Some Reasons You Should Make the Switch to Electronic Signature Technology

If you still haven’t made the switch to electronic signatures, you’re missing out. The electronic signature process enables businesses of all sizes to simplify the task of obtaining signatures and expedites the contract signing process, all in a seamless and efficient way.

DocuSign, a San Francisco-based company that helps businesses collect and manage digital signatures for important documents, announced this week that it has raised $55.7 million in the latest round of funding, bringing the total amount raised to $122 million.

This significant funding signals the importance today’s businesses are placing on e-signature. Since its founding in 2003, DocuSign has gathered more than 20 million users who have signed more than 150 million documents.

But if you’re still unsure about moving the execution and storage of your contracts and agreements into the digital age, consider the following:

1. Is e-signature legal? Yes. Properly managed electronic signatures were given legal equivalence to “wet ink” signatures with the passage of the federal ESIGN Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

 2. Is e-signature safe and secure? Electronically signed and sealed documents are more secure than their paper counterparts because they tend to contain more information about who signed them, and they can be protected from unauthorized tampering. This isn’t possible with paper. Most ID theft happens to paper transactions because they are so easily lost, stolen or forged. Electronic records are encrypted and stored securely online.

3. Will e-signature work in my current business environment? Many e-signature transaction platforms integrate with the business tools you already use, including Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Dropbox, Salesforce and more. When looking for an e-signature provider, ask for a list of compatible products and platforms. Every business should be able to use its existing applications and documents instead of printing, faxing, scanning or overnight mailing.

Related: Five Tools for a Smarter Business

4. Why switch to e-signature if what I’m doing works? Many businesses are realizing that it can take a week or more to get a document signed and returned, and that in many cases it needs to be re-done because there were mistakes or missed signatures. Such delays in closing a deal with paper are no longer acceptable when a competitor can do it in minutes.

5. Is e-signature affordable? While the cost of an overnight express envelope varies depending on carrier and distance, the real cost isn’t in dollars. The real cost is in the lost time, manual processing errors, re-keying of data, and printing, signing, scanning and emailing of agreements all without the benefit of auto notification upon receipt.

How To Dispose of Old Gadgets

 

Q: What’s the best way to safely and securely dispose of my old tech devices?

A: Sounds like you recently found yourself staring in bewilderment at a closet full of discarded and useless computer towers, monitors, desktop printers, keyboards and other old electronic devices. According to Mark Bowles, founder and chief marketing officer of San Diego-based ecoATM, you’re not alone in confronting this digital disposal dilemma. The U.S. generated 2.4 million tons of e-waste in 2010, and GBI Research expects global e-waste recovery to be a $21 billion industry by 2020.

That’s great news for Bowles, whose company offers a self-serve kiosk that buys back used electronics (mostly mobile phones) directly from consumers. The e-waste is sold either to refurbishers, who resell the wares around the world, or to recyclers, who strip them down for the plastic and metals.

Bowles gave us his take on high-tech trash.

What’s the first step in discarding electronics?
Always erase your data before you sell or recycle your old devices. The easiest way is to run a Google search for the “factory reset” option for your device, then follow the instructions. This takes just a few keystrokes and usually does a good job. However, it won’t stop a data-recovery expert with sophisticated tools who’s motivated to recover your information. If you’re really concerned about your legacy data, remove the hard drive completely and either keep it or disable it–a drill press or hammer will do the job.

So hackers can gain access to the files on a recycled computer?
It’s rare. Most hackers looking for valuable data target specific people instead of mining through random devices in the recycling process. Reputable recycling firms strive to reach 100 percent erased on any used electronics they handle, because it can be a big liability. They want to protect your data as much as you do. Best insurance policy? Erase your data in advance and ask for a certificate of destruction by serial number from the recycler.

What should I look for in an e-waste recycler?
The electronic waste business has matured rapidly over the past several years with standards and certifications such as R2, e-Stewards and the Device Renewal Forum emerging. Look for companies that are certified in some or all of these standards, because they stick to best practices when handling personal data. These standards are relatively new but have already gained good traction with industry players that are serious about handling these issues properly.

Should You Know About Know About Your Tech Guy

You’d think by now, with “cloud” applications, everything being “hosted” and all software being delivered as a “service” that we wouldn’t have to deal with tech guys as much as we did in the past. But we still do. That’s because most of us still need PCs, laptops and tablets. We still have routers and cabling and switches in the office. We’re still saving some stuff locally on servers and many of us still have on-premises systems, like accounting and other databases that we rely on daily and will probably continue to rely on for the foreseeable future. And so all of this needs the tech guy. You know who this is, right?

