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July 19th, 2012

Many small businesses have been migrating their telephone systems from physical telephone lines onto virtual networks. The technology that allows this is Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP. While VoIP integration is common for companies without a PBX - Private Branch Exchange - those with a PBX need an extra device called a SIP trunk to switch to VoIP.

SIP trunks blend together voice, telephone and data - Internet - connections, which allows your voice to travel over data lines. In other words: You pick up your phone, dial a number outside the office. Your call goes through the PBX - Private Branch Exchange - which tells the call where to go. The SIP picks this up, digitizes it, mashes it together with your data connection and sends your voice over the Internet to the recipient where it drops down to the original telephone lines.

There are three main components of SIP trunks

  1. PBX. A PBX which can switch VoIP calls to traditional lines and vice versa.
  2. Internet Telephone Service Provider - ITSP. An ITSP is similar to your Internet Service Provider, only they focus on digital telephone transmission. Often times, the ITSP is a subsidiary of, or a branch of your Internet Service Provider.
  3. SIP trunk. The SIP trunk is a device that facilitates the two above networks, and allows them to work together to send out and receive voice and video calls.
There are some great benefits to SIP trunking including:
  • Decreased phone bills. When you make calls, they are transmitted over data lines which cost a lot less than traditional phone lines, especially if you’re making long distance calls. You could even ditch your current phone provider, as all voice will be transmitted over data lines, freeing up funds which can be spent elsewhere.
  • Don’t lose numbers. If you move offices you’ll be able to take your numbers with you, without having to pay to have them connected to the traditional phone networks.
  • Calls can be easily rerouted. If your business is caught in a disaster, you can easily establish an SIP trunk in another location and have calls to your numbers routed through there.
  • Don’t need to discard old phone system. Unlike VoIP, SIP trunking works with your old phone system, which means set up costs are considerably lower.
If you’re interested in SIP trunking for your business, or would like to learn more, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
July 17th, 2012

Social media is widely thought to be crucial to a successful marketing plan, especially when a vast majority of the upcoming customer base view it as an extension of themselves. Many small businesses realize this and have successfully integrated at least one platform into their daily operations. It seems like there’s a new social network every six months, it can be hard to keep track of them.

Here’s some important information about each of the top five, as of 2012, social networks, that as a whole make up social media.

  1. Facebook. With around 900 million users, Facebook is “the” social network for connecting with nearly everyone and has become one of the main forms of communication among the younger generation. In general, over half of users are between the age of 18 and 34, and spend an average of 405 minutes a month connected. If you’re looking to connect to customers, while driving brand awareness, your company should be utilizing this network.
  2. Linkedin. Linkedin is the social network for professionals to connect with other professionals, share their experience and find a job. There are around 150 million users, 55% of whom are between the ages 26 and 44 and spend, on average, 21 minutes a month logged in. If you’re looking to connect with your colleagues, other businesses or potential employees, this is the network that allows you to do so.
  3. Twitter. Twitter is the social network that allows users to announce, or find events going on nearby. With a 140 character limit, twitter is great for those who are efficient with their words, which is apparently over 550 million people. The majority of twitter users are between the ages of 26 and 44 and spend an average of 89 minutes a month logged in. Twitter is a great way for small businesses to broadcast announcements and promotions, with the goal of driving traffic to other social networks.
  4. Google +. Google + is the closest competitor to Facebook with many similar features. There are two major differences however. The first is the userbase is quite a bit lower, around 170 million users. The second difference is users only spend 3 minutes a month, on average logged in. If your business has a Google Places page, you’re already on Google +, and with recent changes to the platform, it should become a solid network to connect with your customers in the near future.
  5. Pinterest. Pinterest is the network to discover new content and products and is one of the fastest growing social networks. Founded in 2010 and coming to prominence in 2011, the userbase is around 11.4 million and growing rapidly. What’s intriguing about Pinterest is that users spend, on average, 90 minutes a month logged in, second only to Facebook. This network is a great way for companies to drive interest in their physical products.
These five networks are by far the most popular in terms of both users, time spent logged in and overall content. What social networks you use and why do you use them? We look forward to your comments below.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
June 19th, 2012

Facebook is one of the most popular websites on the Internet. It seems like every business, person and their dog has an account. While it’s extremely popular, many business owners tend to stick with the features they know, which the majority of the time are the features they can see. There are a number of hidden features you can use as well.

