Tech Trends for Businesses in 2016

Posted by Ashley Choate on Apr 20, 2016 12:48:28 AM

2016 business tech trendsBusiness is an ever-changing beast, especially the technology required to do it right. Every year, the game changes, and the gadgets become more complex and more capable.

This year’s trends are in line with what you’d expect to follow last year’s constant stream of cyberattacks and advances in mobile technology—spurring an expectation of mobility and a desire for added security that consumers won’t be denied in 2016.

If you hope to keep up, you’ll need to start pushing your business towards the following major trends in the 2016 world of business.

  • Mobilize. Mobility is no longer a luxury—it’s now considered a basic human right to most consumers. Websites, purchasing options, social media, marketing tools, etc. are all expected to be easily accessible from any location at any time via tablets or mobile phones. And if you hope to tap into the real consumer market this year, mobile technology should be your primary priority. America is a land of impulsive shoppers and I-want-it-now consumers, and tech trends in business technology development have risen to meet that need. If every form of outreach and purchasing options available in your business isn’t currently mobile compatible, change that immediately.

  • Know the net, own the net—Online Marketing. Cable and radio advertising have gone the way of the do-do bird in modern business. Internet marketing and media interaction will dominate in 2016. Business technology has been merging with online media for a while now, trending towards a heavy online content focus for most business marketing campaigns. This year, effective use of graphics, keywords, location monitoring, analytics of browsing habits, etc. will be the key tools for effective business and marketing management, so get the tech to make it happen now. The more you know, the more you can own the online sales market—and that’s where all the cool kids hang these days.

  • Real content streaming. So, modern consumers aren’t like the 50’s kids who were susceptible to any kind of marketing push from even the worst commercials back in the old black and white TV days. Modern consumers are smart, savvy, and they want to know that what you’re offering them is really what they want. So, nix the cheesy commercials approach. That’s about as likely to attract quality customers as roadside sign waving in this modern era (unless your roadside guy is Channing Tatum-esque material). The current tech trends are leaning towards streaming information, real content that provides real information to your customers. Behind the scenes shows, live event coverage, discussions between industry experts, and other bits of interesting information are more effective for modern consumers than any marketing gimmick you can devise. Give them something real, and you’ll see some real money in return.

  • Cybersecurity. The biggest and most important tech trend in business technology for 2016 is cybersecurity. The last several years have seen hundreds of attacks that compromised several hundred thousand pieces of personal and payment card information. For the larger businesses, the threats were mitigated as quickly as they were discovered, but for many small businesses, the thefts had a significant and detrimental impact on the future of the business. The loss of consumer trust is one of the biggest factors, and it’s not an effect than can be easily remedied. For that reason, if you invest in nothing else this year, invest in good cybersecurity. Update to an EMV system card reader, add encryption to your website, make your firewalls virtually “bullet proof” where you can. There are never any guarantees, but the more layers of protection you can add to your systems, the less likely cyber criminals will be to continue pushing into your system when they can go for easy prey instead. Don’t be the easy prey.

Technology is a many splendored thing, and the advances in business technology continue to amaze. Don’t let your business fall behind the rest of the herd—be ahead of them by focusing on improving your mobile options, tightening up security measures, and letting the internet work for you. Connect with your customers, offer them the technology they crave, and 2016 could be your year.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Magicatwork @ Flickr CC.

Tags: 2016 business tech trends

Five Ways to Be an Awesome Employer

Posted by Ashley Choate on Apr 13, 2016 3:57:16 PM

ways to be a good employerMillennials, more than any other generation, are a picky bunch. Fortunately, they’re also wildly talented with technology and innovative thinking. Modern businesses choke or thrive based on how creative they can be with regards to attracting customers, creating useful products, and marketing themselves in an interesting way. All of that requires happy employees who not only look forward to workingk each day, but who also derive immense satisfaction from immersing themselves in the work that they do.

To make that environment a reality, employers have to rethink the concept of employment. It’s no longer a case of people just being happy to have jobs, with a few powerful individuals leading a large body of barely educated masses. The rise of the middle class, the growth and proliferation of technology within every home, and the accessibility of information and education have all contributed to a rather uniquely talented bunch of potential employees.

