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Unit 2, 10 Kam Close
Morisset Industrial Park NSW 2264,
Australia

49705842

All-weather labels, tags and signage. 
Water-proof. Long-lasting.

Green Geek

Dr Joseph Sweeney has a long history in horticultural labelling, barcode and supply chain management.  He has worked extensively with both public and private sector organisations on a broad range of technology initiatives, including electronic document interchange (EDI), the Greater China region’s adoption of EAN barcodes and product identification numbers, e-commerce, software design and project management.

Since working on the development of TyTags’ initial labelling solutions more than 30 years ago, Joseph has been actively involved in supply chain management issues throughout the Asia Pacific and Australasian region.  Most recently, he spearheaded the development of Australia’s first just-in-time colour digital labelling solution for horticulture and environmental uses.

Better known in horticultural circles as the Green Geek, Joseph writes a monthly article published in Hort Journal Australia  identifying and demystifying  IT from the perspective of growers and nursery managers.

In addition to his role within the family business, Joseph is also an advisor with Intelligent Business Research Services, the largest independent Australian technology advisory and research firm. At IBRS, he guides clients in the planning, selection and deployment of new technologies.

 

Asking the Right Questions

Kascha Sweeney

Asking the right questions

Too many small businesses purchase technology without asking a very important question: just what benefits I am getting from all this stuff?  Sure, desktop computers give you word processing so you can print off letters, basic accounting (really bookkeeping) and access to email so you can communicate with your customers. But these are all base-line business activities: essential requirements, not added business benefits.  Think of it this way. If technology was drink, most people would be swigging down tepid, stale water from the communal swimming pool. A few people would be smarter and add some cordial to the mix. And a very few would be sipping Champagne.

This was driven home to me recently when a received a called from a specialist wholesale grower, and not a small one at that. The young manager of this company had realised that while their existing technology was adequate for keeping things running, his business was stagnant. The changing climate, the lessening of gardening activities from consumers, and the increasingly challenging economics of agriculture were all conspiring to place pressure on the business. He recognised that his business needed to be smarter in how it reached customers, how it found new markets, and how it could secure itself a new niche in the changing world of horticulture. Thus he began to wonder about the role of technology. Could it do more than simply ‘run his business?’  Could technology actually ‘drive his business?’

The first step in answering this question is to identify your most prominent business challenges. A simple way of addressing is to break down your business into three broad areas: Financial Control, Production Processes, Sales & Marketing.  

  • Financial Control: At the most basic level, how automated is your book-keeping? What would be impact, both in terms of accuracy and time, of automating the book keeping process with your banking? At a more sophisticated level, do you have an accurate picture of where your revenue comes from, and where your expenses go?  Do you know, by both product and customer type, where are your biggest profits and margins from?

  • Production Processes: Do you know which plants sell when, and why? Can you plan stock months or even years in advance? Can you organise orders and packing in such a way as to minimise work?  Do you know the size of lost or damaged product by individual lines? In short, can you do a better job of getting your investments in production out as sales?

  • Sales & Marketing: Do you have a growing or shrinking customer base?  If shrinking (which is not always a bad thing), are these people buying more or less product?  Do you know what your customers want, even before they do?  Can you explore new market segments without incurring significant risks?

For the purpose of identifying the key areas where technology should be most urgently applied to generate a business benefit, you can simply prioritise each of these three areas.  This is not simply an exercise in navel gazing for managers. In fact, it is important to seek everyone’s input.  Discuss each area with your staff and get their honest feedback about what works and what don’t in each area. Keep an eye open for areas that could be improved – even if you don’t quite know how to achieve the improvements, just knowing that there is a need to improve is an important first step.

Once you have complete examining these areas of your business, prioritise the three areas in terms of ‘importance to fix.’  For example, if you feel your accounting practices are relatively strong, and your manufacturing is ok, but you have dwindling sales, then it’s clear you would prioritise sales and marketing other production processes and finance control.  Of course,  these three areas do not stand in isolation of each other, but by ranking them in terms of importance you will begin to get a clear idea of where you should look to most urgently apply new technology.

If Financial Control is your BIG issue

If you most urgently need to address financial control, then you should consider rethinking your accounting solution and indeed your accounting practices.  Too many organisations in Australia run MYOB simply because they always have. While MYOB is fine, it is certainly not the most innovative solution on the market. New cloud-based accounting packages provide better analytics and dashboards so you can see the status of the most important performance measures of your business. They also integrate with banking systems, virtually eliminating the traditional book-keeper position. Finally,  cloud-based accounting solutions can enable close integration with customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, which means you can analyse your customers’ worth.

