If You Don’t Know About These 3 Ways to Use Outlook 2016 More Efficiently, You’re Wasting Lots of Time

Microsoft Outlook is a professional email and calendar program that’s been used by businesses for over 15 years. It’s had many iterations over the years, but with 2016, and its integration with Office 365, Microsoft has taken Outlook to the next level. Today, small and medium-sized businesses that couldn’t afford the enterprise-level application can now benefit from Outlook 2016.

The following are 3 ways to help you use Outlook 2016 more efficiently.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts in Outlook on Windows will help you work more efficiently. It’s also handy for those who have mobility or vision disabilities because using keyboard shortcuts can often be easier than using a touchscreen or mouse. Here are some popular keyboard shortcuts you should try.

And there are more. Here are popular keyboard shortcuts for NAVIGATION:

When searching, try these handy keyboard shortcuts:

 

To create an item or a file keep these shortcuts in mind.

Shortcuts in Mail.

To see more Outlook 2016 Shortcuts go here.

2. Use Quick Steps

Right-click any email, choose Quick Steps and choose from the list.

We’re going to choose Team Email. The first time we use this, Outlook asks you to name your team and enter their email addresses.

Then create a Keyboard Shortcut for this. So, the next time you hit Control Shift 1, an email to your entire team can be composed.

You can also create new Quick Step. Simply choose Create New Quick Step.

Here are some other Quick Steps to try: 1

  • Move to Folder: This is essentially the same as Move To.
  • Categorize & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a category color and name to the message.
  • Flag & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a flag to the message.
  • New Email To: This opens a New Message form with the To field already filled out with a particular recipient.
  • Forward To: This is essentially the same as To Manager.
  • New Meeting: If you often send meeting invites to the same group of people, use this Quick Step to open a New Meeting form with the To field already filled in with the invitees.
  • Custom: This opens the Edit Quick Step dialog box so that you can create your own custom Quick Step.

3. Use Conditional Formatting

This is used to change the look of a particular email. You do this in the View Menu.

Here, we just click on Conditional Formatting and create an email called Microsoft.

Next, we choose a condition, where the word Microsoft appears anywhere in an email.

Then, we ask it to appear in a bold red font.

Now, any new email we receive with the word Microsoft in it will show up in red. This is a great way for us to recognize the importance of an email. You may want to do this for any email with your boss’s name in it!

And, there are more ways you can get the most from Outlook 2016. Here are a few ideas:

EMAIL

  • Change the color and contrast of Outlook: You can also use a picture or color as the background, add a text watermark to your emails.
  • Customize emails with the fonts you prefer: Change the default font for various email messages you send, or a particular font for messages that you forward or reply to.
  • Create signatures for your different email accounts: Create personalized signatures for your email messages: include text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, or even an image of your handwritten signature. Signatures can be added automatically to all outgoing messages, or you can choose which messages should use a particular signature.
  • Setup sound alerts when new emails come in: A sound can play when a new email message arrives. The default sound is a short .wav audio file, but you can change it to any .wav file of your choice.
  • Establish tracking options with delivery receipts: A delivery receipt confirms delivery of your email message to the recipient’s mailbox.
  • Use Outlook’s templates for your messages or create your own: Use email templates to send messages that include information that rarely changes from message to message. You can also insert icons, photos, and tables into your messages.
  • Embed voting buttons in your email to survey your recipients about a particular topic (such as, “When’s the best date and time for a meeting?”): Voting buttons are an excellent way to poll people, especially when communicating with large groups.
  • Use Quickparts to insert a standard set of words you often use: Use the Quick Parts Gallery to create, store, and locate content, including AutoText, document properties such as title and author, and fields.
  • Clutter: This is where you can place low priority emails you want to read later. Clutter helps you filter these low-priority emails saving time for your most important messages. Office 2016 remembers “Clutter” emails if you want.  If Clutter isn’t for you, you can TURN IT OFF.
  • Create folders and subfolders: You can base these on topics, senders, organizations, projects, etc.—Whatever works for you and organize your emails under the subjects you choose. Use folders in Outlook to move email messages, add a folder to your Favorites, and set a rule to move specific emails out of your inbox.

CALENDAR

Outlook 2016 calendars have all the tools and functionality you’ve relied on in the past, with improved features to help you manage your time. 

  • Set up multiple calendars (e.g., personal, business, health, etc.).
  • Create appointments quickly and share them with your contacts.
  • Scheduling assistant lets you access others’ calendars that you’re authorized to view (and vice versa).
  • Set reminders, reoccurring appointments/meetings, alerts, and more.
  • View your calendar by day, week, month, and year.

CONTACTS

  • You can also import contacts to Outlook from other email providers using the Outlook Import/Export wizard. Import a CSV file, Excel spreadsheet, or vCard.
  • Your contacts are linked to your email accounts, so you can simply key a name in the “To” field, and your contact’s email address will appear.
  • Set permission for a particular contact (delegate) to view your emails while you’re on vacation. Plus, you can give this person access to your calendar, tasks, and so on, as appropriate. One delegate can take care of your email, another your tasks, etc.

TOOLS

  • Always know how much space is left in your account.
  • Notify those emailing you that you aren’t available during a particular period with Out of Office. You set up a special message you want others to see.
  • Even set up different messages for people inside or outside your organization. (Outlook will remind you that the “Out of Office” message is turned on, so you don’t forget when you return.)
  • As mentioned above, similar to having an assistant help you manage your incoming paper mail, you can use Microsoft Outlook to allow a delegate, to receive and respond to e-mail messages and meeting requests and responses on your behalf.
  • You can also grant additional permissions that allow your delegate to read, create, or have more control over items in your Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox—And, set more than one delegate and permissions for various tasks.

TASKS

Outlook 2016’s task management helps you accomplish to-dos faster and easier.

  • Categorize your tasks with color codes.
  • Ping reminders for tasks.
  • Check-off tasks when complete.
  • Create tasks for others as well. Outlook integrates tasks with your emails so that you can assign a task to a recipient.  The task will show up on their task list.

To learn more about how you can get the most from Outlook 2016 contact us.

Big Changes For Google

If You Want to Be First on Google Searches, Be Sure to Employ Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing

Google Changes

On March 26th, 2018, Google announced that after over 18 months of testing they will now begin migrating sites that follow best practices for their mobile-first indexing. This means that Google will now use the mobile version of content to index and rank all websites. Before now, they used the desktop version of a webpage’s content to evaluate how relevant it is to users’ Google searches.

NOTE: You won’t have to change anything if you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the main content and markup is the same in both. However, if your site configurations are different on your mobile and desktop site, you should make some changes to your site. You can check the structured markup across your desktop and mobile versions by typing their URLs into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing them.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about this, so we’re providing some answers for you below.

Why is Google doing this?

Today, most of us search on Google using our mobile devices. Yet, their ranking system is still based on the desktop versions of websites. This creates issues if the mobile pages contain less data than the desktop pages. In this case, the Google algorithms can’t properly evaluate the actual page that’s seen by the mobile device user.

So, to make their results more accurate, Google started experimenting with their index mobile first initiative. And now that it’s been launched, it will be the primary way Google will search for content, show snippets and rank pages.

How does this work?

Google’s Googlebots (or crawlers) search and index web pages. Crawlers are robots or spiders that automatically locate and read websites by “crawling” from one link to another.

Last summer (June 2017) Google advised website owners to switch their m-dot domains to “responsive” before the Mobile-First Indexing launch. If you didn’t do this, then Google will fully index your m-dot content and URLs. This means that the migration for your site will take longer than it should because Google will have to update the content on your pages.

If you have separate desktop and mobile content for your website, this means that you have a dynamic-serving or separate m-dot site specifically designed for mobile devices.

It’s good to have an m-dot site because you can use it to enhance the mobile experience on your site without compromising your desktop or mobile experience.

Ensure you follow Google’s best practices if you want your sites to rank well now with their mobile-first indexing.

Should our mobile content be different than our desktop content? No. It should be the same. And don’t limit it either. This could cause your ranking to decline. If your mobile site contains less content than your desktop site, it’s time to update it. Plus, be sure you include all of your photos, images, and videos in their original indexable and crawlable formats.

What about the structured data? Should we include it on both of our mobile and desktop versions? Yes. The URLs in the structured data on the mobile versions should be updated to the mobile URLs. If you use Data Highlighter for this be sure to check your dashboard regularly for any extraction errors.

