Business today gets done through the technology that connects us. The problem is that no matter what, there will never be one master program that does everything we specifically need. We’re forced into optimizing our work lives through no less than a dozen applications that we ourselves string together. While this is still faster than reverting back to pen and paper, you may still find yourself having to do a task in one program only to do it again in another. For example, right now I have my newsletter program, email platform, YouTube, CRM, LinkedIn, several other social media programs, my internal chat app and our company website all running at the same time in order to get work done.
Let’s say I meet someone who I want to do business with: I have to find them on LinkedIn, send them a follow-up email, add them to my contacts list, and add them to my mailing list.
This takes time, and if you are going through a large list of new potential clients after a trade show, you could find yourself losing a day just doing data entry. Happily, there is a solution to this problem, and it’s called automation.
Most major programs today have open API’s that other third party apps can create integrations for. Instead of having to repeat yourself for every application, you can use programs like Automate.io or Microsoft Flow to bridge the gap between programs.
In this typical sales situation, you can now add your new contact to your CRM. Your automated processes will take that information and send that contact a LinkedIn invite, add them to your newsletter mailing list, and also send them an email thanking them for their time. Now you have taken three steps and turned them into one.
There are countless ways that these automation programs can be used, and more applications are jumping on board with this system every day. If you are finding yourself doing repetitive tasks in multiple application then take the time to find an integration that will ensure that you are only doing your most important work.
Technology has driven a wedge into the profession of sales in a way that industry wasn’t prepared to deal with. On the one hand, you rely on it to keep you connected, but on the other hand, you also want it to protect you and keep your life private as well. Salesmen look to utilize every bit of accessible information to help them drive revenue. In the meantime, they create a lot of noise in your inbox that for the most part, you couldn’t care less about.
We have a unique perspective on sales because we are the purveyors of technology for our clients, and like every other business, also need to sell in order to grow as a company. This allows us to see how businesses are set up and how the technology can be taken advantage of in order to drive more sales. What we have learned is that there are a few ways to hide in plain sight so that you can only be reached by people you care about while remaining invisible to the rest of the world.
Problem #1: Email
Let’s start with email, the most important means of communication for businesses today. Except for when everyone knows your email address; then it becomes a time sink to delete thousands of emails just to get to the handful that are important. How does this happen? It starts when you set up your email address for your company. You choose your domain along with a format so that everyone in the company has basically the same email. This looks professional but the downside is that it is very predictable. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org might be the owner while email@example.com might be the receptionist. Meanwhile, you can find the names of all of the key decision makers in your company on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Google search. Companies will happily give away contact information to lower level employees while not realizing that they are actually giving away every contact in the company.
You are playing with smoke and mirrors. If a salesman doesn’t know your email address, he or she is going to guess and they will likely figure it out by sending an email to the most common variations of email addresses that businesses use until they don’t receive a kickback email. The best bet is to have more than one email address. Have one that you use to get your work done and another that serves as a filter to catch all of the unwanted emails. Make your filter email predictable and easy to guess and use an uncommon variation as your important email. Additionally, you can also purchase another domain and use that for your important email separate from your web address domain. If a salesman is relying on guess work to get your email, it will be very difficult to put this together.
Problem #2: Phone/Voicemail
The second biggest issue is the dial by name directory and your personal extension. You may have hired the toughest gate keeper in the world but if a sales person knows your name and can use a dial by name directory, they might as well have your direct line. Even if you forgo the dial by name directory altogether, it is important to remember not to start your voicemail with “Hi, this is John Doe at extension 222” which accomplishes the same thing as far as any sales person is concerned. More often than this small human error, is the error built into your auto attendant that says “Hello, you have reached John Doe at extension 222. Please leave a message at the tone”.
If you are going to opt into the dial by name directory, you should make an effort to hide your name on all of your social profiles, especially LinkedIn, by setting your profile to private. Be sure that you are not giving away information for free by putting your email address and extension in your voicemail. Lastly, think carefully the next time you purchase a phone system and look at each feature to see how it may be used by a salesman to contact you. Many of these features can be customized, however, most of them are set to default which gives away the most information.
Problem #3: Social Media
Social media is making it very difficult to hide from people who don’t know who you are. It makes you look good to have a striking LinkedIn profile with lots of connections, but while you are advertising yourself, remember that that information is accessible to everyone. If a salesman stops by a company to leave some information and the gate keeper won’t give them the contact information for the decision maker, there is no need to lose sleep over it. It is more than likely that all the information they need will be right at their finger tips as soon as they log into their computer.
