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Once upon a time, all any organisation had to answer when buying a printer were three simple questions:

  • Inkjet or laser?
  • Mono or colour?
  • Multifunction or standalone?

Advances in the technology and falling prices have led to new questions and the evolution of the trio above.

Inkjet or laser?
Either. The boundaries between printer types are diminishing all the time. Misconceptions such as “Laser printers are cheaper per page over time” have long been discarded. Manufacturers are investing huge sums to ensure tomorrow’s laser is yesterday’s inkjet, and vice versa.

Mono or colour?
Go for colour. Yes most prints will be black, but ink and toner now contain chemicals to counteract drying out, so even extended periods of not printing in colour are fine. Make sure you get separate colour cartridge slots, not tri-colour cartridges. This way you’ll only replace what you use, minimising waste and saving on cost.

Multifunction or standalone?
Multifunction printers (MFPs) now match the performance of standalone printers, saving on space, wiring and plug sockets. Simply decide what functions you need before researching your options. Remember that most MFPs can’t use more than one function simultaneously; a single machine may be overwhelmed if you have large copying, faxing and printing demands.

Costs
Find a balance between available funds and long-term running costs. Cheaper printers will save on start-up costs, but will require more expensive cartridges, meaning higher costs per page in future. Check availability of compatible cartridges (ie ones not made by the printer manufacturer). The existence of these consumables indicates a popular printer and long-term demand – and will also help save on printing costs.

Suppliers
If you buy a printer from a high street store, be aware that when the next upgrade arrives from the manufacturer, not only will your model disappear from the shelves, but the cartridges will too. Check that you can buy consumables online for your machine as well.

Networking
Ethernet ports are a given and WiFi capability can up the price of a printer significantly, but there are benefits. It saves on cabling and enables you to position the printer where it’s convenient, enabling flexibility in office and hardware layouts when your business begins to grow.

Ease of installation
Check for user reviews online. Is it a simple plug-and-print model? Avoid printers with unnecessary installation software on CD. This is especially relevant when selecting an MFP, because some not only require you to set up a user profile for each person/PC before you can print, but some demand a separate installation for each profile per printer function.

Usability
Make sure your printer has a clear display for error and performance reporting. This is crucial when purchasing an MPF, because more than one function can go wrong.

Look for a front USB port, because this enables you to plug in memory sticks to print documents without the need of a computer.

Estimate your usage needs – is a 200-sheet tray big enough? To avoid the hassle of replenishing paper, check higher capacity trays or the availability of add-on storage trays.

Different media
If you want to produce a range of printed media (eg cards, labels, various paper weights), check the printer has trays for separate media feeds and doesn’t rely on a single-sheet manual feed, which can be very time-consuming.

Matt Bird, StinkyInk

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There are a huge number of companies peddling different solutions to boost ecommerce sales, and of course they all state that they are the future. Some claim that they will address the “trust” issue of online commerce; others are working on smart imagery, providing the consumer detailed product information via zoom, crops and 360 degree transitions. Then there are the latest developments enabled by smart phones, including augmented reality.

Anyone considering starting an ecommerce business needs to take all of this into account. There are many different things to think about, and in this blog I try to touch briefly on a number of them.

Actinic has around 12,000 sites using our solutions to sell online, so I do feel that we have acquired some insight into what works and what doesn’t. Interestingly, the most successful sites seem to focus on some of the most basic things: like a great range, helpful descriptions, competitive pricing and a dedication to customer service.This may be the case, but complacency is not a business virtue. So what is really likely to prove important to the future of ecommerce?

Payment on the mobile

The first area is payment. It’s difficult to make payments online, and the fact that it’s still possible for buyers to see charges appear on their card if their details are stolen is a real issue. We’re waiting for the banks and the mobile operators to get their collective acts together. There’s lots of optimism that the next couple of years will see progress towards the mobile being the prime payment and payment validation device.

