Can You Bring Blockchain into Your Business?

The technology known as Blockchain has received loads of attention in the business and tech press over the past three years or so but until recently, I never understood what it and never thought it would apply to me, anyway. Blockchain is for the big guys, right? Not really. The benefits of Blockchain play to many audiences.

Before we go any further, let’s understand what Blockchain is. Blockchain is a record-keeping ledger that is accessible only to its participating creators. Blockchain is also the ultimate permanent record because information entered into a Blockchain document cannot be deleted and will be stored forever. Registered participants may enter new data into the Blockchain ledger to update it, but nothing can be deleted.

Blockchain data is secure and permanent and each document entered into the network has an unique software code. Once the document is triggered, that’s it—the document is forever locked down. If it becomes necessary to make substantive changes, one must start over with a new Blockchain document.

Companies that deliver complex services or offer a wide array of products that are purchased from numerous sources are a natural fit for Blockchain. Think of retail operations that order inventory from overseas manufacturers. Cultural business practices, language differences and the processes of ordering, shipping, payment and confirming arrival of the goods creates many opportunities for the ball to be dropped. Blockchain enables all parties to monitor in real time every action-oriented element in a contract and can even link payments to meeting milestones that demonstrate fulfillment of terms.

Freelancers, professional service providers and small business owners can also find practical uses for Blockchain technology. For example, the Blockchain Smart Contract has potential for broad usage. Your Smart Contract is registered with the network and legally cleared as a valid agreement. Each point of agreement specified in the contract, e.g., the scope of work, milestones, deadlines and the invoicing schedule, is then automated and when fulfilled, that element is triggered and recorded as complete. That achievement allows any incentives connected to its fulfillment to be approved and awarded.

Let’s say that you contract to write a certain number of social media posts for a client. When your post is received by the client, or when you’ve uploaded it to the the client’s account, your Blockchain Smart Contract will signal that you are eligible to be paid for your work and you will not need to send an invoice to request payment. What a relief!

Blockchain can simplify and speed accounts receivable payments and as a result, enhance your cash-flow. Moreover, if you hold client credit card information that is used for automated payments, the information will be super- secure in the Blockchain network. Clients will feel more confident when doing business with you when you deliver your services with cutting-edge efficiency that includes an added layer of protection for their financial information. In other words, Blockchain is a brand and customer service enhancer.

For more information on how to set up Smart Contracts for your important projects, visit https://applicature.com/smart-contracts-development/. Plan on $500 for reusable Smart Contract development.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: “Signing the Marriage Contract” (1905) by George Sheridan Knowles (private collection)

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Going Forward: Employee to Freelancer

The Freelancers Union  http://freelancersunion.org estimated that in 2013,  there were more than 53 million self-employed workers (in many permutations and degrees of earning power,  from fashion photographers,  to technical writers,  to Uber cab drivers) in the U.S.  That represents an astounding one third of the American work force participating in Freelance employment at some point during the year and it’s predicted that the number will only trend upward.

Plan to succeed  is the credo of every self-employed professional.  Effective planning requires one to first anticipate events and conditions that may be encountered and  then devise strategies that will overcome obstacles,  or at least lessen their likely impact,  and as well capitalize on expected opportunities.  Before you invest money and time on a mission to go it alone,  consider these realities.

No free tech help

Santa gave me an iPad Mini tablet for Christmas and the external key board that is part of its case quit functioning after three days.  The online advice that I hoped would help me to restart the thing was not useful.  I suppose a (time consuming) trip to the Apple Store must be made,  because I cannot ask a tech support colleague to rescue me.  At some point,  there will be a technology related glitch for every Freelancer: Power Point will embarrass you.  The printer will frustrate you.  You’ll be unable to install  your new software.

Taming home office distractions

Working from home requires real discipline and focus and potential distractions are everywhere.  Unless the call is from a client or business associate,  it may be advisable to refrain from answering calls (or emails/texts) from friends and family until lunch time or after hours.  If you have small children at home,  take them to day care or hire a nanny or other care taker to supervise their activities.

