How to Embrace and Nurture the Oncoming Freelancing Economy

The marketplace has gone global. As a business, you need the ability to sell to everyone – from those in high rises in New York City to folks in towns in Missouri or the outskirts of Bangladesh.

The same goes for your workforce. The men and women on your payroll come from all walks of life, and any corner of the map.

Freelancers, once seen as as-needed employees used to buttress full-time staffers, are not only more common these days, but they make up a significant population of many business’ workers. Current estimates posit that voluntary freelancers make up 34 percent of all employees right now.

That number is going to grow. A lot.

In fact, by 2020, it’s possible that upwards of 50 percent of the world’s workforce will be comprised of freelancers.

That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Working with freelancers does present its own set of challenges, though.

“There’s a sea of uncertainty felt by a lot of managers, and business owners, because a freelancer can seem like the unknown factor on a team,” said Tony Zhao, CEO of real-time communications firm, Agora.io. “But freelance workers and remote employees are something we need to embrace, because that’s part of the next phase – the next step – as far as directing a workforce goes. It’s wildly detrimental to limit your employee pool to those who are local.”

Here’s how to navigate those waters.

  1. Focus on Productivity

As Agora’s Tony Zhao said, there are skilled workers all around the world. You can’t discount a worker who’s effective because they aren’t local. Inherent competition between companies and employees makes this doubly so – everyone is looking for stalwart workers, and workers want jobs.

That said, managing remote employees does present unique challenges. It’s not akin to anything else an office manager has dealt with. Which means your managers will need to do things a bit differently to ensure that freelancer is game.

The most critical aspect of that is communication, which itself breeds productivity.

You need to have a rapport with every member of your team. A disconnected teammate is a bored – or worse – employee. Your managers need to connect with remote workers. They need to make time for them.

Which means making time for little chats. It may seem inconsequential, but basic chatter helps remote workers feel like they’re part of the bigger picture.

It also means using video to chat. Texting is out the window. It’s not personal and it doesn’t show workers what they want: The human being to whom they’re reporting.

Skype and Google Hangouts won’t cut the mustard either – workers who are possibly too remote or on shaky networks are going to have a bad experience, which frustrates everyone involved. Focus instead on platforms such as Agora.io that deliver guaranteed quality of service.

It also means taking the time for one-on-ones. All of your workers matter, not just those in the office. A remote employee who feels like they’re part of the team – because you treat them that way – is going to do wonders for your business.

  1. Check in regularly

Have you ever felt lost and marooned, without even a basic compass, when it comes to your work day? Freelancers feel this all the time, because there’s a lack of real-time contact.

Don’t let this happen.

It might mean managers need to schedule more one-on-one sessions. It might also mean that those sessions take a considerable amount of time. That’s all right. Managers need to be dedicated to dealing with all employees, not just those in the office.

One thing is for sure, though: Never cancel on a remote employee. They’ll say it’s fine – even when it isn’t – but they miss out on a lot from the simple fact that they’re not in the office.

Don’t leave them hanging.

  1. Build trust

Freelancers need to be treated with the same caring gloves you use for in-office employees. As noted above, they inherently miss things that happen casually in the office. As well as basic conversation. But they still rely on their managers to know what’s going on.

That means you need your freelancer to trust you as much as you trust them.

The best way to deal with this is, again, showing your face and being a part of their work day, which means video contact.

As we’ve said, apps like Skype and Google Hangouts just don’t work remotely. Or, at best, they give users a disjointed experience.

  1. Balancing schedules

Remote workers work in different time zones. That’s just a fact. New York and Barcelona have employees with different hours than those in London. That might make scheduling meetings tough. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t. You have to find a compromise: one of you may have to get up a little earlier, or put in a little time in an evening.

Yes, it can be frustrating, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Creative thinking and give-and-take will help ease any time-zone conflicts.

  1. Fostering company culture

One of the most unique things a company can offer its employees is the fun, friendly culture of the company. People want to feel connected. That’s an issue when your workers are operating remotely.

To fix that, one largely just needs to follow the rules outlined above. It’s about mindfulness, as well as communication. When your freelancers feels like a part of the team, they will be part of the team, and they’ll do amazing things for you.

It sounds obvious, but these are all parts of a larger puzzle that managers might miss. Freelancers need to be considered part of the crew; part of the in-house workforce. Utilizing video and connective apps, it’s wholly possible to ensure that your contract or freelance workers feel like they’re in the building – and you want that.

Are you ready to learn, network, startup? Find a Startup Weekend event in your region today!








Four Startup Technology Trends To Look Out For in 2017

Startups often rise to greatness by taking trends and new technology and running with it in a new direction. They make the latest trends the center of their startup, or they leverage trends in combination for new products and services.