Multiple channels

It’s never been easier or more cost effective to sell online, and the trend is to put online, in-store and telephone sales together in one integrated application. It makes sense that some people want to see merchandise for themselves, think about it at home, then order online. Conversely, some people want to look at what’s available in the web store, then visit the shop to pick up the goods in person. As demand has risen, ecommerce suppliers have been able to provide these integrated systems without breaking the bank.

Mobile commerce and augmented reality

Nowadays a large and growing proportion of the population are carrying around sophisticated computers – aka smart phones – that know their geographical location, can combine this with real time pictures or sound and are continuously talking to the web. This is very exciting and brands such as RayBan sunglasses and IKEA are already demonstrating the possibilities. Companies such as Red Lazer are also working on innovative applications that allow you to use the power of the smart phone to combine real world items with online shopping; I’m convinced that there is much more to come.

Reputation management

One area that has moved from beneficial to vital in ecommerce terms is reputation management. I’m very excited about this  because my company has recently done a deal with one of the companies that we see as a rising star in this field – Feefo. This area is about managing online merchant’s reputation online, and services like Feefo have a vital role to play. Feefo (which stands for Feedback Forum) runs an independent service which asks customers for feedback on both merchants’ service and products. The merchant can’t change the feedback (anything illegal or obscene is edited), but has a right of reply. There will always be feedback about merchants on the web. Having it in one place where the positive balances the negative, and having a right of reply are major benefits of an independent feedback service. The result tends to be around a 10%  rise in sales, more on some sites.

The final word

We are now in the second ecommerce boom. The first, around the year 2000, proved partly illusory and partly a harbinger of the future. This time it’s for real. Someone contemplating a start up needs to assess pursuing brand new areas enabled by the latest technology and where much more technical skill, money and luck is required. In contrast there’s more chance of success with a traditional ecommerce venture, although the potential rewards are smaller and it’s still vital to be aware of the latest trends.

Budding entrepreneurs need to decide whether to build a traditional business with reasonable chance of success, or shoot for the stars in areas that are yet to be discovered. Whichever route you take, good luck.

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You may well be using various social networking sites to promote your new business, but are you exposing yourself (and the company) to identity theft and malware attacks in the process?

In March 2010 my company published results from a survey of over 1,100 members of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and other popular social networks. It showed an increasing awareness among social network users of how to keep personal information private, BUT it also revealed how they still put their identities and sensitive information at risk. For instance, 28% of respondents never changed their default privacy settings and over 60% published their date of birth (a key piece of information for identity theft).

What can you do?

To help business owners understand and protect themselves while online, here are some tips as a guide for safer social networking:

  • Make personal information private — Protect yourself by updating privacy settings on all your profiles to restrict or omit access to any personal data. Users of popular geo-location services that allow you to share where you are should be especially careful not to disclose your location to the wrong people.
  • Read between the lines — Familiarise yourself with the social networks’ privacy options to ensure you’re taking advantage of any enhanced security features.
  • Think before you click – You and any employees might know not to follow a link in an email message from an unknown source, but if that link appears in a message from a social networking “friend” or in a tweet from someone the employee is following, it might be a different story. A bad link would result in malware being downloaded to your company network.
  • Protect your password — As a critical line of defence, it is more important than ever for you to choose passwords wisely, and make them different from one site to the next. Incorporating numbers, letters and special characters like !, $, and * into your password makes it stronger. Microsoft has a free password checker. If the green bar doesn’t show “Strong,” change the password.

Use a free password generating tool like LastPass if you can’t come up with a good one yourself. I’d also recommend changing your password at regular intervals, and never use the same password at more than one site.

