Use Web Analytics Web analytics track the behavior of your site's visitors. What pages do they visit most? What are the popular paths through your Web site? On which pages do they leave? When customers visit your website, they want information and they want it now. If they can't find what they're looking for, they can get frustrated pretty quickly and leave, or worse--they could wind up looking to one of your competitors for what they need.
Site-surfing patterns will show you what pages to modify to better serve the interests of your potential customers. Web analytics solutions can also usually track search engine positioning, e-mail campaigns, banner ads and other promotional programs. Some solutions provide sales data in addition to visitor data.
This enables you to enhance ad campaigns and the corresponding site pages for maximum sales, not just traffic. How Secure is Your Wireless Network? The use of wireless networks within many organizations and businesses is becoming more and more widespread. This includes banks, manufacturing assembly lines, airports, restaurants and one-person home offices. What's not so widespread, however, is the employment of information security measures in these wireless applications and networks. Constant monitoring of access points is one of the best ways to keep a wireless network secure.
The most basic security measure you can take with your wireless devices is to immediately change their factory-set passwords and enable encryption keys commonly known as WEP so that data transmitted through the wireless network is more protected. Use a Firewall A firewall is a software application that controls access to your network at the "perimeter," i. This "controlled access" ensures that internet users only have access to particular services provided by your company's network web servers, e-mail servers, etc. Any attempts to access unauthorized information or services are blocked.
You can also use your firewall to block employees from accessing some outside information services, such as non-business-related websites or internet chat. Other common firewall add-ons include antivirus capabilities and privacy protection services to block proprietary information from leaving the building in any electronic form e-mail, file transfer, virus activity, etc.
For an added measure of protection, you can also add intrusion detection to your firewall. When a firewall allows internet users access to a company's website or other services, system vulnerabilities can also let in hackers. Intrusion detection systems can detect this type of activity and block the would-be hackers before they can do damage or steal vital company information.
Perform Security Audits Regularly Security audits are one of the best ways to identify security risks and validate the protection devices you've already put into place. Comprehensive audits should thoroughly test for vulnerabilities of all systems, correlate the findings, test exploits, identify the true level of risk to the business, and detail remediation requirements.
Such audits should be performed at least once per year against the internal environment and every six to 12 months against the external environment. This frequency is a suggested minimum, and many companies rightfully prefer to test certain aspects of a full audit more frequently.
Unless the knowledge, experience and manpower to perform such audits exists in-house, you'll need to consult an outside IT security expert. Establish and Enforce a Security Policy Security policies provide a roadmap for both IT and non-IT personnel on how your company expects your employees to conduct themselves with any matter that affects the security of the business.
In many cases, actions have an obvious impact, such as the disclosure of passwords to unauthorized personnel. But other potentially dangerous actions may be less obvious, which is why it's necessary to outline these risks and your security policies for all employees.
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Other security measures you can undertake include swipe cards, changing passwords often, and restricting sensitive areas. A professional consulting firm specializing in security policy development can save time and money and ensure an up-to-date policy. The Enemy Within Companies usually try to patch every loophole and make every system impenetrable.
But guess who knows more about these loopholes and ports of penetration than anyone? Your current and former employees. Disgruntled employees, former employees especially those who've been fired , and even external service providers--anyone with "insider information"--are the most likely culprits of a security breach. It's for that very reason that four out of five IT-related crimes are committed from within an organization. Consider running background checks on employees as part of your hiring process, and change passwords after employees leave the company. Maintaining Your PC Think before you install.
So many times someone's computer isn't working properly only to discover they've downloaded several programs from the internet or from a CD of a friend. Installing software on your computer will take up space on your hard drive , which will eventually slow your computer down. These random programs could also be an open door for viruses and cause other programs to crash. So install as few programs as possible on your computer. If you can, use a second computer to "play with" and test programs you're thinking of using company-wide. Install the right software. Ensuring your computer is protected from digital vandals is critical if you want to keep information safe.
It's therefore important that you install both an antivirus program and a firewall software program. These two critical pieces of software, which you should update on a regular basis, will serve as a wall of protection for your computer. Update your operating system. Microsoft Windows is the software you're most likely using to power your computer programs and control how your computer operates. It's critical that you update Microsoft Windows on a regular basis by going to the "Windows Update" website www. Dump what you don't need. Every few months you should regularly inventory your computer to find and delete the programs you don't really need.
Defragment your hard drive. Your hard drive is one of the hardest-working parts of your computer-you're using it all the time, every day whether you realize it or not to access the programs you use and store the files you create. But the hard drive doesn't save the files in any particular order; instead, it uses the first empty space it encounters space that's created when you delete files. So the pieces of data become scattered around the hard drive, making it slower for you to access the data stored there. That's why it's critical to defrag your hard drive on a regular basis to keep things running as quickly as possible.
