5 Keys for Transitioning Your Business Online

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This is a guest post by Sandra Faleris of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Sandra, visit her blog.

Every business can use an online presence, whether they think so or not. Save your customers time by putting together a website that showcases your products and services. You don’t have to go e-commerce (allowing customers to purchase online), however, for heavy computer users going to a static website can be frustrating.

The world is moving toward convenience at a break-neck speed. Just look at the competitive cell phone providers who tout faster browsers and cellular technology.

Faster is the new bigger. Knowing where your industry is headed is key.

Losing business to those who offer “more convenience” is something you can count on if you don’t jump on the train now. It’s the way life is headed; one would have to be blind to ignore the fast pace of the information highway.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales exceeded $194 billion in 2011. This 16.1% increase is another indication that e-commerce is taking a bigger portion of market share from brick-and-mortar establishments.

So far, the categories that are not purchased online are: Gas, groceries, autos, food and beverage services. However, if you are in an industry that is becoming more competitive online, here’s a guide to help get you started.

Half-on, half-off.

No one is recommending that you abandon your physical location, if it is working for you. There are still plenty of customers who prefer to see merchandise or deal with their professionals in person. Doing both is ideal, for the time being.

Here are the primary reasons to get your business online now:

  • To capture sales from the audience that prefers to shop from their home
  • Providing online information helps the sales effort and often allows for less trained or fewer employees on-premise
  • To reduce overhead costs; the higher the percentage of online sales, the more reason to consider smaller, physical quarters and fewer employees
  • To stay competitive

Costs for creating an online presence have been reduced substantially, making it an affordable move for everyone.

5 Key ingredients for a successful online transition:

  1. Planning: Pick a start date that gives more than enough time for development (ideally, 3-months)
  2. Selecting: Find a freelance web designer or consider using a city or industry portal, from where you can post your website. There are also a myriad of services that will create your website: some for free and others for a monthly fee or a percentage of sales. (Check out our recently launched service, Zoho Sites).
  3. Developing: Develop a Content Outline and gather photos to give to the designer.
  4. Writing: Write the text you want included or hire a copywriter to work with the designer. (It’s best if you can at least write the salient points that need to be included.) Remember to set aside an area of the website for specials or information that can be updated on a weekly or monthly basis.
  5. Testing: Test-drive it for a month before going “live”.
  6. Promoting: Promote it with a discount offer for trial usage. Get feedback from the first 100 users and make necessary changes ASAP.

It’s no longer the intimidating move of yesteryear. In today’s techno-age, a website is your calling card, which provides pertinent information about your business and its products and services.  Isn’t it time to move ahead and join the Internet ranks?

We’re flat-world-friendly! Are you?

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In 2005, Thomas L Friedman proposed that the world was becoming flat. Today, we can be certain that it already has! What that has done is to unify consumers and businesses across the World.

All you need today is a product or service that makes life easier for someone, somewhere in the world. The Internet has made it remarkably easy to offer products & services globally. However, it’s not just about selling, now, is it? What you sell, you also have to support thereafter.

At Zoho, we have customers across various time zones. And, our support commitments have to be restricted to each time zone. Selling to a single global market comes with that peculiar challenge. We spoke to some customers and they all said “Hey, we have that challenge too! Can you fix it?”

Much to our surprise, even some popular enterprise-quality helpdesk software didn’t do anything to fix this handicap. So, we set out to do what we’ve always done best. We found a simple way to get rid of the challenge and built it right into Zoho Support. We’re excited to tell you all about it!

You can have a different set of business hours for each time zone. Your SLAs will ‘automagically’ tie into these business hours too. All you have to do is setup the business hours for each of the time zones you’re servicing. Pretty simple, ain’t it? Pretty useful too!

Zoho Support Custom Business Hours

Zoho has consistently empowered businesses to succeed in a flat world. And this is just one more step forward in that direction.

Try it for your business and tell us what you think. We really hope you’ll love it.

Now, Create Workflow Rules for Calls, Tasks & Events too!

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Ok, the title is a give away and I’m sure many of you in Sales & Customer Support will definitely find this one useful.

But before I proceed, here’s a little background:

Ever since the launch of the New, Simpler CRM, our aim has been to make your CRM experience as simple as possible. And with Workflow Rules, you should be able to automate most of your activities, so that you focus on spending more time with your prospects and customers.