Ringing doorbells,  the television,  social media sites,  grocery shopping,  pet needs and house work can also undermine your work schedule.  If you foresee potential challenges to your ability to be productive In a home office,  then investigate co-working spaces.

Co-working arrangements can be very beneficial.  The office supplies,  meeting rooms,  A/V equipment,  coffee/tea and maybe even a co-working buddy who will provide some free tech advice will be available in the rental fee.  As an added bonus,  networking opportunities,  billable hours and camaraderie can arise from co-working colleagues.

No colleagues to commiserate with

Business owners and Freelance consultants work harder and must meet or exceed very high expectations,  every time.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed,  especially in the early days of running your venture.  At your job,  there was most likely someone who understood the nuances to talk you through things.  Now,  there is only you.

Joining a neighborhood business association,  professional association and/or your local chamber of commerce will give you numerous opportunities to meet self-employed professionals much like yourself.  Get to know a select few and create a support network for each other.

Moreover,   it is certain that you will have opportunities to receive and perhaps also lead  professional development programs that demonstrate  your expertise and leadership skills in the company of your peers.  You and your colleagues will be looking to make referrals for one another.  The time and money you invest in such organizations can pay real dividends and help you succeed as a Freelancer or business owner.

Needless to say there are other factors involved in the transition into the self-employed sector,  for example the requirement to find and purchase medical and dental insurance and set up a retirement account that works for you.  Launching even a solo freelance consultancy takes careful planning.  The more you can anticipate and prepare for,  the more successful your venture is likely to be.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Industry Growth Trends 2015 – 2017

Growth  is always on the minds of entrepreneurs,  business owners and Freelance consultants.  Growth is essential for the survival of a business and it can take many forms,  from an increase in current and potential customers,  to a greater number of employees,  higher profits,  or the number of products or services available for sale.  Here are projected industry trends and B2B small business growth projections through 2017 that are based on expected demand,  meaning that there will likely be more current and potential customers ready to spend money in these industries.   The list was compiled by Jackie Nagel,  author of the blog “Oh, The Places Where Your Small Business Can Grow”.

Industries expected to outpace the overall growth of the US economy are:

Technology    42% growth projected

Health care    28% growth projected

Finance          14% growth projected

Retail              14% growth projected

HR Services

Human Resources is an exceptionally broad field and all aspects are expected to show growth over the next 12 – 36 months.  Executive search,  benefits management,  payroll management,  training/ professional development/ executive coaching and compensation specialists can all expect many opportunities to expand their client lists and generate more billable hours.

Internet Security

Freelancers and small business owners do not always pay attention to the many occurrences of internet data security breaches that hackers have visited upon several large corporations.  Be advised that recently,  I was one of many who received a phishing attack email that a hacker sent illegally from the address of a colleague.  The email address lists of all recipients were at risk.  No one wants the embarrassment of a hacked email bearing our business name sent to our client list.  Internet security risks are a real concern and the need for protection is growing.  It’s time to call in a professional and set up a firewall.

Marketing Services

Small business owners often have ambitious marketing plans,  but execution can be a sticking point.  Freelancers who specialize in helping small businesses to launch their marketing strategies will be needed to bridge the time,  talent and strategy development gaps faced by many small organizations,  for-profit and not-for-profit.  The demand for social media strategies,  videography and podcast development,  website development and content marketing expertise will likewise remain strong.

Technology Services

Small business owners and Freelancers continue to explore the benefits of cloud computing for data storage,  real-time document and secure data sharing and videoconferencing.  Entrepreneurs are in search of technologies that will help them to quickly scale-up a business.  Which apps will help entrepreneurs to efficiently grow and manage their enterprise and can it all be mobile?  Demand for technological advances such as 3 D printing and online eyeglasses and contact lenses that let customers virtually try on lens ware are big new entries to the scene and the trend will be upward.  Video game and app development continues to lure talented techies into entrepreneurship as does television and home theater installation.

