Posted on December 17, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was submitted by Stevie Nicks at Just Another Magazine, an online magazine that covers lifestyle topics.
As of December 2020, many of us are now nine months into working remotely.
Despite this, only a few of us have really mastered the art. Sure we enjoy the extra half hour in bed, we’ve had time to conquer the coffee machine and we can finally make those healthy lunches we craved after five supermarket sandwiches in a row, but the question still remains — are we as productive?
It’s hard to be productive in a global pandemic, and pushing yourself beyond your means is absolutely not the answer. However, whether this is going to continue well into 2021, or your business is considering remote working as a permanent option, it’s important to find ways to make you and your team remain as productive as possible.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of five productivity hacks perfect for remote teams.
Managing Your Time Properly
“Time is money” might sound like a cliche, but in 2020 more and more companies are finding time is their only saleable commodity.
That’s why time management is so important, especially in an environment where it’s easy to get distracted.
You might not like your office and its beige walls, but at least it doesn’t have all your home comforts, a stocked kitchen and roommates/a partner just waiting to distract you from your work.
Being more cautious of your time is an essential component of working from home. That’s why so many businesses have switched to time tracking tools. Without managers to monitor productivity it is difficult to know how much time is being put into projects. Tools such as HourStack and RescueTime have become essential, giving companies genuine, real-time data that helps them highlight which tasks are holding up their staff and wasting precious time.
Efforts to tackle this issue also need to come from within.
Lesson one: take proper breaks. Give your eyes a rest from the screen and your back the chance to realign from your desk chair. Short, frequent breaks (not on your phone!) help you recharge and produce better work.
Lesson two: ensure you aren’t working overtime. Many people have reported they feel pressure to check emails and work later as they’re already at home. Ignore that feeling!
Good time management is about being sensible and working within your personal limits much more than it is about pushing yourself to make every second count.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools
Outside of the workers themselves, digital tools have been the true MVPs of 2020.
Think where we’d be if we couldn’t chat over Zoom or track website performance with Google Analytics. It doesn’t bear thinking about really!
We’ve already touched on time tracking tools, but there are so many other tools you should invest in to really hack your productivity when working remotely. The best thing about digital tools is they don’t just help out the individual, but your whole team.
A great project management tool is a must. A central hub that collects all your projects into one ensures everyone is aware of what needs doing and when. They make it easier for everyone in the business (and freelancers) to understand what’s required of them and helps managers to notice potential problems before they become too big to control. A great project management tool doesn’t just streamline existing work but prepares you for future assignments.
Communication tools are equally important. Zoom and its contemporaries are an obvious choice but think about how your business is going to answer the phone while everyone is out of the office. Ensuring the right people can be patched through doesn’t just save time, it helps win new business.
Finally, you need to consider the creative and specific tools that keep the heart of your business going. Is social media the lifeblood of what you do? Get tools that make scheduling posts one bulk task. The variety of digital tools available is vast. Don’t just hoover up all the leading tools on the market and weigh yourself down with subscriptions. Find what works for your team and what they do. P.S: Free trials are your friend.
Dedicate Time to Learning and Training
A remote lifestyle doesn’t need to be an endless grind of work work work.
Smart businesses know one of the keys to true productivity is giving teams the opportunity to gain new skills through training and improve their industry knowledge. They might not be able to attend conferences or discuss ideas with their colleagues, but there are plenty of ways employees can grow and develop in their role from the comfort of their home.
There are, of course, plenty of virtual conferences happening every day around the world. As keynote speakers and thought leaders become more comfortable with video chat and organizations look to recoup lost incomes, events have become commonplace on everything from digital marketing to how to work with charities. These are great sources of knowledge and networking opportunities for remote teams.
Alternatively, teams can access the bountiful collection of online courses, blogs and videos available from a number of providers across the web. Larger course collections such as Lynda are a brilliant place for companies looking to develop specific skills such as Photoshop editing, while industry blogs (or vlogs like Simpletivity) provide little nuggets of knowledge from leading professionals that can be digested in your own time.
