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How Much Should You Spend on Your Website?

For most businesses, your website is your single most important marketing asset. It is used to reach your target audience and convert them into your ideal clients. Even if your website is not used for heavy promotion online, potential clients who have been referred or heard of you from some other source will still visit your website to decide if they want to work with you. Your website is also more than a mere marketing tool. It can also offer customer support, educate your audience, expand your market and reduce your operating costs. So, how much should you spend on your website? It depends largely on the goals you have for the site. If you want to change the world by building the next Facebook competitor, the price will be significant. However if you are a small business with simple marketing needs, they are very affordable. Thank goodness! If you can set aside some time you can build your website yourself using one of the popular site builders like wix.com, squarespace.com or wordpress.com. These sites make it incredibly easy to build your own site, as they provide you with a choice of beautiful templates which you then fill with your content. Pricing for these services is $10 - $20 per month which makes them incredible value for what you get. While these DIY services make it very easy and affordable to get online, the thing they don’t have is professional advice. You can build your website but you won’t get any advice about what will work best for you or why certain information would work better than others. Hiring a web designer to help you is the next step. Hiring a web designer Because a website is such an important part of your online marketing strategy, you must take a strategic approach if you want to see success in the online space. A good web designer will be able to help you develop a strategy, and look at where your website fits into your marketing funnel. This means you’ll get higher value from the resulting site, as it functions to reach your business goals. When working with a designer, you need to find the balance between the value you’re getting, your budget, and the size of the project you’re working on. For a simple marketing website, for example, with a few pages of content and a blog, you could pay anywhere from $1000 - $5000 depending on who you go with and the services they provide. If you want to get a high-level expert or need to create branding as well, it will cost more – but again, you should consider what value branding has in your business plan and spend accordingly. After a site is launched you’ll have relatively low ongoing costs for hosting and your domain name registration, anywhere from $8 - $30 per month is normal. An important key to success: remember to allocate an ongoing marketing budget for your site. Marketing budget for your website Creating a website, but not promoting it is the equivalent of printing a pile of beautiful brochures and leaving them in your garage. Instead, plan for how the site will get in front of people: commonly by getting found in Google, by advertising, or by using social media channels. Many of these promotional activities can also be done DIY for very low costs, or expect prices to start at a few hundred dollars per month for an agency to handle that for you. In then end, think of your website expenses like any other marketing activity. The goal you have will shape what is needed. And the sophistication and performance of the resulting site will reflect what you invest in it.

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How The Cloud Is Changing The Face of Data Syncing and Transmission

Thanks to its worldwide adoption within a few short years, cloud computing has succeeded in its role as the next-level of IT Enterprise architecture. But with every cloud storage service offering free storage packages, most of us already have multiple storage accounts. And one of the biggest advantages of the cloud has always been its convenience, when it comes to storing and accessing data. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which the cloud is changing the way we transmit and sync our data:   1. Signing & Verifying Documents Making legally binding documents and getting them signed in the traditional method of printing and notarising them takes anything from, a few hours to an entire day. But the cloud now allows you to get signed documents that are legally binding, within seconds. Via secure electronic signatures and approvals. Most business cloud services offer the bundled service of document signing and delivery with a server-specified syncing service. There are number of services that allow you to sign and validate official documents, both free and paid. Electronic signatures and validations also allow user to digitize their business, reducing their overall carbon footprint.   2. Online Applications (SaaS) Earlier, users could only work on certain platforms if they were downloaded and installed on specific systems. But thanks to the cloud, users can now access any application they need online, without the need to download any software on to a PC. The best part about cloud-based software is that users can access the platform from anywhere, provided they have the valid login credentials. Online applications also automatically backup your work every 30-45 minutes, so that you have backups to go back to in case something goes wrong.   3. eFax If you’re wondering if there’s something you can do to upgrade your old fax technology, this is it. eFax allows users to outsource the operation and troubleshooting of an aging fax infrastructure, on to a virtual cloud fax service. The future of cloud data transmission allows you to integrate your telephone and fax services to the cloud, combining to form a network of telecommunication that keeps you connected to everything and everyone, at all times. And as more people switch to smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to conduct business, the telecommunications is gearing for virtualization of its services. The technology is nothing new, but will allow users to use multiple platforms to make & receive phone calls or faxes via the internet.   4. Remote File Access Although quite obvious, it is important to how the cloud has changed the face of remote accessibility, giving users access to secured files at any time, and from any device. The cloud not only allows you to transfer files between separate accounts, but it also allows users to simply view and archive what is in their accounts. An added benefit of cloud storage is that there is no need to remember multiple passwords, since everything is accessible via a single login id.   Unlike the other cool technology that is still in the conceptual stage, the cloud allows users to migrate their files between platforms, with the intention of giving them the freedom to access remote files from anywhere, and at any time.   Final Words As bandwidth and speeds increase and cloud security improves, the cloud will continue to change the IT landscape. But, there is still a lot more one can with the cloud and, in order to streamline operations and profitability. The impact of the cloud on data storage, transmission and syncing, will only increase over time, but the decision to move to it or remain grounded is up to you.

