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It's About Time! The Journyx Blog

March 5, 2014

In today's competitive environment, every dollar counts and organizations cannot afford to remain ignorant about true project costs.  Fortunately, there are a few formulas that help you track and analyze project costs and to estimate projects with increasing accuracy in the future. 

Creating An Effective KPI

Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure progress toward a strategic goal. It is important to narrow your focus, so unless your company has 100 strategic goals, you should not have 100 KPIs. Ten KPIs can be effective, five KPIs are even better, and one KPI is optimal.  The KPI you choose must also be measurable. "Make clients more successful" is useless as a KPI without some way to measure their success.  KPIs are often tied to strategy through techniques such as the ‘Balanced Scorecard,’ but they don’t have to be as complicated as that to be useful and effective.  As with most things, simplicity increases efficacy.

A KPI is a ‘SMART’ goal, which means it must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based.  Let's say that you set the following goal for your team: "Increase average revenue per sale to $10,000 by December." It’s a SMART goal because it references a specific, time-sensitive goal that directly affects the health of the company. In this case, 'average revenue per sale’ is the KPI that you would measure in order to determine success or failure.

Here are some popular and effectively KPIs that your company may want to consider:

Billability

Billability or utilization rate refers to the percentage of time in a given period during which an employee or set of employees are working in a revenue-producing capacity. Utilization rate can be found by the formula B/T, where B = billable hours for the employee or group in the period and T = all hours worked by the employee or group in the period.  Most organizations try to keep utilization rates above 70 percent or so. The higher the rate, the better the results.

Knowing not only how many hours are being spent on a particular project but also what percentage of that time is billable to the client is one key way to understand complete project cost.  The more work that employees spend time on that is not billable, the more the project will cost.  If you use this KPI consistently, you will be able to identify unproductive work and find ways to minimize it successfully.

Adherence to Estimate

Accurate project estimation is another component that is crucial in keeping costs down and stakeholders happy. The KPI here is defined by the formula [(E-A)/E], where E = estimated hours to complete project and A = actual hours used to complete project. If you can keep this number as close to zero as possible, you know that you are doing a good job in estimating projects. If not, it is important that you realize it now and take steps to address it. 

Improving this number can be difficult for some companies until they understand that similar projects often have a strikingly accurate ratio of early phase cost to overall project cost. In other words, the early phases of a project, commonly referred to as ‘requirements,’ ‘design,’ or ‘specification’ phase, can often give you a clue as to the length of the entire project.  Let’s say that after carefully tracking time on a batch of similar projects you find that the first two phases take approximately 10% of the project time. You can then use that data to predict the length of future projects.

Percentage of projects profitable

Why do we track project costs in the first place?  The answer is simple—to guarantee that every project undertaken and executed is bringing in a profitable ROI for the organization.  This KPI, “percentage of projects profitable,” can really jumpstart your business and ensure that you are taking on the right projects. Unfortunately, most companies have projects going on at any given time that actually lose money for the company. Due to an inadequate understanding of costs, many of these go unnoticed. Yet all you need is direct and indirect per-project cost data along with revenue data to gauge per-project profitability, allowing you to make every effort to maximize this particular KPI. The formula is:

# of profitable projects / # of projects

Understanding true project cost should be an integral part of every organization's project management methodology, but many companies do not even know where to begin.  With the right data and a few powerful KPI formulas in hand, cost engineers can enlighten the organization and empower them to be selective in the projects they choose. 

 

February 25, 2014

A shift is happening in the software industry. Instead of having customers install software at their physical locations, software companies are increasingly renting web-based software over the internet on a monthly basis. But while this popular trend is token amongst most young startups and entrepreneurs, is it safe and reputable enough for all vendors to hop on board and use?

Most software companies get their revenue from shelfware (software that is rarely used and ends up on the proverbial shelf). Popular programs - from Quicken to SAP - for which customers pay the total cost up front - can be complicated, making them difficult to use and achieve maximum benefit from. However, once a customer has paid for these programs, there is little incentive for the company to follow up and ensure that it is fully updated to latest standards and working properly for the customer.

But things may be looking up in the realm of new software - in the stores and online. Companies like Journyx, KaleidaCare (foster care automation) and Affiniscape (association management) are quite successful in renting software over the web to their customers.  

How will rented and cloud-based software help the customer? If customers sign up for a monthly service from one of these companies and the solution doesn’t work, customers will likely stop using the software after a month. This gives the software provider an incentive to pay attention to customer usage, understand whether or not the technology is providing business value, and strive to increase its value. Not only that, but the customers opinion will become the first priority, and help keep the product as up to date as possible for years to come. 

When interests are aligned on both parties, everyone wins. Not only this, but going cloud makes it that much easier to have the latest and most up-to-date software available on the market. Your product will be continually improving as your company continues growing- making both the vendor and the client a match made in heaven.

And for small businesses, there are some additional benefits to renting software. The lower upfront costs of renting make it an easier investment for businesses tight on money. Paying for the rental over a period of time can make it easier for small businesses to charge their clients for software access by including it in the project estimate. 

The future of the software industry is renting. And that's good news for everyone.

February 19, 2014

You have the right to demand that any vendor prove their solution will solve your company’s specific business problem. Canned demos are designed to deceive.

