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Migrating to the Cloud: Top 5 Essential Apps For Your Business

November 7th, 2011

With the cloud quickly gaining popularity, it is probably becoming increasingly clear that your business can benefit from migrating to the cloud from your legacy system. While there are a number of cloud service providers, Google Apps has provided reliable, secure, and easy-to-use cloud-based computing since 2006, making it a market leader. Google Apps even offers a platform specifically for businesses: Google Apps for Business.

While Google Apps comes with a number of standard apps, there are even more available to add onto your suite in the Google Apps Marketplace. But here are the top five apps that are absolutely essential to your business.

1. Gmail for Business. Most people are familiar with it through personal use, and while you may like the idea of Gmail, you don’t want your employees having Gmail email addresses. With Google Apps for Business, companies get a unique domain and custom email addresses (user@company.com) to use on the Gmail system. Employees will have access to 25GB of storage, which is 50 times the industry average, Google-powered search to quickly find archived conversations, IM and video chat, and threaded emails to group all emails with the same subject together.

2. Google Documents are great for working independently or collaborating with others. Through Google Docs, users can create files including documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, and then edit and store these files in the cloud. Forgetting to save your work is no longer a problem, since Google Docs automatically saves for you. Owners of a file can easily share it with others who can then have access to edit the file or leave comments on it. Multiple users can collaborate in real-time by simultaneously editing Google Docs from any location, making teamwork easy. Because Google Docs are “shared,” users no longer need to attach files to emails, which eliminates concerns about forgetting to attach files or files that are too large to send.

3. Google Sites is another key tool for collaboration. With Google Sites, users can easily create a website or intranet for a specific group of people. Perfect for team projects, users can put everything from files to calendars and responsibilities on Google Sites, providing their group with one, organized location to find all pertinent information.

4. Google Calendar allows users to schedule and keep track of events on multiple calendars. Employees can set Google Calendar to send email and SMS reminders and to send RSVPs to events. Because of Google Apps’ sharing capabilities, users can share specific calendars with others so that they can easily see the calendar owner’s availability. This tool makes scheduling meetings with coworkers or clients simple.

5. Google Groups is perfect for communicating with a set of people. Instead of sending emails to and sharing documents and calendars with a list of people, users can simply send or share with an entire group. Members can also respond to emails for the entire group, which often simplifies communication with others.

This blog post is brought to you by Cloud Sherpas. Cloud Sherpas is a leading Google Appscloud service provider. As a Google Apps Authorized Reseller and Google Enterprise partner, we have migrated over one million users across all major industries from legacy, on-premise messaging systems to Google Apps, helping organizations adopt cloud computing to innovate and dramatically reduce their IT expenses. Get to know our company by checking out our Facebook page atwww.facebook.com/cloudsherpas.

Join.me Review: Free Screen Sharing Online Software

November 6th, 2011

I just tested join.me free screen sharing.

You download a little application (takes 2 seconds) and you can share your computer screen with whoever has your access code. You can also give out your conference number so you can have a conversation. I was able to chat with my participant using the application, and share control of my screen. If you pay $19 bucks/mo, you get more features like meeting scheduling and a personal link, etc. But even with the free version, you can have 250 participants.

I thought this was a really cool software. It’s so easy to use, no instructions are necessary. If you’re unsure of what a button or icon is for, just hover your mouse over it, and a little clue will pop up. Try it out, let us know what you think!


What People Are Tweeting At Small Business Events This Week

November 4th, 2011

This is what a few people have Tweeted during small business conferences/summits/events this week. These caught my eye. It’s always good to keep abreast of what events are going on, even if you’re not attending…

(This compilation was done easily using Storify, check it out if you haven’t already)

Did you attend any of these events? Let us know what you learned!


Custom VS Free Websites

November 3rd, 2011

I’ve thrown together a comparison of free vs. custom websites. Of course most website designers will steer you towards a custom website. But this may not be feasible for everyone. And I wouldn’t recommend it if it exceeds your budget. But it definitely has its advantages as you can see below. The things that make free websites so attractive also make a business look very unprofessional and can dampen sales. Have I missed any comparison line items?

FREE WEBSITE Mindspring Design CUSTOM WEBSITE
Cost Free Starting at $395
Time 1 day or more 3-5 days or more
Design Template (may be used on other sites) Original (you have control over branding and meeting customers’ needs)
Maintenance DIY 24-hour online ticketing, website changes made within 1 day
SEO Optimized for search engines
HTML/CSS validated Yes
3rd Party Advertisements Yes No (not unless you want ads on your site)
Hosting Yes Yes (at cost)
Domain Name Not unique Your own unique domain

Track Tweets, Facebook Traffic, Anything with UTM Tags

October 27th, 2011

How many Twitter followers do you have? How many Facebook fans? Most people have a good idea of their online social popularity. But can you describe how these followers are interacting with your website or blog? How many are actually visiting you and converting to customers?

