AI and U: Bye, Bye Billables

The trouble hasn’t trickled down to us middle grade Freelance consultants or small boutique consulting companies yet,  mostly because we are not servicing Fortune 500 C-Suite clients, but apparently, the Artificial Intelligence phenomenon is being positioned to impact in particular the high-end management consultants and not for the better.  Eventually, our comparatively modest stratum will be touched as well, depending on the services that your consultancy provides.  I’ve got no love for the consulting giants Bain and McKinsey, but I’m worried by this trend.

AI is already at work, automating routine tasks such as maintaining calendars, but it is now poised to support decision-making functions in HR, marketing, finance (budgeting) and resource allocation.  It seems safe to say that AI will in the near future be used as a strategic planning tool.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. businesses spent $58.7 billion on management consulting services in 2016, a 7.1% increase over 2015, and the bulk of the business was generated by the financial services industry.  The primary expertise of high-end management consultants is data analysis and presentation and facilitating long-range strategic planning.  It is becoming obvious that AI can execute many functions as well as an elite consultant, and can perform more accurately, faster and at a fraction of the cost of a consultant’s billable rate.

Do you have an iPad or iPhone? Then you are part of the AI revolution yourself whenever you ask voice-activated Siri to give you directions or show you the lunch menu at a new restaurant.  Alexa, the AI voice-activated digital personal assistant app for your tablet or smart phone developed by Amazon, will already allow you to control your smart home features such as lighting, heating/ air conditioning and keyless entry for your doors.  Presently, Alexa has the capability to answer economic questions for clients of the Swiss global financial services giant UBS Group AG.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Alexa will answer UBS client queries by using information provided by its chief investment office.  Alexa is expected to soon begin analyzing markets and may also be used to buy and sell stocks.

Meanwhile Boston-based Blackrock, the financial planning and investment management outfit, which happens to be the world’s largest asset management firm, used by institutions and individuals, is rolling out computer-driven algorithms and models in a move toward management by smart machines, that is, employing passive management rather than active management of their funds.  In other words, a machine will become the asset manager of Blackrock’s funds and not human, salary, bonus and benefits receiving employees.

Like the 1992 candidate for president Ross Perot predicted, that sucking sound you hear is your job going out the window.  The middle class is about to shrink some more.  Happy Labor Day.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Lost in Space, the CBS-TV series 1965 – 1968                                                          Jonathan Harris (as Dr. Smith) and the robot

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Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

Unlock the Answers Buried in Your Website

You may be contemplating giving your website a makeover and to ensure that you include the information that prospective clients desire most before you invest time and money on the project,  you’re smart enough to collect data that will serve as your site blueprint.  You want to confirm the role of your website—how much and what kind of information will persuade prospects to pursue follow-up? Reports that indicate how visitors interact with the site are the only way to examine, consider and interpret visitor behavior and then make adjustments in the site if needed.

Google Analytics will do that job and at no charge.  Google Analytics is a most useful service that helps one to find out who visits the website, the pages that receive the most visits, the length of those visits and actions taken while on a page.

1. Acquisition

Where do site visitors come from? Are you receiving referrals from search engines, your social media accounts, or other websites where you’ve contracted to maintain a link to your website?

2. Behavior

What are visitors to your site doing? Behavior Analytics show the pages visited, the    length of time spent on each and how visitors travel through your site. You’ll learn the content that visitors value most and least.

3. Conversion

Do sales take place on your site? Do visitors sign up to receive your newsletter or blog?

4. Goals

You can create conversion metrics to track actions such as sales and registrations for a class or webinar you will give, participation in a survey, or sign-ups for your blog or newsletter.  As a brand reinforcing grace note, you may create thank you pages to acknowledge actions taken (because positive reinforcement matters!).

5. In-page analytics

Find out the percentage of visitors who clicked on links or buttons on specific pages.

6. Key performance Indicators

If you’ve developed the milestones called Key Performance Indicators that identify each noteworthy action that leads to achievement of your goal, you can monitor them.

7. Mobile

I assume that a healthy percentage of Internet users are working from a mobile device. Find out that percentage and have it in mind when you design your new site or post new content.  Make visits to your site mobile friendly.

8.  Overview

Each section of Google Analytics offers an overview report, which presents high-level data that enables you to make a basic status report of that segment of your site.

