Saturday, February 14, 2015

8 Tips for More Professional Business Emails

There is no doubt that email has greatly improved communication in almost all aspects of our lives. Especially for business communication, it is important to follow some basic email etiquette. Doing so will make your emails easy to read and respond to and will not aggravate the recipient. We’ve outlined 8 basic workplace email rules below.

  1. Subject line - be sure the subject line accurately reflects the content of your email. Don’t hit reply on an old email and start typing about an entirely different subject. If you do, it is a good idea to change the subject line to reflect the new message contents. 
     
  2. Addressing your email - address your contact with the appropriate level of formality and make sure to spell their name correctly. Formality is a courtesy and reflects respect. Assume the highest level of formality with new email contacts until the relationship dictates otherwise. Refrain from getting too informal too soon in email communications.
     
  3. Be clear and concise – try to keep emails short and to the point. Include details as required, but try not to be long winded. In most cases, picking up the phone would be a lot easier than typing out a 5 page email. Make it easy on yourself and on the person who is receiving the email.
     
  4. Answer all questions – be sure you are including all the relevant details or information necessary for the recipient to understand what you’re asking for or your point of view. Generalities usually cause confusion.
     
  5. Spell check and read aloud if necessary – spell check cannot fix grammatical errors. If you are sending an email to someone, it’s important to re-read it before hitting send. A friend of mine received an email stating “I look forward to spanking with you again”. Oops. Luckily she has a good sense of humor, but not everyone will. Also, try to avoid using acronyms and short hand. It really is not that hard to type out you instead of “u” or okay instead of “k” and it makes you appear more professional.
     
  6. Watch who you are replying and sending to – Refrain from using the Reply All feature to give your opinion to those who may not be interested. In most cases, replying to the Sender alone is your best course of action.
     
  7. Attachments and file size – some email accounts can’t receive attachments larger than 10MB. Sending a file larger than that can cause the recipients email account to clog up which can cause delayed receipt or bounce back for subsequent emails. When sending a larger attachment, you can “zip” the file to compress it to a smaller size or you can use a 3rd party application to send the file (like dropbox.com or yousendit.com).
     
  8. Include your email signature – an email signature contains your essential contact information. Make sure to include your name, phone number, website link and company name. Use your email signature on all new emails and on emails you are replying to.

Implementing these rules will make your emails more professional, efficient and more likely to get read and responded to. When it comes to business, regardless of the mode of communication used, professionalism and courtesy never go out of style.

Don’t have a professional email signature? We can help! Give us a call at 215-923-2679 to request a custom email signature today.

5 Basic Types of Website Design

There are 5 basic types of website design structures: Fixed Width, Responsive, Parallax, and Mobile. In a world rapidly moving toward being able to access any information on any device, it’s important to understand the differences, so you can make better decisions about your own business website.


Fixed Width

A traditional web design where the website is created at a specific, fixed width. It is designed to start at the edge of your browser window or float in the middle of your browser window. Most fixed width websites are designed to view properly on monitors that have a screen resolution of 1024 pixel width or larger. This would include most desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. On most mobile devices, this type of website displays at the size of a desktop website but only a small portion of the home page is visible, or the home page is reduced to fit the mobile device screen making it too small to read. This type of website is difficult to read and interact with on most mobile devices.


Adaptive

Adaptive websites are a subset of the Fixed Width website. These are Fixed Width websites with separate mobile optimized pages. These websites provide a separate mobile user experience from the one accessed on a tablet, laptop, and desktop computer. Many people believe that an Adaptive website provides the best of both worlds. Adaptive websites serve different content to the mobile user in a greatly reduced design format so that pages load fast and provide only the information that a typical mobile user is looking for. Since a mobile searcher is more likely to take immediate action, mobile page design and function is critical to the success of the Adaptive mobile experience. A good Adaptive website application will create your mobile page content directly from your desktop content, but will allow the website administrator to modify the mobile content separately from the desktop pages if and when it makes sense to do so. Most Adaptive designs start with the desktop design and adapt the content to fit smaller mobile device screens.


Responsive

A responsive website is designed to optimize the viewer experience across any device. It responds to the screen size of the device and arranges content based on the device screen size. In order to function properly the website is created in a grid format with rules in place that dictate how pages will appear on various screen sizes. Typically these websites are designed to be optimized for a specific screen size at 100% and then the content is increased or decreased as a percentage based on the device.

The smallest device size may be displayed at 50% of the original size and arranged based on content block sizes, to be displayed beneath one another or eliminated altogether. Larger display sizes can be increased as a percentage of the total to better fit the larger screen size. Responsive designs typically start with a design for the mobile device and scale up the design for desktop displays. To truly optimize the website for a small screen, images should be created in various sizes and loaded based on the device. Responsive designs can be complex and time consuming to do properly. For this reason, many Responsive website designers simply scale an existing desktop website to a smaller screen, thereby increasing the bandwidth usage for mobile users and increasing page load times. Slow page loading is painful and sites are often abandoned.


Parallax

Parallax website design uses techniques in which the background of the website moves at a different speed than the rest of the page for an impressive visual effect. Many times parallax websites consist of a single page. An example of a simple parallax website can be viewed here. Parallax websites are typically fixed width. Making parallax websites responsive can be difficult and even impossible depending on the design. Typically these websites have a slower load time, but are very fast moving down the page (scrolling down). The upside to a parallax designed website the “Wow” effect with website depth and animation, keeping visitors on a page for longer periods of time, and directing visitors to calls to action. The downside is that SEO can take a hit due to single page meta data, H1 tag relevance, no internal linking and single URL. The slow load times can be frustrating for visitors who may leave before the page fully loads. Parallax websites are best used to tell a story and lead a user to take an action.