You don’t even need to convince your team to commit to hours and hours of formal lessons to get something out of remote training. A productivity podcast might be the best ways for them to absorb key skills and a productive mindset by osmosis. Consider encouraging teams to listen to a productivity podcast like Get Yourself Optimized to broaden their perception of what productivity means in a real-world environment.
Training isn’t just an opportunity to improve your team’s capabilities, but a way for them to recharge and break up their day. They’ll appreciate the investment in them as a business asset and the time they can spend away from demanding projects.
Outline a Clear Workflow
This is where having the right project management tool really pays off.
A clear workflow can be the difference between a project that gets done in time and one that weighs down the business well beyond the deadline.
Before you can start to re-think your workflow you need to take a step back and analyze where it is now. How are people working? Are people’s roles well defined? Could this team benefit from an additional member? Once you have answers to these questions, you can start to hack your workflow.
Organize efficiently and ensure everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. This can be assigned through the use of a digital tool or by frequent meetings. While spending all day in a Zoom call might sound unproductive, it can be a useful session for employees less sure of their next step. Optimized communication (think comments on tasks) is essential to a great workflow.
To future-proof for better workflow on other projects, you should ensure you are documenting every step of your process. Keep records of every checklist, minutes of every meeting and notes on every task to help further streamline what you do. There is no catch-all answer, you have to build on feedback and obvious roadblocks unique to your processes.
Set Achievable Goals and Objectives
It can feel like a cheap psychology lesson, but there is huge value in setting clear goals for your team. An achievable objective gives teams something to work towards.
Working from home (especially in these circumstances) can be disparaging and lonely. A light at the end of the productivity tunnel can make all those days working from a bedroom desk seem worth it. Even if they’re not personal goals or objectives, completing them can give the whole company a little boost.
It even helps with training. If team members can see value in the training they are doing and how it relates to their position (and the possibility of a promotion) it can be easier to get them to buy into it. Objectives take something hypothetical and transform it into a tangible endpoint everyone can celebrate.
By laying out clear objectives you’re ensuring the body of the business is working in tandem. If one part of that body breaks down because it isn’t sure of its purpose, it can have a significant impact on the whole process.
When you’re sitting at home for the third month in a row missing your colleagues it can be hard to push yourself to engage with a project 100%. Being productive isn’t easy, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not working to our best every day. But these tips will help ensure everyone on your team is getting as close as possible as frequently as possible, and improving every day.
Posted on December 15, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by TechWarn, a digital safety advocate and news site.
We use passwords every day. In fact, the average Internet user has 90 online accounts which likely means they’re using nearly a hundred passwords as well. But even though passwords are the main security measure in the digital world, most people know very little about password strength and how to maximize their protection. Even more surprising, a lot of people hold completely false misconceptions about passwords.
Let’s dive in and debunk some of the most common ones.
Misconception 1: Password Protection Is Enough
Passwords might be the most common way to secure your accounts, but they’re by no means foolproof. Password cracking software is widely available on the dark web, allowing even amateur hackers to break through security. No matter your password strength, you can also fall victim to phishing or other social engineering attacks in which hackers trick you to voluntarily reveal your credentials.
Let’s face it: on their own, passwords never offer a sufficient level of protection for your sensitive data.
It’s a good idea to add two-factor authentication for extra protection. Two-factor authentication is a combination of something you know (password) and something you have (ex. your phone). Even if the hacker cracks your password, they will still need the other half of the key to get into your account. Most of the time, this should be sufficient to keep them away.
Note that not all two-factor authentication methods are equally secure. There is a consensus among cybersecurity experts that SMS messages are the weakest second authentication step. Through social engineering, the attacker can redirect the victim’s texts to his own SIM card and intercept the messages. That’s why the recommended method is either using an authenticator app on your phone (ex. Google Authenticator) or a physical security key.
Misconception 2: Passwords Should Be Memorable
At face value, this password misconception makes perfect sense. You’re not supposed to write passwords down so, of course, they must be memorable enough to simply remember them. Right?
Not quite. No matter how memorable your passwords are, it’s still not possible to remember dozens of them (as I mentioned before, you likely have around 90 accounts to secure).
