RSSAll Entries in the "60-Second Solutions" Category

A Better Way to Carry Cash Overseas

If you’re traveling overseas on business, here’s a better way to carry local currency:  Pre-loaded, security protected, foreign-currency debit cards good at millions of locations that accept Visa or MasterCard worldwide.  Two dominant players are the Cash Passport Card (www.cashpassportcard.com) and TravelMoney card (www.visa.com), which carry the MasterCard, Visa or other name brand labels and are issued by various banks, global companies such as Travelex and organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Travel money cards are a secure way to carry cash when traveling. The card is PIN protected and if it’s lost or stolen, just notify the issuer for a replacement or refund. Some provide zero liability coverage. Under Visa’s policy, for example, you have 100% protection from unauthorized transactions made with a lost or stolen card.

They are also hard to beat for convenience. Instead of jumping through hoops to cash a travelers’ check at a bank, store or other location, these cards are readily accepted worldwide, and let you get cash in local currencies from an ATM 24/7. And since these are pre-paid cards, you won’t be facing any surprise credit card bills when you return from your trip. If there’s money left on the card, just bring it back for a refund or take the remaining funds from any ATM.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Great US Economic Indicator for Small Business

Small business owners don’t generally follow broad based economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP), industrial production, national unemployment or hundreds of others produced by the federal government.  But there’s a new kid on the economic forecasting block that’s worth checking out for an accurate view of where the economy is likely headed.  

The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index – or just PCI for short – is a first-of-its-kind, real time measure of the flow of goods to U.S. factories, retailers and consumers.   This privately-produced index is a way to see what’s happening much earlier than government data that can lag months behind and often undergoes numerous subsequent revisions.

Unlike survey-based indicators, or those that rely on estimates (or outright guessing), PCI is based on actual fuel purchases by trucking companies as they happen.  Speed of data collection is key.  This could not have happened in the past before the age of fuel cards that get swiped thousands of times daily coast to coast.  Each time a trucker buys diesel, the information is captured.  Collectively, these purchases have proven to be a highly accurate indicator of what’s really happening in the economy ahead of anything else.   

The tale being told right now by the PCI is positive.  The latest report showed a 16th consecutive month of year-over-year growth.   The PCI has been growing since it first turned positive in December 2009. In short, the PCI says the U.S. economy is fundamentally healthy, and continuing to improve, albeit slowly.

The complete latest report, regional analysis and additional commentary are available free at www.ceridianindex.com or by contacting index@ceridian.com. The site also offers further details such as index graphs and downloadable data, video commentary and background information with options to receive updates via e-mail and RSS feed.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Global Fulfillment for Small Business

If your retail business is growing but storage, shipping and fulfilling orders have you running in circles; an under-the-radar site that caters to small businesses has your back.  With a few clicks at up-and-coming Shipwire, you can send inventory to their warehouses, integrate with your own website and start fulfilling your customers’ orders in real time.   Shipwire handles the storage, the packing, the shipping and other logistical details from warehouses in the U.S., Canada and Europe, with more coming worldwide.

Don Chernoff credits Shipwire with helping get his firm Skyroll rolling. Skyroll makes lightweight, compact luggage. But Chernoff was frustrated because he was spending so much time on shipping and fulfilling orders himself.  ShipWire took those tasks off his plate so he could concentrate on selling.  Similar services wanted long-term contracts, big startup fees and volume commitments. Chernoff needed something simple to get his Internet operation off the ground. The Shipwire service lets businesses of all types — from garage startups and web entrepreneurs to seasonal businesses and importers — have multiple warehouses and automated order fulfillment at their fingertips.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Free Online Desktop Sharing

The award-winning innovators at LogMeIn have created JoinMe – the simplest way yet to share your computer screen with somebody else.  For fast-moving small businesses, JoinMe could be a terrific timesaver. Tech nerds and IT consultants already know about LogMeIn, which offers services such as remote tech support and desktop control. But as a businessperson, how many times have you been on the phone telling someone where to go online, or wishing you could quickly show them a document, photo, spreadsheet or presentation right then, without having to email it or get them to correctly type in a URL? JoinMe is the answer.

 Think of it as an impromptu meeting that can happen anytime or anyplace, allowing you to get a second (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) pair of eyes on your info or ideas from across the hall — or across the ocean.  It’s sharing your screen instantly with anyone to get stuff done quickly.

At JoinMe you have two choices: Share or Join. Click “share” to download the necessary application (it’s small and quick) and you’re all set.  Give the access code to the others whom you want to join. That’s about it. The service is free and works like a dream.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Easily Manage Expense Reports Online

Expense reports are a pain – for you, your business and your employees.  But new services that let you manage the process online are changing how expense reports happen — and saving small business owners time and money.  Expensify, which bills itself as “Expense reports that don’t suck,” is an up-and-comer in the online expense report space.