Now, does that mean they’re all worth hiring? Absolutely not. For every byte of information available on the internet, there’s an idiot who thinks he knows more than he actually does. But, within the masses, are those beautifully talented and employable few who could be the vital spark that makes your business boom.

And your job is to attract them. To do that, you have to make your business into the best place it can be. You have to become an awesome employer.

Below are the qualities of an awesome employer. Take a moment to consider how you might apply these to your business. Certainly there’s no one size fits all model for making your business a happy place to work, but the best employers understand that sometimes the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact, giving good employees a reason to sign on and stick around.

  • Embrace the whole person inside of each employee. Sometimes it’s hard for employers to remember that, while employees have to fill a certain role within their organization, they are also people with personal lives and private obligations outside of the workplace. The best employers embrace that fact and encourage employees to meet their personal needs as well as their professional.

  • Freebies or discounts. Everyone loves freebies. Again, employees have lives outside of work, which means they have bills and other obligations. Doing something nice every once in a while, like providing free food, is always a touching gesture. Setting up inter-business partnerships that provide discounts for employees for certain services are also beneficial for creating happy employees, not to mention what those professional relationships can do for drumming up profits if you’re smart about the arrangement.

  • Encourage creativity. Invite color. Encourage your employees to have a voice. Give them external outlets where possible. Obviously, not every work environment can be a relaxed, carefree kind of place, but encouraging creative thinking through fun exercises or providing a colorful workplace, or just letting employees dress however they want on Fridays—whatever method you choose, trust that your employees will appreciate being able to exhibit some creativity and relaxation in their workplace.

  • Abandon overly rigid structures/expectations. Along with that, step out of the overly rigid structures that normally resemble a “chain of command” or that require certain protocols for every interaction. Rigidity is stifling for many younger employees these days. They simply aren’t comfortable with the old cultural norms of specific acts of deference or overly rigid behavioral expectations. Casual and comfortable interactions with fluid behavioral expectations are generally the best way to set up a comfortable environment for employees. Again, will this model work perfectly for all businesses? No, of course not. However, the majority of workplaces that have had the most success in creating happy employee environments (Google, Starbucks, DreamWorks Studios, etc.) allow their employees to be individuals and also encourage them to pitch ideas that might not even be perfectly in line with their job titles. A good idea is a good idea, whether the janitor came up with it or the company’s CFO. We are a multi-talented society with a variety of personal and professional niches. Just because someone fell into one level of employment doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of so much more.

  • Go for fun. If you want happy employees, encourage them to enjoy themselves. If you can’t embrace the fun every single day, then set up a day once a quarter where employees can do something different, something that lights them up and makes them happy. This world of cubicles and number crunching and depressing news stories is burdensome enough. Accept the idea that work doesn’t have to be only tedious. Sometimes, it can be fun.

While there’s no perfect fix for every work environment, managers and business owners can go a long way to encourage happy employees with just a few simple steps. It boils down to trusting your judgment in hiring employees and then trusting your employees to make good choices. In between, give them incentives to do better and provide them with reminders of why they are valuable. The satisfaction such small acts will inspire can go a long way to bringing your business to a new level of success.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of @ Google CC.


EMV and Mobile Have a Long Road Ahead

Posted by Ashley Choate on Apr 6, 2016 11:33:20 AM

ThinkstockPhotos-506611350web.jpgThe transition to EMV cards in the U.S. was destined to be a complicated process. In fact, nearly six months after the transition should have been fully implemented (October 1, 2015 was the final liability shift deadline) many merchants are still lagging behind, particularly for EMV mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) systems.

EMV (which stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa), also known as a chip and pin, has been used in Europe for over two decades, but only recently did the credit card companies really push to institute the system here in the U.S.

Still, even after multiple deadline extensions, many merchants are struggling with the technology of EMV mobile POS systems—and not all of that is their fault.

The fact is the EMV systems are just much more complicated than the old magnetic strip cards, which is exactly why they’re so useful. The complex encryption capabilities and unique code transfer characteristics of the chips within the EMV cards provide layers of security for card users, to prevent hackers and cyber criminals from easily obtaining payment card information.