The best way to handle your passwords is to get a password manager. A password manager is a program that securely stores all your login credentials and other sensitive information. It’s also an incredibly handy tool for teams as you can organize your passwords and give other team members access.
If you have a password manager, there’s no need to remember any passwords except your master key to access the manager. That password should definitely be memorable, but none of the others need to be.
Misconception 3: Passwords Can’t Contain Dictionary Words
There’s an ongoing debate among cybersecurity experts about this one. Some claim that passwords consisting of a random string of letters, digits, and characters are the most secure. Others argue that a cluster of dictionary words, such as “correcthorsebatterystaple” can be just as strong while being a lot easier to remember.
So which one is it?
Let’s conduct an experiment. Using a password security tool, I checked a four-word passphrase “raviolijakartacrabhamlet” against a random 20-character password generated by my password manager “0zut07IcAT8D65n28Ys4”. The result for the former was 7 quadrillion years, while the latter would take 558 quadrillion years to crack. When I shortened my random password to 15 characters, however, the time to crack it decreased to 609 million years.
This discrepancy depends on the entropy (or complexity) of the password, which includes length and character sets as factors. If you’re willing to work with extremely long, 20-character passwords then, indeed, those are more secure than passphrases. The shorter ones, however, seem to lose when compared to random word clusters.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter too much anyway because we’re talking millions of years to crack the password. It’s worth pointing out, though, that as the technology develops, the time to crack complex passwords will decrease. What might take millions of years today, might take just weeks in a few years and maybe mere seconds a decade from now.
Misconception 4: Some Characters Are Disallowed
Passwords can, in fact, include any characters. Emojis can also be part of your password and the password manager company Myki has even released an emoji-only password generator.
However, some people learned the hard way why emojis in passwords are not a good idea when they tried logging in with a keyboard that doesn’t support emojis. With little evidence as to whether emoji passwords are more secure or easier to remember, it’s probably better to steer away from them for now.
Your VirtualPBX Account
VirtualPBX emphasizes data security in all aspects of its phone system. Its users play a strong role in the security of their own accounts, so it’s suggested that strong passwords be used for all admins and users on its phone plans. For assistance with creating new passwords or to inquire about account security, reach out in a live chat.
Posted on August 11, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was submitted by Stevie Nicks at Just Another Magazine, an online magazine that covers lifestyle topics.
Despite the many benefits of working remotely, and many employers have been reluctant to offer flexible remote working policies due to concerns over productivity. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of workers to start working from home full time, almost overnight.
While there has been a certain adjustment period to the new normal of remote working, most companies are finding that remote working hasn’t had a significant impact on progress. With the help of technology it’s easy to collaborate, communicate, and work productively in remote work environments.
Offices are usually set up with fast, reliable internet connections that can handle multiple computers and devices connected at once. Working remotely means that workers are often using their home broadband, which is slower and less consistent.
Aside from upgrading broadband packages there are a few easier ways in which to improve internet connections. WiFi range extenders pick up a router’s WiFi signal, amplify it and then broadcast the boosted signal. This means the WiFi is stronger further away, and less likely to drop out. Alternatively, mobile data connections can be more reliable than broadband so tethering is a good fallback option. It’s often pretty affordable or included in the phone contract so won’t cost anything extra.
A big concern for employers when it comes to remote working is how to check workers are being truly productive. Without physically seeing employees it’s hard to know for sure that they’re working at full capacity.
That said, a benefit of remote work for employers is the amount of information time tracking software can show. It can provide full transparency about exactly what workers are doing and how much time they are spending on it, easing concerns that the home-based work will lead to losses in productivity.
It can be used to categorize different tasks so that it’s easy to monitor the time spent on different projects – which is particularly useful if you’re billing clients for work. This tech allows businesses to keep an eye on how workers are doing, without interfering and regularly asking for updates that waste time.
Flexible Office Setup
A lot of offices are still using bulky desktop computers, which are powerful but hard to move about and really don’t offer much flexibility. High-performance laptops can do just as well as a desktop computer, they take up less space, and they’re easier to move about with.
Workers can set up a laptop with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for a complete home office setup that allows them to be just as productive as they are in the office.