Green and sustainable building construction

Architects,  structural engineers,  general contractors,  electricians and manufacturers of solar panels are expected to have lots of business through 2017.  Saving money on heating and electricity with energy-efficient buildings are big priorities that real estate developers,  current homeowners and prospective buyers are willing to pay for.  Even landscapers get into the act when they design attractive alternatives to water-sucking lawns.

Boutique mind/ body fitness studios

Overweight and over-stressed Americans are ever optimistic about a new regimen to cure what ails us.  Boutique cycling,  personal training, Pilates,  yoga and meditation studios will continue to proliferate in metro areas.  These studios are less expensive to operate than traditional fitness centers primarily because participants do not perform aerobic routines in big,  mirrored studios,  nor are lines of treadmills and ellipticals needed.  Rather,  participants are confined to a mat,  stationary bike or compact training studio that is stocked with  a well-curated choice of exercise equipment.  Boutique fitness studios even use proportionately less water than traditional fitness centers because participants typically shower at home.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

In the Cloud

Cloud computing hooks you up to numerous computer based business functions,  including email,  website hosting and data storage,  directly through the internet.  Access to those computer functions,  which you select based on your needs,  is available from any computer that has an internet connection.  When your computer functions are in the cloud,  your business is truly mobile.  You can tap into your data and work from anywhere in the world.

Needless to say,  cloud computing offers big advantages to businesses and individuals.  A big plus is the tremendous flexibility available.  It’s possible to access numerous computer applications and software functions and operate your business entirely in the cloud.  Users of cloud computing essentially rent space on a virtual server and order a la carte the applications and functions that are desired,  be it Linux or Windows.

From the cloud,  you can request functions specific to your business,  without buying an entire software package that may cause you to pay for and install what is not useful to you.  One can order online accounting and payroll management functions,  for example,  rather than buying Intuit’s QuickBooks software.

Cloud based website hosting can be customized to provide the appropriate bandwidth to support video,  audio,  e-commerce, survey, etc.  Furthermore,  cloud computing is significantly less expensive to operate as compared to buying separate software components like the latest Windows,  traditional website hosting,  plus whatever else your business must run to operate efficiently.

There will be less money tied up in technology and more money available for marketing,  customer outreach and otherwise carrying out the business mission.  Prices start at about $4.95 US per month.  Amazon,  Google,  IBM,  Microsoft and Yahoo are among the companies that offer cloud computing services.

Many familiar online functions already live in the cloud: gmail and Hotmail; VoIP telephone services like Google and Skype;  social media sites,  including Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter;  media services like Flickr and YouTube;  and Microsoft WebApps,  which offers internet-based access to Excel,  Outlook, Power Point, Word,  etc.

So should you migrate your online operations to the cloud?  Maybe,  maybe not.  Cloud computing may be pervasive,  but it’s not yet perfect.  Reliability,  security and privacy are real concerns.  The major cloud service providers claim they deliver 99.95% availability with 5 hours/year downtime on average.

Nevertheless, during the week of April 21-24 of this year,  the data center that houses Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud servers (EC2) went down and internet access for thousands of businesses was lost as a result.  Although this exciting new technology is being promoted as safe,  comprehensive,  user-friendly and inexpensive,  the underlying infrastructure may not be there yet.

Moreover,  can some pimple-faced brat hack his/her way into your data and wreak havoc on your business?  Let’s pray that never happens,  but to provide the maximum available protection to the integrity and security of your cloud computing,  be sure to use secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption to keep your user name and password safe.

Issues of capability and capacity have also been raised.  Can the present technology support the fast expanding weight of VoIP,  website hosting,  video streams and data storage demands?  What happens as developing nations in Africa,  Asia and Latin America ramp up their internet access and 3 billion more global citizens elect to join the cloud?

