Clever business tech tools to improve business efficiency – lessons from the startups

Startups and small businesses are different beasts, but that doesn’t mean one can’t learn from the other. Startups are focused on growing ideas into big businesses as fast as possible. It makes sense they would utilise the most efficient tools of the trade. Andy Lamb, co-founder of Perth’s Atomic Sky startup studio, specialises in helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. But he is also passionate about taking some of the practices of startups to the wider business community.

By cherry-picking software tools commonly used by startups, any SME could become a more agile and efficient company, he said. Most are available on a ‘freemium’ pricing strategy, which means the base level application is free with a premium charged for higher level functions. This is Lamb’s pick of the bunch.

Quick and easy website creation

Squarespace:?Launched in 2004, Squarespace is a drag and drop website builder with a strong design focus. There are around a million paying users. Squarespace delivers rich imagery with extensive, easy styling options which allow pages to be tweaked without fiddling with code. All page templates are responsive (i.e. they will automatically resize to fit any screen size), which is particularly important as traffic from mobile devices escalates. Squarespace also offers ‘cover pages’, which can be used as one-page, stand-alone websites or combined with other templates.

Wix:?Wix has built a reputation for continuous innovation and improvement, which has helped it build an impressive base of 1.8 million paying users. Wix includes (and is always developing) a range of industry specific tools to help niche industries – such as musicians or B&B operators – to build their businesses. Wix is considered by many to be the most innovative website builder, keeping abreast of design trends and introducing advanced features for users.

Social/Digital Marketing Tools

Hootsuite: This dashboard-style tool helps businesses integrate and manage multiple social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Hootsuite hit the headlines shortly after it was launched when, in 2009, President Barack Obama’s media team signed the @WhiteHouse twitter account up to Hootsuite. The company is a ‘unicorn’, a tag given to startups valued at upwards of $1billion.

Buffer: This software application allows users to manage and schedule social media posts across various platforms, with a specialist Buffer for Business extension launched in 2013. Buffer for Business provides more detailed analytics and allows for comparison of feedback on posts from different platforms. It also allows more team members to manage multiple social media accounts depending on the size of the plan. For example, a ‘small business’ plan allows for 25 social media accounts to be managed by up to five people.

Communication Tools

Slack:?While email may be good for communication, it is not necessarily helpful for the collaboration or problem-solving which drives a business forward. Software such as Slack is the new must-have for internal information sharing. Slack has chat rooms, private groups and direct messaging, with all content (files, conversations and people) searchable.

Website/Online Analytics Tools

Google Analytics:?This free tool gives website operators basic, through to extremely detailed, information about who is accessing their website, what search or link they used to get there, and what they are doing once there. It can tell businesses whether people are accessing their site from a mobile device or laptop, how long they spend on the site and what they look at. Google Analytics can even break users into related cohorts and provide data on how different market segments use the site. Use ‘conversions’ and ‘goals’ on the analytics dashboard to track ROI (return on investment) data.

KISSmetrics:?So, what is the difference between KISSmetrics and Google Analytics? While both analyse web traffic, KISSmetrics is more focused on tracking the behaviour of individuals rather than building a picture of overall website use. A KISSmetrics blog explains: ‘‘We use Google Analytics to get session data, view a general engagement (time on page and site), and check referral data. We use our own product… to get insights into how our customers are using our product, discover our customer acquisition channels…and gather data that can help us make better decisions.’’

Project Management/To-Do Tools

Trello:?This collaborative project management tool can condense the most complex tasks down to a visually simplistic one-page flow chart, called a project board. These boards are divided into ‘lists’, with each list composed of several project ‘cards’. Clicking on each card reveals detailed information about discrete task required to complete the project. Team members can be assigned to, and comment on each card, with due dates and alerts set for each task. Trello is most useful when the focus is on a specific flow of tasks required for the project to move forward.

Basecamp:?Basecamp sells itself as a ‘‘world-famously-easy-to-use’’ solution to successful collaboration. Like Trello, it breaks projects down into a series of tasks and to-do lists. In terms of differentiating the two applications, Basecamp is more focused on facilitating the communication that needs to happen around a project, while Trello is about sequencing the tasks required.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management)?Systems

Pipedrive: Pipedrive, as the name implies, helps small and medium businesses track their sales pipeline. Pipedrive organises leads and provides an overview of sales as they progress. It gives managers an overview, at a glance, of what staff are working on and allows them to prioritise deals. Pipedrive syncs with Google contacts and Google calendar.