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How to choose the best possible cloud service provider

For a company that relies on cloud computing power, finding an effective and reliable cloud computing service provider is of paramount importance. With so many different cloud service providers on today's market, getting down to it and finding an appropriate service provider can be a difficult and sometimes confusing task. A cloud hosting article on Macquarie Telecom's website also offers excellent advice on choosing a cloud service provider. Identify Your Needs Identifying your own cloud computing needs should be the first step. Even if a service provider ranks very highly, they will be of no use if they do not offer all of the services and support that you require. For instance, Dropbox is an extremely useful and versatile file storage service on the cloud. Several tech companies like Amazon and IBM offer their own cloud computing services, including a variety of relatively specialized tools. Since these companies are already successful outside of their cloud services, they are much safer from suddenly going out of business and taking your precious data with them than recently formed startups. Keep this in mind. Security Security is the single most important factor to consider once you have found a few appropriate cloud service providers to compare. A competent cloud service provider should employ multiple layers of security against data theft including firewalls, encryption of data, and user authentication methods like passwords and security questions. Furthermore, they should ensure that data is regularly backed up so that the service is not vulnerable to the loss of data. You can read a paper by RSA Laboratories if you want to really deeply understand cloud service security and vulnerabilities to drive crashes and this article from Technet Magazine on cloud services security. Reliability Of course, a cloud service provider should be completely reliable as well as thoroughly secure. It is wise to check and see how many other customers that a service has, especially if it is not yet a well-known and reputed provider, and finding out how satisfied their customers are, what, if any, concerns their clients have, and especially if there is a history of service outages. You should be able to expect that a cloud service be available 100% of the time except in extremely unlikely circumstances. A recent CIO article outlines a major, industry-wide concern about the dearth of comprehensive and thorough reviews and security checks by users of cloud services. One of the most important and infrequently done checks the article cites is to ensure that the cloud service providers understand the intended functions as well as the limitations of their product and generally have the technical expertise to maintain and update it and that they also understand your business. Otherwise, the cloud service that they provide may diverge from or not entirely live up to your needs and expectations. Pricing Finally, pricing is another critical concern. Services that demand an up-front cost should be avoided. Rather, the vast majority of reputable cloud service providers charge as you go and usually allow you to pay only for the services you actually need to use, so that is the kind of pricing structure that you should look for in a provider. The actual prices of different cloud service providers that offer equivalent services may vary greatly, but it would still behoove anyone comparing two differently-priced services to investigate why one may be significantly cheaper than the other before making a snap decision.  Essentially, the most important things to look for in a cloud service provider are security, competence, reliability, and a proven track record. Good providers will be able to make the first two readily apparent, but the last two depend more on their past and current clients so they will take a little more research. By paying attention to these key principles and staying abreast with the latest developments in the cloud service industry, finding the best service provider does not have to be a difficult task. Featured image by Bruno Pedro (Flickr).

