Launch of 2030 Communications Vision

Everyone must commit to driving Australia to the forefront of the communications age if Australians want to retain their relative standard of living, a group leading small business, communications, regional and consumer representatives said today.

The representatives of business, local government, regional communities, telcos and consumer representatives came together in late 2014 to launch the Communications Vision 2030 project, an initiative to shape a digital vision and set of goals for Australia to achieve global digital age leadership.

The group announced it would convene a policy seminar in early 2015, bringing together a wide range of experts and stakeholders to discuss a pathway to national digital economy leadership by 2030.

Five outsourcing platforms to improve your small business

Adapting to the digital economy can require specific skills and expertise. We understand that it can be a stressful and expensive process at times. It is also daunting for business owners who realise how many new skills are required to take advantage of digital opportunities.

Online freelancing tools have made it easier and more economical for businesses to access professionals with diverse skill sets from all over the world. You can contract these skills at prices that are much more affordable than you might think.

Common services (amongst many others) outsourced by businesses include graphic design, web design, programming skills,  app development, SEO(Search Engine Optimisation) and content writing.

Internet freelancing platforms open small businesses up to a much wider net of providers capable of providing great services at a lower cost.

Note: Please use discretion and caution when selecting your provider to ensure the best outcome. Always read reviews and view a portfolio where possible.

Below we’ve listed five outsourcing tools you may consider for your business.

1. Freelancer

OutsourcingFreelancer is an Australian-based (but internationally available) freelancing platform founded in 2009. You can create an account for free (or login with your Facebook account) and add details of the work you need completed. Skilled workers can then find your job based on its criteria.

You may also want to set-up email notifications to let you know when people with certain skills become available. Freelancer is certainly one of the largest freelance market places with roughly 11.5 million users.

2. Elance

Elance

Elance.com

One of the first online freelancing platforms, Elance was founded in 1999 in the USA. Like Freelancer, businesses can create an account for free (or login with Facebook or LinkedIn) and post jobs to attract freelancers.

Elance offer extras such as referral programs and payroll services. As a result, Elance can be more suited to larger-scale businesses.

3. Fiverr

Outsourcing

Fiverr.com

Fiverr is a great tool for those odd jobs, one-offs and bits and pieces you need to get done, and often quickly. That’s not to say it has to be poor quality!

The idea is that anyone can sell their services starting at $5 for just about anything. You can complete voice-overs, logos, banners, translations, or t-shirt prints (amongst many, many other things) for surprisingly low costs. Fiverr is self-moderating, so be sure to look at reviews of the provider and pay attention to details such as the turnaround time, Many providers will offer optional extras such as extra-fast turnaround or additional designs.

You can also view the average turnaround time, orders in queue and average rating of each user.

4. 99designs

outsourcing

99designs.com

99designs started in Melbourne in 2008 with the objective of changing the way businesses solved their design needs. The idea is based around a ‘design contest’.

As a business, you provide 99designs with a design brief. You will then choose a package. According to the package, 99designs offer a ‘prize’ to designers who will then compete to win the ‘competition’ (i.e. make you a happy customer).

This gives you the benefit of having dozens of design options pitched to you from multiple designers! Not a bad idea. If you find a designer you love working with through this process, 99designs will facilitate that relationship into the future.

Packages start from $299.

5. oDesk

outsourcing

Odesk.com

oDesk, has recently merged with eLance.com. It is a freelancing tool that caters to your digital needs. Like other online freelancing tools, it allows you to post your job for free, review candidates and track and pay for your freelancer all through the oDesk platform.

You may wish to employ an individual for a one-off project, or a team of developers for a long-term team project. It’s up to you!

Have your say in Victoria’s digital economy strategy

The Victorian Government is seeking your input into the development of a strategy to support Victoria’s digital economy. Many of the ideas in our Hume Region Digital Strategy are applicable statewide and we expect many will be represented in the Victorian strategy.

This initiative has been described and explained on www.digital-economy.vic.gov.au as follows:

“The Victorian Government is establishing a conversation with Victorian’s to inform and engage the government’s Digital Economy Strategy. This engagement program will inform the strategy and influence the strategy actions to build the digital capability of Victorian businesses.

