Email for Small Business: Hosted or In-House?

No matter what field you’re in – whether you’re an accounting firm of two or a dentist’s office of 20 – chances are the one truly indispensable piece of business technology you use every day is your email. In fact, it’s so indispensible that you probably don’t even think about it … until it doesn’t work.

If you want to make sure your business has reliable access to email that lets you share contacts and doesn’t leave your inbox full of spam, you can’t get by on a free email service like Yahoo or Gmail. They’re great for what they do, but they’re just not as robust as paid versions. And even the mighty Gmail experiences the occasional outage, which is tolerable for personal correspondence but deadly for a business.

In the world of small business email, you have two basic options: a hosted solution or an in-house, server-based version.

Hosted: A hosted email solution means that you pay some third party to take care of an email server and provision storage off-site. In other words, you don’t have to have any equipment in your office, and you don’t have to hire anybody to be your email guru. Instead you treat it like a utility – you pay some set amount every month, usually per email box or unit of data storage.

In-house: An in-house solution means that you do pay for an email server onsite, and you do need to have somebody maintaining that server, creating new accounts and so on. It’s a higher cost up front because you’ve got to pay for the server (and the email client if you’re going with Microsoft Exchange), then you’ve got to install it, and then you have to maintain it once it’s installed. On the other hand, this arrangement can offer a bigger security upside, and you don’t have to worry about your host having an outage. (You just have to worry about your own server conking out.)

What option is best for you will depend on a few things, like:

  • How many users do you have?
  • How often are they on the road, and do they need to access email remotely?
  • What does your cash flow situation look like?
  • How concerned are you about the privacy of your business data?

We’re holding a Webinar next week to talk about what questions you should ask when you’re selecting an email option for your business. Our goal isn’t to push you in one direction or the other – it’s to help you refine your own criteria so that you can decide what’s best for you. We’d love to have you involved in what’s sure to be a lively and informative discussion!   Click here to register.  Our Webinar on small business email will be held Thursday, May 27th at noon Central time.

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Tax Season Is Upon Us! Look Out For These Scams.

It’s tax-filing season, and as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, scammers will be crawling out of the woodwork trying to take advantage of this opportunity to steal sensitive business data. Here’s how to make sure your small business doesn’t have identity thieves and con artists to contend with on top of the usual taxes and paperwork…Tax Season Scams

  1. Educate employees to be on the lookout for phishers, phone scammers, and email cons. People who would never open a suspicious-looking email in their personal inbox might not hesitate to turn over your Federal Tax Identification Number and names of key executives to someone posing as a representative of the IRS. The next thing you know, somebody has stolen the identity of your business and is taking out credit cards in your company’s name.
  2. Pay your taxes electronically. If you drop a check in the mail, all an identity thief needs to do in order to access your bank account number, routing number, Taxpayer ID, and other information is snag the right envelope. In contrast, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) is a free, secure government website that uses the highest level of security available. Every user must have a secure Internet browser with 128-bit encryption in order to access the site. To log on to the system, an enrolled user must be authenticated with three pieces of unique information known only to the user: Taxpayer Identification Number (EIN or SSN), EFTPS Personal Identification Number (PIN) and an Internet Password. That’s pretty secure.
  3. Pay your taxes, period. If somebody tries to sell you a package or kit that promises to help you avoid taxes by deducting personal expenses as business expenses related to a home-based business, don’t buy it. If somebody says the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified and personal income taxes are unconstitutional, ignore them. If you own a small business, you’re responsible for determining your personal and your business tax liability – and paying accordingly.

You can reduce the likelihood that you’ll have to deal with tax-related digital cons by using up-to-date spyware detection, antivirus, and antispam software. These should help to keep all those phony emails from making it into your inbox and prevent hackers from accessing sensitive business data. Go to  to find out what security services CMIT Solutions offers.


Got other tips or suggestions on how to avoid Tax Season scams?  Leave us a comment so we can share the knowledge!

Use the Power of Google to Raise Your Local Profile

You know the old saying, “All politics is local”? Well, now it’s not just politics. All business is local – and if you’re not using Google to reach out to prospects in your immediate local area, you’re missing out on a huge (and free) opportunity to expand your customer base.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a few convergent trends emerge. First, people are more interested in what’s going on in their specific city, town, or neighborhood. So-called “hyperlocal” blogs are proliferating even as national media struggle. Second, more folks are using their mobile phones to connect to the Internet and find local businesses and service providers.  As a small business owner, you’ve got to make yourself visible to anybody searching in your area – whether they’re on a fully equipped desktop computer with a 20-inch flat screen display or whether they’re peering at a 2.4-inch BlackBerry screen.

If you take five minutes to set up a Place Page through Google Local Business Center, you can raise the visibility of your company to anybody searching for relevant businesses in your area. You can even create coupons that can either be printed on paper or displayed on mobile phones.

1. Go to http://google.com/lbc.

2. Either create a Google account or use your existing sign-in.

3. You’ll be taken to the Dashboard. Under Locations, click Add new listing.

4. You’ll be taken to a page where you fill out preliminary information such as address, email, website address, and description. As you fill out the information, you’ll see your listing appear in the map to the right.  Here’s an example for the fictitious business “Ray’s Pies” in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Google Local Business Center example

5. When you’re finished filling out that information, click Next. You’ll then be taken to a page that asks for more detailed info, such as hours and payment methods. You can even post a picture of your products or storefront. When you’re finished, click Submit.

6. And it’s that easy! Google will contact you to verify your information, and then your full profile will be publicly available on what’s called a “Place Page.” A Place Page includes not only all the information you just supplied, but also ratings for your business, reviews, related maps, nearby transit options, and the Street View preview of your location. You can get to your Place Page by searching on your business in Google and then clicking on “more info” in your Google Maps search results or “more info” in the info bubble on the map.

To learn more about Google Local Business Center, including how to create custom coupons, join us on our free live Webinar covering Google tools, to be held on Thursday, March 25 at noon Central Standard Time.  Click here to register.

Think You Can Ignore Social Media? Bill Gates and The Pope Disagree.

Twitter was a buzz last week when news broke that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was joining the ranks of the micro-blogging community.  Some were surprised it had taken this long, others sent him welcome wishes and everyone was anxious to hear what the wealthiest man in the world had to say (mostly Thank You’s and information on Haiti relief efforts, thus far).  So what value does Gates see in being part of this community?  He says he’s using twitter to listen.  He wants to hear what people have to say about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  And with nearly 350,000 followers in less than a week, he should get an earful.

Gates isn’t the only surprising new resident in our social media neighborhood.  Say hello to the Catholic Church.   Pope Benedict XVI has been a driving force behind the creation of a Vatican YouTube channel, applications for Facebook and iPhone and has recently encouraged priests to take up blogging.  So why is an institution often accused of being inflexible and outdated so anxious to hop on the social media bandwagon?  Simple.  The Pope knows where the people are.  They’re online.

Now maybe you’re thinking that the Pope and Bill Gates are in a bit of a different position than you, the small business owner.  While I don’t want you to sell yourself short, you’re probably right.  But there’s still a lesson to be learned here:  you have to listen to your community and reach out to them on their turf.

Listen by setting up social searches and taking to heart the feedback and information you get.   Take your message to your audience by being an an online resource for your community.  As a small business owner, you don’t need to set goals like having a wikipedia-grade resource center.  Stick with what you know.  Do you frequently get asked the same question by a bunch of different people? Write a blog post explaining the answer.  Keep it simple, but quit ignoring it.  The world is talking online and if you’re not listening, you’re putting your business at a disadvantage.