Get updates to your e-mail:


Backing up your critical data

This article can also be found in the Spring 2011 edition of the Real Estate LEADER magazine.

Backing up the critical data on your computer is easier and cheaper than ever!

Are you currently backing up your data? Are you doing it every day? Is it off-site? The truth is most people still have no backups at all.

Why do I need to backup my data?
Many people just trust that they could never lose their data; that it will just always be there. The average lifespan of a hard drive is 5 years, so your drive will fail. It’s just a matter of time. Your laptop could be stolen. A storm, fire, or other disaster could strike without warning. But probably the most common reason everyone needs a backup is accidental deletion. I can’t tell you how many times I have lost a file by accidentally deleting or overwriting it.

What if I already backup my data?
Some people, like myself, do use some form of backup, such as an external hard drive, or portable flash drive. But, they rarely have a system to keep those backups up-to-date. Usually they have a “when I think about it” policy of backing up files. What I mean by that is, they have no schedule to backup their files, and often months between backups. If you lost all your data and had to use your backup, could you afford to lose weeks or months of data? The majority of businesses who lose more than 10 days of data shut down within 1 year. In this digital age where business move so quickly, it’s not hard to see why. Another problem with the external hard drives is they are usually left right by your computer. If there were a fire, flood, or other disaster that destroyed your computer, it would likely have affected your external drive also. That is why it is critical to backup your data off-site.

What should I use for backups?
There are lots of methods and services to backup your data off-site, but they have usually been too costly or too complicated for most people. These services had traditionally only been affordable to large corporations. Then came the “cloud” backup solutions. When you hear “cloud”, it basically means instead of relying on a servers or other equipment at your office, you use one off-site that you share with hundreds or thousands of others. Sharing a server with thousands of people may not sound like a great idea, but done the right way it can save you a lot of time and money!

Initially, most of these cloud-based services were hard to use, buggy, and expensive! Only the most adventurous and trendy users stuck around long. On top of that, the whole idea of storing information in “the cloud” brought up security concerns, reliability issues, and legal hurdles. They had to earn the trust of the business community before becoming a viable option. Two companies, Carbonite and Mozy, have been head-to-head trying to be the dominant cloud-based backup solution. In the short 6 years since the two companies started, they have made vast improvements in their services. With very few exceptions, the companies have proven to be very reliable, with top notch security. Between the two, they backup files for millions of customers, including over 100,000 businesses.

Carbonite charges $54.95 a year to backup unlimited data from your computer, though they offer a 15-day free trial so you can get a feel for the software and see how everything works. After signing up, download their software and run through the setup. The program will ask you what all you want to backup. After the initial upload (which is fully encrypted to keep your data safe), the program will run in the background automatically updating your files on Carbonite’s server.

Carbonite has a great feature that allows you to access your backed-up files from anywhere, including your home computer or mobile phone. This can be a life-saver when you are out of the office and need a file from your computer! It’s a simple as logging in Remote Access at Carbonite’s website, and browsing your files just like you would if you were on your computer.

Mozy is another great service. Currently, they seem to have a few less features and a tad higher cost than Carbonite, but feel free compare the two for yourself. Just make sure you don’t let another day go by without having an off-site, up-to-date backup of your data!

While you are at it, make sure you are fully prepared for a disaster. Think about everything you would need if your lost your computer today. Know the versions of software you are using on your computer, because if a fire destroyed your hard drive and software disks, a backup may not be the only thing you need. If you are using an older version of software, such as QuickBooks, it may be difficult to restore your backup if you go out and purchase the current version. Also, make sure you have a copy of all your important passwords (including your Carbonite or Mozy password!) in a safe place. You may want to use a fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box at your bank (typically costs $20 a year). This would also be a great place to store copies of insurance forms, titles, deeds, and other contracts.

It is a good idea to create a disaster recovery guide, outlining everything you would need to get your business up and going again if you lost everything. You will definitely sleep better at night.


Make the most out of your Real Estate Website

This article can also be found in the Summer 2011 edition of the Real Estate LEADER magazine. This article is directed at Real Estate websites, but also provides insight that will help any business make the most out of their website.