However, simply putting in a new accounting solution will only go so far. You need to be sure that your accountant is familiar with the new solution. In addition, I’d recommend investing a little time and effort in having a financial advisor or consultant work with you to improve your entire accounting practices and help you identify what measures matter to your business, and set up your financial control dashboard to present this information to you in an simple graph. This is where accounting technology really starts to become a new benefit to your business: by letting you track and focus on what matters, not get bogged down with financial administration.

If Production Processes is your BIG issue

If you know that orders are getting screwed up, or stock is dying or being damaged or simply unsold, then you need to consider technology that can improve your overall management inventory and of the nursery overall.  Unfortunately, there are not a lot of solutions in this space that are both affordable and ‘cutting edge.’  Specialised nursery management solutions may assist with stock management, but rarely integrate with accounting or customer information.  Thus, rather than looking for a single solution to address production issues, it may be more wise to look at a collection of smaller ‘apps’ that solve just the critical areas.  For example, can orders be printed from the sales and marketing solution as ‘picking lists’ to improve the accuracy of order processing?  Can you use barcoding solutions and scanners to enhance stock management and ensure that the right stocks gets the right care at the right time?

If Sales and Marketing is your BIG issue

If your business is suffering a sales slowdown (and let’s face it, many of us in the horticulture industry are) then it is time to invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) and sales automation product. In the past five years, there has been a revolution in CRM solutions, with cloud-based systems providing rich capabilities for identifying and taking care of your most important customers in highly automated, yet personalised ways.

However, having a new shiny new CRM solution and knowing how to get the most from it are two very different things.  Rather than looking to purchase a CRM directly, my recommendation is to look for sales and customer relationship management consultants who can work with you to develop new ways for your business to attract new customers and keep them. Of course, these consultants will usually have a preference (or even represent) a specific CRM solution – let them guide you through how to use that new software to improve your marketing and communications with clients.

In summary, if you are just ‘buying an upgrade’ without dramatically improving some part of your business, you are wasting time, money and, more importantly, missing a business opportunity.  Any new investments you make in technology should be aimed at improving at least one of the above business areas.

 

 

Choosing a Customer Relationship Management Solution Part 2

Kascha Sweeney

 

In our previous article, we discussed the key considerations when choosing a CRM - The Price, The Fit, and Security. This month, we dig deeper into the capabilities that you should examine when reviewing CRM software. You can use this as a ‘checklist’ to help make the selection of your new CRM easier.

Customer Information

A good CRM should at the very least be able to hold records of all your customers. The key features to look for are:

  • Relationships: the ability to relate contacts to their companies and companies to accounts are all important features

  • Record keeping: your CRM should be able to hold pertinent contact information along with individual and company details

  • History: your CRM must be able to record all interactions on all instances of contact with the customer

  • Organization: your CRM must be able to organize all your contacts into groups (e.g. prospects, active clients, follow ups, newsletter sign ups, etc.)

  • Others: extra features such as links to the contact social networking pages, display maps of client locations with travel instructions,

 

Sales and Marketing Tools

A CRM is not simply software, it is a business tool that helps you automate both sales and marketing and, importantly, speed up the buying cycle.  Look for these functions:

  • Invoicing: the ability to print and email invoices and statements

  • Account alerts: during sales, inform you if a customer is in arrears so you can make an informed decision regarding incurring more risk

  • Direct marketing: create automated email campaigns and produce mailing labels for direct marketing campaigns

  • Customer segmentation: identify customers by any number of categories, the products they buy or location, so that special marketing and sales activities can be better targeted

 

Business Intelligence

The biggest difference with a run-of-mill CRM and a leading-edge solution is how much raw data it can crunch and turn into meaningful information that will help you make business decisions. At the very least, a CRM should be able to show you where your sales and marketing efforts are most effective.  Look for the following features:

  • Sales tracking: Allow sales performance reporting

  • Targets: Manage sales targets by salesperson or team

  • Customer segmentation: Identify groups of contacts for specialized marketing programs

  • Product reports: Provide product sales trends analysis and recommend stock reorder quantities

  • Profitability reports: Produce reports that help you strategise how to maximize your profits

 

Productivity Features

Of course it would greatly help your staff CRM had features that could enhance their productivity as well. Look for the following:

