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Posts for May 2011

Six steps towards the paperless office

May 26, 2011 by Administrator

Waste paper bins

Waste paper bins. Photo from orphanjones under Creative Commons.

This is a guest post from HP Business Answers. Check out our website, blog and Twitter feed. You can also join the HP Business Answers LinkedIn group for conversation, advice and expert tips.

Reducing how much paper your business uses is one of the easiest ways to go a bit greener, cut costs, and perhaps even improve your productivity.

  1. Use printer paper more efficiently. This goes beyond vaguely asking people to print fewer documents. Check your default margins, fonts and letterhead to see if you can save space without sacrificing readability. Make sure your printers are set to print double-sided by default, and save any single-sided printouts for rough work or printing draft copies.
  2. Improve online collaboration. You won't have to ask people to print less if the act of printing already feels redundant. Try a platform such as Microsoft's SkyDrive to share, edit and discuss documents online with ease.
  3. Hold paperless meetings. Most people chuck away agendas after a meeting, so present them at the beginning instead of handing them out. Having a designated note taker frees everyone else to focus on contributing to the meeting while also saving paper. You can put the notes into a common online workspace so that everyone can edit refer to them later.
  4. Ditch the fax machine. Even if you have moved firmly into the digital age, some companies that you do business with may be lagging behind. But you can use your computer to send and receive faxes as digital images, reducing paper use at your end and streamlining your communications.
  5. Reduce junk mail. Contact an environmental organisation that specialises in reducing junk mail, thus cutting the amount paper in your office while saving you the hassle of throwing it away.
  6. Try a Tablet PC. You can write notes on it as you go and record meetings for later playback alongside your notes. Maybe you'll be able to ditch your paper notebook altogether.

What I learnt about the future of web design

May 23, 2011 by John McGarvey

Last week I headed on down to the Future of Web Design conference. Held in an old brewery in the City of London, this annual event brings together web designers and developers from all over the world.

I really enjoyed the conference and it was a great chance to get away from my day-to-day tasks for a bit. Although a lot of what I heard was quite detailed information aimed at professional web developers and designers, I took away a few bits of knowledge that I think nearly any business with an online presence can benefit from. Here they are:

  • If you're considering building a mobile app for your business, don't forget about making your website friendly for mobile phones too. In particular, Josh Clark argued that people see mobile apps as tools for getting particular tasks done, whereas the mobile web is all about finding information.
  • In fact, a lot of the conference covered mobile-related internet stuff. There were some impressive statistics involving the amount of money people spend when online with their smart phones, and the rate at which accessing the internet via mobile devices is growing. In short: if you're not thinking about mobile devices when you build your website, you're neglecting an ever-increasing group of users.
  • Ian Hamilton is a senior interaction designer from the BBC. He gave a talk on accessibility, making me realise how far most websites still have to go in order to be usable by people who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities. He suggested including people with disabilities in any usability testing that you run, providing transcripts of all videos on your website, and ensuring all linked text is meaningful ('more information' does not cut it).
  • Dan James founded silverorange, a small web agency based in Canada. He spoke about running an open business. In his company, everyone - from the MD down to junior designers - earns the same salary. He says that often in business we talk about a lot of things, but we don't talk about money. He says we should try it. These sketch notes reveal more
  • To design great user experiences, we should try and stay naive. At least, that's one of the things I took from Aral Balkan's talk. In an entertaining 50 minutes, he explained how he tries to not think too hard when he uses things for the first time. Because if something's been designed well, you shouldn't need to stop and work out how to use it. You should just know. Watch a similar talk here.

What do you think the future of web design holds? What new innovations are you planning for your website? Leave a comment and let us know.

If Amazon can't make the cloud work, can anyone?

May 20, 2011 by Adrian Smith

Inside a data centre

Inside a data centre. Photo from Neospire on Flickr under Creative Commons.

You might have read about problems last month with Amazon’s web hosting service. These affected many well-known websites, including Q&A social network Quora, Foursquare and Reddit.

The outage sparked some debate about how far businesses can rely on cloud services, especially if they’re unable or unwilling to commit to services offering a high level of security and backup.

Don’t let Amazon cloud your decisions

’The cloud’ has been billed as the be all and end all, but like any other business-critical service, you can only count on it if it’s backed up by solid business continuity planning.

Reading between the lines, the Amazon customers least affected by the outage were those with budgets big enough to afford the company’s premium service. They get the peace of mind of knowing that their data’s stored in more than one location.

