Full Report

4 Signs You’re Paying Too Much for IT

Posted By: on June 4, 2014
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Whether you manage a government agency, mega-corporation, or tiny startup, there’s one thing every business and agency has in common: the need for quality IT.

Maybe you’re at the point where you need an entire, permanent IT department of your own, or maybe you can outsource your computer systems management to a freelance IT tech on a part-time basis. No matter what your needs, getting them properly covered is critical. student_money_small

For government agencies, ensuring your IT needs are managed like a business is key for security and smooth sailing. For startups, budgetary constraints are going to be a bigger concern, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for subpar support.

Here are a few signs that you may be overpaying for IT, whether it’s strictly in dollar amount or in relation to the quality you’re getting.

1. You feel you have to micromanage

Have you asked your IT technician to change the website to the new logo, but only the homepage got updated? Do you still find landing pages with the old logo?

This is just one example, but if you’re basically having to follow IT around to make sure they clean up (just like with a toddler), you might as well figure out how to do it yourself.

2. You’re not given clear reports

It’s part of the IT team’s job to explain to you, in terms you can understand, what’s happening. It doesn’t matter how tech-savvy you are or aren’t.

They specialize in communications, and if you’re not getting that, then you have a problem. However, make sure you ask for clarification first before looking at different options.

3. Your SEO has plateaued

Search engine optimization (SEO) is key for businesses of all sizes. Nobody can guarantee you top ranking for your keywords. But different aspects of your SEO should show improvement over time and regular reports should reflect that.

4. Customers complaining about your web presence

This is huge. A few complaints are normal (for example, if a Luddite can’t figure out your mobile app v. desktop layout).

However, if the same complaints are rolling in at a fairly steady rate, the problem is probably on your end. More people are using mobile devices than desktops now, so being mobile-ready with responsive design is critical.

Your IT department should be (really) working for you, not the other way around. You’re paying for certain results, and if you’re not getting them, then why are you wasting time and money?

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Why a Landline May Be the Ultimate Romantic Gesture

Posted By: on June 3, 2014
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Flowers, perfume, and jewelry? If you really want to show your paramour how much you adore her or him, try getting the person a landline. It could be the ultimate, even if your beloved is an iPhone snob or avid Android fan.

It might seem out of date and needlessly worrisome, but the reality is that in an emergency, only a landline will do. There’s no better way to show people you care than by prioritizing their safety.

Of course, mixing in a dinner or massage with wouldn’t hurt. But by combining whimsically romantic with the practically useful, you’ve got all your bases covered.

Still not convinced? Here’s the ultimate list of why landlines are the perfect gift for people in a relationship and why everyone needs one.

1. Natural disaster connections

During major disasters such as Katrina and Sandy, there was so much smartphone traffic that many people couldn’t get through to their loved ones. Some discovered they could still send texts, but the lag time was huge; others were stuck not knowing if their family members and friends were safe.

Landlines don’t have that same problem, partly because fewer homeowners have them anymore.

2. Tracing calls

This isn’t meant to be a creepy, stalker thing, but if your loved one ever needs to call 911 but can’t speak, the operator can quickly trace the call and send for help. That isn’t the case with a smartphone.

Nobody likes to think about such situations, but it’s always better to be prepared for the worst than not at all.

3. No battery trouble

In some emergency situations, it’s not that the lines are locked up, but a charger can’t be found. Meanwhile, running all those apps has sucked the battery life from your smartphone.

Landlines don’t have this problem, either. To play it safe, have a landline on both the upper level of a home and the lowest so you’re ready for anything.

4. Lower bills

Unless you’ve put together a very creative “framily” plan, you’re likely paying extra for unlimited calls. Landlines are incredibly affordable, and you can nix some of those minutes on your smartphone plan.

Even better, if you combine cable, Wi-Fi, or other services with your landline, you can get it for next to nothing.