  • Email: the ability to capture all email between your staff and customers

  • Calendaring: daily schedules and to-do lists and  integration with staff calendars (i.e. Google Apps or Microsoft Outlook)

  • Mobility: the ability to access contact information via a tablet or mobile phone

  • Telephony: A ‘click to dial’ ability that lets staff simply select a phone number on a CRM record, and have it automatically dialled on their phone, while simultaneously recording the details of the call. Also, links to phone systems so that an incoming brings up the appropriate customer record automatically

 

Deployment options

Like all software, CRMs can be obtained in a number of ways. As discussed in previous articles, a cloud-based CRM deployment will allow your staff to access the CRM from anywhere and on any device. However, cloud-based solutions require a reliable internet connection. If you are an in an area where broadband is patchy, you may wish to consider an on-premises solution instead.

 

Try before you buy

Use the free demos that are available from most CRM vendors. Frequently, these free trials allow you to experiment with a small set of your customer data, so you can test how well each solution works for your business.  Be on the lookout for small, add-in features that really make a big difference.  Ask yourself “How does this tool help my business?”

Selecting a Customer Relationship Management Solution Part 1

Kascha Sweeney

We’re happy that your business has taken off and your client base is starting to grow substantially. Oh wow, here comes a client!

But how do you manage your growing contact list?

There area few ways to go about it. Individually. These days, many sole traders and salespeople just make use of the address book on their smartphones. Others do it the old-school way of collecting business cards in cardholders or (even more old school) Rolodexes. Some make use of tech by scanning or taking a photo of the cards and storing them in EverNote or Google Keep.

These are all quick, easy, and convenient options. However, they do not go beyond simply listing names, addresses, and other pertinent contact information. You have to be able to leverage personal information into sales and marketing activities order to make your business successful. A card-box full of names just won’t hack it.

This is where Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software comes into play. More than a contact list, a CRM is kind of like a personal digital assistant for sales and marketing tool. Not only does it keep a record of your clients’ personal and professional contact information, but it also stores details of each and every interaction you have with your customer, whether by phone or by other electronic correspondence. Ideally, a CRM will also guide you through the selling process, ensuring that no opportunities are missed.  

Sure, your employees can keep a document or a spreadsheet that contains all data, but they would all have to rely on memory to recall little details that make for an excellent customer service experience. These “little details” such as remembering a loyal customer’s loyalty card renewal date, or sending a client a loyalty gift card on his/her birthday are the “little things” that make customer experience unforgettable. Sometimes, business owners also miss the opportunity to upsell or offer an upgrade because, the spreadsheet method failed to note that previous conversation where you have to listen carefully for a subtle hint to learn that a current client will greatly benefit from an upgrade. That conversation could’ve gotten lost in the spreadsheet because it was a general inquiry.

With the right CRM, you can target new markets and identify new prospective clients, follow up on existing deals/projects, cross-sell, inform existing customers of new products/services, or even keep invoice trackers. You don’t have to keep juggling balls in the air and hope that none of them drop.

The key is to choose the right software for the way your business works. You don’t want to see employees trying to wrap their heads around new software instead of keeping the customers happy. They must be able to work with the software, not around it.

When considering a CRM for a small business, you do not need the most expensive, feature-rich, or latest CRM. What you need is a software solution that meets your needs. Start by looking at the following three broad requirements:
 

The Price

Price is a huge factor when choosing a CRM. But there is more to a CRM than the upfront purchasing cost. You have to dig deeper and analyse what is included in the price. Evaluate what is included in the package. Think about:

  • How much will it cost to integrate your chosen CRM into existing resources?

  • Will this entail additional equipment?

  • Are there hosting fees?

  • How much would the training cost?

  • What are the costs of upgrades?

  • Does the vendor offer free support or will that be an added cost?

  • Are there peripherals that need to be bought with the CRM, perhaps smartphones for the whole team?

Also, consider the costs of moving your current customer (and possibly sales) information into the new CRM. This can cost as much, if not more, than the first year’s software licensing costs. Consider how much of that customer information migration you can do yourself, and how much will need to be done by a specialist.

 

Fit For Purpose

There is a temptation to purchase a CRM that promises to grow your business by offering a myriad of advanced sales automation and marketing features. On paper, these CRMs look wonderful. However, it is important to avoid getting a system that does things your business does not need… or that your staff are simply not ready to adopt.  It is much better to start small, with a limited set of features that match your immediate business needs.  In software terms, we call this ‘fit for purpose.’  Ask yourself:

  • Do you need a CRM  that is more integrated into existing hardware, such as your phone systems?