How about the metadata? Do we need it on both versions? Definitely. Make sure that titles and meta descriptions are identical across both versions of your site.

Things that you should verify to meet Google’s new Mobile-First Indexing:

  • Verify both your mobile and desktop sites in Google’s Search Console. Now that Google has switched over to mobile-first indexing your sites may have experienced a data shift.
  • Make sure your mobile site’s hreflang points to the mobile URL and the desktop hreflang points to the desktop URL.
  • Make sure your website server has enough capacity for the potential increased crawl rate on your mobile version.
  • Use the robots.txt testing tool to be sure that the Googlebot can access your mobile version.
  • Be sure that your robots.txt directives work properly on both your mobile and desktop sites.
  • Ensure that you have the correct rel=canonical and rel=link elements between your mobile and desktop versions. However, Google says that you shouldn’t have to make changes to your canonical links because they will continue to use them as guides for users who search on either on desktop or mobile sites.
  • If you add structured data to your mobile site, don’t add a lot of markups that aren’t relevant to the information.

The Finer Details

  • To allow or block Google’s crawlers from accessing any of your content, be sure to specify Googlebot as the user-agent.
  • To block pages from Google, blocking the user-agent Googlebot will also block all Google’s other user-agents.
  • You can also get more fine-grained control, like having all of your pages show up in Google Search, but not the images in your personal directory. You can use robots.txt to disallow the user-agent Googlebot-image from crawling the files in your personal directory (while allowing Googlebot to crawl all files). Go here for more details on how to do this and for other examples.

Three important points to remember:

  1. If you only verified your desktop site in Search Console, you must do so for your mobile version as well.
  2.  If you only have a desktop site, Google will continue to index your desktop site but use the mobile agent to do so. This should be fine.
  3. If you are still in the process of constructing your mobile version, it’s better to keep using the functional desktop site rather than trusting an incomplete mobile version of the site until it’s ready to launch.

To Summarize:

Google’s ranking, indexing and crawling systems used to use desktop versions of a page’s content. Now, because this may cause problems for mobile searchers they’ll be using the mobile version of a page instead. Google will be showing the mobile version of pages in their Search results and Google cached pages. You should also expect to see increased crawl rates from the Smartphone Googlebot.

You don’t have to worry too much because Google will always present the URL that is most appropriate no matter if it’s a mobile or desktop URL. While their index will be built from mobile documents, they say they will continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. Or you can always contact Google via their Webmaster Forum.

Let’s Play “Tech Truth Or Dare”!

Your cybersecurity practices shouldn’t be treated like a game of chance unless you are 300% certain you’re going to win. What can you do to make sure your business isn’t the ultimate loser?

Cyber Security

Is technology today the endless cycle of cat-and-mouse, with the bad guys always one step ahead? A quick search for “cybersecurity best practices” will yield millions of results, all with their ideas of what you can do – but does any of it make sense? Someone busy running a company faces a complex dichotomy: Being too busy running their company to worry about something that won’t directly generate revenue, but not giving enough time and attention to something that could directly impact revenue. Those are two very distinct and different thoughts, but still closely related.

Not only is cybersecurity a critical focus of business today, but it’s also the easiest way to fail. Cybercriminals – hackers – are usually one step ahead of us good guys, but that’s the “cat and mouse” game to them. We respond to cybersecurity breaches that make the news with preventive measures to avoid the same fate and do our best to have enough safeguards in place to protect every element we can.

Hackers seek a cybersecurity vulnerability to exploit to their advantage. Their reasons don’t matter – it’s the result that affects their victims. Why do we still have vulnerabilities when we know better?

Myth: Half of small businesses think they’re “too small” for a hacker to target.

Truth: Small businesses make easier targets for many reasons. They often don’t have the tech budgets that the Fortune 500 companies do in order to take every precautionary measure to avoid being hacked.

Smartphones are major targets of hackers now, given more than half of all web traffic is reported to take place via mobile devices. Smartphones don’t have the same level of protection, making them easy targets, and therefore easy points of entry to a cybersecurity vulnerability. Imagine pressing a thumbtack into a hairline fracture on a porcelain plate – this one weak spot has the potential for this singular action to shatter the plate into thousands of pieces. Now, imagine this plate is your proprietary data, and this thumbtack is a hacker. Can you see the potential damage?

Myth: Employees of small businesses know more about the company and are more invested in its success, therefore take the time to safeguard their actions.

Truth: The dedication of staff to their employer has nothing to do with cybersecurity.

Modern cybercriminals are targeting critical data: consumer information, accounts with intellectual property, financial information about both the company and consumers. Three out of every four small businesses have no formal cybersecurity policies or protocols in place for staff, nor training to discuss the latest threats and how to thwart them. Hackers know this – oh, yes, they know – and they also know the small business is less protected than those Fortune 500 companies. This is a lethal combination.

  • Nearly two-thirds of small businesses have yet to address security regarding mobile devices or enact formal policies for mobile device use as it pertains to professional operations.

Myth: Small businesses can bounce back faster after a breach.

Truth: Half of all small businesses don’t have a disaster preparedness plan in place for recovery should they be impacted by a cybersecurity threat, a “data breach”.

It’s reported that less than half of all small businesses back up their data weekly. Let that sink in. The data loss in the event of a hack could have catastrophic results for as many as half of all small businesses. In the event of a breach, companies of any size consider the data loss and downtime to have the greatest impact, followed by the revenue loss – but most of the time, the impact to a company’s reputation isn’t considered until already in clean-up mode.

If you’re ready to win at “Tech Truth or Dare”, here are the new rules of the game:

Do you know what needs to be protected?

What data do you store? How is your data stored? What protective measures and security protocols are in place? Where are the “holes”? This last question is the most important, and it’s a smart decision to hire an expert to help you with this one.

What formal policies need to be updated – or put in place?

Every business needs an official cybersecurity policy. This policy should also be updated annually, at the minimum. Formalizing a policy can make sure everyone that has access to your data follows the same procedures and the strongest safeguards are in place.

This should include:

  • Password protocols
    • Passwords should be unique, complex, and changed regularly
  • System updates
    • Check for the latest updates to all applications and security releases
  • Privacy settings
    • Verify that users have the most secure privacy settings on their desktop and laptop computers, and smartphones and mobile devices

What is your plan for how to handle a disaster?

Perhaps an extension of the previous question, but no less important is how to handle a hack or breach should one occur. You’ve taken all the necessary steps and precautions, but you still had a disaster – now what? Best practices include daily back-up of your critical resources – which you’ll need to identify – and then test the process to ensure it’s sufficient, just in case.

Talk to experts.

You are an authority in what you do, and your sales pitch to your customers focuses on your expertise. Why wouldn’t you hire experts to protect your business?

Is your training sufficient?

Make sure your staff is aware of the steps needed for Internet safety, email security, network threats, and how to detect and protect in the event of each. Equally important is what need to be done if something happens and they suspect a threat.

Prevent your business from becoming a victim of a hacker this year and win the game!

Make 2018 the year you have an ironclad cybersecurity program, for your home and your office!

You Too Can Use Excel Like A Pro – Here’s Part 2 of Our Series to Show You How

With the 2016 version of Excel, Microsoft has really upped its game for people who aren’t great with numbers. You can now easily use one-click access that can be customized to provide the functionality you need.

This is the second of our three-part series about using Microsoft Excel 2016 to help you identify trends, construct helpful charts, and organize information to maximize the value of your data.

 

Did you know that you can use Excel Worksheets and Workbooks in conjunction with programs like Microsoft Access and PowerPoint? Excel 2016 possesses many capabilities that aren’t readily apparent. That’s why we’re providing this three-part series for you.

If you missed Part 1 of our series, you can find it on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA8X9wqrn1I

In this, Part 2 of our series we’ll be discussing:

  • Working with Multiple Worksheets and Workbooks
  • Managing Lists
  • Working with Dates
  • Formatting and Conditional Formulas
  • The IF, AND and OR Functions

Why would you want to use Excel?

If you or your employees work with financial data, it’s a great tool to use for:

  • Basic mathematical operations like adding, dividing, and multiplying.
  • Finding values like profits or losses.
  • Calculations like averages, percentages and number counts.

Performing calculations in Excel is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more you can do like creating charts and graphical layouts to make it easier to recognize trends and more easily analyze data.

What is Excel and how is it organized?