Thus far, the EMV cards have proven more secure than magnetic strip cards, although nothing is perfect.  Unfortunately, these complex capabilities also make it difficult to develop reliable technology to support the chip and pin cards and systems.

Below are some of the major challenges that merchants are facing with EMV mobile technology. Hopefully, with attention from entrepreneurial tech developers, these issues can eventually be overcome.

  • Creating the technology. As previously stated, EMV cards are simply more complex than the old magnetic strips. Creation of the technology for both in-store and mobile options is both expensive and time consuming. Particularly for mPOS systems, however, is developing the technology to interact with multiple streams of data in a compact form that can interact with smart phones or tablets in the same way the old magnetic strip readers did. Independent software vendors (ISVs) who build the applications, as well as developers and other software engineers, simply don’t understand all the needs of mobile merchants in all cases and the complexity of the technology is creating resistance in developing the right tools for the job.

  • EMV certification costs and queues. Another barrier in the creation of reliable EMV mobile software and hardware is the cost and wait lines for integrating software, which is largely developed by ISVs who are not always directly employed by merchant service providers, with EMV-certified mobile card readers. Once the technical side is handled, then the acquirer/process of choice and the card brands must also certify the software. The whole process is time-consuming and expensive. There’s also a massive wait for EMV mobile solutions since the priority was given to in-store or stationary options over mPOS options at the time. Currently, a backlog is preventing many potentially useful solutions from hitting the market.

  • Costly hardware. A final challenge complicating EMV mobile options is the cost of the hardware. For many merchants, free magnetic strip hardware is the only option, as paying for the EMV-capable readers cuts into the bottom line.  Until the hardware is more developed and more commonplace, many merchants will continue to utilize the cheaper magnetic strip readers, at least for mobile purchases. Unfortunately, the realities of immediate cost will often win out over the risk of having to take on the liability for card fraud in the mobile realm.

With today’s business moving steadily towards mobility, reliable EMV mobile solutions are in high demand to meet the needs of merchants across the U.S., and most developers are working diligently to make this happen. For merchants, however, the realities of cost and the complications of buggy software that’s still in the early stages of development represent a real barrier.

Making the change to an EMV mobile solution is a big decision, and hopefully more reliable options will be available on the market soon. Until then, the merchants who are choosing to stay with magnetic strip readers might want to have a good lawyer on speed dial. Full liability for fraudulent purchases is a very scary thing indeed.

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Tags: Mobile Payments, EMV

Blue Box Confectionary: Sweetening Up Dallas Businesses

Posted by Ashley Choate on Mar 29, 2016 1:43:28 PM

12801212_10206960964875007_4475803097211861007_nKaren Wicks, the owner of Blue Box Confectionary, didn’t start baking cookies because she wanted to open a business. Ultimately, she started baking cookies because . . . well, she liked baking cookies.

“I love baking, especially my sugar cookies (an old secret Midwestern family recipe),” says Wicks, discussing what moved her to turn a baking addiction into a small cottage food business based out of her home in Plano, Texas. “I would bake constantly and have to find people to give them away to because my husband found it detrimental to his waistline being surrounded by cookies.”

As Michel Fortin so eloquently stated, “Do what you love and the business will follow.”

In this case, the adage has proven true. Armed only with a love for baking, Wicks decided to start Blue Box Confectionary as a side business in January of 2015, while maintaining life as a full-time employee—of the cubicle-confined variety—and a committed mother of two active children. Then, after an unfortunate layoff at the end of the year, Wicks decided it was time to go all in.

“I found myself out of a job after cutbacks at the end of 2015 and saw this as my opportunity to grow the business into something more serious,” says Wicks. 

At the moment, Blue Box Confectionary is still small and is known as a cottage food business, which limits the company’s potential clientele. A cottage food business is a home-based, cooking/baking company run out of a person’s private residence, which was actually illegal in Texas prior to 2011 due to an inability to regulate food quality and standards.

The Texas Cottage Food Law now allows small food businesses, like Blue Box Confectionary, to exist, 10403131_10204007161871778_8339685873781847103_nbut it strictly regulates the types of foods that can be sold, the amount of profit the business can gross, and the venues or methods through which goods can be offered.

