January 15, 2019

Vendor Risk Management-What Is It?

The integration of technology on the operations of any business has become the hallmark of success. However, this development has exposed enterprises to substantial risks thus making it necessary to invest in risk management methodologies. One of the conventional approaches is the use of risk management tools to access the chances that a third-party vendor exposes your business to.

According to Ponemon 2018 study on the cost of data, third-party vendors can be highly expensive to your business in case of a breach (it could cost up to $13 per breach!). As such, it’s necessary to have a reliable vendor risk management program that will safeguard your data from malicious people.

Vendor Risk Management: its principle and why you need it

Third Party Vendors: Who are they?   

These are IT suppliers that are contracted by the business to help it run its daily activities.

1.Software-as-a-service (SaaS)

They offer web-based services that will transform the end-user experiences in your business — for example, working on the back-end on a client’s email.


These services provide you with the equipment but give you the ability to control the software environment. For example, offering data storage services without necessarily investing in physical hardware.

3.Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

This offers a platform for your developers to all your websites, mobile applications, and other software. The cloud location should offer streamlined services and excellent speeds.

Regulatory Compliance for VRM

Regulatory bodies will require documented policies and procedures on the role of vendors, the risks they expose the business to, and concrete methods to manage the risks. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) added a detailed guide on the vulnerability management and the technical factors that every business should consider when using cloud services.

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) demands that all the data controllers access the set technical controls used by the third-party vendors. Also, the New York Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) has established a Cybersecurity Rule that propels you to possess a security policy for every third-party vendor you engage in your business.

What are the Risks Associated with Vendors?

Vendors have the potential to expose your data to external threats and severely affect the operations of your business. SaaS providers offer a significant SQL security risk to all web application process. The IaaS providers can expose the company to Distributed Denial of Service attacks that will leave your staff unable to access essential file locations. PaaS offers similar risks as IaaS and SaaS. This makes it critical to monitor all the vendor controls to avert any breach that could damage your business image and possibly halt your operations.

Components of a Vendor Risk Assessment

The following steps are crucial in evaluating the risk portfolio of your vendors:

  • List of Vendors – You should compile a comprehensive list of all the vendors integrated into your business.
  • Assess Criticality – Identify the vendors that aid in the daily operation of your business
  • Review all Information Accessed – You have the sole responsibility to determine whether to allow access to information or not. Ensure that you document the information accessible to all your vendors. If one is accessing personally identifiable information or any other private data, ensure that they understand the security requirements before you allow access!
  • Identify Threats – Ensure that you classify the threat that each vendor pose to the business
  • Assign a Risk Rating – Rate the risks involved by your vendors getting access to your systems, networks, and data and classify it as low, high, or medium.
  • Analyze the Risks – After you’ve assigned the ratings, ensure that determine the likelihood of the risk occurring (multiply the possibility of a risk by the level of a threat). This analysis introduces different aspects of vendor’s risks necessary in critical decision making.
  • Creation of Risk Response – After determining the level of risk for each vendor, you should assess the impact that an occurrence would have on your business. Once you achieve this, you decide whether to take the risk, refuse, transfer, or mitigate it.
  • Set Controls – Once you accept the risk, ensure that you have multifactor authentication, encryption, firewalls, unique login identifiers, and other protective measures
  • Define the Terms for Service Level Agreement – Let your vendors understand your security terms. The vendor agrees to maintain the cybersecurity security measures; you can then engage them in business.
  • Continuous Monitoring – Ensure that you follow-up with the vendor to ensure that they adhere to the laid-down security guidelines.

How the Use of Automated Tools Help in Vendor Risk Management

While vendor risk management can be cumbersome, you can use automated tools to streamline the process. These technological tools will help you to map all the regulations, standards, and controls thus making it easy to spot the gaps that can compromise security in your business. The tools will record all the dates and the exact time that every activity happen thus making it easy to trace any anomaly in the third-party operations.

Author Bio

Ken Lynch is an enterprise software startup veteran, who has always been fascinated about what drives workers to work and how to make work more engaging. Ken founded Reciprocity to pursue just that. He has propelled Reciprocity’s success with this mission-based goal of engaging employees with the governance, managing risk, and compliance goals of their company in order to create more socially minded corporate citizens. Ken earned his BS in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT.  Learn more at ReciprocityLabs.com.

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January 15, 2019

Guide Scoping PCI DSS

Any business that accepts credit cards online for good or services rendered needs to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

PCI DSS comprises of several guidelines that merchants must comply with to protect their customers’ credit card data. However, many companies struggle with security requirements. In most organizations, InfoSec managers are not sure whether their networks and systems fall under the PCI DSS scope.

What is PCI DSS?

PCI DSS is an acronym for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. The five major payment card companies created the security standard: Visa, MasterCard, JCB International, Discover Financial Services and American Express, and provides the best practices for handling and storing cardholder data (CHD).