Excel is an electronic spreadsheet program that’s used to store, organize and manipulate data. You enter data into Workbooks that are made up of individual Worksheets. In the Worksheets, you enter data into cells that are organized into rows and columns. Excel data can consist of text, numbers, dates, times and formulas.

Working with Multiple Worksheets and Workbooks

Before you build your worksheets and workbooks think through the process and ask yourself:

“How do you want to see and analyze the results?”

“How much detail is needed to draw a conclusion?”

“What is the most important data for decision makers?”

To access or create a Worksheet, go to the tabs at the bottom left of the screen and click the one you want to activate. Or use Control Page Up or Control Page Down to move among your Worksheets using the keyboard.

You can move or copy a worksheet by going to the tab, right-clicking, and you’ll be presented with a dialog box where you can select your function. You can move your worksheet to a different Workbook by entering its name in the space above.

Use the scrollbars on the right to make other selections like making a copy. Simply click the checkbox for the action you wish to take.

Working with Formulas Across Worksheets

You can calculate different formulas across a worksheet with what Microsoft Excel calls 3D formulas. 3D formulas allow you to calculate data throughout a workbook using multiple worksheets. It refers to the same cell (or range of cells) on multiple worksheets.

Think of a 3D formula as a cross-reference to data in a different Worksheet.

It’s a great way to build summaries and Master Worksheets to bring them together in one place. And it’s a must if your labels and data types vary between worksheets.

Here we want to bring in the formula from another worksheet to this one. We have three worksheets for our inventory costs. We have a breakdown for our Fruits Dept. But we want to bring in the costs for our Bakery and Meats. So, we go to the cell we’ve created, select =sum, hit the left parenthesis ( then navigate to the Bakery Worksheet tab at the bottom, click on the cell where we want the formula to appear and hit Enter. Then the inventory cost automatically appears.

All 3D formulas are based on this syntax: Sheet1:Sheet4!A2:B5.
If you copy or insert a new worksheet after Sheet1 the reference will automatically include it.

Similarly, if you delete a worksheet it will be excluded.

Consolidate Data

You can consolidate data from separate worksheets into one Master Worksheet. They can be in the same workbook or from other Workbooks. Let’s say you have a sales team and a worksheet with their weekly report data, and you want to consolidate this data into a monthly report. There are two ways to consolidate this data:

1. Consolidate by Position: This is when the data in the source areas is arranged in the same order and uses the same labels. You use this method to consolidate data from a series of worksheets that have been created from the same template.

2. Consolidate by Category: Use this method when the data in the source areas is not in the same order but uses the same labels. Here you consolidate data from a series of worksheets that have different layouts but have the same data labels.

We are only going to demonstrate Consolidate by Position because it’s an organizational best practice.

Here’s our example Workbook. Data is in the same order and uses the same labels.

Creating a clean master worksheet for this is best. But if you use a worksheet with pre-existing data make sure you have a blank area where the consolidated data can appear.

To start, click in the upper left-hand corner and click Consolidate. A window will open. By default, SUM will be your option, although there are others to choose from. Average is the next most common function people use.

Now we want to choose our ranges from each of the worksheets. We’ll collapse the Consolidate box and click on Week 1. Select the entire range.

Bring back the dialog box and add this week to the references.

Now, when you click on week 2 to do the same, it’s already pre-selected. Just click Add. And do the same for the next two weeks. Now you’ve told Excel what data you want to consolidate.

Creating Links

You must choose between automated and manual updates. If you want Excel to consolidate your worksheets automatically when you change data, you must tell it to do so by checking this box: “Create links to source data.”

Press OK and Excel will generate the consolidation. It’s up to you to format it the way you want. But you’ll only have to do this once if you used “create links.” If so, Excel automatically updates any changes.

Notes:

You can’t create links if the source and the data are on the same worksheets. This means it’s smart to group data into worksheets in smaller periods. In this case, we did it by weeks.

If the information you want to consolidate is in a different Workbook, you want to browse for that Workbook before you begin the consolidation process. Then you can select the reference in the same way we did above. Excel will create the path for you.

Linking Workbooks

Up to this point, we’ve been working in one Workbook with several worksheets. Just like we pulled data in from multiple worksheets, we can do the same with multiple Workbooks.

Remember our 3D formula? When this same type of linking crosses over to a different Workbook it’s called an “External Reference.” Sticking to our Sales worksheet example, you may have a Workbook for each month or each year.

We now want to compare how our Sales Team did month to month instead of week to week. We are going to add a link to last month’s total. Just like before: select =sum, hit the left parenthesis ( and navigate to the Workbook you want. (Here’s it’s the Monthly Sales Workbook.)

You’ll see that single quote marks have been added to the syntax. This is because there is a non alpha-numeric character in the name (space). You’ll need these when links are broken as well.

Here’s how to do it in the opposite way. Start in your first file, go to copy or Control C.

Go back up to Conditional Formatting and grab your Workbook and do a “Paste Special.”

And down at the bottom left click “Paste Link.”

And here it is.

Managing Lists

Excel lists don’t typically use formulas. They use filtering and sorting instead. So, it’s important that lists have column headings and that there are no empty rows in your lists.

First, we’ll do a simple sort: From the list below, we’re going to organize who had the most wins.

  • We click the column header for Wins.
  • Go up to Sort & Filter in the top right and sort from highest to lowest.

Next, we’ll sort by multiple columns:

Select your columns.

Go to Sort & Filter > Custom Sort

And we’re going to sort by Earned Run Average (ERA).

You can see below that it worked. (ERA sorts smallest to largest because a smaller number is better.)

Auto Filtering

This is how you can include or exclude any row data.

Select any column or header and under Sort & Filter choose Filter.

To the right of any column header there’s a drop-down menu.

We’re going to see who was selected for the HOF (Hall of Fame.)

Click the drop-down and deselect everything.

Then choose Y (for yes).

Click OK and now you’ll see just the players who were selected for the Hall of Fame.

The Filter Icon is an easy way to see that a column is filtered.

Now we’ll customize the filter by Strike Outs.

Click the drop-down next to Strike Outs.

Choose Largest to Smallest.

And now the list is ordered by Strike Outs.

We want to see how many Wins they had. Go to the Wins and click the drop-down menu. Under Number Filters.

Choose Less Than and enter 20 > OK

Now we see the pitchers who won less than 20 games.

Sum Up Totals

Click in the cell where you want the Sum to appear and choose AutoSum>Enter.

And if you decide to take off all the filters, the Sum will recalculate automatically.

Working with Dates

Dates and times are the most common functions people work within Excel, but they can be frustrating because Excel uses a serial number to represent a date instead of the typical 01/02/18 format and hours, minutes and seconds that we’re used to. It’s further complicated because dates are days of the week.

For example, In this system, the serial number 1 represents 1/1/1900 12:00:00 a.m. Times are stored as decimal numbers between .0 and .99999, where .0 is 00:00:00 and .99999 is 23:59:59. The date integers and time decimal fractions can be combined to create numbers that have a decimal and an integer portion. For example, the number 32331.06 represents the date and time 7/7/1988 1:26:24 a.m.

The Date Function will help. It’s on the Formula part of the Ribbon under Date & Time.

The TODAY() Function and the NOW() Function

The TODAY function returns the serial number of today’s date based on your system clock and does not include the time. The NOW function returns the serial number of today’s date and includes the time.

Here we are using the Today function. Excel will always use the exact date. The Today function is useful for calculating intervals. You might use this function to calculate someone’s age.

For example, we entered =YEAR(TODAY())-1965

And the age Excel came up with is 53.

TODAY always had the () following it.

The NOW () function is useful when you need to display the current date and time on a worksheet or calculate a value based on the current date and time, and want that value updated each time you open the worksheet.

Formatting Dates

This is found on the Home Ribbon.

Under DATE you can see many ways you can display your information.

Formatting and Conditional Formulas

Conditional formatting highlights important information in a spreadsheet. But sometimes the built-in formatting rules aren’t enough. Adding your own formula to a conditional formatting rule helps you do things the built-in rules can’t do.

Here we want any ERA lower than 2 to be highlighted in red.

Highlight the column and click on Conditional Formatting.

We selected Cells Less Than 2.00

The IF, AND, and OR Functions

IF

The IF function helps you make logical comparisons between a value and what you expect. For example: IF(Something is True, then do something, otherwise do something else)In this sense an IF statement can have two results. The first result is if your comparison is True, the second is if your comparison is False.