“Ideally, it will grow enough steady business to rent commercial kitchen space and become licensed as a commercial bakery business so I can ship and use ecommerce tools,” says Wicks.

Once she’s secured a commercial license, Wicks hopes to attract the larger business market instead of simple private consumers.

“My general plan is to cultivate business clients rather than private individuals. Custom cookies, cupcakes, petit fours, et cetera make great gifts for new and valued clients, as well as tasty treats for business presentations, meetings, and just because in the break room,” says Wicks.

Already, the Blue Box Confectionary Facebook page features a variety of drool-worthy photos: a cookie pyramid with ninja faces for one special birthday boy, Halloween cupcakes with fearsome candy knives protruding from pink icing brains, and beautiful leaf-shaped cookies with icing shaded in autumn yellows and reds. Clearly, these desserts are something special.

Wicks is optimistic about her future plans for the small business, and, more than anything, she’s enjoying the satisfaction of seeing her love of baking manifest into something profitable for her and enjoyable for her customers.

“It's still tiny,” says Wicks, “but I love the chance to be creative and it is very satisfying to see others enjoy something I made.”

To place an order or learn more about Blue Box Confectionary, you can visit their business page HERE. Or email Karen at .

Six Business Functions on an iPad


AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .


Tags: Texas Small Businesses, Texas Bakery, Dallas Business

3 Strategies for Running a Successful Takeout Restaurant

Posted by Ashley Choate on Mar 22, 2016 12:11:37 PM

takeoutIn the modern world, takeout is a part of life. Seriously. According to the National Restaurant Association, roughly 33 percent of consumers have indicated that takeout restaurants are a key element to their lifestyles. That’s a pretty big chunk of the population who rely on takeout or delivery services at least once or twice a week.

Most restaurant owners are going to want to cash in on that market, especially since adding in that small bit of flexibility—the option to call in and pick up an order, at least—is not really all that difficult.

Below are a few essential, easy ways to push your restaurant’s takeout business into popularity and success.

1) Nurture your online presence. People who love takeout also love accessibility and ease. They appreciate businesses that are capable of taking advantage of the tools available to them (Well, that, and it’s hard to do anything these days without having a strong online presence). You want to make your restaurant’s image and menu available at the click of a button, so when someone tells someone about this awesome restaurant he visited, all either has to do is look you up. You should take advantage of as many forms of exposure as possible, including joining online ordering locations where possible (certain local delivery services can even take care of the hard part for you!) and taking advantage of every form of social media out there. The more exposure, the better.

2) Make ordering as easy as possible (online ordering). So it goes without saying that anyone who appreciates takeout also appreciates easy ordering. Sometimes your customers can’t talk on the phone and it’s easier to just hop online to a website and make a quick order for pickup. The easier you make it, the more likely your customers will be to return to your restaurant repeatedly for those quick meals or last minute food emergencies.

3) Use website and social media to run weekly promotions. The best invention in the world for small businesses was social media. There are dozens of popular forms of social media where a restaurant can build up exposure and make connections to current and future patrons in a way that has never been possible. In the days of mom and pop joints and less travel, there was certainly a bigger sense of community built up around many restaurants, but these days you can attract customers from the other side of the city who may not have even known about your place before—all through word of mouth advertising that is statistically proven to draw in more customers than any paid-for advertisement. Social media allows for tracking and documenting your exposure in a way that restaurants have never seen before—and it’s a beautiful thing. So, use it. Make sure you post pictures of food, of your restaurant, and of patrons. Also, run weekly promotions or special coupons so you can build up business on slow nights—or just because. Social media can make your small takeout business into a big part of your weekly revenue.

In the end, running a successful restaurant business is definitely about the food—but the beginning is about getting people in the door. The more options you give to patrons, the better. Patrons who get what they want when they want are more likely to return and tell their friends about their awesome experience. If your restaurant is currently dine-in only, take a moment to consider the benefits of expanding your patrons’ options. Easy access is definitely the best way to appeal to hungry, impatient bellies.


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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Mark Goebel @ Flickr CC.