Questions to Ask Vendors:

  • Can you prove to me that you will solve my business problem, using my employees, departments, projects, etc.?
  • Can you provide references of clients that have successfully integrated your product with my accounting system, my project management system and my payroll service provider?

Keep in mind that the speed with which a vendor can configure the software during a demo can usually accurately predict the functionality of the system after it is installed at your company.

SaaS Offers Flexibility

If the software is 100 percent Web-based (and it should be to avoid obsolete technology and installation problems), you can run it from any server on earth. Software companies can deliver technology via two different models: installed at your location or rented by you and running on the vendor’s site. The latter approach is called software-as-a-service (SaaS). There is no reason a provider can’t offer both options.

SaaS allows early rollouts, server protection and easier upgrades. In early rollout, the vendor lets you temporarily use the SaaS site while your IT shop deploys the machine purchased for your local installation. Server protection is the process of sending a backup to the vendor in case your local installation fails. SaaS allows easier upgrades because you’re provided a test site during the upgrade process that requires no hardware purchases on your part.

Questions to Ask Vendors:

  • What sort of backup generator do you have in case of a power outage at your SaaS site?
  • Where is it hosted? 
  • How many connections to the Internet does your SaaS site have?
  • How much does server protection cost? 
  • Can I roll-out on your SaaS servers and later transfer the data to my own servers?
  • Where are SaaS backup tapes stored?
  • What kinds of security and fire suppression capabilities exist at the hosting site?

Look Outside the HR Department

When payroll executives implement time and attendance systems to automate payroll, they often miss the chance to facilitate greater profitability throughout the entire company.

The time data they collect, if collected appropriately, can also be used to automate project management, project costing, project tracking, and project estimation improvement. Additionally, the data can be used for internal, external and reverse billing automation. 

Think back to that requirements gathering portion of the timesheet software selection process.  Bring in R&D managers, marketing folks, and A/P people. Have an entire selection team. Yes, it may be harder, but it will unleash profitability that you didn’t know you had available.

Don't let the generic stock demo pull you into a hackneyed deal; by following these tips, you can be a software-purchasing hero for your company.

February 11, 2014

Oftentimes we find our biggest source of inspiration for what to write about in our Journyx blog actually stems from some of our biggest FAQ's here. But even that isn't enough. When searching for your time tracking system, here's our list of top checklist items to consider before making your big purchase. 

Have a Buying Process

Timesheet software will touch everyone in your company. Nobody likes to track their time, so it must be simple to use, have a friendly interface and encourage accurate data collection. The system should serve as a real accounting system with double entry methodologies and approval processes, and have automatic reminders for the busy executive (you know who you are).

First, you need a requirements list. This will enable you to eliminate many of the vendors that pop up when you Google "timesheet." To assemble your requirements list, ask all the pertinent departments in the company for their input.

Here are a few potential requirements:

  • Do you need to verify invoices sent to you by contractors, and test the timesheet system on them first?
  • Do you need a system that prevents people from tracking time against projects they shouldn’t have access to?
  • Do you need to send payroll data to ADP or Paychex?
  • Do you need to send billing data or payroll data to QuickBooks (or Dynamics or SAP or Oracle)?
  • Do you need to get the system rolled out now with no time to wait for IT?
  • Do you need to split-bill project costs to other internal departments?
  • Do you need to fix your estimation process?
  • Do you need Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) compliance or very accurate IT capitalization data for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)?
  • Do you need to understand your R&D costs on a per-product basis?
  • Do you need a tightly controlled purchasing process where everyone gets a company credit card?
  • Do you need to reimburse for mileage?
  • Do you need a low monthly fee rather than a giant one-time fee?

There is No Magic Fix

Some vendors claim that they can “implement in 2-3 days”. However you can’t roll out your time tracking system in two days unless your problem is simple enough to only include one of the above requirements. If they really are that simple, don’t spend your money on software; stick with Microsoft Excel.

The technology is powerful and it can help your company become more profitable in a number of ways. It can lower your payroll processing cost while increasing accuracy. It can also speed up your billing and convert more A/R to cash; automate travel expense reimbursement; and most importantly, it can tell you which projects are broken before you would ever have known it before.

Vendors that claim two-day rollout times are just plain lying. Don’t let them fool you. This process requires time and energy to accomplish it correctly. 

February 6, 2014

Congratulations to Fulcrum Vets on being chosen as Journyx Customer of the Month for February 2014!

We’re pleased to announce that Fulcrum Vets is the Journyx February Customer of the Month. Fulcrum Vets is both an outstanding customer as well as a great business partner.

"As a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, it is important to us that we build a foundation to grow our business and meet the demands of both commercial and government markets,” says Gene Walker, President of Fulcrum Vets, LLC., “Fulcrum Vets selected Journyx not only because of their mobile access to a user-friendly time-keeping product, but also for their ability to help ensure Fulcrum Vets is able to meet DCAA requirements as well as the scalability required for a growing company”.

A Journyx customer since 2012, Fulcrum Vets is a lead Systems Integration and Information Technology consulting business partner, and has been in full operation since 2009. Recently recognized by Lockheed Martin for outstanding support and winning contracts to provide IT Services to the Centers for Disease Control, Fulcrum Vets is making waves in federal and civil government agencies with superior IT and technology services. Learn more about Fulcrum Vets here.