Here are four hidden features you can use.

  1. App Settings. This setting tab lets you view and manage all the apps you’ve installed to your profile. From your profile, click the grey arrow near your name at the top of the window, select Account Settings and Apps to view your apps. Clicking the X will delete the app, while Edit will allow you to edit the settings. This feature is good for managing your profile.
  2. Archive Facebook. There’s a hidden feature in the Account Settings page that allows you to download your wall posts, everything you’ve shared and your friend's email addresses. You can also download an enhanced archive which includes info like IP addresses. This feature is in the General tab in Account Settings and is under Language. If your company wants to backup its Facebook data, this is the way to do so.
  3. Customize Username. You can customize the username attached to your Facebook account, which in turn changes the URL of your profile to the username selected e.g., www.facebook.com/myprofile. This is useful for businesses as it allows them to have a unique username that they can use on their websites, newsletters and other communication to encourage visits. To change your username, click the grey arrow beside your name at the top of the Facebook window and select Account Settings. Under the General tab, select Edit beside Username. Be aware that at this time, Facebook only allows you to change your username once, so make sure you’re okay with the selection.
  4. Facebook email. Did you know that you can message Facebook users from any email account? All you have to do is enter username@facebook.com and anything you type will be sent to that user’s messaging tab (the speech bubble in the top left of the screen). This is a great feature that allows you to quickly and easily send a message to your friends without actually opening Facebook.
These are just four of the many useful features of Facebook that you could use in your business to help further your brand, or make it easier to reach out to your followers. If you’d like to learn more about utilizing Facebook in your business, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 24th, 2012

Social media is a part of daily life for the vast majority of people and businesses. It’s the perfect platform for businesses to gain exposure to a large pool of potential customers, while being able to interact with their existing customers. One use of social media that companies are starting to adopt is social customer service.

Social customer service is a bit of an ambiguous term with no real established meaning. Before you pursue this strategy, you should be clear on exactly what it is and the benefits it can bring your company.

What exactly is social customer service? Think of the last time you had a problem with a program on your computer. Did you contact tech support? Or did you turn to your friends on social media? If you turned to social media, this is one of the main elements of social customer service.

Customers are starting to go to social media sites when they have questions, many times contacting the company directly. Having customer service elements on social media to answer these questions or field complaints is social customer service. A great example of this is OPEN Forum, run by AMEX. It allows customers to interact with one another, while giving the company a channel to feed technical help and information to them.

Benefits of social customer service There are four main benefits of leveraging social customer service in your business.

  • Increased customer satisfaction. By offering a way for customers to interact with you on a medium many are already comfortable with, you’ll find customers to be more satisfied.
  • Meeting consumer expectations. Let’s face it, the majority of your customers are using social media with many now expecting you to as well. If you meet their expectations, there’s a higher chance they’ll stay your customers.
  • Increased loyalty. One of the main reasons companies should be on social media is that an effective campaign can help improve customer and brand loyalty. Social customer service is an extra service that can help further increase loyalty.
  • Decreased customer service costs. If you offer customer service on social media, you could potentially decrease your total costs. The expenditure required to setup and maintain the online service is fractional compared to the physical operation.
While there are some distinct advantages to social customer service, it’s not a good idea to shift all of your customer support onto social platforms. Rather it should be viewed as a supplementary service, or another way for customers to get in contact with you. If you’d like to know more about how to integrate social customer service into your company's social media plan, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 24th, 2012

Social media is a part of daily life for the vast majority of people and businesses. It’s the perfect platform for businesses to gain exposure to a large pool of potential customers, while being able to interact with their existing customers. One use of social media that companies are starting to adopt is social customer service.

Social customer service is a bit of an ambiguous term with no real established meaning. Before you pursue this strategy, you should be clear on exactly what it is and the benefits it can bring your company.