However, many start-ups and small businesses use cloud services in order to benefit from low up-front costs and manageable ‘pay as you go’ charging. For some, this means they invest in a bottom dollar package from a mass market provider.

But if you don’t choose wisely, taking this route can end up compromising business continuity. What’s more, you may eliminate one of the main reasons for taking the cloud computing route in the first place: complete assurance that your data and systems are protected in every eventuality.

Multiple locations matter

If your chosen cloud computing supplier can only offer hosting from a single location – also called a ‘data centre’ - within your budget allowance, it’s usually worth shopping around. A niche provider that caters specifically for smaller businesses like yours may understand and meet your requirements more effectively.

The key thing is the number of places where your data is stored. Without at least two data centres, you leave yourself at higher risk of service interruptions and failures. Having all your applications and data stored at one site may be no safer than sticking your server in the corner of the office.

True, cloud services have expert engineers available to fix problems quickly, but if your data’s hosted in at least two separate locations it is highly unlikely that both environments will be affected at the same time. So if there’s a problem, you can keep working as normal.

Do remote networks right

My message to companies out there that are questioning cloud technologies after the Amazon outage is to take heed: remote networks are more secure than many traditional systems and, moreover, easier to reinstall should onsite disaster strike.

However, this only applies if you’ve got the right provisions in place. Make sure your cloud provider has more than one data centre, and examine their business continuity plans in detail.

Adrian Smith is MD of Heywood-based IT services provider Flexsys.

Three online tools every freelancer should try

May 17, 2011 by John McGarvey

Working freelance has its own particular challenges. If you're busy with work, you're forever juggling projects, priorities and individual tasks, leaving scant time for other important jobs, like admin and marketing your own services.

I should know: when I'm not hard at work on the IT Donut, I'm usually helping other clients.

To keep in touch with my clients and on top of everything, I rely on three key tools. Fellow freelancers, if you haven't tried these yet, give them a go:

  • Remember the Milk is a super-slick to-do list system. You can plug in all your tasks, large and small, and then assign them to different categories. You can then set deadlines and any other information you need to keep yourself on track. There are plenty of advanced features: you can set a location for each task, show tasks in your calendar or email, and - as you'd expect - access everything through an app for your mobile phone. But the basic version of Remember the Milk is easy to use and free.
  • Dropbox is an online backup and file sharing tool that just works. Download the software, install it on your computer and choose where you want your 'Dropbox' to go. Then, anything you save in your Dropbox is automatically backed up across the internet. What's more, you can install Dropbox on to all your computers and it'll makes sure your files are mirrored on all of them. The entry-level Dropbox package is free.
  • Skype is an instant messaging and voice over IP service, which means you can place telephone calls through your computer. More and more I find myself reaching for Skype instead of picking up the phone. With a headset connected to my computer I chat to other Skype users for free. It costs to call other telephones, but is particularly useful for freelancers because you can choose a landline number to use with Skype, so people can call you on it - and if you're not at your computer, you can divert calls elsewhere.

Are you freelance? What online tool couldn't you operate without?

Why printer cartridges don't last as long as you expect

May 11, 2011 by Administrator

Printer ink spilt

This ink has definitely been wasted. (Image: buyalex under Creative Commons.)

This is a guest post from Huw Carrington, who heads up sales and customer service at

If you own a printer, at some point you're likely to ask: "How much printing will my cartridge do?" Unfortunately there’s no simple answer.

It is not even a simple question for computer printer manufacturers to address. Differences in printing technology, resolution and colour production mean that a cartridge containing five millilitres of ink from one manufacturer will produce a different number of pages compared to one from another company. Confused yet?

After several manufacturers requested a method of measurement to address this confusion, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) stepped in.

How do printer ink measurements work?

The obvious starting point for any printing standard is the document bring printed. So ISO first produced a standard document for performance measurements to be based on. The current version has the snappy name of ISO/IEC 24712:2007.

It's a five page document, consisting of four 'typical' documents, like a standard presentation document or letter, and one diagnostic page.

There's no standard for photo printing, so you will never (or at least should never) find a photo cartridge with an expected yield on.

Once this standard document was in place, standards could be created for the performance of printer cartridges. These standards are split into three individual areas, with the following codes:

With these standards established, it became possible to measure the 'print-till-dry' yield of cartridges with the same settings, same documents and same environment being used. In short: when it comes to printer cartridge lifespans, you can start comparing like with like.

The results from these standards are used to calculate how many pages a cartridge will print based on the paper having five per cent of its surface covered in ink.