He’s as old as your own kid. He’s a hipster. He last showered when Windows 7 was released. He has a goatee, and probably a pony tail. He’s rushed, frazzled and impatient. He fixes one thing and ten other things break. He drinks coffee or Red Bulls. He’s not unfriendly. But he’s definitely not a salesman. You pay him by the hour or maybe you have a monthly contract with him. You need him. He makes sure your systems keep running so your business can keep running.

There are at least three important things you need to know about this guy:

1. Not all tech guys were created equal. Most tech guys think their clients are idiots when it comes to tech. But rest assured, there are plenty of other tech guys who likely think the same about your tech guy. And they’re probably right. In the corporate world there are tech guys who deal with very complex security, data, application and connectivity issues. They come with respectable academic pedigrees and work for years in the bowels of giants like Oracle, SAP and Google.

Your tech guy is likely not one of these guys. Otherwise, he’d be working there. The barrier to enter the world if independent IT consulting is almost non-existent. Any clown who’s tinkered with a computer can do it. And maybe your tech guy did work at Oracle. But that may not qualify him to be a tech guy. Because tech, like any other industry, has many sub-specialties. I know plenty of competent C# programmers who know nothing about configuring a network. I know lots of SQL database experts who can’t even setup a printer. Make sure you understand your tech guy’s qualifications.

2. Don’t take their word for it. Lots of tech guys like to make their clients feel like nincompoops. They toss around unrecognizable words and give you withering looks when you ask simple questions. Men (most tech guys are men because it is one of the last places left in the world where we feel we can control things) like to pretend we know stuff when we really don’t. That’s why we hate to ask for directions and get help. Tech guys pretend they know the answers. But don’t believe every answer they give you. Trust your own common sense. Before spending a lot of money on a new project, get some other tech guys in to give you their second opinions. Don’t be afraid to question. You’re not as stupid as you’re being made to think. Technology is an art, not a science. If it were truly a science, most tech guys wouldn’t be smart enough to do it.

3. Get used to stuff breaking. Your tech guy is likely a Microsoft person. That means he’s used to stuff not working all the time and he accepts this. You should too — to a degree. Often tech guys throw out fixes like a baby throws  food — hoping it sticks to the wall. Don’t ask silly questions like “Why did this happen?” Instead ask “If it is God’s will that this problem occurs again, how do I reach you?”

This is not entirely the fault of the tech person. There is a part of technology that cannot be explained, perhaps for the same reason no one can explain why Duck Dynasty is such a popular show. It is like dark matter. So you let it go. Tech guys are used to dealing with an imperfect world. You will have to accept this. But don’t let that hold you back from asking the questions you need to get yourself comfortable. If the issue is important enough, don’t let him walk out the door until you get your questions satisfactorily answered. And make sure you know where to reach him when the problem inevitably re-occurs.

Just remember, your tech guy may be halfway decent at technology. But he’s not a great businessman. Treat him fairly, but be tough. And don’t let him off the hook. Some tech issues are not worth fighting. But others are important, so push for the answers you need. If a tech issue seems strange to you, that’s because it’s probably strange. You’re not stupid, so get your answers before he leaves. Otherwise you’ll quickly be out-of -ight and out-of-mind, and he’ll be on to disrupting the next small business owner.

Some Tech Tools to Better Automate Your Life

As a media company CTO, it’s my duty to be progressive when exploring new technologies. At the same time, I need to make sure I don’t become overwhelmed by the many options to manage my data consumption.

Everyone who works in the knowledge-based economy depends on email or office productivity software to get through their daily operations. In addition to email, my day-to-day revolves around creating, managing, and accessing files or documents. Any tool that improves my ability to do this has a major positive impact on my efficiency.

The projects and tasks that I am responsible for in a given day dictate the files I will need. Keeping close tabs on my daily tasks in a central, trusted system helps me manage my workflow. And, any tools or services that can ease the burden of information overload are hugely beneficial. Technology should be used to help eliminate distracting noise from dragging down your productivity.

