The Mobile Savior of Small Business

Among the radical changes in the recent world is the impact of mobile devices on modern society.  Quickly becoming the first screen of information for everyone, mobile apps are even being used by the electronically resistant senior population who has found convenient use of large-print apps and the ability to maintain closer contact with grandchildren.  We have seen such a great shift in the past five years so that even the shortest elevator ride has people pulling out their phones to manage their lives.  This poses opportunity, as well as, challenges for businesses trying to stay ahead of the pack.

Big business has been the first mover with custom mobile apps that segment services to their simplest form.  With a few clicks on an iPhone, anyone can re-order medication, purchase movie tickets, or find their way using GPS technology.  To the small businessman, mobile apps are still something to put-off developing because it adds to the development budget, and they resort to mobile friendly sites that only require one build.  This means developing web apps with a width of less than 960 px and reducing the number of pages that display on mobile devices.  A true mobile app requires additional development dollars, but is native to the mobile device, even using geo location sensors and maps.

There are also more challenges involved with mobile apps because, just as web applications must function in multiple browsers, mobile apps must also function in multiple mobile frameworks (iPhone, Android, etc.), adding to the burden and cost of development.  For all the trouble, most small businesses throw in the towel applying their efforts in things they understand.

A new friend has come into the development community, and it has the potential to narrow the gulf between small and large business.  PhoneGap is a free and open source framework that allows you to create mobile apps using standardized web APIs for the platforms you are most likely already using.  That means, without needing to write code in a new language, developers can continue in their native environments, like HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.  PhoneGap will then recompile the code, turning your web app into a mobile app that runs on IOS, IPhone, IPAD, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7, Web.O.S, and Simbian.

Adobe saw the potential and invested heavily in PhoneGap as part of their plan to compensate for FLASH Players fading relevance.  They have put this service into a pretty package and are adding services such as compiling your code in the cloud, which ultimately improves consistency and offers convenience to the developer. They sell it simply:

Build great apps powered by open web standards. Cut down on development time by re-using your existing web dev skills, frameworks and tools. Get all the benefits of cross-platform development while building apps just the way you like.

Developers should be paying attention because they can use their existing development team without the need to find or create mobile specialists.  It also allows the ability to incorporate sensors, like geo location and cameras, which are native to the mobile environment.

Small business will love this because it simplifies their development strategy and gives them wider access to their customers.  It makes mobile development affordable for everyone and could very well equalize the playing field between big and small business.   For this reason, we are paying close attention to PhoneGap and hope to add it to our list of services very soon.


Where You May Find Your Next Client

I think of our company as one that provides reliable service, but I have been recently affirmed in this notion when I began reaching out through social media. The results blew me away.

This summer we launched a new initiative to reach out to our personal connections and see whom we know. It wasn’t a difficult exercise, but required that we take a bit of time each day to engage ourselves on LinkedIn. When we began, our combined list of contacts was small, more indicative of our social networking inactivity than the reality of connections.

As we reached out, we did not merely send out invitations to connect and move on, but we relied on thoughtful engagement, going for as much quality as quantity. Our hope was to connect in a more tangible way; making referrals, endorsements, writing recommendations, and providing readable and relevant content on our website. It was important to us that this experience was less about intrusion for numbers sake and more about benefitting those with whom we connected. In other words; if they benefitted – it would be returned to us.

It didn’t take long to see an impact on our bottom line. New connections led to new conversations, which led to new projects. In short order, we nearly doubled the number of people in our network, and the connections we made gave us a great deal of positive feedback. Here’s one such example:

Whiteboard-IT is extremely knowledgeable, providing innovative IT solutions to help resolve my needs in a timely and cost effective manner. They are available at a moment’s notice and are highly responsive to issues that need to be resolved quickly. Bottom line…they do what they say they will do. I have recommended Whiteboard to other colleagues in a variety of businesses and will continue to do so. I cannot say enough good things about their customer service, technical expertise, and business personality.
Jessica Boroff, RN, BSN
 The Compliance Store

Of course she would not have said these things if we weren’t good at what we do. Her recommendation is now posted on our site, which others will also see. But the renewed activity, including these testimonials, has been a priceless part in priming our sales pipeline. And future clients are more confident when they you have mutual connections.

But it goes to show; If you do a quality work at your trade it’s unlikely that everything has completely dried up, fiscal cliff or not. You may find, as we did, that reaching out out to your connections may be of great benefit. It may also generate a nice return.


Zombie Apocalypse – Preparing Your Business

Sunset arrives and your afternoon nap went a little long. Suddenly you launch yourself from the couch and hurriedly begin closing your shutters using the new bolts you located on Amazon, which also introduced its latest product; Zombie Preparedness Kits; complete with HK1 hydrokinetic adjustable wrench that you never knew you needed until now.  With local distribution centers, you need not wait 43-days, the new UPS-Ground delivery time from the West Coast.  It avoids most cemeteries where the undead are mostly concentrated.

Your shoe closet is worthless. The boxes are great for your kids new hobby of collecting and burying reanimated human digits that squirm on the ground; one of the creepiest normalities of this new world.  Prada’s sales have plummeted, while Zappos more practical Kevlar boots and thick leather mid-calf selections are flying off the virtual shelf.   Everything has changed.  Graphic novelists now became useful, hired as consultants because who else knows more about reanimated human life forms?  This is was one of the millions of ways uninfected men and women needed to reinvent themselves.

The CDC.gov document was prophetic, as was the reportedly fictional work published by the Weather Channel.  They were ready.  Those who didn’t adapt digitally were eaten alive. Literally.  Fortifications needed to be strengthen, food needed to be hoarded, and e-business became competitive to the extreme.  Why?  Clothing racks are great hidy-holes for mindless “Walkers” eager to eat your brains.

