VoIP: A money saving solution for your company’s technology backbone

When small business managers think about their IT infrastructure, they think about their employee’s mobile devices, cabling, Wi-Fi, laptops, a printer, and Internet connectivity. These are the basics of their IT infrastructure. However, there is one other aspect of a modern corporate IT infrastructure and that is an internal phone system that can connect “voice” over the internet, rather than traditional copper wires. Once upon a time, every office had an internal phone system that connected to the world via wire/cable/fiber. That wire/cable/fiber then connected a person in your office to a person somewhere else via the local phone company and a long distance carrier. And they did it for a per minute fee. And a very high per minute fee if you called internationally.

A VoIP phone system eliminates the phone company’s per minute connection, sidestepping them and running the voice call over the Internet.

Talk to your managed service provider about this money-saving addition to your firm’s technology backbone.

SAFETY PUP SAYS Update

One thing smaller firms and individuals are often reluctant to do is download updates to their operating systems and individual apps and programs. Why? Well, because it takes time and you have to reboot the device. Other reasons are a fear that the newest update will have a bug and cause problems. The perception is that it is better to wait a few weeks. Finally, there is a fear that anytime you update a program or OS, something always starts acting weird.

All of these may have a certain legitimacy. Even procrastination has its defenders. But why should you download updates ASAP? Because they are not only about new features and a new gadget – they include patches to security issues that have been identified. One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from hacking malware and other nefarious online viruses is to always update your software. Do it the day the update comes out, because it may be released specifically due to the discovery of a brand new malware or ransomware hack.

Everyone talks about security. Be the person who acts. It is easy.

With Ransomware, The ONLY Cure Is Prevention

It just keeps showing up in the news. Ransomware seems to just not come to an end. If you haven’t heard, ransomware is a particularly nasty virus that freezes access to your data and then demands a ransom, usually in bitcoin. The worst thing about it is that once you are hit, there is almost nothing you can do. There are only 2 options: don’t pay the ransom and lose your data, or pay it. There is no “downloadable” fix. You are stuck. With ransomware, the ONLY cure is prevention.

In the case of ransomware, you need to be constantly updating your data and securing it in isolation from your network. Even then, if your backup system overrides your older data each time it backs up, you can actually save the virus if it has infected your system at the time of the backup. To make sure you are as protected as you can be, we strongly recommend you contact a technical security expert to consult on the best way to protect against ransomware and other security hacks.

Business Trade Shows Part III: After the Event

So, you made it back home from the show. You’re exhausted and work has backed up in your absence. Here is where the entire investment in the show can go down the drain. Follow-up is critical. Every one of those prospects needs to have a follow-up. Lots of it. One contact isn’t going to be enough.

First, send out a short email drip that includes a ‘thanks for visiting us at the trade show.’ The second should be a ‘call to action’ email. Send an invitation to meet via phone or in person, and add something for them to download. The download can be a whitepaper, or even just your brochure but it is always good to attach something.

Now comes the really hard work. Contacting prospects. No one is going to just mail you revenues. You need to actively market to your trade show visitors. If some seem uninterested, put their names in a tickler file to try back in 6 months. Just be sure not to just let them drop; the situation may change in the future.

In summary, look at a trade show as a marketing event that goes beyond the time spent at a booth in some convention center. It is just a stage in a lengthy and important marketing campaign. Make sure you prepare for the show and do active follow-up afterward. Otherwise, a trade show is just an expensive few days meeting lots of people you will never see again.

Business Trade Shows Part II: During the Event

We’re back. In the last post, we talked about building momentum toward a trade show exhibition. Today, let’s look at your efforts during the show itself.

You already should have sent out a reminder the morning of the show in posts on all your social media accounts, an article on your website blog, and a general email that you’re exhibiting. Now it is time to work the booth.

First, recognize that your goal is to use this show to develop as large a list of prospects as possible. That means you not only want visitors at the booth, you need their contact information. The proven way to get attendees contact information is to offer them something for free, or run a contest for something worthwhile. Most booths will offer some give way, coffee mug, etc. at the booth if visitors sign a contact info sheet. People can’t resist free stuff, no matter how much they don’t need another mug or could afford to buy them on their own by the caseload. Therefore, have give a ways.