Either way, trends are important for the startup. This is especially true when it comes to tech trends.

With that in mind, and with 2017 now before us, here are four of the most important tech trends that entrepreneurs and startups should be thinking about today.

Startups Increase Their Livestreaming Endeavors

Periscope and Facebook Live are just the start. While livestreaming video apps have existed for several years now, and social media platforms are just now carrying the torch, most people have yet to  grasp the huge market opportunity and societal change that is coming as a result of livestreaming video, also known as interactive broadcasting.

For a glimpse into the future, take a peek at what is going on in China today.

As of June, roughly 46 percent of China’s internet population used a livestreaming app, and Credit Suisse projects that the personal livestreaming market in China will reach $5 billion in 2017, only $2 billion less than the market for movies in China and half the size of China’s lucrative mobile gaming market.

Livestreaming enables businesses to create content by just showing up with a performer and letting viewers guide the interaction. The technology can be used for brand promotion, content creation, community, and many other ways that are just now being invented.

In China, for instance, businesses have figured out how to monetize livestreaming by enabling viewers to get attention from performers by purchasing stickers they then give to the performer as a cash reward.

New technology and infrastructure provided by interactive broadcasting firms like Agora.io help startups add livestreaming to their app or web site easily and cost-effectively.

Startups Exploit the IoT for a Better Customer Experience

Customers are getting picky. They now come armed with more research than consumers in generations past, and they know that there usually are several options for any given product or service after a quick Google search. This means that customer experience is an increasingly important way to capture consumers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one way that businesses can drive heightened customer experience, and 2017 should be the year that we start seeing IoT mixed with customer service in new ways to up the game of savvy firms.

Statista predicts that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices by 2020, and $6 trillion will be invested in IoT over the next five years.

The connected car is one example of IoT used for better customer experience. Car companies can now proactively monitor almost every facet of the driving experience, including engine performance, lights, tire pressure, etc. With this IoT data, they then can send warnings and notifications to customers for maintenance or opportunities such as filling up the gas tank when passing a fueling station with cheap gas.

Even The Smallest Startups Finally Take Advantage of Big Data

Big data is the next big thing. We all know that. Currently only Fortune 500 firms usually harness big data effectively, though, since a lot of the promise of big data has traditionally required data scientists, complex Hadoop instances and fancy analytics platforms. The average business is not using big data today.

That’s set to start changing in 2017, however. A lot of startups are making big data more approachable by scaling it a little smaller and removing the complexity behind their cloud platform. This makes it more accessible for smaller firms and those without deep pockets for technology spend.

Firms such as ClearStory Data are making big data easier to use, and startups like Agile CRM are helping even one-man businesses harness their customer data for better insights.

The result is that business is going to start getting more data-focused, and all this talk of big data is going to translate into real business intelligence that businesses will use.

Startups Capitalize on Augmented Reality; Over VR…For Now

All those virtual reality goggles aside, virtual reality isn’t exactly getting the traction people predicted. As VentureBeat noted recently, virtual reality sales are not exactly hot.

What’s doing better is augmented reality, as shown by the Pokemon Go craze last summer. Goldman Sachs predicts the augmented reality market will be $80 billion market in 2025, which makes sense since the technology captures the mixture of digital with real life but without the need for the extra kit.

One area where augmented reality should be particularly hot in 2017 is the business-to-business space. Roughly 67 percent of businesses are considering augmented reality use in their enterprise, according to Tech Pro Research, with 20 percent of businesses planning to use it in 2017.

As a recent Ziff Davis article noted, “The question isn’t if there’s potential for growth, but more about how much it will grow and if there will be any limits.”

There are many trends to watch in 2017, but these four are some of the largest—and some of the trends that are most ripe for helping entrepreneurs come up with new ways to disrupt the market.

Co-Authored By:

Peter Scott is a journalist and editor who has been covering business, technology and lifestyle trends for more than 20 years. You can contact him at PeterEditorial@gmail.com. And, JT Ripton is a freelance business and technology writer out of Tampa. He loves to write to inform, educate and provoke minds. Follow him on twitter @JTRipton








4 Ways To Integrate Mobile Technology Into Your Startup

In a world filled with growing technologies and big data, companies need to adapt to consumer expectations. No longer is mobile technology only a cool trend for big companies—users everywhere are expecting it from the companies they trust with their business. Startups need to enter the game considering the role mobile technology will play in their own strategies.

Build Apps Natively

Cross-platform apps may seem easy, but they can come with a dramatic downsides. Look what happened to Facebook when they fell for the initial idea that an app could be pushed out to anyone with any device; Mark Zuckerberg called it his company’s biggest mistake. In the case of Southwest Airlines, they used a cross-platform toolkit to code and distribute their app—and it was later used as an example of the worst program in the App Store. It created a poor user experience, from functionality to navigation.