February 4, 2014

It gives you visibility into the profitability of individual customers and projects; it's essential in helping you determine which projects to move forward on in the future. But the biggest impediment to successful time tracking is employee resistance. Why do people hate tracking their time so much?

Reason #1 Reporting time can threaten status.

For salaried people, especially if they have been employed earlier in their life in an hourly “time clock” environment, reporting time can make them feel demoted. Conventional wisdom (that this author disagrees with) is that salaried workers are more trustworthy and less in need of supervision than hourly workers.

Reason #2 “What if I find out that I don’t work as much as I like to think?”

Some people -- often the most productive people -- garner self-esteem from the large number of hours they work. But sometimes they’re not sure if they believe their own braggadocio and the thought of finding out the truth is scary.

Reason #3 Time is a bad metric for effort or productivity.

Knowledge workers know that managers often forget the aggregated metrics of real productivity in favor of some simple numbers that are tangible, like time records. Managers may take the easy path of rewarding based on time spent rather than develop more subtle and appropriate metrics of real productivity (hint: don’t do this). 

Reason #4  “I’m too busy”

The most responsible, busy employees - the productive ones whose time is in highest demand – will have have to stop doing the primary mission of the company to fill out a timesheet.  The star employees tend to procrastinate this task, subordinate it or even refuse to do it.  Or worse, they’ll create flawed records. On the other hand, the less productive workers will often create perfect time records and never submit them late. This fact of life creates an impression in the minds of both that the whole exercise is worthless.

So what can you do to combat employee resistance? Here at Journyx, we have several tested solutions:

1. Education and Buy-In

The most effective way to get people to do anything is to make sure they understand what’s in it for them. It’s easy for payroll workers because timesheets are what ensure they get paid. Time tracking for project accounting has less tangible benefits for employees. However, bad project accounting leads to unnecessary overtime, stressful blown schedules, bad estimates and canceled projects. Citing specific examples from your company’s history where accurate time collection could have made things easier for your employees will help to get them on board.

2. Adoption Dashboard

Journyx Timesheet software includes graphs that make it clear to managers which departments and people are entering their time consistently and completely and which are not. This helps managers understand early who they need to push on (to the degree a top-down approach works in the company’s culture).

3. Incentives

Tying bonuses or other benefits to complete data collection is often used in customer relationship management (CRM) tools to adjust sales commissions. The same can be done for other forms of data collection. Journyx has a patent  –  we call it the ‘frequent flyer patent’ – for rewarding employees (on your behalf) for reporting time in a timely manner.

4. Phased rollout

Adopting a multiphase rollout approach that leads to per-person per-project profitability allows you to affect the culture in more manageable steps.

5. Email Reminders

Getting an automated reminder when your time has not yet been recorded produces results -- usually.

Are you going to Microsoft Convergence? For more tips like these, make sure you stop by our booth 2812 at this years Convergence in Atlanta. We'll meet you there!

 

January 30, 2014

Estimation can be one of the most difficult parts of a project. How long will the project take? How many resources will it consume? What is the appropriate amount for your consultants to bid on this project? Overbidding on a consulting job means that you won't get the work in the first place, because the potential customer will give it to your competitor at a cheaper price. Underbidding, however, means you will win the deal and lose money. 

The good news is that there are fairly simple ways to estimate your project accurately, giving you the most profit possible.

The Formula

For estimating projects, use formula [(E-A)/E], where:

E = estimated hours to complete the project

A = actual hours spent to complete the project

The more accurate your bidding is, the smaller this value will be; the ultimate goal is for the figure to be as close as zero as possible.  Just tracking this number is a great first step towards better bidding, and you can get the necessary data to calculate it from any timesheet system, including a paper one.  Automated timesheet systems, however, are generally even more effective in this area because they often have reports to calculate this figure for you. 

The Requirements/Specification Phase

The requirement/specification phase is the first phase in any project. In his book Practical Software Metrics for Project Management and Process Improvement, Robert B. Grady says that 6-8% of every software project is usually eaten up in this initial phase. You can use this fact to estimate total project size.  In other words, if it took 60 hours to do the specification, that's probably 6% of the job and the job will be 1000 hours.

Since the specification always comes first in any project, you can get some pretty reliable estimates from this method alone. In fact, in my experience as both a programmer and the CEO of a software company, I have found it to be incredibly accurate and useful.

Your company’s magic number may not be 6-8% like Grady’s, but once you determine your own ratio for specification to total project length, you can use it again and again. An example of this is illustrated in the following diagram.

The Metrics

Another way to estimate project cost is to select an appropriate metric for estimation.  For example, one could use line of code counts or function points in estimating the length and scope of software projects.  For architecture projects, you might use number of pages in the drawings or square feet planned as similar analogies.  Every project has some gross measure of its size that is available at the outset and can be used to plan the overall project.

It may take some time to figure out the best way to estimate your company’s projects. But as long as you track your data and adapt your methods according to insights from past projects, you will start producing laser sharp estimates before you know it!

January 21, 2014

What is far and away the the fastest means to fail at a major project and spend more money than you would have if you had a little help by your side? Try installing and deploying and ERP solution on your own.