Salesforce:?An array of cloud-based tools within the Salesforce suite can help manage and prioritise leads as well as manage service relationships with existing customers. Salesforce IQ links to both Gmail and, more recently, Outlook accounts to capture data on meetings, emails and phone calls. Salesforce updates the progress of any sales accordingly and captures data to make predictive notifications and update schedules.

Open for business — small business on the government agenda

Newly appointed small business and family enterprise ombudsman Kate Carnell hopes to put a blow-out in payment times to small business on the agenda. She speaks exclusively to us about her role and how it will benefit SMEs.

The independent office of small business and family enterprise ombudsman provides advice to the government and assistance to SMEs with less than 100 employees. Inaugural ombudsman Kate Carnell was appointed in March.

Ms Carnell ran a pharmacy in Canberra for 15 years before entering politics and heading a Liberal minority government in the ACT from 1995-2000. She has served as CEO of Beyond Blue and led the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for two years.

What is the difference between the role of ombudsman and that of the small business commissioner, which it replaced?

The major difference is that this role is independent. This role was set up under legislation, which created an independent entity with significantly more powers than the old commissioner’s role had. So I can instigate inquiries and we can, under certain circumstances, require people to turn up and to give us information – the same sort of powers in some ways as Royal Commissions have. And my appointment is by the Governor-General, so I don’t report to government.

Has small business always been part of your life?

Absolutely. Dad ran his own business. He was an accountant. He and his brother and brother-in-law set up a residential building company, which started the year I was born. My brother also runs a building company in Brisbane. My son bought his own restaurant about 12 months ago. And my daughter’s a barrister – so self-employed. I think being self-employed is very much part of our genetics.

What do you think are the toughest things about running a business?

The thing about small business, I suppose, is that your house is riding on it. And there’s nobody to blame. It’s pretty all-encompassing. I always tell people who think they’re going into small business so that they can have a better work/life balance that possibly they’re choosing the wrong approach. It’s certainly true it can be flexible, but it certainly won’t mean more leisure time.

If you could go back to before you started your first business, what advice would you give yourself?

I would say: ‘It’s really important to have thinking time.’ I did what most small business owners do. I just worked extraordinarily long hours and did everything I could possibly do to help the business – what turned out to be a few businesses – prosper and grow. But I probably didn’t spend enough time thinking strategically. And I suppose – like every single businessperson – I would say: ‘It is really important to keep some focus, some balance between your personal life and your business life.’ You only get one shot. And being in the situation I was, where I spent a huge amount of time away from my family, is something I regret. You can’t get that back.

You’ve been in the role a short time but how do you see it functioning?

The role of the office is probably 70 per cent advocacy and 30 per cent assistance. So the majority of the job isn’t just complaints, but to ensure that small business and family enterprises are heard inside government and also that the marketplace is as fair as possible for small businesses.

You’ve said dispute resolution is going to be a big part of that 30 percent. How will it work?

What we’ll be trying to get across is `Please come to us early’. It’s really hard solving things that are already in the court system. So come to us early and we’ll give advice on where is the best place to get your problem solved – and help you get there. We won’t be just duck-shoving. We’ll be helping people get to where is most appropriate. It might be ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission). It might be a Commonwealth ombudsman. It might be the telecommunications ombudsman. There’s a chunk of these entities around, but it’s really hard for small business to determine where to go. And for those cases that don’t fit anywhere, or where people haven’t achieved the outcome that they want, we’ll take them onboard. Depending on the issue, I’ll write to the CEO if the other party is a big business, or to the head of department if it’s a government department, outlining the issues and seeking information.

It might not occur to many small businesses to approach you for help?

I think that’s the problem. We need small business to understand that we are here to help and support them. The reason the legislation was passed – with support from all sides of politics – was the understanding that small-to-medium businesses often don’t know how to manage the system. Our job will be to help them.

It can be a dispute with a bigger company. It can be an issue with the bank. It can be an issue with the ATO (Australian Tax Office). It’s amazing how often if you elevate the problem to senior management or CEOs that things can be solved. Often problems are really about middle managers following the rules without a solid dash of common sense.

I’ll give you an example. Yesterday I spoke to a person who lost a lot of business as a result of the RSRT (Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal)’s payments determination and was struggling with their BAS payments. She said: ‘Look, I’ve rung the ATO and I’ve told them I want to enter into a payment plan because we’re really struggling, but we think we’ll get out of it in a couple of months.’ The ATO had been polite but not terribly helpful. So I rang the ATO at a more senior level, explained the situation and they said, `Of course. We’ll make sure our guys are briefed that there’s an issue and to help people with payment plans.”