Here are three tools I employ on a daily basis to help access documents, track what I’m doing, and automate my life:

1. Store documents with Google Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive and Box.
If you’re a technophile, hopefully these are obvious and you can skip this section. If not, and you haven’t started relying on these services as your file storage solution, this is absolutely critical for you. Stop storing your files on laptops, desktops, tablets, or mobile phones. The mantra that I live by — and consistently push in my role as CTO — is access to data from anywhere, at any time, using any device. If your files are stored on your laptop, which you left at home, you can’t do that.

Google Drive is my personal and professional data hub. Dropbox, Skydrive, and Box all provide the same functionality. I don’t store any data on my devices, thus eliminating the fear of losing the device, breaking the device, or leaving it at home when I need some files from it at work. The beauty of cloud-based data storage is that I always have access to it.

The argument that these services may go down or aren’t as secure are weak and myopic. We are talking about companies like Google and Microsoft who have thousands of the best engineers. They invest billions of dollars into their infrastructure. I’m pretty sure that your in-house system is far less secure — no offense to your IT team.

2. Track daily tasks with Todoist.
There are plenty of ways to keep track of your daily tasks, with the most tried and tested being the sticky note on your monitor. But, since you’re an entrepreneur and innovator, you need something digital that’s accessible from anywhere.

The solution I heavily rely on is Todoist. I don’t need anything fancy, I just need something simple, clean and functional. Todoist is a web service, accessible via any browser. The interface is simple, intuitive, and uniform across all devices. I can now create, check, and update my tasks on my Macbook, Chromebook, Android phone, iPad, and Nexus 7. The best part is email creation of tasks. I used to mark emails in my inbox with the label “to do” or “follow up.” Now I forward it to my Todoist email address and a task is created for me to track.

3. Automate your day-to-day with IFTTT.
IFTTT, whose name rhymes with “gift,”  is the unsung hero of my personal digital ecosystem. I only recently started using it and, in a short time, it has become indispensable. IFTTT is an acronym for “if this, then that” and the simple explanation is that it acts as your digital Swiss Army Knife. For example, when I update my Facebook profile photo, IFTTT will automatically change my Twitter profile picture to the same new photo. I can also set it up to automatically save every email attachment in Gmail to Dropbox. Or, how about receiving an email or text when the weather report says it’s going to rain. If I lose my phone in my house, I can send an email to IFTTT triggering a service to call my phone. You get the picture.

The power of this service is the extreme flexibility of creating and using any number of “recipes” to custom tailor solutions to your specific needs. There are currently over 70 “channels” to use, including Twitter, Facebook, email, phone, New York Times, SMS, and more. If you’re not using this service, you need to start today because it’s going to improve your digital life significantly.

The digital information weighing you down grows exponentially each year, but the tools and technologies to help you manage are also evolving at a rapid pace. Leveraging the right tools is critical to your success as an entrepreneur

Simple Ways to Avoid Data Disasters

Whether you are a full-time freelancer or entrepreneur on the go, your hard work — all the files and data you complete for your client / own business — is at risk. It could be one spilled coffee on your laptop or one client who saves over the only copy of a file you sent them. Anything could destroy your hours of hard work in an heartbeat.

Here are five tips on how to ensure your work is protected and how to make sure you’re never opening yourself up to a tech disaster.

1. When you’re on the road, your data is vulnerable.

Anytime you take your work on the go, you’re opening yourself up to a number of security risks. For example, using a Wi-Fi network that’s not secure can mean risking the confidential data your client has entrusted to you. If someone else is able to gain access to this sensitive information, then you’re left responsible for the loss!

  • What do to: Invest in a personal hotspot that you can password-protect no matter where you are. Check in with your wireless provider and see if you can add this feature to your phone’s existing plan. This way, you know that the Wi-Fi connection you’re using is safe and secure.

2. Your laptop is your lifeline, not your lockbox.

If you’re working anywhere outside your home — local coffee shop, airport lounge — then your laptop or tablet, etc. can easily be swiped in seconds, meaning that any confidential information on there is now in the hands of the thief. Also, any projects or work saved only on your laptop could be lost forever. That’s irreplaceable hours of work — i.e., money! — that you’re potentially at risk to lose.

  • What to do: Whenever you take your laptop outside of the house, ensure all the files on it are protected by an external hard drive. In the event of theft, you’ll also want to ensure your passwords aren’t crackable. An easily crackable password contains real words or proper names, has keyboard sequences and has a limited variety of characters.

