Posts Tagged ‘business’

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Conducting Valuable Market Research

After experiencing sustained growth, many businesses will begin to think about expansion. But while moving into new markets can be an exciting prospect, success often hinges on rigorous planning. Here, we will examine how market research is an important part of this process and how you can develop your own. Let’s jump in.

Market research is key to successful expansion

Navigating business expansion can sometimes resemble trying to pick your way through a thick forest. The trail can feel uncertain and unpredictable where one wrong step could trip you up. Think of market research as a light that illuminates the best path forward. It deepens understanding of potential customers and leads to more informed decision-making. Moreover, it reduces risk, enables the creation of better products and services, and shores up the long-term health of your brand.

The challenge of getting started

Despite its benefits, conducting marketing research can seem like a tall order, especially if you’ve never done it before. All too often, this leads to companies commissioning a report by a third party, which can be quite costly. Depending on the research, the cost can range at least $15,000 – $25,000 a pop.[i] This can be an unnecessary expense, especially as it’s possible to gather a lot of this information on your own.

A deeper dive

So, how do you start a market research report? Begin by sketching out your goals and objectives. Then outline the contours of your target market using these categories: 

  • Market demand for title insurance
  • Qualitative and quantitative nature of the customer base
  • Competitor analysis
  • Regulatory environment (only if different from your current environment)
  • Competitive advantages you bring to the table
  • Any barriers that will prevent you from entering the market

Secondary research

After you have this framework, add additional detail by consulting secondary research sources. Fill out the market demand and customer base sections of your report by consulting:

  • Title industry reports
  • Government databases
  • Housing, population and employment trends

Next, learn more about your competitors by following these steps:

  1. Search online for competitors who serve the target market.
  2. Look at business directories and your local land title associations for additional information.
  3. Then, see what your competitors are doing to market their products and services by looking at:
    1. Their website
    1. Social media channels
    1. Review sites
    1. SEO rankings
    1. Any available advertising
  4. Pair this with information on your competitors’ pricing, services and customer base.

In working through this exercise, a better picture of competing organizations will come into focus. The last step is then to populate the sections on your competitive advantages and barriers to entry. Perhaps one of the best tools to use here is what’s known as a “SWOT analysis.” Here’s what that requires you to look at and flesh out:

  • Strengths: What are you doing right and/or well.
  • Weaknesses: The potential weak points within your organization.
  • Opportunities: The opportunities or openings in the market of which you can take advantage.
  • Threats: What could threaten your ability to enter a new market.

Next steps

Armed with a better understanding of the market, your competitors and how they stack up against your organization’s strengths, weaknesses and capabilities, you can build better offers for your products and market them in a way that connects and converts. Don’t stop with just market research, though. Use this document as the basis for creating a strategic plan, a marketing and sales strategy and even guidance for how your organization can align resources with short- and long-term goals. Combined, these various assets will position you to not only enter your target market but hit the ground running.


[i] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-much-does-market-research-cost-philomathresearch/

A blindfolded businessman standing amidst 3 clouds against a blue sky

Which Cloud Model Is Right For You?

Public, private, or hybrid—what suits your agency best?

Once a novelty, cloud networks now personify the modern workspace. Businesses leveraging cloud deployments typically enjoy enhanced flexibility and productivity. Moreover, with the rise of remote work, the cloud has become crucial in attracting and retaining valuable talent. However, maximizing the benefits of your cloud network depends on selecting a deployment model that aligns with your organization’s goals. If you’re considering the cloud for your agency, you’ll need to choose between public, private, and hybrid options. Let’s explore the differences to help you determine the best route for your business.

Public Cloud Deployments

Public cloud networks rely on the infrastructure provided by third-party cloud service providers. In this setup, companies utilize shared resources and are often charged based on a pay-as-you-go model. Let’s delve into the pros and cons of this deployment model.

Pros:

  • Greater accessibility: Public cloud providers often have a large service area, meaning agents can access vital tools and data from any location.
  • Easier scalability: Public cloud providers typically offer flexible pricing models, which can be ideal for agencies seeking to scale their infrastructure up and down depending on business demand.
  • Better focus on core business goals: Migrating to the public cloud offloads IT management to a third party, which empowers agencies to focus more on their transactions and customer relations. 

Cons:

  • Security concerns: Despite their robust features, the fact that resources are shared on a public cloud may trigger potential security and privacy concerns.
  • Third-party dependence: Using the public cloud means your IT setup becomes largely dependent on a third-party provider.  
  • Cost overruns: Public cloud is rightly celebrated for its flexible pricing, but without careful due diligence, it can also lead to cost-overruns.