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I am often asked -private cloud, public cloud or the old Inhouse server room? here is my take.

Technology doesn’t generate revenue for most companies. Business processes powered by technology generate revenue and profits. The management of technology has just been a means to enable the operation of business processes. Cloud computing enables companies to make this shift from managing technology to managing business processes. And in the process of making that shift, companies can reduce the fixed cost structure and redirect their money to activities more directly related to generating revenue.  Something to bear in mind is that today, corporate IT spends 70 to 80% of their annual budgets on operations and upkeep of in-house server rooms and standard application systems like ERP,  CRM  And other common packaged applications. With smaller business it is the owner or the most IT literate person in the business that spend the equivalent in time!  For the most part these activities don’t provide meaningful differentiation in the marketplace, nor do they provide a competitive advantage. You must remember that cloud providers invest in infrastructure and in automated systems administration capabilities in order to achieve great economies of scale and operating efficiencies. Conversely, in-house IT are always being squeezed to save money and to cut their operations budgets so they are challenged to create economies of scale that cloud providers can achieve. By using cloud technology to provide more of these basic services, carries an opportunity to shift more of their annual IT budget to spending on new systems and capabilities that are more directly related to success and growth of their business. Cloud computing gives companies a way to both reduce costs and improve service. Cloud computing is an opportunity to standardise the basic computing and communications infrastructure a company uses, and the standardisation offers the prospect of getting systems built and into production in a much more agile manner than ever before. And this agile use of IT can be a potent factor in driving business agility. When companies can try out new product ideas and explore new markets without incurring large upfront capital expenses, then many more opportunities open up. For many start-up companies, it makes sense to start immediately with the use of a public cloud or private cloud. By doing this, they avoid the distractions of running commodity computer hardware and software and are able to concentrate on developing the unique value-added product or service that will be the profit generator for their start-up company. For example these start-up companies would subscribe to a accounting, CRM and email from the cloud provider. The real compelling reason to go to a private cloud provider is when their businesses have a unique IT requirement and / or a line of business application for example a warehouse or accounting application. Many industry analysis and for the majority that I have spoken with believe that private clouds ( as opposed to public clouds) will remain attractive to small, medium and even large businesses for the foreseeable future since they can offset concerns about governance, data security, and performance management. Private clouds also offer companies an inviting way to consolidate their server rooms, reduce support costs and increase server utilisation. Typical server utilisation inside corporate data centres or server rooms ranges from as low as 2% up to around 10%. Going to a private cloud can raise these levels to 60% or 70% in saving the company from purchasing a lot of additional servers. In addition, private clouds don’t need to be quite as automated and self serviced as public clouds making them a lot more versatile and customisable to meet individual businesses requirements. Again delivering better value through increase server utilisation and faster user provisioning. Cloud providers allow for both online web request forms and user control panels for provisioning hosting services, but businesses are still wanting to have human interaction between the service provider and their company. Customisation and uniqueness of the individual businesses is what makes them profitable and therefore they do not wish to be boxed into a public cloud offering.  Size and standardisation are both necessary to get real economies of scale.  public cloud providers generally have this model and are therefore able to offer significant cost savings in other words cheaper prices. They have data centres geographically dispersed around the world and in some cases attenuation / speed issues tend to be less significant on the basic offerings. For these reasons public cloud becomes a competitive advantage over private cloud providers if you do not have a need for a line of business application. I often come across the argument whether to use office 365, Google apps compared to the cost of going into a private cloud. At the end of the day going to a private cloud or a public cloud does give you a competitive advantage for the very reasons stated above. Your choice must be one that is driven by your use of technology, ability to be productive and to be agile not only looking at cost. We often see enormous amount of frustration in the use of public cloud, and this is because of the very nature of their biggest  advantage which becomes a disadvantage, to keep costs down you have to work their way and customisation and legacy applications cannot be effectively catered for.  ITonCloud is very comfortable working within all these environments as we have recognised that been able to have a  holistic approach and to be able to combine the two, we can give customers the speed, security and customisation of the private cloud with most of the cost savings of public cloud offerings. At the end of the day although the cloud is certainly a platform for managing the delivery of computer services, that view is more from the traditional technology orientated prospective. Another way to look at cloud is from the business perspective of companies that use the cloud to support their operations. From their point of view, the greatest benefit they gain from the cloud comes not from cost savings in technology, but from the revenue they earn by being more agile and responsive to changing customer needs, the revenue they generate with faster rollout of new products and services, and successful expansion into new markets. Instant on for new employees no matter where they are in the world making that employee productive immediately.  In addition, it's important to remember that companies are much less self-contained and much less vertically integrated than they were 20 years ago. Companies have been steadily outsourcing non-core activities so that they can concentrate their time and money on conducting the value added activities that create the products and service their customers buy from them. As a consequence most companies are dependent on a network of suppliers that provide support and services. And for companies to manage the business processes effectively, they need to find ways to effectively collaborate with their supplier partners and this is why we believe there is a bigger competitive advantage in using private cloud providers over public cloud providers or having your own server room.

