5 Tips to Make Online Meetings Run Smoothly

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This is a guest post by Michael Essany of Null Media

With the increasing use of online business applications and remote working habits, the modern workplace can often reap more benefit from timely online conferences rather than face-to-face on-site interactions. And not surprisingly, continued technological development and corporate cost-cutting pressures around the world will keep fueling the rampant growth of virtual meetings in the years to come.Businessman working on laptop in his office.

“In these tough economic times,” offers Brent Arslaner in BusinessWeek, “advancing technologies are making virtual events not only a less expensive replacement for physical meetings but also a superior one. Why do we have meetings and events? 1) to exchange information; and 2) to network. Virtual meeting and event technology can facilitate these two objectives easily.”

Fortunately for employers and employees alike, the advantages of conducting a meeting online can be as pronounced as they are plentiful. But with the added convenience, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of virtual meetings also come plenty of caveats to consider before your next web-based powwow. To better ensure glitch-free virtual gatherings in the future, here are a few battle-tested tips to make online meetings go smoothly:

  1. Set an agenda and stick to it. A meeting without a basic structure runs the risk of becoming a chaotic mess that falls short of achieving its goals. Create the same focused, professional atmosphere you would in a face-to-face meeting by emailing an agenda to all participants well in advance of the meeting. Give each person an opportunity to share their observations and feedback.
  2. Be concise. Few attributes are more important in online meetings than brevity. No one wants to listen to colleagues ramble or drone on incessantly. And, whereas it’s difficult to doze off unnoticed when you’re seated in a board room with 12 other people, it’s easy to do so when you’re secluded in your home office. If your digital conference requires more than 45 to 60 minutes, break it up into parts.
  3. Multitasking is a no-no. For some participants, online meetings present the perfect opportunity to catch up on other tasks. From checking your email to scanning your Twitter feed, there’s so much you could but shouldn’t do during a virtual conference. Out of respect for your colleagues and to dodge a distraction that might lead to disaster, pay attention — and keep your multitasking to a minimum.
  4. Choose a quiet location. Online meetings enable remote participants to attend without having to travel. But that doesn’t mean your location doesn’t matter. It does. Nothing interrupts or interferes with a virtual gathering like background noise and distractions (traffic, a barking dog, a blaring television, etc.). Be courteous to fellow meeting participants and take yourself, your laptop, or your smartphone to someplace quiet.
  5. Get to know the platform. Never assume that you’ll know “on the fly” how to navigate the computer software that makes your online meeting possible. It goes without saying that virtual meetings are always best served by the use of a platform that delivers a multitude of key web conferencing features. But regardless of the platform, whether you’re the facilitator or a silent participant, familiarize yourself with it before — and never during — a meeting.

Why Facebook and Social Media are Valuable for Your Small Business

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So, you’ve finally started using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools for your business. You’ve started interacting with customers online, are getting Facebook “likes” and are even getting new “Twitter followers” on a daily basis.

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But, are you truly seeing any results from all of your online efforts? Is all of the work really worth it?

According to new research and data from the University of Buffalo, Texas A&M University and Aalto University in Finland, social media can in fact make a difference. The new study, published in the journal Information Systems Research, shows that customers who are also Facebook fans of the business are more valuable than customers without any online interaction with the company.

And this means much more than simply getting customers in the door. These customers that also interact with a business through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets also improve the company’s sales. In fact, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of marketing at Aalto University said these customers who interact with the business through social media contribute 5.6 percent more revenue than customers not active on social media. Additionally, these social medial-savvy customers visit the business five percent more than their non-social media counterparts.

The numbers don’t stop there. According to the social media marketing firm Syncapse, a Facebook fan is worth $174 to a brand. This amount is 28 percent higher than it was three years ago.

Syncapse reached this number thanks to a survey by research firm Hotspex, who collected data from more than 2,000 U.S. panelists earlier this year. The study compared Facebook fans and non-fans’ brand loyalty, media value, potential to recommend the brand to others and a number of other factors. The results were released earlier this week.

So now that we know social media has some influence as far as attracting customers, improving sales and getting them to return, there are a number of trends small business owners should know about and implement in order to have success with social media.

Be Specific

It seems like a new social network is introduced everyday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your business needs to be on every single one. A number of small business and social medial experts believe 2013 is the year small businesses focus on one or two social media sources that work best for their specific product or service.

By investing time in the platform you believe is best for your customers — whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram — small businesses can maximize their social media marketing efforts and hopefully have the greatest chances of increasing clientele and profit.

According to Ben Bentzin, an expert in brand development, product marketing and social media at the University of Texas at Austin, business owners have to think about what their customers are using as far as social media.

“If you are selling insurance to senior citizens, social media [like Twitter] may not be that important,” Bentzin said. “But if you are selling to college students, you have to have that social media presence.”

Additional Social Media Strategies

Apart from focusing your social medial efforts toward one or two platforms tailored to your customers, small businesses can also improve their social media campaign by:

  • Encouraging interaction from customers

  • Investing in building online communities over time as opposed to a quick-fix solution

  • Contributing regularly to your chosen social media platforms

  • Keeping customers up-to-date on events or sales

Like any marketing technique, it is important to have a specific strategy and plan from the beginning. Experiment with different social media platforms to learn which is best for your business and start taking advantage of these online communities.