  • Do you need a CRM that is more social media-centric?

  • What do your employees need?

  • What are some of your important business processes that integrate well with the CRM?

Do not be mislead by a hundred features that you don’t understand, let alone use. Choose a CRM that understands your business requirements and appropriately captures your needs. Choose a CRM that helps you make the informed choices and allows for excellent customer follow up. And more importantly, choose one that you and your team can easily work with.

 

Security

Never forget security. After all, customers trust you with their precious personal information whether they are aware of that or not. A secure CRM would let you know when a team member makes changes, especially on important details such as passwords. It should let you define access controls to documents and other information for each user. Customers should be able to trust that their information and their buying preferences are not just out there on the world wide web for everyone to have access to. Privacy is important not just for you and your customers but for maintaining solid and reliable business relationships.

Armed with these three principles, you can begin reviewing CRM solutions for your business. In our next article, I will provide more details on the specific features available in popular small business CRMs, and compare costs.

Barcodes Revisited

Kascha Sweeney

Barcodes are a confusing subject to many people: mostly because unscrupulous sellers of “article numbers” purposely complicate the issue.  Here’s the thing: barcodes are simply a way of printing information so that a computer can read it with a scanner.  “Article numbers” are what organisations like GS1 actually sell – not the barcode.  “But what does that actually mean?”  I hear you asking!

Read More

The Best Free Software Ever!

Kascha Sweeney

There are literally thousands of free applications that you can find on the Internet. Some, like Open Office, rival expensive commercial applications in function and ease of use. Others are free for a very good reason... they are so buggy no one would ever pay for them!  

The good news is, I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite free applications which I am about to reveal for the first time!

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Choosing a Wireless Router

Kascha Sweeney

Like cars, routers come in many ranges of performance, and price! In many cases, Internet Service Providers give you a router when you sign up. Sometimes these routers are great. More often than not, they are cheap, subcompact models but do the job, but only just!

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Turbulence on the cloud journey

Kascha Sweeney

Things got delayed. Tears were shed. Tempers frayed. But we got there in the end. And along the way we gained a heap of additional benefits we had not expected.  All of this has lead to some valuable learnings for others planning a similar journey.

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Real-Time Co-Authorship

Kascha Sweeney

Knowledge - be it a price list, a set work procedures, etc. - will no longer be contained in a static document.  It's now a living, forever changing entity. Some way to understand this change is to think of the traditional office memo. In a world where multiple people can access and share a continually changing document, the idea of a memo disappears. In its place is something that looks a little bit more like a whiteboard over the water cooler.

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The Importance of Signage

Kascha Sweeney

Properly made and well-maintained business signs reduce the need for other forms of advertising, according to the Small Business Association. If you’re watching your budget, retail signs are the least expensive, yet most effective form of advertising.  In short, signs create a powerful first impression.

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Photographing Your Plants

Kascha Sweeney

Recently, my wife has become a shutterbug and fell in love with taking landscapes and botanical images. Of course, I get to carry all her photography equipment when she goes on her photography meanderings.  Given that her photos are now very popular online, I’ve watched her carefully to find ways I can improve my own plant images for labels.

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Ma & Pa Go Cloud Part 2

Kascha Sweeney

Once the decision was made to go to the cloud with jCurve, our work moved from deciding to take a risk on this entirely new way of running our business, to minimizing the risks of that move.  Implementing any new software, especially software that runs the business is inherently risky. In addition to the costs of the project itself, there are very real concerns that if the software project goes askew, business activities will also go askew.

The hardest part of minimizing risk in any business is to first identify the risks. Indeed, the biggest risks are always those that you don’t see.  While large enterprises have the people, budgets and high-flying consultants to manage risk, small businesses don’t.

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Ma & Pa Go Cloud Part 1

Kascha Sweeney

I’m going to start a story.  It’s the story about how our own small business made the  decision to throw out the typical small business software (namely MYOB) and go with a 'big business' cloud solution.  It was not an easy decision, and certainly not without risks.

TyTags is a typical small business. Over the years, the people working in the business – Mum with marketing, Dad with manufacturing and procurement, and Suzie with sales and administration, and me part time on technology - created a myriad of processes for getting work done.