The ATO doesn’t want to send people broke when they really want to pay. Even a letter from me to CEOs of companies about issues that small businesses might be experiencing – fairly obviously they have to have a real case. But it’s amazing how often problems are solved that senior management or CEOs had no idea was happening.

Is it the case that the Government needs to do more, or does it need to communicate what it already does better?

Oh, absolutely the second one. I’m amazed at the number of things that are available through Government, both State and Federal. There was one recently where there are grants for small business to address internet security. I didn’t know about that. [https://www.business.gov.au/assistance/cyber-security-small-business-programme]. There are surprising things out there, but the challenge is to get the information across to the people who need it. We’re also currently conducting a consultation of small businesses asking them what’s on their mind, what are the issues.

So, what are the issues?

Look – some of the things are the things you would expect – payroll tax, red tape issues like BAS. But also things like payment times. There seems to be a pretty systemic problem with bigger businesses blowing out payment times to smaller businesses. And these are issues that really cause problems for small business. You can’t say to your staff, ‘Sorry we’ll pay you in 90 days’. And if you’re a café owner, you can’t say to the person who delivers the bread and milk, ‘We’ll pay you in 90 days’. You don’t need a big blowout to cause a large problem for a small business that’s really got nowhere to go really.

You have consulted with SMEs to formulate an ‘advocacy agenda’. What’s top of the list?

I’d hope we’d be announcing our first (self-generated) inquiry soon and I’d think it’s probably going to be payment times. But the other thing that’s important is that one of the functions of this office is to provide small business input (to the Federal Government) on new regulations and new legislation (before it is enacted). My experience of government is that government doesn’t mean to do stuff that gets in the way of small business. Say, the hiring legislation – some things were done in this piece of legislation that has really impacted on small business. Government didn’t mean to do it. It just ended up them not understanding the difference between big business and small business and the way they operate. But trying to undo the problem is really difficult. We’ll get there. But if we’d picked it up (while the legislation was in draft stage) we could have solved the problem before it happened. That’s the plan. And that’s the role (of ombudsman).

Visit the small business and family business ombudsman’s website at http://asbfeo.gov.au/

Ombudsman Kate Carnell encourages all businesses to sign up to the office’s newsletter to stay abreast of developments that impact them

Holding business to ransom — what is ransomware and what do I need to do to ensure my business is safe?

Small business owners have been warned to step up their computer security processes as ‘ransomware’ attacks become more prevalent and sophisticated.

Cyber security experts have dubbed 2016 the Year of Ransomware with attacks that lock computer databases increasingly targeted at Australian businesses.

Small to medium businesses could be more vulnerable to attack, a Perth academic warned?if multiple users had administrator access and cyber-security was not a priority. “We see a news item almost every day of the week (on ransomware),” said Dr Zubair Baig, senior lecturer in cyber security at Edith Cowan University’s School of Computer and Security Science. “It’s a major issue these days. I see this as a serious threat to enterprises. Frequently it’s na?ve users – people who don’t know how to secure a machine or a bunch of machines in a small or medium enterprise – that are the first victims,” Dr Baig tells us.

“Essentially anybody who would be willing to open an email attachment would be vulnerable.” Ransomware, he explained, did not involve stealing data. But rather, was a virus that encrypted files (including client databases) on host computers. This effectively locked the information until a ‘ransom’ was paid in return for a decryption key. The virus was commonly delivered via scam email attachments and could be crippling to businesses.

In March 2015 the Australian Federal Police issued a warning after a ransomware email purporting to be an AFP subpoena was delivered to thousands of Australians.

Cybercriminals usually demanded the equivalent of $400-500 in untraceable cryptocurrencies, such as BitCoin. “$500 per victim and multiply that by 10 victims a day – that’s $5,000,” Dr Baig said. It was affordable for victims but generated significant income for scammers. “The business model works out perfectly, and the trails are concealed so we can’t actually find out who carried out the attack.”

A report released last year ranked Australia second only to the US in the number of ransomware attacks, with the numbers of attacks on businesses rather than individuals jumping from 16 per cent in 2014 to 28 per cent in 2015. The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has revealed it was hit by an attack and paid a ransom of AU$460 in 2015.

Many businesses reason that paying the ransom is cheaper and faster than paying IT experts to ‘crack’ complex encryption codes. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received more than 2,500 complaints about ransomware last year, with an estimated $400,000 paid to attackers. However, a spokeswoman told ABC News this was the tip of the iceberg, as many attacks went unreported.5 Experts warn ransomware attacks are becoming more sophisticated, skimming social media accounts to deliver personalised mail attacks. In March, security firm MailGuard reported an email that appeared to be parcel delivery notifications from Australia Post.