Dashboard Spotlight: US Economic Data Analysis

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dashboard-spotlight We have analyzed many interesting public data sets in the past. And we plan to continue doing so.

With the budget sequestration just a few weeks old, and economic concerns running high in the minds of people, we have attempted to plot selected economic indicators with aspects of everyday life. The goal is to try and see if any interesting connections and insights can be unearthed. Read more

Employees Want to Feel More Appreciated at Work

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How often have you heard someone say, “I just feel so lucky to have a job,” over the past five years? How often have you said it?

You’re not alone. Ignoring other ambitions in exchange for job security is a common feeling across the nation in the aftermath of a recession where the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in the fall of 2009 and is currently still at 7.7 percent.

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And despite statistics from December 2012 reporting a 15 percent increase in time spent at a job for employees age 25 and older since the year 2000, experts are now saying recent improvements in the economy could free people to quit their jobs and pursue other employment opportunities.

This new trend could cause a number of problems for employers who are caught off guard by employees leaving for greener pastures. Especially for those who haven’t focused on keeping employees happy and excited to come to work on a daily basis.

In recent years, employers didn’t necessarily have to focus as much on making employees feel valued and appreciated due to the lack of job openings and opportunities. However, recent statistics reported 3.69 million job openings in January, which is 270,000 more job openings than in January 2012.

And while experts caution that the market hasn’t improved enough for all professionals to have other options, there are some fields — like specialized accounting – where workers are leaving their current job for better offers.

Making Employees Feel Valued

So what is the most common reason people are leaving their current jobs and seeking other opportunities? It may be easy to assume money is the driving factor, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Although good salary and benefits packages do play a factor, the majority of employees leave their places of work because they are unhappy with management.

David G. Allen, a management professor at the University of Memphis, has conducted a large amount of research on this topic and found that workers value relationships with other colleagues, especially bosses, as much if not more than salary and benefits.

“I think smart companies need to make sure they’re making their employees feel valued,” Allen told NBC News.

A Mood Tracker Survey issued by Globoforce in November 2012 found that 55 percent of employees would leave their jobs for another company that made it a point to recognize efforts.

As a small business owner, it is important to not only be aware of this new trend, but also know a few simple ways you can make sure your employees feel valued and appreciated. This includes the following:

  • Be open to ideas and suggestions from employees

  • Make yourself available to talk whenever possible

  • Get to know employees and their families on a personal level. Know about their spouses, children and hobbies.

  • Talk with your employees about their dreams and goals and how you as an employer can help them accomplish those goals at the company

  • Create an office environment that is welcoming, friendly and fun

Allen also noted that the first employees to look for other job opportunities and eventually quit are typically your best employees and ones that could hurt you if you lost them. Be prepared and take action to make sure your employees feel valued and a part of your company’s family.

Is Your City Small Business-Friendly?

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If you’ve ever looked for a new office, apartment or house — even a hotel room — you have discovered there is truth in the universal real-estate maxim. Location, location, location…

Location is everything. Now I’m not trying to sound like a cheesy, real-estate agent, but this mantra also holds true when starting and growing a small business. Along with a great product or service and enough start-up capital, the success of your small business can be greatly influenced by your location.

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Austin, Texas has become one of the most popular destinations in the United States over the last few years. We here at the Zoho Austin office can attest to that. And maybe part of its popularity is due to the city’s small business-friendly environment.

As the nation’s second-fastest growing city in 2012 and fastest growing city in 2011, Austin was also named the friendliest city in the country for small businesses, in the second annual Small Business Survey by San Francisco-based Thumbstack.com and Kansas-City-based Kauffman Foundation.

The survey, compromised of nearly 8,000 business owners across the nation gave Austin an “A+” rating. The overall ranking was based on factors like ease of starting a business, training and networking programs, ease of hiring and regulations, health and safety, labor and hiring, licensing and environmental, tax code and zoning.

And while it’s no secret to us here in the Zoho Austin office how great the city is, the “friendliest small business city” ranking got us thinking: What makes a city accepting and nurturing for small businesses?

The Survey Says…

According to the above survey, the most important predictor of a city or state’s overall score was training and networking programs. The survey also found that a state’s economy and number of licensing requirements were also very influential.

In fact, the data showed that the number of licensing requirements was 30 percent more important for small business owners than tax codes — an area many people assume plays a pivotal role in the  location of a small business.

“For most small businesses, simple licensing regulations and helpful training programs are even more important to their success [than low taxes],” Thumbstack co-founder Sander Daniels told The Business Journals.

Barriers to Entry

Although it may seem obvious, the friendliest cities for small businesses typically have the fewest number of road blocks for the owners to enter the market. There are a number of licensing requirements from state-level agencies and many entrepreneurs are unaware of what they need to start a business besides a great idea or product.