If you are going to have a LinkedIn profile, be sure to keep your profile private. In most cases, all a salesman needs is a correct name to get your email and to start flooding your voicemail inbox. The goal is to be easily accessible by those who already know who you are and by the people who you want to contact you, not by those who are looking to sell you something. It is also important to remember that companies like LinkedIn are playing both sides. While you can set your profile information to private, you can also pay for a Sales Navigator account to remove those privacy settings. The ultimate truth is that if you are going to put your information on the internet, it will be used by people who want to get in contact with you, even if you don’t want to hear from them.
It has gotten to the point where it is almost astonishing to not be able to find contact information for prospective clients online. Combine this with the human tendency to be predictable, and there are no barriers keeping your inbox from getting flooded. This can be troubling and can cause many distractions in your work life if you do not develop a strategy to keep your privacy under control. One way you can benefit from working with an IT partner is by setting up the systems that connect you so that they also protect your privacy.
Are you seeing a move in your company’s future? Even if you’re not actively planning one at this moment, eventually, you may have to move to a new location. As you’re probably well aware, this can be a logistical nightmare.
As an IT partner, we work closely with our clients every time they have to move. We want to share some of the unique IT lessons that we have learned along the way. When the time comes for you to move again, hopefully, you can avoid some of these common problems that we have helped companies work through.
#1: Internet Access
Starting from the outside of the network and working our way in, we need to address internet access first. When you are looking for a new location, it is very important to know what kind of internet is available. There is a chance that you could be moving to an area where the fastest internet is a 1.5 meg T1 line or worse. On the other hand, you may sign a lease on a new building and find that the internet isn’t built out yet. In this case, the internet service provider may require that you pay thousands of dollars to have the internet connected to your building. In either case, make sure your internet is ready to go on the date that you move in, or productivity will likely suffer.
#2: Cabling Infrastructure
Now that we are inside the building, it is time to think about the infrastructure that is going to connect everyone together. Here we find that there are two common pit falls. If you are moving into an old building you may find problems with the low voltage cabling, especially in warehouses. Old cabling can cause nightmares with internal network connectivity, speed, and reliability. Make sure that you are working with a low voltage contractor to inspect the existing cabling before you sign a lease on a building.
#3: New Buildings
The second issue we find is when companies are looking for a new warehouse. While a brand new building certainly has its benefits, you will want to consider that the building may just be a shell that the developer is expecting the new tenant to build out accordingly. Aside from having to install new cabling to collaborate with your floor plan, you will need to consider that the warehousing spaces likely do not come pre-built with infrastructures like an IDF or intermediate distribution frame. You will likely need to make a significant investment into the building just to have things like reliable WiFi, scan guns, and local connectivity.
These are some of the most common issues that we see business overlooking when they move to a new location. Of course, if we were to make a list of all the possible problems, we would have to write you a novel. To put it simply, if you are looking to move to a new location, be sure to set up a time to meet with your IT partner before you sign a lease on a new building. There are unique logistical problems within IT that most people do not consider when changing locations, and a quick overview with your trusted partner can save you a lot of time and money.
Have you ever been audited for PCI compliance? If not, it is most likely that at some point you will be. In order to maintain the ability to process payments electronically, this will be a fact of life. The more transactions you process in a year, the more often you will be getting a visit from your friendly neighborhood qualified security assessor (QSA).
In short, a PCI compliance audit should not be something to fear as long as you are willing to rectify any issues that your QSA finds. This is a matter of determining liability on the part of your electronic payment processor. If you are not PCI compliant and you have a security breach, then your payment processor will not cover damages.
In most cases, you will receive a notice that you are being audited by your payment processor for PCI compliance. The audit will be performed and you will receive a report stating whether or not you are PCI compliant and if not, what you need to resolve in order to get there. At this point, it is up to you to work with a partner to help resolve any issues found by the QSA.
When you receive your PCI report, it can be confusing knowing how to implement the requirement without a partner that is experienced in compliance audits. Working with a company like eTop Technology can help you plan and implement solutions to ensure that you pass your PCI compliance audit both now and in the future. If you find your company in this position, please reach out to us and we will help you build a secure future.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about ransomware: a type of computer virus that encrypts your files and holds them for ransom. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that your data will be released if you pay the ransom fee. In light of the most recent ransomware attack called “WannaCry” that infected a substantial number of businesses in Europe, it is important that you are taking measures to ensure that your business is safe.
