Thoughts on Law and Life

The Official Blog of Astrab Legal Services LLC

Quick News Note: 1099 Delivery Change

FYI – The IRS has permitted brokerage firms to delay mailing 1099B forms until February 15th of this year (with an intervening weekend and holiday pushing that date to 2/17/09), an extension of two weeks from the traditional January 31st deadline. Technically this does not affect 1099DIV and 1099INT forms, but brokerage firms are permitted to consolidate that information with the 1099B, so they may also be lumped into the delay. So the bottom line is that you most likely won’t be receiving any investment-related 1099s until sometime in mid to late February if you use a brokerage.

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Legal, Life, small business | , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick Observation: White Hell

I can see now as an adult why my parents moaned and complained about the snow. I just managed to get my car back in the garage after getting it stuck in my driveway. We’ve got at least 7 inches on the ground and this is supposed to keep going until around dinnertime…Yuk!
Oh well, back to work on shoveling!

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Life | , | Leave a comment

Quick Observations on the Media and Crime Coverage

As I sit sipping my morning brew at my favorite coffee shop, I thought I’d vent again on the media and their coverage of criminal cases. Last week I mentioned that I believe attorneys are out of line to make silly pronouncements of complete innocence on behalf of their clients. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is that the media outlets, in their zeal to cover and sensationalize these stories, give the attorney the perfect platform to temporarily set aside common sense and make the ridiculous comments in the first place.

My temperature rises when I hear a reporter ask an attorney whether or not his client is Guilty – what the heck to they expect him to say? “Why yes Joe, my client killed Mr. Jones by shooting him three times with an unlicensed Glock and then proceeded to dispose of the weapon by throwing it down a sewer at East 98th Street and St. Clair Avenue. I believe that he would do it again if given the opportunity.” The best answer to the question would of course be “no comment,” but that is too easy.

The Casey Anthony story is a perfect current example of the media’s blood lust. The national networks have taken what is simply a local news story in Orlando and elevated it to a piece of international importance, often leading newscasts with the latest updates…. “Our lead story today: Casey smiled in Court today – does she know something we don’t know? In other less important news, President Obama today ordered a nuclear strike on Nigeria to pay them back for their pervasive e-mail scams…”

How do we stop this? There is no easy answer short of just not watching these stories, but that is not realistic as there are enough sheep out there hanging on every new detail of the story. Amateur CSI investigators all over the nation are working feverishly to put together the pieces and convict this girl before her jury is even considered. I think that the real investigators and the lawyers need to stop talking to the press – without the ability to interview those at the heart of the investigation there won’t be as much to report and speculate upon.

I’ve got to run – I’ll put a real post up later today or tomorrow, but I just thought I’d throw my vent out to the blogosphere…Feel free to comment with ideas or suggestions on how we can stop the dumbing down of America by the media…

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Law, Legal, Life | , , | Leave a comment

Create Your Own Economy!

In perusing today’s headlines, all I see are stories about job cuts – Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint, Phillips, etc… The gist of the stories is that the economy is still slowing and that these companies need to swing the axe in order to accommodate the slowing demand. Most folks who read these stories will adopt a ‘woe is me’ attitude towards their situations and wait for the axe to drop on them.

As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, I often listen to the podcasts available through the Morning Coach. The host is always preaching about ‘creating your own economy’ and not relying on the whims of our employers. I am in absolute agreement with this philosophy and urge all of you who can get out there and either do it on your own or work on a side business to do so! This won’t work for everyone, but it is essential that we adopt a strong sense of personal responsibility and get out there and work for ourselves. It requires a strong work ethic, a willingness for short-term sacrifice and an ability to see the big picture. I am not waiting around for the shoe to drop on my career – I am moving forward with my private practice and understand that, although it will be tight at first, I am opening up a whole new world for myself and my family by giving myself the ability to create my own schedule, collect my own fees, select my own clients and decide the scope of my practice without someone telling me that I need to sell X, push Y or run everything through an anal-retentive compliance system. If I want to blog on a topic, by God I’m going to do it without having to worry about upsetting my corporate masters. If I want to change the direction of my practice midstream and move into more estate planning versus felony defense I want the power to do it without having to sell the idea to a manger or partner.