You can also run a contest for those willing to take the time for a demo of your product or service. If they will take the extra step, enter them for a raffle for something of greater value, such as an iPad or tablet.

If anyone shows special interest, keep your non-exhibit hours open to schedule meetings for coffee or a demo.

Beyond getting prospects, use the show for broader networking. Work the other booths and introduce yourself to other exhibitors to get your name known. You can never do enough networking, and you never know when it might pay off. If the exhibitor entrance fee does not include entrance to other networking events such as meals and meet-and-greet-happy-hours, consider buying a ticket for access. These offer additional opportunities to network.

Finally, don’t forget social media. Throughout the show, post pics of yourself with clients or prospects who visited your booth. You can even use the event hashtag if they have one to help your business generate buzz!

Next time, let’s talk about what to do once you get back home.

Business Trade Shows Part I: Before the Event

Going to a tradeshow for the first time? Don’t make the mistake of viewing this as a 1-2 day discreet marketing event. Instead, view your exhibit at a tradeshow as the central feature of a much longer and holistic marketing plan that builds to the event, and then culminates in the successful post­show follow up that signs on new customers. In the next few posts, we are going to break down the tradeshow marketing plan into three bite size pieces. Today, the pre-show build up.

The goal of your pre­show marketing is to attract visitors to your booth at the show. You want them to know about all about you before they take that first walk around the exhibit hall.

1. Take advantage of all the marketing opportunities that the show planner offers. This may include access to an attendees list. If so, use this to send out a few introductory emails prior to the show including your booth number. Send one the day of the show reminding the reader where you are.

2. Sponsorships are also an opportunity, if your budget allows it. This can be a small ad in the program or sponsoring an event or get-together during the conference. This is a bigger step and may be beyond the budget of a SMB.

3. Social Media: Use social media to introduce yourself before the show. This means an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Send a brief announcement of who you are and that you will be exhibiting at the show, and then a reminder the day of the show or the day before.

4. Website and blog: Post an invitation to the show on your website and your blog. This should go up about one week prior the to event.

These are just three simple steps you can take to build momentum before the actual exhibition. Next, we’ll talk about marketing during the show.

Is Your Website Mobile Optimized?

Smaller firms often struggle just to keep up with maintaining a website. Worrying about a scaled­ down version for mobile users seems like just too much trouble. Today’s blog is all about why this matters to you and why should you bother with a mobile version.

A bit of background: Mobile sites are versions of your website that can be easily read and used on a small mobile screen. What is readable on a laptop of a desktop monitor can be too tiny to use on a small screen. Also, the buttons and fields on your forms become impossible to use.

Why does this matter? Three reasons

1. Showing up in search rankings. If you want to be found in a search and appear high in the ranking, you need to have a “mobile optimized” site. Google has now included the failure to have a mobile-optimized site as a specific reason to lower a website in its search rankings. If you don’t have a mobile optimized site, you slip lower in the ranking. Slip lower in the rankings and fewer people ever find you in a search.

2. More search and web activity now occurs on mobile devices than standard PC and laptops. If you want attention, you need to be “mobile ready.” You can’t just write off those mobile users- ­­there are too many of them.

3. If your site is too difficult to use on a phone screen, the user is just going to jump to another vendor. There’s nothing else to say.

So the summary is, if you haven’t already done so, you need to bite the bullet and get a mobile-optimized site. The internet offers too much business to just ignore the issue.

Password Basics That Are Still Ignored

You can have all the locks on your data center and have all the network security available, but nothing will keep your data safe if your employees are sloppy with passwords.
 
There are many ways data can be breached, and opening some link they shouldn’t is one of the most serious security sins employees can commit, but today we’ll just talk about passwords.
 
Here are some basic practices that you should require your employees to follow. These are basic tips. System administrators should implement other policies, such as those that forbid using passwords previously used and locking accounts after a few failed attempts to log in. But just for you as a manager, here are a few tips.
  1. Change Passwords – Most security experts recommend that companies change out all passwords every 30 to 90 days.
  2. Password Requirements – Should include an of mix upper and lowercase, number, and a symbol.
  3. Teach employees NOT to use standard dictionary words (any language), or personal data that can be known, or could be stolen: addresses, tel numbers, SSN, etc.
  4. Emphasize that employees should not access anything using another employee’s login. To save time or for convenience, employees may leave systems open and let others access them. This is usually done so one person doesn’t take the time to log out and the next has to log back in. Make a policy regarding this and enforce it.
These are just a few basic password tips, but they can make a big difference in keeping your business’s sensitive data safe.