Going old-school clearly has some upsides, especially if you’re of the mindset that you’d prefer to be prepared for disaster. Just make sure you have your speech prepared, otherwise you might get a blank look when your significant other opens the gift.

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TopCultured Legends

Top 5 Martha Stewart Guest Appearances (w/ Conan)

Posted By: on January 13, 2010

There are few more awkward and hilarious things than watching Martha Stewart try to keep her composure around an unruly guest. We’ve compiled the top 5 of the bunch for your viewing pleasure. From the Read On »

7 Great Places to Eat in Chicago

Posted By: on September 13, 2013

If you’re looking for a great dining experience in Chicago, you won’t have to look very far. The Windy City has some of the finest restaurants in the country. Here’s seven great restaurants you should Read On »

Why Businesses are Booming Over Apps

Posted By: on June 12, 2011

It’s no secret that mobile is one of the fastest growing segments of the business tool world. Everything is going iPhone, iPad, iWhatever, and companies large and small on the enterprise are starting to take Read On »

5 Ways to Save Money This Summer

Posted By: on June 2, 2014
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Summer should be a time to kick back and relax, and not have to worry about finances. Take a cue from the kids in your neighborhood and enjoy the little things in life.

On the other hand, don’t forget about upgrading when there are opportunities for long-term savings. Consider this your cheat sheet for optimizing your finances this summer so you’re set for the rainy days of autumn.

1. Indulge in day trips

No matter how long you’ve lived in a region, take a look at it from a tourist’s perspective because there’s bound to be plenty of nearby places yet to discover.

Museums, parks, hiking trails, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are known for crazy dishes; all of these places can be the focus of a mini vacation. Opt for short road trips or strolls around different neighborhoods instead of a lengthy and costly getaway.

2. Prep your home

The peak of summer and winter are when energy bills tend to run their highest. Use this time to upgrade your systems if you can, such as finally installing that ductless heat pump or getting your A/C maintained.

A little TLC can go a long way toward preventing sky-high bills when something really goes wrong.

3. Keep cool in other ways

Cranking the A/C may be easy and comfortable, but it’ll be a pain in your pocketbook. Instead, plug in the sprinkler, head to a local watering hole, or make the most of dollar movie theaters and their icy HVAC system.

Opt for cool breezes, the shade, and homemade popsicles or iced tea, and you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable with no shocking bill down the road.

4. Re-discover the library

If you’re lucky enough to have a public library still operating nearby, make the most of it and set a reading challenge with your whole family. It’s completely free, and most libraries offer a variety of events throughout the summer. Why spend money and take a chance on a book that might not be rewarding?

5. Keep an eye out for “fair” deals

Remember when going to the local fair or carnival didn’t cost much? Times have changed, but most local festivals are featured on daily deal sites such Groupon.

You can get access to unlimited ride passes, event passes, and entry admissions for a steal. Once inside, take advantage of samples, free entertainment such as concerts, and a bonding experience that will take you back to childhood.

Summer can be as costly (or not) as you like. Above are some of the ways you can make the most of the summer without emptying your savings.

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6 Reasons That SEO Can Fail

Posted By: on June 1, 2014
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Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful tool, and just like any power, it can make or destroy you. When wielded correctly, it has the power to boost your search engine rankings, drive more relevant traffic to your site and make a startup succeed. However, in the wrong hands (or newbie hands), it can self destruct. How can you err on the side of success?

Here are the top reasons SEO fails.

1. Not hiring a professional

Not everyone has it in the budget to have a professional SEO firm manage their online presence. However, if you adopt a “learn as you go” approach and nobody on the team has experience, you’re going to take a lot of falls. SEO only allows for so many rookie mistakes.

2. Not keeping up with best practices

The best practices for SEO evolves constantly. What were good practices two years ago may not be relevant today. This also sets you up for unwittingly partaking in black hat tricks.