PCI DSS requirements are a series of standards for processing card payments that protect both merchants and consumers. These standards are generally referred to as the Payment Card Data Security Standard.

Understanding Cardholder Data (CHD)

PCI DSS defines cardholder data (CHD) as any information that can identify a person and link them to a credit or debit card. The personally identifiable information (PII) may include the name of the customer and their address.

Apart from PII, cardholder data includes the primary account number (PAN) of the cardholder, together with the card service code and expiration date.

Securing Cardholder Data Environment (CDE)

Cardholder data environment (CDE) refers to any infrastructure or systems that process, transmit or store cardholder data.

The infrastructure includes components such as computers, applications, and networked devices that have direct or indirect contact with cardholder data. These infrastructure components must be PCI DSS compliant.

Network Segmentation

The PCI standard requires the cardholder data environment to be separated from other systems or components used by your organization. Any devices connecting to the CDE through insecure connections could put your firm at risk of third-party intrusions and, consequently, heavy fines by regulatory bodies.

Overview of the PCI DSS Scope

For your firm to be PCI-compliant, you have to determine the CDE. Make a list of the networks, systems, applications, and devices that interact with CHD and are, therefore, part of the CDE.

All the systems and components that transmit, handle or store CHD in any form should be separated from the other infrastructure and secured according to PCI requirements.

Importance of Creating a Data Flow

It is essential to know the exact steps that data follows when it is transmitted, managed and handled in your IT infrastructure. For example, your network may be set up to store CHD and, at the same time, receive data from a non-cardholder application.

In such a case, the non-cardholder application will have to be secured according to PCI standards since it is in the CDE. If the user is not protected, a malicious intrusion through it can compromise the CDE.

Understanding how data flows in your IT infrastructure is critical to determining the security measures to implement for risk mitigation and prevention.

What is an SAQ?

The PCI Security Standards Council has a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) that merchants can fill to review their technology and find out whether they are PCI-compliant. The SAQ limits the CDE and makes it easy to identify which infrastructure components fall under PCI DSS scope.

Merchants that take credit card payments physically at their establishments can use PCI SSC approved point-to-point encryption (P2PE) devices to be PCI DSS compliant. This lower compliance standard applies to merchants that:

  • Process payments using PCI DSS-approved P2PE devices
  • Have P2PE devices that only interact with their approved Point of Interaction (POI) devices
  • Have implemented all the required P2PE controls
  • Di not collect, transmit or store electronic cardholder data
  • Do not store legacy information electronically

The lower PCI-compliance standard is applicable for brick-and-mortar stores that use PCI-compliant devices and do not store electronic cardholder information in any form.

 PCI Compliance Audits

Your organization’s PCI compliance must be overseen by third parties known as Qualified Security Advisors (QSAs). These auditors are trained in PCI compliance and will review your cardholder data environment to ensure it is appropriately secured.

If your organization uses a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform to process payments, the platform is also considered part of the PCI compliance scope if it stores, processes or transmits CHD. For this reason, it is critical to establish whether the payment platform you may want to use is PCI-complaint.

Vendors need to provide the following documentation to prove compliance:

  • Independent assessments carried out annually and presented to their customers
  • Multiple on-demand evaluations that may be required by users

Use Compliance Software to be PCI-Compliant

You can use various programs to meet your firm’s PCI compliance requirements. The compliance software will act as a single-source-of-information, enabling you to see your current security controls. You can then map your organization’s controls align with PCI DSS requirements.

Author Bio

Ken Lynch is an enterprise software startup veteran, who has always been fascinated about what drives workers to work and how to make work more engaging. Ken founded Reciprocity to pursue just that. He has propelled Reciprocity’s success with this mission-based goal of engaging employees with the IT governance, risk, and compliance goals of their company in order to create more socially minded corporate citizens. Ken earned his BS in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT.  Learn more at ReciprocityLabs.com.

The post Guide Scoping PCI DSS appeared first on MyVenturePad.com.

January 15, 2019

How to Calculate Cash Flow and Prepare a Cash Flow Statement

How to Calculate Cash Flow and Prepare a Cash Flow Statement

A cash flow statement is about documenting where the money is going in your business and whether you’re making a profit or suffering a loss. Small Business Trends contacted a variety of experts to get the lowdown on how to calculate cash flow and prepare a cash flow statement which combines the numbers from any financing, operations and investing your business does.

It’s important to know how to calculate the cash flow first off. This is a building block and having accurate information here means the final statement will be credible. Christal Bemont, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Global SMB at SAP Concur, weighed in via email to underline how important getting this right is:

Cash flow is the lifeblood of a small business — in fact, a recent study found over 80% of small business failure can be attributed to poor cash flow issues,” Bemont writes.

How to Calculate Cash Flow

Here’s how you can start to put those numbers together into a statement using these three simple to understand formulas.

Operating Cash Flow

This is one of the fundamental formulas that you’ll need to get everything else right. It’s an important number that small business can use to determine if they have enough finances to expand or they need outside help. Simply put, this is the amount of money your business makes from routine operations.