Do it monthly if you're a "light" computer user and weekly if you're a power user. Keep things clean. In some offices, people have paper and stickies all over their computers, covering up the air vents. To help ensure your computer runs smoothly, don't cover the air vents-you need to keep the internal components as cool as possible.
You should also vacuum your computer every few months to clean out the dust that accumulates. Security is important. When things do go wrong, you want to be prepared. Therefore, it's important to always backup your important data. Whatever method you choose, make sure to back it up on a regular basis so that if your computer crashes, you can easily recover your important data. Smart Tips for Buying Software Consider CRM A customer relationship management CRM solution can help you streamline customer service, simplify sales and marketing efforts, find new customers and generate more revenue from existing customers.
You can record customer interactions with sales and customer service personnel and keep a centralized database with current customer information that everyone in your company can access. The Business Software Alliance BSA is a trade association made up of leading software makers whose job it is to make sure that businesses aren't using pirated versions of their software. If you think making illegal copies of software instead of buying it is cheaper, it's not. You're better off buying it in the first place. What to do? Spend a lot of time making sure every program in your company is legal.
Yes, it's expensive and hard to keep employees in line, but you don't want to get a visit from the BSA. Take a Test Drive Try it before you buy it. Check out software company websites for downloadable demos that can help you better gauge how easy their products are to use. If a demo version isn't available, there's usually a detailed online tour that gives you a lot more information than a paper brochure.
And before you buy the package outright, check with the software company to see if it's bundled with other software or equipment that you might be in the market to buy anyway. If you're shopping for a new accounting package or other critical software, consider doing a "scripted demo," where you enter your data and run through test scenarios specific to your business's transactions.
It may be time-consuming, but if you buy the wrong software, it will be more costly later. Evaluating Your Software Needs Before you rush off to buy software, keep in mind that you have several factors to consider other than just the capabilities and costs of the software. Your selections should be based on your company's size, industry, internal organization, computing environment, technical expertise and, of course, the ever-important user interface. Even a great product can end up being a nuisance if it's not intuitive to you as a user.
Re-evaluate your company's staple software. For each program, draw up a wish list of features or enhancements that would make using the package easier. Often, the solution may be as simple as an upgrade to the latest version available. Consider hiring an IT professional to examine your system and business needs and tell you whether you even need to upgrade. Getting an expert opinion can be a money-saving move for small-business owners who would prefer to spend time keeping up on the latest developments in their industries than on the latest in software.
Accepting Online Payments Choosing a Shopping Cart Program Even if you've got the best-looking site selling the best product at the best prices, you'll lose customers if your shopping cart system is difficult to use. It's important to make the right choice early on, but first ask yourself if you actually need a shopping cart.
If your site sells just one or two products, you can probably just set up an online order form for those products, rather than needlessly complicating your life managing a shopping cart program. If you do need a shopping cart, look into an ASP. This means that the service is hosted and maintained by a third party. They're easy to set up on your site and you don't need advanced programming skills to get them to work. Most ASPs also offer package deals that include a merchant account and payment gateway so you won't have to go through the hassle of trying to get those things sorted out separately.
Though an ASP won't have a personalized look, when your company grows you can either buy software or hire a programmer to customize it for you. Credit Card Industry Terms to Know The following are terms you should familiarize yourself with as you shop for a card processor. Security and Fraud Prevention Process all credit card payments in real time using Secure Socket Layer SSL technology which encrypts all confidential information during the transmission and authorization of transactions.
This can be part of your shopping cart program, or you can purchase the technology separately from companies like VeriSign. Visa and MasterCard have basically imprinted three-digit codes on all their cards to help determine whether a genuine card is being used in a transaction. These are especially helpful in online and phone orders since merchants don't have the card in front of them to run their magnetic strip through the system.
How to Accept Credit Cards The first step is to set up a merchant account with your existing bank. If your bank says no, try other local banks or companies like Cardservice International or VeriSign. Any vendor that sells you credit card processing should also provide a secure transaction environment as part of the package. If they don't, look elsewhere. Be sure to ask prospective processors about the costs of storefront solutions that you must have to effectively operate your website, such as shopping carts, web hosting, payment gateways, virtual terminals, virtual checks, databases for fulfilling orders, customer tracking, and a way to calculate tax and shipping charges.
Online Bargains Refurbished hardware can be a smart way to save money. Many online manufacturers and retailers have sections of their web sites devoted to clearance outlets. You may have to poke around the site to find them, but it's worth checking into when you're on a tight budget. Refurbished items are usually returns that have been looked over and checked for functionality. As with auctions, check to see if all documentation and software is included. Compare prices to what is normally charged to see if the savings is worthwhile. Often warranties are shortened. What might have originally come with a one-year warranty may only include a day warranty when it's sold as refurbished.