The cost of ERP solutions has gone from a six-figure average to as low as five-thousand dollars for the core accounting, distribution, human resources and payroll modules for three concurrent users. The standard formula that you should be spending a one-to-one ratio multiplied by the cost of software on your ERP deployment no longer holds true. The fact is that ERP systems have continued to deliver more and more features and thusly have become more technically complicated crossing over many previously separate deliverables. These facts push implementation hours beyond what they used to be. 

Where single ERP specialists could deliver in the past, now multiple experts are required in the areas of financials, IT, e-Commerce, distribution, supply chain, computer languages such as VBA, and integrators who can connect all the parts. There are also specialists for reporting and dashboards as well as integrated mobile applications. Software publishers have helped customers by lowering their sales price and making install and deployment simpler for the solution providers. This allows the solution providers to deliver more content and value for your implementation dollar.

The bottom line is that whatever your core business is, that is where your core expertise is. Solution providers only do one thing – and they do that far better for far less than you can.

Why 'Checking Out a Book' Is Not an Option

The install is generally simple, but even here there are key decisions - such as account length and number of segments - that if done incorrectly will effect performance and can cost a good deal of money. Your solution provider knows these key decisions and has them in mind well before the first piece of code is loaded. SQL server settings can be key, also. If you have a SQL expert on staff, ask yourself how many installs of the ERP software you've purchased have they done in previous months? If the solution provider’s technical resources can address all these tasks in an one hour, and your team does the research in four to six hours then decides on what selections to make, how is that saving you money?

Industry Experience

One of the key values a solution provider delivers is their experiences. They're experts with far more companies on ERP projects and they can share these experiences - without sharing any proprietary secrets - to help you make informed choices on things like inventory valuation, General Ledger format and how this will help deliver the reporting results you need. In the ERP world, so many things are inter-connected that it is critical the setup of the company defaults and individual module processing is well-considered. No one who has not done this many times can anticipate the pitfalls that your solution provider is already well aware of.

Accountability

If you hire a firm as your professional expert to document your needs on something you both signed off on and it's not delivered, you then have recourse. You can withhold payment, ask for the report to be corrected, or in worst-case situation hire a new expert. You have more choices than you think and your risk is moved from you to them.

Risk is what implementations are all about. Your goal is to eliminate as much risk as you can within a reasonable budget. The more risk you push to the solution provider, generally the higher the cost.

Risk Aversion

The real challenge to any implementation is the hidden factors that only an ERP solution provider is aware of and experienced at dealing with. Change is a huge part of any ERP deployment and the ability to ensure that team members are shown how to deal with change and embrace it rather than push back rests squarely on the shoulders of the ERP solution provider. There are many ways to fail at an implementation and ERP solution providers have dealt with them soundly time and time again. Most firms simply are not equipped to deal with these issues effectively. By attempting to "Do It Yourself", you will not be saving any time or money in dealing with the inundating issues.

The Clear Choice

It should be fairly easy to understand why DIY is not a choice for ERP. That does not mean you should not be as involved as possible; the more you share with your solution provider the better. Always bear in mind that the initial implementation is simply the beginning. Once your ERP system is live you can and should continually review and expand the system to provide greater and deeper benefits to your firm, your team members and your customers. Until then, leave the implementation to the experts.

January 21, 2014

The end of the year tallying and budgeting has already come to a close. The verdict is in and your company needs to cut costs, but how? It can be difficult to figure out what and how much to cut; You don’t want to cut people and major projects without being sure they aren’t absolutely vital to the health and future growth of your company. So where do we begin?

First ask yourself these questions: Which of your past projects were successful? How many employees worked on them? How much time and resources were spent on them? Do you know which of your clients are profitable and which ones you lose money on? This information is crucial for planning future projects and budgets. If you don’t know the cost of past projects on a per-project, per-customer basis, then you have no way to execute logically thought-through future investments.

Track Employee Time

Here's where we begin. The very first thing you need to do is track your employees’ time on a per-project basis. With time sheets now being considered Web 1.0 material, make sure to emphasize the importance of tracking their time via web-based and mobile tools; account for your employees time-well-spent via a project-by-project basis. This data will alert you in real-time when projects are in trouble so that you can manage the situation before it becomes a crisis.

Add Labor Rates and Expenses

Adding labor rates to the data is a must-have. It's in this way that you can determine which employees’ time costs the company too much money and how their time can be better spent. Factor in all expenses, such as those in the travel and trade show budget, to get a more robust view of the cost of each project. Next you need to factor in indirect expenses. General company-wide overhead costs such as rent should be applied equally across all projects. Customer-specific expenses should be applied to just those departments that deal directly with customers, so as to not fault the other departments that don't operate directly with your customer base.

Per-Project Profitability  

Be aware. Having asked all of the aforementioned questions, you now know and understand the profitability of each of your projects and customers. You can easily isolate the unprofitable work and make cuts where needed without threatening the longevity of your business. Knowing where you are profitable and where you're equally not thriving will allow you to flourish in 2014 and beyond.

January 13, 2014

With all you need to get done in a day, it can be hard to find the time to exercise. But exercising is essential for your health and well-being. It lowers stress, improves weight and blood pressure, and boosts energy. And exercising will actually help you stay sharp at work! The Harvard Business Review found that “regular exercise releases brain chemicals key for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness.”