It’s no surprise there is a regulatory framework for this calculation from the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).  Ask if they use this if you’re using an accountant. If you’re a smaller business looking to put this together yourself, here’s what you need to know.

Like the name suggests, the operating cash flow takes a look at the numbers from everyday activities. You’ll need to put together the cash flows from financing, operating and investing.

You can use a spreadsheet to get started here, but Chelsea Krause, the Head Accounting Writer at Merchant Maverick, has a suggestion to simplify the process at this early stage.

“ The easiest way to calculate and prepare a cash flow statement is by using cloud-based accounting software. If you are using software like QuickBooks or Xero, you can go into the reports section, click on the Statement of Cash Flows and the software will use your existing data to complete the report. Not only does this save you time, but it also reduces chances of human error,” she writes.

Cash Flow of Investment Activities

Next, you’ll need to consider this. The actual practice of getting this number is simpler than the name might suggest. Krause suggests that you can get this data by simply subtracting cash outflows from cash inflows.

These focus on different kinds of investments and changes in assets that are long-term like when your small business buys or sells equipment or property.

Cash Flow of Financial Activities

This calculation is done the same way as the one above by subtracting cash flows from cash inflows. In this part of the formula these numbers need to relate directly to things like loan payments loans and other financial tools.

From here on in, it’s easy to put together your cash flow statement. Each line should be broken down to show money coming in and money going out line by line so there’s a detailed overview.

Remember when you add the three formulas together, you’ll come up with a number called the net cash flow. If it’s positive, your business is doing well. On the other hand, if that number is negative you’ll need to adjust accordingly.

Ken Stalcup, CPA and senior director with Houlihan Valuation Advisors, has the final word with a suggestion you can use after you’ve been in business for a while.

“The REALLY quick way to calculate total cash flows is to compare the current year cash to the prior year cash.  For example, say your business has $100 in cash at the end of the year this year.  Last year, your business had $75 in cash.  That means you had positive cash flows of $25 for the current year,” he writes.

Image: Shutterstock

This article, "How to Calculate Cash Flow and Prepare a Cash Flow Statement" was first published on Small Business Trends

January 15, 2019

Outsourcing vs. Insourcing Your IT support

oInformation technology needs are among the most commonly outsourced non-core business functions. Frequently outsourced IT services are application/software development, web development/hosting, infrastructure, technical support, database development/management, application support/management, and telecommunications.

In the past decade, we’ve seen how IT outsourcing has emerged as a method for businesses to meet their IT needs. The global IT outsourcing sector is worth billions – and continues to grow. But in recent years, we’ve also witnessed many companies bring back previously outsourced IT functions work to their in-house staff, known as insourcing.

Which is the best way to meet your IT needs: outsourcing or insourcing?

Even though majority of companies realize the importance of IT in their business operations, not all business owners and managers know whether to outsource or insource IT. To help you decide, let’s take a look at these two manpower models.

What is IT outsourcing?

Widely accepted and implemented by organizations across different sectors and industries, outsourcing is a cost-saving manpower strategy that enables businesses to focus on their core competencies while ensuring that all other non-core business functions are met.

IT analysts at Firewall Technical note a steady growth in the number of companies working with them. This reflects the findings of the 2018 Global Outsourcing Survey conducted by Deloitte wherein 74 percent of companies currently outsource their IT needs and 87 percent are planning to maintain and/or increase the level of outsourcing.

Benefits of IT Outsourcing

  • Team of IT specialists will manage your IT support needs. They understand your existing IT systems and infrastructures but are also adept with the latest technologies that may boost your IT capabilities.
  • A broad source of IT support for your business. Instead of just hiring one or a couple of IT professionals to handle your IT needs, you will have access to a team of technology professionals. Their shared expertise can definitely mean better services.
  • Enable you to focus on more important business functions. Knowing you have a team of IT specialists ensuring your IT systems are working perfectly, you can focus on essential aspects such as marketing, sales, and other revenue generating activities.

Drawbacks of IT outsourcing

  • Lack of control on your IT personnel. Since the IT team is not directly under your supervision, you don’t have supervision over what they will do.
  • Output is limited to the services included in the contract. The outsource provider only renders services that are specifically indicated in the terms. They will not perform any tasks beyond that.
  • Lack of motivation for business to develop its own IT team’s capabilities. Relying on outsourcing will not challenge your business to grow and improve its own IT personnel.

What is IT insourcing?

As mentioned above, IT insourcing is the practice of bringing back in-house IT aspects that had been previously outsourced. Quite recently, big companies have unveiled initiatives aimed to repatriate outsourced business processes. Barclays, Delta Air Lines, AT&T, and Chrysler are just some of the high-profile organizations that have started insourcing some IT functions.

