Being Virtual: Top Virtual Business Tools We Can’t Live Without

Since its inception in 2002, Out-Smarts has been a virtual organisation.Being a Virtual Business | Out-Smarts We had a brief flirtation with bricks and mortar a few years ago but it wasn’t a good fit.

A virtual organization is an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication. Virtual organizations do not represent a firm’s attribute but can be considered as a different organizational form.

Or in plain English – a business that has no physical location that depends on technology to operate effectively.

Virtual Business Benefits

In 2018, a business like ours doesn’t need to have an office. The ubiquity of online tools makes that possible. These tools make it easier to start and grow a business since your overheads are much lower (which is especially important in a place like Vancouver where office space is at a premium). But big businesses are clueing into the benefits too.  Telecommunications giant TELUS has a goal of having 40% of their team members working on a mobile basis, 30% working within TELUS buildings, and another 30% working from home full time.

Not only does being virtual keep your costs lower but it’s also way better for the planet as well. Teams who work from their home office don’t have to drive or take public transit which means less pollution being emitted into our planet each day. It also leads to higher scalability. With a physical office, increasing your staff often requires moving into a larger office space. With a virtual team, you can scale up your business without worrying about the extra costs associated with the required square footage.

Even back in 2002, it was possible to run a business virtually as long as you had an internet connection (although those were a lot slower back then), good processes and communication channels in place. This still rings true, although it’s much easier now thanks to cloud computing, apps and social media.

More importantly, though, working for a virtual company is good for the soul. It gives your team more flexibility to put their lives and families before their work (which is the way it should be anyway), it gives them more flexible work hours and no commute time which makes them happier and more likely to stay not to mention more productive. Happy Team = Happy Company = Happy Customers.

Of course, no good thing is without its drawbacks. With a virtual business, there is a risk of isolation, less cohesiveness, and a lack of camaraderie amongst employees. In a virtual environment, there is much less opportunity for spontaneous conversations that could lead to collaboration or new ideas. There’s also the chance that things can get lost in translation or misconstrued in electronic communications. To tackle this at Out-Smarts, we make sure to stay on top of our social side, and even schedule it into our calendars each month. We have weekly update calls with our team members, take the time to ask about our respective weekends on Monday mornings, and get the whole team together for beers once a month.

We’ve come a long way since 2002 when it comes to optimizing our virtual business, but we’re always keeping an eye out for new ways to improve our company culture and create a rewarding experience for customers and team members. Along the way, we’ve picked up an arsenal of tools that have become mainstays for productivity and efficiency. Here are our favourite tools for running a virtual business:

Virtual business tools that we can’t live without:

We’ve never met our bookkeeper, she lives in the US but that doesn’t matter – online accounting and invoicing software (Quickbooks) allows us to easily share financials.

Teamwork – This project management tool has recently come to the top of our list of must-haves. Team members can see all ongoing projects, tasks, and deadlines at a glance which helps keep everyone on track. It also enables us to give clients an insight into what we do for them and lets us set deadlines, hours and stay on top of communications.

Boomerang for Gmail – This is a tool for anyone battling an overstuffed inbox! Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to be sent out at a later date, set reminders to follow up, and take emails out of your inbox until you need them.

Google Docs and Google Drive– We are able to share all of our documents and spreadsheets and it’s perfect for collaborating on a project in real time. We’re also able to categorize our projects and link back to Teamwork.

Google Calendar – The integration with Google Calendar and the rest of the G-Suite tools makes this an easy choice. We use it to schedule meetings, pencil in vacation time, and invite attendees to events. It also integrates with Google Maps which helps by calculating trip times and sending prompts for when you need to leave.

Office 365 – This classic suite of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive is a mainstay for creating content.

1Password – It took us a few tries to find a password vault that worked well for us. We found 1Password to be the right fit for our company as it lets us store documents, logins, and other confidential information in one place.

SquareUp – This is a free point of sale app that lets us accept card payments, manage invoices, and give digital and printed receipts.

WordPress – We build all of our websites on WordPress. We love the versatility of being able to create beautifully designed custom websites on a trusted platform.

Hootsuite – We schedule, manage, and monitor social content for our clients through Hootsuite.

Grasshopper – Virtual phone systems like Grasshopper have helped us run our business through our cell phones. We can host phone extensions for everyone on our team, set up call forwarding, voicemail, and more.

JoinMe and Zoom – For a team to work together towards the same goal, there needs to be the occasional conference call. We like web conferencing tools like JoinMe and Zoom, and even use them for meetings with out of town clients.

Skype – For getting in touch with clients in the US, we rely on Skype for free online calls, messaging, and affordable international calling to mobiles or landlines.

With the use of the tools above, office communications are available to us from almost anywhere in the world. These technologies we’ve adopted not only streamline communication but provide practical services that empower our team to stay on task and stay engaged.