One of the benefits of working remotely is that employees can use laptops to give them the flexibility to move about during the working day. They could start off with a coffee in the kitchen in the morning, move to the dining room or office for more focused work, and sort through emails in the living room. Moving about can help them to stay engaged and focused.
Plus when workers need to go to meetings, conferences, or events, it’s a lot easier if they have a specific laptop that’s set up to their needs and they’re used to using. And businesses shouldn’t have to worry about the cost of high-performance laptops – refurbished MacBook pros are an affordable option that offer top of the range specifications and as well as being a more sustainable option for sourcing equipment.
It’s important that remote workers can access all the files and documents they need without being in the office. Some businesses will have an internal network that can be accessed by remote connection to computers in the office, but this often causes lags and frustration for workers. Plus it requires the machines in the office to be switched on at all times.
Cloud storage like Google Drive is a quicker, more reliable option. It ensures files are accessible to anyone that needs to work on them, and they can be quickly shared, updated and organised. Files can be worked on collaboratively and changes are tracked so it’s easy to review work. They’re also securely stored with high levels of encryption and multi-factor authentication, so that if any computers are lost or damaged the work is kept safe.
Project Management Tools
Without the right technology working remotely can make it more difficult to work as a team on projects. Workers aren’t seeing their colleagues face to face every day so it’s harder to coordinate their work, assess the different projects, assign tasks and check progress.
Project management tools can make this a lot easier. Each project can be divided into separate tasks and assigned to individuals so that it’s clear exactly what each person needs to work on.
It also gives a good overview of how work is going, ensuring projects can be completed on time and within budget. Without accurate project management work can take too long to complete, or little things might get missed.
Tools for Communication
One of the biggest struggles for remote working is maintaining the levels of communication you’d have within an office environment. Clear communication is important not just for productivity but to ensure there are no misunderstandings and to keep workers feeling valued and connected. Remote working can make some employees feel isolated or out of the loop, and this leads to a drop in their productivity.
Video conferencing software and web conferencing are key to helping remote workers connect with their colleagues. It can be set up for one-to-one meetings, client meetings, or company-wide conference calls. It’s also easy to record meetings to be shared with anyone who misses it.
Communication platforms such as Slack, allow for ad hoc conversations that are much more efficient than sending emails back and forth. Different Slack channels can be set up to focus on different topics such as company news and announcements, specific teams, or project work.
With the right technology and proper structures, it’s easy for workers to be just as productive in a remote work environment as they would be in an office.
Posted on July 9, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was provided by Dhruv Mehta, a digital marketing professional who represents Acquire, a developer of customer engagement software.
With varying stages of lockdown and strict social distancing norms in place, B2B marketers are taking their conversations and communications online. There’s plenty of evidence on how digital consumption has sky-rocketed over the past few months, owing to Covid-19:
- A recent survey by McKinsey states that “B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions”
- The same survey highlights the importance of selling ‘remote.’ The report claims: “Almost 90 percent of sales have moved to a videoconferencing(VC)/phone/web sales model, and while some skepticism remains, more than half believe this is equally or more effective than sales models used before COVID-19.”
- Despite the sad state of economic affairs, “53 percent of B2B companies expect to increase or maintain their spending over the next two weeks (April 8–21, 2020)”
Clearly, buyers are shying away from adapting to a new online model of sales and marketing. In that vein, let’s look at some important virtual marketing trends that have accelerated in a trying, pandemic-struck economy.
1. Start with an Evergreen Email Marketing Campaign
The concept of email marketing is not new; however, its relevance has never been more in focus. With businesses scrambling to adapt to this new normal and following social distancing norms, email marketing has emerged as a handy tool. Here are the top benefits of using email marketing into your existing communication plan.
As one example, consider Yesler’s scrollable, one-column email newsletter (that is mobile-optimized) as an excellent example.
Note how the content is neatly stacked and categorized, making for an easy and educational read! This kind of newsletter allows you to stay in touch with your existing customers and target potential leads.
Another super creative example worth looking at is Moo’s B2B email which comes loaded with animated GIFs. In a sea of sameness, Moo’s creations are sure to make heads turn and engage readers in the truest sense of the term.