Basically, companies that use insourcing are those that require a more sophisticated IT system and infrastructure to meet rapidly growing IT needs. Businesses that also have unique and progressive IT needs are also keen at insourcing.

Benefits of IT insourcing

  • Cost-efficient approach. Since you are hiring organic team members, you can assign to them tasks and projects, something that can’t be done with third-party team of professionals.
  • Direct supervision and monitoring. As company employees, you have the ability to monitor the progress of their work. In case of poor outcomes, you can do necessary measures to get them working.
  • Better communication. Miscommunication can arise especially when the outsourced IT support provider is not physically available.
  • Shared goals, mission and vision. As part of the entire team, your in-house IT team shares your business values and works alongside everyone else in the company towards achieving business goals.

Drawbacks of IT insourcing

  • Difficulty hiring qualified IT professionals. Attracting and retaining experienced IT specialists can be a great challenge, especially that there are lots of other lucrative opportunities around.
  • Management control on IT aspect of business. Repatriating IT functions requires the management to continuously monitor the outcomes of the team. If the top management lacks expertise in managing IT resources, the company will have a huge problem.
  • Possible difficult handling critical IT needs. In case of a major IT incident, such as a security breach or outages, the insourced IT team might lack the necessary experience, technology and manpower to properly manage the crisis.

Every business has unique IT needs. When deciding whether to insource or outsource the IT aspects of your business, it is vital to evaluate your specific needs and complete a thorough cost analysis.

The post Outsourcing vs. Insourcing Your IT support appeared first on MyVenturePad.com.

January 15, 2019

Top 10 Branding Tips for your small business

Starting a business is not all about looking for people to patronize you if you want your business to stand out and be successful in your industry. For the company to be generally accepted in public and have a good stand, there is no doubt you have to brand it. Branding starts with you having an idea of what you want to do; it can take years of planning and recalculating before a business gets to the public. A strong brand tells more about what your company is capable of giving to the people at the same time establishes not only trust but credibility. For this reason, you need to ask yourself if you are taking the right steps to brand your company name unforgettably. For your business to last forever and remain profitable for decades to come, you will need to develop a branding process. Here are top 10 Branding Tips for your small business.

CORPORATE IDENTITY: the first step to take is to have an excellent corporate identity, the reason why corporate identity should be your priority is that corporate identity helps people always think about your brand. Corporate identity includes the use of business cards, envelopes, letterhead, brochures and presentation folders. The beauty behind corporate identity is that every piece of correspondence you issue to customers carries your company name and reinforces your message.

LOGO: you also need a logo, a logo is just like a brand name, it tells more about your business upon sight. As you are not a graphics designer, you need to hire someone in the graphics niche to help you come up with one. A graphics designer would need a little explanation from you to know the kind of logo they could design for you; a simple logo is unique.

BUILD AN ATTRACTIVE WEBSITE: no matter how small your business is, you must have a site. People have now realized that a business without a website is of a low standard. Just as a business card, a website describes your level of professionalism and the credibility of your company. Most people go online to check the competence of a business to know how trustworthy they are before transacting with them. While you get a website, you need the followings. An about us page, a business name, contact information, phone number, hours of operation, privacy policy, terms of service e.t.c.

STICKERS: sticker is also a unique way to brand a business, perhaps most creative. A custom made label can be fixed to anything such as a car, notebooks, floors, walls e.t.c with your name or business name on it. Most new companies that are looking to create awareness for their business visit event centre like an amusement park so they could introduce their business to people so they could know the business exists more importantly putting their names on the label for recognition.

PRESS RELEASE: press release is also a powerful branding tool; always written on the letterhead paper of a company. If your business releases news about a service or product, you will have the potential to reach more customers that coincidentally comes across your letterhead.

BUSINESS CLOTHING: getting a customized cloth for your business can get mouths wagging everywhere you go. In this wise, this step makes you your billboard. Upon wearing this cloth person will want to ask you about your business, if you can defend yourself, you will automatically turn that approach to sales.

BROCHURE:  branding your business with a brochure can come in any form; it does not necessarily have to be in the form of a booklet, but in virtue like in PDF   format or place on the internet, it can as well be in the form of a handbill.  It’s essential to have a brochure because it helps you cover a variety of general needs, which no other marketing document can handle.

E-MAIL SIGNATURE: tag every email that you receive in your inbox as a marketing message. Set up a catchy email and include a signature like your business name, contact information, pithy tagline, a web address, all with detailed knowledge of how you plan to better their lives with your services.

SOCIAL MEDIA: since the advent of social media it has proved to be a better platform for branding and business marketing. Consumers rely on digital searches to find businesses, by attributing a robust social media presence; it helps your business to increase its Search Engine Optimization and likelihood of being seen by its target audience. Social media presence requires that you post articles and contents engaging your clients online about your business every day. You will be able to understand areas where your customer needs you to improve in your business, and this is very important for a company.