All that remains to be seen,  but my guess is that the necessary upgrades will be made to accommodate new cloud users,  because money is the mother of invention.  Data security is probably the larger issue.

On Friday June 10,  the International Monetary Fund learned it was the victim of a major cyber attack.  The data breach occurred over several months and has the potential to expose highly confidential information about the fiscal condition of many nations.  In an article that appeared in the June 12, 2011 New York Times,  the incident was called  “political dynamite”.  There was no mention as to whether the IMF computer system operated in the cloud.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IT Update: What A Freelancer Needs Part II

Communicate with clients in your office or from anywhere in the world with practical IT tools that will help you do business effectively and efficiently.  Freelancers must strive to create and reinforce an impression of capability and professionalism that inspires client confidence and trust.  Some clients may doubt our ability to take on the most important jobs and instead may elect to call in a big consulting firm.  Savvy use of selected IT tools may enhance your image and reassure clients.

The Computer, or Mission Control

Your first decision will be PC  vs.  Mac.  Graphics gurus,  photographers and marcomm writers choose  Macs for their sophisticated color and font style options.  The rest of us gravitate toward PCs, which work well for standard business functions.

Your next decision will be desktop vs. laptop vs. netbook.  Desktop units have  larger screens,  making them suitable to function as mini-home theaters.  Laptop units are smaller and portable  and for most of us  have excellent functionality and memory.

When you need a computer for the road,  a netbook is the smart choice.  Smaller,  lighter and less expensive than a laptop,  netbooks can run on battery power for long stretches.  Pick up free wifi internet access in schools, cafes, hotels and other office buildings while you’re there.  The trade-off  is netbooks don’t have much memory and they’re primarily suitable for web browsing and word processing.

A printer is standard,  even if you don’t print often.  You can find a  reliable inkjet color printer for under $200.00.  A scanner is also useful hardware to own.  The ability to convert hard copy documents into electronic form,  including a nice photo of yourself to upload to your social media profile (or blog!),  is beneficial.  You can have documents scanned at Staples for a quarter a page and  photos at CVS or Walgreens for about $1.00 – $2.00,  but if you can budget the price of a scanner (around $175-$200),  I recommend you do so.

You’ll also want to have a couple of portable memory devices,  i.e. flash drives,  in your possession.  When you go to Staples to scan documents, that’s where the data is transferred.  My flash drives are important storage units for me as my laptop runs out of memory.  They hold many of my files.

When I have a speaking engagement,  I transfer the Power Points to a flash drive and plug into the A/V equipment at the venue (if there is good A/V equipment).  That’s so much easier and safer than dragging around my laptop.

Cloud Computing

Processes that are usually performed through software running on your computer,  but are instead accessed directly via the internet,  is an elementary definition of cloud computing.  The cloud allows you to perform all manner of functions from anywhere there is internet access and a keyboard.

Service providers like Amazon,  Google,  Yahoo,  IBM and Microsoft maintain the servers, provide the content and charge customers  according to the services accessed via the cloud.  Flickr,  Office 2.0,  Googleapps and Googledocs are examples of how you may already use cloud computing.

Network storage that backs up and archives data,  application hosting and virtual IT that acts as an extension of  a company’s in-house IT network are other functions available through the cloud.

There is a perceived threat to the security of documents stored via the cloud, however, and sensitive documents perhaps should not be stored in that manner.  Archives and sensitive data can be safely stored on portable memory devices.

Software
Whether or not certain of your IT functions are in the cloud,  your computer still needs operating system software.  My tech expert colleague Craig,  owner of Roan Solutions roansolutions.com,  likes Windows 7.0.  Bookkeeping and financial statements can be handled with  Intuit QuickBooks Simple Start or Microsoft Office Accounting.  Another nice software feature is Microsoft Fax or other online faxing services that allow you to send and receive faxes directly from your computer.