Below we’re going to determine our WINNER based on a calculation of IF:

Based on our IF formula, Chester is our WINNER!

OR

Use the OR function, to determine if any conditions are TRUE.

Here we use a formula that tells us if someone is SAFE or FIRED.

That’s it until next time! To View this Demo on YouTube visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONeVQplb_bM&feature=youtu.be

To View Part One of this Series, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA8X9wqrn1I

Must-Know SEO: Info Secrets to Maximizing Your Website’s Google Search Ranking

 

Google is the number-one search engine. It’s the one people go to when they have a question they need to be answered or are looking for a business to serve their particular needs. Google, like the terms Kleenex and Clorox, has become part of our daily vernacular. When you search for something online, you’re “Googling” it.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

It’s the multi-discipline process of optimizing a website to rank high in organic search results.

Organic search results are those you don’t pay for.

Typically, when people search for companies or information on Google, the first few results they get are those that a business has paid for. If they say “Sponsored” or “Ad” that means someone has paid for them to be ranked at the top.

If you don’t pay for an ad, you must practice good SEO to be listed near the top of a Google search.

What constitutes good SEO?

This is difficult to pin down because It’s often-changing and always updating. Google updates their algorithms and the way that they rate and rank content hundreds of times a year. It’s impossible to keep track of every single change. However, practicing good SEO strategies, in general, will result in better search rankings.

Although it’s easy to understand, SEO is challenging to execute effectively. Here’s some information that should help.

On-Page Optimization

Optimize your entire website as a whole:

  • Increase the page speed and load times. Google will penalize your website if it loads slowly. Keep this in mind when purchasing web hosting. Make sure they have plenty of uptime, and you have enough bandwidth. If you don’t, Google will penalize you.
  • Ensure your site can be found using mobile devices. More people browse via mobile today than they do with desktop computers. Take this into account with every element of your website’s design. From your home page to your landing pages, to your contact page–Everything must be optimized for mobile searches. If your website looks great for desktop but isn’t accessible for mobile use, Google will penalize you in your search rankings.
  • Use HTTPS in your URL even if you’re not selling anything. Just having a secure website immediately gives you a boost in Google search rankings.
  • Include Social Sharing Links. Pick the social networks that are most relevant to your audience, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Use the icons for the links on your webpage so people can find you easily and share your content. The more people share your content, the more Google finds you relevant, and the higher they will rank your business in their search results.
  • Use tools like Woorank, Yoast to test your overall website performance. These and other tools like them will scrub your page much like Google will, and tell you what your results are based on your current level of search optimization. If there are things you need to improve, these tools will let you know what they are, so you can up your search ranking.

Know your keywords and how to use them:

  • Make a list of topics relevant to your business and your intended audience. These are called Head Terms–words that are used in your industry or line of business.
  • Get specific and use Long-Tail Keywords. Think of this as the problem you want your customers to bring to you that you can solve. If you’re an attorney, this might be, “How can I save money on a divorce?” or “How do I fight a traffic ticket?” etc.
  • Do your own search for other keywords and observe user intent. See what problems people are having and which ones you can solve. The more you can solve, the better chances you’ll be a credible authority in their eyes and Google’s.
  • Scope out the competitor’s keywords. There are some paid tools you can use to do this. Or, do this on your own by visiting your competition’s website and looking at what they’re promoting, what media they use, the headlines they use, and the phrasing they publish. By doing a search for your competition, you can also see where they rank.
  • Use your keywords within the first 100 words of any of your web pages, including blog posts and videos. The first 100 words are used most heavily when Google scrubs information from your webpage. This is where you want to include your specific long-tail keywords.
  • Don’t keyword-stuff. You want to use your Long-Tail Keywords throughout the rest of your web pages, but don’t overdo it. Keep your language natural-sounding. If you keyword-stuff, Google will penalize you.

Use headers correctly:

  • H1 headers are for article or page titles. These are most important for SEO because this tells Google what your page is about. This is where you want to use those well-constructed Long-Tail Keywords.
  • H2 headers are for your sections. You should use Long-Tail Keywords here as well but be creative with your phrasing. Don’t repeat phrases over and over.
  • Include your keywords here but be creative with phrasing

Label your images correctly:

  • Include your keywords in your image file names. These will be your shorter keywords and Head Terms–terms that are broad in scope.
  • Include your keywords in your image alt text. Include your specific Long-Tail terms here as well.

Test it out.

The Right Content

Write for your audience:

  • Think of questions that your target audience would ask. Think of what people will be searching for. Think of the problems that they are looking to you to resolve.
  • Let your keywords be your guide. Phrase them as a question, then write the authoritative answer.

Go the distance whenever you can:

  • Word count matters. Aim for at least 1,000 words as often as possible. This may not always be possible for things like video descriptions or info-graphics. Don’t worry. Do the best you can.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for word count. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t just write a bunch of needless content. Google will pick this up and penalize you. Google wants quality content.
  • Some industries will need more quality content to compete online. If there’s a lot of competition for your service or product, you’ll need to step up your game to differentiate yourself from the others. You’ll need to come up with content that is better and more creative than what your competitors are posting.

Mix it up and keep it fresh:

  • Share more than just written articles. The broader your library, the more people you will appeal to. Blog posts are great but don’t neglect other options.

Repurpose your best old content:

  • Rework your old content that performed well into a new format like an infographic, video, e-book, and or blog. Take an e-book that was popular and write an article about it. Take an article and make a video from it, etc.

Don’t forget your Meta Descriptions:

  • Meta descriptions are the “flavor text” that shows beneath the link in a search result.
  • Google says that meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor. However, the text that shows in SERPs can compel people to select your search result. If it gives you an edge, why not use it.
  • Write conversationally and aim to catch the viewer’s attention. Use 300 words max for your meta descriptions.
  • Use them on every page of your website.
  • Try plugins like Yoast if you are using WordPress for assistance writing great meta descriptions. It will rank the meta description and tell you whether or not it will be a positive influence.

Links and How to Use Them

Internal Linking:

  • Link to other pages, articles, or media within your own site. If you are the authority in your area of expertise, one article you write will surely have relevance to others on your site.
  • Try to get 2-3 internal links per page. This gives people a reason to stay on your site. It will give them a reason to stay on your page and click thru to other pages. This is important for good ranking results.

External Linking:

  • Link to authoritative, quality pages outside your website that have relevant information. Use links to news articles, Wikipedia, or other well-known websites. Be selective. Don’t link to blogs. Remember, anything you link to reflects the quality of your website. If you link to reputable sources, Google will consider your site reputable as well.
  • Be selective as the links you choose as this will reflect on the quality of your site.

Backlinks

  • These are the “Holy Grail” of links, and the most difficult to obtain. Backlinks are where you link to an outside page, and they link back to you. Here are some of the things you can try to get quality backlinks:
  • Write case studies on the products or services you use, especially if you’ve had spectacular results. Share these with your vendors and partners.
  • Write reviews for the companies and products you would recommend to others.
  • Build genuine relationships online and off.
  • Become a resource for the media.
  • Volunteer to speak to groups in your area.

How to Gain an Edge

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews:

  • Positive user reviews influence SEO ranking. Google Business and Yelp are the most popular and widely used.
  • Search for your business type in your location to see what other review sites are used by your target audience. Some of these might include Nextdoor, Angie’s List or TripAdvisor.
  • It’s okay to ask happy customers to leave a positive review, but don’t overdo it.

Location, Location, Location Reviews (and other ways to be relevant):

  • Don’t forget to include your location in your keywords if you serve local clients. If people are searching for businesses like yours in your location, Google will be able to find you and post your information in their search. Even if the person doesn’t include your city in their search, Google knows where they are and can find you to answer their query.
  • Consider other ways to signify that your information is relevant and current. Include the year in your title when relevant. If you’re talking about products, consider using a title like “The 20 Best Products in 2018.” People will see your post as relevant, and Google will see that your posts are current and give you a better ranking.

Be the Expert in One Area:

  • If you find a keyword that gets lots of search action without a lot of competition go deep with your strategy. Be the authority on it and use your internal links to your advantage. When doing your research on your keywords, if you find one that gets a lot of search activity, but there’s not much competition, use those keywords and write in-depth on the subject. You’ll rise the top of Google searches very quickly.