Mobile

These are typically mobile only platforms for creating a mobile version of your website. The actual mobile version is served from a separate location or application than your standard website. When a mobile user comes to your website, there is code on the website that redirects the user to the mobile version of your website. This solution requires maintaining 2 versions of your website: your mobile application and your desktop application. Mobile websites are frequently confused with Mobile Apps or mobile applications. Apps are small programs that are downloaded to your mobile device and reside on your mobile device. A Mobile website is accessed via your mobile browser. A mobile website can be a stand-alone website created specifically for mobile devices. These can also be viewed on a desktop, laptop or tablet computer but typically display in a small screen format on all devices.

The website design type that is best for your company depends on your audience, the message you are trying to communicate and what actions you wish to have visitors take. One thing is clear, however: if your website is more than 3 years old and does not take into consideration the large and growing population of mobile users, you are missing a lot of potential business.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Suggestions For Keeping Hackers Out Of Your Systems

Despite ever-advancing security practices, major security breaches happen on a regular basis. From Home Depot to Amazon, some of the world’s biggest brands have been victims of malicious hackers. This doesn’t mean that small businesses are exempt from malicious security attacks. In fact, the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that 62 percent of breaches affect smaller organizations. The effects of such an attack can be devastating for a small business.

All too often, security breaches are caused by unsuspecting users doing something they shouldn’t. According to Jeffrey Bernstein, managing director of an IT Security Protection firm, “…clicking a malicious link in an email, opening an email attachment, using weak passwords, losing laptops or phones with confidential data, or being tricked into giving up their passwords through social engineering attacks,” are the most common ways hackers gain access. Bernstein explains “In fact, well over 80 percent of all successful data thefts from the past 12 months began with a user doing something they shouldn't have.”

So how can you help remove some of the threat of an attack on your data? Use the following suggestions to help keep your data secure.
  1. Make passwords secure. According to software company SplashData, “123456” and “password” are two of the most common passwords in use. If you don’t have standards in place for creating a secure password, your users could be creating passwords that are easy to hack. In early 2014, we forced a password update on all email users to eradicate the possibility of unsecure passwords. We increased the minimum number of characters, required the use of upper and lower case letters and forced the use of a number or symbol in the password. This has drastically reduced the amount of email accounts being hacked and is a practice we would recommend to anyone.

  2. Secure your network. According to wireless industry experts, 9 out of 10 WiFi networks aren't properly secured. If yours is one of them, a hacker can leverage a misconfigured access point in order to gain access to your company’s network. Hackers can also steal information being transferred over WiFi between a user’s computer and the network because most wireless networks secure these communications using WPA encryption, which is virtually useless against a moderately knowledgeable hacker.

  3. Add a secure socket layer (SSL) to your website. SSL is a protocol used to provide security over the Internet. It is a good idea to use a security certificate whenever you are passing personal information between the website and web server or database. Attackers could search for this information and if the communication medium is not secure could capture it and use it to gain access to user accounts and personal data.

  4. Keep software up to date. If you use any type of third party software (appointment scheduling, credit card processing, Wordpress sites, etc.), it is important to keep these up to date with current releases. Quite often, a vulnerability will be detected and the software manufacturer will push out an update. Though it may require a learning curve, time to install or cost a little money to update, it is always a good idea to remain on the most recent version of an application to thwart any known vulnerabilities.
Implementing any or all of the suggestions above will help keep your data out of the hands of hackers. Executing these suggestions may require a call to an IT professional and/or your website developer and may cost a little money. However, in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and will cost you a lot less in the long run as well.

Printed Items Every Company Needs

The beginning of a new year is a great time to take inventory of what your company currently has in regards to printed marketing material. While each company may have a different marketing strategy, there are a few tried and true printed items that every company needs to have.
  1. Corporate Identity Package (Business Cards, Letterhead, Envelopes and Thank You Cards). A professionally designed and printed identity package can help you make a great first impression. This package is a relatively small investment that can pay huge dividends as it brings an air of professionalism and legitimacy to any business. We include thank you cards as a part of the identity package for one reason; the hand written thank you note still has a great impact on creating a positive relationship.

    Your business cards should have all pertinent contact information on them, but don’t just limit yourself to address and phone number. If you have an active Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Instagram feed, provide a link to those on your business card and letterhead as well. A mission statement, list of services, professional photograph and unique selling proposition are all good things to have at the ready to reference when creating new business cards. Depending on the design of the card, you may be able to add more than just contact information.

  2. Fact Sheets or Brochures. The fact sheet is a single page document that outlines very specific items about your company or product. We’d recommend that you produce:

    1. Product or Service Fact Sheet that outlines:
      1. The value and benefits of a specific product/service
      2. Features that set your product/service apart from the competition
      3. Comparison (including costs if applicable) to similar services or industry leading products
      4. Information on guarantee, quality and reliability
Fact sheets can be used as leave behind materials for customers and prospects to quickly review what your products have to offer. Remember to place your contact information in a prominent place on the fact sheet.
    1. Company Fact Sheet that outlines:
      1. A brief history of the company
      2. Location of headquarters (including professional images of your location)
      3. Names of upper level management or owners (including professional images of leadership)
      4. Contact information (including individual contact information for leadership)
      Potential investors, employees, analysts, and members of the media should be able to learn important facts about your business with a quick look at your fact sheet.
These short documents provide the reader with key information about your company and products; and entices them to contact you to learn more or purchase. Creating and combining your company and product/service fact sheets is a great first step for building an effective brochure for your company.
There are few things with as much impact as beautifully designed and printed marketing collateral. What impression is your current marketing material making? If it could use a facelift or it’s just time for some reprints, contact us today at 215-923-2679 or email info@creativecharacters.com.