Co-author of the report Nathan Allen said that the licensing requirements were very influential because “it’s something [small business owners] really have to contend with and stay up on…the time they have to spend on it can become a serious burden to their growth.”

Cities with business resource centers or development programs can link small business owners to a number of resources and training programs in their communities to help streamline city and permit approval.

For example, the city of Chicago recently set up a restaurant start-up program to give prospective restaurateurs information on choosing the best location, inspections and licensing. The city of Austin has a Small Business Development Center with information on applying for a loan to how you can improve your marketing strategy.

Do Your Research

Choosing any city to start your small business isn’t always possible or practical. In fact, statistics suggest that the majority of people open businesses where they are currently living.

Start by studying places like Austin to see why they are so friendly to small businesses and focus on getting engaged in your community to learn about existing avenues for training and networking. Ultimately, you can work to build your area into a valuable resource for you and your fellow small business owners — wherever you live.

Time To Reconcile 1099K

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Got the 1099 K and wondering what to do with it? 1099 K is a tax form sent by online payment processing companies like PayPal, eBay and the like to report how much sales you made through them in the last calendar year. They fill your basic details with the last years gross sales and send this form to the IRS with a copy to you as well.

Well, I report my income and file my Schedule C. Why this?Reconcile-1099k
IRS is working very hard to bridge the tax gap so that the reported income by individuals is closer to their actual income (which apparently isn’t the case in reality). The 1099K form last year was an attempt to achieve that goal, so that the IRS gets to know first hand how much you earned in online sales.

But why did I get this form and not others?
It looks like your gross sales crossed $20,000 and you have made at least 200 transactions with a payment processor. That is the criteria that the IRS uses to decide who to send it to.  If you haven’t received the form, it is perfectly okay. No reason to fret at all!

Alright, what do I have to do now that I got it?
Not much really. Open up your accounting software and reconcile the data. Chances are you would panic when you see the strangely bloated sales number on the 1099K form but make note that these are gross figures and they do not take into account the refunds or returns you made.

Run the Payment Received Report in Zoho Books
There is a nifty report called ‘Payments Received’ in Zoho Books. If you have kept track of all your client payments or better still configured the online payment gateway in your accounting software then this report will list out all the payments received by you.Check out our guide on how to run the Payment Received report.

Remember not to fret if the data doesn’t match as it’s perfectly normal considering its the ‘gross sales’. Your talent hence lies in your extraordinary abilities to keep track of every expense you incurred. It’s all about being awesome at record keeping.

Poll: What do you use to build a community around your business?

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Building a community around your business is, perhaps, the most important outreach activity you can ever pursue. It deserves such prominence especially because it’s a long-term activity. It’s an ongoing activity, like invoicing customers or addressing support queries.

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A community has far-flung benefits across various aspects of your business. It helps you keep your existing customers happy. It helps you win new customers. It helps you reduce the load on your customer service team. And, it helps builds your brand.

Every community starts off as an idea on someone’s mind. But, it eventually has to move to a more ‘conducive’ space. That space is different for each one. For some, it’s a simple forum. For some, it’s an interesting blog. For a few others, it can be a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn. Quora is a popular place too. It’s also possible for communities to ‘exist’ in a combination of these. Let’s take a look at each of these ‘places’ and attempt to profile them.

Facebook:

Most businesses generally use a Facebook Page to build a community. Non-profits and independent communities use Facebook Groups instead. Broadly, Facebook is a place where people let their hair down. They look for interesting pieces of content that are also fun. So, if you’ve got a really serious topic on the influence of cascading government debt on the global economy, you better steer clear of Facebook! ;)

Twitter:

Twitter is really for the ‘keep it short and sweet’ types. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for a conversation! Twitter is, in fact, a great tool to build a following for your business. You get to have crisp, yet interesting, conversations with your customers and prospects. It’s also a great place for content propagation. What you say or share can ‘virally spread’ to a large section of people.

LinkedIn:

Being a networking platform for professionals, LinkedIn is a lot more serious when compared to Facebook and Twitter. It’s mostly the platform for ‘serious’ conversations at a ‘personal’ level. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn allows companies to have a more ‘serious’ identity. Some businesses use LinkedIn for recruiting employees. Some others build technical/professional communities. Independent forums and communities also thrive on LinkedIn.

Quora:

Quora’s the new kid on the block. Only, he’s not a kid anymore! What started as a simple social network for ‘Q&A’ has now become a marketplace of sorts for knowledge. It’s more loosely organized when compared to Facebook or LinkedIn. Prospects are very likely to ask questions and find answers on Quora before making a purchase decision. Also, what happens in Quora doesn’t just stay there. It gets shared on other social networks as well. So, it’s worth every bit of your time to engage people on Quora.

Your own forum & blog:

At the end of the day, it pays for you to have your own ‘outreach infrastructure’. In a sense, building a community exclusively on any social network means you might have to sway the way the it does. When you build your community on your own forum & blog, you reduce any such risk. You can always use social networks to reach more people for your community, while hosting the community on your own infrastructure. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

Most businesses can’t really handle a community that spreads across all these options. So, we thought we’d ask you and find out what you do w.r.t your community. We can’t wait to see the results!