3. Sharing is not always caring.

If you work with multiple clients, then you’ll undoubtedly need to share your work. But what happens if a collaborator accidentally deletes a file from your cloud storage repository? The work could be gone for good.

  • What to do: Don’t assume file sharing means file security. Always make sure that you have a copy and multiple versions of any file you send to a client / colleague, in the event that something happens as that asset is passed back-and-forth.

4. Be an entrepreneur with enterprise-level security.

While large enterprises often provide employees with secure file-sharing systems, remote workers / freelancers may not have access to these — meaning you could accidentally forward a link to a private or client-sensitive file to someone who shouldn’t have access it, violating your client’s privacy.

  • What to do: The files that you share or transfer should be protected by a password and sent through a private links opposed to a public link. Never send a link that anyone could click on and use to access a file. Just think — if you accidentally forward the wrong link to the wrong client, you could be jeopardizing their privacy and your own reputation as a responsible partner.

5. Storage does not equal safety.

This is a conversation in need of happening, as a recent survey highlights as a point of confusion for most. If you’re using cloud storage as a substitute for backup, you can easily lose data through accidental deletion, overwriting or by simply forgetting to manually upload files before disaster — or a security incident — arises.

  • What to do: Create a storage safety net with a cloud backup solution. Install software that will continuously and automatically backing up all user files and data and scanning for changes along the way — no manual dragging and dropping is necessary. An investment will create peace of mind that no piece of work will disappear forever, no matter what happens!

Web Based Technology

There are many types of businesses and many ways to grow them. Smart staffing, aggressive business development, strategic partnerships, investor relations and many other functions all contribute. But to grow from a small to a large company, you have to be able to both drive distinctiveness in your business model and to create efficiency and scale.

Setting your company apart from the competition will help attract customers, investors and employees, while driving leads, profitability and growth. Efficiency and scale are also paramount to expanding profit margins. Both are needed for handing an expansive client load. While many factors play into differentiating your business and achieving superb efficiency and scalable operations, there is one thing that greatly contributes to all – technology.

But what technology should be utilized and when?

1. Web-based platforms for round-the-clock access to your customer. Web-based technology platforms are ideal for a number of business solutions. They are logical. Our constant use of smart phones and tablets is not only a way of life phenomenon, but also represents a powerful and direct means to reach and influence your customer around the clock. Equally important, Web-based platforms allow your customers to reach you.

2. Common ways to improve business efficacy with Web technology. Programs built for the Internet environment are well-suited for client facing interactions, as well as for the aggregation and processing all kinds of information. Most businesses require applications and forms to be completed by customers, and Web-based programs give clients 24/7 access and efficient ways to complete them.

Web platforms also compile large amounts of data into central databases and provide multiple ways for deciphering, organizing and evaluating that information. Not only do these benefits improve speed in your operations, they also enable scale (your ability to exponentially increase the amount of business you are able to conduct).

Related: Five DIY Online Form Builders

Common applications of Web-based interfaces include credit card entry forms, CRM entries and databases, investor reporting tools and customer service interfaces, among countless others. But the real power of these interfaces is when they are utilized to create new, unique business processes, pushing slow adopter companies (and even whole industries) to evolve and improve the ways business is conducted.

3. Technology platforms that differentiate your business model and create scale. Once you identify how competitors utilize technology, you may formulate a unique strategy for maximizing efficiency within your own business. Look for ways to employ and combine technology processes to differentiate and create a unique business model. Assume you are able to create custom technology platforms, because you can. Web technologies include “off the shelf” solutions for common functions, custom-built tools for individual business challenges, and the combination of both which allows for truly unique solutions.

4. Integrate technology into your brand. Once you have embraced cutting-edge technology and implemented it into your organization, make sure your corporate brand reflects that. If your technology solutions better the current industry standards for conducting business, strengthen your brand with it to attract customers and superior talent, as well as to align your employees and partners with your goals and values.

New Technologies Is Making a Science of the Art of Sales

Sales teams across the country are faced with an interesting conundrum. There are more tools in the market than ever before. The trick is figuring out which ones are worth the investment.

The right measurement for judging a new tool is whether it increases the likelihood of making connections because, at the core, sales is about relationships. A new technology that helps create and build connections with prospects and clients is worth the investment.

There are three main categories of relationship-focused technologies for sales professionals.

Sales intelligence

With sales intelligence, its all about getting the fullest picture of a client or prospect as fast as possible. Some of the top tools in this field are InsideView and Data.com. Separately, these sales technologies are good, but combined they provide a complete understanding of a target business.