It’s an app and a website service that makes expense reporting totally digital.  For example, it lets users import expenses directly from credit card accounts.  You can also import expense info by mobile phone or email. Snap pictures of your receipts with your camera phone and send them to your file.  Once all of your info is there, you can quickly assemble the expenses on the website. All of your imported, uploaded and logged business expenses are stored digitally and available 24/7. Reimbursements can be made easily online using QuickBooks and direct deposit.

 Submitting reports is free for everyone in your business. Up to two can be approved and reimbursed each month for free; after that, there’ a monthly fee of $5 for each submitter who is reimbursed. You can download the Expensify app from the Intuit Workplace App Center (a great place, by the way!).

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Low Cost Video Surveillance

Video security and surveillance for small business may never be the same.  GotoCamera, a new web-based service, makes it easy and affordable for even non-techies to watch over your bar, retail store or any other business by using your Internet connection and low-cost webcams you may already own. Conventional systems require costly equipment and can be challenging to set up and operate. GotoCamera is a simple (“built for the average Joe”) web application you connect to with standard USB and webcams, including those built into your laptops and PCs.

It works like this: Register at GotoCamera. Download and install the GotoCamera client (program). Launch the program (password protected), choose a name for your camera(s) and the picture quality you want, and hit OK. When you log in to your account at GotoCamera, you’ll see your cameras listed under My Cameras.  Click on the camera icon to see a live image from one camera; the multi-image icon for a series of auto-refresh live images; the video icon for a 10-second video clip recorded on demand; or the stream icon for a live stream. You can set up a recording schedule, share your camera and view archives.

There’s a free trial until the end of September, and then there will be a free basic service that handles one camera. The intro price for full service will be only $29.95 per year, which includes up to four cameras, streaming video and additional storage. You can also get alerts on your mobile phone.

GotoCamera is also introducing a free mobile app that will let you repurpose old mobile phones into video surveillance devices. You can place the device in a key location, connect to a Wi-Fi network and check in on what’s happening at any time.

How to Take Your Training Online

Mindflash is a new online tool that can make employee training easier than ever for anything from how to use your phone system to sales methods and company policies. Whether your business employs forklift operators, sales reps or cashiers, you probably have a need for training of some kind.   Mindflash is super flexible. Employees can learn on their own schedule and at their own pace. Also, the information is there for everyone whenever they need it.

The site can turn almost any type of materials you have – PDFs, Word files, PowerPoint, videos and more – into online training with intuitive tools that make using the site simple.  Automated emails make it easy to invite, enroll and remind your new hires and other employees. All you have to do is build (or upload) a list and Mindflash does the rest.  You can even build in quizzes and use Mindflash’s built-in reporting tools to see who viewed the training and how they did on your tests.

The folks behind Mindflash are no flash in the pan themselves. CEO Donna Wells formerly helped run the super-successful personal finance site Mint.com and now has her sights set on transforming the boring, outdated e-learning industry.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Boost Biz with a Wireless Photo Memory Card

Local businesses – from doggie day care to flower shops – are gaining an edge over “the big guys” with a new wireless photo delivery device that lets them share images instantly with customers by using a digital camera in a different way.  Eye-Fi is being billed as the first-ever wireless memory card. Eye-Fi looks just like any memory card you pop into your digital camera, except this one comes with built-in Wi-Fi that uses your wireless network to transfer photos and videos to your PC, website, and photo sharing services or just about anywhere you want. Photos and videos can land in selected folders too, so your images are organized effortlessly.

Here’s how three local business owners are using Eye-Fi’s wireless uploads, endless photo storage and (almost) universal digital camera compatibility to help run their businesses better:

  • Joseph Gianni’s passion for animals inspired him to open his doggie day care business in Chicago. He uses his Eye-Fi card to take pictures of people’s pets and wirelessly upload them to his site so customers can see Fido having a great time while they are at work or enjoying their vacation.
  • Phoenix business owner Scott Overman travels from street festivals to grand events for his custom T-shirt printing business called Wear it Now! At each event he uses his Eye-Fi card to snap pictures of people to go on a shirt. The photos travel from his camera to his computer for the customer to view and approve the image on the spot, allowing him to sell more shirts and gain new customers.
  • When Pennsylvania florist shop owners Rich Dudley and his wife found out they were having a baby, they worried about running the shop and caring for their newborn.  The Eye-Fi card is helping them do both. Rich snaps a picture of the flower arrangement he’s working on and by turning on his camera the images fly directly to his wife’s computer at home, where she’s able to share her feedback.

Eye-Fi cards come in different versions starting at $49.95.

Free Technology Training and Advice for Small Business

Keeping up with technology (or getting in the tech game to begin with) is something millions of small business owners and startups struggle with.  Many have dreamed of having a “technology mentor” they could turn to for expert advice, and access to free tools for learning how to put tech to use. Happily, there’s something new that promises just that.  

eBusinessNow.org – a new program just launched by SCORE with backing from a bevy of big tech companies – is in a mission to help small business owners better understand how new web-based technologies can help boost their businesses, and show how to tap that technology for business growth.