Optimize for Mobile:

  • This is worth repeating because the percentage of non-desktop searching is going to continue to increase. If your site isn’t easy to navigate on mobile devices, you’ll lose business.

Optimize for Voice Search:

  • The #1 thing that will set websites apart in the future is the ability to have your web properties appear in voice searches. We are using more Artificial Intelligence functions on our computer devices like Siri and Cortana.
  • Think of the questions people will ask via voice search and answer them. Again, if you serve local customers or businesses, make sure that you list your location in your keywords.

Use These Great SEO Tools:

  • The Google Search Console provides great insight into how your site is performing in Google searches. You do have to take some steps to enable access, but it’s very user-friendly. You can see which keyword searches on Google were used most often that lead to your site, and what your click-thru rate was of these listings. It will tell you what people are searching for, when your site came up in their search and how often they are clicking on your link as opposed to others. (It’s free)
  • SpyFu spies on your competitors. Use this to see what keywords they are using and how well their site performs.
  • SEMrush provides valuable insight into the world of search. It will show your competitors’ best keywords, help you find competitors you didn’t know about, and reveal how much money your competitors are spending on search advertising. It’s one of the best resources for this.

Utilize Great Resources:

  • Neil Patel (neilpatel.com) provides great daily information on SEO and search in general.
  • MOZ (moz.com) has a wealth of great information for businesses that want more from their SEO.
  • Search Engine Journal (searchenginejournal.com) is loaded with great free SEO resources.

Advanced SEO

Schema.org:

  • Schema –The semantic web, is the next frontier for SEO. Schema.org defines the best-used terms to use for keywords. This is a definite list of codes that should be used for best practices. If Google sees you using old codes, this will hurt your ranking.
  • Rankings reviews, ratings, product descriptions, and schedules are now starting to influence rankings.
  • Speak with your website developer or SEO company to ensure schema.org elements are part of your website.

Rich Snippets:

  • Rich Snippets are search results that include ratings, reviews, images, video content, and more.
  • They stand out from all other search results because the search engine has more data about the site. It uses images, ratings, and reviews that can be pulled into the search results.
  • Setup using structured data found in the Google Search Console.

People Also Ask:

  • This is often featured with popular search terms. If Google gets the same requests over and over again, they post additional sites with information. The more expert advice you provide for frequently asked questions, and your content answers these very specifically, Google will consider adding your site you to their “People Also Ask” prompt. So, again, think of the questions most people will ask about your product or service and answer these in your website content.
  • Searches can get immediate answers here and may never visit your site.
  • It reinforces the need to ensure your website and content solves people’s problems, answers, questions, and offers advice.

Social Media:

  • Social media does play a role in SEO, and social content will affect your ranking.
  • The more shares or “social indicators” found, the more relevant Google will consider your content. When someone shares an article from your website, this is called a social indicator. This tells Google where the poster found this information and how many times it’s been shared. The more you get shares, the more Google will find your website valid and increase your rankings.
  • Reviews from social sites matter.
  • Social media channels are their own search engines.
  • Extended reading: “Social is the New SEO” by Neil Patel. This will tell you more about SEO and how important it is in Google rankings.

In Conclusion

The Most Important “Take Aways”

  • The days of a long list of your services are over. Optimize your page and your content for today’s audience.
  • Solve people’s challenges
  • Answer their questions. Use keywords intelligently and accurately, so you’re answering people’s question.
  • Become a valuable resource online and off.
  • Become more social.
  • Find a great web marketer who can help.

Questions? Send an email to us!

Calling All Architects

Do You Want to Save Time, Money and Beat Out the Competition? We Have Some Important Information to Share

Architects Computers

As you know, your architecture company is under constant pressure from economic shifts, a shrinking talent pool, and a fiercely competitive marketplace. When it comes to information technology you need solutions that don’t cost a fortune and can really make a difference.

One such solution is 3D modeling software. You can easily develop 3D designs with automatic features and without a lot of experience. There’s software for beginners, as well as more sophisticated solutions for experienced architects.

3D modeling software enables you to produce detailed and realistic results, and it’s the best solution to help you save time, money and efficiently modify your models as needed.

Are you looking for better collaboration with your team? Some forms of 3D modeling software use the cloud. They allow you and your coworkers to work on a computer model at the same time.

When IT solutions like 3D modeling are used wisely, they can provide a strategic advantage for your architectural firm. You can win bids, manage projects efficiently, and complete them without cost overruns.

The following are some 3D CAD modeling software solutions you might want to consider:

ArchiCAD is architectural CAD software that uses BIM (Building Information Modeling) that allows you to produce both 3D and 2D drafting, visualization, and modeling. It enables you to complete your building designs via the high-quality photorealistic renderings of both interiors and exteriors.

Revit is a BIM solution that allows you to collaboratively design buildings and infrastructures with your team. Authorized users can access centrally shared models to work together on designs and save time.

AutoCAD Architecture is a complete and practical tool that allows you to do both 2D design and 3D modeling, so you can better visualize your project. With it, you can create realistic-looking models with a blend of solid, surface and mesh modeling tools. AutoCAD Architecture is also useful for 2D drafting and drawing. Plus, it allows you to communicate and collaborate with others on the same project.

AutoCAD Civil 3D provides all the benefits of the solutions above but is better suited for civil engineering and construction professionals. You can produce civil designs, connect to AutoCAD Civil 3D to Revit, and rework and complete your designs with structural modeling.

3D Studio Max (3DS Max) although mainly used by those in the video games industry, is great for by architects who require previsualization. Training is available online if you want to give it a try.

Chief Architect is a CAD software for 2D and 3D rendering. It’s very easy to use, and you don’t need to have 3D modeling skills. The interface is intuitive, includes smart building tools, and lets you easily create a 3D structure. You can also export 360° panorama renderings that you can share with your clients.

SketchUp is also easy to use. It will help you save time and can be used for 3D modeling. You can create walkthroughs and flyovers to present your work to clients. It can also be scaled for accurate 2D drawings.

Rhino 3D is mainly used for industrial design and architecture. It provides great accuracy for models. It can be used along with Grasshopper, a graphical algorithm editor created by Rhino’s developers and made for 3D geometry and visual language. It’s designed for structural engineering, architecture, and fabrication.

CATIA is used in various sectors such as aerospace, automotive, high tech, and architecture. This software allows you to create complex and very accurate models. It has a practical collaborative environment as well.

Solidworks is a 3D modeling software mainly used by engineers. It can be a great solution if you want to create a quick design. You won’t be able to perform complex renderings, but it’s capable of designing a building and to obtain overviews of your architectural projects.

When using any 3D software programs, don’t forget about your IT security.

In this age of rapidly expanding IT networks and Internet economies, data and network security are of increasing importance. For architectural firms, managing your reputation and providing optimal customer service is of primary importance.

Data breaches are now commonplace. Imagine turning on your computer and finding that ransomware has locked down all your designs. Every minute that you can’t retrieve them means lost time and money and potentially lost clients. It’s essential that you protect your firm’s IT assets from malware, viruses and other forms of cyber attacks. To do this, you must adopt the following best practices for IT security.

Data Encryption

Stored data and across-the-wire transfers must always be encrypted. Architectural firms benefit from data encryption and user authentication tools to maintain the confidentiality of product designs, test-market results, and patent applications. Encryption is essential to protecting this sensitive data, as well as preventing data theft.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

We live in a digital age where technology is used for most business operations. Disaster recovery and business continuity planning can prevent the catastrophic effects of data loss. Architectural firms must retain project documents for legal purposes, for future alterations, and historical documentation. If this data gets lost or stolen, a backup and disaster recovery plan prevents total loss of important documents.

Auditing

It’s important for architectural firms to regularly conduct IT audits to monitor, identify, alert, and block the flow of data into and out of a network. In addition, auditing can help locate and correct errors in business processes.

Anti-Spam Software

In order for an architectural firm to utilize their design software, computers and electronic devices must be up and running properly at all times. For any anti-spam software to be successful, it must be kept up-to-date. Keep in mind that anti-virus software isn’t enough; architecture firms must also use a comprehensive endpoint security solution, including anti-virus, personal firewall, and intrusion detection.

Security Awareness Training

Educating your users is the most important non-hardware, non-software solution available. Informed users behave more responsibility and take fewer risks with valuable company data.

Just like you design quality architectures, your IT provider will design a secure architecture for your network that keeps your data safe. So, before you invest in CAD software, set up a consultation with your local IT Managed Service Provider.