This update is also an effort towards the same. Here’s more on that:

Imagine a case where you cold-call prospects in the call center you work for. A successful day depends on the number of calls that you have attended to, and also on the number of calls that you have closed. The chances are high that a prospect you called is interested in your offer and would like a follow-up call. You now have to assign this to a field sales rep who has to follow-up with the prospect. With Workflow Rules for Calls, this is how you’d do it:

Create a Workflow Rule for the Calls module. Name the rule the way you like it. The rule should be executed whenever the Call Result is ‘Interested‘.

Create a related task.

Save your Workflow Rule.

Now every time you change the value of the ‘Call Result’ field to ‘Interested’, your Workflow Rule will be executed.

Think of all the benefits:

  • No manual entry. Your rule will take care of creating a task, assigning it and the notification too.
  • And more importantly, you save time. You can focus on your next call.

There are other ways in which you can use this feature. Like these here:
(Oh, and just to clarify – Activities in Zoho CRM include Tasks, Events and Calls).

  • Send email alerts if your task is pending for a week after the due date
  • Follow-up calls. Trigger the second or third call based on the call type
  • Send notifications to senior management after you complete ‘high-priority’ tasks
  • Send meeting invitations to customers automatically

Do try this feature and let us know your thoughts. If you find other scenarios that work well for your business, please share them with us.

London 2012 Olympics: Stats & Dashboards

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Plotting and visualizing data can be fun. And if the data involves the ongoing Olympics, it can be doubly so! As with previous Olympics (Vancouver 2010Beijing 2008), we have compiled some interesting dashboards for London 2012 Olympics too. The dashboards are powered by Zoho Reports and hosted on Zoho Sites.

We plan to add new data and reports as the Olympic games progress, and we will keep you updated. If you like to see any other report added, do leave your comments.

London 2012 Dashboards

Domain Names. Big Deal.

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A domain name is to a website, what SSN is to you; no two websites can have the same domain name. It is to uniquely identify you in the online space. It is essential that you do it right the very first time, because it is the only best time to do it. So, what factors should influence you in choosing a good custom domain?

1. Subdomains Vs. Custom Domains

www.yourbusiness.someotherbusiness.com is a subdomain. www.yourbusiness.com is a custom domain. Where you host your business website is the last thing your client is bothered about. He needs credibility (She needs even more). Which of the two domains look credible? Which of the two websites above would your visitor feel comfortable in sharing credit card information with?

2. Keyword-laden domains Vs. Brandable domains

Every domain name translates to an IP address that machines understand better. But domain names are for us; humans.

Domains that are easily remembered are the ones that are easy to remember. Straightforward? Short and Brandable domains create an excitement; domains like apple.com. Keyword-laden domains have their advantage as well. If you are a multi-product company, then you might want your domain to be generic, so that all your products can be marketed with the same brand value. But for single-product organizations, having a relevant keyword or an industry-jargon, in combination with a brandable name could be a great bet.

But the best part is, that there are exceptions. And plenty of room for creativity. What would you call a domain name that is an entire sentence, and is about 30 characters long? A bad domain? Before you answer, check this out!

When it comes to SEO, Google says it will treat both kinds of domains equally. So algorithmically, it really doesn’t make a big difference. Watch this Google Video. It is a year old, but should be relevant.

3. Extension

The importance of extensions is immense in Google searches. The results vary depending on you being signed in to Google or not, your region settings on your browser, and lately, the +1′s of your friends and contacts on Google. It is all a measure to display the most relevant results to a searcher.

yourbusiness.com isn’t the same as yourbusiness.org. Each extension has it’s meaning. .com is widely used; .org is for non-profit organizations; .gov the government; and there’s more. If your business is serving a global audience, it is best to pick a .com domain name.

4. Brand Establishment

As and when you choose a custom domain name for your business website, you also need to ensure that the same name is available on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other viral social media platforms. It would hurt your brand if one of them does not belong to your organization, and is posting stuff that is not just appropriate.

5. Business email hosting

When you have your own domain name, you can host your business email too, so that it reads, you@yourbusiness.com, and not you@gmail.com or you@zoho.com. The former promotes your domain name and helps in establishing an identity.

These are why picking a domain name is one of the first things you should do when setting up a business. Like falling in love, all the worse when you do it late. The one in your mind might be taken already. Hope this helps you in picking a great domain name for your business website. And business email, because business website building and email hosting always go hand-in-hand.