  • Suite security — Protect your PC with an internet security suite that includes antivirus, antispyware and firewall technologies. Remember to schedule updates daily and to scan the whole machine for malware weekly.
  • Always automate software updates — If you’re already using anti-malware software, be sure to install updates which include the latest malware definitions. Do the same with updates to your operating system, web browser and other key applications. However, watch out for fake software updates like emails that purport to be from Microsoft or Adobe which require you click on a link to update your computer. Try using Secunia PSI, a free tool, to double-check that any automatic update is genuine.
  • Check shortened URLs – Especially on Twitter with its 140 character limit, and Facebook, the use of URL shortening has exploded. But these anonymous links can lead to a malicious payload. If you use TweetDeck then set it to display a preview of the shortened link including the full URL , its page title and number of visitors. Also most web browsers offer a plug-in that shows you the long version of the URL when you hover over a shortened link.

Jeff Horne, director of Threat Research at internet security software supplier, Webroot (www.webroot.co.uk)startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

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It is a well-known fact that ink is now more expensive than gold – and last time I checked not many companies were printing in gold. So how can you minimise your long-term printing expenditure? Here are my ten tips.

1 Separate cartridge slots
Great saving potential lies in simply switching from a printer using tri-colour cartridges to one with individual colour cartridges. You only replace what you use, thereby minimising waste and with ink/toner now containing chemicals to counteract drying out, you needn’t worry about cartridges sitting dormant.

2 Draft print mode
Draft uses up to 50 per cent less ink than the default print mode, with the only downside being a small loss of print quality. It’s a great money-saver and you can easily switch back to the standard setting when printing important or presentation-quality documents.

3 Greyscale prints
Do you need to have colour in all letterheads, text and images? If not, select greyscale in your printing options. This only uses the black cartridge, saving the more expensive coloured ink for important pages.

4 Low ink performance
Some printers will mix all three colour cartridges to maintain printing, even when the black has run out. Check your printer guide. If yours has this feature, you need to monitor black ink levels rigorously to avoid draining your colour reserves at a horrendous rate.

5 Duplexing
Technology is your friend. Duplexers (printing on both sides of the paper) save not just time and effort, but paper costs too. Even budget-end printers may now include this feature.

6 Print in batches
There are two important factors to remember for each separate print request sent to your office printer:

  • Laser printers must warm up.
  • Inkjets lubricate print heads.

You will use less power and ink/toner if you send print requests through together, instead of forcing the printer to run numerous start-up and cool-down procedures.

Additionally, certain printers perform print head cleaning every time they turn on, which wastes ink. If your printer manual lists this attribute, either limit how often you turn it off or only turn it on when you need to do groups of printing.

7 Paper quality
Printers have become more tolerant of lower weight (ie thinner) paper, making it an ideal way to limit costs for documents that don’t need a professional finish. Look out for reams of 80gsm paper, as this stock can still give nice prints and good cost savings.

8 Paper settings
Not many people know that their printer’s paper settings can impact their ink usage, and thus your costs. Different papers have varying absorption and dispersion rates, which will be pre-programmed into printers. To confirm your setting matches the paper you’re feeding into the printer, when you select print, quickly take a detour through to “Properties”, locate the “Paper type” option (typically in the form of a drop down or tab) and ensure they match. This will eliminate any ink wastage and help reduce costs.

9 Recycle paper
Make it a habit to check if sheets of paper are blank on the reverse before binning them. If there’s no print and the edges aren’t damaged, you can add them to the printer tray and use for producing draft prints. This saves a lot on cost, as well as being more environmentally responsible.

10 Go compatible
The stereotypical dodgy refilled cartridge vendors have been rendered obsolete by advancements in quality requirements. Compatible (third party) cartridges must now meet stringent testing requirements to be listed on respectable retailers’ shelves and websites – and are of course cheaper.

Matt Bird works for printer cartridge superstore StinkyInk.

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One of my clients is in a frustrating situation that my business, Manage My Website, is trying to sort out.

They’re a small business with four divisions, eight domain names and four websites. Their problem? Each website has been designed by a different agency or freelancer and each is hosted separately. My client is desperately trying to get hold of the vital information my business needs to help them gain control of the whole lot.