Hold on to Your Credit Cards… Alexa’s On a Shopping Spree!

I love my Alexa. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Last year I decided to set it up for voice shopping. That way, when I come home from work, I can start cooking dinner, get the kids going on their homework, and tell Alexa what I want to buy.

Alexa Shopping Spree

Evidently, other moms and dads are doing this too. Research shows that people are spending about $2 billion a year using voice shopping with their Echos and Alexas.

And, it’s predicted that this amount will increase rapidly over the next few years to a whopping $40 billion by 2022! According to the company that provided these statistics:

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speakers promises to do the same…The speed with which consumers are adopting smart speakers will translate into a number of opportunities and even more challenges for traditional retailers and consumer products companies.”

It seems that Amazon is the preferred vendor with 85% of people choosing the products Amazon suggests. For those like me who purchase groceries online, 45% of online grocery orders are made through Amazon Fresh.

Here are some more interesting statistics:

  • Right now, only 13% of homes have one of these devices, but by 2022 this is supposed to grow to 55%.
  • Amazon Echo is the most used of any U.S. virtual assistant. Google Home is the next at 4%, followed by Microsoft’s Cortana at 2%.
  • Those of us who have an Amazon smart speaker spend 66% more on Amazon than other people do.
  • Amazon Alexa owners spend on average $1,700 a year at Amazon, while members of the Amazon Prime program spend around $1,300 a year at Amazon.

Well, what can I say? It’s so much easier to just speak into my Echo and tell Alexa to reorder what I did last week from Amazon Fresh. When I’m making dinner, I don’t have the time to sit down and type away on a keyboard. The Voice Purchasing function of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo is so convenient. I can order practically anything from Amazon without using my computer. It’s great!

It seems that the smart speaker market is still in its infancy (unlike my precious children), and it’s still not clear if the Google and Microsoft smart speakers will be able to catch up to Amazon in the future.

Speaking of children…

Because Amazon doesn’t ask me to confirm my purchases with a “yes,” I’ve found some items in my orders that I didn’t place – but that my “precious” children did! Sugary cereal, microwave popcorn, chips, cookies, etc. Boy, was I mad when I found out they did this. You can be sure these purchases will come out of their allowance!

When I complained to Amazon, they told me to increase the security on my Alexa. They said there are two ways I can secure the Echo speaker from the kids or others. I can disable the Voice Purchasing feature or simply create a four-digit PIN (a secret one of course!).

Here’s how to disable Voice Purchasing.

By disabling Voice Purchasing, you can still shop with your Alexa and add items to your cart. However, you’ll have complete your checkout from the Amazon website or app.

  • Sign on to amazon.com(or open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device).
  • Go to Settings.
  • Select Voice Purchasing.
  • Toggle off the Purchase by voice to disable Voice Purchasing.

They also suggest the I use a confirmation code.

Doing this lets me keep Voice Purchasing enabled without allowing others to purchase things with my Amazon account. I have to speak my confirmation code aloud to complete my order. So, I make sure to do this when the kids or others aren’t around! 

  • Sign on to amazon.com(or open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device).
  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down and choose Voice Purchasing.
  • If it isn’t enabled choose “Purchase by Voice” to enable it.
  • In the text field beside Require confirmation code, enter a (secret) four-digit PIN.
  • Save.

Why do I love my Alexa for shopping? Because it’s so convenient! If I’m running out of paper towels or toilet paper, rather than jotting this down on a shopping list, I just ask my Echo to tell Alexa to order what I did last month. They arrive at my house in just two days! No more going to the store, putting them in a cart, jamming them into my car, taking them out of my car, etc. (you get the idea). They magically appear on my doorstep with minimal effort on my part.

And, if I happen to order something that requires a return, I don’t have to pay for shipping. Come to think of it, I should have returned the kids’ chips, cereal, etc.!

If you haven’t shopped with Alexa, you should give it a try. I know, it can be a little scary the first time. But once you see how easy it is, you’ll be “hooked” like me.

Here’s how to set up Alexa for shopping.

First, you need to set up an Amazon Prime account, provide a U.S. shipping address, billing address and a U.S.-based payment method. Set your Amazon Prime account for 1-Click shopping.

Check the settings in your Alexa to make sure Voice Purchasing is enabled. You can go to Settings -> Voice Purchasing in the Alexa app, and enable it. You can also manage your 1-Click settings here and set a 4-digit PIN to make sure the kids don’t order stuff!

Now, you can order anything that’s Amazon Prime-eligible:

Order new products: If it’s something you’ve never ordered before, Alexa will suggest an “Amazon Choice” product that meets your description. If you’re not sure about what you want to buy, you can add it to your cart and cancel it right away if you change your mind.

Reordering: Alexa will look at your past orders, so if you ordered a particular brand of paper towels, you can easily reorder them with a “reorder _____” command. Alexa will ask you to confirm the order, and if you say yes, you’re all done.

Tracking: You can always track what you’ve ordered by asking Alexa. Just say, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” She’ll let you know when your order will arrive.

So, you can see why I love my Alexa and why I can’t do without “her.” She’s my newest best friend!

What Would You Invent To Stop Time?

Time Stand StillDo you wish you knew more tech tricks to help you make your gadgets work smarter for you and save you time? See how to use your iPad as a second laptop screen, how to set time limits for using a Chrome browser, how to schedule an email to send at a certain time in Gmail, and more!

Technology exists to improve our lives. The fundamental purpose behind technology was man being driven to find new ways to do things to make life easier for mankind. The first form of technology recorded? What would you think – black and white television? The telegraph allowing expedited long-distance communication? Think back even further – much, much further. If the fundamental principle of technology is to make life easier for man, are the earliest examples of technology manmade weapons and fire?

Obviously, we’ve come a long way since stone weapons and fire, all the way to robotics and artificial intelligence, and then some – though we’re still waiting for the day when we all have flying cars like the Jetsons. Think about the ways you use technology every day. Do you listen to music in the car, on the bus or train, or while jogging? Do you brew coffee or tea in a Keurig? Are you reading this on a computer or mobile device? Do you use an alarm clock?!

We take tech for granted. It’s just. . . there. Think back to when the remote control became mainstream, and how that one chunky plastic box – the “clicker” – not only changed the world but revolutionized households. No longer did kids fight over whose turn it was to get up and change the channel. The first vehicle keyfob is widely considered to be introduced by the French in 1982 for the Renault Fuego just after Ford debuted the keyless entry system – by keypad – in 1980. Not only do the vast majority of passenger cars come standard with remote keyless entry devices now, but more are being equipped with push-button start capabilities – or even remote-controlled start-up, from the comfort of inside your home, office, or from a distance on a very hot or cold day.

Now that we’ve got you thinking about how you use technology each day, shift your thoughts to how you can “up your game”. You’re barely scratching the surface of what your tech can do for you.

Incredible iPad Trick

Are you in the camp that never has enough screen space? A few dozen tabs open in your web browser window, email, plus a few documents and spreadsheets for work clutter your screen space – and make your computer run slower. And if you’re on a laptop, you have even less screen real estate to start with! But what if you could use your iPad as a second screen for your laptop?

You can! Don’t believe us? Try downloading the Duet Display app and voila! Connect your iPad to your laptop using the sync/charging cable, and you’re all set.

Smartphone Scanner

Now this one is a doozy! Did you know your smartphone can work like a scanner? No, we don’t mean by taking one picture of a document. There are free apps out there, like Adobe Scan or Evernote Scannable, that allow you to turn your smartphone into a scanner to scan documents like forms, receipts, business cards, and more by using the camera on your phone.

Productivity Over Procrastination

Ah, Google. You know people too well…

And sometimes it’s downright creepy. But this handy little helper is pretty cool! There is an extension for Google’s Chrome browser, called StayFocusd, that allows you to set a time to let your mind wander and get lost in the darkest corners of the Internet – or at least surf aimlessly for a pre-set interval. The default setting is 10 minutes, but you can change this depending on your needs. Once your mental break is over, Chrome basically locks you out and disables access forcing you to resume being productive.

Scheduled Sends

You know the email message you want to type, but now isn’t the right time to send it. Email marketing platforms are great for this type of structured send, but the focus of these solutions is to send to email lists rather than from a single sender to a single recipient. There is an add-on for Gmail called Boomerang that facilitates scheduled sending for email.