Whether you have thought about HTML5, hybrid apps or cross-platform toolkits, stop right now and think again. You need apps that are developed for each platform in a different way, like creating one designed for android tablet users who get to experience enhanced visuals on a large mobile device screen.

Rebuild Your Backend

Don’t assume that your current backend is ready to support mobile apps. You may need to completely change or upgrade it in order to give your users a top-notch experience with your app. While you might have a great infrastructure supporting your website, you may find huge snags in the change to mobile support.

One example might be a website server that tries to send 1.5MB of data per request, clogging the navigation with too much data exchange. In this case, the original structure should be set up with a maximum payload size to cap the amount of data sent (closer to 4KB).

Additionally, you will want to have a backend structure that stops mass data return (pagination), retries API calls for mobile users who may have a poor network connection, lowers latency levels for a snappier app, uses a single API call per screen through a tight server-client coupling, and has specific API version numbers to help support experiences for clients with old versions of your app.

Outsource the Design Process

You might be thinking about building your app internally, but sometimes this is not the most cost-effective way to go. There are companies that are specifically focused on building apps and websites that work with both desktop and mobile devices. From time invested to user experience satisfaction, there are many reasons to consider outsourcing the process. One way to get the kind of mobile technology your user base actually wants is to work with a proven outside company to create your apps, website technology, and programs.

Create a Mobile-Optimized Website

Many users today aren’t interested in visiting a site that has a poor mobile design. By offering responsive design or by creating a mobile-optimized site, you open your doors to a whole section of your user base which would otherwise avoid your site while browsing on their phones. As early as 2012, 72% of smartphone users told Google they wanted mobile-friendly sites, and 79% said they would go back to their search results to find another site if their first choice wasn’t set up well for their device.

Be careful not to limit your mobile site too much when you slim down the information, and always allow users to get into the full site with a back door in case they want to find something using your standard layout. IKEA, for example, formerly only offered a single bed in their mobile list of bedroom-furniture items, but now they and other sites are starting to understand that mobile users do not want to be arbitrarily restricted.

There are many other mobile technologies that can be used to help boost your business growth, including texting opportunities, social media updating, and easy payment options. As your company grows and trends develop, you will see an increased focus on the importance of mobile technology.

 








Internet Marketing & Analytics from Start to Finish – An Interview with Dunrie Greiling

After contacting the writers of the best analytics books to read next year, I was lucky enough to get a response from Dunrie Greiling, one of the authors of Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, a book about how to drive measurable, repeatable online sales with search marketing, usability, CRM and analytics.

Greiling is the owner of Scientific Ink & Consulting, and currently the Executive Director of Marketing & Web Services at Washtenaw Community College. Internet Marketing guru, Dunrie Greiling works with analysts to derive actionable meaning and recommendations from complex web data, developing strategic internet marketing plans for customers. I interviewed her on internet marketing, business and of course analytics and got her advice for wannabe analytics experts, insider business and marketing tips and how to develop successful internet marketing strategies for customers.

In your book, Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, you talk about search marketing, usability, CRM and analytics. In your experience what is the most important aspect of internet marketing?

All of them work together! If you make me pick one, I would say start with analytics.

There’s a business truism, attributed variously to Peter Drucker, Karl Pearson, and others, which is “that which is measured, improves.”

Get a baseline from which to measure progress, get your customers and site visitors informing decisions. It will drive the rest.

You’ve stated that internet marketing can be a “confusion of conflicting advice from specialists in each silo (SEO, UX, PPC, Social, brand marketing…)” in the Top 25 Analytics Books to Read in 2016. How can business owners quiet the noise and find the best mix and approach for their company?

When you’ve got conflicting advice, test alternatives “in the wild” (=on the site) when you can. Paid search landing pages are great experiment zones because they are so compartmental. Typically, these pages aren’t part of the website, so they can wander a bit from the rest of the site.  If the scale of the change/conflict is too large to experiment with online, test on paper with potential or current customers. Let customer responses guide you.

Our book includes a story about a client for whom brand was trumping SEO. This client provided child care and resisted using the word “day care” on their website. They felt that “day care” insufficiently described their service and were quite specific about disassociating themselves from that term. They let us try day care in paid search, and we were able to show them that visitors who arrived on their site using the term day care converted well, which opened the door for us to start using the word on the main site.

What happens sometimes in corporate offices is that the internal team keeps each other busy, has their own language, and quite accidentally insulates themselves from the customer. Real customer data quiets the noise and settles the arguments.

Your book also talks about ‘dangerous data’, what exactly is dangerous data and how can we avoid it?

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. As a person or a company starts digging deeper into their web data, it can be tempting to act on incomplete information or a faulty understanding.