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days a week. Where can you find that sort of time? That’s where Journyx’s Time Tricks come in!

Run to Work

Do you have to commute to work? Instead of spending that time in the car, get your daily exercise in by running the distance. Or, if running isn’t your activity of choice, bike or walk. Most offices have showers where you can rinse off before starting your workday. 

Sleep in Your Workout Clothes

It can be difficult to find the motivation to workout first thing in the morning. Waking up in your workout clothing can help get you into the right mindset and save you a few extra minutes of prep time.

Break Up Your Workout

If you are having a hard time finding a solid chunk of time to exercise each day, consider breaking up your workout. You can park ten minutes away from your office and jog or walk the distance. Then you can take laps around your office throughout the day, and jog back to your car after work.

Exercise at Your Desk

If you are having a particularly busy day at work and can’t get away from your desk, just exercise where you are. Instead of sitting on a chair, sit on a stability ball as you work. This will strengthen your abdominal muscles. And you can keep dumbbells by your desk and workout your arms throughout the day. For more at-work exercises, check out this Forbes article.

Lunch Break Work Out

Do you get 30 minutes or an hour for lunch everyday? Instead of spending that whole time eating, put aside some time for a quick workout. Experts say that incorporating exercise into your lunch break is one of the best ways for busy professionals to stay in shape. Check out this article on the best ways to workout on your lunch break.  

January 7, 2014

As a busy professional, it can be difficult to find the time to keep track of your finances, not to mention . Fortunately, there's an app for that.

Voted the number the #1 Finance App by the App Store and one of the "Best iOS Apps of 2013" by TechCrunch, BillGuard goes beyond similar apps by scanning all of your financial transactions and alerting you of any suspicious activity. Through crowdsourcing technology, BillGuard collects billing complaints from millions of consumers and uses this information to spot even the most cryptic charges.

In addition to combating fraudulent and grey charges, BillGaurd tracks your spending and lets you view your spending by category over time on its sleek analytics interface. You can also add your credit and debit cards for easy access to your latest charges. The free version lets you add two cards but with the $9.99 upgrade you can add up to 10. The app also supports checking and savings accounts.

One of the app’s neatest offerings is its coupon feature. The app uses its knowledge of your spending habits to search online for coupons you will actually use. This way you can save money without having to sort through unwanted offers.

Billguard isn't the only one we're fawning over, either. Tom's Guide has this to say about its favorite budgeting apps. Available in both smartphone and tablet form, apps with cutesy names like Spendee, Budgt and (the free) Toshl Finance are making their rounds with the hyper-organized and hard-core multitaskers alike. 

Don't give up hope on your New Years resolutions just yet. Stay tuned for more time management tips and keep your resolutions going strong. 

January 6, 2014

"Acquired in early 2013 by Fortune 500 company, FIS, [the company] wanted to know if we had a system that provided segregation of duties, approval routing, and audit evidence. Our answer was of course yes, since Journyx provided us with all of the above. Our acquirer was assured that we had a good system and process in place to provide the support required for SOX compliance," says PJ Alfrejd, Controller at mFoundry, "Since the system is SaaS, it also allowed us to share information in real time with FIS by allowing them a login and specific access rights, rather than burdening us with supplying reports with every request. Journyx enables us to be compliant and efficient... the ultimate mix required of a Controller."

Boasting over 800 customers including some top U.S. Banks, mFoundry offers Mobile and Smart Phone Banking Services providing persistent data connectivity in financial institutions around the globe. A Journyx customer since 2008, mFoundry is unparalleled in mobile banking, delivering "revenue-bearing services" to a tailored community of service providers. Learn more about mFoundry here.

December 30, 2013

The New Year is almost here, and the predictions are in for the hottest new tech trends in 2014. Many analysts have their bets on wearable fitness devices that keep track of your daily exercise, whether it be going on a twenty-mile run or just taking a lap around your office. 

Predicts tech analyst Tim Bajarin, “These types of wearables…will see serious consumer interest and [be] exciting products next year.”

So what are these wearable fitness devices? One popular choice is the Nike FuelBand. The band snaps onto your wrist like a bracelet, tracks the amount and intensity level of your daily exercise, and even lets your compare your daily activity to the activity of those in your social circle. It comes in three colors and three sizes: small, medium, and x-large.

Although originally released in 2012, an updated version of the FuelBand came out in November 2013. The new version, the FuelBand SE, has an improved battery life, which can last up to a week without needing to be charged, depending on your level of activity. The FuelBand SE also adjusts its screen brightness for best viewing at all times.

Other exciting features include the NikeFuel metric, which awards you points based on your physical activity. You can activate hourly reminders to keep you exercising throughout the day, and you can archive past days’ activities for comparison. And for those with a competitive streak, the band can now sync with Facebook, so you can pit your fitness metrics against those of your friends and family.

The band is $150 and includes BlueTooth 4.0 to connect with iPhone 4S and above and iPod Touch 5th generation and above. It is also web optimized for Mac IOS v10.6 and above and Windows XP, Vista 7 and 8.

So, if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to be more active, the Nike FuelBand can help you achieve it.