9. Queries

This gives the search engine optimization report and lets you know the keyword rankings and click-throughs for your site.

10. Views

Here you’ll find five ways to see the data of any of your reports.

11. Web property ID

FYI, the web property ID is the tracking code that identifies your website with a 7 digit number, followed by the 2 digit property number.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that after putting up a website in 2007, I’ve only just signed up with Google Analytics this month.  What took me so long? I look forward with anticipation to reading and interpreting my website reports.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

Time to Redesign Your Website?

Have you become disappointed with your website, or are you merely bored? Have you been visiting the websites of your colleagues and contemporaries and thinking about how you may want to do a website makeover? Think carefully about your goals before making a decision.

What would I like the site to do for my business?

Ultimately, a website gives information about your products and services and communicates how doing business with you can benefit those who would become your customers. Your job is to develop a website that gives prospects the confidence to explore more seriously the idea of working with you. Whatever is on your site—text, audio, or visual—must support that action.

Older websites are likely to be static, rather than interactive. That means in order to update the site with new information, it’s necessary to pay a web developer to make  changes in text, photos, videos and lay-out. As a result, static websites often do not reflect much of what is happening now.

Some Freelancers depend upon their websites to pre-qualify prospects through the use of an online contact form.  Rather than posting your email and telephone number on the “contact us” page, there is instead a form for interested parties to complete, so that they will receive a call-back. Serious shoppers only, please!

Content marketing will be featured on the website.  Freelancers who produce a weekly blog or monthly newsletter typically include the link on their website.  Your social media platforms will likewise be accessible through your website, as will videos, webinars and podcasts that feature you in a starring or supporting role.  Case studies to help prospective clients envision how your insights and expertise might help their organization resolve challenges and achieve goals may be posted to the site as well.

How is my site under-performing?

Much depends upon the information you’d like your website to provide to interested parties. Your site can be a one-page affair that is basically an online business card.  You may list three or four services, a photo,  a 3-minute video clip of you in action (or not) and contact info and that may be quite enough to convince prospects that you are a capable professional worthy of consideration.  But maybe you would like to have a much more active and engaging site?

Up-to-date products and services list

If you’ve substantively altered—simplified, upgraded, expanded, or eliminated— the services and products that you provide, let your website reflect what is current.  As well, old content and photos might be replaced and updated with an accurate depiction of how you bring value to clients today.

Can I accurately measure how prospects respond to my site?

This step can be the key to your website design.  If you are serious about updating your site,  contact an analytics service and sign up to obtain data that will guide the development of your website.  There are a number of modestly priced website analytics services available and Google has a level that offers free analytics. Collect three or four months of data before you act.

To begin with, you’ll learn how many visitors the site receives each month and the pages that are most often visited. Now you’ll know what visitors want to know. You’ll also learn which pages are least often visited and if there are pages that are quickly abandoned for other pages, or seem to cause visitors to exit your site.  If you decide to update your website, ask your developer to build-in analytics or integration features, so that data will be yours at no extra charge, post-upgrade.

Is the site mobile-friendly? 

I write or edit three newsletters and the analytics for each consistently shows that about 50% of readers use mobile devices (smart phone or tablet) to read them. The other half use either desk models or laptops. Don’t frustrate your visitors,  make sure that your site is optimized for mobile.  Both interactive and static websites can be mobile optimized.

How’s the technology?

Recently, I met a truly brilliant MIT educated web developer named Al.  He showed me the site of a nationally known not-for-profit organization that on its website has an inoperable “donate now” button on the landing page.  It is imperative that all links and buttons on your website perform as intended on all types of devices.  Audio features must produce sound; videos must play; documents must download; ecommerce transactions must be secure.

“About us”

Trot out your brand story.  Connect with site visitors and concisely tell them what motivated you to start your business, how you developed your expertise, your vision and the company mission.  Share your guiding principles as the founder and business leader and discuss how that is reflected in your business practices.  Finally, let it be known that you love what you do and value the opportunity to work with clients. Recommended length of the text might be 200 words.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Publish or Perish

Today, Friends, I have for you the wild and wooly tale that will explain why I have not posted for the last four weeks,  after reaching out to you every single Tuesday since I opened this blog in June 2009.  Be advised that I was not in Sardinia living la dolce vita.  I’ll present the tale in chapters, since the action centers on writing.