The Digital Economy Strategy aims to position Victoria as a strong and innovative digital economy that can capture the substantial benefits and opportunities generated by digital technologies.”

We have discussed and written about many aspects of the digital economy on this blog and we encourage those of you who have contributed to and followed the digitalhume.com.au blog to submit ideas. This will ensure the views of businesses and the community in the Hume Region is well-represented.

You can submit your ideas and exchange views with others through the online portal. You will need to sign up to join the conversation, a process that takes about 60 seconds.

The strategy will be broken into seven key themes. You can have your say on each theme. The themes are outlined below:

Digital Inclusion

“Digital inclusion refers to the extent to which all people and groups are able to use and benefit from ICT. It includes not only access to the internet, but also the availability of hardware and software, content and services, and training in digital literacy skills.”

This is a great chance for you to provide feedback on what you feel are barriers to entry for digital, whether it be in a personal or business capacity. As more services and social interactions move online, it’s important that everyone is kept involved and engaged to prevent large knowledge gaps.

Have your say on digital inclusion

Productive and Competitive SMEs

Research has shown that digital engagement is a key factor to success for SMEs and large business alike. Businesses who lack access to digital resources may find themselves falling behind in a digital economy.

Have your input about how digital has been affecting your business, what information and resources you need to keep up or voice your concerns.

Have your say on Productive and Competitive SMEs

Digital Infrastructure

“The Victorian Government is continuing to consider ways to support Victorians to access the telecommunications infrastructure and services they need. We want your views on issues that are affecting you and on some of the suggestions we’ve received about how to improve access to digital communications.”

Have your say on Digital Inclusion

Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Digital technologies provide a huge opportunity for Victorian businesses to change their business models, access wider customer markets and improve their offerings. What do you need as a business to improve through digital innovation? How can the Victorian Government encourage digital innovation and entrepreneurship?

Have your say on Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship

A Skilled Workforce

The digital economy means that businesses must acquire new skills and expertise. Whether you are building skills internally, hiring new staff or outsourcing tasks, it is important that businesses have access to the knowledge they need. Have you had trouble finding the right expertise, need advice on where to look or what you need?

Have your say on a Skilled Workforce

Telecommuting

Digital technologies provide a great opportunity for businesses to reap the benefits of telecommuting or ‘teleworking’. Telecommuting is the ability of employees to work and communicate remotely from their work location, for example at home or on the move.

Many businesses are already utilising this opportunity to ensure they have a more flexible workforce and better retention of skills. For individuals living in a region like Hume telecommuting also provides great opportunities to work remotely for larger businesses based in the major cities.. Tell Business Victoria how you’re making the most of teleworking or what’s stopping you from getting started.

Have your say on Telecommuting

Leadership in Government

“Achieving these goals is a challenging task. In the coming decades, Victoria’s rapidly growing and ageing population means that our public sector will have to deliver more services to more people from a relatively smaller revenue base. We will have to be much smarter and more innovative about how we design and deliver these services. The substantial cost reductions and flexibility offered by cloud computing may provide the key to developing new, cost-effective delivery models that enable us to keep up with demand while matching customer expectations and safeguarding privacy.”

Provide feedback on how government can provide services to best meet your needs. Do you want to be involvement in improvements and initiatives? Tell them about your experiences.

Have your say on Leadership in Government

You can also follow and join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #DigitalEconomyVic

Data intelligence to boost crop yields

Data for farmers

A recent article from The Economist highlights how new data technologies are set to create digital disruption for farmers.

CRops economistHybrid seed producer, Monsanto, have bought out a Silicon Valley start-up for $1 billion USD to build their system of ‘Prescription Planting’. The system can tell farmers with precision which seeds to plant and how to cultivate seeds in each patch of land. It is predicted that the new technology will be the biggest change to the agriculture industry since the introduction of genetically modified crops.

The system was originally created by two former Google employees, who mapped out 25 million fields in the US and superimposed climate information on top.

Crop Insights

While the program was originally intended to help sell crop insurance, Monsanto have used the tool to provide a sophisticated planting system that can predict which seeds grow best in which field under specific conditions.This is done by combining the climate information with their extensive data on seed yields.

