments are not major in either case. Which works better for your business depends entirely on your comfort level and needs. Ultimately, both are relatively similar products. Outlook does have a more easily integrated calendar feature compared to Google, which can help you better manage your business time and scheduling coordination. In addition, Gmail’s offline access is limited to the past month, while Outlook offers unlimited offline access to retrieve old messages and work on new ones. 3. Storage Possibilities Both Office 365 and Google Drive offer cloud storage solutions that allow you to keep all of your documents and file easily accessible for everyone in your business. Which works better for a small business like yours? Again, much of that answer comes down to preferences. CNet has created a great comparison of the most popular cloud storage solutions available for small businesses. OneDrive, Microsoft’s product, integrates seamlessly with email and is compatible with most mobile and desktop operating systems. If your business runs on Windows PCs, it will typically be your best choice. 4. Collaboration Opportunities Ultimately, one of the biggest advantage of any comprehensive cloud productivity suite is its ability to allow your business to collaborate on different projects and edit multiple files at the same time. So naturally, the individual alternatives’ options should be a crucial point of consideration in choosing between Office 365 and Google Apps. Shared spreadsheets, for example, need to be editable by more than one user at the same time. Just as importantly, users should be able to track changes by their peers, add and respond to […]

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Marketing Personalization is Real, Thanks to Increasingly Available Data Insights

We live in an age of personalization. Armed with more data than ever before, businesses now have the opportunity to move away from mass marketing ‘blasts’ and toward increasingly targeted, personalized messages. Consumers across industries are welcoming this opportunity. Ad blocking is on the rise, with an estimated 86 million U.S. internet users actively suppressing promotional messages online this year. At the same time, personalized marketing and particularly email messages generate significantly higher attention, engagement, and transaction rates than their non-customized counterparts. Increasingly, your audience expects personalization. And fortunately, the ability to gather and utilize data about your audience has made the process significantly more realistic for small and medium businesses to implement. The Rise of Big Data and Data-Driven Marketing A few years ago, big data officially became a topic for businesses. The rise of online marketing has enabled us to collect a large variety of information about our audience, allowing us to draw insights that can help create more relevant and personalized messages for potential and current customers. That rise of data, in turn, has led to an emphasis on data-driven marketing. As Ad Week points out, basing every marketing decisions on data you have gathered about your audience has turned from a novel approach into an integral business process in the course of just a few years. Your audience knows that you’re collecting information about them online. Now, they expect you to actually turn that information into value for them. Turning Big Data into Actionable Insights Of course, there’s a significant problem with big data and data-driven marketing that has long plagued small and medium businesses: the resources needed to accomplish that feat. Thanks to advertising platforms like Facebook, Google Analytics, and more, everyone can gather the sort of data needed to personalize your marketing. But few organizations actually have the budget and manpower necessary to turn that data into actual, data-driven insights and actions. As a result, the last few years have not just given rise to the importance of data. They have also widened the gap between audience expectations and small/medium business capabilities. Your largest competitors may be able to interpret and use real-time data, but if you can’t, you’ll fall behind in the eyes of your audience. Fortunately, the past may be the past. Increasingly, thanks to machine learning technology, data collection and pattern recognition are becoming more available to businesses of all sizes. In fact, machine learning has officially entered the sphere of possibilities in small business marketing. How To Personalize Your Marketing Using Data Every business can collect data about their audience. And thanks to machine learning, even small businesses can now use that data to create actual, personalized marketing strategies. The reason, as Tech Emergence shows, lies in the increasing availability of technology. Tools like IBM Watson, for example, allow businesses of all sizes to recognize patterns in their data and even predict user behavior for a reasonable cost. But pattern recognition still does not get to the core of the potential advantage […]

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6 Benefits of Integrating Your Dynamics CRM With QuickBooks

Customer relationship management software (CRM) helps you convert your contacts, improving your marketing, sales, and retention efforts in the process. Accounting software allows you to keep your finances in order, gaining both quick overview and in-depth knowledge about your revenues, expenses, and more. At first sight, the only thing these two types of software have in common is the fact that they improve business processes in some shape. Accounting and marketing, you might think, does not often overlap. But in reality, integrating both processes comes with a variety of advantages for your business. In fact, here are 6 benefits you can gain from integrating your Dynamics CRM with QuickBooks. 1. Enhancing Customer Profiles and Information Whether or not you already use a CRM to enhance your sales and marketing efforts, you know about the value of information. During their buyers’ journey, your audience receives more than 100 emails every day. Your only chance to stand out is with a message that is both relevant and targeted exactly to your audience. The same truth holds for the sales call. If you simply call sales-qualified leads with a blanket statement, they’re much less likely to become customers than they would if you approached them with a sales pitch tailored to their needs. By integrating your accounting software with your CRM, you can solve both of these problems. For existing customers, you can draw on financial information and order history to make a more relevant marketing and/or sales pitch. Considering the ROI of customer retention, this added information could be the difference in helping your business grow. 2. Avoiding Duplication for Increased Data Integrity When your Dynamics CRM and QuickBooks accounting software run separately, you almost necessarily risk data duplication. Two identical records will have to be maintained for the same customer. That, in turn, can compromise your data integrity, as duplicate updates are not always intuitive or easily followed. Through a CRM and accounting software integration, you can solve that problem. QuickBooks and Dynamics, for example, allow users to promote and link customer profiles on both platforms, making sure the information always remains in sync. The result is not just less required data entry, but greater accuracy and integrity. 3. Understanding Accounting Data in the Context of Your Customers Much of your accounting data will provide valuable insights into the health and success of your business. But do you know what that data actually means for individual customers? If you do, you can draw conclusions that help you improve your marketing, sales, and financial processes. Imagine, for example, running a report that shows you the average revenue created by one of your marketing automation campaigns. Alternatively, compare multiple campaigns or sales efforts in light of their actual costs. Adding customer context to your accounting data gives you a much fuller (and more accurate) pictures not just of your business health, but the reasons for that health and growth. 4. Syncing Price Lists and Inventory for Integrated Sales Information As part of your accounting […]

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