If you're comfortable with that, go ahead and save some money. Software Beware Used software can be tempting, but you should proceed with caution. Some software is not legally transferable to other computers. Watch out for bootlegs or pirated software and stay on guard for disreputable sellers. It's usually better in the long run to just purchase new copies. Sitting Pretty When it comes to buying used equipment, furniture is one of your safer bets. Chances are, you'll buy local and have the opportunity to examine the pieces before you pay up.
Used desks, dividers and file cabinets can help you furnish or expand your office at substantial savings. Use more caution when it comes to chairs. Your long-term comfort is more important than saving a few dollars. Some higher end ergonomic chairs come in different sizes, so be sure to get the one that fits. All About Warranties One of the biggest sacrifices you can make when buying used equipment is lack of a warranty.
That's not always the case, though. If there is still warranty time remaining, check to see if the warranty is transferable. Otherwise, you might want to think twice, particularly when it comes to business critical hardware. Laptops, for example, are more prone to problems than desktops and you might want at least a partial warranty in case anything goes wrong. For less critical items, like a mouse or keyboard, the savings may be worthwhile. Up for Bids Auction sites like eBay are popular hunting grounds for technology bargains.
The up side is that you can often find great deals on equipment. The down side is that you need to proceed with a healthy dose of buyer beware, especially when it comes to used equipment. Take a moment to look into the background of the seller. Do they have a lot of poor feedback or have their previous customers been happy? Is all documentation and software included? What is their return policy? Is shipping refundable? Be sure to calculate shipping costs before you bid.
Some sellers charge handling fees that can add up to more trouble than it's worth. Take Advantage of Hotspots The internet is your ticket for staying in touch. Whether you need to check email, check up on your web site or do some research, a Wi-Fi hotspot is the place to go. The easiest way to find a hotspot is to book your room at a Wi-Fi equipped hotel. Some hotels include it as a free service for guests.
Others charge a small fee. Before you hit the road, take a moment to find some hotspots at your destination. There are several hotspot conglomerators that let you access the internet through their nationwide networks for a daily or monthly fee. Just be sure to use a VPN if you need to protect your business data. You don't have to be traveling far from the office to take advantage of hotspots. Local cafes, coffeehouse or public buildings can be convenient stopovers when you're out at lunch or just need to step away from the desk for a while. Many PDAs these days come stocked with the kind of processing power and memory you would have seen in a full-fledged notebook a few years ago.
Throw in a smartphone features for making phone calls and accessing the web, or add in Wi-Fi, and you have a well-connected device that can easily tide you over until your get back to your desk. Choosing a Laptop The most powerful way to stay connected to your business while on the road is with a laptop. Two popular classes of laptops are desktop replacements and ultraportables. Which you choose depends on your needs. Desktop replacements pack all the punch of a regular desktop with large displays, plenty of processing power and useful extras like DVD-rewritable drives.
The downside is their hefty weight. If you place a premium on power or are looking to get rid of your desktop altogether, this is the way to go. Ultraportables are just like they sound: svelte, lightweight traveling machines. While they're easy on your shoulder, you often make sacrifices in peripherals, screen size and sometimes power.
Still, mobile warriors that are constantly running through airports may find the compromises very worthwhile. E-Mail Safety and Security Watch What You Write While you're formulating an e-mail security policy, give some thought to e-mail content. Unlike a phone conversation, e-mail doesn't just disappear into the ether after it's sent. A record remains--one that can come back to haunt your business. Discuss with your employees what is considered appropriate content. You may want to minimize personal use of business e-mail.
Even sending seemingly innocuous jokes around the office can be risky. Tie e-mail usage in with your sexual harassment policy. Make sure that the e-mail usage guidelines are clear for your employees. Educating Your Employees One of the best ways to ward off e-mail security issues is to educate your employees. Have an e-mail security policy and make sure they are familiar with it and adhere to it. Some spam will inevitably get through. The best ways to keep the problem from increasing is to simply not reply and not click on any links it contains.
Just delete the messages. Also, make sure employees aren't giving out their e-mail addresses online. For example, if they post to message boards or blogs, they shouldn't leave their e-mail addresses out for spammers to harvest. Keep them up to date on new threats like phishing attacks. A proactive policy for e-mail security is better than dealing with breaches later.
Don't Get Hooked Phishing isn't a strictly business-related problem, but it can have serious consequences for unsuspecting entrepreneurs. Phishing is when a deceptive e-mail arrives that often asks you to visit a web site and verify personal information like pin numbers, usernames, passwords or account numbers.
Some phishing attacks are blatantly obvious and loaded with misspellings and bad grammar. Some are very sophisticated and look like they could be a real communication from a credit card company, bank or online auction site. What's the best way to deal with it? Delete it. Any e-mail that asks for personal information to be given out through the web or through a form embedded in the e-mail is likely a phishing attack.