3. Using black hat tricks

Whether it’s keyword stuffing or invisible text, and whether you know it’s wrong or not, it doesn’t matter. Black hat trickery is almost always caught and penalized accordingly. Once Google has caught you, it takes a lot to get back into good graces.

4. Forgetting about quality

You’re following all the rules such as responsive design and using meta tags for organic keywords, so why aren’t your rankings improving? Quality counts for a lot, and that includes both text content and design layout. If people are turned off by your online presence, that will be reflected in the small amount of time they spend on the page and that in turn gets reported to search engines.

5. There’s no LSEO

Local SEO is trending right now as the importance of catering to geographically local markets becomes more important. If you have a local market and you’re not including LSEO in your campaign, you’re missing out. Don’t underestimate the power of local pride or what it can do for your reputation.

6. Your keywords are outdated

You can use Google AdWords’ Keyword Tool tomorrow and have a different top list of keyword variants than today. Not updating your SEO strategy including keywords can kill your campaign.

Are you guilty of any of these tactics? If so, it’s time to rethink your strategy and get back into the game. It’s not too late to “win at SEO,” but the competition is getting fiercer.

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4 Ways Your Mobile Device Can Help You Learn an Instrument

Posted By: on May 30, 2014
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Learning how to read and play music is one of the best leisure activities you can take up. Not only does it improve your physical dexterity, but it can also boost your cognitive capabilities.

Neurologists at Harvard Medical School have discovered structural brain changes in people who have been trained musically. Learning to play an instrument can have an immensely positive impact on your memory and mathematically ability.

So what are you waiting for? Start learning a new instrument with these apps.

Timing

The metronome is a cornerstone tool when you’re starting to learn musical timing. One of the first things you learn to identify on your sheet music is the time signature, which helps you pace the overall song.

A metronome can help you stick to this time signature, so you don’t play too fast or too slow. Metronome Beats for Android phones lets you customize the beat easily.

You can even save metronome presets for common time signatures. Apple device users can explore apps such as Pro Metronome, which uses both light and sound to indicate the pace of your music.

Basic concepts

Music theory can seem extremely arcane to the uninitiated. Mobile education apps such as Better Ears can help you get accustomed to the nuances of chord progressions and scales, with auditory examples.

This app helps train you to recognize sounds, key signatures, tempi, chords, and scales by ear. Training your ear can make the music learning process infinitely easier.

Video demonstrations

Some people learn better by watching music get performed. There’s a wealth of tutorial videos on websites such as YouTube.

You can even learn specific techniques, flairs, and songs by following along with musicians in YouTube videos. Not sure how to position your hands while playing a fast-paced song on the piano? Uncertain about how a tremolo bar works?

Just do a quick search on YouTube, and your questions will be answered.

Sheet music

There are scores of educational apps that can teach you to read sheet music, including iReadMusic, Ocarina, and Notable. These apps will get you acquainted with the treble and bass clefs, bars, measures, staff notes, and rhythm markings.

Pretty soon, you’ll be able to play classical pieces by Beethoven! Get started with your musical education by downloading some of these education apps.

They present music theory, sheet music, and rhythm in an approachable manner, so you can start jamming right way. Good luck in your musical endeavors!

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4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Employee Training

Posted By: on May 30, 2014
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When we join a new company, most of us expect to go through a training process in which we learn the ropes and become acquainted with an organization’s internal structure, culture, and systems. We’ll also become familiar with the competencies that will enable us to excel in our position.

However, information and experiences can pass us by if we take a passive seat during the training, as well as after it. Here are four active learning techniques you should utilize during your training process.

1. Ask questions

Curiosity is excellent not just for you as a new worker, but for the health of the company. While you’re learning new procedures, be sure to ask instructors to clarify points that are not clear.

Asking questions can help reinforce your ability to retain difficult information. If you find yourself brimming with questions, try to write them down and ask about them near the end of class.