Many planters are already capable of steering themselves using GPS technology. Precision planting provides a further progression as farmers can now plant with different depths and spacing, varying according to the weather.

Results are already showing great promise, with yields increasing by 5% over two years.

Concerns

Some farmers are concerned over how such technologies will affect the agriculture industry.

Advanced technologies may remove some of the discretion and skill that farmers have been accustomed to for generations. Furthermore, there is concern over what organisations like Monsanto will do with the data they collect.

There is grey area over who owns the data collected, and hence whether data organisations can on-sell data to competitors, use information for commodity trading or for acquisition of underperforming farmland.

American farmers are already responding to such threats, with the American Farm Bureau drawing up a code of conduct for data organisations to comply with. The code will provide farmers with ownership of their data and prevents organisations from sharing their data with third parties or using it for purposes other than those for which it was provided.

Takeaways for Australian Farmers

Digital and data insights are set to greatly impact agricultural industries. While developments are still in early stages, expect more frameworks, policy and competition to evolve around these technologies over the next few years.

Those who are willing to become early adopters of change may find themselves gaining significant competitive advantage. For more information on how technology is disrupting business visit our sister website www.digitalagriculture.com.au

Five social media tools that can drive growth in your business

By now every business owner knows they should at the very least be considering social media in their business. It has become widely accepted, and research has proven, that social media when utilised correctly can improve marketing efforts and increase customer engagement.

How do we decide which social tools best apply to our business? The list of tools is growing and changing continuously, which requires ongoing reassessment. When coming across new technologies, it is always advisable to analyse the following:

  • Do your customers use this technology or are they likely to in the future?
  • How will the new technology deliver value to our customer?
  • What resources and skills will we need to utilise the tool?
  • What associated costs exist?
  • What risks will we need to manage?

Try these questions on five tools you may not have considered for your business:

Pinterest

Pinterest Kitchen ProductsPinterest is a tool that all businesses with visual products  should investigate closely. It follows the traditional notion of ‘pinning’ pictures you like to a pinboard, but now users can choose pictures from anywhere across the web and pin and curate multiple images on their own boards.

Communities of users with common interests choose and aggregate images on Pinterest. Interests are wide and varied with popular interests including food, cars, education and celebrities. Many businesses use the tool to organise and share their own images and make them available to relevant interest groups. Good imagery gets shared by individuals and communities and is a great way to promote the visual aspects of your brand.

Any image on the web can be pinned to a user’s board, which in turn can be shared and drive traffic back to your website (providing gains in Search Engine Optimisation and potential sales leads). Big retailers such as Nordstrom and Target in the US are increasingly using Pinterest to drive instore purchases.

So how can you capitalise?

Start creating great images for your website and Pinterest account. If required, consider hiring a photographer for a day to really get the best out of your products and brand!

Whatsapp

Whatsapp has made big news recently having been acquired by Facebook for US$16 billion. The mobile app (available for iPhone and Android) has made waves, allowing users to privately message individuals or groups using their mobile internet connection. The beauty of Whatsapp is its simplicity.

The ability to send free messages to groups has made real-time, mobile collaboration for businesses and working groups very accessible. If you work in a small team that needs a simple, and fast way to communicate as a group on the road – this may be the tool for you.

Vimeo

Like YouTube, Vimeo is a video platform that is embeddable and shareable and allows you to upload your own videos and create a customised video feed.

However, many argue that Vimeo is more suited for high quality video production with its cleaner interface and higher streaming quality.

YouTube is still the most used tool to share your video content and improve SEO. However, if your brand is creating high quality image content that you want to share in higher definition with less interference from advertising – Vimeo may be a great tool for you!

Snapchat

Snapchat is still widely perceived as a social messaging tool for teenagers, but with the continuing trend towards private messaging and image-heavy messages, more businesses are beginning to adopt Snapchat as a new marketing tool.

This great article from Social Media Examiner provides five examples of brands using Snapchat for their marketing activities. Be clear on your strategy, how you’re going to use the tool and what value you’re going to add to your customer. Snapchat can work really well for music and sporting events, to create buzz for new product launches or to drive sales by offering limited-time discounts.