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QR Codes & Being of Service

Kascha Sweeney

A QR code is a special “two-dimensional” barcode which can be read by smartphones and tablets. QR codes are highly reliable: they  can be read at an angle, from a distance, and even in lighting conditions that are not ideal.  These days, most smartphones come preconfigured with QR code recognition software and there are plenty of free QR code recognition apps available for all makes and models of smartphones and tablets. Using QR code software is simply a matter of pointing your phone’s camera at a sign, billboard, or in our case a plant label, and giving the software one or two seconds to analyse what is seeing.

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Breaking Bad Habits: Make a Small Business New Year’s Resolution

Kascha Sweeney

Did you make a New Year’s resolutions for yourself? Perhaps you will give up smoking. Or maybe you plan lose some weight (like me).  A lot of New Year’s resolutions are about improving your health. But what about the health of your business? My New Year’s business resolution is to improve the ability of our family business to understand the purchasing patterns of our clients,  while at the same time dramatically reducing the amount of on-site technical support I have to perform.

I have a bunch of ways I’m planning to achieve this New Year’s resolution, including replacing three different systems:  our fifteen-year-old accounting solution and ten-year-old customer management solution, and our website, with a single enterprise grade cloud solution. That is going to be a long journey! Then again, no New Year’s resolution should be easy.  Hopefully, if I work hard and smart enough,  the result will be a leaner, healthier  business.

If you’ve not yet got a New Year’s resolution for improving your business health, never fear! I have created a checklist, which focuses on the common bad habits of small business technology. This checklist is a way to identify areas in need of improvement.  Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, choose one or two of them and then make your New Year’s business resolution.

I vow to reduce my business risks

For many business owners, technology is just background noise. It’s just there. However, when you take the time to think about technology and your business more critically, you can get a very different picture.

[  ] Ask yourself:  how long would your business survive if you could not access its electronic accounts or customer records? Could you last a month? A week? Perhaps just a few days?

[  ] Write down a list of technology  risks for your business, from the most likely to the least likely. For example, hackers breaking into your computer files, to floods destroying all the computers in your office, to a malicious employee purposely erasing all your current files and backups.

[  ] Armed with the above two points, brainstorm some ideas to mitigate the risks.  

[  ] Draft a business continuity plan and share with the staff.

[  ] Set aside a day to practice the most likely scenarios of the business continuity plan.  Let people experience what it’s like to lose their technology for a day, and still be able to get work done.  Also, practicing the plan will help identify problems you may not have considered.

I vow to improve our security

2014 was a bad year for information security. There were major hacking attacks against corporations and governments, widespread infections of malware and, worse, ransomware, and a marked increase in identity theft. In short, 2014 was the year we could no longer ignore  the cyber criminals.

[  ] Create a policy and process for installing patches on all desktops, notebooks, and mobile devices. Both Windows and Mac computers have the option to update automatically. If possible, use that approach.

[  ] Check that all your desktop software is up-to-date. Many software packages, including Microsoft Office, MYOB, Quicken, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader  etc. are updated with bug fixes several times a year. It is important to apply these patches because sometimes hackers use weaknesses in software to take over your computers. Unfortunately, not all software will automatically update. It might be worthwhile going to each machine in your office, starting every program, and then using the option to check for updates. Yes it’s a fair bit of work, but it’s a lot less work than having your bank account compromised!

[   ] Install anti-malware software on every computer.

[  ] Put in place a password management policy. Weak passwords and reusing passwords across multiple sites are a well-known security problem.  However, managing passwords for small business can be tricky, so you might want to look for an automated tool to help set up and enforce the policy. A good example of such a tool is www.LastPass.com.

[  ] Subscribe to a “cloud backup” service and ensure that all critical business information is encrypted and sent to the cloud each night. I have had good experiences with https://www.code42.com/crashplan.

[  ] Set up a regular schedule to check the above activities. Create the schedule, with deadlines and the name of the person who will be checking your security on a regular basis.

I vow to meet all my statutory business requirements

There are many legislative requirements that small businesses have to meet, and technology impacts quite a few.

[  ] Review your businesses privacy obligations. This is particularly important if you keep customer records in a database for spreadsheet (and who doesn’t?). Check out http://www.oaic.gov.au/.

[  ] Review your small business record-keeping obligations as set out by the Australian Taxation Office check out http://ato.gov.au.

