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Create a More Flexible and Cost-Effective Business with the cloud

Create a More Flexible and Cost-Effective Business with the Cloud

Cloud computing can increase your firm’s scalability, flexibility and productivity.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard quite a bit about the cloud over the past decade and a half. Anyone with a smartphone has at least a basic understanding of this type of computing. Yet the cloud is far more than a convenient place to hold photos, videos, documents or other data for individual use. Cloud computing has, in fact, become an integral component of how today’s businesses operate. It offers firms unprecedented ability to scale their operations, off-load cumbersome maintenance, improve productivity and even cut costs. Let’s look deeper at the advantages it offers to small and large businesses alike. 

Expanded Flexibility
The most obvious advantage of cloud computing is expanded flexibility, which can mean a couple of things. First, our economy is experiencing tremendous upheaval, with the Great Resignation and the ongoing push for hybrid work shaking old paradigms to their core. Cloud computing represents an incredible opportunity for businesses to free their workers from being tethered exclusively to on-site technologies, giving them access to the tools, documents and systems they need from anywhere at any time. 

The second way cloud computing improves flexibility is by supporting customization. It’s highly likely that your business’s IT needs will grow and change over time. By migrating systems to the cloud, adding new seats, deploying new functionality and carrying out updates becomes much easier. 

Cut Costs 
Businesses must always be mindful of their costs, which is another advantage cloud computing brings to the table. The cloud can reduce IT spending in several ways. First, when you migrate to the cloud, you can say goodbye to dealing with expensive hardware, which the cloud vendor owns and manages off-site. Lower maintenance comes along with cloud adoption as well, with responsibilities also transferred to the vendor and allowing you to reduce your internal IT budget. Don’t discount productivity gains either. With cloud computing, companies can easily update their systems. Staff then will have more time to focus on creative work. 

Increase Recruitment
Closely connected to the issue of worker flexibility are recruitment and retention. Cloud computing is a key enabler of the hybrid worker revolution, as it supports communications and collaboration solutions like UCaaS, CPaaS, CCaaS, DaaS and more. With the demand for hybrid or fully remote work on the rise, having the infrastructure to support these workers is a fantastic advantage when trying to attract the best talent.

Be Mindful of Security
If you choose to adopt cloud computing for your agency, always remember to inquire about the vendor’s security and data protections. In a heavily regulated industry that deals every day with sensitive information, agencies must be mindful of the security of their technology systems. The good news is most cloud computing vendors will offer products and services that already feature robust safeguards like DDoS protection, data integrity and 24/7 support. However, there is a great deal of variation between providers, and it is always a good idea to inquire directly about your security needs to ensure you have adequate protections in place.

Final Thoughts
Each year that goes by seems to validate the increasing adoption of cloud computing. With cloud computing often leading to additional flexibility, higher productivity and cost savings to boot, it’s no wonder more businesses are seeing it as a powerful method to gain new efficiencies and spur exciting growth. 

Do you want to learn more about cloud computing and how it can help your business? Check out this great article. And if you’d like to discover top companies that provide cloud services, this piece details some of the top companies in the field.

The words BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE written under torn orange paper.

Making Data-Driven Decisions

Data is all around us. Why not leverage it for better business decision making?

Most people know that modern business runs on the internet. But what does the internet run on you ask? Data, that’s what! How can you leverage your data to drive better business decisions? Let’s explore.

Data Sources and Why They Matter

It may surprise you how much data exists about your business. Whether it be from Google Analytics, social media or a business intelligence (BI) platform, there are multiple ways to gain actionable insights into your customers’ demographics, not to mention your business’s projects, performance, costs and revenues.

But why does any of this matter? Well, by better understanding your customers, their behaviors and your own internal processes, you can adjust buyer journeys and touchpoints, optimize your operations, reallocate your resources and more. Changes like these can lead to improved customer sentiment, increased employee morale and a stronger brand.  

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool and a great place to start gaining insight into how your customers are interacting with you online. To begin, establish your credentials for the Google suite and link the website you want to track. You’ll have to embed the Google Analytics code snippet on your site to accomplish this. While this isn’t exceptionally complicated, many people are uncomfortable trying to read HTML. Consult with your webmaster if you need assistance.

Once your account is set up, it’s time to start tracking some metrics. Some of the most important metrics include sessions, users, average time on page, bounce rate, acquisition sources and entrance and exit pages. These will give you a good starting point to understand how people are finding your website and what they’re doing once they’re on it. After that, you can take steps to encourage positive trends or address negative ones, such as putting more marketing dollars toward your most effective acquisition sources or optimizing your landing pages to make them more effective.

Social Media

Although it may not look like it at first, social media can also be a powerful source of business intelligence. The medium has become a primary method for sharing business updates, but prospects and customers now often use social media to collect information on companies’ product and service offerings.

Many of these platforms offer free, built-in analytics where you can gain these insights. Facebook’s business suite, for instance, provides exportable, in-depth reports on your audience, including age and gender breakdowns, as well as top cities where they are located. It can also shine a light into whether your posts, updates and offers are resonating with these followers, and allow you to provide more effective content that will encourage them to engage with you.