Chapter  One opens on July 12.  I was ready to publish bright and early at 8:00 AM,  when I discovered that I could not access my account.  Wordpress had locked me out.  Neither could I reset my password, because it’s connected to an email account that has been overstuffed with messages for two years and frozen by the provider until I get ambitious and do some deleting.

A frantic search of the forums brought me to an email address wherein I could access a live person and learn why my blog was locked. I was told that in 2012 (!), LinkedIn had a data breach (I remember being asked to change that account password),  so four years later WordPress leaps into action and shuts down all WordPress members who have LinkedIn accounts (millions, I would imagine).

When I politely asked why WordPress members who affiliate with LinkedIn simply did not receive an email to advise us to adjust our passwords within, say, the next two logins to prevent being locked out, I received no answer.  Oh, and if I couldn’t access the appropriate email account, I could always refer back to the original URL link to this blog that is contained in an email that was sent to me by WordPress seven years ago.  Find a seven-year old email? Are they serious?

So there I was, with a post all ready for you, Friend, and no way to publish.  Apparently, the folks at WordPress felt it would be fun to lock the account on publishing day  (and I’m certain that was by design; now you know why I hate techies).  But maybe my blocked WordPress account was a blessing in disguise, because since early June, I’ve been immersed in a book editing project that has taken over my life and that opens Chapter Two.

The book is about a women’s club that is celebrating its 125th anniversary.  The author, a club member,  is an academic who’s written in the neighborhood of two dozen books. The book tells the history of the club against the backdrop of certain social, economic and political events that happened since its founding in 1890: the Gilded Age (think of today’s billionaires and income inequality); the Progressive Age (a reaction to the Gilded Age; think Bernie Sanders’ run for the presidency); the fight for women’s suffrage (a woman running for president); and the rise of women’s colleges and clubs (Lean In ). I was brought in to be the photo editor, but I was as well the de facto developmental editor and copy editor, because the book needed both and there was no one else to do it.  This is a self-publishing project.

In Chapter Three, I take on the role of publisher in addition to being three editors rolled into one.  The club is the official publisher in this venture,  but guess who’s done all the publishing house work? I even wore the hat of literary lawyer when on the fourth Saturday of July,  I sat at my computer reading up on intellectual property and copyright law and then ordered those two long sets of numbers that legally must appear on the copyright page of every book published, plus the bar code.  I also submitted the book to the Library of Congress (that is usually done before publication, so that you get to list the catalogue number on the title page) and two days later was so happy to learn that the title was accepted.

Chapter Four is the tale of my various editing functions.  I learned that developmental editing is surgery: get into those sentences and paragraphs and realign or remove until the story is a good one and flows smoothly.  Copy editing (and its little sister, proofreading) ensures that sentence structure is correct and spelling and punctuation are accurate.  Photo editing entails finding photos for the book that illustrate and support the story and then submitting them to the author for approval.

No, Friend, I was most definitely not sunning and swimming in Sardinia with the beautiful people.  Instead,  I was Googling the names of historical figures who were named in the book and filling in quick descriptions of who they were, so that readers could better understand the story the author wanted to tell because the author, a history writer, apparently didn’t feel that such explanations were necessary.

I also searched for the given names of some two dozen women mentioned in the book who were known only as Mrs. HIM (as the author puts it).  Why the author neglected to give proper credit to those amazing trailblazing women,  I’ll never understand. There were only two names that I could not find: Mrs. Clarence Burns,  a well-bred, high-achieving lady who once lived at 1 West 83rd Street in Manhattan and who in 1903 wrote a cheeky little article entitled Prominent Clubwomen Must be Good Housekeepers  that appeared in Collier’s Magazine.

The other unnamed woman was Madame (de) Sumichrast, one half of a social-climbing couple who were leaders of the Victorian Club of Boston (him) and the Victorian League in London (her).  The surname they shared was originally Sumichrast,  but they saw fit to add the  “de”  when he was named to the faculty of Harvard University’s French Department.

Madame de Sumichrast lectured in French literature at least once at Harvard, meaning that she was a highly educated woman,  but she must have felt it proper for a wife to subsume her identity in deference to her husband’s,  as did Mrs. Burns.  So frustrating, so sad.  Not even the magnificent Sophia Smith Library at Smith College, which has a comprehensive collection of information on women’s organizations, was able to uncover the identities of those two women.