Be considerate of the time for other trainees; make sure they’re also able to get their questions addressed. By waiting, you might find answers or additional questions you’ll need to have covered.

2. Collaborate with others

Working together on problem solving can help people form experiences that connect the dots between newly learned concepts. If you have the opportunity to train with others in your group, you’ll not only grasp concepts faster, but you’ll also get to know your teammates better.

Don’t shy away from group project work; your training experience will only be enriched through collaboration. Ask your instructors if you can assist them in completing work tasks, so you can apply concepts to action.

3. Request hands-on experience

Depending on the type of learner you are, you might actually benefit more from performing a task, rather than just hearing about or seeing the instructions.

Many entrepreneurs dislike PowerPoint presentations because it severely limits the depth of discussion and the attendees’ ability to engage with the subject matter. You’ll be able to develop professional skill sets faster by incorporating the work tasks into the training.

4. Know your resources

Where do you go for help moving forward? Be sure to note any and all reference sources, such as knowledge base articles and in-house experts. These can be invaluable during your effort to revamp the process and achieve a new organization.

Are you excited about your next training session? Professional development doesn’t have to be a snooze; it could be one of the most important growth opportunities of your life.

Practice your active learning skills whenever you have training opportunities, and watch your career flourish.

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Greg

Stay Golden, Stay Classy

Posted By: on May 29, 2014
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Check out California’s newest energy guru, the Bear. He can’t stay on that flag when there’s work to be done. He’s got a wealth of knowledge about energy efficiency thanks to Energy Upgrade California. Check out his message and learn what you can do to keep California golden.

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Long-Distance Real Estate Shopping is Easier Than Ever

Posted By: on May 21, 2014
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Finding the perfect new home in your local community is a full-time task, even with a smart Realtor leading the way. So you’d think that reaching out to find and purchase a home several thousand miles away would be a lot harder.

In the past, this chore was definitely time consuming and often prey to disappointments as, for example, neighborhoods didn’t turn out as advertised. But when technology is added to old-fashioned pounding the pavement, long-distance real estate shopping can be highly successful.

Data searches narrow the field

According to Keller Williams, you can find quaint neighborhoods hidden in any big city. It’s critical to scour the Internet for neighborhood reviews and amenity breakdowns.

For instance, some websites will provide a map of an area that’s bicycle friendly. Take a look at census records to grasp area density and income levels.

Reviews of local schools and restaurants are abundant, and give long-distance shoppers a feel for their potential new community. Use the data to filter out undesirable areas. This can make your home searching process much easier than it used to be.

Enlist help

Buyers still need assistance on the local level when they narrow down the search to several choice communities. Talk to social media friends, in particular, to see if anyone lives in the desired area.

Enlist their help to visit attractive properties. Ask them to snap some photos and provide some commentary on the surrounding area.

Those online photos could give you different angles, and make the property look more or less desirable than what you can see online. The local friend may even stumble on a hidden property that he or she finds intriguing.

Working together to cover the waterfront is a smart way to find a good home.

Visit more than once

It can be tempting to make an offer even before you visit an area, but it’s critical to see the neighborhood in person several times before purchasing. The local friend is a great resource, but you the buyer must ultimately be happy with the neighborhood.

Visit the area during different seasons, such as fall and spring, if possible. As time passes, you’ll see changes in climate and neighborhood evolution. For example, there may be a mass exodus from the area at certain times of the year because of seasonal residents.

Consider a summer rental

Buying property is a huge commitment for any person or family. If your long-distance research raises questions, you might consider renting a home or apartment first.

Many people need to move quickly for work reasons. Renting a property reduces the stress of having to find the perfect home in a short time. You can take your time in the area to wait on the right property to open up.

Rentals are often month-to-month commitments, so if you take that option, moving into a purchase property is possible at almost any time. Read the rental contract carefully to keep your options open for a real estate purchase.

A long-distance purchase is possible with patience, clever research, and the help of friends if you can get it.