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Improve your website to achieve high conversions

We have meetings every Monday, research almost every second of the day and spending sweat, blood and tears to get a business rolling. What businesses want in the end are conversions. Conversions keep a business operating and thus, the cycle continues. One major section of being able to achieve a high conversion rate is due to the efficient website that allows people not only easily navigate around but also complete what they wanted within minutes of visiting the landing page. First of all, make it obvious what your business offers. Well placed banners or words will attract customers’ eyes and allow them to absorb the reason why they are in your website. Add an effective and catchy headline to tell the users what’s in it for them. However, do not go over-zealous on the words and pictures because when a customer sees a clustered website, their immediate reaction would be to press back. Secondly, Add in testimonials and comments made by users of the website. The best way of advertising is word of mouth. When users share their personal experience with other users, it also creates a brand image for you. Thirdly, Use videos to increase interaction between you and your customer. Videos are a good way to show that your company or brand has a “life”. People will be able to picture how your company works and begin to mould a face and body of your company. Plus, sometimes users are just lazy and want to be fed information instead of reading. Fourthly, Clearly display a form. This form is the reason why you wanted traffic into your website in the first place. You would want to capture their information and most importantly, generate sign-ups or purchases. Remember to place concise headings for your form and also a statement to tempt users to convert. For example, “Sign up now and receive a week free” can be one of the statements. Moving on, Give your website a personality. Make sure that all the pictures and words that are put up on the site are consistent with the message you want to put forth. A childcare centre would prefer to use words that represent care, compassion and tenderness while a construction website focuses on words that give confidence, strength and loyal partnership. Lastly is to include useful information for users. Last thing a user wants is to see another catalog that he or she just picked up from the front porch. Give your traffic details and information they need to answer their queries. Examples of this can be in the form of articles, advice and reviews. Even a ‘thumb-up’ would be useful information for some users. Here are some good examples of high-converting pages (click on enlarge):   To conclude, your website is like an online maze made to look like a person. It is entirely up to you to make that maze simple or difficult for users. The details of the maze are what make up the personality of the site. When your website is able to communicate in a certain manner, people will imagine your website to be ‘alive’ and talking to them like a friend as well as guiding them through the maze.

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Innovative Solutions: Securing and Storing with ‘Cloud’ Computing