Those who opened “tracking details” found their computers locked and a ransom demanded. The sudden explosion in ransomware was due to a confluence of technological advances, Dr Baig said.

The advent of cryptocurrencies, such as BitCoin, provided untraceable payment methods, while greater connectivity increased the vulnerability of computer systems. The ‘Tor’ network or ‘dark web’ also allowed cybercriminals to hide the source of emails, minimising the risk of being caught. Dr Baig and his colleague Nikolai Hampton found more than 80 per cent of recent ransomware strains were using advanced security features, which made them difficult to detect, and advanced encryption, which rendered them practically impossible to ‘crack’.

But despite the increasing sophistication of ransomware, Dr Baig said attacks were not difficult to prevent or mitigate if SMEs followed some simple steps to stay on top of online security. The Federal Government intends to offer grants of up to $2,100 for small businesses to have their cyber security professionally vetted (applications open in the 2017/2018 financial year).

For more information, please visit ?www.business.gov.au/assistance/cyber-security-small-business-programme

To protect against ransomware attacks (Courtesy Z Baig and N Hampton, Edith Cowan University)

  • Don’t fall prey to social engineering or phishing, which is where an attacker attempts to have you reveal sensitive information to them. If you receive a suspicious email from your grandma or work colleagues, ask yourself whether it’s unusual before you click. If you’re not sure, contact the sender via a different medium, such as giving them a phone call, to crosscheck.
  • Don’t install any software, plugins or extensions unless you know they’re from a reputable source. If in doubt, ask and only rely on trusted download sources. And certainly don’t be tempted to pick up USB sticks found on your pathway.
  • Update your software (comprising your operating system, web browser and other installed software) regularly to ensure you are always running the latest versions.
  • Backup! Important documents need to be treated like valued possessions. Grab a handful of USB keys and rotate your backups daily or weekly, and don’t leave USB keys plugged in (current malware strains can scan removable USB disks). Having multiple copies means the adversarial effort of holding you for ransom is pretty much worthless.
  • Use reputable network defence mechanisms. A software firewall and anti-malware are advisable to regularly scan your machines looking for vulnerabilities and plugging holes at the right time.

 

WA Gala Award Winners 2016

Thank you to all those who attended last week’s 2016 WA Gala Awards. The night was a huge success with close to 450 in attendance at Crown Perth.

The Gala Awards, is an occasion to recognise and reward our West Australian members, on the back of their success over the past financial year. In what has been somewhat of a tricky year, for the industry and market, the results you’ve all demonstrated have been impressive to say the least.

To the finalists: You should be proud, of your outstanding accomplishments. We strongly encourage you to continue striving for excellence in all that you do and to take advantage of opportunities to surround yourself with others to help you continue that journey.

For a list of all the finalists and winners, please scroll to the end of this post.

 

 

sydney
Next year all AFG members will be invited to the AFG National Broker Conference in Sydney. It is destined to be one of the biggest broker gatherings ever held in Australia. We’re anticipating over 1,000 brokers will be in attendance.

Next year’s Masterclass and State Broker Award functions will be incorporated into this National Conference. With everyone coming together on the last night for a Grand Closing Gala Event.

The access to your peers and lenders will be unprecedented. It’s a conference that we’re thrilled to be able to offer to so many. Once registrations open we encourage you to secure your spot early as places will be limited.

Keep an eye on your inbox in the coming months for further information.

We’re looking forward to bringing all of our people together in June 2017.

 

Our 2016 WA Gala winners

 

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Craig Smith

David Moore

Gary Harle

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Rod Linton

Rory Cowman

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Kevin Gomer

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Better Choice Mortgage Services

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Mayank Pankhania

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Troy Baxter

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[vc_accordion_tab title=”WA AFG Home Loans Loan Writer of the Year”]

Philip Wall

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John Correia

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Geoffrey Long

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Kyle Salomone

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Belinda Bradshaw

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Adam Donald

Joshua De Buelle

Kevin Gomer

Mark Nguyen

Phillip Nguyen

Richard Tang

Andrew Siegert

Anna Vanopoulos

Belinda Bradshaw

Craig Wilschefski

David Moore

Dean Riordan

Gary Harle

Jason Blackburne

Jie (Jane) Yang

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[vc_column width=”1/2″]Jim Klifunis

John Correia

Jonathan Chin

Mayank Pankhania

Paul Hamilton

Paul Prindiville

Ravindran Arumugam

Rhys Dillon

Rhys Orchard

Rory Cowman

Sandi Vozarevic

Satyam Dave

Sebastian Scurria

Troy Quintal

Vic Giannakis

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Better Choice Mortgage Services

Capita Finance Solutions Pty Ltd

IFG Home Loans

Mortgage Australia Group

Professionals Finance

St James Finance Corporation Pty Ltd

Amani Finance

Blackburne Mortgage Broking

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[vc_column width=”1/2″]Equity Finance & Mortgages Pty Ltd

FinanceCorp

Home Loan Republic Pty Ltd

Lifespan Mortgage Services

Nicheliving Home Loans

North West Finance (WA) Pty Ltd

Peard Finance

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How do I market to my local area?

