Friday, January 27, 2012

Online Invoicing the Easy Way

You launched your own catering business because you love to cook. You went into the bakery business to sell pastries and cakes. You didn't open your own landscaping company because you love paperwork. Yet to be a prosperous small business owner, you cannot disregard the financial side of your business, and this means that you must make sure that you properly invoice your clients. Forgetting to invoice your clients can leave you with a significant cash flow problem, one that, if left unchecked, could put you out of business.

Invoicing help online

Fortunately, there are plenty of online invoicing services created to make life simpler for the small business owner. By utilizing one of these services, you can quickly -- and depending on your clients, automatically -- distribute your invoices each month. It's one less job for you to handle. What follows is a glance at a few of the better online invoicing services:

A free but powerful invoicing service


Sometimes the word “free” is synonymous with “not very good.” Fortunately, that isn't the case with the free system, BillingBoss. Excellent for most small businesses that need to automatically invoice customers monthly and periodic once-off invoicing, BillingBoss packs a huge punch without cost!

A power tool

AcceptPay isn’t free. It costs $30 a month, but it's a robust program. Offered by American Express, AcceptPay works with QuickBooks, will accept online payments, and of course, offers you a wide range of options when it comes to sending out invoices and collecting payments. The $30 expense is a small price to pay for such a effective online invoicing tool.

Invoicing for the tech-savvy

If you are tech-savvy and know how to use open source software, BambooInvoice is a good option. This free service is highly customizable and lives on your in-house servers as opposed to in the cloud.  This makes it easy for you to make the program fit your company’s exact needs.

We haven’t even mentioned the best part yet. These three services are only a drop in the very full bucket of available online invoicing services. Many are free or extremely inexpensive, but can greatly boost your workflow and ease the pain of that irritating stack of paperwork.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can a real-time threat feed really discourage cyber crime

It looks as if Microsoft is ready to do its part to discourage cyber crimes. Microsoft intends to offer real-time feeds that partners can use to analyze potential cyber threats and take the appropriate steps to bolster their defenses against these attacks.

Microsoft presently has a process set up to take down harmful botnets. Microsoft “swallows” the botnets and permits them to infect accounts that are highly controlled by Microsoft’s team. Once the botnets infect the accounts, Microsoft learns how they work and eliminates them as a threat.

Previously this data had not been shared, but now this data can be shared with the government and private organizations, CERTs, & ISPs. Even though the amount of attacks will likely not decrease thanks to this real-time feed, the impact of a feed like this will be great. The degree of damage from a cyber attack will probably be greatly diminished because IT security professionals will be able to more quickly react to a threat.

Microsoft's live threat feed could have a far more important impact: It could lead the information security industry to share more data. For too long, companies have hesitated to discuss important security information that they fear could lead to a copycat attack. This is a misguided belief as cyber criminals are already exchanging information among themselves. It makes sense, therefore, for security professionals to also share real-time information.

Let’s hope that security professionals soon discover that sharing information is more useful than secrecy. And let’s hope that Microsoft’s move is a first step in this change of attitude.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How Secure is the Cloud? Part 2

The cloud can be a great thing for small business owners struggling through tough economic times. Rather than purchasing pricey enterprise software, business owners can save their dollars by accessing powerful computing programs in the cloud, from high-end word processors and project-management tools to spreadsheets and Photoshop alternatives. But, the cloud isn't perfect, particularly when it comes to security issues. Entrepreneurs must be conscious that their documents, presentations, and marketing materials can be damaged when they're stored in the cloud.

Password issues

Password protection is a crucial issue when dealing with the cloud and personal computers as well. Passwords can often be easily guessed or they are shared too freely.

You ought to carefully select passwords to your projects stored in the cloud. The more complicated your passwords are the more challenging they are to guess. One way to accomplish this is to use a combination of numbers and letters in your passwords. Also, you shouldn't share these passwords with lots of people.

Hacker alert

Hackers, malware, and spyware are issues for everyone who owns a computer. Likewise, they are serious issues for cloud environments. As a user of a third party cloud storage service, you do not have control over the security of the cloud which could be very scary for business owners. Large companies must set up their own security for the data that is stored in the cloud.