If you are not familiar with the statistics, ransomware was a billion dollar industry in 2016, and every cyber criminal knows it. There is exceptional financial motivation for these scams to be produced indefinitely, and they become increasingly sophisticated every day. As a business owner, ransomware is a constant threat that cannot be ignored.
Playing defense in the ransomware game is a layered approach, with several security methods to prevent ransomware from getting to your network. The first line of defense includes anti-virus, a good firewall, and effective spam filtering. The next important step in any security plan is user training. Ransomware is generally not a problem until someone within your network clicks on the wrong email or web link. The final layer of defense are things like an insurance policy or data backups.
Preferably, investing in each one of these layers is best practice. However, if you have to choose one component over another, backups are the most important investment that you can make. With a good backup system, you may lose some time and a nominal amount of data after an attack, but you will be able to restore your data without the ransomware affecting your business.
In addition to having the data backups in place, it is also essential to ensure that your backups are up-to-date and running properly. Backups have a tendency to face errors that can disrupt a backup schedule. With proper backup monitoring, you may find that your backups were not operating as expected, thus leaving your data vulnerable.
Talk to your IT professional to ensure that you have both preventative security measures and contingencies in place to protect your data in the event of a ransomware attack.
If you have more than one user account on your computer you will soon realize the frustration of trying to log into your account only to find that your password doesn’t work. Usually, this is caused by the user unknowingly trying to log into the wrong account. This is a simple but common mistake that we see frequently. To help save you time, money and frustration, make sure to check the user account that you are trying to log into before calling for support.
In this video, we will show you how to create a new user account in Windows 10. We will also show you how to log out of your account and switch users if you need to sign into another account.
Have you ever had to face a fine for late delivery of products or services to major retailers? Recently we had the opportunity to work with a new client that had this unique issue. Due to network downtime, the company wasn’t able to make shipments on time. As a supplier of textile products to a major retailer, this caused a chain of “arrive by date” fines adding up to $10,000 within the course of two days.
When you work with any major retailer, such as Target or Walmart, you can expect to see a fine of 3% of the total cost of the delivery if the load is delivered before or after the “arrive by date.” If you fail to deliver 10% of the total loads on time, you are no longer allowed to deliver to that retailer, which could mean losing a major account. This is a logistical problem that most manufacturers face, and you don’t want to miss your shipping dates because your company network is down.
The technology you use is the backbone of your business. In the event of a major outage, all business operations come to a screeching halt. The effects of this can not only result in lost revenue due to employee downtime but also far more expensive side effects such as these fines. In the worst case, this could result in the loss of customer and a serious impact on your bottom line.
It is worthwhile to assess what it costs when your network goes down. Understanding this will allow you to see how important it is to make appropriate investments into technology and redundancy to ensure that these issues do not impact your business. Lastly, it is important to work with an IT partner that can ensure smooth network operation and can respond immediately when a problem arises.
As an IT support company, we are always telling our friends and clients to be cautious with what they click on or whom they give personal information to. Most people know to avoid giving money to a Nigerian price, but scams and phishing attempts are becoming more advanced every day. Many scam emails disguise themselves as people or companies we already know and trust. You must always be diligent to avoid falling for the latest tricks. Today, we came across a good example within our own company that illustrates why being cautious is so important.
Even IT Companies Get “Phishy” Emails!
What is wrong with this picture? First of all, Sara was not expecting to make any immediate transfers. Secondly, there is no reference to what is being purchased or the reason for a transfer of funds.
Once your alarm bells begin to go off, you will start to notice additional red flags. For example, what is wrong with firstname.lastname@example.org? Notice that the domain etoptechnology.com only has one “L”, as seen in Sara’s email address. However, if you examine at William’s email address, you can see that it contains the wrong domain. If you did not closely examine the sender’s email address, this detail could easily be missed.
In addition to the wrong domain name, there is another tip-off that this email is a scam. The sender signed the email with the nickname “Bill,” but William does not go by Bill.