VoIP

Voice-over-Internet Protocol services like Skype and Vonage allow you to make calls directly from your PC.  Local and international calling will be either free or cheap.  You can even get VoIP for your cell phone.  Voice,  video  and conference  calls,  voice mail,  faxing,  instant messaging and caller ID are all available through VoIP.  Use the video calling feature to set up a real time virtual face to face  meeting with team members based in various locations around the world.

Land Lines and Smart Phones

Let’s start small.  Get your phone company to add conference calling to your land line, because every once in a while you need to have a 3 or 4 way conversation to hash out an issue.

Now on to the smart phones,  which join together the features  of cell phones and personal digital assistants like Palm Pilot.  Smart phones provide you with a date book,  contact list,  to-do list,  email and internet access.  You can even create and edit Microsoft Word documents,  edit photos,  access  GPS  assistance  and create a play list of your favorite songs,  depending on the unit you purchase.

There is a standard keyboard for ease of typing.  You can text,  have voice mail and yes, make phone calls.  If you are away from your office for long stretches and would like to have internet and email service plus a telephone,  you’ll need a smart phone.

Hope I’ve helped to untangle your technology options.  Thanks for reading and have a great week.

Kim

IT Update: What A Freelancer Needs Part I

I am not the techie type.  I don’t own an iPhone or BlackBerry and I may never own an iPad.  Cell phones with app attitude are not on my must-have list and they will not be,  unless my business changes and I find myself away from the office for long stretches and unable to respond to emails on time.

I’ve lived and worked on both sides of the technology divide.  I have typed on an IBM Selectric.  I remember mainframes and teletype (the first fax machines).  I am not a Luddite and I’ve never completely eschewed the many technological advances,  but neither am I enamored of them all.  I have never played a video game in my life and have no plans to do so.  I prefer the low tech life,  yet I spend lots of time online.

Around 1986,  my employer decided that its entire workforce would receive computer training.  Region by region,  department by department,  each employee in the white collar workforce and managerial level employees in our blue collar workforce,  spent 5 days from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM in computer skills training classes.

It was a massive undertaking.  Businesses the world over had no choice but to provide such training for their employees in response to a paradigm shift that was as powerful as the transition from the farm economy to the industrial age.  Small businesses struggled to  not only finance  the significant cost of  purchasing computers for many of their staff,  but also the cost of training staff.  Freelancers eventually had to enroll in training classes that seemed to average around $300.00 +.  Typewriters were out and word processing was in.  DOS ruled the day.

I was happy to receive the training.  Computers were the wave of the future and I was grateful to develop a vital skill set on the corporate dime.  Scott,  my manager, was thrilled that I was a fast learner and did not rebel against the training.  The same could not be said for several of my co-workers.

I’ve been able to recognize which tech tools are essential for me and I have acquired them.  I was an early adopter of fax machines and have owned a phone / fax since at least 1995.  We rarely fax now, but they’re still good to have around.

I also had an electronic date book in 1995,  pre-Palm Pilot.  After the memory ran out in ’97,  I switched back to paper date books.  For some things paper and pencil are easier, cheaper and more reliable.  Paper and pencil never crash or freeze up.

Like every Freelancer,  I maintain a home office.  I write to you on an aging laptop that’s real short on memory.  I need to buy a new one very soon—come on, clients!  I dislike spending money on that kind of stuff.  I’d much rather buy designer belts and bags, or  art,  jewelry and vacations to the world’s great capitals.  If I must spend a thousand-plus bucks on something,  I’d rather it be on what I enjoy and not on electronics that may be nonoperational or outmoded in 5 years (or less).

But Bill Gates and Larry Ellison have us by the short hairs and they will not let go.  Cloud computing is here to stay until the Next Big Thing overtakes it.  Plus,  some of that techie stuff is quite useful—when it works right.

So what are the must-haves for the average Freelancer in the office and in the field? Next week,  I’ll present an overview of the basics that will keep you and your business up to code,  technologically speaking.

More later,
Kim