You might have seen a figure quoted as being 'at five per cent page yield'. These standards are where that figure comes from. You see it on manufacturers’ cartridges, where they use this set of standards.

What does five per cent mean?

In reality, five per cent coverage on a normal text document only amounts to about a third of a page using a common font, like Arial in size 10. So, when a cartridge says you might get 1,000 printed pages, you're more likely to actually get a few hundred. Throw in a couple of images and you can quickly be getting through an ink cartridge three times as quickly as you expected.

But that's just the start. With a three-colour cartridge, the yield is based on a five per cent coverage of each colour in the cartridge - so the whole paper is covered with 15% of colour. If you have individual colour cartridges this doesn't make a huge difference as each will print as much as it can. However, if you’re using a three-colour cartridge (as many inkjets do) then the same size cartridge is trying to cover three times as much, and so can print, at best, a third as much.

In the world of printer cartridges, there's rarely a simple answer.

Are you sure you're ready to launch your website?

May 09, 2011 by Jonathan Brealey

Crossed fingers
This is a guest post written by Jonathan Brealey, co-founder of web hosting and reseller hosting company Heart Internet.

Launching a new website is a big job. It's easy to let important tasks slip through the net. So, if you're getting ready to go live, here are some key tasks to make sure you've ticked off.

  • Proofread. There is no surer way to make your business look unprofessional than poor spelling and grammar. If you have written the site’s content yourself or you have been proofreading through multiple drafts, get some fresh eyes to give it a once over. You’ll be amazed what gets missed when people have been working on a document for too long.
  • Test all forms. Most websites have a way for visitors to ask questions or get in touch. This is an important lead generator and customer service mechanism for your website so make sure any forms or email addresses work 100%. Just take a couple of minutes to fill in every form and click on any links that open emails. Test that the email address works too.
  • Check your legal policies. This is important for commercial and legal reasons. If you take payment online or capture user data, be it through contact forms or analytics, you should link to terms and conditions and privacy policy pages from your footer. These pages clearly explain how you will use the data you are gathering. Business Link offer free terms and conditions and privacy policy templates for you to download and adapt to your business. If you are a registered company you must also display your registered company name, number, and address on your website.
  • Make sure links work. There is nothing more frustrating than a broken link that doesn't take you where you want to go. Sadly, they are also easy to create. One missing character is all it takes. There are dozens of tools that can check a web page’s links are all working. One of the best is the W3C link checker.
  • Put analytics in place. Without analytics software on your website you are essentially half blind as to how people are using it and how effective any marketing campaigns are. Popular analytics software includes Google Analytics (free), GoingUp (free) and Clicky (free for up to 3,000 page impressions per day).
  • Custom 404 error page. '404 pages' are where people are taken if they go to a URL that doesn't exist or they click on a broken link. There are some great imaginative 404 pages out there, but the most important thing is to clearly show there's been an error and offer links back into your website. Here are some tips from Google.
  • Check search engine optimisation. The importance of getting listed high in search engine results is well documented, and so are the basic tactics to achieve this. At the very least, optimise your page titles, header tags, linked text (also called 'anchor text') and use of keywords in your copy. For a great, detailed breakdown, have a read of this beginner's guide to SEO too.
Posted in The internet | Tagged websites | 2 comments

Five email blunders you really don't want to make

May 06, 2011 by Monica Seeley

Send button
Email consultant Monica Seeley explains five common email blunders to watch for.

As a consultant and coach in email best practice, I often see examples of amazing email blunders which have cost an organisation dearly.

They might have suffered financially (because of a lost sale), but often reputational damage is the result - and it's hard to put an exact figure on that.

Here are the top five blunders I see time and again, along with some simple tips to help you reduce the risk of making such a blunder yourself:

  • Sending an email to the wrong person.
  • If your email program has an 'auto complete' feature, it is very easy to send an email to the wrong Monica Seeley and find you have disclosed either confidential or sensitive information. Recently one client told me they had learnt about a colleague’s affair this way. Another said their IT manager frequently received information destined for the Company Secretary and vice-versa.

    How to manage the risk: check all names very carefully, or switch off the auto fill function.

  • Forwarding an email and disclosing confidential information.
  • In haste you forward an email (often containing many replies in a long email chain). Then you realise that one of the early messages contains either information people should not see (e.g. price, product specification), or worse, a comment about the person to whom you are forwarding the email. The resulting damage can be anything from a lost sale to an industrial tribunal or lawsuit for defamation of character.