Local area marketing (known as LAM in the advertising world) hardly needs definition — essentially it is the promotion of your business to encourage local clients to your door.

It can include initiatives such as placing an ad in your local paper, promoting your business in local shopfronts or newsletters, or local outdoor signage or directories — be they printed or online. More and more it also refers to digital and social media campaigns where you can predefine your target audience to be those living or working within a certain area, or web advertising where you use your local area in your specified keywords.

At a tactical level, you could consider sponsoring a local sporting or cultural group within your area, working with local businesses to leave copies of your marketing materials in their foyer or high traffic areas. You could also look at what events and celebrations are held in your neighbourhood that would be an appropriate vehicle to promote your business.

The keys to successful local area marketing are pretty simple. Know your audience, know your market and give them what they want – find your solution that fits their need. Get to know who you’re talking to and what subjects or industry news will be most appealing to them. Is your local area slanted towards particular needs and wants? Target and tailor your messages so they hit the mark every time.

Talk to your local media and position yourself as the always-available, go-to person when it comes to your industry or field. Write a small article for your local paper on neighbourhood trends, moves, and how you’re helping locals. Use data from external sources (that you quote and gain approvals from) to validate the points you’re trying to make.

Think about hosting or holding an event, or even sponsoring an existing one. Work with businesses in your local area.

Engage. Become an integral part of your local community. Attend events, sponsor events, give back to your neighbourhood, and join clubs and talk to other businesses about how you can help each other grow. Share your success stories with your local following on Facebook, (with your customers’ consent and on a first name basis only) and share with your followers just how you’re helping your clients get ahead.

AFG Mortgage Index – June Quarter 2016

Homebuyers on the lookout for savings as financial year wraps up

Australian Finance Group (ASX: AFG) has today released its Mortgage Index for the final quarter of financial year 2016. AFG’s overall loan volume grew by 7% for the full financial year driven by varying results around the country.

AFG General Manager Sales and Operations Mark Hewitt said the result was as forecast by AFG when they released their prospectus last year. “The results today are reflective of how we saw the market tracking.

“The traditional powerhouse states of Victoria and NSW led the way, up 16.6 % and 12.2% respectively. South Australia was up 12.2% for the financial year and Queensland recorded a lift of 4.2% on the previous financial year. On the flipside a drop of 13.4% in WA was not unexpected as the state comes to terms with life post-mining boom.

“Pleasingly the non-majors have lifted to 29.1% of the market,” said Mr Hewitt, with AFG’s own white label AFG Home Loans products finishing the year strongly to generate a market share of 7.2% for the final quarter.

“The numbers are strong despite a turbulent run in to the end of the financial year and the longest election campaign in memory finally coming to a close,” said Mr Hewitt. “Talk of negative gearing changes and changes to investment lending has seen many homebuyers sit on their hands.

When looking at the reasons for home loans being taken out, it would appear many Australians are choosing to shop around for a sharper rate to upgrade the family home.

“Those looking to refinance increased from 37% of AFG’s loans processed for the financial year to 38%. This result is reflective of the high level of competition amongst lenders in this low interest rate environment.” said Mr Hewitt.

“With interest rates at record lows, Australians are quite rightly checking in with their mortgage broker to ensure they are not paying too much for their home loan. The number of people choosing to stay in their homes and upgrade rather than move is also at historical highs, closing out the financial year at 33% of borrowers.

“It would also appear that many Australian home buyers are opting for the safety of knowing what their repayment will be for a set period with the number of people choosing to fix their rates increasing substantially during the year,” he said.

Fixed rate loans as a percentage of overall volume have increased from 14.5% at the start of the financial year to close at 18.7% by the end of the financial year. After peaking at 20% in April and May, the RBA’s decision to drop the cash rate in May saw many homebuyers pull back from fixed rate products as the financial year drew to a close.

“As these figures show, Australian home buyers are aware that rates are as low as they have ever been. If you have a home loan, it would be very wise to get in touch with a mortgage broker to ensure you are maximizing your opportunity to save,” concluded Mr Hewitt.

Download full report: AFG Mortgage Index Report