Need help growing your business? Contact us to find out what we can do.

Website Launch: Salt Spring Sea Salt

We have a new website launch for Salt Spring Sea Salt that we’re excited to share!

Owners Philippe Marill and Carolyn Kvajic, a husband and wife team, first introduced the gourmet finishing salt at the island’s popular Saturday market. In just a few years, online sales have grown exponentially. Salt Spring Sea Salt is now available in select retail shops in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and the United States. Salt Spring Sea Salt is getting noticed for many reasons, from the purity of the product and process, to the exceptional taste.

WordPress Website

Phillippe and Carolyn needed a website that suited the needs of their growing business. We created a custom web design with full ecommerce capabilities to draw customers in and reflect their west coast values. Sea salt is a niche market, so we wanted to create a site that conveys their natural approach to harvesting and the simplicity of island living. We started from scratch and figured out exactly what our clients needed, and worked our way out from there, creating a website with clean lines and beautiful images of Salt Spring Island.

It was the pairing of a French culinary tradition with a natural West Coast resource – along with a dash of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit – that created Salt Spring Sea Salt. Established in 2014, the Canadian company is based on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and is garnering international recognition for its pure, handcrafted fleur de sel.

Phillippe and Carolyn are passionate about producing a gourmet finishing salt that rivals the very best French sea salt, and providing their customers with exceptional service. This dedication to quality has garnered a lot of attention – from a Royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to being featured as a Pit Stop on The Amazing Race Canada.

SEO and Analytics

We worked with Salt Spring Sea Salt to make sure that they didn’t just have a beautiful website, but a search engine optimized one as well. We wanted to make sure that they had all the tools in place to boost their fleur de sel to the top of their niche in Google searches. Providing SEO services on all of our websites ensures that our clients get a increase in online visibility and can generate more business.

We are proud to work with clients like Phillippe and Carolyn to help them achieve websites that are not only beautiful to visit, but are intuitive to navigate and deliver results.

Top 10 Tips to Quickly Build Your Instagram Following

We were woefully late to Instagram as a company. Our team members had been using it for years and we’ve been building there for our clients but our corporate Insta feed was sorely neglected. In fact, we just launched it this spring, but in true Out-Smarts fashion, when we decide to do something (however late to the game we are), we do it right. We’d like to share with you some tips on how we went from 34 to 1034 followers in the space of 2 short months.

But first a little about the app, Instagram is a photo and video sharing app owned by Facebook. There are currently 800 million users on Instagram, and 51% of users access the platform at least once per day. Over 80% of accounts on Instagram follow a business, but two-thirds of profile visits to businesses come from people who aren’t following that business. The largest segment of Instagram users are aged between 18 – 24 with a pretty even split between men and women. With impressive stats like these, it’s no surprise more and more businesses are joining the Instagram game.

Tips to Grow Your Business Following on Instagram

  1. Take time to craft a good bio that conveys what you do, who you do it for. Make it upbeat and interesting. You can also use the bio to link back to things you want to promote through hyperlinks, mentions, and hashtags. With a bio that speaks directly to your target audience, you’ll attract more quality followers who are more likely to become your customers.
  2. Post regularly – the best way to determine how often to post is by trial and error and will really depend on your audience. Test and try different frequencies and monitor engagement to help you decide. Once you have found a rhythm that works – stay consistent for the best results.
  3. Like and comment – the more you interact on Instagram, the more people will interact back with you. Be focused as to who you interact with – remember your target audience and hone in on that.
  4. Follow – to build your following you have to follow the right feeds. Get in the habit each day of following Instagram feeds in your target area. Keep an eye on your follower to following ratio. You can also use tools like Instazood that help automate this for you but be extra careful to monitor this often to ensure you don’t run into any issues that could get you banned.
  5. Share the love – despite all the selfies out there, your Instagram business feed shouldn’t just be all about you. Share the love and great stories of your clients and customers and tag them in your posts.
  6. Use hashtags, these are key to getting your content found. You can use up to 30 tags but 11 seems to be the optimal number (again trial and error will help determine this for you). Hashtags are a series of letters, symbols or emojis preceded by the # that makes them hyperlinkable. Choose hashtags that describe your business, the purpose of your account, your target market, and your location. We also recommend choosing hashtags that have between 50,000 to 200,000 tags so you have a better chance of standing out. …. You can use tools like Hashtagify me to help identify popular ones to use, then there are also hashtags that encourage reciprocation.
  7. How does your feed look – Instagram pages are quickly becoming the home page for many companies. While a matching feed isn’t necessary to grow your following, take the time to curate your page so future followers know exactly what to expect when they follow you. Be consistent and plan out the look of your Instagram feed before you post, using a visual planner like Later.
  8. Share with Instagram Stories – Posting to your Instagram Story as a business is a fun and creative way to connect with your audience, grow your engagement, build brand awareness, and drive traffic to your website. Since stories only have a 24-hour lifespan, it’s the perfect place to share your journey, community posts, behind-the-scenes shots, and sneak peaks.
  9. Take great photos – Curate your feed to be the best representation of your brand. Put your best foot forward and post relevant, high-quality photos to attract your target audience.
  10. Take advantage of captions – this is the space where you have an opportunity to share more about your brand and your story with your followers. This is also an area many businesses overlook, so take the time to write out an engaging caption and you’ll be rewarded with a more engaged audience.