INCORPORATE YOUR BRAND: your everyday activities must have your brand and personality intertwined. If you need to make your brand popular, you need to wear your brand cloth every day most especially to work. It’s another form of branding and advertisement that people would love to see. Anytime you go out on a marketing event, let your brand be consistent. However, if you think writing contents for your blog is the best, weave your personality and brand your words all through. Always ensure your brand makes up an integral part of your business.

As a young/new entrepreneur, it is essential for you to have self-discipline about what you want to do before starting at all. You might have to go through a lot of challenges while starting a business. All the challenges you face and each time you try to solve a problem is what makes you a great entrepreneur. However, if you find yourself to be a starter and have financial challenges try as much as possible to get a custom stickers for your business. It’s an excellent way for a small business to grow as quick as possible.

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January 15, 2019

List Of Basic Brand Identity Checklist

Branding is not only for multinationals with large budgets. Small business and medium-sized types could create a successful brand by tracking how the business actually works, what it truly means to clients out there and then acting on the results. Building or giving a brand exposure through custom printed t-shirts is worth it, and knowing all about brand checklist will help make you a successful fellow in your niche.

And again, your customers or clients must constantly feel that they are being provided precisely what your business brand promises, read on to know what is needed to have a great brand.

What Is A Brand?

A brand distinguishes you

A brand can easily make your company to be identified from many other companies out there. For example, by a name or a logo!

A brand also symbolizes how people think about your business. A brand helps clients make decisions and creates a perceived knowledge of what they are going to buy.

Your brand can cover all your business, your specific products, and services.

Your brand is positioned in the mind of your target audience and knows that you and no one else is you.

A Brand Creates Trust.

Clients always trust that your business, service or product will do exactly what they (customers) believe.

A brand implies the emotional response of the client.

For instance, a clothing retailer can create a brand that aims to make its customers feel good, what clothes they wear, how they feel when they buy clothes in the store and what they say about their colleagues.

A good brand becomes an extraordinary personality for your company and, therefore, in a defined type of customer.

Most importantly, a great brand is based on consistency.

Customers are constantly rewarded for their confidence in the business and experience with the expected emotional response.

For instance, a cleaning business could build its domestic brand lucratively if the clients’ homes are scrupulously cleaned always. The clients actually believe they are engaging the very best business out there.

Do I Need A Brand?

Each company already has a brand, even if it does not treat it like a good brand.

Your customers already have an idea of what your business means to them.

To create a brand, you must communicate your message more effectively so that you immediately connect your business with your needs.

Brands can help increase billing, promote customer acquisition and loyalty.

Brands help companies in fast-moving sectors.

When your business environment changes rapidly, a brand provides customers with a sense of peace and promotes loyalty.

Brands Help You Stand Out.

For instance, if you are in a crowded market or do not have other differences with respect to the competition.

When customers face a multitude of comparable providers, they always choose the provider they consider best for them. The convenience for a client is transmitted by your brand.

The Budget For A Brand

A business brand is not pricey; you can find your budget

You can budget for:

Your time and that of your employees out there

The reprocessing of stationery, packaging, signage, and websites of the company

Design and printing of sales documents

Advertising and public relations

A small amount of brand should bring benefits as well

Even if you never have to go further to carry sales notes, stationery, and online identity according to your brand, you should feel a certain benefit over time.

Building A Brand – You Want To Read Through The Checklist

Find Out Customers Associate With Your Brand

You want to find out what values, qualities as well as encounters customers associate with your brand or your company. To build a credible brand, you need to find out what they are. Remember that a brand is more than a single name and a logo.

Legal Protection

Get legal protection for your visual brand and any specific expression that describes your business or offer.

Obtain A Memorable Brand

A memorable brand can strengthen the difference with its competitors and improve customer loyalty. However, developing a durable brand requires not only the redesign of your logo.

Customer’s Perception Into Consideration

Never ignore the customer’s perception to project a desirable but wrong image. If the demands placed on your company and your offers do not match the customer’s experience, they will move to another location. But if your company offers what your brand promises it will gain trust and keep the customer.

Get Your Staff Involved

Involve your employees; you have your own idea of what your company represents and whether it delivers what it promises. In addition, you need their (employees) cooperation if you want to change your business.

Create Brand Messages

Create a series of steady brand messages, which center on the values, experiences as well as qualities that connect customers to your business, products, and services. Keep it simple and understandable.

Check All Aspects Of Your Business

Think about each part of your business: if your customer’s links to your brand are negative or very different from the image you are projecting, you may need to change your offer.

Build A Unique Visual Brand

Unique brand should reflect your general identity. You should truly optimistic; your visual effects should be very bright as well as attractive. If you do not have the necessary skills, hire a designer to help you.

Either New Or Renewed Brand Can Be Promoted

Promote your brand new or renewed through a marketing campaign that includes press releases, promotions for customers to connect with it.

You Want To Apply The Brand To All Materials

Apply your brand, including the messages of your brand and your brand to all your materials, from packaging and posters to stationery, your website, and marketing materials.