BI Platforms

For those who are serious about BI, however, nothing beats the power and depth offered by investing in a business intelligence solution. These platforms are designed with the specific purpose of helping firms gather and analyze large amounts of business data. These platforms often include striking data visualizations and can create a comprehensive, 360-degree view of your business. Not only will you gain a better sense of your audience through these platforms, but you can also track your company’s projects, resources and revenues. Staying up to date on this information may help you make tough decisions in real-time that can ultimately benefit your bottom line.

Take a look at some of the best platforms currently on the market.

Better Insights Equal a Better Business

In a fast-paced world that shows no signs of slowing, understanding all aspects of your business is critical to making the best possible decisions. Luckily, we live in a data-rich world. By deploying a BI platform or even leveraging free, pre-existing data sources like Google Analytics and social media, you can gain information to help position your company for even greater success.

Chatbots for Small- to Medium-sized Businesses

Customer service has never been more important to your business’s competitive advantage. Use every tool in your toolbox.

High-quality customer service is essential to a successful business. No matter where you go, 96 percent of consumers say customer service is important to whether they will be loyal to a brand.[i] 52 percent of consumers have made an additional purchase from a brand after being satisfied with the quality of customer service they received.[ii] Best of all, even a 5 percent uplift in customer retention has been shown to produce a 25 percent increase in profits.[iii]

It can sometimes be difficult, however, for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) or agencies to improve service delivery. But chatbots can help. Chatbots are programs within websites and apps that can simulate real conversation and carry out functions like answering customer questions or helping visitors navigate websites. They can help you stretch finite resources to improve customer experience (CX). Here’s everything you need to know about deploying this technology.

Chatbots to the Rescue

If your business operates online, then you can likely employ a chatbot. Whether you have a website or social media presence, it isn’t exceptionally challenging to install one of these programs and begin offering your customers 24/7 support.

Start with Your Strategy

Don’t put the cart before the horse. Start with your strategy; ask yourself why you need a chatbot in the first place. There is certainly no shortage of use cases for chatbots within the insurance industry, such as:

  • Educate customers on the process
  • Cultivate and organize leads
  • Improve CX
  • Reduce employee workload

Next, determine your priorities for your future chatbot. Think about previous experiences. Chances are, you’ve interacted with chatbots in the past. What worked? What didn’t? What did you like? Dislike? Write these down to help inform your search.    

Plan Your Approach and Execute

You must decide how you will develop your bot. Should you build from scratch? Use a plugin? Deploy a software service? Let’s look closer at each option:

  • Building from scratch is time-intensive and requires significant in-house knowledge. However, it gives you total control and flexibility.
  • You can use a chatbot plugin with your content management system (CMS). Each of the leading CMS platforms have respective plugins and installation instructions, including WordPress, Drupal or Wix. Widgets are functional blocks that, upon installation, provide your website with additional functionality. These blocks are also often customizable, free and easy to install.
  • Finally, there are now low-code and no-code applications capable of creating chatbots; but you’ll want to be sure to read independent reviews before purchasing!

Following installation, you cannot just assume your bot will operate seamlessly. Don’t forget to do a trial run and test its basic functions before it goes live.

The Rise of the Robots  

We’ve long heard how artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually make human labor obsolete. While that has not come to pass, AI is increasingly working alongside humans to drive greater efficiencies, productivity and profitability. Chatbots are one of the latest examples of this trend. And when approached strategically, they can help small agencies deliver world-class customer experiences.

[i] Daniela Puzzo, Fonolo, 4 January 2022, 150+ Customer Service Statistics for 2022 | Fonolo

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

illustration of 2 hands exchanging a 5 dollar bill

Effective Invoicing

You can’t keep the lights on without revenue, and you can’t bring in revenue without effective invoicing

Every business needs to charge for their goods or services, but effectively invoicing or billing is not as easy as you might think. Let’s face it, nobody really wants another pricey software subscription, but routinely creating something manually can eat up time that is already in short supply. So, what to do? Here are a few critical things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about optimizing your invoicing process.

The Value of the Invoice

First things first: Did you know that businesses lacking an effective invoicing system can experience a real blow to their bottom line? According to 2016 data, the value of small business unpaid invoices was $825 billion – roughly equivalent to 5% of U.S. GDP at the time.[i] Additionally, the average small business has $84,000 in unpaid invoices.[ii]

DIY Route

Of course, collection problems can result in unpaid invoices, but there is no way to begin trying to collect on your invoices if you can’t create and process them efficiently.

There are basically two different options for how to approach your invoices: going DIY or finding an affordable software subscription. If you go the DIY route, the best approach is to create a template that can be easily updated for each client. This may sound intimidating; but don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. And the good news is that you likely already have a program that can largely take care of this for you.

Creating a template is easy with Microsoft Word, and the software includes a variety of templates that you can download. To do this, simply go through the following steps:

  1. Open Microsoft Word;
  2. Hit “File,” and then “New,” and then on the right-hand side of the window you can search for templates or optionally select a category;
  3. Type “invoice” into the search bar;
  4. Once you’ve settled on a template, download it and prepare to customize it for your business.