With over 1 billion active monthly users, it’s no surprise that getting more Instagram followers is a big priority for most businesses. We hope these tips serve as a helpful start for anyone hoping to grow their Instagram following. Not sure how to implement these strategies for your business? Learn how Out-Smarts can help you achieve success on Instagram.

Website Not Secure – Here’s What You Need To Do

Imagine if people trying to visit your website got an alert saying that your website is not secure. Do you think it would deter them? Hell, yes it would! That’s what’s going to start happening in July on websites that have HTTP when people visit using the latest version of Chrome browser (Chrome 68) visit.

Chrome is the most popular browser used worldwide with about 50% penetration. So if your site doesn’t have encryption with an SSL/TLS certificate and HTTPS set up this affects you.Website Security Out-Smarts Marketing

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure and works as a layer of security between the client (visitor)  and the site when a connection is established. Data that usually moves from the site to the client and vice versa in plain text is encrypted securely by the browser when a TLS certificate is in place. That means eavesdroppers won’t be able to read important information from your users, like passwords and credit card numbers, in plain text.

Up until now this alert only appeared on form pages (i.e. contact forms) but moving forward it’s going to show up on all pages that aren’t secured.

What to expect for non HTTPS sites? In July you can expect to see a drop in traffic to your site, conversions will likely fall too. You may also see a drop in your page rank – where you show up in Google search. Google started lowering the rank of non encrypted sites three years ago.

What Should You Do

First check to make sure you don’t already have HTTPS set up.

Then decide on an SSL certificate. They vary in prices from free to the most expensive we’ve seen which was over one hundred dollars. There is a newer free way to get TLS certificates through an initiative called Let’s Encrypt. Certificates created this way expire every three months, but most hosts have an automated solution to renew the certificate before it expires, so you don’t have to do anything once it’s set up.

More expensive purchased certificates often come with additional insurance for online transactions, which might be desired if you are running an online store. Purchased certificates expire less frequently than free ones provided by Let’s Encrypt, lasting as long as 3 years.

Once you’ve made the switch, there’s still a little work to do if you use Google Analytics or AdWords. You can find out more about that on our previous post about website security.

WordPress websites also need to be updated to ensure your pages don’t show up with a “mixed content” warning, which means that some materials (often images) are being embedded on the page using an unencrypted connection (i.e. http:// instead of https://, note the s).

If you need us to do this for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Website Launch: Vital Plumbing + Heating

We are excited to announce the launch of the new Vital Plumbing + Heating website.

Vital Plumbing Website by Out-Smarts Marketing

Vital Plumbing + Heating is a locally-based and family owned company that has a long history with their clients in the Lower Mainland. They handle projects of all sizes, whether their clients are in the initial phases of a construction project or repairing the heating systems in an apartment building, they have a team of dedicated professionals ready to provide expert knowledge and service.   

WordPress Website

We worked with Vital Plumbing + Heating to create their vision of a WordPress website with a streamlined user interface that draws potential clients in with a fresh feel and easy to navigate design. Because dealing with the internal plumbing of a home can be stressful for homeowners and construction companies alike, we wanted to create a site that conveys a professional, simple solution to whatever issues they may have. To achieve this, we used a combination of clean lines and captivating imagery to attract their target audience.

Formerly known as Pacific Coast Ventures Inc., the foundation of what is now Vital Plumbing + Heating is a true Canadian immigrant success story. Arriving here with modest means, founder Ahmad Arang gained employment and Red Seal journeyman qualifications and went on to start his own business from scratch. Almost 20 years later, armed with a team of local experts, their company is well established with a proven track record of excellence.

SEO and Analytics

We worked with Vital Plumbing + Heating to make sure that they didn’t just have a beautiful website, but a search engine optimized one as well. Providing SEO services on all of our websites ensures that our clients get a boost in online visibility and can generate more business. As with all of our builds, we submitted the website to Google Analytics and Bing to gain more exposure.

We are proud to work with companies such as Vital Plumbing + Heating to help them achieve websites that are not only beautiful to visit, but are intuitive to navigate and deliver results.