What exactly is social customer service? Think of the last time you had a problem with a program on your computer. Did you contact tech support? Or did you turn to your friends on social media? If you turned to social media, this is one of the main elements of social customer service.

Customers are starting to go to social media sites when they have questions, many times contacting the company directly. Having customer service elements on social media to answer these questions or field complaints is social customer service. A great example of this is OPEN Forum, run by AMEX. It allows customers to interact with one another, while giving the company a channel to feed technical help and information to them.

Benefits of social customer service There are four main benefits of leveraging social customer service in your business.

  • Increased customer satisfaction. By offering a way for customers to interact with you on a medium many are already comfortable with, you’ll find customers to be more satisfied.
  • Meeting consumer expectations. Let’s face it, the majority of your customers are using social media with many now expecting you to as well. If you meet their expectations, there’s a higher chance they’ll stay your customers.
  • Increased loyalty. One of the main reasons companies should be on social media is that an effective campaign can help improve customer and brand loyalty. Social customer service is an extra service that can help further increase loyalty.
  • Decreased customer service costs. If you offer customer service on social media, you could potentially decrease your total costs. The expenditure required to setup and maintain the online service is fractional compared to the physical operation.
While there are some distinct advantages to social customer service, it’s not a good idea to shift all of your customer support onto social platforms. Rather it should be viewed as a supplementary service, or another way for customers to get in contact with you. If you’d like to know more about how to integrate social customer service into your company's social media plan, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 22nd, 2012

The ability to communicate effectively is essential to a business’s success. Whatever the form of communication businesses chose to use, they need to be able to get their message across with little to no interruption. One of the most reliable ways to do this is by using VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol.

Here are seven of the most commonly used VoIP terms and what they mean.

Internet Service Provider - ISP. The company that provides your company with Internet access. Private Branch eXchange - PBX. A system within a company that allows internal phones to connect to an outside line. This is also referred to as a switchboard in larger businesses. An IP PBX, Internet Protocol Private Branch Exchange, is the same thing, but it handles VoIP calls as well. Analog. The old system that transmits voice over telephone lines. Your normal landline telephone connection is most likely analog. In many countries, this is also called the Plain Old Telephone System - POTS for short. Analog Telephone Adapter - ATA. A piece of hardware that allows you to use a traditional telephone for VoIP calls. Digital. Any information, including sound, that’s on a computer. VoIP is a form of digital communication, because it uses a digital system, the Internet, to transfer your voice. Integrated Services Digital Network - ISDN. A telephone network that allows digital signal e.g., VoIP, to be transmitted over traditional phone lines. Softphone. A VoIP application that is run strictly on your computer.

There’s a lot of technical terminology out there, the majority of it in acronyms. Don’t be afraid to ask us for more information. If you’d like to learn about ways you can use VoIP in your company, please contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
May 9th, 2012

Social media is one of the most important communication tools of the modern era. Companies use it to connect with customers and like minded individuals, all in the name of building trust in their brand and products. While almost every company has a social media presence, they have been slow to trust employees to use personal social media at work. On average, 31% of companies block employees from accessing their accounts.

There are four distinct advantages to allowing social media:

  • Increased productivity. There have been a number of studies that have found that judicious use of social media in the workplace will actually increase productivity. A study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to social media are 9% more productive than those without.
  • Increased buy-in. Employees like to feel trusted and empowered. If they don’t you can expect to experience higher turnover and lower morale. A good way to gain trust is to allow employees to use social media in the workplace. If an employee feels like they are trusted, they’ll be more likely to stay with the company.
  • Recruiting. Small businesses have started to use social media for recruitment, but limit efforts to one account. If you have 10 employees in your organization, each with a social media account with 100 friends, you have the potential to reach 1,000 people. This is achievable if employees are allowed to access social media at work and are encouraged to share posts.
  • Identification of business opportunities. Through the use of social media, employees in charge of sales and business development can source new clients and build fruitful relationships.
There are many advantages to allowing access to social networks at the office. If you‘re hesitant to completely open the social media floodgates, try doing so in short periods, like the final three hours of the working day.