Tags: restaurant marketing

Three Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Mar 16, 2016 12:03:48 PM

19372598892_1d0654982e_mEach season has its own unique flavor. Fall is a period of transition that usually coincides with relief from the summer’s oppressive heat and harvesting the fruits of your labors (although summer, being bikini season, might be the more appropriate owner of that last bit). Winter is usually a time of hibernation or endings. But spring is the most celebrated of all, for its connection to rebirth and new growth.

And, of course, in celebration of this glorious season, most of us take some time to spruce things up a bit—aka spring cleaning.

But spring cleaning doesn’t have to apply only to your home. While cleaning baseboards, scrubbing those hard to reach places behind the stove or refrigerator, and laying down new coats of paint are all fine and well, a good sprucing up within your business might be the better way to breathe new life into your world.

And no, I don’t mean getting the carpets cleaned.

Think of your business as a garden (yes, I know it’s cheesy, but roll with it for a moment). It requires tending in order to produce results. This tending could be weeding, watering, or clipping off the dead bits on a regular basis, but once a year you have to take care of the deeper work of making things grow. You have to fertilize, you have to plan for what crops you want during harvest time (learning from what you grew last year), and you have to consider ways to prevent pests from spoiling your hard work.

Below are a few steps for sprucing up your business this spring cleaning season, in order to make way for the fruits of your labor to grow and bloom.

  1. Polish your purpose. To start, you have to reconsider your business’s goals. What is your mission? Why is it important? What goals did you set last year to accomplish that objective? Did they work? How can you make them better or set them on track for meeting your mission statement while creating profit for everyone involved?

These are all valuable questions. It’s so easy to get lost in the mire and muck of everyday work. We sometimes lose track of our purpose. This spring, revisit your goals, your brand, and your marketing image—and pull out the polishing rag. Even if you don’t change them, you can still buff them up and make them shiny and new.

  1. Get rid of the dead bits. It’s true of plants and it’s true of business: the dead bits will drag you down. Take a good look around your company and really try to see where the edges might be blackening a bit around certain people or projects. A bad manager can ruin an entire department; an ill-conceived or misdirected project can suck the lifeblood from other more vibrant parts of the business by taking up resources or time—without you even realizing it, if you’re not careful.

Take a moment to evaluate the future of each employee and each goal. Do they match your company’s mission? Do they bring value and growth to your business? If not, you need to try to rehab the situation or you need to cut it loose, so the rest doesn’t suffer as a result.

  1. Make sure you have the right tools for the job. The tools you use to accomplish your mission might be people, technology, good taste, a unique perspective, or the right bit of knowledge. All of these are valuable and can be cultivated. Look at your staff and ask yourself how you can make them better, fertilize the skills they already have to bring new life into their roles. Sometimes bringing in someone new, a new position or a helpful asset can also liven things up a bit as well.

But while investing in people and technology might seem like a good idea, be careful you don’t put too much value in dollars as opposed to simply shifting approaches. If you’ve spotted an area in need of change, make sure you are certain that you’re using the tools you have to their fullest value. Rehabbing undervalued materials, for instance, and adjusting your perspective on the use of certain people or things can be very helpful. Repurposing an individual whose talents are better suited to a different position or approach can be a great way to loosen up the soil and create room for new growth.

However you choose to go about your business spring cleaning, the above steps are a good start to shaping up your business for a new harvest in a new year. May your soil be fertile and your pests few.

Six Business Functions on an iPad

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Jason Trbovich @ Flickr CC.


Tags: business tips

Tips from CNBC’s The Profit, Marcus Lemonis

Posted by Ashley Choate on Mar 10, 2016 8:03:50 AM

14931337134_c542b63999_mFor the most part, reality TV is an overly dramatic filler. It helps pass the time and most of us walk away feeling a little less screwed up, by comparison, and a little less depressed about the state of our lives. But every once in a while, the reality TV genre creates something genuinely enlightening and uplifting. CNBC’s The Profit with Marcus Lemonis is one such gem.

While many so-called “reality” shows use scripting and selective casting for the best dramatic effect, Lemonis is actually the real deal. The Lebanese-born entrepreneur was adopted into a Labanese-Greek family in Miami, FL at 9 months old and raised in the United States around a family-owned business. He started his first business at 12 years old and has since grown into a renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist who is lauded for his brutally honest and extremely effective advice for flipping businesses from money pits into profitable ventures.