The examples we use in the book are eliminating a campaign that was driving phone calls based on its online conversion rate and evaluating a campaign by lead quantity rather than lead quality. In both cases, the company interpreted one data point correctly (campaign A is not driving online leads, campaign B is driving lots of whitepaper downloads) but missed the context.

We’re lucky that the web is resilient and easy to change. Campaign A was unpaused when the phone calls stopped–fixing all but the missed opportunities during the test. In the case of Campaign B, looking at lead to sale metrics showed that it wasn’t resulting in useful leads, and funds for this campaign were redirected.

With your work at Pure Visibility, driving insights and actionable recommendations from complex web data, what’s the most important thing you can share with us about developing strategic internet marketing plans for customers?

I know you asked for one, but I’m going to give you two “most important” things.

  1. Measure First

At the start of a new engagement, I’m often raring to go, excited to make a difference. Yet for a new client, if their website was not properly tracked, sometimes the best thing to do is wait and collect a benchmark.

“Not properly tracked” can be subtler than no analytics installed. Sometimes it comes from a siloed analytics installation, where subdomains are tracked separately or where conversions happen on different domains altogether (when third party systems are insufficiently integrated into the site or analytics). Other times improper tracking comes when paid search or paid social campaigns are run without conversion tracking installed. Another problem is when data from customers or employees confound customer data in analytics (public entrance to a login screen, traffic from corporate offices not filtered out of the data). Sometimes the current state can be pieced together from other systems (logfiles, analytics) and sometimes you can get by through limiting how old data gets used (exclude the direct channel, for example). Sometimes you just have to wait.

If you have to wait, how long to wait is a puzzle – a month? a year? Even though it would be good to have a year of data, no one wants to wait a year. A month has been a compromise I’ve used in the past.

  1. Then Act Quickly

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just start somewhere, anywhere. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan or the perfect website. That time and that site will never come. Messing around and getting feedback is more fun than planning for me ;). Let timeliness and the flexibility of the web work together – publish and collect data and improve and repeat.

As a self-confessed web analytics geek, what advice can you give to other web analytics geeks out there, trying to carve out a career for themselves?

My path has been an odd one: I have a doctorate in science, worked for a software company and then worked in web for the last decade. I’m not an SEO, nor a paid search expert, nor a social media aficionado, nor a designer, nor do I code regex…I appreciate all of the specialties.

I have made a profession integrating across disciplines within digital marketing. I don’t know that it is common, but I came to manage teams of marketers and web folks through project management–organizing and communicating the work of the team to clients. I started as a technical writer, and for me, the entry point to this career was a lingering feeling that projects I was on weren’t being managed well. When I spoke to one of my bosses about this, he agreed and asked me to take on the project management.

So, for advice, follow your intuition and speak up! Get yourself into trouble by taking on new responsibilities.








How WebRTC Can Help Your Startup

As a startup, there are a few assumptions we can make about you and your business.

First, we can assume that you’re so busy that your friends and romantic partner have probably cried foul. Second, your team is distributed across several geographical locations. Third, you’re innovating and redefining how a modern business runs. Fourth, money is tight (unless you’re rockin’ the venture capital, of course).

WebRTC makes sense for all of these factors, which is why startups of all stripes are adopting the real-time communications technology.

First promoted by Google, WebRTC is an emerging standard for voice, video, and file sharing, providing capabilities much like over-the-top providers such as Skype and WhatsApp. Unlike these stand-alone proprietary solutions, however, WebRTC is open-source, embraced by a wide consortium of businesses and tech partners, and doesn’t require platform-specific software, plugins, or vendor lock-in. It enables video, audio, chat, and both screen and file sharing through any modern web browser or within mobile apps through SDKs.

IDG predicts that there will be 4.6 billion WebRTC-capable devices by the end of 2016, largely on the back of the technology’s ubiquity and ease of use. Open a browser, click a link, and you immediately have real-time communication. The technology also is easy to bake into apps and websites—it only takes a few lines of JavaScript to add WebRTC functionality.

But back to why your startup should consider WebRTC—here are five of the best reasons.

  1. Easy to Use and Deploy

Before WebRTC, there were three primary ways that businesses could get video chat and unified communications functionality. They could use an OTT solution like Skype, they could go with a proprietary cloud-based solution such as GoToMeeting, or they could pony up for a business unified communications solutions such as Microsoft Lync (now becoming Microsoft Skype for Business).

WebRTC is easier than all three of these solutions. OTT and the likes of GoToMeeting require bouncing between apps to get contact info, passwords, etc., and require everyone to use the same software. Unified communications solutions like Lync require integrators and specialized knowledge to deploy. WebRTC, on the other hand, just requires passing around a URL.