    How to manage the risk: check and edit the content of the email before forwarding.

  • Using 'reply all' when you only really needed to reply to the original sender.
  • We've probably all seen examples of this. The least damaging type is a sender telling the whole world that they can attend a meeting. The worst is when the reply contains a potentially damaging comment. The latter is very common amongst politicians (both local and national). Here, the main cost is time wasted and a perception that the sender is playing corporate politics. However, again there may be reputational and legal costs.

    How to manage the risk: educate users about the email etiquette of 'reply' and 'reply all'. If you have Outlook 2010 or other email software that allows it, consider disabling the 'reply all' function.

  • Forgetting to attach a file.
  • You feel such an idiot (and this can create an impression of carelessness), and then you have to play an extra, unnecessary round of email ping-pong. The main cost is time wasted and personal reputational damage as you are perceived as less than professional.

    How to manage the risk: always attach files first, then write the email. If you use Google Mail, it will try to detect forgotten attachments. You can get a forgotten attachment detector for Outlook too.

  • Using Cc rather than Bcc when emailing several people.
  • 'Bcc' stands for blind carbon copy. When you include someone's email address in the Bcc field, they receive your email, but can't see who any of the the other recipients are.

    If you don't use Bcc, you risk sharing confidential information. For example, you circulate a new price schedule to all your third party re-sellers and hence disclose to each who are the others. You may also breach the Data Protection Act. My email address is a private piece of data and you need my permission to share it with others.

    Not using Bcc can cause annoyance and demonstrate a lack of professionalism, because often more space is taken up with the list of names than the content of the email. And - of course - there is always someone who hits 'reply all' and wastes everyone’s time.

    How to manage the risk: educate people either always to use the Bcc address line for lists of names (e.g. more than seven), or create distribution lists which hide the email addresses from view.

    For more ways to save time by using email more effectively either go to one of Dr Monica Seeley’s new ninety minute Brilliant Email Master Classes or get a copy of her latest book, ‘Brilliant Email: How to improve productivity and save time’.

Will Office 365 change how we use software?

May 03, 2011 by John McGarvey

Office 365 beta screenshot

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft opened up access to Office 365, its online productivity and communications service for businesses.

The service is in beta, which means it's virtually finished and just being tweaked. This also means it's free, so there's no reason not to sign up to the Office 365 beta and try it for yourself. Do just be aware that there'll be a charge when the beta ends.

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is Microsoft's latest attempt to offer software online, rather than making you install it on your own computer. It's a form of cloud computing.

Say, for example, you want to write a letter using Microsoft Word. With the 'old way' of doing things, you'd click the Microsoft Word icon on your desktop, then start typing.

But with Office 365, you open your web browser (like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google Chrome) and log in to a special website. This gives you access to Microsoft Word functions. The screenshot at the top of this blog post shows you how it looks. When you save your document, it's saved online - 'in the cloud'.

As well as giving you access to a cut-down version of Microsoft Word, Office 365 includes a bunch of other stuff aimed at small businesses:

  • Other Microsoft Office apps, including Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote
  • Lync 2010, which helps people in your business communicate
  • Outlook, which lets you send and receive email and manage your diary
  • Tools to help you create private and public websites

(Just to confuse matters, there's another version, called 'Enterprise', which seems to offer more functions and control, but also quite a lot more complexity.)

Why would anyone use Office 365?

There seem to be three main reasons Microsoft reckons businesses will be attracted to Office 365:

  • It has lower upfront costs. Instead of spending hundreds of pounds on software, it'll cost £4 per person, per month. Whether this works out cheaper in the long run does, of course, depend how often you tend to upgrade your copy of Microsoft Office.
  • It reduces your IT overheads. There's no software or updates to install, no need to worry about running out of disk space - the idea is that a lot of the software management shifts to Microsoft's shoulders.
  • It's flexible. You can log in and use Office 365 from any computer, as long as it's connected to the internet. It's also easier to share and work on documents together, because they're stored centrally.

Of course, these benefits aren't unique to Office 365. They also apply to many other cloud computing services - most notably, perhaps, Google Apps, which is considered one of Office 365's main competitors.

But it'll be interesting to see what weight the Microsoft Office name carries, and whether that alone can encourage companies to switch from traditional software to this new model.

They may not have been first, but they're the biggest name in the world of business software. That's why what happens next could help determine how small firms buy and use software in the years ahead. How do you feel about it all? Are you going to try out Office 365?

Microsoft is holding a series of Webinars about Office 365 on the following dates;

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