The bottom line is that there is an entrepreneur in each of us screaming to come out. If you are sitting at your desk refreshing marketwatch.com over and over again to see the next economic shoe to drop you need to stand up and scream “ENOUGH!” Get out there and explore how you can use your education, training and business sense to build a consulting business, open a coffee stand or do whatever the heck you’ve been daydreaming about for the past ten years.

Obviously I’m not advocating just walking away from your day job this afternoon – map out your plan, get buy-in from your significant other, run your ideas past trusted peers and make sure that you are financially able to get the business off the ground with little to no outside financing. If you believe that you can do it, keep that mindset and get out there and get started!

Some Quick Tips:

  • Do some market research before jumping in – make sure that there is a need for what you want to do.
  • Create a unique ‘value proposition’ that differentiates you from the competition.
  • Seek out constructive criticism – ignore the naysayers.
  • Speak to a financial advisor, CPA, insurance agent and/or a business attorney to make sure you are financially able to undertake the venture and that you are crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.
  • Develop a detailed business plan and set reasonable/measurable goals for yourself.
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude – Don’t lose sight of the goals that you set for yourself!

Now get out there and do it! Create your own economy and don’t look back!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Competence, Consistency & Character (Part III)

Today marks the final blog in my series on the ‘3 C’s’ of Competence, Consistency and Character. Today I’ll focus on Character, which I believe is by far the most important of the three, as without character your competence and consistency probably won’t be worth a darn to anyone.

In a quick blog post yesterday I commented on criminal defense attorneys who make outlandish pronouncements of innocence on behalf of their clients in order to get some face time on TV. The vast majority of attorneys know that these statements are BS, and I’m guessing that most of the general public sees them that way as well. What these statements do, however, is reflect on the character of the attorney at issue, in my opinion. If it is clear that the attorney is acting out for the cameras, I believe that this reflects a serious flaw in his or her character…our duty is to zealously represent and defend our clients and to do so in the Courtroom, not in the media. If I see a criminal defense attorney who is constantly making these comments, my opinion of his character will be severely diminished, as he is, in my opinion, hurting his client in the process.

Character is something that is built and maintained on a daily basis. It is the core of our being and the model by which we live our lives and by which we are viewed by others. If we maintain a strong moral code of integrity, honest and humility, among other traits, we will gain the respect of those around us, including colleagues and potential clients. We cannot deviate from our character on a case-by-case basis…it is how we should handle all of our dealings every day, no exceptions.

What is character? A few simple examples are keeping our word consistently, returning phone calls on a daily basis, treating colleagues with professional courtesy, refraining from gossip and being willing to lend a helping hand when requested. There are many facets to character, and we must find out for ourselves what our own personal traits may be. My point with this blog is to remind folks that others are watching our words and our actions and we should maintain top-of-mind awareness of this fact. The old saying goes that satisfied individuals will tell one or two people about the service that they received, while those treated poorly by a business will tell ten or twenty. The same goes for character – those put off by our words and actions will take every opportunity to tell their opinion to others if our name comes up in conversation.

Being perceived as having poor character will hurt us personally and in the business world as well. It could mean the difference in getting that job or signing up that client. It could affect the way that promotions are handed out or how we are treated by authority figures.

Take some time today to perform some introspection. How do you believe your character is perceived by others? If you are feeling adventurous, ask a close friend what people think of you. Regardless of your methods, you need to make sure that your moral compass is pointed in the right direction if you wish to have success in life and business.

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quick Observation: Lawyers and TV Cameras…Bad Combination!

Just checking in real quick to make an observation…I’ll get back to my ‘3Cs’ series tomorrow.

Watching Greta this evening on FoxNews discussing the Casey Anthony case. This is an absolutely perfect example of an attorney getting carried away by having TV cameras shoved in his face and not knowing how to handle the situation. It is an utter pet peeve of mine to see an attorney stand before a bank of cameras and declare his or her client absolutely innocent of the ridiculous charges lodged against the client and that they cannot wait for their day in court to fight this obvious injustice. Most of the time these statements are made before the attorney even has a chance to review discovery materials or fully interview their newly-minted client.