Private Cloud Deployments

Private cloud networks are designed for the exclusive use of a single organization and are managed either by the network’s owner or third-party. Here are a few of the benefits and potential drawbacks.

Pros:

  • Customized security: Private networks enable administrators to create customized security controls and exercise greater data sovereignty, which greatly assists with compliance in regulated industries like title insurance.
  • Performance gains: Plus, with private networks being designed for exclusive use, companies can potentially gain more consistent network performance.
  • Effective resource allocation: Private clouds permit more effective control over digital resources, which optimizes an organization’s productivity and cost-effectiveness.

Cons:

  • Up-front investment: Private clouds can involve sizable up-front costs, as businesses will need to invest in infrastructure like servers and networking equipment.
  • Rigid structure: Relying on private clouds can pose problems for agencies if they want to make changes to their deployment setup. Investing in additional infrastructure may be required to support higher-intensity workloads.
  • Higher maintenance costs: Maintaining a private cloud necessitates that agencies continually invest in sufficient resources like specialized IT knowledge, which can potentially strain budgets that could go toward other revenue-producing activities.

Hybrid Cloud Deployments

Aside from these two options, there is also the hybrid cloud deployment model, which combines elements of both public and private clouds. Hybrid-cloud organizations will typically host some resources, data and workloads within a private cloud while also utilizing third-party providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure. Check out the pros and cons of this approach.

Pros:

  • A fluid model: Hybrid deployments can easily scale to meet fluctuating demand within the real estate industry and ensure optimal resource allocation.  
  • Cost-effective: Hybrid clouds afford agencies flexibility in how they use their cloud infrastructure. Agencies can leverage the public cloud during peak worktimes and avoid overprovisioning their private network.
  • Customizable security: Hybrid cloud businesses can create customizable security measures regarding where they house critical data or workloads. Agencies deal with highly sensitive information. With hybrid cloud, this data can be kept out of a public network and managed on-premises for greater peace of mind.

Cons:

  • Complex management: Managing a hybrid cloud can be complex. Agencies must be adept at navigating diverse environments and integrating various systems into a cohesive whole.
  • Cost control: Using multiple cloud networks can cause billing headaches, as users sometimes find it difficult to track resource allocation, transfer data and reduce waste.
  • Regulatory compliance roadblocks: Finally, hybrid clouds can create security and compliance risks with data that is moving between environments. Agencies will need to implement stringent controls to secure data that is “in-transit” between networks as well as data “at rest” within a single network.

Final Thoughts

As with any critical IT decision, all cloud deployments have their pros and cons. Before pulling the trigger, spend time talking critically about your business and what will work well for your team. Some considerations to mull over include your security requirements, budgets, current IT capabilities and future business projections. After having these important conversations, you can reference our list of pros and cons to select a network that will take your business to the next level.

Hand squeezing smiling face yellow stress ball, isolated on white background

Take Action During April’s Stress Awareness Month

Reduce stress for a happier and healthier workplace.

April is “Stress Awareness Month,” making it the perfect moment to explore how stress affects both individuals and organizations. While stress is a normal process, it can take a toll when left unchecked. Alliant National HR Director Stacy Stolen discusses the consequences of runaway stress and shares strategies for creating healthier workplaces.

Stress 101

Everyone experiences stress, but have you ever wondered what exactly it is? Stolen says that while stress typically carries negative connotations, on a basic level, it is simply the body’s response to a demand. Any change in a person’s day-to-day life can be stressful.

Here are a few more important things to know about stress:

  • Stress affects everyone.
  • Not all stress is bad.
  • Long-term stress can harm your health.
  • There are ways to manage stress.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by stress, it’s important to reach out to a health professional.

Where does stress often show up?

Stress can be anywhere, but it frequently pops up in workplaces, where it can do sizable harm. “Workplace stress has adverse effects on workers’ mental health, with an increased risk of anxiety, burnout, depression and substance use disorders,” Stolen said. “Stressed workers are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drug abuse or poor dietary patterns.”

The negative consequences of stress affect businesses as well. “It decreases employee productivity,” said Stolen. “Interactions with co-workers may also become strained, causing conflict, complaints and grievances; health concerns; and higher absenteeism.”

Reducing stress begins with awareness

Given how serious stress can be, it must be elevated as a topic of concern for businesses. Employees must also feel comfortable talking about their stress levels and seeking help when stress becomes unmanageable. According to Stolen, recent years have brought increased cultural awareness of the consequences of stress – which is a welcome change. “It has become more acceptable to ‘talk’ about stress,” said Stolen. Yet there is still more work to do. “Companies are still struggling to manage workplace stress,” said Stolen, “and perks like onsite gyms and nap rooms are not the answer to our problem. We must go deeper.”