Common sense protection

Protecting yourself from theft in the cloud is often as easy as applying some common sense practices.

First, owners should consider what sort of information they are storing in the cloud. The most sensitive data, data that could damage a company if it is lost or stolen, may not be suitable for cloud storage. Instead, this data may be better stored on a business owner's individual computing system and reliably backed up.

Secondly, before giving every employee free access to cloud-stored data, think carefully about which employees actually needs access to that information. People are often careful about protecting their laptops and desktop computers from prying eyes; this attitude should be applied to the cloud as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cloud Security: Part 1

There are many advantages to cloud computing. Backing up important data makes it easily accessible to everyone in your company and frees up space on your servers. You most likely have many concerns about cloud security and may be pondering if cloud security will protect your client’s data and comply with HIPAA, PCI or Sarbanes-Oxley regulations.

Is your cloud storage solution following these requirements? If they don’t specify it in their privacy policies, it's not easy to tell. Let's explore this further below.

Compliance

Cloud security has grown to be an important issue lately, as more and more companies turn to online storage solutions, seeking greater simplicity, scalability and affordability. However the price in both money and reputation for poor handling of customer data can be very high indeed. If your organization should comply to key regulations associated with patient privacy (HIPAA), credit card security (PCI) or the finance-sector strictures of Sarbanes-Oxley, it can be hard to find out if a service complies with these important restrictions.


Who is responsible

Cloud security is vital when handling your sensitive data, but whose responsibility is it? Should you assume that if it is not spelled out in the privacy policy, that a service provider doesn't abide by these regulations? Even though this is clearly the safest option, it may leave you unable to use cloud computing at all. Many services don't provide detailed information in their privacy rules, presumably to reduce their liability. The hope is that with time cloud storage and sharing will become better self-regulated and corporations will decide to reveal their individual practices to the businesses they serve. While such self-regulation is not required at this time, many businesses believe it is their duty to display clear warnings, detailing what they don't provide or guarantee.

Ultimately, as there is no current law that states that companies must divulge how tight their security is, the responsibility is in your hands. You have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of cloud storage to determine if it’s right for your business. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Manage Projects with Ease

Disasters can happen to any organization and they come in many forms and severities. They could be anything from a natural disaster, to a well-meaning employee accidently downloading a dangerous virus, to something crucial getting mistakenly deleted. These what-ifs can keep you up at night, so for your own peace of mind develop a disaster recovery plan.

Decide What’s Important

The first step is knowing what you have and what’s essential. Take an inventory of all the data that is critical for your company to run. This will lead you to the data that ought to be backed up. Utilizing an online provider or the cloud to store all of your data is one method to ensure data recovery if your hard drive crashes and burns.

Make a Plan


Next, decide what steps have to be taken to restore that data that is lost in case a disaster strikes? What data and systems have to be up and running first? Start with the worst possible scenario and determine what’s needed.

Know Your Workflows

I’m sure you have the big picture of your company processes, but what about all the day-to-day processes that you don’t have memorized? Ask your employees to document their workflows and the specific tasks they preform. That way, if something does happen, anyone can pick up where they left off and nothing gets looked over.

Decide Who is in Charge

Depending on the type of disaster you go through, your employees could panic.  Before this happens, choose one levelheaded person in the organization to be “in charge” of the disaster recovery plan. They ought to know the plan as well as you do and possibly have helped you develop it. This will be the person you turn to for execution of the plan, so that you can be the strong leader your employees need at a time like this.

When we hear of disaster people often think it can’t happen to them, but we never know what is around the corner. It’s important to be prepared. Having a strong disaster recovery plan will not only make you feel more secure, but will comfort your employees as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Segway Celebrates 10th Anniversary

It wasn’t that long ago that inventor Dean Kamen believed his two-wheeled personal transportation device, the Segway, would revolutionize transportation.  Sadly, the Segway has become synonymous with technology failure.  Kamen imagined a future filled people zipping around town on a Segway PT scooter to run errands and travel to work.

That hasn't happened. Nevertheless, Segways are still around. Believe it or not, Segway celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011, and it's not entirely rare to see the devices zipping along downtown sidewalks. That's a fairly impressive feat for a tech "failure."