As I mentioned in one of my first articles the assumption that cloud computing is less secure than other business technologies is not true. Cloud computing’s highest priority is security for all of its users. Security has proven to be the major reason why businesses are hesitant to make a commitment to a cloud migration. There has been a huge shift of focus toward cybersecurity over the past 10 years. With more of our lives becoming internet-centred it is hard to know what is private & secure and what is not. Cloud developers have known the risks from the word go and are constantly working to improve security. These days we hear less security horror stories and more stories about the successes and benefits of cloud computing. I hope that you are learning through this article series that ‘The Cloud’ is not as complicated as you first thought. However, one aspect of ‘The Cloud’ that I have not touched on yet is Public, Private and Hybrid cloud models. Heard these terms before? Confused? Let’s break it down: Public Cloud is the most common and many of us use this form of cloud computing every day, many of your apps such as Gmail operate in the Public cloud. It is inexpensive, readily accessible and focuses on providing storage to large numbers of people, in a shared data centres, that can be located anywhere in the world, depending on the service provider. Private Cloud is similar in terms of providing storage, however there is a greater emphasis on security. This means that all your data is hosted on a private network, offering more control with restricted access. Hybrid Cloud is just as the name suggests, a combination of both public cloud methods and private cloud methods. You can categorise your data and determine which cloud option suits it best.  For extremely private files ask your service provider about file encryption. This is the process of converting your important files into code before moving them to the private cloud. In turn making it even more difficult for potential hackers to gain access to your files. This is just a brief overview of each of these models, to learn more I would advise speaking with a licensed cloud servicing provider to help evaluate your organisations specific needs and cloud computing objectives. When shopping for a service provider look for transparency. If you are conversing with an organisation speaking only in vague industry jargon and skimping on the details, then you may be talking to the wrong provider. Here are some questions you should be asking when shopping around for a cloud service provider: Who will have access to my business data? You want minimal involvement when it comes to data access. Of course you want technicians to be able to access your data in emergencies, but that should be the height of involvement. They certainly shouldn’t be giving access to any further parties. Some cloud service providers give you more control over your data than others. This is something to think about especially when securing very private information. Asking this question will also open up a conversation on different cloud models, mentioned previously. The provider should be able to help you determine which model is best for your business. What type of technical support do you offer? Ideally you want to receive 24/7 support, ensuring that you receive emergency support whenever you need it. You will become dependent on this provider, so it is crucial to find a company that cares as much about your data security as you do. Where are the data centres you use? It does depend on the cloud model you choose but, you want something as local as possible. However, having multiple data centres in operation is not such a bad thing. It just means that your data is backed up in more places assisting in with loss prevention. When and how long will a cloud solution take to implement? You want to know exactly when and how long it is going to take for the cloud migration to be completed. Ideally it should not take longer than a few weeks for a basic solution to be fully implemented. This information is vital for planning ahead and anticipating costs. It’s all about taking small steps and sourcing trustworthy information to help you make the right decision for your business. 

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Innovative tools for SMEs: time to rethink your deliveries

Technology gives you greater control of your services When you're trying to establish your business it's vital that your packages not only arrive exactly when they should but also that they are delivered how they should; and for that to happen you need some control over the delivery.   To entrust packages to the post or to couriers can be a troublesome endeavour as there is a sense that by handing your package over you're quite literally putting your company in someone else's hands. If the delivery system is not up to scratch this reflect poorly on you, unfair though it may be. An SME or an entrepreneur wanting to build a name should be careful to assess their options before they make a decision. It may seem trivial, but a brand is built of many aspects and not all of them are what you might call "big picture."   Should you bother using a courier? Not everyone thinks a courier is necessary, and simply prefer using the mail instead. There are of course options to get your goods sent relatively quickly through the mail but it's not a viable option if you depend on same-day delivery, and certainly not if you need something delivered urgently.   There are plenty of courier services, but a real issue is transparency. You need to know just who you are hiring, and not simply in terms of the company but the couriers themselves. Even if they are not part of your company, anyone associated to your name in any way can either be an asset or a detriment to your reputation.   Deliver through an app Apps have the advantage of productivity without being cumbersome or rigid. They can be adapted to suit your needs and functions, and you can easily connect without much legwork being needed on your part. The flexibility of an app offers great opportunities for SMEs to get their services to their clients. Not only is it convenient for customers and clients; it's also as efficient as possible. An app that reaches the specific customers a company targets is an unparalleled way to offer them the best version of what they're looking for without there being any unnecessary interference. It's a way to market your product directly to your chosen segment. A US marketing study estimates that almost three quarters of American SMEs are using mobile technology in some form for their business, and it's not too far fetched to imagine that Australian companies are doing the same (or at least they should be). Basically it's come to the point where resistance is futile; you need some kind of mobile technology for your business.   The you-know-who of couriers The term Uber has quickly become short-hand for anything using an app to connect buyers and sellers of services, and while it might be slightly overused, PPost is probably one of the few companies where to moniker suits. It's an app-based courier service created to address the issues frequently faced by its founders when using couriers for their business. The idea was to be efficient and service minded, and to ensure the businesses using their courier were happy with their hire, but also something that could be affordable for a small business owner or even a private individual. Run by a company of fewer than ten, they are in many ways emblematic of the impact a small company can have by making good use of technology, but also by implementing their own experiences. Previous work gave the PPost founders the insight that there was room for improvement with couriers and they knew exactly what was missing. Services are designed to be transparent as well as efficient, saving fretful business owners the worry that their parcel will not be handled carefully. The use of an app is the ideal way for business owners to handle deliveries by having the control that is needed, and the transparency that has previously been missing. The PPost website and app lets the user see the courier they will be hiring, along with his or her rating. For a business wanting to use couriers it's an addition to the standard service that can make a significant impact on how your company is perceived.  