However, a librarian at the Sophia Smith Collection most generously found and sent to me a 1905 photo of the officers of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, three of whose members were founders of the club that is the subject of the book.  What an excellent photo it is,  one of  nine superb vintage photos that I brought to the book in my role as photo editor.

Chapter Five, like the first chapter, holds frustration.  Wordpress is the villain of Chapter One and the book’s author is the antagonist in Chapter Five.  As I noted,  the book is a self-publishing project and that means all hands on deck.  The author,  unfortunately, did not see it that way.  When there was copy editing work to do, or when the request to register the book’s copyright was made, she simply refused to respond to emails.  When she did step in to do some work, she was controlling and obstructionist.  Too much time was spent needlessly rewriting the photo captions, for example.  A photo entitled Christmas greetings 1939, and captioned in that way by me, had to be rewritten to read Christmas 1939. The Notes page that I was asked to create, labeled Notes at the center top of an otherwise blank page, as is the custom,  was deemed insufficient and so the author spent precious time rewriting it to include her name and that of the book.

But, on the first Saturday of August at just after 7:00 PM,  I received from the book designer the PDF to upload to the self-publishing website. The book’s formatting was checked electronically and found to be fine and on Sunday, I ordered a physical proof. We’re on our way to printing enough copies to have ready for the September 18 book launch party. Hooray!

As Epilogue, I hope that this story is useful for those of you who’ve been thinking about self-publishing a book that will help you to promote your brand and services. Self-publishing houses will provide assistance with cover design.  Hire an independent copy editor.  To legally register your book, go first to the ISBN website and also buy your bar code there.  Separately register the book’s copyright at http://ipfilings.net.

Thanks for reading and I’m delighted to be back!

Kim

 

Work From Home and Be Productive

There is an art to working from home and not everyone is able to master the craft.  Working from home is a luxury that saves much time and money,  but if you are not disciplined,  you will be foiled by constant distractions and nothing will be accomplished.  Working at home is most successfully practiced by independent self-starters who are comfortable working alone. “The level of discipline it takes to work from home and generate solid results is intense and most people fail at  (working from)  home because of this one fact”,  warns business and sales strategy expert Grant Cardone, author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last (2010).

In the 21st century,  working at home does not mean simultaneously juggling business and personal responsibilities while in your pajamas.  Telecommuters and Freelance solopreneurs save commuting time and expense and give themselves more potential working hours in which to maximize productivity.  Control over one’s time is a huge benefit.  There will be no impromptu meetings to destroy one’s schedule or long conversations by the water cooler to talk about last night’s game,  but those who live with others may have to fight to enforce boundaries and eliminate constant interruptions.   Freelance solopreneurs also realize a tremendous cost saving through by-passing office space rent.   Make the most of your home office experience and follow these tips:

I.   Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office,  so much the better.  City dwellers may have a small desk or writing table in a corner of their bedroom.  Keep your workspace clean and organized,  as suggested by feng shui experts.   A good environment really does boost productivity and make one feel more comfortable.

2.  Establish boundaries

If you live with others,   teach them to respect that when you step into your office space,  you are at work.  You cannot referee spats;  you cannot chat with your husband or your mother;  you cannot drive anyone to the mall.  Shut the door and work.  Do take normal workday coffee and lunch breaks.

3.   Keep regular work hours

Go to work every day.   You have the luxury of working longer or shorter hours,  mornings or late nights,  according to your biorhythms and the projects on your desk.   Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

4.   Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who’s in a bathrobe all day,  or sweats.  Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously.  Take a daily shower,  brush your teeth,  comb your hair and dress for work,  whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

5.   Stay connected

Working at home is isolating and it is important to maintain professional contacts.  If you telecommute,  set up and participate in conference call meetings that keep you in the loop at the office.   Write reports that document your work and contributions to your team.   Meet regularly with clients,  whether you are a telecommuter or Freelance solopreneur.   Join and visit professional networking groups and attend conferences.  Nurture relationships with professional colleagues.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Pictures Spice Your Presentations

When it comes to Power Point presentations,  a good picture really is worth 1,000 words.  The importance of the images that accompany your presentation is not to be underestimated.  Images help tell your story by highlighting key concepts that complement your topic and helping to maintain audience attention.   Additionally,  a good structure is elemental to your presentation.  The architecture of the talk aids audience understanding and has the added benefit of leading you from point to point,  helping you remember what you want to say.