The lesson here is that it’s crucial to ask your web designer to give you all of the contact details, URLs, usernames and passwords for all of your websites, content management systems, email accounts and hosting services. That way, if anything goes wrong, you can get it fixed quickly and with minimum fuss. You don’t need to do anything with this information other than keep it somewhere safe (preferably in a few places) and make sure you can access it if need be.

Imagine if one day you decide to change a few images on your homepage or add a page to your website. You try to contact your web designer, only to find they’ve emigrated to Australia without leaving a forwarding address. You’re stuck.

Even worse, imagine if you’ve bought an existing business along with its website(s), which you urgently need to update. You need to make sure you know who designed and built your sites and how you can contact them if you need to.

You must also find out whether you own your domain name (you should) and when it’s up for renewal.

If you need to make backups or update or develop your website, do you know how to access your website files? Does your web hosting company offer automatic daily backup services and is this included in your contract? When does your web-hosting contract expire? How much disk space is included in your web-hosting package and how much of it remains?

Simply knowing the answers to these key questions can help to ensure your website continues to run like clockwork.

Alex Astell, Manage My Website

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One of the main reasons I’m approached by new B2B clients is they feel frustrated having spent £X on a new website expecting customers to flock to it and make contact so sales teams can simply ‘finish the job’. This simply doesn’t happen.

Actively developing leads through a B2B website isn’t necessarily an aspect of your sales strategy that requires a major cash injection. The real investment is time; time to understand your visitors, their motivations and requirements. Only then will your website provide a successful lead generation platform.

So what key mistakes should you avoid?

1 Jargon and unnecessarily complex language
If the content on your website unnecessarily technical it will drive visitors away. Keep the language plain and accessible – only include more complex information data if absolutely necessary. You must quickly capture visitors’ attention, so tell them what makes you special and explain how your products/services will benefit them.

2 Missing conversion opportunities
Time and again I speak to new customers who struggle to convert readers into leads. Why? They’re not drawn to communicate. You’ve earned the right to request contact details from visitors, but don’t bombard users with “CLICK HERE” and “CONTACT US” messages throughout your site. A simple, clean and professional call to action on every page will do. Don’t have one laborious contact form. Use simple tools throughout your website to engage new visitors and quickly build your subscriber base.

3 Badly thought out AdWords campaigns
The key to a truly successful Adwords campaign is to match your ad and subsequent landing page to the requirements of the Google searcher. Give them what they’re looking for. Deliver visitors to a landing page that is tailored to their needs. Talk to them in a language they understand and engage them by showing how your business can meet their needs.

4 Ignoring Analytics
Google offer site Analytics for free. It’s essential information. It tells you how site visitors found you, what they did on your site and from which page they left. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing perfectly relevant site traffic without conversions. Spending just five minutes a day looking at your daily Analytics report can answer a whole range of key questions that can help you understand where you’re going wrong.

5 The ‘build it and they will come’ mentality
They won’t – it takes a lot of hard work. You might have Tweeted a couple of Tweets (please, not how much snow there is outside – people aren’t interested), setup your Facebook business page and updated your Linkedin profile. Well done. How much traffic will this generate for your business? Probably none. You’ve got to work your social media outposts as hard as website traffic generation.

6 Ignoring your local attraction
If the price and quality is the same, many (most?) people prefer to ‘buy local’, so let people nearby know you’re there. Look at your website – how obvious is your location? Maybe you have a few locations? Fantastic. Tell your prospects. Not only does location assist with search engine rankings, it also leaves you better placed to convert prospects not your doorstep.

7 Borrrrrrring content
Want to drive away potential leads from your website? Dull and uninspiring content will do it every time. You must grab visitors’ attention. Ask them questions, inspire them, engage them, amuse them, let them know why you’re special, show them you can meet their needs or solve their problems. Don’t merely focus on features – people buy benefits.