Before you can begin customizing, you’ll need to gather some business information. Be as comprehensive as possible here; you want your invoice to look as professional as possible. Some elements you’ll want to include are:

  1. Your agency logo (if you have one)
  2. Company contact details: name, address, phone number, website and email
  3. An invoice number – for referencing purposes
  4. An itemized list of products or services that you have provided for your clients
  5. The invoice date
  6. The date the invoice needs to be paid
  7. A subtotal for all charges
  8. Details for how your clients can remit payment
  9. A total amount owed, including all applicable taxes
  10. Your payment terms and conditions
  11. A small message thanking your client for choosing to work with you

Once you have added all the above elements, save your invoice in a handy location for future reference.

Software Subscription

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating your own invoice in a program like Microsoft Word, there are many options for anyone looking for a more automated approach to invoices – both free and low-cost.

When considering between a DIY approach and a software subscription, there are a number of factors to weigh. Invoicing software can offer benefits such as:

  1. Tracking invoice delivery and payment status
  2. Reducing missed payments
  3. Simplifying the accounting process
  4. Protecting key customer information from cyberattacks

Think through your business needs ahead of purchasing a subscription. If your agency could benefit from some of this added functionality, that may create enough positive ROI to justify the monthly expense.

Additionally, keep in mind that today’s modern solutions can frequently be integrated with other services – which can save you additional time. For instance, many invoicing software subscriptions integrate with payment gateways – meaning that customers can make their payments digitally rather than bothering with paper checks.

Boost Your Profitability Invoicing is the bread and butter of your business, meaning that you need a process in place that is clear, easy and standardized. Whether you pursue a DIY template or make a small investment in invoicing software, streamlining your billing process is never a bad idea and will — no pun intended — almost invariability pay off.

[i] [Infographic] The Economic Impact of Unpaid Invoices | Fundbox Blog

[ii] Ibid

digital solutions graphic

Selecting the Right Software Solution for Better Collaboration

Collaboration is the lifeblood of a well-functioning company; the right solution can make all the difference.

Even before the pandemic hit, collaboration challenged businesses of all sizes and industries. When offices emptied nearly 20 months ago and people retreated to their homes, these difficulties increased. In-person communication became impossible with collaboration confined to digital tools like email and Zoom. 

Thankfully, we live in a time of limitless digital innovation, where you can find dozens of solutions to streamline collaboration and boost productivity. Let’s look at a few best practices for selecting software to support your unique collaboration goals. 

What Are Digital Collaboration Tools?

Why do you need a specialized collaboration solution? If you have an internet connection, an email address and a cell phone, isn’t that enough? For some, it may be. Yet many organizations have complex processes and must manage projects with remote or hybrid teams. Modern software solutions can offer these organizations additional functionality that is badly needed. From cloud storage and scheduling to instant messaging, file sharing and alerts, today’s collaboration software keeps these teams on track and optimizes workflows for maximum productivity. 

How Do You Pick a Collaboration Platform?

Just as you would with any other solution, choosing the right collaboration software means following a strategic process. First, focus on identifying problems or pain points that you hope your solution will mitigate. Next, make a list of features that you need to have and that you want to have. Because of the sheer variety of available solutions, it is wise to do your research upfront to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Luckily, there are plenty of reviews and commentaries that can help you begin to zero in on the ideal collaboration tool.  

One way to think about it is to determine your core workflows. For example, if you deal with a high number of digital documents, you will want your collaboration software to include a secure mechanism for transferring files between users. If you have projects that must go through several levels of approval and sign-off, then you’ll want robust scheduling features for you to layout clear, step-by-step processes. 

Other considerations are whether the tools you select are secure and flexible. Cybersecurity is a major problem for businesses across the economy, so you’ll want to inquire about built-in protections. A couple of examples of this would be end-to-end encryption for any chat features and multifactor authentication deployed during sign-on. 

Pay special attention as well to how receptive or malleable your solution is to integrations. Chances are, you already have a few programs or services you are using to conduct business. You’ll want the option to integrate new tools with pre-existing IT infrastructure. 

Finally, inquire about the pricing for any solutions you find yourself considering. Many IT products now function through an “as-a-service” model, meaning that you will pay a monthly fee for the service. Don’t forget to ask if this applies to your platform or if you will be primarily paying an up-front fee. Additionally, there can be other associated costs – such as network bandwidth, supportive infrastructure, deployment costs and user training expenses. Take the time to calculate what’s known as total cost of ownership (TCO) ahead of making any final decisions. 

Strengthen Your Collaboration for Better Operations

Without effective communication and collaboration throughout your company, it’s extraordinarily difficult to operate efficiently and scale your business. In our fast-paced digital world, keeping a close eye on your projects and optimizing your workflows is even more important. Thankfully, many solutions can keep employees connected and productive whether your team operates via headquarters or home offices. 

This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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