All Your Business Does Is Linked To The Brand

Be reminded that all the stuff your company does is actually linked to your very own brand and also to the customer’s eyes. This also includes how your employees dress and behave.

Make Your Staff Believe In Your Brand

Your employees are primarily responsible for ensuring that the brand works. Make sure everyone believes in it and take note of any suggestions that can help improve the brand’s message.

Finally, knowing and surpassing what your brand promises customers is the golden rule. If you failed to fulfill a brand promise once, your brand will be damaged. Always keep your brand promise and you can, because your customers expect something and, if they cannot it, they can reject your brand.

The post List Of Basic Brand Identity Checklist appeared first on MyVenturePad.com.

January 15, 2019

How to Increase Productivity in a Highly Collaborative Remote Workspace

How to Increase Productivity Using Remote Collaboration Tools

In this digital age, where workspaces are dominated by Millennials and their wanderlust mindset, the term “collaboration” takes on new meanings.

You are probably aware that freelancing and remote working is a rising trend among Millennials. While it’s great to be able to work together from remote (even exotic) locations spread across the globe by collaborating over the internet, albeit if not done right, productivity can take a toll.

In these days of Six Sigma and Kanban, managers (and employers at large) take productivity very seriously. And why shouldn’t they? The competition among businesses and companies in every industry today is ridiculous. Furthermore, nowadays, both the employers and the employees tend to give “work-life balance” a very high priority. So, employers would certainly want to get the most out of their employees and optimize their productivity to the absolute fullest.

Productivity in traditional workplaces has been a function of many variegated factors, such as:

  • Desk design: The employee’s desk is their core working space and should be designed carefully, in a way that facilitates communication as well as allows some privacy. The trick is to strike the right balance between the two.
  • Office environment: The general design of the office also plays a major role in the employee’s productivity. It affects more than just simple ergonomics and can have a profound impact on the employee’s overall health and wellbeing. So, having adequate lighting, ventilation, and air-conditioning is as important as having well-designed conference rooms, hallways, and lounges.
  • Personalization: It is believed that personalizing your space can increase your emotional connection to your work. Small, non-cluttering personal items such as desk toys, photo frames, etc. may help make the employee feel more at home and improve concentration, thus boosting productivity.
  • Work culture: Creating a positive company culture is directly linked with the level of productivity of the workers. This is quite simply an undeniable fact but is still often overlooked by large corporates. A positive work culture is one which fosters a sense of belonging among employees, encourages them to take frequent breaks to recharge, and promotes open collaboration across different teams.
  • Software tools: The quality of software tools (and resources in general) available to the workers is a critical factor affecting their level of productivity and output.

These are just some of the many factors that affect the productivity of employees working in a regular corporate office.

However, when we talk about a remote workspace, such as a home office or a beach house in the Bahamas, it’s the employee who’s the boss of their desk design and work environment. The workspace would be then (by default) personalized and optimized according to their liking, and so, these no longer remain the controllable factors affecting their productivity. As a matter of fact, a 2017 study by the University of Minnesota suggests that ‘creative geniuses’ prefer a cluttered, busy workspace.

Of course, there are always tips and tactics to help design an ideal home office which is comfortable yet serious.

But what still remains the same is the software being used by the workers to perform the actual tasks. Typically, the software tools are standardized across the company and so the employer still plays an important role in influencing the productivity of employees in this regard.

Simply put, increasing productivity in a highly collaborative, virtual workspace of telecommuters comes down to the company’s choice of software. And for the tech-savvy Millennials, however, software is more than just a mere tool to complete a task. Just as a lot of thought process goes into designing a highly productive physical workspace – architecture, interior design, structural design, etc. – the same is true for a virtual workspace.

It takes a good deal of creativity and design thinking to produce software that gives a great User Experience (UX), and in turn, increases productivity. Moreover, software with a gorgeous User Interface (UI) motivates the workers to do more.

So, let us take a quick look at some remote collaboration tools that truly stand out from the crowd when it comes to boosting productivity with a stellar UI/UX. As a bonus, the listed tools will be pocket-friendly but not compromising on quality.

Remote Collaboration Tools

Tools for Swift and Crisp Communication

While back-and-forth emailing serves the purpose of communication, there are countless tools and apps (free and paid) that offer all-in-one communication services: voice calling, video calling, screen sharing, and instant messaging, over the internet. But only a handful of them are noteworthy and actually boost productivity instead of increasing the hassle.

As you may have already guessed, Slack rules the charts here. With competitive pricing and a compelling free plan boasting all the features you could possibly need, it’s no wonder Slack is the global benchmark of instant messengers.

How to Increase Productivity Using Remote Collaboration Tools

Popular quality alternatives include Google Hangouts and Skype which possess all the features but feel slightly inferior to Slack in terms of the interface and intuitiveness.