If you're still not convinced, take a moment to check in with the company that supposedly sent it. A few minutes can save you a lot of grief. Fighting Spam Spam is more than just a nuisance; it's a drain on your time and resources. It's impossible to avoid, so you have to deal with it. If you don't have spam protection through your email service provider, put anti-spam software on your shopping list right after anti-virus.
Some vendors bundle it all together in a security suite package. Keeping Viruses Away When it comes to email security, anti-virus software is one of the first items that come to mind. Whether you purchase an off-the-shelf software package or choose to go with an online service solution, it's a must-have. Users of some free services, like Hotmail, may already have this area covered. Check to see what your email provider has to say about it. You'll want to make sure all your employees' desktops and laptops are protected. The cost of anti-virus is minimal compared to the potential damage a virus or worm outbreak could cause your business.
They can not only get at your computer systems, but also send emails out to your address book. That's not something your customers will want to receive. Here are a couple of tips for keeping an eye on your anti-virus measures. Double check that you're getting the latest virus updates. Most programs will update themselves automatically, but it doesn't hurt to do a manual update on occasion to make sure the process is working.
Also, when your software subscription time period is up, be sure to renew. Don't let it lapse. Buying for Your Homebased Office Shopping Online Bargain hunting over the Internet doesn't have to be time-consuming. Web sites such as PriceGrabber. They're especially handy if you already know what you want and are just looking for the lowest price. Don't be blinded by what seem to be incredible bargains. Always check into an online retailer's reputation if you're not already familiar with it. You probably know this already, but always use a credit card for your purchases in case you have to dispute charges later.
Another great resource for home office hardware is eBay. You can pick up a wide array of products-from extra cell phone batteries to monitors and ink cartridges-at prices that would make some retailers blush. But eBay is no utopia. You still have to check into the seller's reputation. Also check to see if the product you're buying is refurbished, if it comes with an original warranty or tech support, and if all documentation and pieces are included.
Some entrepreneurs may decide that the savings are worth living without some or all of those things. It's not good or bad, it's just a matter of deciding what you feel comfortable with. Brick-and-Mortar Buying If you're the type of person who likes to "handle the merchandise" before you buy, find a local retailer you can visit in person.
Prices may be a little higher when you just walk into a store, but you also have the security of having a physical location to return the product to in case of a problem. The Sunday ads are a good place to compare prices, and you should keep an eye out for specials and rebates at your local stores.
You can also take advantage of price-matching policies or even visit warehouse-style retailers like Costco or Sam's Club to look for business equipment savings. Get Connected If you have a website and plan on hosting your site with your Internet provider, and if you'll need more bandwidth and e-mail addresses than what a standard consumer Internet account offers, you need to look into business services. Your options for Internet connections from home are satellite, DSL and cable, which are available in a variety of downstream and upstream speeds ranging from Kbps to 2Mbps.
If you travel quite a bit, you may want to look into some of the wireless Internet connection options, which provide an Internet connection wherever you go. Loving the Laptop Just because you have a desk doesn't mean you must have a desktop computer. A pricier but more flexible laptop may be the ticket. If you'll be doing a lot of business traveling or will need to take your computing power with you on sales calls, then a laptop is something to consider.
They're also nice for getting out of your office for a while, even if it's just to sit on the back porch. And if you decide a laptop's the way to go, you might want to consider purchasing a monitor to view your laptop through when you're at your desk to save on eye strain. There are tons of schools, community groups, senior homes and other needy institutions that would be happy to take them off your hands.
Unfortunately, donation is another of the more costly disposal options. And the legal exposure is real. You could get sued for donating a defective or virus-infected computer, or you may be asked to defend the tax deduction. Share the Technology outlines some of the pitfalls for givers and receivers on its site. On the upside, the infrastructure for charitable donations is well-advanced, making this option less time-consuming. Regardless of the option you choose, you can click on over to eBay's Rethink Initiative to explore your options.
Remember, costs vary among disposal options and you'll still need to scrub the machines of company information. The good news is, the PC is gone. But in both cases, you have to sell the PC before its value reaches zero. And those three years for a mid-range PC and four years for a high-end box go by quickly. Of course, brands vary. What Will It Cost? In general, a lot of PC disposal costs are realized in soft dollars, and a certain amount of those are fixed. First, there's the labor involved in physically removing a system and its network components, disconnecting peripherals and scrubbing the hard drive of software, passwords and sensitive company files.
Then there's the downtime for employees during the move. After that, your costs will vary depending on how you choose to dispose of the old PC and may include payment for things like testing and repair or, in many cases, contractual or other legal costs. Why the Dump Isn't the Answer According to Gartner Research, more than million computers will be replaced by individuals and businesses from to But according to ACNielsen International Research, only 15 percent of those polled realized they could recycle electronics in their local area.
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