Richard Parke
Richard Parke

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Digitally Transforming Your Business

October 17, 2017 1:36 am

(Family Features)—One of the challenges facing small businesses today is trying to deliver the same customer experience as larger competitors. As technology advances and takes on an ever-growing role, small businesses can tap new innovations to better communicate with customers, save money and simplify operations.

As small business owners look to transform digitally, they face a number of options, from upgrading their technology to optimize shipping operations and decrease costs to adopting digital marketing tactics to better understand and target their customers. While it can be difficult for a small business that is well-established using analog processes to switch to digital, the key is to start with the final objective in mind; in other words, begin by defining your end goal. Once you've determined the desired outcome of digitizing your business, these tips can help you establish a strategy that can benefit both your business performance and customer experience.

Reach customers through digital marketing.
An important step in digital transformation is revisiting how you attract and interact with current and prospective customers, who are increasingly turning to a combination of physical and digital channels to engage with brands and businesses. If you think of digital marketing and email or online ads, you're on the right track, but effective marketing requires more than simply hitting send on an email or counting clicks on an ad. Email marketing should be focused on providing helpful, relevant content to your target audience based on its preferences. Recipients can come to appreciate your insights on industry news and helpful information, so your sales pitches are likely to be more warmly received.

Beyond the content, an effective strategy establishes connective links between all your marketing touchpoints, from email to blog and even to your traditional tactics, such as direct mail and more, all with the goal of boosting credibility and visibility via search engine optimization and foot traffic.

Optimize operations through the cloud.
As technology evolves, more tasks can be handled online and more traditional analog devices are connected to the internet and the cloud. Adopting the use of these digitally connected devices can not only make fulfilling tasks easier and more efficient, but also track patterns and collect data that brings new value to small business owners. For example, with a surge in parcel volumes year over year (thanks, in part, to a sustained e-commerce growth, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index), consider a cloud-enabled shipping solution, such as the SendPro C-Series, to simplify sending operations. This digital multi-carrier platform leverages the latest cloud technology to enable offices of all sizes to easily select the ideal sending option for every parcel or letter, while also providing full tracking information and delivering savings.

Make decisions based on analytics.
Beyond providing efficiency and simplicity, connected and cloud-enabled devices can generate and track valuable data, which can, in turn, be analyzed and used to make important business decisions. In a business environment dominated by ever-changing consumer preferences, data-driven insights are key to serving the needs and securing the business of today's hyper-connected consumers. By utilizing data and analytics, your business can be better equipped to deliver superior customer experiences, support product and service innovation, and optimize business processes.

Use mobile to communicate with customers.
Even the smallest of businesses can take steps toward better mobile communication, such as ensuring their websites are mobile-friendly and responsive to different device types. This is especially important as mobile usage continues to climb in the U.S., and consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices for information to guide purchase decisions. Your business can also capitalize on location intelligence capabilities to deliver timely coupons and promotions to customers in the immediate vicinity.

Source: pitneybowes.com/us/digital

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Tips to Care for Your Floors

October 17, 2017 1:36 am

You may spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep your home tidy and up-to-date, but how often do you look down at your floors? David Gowling, an industry veteran from DMS Flooring Supplies, says flooring is one of the biggest factors on overall feel of a space.

It may be tempting to opt for cheaper flooring materials and methods in intermediary areas, but putting in a little extra time and effort can increase a property's rental and resale value—and make its occupiers proud to call it their home.

David expands on this issue with his five favorite tips to ensure your flooring looks stunning from the ground up.

1. Put in the Ground Work: Subfloor Prep Is Key
As with everything in life, a good foundation is key. Before the carpet is laid, ensure all the floorboards are screwed tightly to eliminate creaks and squeaks. Fill in all holes which might let high heels slip through and puncture the carpet. Working on rough concrete? Level the floor with a suitable levelling compound. As for smoother concrete, a good underlay will cover any minor imperfections.

With laminate or wood flooring, it's vitally important the subfloor is level—if it's a floating laminate or engineered floor across a bumpy subfloor, there will be a lot of bounciness! Once level, be sure to use a decent quality underlay with a moisture barrier to inhibit any potential dampness from seeping into the flooring. Fit the floor before you install the skirting—this will let you hide the expansion gap with the skirting board and avoid having to use beading trim. This will give a really crisp finish.

When preparing chipboard floors, always ply-line the floor with a solid 6mm-thick plywood. However high quality it may be, all chipboard can shrink. Ply lining will stabilize the floor perfectly. Once the ply is securely fixed, apply a feather finish and scratch-coat the floor with a trowel. This will fill in all the minor holes where the nail heads have fired through the ply, while also filling in any hairline joins.