Had Sara missed these red flags and fallen for the phishing email, she may have replied to confirm that she is ready to make a transfer. She would likely have received a reply email with a link to a wire transfer site that would take her money, never to be seen again. Although this seems like a crude method to steal money, it has led to businesses losing millions in a single transaction.
What Can I Do?
No matter how good your firewalls, antivirus, and other security measures are, there will always be threats like these that slip through. Though the potential for phishing may be intimidating, you can generally protect yourself by following these tips:
1. Keep your guard up and be cautious
2. If you receive an email or any correspondence that you were not expecting, especially relating to requests for money or personal information, verify with the sender through an alternate source like a phone call. Wherever possible, attempt to find the sender’s contact information through Google or some other means, rather than contacting them through the information they supplied.
3. Always closely examine the domain in your senders’ emails and any subsequent websites you get directed to.
4. If you think you have received a phishing attempt, or you already fell for one and think your email or network has been breached, contact your IT provider immediately. Better to be safe than sorry!
In the spirit of St. Patricks Day, it is a good time to ask yourself how lucky you are. Since we are an IT consultant, we are going to focus on what that means when we look at an IT network. As an IT company, we get to see how a lot of businesses operate and manage their IT and it ranges from systems that completely rely on luck to operate from one day to the next to businesses that have more layers of redundancy than employees in the company.
It is truly amazing how lucky you can be when operating a business with a network that is patched together. Eventually, however, luck runs out and this can be costly. What we have put together is an easy way for you to self-asses how lucky you are. Using a scale of one to ten, run through the follow list of questions and use this metric to give yourself an accurate risk assessment.
The categories below are based on a company that has 10 to 50 employees and is hosting a network internally. Each category will give you 10 points for a total of 50 if you are doing your due diligence to protect your network and your company.
There are two types of backups. Local and off-site or hosted. A good way to look at an effective backup system is through a layered approach. Ideally, you should have a server that is backed up to a local storage. The local storage should then be backed up off site. This way you accomplish speed and redundancy. Give yourself three points if you have a local backup system, an additional three points if you have offsite backups and four points if you are using a backup monitoring system to ensure that your data is actually backed up.
A network is not like a fine wine. It doesn’t get better with age. The older your hardware, the more likely you are to have to respond to downtime and data loss. We recommend that our clients replace their computers on or before the five-year mark and replace servers at three years. Other network hardware such as switches, battery backups, firewalls, routers and WIFI access points should be replaced at the same time you replace the server. To the best of your ability, try and assess the age of your network hardware. If 10% of your network falls within this specification, give yourself 1 point. If 70% then 7 points and so on.
You can never be too secure so it is difficult to score a 10 on this scale. Just doing your due diligence will get you a long way and that is what we are going to focus on here. Give yourself two points if you have each of the following.
Anti-virus on each workstation and server.
If you scored over a 6 on your network age
If you have passwords on each workstation that expire every 90 days
If you are PCI compliant
Software Patch Level
Do you know the current patch level for all of your supported software? This could be the operating system on your server, the firmware on your firewall or the version of anti-virus you are running. Your hardware is only as smart as the software that is running on it. If you are running software that is out of date or is not supported you are at risk. Give yourself two points for each of the following.
Is your firewall running the latest firmware?
Is your server OS under support?
Is your anti-virus running the latest version?
Are your computers running the latest version OS?
Are you using a line of business application that is up to date?
Vendor support for applications plays a critical role in keeping networks running smoothly. If you are using a line a business application for the majority of your day to day operations but haven’t purchased a vendor support package with this product, you are exposing yourself to potential downtime. Partnering with an IT support company will not necessarily fix this issue due to the fact that no support partner will know that important application like the company that created it. In addition to purchasing vendor support for your most important application, you should also work with an IT partner that can provide preventative support for your network to ensure that you are as protected as possible. If you have purchased an application support package then give yourself five points. Also, if you are working with an IT support partner for all of you daily IT needs, give yourself five points.
If you tally up your point and find that you have between 40 and 50, Congratulations! You are doing your due diligence to ensure that your network is running smoothly and you are protected against downtime and data loss. If you are between 25 and 40 you should consider working with a consultant to make a road map for improving your network. If you scored less than 25 you are relying on luck to keep your network operational. In this case, you should reach out to an IT consultant and consider making serious improvements to your network infrastructure and support.