Track Marketing Campaigns Using the UTM Tag

Google Analytics, free web tracking software, allows you to attach little codes to your links so that you can track just about anything. You can track campaign performance through email newsletter clicks, tweets, banner ads, affiliate programs, pay-per-click, and even offline campaigns. This will help you see which marketing efforts are the most effective and to better target your future campaigns.

You can use Google’s UTM Tag Builder to accomplish this, but I prefer UTM.to because it uses easy, down-to-earth language. You type in your link URL and your campaign details. Little pop-up bubbles tell you how to fill out the short form, and alert you when you’ve messed up the format. You can also get a long or short version of the new tagged-up URL.

Let me know how this works for you.


New Mindspring Design Video

October 27th, 2011


Review of Comm100 Live Chat Customer Service Software

October 26th, 2011


I’m not a fan of calling companies on the phone for customer service. I’m not a fan of the phone in general. Between the automated phone system labyrinths (“Press or say what you would like … Did I hear that correctly?”) and being given the 3rd degree (“What’s you mother’s birth date? What’s the name of your elementary school?”), I’d rather interface over the net. Now, I know some companies do Live Chat better than others (*coughs* … Comcast you’re slow, and you stink). But you have to admit there’s appeal to being able to respond clearly and thoughtfully without getting cut off, and not having to repeat yourself ten times (“A-as in apple, N-as in nancy…..”). In addition, you can have multiple windows open on your computer and do some multi-tasking while you’re waiting for the operator. So that’s why I think some service and product oriented companies should offer live chat as an option.

I recently installed and tested Comm100′s free live chat software on my website. You register for free and simply install the code for the live chat link on your site. I chose the one you see above. Besides Live Chat, Comm100 also offers Email marketing, Web-based ticket support software, forum software, and other features which are all integrated. Once you register, you go directly to the dashboard, where you can personalize your customer’s experience. You can choose from a variety of Live Chat buttons and a myriad of options for the pre-, during, and post- chat session. There is a rating feature so you can rate the operator’s performance during the session. You can also monitor the chat times and lengths, landing pages, operators, and more.

At first glance, the dashboard is simple. But the more you click around, there is a sophisticated back end which makes this software very powerful, capable, and functional. It has reporting, canned messages, automatic invites, and other settings to make your live chat offering professional and satisfying to your customers. And the extensive, easy-to-navigate Help Desk answers many questions to help you set up a customized application for your business.

I’d recommend you try this web application. It has many more features than that of other free solutions out there that I’ve tried. Check it out for yourself here, it’s quick and easy.

Have you tried this software? What has been your experience?

What about Live Chat? Love or hate it?


The Cost of Poor Usability

July 17th, 2010

So everyone’s heard — Consumer Reports says that the new iPhone is badly designed causing weak signals and dropped calls. As a left-handed person, I was shocked that lefties were told they were holding the phone wrong. Jobs cleaned it up soon after, but here is a good example of poor usability. This blunder cost Apple a decrease in stock price, bad PR and some annoyed customers. The negative media attention seems to have outweighed the phone’s many good features.

iPhone4


Eliminate Ambiguity and Confusion

May 29th, 2010

droid

RANT: Web sites and interfaces in general should clearly and easily draw people to where they want to go. Offer people too many choices, and they can’t make a decision.

Perfect case in point: Even though I love my HTC Droid Eris, there are little annoying things about the interface. Sometimes I wonder if the programmers and designers ever tried to use the phone. Let’s say you want to use the GPS feature and get directions to go to a destination. In the menu there are three feasible options — Navigator, Navigation, and Maps. Now the first two choices seem more likely, but already I’m annoyed that the phone is making me feel stupid for not knowing the difference between Navigation and Navigator. By the way you can get text directions through the Maps option. Choosing Navigation, you also get text directions, but voice turn-by-turn directions are only through Navigator.

Then if you’d like to change your Home screen, would you choose Setup or Settings? Only a tech savvy person would know to choose Settings. Setup would be for when you are first setting up your phone. Then why is it a menu option next to Settings?

The clock feature is also exasperating. How do you edit the city shown on the clock? You don’t. You must create a new clock for a new city and then delete the old one.

The list goes on and on. With each new phone I am forced to learn new things that aren’t even in the manual. I had to Google a couple of things, thank goodness the phone has internet access. Anyway, the point is, test your applications, interfaces, web sites please. Don’t be lazy, cater to the users. They will thank you in the end.


Testing Websites for Children

May 19th, 2010

Does your business cater to young people?

Do children primarily use your website?

Have you tested your website‘s usability on your target market… children?

Children and toddlers, even, are using the internet on a regular basis. A website that targets these young people will need special design considerations, but it will also present challenges in user experience. What this means is that young kids have special needs and challenges that need to be taken into consideration when designing a website for them. These include:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Non-readers or new readers
  • Ability to click mouse buttons
  • Ability to use keyboard
  • You may want to consider:

  • Having audio or video instructions
  • Not placing important navigation below the fold
  • Not using complicated functionality when simplicity will do
  • Not recreating standard design conventions, this could be confusing
  • Check out an article in UX Matters that Heather Nam recently published entitled Designing User Experiences for Children. She lists a useful list of suggested design conventions when designing for children.

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