 

December 17, 2013

The holidays are fast-approaching, and chances are you aren’t quite ready for them. But don’t worry – you don’t have to do everything yourself. Take a page from the majority of American companies and outsource the work you don’t want to do.

Tree Delivery

Going to the tree nursery and selecting a tree can be a great holiday tradition. But it might also be a huge hassle when you don’t have the time for it. So instead, have your tree delivered right to your door! There are several companies that ship nationally, including Egan Acres Tree Farm and Home Depot (which also ships holiday wreaths). Many smaller, local companies will also ship in their area so check what is available where you live.

Gift Wrapping

Gift-wrapping is one of the most time intensive parts of the holidays. So when purchasing your gifts, be sure to ask if the store offers gift-wrapping services. While some major department stores have discontinued their services, others like Barnes and Noble are happy to wrap your gifts for free. And Kalamazoo Gift offers the complete package: they’ll find all the gifts on your list, gift wrap them, and send them right to your door.

Cooking

Cooking the big holiday meal is an exhausting and time-consuming process that often leaves you (or whoever is the cook in the family) with little time to actually enjoy the holidays. So, do yourself a favor this year and enlist a local restaurant to cook it for you. You can also look into catering companies. Many offer everything from just a few prepared dishes to a full service serving and cleaning crew.

Remember: the holidays are meant to be enjoyed. So, instead of struggling through your to-do list, outsource it!  

 

December 13, 2013

Not that long ago, marketing was one aspect of a business that required the attention of so-called experts. The owners of companies small and large had little choice but to pay big bucks to public relations firms and advertising agencies that apparently were the only people capable of unlocking the secret to attracting potential customers.

That, of course, no longer is the case. In today's quickly-evolving world of technology, small business owners have at their disposal an array of marketing tools they can use to encourage potential customers to pay them a visit – in person or online.

A Huge Audience

Here are a few of the avenues businesses can use to get their message out to at least some of the billions of people who spend time online. You'll have to decide which are the best options for you. It's probably better to do a great job on one or two platforms than to spread yourself too thin and be average – or worse – on all of them.

Facebook - According to Statistic Brain, Facebook has more than 1.4 billion members worldwide. That's a huge potential audience for your products and services. Your Facebook page should be about establishing a relationship with potential customers rather than immediately selling something to people who pay you a visit.

Twitter - If you have breaking news you need to get out to your potential customers and you're hoping for an immediate reply, Twitter might be a good option. Though more than five times as many people use Facebook than Twitter, according to Statistic Brain, Twitter is gaining in popularity, especially among young adults.

PinterestThis option allows you to share photos, videos and other images with your potential clients and customers. Pinterest works well for companies that can use images to make an impression – travel services, interior decorators and restaurants, for example.

LinkedIn - It's all about networking, connecting with people and businesses so when you need specific products or services, you have a wide range of possibilities from which to choose. With LinkedIn, you also can discuss issues that affect your industry, ask and answer questions and post links to articles that might interest others in your network.

YouTube - Some people use YouTube to publicize outrageous or silly things they do or say. You should use it to introduce your products and services to the ever-growing number of people worldwide who spend time using their computers, tablets and smartphones.

Other Options

Here are some other ways to reach potential customers without paying a lot of money to a PR firm.

Pay-per-click - You can buy specific keywords and keyword phrases from a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo or Dogpile. Your charges are based on how many people click on the link to your ad.

Blog - Blogging will drive traffic to your website, and you'll be able to help keep your customers and prospects informed about things that are going on in your industry. You should blog at least a few times a week.

E-newsletter - Another way to inform your customers and potential customers and drive traffic to your website is to publish an e-newsletter using a service such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. Your newsletter should provide content that will interest people, including special discounts for subscribers, instead of presenting a blatant sales pitch.

Google AdWords - Paying for your Internet advertising can be a good way to drive people to your website until your search engine rankings improve. You are charged per click, but you have the option to establish a maximum monthly budget. You also can pay for advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Going Offline

Online marketing tools are vital to the success of your business, but you can enhance your efforts to reach potential customers without using the Internet and without spending a whole lot of money.

Network - You should try and get to know as many people as possible. You never know when a friend or acquaintance will be able to help you in the business world. Attend as many networking events as you can.

Sponsor a charity event - This will give you great publicity in the local community, and more importantly, it will make you feel pretty good about helping those who need help.

Seminars and other events - Attending a seminar is a good way to meet people; hosting a seminar is a better way to meet others and develop lasting relationships.

Public speaking - Making presentations to local groups is an excellent way to demonstrate your experience and expertise and make new business contacts.

Finally, since you're going to the trouble to drive traffic to your website, make sure you site looks professional and that the copy is interesting and grammatically correct. If you aren't confident that you or your employees can handle these tasks, you might think about hiring a professional website designer and a copywriter, while still maintaining control of your marketing outreach.

 

 

 

 

Today's post is from Myrna Vaca, Head of Marketing and Communications at Lyoness America, where she is responsible for marketing, communication and business development efforts. Lyoness is an international shopping community and loyalty rewards program, where businesses and consumers benefit with free membership and money back with every purchase. Check out Lyoness on Facebook.