Time Management

Ever wonder how you’re spending your time? Are you making the most of your day? Eternity Time Log is a time-tracking app to see how you’re spending your time, broken out by personal time, time spent devoted to professional productivity, and sees where interruptions occur – all in the name of organization.

Solar Power

The ancient Egyptian god of the sun, Ra, was believed to have created all forms of life and ruled over all parts of the created world: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Man was believed to have been created from Ra’s sweat, and Ra represented light, growth, and warmth.

After reading this, it’s the understatement of the year to say that the sun is a good source of power…but it’s literally a great source of solar power. The SolPro Charger can soak up the sun’s rays and fully charge a smartphone with 90 minutes of exposure. Bonus: the charger can send power to your smartphone battery even as the SolPro is itself absorbing solar power.

If you had magical powers to stop time, how would you use it? Would you catch up on email correspondence? Would you read that best-seller you’ve been meaning to read for months now? Would you have a Netflix marathon? Would you catch up on a decade of sleep? Would you find the best way to organize your email inbox, filing cabinet, contact lists, or any number of other items that you’ve neglected for months?

Or would you – and here’s the genius move – use those powers to invent a device that could do all of this for you using the most advanced technology available, and make your own life easier? I think we know the answer.

Also, flying cars.

Are We Learning Anything From All These Cyber Attacks?

So many big, expensive cyber attacks have taken place in the last few years that it’s hard to remember them all – when will we learn our lesson?

Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks are common ground these days. There was the Chase Bank breach of 2014, which exposed the financial information of 76 million Chase customers. This attack was set to target 10 major financial institutions in total, but only one other company reported that data had been stolen. This company was Fidelity Investments. Though the attack caused serious repercussions for Chase Bank, the damage could have been much worse. Four hackers (two from Israel) were eventually arrested.

Hacking Isn’t Just About Stealing Data

In the Sony Pictures data breach of 2014, over 100 terabytes of data was stolen by North Korea. This attack was about more than just getting the personal information of consumers. The attack occurred because of a movie that Sony Pictures was set to release called “The Interview”.

The movie, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, was a fictional story about two journalists who go to North Korea to interview Kim Jung Un. The two men actually work for the CIA and are planning to assassinate the very well-known but unpopular leader. It was believed that North Korea’s leader ordered the cyber attack on Sony Pictures to show his displeasure and disapproval of the film. In addition to the personal information of Sony executives and other employees, hundreds of photos and emails were released to the public. These highly personal items caused a massive amount of embarrassment to Sony’s top executives.

No One Is Safe from Hackers

Proving that no one is immune from cyber hackers, Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies, was infiltrated by hackers in mid-2017. The company estimated that approximately 143 Americans were affected. In addition, an unknown number of consumers from Canada and the UK were affected by this breach.  Were there any signs that an enormous data breach like this might occur?

A report issued in October of 2017 by Motherboard, found that Equifax had certain vulnerabilities due to an online portal created for employees. Researchers discovered that the Equifax website was highly susceptible to a basic forced browsing bug. A researcher from Motherboard said that he didn’t even have to do anything special to infiltrate the system. It was far too easy to get in.

“All you had to do was put in a search term and get millions of results, just instantly—in cleartext, through a web app,” the researcher said.

In spite of this information being available to Equifax, it took them six months to close the portal and shut down these vulnerabilities. In this day and age, it’s unthinkable that organizations as sophisticated as Equifax might be so lax in their data security.

The Final Cost of Cyber Breaches

Target Stores lost millions of dollars when they had to reimburse customers for their losses after their 2013 data breach. In addition to that, a class action lawsuit was settled for roughly $10 million. As if that wasn’t enough, 20-30 percent of Target shoppers said they were worried about shopping online at Target stores after the breach.

Are We More Vulnerable Than We Believe?

Many data security experts believe that cyber weaknesses like this are far more common than the public believes. In an era when everyone should be fully aware and taking every precaution to prevent a data breach, numerous large corporations remain at risk.

After all is said and done, most people would expect any organization that has experienced a cyber theft to drastically improve their cybersecurity. Large, expensive data breaches leave an organization open to legal action, plus they’re embarrassing. Consumers say that they are less likely to do business with any company that has been a victim of a cyber breach.

But has that really happened? A new study performed by CyberArk reveals that 46 percent of all companies who have experienced a cyber breach have not substantially updated their security policies.

This failure to learn from past mistakes has the public truly baffled. In some cases, IT professionals have been interviewed and asked why they haven’t greatly improved their cybersecurity. Over 30 percent of these pros said that they did not believe it was possible to prevent all cyber-attacks. This indicates that even security experts aren’t sure what to do to stop future attacks from occurring. But, should we simply make the decision not do anything at all?

New Report Sheds Light on the Problem

A 2018 report from CyberArk called, “Global Advanced Threat Landscape Report”, indicates that at least half of all businesses and organizations have only taken the basic security measures required by law. Though their public relations department may say they are taking every precaution to protect customer data, this is probably not true. In addition, 36 percent of respondents in the report said that administrative credentials were currently being stored in Excel or Word docs. These documents would be easy to obtain by any hacker with average skills.

The Global Advanced Threat Landscape Report also reveals that the number of users with administrative privileges has jumped from 62 percent to 87 percent over the past few years. This points to the fact that many companies are opting for employee convenience over data security best practices. This is an alarming statistic given the soaring cost of cyber breaches.

Moving Into the Future with Better Cyber Security

The new AT&T Global State of Cybersecurity highlights many of the critical gaps that remain in our cybersecurity strategies. IT infrastructure and critical data must be fully protected, including credentials and security answer keys. In most organizations, those in higher positions are given greater access and authority to online data and this equates to heightened risks of a cyber breach.

According to Alex Thurber, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Mobility Solutions, “If 2017 has taught us anything, it is that every device needs to be secured because any vulnerability will be found and exploited”.

The company is set to sign a deal with Punkt Tronics to install better security on smartphones, Blackberry devices, and other electronic devices. With consumers spending more and more time browsing on their cell phones, all mobile carriers are searching for ways to better protect their customers from hacking.

What Consumers Can Do

A great increase in the sale of anti-virus software and password managers demonstrates a strong resolve by consumers to incorporate stronger security measures into their everyday lives. Innovative technology is producing a new generation of security software that combines threat defense techniques and other more conventional means of cybersecurity. Though some of these techniques are having an impact, experts believe there’s much more to be done.

As our society becomes more aware and more prepared, even stronger security for IT systems will be developed. Until then, security experts urge the public to be more cautious about clicking on links. Employees at any company need regularly scheduled security meetings where they are educated and reminded to utilize best practices when using smartphones and computers. All programs should be updated regularly with software updates and fixes to known bugs. Create difficult passwords and change them every 90 days. These are just a few of the ways that consumers can stay safe while surfing on the internet.

IT Is Changing – IT Budgeting Is Too.

When was the last time you thought about technology and the role it plays in your business success? Strategic IT Budgeting and planning for the tactical use of technology resources will bolster your business efforts to establish a competitive advantage. Just as you develop and adjust your annual business plans, you should do the same when it comes to IT planning and budgeting.

IT Budget

Budgeting for IT Has Completely Changed

Technology is now a part of nearly everything you do, and it involves much more than computers. With the advent of artificial intelligent (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence (BI) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, the line items for IT may take up quite a bit more space on your balance sheets than before.

With information technology changing so rapidly, it’s sometimes difficult for business owners to anticipate what they will need for optimal performance in years to come. In the past, it was easy to budget for technology. You simply purchased the number of computers and software programs you needed to handle the basics. Today information technology is central to most all of your business processes. What you choose and how you choose to use it can mean the difference between success and failure. But how do you anticipate what you’ll need tomorrow?

The Increasing Dependence on Information Technology

In today’s competitive environment, businesses must rely on technology in order to compete and survive in the marketplace. With computers, the Internet and the availability of more software applications, productivity has been increased for many. Technology helps employees become more efficient, quick, and precise.

Information can now be relayed instantaneously, coworkers can collaborate on projects in real time from wherever they are, and businesses now have the ability to more easily spread their services throughout the world. We can no longer function without our computers, laptops, tablets or phones. Even our smartphones have the capabilities and apps that allow us to run our business from anywhere we have cell service.

You can cut labor costs by using computers and software programs for payroll, project management, and accounting. Instead of budgeting for hours of labor, you now need to budget for computers and programs. In the long run, this is money-saver for businesses of any size.