How can workplaces better address stress?

Addressing the root causes of stress meansdigging into the psyches of stressed-out employees. “If your employees perceive your workplace as a threat, then you cannot build the trust your team needs to collaborate and innovate effectively,” Stolen said. “Employers need to shift from individual-level to organization-level approaches for reducing stress, which can foster employee well-being while simultaneously improving business performance.”

How does Alliant National reduce stress?

Alliant National has developed a plan to reduce workplace stress. Part of this includes the Alliant National Employee Engagement Team (EET), which helps employees “feel engaged, fairly compensated, rewarded, and personally committed to and inspired by their work.”

The underwriter also tries to let all employees know that it is not only acceptable to take time off to rest and recharge – but encouraged. Additionally, Stolen is working on a mental health “challenge,” where she reaches out to managers to determine if their direct reports have large PTO balances. The intention is to determine whether team members are using the time that they have earned, and if not, to understand why.

Alliant National also runs several internal challenges driven by its EET. These focus on stress reduction, fitness and kindness, and mix in other fun challenges such as. Examples include a baby pics challenge, trivia games; and virtual holiday celebrations.

Stolen notes that many of Alliant National’s initiatives revolve around encouraging laughter throughout the day. Now, humor can’t cure all ailments, but data has proven that a good laugh can have short- and long-term benefits, including:

  • Short-term benefits – Laughing doesn’t just lighten your mental load, it induces physical changes in your body:

    • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
    • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
    • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

  • Long-term benefits – Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, it’s also good for you over the long term:

    • Positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
    • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
    • Laughter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

There is no magic bullet against stress, but progress is possible!

“I have no secret sauce or silver bullet,” Stolen said when asked about how she manages her own stress. “But what I have learned is that I need to unplug and be able to tell my boss when I am stressed and need help – not so I feel weak, but so I can be good to myself.” This is an effective summation of how we can all better manage stress in our lives and particularly in the workplace. Through a combination of honesty and proactivity, individuals can ensure that they keep their stress levels at a reasonable level. Businesses can also follow this approach during Stress Awareness Month and year-round to create happier, healthier and more sustainable workplaces for all.

business team standing in a circle back to back

How To Build a Cybersecure Culture  

Protect your business by taking a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity.

Sometimes the cybersecurity landscape can feel a bit hopeless, especially when you look at recent data. News headlines are abuzz about breaches. Major companies across the economy are routinely victimized by hackers. Municipalities are open targets. Despite millions invested in security solutions, attacks seem to continue with unrelenting frequency. It all begs the question: Where do we go next? 

The answer is deceptively simple. Agencies seeking to keep their networks secure and data safe must build a cybersecure culture. How do you do it? Let’s look at a few ideas.

What is a cybersecure culture?

A workplace with a “cybersecure culture” is one with a broad understanding of cybersecurity’s importance. Additionally, these are workplaces that promote cybersecurity training and consider every employee an important contributor to their overall security posture. Cybersecurity is not an afterthought in these organizations but a key goal that directly informs the workplace’s strategic decision-making.

Start with some simple questions

The work of building a cybersecure culture begins with the recognition that a long-term commitment is required. Start by asking stakeholders for their buy-in and ensure you will be properly resourced for the long haul. Once assured of your organization’s support, you can develop strategies and tactics to achieve your cybersecurity goals.

Security awareness training  

Companies are increasingly realizing that technology solutions are not a magic bullet in the war against hackers and fraudsters, and many have begun supplementing their tools with security awareness training. The importance of such training really cannot be overstated, as the data shows that human error is one of the primary causes of major cyber incidents like data breaches. Just a few years ago, Stanford University partnered with a cybersecurity organization and found “that approximately 88% of all data breaches are caused by an employee mistake.”[i]

Security awareness training that provides tailored and comprehensive content can directly address this issue. More specifically, an effective program will also look at the most pressing threats facing your organization. It will then offer guidance on how employees can recognize suspicious activity and take action. Some additional tips for building a great program are:

  • Cover the latest and most important cyberthreats affecting your agency, including malware, ransomware, modern phishing and dark web activity.
  • Share actionable tips on how to create strong passwords, properly identify suspicious emails and assess which links are safe.
  • Consider consulting a provider that offers security awareness training programs with customized content.

Apply a critical policy eye

Another step for building a cybersecure organization is to review relevant policies and adjust where necessary. Oftentimes, organizations fail to specify core parts of their cybersecurity strategy, which results in inconsistencies in acceptable use, data protection and incident response procedures. Fleshing these out needs to be a business priority, as it will create the consistency essential to keeping attackers at bay.