Key takeaway: When developing a B2B communication plan, it makes sense to invest your efforts in email automation and create timely reminders for B2B clients so that you can retain – and gain customers organically. Email autoresponders can be scheduled to send ‘Welcome’ and ‘Thank You’ emails to subscribers, making the communication more personal and one-on-one. This helps develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with your target audience, that too, maintaining a safe social distance (which is the need of the hour).
2. Use Live Chat to Boost Your Communications Game
“33 percent of buyers surveyed rated the option of live chat during the research stage of their buying journey as one of the top three requirements for a best-in-class supplier.” – McKinsey Report
When it comes to nailing your B2B communication plan strategy, you should include the right tools that can deliver results with speed, transparency, and competency.
This is where sound live chat software can act as a game-changer. Whether it’s addressing your customer’s pain points or answering basic queries, the live chat tool acts as your platform’s ‘virtual agent.’
Say your customer is complaining about a lack of information on delivery support or is finding it difficult to make payments on your website; this is where the live chat feature can swoop in and offer instant, effective support.
3. Make Webinars a Primary B2B Communications Channel
“76% of marketers studied say webinars allow them to drive more leads, and 75% agree that webinars help them to extend their brand reach.” – On24’s 2019 Webinar Benchmark Report
Think of B2B webinars as an effective way to offer a valuable marketing monologue, share information about your product’s features, and communicate openly with your user base. In addition to this, it can offer the following benefits:
- Webinars can help establish you as an industry thought-leader: This tool allows your customers to learn from and engage with your subject matter experts. The best part? It’s all virtual and at no added costs!
- Webinars can help find quality leads: While signing up for the session, you can ask attendees to provide contact information so that you can share subsequent content, deals, and offers that may be of great interest to the customer base.
- Webinars help deepen engagement with existing leads, ensure they’re active and engaged, and finally, assist in qualifying your leads: Here’s a handy tip: When conducting a webinar, make sure to include polling questions and a QA session at the end. Historically, it has been seen that most of the webinar attendees tend to engage through chat, polls, or Q&A.
Bonus material: Look up SEMRush’s multi-track virtual event called Global Marketing Day, which amassed 50+ speakers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Lego, and Disney; and over 40,000 attendees! This event was free, and needless to say, it was a virtual hit!
4. Invest Efforts in Self-Service
“In making a purchase, buyers cited a strong preference for self-service, with suppliers’ mobile apps more than doubling in importance since 2019. This carries on a pronounced trend of preference for self-service channels across every stage of the customer decision journey.” – McKinsey Report
All things considered, potential buyers today wish to get answers by themselves and have things in their control. We live in a self-service culture today. Further data claims that “41% of customers say that self-service functionality is one of the top three ways B2B companies could make it easier for them to shop online.”
This is what Doug Root, CEO at Atlanta Light Bulbs has to say about the self-serving buyers of today:
“The modern millennial B2B buyer doesn’t want to have to pick up a phone to order. Today’s B2B buyers just want to get things done – right then and there.”
This is why you need to integrate your Knowledge Base into your B2B communication plan and empower users to self-serve as Qumolo does in the form of a portal called ‘Qumolo Care’.
The portal allows customers instant access to a wide array of self-service resources and a value-driven community that highlights best-practices and innovative ways to collaborate.
Bonus tip: Customers prefer engaging with brands on the channels of their liking, so make sure to do your research to see which platforms would best serve your ideal target audience.
5. Use Content Marketing to Your Advantage
There’s no doubt that content marketing forms the foundation for a results-oriented B2B strategy and helps marketers achieve top-of-the-funnel benefits such as increased brand awareness and outreach, greater trust and credibility, etc. In addition to this, it can also help achieve a steady stream of subscribed audiences, increased sales/revenue, and higher loyalty with existing clients/customers.
Fundamentally speaking, you can consider it as an ‘informative’ medium where you can share relevant content from different platforms to interact with a large number of users. One example of this is publishing gated content on your website such as email forms and subscription gates, in exchange for useful contact data from the user.