Top 4 Start-up Fears and How to Conquer Them

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This is a guest post by Lindsay Holloway, writer and editor of small business trends and technology. To read more from Lindsay, check out her articles on The Examiner.

Whether you’re building the next iPod or launching a new social network, one of the biggest steps in getting started is facing the fears that most entrepreneurs deal with. To get an idea of what fears they face, we polled a handful of hardworking entrepreneurs, who despite any fears and looming “what ifs” managed to make it through and build their small businesses. More importantly, we asked them how they conquered those fears.

  1. Finances: From start-up capital to monthly budgets, managing money – whether you have it or not – can make anyone’s head spin. “They’re afraid of budgeting and cash-flow projections; they’re afraid of reading their financial reports and all that financial voodoo,” says Chellie Campbell, author and instructor of an eight-week financial strategies course. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the numbers, because managing your business’s finances is probably one of the easier fears to conquer. Courses like Campbell’s, books and online programs can be a big help. If you have the funds, hire a bookkeeper or assistant.
  2. Time: Whether you’re afraid of having to dedicate all of your time to your business, not having enough time for your family or needing more time in the day, time isn’t always going to be on your side. Though it’s common for business owners to wear many hats, there are companies, people, software and web tools that can take some of the load off. “Be willing to let go and not micromanage everything,” says Kristopher Jones, CEO of Pepperjam, a full-service Internet marketing agency. “And hire people that complement [your] weaknesses.” It’s also important to set boundaries. Dedicate specific work hours and spaces. If you work from home, make sure your office is separate from your living space. Being able to close up “shop” at the end of the day makes a huge difference.
  3. Customer adoption: Your product, service or business idea must have stemmed from an unmet need or unfulfilled market that you discovered, right? So you just need to confirm the need is really there and that it can sustain a business. Do this through research, study groups, polling peers and evaluating other companies in the space. “It’s always possible that customers won’t react to your value proposition the way you anticipate,” says Romney Evans, co-founder and CEO of online jean retailer TrueJeans.com. “But improve your chances by listening to your customers and potential customers. They know what they want and need.”
  4. Failure: The granddaddy of entrepreneurial fears is failure. It’s also the reason many ideas never make it off the ground. Starting a business is risky, time-consuming and lots of work; these reasons contribute to the 50 percent of small businesses that fail within the first five years. But know that you’re not in it alone. “Faith in yourself and the support of others play huge factors in moving forward,” says Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax.com. “Success is not guaranteed, regardless of the most tedious planning. But connecting with people who have been through it can be positive and helpful.” And don’t forget to acknowledge accomplishments. “Celebrate the small successes,” says Drew Stevens, business author, speaker and consultant. “Small wins count more than the largest. Small wins stroke the ego and keep the focus on the present.”

Don’t Blame Zoho for Apple’s Wall Street Miss

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Yesterday after the bell, Apple reported financial results for their fiscal third quarter. And although impressive, they fell below Wall Street expectations. Apple’s stock is so far down about 5%. Many would say that’s well deserved after they delivered a net income increase of only 21% – for a total of $8.8 billion.

In any case, Zoho is not responsible for Apple’s earnings miss.

Let me explain.

Over the past few months, we at Zoho have bought about 2,000 devices for our employees – computers, phones, tablets. Yes, all of them Macs, iPhones and iPads. Although that’s one big order, that’s of course a drop in the bucket for Apple. In any case, we didn’t do it to help Apple either. So why?

Well, we did it for two reasons:

First is that we’re on a quest to create products with better look, feel and usability. Our new Zoho CRM which we launched some time ago and our new Zoho Sites products are two examples of this. Our earlier UI efforts were nascent, but some time ago we became “religious” about it. But… if you spend all of your day sitting in front of the ugly Windows UI, you’re going to feel less inspired when it comes to creating your own product. So we have upgraded most of our team to Mac. Yes, of course we are keeping some PCs around for testing purposes.

Second is that as we launch more and more mobile apps for our products, we want everyone in the company to be able to use them and test them in real-life. So that’s why we gave people a choice between iPhones and iPads.

I was just walking by the “Apple” room where our IT people are preparing the products for handing off to employees. They actually had to camp on a conference room as we don’t, well, do this often.

Yes, all those boxes in the back are full of Apple products. So – don’t blame Zoho for Apple’s earnings miss!

Rodrigo