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How Wi-Fi can be a marketing tool

September 01, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Free Wi-Fi with coffee{{}}There’s a growing expectation among consumers that Wi-Fi should be available when they walk into a large retailer, shopping centre, hotel, café or other hospitality business.

So, if you feel obliged to provide free wireless internet access to your customers, how can you use it as a marketing and advertising tool?

Many business owners see Wi-Fi as an expense, without realising it’s an investment on which they can show a return.

Wi-Fi is a gateway to opportunities

Something as simple as a wireless network can help market your business in a number of ways:

  • Understand your customers. You can collect basic information about customers when they connect to your wireless network. Just ask them to answer a few questions to get online. For instance, request their name, age and contact information.
  • Show you’re ahead of the game. Offering services that are relatively new but growing in popularity — such as guest Wi-Fi — can set you apart from competitors. It’s particularly powerful if customers might not yet have come to expect free Wi-Fi from businesses like yours.
  • Reinforce your brand. You can buy wireless routers that allow you to show a welcome page when a user connects. Use this to remind customers of your products and offers — or maybe even promote exclusive deals for Wi-Fi users.

One other big benefit

Finally, don’t forget the biggest benefit of all. Free Wi-Fi is a powerful marketing tool in its own right.

Consumers love to browse the internet, check their emails, update their social networks and more — no matter whether they’re having lunch, staying in a hotel or doing the weekly shop.

A free Wi-Fi service works to market your business all by itself, encouraging more customers to come through your door.

Copyright © 2014 Bal Rana, founder of Freedom Hotspot.

Posted in Networking | Tagged wireless | 0 comments

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Hacking

August 28, 2014 by John McGarvey

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hacking{{}}Security company Norton has created a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hacking web page. And as a confirmed fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I can’t quite decide what to think of this.

On one hand, it’s been put together with real care. The information is detailed and someone has spent significant time on the design.

Unlike many such infographics, it’s not been knocked together in five minutes by someone who has a basic knowledge of Microsoft Paint. (Actually, most of the information is text-based, but the illustrations are nicely done.)

But on the other hand, we’re talking about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, probably one of the world’s best-loved modern stories. Is it right for Norton to use its instantly recognisable identity as part of a PR campaign?

Maybe it’s best for you to decide for yourself. You can check out the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hacking here. It’s worth a look, if only for the depth of information it contains.

Posted in IT security | Tagged security | 0 comments

Control your email while you’re on holiday

August 27, 2014 by Monica Seeley

What on earth should you do with your email when you’re away on holiday? Switch off and face returning to a bulging inbox? Stay connected and risk not having a proper break? Delegate access to a colleague?

Each option has pros and cons. But there’s a constant factor: taking a holiday gives you a unique opportunity to clean out your inbox. Done properly, this will substantially reduce your holiday backlog.

Holiday{{}}You should aim to leave an empty inbox and inoculate yourself from a severe attack of information overload on your return. Here’s what to do:

1. Use the week before

During the week leading up to your holiday, set time aside each day to spend clearing out your inbox.

Be absolutely ruthless. For example, delete multiple copies of the same email, retaining only the last message in the chain. Move emails that are no longer current into a folder. Flag emails that will need attention when you return.

2. Prioritise emails for when you return

Put newsletters, social media updates and so on in to a folder where they won’t be in the way when you return.

Remove yourself from all unnecessary email circulation lists, and flag up messages you need to deal with once you’re back.

3. Use rules and filters intelligently

Use automatic filters to de-prioritise unimportant emails and file messages automatically while you’re away.

For example, you can set up Outlook (or your preferred email client) to move all emails from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn into a specific folder. Or you can even delete them altogether.

4. Brief your colleagues

If you’ve decided to give a colleague access to your inbox while you’re away, take the time to give them a rundown of what is and isn’t important.

They need to know which messages to prioritise in your absence, and who they should reply to quickly.

5. Set a professional out of office message

Think about what to say in your out of office message. Do your customers really want to know that you’ve ‘jetted off for a week of sun and sangria’?

Make sure your out of office message doesn’t give away any sensitive information, either.

If you do decide to stay connected, stay disciplined and check your email only once or twice a day. And remember: all the evidence suggests that disconnecting is good for our health and wellbeing.

Copyright © 2014 Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo and a leading expert on email best practice.

IT for Donuts: create animated screenshots easily

August 22, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts is our regular weekly feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

We’ve explained how to take screenshots on your computer before. So, this week we’re going one step further. Read on to find out how to create an animated screenshot.

It’s probably much quicker and easier than you expect.

Why use animated screenshots?

There are lots of ways to use animated screenshots. One of the most useful is to give people instructions.

Say you’ve started using a new version of Microsoft Word in your business. Maybe a colleague has emailed asking if you know how to insert a picture.

Sure, you can send them step-by-step instructions. But it might be easier for them to follow a short animation. Using the method we’re about to show you, you can create one in moments.

You can also use animated screenshots to show customers which buttons to click on your website, or to show your IT support company exactly what you did before a tricky error appeared. 

How to create an animated screenshot

Let’s go back to the Microsoft Word example above. We’ll show you how to create an animation that demonstrates how to insert a photo into a document.

To start with, you need to download and install some free software called LICEcap. It’s available for Windows and Mac computers. We used a Mac to capture our screenshot, but the instructions are identical for Windows.