Construct your talk

Your presentation is shaped by what you must communicate and achieve.  You may be asked to inspire a group to support a particular cause and call to action.  When in a sales process,  your job is to persuade the prospective client of the value of your product or service.  Storytelling is appropriate in both scenarios.  Your story will help the audience connect to you and the goal you aim to achieve and portray you as authentic and trustworthy.  The story will fit within your presentation and both will have a beginning,  middle and end and will be easy to follow and concise.

Motivational talks fit easily into a Past – Present – Future  structure which is ideal for allowing the speaker to first provide the history of the situation,  then describe the current state of affairs and finally culminate with a rally of enthusiasm and support for the call to action that will bring about the preferred future  (outcome).  A Compare – Contrast  structure works well for sales presentations,  as it allows the speaker to communicate the advantages of the products or services as compared to competitors’.   A Cause – Effect  structure is useful in either scenario,  as it allows the speaker to describe the underlying logic of his/her position.

Speak,  do not read

Text-heavy slides cause audience members to instinctively read the text and tune out the speaker,  a detriment to the talk.  Master presenter Steve Jobs was famous for the one word slide.  It is a daring act.  I tried it once,  found it effective and I will do it again.  In order to make the tactic work,  rehearse the talk and rehearse some more,  until you know your material cold.  Too much text on the slides,  even bullet points,  draws attention away from you,  the star of the show.   Yet a few well-chosen words serve to focus audience attention and draw them into the subject.  Think large font and few words.Success Starts Here Freeway Style Desert Landscape

Quality images complement your talk

Images used in your presentation should complement your topic and be of good quality.  There are websites that have thousands of free images available for upload.  The free images used here are from MorgueFile  http://morguefile.com.  Attractive images help to maintain audience interest and illustrate relevant themes.

 

 

Charts and graphs

Charts,  graphs and diagrams are an excellent way to illustrate statistical and financial data and demonstrate trends that occur over a period of time.   A colorful bar graph,  pie chart or flow chart helps the audience grasp information that may otherwise seem too complex.  A visual interpretation can be very helpful and,  as noted above,  help to maintain audience interest as it facilitates comprehension.

8-03-2Start with an eye-opener

Grab audience attention when you open the presentation with an unexpected fact that speaks to their priorities,  values or concerns and advances your purpose.  The speaker must quickly lead the audience to focus on the topic because time is finite.   You may want to open your talk with a one-word slide  (it worked for me).  Build the rest of your presentation to answer and address that fact,  following your chosen structure.

People attending a Congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End with an ask

At the conclusion of your presentation,  give a brief summary to tie together your main points and help the audience remember what is important.   Next,  make your call to action and ask the audience to do something.  In a motivational talk,  you may ask the audience to support a certain strategy or vote in a certain way.   In a sales presentation,  you will ask the prospective client to hire you or purchase your product or service and to do so now,  rather than later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for reading,

Kim

Freelance Lonely

Maybe Marissa Mayer,  CEO of Yahoo who recently nixed telecommuting for Yahoo employees,  is right.  Maybe we are happier and more productive when working in an office,  rather than working at home.  This theory flies in the face of the entrepreneurial,  independence-loving American fantasy,  where we sit at home in scuzzy clothes,  or deposit ourselves at the beach or the local coffee shop,  laptop and cell phone at the ready,  and efficiently run a million dollar enterprise.   That is a popular fantasy but for may people,  the reality is not so idyllic.

In a 2010 Census Bureau survey,  it was discovered that 6.6%  of adults worked exclusively from home.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2009,  15 million adults identified themselves as self-employed.  Add to those numbers telecommuters,  some of whom visit their workplace offices only one or two days a week.  Cutting back or eliminating the cost and time of the commute to the office are important benefits,  but there is a percentage of Freelance consultants and frequent telecommuters who find themselves overtaken with loneliness and feelings of isolation.

They are not as productive as they expect themselves to be.  With disturbing frequency,  they find themselves unable to focus on their work.  They are easily distracted,  prone to doing housework or watching television when they should be  “on the job”.  Conversely,  there are others who find that they are unable to stop  working  (that would be me).  Too often,  they (we) are immersed in work-related activities when we could be relaxing and re-charging our inner resources.  Neither group is able to establish good boundaries between working life and personal life.  Going to the right kind of office space may present the solution.