[  ] Seek out and review any specific compliance issues related to the horticulture industry. For example, while not a statutory requirement, there are detailed horticultural specifications for plant descriptions and labeling. Consider biohazard, and WH&S (the new name for OH&S) compliance issues as well. How do these issues interconnect with the technology in your business?

I vow to make supporting technology easier

[  ] Adopt two key principles when purchasing any new technology: standardisation and cloud first. Standardisation means attempting to keep all software to a common edition and version (eg. all computers will be on the same version of Windows), and similar hardware to a common supplier. Cloud first means whenever possible implementing software through an online service rather than installing on premise.  For small businesses,  the principles of standardisation and cloud first greatly simplify support.

[  ] Organise all warranty for technology into a single location. Set up a simple policy and process for accessing warranties as needed. A point of note, often a name brand vendor such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard, will provide a warranty repair on a device even after it is officially out of the first year of warranty.

[  ] Create printed documentation that contains important information related to your technology infrastructure. Keep this information in a locked cabinet within the office,  as well as off-site. It is also worthwhile taking an electronic backup into a secure cloud service. But be warned, this information is highly sensitive. This should include:

[ ] The name, support phone number, account and login details for your Internet service provider.

[ ] The location, administrative name and password, for your network router (the gizmo that runs your network). If you do not know this information, contact your network person and get the information. Do it now!

[ ] A simple network diagram, showing which computer and device is connected to the network and how (wired, Wi-Fi.) It is also worthwhile noting any “IP address ranges” for your network.

[ ] A list of all your IT devices, including desktops, notebooks, mobile devices, printers, faxes, copiers, etc. Record the model number, serial number and date of purchases. This is not only for insurance purposes, it’s also useful information for support staff.

[ ] A list of all your software assets: the name of the software, the website of the vendor, serial number/activation code, and the date of purchase.

[ ] A list of any domain names registered to your business: the contact details for the domain name registrar and any passwords needed to access the domain name configuration.  Just in case you’re wondering, a domain name is the text that you place in front of the .com or .net in a website or email address.

[ ] Details of any website hosting services for your business, including contacts, login details and passwords for gaining access.

[  ] Set up a replacement cycle for your hardware. While many small businesses will run desktops for over six years, there is an increasing risk that the hardware will fail. Check the purchase date of every device, and then place into your calendar a date for the device to be replaced. For desktops 4 to 5 years is appropriate, for laptops 3 years.

Armed with this simple checklist, you should be able to identify the most common “bad technology habits” within your business, and set up some New Year’s resolutions to address them. Of course, like all New Year’s resolutions, don’t be overly ambitious with this list. It’s better to be systematic and work through individual technology health issues one at a time, rather than trying to do everything at once.

So good luck in 2015! May this year see your business grow, and your technology worries dwindle.

 

 

 

 


Choosing a Multi-function Printer

Kascha Sweeney

Why buy separate devices when you can buy one device that solves all your problems. A small office can greatly benefit from a multifunction printer as long as you choose the best one suited for your business. Multifunction printers do exactly what their name suggests - they do a host of other office functions aside from printing. Their most basic function is printing but these printers include other features such as scanning and copying. Some even have fax capabilities.

Small offices can cut back on costs by buying just one device instead of buying three (or four) separate devices for each functionality. Having just one device plugged into an outlet saves on electricity. Since all the functions are bundles into one device, you just need to buy one set of consumables (ink or toner). As for convenience, it is easier to move around and carry one device instead of multiple devices. When you have very limited space in the office, one device would be better than three, addressing the problem of delegating space in an overcrowded small office. If your business is trying to cut back on computer peripherals attached to a limited number of PCs, getting one multifunction printer is better than buying a separate device to plug into each of your (most likely) overworked computers. We could all do away with the tangle of cables and electrical cords that are collecting dust bunnies and cluttering our floors.

If you already have separate dedicated devices for scanning, copying, and faxing, you must decide if you want to consolidate these features into one device. Again, consider space and economy. While having one device does save on space and electricity, the same fact would be a HUGE inconvenience (to say the least) in the event of a technical problem or if the ink or toner runs out. If your business hinges on high quality printing, high volume copying and scanning, you might find need the advance features of stand alone devices as opposed to the standard offerings of a multifunction printer.

To answer the question of how to choose the best multifunction printer, you would have to decide which of the other add-on superpowers (scan, copy, fax) would you need and how important are they to everyday operations.

