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Startup & Small Business

Check Your Tech-nology

Written by Brandi Bennett

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Technology today is moving faster than the speed of light (quite literally: NASA recently released specs for a ship with a warp drive), and it’s often hard to keep up. It’s easy for a business to start to wonder whether or not the technology that they are utilizing in their daily lives is antiquated, out of date… or on a slightly pettier note, whether or not their stuff is better than the competition’s stuff.

Through a look at some of the most commonly used pieces of technology in the business world, it’s possible to give you that piece of mind, because let’s face it; that which is shown on television and in the movies isn’t what the average business has, nor is it quite as easy as the movies make out to sneak in and spy on the competition.

 

Computers

Desktops have not gone out of style. In fact, many companies are still utilizing Windows XP, in spite of the fact that Microsoft is no longer putting out updates for vulnerabilities that are found. Heck, some people have even found ways around this, working to remove vulnerabilities anyway, allowing their companies to continue to use the OS that they are most comfortable with, one that doesn’t require costly upgrades or a learning curve regarding its use.

Generally speaking, and with exception given to certain industries, most businesses don’t use Macs.

The more tech oriented the business, the more likely you are to find them running a Linux system.

Most companies still utilize separate monitors and separate desktops, as opposed to the “all-in-one” options that many of the computer manufacturers are releasing today.

We live in an age of “good enough” computing, where businesses have finally realized that upgrading every time something new comes out is not necessary; if something works, there’s no reason to fix it. There are better ways to invest in the business.

 

Phones

Most companies are utilizing VoIP phones these days; it just makes everything easier to do so, when all the current options are weighed. It’s a safe bet that there are not many old-school, rotary phones being utilized in businesses today… but you never know.

 

Cell Phones

Yes, many owners, and even many employees, utilize their own personal phones within a business context. Most people have gone over to smart phones. No more flip phones for the masses! (Ran into a huge issue the other day because of this one – the receptionist with a “unique” personality at the doctor’s office refused to look up my pharmacy and told me to do it on my phone. She refused to believe this was not possible on a flip phone; I refuse to upgrade to a smart phone for a host of reasons. We were at an impasse for quite some time).

 

Paper

Though many businesses are attempting to move away from paper records, the majority of businesses are still utilizing paper as a means of completing various business activities; the amount has lessened over the years, but we have not created a paperless environment as of yet… perhaps because playing games with the copy machine is still a lot of fun!

 

Your Business

If some of these sound like you and some do not, that’s quite alright. Remember, it’s all about what works best for you. Don’t upgrade if you don’t want to, don’t upgrade if you don’t need to, and always do your best to ensure that you stay within your means!

 

Image source: Deccan Chronicle. (1996). Mission Impossible. Retrieved from http://archives.deccanchronicle.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_node_view/public/mission-impossible-1996-tom-cruise.jpg

The Ideal Job

Written by Brandi Bennett

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

There are three types of people in this world: those who work because it gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment; those who work because they have to, but would rather not be working; and those who aren’t working at all.

It could be argued that these three different types of people exist based on the amount of personal responsibility that they feel for themselves and their lives, with the first group being overly responsible, driven almost to the point of a neuroses, the second group being responsible enough to know that work comes before play, and the third group who never had a sense of responsibility instilled in them at all.

The fact of the matter is that given the option, no one wants to work, not really. They want to be doing something that they enjoy; if they get paid for it, so much the better. No one really wants to work, but we do.

 

Doing What You Love, Loving What You Do

The most successful companies are those with high levels of employee morale, and one of the best ways to have high employee morale is to ensure that management morale is high. Though this may seem silly, research has indicated that the greater the morale of the owners of the company and the managers within the company, the more likely the overall morale of the company will be high.

When thinking about starting up a company, don’t just concern yourself with that which will make the most money, concern yourself with that which you love. You will be the most successful doing what you love as it won’t feel like work to you. Everything will be something that you want to do. Sure, there may be some tasks that you’re not particularly fond of, but even when you sit down to get those done, they won’t truly seem like work, given the fact that they are associated with what you want to be doing.

 

Finding Others

When looking for others to work for your company, now that you’ve got it off the ground and have started nurturing it into the size you want it to become, don’t just look for those with the fanciest resume, look for those who genuinely enjoy the work.