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3 Subject Lines for Your Company’s Marketing Emails

Posted By: on May 19, 2014
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Email marketing is a vital tactic for conducting business today, but only if you do it correctly. Keep in mind that some of your customers have email settings that ensure they don’t get that snippet of characters and words that appear in the first lines of an email.

Some do, so that can work for your email marketing, but the subject line should connect on its own. How can you make recipients click on read instead of spam or trash?

It’s all about knowing your market, and you have to do the research to back it up. Don’t send out emails blindly; instead, always follow best practices for email marketing, and remember that you’re being trusted with personal information.

Possessing someone’s email address (legally) is kind of like having an open invitation to stop by for dinner. You need to respect it.

Here are a few subject lines that may work for your business.

1. Get X dollars or percent off something you love

Everyone wants a good deal, and to save money, but only on items or services they like. Tailor your emails appropriately.

If you have a list of customers who regularly get Botox at your spa, they’d probably like to save 20 percent on their next injection. Clients who only get manicures might not be as interested.

2. Join us for (something that really matters)

If you’re hosting a special Mother’s Day brunch at your restaurant, the anniversary of your opening with giveaways, or any other holiday or special event, write the email so that it sounds like a formal invitation. That makes it seem special and, even though it’s obvious, as if the reader needs to follow social etiquette and RSVP.

Texting and emailing invitations has become more socially acceptable, so capitalize on that.

3. We miss you

Tap into their personal side and let your customers know you care. Any subject line that informs a customer you remember him or her can score big points.

Use this for customer lists that haven’t shopped in awhile or scheduled an appointment. Just make sure to follow it up with an offer to lure them back.

Don’t include a subject heading that tries to trick customers into thinking the email is from someone else. Don’t ask them for something (such as to fill out a survey).

Instead, use the subject line to highlight what they’ll get. People receive dozens and even hundreds of emails each day. Make yours stand out in the right way.

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5 Things Every Apartment Should Have

Posted By: on May 17, 2014
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When you’re apartment hunting, it’s easy to get swept away by that grand fireplace or the vaulted ceilings. While those are both excellent amenities, they’re not something an apartment “needs” in order to make it onto your stringent checklist.

As a renter, there are certain things you simply have to have to make your life enjoyable, and those need to be covered before moving onto your “want” list. It all starts by checking out the best local apartment communities, and you can find those based on reviews, word of mouth, and seeing just what they dish up on their website.

If you plan to travel often, work late, or are simply pressed for time, a great apartment should allow you pay rent online. That feature will ensure you’re never stressed or late.

Here are a five other essential items to tick off your checklist.

1. Around the clock services

What if a pipe bursts at three in the morning or you suffer some other maintenance emergency? Sure, you may be able to “figure something out” with a landlord down the line, but that doesn’t help you with upfront costs.

You deserve 24/7 maintenance so you’re never caught in a tough position.

2. Air conditioning

It doesn’t matter if you live in a region where summers almost never crack the 100-degree level. You deserve to be comfortable while conserving energy, whether you run hot or cold, and especially in an unexpected heat wave. Don’t budge on this requirement.

3. Easy laundry access

Doing laundry is a necessary evil, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a massive undertaking. Skip those trips to the laundromat and make sure there are laundry facilities on site with energy-efficient machines (and plenty of them).

You need to look your best at all times and not have to battle (or wait around) for a couple of machines.

4. Secure entry system

Feeling safe in your home is a right, not a privilege. No matter what the crime statistics are in your region, renters need a secure intercom entry system so they never wonder what’s gone bump in the night.

Ask the property management company what system it uses, how it works, and whether there are any statistics on criminal activity in the neighborhood.

5. Landscape included

Some rentals make you take care of the landscaping. If you wanted to be a gardener, you’d probably own instead of rent.

Make sure landscaping is included in the management. You’re more likely to find the atmosphere relaxing, peaceful, and beautiful.

 

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