Snapchat is a reciprocal social tool, meaning that both parties have to accept the other as a friend before messaging can occur. So you’ll have to offer some value to get your customers to engage with you! Be creative.

Yammer

Yammer is one of the more widely used internal collaboration tools (although there are now many).

Internal communication tools erase the necessity for long, complicated email chains that are impossible to backtrack. They also aid collaboration, creativity and innovation.

There is a misconception that such tools are only of use in large organisations. However, many smaller organisations make great use of tools like Yammer, being able to share interesting and useful content, add topic tags to group similar content over time and being able to collaborate while colleagues are out-of-office.

Regardless of your business size, Yammer can provide a great central knowledge hub. The Yammer website provides some great examples of organisations benefiting from internal collaboration.

What tools do you use? Tell us your stories on Twitter using #digitalhume.

Tutorial 6: Merging the Online and Offline

Over the last few tutorials we’ve talked about online tools for business. Matching what you do in the online world with what you are doing in the offline world is very important for business success. Businesses need to avoid viewing online tools as a separate process to normal business practices. The businesses who are able to compliment both the physical and online aspects of their business with each other are those who derive its real value.

This isn’t always something that will happen overnight. It will take time, trial and error, involvement of other members of your business and it may take your customers a while to get used to your new ways of doing business.

But there are some other practical tools that can help your customers’ transition easily between your physical and virtual stores.

Google Offers

Google Offers allows businesses who are using Google Places (see tutorial two) to create online coupons that are redeemable in store. This provides a great way to create a link between your online traffic and in-store foot traffic.*

Google make setting up the offer and customer redemption easy and adaptable, meaning the process is easy to use whether your business is tech-savvy or not. In the following video Google show how easy offers can be to redeem for your business.

QR Codes

Google Offers will help turn online visitors into physical visitors. How do we reverse the process and get your physical visitors talking about you and sharing your business online? One easy way is the use of QR codes.

QR codes are square barcodes that can be scanned with a mobile device that will automatically direct the user to a webpage about your business. Creating a QR code takes very little time and effort, and there are plenty of free online generators (such as goqr). Simply choose where you would like the code to direct the user, and select a size for the QR code and then apply to your medium.

In its most basic form, you might like to have the QR code displayed on a counter sign or in your shop window, taking visitors to a page of your website with more information or to your Facebook page where they can share with friends. You might tie the code in with an in-store offer, for example “like our Facebook page for a free upgrade”.

Experiment and try new things with this low cost tool. It’s a great chance to start generating more online discussion about your business.

Loyalty Apps

If you’re not yet confident to start managing your own offers and QR codes, there are now solutions that are ready made to apply to your business.

Rewardle are a Melbourne based company offering loyalty and coupon digital programs in a solution that is created and implemented for you. Customers receive a free card and keyring with a QR code and simply scan when they’re in your store to accumulate points and rewards. They can track their progress online and on the Rewardle iPhone and Android apps. For those who need a little more help getting  a program running, this may be the option for you!

*Do note that these offers are very different to the online coupon websites which have been generating negative press in recent years. You are in full control of your offers and for how long they are valid.

Tutorial 5: Five Ways to Build Knowledge Online

The web provides an enormous body of information and learning at your fingertips. Increasingly, more and more of this information is being made available for free. Quite often, the hardest part is knowing where to find it, so we’ve listed five ways you can build knowledge for your business online.

1. Coursera

Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.Technology now allows you to access classes and lectures from around the world that are delivered in an interactive manner.

Simply go to www.coursera.com and type in a topic you’d like to learn about to see what courses are available. For example, if you wanted to learn more about how to market your business, you might type in “marketing” and be presented with this introduction to marketing from the University of Pennsylvania.

2. Business Victoria

The Business Victoria website provides a great body of information for all businesses. Whether you just need to find forms for a permit or want to learn how to grow your business, there will be resources to meet your needs. Of particular note are the workshops, seminars and events.

Business Victoria run plenty of workshops and seminars for small business, and also a Victorian Small Business Festival and Support Small Business Day. Keep an eye on their website to find out when you can go along to build your knowledge and network your business.

3. LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn has quickly grown into an enormous collection of professionals and business owners. If you’re not already on LinkedIn, it is definitely worth considering setting up an account.

With so many people in one place, it naturally follows that the community has become a very valuable bank of knowledge and information. LinkedIn groups allow like-minded people to network, discuss problems and help each other find answers. There are LinkedIn groups for almost everything, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for why not create one yourself? Someone else out there is bound to be facing similar problems to yours, and two heads are better than one!

This Introduction to LinkedIn webinar will help get you started:

 

4. ABS Data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics publicly release large amounts of data from each census which can be used to develop strong insights into the demographic and behaviour of customers in your area. If you were thinking of opening a new retail store in Shepparton, wouldn’t you want to know about the average age of your customer, how many students are in the area and what the average income is?

Even the simple QuickStats tool is a quick and simple way to get some basic information about the people in your geographic location. Have a look now and see what you can learn about your customer.

 

5. Delicious

Ever read a wonderful article or found a great website but forgot how to locate it when you want to go back to reread it?  Delicious solves this issue. It allows you to bookmark any online content from your computer, laptop, tablet or phone and save it into one account. Better yet, you can tag every bookmark with topics and keywords so you can find it later without having to remember where it was or what it was called.

Using tags you will also be able to search for other peoples’ bookmarks that might just have that answer you’ve been looking for.

Tutorial 4: Three Ways to Cut Costs Online

The internet can help you make your business more efficient and simpler to run. Everyday processes including accounting, file storage, and customer communications have never been easier using online services. We’ve listed three ways for you to start cutting costs for your business now.

Accounting on the Cloud

For many small businesses, it is always a challenge trying to find time to get the accounts done. Do you work from multiple sites? Do you have multiple people who need to input information into your accounting software? Would life be a lot easier if you could work on the accounts from home as well as the office? Do you wish you could invoice your customers on the run?

Accounting on the cloud solves these issues. Xero is one of the most widely used cloud accounting packages offering a comprehensive solution for small business. Your accounts can be managed from any location and by multiple people. The software is compatible for mobile and tablet, adding a whole new range of functionality to your bookkeeping. Being on the cloud, Xero is able to connect with your other financial entities to create a synergy for processes that previously required more labourious reconciliation.

An overview of Xero features can be found below:

Online Meetings

Online calls, meetings and webinars have greatly improved flexibility for businesses. Conducting meetings online can save hours and days of travel time for meetings that in some instances can be concluded in an hour. You no longer need to be restricted to meetings with those within your own area, nor are meetings delayed while key parties are out of town.

There are now a range of tools available for you to connect with your customers, business partners and co-workers at anytime from anywhere. This is not to say it is not still important to build personal relationships with stakeholders; the technology simply expands your ability to facilitate effective and timely communication with them.

Meetings and webinars can also be recorded and saved. This means anyone who missed the meeting can catch up at a later time.

Here are three tools your business can use to save time and money by conducting online meetings.

1. Skype

One of the oldest and best known, Skype is still a fantastic tool for a number of reasons and especially for one-on-one calls. One of the greatest advantages of Skype is that it’s very widely used, this means you’ll encounter little trouble finding people who are familiar with using the tool. It works for desktop, tablet and mobile and it’s free. If you need to call an actual phone number with Skype, this can be done for a very reasonable rate, also making Skype an affordable option when making calls to or from overseas. Skype also has easy compatibility with most smart phones, allowing you to synchronise your existing contacts.

Skype group calls are available on paid accounts. More details on features are available here.

2. Google Hangouts

Google have developed their own version of Skype a communication platform called Google Hangouts. Hangouts is particularly handy for those who are already using Google Mail and Gmail, as the tool is already built into your email interface.

Hangouts provides functionality for chat, voice and video calls, group calls and also screenshare (the ability to show participants the activity on your own screen in real time). As with Skype, Google Hangouts is available for desktop, iPhone and Android so you can use it in the office and on the run.

3. Go To Meeting

Go to meeting is a fantastic tool for those who want to share with multiple people at once and don’t want to worry about compatibility options. It is especially effective if you need to demonstrate your actions with screen capture – allowing you to share your screen with up to 25 participants.