According to DeskMag, an online magazine that covers the co-working industry  http://deskmag.com ,  there are now nearly 800 commercial collaborative,  i.e. co-working,   facilities in the US,  up from a little more than 300 just two years ago.  I first reported on this phenomenon in my October 25, 2011 post and the trend continues upward.

In addition to offering reasonably priced office space,  co-working offices provide opportunities for interaction  (networking)  with like-minded professionals.  Tenants  (sometimes called members)  share resources like a kitchen,  a photocopier and conference rooms.  Some co-working offices create a party atmosphere and organize after-hours social situations like whiskey tastings,  art shows and Christmas and other holiday parties.  “The need to feel socially connected is a fundamental human need”,  notes Ravi S. Gajendram,  an assistant professor of business at the University of Illinois.

The well-designed co-working office will create spaces that organically bring tenants together:  pleasant seating areas with long tables designed for sharing and conversation nooks with coffee tables and comfortable chairs.  “The design strategy is a typology that looks at accidental encounters as much as organizational clarity”,  says David Rockwell, designer of NeueHouse in New York City,  a high end co-working space that styles itself as a private club.  Rockwell says NeueHouse was designed to sync with the interactive,  serendipitous manner in which creative professionals work today.

Still,  there are those who try it and eventually tire of it.  Po Bronson,  who 19 years ago co-founded the San Francisco Writers Grotto,  says that co-working offices eventually start to feel like the traditional offices that we know and loathe.  There can be collaboration,  but also envy,  competition and gossip.  Yet for those of us who need a degree of structure to help us form necessary boundaries between our work and personal lives,  it will be worthwhile to investigate a co-working space or two.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Before You Use That Free Wi-Fi…

Thank goodness for free Wi-Fi sites.  I’m sure you find them convenient and sometimes even necessary.  I’m happy to be able to duck into a library or nice coffee shop that displays a free Wi-Fi sign in the window and get some work done while between appointments.  It’s all good,  but like with so many good things,  there can be a downside to free hotspots.   Perils may lurk in the in the Wi-Fi shadows and we are advised to think a minute before we click and connect.

Information transmitted on an inadequately secured network can be intercepted by some nefarious someone who can use readily available software and equipment.   If that’s not scary enough,  hackers have been known to create pirate Wi-Fi sites that appear to be legitimate,  to trick the trusting into connecting and giving the bad guys access to whatever is done online.  

 Yet despite the risks,  it is possible to take advantage of public Wi-Fi,  but taking precautions to protect your data is strongly advised.

I.      Know your hotspot

Hotels are hotspots that typically require a password and offer free Wi-Fi only to registered guests,  thus making hotel Wi-Fi very secure.   Neighborhood coffee shops  and the public library may not be so secure.  You can sometimes check the level of security if there is a terms of service page to read before you connect  (a la Starbucks). 

According to the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance,  only use hot-spots that provide security technology known as W-Fi Protected Access 2  (WPA2),  which offers more security than the earlier systems WPA and Wired Equivalent Privacy  (WEP).   Look for this info on the terms of service page before you decide to transmit any sensitive data that hackers may seek.  The ultimate security precaution is to refrain from doing any online banking or credit card transactions on public Wi-Fi.

II.    Encrypt the data

On the other hand,   basically all websites that handle sensitive info,  such as banks,  brokerage houses and e-commerce sites,  use encryption technology known as Secure Sockets Layer  (SSL) that scrambles any data that is entered.   You’ll know that SSL is in effect when the web address starts with  “https”.   Several email and social media sites,  notably Gmail,  Hotmail and Facebook,  use SSL to keep private communication safe from eavesdroppers.  Facebook,  however,  requires that users activate the SSL.   To do so,  go first to Account Settings,   click Security,  then enable Secure Browsing.

III.   Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Network  (VPN)  software is a must for those who regularly transmit sensitive data over public Wi-Fi networks.  VPN software creates an  “encrypted tunnel”  through which your data travels as it sails through the world wide web.  Many large corporations have their own SSL networks in place for their employees,  but Freelancers and other small business operators can get some cover as well.  