When it comes to hiring a new IT partner, you need to know what questions to ask to ensure that you are working with a company that can adequately manage your network. eTop Technology is a managed IT service company that works with businesses to help them manage their technology needs. As such, we are used to fielding questions by business owners and upper management regarding whose responsibility it is to make sure that their vendors are the right fit for the job.
For some, interviewing potential IT partners can be difficult if you don’t know a lot about the technical aspects that keep your network up and running, however, you don’t necessarily have to be technical in order to find out whether or not they are a good fit. After all, they are the technical gurus that you pay to understand that stuff so you don’t have to. We have put together a list of questions that are important to ask all of your potential candidates and the reasons why these questions are important. Knowing that your partner has the right answer to these questions will go a long way toward making sure that you are choosing the right partner.
These questions are all written from the perspective of a company that is looking for a managed service. This is a proactive service that allows your IT partner to act as your outsourced IT department. Even if a managed service isn’t quite what you are looking for, some of these questions may still be important to ask.
The key performance indicators that are important to look for in an IT company are stability and process. It is a pain to change IT partners. They integrate with your company, unlike any other partner you work with. You need to know that they will be in business for many years and that you won’t have to make an unplanned change. It is also important to know that they are organized. Managing a ticket flow and projects takes a good process and the best IT companies will put a lot of emphasis on this.
These questions will help give you a clear understanding of how stable your candidate is and how likely they are to be able to process your needs even when they are busy, without having to understand the technical aspects.
1. How long have you been in business?
This questions will give you an indication of how stable the candidate is likely to be. You may find two very different answers to this questions. A single sole proprietor may be operating a company for 20 years and that may seem appealing, but there are bandwidth limitations to companies that don’t expand past a single individual. There are also IT companies that have been around for one or two years and employ several technicians, but don’t yet have good processes established. Ideally, working with an IT company that has been around for five-plus years and has several employees is a good place to start.
2. How many people work in your company?
This question gives you insight into the candidate’s stability but more importantly, this will tell you how redundant the candidate can be. This matters in a few ways. First, if the company consists of one person you are at risk of losing support should your IT partner be occupied with another client or they decide to go on vacation. Secondly, the larger the technical team a company has, the larger the knowledge base they have to make sure that your problems are resolved correctly.
3. How many clients do you currently work with and are you willing to provide references?
Results speak for themselves. Knowing that the candidate is already working with hundreds or even thousands of end users will tell you that they are organized and have good processes in place. Contrary to popular belief, most networks are set up and operate in very similar ways across industries. While it may be nice to see that the potential partner works with other clients in your industry, the fact that they do not specialize in your field isn’t a problem that should deter you from working with them.
4. Where are you located?
In the beginning, the IT support field was filled with sole proprietors that worked out of their home. Today, this is still a very prevalent way of operating an IT company. In an era where most technical support can be done remotely or at the client site, it may seem trivial where the IT company is located, or if they even have a physical location. Though not necessary, having a physical, business location is a good way to tell who you are working with. It says a lot about how serious a company is about staying in business for the long run when they have made a seemingly unnecessary investment into having a business location.
5. How fast can I expect to get support when I call?
As much as we would all like to say that we can provide support immediately, it isn’t always a reasonable expectation. Busy times come and go in every industry, and IT support is no exception. What is important is that the candidate has a well thought out response time structure included in their service level agreement. Most of the time an IT company will be able to provide you with support immediately. When that isn’t possible, your candidate should have clear expectations as to what you can expect when Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 issues arise.
6. How much have you grown over the last 3 years?
Growth is good! But as a client, too much growth too fast could make you disappointed. Seeing that the candidate is growing steadily will indicate that they are pursuing their company seriously. All too often, however, a support company will grow too fast and have a hard time scaling to meet the demand.
By asking these questions, you should have a clear picture of the kind of potential partner you are interviewing. If you are truly working with an organized, stable, and efficient IT partner, their sales process, implementation, onboarding and service delivery will reflect this.
Why More SMBs are Turning to the Cloud to Reduce TCO More small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) seem to be taking the initiative to learn more about the benefits of the cloud. Determining why SMBs have this sudden keen interest in the cloud isn’t all that tricky.
Why SMBs Must Proactively Address the Threat of Mobile Hacks More cyber criminals are targeting small-to-medium sized businesses. One reason for this is too many workplaces have insufficient bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in place. Some have none at all. Although firms are generally more knowledgeable about network security risks than