  1. Innovative Sales, Customer Service, and Collaboration

A second reason why WebRTC rocks the house is for what it can do for sales and customer service.

Since WebRTC is easy to integrate into websites and apps and doesn’t require a plugin unless the user is on IE or Safari (Apple is still not on board with the standard, but there are plugins that can automatically load for this situation), it enables forward-thinking customer service. When your customers have an issue with your product or service, they can just click a button and connect with your team via video, much like Amazon does with its much-heralded Mayday button on Kindle.

Sales also can benefit, as your staff can pass potential customers a link to initiate a video session. From this, they then can demonstrate product features, answer questions in live time, and share things like PowerPoint presentations. WebRTC helps the virtual meeting finally make sense.

Your distributed workforce and mobile employees can also use WebRTC for collaboration that is much more robust than many other email and collaboration platforms. At the same time, it is easier than standardizing on an OTT platform like Skype.

  1. Mobile First

As a forward-thinking startup, you surely know that mobile rules the web. A report by eMarketer showed that 51 percent of all digital media now goes through mobile, while only 41 percent is viewed by a laptop or desktop. Each year for the past eight years, the percentage taken by mobile has grown.

As a result, optimizing for mobile devices is key. WebRTC helps because it works across all devices just like adaptive web design. Further, through the use of a WebRTC network and mobile SDK provider such as Agora.io, businesses can ensure that their real-time communications with customers are stable and can survive the variable connectivity that comes with cellular networks and global connections between countries. Agora.io intelligently routes and re-routes real-time sessions around the Internet to avoid troubled routes, and its over 65 data centers around the world bring reliable quality of experience (QoE) to real-time voice and video communications.

  1. Better Security

Just this week one of my websites was hacked (an updated WordPress install, no less). Even if you’ve never faced a hack attempt, you’re well aware that we live in a world where security matters more than ever. Yet many real-time communications solutions are not actually as secure as we expect.

That’s because the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) used by many solutions is not secure, and the Secure RTP (SRTP) brings the goods but is fiddly to set up in many cases, so VoIP and unified communications sometimes settle for the less-secure RTP protocol instead. They think nobody really will notice or care.

But we care; and so does Google and the standards bodies. That’s why WebRTC uses secure SRTP by default for connections. This makes it both easier and more secure than many of the alternatives.

  1. Cost Savings

While not free if your business ponies up for quality of service assurance from providers such as Agora or buys other services around WebRTC, it still is going to be less expensive than almost every other unified communications solution. This comes from it being a peer-to-peer protocol that works natively between browsers and because it is not a proprietary solution.

WebRTC not only is attractive in comparison to the competition; its easy integration with websites and lack of required software helps it save your startup money elsewhere. For instance, you can use the technology instead of a toll-free number and prospect more effectively by adding click-to-call to your promotional material.

There are other ways that WebRTC can be used by your startup, too. Since the technology is so new, many of its uses are waiting to be discovered by creative businesses. Maybe one of those businesses is yours.








5 Common Financial Mistakes Startups Should Avoid

The startup phase is an exciting time for a new business. As an entrepreneur, you look forward to making your fascinating ideas become reality. But the discouraging news is that no matter how fantastic the business concept, most startups fail as a result of poor financial choices. Success means marrying a winning brand with smart business practices and applying the power of knowledge – with good financial insight and proper preparation, you can transcend the statistics. Here are five common financial mistakes your startup should avoid at all costs.

Not Understanding Your Market

Market research should be a solid part of any long-term business effort because it gives you a big picture view of your real business prospects. You’ll know how much of a demand exists for your product or service and have a clear idea about the standard prices in your industry. You can gain unique insights about your target customer and your competition, and learn what it will take to stand out. Without a good grasp of the market you plan to break into, you will likely make poor business projections. 

Not Having Enough Startup Capital

Many new business owners start with too little capital. They unrealistically expect that their first profits will come quickly and additionally underestimate the operational expenses they must face in the meantime. They also may not budget for emergencies or an unexpected turn of events, such as malfunctioning office equipment or an urgent need for building repairs. It’s important to dream and be positive, but going in without enough money to cover planned startup expenses is like feeding yourself to crocodiles. Such a move can seriously cripple your business potential and can end up swallowing your personal assets. 

Failing to Record Cash Flow

Failing to record where and how your money comes and goes makes it hard to make realistic business forecasts. Your expenses can quickly get out of hand, and untracked sales and payments can create confusion. It’s imperative to find an accounting system that works. An inexpensive option like Sage accounting software can be a lifesaver in the long run by streamlining your accounting tasks. The quicker you can get a handle on your records, the more control you will have over your business’ financial future. 