Anonymizer Universal  http://anonymizer.com  is compatible with Windows,  Mac,  iPad and iPhone and costs $80.00/year.  PrivateWiFi  http://privatewifi.com  supports Windows and Mac and is available at $10/month or annually at $85.00.   VPN4ALL  http://vpn4all.com  is compatible with Windows,  Windows Mobile,  Mac,  Android,  iPad and iPhone for $6.00 – $20.00/month,  depending on the operating system you run and the amount of data you’ll transmit.

OpenVPN Technologies actually developed the open-source technology that is used by several software companies that offer SSL.  Private Tunnel  http://privatetunnel.com is their VPN service and it caters specifically to small business.  Private Tunnel supports Windows and Mac and costs $12.00 – $50.00/year,  depending on the amount of data transmitted.

Finally,  it’s possible to avoid Wi-Fi networks altogether and connect to the internet through a wireless carrier.   For this totally mobile service you will likely pay $50.00 – $60.00 /month.  Wireless carriers use encryption when transferring data.  For your mobile device you’ll probably need a large or unlimited GB plan.  Laptops will require a special device that plugs into a port like a flash drive.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Google Business Apps: The Best and The Rest

We are inundated by a deluge of online business management and office tools these days and it seems like a new product appears every month.   The choices are overwhelming.   Which,  if any,  might be useful to meet your business or personal needs?  Or maybe you say the heck with it and continue to use whatever you’ve been using if it works well enough?

But eventually,  one must update.   I decided to give the laggards a nudge and take a look at some  Google products.   Google Office Tools have several cloud-based options and the standard versions are free.   Premier versions,  which give greater data storage and unlimited customer support,  are $50.00/year.   Here are a few online tools to consider:

THE BEST

Calendar

 Google Calendar App is a platform to schedule meetings and other group events.   Calendar can be employed by multiple users in real-time,  since it functions in the cloud,  directly from the internet.  When a meeting or other event is scheduled,  Calendar will automatically generate confirmation emails for those who RSVP that they will attend and add the meeting to their calendars.   It’s also possible to merge the groups’ calendars with your own and thus manage a team’s schedule.   If you’re working with a team on a project or sit on a board,   Google Calendar is an excellent way to get everyone on the same page about scheduling and attending important meetings.

 Docs

I’ve been part of team projects that used Google Docs and can vouch for its usefulness.   If a group is creating and editing a report,  proposal,  or other document,  there’s nothing better.   Multiple parties can make additions / revisions simultaneously and real-time chats and comments that provide feedback are possible.   Changes are saved automatically and often,  another desirable feature.   The downside is that your documents,  when printed out,   may not look as slick and professional as those created in Microsoft Word.

Google AdWords

Technically not an app,  AdWords  (and WonderWheel)  are nevertheless fundamental to the basic marketing strategy of every business.   Good AdWords steer the marketing team  (that would be you,  Freelancer)  to distill the business value proposition down to a concise phrase that prospective clients will understand immediately.   From there,  you integrate that and other key phrases into text that is used on your website,   Facebook and LinkedIn pages,  advertising and in your elevator pitch.   One can pay for Google AdSense and get wonderful long-tail key words,  but why not start with the free versions  http://adwords.google.com and http://googlewonderwheel.com

THE REST

Presentations

Because the presentation is stored in the cloud,  it’s possible to create and update presentation slides from any computer and that can be a real convenience.   Presentations also makes it easy to insert images and video into your slide show.   Moreover,  the template library allows you to collect and save whatever images or video you might want to weave into future presentations.   Best of all,   it’s easy to publish the completed presentation onto YouTube,  your website,  Facebook,  LinkedIn,  or other sites of choice.

Alas,   Presentations is not Power Point.  Those for whom esthetics is important will find Presentation design features lacking.   Worse still,   Presentation text boxes don’t work well and as a result the layout can become skewed,   unless you are very proficient at navigating the system.

Spreadsheets

If a team must develop a spreadsheet,  the availability of cloud-based access is crucial.   Real-time updates are included in the basic spreadsheet functions and there is even automatic compatibility with Excel.   The auto-fill function allows you to avoid the necessity of re-typing the same terms over and over.   The ability to drag columns to new locations and a stream-lined copy feature that makes duplicates in one click are very useful and ease the drudgery of producing spreadsheets.   The unfortunate part is that the Spreadsheet App is clunky when compared to the gold standard that is Excel.    For example,  the system is known to freeze up as you’re working–ugh!

Thanks for reading,

Kim