Let’s discuss how the Segway actually works though.

Powering the Segway

Each Segway PT is powered by electric motors which are, in turn, fueled by phosphate-based lithium-ion batteries. Segway owners may charge these batteries by plugging their Segways into common household electrical sockets. The device doesn't fall over due to its two computers loaded with proprietary software, pair of tilt sensors, and five gyroscopic sensors.

Making the Segway Move

Users play a role in making the Segway work too. When riders want to go forward, they move a control bar away from their body. If they want to move backwards, they move the same control bar nearer to their body. The Segway notices a change in its balance point and adjusts the velocity to keep its riders balanced.  To steer, riders tilt a handlebar in the direction in which they need to move. Today's Segway PT can move up to 12.5 miles an hour. It performs best, obviously, in communities which include a good amount of sidewalks and other areas in which the Segway can properly motor.

Lowered Expectations

Experts touted that the Segway would become a bigger deal that Internet. Plainly the device didn't meet that level of hype!

In the 10 years since its release, the Segway hasn't entirely failed, but its strange overall look and goofy riding style makes it nearly impossible to achieve its expected level of success.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Manage Projects with Ease

As a small business, there is a good chance you have to manage projects and people that are not always located in one area.  So how do you manage these projects and off location employees while still having the ability to share updates, documents, and assign tasks?

Project management solutions

Fortuitously, several companies offer top-notch project management tools for small business owners. By using these tools, you can keep your numerous projects on track and avoid costly missed deadlines. Here is a quick look at some of the best project management tools available today:

Basecamp

This well-known project management tool has become popular as it is just one tool that enables businesses to manage projects, assign duties, communicate with employees, and more. It’s truly a one-stop shop! It even allows clients to observe and comment on their project. In addition to schedule meetings and calendar events, which keeps everyone involved on the same page.

Quickbase

From the creators of Inuit, Quickbase is fairly comparable to Basecamp with its ability to serve both large and small businesses. It features a simple and easy to use interface.

Huddle

Some projects demand more creativity than others. This is where Huddle comes in. This project management tool is intended precisely to handle the more creative marketing and advertising projects that small business owners must sometimes take on. Huddle features a power live-conferencing tool that can make holding impromptu meetings a simple task.

Deskaway


Deskaway permits you to keep clients and employees up to date by using snapshots of a project’s development. It has the functionality to generate and post blogs based on individual projects as well as keep in contact about important updates with ease.

There are many other online project management tools that can help you retain stronger control over your business’ marketing campaigns, new product launches, and website development. This is good news. It allows you to look for the one project management tool that best fits you and your business.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Will we ever see a truly paperless office?

Have you ever thought your company should go paperless? We’ve seen the potential of a paperless office grow over recent years, but you’d be hard pressed to find an office that is truly paper-free. Is a paperless office even possible? The simple answer? No. We're moving that direction, but it is going to take us a long time.

The advantages of paper

There's a reason why paper hasn't yet vanished from most offices: It's useful. Employees at even the greenest of offices—those workspaces most dedicated to reducing the level of paper they consume—have uses for paper. Paper is portable. Employees can easily scrawl notes on it. They can fold it up and slip it into their wallets or shirt pockets. Many employees prefer proofreading crucial documents in hard-copy form. There's something about proofreading a document on the computer screen that causes some employees to miss important errors or typos.


Less paper than ever

Paper isn't disappearing, it is becoming steadily less important. While we still need paper for certain tasks,  most offices are using less paper than ever before. Most writing is performed on a word-processor and communication is done via email or Skype as opposed to fax or letters. Meeting notes, company schedules, and whole marketing campaigns are stored digitally on our computers and smartphones.  So while paper is not yet obsolete, the sticky note is no longer king of the workplace.

The future

It’s obvious that offices of the future will rely on less paper than even we do now, but will paper ever really go the way of the milkman? Maybe. Some people still prefer having their milk delivered from a local dairy but most are content to pick it up from the store when they need it.

Paper will most likely go the same route and it will be a personal preference as to how much paper is consumed in the office. As many of our business processes rely on digital solutions, there will always be a select few who prefer good old-fashioned pen and paper.