Here’s what to do (remember, these instructions are for a Microsoft Word screenshot, but you can use it with any software):

  1. Open both Microsoft Word and LICEcap
  2. Position the LICEcap window over the Microsoft Word window, so it covers the parts of the screen you wish to capture.
  3. Select the Record button in LICEcap
  4. A dialog box will open
  5. Give your recording a name in the Save As: (Mac) or File name (Windows) field
  6. You can also change the location of the file, if you want.
  7. If you want to add a title screen, tick title frame and enter your title into the box
  8. You can also highlight mouse clicks in the animation. Select mouse button press to do this.
  9. Once you’re ready, select Save
  10. Then perform the steps you want to animate. LICEcap will only capture what you can see within the LICEcap window.
  11. Once you’ve finished, choose Stop, at the bottom right.

Your animation will be saved as a .GIF file in the location you specified.

To see the animation, you're best off opening it in your web browser. You can either drag it into a browser window, or use the Open option.

The finished animated screenshot

Here's how our animated screenshot turned out.

We've had to scale it down to fit it in here, but you can open the full-size animation in a new tab, if you want to see the detail.


IT for Donuts: five secret Google functions

August 19, 2014 by John McGarvey

Google parcel tracking{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular weekly feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, here are five secret (ok, secret-ish) Google functions for you to try.

1. Check the time anywhere

If you need to check the time in another location, don’t worry about trying to work it out manually.

Go to Google and enter time in [location]. It’ll tell you. Here’s an example.

2. Do difficult sums

Google will solve sums when you type them in, like this. And if you type calc into the search engine, a full scientific calculator will pop up.

3. Check flight status

If you need to meet someone at the airport (or have a flight to catch), you can use Google to see if the flight’s running on time.

Just enter the flight number into the search box. Here’s the result for BA005, British Airways’ daily flight from London to Tokyo.

4. Create a countdown timer

If you’re heating up your lunchtime soup or trying out the Pomodoro Technique to concentrate, you might need a countdown timer.

No problem. Just enter timer into the search box. Or if you enter five minute timer, a timer will start counting down from five minutes.

5. Track your deliveries

Google has got pretty good at recognising courier tracking numbers, so you don’t have to find the ‘track package’ function on the carrier’s own website.

Sometimes you’ll see the status of the item itself. Other times you might just see a direct link to the tracking page, as in the screenshot above.

What Google secrets have you discovered?

Why does tech cost more in the UK?

August 18, 2014 by John McGarvey

Buying tech in the UK — credit card{{}}

Ever since the term ‘rip-off Britain’ gained popularity in the ‘90s, there’s been a lingering suspicion that UK consumers and businesses pay over the odds for some items.

Now new research from Which? seems to suggest that the concept of rip-off Britain is still alive and well. The consumer organisation has found that UK buyers are paying considerably more for tech products than US consumers.

Comparing identical tech products

The Which? research compared the prices of identical tech products in the UK and US. It found UK consumers pay more virtually across the board. In some cases, price differences run into hundreds of pounds.

And not all of that difference is accounted for by UK VAT, which — at 20% — tends to be a higher than sales taxes in the US. The research examined tax-free prices, revealing stark differences.

Here are a few examples:

  • An Apple MacBook Pro 13” laptop costs £1,249 in the UK. But in the US, you’d pay around £1,055.
  • A 65” Samsung TV will set you back £2,749 in the UK. Across the pond, expect to pay £2,347 — around £400 less.
  • Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite — a must-have for design professionals — costs £469 a year in the UK. In the US, it’s £355.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, is predictably frustrated by these pricing disparities:

“UK consumers are getting a raw deal by paying up to hundreds of pounds more for the same tech products on sale in the US. Manufacturers should play fair and explain why consumers are paying more for buying in the UK.”

What you can do to save money

Although this research confirms what many have long suspected, there’s not much you can actually do about it if you’re in the market for new technology.

When you run a business, there comes a time when you have to invest. At that point, the cost of not spending a bit of cash will almost certainly be greater than the cost of your new IT.

To cut costs, you can — of course — shop around. There are often considerable differences in prices between retailers.

And when you’re buying software, consider whether there are any free alternatives to which you could switch. This strategy is particularly useful when looking for software you’re only likely to use occasionally.

Total cost of ownership is what counts

But where business is concerned, it can be dangerous to focus on the sticker price above all else. Actually, you want to know the ‘total cost of ownership’ — TCO, for short.

This gives you some idea of what a piece of technology will cost you over its lifetime. So, if you’re buying a laptop that you expect to last five years, the TCO includes what it will cost to buy, maintain and so on.

Gartner research suggests that 80% of IT costs occur after the initial purchase, demonstrating that TCO is the figure that really matters.

Printers are a great example of this. A basic laser printer could set you back £100. But if you’re going to be spending £50 every time you need to replace the toner cartridge, what’s most important is the price of the toner, not the price of the printer.

Sadly, there is no easy way to calculate TCO. It depends on what technology you’re buying and how your business uses it.

And that’s where our last piece of advice comes in: your choice of IT supplier is most important of all. If your company doesn’t have IT expertise in-house, it’s definitely worth finding a local supplier that does.

Yes, it will cost you a bit of money. But the investment could pay for itself many times over in terms of efficiency gains and effective technology use.

Posted in Computer hardware | Tagged buying IT | 0 comments

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