Get a website

I am still surprised when I run into business owners without a website. In this day and age, being online is almost a must. Consumers, especially those looking for real estate, are looking for as much information as possible. And more and more consumers are turning to the internet, the fastest source of information, first. Not only is it fast, but its available 24/7.

According to the most recent statistics from the National Association of REALTORS®, 74% of people used the internet to search for a home. 45% said they walked through a home after viewing it online, and 29% found an agent to help them find a home online. If you don’t have at least some presence online, you could be excluding yourself from nearly 30% of consumers.

If you don’t have a website, I encourage you to get one. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Start small until you are comfortable. Yahoo!, Godaddy, and several other big companies offer low-cost websites and hosting for small businesses. If you want something more professional and custom to your needs, I suggest looking more local.

Improve your website

Maybe you have a website, but you aren’t getting the most out of it. First, figure out why someone would come to your site. Are they looking for listings or professional advice?  What would someone search for when they visit your site? You should offer consumers information they are looking for, or at least enough to make them know you are the best source for that information. That brings me to the second point: a call to action. Just like in any marketing piece, you want to turn your website traffic into leads. Make sure your contact information is prominent on your site, and encourage prospective clients to reach out.

Taking a fresh look at your design can help your website better present your company image and professionalism. When it comes to website design, more isn’t always better. Make sure your website stays easy to navigate so that consumers can find what they are looking for.

One major downside to the internet as a source of information is that much of it is inaccurate or out-of-date. Many real estate website have old listings, inaccurate descriptions, and old contact information. It’s important to keep your website up-to-date. Most importantly has to be your contact information. If a prospective customer is trying to reach you, you want to make sure he’s seeing your current phone number. Make sure you update your contact information on any sites you are listed on. You may be on other sites that you don’t even know of. Maybe you have a profile on your broker’s site, or other 3rd party real estate websites. Here’s a helpful trick. If you changed phone numbers over the years, Google your old phone number and see what sites come up.

Get more traffic

Most website owners have no strategy for increasing hits to their website. They sit back and hope people will just find it themselves. Search engines like Google will very likely find your site and direct people to it, but to get the most out of them, it will take a little effort. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is making changes to your site or sites linking to you to increase your position on search engines. Many companies use professional SEO firms or consultants to develop a custom strategy, but with some simple tips you may be able to drastically improve your traffic. Search engines read, or “index” text. They can’t read images or Flash, so make sure you’re whole site isn’t just images or scanned documents. Choose several phrases or keywords that you want to improve your ranking on. Obviously, keywords like “Mississippi” and “homes” are going to have a lot of competition, so you want to be more specific. Let’s say you have several listing in a subdivision called Oakwood. Create a page on your website dedicated to that subdivision. At the top, put in big bold letters “Homes in Oakwood”. Include some related information describing the subdivision, the surrounding area, maybe links to schools, and make sure to showcase your listings. Use keywords when linking to your pages. Instead of having a link that says “Listings” or “Click here”, make it more descriptive, like “Homes in Oakwood”. When you link back to your home page, name the link your company name or your name. That will improve your results if someone types in your name at a search engine.

Consider advertising on local websites where your prospective clients visit. There are some inexpensive opportunities that can be very effective. Also, make sure you include your website on any marketing you do, including business cards, flyers, perhaps even yard signs.

Track your results

Knowing how many hits your website gets will help you improve. There are several options, and probably the best is Google Analytics, a free service that tracks how many people visit your site and what they do there. Analytics will show you where your visitors came from, and if they came from a search engine, it will list what keywords they typed to find your site. You can also view reports and charts of how your traffic changes over time. It is a must-have tool for any website, especially if you want to see how your changes affect your traffic.

Like many things, running a successful website can be very complex, but you can start small. If you spend just a little bit of time every month improving your website, I’m sure you’ll be surprised at the results.


5 easy ways to speed up your computer

This article can also be found in the Fall 2011 edition of the Real Estate LEADER magazine.