Under-calculating the Hidden Costs of Operation

You may be a gifted entrepreneur, but when it comes to financial prudence, it can still be easy to miss the finer points. Business owners make the common mistake of projecting obvious operational costs without considering hidden and associated costs, such as accounting for the cost of a heavy-duty laser printer without budgeting possible printing expenses. Many of these undocumented figures quickly add up. Before you know it, you’re out of money before you’ve even made a sale. It’s good practice to overestimate your expenses to accommodate a sensible margin of error. 

Overspending

Entrepreneurs may be so taken with their business idea, that they end up overspending to meet a vision of perfection. They might invest in the high-end office space, instead of another more economical option. Or spend a lot on expensive design and decor, when there are thriftier high-quality alternatives. Still yet, they may make hefty, long-term contracts with service providers or hire too many employees. Overspending can quickly sink a new company. In the beginning, it’s more important to save. Once your business is stronger, you’ll have a lot more freedom to spread your wings.

Overall, you should match the higher ideals of your entrepreneurial vision with equal amounts of practicality. Your new enterprise has the potential to grow into a strong and fruitful success, but you can’t depend on a stroke of luck to get you there. You’ll need a good roadmap to track your way. Your financial decisions can mean the difference between swerving off the map and meeting realistic mile markers that ultimately allow you to excel. By doing your homework and learning how to avoid the above pitfalls, you will be well ahead of the game.








Why Your Start-Up Should Invest In a Mobile App Now

Mobile devices are one of the fastest growing consumer segments in the world right now; odds are not bad that you are reading this on a mobile device right now. Smart businesses try and keep up with changes, and the move to mobility is no exception. One of the ways in which mobile devices are changing the environment is with the introduction of mobile apps: quick little programs that sit on the phone itself and tie together a variety of internet resources and other functionalities. Here are some reasons why you should consider developing an app of your own.

It’s Where the Customers Are

One of the simplest reasons for using mobile apps as a business platform is that it is simply where the business environment is moving. Recent studies show that the smartphone and tablet platforms are booming, and more and more people are using these devices to access the Internet. These customers can be reached using mobile-optimized websites, but system-native apps work better, allowing a more nuanced customer experience. As customers learn to securely shop on their mobile devices, companies with apps will have significant advantages.

Showcase

Modern shoppers often use e-tailers and other online sources to get pricing and other information, and then go to physical storefronts, where they can see the product for themselves, to make the actual purchase. This doesn’t make an app less useful for such businesses; far from it. Instead, it means that the actual sales figures generated by a direct-sales app are only a fraction of their utility. The app may not always be the last step in the shopping chain, but sometimes, by functioning as the first stop instead, it can spur greater marketplace profile anyway.

Promotion

If your business has a physical storefront, an app provides a convenient low-cost way to engage in couponing. Offering customers good deals is a tried-and-true way to drive foot traffic to your location, and apps are capable of bringing your most loyal customers in on your bargain opportunities, as well as expanding your reach to a large customer base that has never heard of you before.

Engagement

In today’s heavily-branded environment, the business-customer relationship is more important than ever. Building a close association with the lives of those who patronize your business is key to standing out in a crowded field. Apps allow you to stay on top of your loyal repeat customers, communicating with them even in those times when they are not actually shopping with you or in your physical storefront. Blogs, notifications, and other integrated communication tools can help you relay vital information, and the location-sensitive nature of the app lets you fine-tune the targeting of your messaging to the recipients.

Customer Service

Customers like to know that they can provide feedback to the establishments they frequent, and an app consolidates those channels of communication into an easy-to-access form. A well-made mobile app includes options to contact representatives in multiple ways, from email to a direct link to the business’s phone number. These can mean more satisfied customers and, as a bonus, helps you to collect valuable information about what your consumers would like to see from your establishment, allowing you to improve your goods and services.

Scalable Costs

An app is generally cheaper to develop than a full-blown computer program, as it tends to be much smaller. Better still, businesses can venture lightly into the app field with a relatively feature-light initial offering and use the updating process to grow functionality over time if customers respond well. Savvy businesspeople know that low-risk ventures are the way to go; a mobile app, through scalability, allows you to avoid making heavy investments into a new method without first testing the waters.

Mobile computing is all the rage these days, but not every business is taking advantage. That is a shame because opportunities abound for the early adopters who use the march of technology to its fullest extent. If you own a business and are thinking of ways to up your online profile, consider a system-native mobile app to extend your reach.

 








5 Tips For Finding an Investor For Your Startup

Unless you are going into a business venture with your pockets lined, getting your startup started takes capital. Finding the startup capital for your new company means finding investors, which is sometimes like going on a treasure hunt if you don’t know the right avenues to take. To help with the funding hunt, here are five tips for finding an investor for your startup company.