As attorneys we have an obligation to zealously represent our clients. Is it zealous representation to go on TV and make statements for which no factual basis may exist? Is this PR puffery for the client’s sake or is it an attorney looking to make himself look tough in order to attract more business to his practice? Law school should make new graduates repeat ‘no comment’ 100 times in a row prior to being given their diplomas.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Law, Legal | , , , | Leave a comment

Competence, Consistency & Character (Part II)

As I sit about an outbound train watching the Cleveland skyline fade off into the snowy distance, I wonder how this once fine city and region has fallen so hard and fast. I believe part of the answer is consistency of its leaders. We have an elected body, both on the city and county level, that does not seem to know how to run a hot dog stand let alone a major metropolitan area. We keep hearing promises but there is never follow through or we let seemingly beneficial projects slip away due to inattention or outright incompetency. We need leaders who offer us proposals, work those proposals to their completion and present a finished product to the citizens that will help us to move forward as a region.

Consistency is the key to getting things done, attracting new customers/clients and moving forward as an individual or business owner. If a client is told that the project will be done Tuesday, it better darn well be done. If you tell clients that a weekly newsletter will be sent out to them, that newsletter should arrive as promised or confidence will begin to wane on the part of those with whom we do business. On the personal side, if we promise our kids that we will set aside time each week to go out to eat or play in the park it is critically important that the schedule be maintained as promised.

In life and in business, consistency is the key to getting noticed and appreciated. It is an absolute turn-off to deal with someone who cannot seem to have any consistency to their lives. If we can show our business and life partners that we are capable of maintaining consistency in our dealings, we will see definite benefits.

How can we be more consistent?

  • Get organized – consistency is the direct result of an organized life. Get a calendar…in fact get two calendars – one online or on a phone with pop-up reminders and access to critical information and one on paper that can be carried throughout the day. Putting things in our calendars serves as a visible reminder of your duties and obligations. Once you have the calendars, make it a habit to update them and check them several times throughout the day. It is useless to have them if they are not referred to several times a day!
  • Do not over-extend yourself – don’t over-schedule your time or take on tasks for which you are unprepared or unable to handle. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to something if you believe it will cause you to delay an existing project or might not get done in the required time frame due to those existing projects.
  • Let others know your schedule – make sure that others know your commitments and allow them to serve as a ‘bully’ on your time to get things done. If you are slacking, a not-so-gentle reminder from your assistant or spouse about a deadline fast approaching may be the difference in getting the job done or failing.
  • Get up early – our mind’s most active time is early in the morning. A quiet and empty office is a great place to get things done free of distractions.
  • Set aside dedicated ‘work’ time – make sure that those around you know that you are not to be disturbed unless an emergency arises during the time frame that you set aside. Be anti-social and just get the work done that needs finishing!

These concepts may seem very Business 101 but far too often are simply ignored in real life due to the pressing concerns of our daily commitments. Try to remember that consistency is the key to long-term success and respect!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Competence, Consistency and Character (Part I)

Good Morning from snowy Cleveland! Once again I have woken up to falling snow and crummy roads, but that is the price that I suppose one must pay to live in the paradise that is the North Coast of America. Moving onto more substantive matters, I am a big fan of personal development and believe that one should set aside at least a half-hour each day to improve themselves mentally so as to gain a better understanding of not only themselves, but the world around them. One of my favorite personal development outlets is a podcast/website entitled The Morning Coach (www.morningcoach.com). The moderator brings a new podcast every day and delivers some excellent development tools on his website. Over the weekend he discussed what he called the ‘Three C’s’ of personal development, specifically that we must ensure that we are competent, live a conflict-free lifestyle and have a solid character base. I’ll touch on those topics in today’s and coming blogs, but I’m going to swap out ‘conflict free lifestyle’ for consistency. I feel that these talking points are an excellent reflecting tool for ensuring that our moral compasses are pointed in the right direction.

COMPETENCE

We (hopefully in this economy) all have a means of securing income. It is crucial that each of us understand our job responsibilities and work every day to ensure that we are at the top of our games as far as professional competence. If we are not getting the job done, there is surely someone else out there clamoring to do the same job. If you are an attorney are you keeping up-to-date on the latest changes in the law or administrative codes for your area of concentration? If you are a nurse or doctor are you making sure that you are treating your patients in a manner consistent with the latest advances in medicine? If you are a small business owner, are you keeping track of advances in your industry in order to keep up with the competition?