That said, content marketing too has its share of best-practices that need to be factored at every single juncture of your communication plan:
- Make sure that your content is wired to tell your brand’s story instead of aggressively promoting your products/services (a huge turn off for customers). In short, prioritizing your audience’s needs should take center stage instead of the promotional organizational message.
- Your content marketing drafts should constantly change based on different stages of the customer journey. Customers are better engaged if the content is relevant and fresh.
- Make sure to plug in content that includes posts by high-quality influencers as well as expert guests, in addition to highlighting user-generated content. In fact, according to CMIContent, “Top B2B performers are more likely to use non-owned channels to distribute content.”
- Make sure to measure your content marketing efforts and analyze the results to understand effectiveness.
The B2B Communication Plan Inflection Point
Needless to say, ‘social distancing’ has become a norm in our personal and professional lives. The pandemic has transformed the way B2B marketers and sellers are interacting and connecting with customers. There’s enough reason to believe that becoming ‘digital-first’ will become a key differentiator between B2B firms that are going extinct and the ones that are performing extraordinarily. What do you think?
Posted on June 9, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by Ashley Lipman of Outreach Mama, a link and authority building agency.
Word-of-mouth marketing is evolving into world-of-mouth marketing. As more businesses move online, having recommendations and reviews is more important than ever for building customer trust. Over half of B2B purchasing decision-makers rely on reviews as a source of credible information.
What does this mean for modern businesses? Building trust requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are five tips for getting online reviews and building customer trust for B2B organizations.
Become a Reliable Industry Expert
Making your name synonymous with knowledge is a must in the modern business world. Positioning your brand as a reliable source of information will do wonders for building your audience and establishing trust. Take Niel Patel, for example. He’s been involved with numerous digital marketing brands, from QuickSprout to Crazy Egg. Yet it’s his name that stands out as an industry expert and leader.
Consider how you can position your business in this way. Share great content and cultivate a giving attitude when sharing information with your audience. Share your insights and start a conversation. Build customer trust by showcasing your passion for your industry and prove that your business will be around for years to come.
Create a Review Collection Funnel
Most businesses make the mistake of viewing reviews as a passive form of marketing. You provide a service, and someone will leave a review. However, to capitalize on this opportunity, you need to have an active procurement strategy in place. In other words, you need to create a review collection funnel.
A review collection funnel will outline when and how you reach out to clients for reviews. Outline a strategy for following up with customers, asking for reviews, and tracking your reviews over time. This strategy should also include how you’ll respond to positive reviews and address negative feedback. Remember, a negative review is an opportunity to change their minds.
Offer Exceptional Proactive Customer Service
One of the challenges with offering services in the digital era is that you could be facing competition on a global scale. There will be numerous other businesses offering the same product as you. Fortunately, businesses don’t purchase products; they are buying customer service.
Offering exceptional, proactive service is what will set you apart from the competition. Showing each customer how much you care about their success is a foolproof way to build customer trust and receive glowing reviews and testimonials. Don’t wait for your customer to come to you with a problem; reach out and offer solutions before a problem arises while adding a human touch.
Showcase Case Studies
Case studies are an excellent form of customer proof. They go beyond a positive review from a B2B customer and outline the experience and the results. For decision-makers, a case study provides quantifiable evidence of how your product or service has helped similar businesses.
Discuss your intentions with your most successful clients to request the use of their experience for a case study. If you’re just starting your business, offering a deep discount in return for sharing their progress is a fantastic way to build your reputation.
Offer Trials and Guarantees
One of the biggest barriers for online clothing shopping was the inability to try something on before buying. What if a consumer purchased a shirt and it didn’t fit? For many people, the perceived risk outweighed the reward. The solution, of course, was to create return policies that suited the new purchasing format.
Keep this in mind when positioning your products or services. Consider how you can create a “try before you buy” environment. For service-based businesses, having a free trial is a must. This approach allows your B2B customers the opportunity to evaluate your offering before committing. Having a money-back guarantee is also an effective way to build trust and reassurance when investing in your offering.
With these five tips, you can garner positive reviews and build customer trust with your B2B customers.