Create a collaborative, responsible culture

One of the last pillars of a cybersecure culture is arguably the trickiest. You need to also establish a workplace where people speak up about suspicious or illegal cyberactivity. This requires multiple steps. Obviously, you need to establish clear reporting channels and processes, but you must also ensure that employees believe that your company’s response will be fair and non-punitive. Investing in team building activities throughout the year can be one of the best ways to create this type of culture. When employees feel committed to the well-being of their workplace and their co-workers, they are naturally incentivized to make positive contributions to their employer’s cybersecurity strategy.

Final thoughts

Technology is integral to any organization’s defense posture in a world full of ever evolving cyberthreats like ours. But that is only the first step. It is also critical to gain buy-in, provide education and training, and create a culture where people feel genuinely passionate about contributing to your defense posture. It is the best way to move toward a more resilient and cybersecure workplace.


[i] Stanford Research: 88% Of Data Breaches Are Caused By Human Error (knowbe4.com)

3 players reaching for a basketball

How To Team Build Year Round

There is no off-season for building effective teams.

In our working lives, we hear a lot of chatter about team building. Yet, even though it is widely acknowledged that strong teams are the cornerstone of successful businesses, the exact mechanisms for how you build them are less clear-cut.  

For Stacy Stolen, HR Director at Alliant National, creating an environment where staff feel connected, safe and collaborative requires a holistic, year-round approach. She shared insights on how to successfully implement team building in your organization for impactful results.Team building: A critically important conceptWhile incredibly important, team building can sometimes feel cliché and superficial, evoking images of trust falls and three-legged races. Yet when done correctly and with genuine, year-round commitment, few things can be as impactful for creating high- functioning organizations. But why exactly should you prioritize team building? “The lone wolf is becoming an endangered species,” said Stolen, when discussing the subject. “From health care to hospitality, startups to big business, teamwork has become the favored way to get things done.” This view is echoed by those who study team building. “The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish,” says Susan McDaniel, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who is known for her scholarship on team-based work. “Interdisciplinary teams are the way to make that happen.”[i]Here are some of the tangible benefits agencies can realize through investing in team building: ·         Enhanced collaboration: When teams understand and trust one another, it becomes easier to communicate openly and honestly, which reduces silos and promotes alignment.

  • Better employee morale and retention: Meaningful team building promotes safety, camaraderie, and care. This can lead to lower turnover and higher retention. Higher productivity and profitability: Close-knit teams promote the free exchange of ideas and faster, more impactful feedback, which results in higher productivity and profitability.Improved organizational culture: Team building creates a more affirming, positive and compelling culture. When teams like, respect and collaborate well with one another, businesses enjoy easier recruitment and competitive advantage in the market.
  • How to Team Build Year Round Clearly, team building can deliver big benefits, but establishing a year-round team building program can be a tall order, especially at a busy agency. Still, there is no need to feel overwhelmed, says Stolen. “Begin by breaking it down into bite-size steps. Start by defining what teamwork means to your organization and do your research. Also, never take a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to teamwork. Make it your own and ensure it is a good fit for your team.”This last point is a critically important one, particularly when viewed in the context of remote work. “As a new manager, or first-time manager, you now have the unique freedom to choose talent from all over the world,” said Stolen. “But you also face an equally unique challenge: Leading a team who you may have never met in person. This includes building trust and camaraderie between people in different time zones.”But whatever type of team building program you land on, make sure it’s sustainable. Without easily repeatable plays, you won’t be able to continue nurturing a strong team at different points of the year. Keep it simple and do not overthink it. Some strategies aligned with this philosophy include:·         Build “buffer time” into your meetings that leaves time to chat openly and informally. ·         Do ice breakers/team builders at as many meetings as you can. This creates increased cooperation, builds trust and creates a sense of belonging.·         Create “team rituals,” repeated actions or activities unique to your team and help them bond. Rituals can be as simple as “Meme Monday,” where everyone shares an image or GIF that captures how their weekend went. ·         Avoid communication gaps by scheduling a daily stand-up meeting for people to share updates. This process can also be repeated over digital channels like Zoom.·         When it comes to meetings, share the pain. Consider the different time zones your teammates are in and rotate start times so that everyone has a few convenient meetings on their schedule.·         Create an Employee Resource Group.Team building can be difficult but well worth the effort Finding time to develop new initiatives at a busy title agency can be a formidable challenge. Yet the importance of well-executed team building can’t be understated. Sticking to these tips can help you create a well-honed operation that delivers results. Better yet, says Stolen, you’ll create an ideal environment that meets your team’s “individual work preferences and needs.”

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