Being competent means more than knowing the ins and outs of your particular field. It also means being able to convey your expertise to your clients or customers on a consistent basis. Keeping in touch with clients and letting them know that you are working hard for them is as much a factor in retention as is knowing what you are doing. You could be the smartest CPA in the world and know the IRS Code backwards and forwards, but if you are not conveying your knowledge on a proactive basis your clients will never know it. You may end up losing clients and/or lose referral opportunities due to your inability to maintain regular and consistent contact.

Some ideas:

  • Keep up with the latest developments/news in your field – make sure that you understand what is going on and take continuing education classes (if relevant) to hear from experts and thereby build your knowledge base.
  • Always have an opinion – nothing exclaims confidence like an immediate answer to the question “What do you think?” It does not have to be in-depth, but at least formulate an opinion on different issues in your field.
  • If you are a small business owner, get a web site. The site should serve as an adjunct to your business, not a primary business pipeline. With the proliferation of the internet today, if you don’t have a website many potential customers may think that you are not market-savvy or are not successful. Accurate? Perhaps not, but today perception is everything and you can be rest-assured that your competition either has one already or is in the process of getting one.
  • Offer to speak to groups on topics related to your industry. Speakers seem to be granted instant competence, deserved or not. If you are up speaking to groups you are not only promoting yourself and your business, but you are instilling confidence in potential clients/customers in the audience.

There are many other methods for building and exhibiting competence. The bottom line remains, however, that you need to take steps to ensure that you understand your job responsibilities and that you exude confidence to those around you. If you are lacking, then you need to step up and fix the problem now – it may be the difference between new clients or promotions at work versus seeing your job given to the new guy sitting down the hall.

In coming posts I’ll touch on the other two topics – consistency and character.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inaugural Thoughts

For those of you who know me, I am pretty conservative and end up pretty far from the left on most of my opinions. It is therefore a great admission that I am actually excited about the Inauguration of Barack Obama. This country has been through a lot in the past decade – a lot of the problems were not of our creation and President Bush did what he felt was right to protect our nation. On the other hand, the whole financial crisis has been disturbing at best and nearly criminal at its core. I feel that the government (both sides of the aisle) could have done a lot more to not only monitor the nation’s financial institutions, but to take proactive measures to step in and say ‘enough’ when it was obvious that there were issues.

A couple examples:

  • When I left my law practice to enter the world of finance, I could immediately see issues back in 2005. At that time, my employer was really big on securities-based lending. They were pushing advisors to sell their clients on the idea of using their securities portfolios to finance the purchase of homes, boats and even to pay for weddings! In an up market that is all well and good, but any student of history, or someone who simply reads the newspaper, can tell you that markets not only go up, but they go down as well. To utilize a portfolio for financing brings with it the risk that the markets will drop, thus causing the collateral utilized for the loan to drop in value, thus necessitating the need to deposit more funds to secure the financing. This concept was ignored by management with an arrogance that astounded me at the time. If someone with a few weeks experience could see the problems, why couldn’t those folks running the show in New York also see it? The best answer that I have to this is that they simply did not care and became willfully blind to the situation.
  • The most obvious problem is in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Who in their right mind believed that an industry based on lending to the working poor at variable rates with little or no down-payment was a sustainable business model?

If the government had stepped in and put its foot down on these two practices alone, perhaps we would not be in the situation that we face today. I am no fan of overbearing governmental intervention, but at times the government needs to act in the best interests of its tax-paying citizens and whack some industries (and the leaders of those industries) around with a big stick.

So why am I excited about the Inauguration? I believe that a great deal of the problems that we face today are due to bitter bipartisanism. So many people hated President Bush that Democrats (as well as some Republicans) were loathe to cooperate with his Administration in order to avoid being lumped in with his policy decisions. The logjam created by this hesitancy was historic and essentially ground Washington to a halt. Now that a new administration is taking over, perhaps the logjam can be alleviated and progress on many fronts can be initiated.

Do I agree with President Obama on many issues? No. I am open, however, to giving the man a chance to fulfill his promises and move America forward. I refuse to jump aboard the partisan bandwagon and criticize him before he has even had a chance to make any substantive policy decisions. The day after the election I was already receiving Facebook invitations for “Impeach Obama” groups. Most of those were jokes, but reflect an attitude that must stop if we are to progress as a society. It is time to put down our partisan politics and work to get our nation out of the mess that it is in.

