When trying to assess the economy these days, the word that comes up for a lot of people is “uncertain.” During times like these, businesses naturally look to revisit departmental budgets and find new ways to control costs.
While frugality is never a bad idea, things can get complicated when addressing your IT spend. For many companies, the technology stack is one of the biggest drivers of productivity and profitability, which makes haphazard budget cuts the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. You also must carefully consider how any cuts may affect your ability to protect your company’s data, ensure customer privacy and maintain regulatory compliance.
Here’s how you can address your IT costs intentionally, strategically and most of all safely.
Begin by looking at your existing IT processes, procedures, solutions and systems. Then, ask yourself some hard questions and answer honestly. Which are value-adds and which are value-drains? Be as thorough as possible while doing this inventory. Remember to consider not only the up-front cost of a given software system, but also associated training and maintenance expenses.
Find low-cost alternatives
There is no doubt that software solutions streamline business processes and drive new efficiencies, but they also carry costs that can add up quickly. One potential remedy here is to seek out lower cost alternatives.
Yet when considering lower cost software, always keep that old expression of “You get what you pay for” in mind. One potential downside of a less expensive product is that it may not offer the same sort of robust protections for sensitive data flows or mission critical infrastructure. That’s why you should only deploy this strategy for software that is not involved with securing valuable company assets and does not need to comply with intensive legal regulations.
But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t numerous areas where you could find potential savings! From scheduling assistants to word processors to graphic design platforms, there is no shortage of cost-effective software solutions just waiting to be leveraged online. We even put together an entire blog on the topic where you can get more information.
Consider the cloud
You’ve likely heard a lot about the cloud over the past few years, especially the positive way it can impact your business. When you look at the benefits, it is easy to see why.
Transitioning IT systems to the cloud has been shown to enable a more productive and nimble workforce. You reduce the costly and cumbersome hardware systems you are responsible for. You can also add or remove resources on an as-needed basis. System updates and maintenance are typically handled by the cloud provider following a transition to the cloud.
Of course, transitioning to the cloud can carry some security risks. To mitigate these, carefully vet third-party providers. Ask pointed questions about how they ensure compliance and what they can do to protect data while it is in-use, in-transit or at rest.
If you want to learn more about the benefits the cloud offers to users and businesses, check out our previous blog.
Assess your software licenses
Once you start adding software systems to your business, you can quickly lose sight of how many licenses you are paying for if you are not careful. Any assessment of your IT stack and its associated costs must include a rigorous inventory of who is using what and for what purpose. After you’ve compiled this information, take steps to reduce licensing costs for unused or underutilized applications.
Apply a critical eye to cut IT waste
Operating a lean business and seeking out cost-cutting measures can be a good idea in business, especially in times of uncertainty and upheaval. But when it comes to your IT stack, you need a scalpel − not an axe.
Indiscriminate cuts can set your company back – not move it forward, and not just in terms of lost productivity. Fines, fees, breaches and reputational damage can all result from cutting back on IT solutions that secure your business’s critical systems. The potential consequences of skimping on IT security far outweigh any savings you might achieve.
But by using these tips, you can free up valuable resources to drive greater business growth and innovation without compromising your existing setup.
For many who work in real estate, the job site isn’t defined by a single location. Workers are often highly mobile, and their job responsibilities may require them to move from house to house to conduct closings and other business. To stay connected, collaborative and productive, these workers need access to cloud-native enterprise mobility solutions. When properly equipped, workers can stay connected to the data, channels and applications they need. Here is what you need to know about these technologies and what benefits they can bring to your business.
What are enterprise mobility solutions?
Enterprise mobility management (EMM) encompasses the processes, underlying technologies and solutions that enable enterprise mobility. More specifically, EMM includes things like software hosted over the cloud, applications optimized for mobile devices, VPN networks to boost security and programs like mobile device management. These technologies work together seamlessly to empower employees and enable greater organizational flexibility, while at the same time allowing administrators to conduct oversight of how devices and programs are being used.
One of the biggest things remote workers gain when equipped with the right mobile solutions is process improvements. The right digital toolkit not only reduces the need for endless paper documentation, but it streamlines access to necessary business information, allowing employees to provide better customer experiences.
For any business, finding ways to increase worker productivity is a key priority. When the right mobility solutions are deployed, real estate and title insurance employees can stay apprised of their most important tasks and responsibilities from anywhere on any device. Potential benefits from this include a reduction in lag times, easier collaboration and happier and more satisfied customers overall.
While the rise of mobile has worked wonders for many aspects of business communication and collaboration, it is safe to say that it has introduced new challenges for data privacy and security. Real estate and title insurance are both data-intensive fields that routinely deal with sensitive customer data. Agents must have the means to secure that information. Without the right digital tools, your business runs the risk of experiencing a security-related incident and potential long-term damage to your brand.
Reduced IT overhead
Like any other business process, the more control and standardization you can exert over your IT setup, the more it can work wonders for reducing IT spending. Today’s enterprise mobility tools offer the type of visibility, convenience and functionality that can improve an agent’s job performance without saddling your company with a lot of additional costs. One of the ways they do this is by streamlining processes like file sharing. Another involves how enterprise mobility is one of the foundational technologies behind the rise of remote work. Businesses that successfully run and manage hybrid or remote workforces may achieve sizable savings in lower office costs, reduced employee churn and higher productivity.