Through many years of experience and several successful business ventures, Lemonis has acquired a unique perspective on how businesses should operate, specifically small businesses, and what it takes to make a business that has some potential into a real success.

The following are some bits of advice that Lemonis has offered on his reality TV show, The Profit, where he evaluates struggling small businesses and determines, by the end of each episode, if he would like to invest in them. Sometimes it works out for the owners, sometimes not, but each episode is a learning experience for small business owners who are looking for the right solutions to a business’s unique issues.

First, the three-P mantra:

  • People
  • Product
  • Process

According to Lemonis, these are the three essential elements he evaluates about a business to determine its potential and the issues the business is really experiencing. As many problem-solvers can attest, one of the hardest parts about fixing any issues is correctly diagnosing the problem. By evaluating these elements, Lemonis pinpoints the key problem and solution areas of any business.

For people, this means having not only the right employees, but also the right employees in the right places. In one episode, a small business had a family member in a key sales position. While the person was dedicated to the success of the business, the individual’s skill set just wasn’t right for the position.

For product, Lemonis looks at what is being sold and how it’s being presented. In one episode, he discovered a small business who made cleaning supplies but named them after close friends. Using a cleaning product named “Ted”, while cute to the owners, wasn’t working for the general public. He recommended renaming the product for better marketing and sales.

For process, Lemonis targets the way the business is run in every sense, including book keeping and the process of bringing in sales. He looks to help the business increase efficiency and make the most of every opportunity. So when, in one episode, he found that the business had a great ability to bring in cash, but had no real process for managing that money (it was just lying around everywhere!), he recommended putting a detailed process in place to track the funds and manage them effectively.

Lemonis also advises business owners to remember who’s in charge. It’s easy to let a business get away from you if you’re not careful. Suddenly, it takes over your life, all of your time, and still barely churns a profit. As a business owner, you have to make sure you are in charge and are managing every aspect of your business intelligently, which is not as difficult as it used to be with the level of technology available to business owners today.

These are just a few bits of advice that Lemonis has to offer, but there are plenty more to see within his show, which you can watch online for free at You can even apply to be on the show at if you think your business has what it takes—and if you’re ready to take some hard advice. It’s certainly not for everyone, but those who have the right attitude about change and the right product or service to sell might learn a lot from the experience—and maybe even change their business for the better.


  Six Business Functions on an iPad


AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Alan Taylor @ Flickr CC.

Tags: business tips

Choosing the Right Payment Platform Gives Businesses More Flexibility

Posted by Rachida Arteaga on Mar 2, 2016 9:10:43 AM

payments platformMoney aside, managing any business has its challenges. Then technology comes along and things get really interesting – especially when the technology is responsible for collecting payments. Many business owners often underestimate how crucial choosing the right payment technology can be to managing the bottom line.

Imagine a scenario where, a young (and very creative) woman named “Sam” opens a small gift shop in a strip mall that soon becomes very popular for selling unique, handmade gifts. When opening her store, she decides to accept credit card payments using a simple, traditional credit card machine to avoid the hassle of investing the time or money in a more elaborate system.

Within a few months, she decides to take her gifts to local craft shows and begins to also sell her crafts online. She is now tasked with finding a mobile friendly way to accept credit cards at craft shows and an ecommerce solution to accept payments online. Soon she has three separate payment systems – and a very real reporting nightmare.

It’s likely with all the time she is spending trying to reconcile between the three systems, she is losing money and productivity elsewhere. This could have all been prevented from the beginning if she had chosen a payment product that was versatile and could grow with her business.