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Rehearse and Re-Rehearse Your Pitch

The way you handle your startup pitch could be the difference between walking every player on the team of pitching the perfect game. Before you step foot in front of an investor, it’s imperative that you practice your pitch until it becomes part of your vocabulary and a topic that you are the authority on.

This means rehearsing, which should basically lay the groundwork for how you will handle meeting with investors. In other words, not only will you have to know your business plan like the back of your entrepreneurial hand, you’ll have to predict potential questions. Don’t go it alone, rehearsing with a friend instructed to give no mercy is a great way to get the kinks out of your startup pitch.

Research the Investors

Obtaining investments for your startup starts with knowing your audience: the investors. Learning about an investor’s ideals, past investments, and overall business mentality will help in securing the funding you need. But don’t put all of your startup’s eggs in one investor’s basket.

If you want to reach the largest audience possible, make a list of at least three potential investors you’d like to pitch to. Then, learn everything there is to know about each investor. Once you get a feel for their sensibilities, set up pitch meetings based on the most desirable to least desirable investment opportunities. By doing so, you’ll know how aggressive you need to be from one meeting to the next depending on your success rate.

Know the Difference Between Investment Types

Put your pitch and list of investors aside for a moment. Before you walk into the shark tank, you need know what type of investment you want to acquire for your startup. Besides, the investment type has everything to do with your potential for success. Private equity and venture capital are the most common types of investments and are made by privately owned institutions and individuals.

Venture capital in particular has the most room for growth because most venture capitalists provide expertise and advice for startups. Angel investing involves obtaining capital from an individual with an upper-level net worth, but it also comes with high interest. If you’re unsure of the approach to take and the interest rates involved, Fisher Investments on Financials can help you navigate the investment waters so you don’t end up with the wrong investment for your startup.

Be Honest About Your Startup’s Potential

One of the most important pieces of advice when it comes to securing funds for your startup is being realistic with yourself and your investors about the startup’s potential. This is hard to do early on because, in most cases, you won’t have any sales under your belt. Likewise, it’s very easy to become starry-eyed about how well your business will do.

In terms of ROI, you need to plan for the lower end of success. It may sound like the will to succeed isn’t there, but by playing it safe on the investment end, you’ll leave plenty of room for better-than-expected results on the business end. Likewise, planning for a smaller ROI takes some of the pressure off, which is extremely helpful when it comes to running a startup.

Let the Government Help

Private lenders can get you most of the way to your investment goals, but in case you need to fill in some funding gaps, the government can help. The U.S. Small Business Administration has an SBIC Program, which helps small businesses connect with investment companies. In addition, the government also offers numerous other loans and grants for qualified startups looking for investment help.

The investment tips above will help turn your startup dream into a fully funded reality.








5 Startup Incubators that are Transforming the Tech Business

It’s a sobering reality that 60 percent of new startup firms fail in just five years. However, the future is much brighter for startups nurtured by incubators. Ninety percent of these are thriving three years after their inception, and 87 percent are still in business five years after their launch. If you dream of launching a successful startup, partnering with one of these incubators that are transforming the tech industry could give you the helping hand you need.

DreamIt Ventures: Where Dreams Come True


Image via Flickr by Tech Cocktail

Business partners Steven Welch, Michael Levinson, and David Bookspan launched DreamIt Ventures in 2007 with a plan to help inspiring tech minds get their ideas out of their garages. Since that time the Philadelphia incubator has expanded its program to New York City, but its simple philosophy remains the same.

“We’ve brought in companies that have little more than an idea on a napkin,” Levinson once told Forbes. “But in three months they can prove a market need and adjust their business model.”

The incubator gives tech teams up to $25,000 in seed funding, expert mentorship, and the opportunity to present their projects to investors at a demonstration day. Its success stories include location-based mobile gaming platform SCVNGR and the largest online ticket search engine, SeatGeek.

Y Combinator: Coding Credentials in California

With more than 300 graduates including file-hosting company Dropbox and social news and entertainment site Reddit, Y Combinator’s got an enviable track record. This Mountain View-based incubator is the brainchild of Harvard-educated coder Paul Graham. His partnership with Silicon Valley investors Ron Conway and Yuri Milner sees every Y Combinator company receiving a generous $150,000 investment in convertible debt on commencing the three-month program.

With its focus on coding and the internet, Y Combinator needs a fast internet connection with plenty of bandwidth. This Californian incubator and others like it would do well monitoring Internet specials like the bundles offered by CenturyLink.

Techstars: Elite Incubator Nurtures Transnational Startups


Image via Flickr by Robert Scoble

With each Techstars rotation hosting just 10 teams, its program is seen as one of America’s most elite. The incubator celebrates startups with global appeal, and this approach has seen it give birth to successful brands including social media organizer Socialthing, which was acquired by AOL, and tablet publishing platform OnSwipe.