Some ideas:

  • Hold your leaders accountable – Hold President Obama, your congressional representative, Senator and even city council members and your Mayor to their campaign promises. If your councilperson promised trash pickup before 11:00 in the morning and it is still getting picked up at 4:00, give him a call and give him hell about it. If your congressional representative promised to reach across the aisle and work towards more compromise legislation, make sure that he or she is doing it and simply not spewing out the same party line crap that got us into the mess that we are in today.
  • Pay attention to your investments – Make sure that you understand your investments, your risk tolerance and your time horizon. If you feel uncomfortable with something, give your advisor or banker a call and demand an explanation. If you are not satisfied with the explanation, find another advisor or banker – there are plenty out there to choose from.
  • Spend and save wisely – There is a balance that must be achieved with spending/saving. If we all simply crawl into shells and refuse to spend, the economic downturn will be extended. At the same time, we must choose where and when to spend our money very wisely. Sit down and set up a budget – include all of your expenses and set aside money to be saved for the proverbial rainy day (3 months expenses at a minimum) and plan for major purchases. If you want to buy a $900 television, then budget $100 a month (or an amount that is affordable) and pay cash for the TV in 9 months instead of using a credit card. The economy will slowly improve and you will not incur further debt.
  • Get involved – join an organization that promotes community service or works constructively towards promoting a certain viewpoint. Run for office. Make sure that you are not silent about issues for which you have passion! Our leaders must know that we will not be sheep any longer.
  • Stop watching the news – the evening news programs (particularly network) know that blood and bad news mean ratings. They will more often than not lean their presentation to the dark side of the story and thus fuel the fires of negativity. Watch the news for the weather and sports and live your own life.

My bottom line is that I am an American, not a Democrat or Republican. I am tired of the BS that I am seeing out of Washington and I sincerely hope that the inauguration of a new president will help us move more towards being Americans first, partisan second.

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Life | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Tech Trends for Small Businesses in 2009

My hands are frozen from playing out in the snow, so I’m posting an interesting article on small business trends for you to peruse. As a small business owner myself, and having business consulting as one of my practice areas, I’m always looking for ideas for myself and my clients. Enjoy this and thank you to Ramon Ray for a great article.

The original link to this post is here.

Top Ten Technology Trends for Small Businesses – 2009

Posted By Ramon Ray On January 13, 2009 @ 4:05 am In 2009 Trends, Technology Trends | 30 Comments

Every year two things happen in the world of technology overall and especially in the world of small businesses.

1. Technology remains the same (cell phones, computers, web browsers – ho hum)

2. Technology evolves and gets better (think iPhone, Netbooks, Google’s Chrome – match them to the list above)

What this means for your business is that if you want your business to grow through leveraging technology you simply can not continue to rely on the same old technology you have always used.

For example, the 10 notebook computers you purchased 3 or 4 years ago, for your sales team, might be quite functional. However, new and more powerful software, better and more wireless options and smaller notebooks are now available and could dramatically boost the productivity of your team.

What are the top 10 technology trends you need to be on the lookout for in 2009, for your small business?  Let’s take a look:

1. Netbook Adoption Accelerates

Mini computers, weighing around 2 pounds and the size of a large book, are ideal tools for busy executives and professionals on the go. They are not as powerful as traditional notebooks, the screens are a lot smaller and the battery life is not as long. However, for simple web browsing, emailing and other light computing needs – they are going to be used more and more by many professionals.

If you need a portable computer for basic computing tasks and find that your main notebook is too heavy and bulky and your smartphone’s keyboard and screen are too small, a Netbook could be something for you to consider. With the rise of hosted applications (cloud computing, software as a service, etc) using a Netbook makes even more sense as the requirement for a large hard disk and synchronization of data will not be an issue.

Growth of netbooks has accelerated sharply.  For example, [1] more netbooks were sold in Q3 of 2008 than the wildly popular iPhone.  This trend toward netbook adoption should continue in 2009 as entrepreneurs and professionals see the advantages.

2. Built-in Wireless Broadband Usages Widens

Many of us use external wireless cards that provide cellular phone connectivity for mobile computing just about anywhere in the United States. This connectivity, with service from AT&T, Sprint or Verizon Wireless offers access to the Internet from a train, hotel, taxi or just about anywhere – especially handy when WiFi is not an option.