Here is a complete list of what “Sam” should have looked for when choosing her first Payment platform:

  • Accepts all payment types including credit/debit cards, pin debit, checks, gift/loyalty cards, EBT, and cash tender.
  • Works across all payment modes: PCs, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and POS systems.
  • Accepts payments from anywhere including retail stores, through the mail, over the phone, on a website, and via on-line forms.
  • Accepts different types of payment plans including recurring, installment, and save on file.
  • Has multiple transaction options including pre-authorizations, cashier tips, waiter tips, dynamic currency conversion, and multi-currency conversion.
  • Works with a variety of hardware and peripherals including signature capture terminals, check imagers, terminal integrations, blue tooth printers. thermal Printers, and EMV Terminals.
  • Provides advanced security features including tokenization, address verification (AVS), card verification Value (CVV), and end to end encryption.
  • Has additional product features such as auto settlement, credit card account updater, business card BIN specific prompt, email confirmation, dynamic DBA, payment form customization, 12 month rolling reporting, transaction search, self-initiated password resets, and user defined fields

Sound too good to be true? It’s not, there are payment solutions (like Converge) available to business owners that combine all of these features and more.

Interested in learning more about Converge? Click the box below to watch a brief video.

  Converge payment solution

About the Author - Rachida Arteaga, Director of Marketing at NTC Texas is a successful, six year marketing veteran, running events and campaigns for large to small enterprises and non-profits.  She specializes in blogging, social media, branding/ identity and search engine optimization, striving to provide NTC Texas customers and fans with entertaining and valuable educational resources to find success in all areas of their businesses. 

Tags: Payments, business tips

Managing Online Reviews

Posted by Ashley Choate on Feb 24, 2016 9:52:16 AM

managing online reviewsOnline reviews are everywhere on the web these days. From Facebook posts to official reviewing sites, people are making their opinions known in various ways across the web. Of course, people have always gossiped and shared opinions and ideas, and often businesses have flourished or failed based on the power of “word of mouth” and the gossiping masses.

Fortunately for businesses today, online reviews are much more manageable and easy to track, allowing you to get ahead of public opinion and make notable changes where customer grievances are valid.

Below are some steps you can take for your business or restaurant to help manage online reviews and utilize them more effectively, as part of a positive online marketing strategy or a tool to improve your business’s standing among the general public.

  • Know the sites. The first step in properly managing your star-rated performance within the arena of public opinion is to know the sites where ratings are posted. These sites are usually business specific, but general sites include Yelp and Google Reviews, but there are many others. For restaurants, there are even more: Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Zagat, OpenTable, and many others. Some sites will be city-specific, as well, so do a careful search to find out what sites your business could be listed on and make sure you are visibly there and monitoring your ratings.

  • Respond to consumer concerns. This is a big one for many restaurants and small businesses. First, you’ll have to actively claim your business on the general sites and monitor them regularly. You can also set up alerts for when a new review is posted. For Facebook sites where you can also receive detailed page messages, read customer concerns and respond accordingly. Obviously, some reviews are a little out there, but others might have some legitimate concerns that you can respond to. By doing so, you can assure patrons that you care about their opinions and that you hear their concerns. This can go a long way to saving and drawing business. No one expects perfection, but they do expect accountability and reliability. Shoot for the last two and project that image in your online review responses.

  • Use images and keep content updated. For Facebook pages or other social sites where you can maintain a profile as well as host reviews, make sure that you post fresh, new content regularly. Obviously, good images aren’t going to make up for shoddy service or subpar products—so put your time and attention where it’s needed—but they can help to push your excellent service and top quality products to a higher star notch in your visitor’s mind when they see that you value your online presence as well as your physical one. Regular visitor’s will also be more likely to leave a review on an active page as opposed to an outdated, stale site.

  • Consider a reputation management service. If you’re worried about doing it right or you just don’t have the time, there’s no shame in contracting with professionals who will monitor and manage your online presence for you. For mid-size companies or restaurants with more than one location, a management service is almost a must, unless you decide to hire a dedicated individual or team on our own. A lot happens in the online world and you’ll want to keep track of it—especially if it can help you fix errors to respond to customer demand.

Online marketing and managing online reviews are key components in modern business. If you’re not already managing your online presence by monitoring reviews and utilizing social media, you’ll want to start as soon as possible. Social media and online review management can act as free and easy marketing and can make a huge difference in impacting your bottom line and drumming up a positive image for your business or restaurant.

restaurant marketing online


AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Alan O'Rourke @ Flickr CC.