December 9, 2013

It’s December and that means that the holidays and elaborate dinners are on the horizon. If this leaves you feeling stressed, there's an app for that. The iPhone app How to Cook Everything has built-in holiday menus to help you prepare for this holiday season.  

How to Cook Everything was originally a bestselling and award-winning book by Mark Bittman, whom you might recognize from his column The Minimalist in the New York Times. This app features the entirety of the book plus several interactive features to help you cook your meal from start to finish. Even better, the app is almost half of the cost of a hardcover version.

Home to 2,000 recipes, the app can be browsed by category, key ingredient, flavor and technique. There are also recipe collections such as popular recipes and quick dinners. You can easily add a recipe to your favorite list to try later, and you can brush up on your kitchen skills on the “kitchen basics” tab.

Once you’ve selected your recipe, you can add it to the grocery list. The app will pull up a list of every ingredient you’ll need – making your shopping trip fast and easy. When you are ready to cook, just follow the app’s step-by-step how-to. Most of these instructions are illustrated, making the process clear and simple every step of the way.

Not to leave out the Android users, The Daily Meal has these top 15 apps for both iPhone and Android. Among the top of the rankings - along with How to Cook Everything - you'll find helpful apps like Fast Paleo and Perfect Produce to be the perfect kitchen aid. 

Stay safe, stay warm and stay pleasantly full this holiday season.

 

December 5, 2013

Today's special guest post is by Journyx Founder & CEO, Curt Finch. Journyx strives to be relentlessly creative and to build tools that help you spend your time on things that matter. After all, time is all we have.​

In a season littered with top 10 lists and resolutions, it’s no wonder that it’s a time for reflection both personally and professionally. Successful business owners and managers often use this season to take stock of the past year, plan the next and organize strategies. Did our profits increase?  How effective were our marketing efforts? Is the firm where it should be given the goals established last year? All of these are great questions, however the key to considering past performance is to gain from the knowledge and use it wisely to move forward. As you review be sure to consider why any of these things occurred, and how you can make changes to either keep up the good work, or curtail negative impact activities within your control. 

Ask The Good Questions

We should focus on questions such as: How did the economy affect us? Did we lose or hire star team members? How will new government regulations, new payroll laws, as well as supplier changes affect us in the upcoming year?

On any given day one newspaper will suggest that our economy is a bull, rebounding and on the up, while another will paint an entirely different picture. The bottom line is that businesses are doing more using fewer people and saving their cash where they can.  What I see from businesses is a move toward a new mentality, one that has nurtured a cautiously growing market.  Today, expansion and new hiring is a carefully executed proposition.  Businesses have simply learned how to work in a smarter, more efficient manner; they’ve adapted.

I see that working smarter is a lesson for us all not just to check back on during the holidays, but year-round.  Expansion comes at less risk.  In the long run this change in thinking and execution will strengthen our businesses.

Take Advantage of New Tech

Technology is a key factor for any business to move forward. Pauline Zorz, General Manager of Sherwood Systems and a twenty-four year veteran in the Dynamics GP channel has this to say on technology.

“When I reflect on the past year two things come to mind.  How so many of our customers are excited to be using the technology we have helped them implement and how using our own products has helped us stay focused and continue our growth.  Businesses always seems to get by, even using something such as Excel to do their accounting.  When we show customers how products such as Microsoft Dynamics GP and CRM can automate so many tasks, eliminate duplicate data entry and increase overall productivity, many firms simply don’t know how they survived before our help.  We are always learning from our customers and we apply our shared knowledge where we can.  Technology, using integrated products to share information, sync calendars, track projects and costs, provide face-to-face remote support and training have become second nature to us and allow us to spend our time on big picture tasks and goals.  As I look forward and learn about technologies advances coming soon, I can only imagine how much more we can deliver to our customers without adding huge costs.  We all win.” 

 

I look at our past year and am proud of what our team has accomplished.  We released a new product version, revamped branding and our website, were awed by Convergence 2013, developed a bundled solution for a new market in the Professional Staffing industry, and deployed Journyx for the Microsoft Dynamics GP base.  These were big steps for us and ones that will help both our current customers and many new members of the Journyx family gain a step closer to accomplishing their goals in the areas of efficiency, data analysis and reporting. 

As I look forward I know that simply repeating last year is not enough.  We have to continue to work hard to create additional value for our customers.  This synergy of effort is what we all should work towards. 

I see a road that requires hard work such as embracing the Staffing Industry and the Dynamics GP Channel.  I am confident that our direction is a solid one and we look forward to expanding our customer base into these new areas.  Learning together, I am confident our team will drive even greater successes for our customers.  

Have a safe and enjoyable Holiday Season.

Curt Finch founded Journyx in 1996 with the desire to offer customers solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability. Connect with Curt on Google+.

December 2, 2013

Congratulations to Aegion Corporation on being chosen as Journyx Customer of the Month for December 2013!

"Our Journyx implementation required supporting hundreds of active jobs, and a complex integration with our ERP system,” says Ken Hawkins, Aegion Corporation IT Manager, “The team at Journyx provided timely, professional development expertise. The Journyx staff worked with us every step of the way from concept to daily support. Today, we have a custom installation running in the cloud that provides our users with a robust, time tracking application accessible any time, from anywhere we work.”