Silly as it may sound, there are those who enjoy all different kinds of work; if you look, you will find someone who loves data entry, you will find someone who loves accounting, and (say your company is in charge of making gizmos), you will find someone who not only loves gizmos, but genuinely enjoys the work that you want them to be doing in regard to gizmos. You may find an accountant who plays with gizmos in her spare time, or a teenager who has a gizmo collection and is a whiz at data entry.

Employee morale is dependent upon the overall morale of the company; if everyone there loves what they do, then the company itself will assuredly be a success. With everyone enjoying their jobs, it creates not only a pleasant work environment for the individuals who work there, but for your customers, as they will not be made to feel as though they are the burden. Happy employees make for happy customers, which in turn makes for a high revenue stream.

Don’t discount a worker because they have worked in a cubicle for the past five years but is applying at your company because they have liked gizmos as a child; chances are that this individual will be a better candidate. And with everyone doing what they love, everyone wins.

 

Image Source: Swiss Fit Chick. (2014). Do What You Love Quote. Retrieved from https://swissfitchick.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/do-what-you-love-quote.jpg

A Cyber Security Toolkit For Your Small Business

Written by Jeremy Jensen

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Cyber Security Toolkit
As unfortunate as it may be to say, 2013 marked a monumental year in data breaches, mainly for businesses that weren’t prepared with the necessary level of cyber security. According to Symantec’s annual Internet Security Threat Report there was a 493% increase in stolen identities since 2012, amounting to over 550 million affected customers.

Many remember recent headlines involving breaches in Apple’s iCloud, but most of us will never hear about the smaller targets data thieves have been cleaning out due to the lack of media attention. The National Small Business Association put out a survey, through which they found nearly half of all small businesses reported being victim of a cyber-attack.

With a reported 66% of all small businesses depending on the internet for day to day operations, there is still a resounding unawareness to to how damaging a data breach can be to your company’s future and reputation.

Thankfully those coding for cyber security are always a few steps ahead. October is recognized by the Tech Community as National Cyber Security Awareness month, so we wanted to compile a comprehensive guide for small businesses to prevent any such data breaches from occurring as we head towards the end of 2014.

Using four levels of protection will ensure your data stays safe.

 

Securing Your Foundation

Regardless of how big your business is, there are mandatory steps to ensuring the foundation of your cyber security is rock solid. Just like you lock away your valuable possessions, you’re going to need to categorize and document what digital files you’re keeping in vulnerable areas. These categories should be broken down like this:

  • Highly Confidential – All of your most sensitive data should be placed in this tier. This includes anything that if stolen could impact your customers, employees, or business as a a whole. Think identity information, things like: passwords, social security numbers, credit-card info, or names and addresses.
  • Sensitive – The fine line between sensitive and highly confidential is what couldn’t destroy something if stolen in the financial sense. Sensitive documents are things you wouldn’t want seen externally of your business for privacy reasons. Reports on your employees, marketing plans, contact info, or performance data are all sensitive and would be best stored separately.
  • Internal Use Only – Information that is available to all your employees, but still would be best unknown to the public can be classified as internal only. This data may not harm your company, but still is considered items you won’t post publicly.

 

Securing the foundation also means safeguarding all your devices, should a hard drive or thumb device get lost.

 

Level 1 Threat Protection

  1. Restrict Access Points - Knowing which data is the most sensitive will help in choosing who can access it, the less people capable of opening the bridge the less likely a hacker will be able to get in. Always be conservative here, if there’s a document someone will need there will usually be an Admin capable of getting it for them.
  2. Train Employees On Digital Security Basics - Using email, and having to download software isn’t always black and white in terms of what is safe, and what might have some nasty malware zipped up inside. Provide the resources necessary to help your company recognize what threats may be present in the forms of phishing schemes, identity thieves, or even scammers calling in over the phone.
  3. Consider Storing Data On A Device Disconnected From Any Network – If your company has no reason to transfer crucial data remotely, don’t make it available anywhere except in the office, on a machine where employees can access it in person.
  4. Use Reputable Free Software- Not all Cyber Security comes with a hefty subscription fee, check out some verified by the National Cyber Security Alliance on this list.