IT Budgeting Must Be a Priority

With IT shifting from just another piece of equipment in the office to the core of business operations, you should designate it as a central part of your budget. This also means that you must assess and clearly define how IT aligns with your business objectives to decide what you’ll need for the coming year(s).

Proper IT budgeting will help you lay a foundation for success for the future. Using the right IT solutions can help you:

  • Accelerate your business growth.
  • Increase your operational effectiveness.
  • Ensure optimal productivity from your employees.
  • Overcome operational challenges.
  • Increase collaboration and communication.
  • Reinforce your efforts to win new business.

Your IT Budget Should Be a Key Component of Your Business Plan

  • Think big and in terms of the innovative measures you can employ to increase productivity, efficiency, mobility, collaboration, and communication.
  • Every department in your business should adopt this philosophy when considering what they need to improve operations and cut costs.
  • Consider the value IT solutions bring to your business. For example, Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions will pay for themselves many times over when compared to the cost of losing your critical data.
  • Include key players in your organization when planning your IT budget. Your purchasing department may have different goals and requirements than your sales or distribution teams. Ensure you consider all initiatives and how innovative technologies will help them succeed.
  • Remain open-minded. What worked for you in the past probably won’t be enough in the year(s) to come. Consider your business’s changing needs and how new technologies might align more closely with them.

Assess and Clarify Your Business Requirements Before You Begin

Before you start, you must determine what your business will face in the coming year(s).

Will you be:

  • Launching a product or service that requires a new fulfillment process?
  • Acquiring another company or participating in a merger?
  • Adding employees to your staff who will need additional hardware and software?
  • Processing and storing additional confidential, proprietary or personal data that needs protecting?
  • Moving to a larger office, or adding satellite offices in other locations?

Consider the Following Requirements When Budgeting for Technology

  • Industry and Government Regulations: Will you need additional resources for data backup, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, HIPAA, FINRA, PCI/DSS compliance?
  • Cybersecurity: With all the new and evolving cyber threats will your current IT security solutions be enough? This is an ever-increasing need due to the growing cyber threat landscape. Will you need managed firewalls, antivirus solutions, security awareness training for your employees, mobile-device-management, remote 24/7 security monitoring, Security as a Service or other solutions to protect your IT infrastructure? Most businesses need these and more to ensure their data remains secure.
  • Productivity and Collaboration: Software as a Service (SaaS) applications like Microsoft Office 365 provide your business the capabilities a larger-sized business enjoys, with popular applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and much more packaged together in a subscription-based platform. Plus, you and your employees can access it from wherever you are on your smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktops.
  • Communications: Many businesses are switching from desktop phones to VoIP systems. With VoIP business phones you and your employees can make and receive calls remotely via your smartphones, retrieve messages via voicemail-to-email, and stay connected even if power and Internet access go down.

Consider All the IT Components You’ll Require

Hardware – This is the backbone of your IT infrastructure – The actual technology equipment you need to run your business. Be sure to include installation costs and maintenance in your calculations for items like the following:

  • Workstations
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Servers
  • Cabling
  • Firewalls
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Business Phones
  • Warranties
  • Licenses
  • Renewals
  • Hardware Implementation

Software – These are the business applications you’ll need to run your business. Be sure to include licenses and support contracts for your on-premise solutions.

  • Business Software and Applications for your Workstations, Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones
  • Server Software
  • Anti-Virus, Anti-Spam, Anti-Malware Software
  • Backup Software
  • Routine Software Implementation

Subscriptions – These are any costs associated with subscription-based services like cloud solutions. They include options like Workstation as a Service (WaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Security as a Service (SecaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and more.

Services & Support – This is the cost for services required to support all of your IT operations. It may encompass expenses for in-house IT employees, or contracts with a Managed Services Provider who will maintain all your IT infrastructure needs. Expenses may include:

  • Salaries and benefits for IT employees.
  • Monthly fees for an external IT provider (MSP).
  • Annual costs for vendors of owned software/hardware.
  • Outsourcing for selected services like monitoring, help desk, security services, data backup.
  • Data network expenses (Virtual Private Networks, Wide Area Network connections, Internet Service Providers, Broadband Connections).
  • Training for internal IT staff and industry certifications, Security Awareness Training for employees.

Project Costs – These are initiatives to transform or improve operations to support the growth of your business, and may include:

  • IT Consulting and Planning.
  • IT Project Implementation.
  • Additional software and/or hardware.

Identify the Gaps Between What You Have and What You Need

Now it’s time to compare your current IT capabilities with what’s needed to meet your business requirements for the upcoming year(s). Once you identify the gaps, you must align them with what your budget allows. You might not be able to purchase all of them. Make a list of the “must have” and another of the “would-like-to-have” technology assets. Go for what will give you the best return on your investment (ROI), and what you “must have” to keep your data secure and business running efficiently.

Implementing Your Solutions

Implementation planning is critical as it lays out the steps you’ll take to complete your IT Budget for the year. You should contract with an IT Managed Services Provider to help you acquire, install and deploy your new IT solutions. The best ones will offer a payment plan that allows you to pay for the services you need on a monthly basis. And, don’t choose just any company, or one according to their prices. Also, make sure they aren’t a “fix-it-and-go” company. You want an IT partner who will be with you 24/7. Ask your business associates for referrals, check the testimonials on the MSPs’ websites, and certainly interview more than one.

The following are some things to consider when selecting an IT provider.  

Can they provide for your IT needs?

Consider your current IT support needs and how these might change in the coming year. Also, consider how these needs will change beyond next year as your business grows. Make a detailed list of your IT service and support requirements and objectives to determine if the IT provider can meet, and even, surpass them.

Look for an IT company that’s located in nearby

This affects the speed at which the company can respond onsite when IT emergencies arise. They should have the ability to handle all of your concerns and provide solutions thoroughly and effectively.

Do they offer fixed-rate managed services solutions?

To keep your IT budget under control, look for an IT Managed Services Provider who provides fixed-rate, all-in-one IT services. This is the only way you can accurately budget for IT services in the coming year(s).

Choose an IT company that provides 24/7 support, as well as onsite and remote service

With around-the-clock service and support, you’ll always have the assistance you require when IT issues arise. Also, ask if they can remotely identify and block cyberattacks, and address IT problems before they cause downtime, breaches or data loss.

Are their service technicians certified, knowledgeable and experienced?

Visit the company’s website to assess the experience they have, how long they’ve been operating and what services they provide. Check the testimonials on their website and online reviews. Ask if you can contact some of their customers to ask their opinions about the service they receive.

Ensure you’ll receive the value you require from an IT MSP

The cheapest provider isn’t always the best. Before you sign a contract with an MSP, ensure it includes any and all contingencies that may arise and details about how services are priced and delivered. Your IT provider must also be capable of aligning technology services to meet your budgetary guidelines and ensure that you’ll receive maximum value from your IT investments.

Look for an IT company that offers training on software, hardware, and security

It’s essential that your staff is thoroughly trained on your systems and software, as well as Security Awareness Education to avoid being victimized by hackers. This will increase their confidence, capabilities, and productivity, and provide a first-line of defense against cyber threats.

Will they assign a dedicated account manager to your business?

This is a representative from the MSP who will act as your main point of contact. This person can get to know your business and your requirements in detail, to ensure you receive the exact service you need.

Do they provide monthly reports?

You must stay informed and aware of the performance of your IT assets. You’ve invested a lot in them, and you must be kept apprised regarding their capabilities and value. These monthly reports should highlight which solutions are performing well, and which ones need improvement.

Can your MSP act as your IT Consultant and Strategist?

You can greatly benefit from an IT Consultant who operates as an extension of your business. They can liaison with vendors and provide strategic technical advice to ensure your IT investments are providing what you need. They can assist with your IT budgeting and help you plan ahead and take advantage of the best prices.

IT Budgeting is an Ongoing Process

You shouldn’t think of IT budgeting as having a start and finish. It’s an ongoing process with a series of do’s and don’ts. No plan is 100% correct, and if you run into obstacles you should modify your budget. Budgets are often modified after they are prepared as we discover things we didn’t know before. You must find what works, what doesn’t and make adjustments along the way. Your IT budget will go through cycles as your business needs grow and change, and as the opportunity to take advantage of new, innovative technologies emerges.