Online, on-demand “Tech Made Simple” workshops form a core component of eBusinessNow. These include:

  • Technology:  Boosting your business using tech
  • Roadmap: Creating a tech plan for your small business
  • Build a site: Building the perfect website for your business
  • Sales:  Using technology to jumpstart your business
  • Cash Flow:  Applying technology to improve your cash flow

But workshops are just the beginning.  eBusinessNow also offers helpful “how-to” guides in these same five topic areas, as well as local Tech Made Simple events held in cities across the country.  

Putting a SCORE Technology Mentor on Your Side

And here’s one of the best parts: An experienced SCORE technology mentor can provide personalized advice – for free.  Whether you’re just starting out, or already have a business, these SCORE mentors will help you harness the power of cutting-edge technology to grow your business.  Go to the “Find a Mentor” section at eBusinessNow to find a SCORE location near you, or search for a mentor online.

“When I first met Emmett, my SCORE technology mentor, I was a senior at the College of William and Mary,” says Frank Taylor, founder of Campus Massage. “I wanted to operate automated massage chairs on college campuses using a unique payment system. Before coming to SCORE I had encountered some technological barriers while trying to get the concept off the ground. Emmett has helped me refocus my business plan and navigate the complex process of developing a new technology.”

A SCORE tech mentor helped Yamile Jackson, founder of Zakeez, Inc. in Sugarland, TX, tap the potential of high-speed Internet. “Broadband is not a luxury, it is essential for my business,” selling products and services for healthy babies, she says. “Because our resources are limited, it is important to be efficient in how we distribute advertisements, news and sales efforts to a wide audience. Broadband also allows me to reach customers around the world, conduct web conferencing and keep an eye on my competition.”

eBusinessNow’s backers include AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco, Constant Contact, Google, HP, Intuit, Microsoft, Skype and Time Warner Cable, plus the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

These heavy tech hitters ensure that eBusinessNow has legs.  “The fact that we have such a strong list of high profile companies attests to the critical importance of technology mentoring and training for small business,” says Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Small Business Solutions of the Week

BizBest 30-Second Solutions

“30-Second Solutions” – a BizBest exclusive – spotlights the best new and undiscovered profit- and productivity-boosting products and services for small business, explainable in 30 seconds or less.  Here’s our latest half dozen: 

  1. Daily Discount Deals for Biz Owners:  BizyDeal is a new site offering business owners deep discounts on products and services such as computer networking equipment, software, mobile devices, shipping, payroll, legal and accounting services, travel, car rental, banking, credit cards, insurance and more. It’s free to register and be notified when a new deal arrives.
  2. Your Own Custom Visa Loyalty Cards:  Want to turn heads with a custom designed and branded Visa loyalty, gift or incentive cards featuring your own logo or product images?  It’s easy for any small business to do with a new service from Incentive CardLab.  Arizona-based Woolaver Orthodontics uses the cards to thank patients for referrals.  For any referral that begins treatment, the referring patient receives a $100 Visa Incentive Card with Woolaver branding.  Law firm Balch & Bingham uses the cards to reward employees for years of service.
  3. Boot camp for Startups:  Startup Weekend has a simple premise: “No Talk, All Action.  Launch a Startup in 54 hours.”  So if you have startup on your mind, this is for you.  Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups. Events held at locations nationwide offer hands-on experiences where aspiring entrepreneurs can develop and test their startup ideas. 
  4. Quick and Easy Tax Filings:  Got employees?  If so, you must file quarterly IRS Form 941 reports to process tax payments and reconcile tax withholding.  FileTaxes.com – a BizBest ShortList selection – is an easy-to-use, low-cost way to file your forms online.  I’ve used this web-based tax filing service myself for years to process 1099s, W-2s and other tax forms, and it’s been a terrific time-saver.  No more tripping on filing rules.  The FileTaxes service ensures compliance and provides copies for your records that you can print or store and access anytime online. Just enter your summarized payroll data online.  Cost is just $4.95 for each Form 941.
  5. Free IBM Software Suite:  One cornerstone of starting and operating an efficient, profitable business is having the right tech tools and software. But software costs can quickly eat into capital. Lotus Symphony 3, IBM’s office productivity suite, is free and has more features than the typical fee-based office suites bundled with a new Mac or PC. With IBM Symphony, you can customize and arrange toolbars, create one-click PDFs and work in either a tabbed view or dedicated window views for applications (documents, presentations and spreadsheets).  Make no mistake: Symphony is packed with power and easy to use, and is every bit the equal (or more) of its costly counterparts. So why not break out of the costly upgrade cycle of Microsoft Office?  A unique click-to-cloud feature lets you connect directly to the internet from within the application and store or share your documents.  Symphony already has over 12 million users worldwide, and online support is easily available.  Download here: http://symphony.lotus.com.  
  6. More Gov Contracts for Women-Owned Biz:  Under a new program now underway, women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) have more opportunities than ever to snag lucrative federal government contracts.  The first contract awards are expected near the end of 2011.  The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBs.  The WOSB Federal Contract Program will provide greater access to federal contracting opportunities for WOSBs and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs). The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBsGo here: www.sba.gov/wosb.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.