Equip yourself for success
With the benefits of enterprise mobility being crystal clear, your next question might be: Where do I start? Well, unfortunately, the answer is going to be different for each agency. As I have said before, your organizational goals should dictate the type of IT solutions you employ – not the other way around. Spend some time thinking about what your needs are before you make any decisions. Don’t discount the value of getting a little help. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or if you would like to talk. With any luck, you’ll quickly find the right setup for your team and start taking your mobile operations to the next level.
With software needs growing, here is where you can find low-cost alternatives to top brands
You’ve likely heard the word “Luddite” before. This expression refers to 19th-century English textile workers who destroyed machinery that threatened their livelihood. Today, it serves as a shorthand to refer to anyone resistant to technological change. While undoubtedly an overused term, the real story of the Luddites exemplifies that you can’t stop the march of technology. Instead, you must adapt.
The truth is customer expectations have changed. Businesses need to deliver faster and be more flexible than ever before. To do this effectively, though, requires digital transformation, which can be expensive and time-consuming. In this blog, I will share some low-cost alternatives to popular software programs to help you in this process.
Branding and Graphic Design
Competing for customers online requires digital marketing, and digital marketing requires proper branding and design. Unfortunately, programs like the Adobe Creative Suite can run you hundreds of dollars over the course of its lifetime.
An investment like this might make sense for some companies, especially if they are in design-heavy industries. But title agencies may only require periodic design work, making a free or low-cost option a better bet. Some potential options worth checking out include:
Canva – If you’re looking for a turnkey, browser-based option for relatively simple graphic design tasks, Canva is a great place to start. There are both free and paid versions of the software, and it comes with tons of helpful templates you can use to start quickly producing social media graphics, flyers, logos and much more.
Pixlr – Those looking for an out-of-the-box editing tool will find a lot to love about Pixlr. You can use the solution to crop and resize images, adjust brightness, manipulate contrast, remove red-eye and add filters and effects.
GIMP – GIMP is an open-source software solution with robust photo editing and other design capabilities. Unlike the other programs listed above, GIMP does require a download. But its wide range of features makes it well worth it.
Document and Word Processing
Word processors are among the most common types of business software, used in every industry. While popular programs like Microsoft Word are fairly affordable, there are alternatives out there that are less expensive and offer a comparable level of functionality:
LibreOffice Writer – An open-source application, LibreOffice Writer has been a leading alternative to more mainstream word processors for many years. LibreOffice has many features that will feel familiar to your average Word user, and it supports file formats like .doc and .docx. Best of all, LibreOffice’s open-source community is highly active, constantly refining the program.
Google Docs – One of the most popular alternatives to Microsoft Word is Google Docs. Accessible to anyone with a Google account, Google Docs is a respectable word processor by any metric, including all the bells and whistles businesses need to create content assets. Even better, Google Docs offers its users an effortless way to collaborate within documents in real-time.
PDFs and File Converters
For document-heavy industries like insurance, having a reliable way to convert files and prepare PDFs is critical to developing efficient processes. Like Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat and Reader are leaders in this space, but those looking for low-cost or free options have no shortage of programs to check out. I will talk about two of them here:
Foxit PDF Editor – Perhaps one of the most comparable solutions to Adobe Acrobat is Foxit PDF Editor. Loaded with features, Foxit PDF provides users with everything they need to manipulate, edit, redact and annotate PDFs.
PDF-XChange Editor – Feature-heavy, user-friendly and basically free, you can do a lot worse than PDF-Xchange Editor if you are looking to break away from Adobe. Seventy percent of the program’s tools are entirely free.
Do What You Can to Go Digital First
Although the events took place over 200 years ago, the story of the Luddites is surprisingly still relevant today. Technology will continue to march forward, and if businesses want to thrive, they must find a way to adopt the technology they need. Of course, this is a lot easier with unlimited resources. But as we see here, there are low-cost alternatives to popular programs out there. By deploying them, you can jump start your path toward a more productive and profitable enterprise.
Gather round the social media crystal ball and see what’s coming next.
For the last few years, if you haven’t been on TikTok, you haven’t been on social media. Former heavyweights such as Facebook have been losing their luster, and TikTok has rapidly usurped its role as being on the cutting edge of digital communication. Things can change quickly online, especially within social media.
What are forward-thinking businesses supposed to do? How can one effectively plan a social media strategy when the space is continually in flux? If you are asking yourself those questions, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore emerging trends in social media and what they mean for business leaders who want to leverage them for competitive advantage – now and in the future.
As mentioned, while older social media platforms have waned in popularity of late, others have emerged to take their place and a chunk of their market share. Here are a few of the top sites that have left a mark in recent years and are worth keeping an eye on going forward:
Clubhouse: Clubhouse emerged during the first year of the pandemic, offering users a way to form synchronous, audio-only connections between the audience and the speakers. Businesses can consider leveraging the platform to increase the profile of high-performing content pieces or host a dialogue between an industry thought-leader and their target audience.