Formerly known as Insituform Technologies, Aegion Corporation offers Engineering Services in the fields of energy, water and commercial sectors around the globe. A Journyx customer since 2011, Aegion Corporation and its world wide subsidiaries provide structural integrity and the developmental beginnings for a stronger world to come. Learn more about Aegion Corporation here.

December 2, 2013

Those who love organizing, rejoice! Planning for holiday gift shopping can be a huge time suck, but we've scoured the internet for our favorite time-saving tips to get you floating through the holiday season. Here's one of our favorites we found: Santa’s Bag, an iPhone app that will help you manage your list this holiday season. Here's how:

This app will keep track of which presents you need to buy, which you’ve already bought, and how much money you have left to spend. You can sort this information by gift or by the person intended to receive the gift(s), which should make shopping easier. You can even include photos of the intended recipients as visual markers.

The app’s interface is slick and easy-to-use. One of our favorite features is that you can set a passcode, so that if any of your family or friends gets ahold of your phone they can’t see what you are getting them. Not to mention, there is also a countdown to Christmas display!

The biggest drawback? The free version of the app is ad-supported, so you’ll have to sit through short ad spots in order to use the app. On the flip side, the ad-free upgraded version is just $2.99. This version also offers additional features, such as the ability to backup and archive your gift ideas and purchases. It will do just about everything but wrap and deliver the present to you. 

Use Santa’s Bag to make this holiday shopping season easier and more enjoyable! For more ideas and time saving iPhone/Android apps, the New York Times has this great piece to pare down your holiday woes. 

Have any holiday tips to add to the list? Leave a comment below!

 

November 27, 2013

Today's post is from guest blogger, Myrna Vaca, Head of Marketing and Communications at Lyoness America. She is responsible for marketing, communication and business development efforts. Lyoness is an international shopping community and loyalty rewards program, where businesses and consumers benefit with free membership and money back with every purchase. Check out Lyoness on Twitter.

It can be difficult to feel like your business is part of tightly knit community - a place, like the fictional bar 'Cheers,' "Where everybody knows your name." But if you're a small business owner, creating a community of the folks who love your business and support it on a regular basis is imperative. After all, these are the people who keep you in business. Furthermore, they provide the best type of advertising that exists: word of mouth.

So the big question is, how do you keep your regular, loyal customers satisfied? You could simply hope that they continue to support your goods and services without any clever incentives or strategies. Or, you could come up with a few ways to reward these fine shoppers and let them know that you hope to continue a long, fruitful relationship with them.

Why not reward the whole crowd?

You may be wondering why we aren't telling you to reward every single person who happens to run across your business. You may be eager to kiss the feet, so to speak, of anyone who walks into the doorway or clicks on your website. And, of course, being gracious to all your customers goes a long way. But special rewards for your repeat customers will encourage the new crowd to keep coming back.

Create Repeat Customers

How do you entice the once-in-a-while customers to become loyal followers of your business? There are a few different ways.

Personalized Service

How will your customers fall for your business if you and your staff aren't readily available to help with their needs? If you're a small business in particular, make sure that you approach each and every person who visits your business. Be courteous and assist them in finding the product or service they seek. Ways to assist might include:

  • Show knowledge about products and services.
  • Be a thought leader in your industry and offer insights.
  • Recognize whether your company offers options such as layaway and special order and offer those when necessary.
  • Be patient, encouraging and cheerful. It sounds obvious, but it's important!

Create a Contact List

Perhaps the most popular and the easiest way to gather your fans closer is to put together a list of contacts. Be forewarned that you should let the customer decide whether or not they would like to be part of your contact list. It should never be forced on a customer; this causes resentment. Two ways to approach gathering your list could be as follows:

  • When a customer purchases something, invite them to sign the list so you can notify them of other items they'd be interested in.
  • Invite customers to view your website or blog. Then, set up your blog to keep track of those who frequently pay a visit.

Reward Repeat Customers

Once you've figured out who your most loyal customers are, it's time to get to work rewarding them for supporting your business! Try these ideas.

Special Sales

Everyone loves a sale, but what everyone really loves is a sale for just a few people. Private sales aren't just for retail stores, either. Service providers - from hair salons to automobile mechanics - can benefit from offering a private sale event.

What kind of sale should you have? Consider these ideas:

  • Holiday Sales 
    Don't just wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanks to the Internet, you can find a quirky holiday - National Cookie Baking Day, for example - that suits your business and is worthy of celebrating with loyal fans.
  • Bring-a-Friend Sales 
    Another good idea is to offer the chance for a discount if your fans invite family members or friends to shop along with them. It's the perfect opportunity to bond with your loyal customers and to perhaps gain new ones.

"Member" Cards or Referral Rewards

Providing special cards or rewards for your loyal patrons can also work out well. The great thing about member cards is that you can choose whatever "deal" you want to offer. A few ideas:

  • Visit a certain number of times and get a discount or freebie.
  • Receive a special discount or freebie at certain times of year or certain days.
  • Receive a special discount or freebie after spending a certain dollar amount.
  • Refer to a friend and get extra licenses

Remember, rewarding the people who continue to shop with you is the best way to create a loyal following for your business. Keep up the great work, and your community will grow.

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