Tools for Collaborative Task Management

Being on the same page can be challenging, especially when you and your colleagues are thousands of miles away. Thankfully, there are apps that help streamline work, track progress, and promote productivity and accountability across the team.

Asana is one of the notable ones because it doesn’t overwhelm you with a barrage of advanced features and just offers all the basics – creating calendars, assigning tasks, and setting priorities – in a neatly designed package. Trello is a great alternative which takes a Kanban approach to project management, with intuitive boards and drag-and-drop cards.

How to Increase Productivity Using Remote Collaboration Tools

Both are very budget-friendly and Trello’s free plan is more than enough for startups and small businesses.

Tools for Collaborative Documentation

No business or company exists without documentation. Although documentation can be tedious, a good user interface can help make things interesting and speed things up.

Google Drive unarguably deserves the top spot when it comes to creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms – you name it, in a collaborative environment. It is fast, free, user-friendly, and the ease of collaboration (real-time too) is unbeatable.

How to Increase Productivity Using Remote Collaboration Tools

When you think of PDFs, you think of Adobe. It has all the features to get the job done. However, it’s a little pricey and the interface is bland. And a poor user interface won’t do any good to your overall productivity.

How to Increase Productivity Using Remote Collaboration Tools

Fortunately, there are free alternatives to Adobe such as the Icecream PDF Editor which has a minimalistic and clean design and is completely free – including PDF text editing. It allows you to annotate (add comments and notes) which is very useful when collaborating remotely.

Wrapping Up

The advent of the internet has allowed us to work together from anywhere in the world. Ensuring maximum efficiency while working in the comfort of our desired location boils down to the software we use. This post elaborates on some freemium tools and apps that have just the right features and a beautiful interface to collaborate effectively and improve productivity when telecommuting.

Image: Shutterstock

This article, "How to Increase Productivity in a Highly Collaborative Remote Workspace" was first published on Small Business Trends

January 15, 2019

New Facebook Small Business Podcast 3.5 Degrees Launched Today

Three and a Half Degrees Podcast

Facebook’s (NASDAQ: FB) new podcast exploring the unique interactions of small businesses in our shrinking internet-based world launched today. “Three and a Half Degrees: The Power of Connection,” is named after a 2016 study released by the social media giant that found the internet has brought everyone closer together, halving what was once thought to be the six degrees of separation between people down to three.

The inaugural episode “The Power of Social Good” features TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie and Two Blind Brothers’ founders Bryan and Bradford Manning. The episode focuses on the latest generation of entrepreneurs who care more about products and services that have social value than just the ones that prioritize profit.

Two Brothers

Mycoskie’s business, TOMS shoes was built on a “one on one” model where for every pair of shoes purchased, the company buys a pair of shows for children in need. Eventually TOMS spawned copycat businesses designed to help others. In this first episode, Mycoskie is introduced to two brothers who were inspired by his business model to start their own charitable T-shirt company.

One of the takeaways from “The Power of Social Good” was the idea that doing social good doesn’t mean small businesses can’t make money. In fact, the podcast showed clearly how being socially conscious becomes part of a business’s DNA and doesn’t have to affect its bottom line.

Second Installment

The second installment of the podcast will pair a small startup with a representative from a corporate giant in the burger industry to talk disruption and pathways to success. Other episodes will tap into how Marines have used skill sets they developed on the front lines in places like Afghanistan and Iraq to help employees at home. Other topics will include the power of cognitive diversity and the wisdom that comes with age.

New Proximity

The new podcast is designed to explore how the new proximity created by the internet affects small businesses and the benefits, challenges and opportunities this proximity produces. Facebook says the podcast will strive to bring together business people from different industries that might not otherwise meet, exploring common ideas and visions.

Three and a Half Degrees: The Power of Connection is hosted by David Fischer, Facebook’s Vice President of Business and Marketing Partnerships, and will feature 7 episodes.

Advertising Department

Fischer is in charge of Facebook’s advertising department and manages the company’s global sales and marketing teams worldwide. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Treasury Department and played a role in globalizing Google’s business and operations when he worked there.

“We have over 90 million businesses using Facebook, and each one has a unique story — and unique learnings that can help other entrepreneurs,” Fischer explained. “Through the podcast, we hope to celebrate the journeys of entrepreneurs and business leaders on our platform, and scale their inspiring life lessons and learnings to other entrepreneurs and leaders.”

Fischer said Facebook selected participants who would discuss different ideas and experiences as well as their visions and values.

“We hope to reach aspiring entrepreneurs, business leaders and people in their local communities who are looking to learn valuable life lessons about starting a business, leading teams and continuing to grow,” he added.

Three and a Half Degrees Podcast Episodes

Here’s a rundown of the episodes in the series. They will launch every two weeks.