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iOS vs. Android - Which camp are you? The Tech Wrap

If you ask a group of people whether they belong to the Android or iOS camp, you’ll find it’s a sure fire way to draw a line in the sand. The type of phone and computer we choose to use every day is a significant choice, and many people swear allegiance to particular brands and/or operating systems. Whether it’s the user interface, aesthetics, or compatibility with other products – there are many different reasons to go for Android or iOS. Comparing the two, it can be agreed there is no greater group of brand loyalists than Apple fans. They live and breathe offerings from the tech giant, camping outside stores to get their hands on the latest products. All of their tech Apple products exist in perfect harmony, and they subscribe to a very strong brand identity – one that is clear cut, and cleverly marketed.   Given there have been no great changes to the shape of the iPhone, the home screen layout, and basic functionality, users can easily navigate around their phone and they know what to expect. It’s very easy to use; simply clicking in and out of an app, and for this reason the iPhone is more appealing to a less ‘tech savvy’ user group.   Another advantage Apple wields is that when it comes to apps, they dominate. Most apps are released on iOS first, however Android is playing catch up, and Android users can access most apps their fellow Apple users download. Apple also takes the cake when it come to access to music and video. ITunes is unmatched when it comes sheer size and availability. That said, I must admit that when faced with the line in the sand, I am starting to lean towards the Android side. I feel that over the years, Apple has become less of an innovator and more about playing catch up, with fine tuning and little ‘tweaks’ here and there. As a fan of technology and innovation, I feel that I am slowly being pulled towards the Android ecosystem, because that's where most of the 'cool stuff' is happening these days. One of the key benefits Android boasts is customisation -- both software and hardware. Users can pick and choose the features they like best, whether it’s a big phone, or widgets on the home screen. Every user can create an experience that is exactly to their liking. There are also hardware features that Apple does not yet offer, like waterproof phones, or a large variety of custom colours and unique materials (such as wood or leather backed phones). Once you have made the switch to Android, I would argue that it is more difficult to go back to iOS. While you are locked into another ecosystem, this is one that provides you with more choices than just one brand and one set of hardware. Whether it’s a Samsung phone, or eyeing up the latest Sony Xperia or HTC One, you have the choice between many different hardware setups. The same goes for computability across the product ecosystem. You can opt for any number of smart watches or wearables that work with your phone, providing a greater freedom to pick and mix between phone and hardware products. There are other small advantages like (generally) a long battery life and a lower price point. Android’s greatest strength (the ability to pick and chose) is also its greatest weakness, with no coherent brand identity that has mass appeal. Despite this, I think the tide is turning and Android is on the up and up. Already, major businesses are coming to me and asking the release of both iOS and Android products at the same time, which two or three years ago would have been unheard of.  iOS vs. Android -- which camp are you?   

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