8 Give it all away for free
Even if you’ve got loads of content ready to be made available to your website users – hold back some of it. Produce an e-book or simple PDF download that offers information in return for visitors signing up. You can make your site into a definitive resource to build ‘authority’ within your industry. Maybe an additional income stream can be built using a ‘premium’ subscription service to your website?

9 Giving up the chance to be an authority
Your lead-generation process can be as simple as requesting visitors’ email addresses in return for your free monthly e-newsletter. Building frequency with prospects not only assists your business sales strategy significantly, it also allows you to build ‘authority’. Being seen as a leading voice within your industry makes things much easier throughout the sales funnel.

10 Assume web users have loads of time
If a prospect has found your site, they’ve probably found your competitors, too. No SEO or content structure can ensure visitors’ first click is their final click. Optimise your online campaigns around every click your potential client may make and keep the process simple. Some visitors will happily sit and read your content. However, most simply won’t have the time, which means your site must capture their attention immediately and tell them what they need to know.

It’s never been so competitive, but the rules of online selling remain the same. Keep your message simple, fully engage your site visitors and know exactly how to differentiate your site messages for those who are simply browsing and those much closer to buying.

Ian Rhodes, Webformula

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Businesses and individuals across the globe are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint than ever before. We have all learnt to switch off lights in empty rooms and turn off the tap while brushing our teeth but the expectancy on us to do more to stop global climate change is increasing.

It can be hard to see what more you can do if you are already very conscious about your carbon footprint but perhaps your work or business life has not had as much scrutiny as your home life.

With all the great advancements in technology surely there are alternatives that many businesses may have overlooked. Here are a few of our suggestions:

Cut your travel with VoIP
How often do you travel across town for a ten to thirty minute meeting? Cut the cost of travel and the price to the environment by exploring the benefits of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Call conferencing features enable you to hold meetings over several sites on one phone system – saving time, money and emissions.

If you would like to enhance your meeting then you can use services like GoToMeeting where you can share your screen, and therefore PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, video etc with all the meeting participants. It will add extra interaction to your meeting and help add the visual element conference calls lack.

By holding meetings online you can easily work from home meaning you don’t have to drive to work or drive around all day to get to meetings. Cutting transport emissions is key to the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Transition Plan’. It’s not just great for your company’s green image, but also your budget.

Why run two offices?
Think about all the things that are needed to run an office. Electricity for your computers, phone system, servers, lighting, air-conditioning etc. And then there’s the gas for your heating systems and your staff facilities. Why not seriously cut costs and do your bit for the environment by encouraging your staff to work from home.

Not only will you cut emissions from reducing travel to an office but you’ll also be using almost the same amount of energy that is used to heat and light your home anyway.

If you are concerned about accessing your files and you still have an ‘office machine’ then you can remotely log into your work computer by installing free programme LogMeIn or ask your IT consultant about remotely accessing your server.

Accessing files wherever you need them also reduces the amount of hard copies you have to make, saving paper, ink and energy on printing those long documents – which are usually only read over once or twice before being discarded.

There are also other hidden benefits to working from home such as reduced stress, increased productivity and no train delays or traffic jams.

Gradwell is keen to assist their customers to reduce their carbon footprint. One such client ‘Sustain IT’ has already adopted this as part of their corporate culture and reducing their carbon footprint is seen as a vital part of their company policy, with VoIP being the centre and catalyst for this.

“Initially we had not thought of our carbon footprint. However we now consider it to be a vital part of our Company Policy. Internet Telephony helps us to reduce our employee travel and therefore reduce the impact on the environment that commuting is having. So anything we can do as an employer to encourage our staff to use home working or increase the use of the public transport network and cycling has to be good for the future of our children and the planet.”

Everyone making a small change will make a big difference to the planet – and it can benefit your business too.

Peter Gradwell, Gradwell

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