Remove viruses and spyware

Viruses and spyware are the most common cause of computer slowdowns. Millions are infected and don’t even know it. These unwanted programs run in the background, using your computer’s resources for their evil deeds. Not only are they a major annoyance, but they can also put you at risk. Some of these intrusive programs include keyloggers which can copy passwords or credit card numbers as you type them and forward them on to be used for malicious purposes. Recently, we have seen a rash of “fake-AV”, that is, fake antivirus software. These viruses typically pretend to be legitimate antivirus software. They will randomly pop up and appear to be scanning your computer. It likely will be a program you have never heard of, and definitely one you haven’t installed. It will inform you that your computer is infected with viruses and that you must upgrade to the paid version to remove them. In those cases, the money you pay goes straight to the virus makers. And now that they have your credit card information, you may be facing future problems.

Make sure you have trusted antivirus software that is up-to-date. It never hurts to run frequent virus scans, as virus definitions change day-to-day.

Turn off unnecessary startup programs

Too many programs think they need to run all the time. All these programs take a small amount of your computer’s memory that you can’t use for something else. Add up all the programs running in the background, and it can take a real toll on your computer’s ability to run the programs you want. Check your Tray (that is the area to the bottom right of your screen where the clock is) and browse the icons. Most programs will have an option in their settings or preferences to start with Windows. Make sure to turn that off on programs you don’t use.

Disable browser add-ons and toolbars

There are hundreds of browser add-ons and toolbars you can install to make your internet browsing more efficient. Most aren’t installed for this reason, but rather are automatically installed, sometimes without your knowledge. I have seen people with 6 or more toolbars, not knowing what they were or how they got there. They are often bundled with legitimate software you install, but are sometimes the result of spyware. These toolbars can cause your browser to open and run slower, and they reduce the amount of a website you can display on your screen. Disabling these unwanted toolbars is simple. In Internet Explorer, click on Tools, and Manage Add-Ons. Click and disable any toolbars or add-ons you don’t use. The process is similar in other browsers.

Defragment your drive

This is a problem I still run into quite often when troubleshooting a slow computer, particularly if it is several years old. As you create, edit, and delete files, you inadvertently cause files to become fragmented. Parts of a file may be on one particular spot on your hard drive, while other parts of the same file can be somewhere else entirely. Accessing that file causes your drive to work harder that it needs to, and if you have enough fragmented files, your computer will slow to a crawl. It is simple to check the status of your file fragmentation. In Windows, go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and open the Disk Defragmenter. There is an Analyze tool that will scan your drive for fragmentation and let you know if you need to run the Defragmenter. Depending on how bad your drive is, the process could take several hours, so it would be a good idea to start at the end of the day. If you have Windows Vista or 7, you should have automatically scheduled defragmentation. Make sure to open Disk Defragmenter and verify it is running. For those interested, SSD (solid-state drives) will be replacing our magnetic drives in the coming years. These drives have no moving parts or file fragmentation problems. You can buy these drives now, but they are much more expensive. The price is coming down slowly, and eventually all new computers will be equipped with SSD.

Upgrade your RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory) is used by your computer to run the software you are using at the moment, and anything running in the background. Most computers have between 1 and 4 gigabytes of RAM. To see how much you have, go to your Control Panel and open System. You will see your RAM at the bottom. If you have less than 2gb, you would probably benefit from an upgrade. As software updates, it often gets bigger and more memory intensive. Unfortunately, you computer can’t automatically upgrade its hardware to keep up. RAM prices have been steadily dropping, making this a cheap upgrade. You could get away with a nice speed boost for less than $50. There are different types of RAM, and your computer only takes one type, so check your computer specs to see what type you need. It will be something like SD, DDR, DDR2, or DDR3.


If you are suffering from a slow computer, hopefully the suggestions above will help! If your computer is several years old, you might consider upgrading to a newer machine. A new computer might not be in your budget, but if it is going to improve your efficiency and make your life simpler, it might be worth it. One of the best times to buy a computer is leading up to the November shopping season. Many local electronics stores and online retailers will likely have some good deals on computers and laptops. For the deal watchers, I recommend you check out Visitors submit deals at local and online retailers so you can make sure you don’t pay too much.