CaffeineandTwitch: Both Caffeine and Twitch have built steady followings since their launches in 2018 and 2021 respectively. Each of these platforms are video-based, giving users and businesses a powerful way to connect with audiences, position their brands and generate engagement. The success of Caffeine and Twitch also highlight that video is the future when it comes to social marketing – particularly if you need to appeal to the Gen. Z market.
BeReal: BeReal has been adopted with great gusto by Gen. Z. While the full scope of its business applications has yet to be determined, this is a good application to investigate if you’d like to cultivate a highly authentic social presence for your brand.
Paying to Play Will Continue
Last month on this blog, we discussed whether it is now necessary to supplement your organic social media activity with paid promotion. The conclusion we drew is that it has become increasingly difficult to gain the results you may want to see through organic marketing alone. Going forward, this will likely continue to be the case; however, where you spend your marketing dollars is likely to shift. Studies show that consumers prefer ads on sites like TikTok far more than others.[i] Pinterest is another site that has proven itself to be a good bet for advertisers, generating strong ROI for those who choose to deploy its advertising functionality.[ii]
Using Social for Customer Support
While it varies amongst different demographics, customers increasingly expect to interact directly with brands via social media. The gravitation of customers away from the phone and toward online platforms for customer support has been in the works for awhile now, but it truly went into overdrive during the pandemic. To succeed with customer service in this space, businesses must familiarize themselves with how different platforms support one-to-one customer interaction and then make a customer care plan.
The data on this subject robustly backs up these claims. 64 percent of people claim that they would prefer to message a business digitally than hop on the phone.[iii] Despite this, a huge number of businesses have not yet invested in their online customer care, which can be detrimental to their brands, operations, and future profitability.
Embrace the Future
Nothing lasts forever, especially not in the digital sphere. But while that can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. New trends are emerging in social media that will allow businesses to accomplish strategic goals far more easily, whether that be hosting authentic online content, advertising more effectively, or improving customer care. Keep your finger on the pulse, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new and emerging technology. That will continue to be key to social success.
Employ best practices to keep your systems running smoothly.
As someone who has been in the IT game for a while now, trust me when I tell you that “updates” is a word that comes up a lot. From business networks to cybersecurity, technology never stays the same for long.
Software programs frequently require updating to the latest version. Businesses need to have a plan for keeping software current and staff apprised of workflow changes.
A quick note on software updates
I’m willing to bet that you have some experience keeping your devices current. But what really goes on during a software update?
A software update can be viewed as a sort of “patch” for the current iteration of a program. Updates typically include a set of changes designed to fix or improve upon pre-existing software, including:
Removing bugs from code
Providing new tools or features
As you can see, updating consistently is important to maximizing your software’s value. But perhaps nowhere are updates more essential than for cybersecurity. When an update comes out designed to address security vulnerabilities, time is of the essence for implementing it. If you don’t, the software may become vulnerable to malicious actors, which can jeopardize the overall effectiveness of your business.
Putting it into practice
With so much riding on keeping systems and programs current, what exactly is the best approach for ensuring that each new update is promptly installed?
There are several strategies that can keep you and your team moving forward without creating a lot more work for yourself in the process.
Automatic updates: Whenever possible, enable automatic updates. These will keep your systems running efficiently and safeguard your business from security breaches.
Create an inventory: While it may require some heavy lifting up-front, establishing an inventory of all programs and systems can be incredibly helpful for staying on-top of security updates and software patches.
Stay apprised of update schedules: To avoid surprises, it never hurts to have familiarity with when certain vendors push out updates. Microsoft, for example, consistently puts out updates on the second Tuesday of each month. Adobe follows a similar pattern.
Create a personal schedule: When you are running a small agency, it may be difficult to find time to take care of necessary updates while overseeing everything else that goes into a successful enterprise. One strategy to overcome this is to set aside designated time each week for carrying out this work. Be sure to make it consistent week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year, and don’t waver once it is established.
Communicate clearly: No one is an island in business, and changes to your systems and programs will impact the workflows of others. Clear and consistent information delivered before, during and after an update is critical when performing an update. Employees need to know what types of updates are going on, how long they might take and how it will ultimately impact their day-to-day activities.
A solution for your solutions: There is an old saying that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and that holds true for something like software updates. If that sounds familiar to you, it may be worth considering adopting a technological solution for your software solutions.There are many tools that can make tracking and managing your critical software updates easier. Check out this article for more on getting started.
Hiring help: It is never a bad idea to seek out help from a professional for your IT-related needs, even if you have a small shop and minimal technology requirements. Of course, this can pose challenges for the small business owner, in that you must assess whether to bring on a full-time worker or outsource your needs to a third party like a managed service provider (MSP). Luckily, you don’t need to make this decision alone! Check out Alliant National’s blog about this topic, which you can read here.
Enjoy a secure system
The work of IT never ends, and this poses real challenges when it comes to software updates. Yet like anything else, solutions exist. Carefully planning your updates, staying hip to the latest changes and getting assistance when needed can help you strengthen the IT systems on which your business success relies.