Instead of having to use an external wireless card, most every notebook vendor sells an option to embed broadband wireless access into their notebooks. No longer will you have to fumble with an external card, but you can now have relatively fast access to the Internet built into your computer. If access to the Internet is a must, ensure your productivity is not hampered by using wireless broadband in 2009.

3. Cell Phones Get more Software

Google’s newly launched [2] Android cell phone and Apple’s iPhone have ushered in a new way of buying cell phones. Instead of wireless cell phone carriers controlling the applications that reside on cell phones, Google and Apple have changed this model. The Android and iPhone software are not controlled by wireless carriers but controlled by their respective software vendors. Google and Apple are working directly with developers to ensure applications are developed for their respective platforms.

In 2009 you’ll still see more cell phones released in the traditional model (such as the BlackBerry Bold and Storm), but you’ll also see more cell phones on the market led by software vendors. Why is this important for your business? Smartphone communication is not an option but a standard business tool. The software options available on these devices, as exemplified by the breadth of tools on Apple’s iPhone, increase  productivity for businesses.

As Google’s Gmail forced other email providers (Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Live/Hotmail) to enhance their services, Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone will force the cellular market, overall to do more for customers – consumers and businesses.

4.  Unified Communications
Increase

Large companies are investing in unified communication (UC) systems from Microsoft, Avaya and Cisco. These systems place the power of telephony onto the computer and include an integration of telephone, CRM, chat, address book, calendar and other things. Many companies are also developing feature rich and low cost UC platforms specifically for small businesses. Many of these systems work in conjunction with voice over the Internet solutions and allow one to use a telephone, PC or smartphone to access the UC features.

If you want to ensure that your small business, even with minimal resources, has the productivity of a larger business, integrating your communication tools is critical. For example, if customers call your office, you should be able to see their profile on your computer screen automatically. Being able to greet the customer in a more personalized manner and even knowing about the last interaction with the customer (order, returns, complaints, etc) is important.

Another example:  If you get a fax, there’s no reason why you should not be alerted to the fax and even see the fax from your smartphone. Being able to respond to customers as soon as possible boost your customer service, responding to vendors or employees in hours and not days boosts productivity.

5. Online Data Backups Proliferate

We all know that we should back up our data — but unfortunately not everyone backs up their data. In 2009 you’ll see vendors offering more online backup solutions. Instead of backing up your data to a hard disk, DVD or other local media, the data is sent over the Internet and stored on the remote servers.

There are many “consumer” oriented backup solutions, many free. In 2009 these consumer backup solutions will offer options for more storage and more enhanced backup solutions for small businesses – through the Internet.

When (some might say if) something happens to your data (accidental deletion, disgruntled employee theft, etc, etc) a good backup solution will ensure your customer records, contracts, personnel files and other data can be retrieved. Online, or cloud computing backup solutions, makes the backup solution completely automated and hassle free.

6.  Social Media Becomes Strategic

Social media is not new to any of us, but we are not using it as strategically as we can. In 2009 expect more businesses to use social media as a way to communicate with customers. While web sites and email newsletters are still important communication tools social media tools as a standard (not exception) communication tool will increase.

For example, more people will be aware of [3] Twitter (beyond just geeks) and start to use it to receive information from businesses they want to keep in touch with. [4] LinkedIn is a powerful tool for finding connections, but users often under-utilize it. In a recent conference, almost 80% of the hands went up that they were LinkedIn users and the same hands stayed up that they really didn’t know what to do with LinkedIn.

It is important that you learn as much as you can about enhancing your use of social media  in order to network with other businesses, find new customers and better communicate with existing customers.

7. Online Video gets Cheaper and More Widespread

I recently bought a [5] Flip video camera and am amazed at the quality of the video it produces. While a $500 or $1,500 traditional video camera is the best option (better video quality), their size, expense and complexity limit their use by most business persons. Cell phone videos are simply too grainy for use.

As more companies produce low cost and quality tools for video production and sharing of those videos (such as [6] YouTube, [7] Flickr, [8] Vimeo and [9] Blip.tv) businesses can leverage video as a powerful marketing tool. Video can complement a blog, email newsletter or Facebook page quite nicely.