No matter what you decide, allowing access to social media is a good practice for your business. If you would like to learn more about social media and how you can leverage it in your business, we are happy to talk with you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 4th, 2012

Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP, has become one of the main ways businesses communicate. An ever growing number of companies have been switching over to VoIP systems to take advantage of its cost savings. Recently, one of the most popular programs, Skype, reached a milestone of 40 million users logged in concurrently.

Skype has some excellent features but many businesses stick to the basics. Here are four ways you can better utilize Skype.

  • Call forwarding. If you’re expecting an important call but have to step away from the computer for a bit you can forward any calls to your phone. To set up call forwarding: open preferences and select Calls. You will see the option to set up call forwarding at the top of the page. Press the Forward calls radio followed by Set up Forwarding. Be aware that regular call rates will be charged.
  • Screen sharing. Skype is a terrific collaboration tool and many businesses take advantage of it by holding virtual meetings. You can take this one step further by sharing your screen with other parties you are chatting with. This is a fantastic way to give virtual presentations. To share your screen while in a chat press the plus symbol at the bottom of your screen, or right click, and select Share Screen.
  • Customer service tool. Using Skype is a convenient way to get in contact with your customers. Ask your website developer to put a Skype button on your website. Be sure to add when you or your employees are available to be contacted.
  • Add-ons. Skype has solid features but there are a multitude of add-on apps that can make it even better. Some apps allow for closer collaboration, let you broadcast pre-recorded messages, or record video and audio calls. The apps can be downloaded from the Skype Shop.
Skype has many useful features that when utilized allow businesses’ clients and employees to communicate with ease. If you would like to know more about using Skype or other VoIP services in your company please give us a call.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
April 12th, 2012

Communication is arguably the single most important aspect to a successful business. One of the most familiar forms of communication is the telephone, and with advances in technology, it’s unsurprisingly gone digital. The most commonly used digital voice system being Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

VoIP has become the main backbone of voice communication for a growing majority of companies, offering numerous benefits including potentially large cost savings, and decreased maintenance costs. When it was first introduced, the technology needed to run a VoIP system was expensive, limiting it to MNCs and other large organizations. However, over the past few years, the technology has come down in price and is now available for next to nothing, allowing SMEs to make the switch to VoIP. If your company is thinking of ringing the changes, there are some necessary requirements you should meet before you migrate.

Foundation A solid foundation for VoIP is key, as without a good foundation you’ll find that network speed and call quality are poor during heavy use. Most SMEs aim for a VoIP system that can handle around 10 employees on the phone at any given time. Before you start the integration, you should track your current call volume by keeping a note of the number of calls in and out, while paying close attention to call volume during peak hours and days.

You should also investigate the speed and stability of your current Internet connection. While a fast DSL or cable connection is good for browsing, it may not be robust enough to handle VoIP communications, which need a connection that is both quick and stable. Look at your downstream (traffic into your network) and upstream (traffic out of your network) connection speed during a time when the network is experiencing heavy data use. Anything over 1.5 Mbps in both directions should be enough to handle the majority of VoIP systems. Most Internet service providers offer a connection speed well above that, but it’s important to check it out first.

Framing When you have a solid foundation that will support your needs, the next step is building the frame for VoIP. You should determine exactly what’s required from your new system. Some good questions to ask include: Am I going to need to make international calls? How many VoIP connections am I going to need? Am I going to want to make video calls? What’s my budget?

Once you’ve determined your needs you can move on to picking equipment. If you’re a business that typically sticks to local, and some long distance calls, you shouldn’t require much in the way of equipment. The vast majority of companies use a device called a media gateway that allows normal phones to interface with an Internet connection - essentially turning a regular phone into a VoIP phone. If you’re a business that would like to take advantage of the more advanced features of VoIP, like portability, you’ll need more state-of-the-art equipment.

The final issue you need to address is security. On its own, VoIP is not the most secure of connections, as it’s open to all the same types of security breaches that computers and networks can fall prey to. To combat this, many good VoIP service providers will have security measures in place to protect VoIP calls on their network. On your end, it also helps to keep your Internet security up-to-date and conduct regular system scans.