Tech teams can enrol in its three-month programs in seven key locations: Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, London, Seattle, and New York City. Each team member receives funding amounts ranging from $6,000 to $18,000 in exchange for a six percent equity stake in its companies.

Capital Factory: Help to the Power of 20

It’s all about the number 20 at Austin’s Capital Factory. Its chosen start-ups receive $20,000 in seed money, $20,000 in extras including legal and web-hosting facilities, and unlimited access to a prestigious list of 20 homegrown mentors, including Smart Bear founder Jason Cohen and ApartmentRatings.com creator Jeremy Bencken.

Originally launched as a summer program by local entrepreneurs Joshua Baer, Sam Decker, and Bryan Menell, Capital Factory has grown to become a year-long endeavor for its passionate team. It even attracted the attention of President Barack Obama, who toured its home in the Omni Building in May 2013 as part of his tech-focused visit to Austin.

Capital Factory holds two annual demo days which put startups in front of angel investors. The practice has boosted the fortunes of graduates including social music event app Vivogig and swim team management system Swimtopia.

Environmental Business Cluster: Helping Tech Go Green

Founded in 1994, Environmental Business Cluster is one of the oldest tech-focused start-ups in the United States. However, this institution takes a decidedly modern approach to technology. The Environmental Business Cluster has nurtured more than 150 eco-conscious tech companies since its inception. It’s also grown to become the largest environmental and cleantech incubator in the United States.

The incubator, a partnership between the city of San Jose and the San Jose State Research Foundation, has provided counseling and education, office and conference space, and access to investors for a range of firms interested in waste management, renewable energy, and other environmentally-friendly endeavors. Its graduates include solar energy producer Optony Inc. and wind tower maker Wasatch Wind.

It takes more than a bright idea to find business success. These startup incubators give aspiring entrepreneurs the additional tools they need to make it in the competitive tech industry.








5 Lean Six Sigma Tactics to Grow Your Startup

Starting a business is a scary — but thrilling — process. So many things determine whether your start-up will succeed or fail. The Lean Six Sigma is a school of thought in business management that focuses on doing more with less.

Lean Six-Sigma Logo copy

This means stretching resources to the maximum while keeping costs to a minimum. With the Lean Six Sigma tactics, you’ll find growing your business is less scary and more thrilling than ever before. Here are five concepts to help you do just that.

Make the Most Out of Time

Time is a pesky little thing that likes to get in the way of big progress. Putting together improvement for a process is difficult, especially when things have already started and everyone is deep into their jobs and plans. So collect as much data as you can and categorize it. This will help you focus on what the biggest problems are. Find out the numbers and determine what they mean. What is your input and output? Who are your suppliers and distributors?

Get to know your employees and management teams and find out how they work best. Do they do well in groups or produce more by themselves? Try to accommodate your employees in the way that makes them more effective and productive.

Invest in Software

Now that you’ve got your plans together and everyone on board, it’s time to invest in some quality software suites. Use a homegrown system software that provides useful information and graphically shows statistics for your projects. To maximize the effectiveness of these software suites, bundle Verizon FIOS internet connectivity with other necessary services to save money and streamline things for your accounting department.

Gain everything you can from one program before you move on to the next, but don’t settle for one that only provides one service if you need six more. Once you have technology on your side, it’s time to hit the ground running.

Spread Your Resources Evenly

Commit to your new plans. Use the amount of man power and resources you need to carry out all of your projects and ideas. The key is to not be wasteful with them. If you only need five people to work on something, don’t use six. This will keep payrolls manageable and projects running smoothly because you don’t have one person getting in everyone else’s way. Find or train someone with a strategic view for your business who can come in and teach staff before your first project.

Focus on your customers. Without consumers, there’s no demand. The point of an improved method is to keep customers satisfied and coming back for more, which grows your business.

Trust in Your System and Analyze It

Once you have everything started, you have to maintain this way of working or everything will be put to waste. Schedule regular training classes to teach new employees how to work in your business. Use as much as you can from your resources before incorporating more. Have the man power to keep things productive — not messy. Keep your eyes on the numbers and other important information so you can prevent them from declining before it’s too late.

Win the Race

Companies who believe in and adopt the Lean Six Sigma philosophy are businesses that are striving toward the reduction of waste and inefficiencies. With six sigma, a company will have only 3.4 defects per million. What customer would be crazy enough to give their money to any other business? With more efficiency and better resources, any business can adopt the six sigma school of thought and attract those clients.

Hard work and dedication will make this program work for any business, but it’s not always a walk in the park. There will probably be bumps in the road and obstacles to bob and weave through. Once you work out all of your kinks, it should be a smooth ride to the top of the business food chain. So don’t get discouraged and be smart by planning ahead, using proper training and strategies to help you succeed.

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