You’re Fired! Now Give Me Your Password

Losing an employee is not usually a good experience. If they leave voluntarily, you lose a valuable asset. If they have to be fired, you have the arduous task of the progressive discipline process and the final termination meeting. But there are other concerns that arise when an employee leaves. Those concerns are security and their access to company data.

Here are some considerations regarding passwords and voluntary termination (A.K.A. resigned) or involuntary termination (A.K.A. fired.) It is important you have a process in place so that whenever a termination occurs, nothing slips through the cracks regarding corporate data security.
  1. When you dismiss an employee, you should immediately change out all passwords for anything the employee had access to. Because almost all terminations should be planned, you should also define the process for canceling access. It is unwise to cancel prior to the termination meeting. If you do that, you create the potential for a confrontation when they arrive at work and find their passwords have been disabled. Instead, plan ahead and assign someone to disable their passwords during the time you are having the termination meeting. Before the meeting, be sure you have a list of all access cards, keys, etc. prepared so they can be cancelled before the employee leaves the building.
  2. Voluntary terminations ­- Different firms have different policies handling resignations. Depending on the specific position, an employee will be permitted to continue working during their 2 week notice period. In that case, you need to consider if there is any possibility the employee might get up to no good during the final days. That is something only you can judge.
In some cases, firms will ask an employee to leave the facility immediately. In that case, you need to have a plan in place. You need to have a list available of all of the restricted systems to which they have access for when this situation arises. The employee should not leave the building until all of their access has been canceled.

This all may seem a bit harsh, but things have changed. 30 years ago, for a disgruntled employee to steal files, they’d be carrying out large boxes of file folders. Now, not only can they empty the building onto a thumb drive, they can take nefarious action that wasn’t possible when data was stored on paper.

IT Defense in Depth Part II

In our last blog, we started talking about the different layers of security necessary to fully defend your data and business integrity. Today we will look at the human aspect of it, and network defenses. The human layer refers to the activities that your employees perform. 95% of security incidences involve human error. Ashley Schwartau of The Security Awareness Company says the two biggest mistakes a company can make are “assuming their employees know internal security policies: and “assuming their employees care enough to follow policy”.

 Here are some ways Hackers exploit human foibles:
  • Guessing or brute-force solving passwords
  • Tricking employees to open compromised emails or visit compromised websites
  • Tricking employees to divulge sensitive information
 For the human layer, you need to:
  • Enforce mandatory password changes every 30 to 60 days, or after you lose an employee
  • Train your employees on best practices every 6 months
  • Provide incentives for security-conscious behavior.
  • Distribute sensitive information on a need to know basis
  • Require two or more individuals to sign off on any transfers of funds,
  • Watch for suspicious behavior
 The network layer refers to software attacks delivered online. This is by far the most common vector for attacks, affecting 61% of businesses last year. There are many types of malware: some will spy on you, some will siphon off funds, some will lock away your files.

However, they are all transmitted in the same way:

  • Spam emails or compromised sites
  • “Drive-by” downloads, etc.
 To protect against malware
  • Don’t use business devices on an unsecured network.
  • Don’t allow foreign devices to access your wifi network.
  • Use firewalls to protect your network
  • Make your sure your Wi­Fi network is encrypted.
  • Use antivirus software and keep it updated. Although it is not the be all, end all of the security, it will protect you from the most common viruses and help you to notice irregularities
  • Use programs that detect suspicious software behavior
 The mobile layer refers to the mobile devices used by you and your employees. Security consciousness for mobile devices often lags behind consciousness about security on other platforms, which is why there 11.6 million infected devices at any given moment.

There are several common vectors for compromising mobile devices

  • Traditional malware
  • Malicious apps
  • Network threats
 To protect the mobile devices you can:
  • Use secure passwords
  • Use encryption
  • Use reputable security apps
  • Enable remote wipe options.
Just as each line of defense would have been useless without an HQ to move forces to where they were needed most, IT defense-in-depth policy needs to have a single person, able to monitor each layer for suspicious activity and respond accordingly.