Data.com is a powerful database full of company and contact information for potential leads and prospects. Updated daily, it provides salespeople with a clear view of who they should consider reaching out to next. But while Data.com helps users find the right contacts to target within an organization, it’s still up to the sales individual to discern how best to approach the new prospects.

Enter InsideView. The sales intelligence platform pulls insights into CRM from across the web, everything from recent press appearances to new features, acquisitions and beyond. This provides a glimpse into the state of a company, where it may be headed and more. this level of detail is a must when it is necessary to build out a profile of a company to understand how to best engage.

Tools like Data.com and InsideView allow salespeople to step back and examine the overall landscape before diving in to pitching new prospects. Rather than wading through millions of organizations for leads, these tools put the individuals and companies salespeople should go after front-and-center.

Once the decision is made to approach a prospect, there’s a new layer of sales technologies that come into play to help salespeople understand the individual on the other end of the pitch.

Sales empowerment

Sales empowerment tools “empower” salespeople with data and technology to help turn the art of sales into a science. It’s not about simply having more information, but rather having the ability to analyze and use that data immediately to increase connectivity and build relationships.

One great example of a sales empowerment technology is Yesware, a Gmail-based sales platform for tracking emails, creating templates, syncing to CRM and more.

With Yesware, a salesperson is notified when a sent email is opened by a prospect. Yesware also provides detail on what device type the prospect used to open the email. This information may seem trivial but it has had a huge impact on my team’s ability to make valuable connections with prospects.

Related: When You’re Hungry for Sales, Consider These Lead-Gen Tools

For example, with Yesware, I realized 95 percent of emails opened by prospects on a mobile phone go unanswered if the email content exceeds the size of the phone screen. This knowledge helps my sales team write emails with mobile in mind. We now have heightened awareness of what I call “optic response,” the overall impression or mood an email’s design, style and layout relays, regardless of the specific information presented.

Additional Yesware features, like mail merge, speed up the sales process by allowing us to automatically follow-up with a specific segment within a given message group, such as those who have not yet opened the initial email.

We also use templates to keep track of which subject lines are doing the best throughout the company, and to create specific examples of a portable device email versus a desktop message. All of these features help us engage the right targets with the right message, enhancing our relationships with prospects.

Social sales

These days, social media impacts every industry and individual. Sales is no exception. The upside to everyone over-sharing online is that prospects participate, too.

“Social selling” creates 45 percent more opportunities, with 51 percent of representatives more likely to hit their quotas, according to LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index. With that context, understanding human behaviors, degrees of connection and how prospects share content to communicate are some of a salesperson’s best tools.

Three of the top social platforms in the world — LinkedIn, Twitter and Salesforce’s Chatter — are my trifecta for building and strengthening connections, providing unique background on prospects and clients, and establishing a forum for internal communication.

On the surface, LinkedIn gives salespeople a look into a prospect’s background, such as where they went to college, the cities where they have lived, work background, shared contacts and if they are even the right person at their organization to reach out to.

The true advantage, however, is in obtaining a genuine interpretation of the person’s style, what they value, organizations and activities in common, etc. This is also the single best way for a salesperson to understand whom he or she knows in common with a prospect, so as to build a direct path for engagement.

Twitter is second to none when it comes to understanding the actual behavior of a prospect. From vacation plans to beloved pets to milestones, thousands of random factoids are shared over Twitter. In fact, many individuals will post life’s little annoyances, such as a salesperson in the past who approached them in a way they found less than appealing. When the goal is establishing connection, understanding what not to do is often more important than anything else!

Salesforce has many helpful attributes but Chatter is a feature often overlooked and underutilized. Chatter may appear to be “just another instant messaging platform” but it offers far more by allowing an entire business to share stories and develop communities of learning.

How often in sales is it said that teamwork is not just encouraged, but required? As often as not, a powerful learning moment is lost in a sea of emails. New employees never even get a chance to be exposed to the wisdom of many past experiences. Chatter preserves these lessons for everyone within a company to find. When incorporating social selling into the mix, just “@mentioning” someone on a thread creates an unstoppable force. Conversations grow organically.

My belief is that the most critical aspect of a salesperson’s day-to-day is simply making the connection. Or, as Eminem reminds us on “One Shot,” “If you had one shot, one opportunity / To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment / Would you capture it or just let it slip?”