How to Add a Custom Welcome Page to Facebook

If you have a Facebook Business Page, you can add a custom Welcome Page that will display when someone first loads up your page. Normally, a visitor would see your wall with the most recent posts from you or your friends. You may prefer to have visitors see a custom Welcome Page where you can highlight who you are, big announcements, special offers, etc.

To add a custom Welcome Page to Facebook, you need to install the Static HTML: iframe tabs app. You can search Facebook for iframe, or simply click this link.

Once you are at the app’s page, click the Go to App button at the top.

Select your Facebook Business Page from the drop-down, then click the Add Static HTML: iframe tabs button.

Now you will notice a Welcome tab on the left of your Facebook Page. If you click on it, you can insert your HTML code for your Welcome page.

What is HTML?

HTML is the basic programming language of websites. You have probably dealt with HTML, even if you don’t realize it. If you have ever embeded a video from YouTube, you have probably used the <embed> tag. Luckily, you really don’t need to know much to make a simple Facebook Welcome Page.

Let’s say you have an image you used in a marketing piece or on your website that would be great for your welcome page. All you need is the URL of the image to get started.

The code to display an image in HTML is <img src=”Your Image URL”>

If you want to link that image to your website, you would use something like this:
<a href=”Your website URL”><img src=”Your Image URL”></a>

Note: Make sure your URLs start with http://

Once you are ready, put the HTML code for your Welcome Page as shown below.

How to make your Welcome Page show by default

Your welcome page is done, but when visitors go to your Facebook page they still see your wall. To change what page appears by default, click on the Edit Page button at the top.

Now you should see a drop-down next to Default Landing Tab. Change that from Wall to Welcome.

That’s it! Just remember to keep your Facebook Welcome Page up-to-date!


How to add another admin to your Facebook Page

So, you have a friend or coworker that you want to let post on your business Facebook Page. It can be a good idea to have multiple page admins who can moderate spam or offensive posts on your wall.

To being, click on your account tab at the top and select Use Facebook as Page.

This will list all Facebook pages where you are an admin. Click Switch next to the page you want to add another admin.

On the top right, you will see a list of page admins, which should just have you for now. Click the See All link.

Now simply type the e-mail address of whoever you wish to add and hit Save Changes.

That’s it! Now you have added another admin to your Facebook Page!


How not to waste time online

Computers are amazing efficient uses of space. Just think about it. I have a garage full of tools, that I rarely need, and an attic full of things I’ve only used once. But, all of my “junk” pales in comparison to the amount of things available to me on my computer. I can read books, browse merchandise from stores, paint a masterpiece — well maybe I can’t do that, but you get the idea. If you had a “real-world” equivalent of everything available to you on your computer, you would need a warehouse to store it all. No, a dozen warehouses.

It’s only natural then, that the internet can consume so much time. You can sit at your computer for hours, reading blogs, getting news updates, seeing what your friends are up to on Facebook. And, after you get up from your computer you might find yourself wondering “What did I do today?”

I try to make a mental schedule of sites I visit each day, so I don’t find myself in an endless loop of visiting websites until the day is over. You do have to get things done after all. Read your favorite blog while your drink your morning coffee. Save your Facebooking until the afternoon, when most people are least productive (probably counting the minutes until 5:00).

RescueTime Report Example

For those who need an extra push to be more productive, there are several software companies eager to help. RescueTime offers an automatic time management software that runs in the background of your computer, logging what you do. It can provide reports with nice charts of how you spend your time each day, helping you to identify sites that consume the most of your time, times of day where you could be more productive, etc.

This tool can also be very useful for business owners to manage time of their employees. You can set controls that will block certain sites, or limit the amount of hours allowed at those sites.

They offer a light version of their solo edition for free and a 14-day free trial for the pro version.
Computers, mobile phones, are tablets are amazing tools, but they can also be major distractions. Make sure your value your own time enough to use it wisely!

Remember, with great accessibility comes great responsibility.