Once you’ve addressed the internal requirements it’s time to start looking for a VoIP service provider. Take your time, shop around, ask competitors and other businesses what service they use. One question to ask a prospective provider is if they will be able to migrate your current number onto their system? While most can switch over your existing numbers, it can take a while, depending on your location and local legislation. So be sure to check if the provider can migrate your numbers and how long it will take.

From there, you should be ready to switch over to VoIP. If you’re still unsure of the process, there are consultants available who can help with the preparation, selection and integration. Good luck, and if you need more information about VoIP, we are here to help you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
March 29th, 2012

It’s hard to find someone who isn’t using social media in some way, or at the very least isn’t aware of its existence. Companies are becoming wise to this and are starting to utilize social media tools to build their brand, or bring in new customers. If your company does not use any form of social media, it may be time to look into getting your business out there.

Social media, once called a fad, has become the norm and is going to be with us for some time. A large number of companies already have an online presence, and are taking advantage of the benefits that social media can bring. Here are a number of things you can do to get your social media adventures underway.

Be Clear on Social Media It’s important that before you start looking into the different forms of social media that are out there, you are clear on what social media is, and what it isn’t. Social media is a way to meet people, and share content and ideas with them. For companies it’s a form of non-traditional marketing - think of it as soft marketing - it’s not meant to be the place where you flog your products, rather a place to develop interest in your company, so people will want to do business with you. By using social media you can show people who your company is, and connect with them on a more personal level. If you are clear on what social media is from the beginning, there’s a higher chance that you’ll be successful when you develop your online presence.

Before You Launch Into Social Media There are a number of things that your company needs to have either already done, or considered, before you jump in:

  • Have a website: It’s a good idea to have a solid website with information about your company, contact information, products and services. Most potential customers will look at your website after looking searching for you online, and before they choose to do business with you, so your website needs to provide the relevant information they are looking for. If you don’t have a website, or feel yours is lacking, it’s easier than ever to get a professional looking site. With a quick search you will be able to find some competent designers.
  • Get educated: It will be beneficial to educate yourself on current trends regarding social media. This can be done by simply going to social media websites, taking the free introduction tours and reading blogs related to the sites. Beyond that you should also research your competitors’ websites and Internet presence. Observe what content they have online, and more importantly: what they don’t have. It will also help to connect with and observe industry experts, see what they post online, and note the style and tone they use. This will help provide you with a sound knowledge base from which you can then create a more effective online presence.
  • Set goals: As with any step in business, you should have a plan with realistic goals. Aim for results that are achievable for your company. If you’re a small, local IT company that focuses on providing support for banks, don’t expect to have the same massive hype that Microsoft and Apple do. Clearly set objectives and review periodically.
  • Develop a focus: In real life, you can’t be all things to all people. The same goes for social media. You need to develop a focus on what type of online content you would like to share. You should aim to create content that your customers will want to share with people.
  • Stake a claim: You should to go to the main social media websites - Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube - and reserve your personal and business usernames. This is important because it will make you look more professional by having the same username across all sites, and users will be able to find you easier.
  • Ask for help if you need it: While some companies make social media sound easy, it can be deceptively hard to master. If you feel lost, or are having a tough time with it, there are knowledgeable consultants out there who are happy to help.
Time to Get Social When you feel you know what direction you will take, it’s time to start developing your online profiles. It can be tough to decide which social media tools to utilize. Unfortunately there is no right answer. Most small businesses follow the crowd, and this means having pages on Facebook and Linkedin. This does not mean that you should join these networks simply because they have the most users. It is recommended that you follow what similar businesses or direct competitors are doing. If they are on one service but not another, do the same to begin with, but be on the lookout for new social media sites, or features being added to existing sites.

One Thing to Not Forget There is one really important thing we can share with businesses thinking of pursuing social media: it isn’t a turnkey operation. You can’t just, “set it and forget it.” To be successful, you need to be active by posting updates, news, and above all interacting with the people who reach out to you. After all, they are your customers. If you do establish your social presence but forget to keep it up to date, you will be the company that’s forgotten.

If you would like help with your social media strategy, please get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media