As discussed in a previous article (chapter 23: printers) you should first decide what type of printing do you need and base your printer purchase off of that. You may opt to get a multifunction laser printer which is good for fast, large volume printing or you may opt to go for a multifunction inkjet printer which is good for printing colored documents. Once you have decided which kind of multifunction printer you’re getting, you need to ask yourself: What additional features do I need?

Most small offices would need the additional scan and copy functions. If you need to scan documents on a daily basis then it would make the most sense to buy a printer with a scan function. The scan function is immensely helpful for when you’re trying to reduce the amount of paper being used in the office. It helps reduce printing cost and reduces your carbon footprint. Scanning would enable you to still keep digital records of all your important documents, manuals, forms, certificates, and receipts. This is a great practice for easier and more organized records management.

The copy feature is necessary for when you need to keep or send a physical copy of an important document. These may be documents needed for filing such as a distributor agreement for a client, income tax return documents for the ATO, or some application forms you have filled out and need to mail out. You may also need copies of forms or training manuals for your employees.

The fax feature is useful for offices who still send and receive documents through fax. Sure, scanning a signed document and sending it via email would be faster but some companies list only their phone and fax numbers, and a general email address. There is a big chance that an important document falls through the cracks and gets lost in cyberspace. Some businesses prefer to send documents via fax to customers to make sure they actually receive the document and not just delete it.

It all boils down to how you are going to use the device and what your business needs are. If you need advanced features and attention to detail, then a separate device for each function is the way to go, otherwise, a multifunction printer would cover all the bases.

http://www.myofficeportal.org/is-more-functions-really-better.htm



 

Brochures

Kascha Sweeney

Disclosure: The Green Geek and author, Joe Sweeney, is the developer of the labeling and signage solution TyTags DIY. However, he is not involved in brochure production.

Some people say the advent of technology is making print media obsolete. Smartphones, tablets, and computers make it easy to get information in just a few keystrokes. But even with the sum of human knowledge in pocket, print brochures and catalogs remain.

The truth is printed promotions work. But why? Because brochures are often in the right place at the right time.

When people glance at a conveniently placed brochure, they automatically think:  “What’s good and cheap today?” A good brochure cover page gives people a rapid glimpse of what’s inside the store, the specials, the prices, and what comes most recommended. When done right, your brochure’s cover - the teaser - satisfies peoples' inherent curiosity, at just the right time and with just enough information to make them want more.

Once your brochure catches a person's interest and is picked up, the inside pages give the  reader instant answers. It will overview products and prices,  and tout benefits.  Some brochures, especially in hardware and gardening stores, contain frequently asked questions about products, their uses and even how to get around the store. In short, your brochure should take on the role of a salesperson.

Thus, while the cover is all about marketing (getting people's attention) the inside is all about sales (convincing people to impulse buy.)

The Importance of Graphics & Design

The cover of your brochure is all about getting a person's attention fast, and holding it for the 7 seconds needed for them to pick it up and begin reading. Thus, it has to be highly visual and convey a strong emotional connection. A simple product shot just won't do it. The most effective brochures carry images that resonate with shoppers: luxurious locations, stunning plants and landscapes, mouth-watering foods, lifestyle shots, etc.  Likewise, the wording on the cover needs to appeal to the user personally. It's not all about pricing and discounts... though those messages are important too! It is more important to create an emotional bond with the customers, and the fastest way to do that is through images.

Calls to Action

Most of the hard work is done once your brochure is picked up. What you now need to do is create calls to action which are statements that encourage the customer to buy. The call to action can be very blunt and immediate (“Buy now!”) or it can be more complex and forward-looking (“Get ready for Mother’s Day!”)  However, the best calls to action contain not only a request for the person to do something, but also a time limit. For example, it is not enough to simply say that a line of stock is on special… you need to let people know that it’s on special only for today. Likewise, is not enough to tell somebody to get ready for Mother’s Day… You’ve got to tell them that they need to be ready by next Sunday. It is well known within the advertising industry that placing a call to action with a deadline is far more effective than just asking someone to buy your product.

Longevity

Of course, you want to maximise the value from your brochure. The ideal is for people to pick up the brochure, act upon the specials, and then take the brochure home to continue reading. The brochure should be a constant reminder of your company, its products and services.

In the horticulture industry, a great way of doing this is to include short how-to articles on gardening , landscaping or plant care. The more niche your business, the more targeted your articles can be. You don’t need a lot of articles - you’re not trying to create a magazine. What you’re trying to do is create long-lasting value for the customer. This is why Coles and Woolworths both publish monthly cooking “magazines,” which are really just long-term brochures.