Smart businesses prepared early, using SEO strategies with key words like Brain Delicacies, Undead, cross bow, and throwing axes.  Knowing how to play ball, they saw the trends before-hand and coded their sites appropriately.  Security features didn’t just deal with PCI compliance, but maintained new rules on delivery men, including those who rode shotgun. Old school sites were still optimized for Gangnam Style queries; laughably useless in days like this.

Analytics and trend analysis has now saved many lives, feeding families with profits earned by businesses ahead of the horde.  But even if there were not zombies, they would have been ready.  Still – it’s not too late for you.

If you are thinking about how growing trends could impact your market then you have made your first step in staying ahead of the horde.  Zombies or no, the tide is moving and you need to get on board.

 


What do CFO’s Want?

CFO’s and business owners want feedback from their programmers, which is tough when often times the better programmers have spent their lives incubating skills that borrow from their ability to return phone calls.  And costs for a web site are all over the place; from several hundred dollars for a simple revision to a hundreds of thousands of dollars for a site with vast databases, and volumes of functionality. So – when a project depends on a high level of accountability and communication, and all of them do, clients just want to know what is really happening behind the veil of code.

All consultants’ fees are based on a daily billing rate, which reflects the value they place on one day’s labor plus expected overhead expenses. These rates appear in fixed fees, monthly retainers, hourly billing or even by measuring a company’s performance.  Either way, those fees must be justified with the quality of their work combined with effective communication and reporting.

The savior of the coding hero is to maintain good internal systems and to enjoy the ability to recognize weakness and to compensate for it by surrounding one’s self with colleagues of varying skills and personalities.  This wisdom steers a client away from hiring one-man shops where “man-down” doesn’t mean the death of a project.  Consistency comes when redundancies are as present as the front-line programmer.

At Whiteboard, we make a habit of communicating internally through continual education, participation in the open source community and a diligent internal peer review process.  In doing so we encourage our staff to pay attention to the details.  It also keeps us talking, keeping all parties informed.  Upon request, our clients receive online access to reports that monitor the progress of each project, including time sheets.

We have cleaned up many messes created by one-man shops or companies who care little for the details.  And while we are grateful for the opportunity to do so, we feel your pain and look forward to providing relief.

 


Can You Afford PCI Compliance?

I remember hearing it on the radio; another major retail store was targeted by hackers, a store I had shopped not two weeks prior. That sinking feeling struck, the one that calls me to drop everything in order to familiarize myself with my credit card company’s phone bank to cancel my cards.

New brawny standards protect us against such events and the incentive for a company to comply is tremendous, but tough standards are not great if they are tough to reach. So we ask; is the arsenal guarding us from online theft too hard to grasp for the average online business?

That arsenal is called PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) Compliance, and is an overarching security standard defined by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council to establish common processes and precautions for handling, processing, storing and transmitting credit card data. It was created with both a carrot and a stick to prevent data security breaches like the ones we have seen with companies like TJX, Bank of America, Citigroup, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Hotels.com, LexisNexis, Polo Ralph Lauren and Wachovia.

These company names are huge, which makes them bigger targets. Still, the bulls-eye is on any of us who take credit cards online, and there is no company that wants to face customers with the bad news that they have been compromised.

The “carrot” alone is the personal satisfaction that your customers’ card data is buttoned up. Further allurement is the safe harbor provided by credit card companies from penalties and fines to merchants who are compliant.

The “stick,” however, comes with the threat of removal of your ability to process credit cards. Punitive fines of up to $500,000 per incident or $90-300 per stolen record will also inspire a business to comply.

Still, the price-tag for compliance is high and they even make calculators to figure it all out. This is one article that helps define the cost this way:

Level 1 Merchant:

  • Initial scope – $250,000
  • Becoming compliant – $550,000
  • Annual cost – $250,000

Level 2 Merchant:

  • Initial scope – $125,000
  • Becoming compliant – $260,000
  • Annual Cost – $100,000

Level 3 and 4 Merchants:

  • Initial scope – $50,000
  • Becoming compliant – $81,000
  • Annual cost – $35,000

Developers  have their work cut out for them as they must undergo the lengthy and costly process of validating their application. And all this will not get any less burdensome as the Security Standards Council releases a new version of the PCI DSS about every 2 years. Recurring audits, and additional/new hardware requirements are all stifling to the average businessman.

But there is good news. By working with an approved Gateway that doesn’t require your server to store, process, or transmit card data you can save the hassle. These allow safe payment processing and reduce the regulatory scope by sending crucial data to their servers instead of yours.

There is also safety in choosing a cart that is widely accepted as compliant, like Shopify and BigCommerce; As opposed to a custom cart solution where compliance must be created from scratch.

Authorize.net, Paypal or Braintree provide off-your-server processing, and of these we have found Braintree to provide the most convenience because the data is not stored on your hosted server – even in memory.  Unlike Paypal (basic or express checkout), it also allows shoppers to remain on your site.

So to answer our initial question; PCI Compliance is too costly for the average businessman to comply, but we are fortunate to live in a free market that sees bureaucracy as an opportunity. Companies like Braintree may have been created with profit in mind, but they are offering a service that gives us carrots and saves us from the stick.

 

 


Website vs Brick and Mortar -Top 10 Benefits

Creating a website can open up opportunities for your business in many different ways. The website can act as an informational portal for both existing and prospective customers. It can function as a billboard designed to bring in and convert new leads. It can be used to produce a community adjacent to your product. The website can be your virtual store, and your marketing tool.  You can use it to analyze trends, identify pricing issues, track and report on your marketing campaigns and coupons. A website can truly be a one size fits all tool for many of the needs of your business.

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