      • 1/14 EPISODE 1: The Power of Social Good – Bradford and Bryan Manning from Two Blind Brothers & Blake Mycoskie from TOMS
      • 1/28 EPISODE 2: The Power of Disruption – Monique & Chevalo from Charleston Burger Co. & Chris Kempcziski from McDonald’s
      • 2/11 EPISODE 3: The Power of Family – Stephanie McMahon from WWE & Gary Vaynerchuk Entrepreneur / Vayner Media
      • 2/25 EPISODE 4: The Power of Purpose – Victor Lezama from PC Landing Zone & Jake Wood from Team Rubicon
      • 3/11 EPISODE 5: The Power of Change – Suzanne Gildert from Sanctuary and Kindred AI & Beth Comstock* formerly with GE
      • 3/25 EPISODE 6: The Power of Wisdom – Ben Rattray from Change.org & Advisor Chip Conley
      • 4/8 FINAL EPISODE 7: The Power of Cognitive Diversity – Antionette Carroll from Creative Reaction Lab & Jonathan Mildenhall from TwentyFirstCenturyBrand


Three and a Half Degrees Podcast


If you’re looking for a way to listen you can get  Three and a Half Degrees: The Power of Connection in most of the places where you normally get your other podcasts. Facebook has decided to launch officially on Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher and a variety of other networks like Apple Podcasts.

Images: Facebook

This article, "New Facebook Small Business Podcast 3.5 Degrees Launched Today" was first published on Small Business Trends

January 15, 2019

The Most Important Tools for Empowering Your Employees

An empowered employee is an engaged employee, and an engaged employee is a productive employee. Companies should be doing all they can to increase their workforce’s autonomy and accountability, which will improve retention rates and raise profits, to boot.

However, too many businesses are going about employee empowerment the wrong way. If you want to avoid wasting time and energy on empowerment strategies that don’t work, read on for some tools that definitely will.

The Tool of Leadership

The first and most important tool for employee empowerment is leadership. This isn’t to say that you should transform all your employees into leaders; rather, you should ensure that the managers and directors within your organization are effective leaders who workers want to follow. Great leadership will give employees the stability and confidence necessary for empowerment, but you shouldn’t assume that because someone claims a leadership position within your organization that they are functioning as leaders.

There is a marked difference between managing and leading — one that draws a line between employees and empowered employees. Here are a few illustrative examples of the difference:

  • Managers appraise, while leaders give feedback.
  • Managers devise a schedule, while leaders allow employees to manage their time.
  • Managers ensure proper training, while leaders build a culture of continuous self-improvement.
  • Managers provide instructions, while leaders encourage employees to make their own decisions.
  • Managers dictate and demand adherence to the status quo. Leaders foster an environment of autonomy and innovation.

It is possible to transform managers into leaders, but it requires you and your management team to be on the same page. You might need to replace some of your current managers with workers who exhibit greater leadership skill. You should also encourage your leaders in the way you expect them to encourage your workforce.

The Tool of Wages

It’s a well-circulated myth that money doesn’t affect motivation. In truth, researchers can’t be certain whether or not higher pay results in more or less motivation to perform well at work, which means you might as well treat wages as another incentive for your employees.

However, it is important to remember that motivation and empowerment are not synonymous. While you might offer monetary rewards to urge more and better effort, dangling carrots in this way doesn’t always make employees feel energized or enabled. Thus, in addition to boosting pay in different ways, you should provide your workers with more tools to control how they get their wages, where their wages go and more.

A few examples of this include:

  • Providing access to paystubs online, so employees can view their wages faster.
  • Offering several ways of collecting wages, to include check, direct deposit (ACH), payroll cards and even cash.
  • Ensuring that paychecks go out like clockwork, so employees are never kept guessing about their pay.

Wages are why your employees are working, which means even if they aren’t the most important aspect of an employee’s workplace experience, wages remain significant tools for empowerment. Though your corporate culture might not be founded on expectations regarding salaries, you should still pay attention to how you and your workforce handles money.

The Tool of Communication

Communication is easily the most important tool possessed by humankind; it is the reason we could develop complex societies, devise advanced technologies and otherwise reach the sophisticated civilization that exists today. However, many people take communication for granted and fail to recognize how their poor communication methods are impacting their workplace environment and their ability to feel satisfied at work.

Within your business, you should work to use empowered communication. This is a method of communication that ensures all participants are heard, respected and understood. A few tenets of empowered communication include:

  • Knowing one’s audience
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Remaining on-message
  • Engaging in active listening
  • Paying attention to body language
  • Staying Positive
  • Analyzing the effectiveness of the communication

It’s unlikely that your employees will have already mastered empowered communication, especially within a professional environment, so you will likely need to provide training and practice sessions before the habit is established. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional in this arena to guide your workforce’s adoption of this communication style.

The most important tool for employee empowerment is trust, but employees won’t know that you trust them if you don’t lead them properly, provide them with adequate income and communicate effectively. Once your workplace provides these tools, your employees will become empowered, making your organization more powerful in turn.

The post The Most Important Tools for Empowering Your Employees appeared first on MyVenturePad.com.

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