8. Video Conference Solutions Expand

Although [10] Cisco’s Tele Presence is too expensive for many small businesses, there are video conferencing solutions to consider that are a lot cheaper but feature rich. The majority of these solutions include software and a web camera and communicate over the Internet.

The systems of 5 and 10 years ago, with grainy images and low quality are much different than the feature-rich and higher quality systems of today. Being able to connect with customers, prospects, vendors or employees “face to face” via video is often better than simply email, telephone or instant messaging. A plane ticket is expensive and the trip takes time, but video conferencing is quite doable. There are dozens of good, inexpensive, video conference solutions – [11] Skype and [12] Sightspeed are two you might want to try out.

9. Hosted Software Applications Go on the Fast Track

Just last week I threw away several years worth and dozens of old CDs and floppy disks of really old software. I even had copies of Windows 95.

When I think of the physical software I have in my library now, compared to years ago, I don’t have many CDs. Why? Hosted applications continue to be used more and more because of its benefits over traditional software.

Traditional software has to be installed on a server, rolled out to individual computers, could cause other applications to crash and adds more complications if remote employees must use the application. Hosted applications, or software as a service (SaaS), on the other hand, removes all of these complications. All you need is a web browser to access the hosted application. The downside? If you lose access to the Internet you lose access to your application.

If your business is on a fast track of growth — be it customers, employees or more offices — hosted applications can definitely boost your productivity.

10. Online Presence Gap Widens

Whether small businesses need a web site or not is no longer an issue of discussion. In fact, the conversation has moved from web sites and email marketing to blogs and social media for business. Those businesses that strategically use online media to communicate and market their businesses will have more loyal customers and can better attract prospective customers.

There is no question that online search is the way that just about everyone searches for a solution. If you’re a florist in Atlanta, Georgia, your next customer is going to type in florist and their zip code into Google. If you’re a tennis racket repair shop in Akron, Ohio, your next customer is going to type in “tennis racket  repair” and their zip code. You must be online and visible if you want to thrive
and beat your competition.

[13] Intuit’s Future of Small Business Report (Phase Two) reads, Despite the emergence of platform companies and the services they provide to small businesses, less than half of all small businesses had an online presence as of 2006. The costs and technical skills required continue to be a major impediment to small businesses embracing the Web.

While the online communication gap will continue to grow, the reasons for that gap are different. It’s not cost and technical skills that will keep the “have nots” from boosting their online presence. The reason for more businesses not embracing online communication tools is the lack of understanding of its importance for their business, the perception of its complexity and the lack of understanding of the benefits.

Part of the Small Business Trends [14] 2009 Trends Series.

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About the Author: Ramon Ray is the founder and Editor of [15] Smallbiztechnology.com.  He is also the founder of the [16] Small Business Technology Summit held in New York each year.  He is the founder of Taste of technology, an ongoing series of small business technology events held each quarter.


Article printed from Small Business Trends: http://smallbiztrends.com

URL to article: http://smallbiztrends.com/2009/01/top-ten-technology-trends-for-small-businesses-2009.html/

URLs in this post:
[1] more netbooks were sold in Q3 of 2008 than the wildly popular iPhone: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/10/AR2008121000998.html
[2] Android cell phone: http://code.google.com/android/
[3] Twitter: http://twitter.com
[4] LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com
[5] Flip video camera: http://www.theflip.com/
[6] YouTube: http://youtube.com
[7] Flickr: http://Flickr.com
[8] Vimeo: http://vimeo.com
[9] Blip.tv: http://Blip.tv
[10] Cisco’s Tele Presence: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns669/networking_solutions_solution_segment_home.html
[11] Skype: http://www.skype.com/
[12] Sightspeed: http://www.sightspeed.com/
[13] Intuit’s Future of Small Business Report: http://http-download.intuit.com/http.intuit/CMO/intuit/futureofsmallbusiness/SR-1037B_intuit_tech_tr
ends.pdf

[14] 2009 Trends Series: http://smallbiztrends.com/category/2009-trends/
[15] Smallbiztechnology.com: http://smallbiztechnology.com/
[16] Small Business Technology Summit: http://www.smallbiztechsummit.com/

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January 18, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Life | , , , | 1 Comment