 

Level 2 Protection

  1. Two-Factor Authentication – This is for the most sensitive data. Not only will employees need a password, they will also need a second step such as a PIN number, or ID card.
  2. Encryption - Encryption essentially mixes up data to look like a bunch of nonsense to those unauthorized to access it. The encryption you use will need to meet the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS-Certified), otherwise there’s still potential hackers can read the data by cracking your key.
  3. Hire A Security Specialist - This might mean paying to send a current employee to get certified as a security compliance officer, or consulting a local IT Professional to secure all the devices and networks with current protection capabilities.

 

Level 3 Protection

  1. Physical Facility Lock Down – Despite the transcendence into digital storage and remote access points, much of what can be stolen is still buried in physical machines and data units that can be broken into once removed from your facility. Preventing criminals from entering your building altogether cuts down the possibility what’s inside can be accessed.
  2. Consult Security Tests - Hiring an outside specialist who knows how to test infiltration points is your best friend when it comes to knowing for sure whether or not your system’s security is air tight. If they can get in, you’re not losing everything, and will know what to improve upon.
  3. Personal Device Protocol – Personal electronic devices can be detriments to certain access points. Smart phones that employees have connected to the wifi is as simple as it gets to allowing hackers to tap the network and get whatever data they want being transferred between the device and server. Your IT team can set up minimum security requirements so these outside devices won;t be able to access the network in the first place.

 

Small businesses have it especially tough when it comes to maintaining the security of their data. One breach can ruin the trust of an entire community, which is usually how small businesses thrive in the first place. Don’t allow your business to suffer.

Scheduling Hassles Are Disappearing

Written by Brandi Bennett

Monday, October 6th, 2014

google now

Scheduling

Scheduling matters. It’s a concept that everyone is made aware of from an early age; first with working to make sure that you’re up and dressed and ready to go for school on time, and later as a busy entrepreneur, a seasoned CEO, or as a new start-up owner. It doesn’t matter what your position is in the world, from the time that you’re old enough to go to school, you have a basic concept of what a schedule is, and that you’re supposed to be on one.

As you get older, these schedules become more and more important. You’re no longer on your own time as you were when you were a child on those lazy days of summer; the doctor can only see you at a set time, you’ve got to be at work at a certain time, and you’ve got that conference call at a certain time. Everything is on someone’s schedule.

 

Partial Systems

Over time, you come to have a system; that system may be sticky notes all over the place, a calendar on the wall in the kitchen, or even a reminder programmed into your phone. Still, you’ve got to remember to add all those important tasks to that calendar, into your phone, or write them down. The human mind can only remember so many things. If there’s not a system in place, it becomes easy to forget (“failing to plan is planning to fail,” after all). Little things, it may be argued, are okay to forget: failing to pick up an item out of the twenty you need from the grocery store is one thing, but failing to meet your boss to talk about a raise is something else entirely.

 

Tools

With today’s digital world, there are a host of different programs available that work to ensure that you can keep track of the events that make up the fifteen minute blocks of time that your days have been regulated to; still, in order for these tools to work, they require you to remember to input that information into their program.

Every email client and every online email provider has a calendar equivalent that can be utilized, and there are hundreds more that come in the form of apps or programs that may be installed; and yet, none of these are intuitive enough to be able to take your life and act as a secretary, at least, not until now. For those of you who use Gmail, there is a new light on the horizon; if you use Google’s Calendar, Google Now will take the conversations you have in your email and infer calendar events, asking you automatically if you want these events added to your calendar. What’s more is that the program will likewise notify you, based on how you setup the notifications, in advance, thus ensuring that you don’t miss an event simply because you forgot. The program will take everything from confirmation emails regarding travel plans to your message to your next door neighbor asking if he wants to get together for a barbecue on Saturday night and prompt you to see if you want the event added.

Now, it won’t create the events automatically, and if you forget after the notification, it’s hardly the program’s fault, but the fact of the matter is that this is a far more intuitive method than others currently available. Combine this with Google’s ability to setup business email addresses for the company, and you have a way to work to ensure that your employees will be able to make all their meetings without issue. While it’s not the be all and end all for all people, it does offer an additional means of working to ensure that your business runs smoothly, regardless of what that business is.

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