Tags: business tips

Survival Guide to Dealing With Lazy Employees

Posted by Ashley Choate on Feb 17, 2016 9:17:38 AM

3459415984_e39884981c_mManagers face constant challenges in the battle to keep employees productive. It would be wonderful if all employees were self-motivated to complete their jobs to the best of their abilities, but the fact is that some people are just lazy.

In fact, most work environments play out like this: employees try to get the most money for the least amount of work, while managers attempt to get the most amount of work for the least amount of money. Work environments steeped in these opposing mindsets are almost doomed to be fraught with tension, since clashes of will are guaranteed to result. And a tense work environment with unhappy employees is often just as detrimental to productivity as one filled with lazy, unmanaged individuals.

Therefore, in the end, both sides have to decide to make a change in mindset—but managers have to initiate and lead the way. They can do this by viewing unproductive employees—even those who appear to be just lazy—as having the potential to be more than they seem. Many managers simply write off employees who seem lazy, without taking the time to get to know the circumstances—or to understand the effect they can have on some employees through a few simple adaptations to their management style.

Below are a few ways to motivate employees to do more, all of which can also contribute to a positive and supportive work environment that will lead to a happier overall staff—which will, in turn, result in more productivity each work day.

  • Communicate. This is vital for a manager-employee relationship. Employees need to know where they stand, what their obligations are, and how you expect them to meet those obligations. They need to know the potential consequences for not meeting those expectations. All of this can also be done in such a way as to facilitate a better relationship, one of mutual understanding where you, as a manager, seek to better understand how your employee is motivated and what potential incentives you might put out there to further entice a more productive environment.

  • Encourage. As you communicate with your employees, remember that some of your “lazy” people are just individuals who are unhappy or unfulfilled with their work. They might feel discouraged about how well they can complete their work or they may be experiencing personal issues that cause them to feel sluggish and unproductive. It’s important to be encouraging, welcoming in communication, and supportive of your employees. Obviously, you have to set hard limits as to what you can and cannot accept, but in other ways throughout the day, you can provide kind words or small rewards to employees who are showing improvement. These little things often motivate more than most managers realize.

  • Challenge them. Another issue with many “lazy” employees is that they might not feel challenged with their work. It’s easy, especially with repetitive tasks, to become caught in a cycle of boredom, where everything feels the same day after day. This is the kind of feeling that sparks midlife crises and other crazy, life-altering decisions in many individuals who feel their lives, and definitely their jobs, are just boring. Try to provide a spark. Create friendly competition. Offer small prizes for those who are performing. Notice employees who are obviously capable of more and give them the training they need and vision for their own futures. This can be incredibly valuable to somewhat listless individuals who are struggling to find their paths. It will also make your work environment that much stronger and more productive because individuals who might have seemed lazy could rise to become leaders for change and improvement, if you only provide the spark.

  • Be present. For all the rest, the big key to getting people working is to simply be there. For one, no one wants to be caught slacking by the boss. For another, if your employees see that you work as hard, or harder, than they do, they are more likely to respect you and take you seriously. Having that kind of respect is invaluable for leading any group of people, particularly towards improvement. But, it could also be broken down another way: you can always expect people to follow your lead—so if you look lazy, they will too.

  • Know when to cut your losses. Finally, the hardest part is to know when someone is a lost cause. Obviously, I continually advocate for understanding and creative approaches to inspire improvement, but the unfortunate truth is that some people cannot be helped. In those situations, when you have set repeated hard limits for a particular employee and he or she has repeatedly disregarded or broken those understood rules, you have to accept that it’s best for both parties to cut ties. This should, however, be the exception. If you are continuously running through a stream of employees, you may want to consider other sources besides those individuals for your problem.

Being a manager is probably one of the hardest jobs you can do, day in and day out—or being a good manager is, at least. It requires you to be dedicated to your employees, highly observant, and extremely resourceful if you hope to create a positive, productive work environment.

As you make changes for the better, consider what motivates you, what makes you feel sluggish or distracts you from your central priorities, and try to better understand your employees’ perspectives. That deeper understanding will make a huge difference in helping you to inspire employees to work harder and adopt positive attitudes.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It


AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Morgan @ Flickr CC.



Tags: business management

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