Go To Meeting is a paid service, but only the creator of the meeting requires a subscription. Other people participating in the meeting or webinar can be given the details of the session and log in for free.  It’s compatible with mobile and tablet and users can also dial in from landline, which is handy  for those who don’t have a reliable broadband connection.

Go To Meeting is available on a 30 day free trial.

Recruiting & Outsourcing

The internet has radically changed the recruiting industry and also how we find business partners and contractors. Below are tools that can help you.

LinkedIn was one of the first prominent tools to begin changing the employment market, allowing users to create their own online profiles which recruiters are able to use to track down the perfect employee. LinkedIn now has over 259 million members in over 200 countries. Advanced search algorithms allow LinkedIn to target down the employees you need and cut out much of the field work.

Many small business would prefer to outsource work to contractors. Finding people with the skills you need has never been easier. You can now find graphic and web designers, book-keepers, copywriters, and many more professionals online. Websites like Elance and OneShift make it possible to advertise work online to people all over the world.

These sites, among others, allow recruitment of individuals for specific, flexible projects. This allows businesses to meet their needs on a short-term horizon or cover one-off and short-term skill or labour deficiencies. This may save your business a lot of time and money in recruitment costs and help finish that job you’ve been thinking about for months.

Tutorial 3: Four Tools to Help You Get New Customers

Increasing your business’ visibility online is critical to getting new customers. A customer’s first step when choosing a product, a place to eat, or a place to sleep will be an online search. Google state that 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. Of searches happening on Google over 50% now happen on smartphones and tablets.

There are a number of quick and easy ways you can help increase your business’ visibility online. The following examples are all free and mobile compatible and may be applicable to your business.

Google Places

Registering your business for Google Places is a free process that can significantly help your get found by customers. It allows your business to appear on Google Maps searches, display details (including open hours and address) on Google searches and receive Google Reviews to encourage more business and improve your service. It also helps you track basic analytics on your customers. Every local business should be on Google Places. Google have provided a detailed summary of how to add your basic information here.

 

Yelp

Yelp is an online tool designed to help customers find great local businesses through peer review. It’s free to register your business and increase your visibility, read your reviews and respond to customer feedback. For a summary of why you should consider using Yelp for your business and instructions on setting up your business page, see the videos below. More resources and educational videos are available at the Yelp YouTube Channel.

Trip Advisor

One of the first ports of call for the modern traveller is Trip Advisor. When you’ve just arrived in a new location, you need advice on which local businesses you can trust to meet your needs. Trip Advisor will help you get found and bring in visitors from around the globe. Be sure to register your business if you are in hospitality, tourism or related sectors.  A range of video resources are available from Trip Advisor’s YouTube Channel.

Urban Spoon

If you’re serving food and drinks, Urban Spoon is the site for you. Complete with mobile app, the service will allow you to be found and reviewed by punters. Especially of value, is the mobile app that allows users to search for near-by venues based on their geographic location. You can get started by going to https://www.urbanspoon.com/u/create .

Tutorial 2: Registering a Domain & Setting Up Company Email

An essential part of getting your business online is registering your domain name, and setting up a business email address. This simple task will give your business credibility and make it easier for customers to find you. Don’t worry if you have never registered a domain name – it’s really easy and we’ll show you how.

What is a domain name?

Simply put a domain name is what appears as the website address (URL) of your business website. For example, this website has the domain www.digitalhume.com.au.

What do you mean by company email?

When purchasing a domain, it is possible to also purchase an email service that provides you with company branded email addresses. For example, if you register the domain  examplebusiness.com, you would want a matching email address such as john@examplebusiness.com. This provides unity for your company name (and brand) across all contact with customers.

Where do I register?

There are many domain name providers online, who also offer a range of other services including email. Prices and services will vary with the provider and it is best to look around and see which provider is most suited to your business. Some of the most common domain name providers are listed below:

What makes a good domain name?

A good domain name is relevant to your business, not too long, easily remembered and not over-complicated. Your first preference might not be available, but there are still many domains available.

How do I purchase a domain name and email?

Using crazydomains.com.au, the below slideshow will step you through the process of purchasing your business domain and email address. Easy as that!