Of course, you should also include your company’s  contact details, hours of operation, and online presence “including the social media links.” Also, you may wish to include QRCodes that will link the customer directly to your website.

I’m ready to create my very own brochure, what do I need?

The good news is, you can create brochures quickly and effectively using inexpensive software and a quality color laser printer. Before you start, you need to identify the following things:

Concept:  What is your brochure about? Who is it intended for? What information do you want it to contain? Details you might want to include are:

·         How long the brochure last? Will you be creating a new brochure every week, or every month? The good thing with printing your own brochures is that you can create very small batches of them, meaning that you can create weekly or even daily specials!

·         Information about your company.  Be sure to include your phone number boldly throughout the brochure, as well is your address. If you have a website, how will you draw people’s attention to it?

·         Map. Potential customers should be able to find you immediately.

·         What short articles would be of interest to your customers?

Remember to use appropriate, simple and clear wording. Exciting words are great for your call to Action, but you don’t want to overdo it. You may be tempted to overload the brochure with information but short and sweet is the way to go. Avoid industry jargon and make sure the information will be easily understood by everyone.

Design:  Creating a brochure is not  difficult. Of course, having a good graphics designer work on your brochure is terrific, and I strongly recommend using one if you have the budget. But alas, in the horticulture industry, many of us need to pinch our pennies.  So if you do plan to produce your own design, keep the following in mind:

·         Include attractive and pertinent images to entice customers to pick up your brochure.  You may be tempted to grab photos or images from the Internet and reuse them. But keep in mind this may be a breach of copyright! A great source for stock marketing images is www.bigstock.com. You can buy individual high-resolution images from the service for as little as five bucks, or subscribe to them for a month at $79 and download five images of your choice a day. (A miser’s tip:  I subscribed to big stock for four months, downloaded five images each day, and ended up with several hundred images for future use.  It’s a really cheap way of buying great artwork.)

·         Use a vividly written call to action. Add a catchy tagline that showcases your brand, along with awesome copy in a great, clear font.

·         As with informational text, don’t be tempted to put a lot of pictures on your brochure. It is a brochure, not a catalog. Too much visual clutter can overwhelm the reader.

Layout & Software: If you’re getting your brochure prepared by a graphic designer, they will most likely produce the brochure using Adobe InDesign, which is a very powerful and very expensive publishing tool. However, if you want to create a brochure yourself you can try using Microsoft Publisher. While Publisher is nowhere near as powerful as InDesign, it certainly has more than enough features for you to create a brochure quickly.  Microsoft publisher is included with the Microsoft Office Pro.

It’s also a good idea to spend some time creating a brochure template which can use to create new brochures in the future. This is particularly important if you plan to publish a new brochure each week. All you need to do is change the images, and adjust the text, without substantially changing the layout or design elements. A template not only saves you heaps of time, but also creates consistent branding for your business.

Printing:  If you’re planning to distribute thousands of brochures each month, you will almost certainly wish to have your brochures professionally printed. Online printing, sometimes called e-printing, digital printing, or print on demand, is when you send off your brochure design to a virtual store printing service (e.g. Digital Print Australia or KwikKopy) for printing.  Sometimes they help with the design and layout process, but ultimately you have the last say on the proofs before the brochures go to print. They ship the final product back to you. This is the same process for offline printing services, with the main difference of having to go to a brick and mortar store.

However, if you plan only to distribute several hundred brochures over a short period, it is better to print the brochures yourself. You will need a quality color laser printer that has a duplex (double-sided ) printing feature.

Once your brochures are done you can leave a few behind with clients after a meeting or a site visit, leave them at accessible locations such as storefronts, waiting areas or booths, distribute them  after shows, classes, workshops, meetings, conventions and seminars, or insert them into press kits, proposals or reports.

In Summary

Let’s face it, not everyone responds to aggressive marketing and honestly, it’s kind of annoying. For example, who has the patience to stand around and listen to a five-minute product pitch or demo when you’re supposed to be just enjoying your shopping? A brochure is a non-aggressive, low-pressure way of asking customers to check out your business in their own time. Potential customers will check out your brochure because they want to, when they’re ready, and not because you hijacked their time.  Even with smartphone and tablets, the trusty ol’ printed brochure will be with us for a long time to come.