Coming back to concrete floors: Depending on the type of levelling compound used, it may also be necessary to prime the floor with a primer. There are certain levelers that dry so hard their tensile strength has a grabbing effect on the subfloor. If not properly bonded with a primer, the compound can dome up and pop off the floor. This can result in lumps, which will result in the new floor being ruined. Always read the instructions on the sub-floor levelling products and don't cut corners.

2. Make an Entrance: Mats Matter
While hardly glamorous, entrance matting is not to be forgotten or skimped on if the property is to be well kept. Gowling gives his opinion on choosing a more modern mat:

"Coconut matting was popular for a while, but because it's very thick and it can lead to the need for doors to be trimmed to accommodate it, which is a lot of trouble to go to for something as boring as a doormat. It also sheds thick hairs, which end up getting trampled throughout the property.

"Dark brown or anthracite ribbed matting makes a great alternative. This stuff comes in a 2m-wide roll, so make sure enough is ordered to cover your hall from one end to the other. Fit it as far into your hallway as possible and it'll grab more dirt, and also reduce the amount of actual flooring needed."

3. Take Your Stairs to the Next Level
This is where the real fun begins! The true measure of any house is in the care taken with its least interesting spaces. Stairs and halls must look nothing less than beautiful. Prep all hallway floors, and for the primary flooring material, fit some wood-effect luxury vinyl tiles, and go one step further by framing all the areas with a border.

Fit staircases with a decent-quality carpet on a tough underlay, like Cloud 9 Contract. This will minimize noise and provide cushioning underfoot, which instantly improves the standard of the home. A spongy underlay can cause carpets to go saggy on the stairs over time.

4. Bathrooms and Kitchens: The Vinyl Solution
Kitchens and bathrooms always take a beating—particularly in shared houses—so poor flooring choices in these areas can look ragged and tired within a year. Ceramics may be a longer lasting solution, but they often take damage—accidents happen, and a chipped or cracked floor can become a problem to repair.

Laminates and wooden floors are simply not worth the risk in wet areas. As laminate is made from a high-density fiber board (HDF) core, water will find its way into any cracks, causing your boards to swell up. Gowling heartily recommends luxury vinyl flooring as an alternative.

5. Bedrooms
The obvious choice for any bedroom is a nice soft carpet for maximum warmth and comfort; however, its installation needn't be overthought. For smooth subfloors, a felt-backed carpet can provide a low-cost solution. They're inexpensive, quick to fit, don't require a gripper or underlay, and are easy to switch if a new color is required.

To maintain the tough flooring theme running into the bedrooms, go for a laminate, a wood, or—again—a luxury vinyl tile. This hard-wearing flooring option will retain its fresh look for years.

"While luxury vinyl tile might cost double what a laminate or carpet may cost, it will last five times longer and bring in loads of benefits—especially if you're doing up a rental property. You can expect to increase your capital growth, your rent, your rental security, and, most importantly, easier sleep knowing you've built yourself a beautiful property that are a cut above the rest," says Gowling.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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All Hail Fall! But Is Your Home Ready?

October 17, 2017 1:36 am

As we usher in sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, it's important to take the time to make sure our homes are ready to transition to cooler weather before the harsh days of winter are upon us. The experts at Pillar To Post Home Inspectors make it easy by offering the following fall prep checklist. Tick these off in between your apple-picking and leaf-peeping:

1. Seal and caulk. Survey your home for gaps where heat can escape and water can seep through. Common problem areas include exterior door and window frames, and gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home.

2. Check the roof. Get out the binoculars and check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. You want to catch any issues before winter storms take their toll. If you spot anything that looks like a problem, call in a professional inspector right away and find out what repairs need to be done.

3. Unclutter gutters. Now is the time to get rid of all that debris that piled up in your gutters over the summer. Check the seams between sections of gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts. Pillar To Post suggests looking into leaf guards, which can be real time savers if your gutters can accommodate them.

4. Tuck hoses away. If winter temps in your area drop below freezing, be sure to drain garden hoses and store them indoors. Shut off outdoor faucets and drain exterior pipes and sprinkler systems.

5. Schedule a furnace check-up. Before peak heating season hits, schedule an inspection for your furnace. According to Pillar To Post, most utility companies will provide basic inspections at no charge, but there can often be a long waiting list. While you’re waiting, replace disposable furnace air filters or clean permanent ones. come fall and winter. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type. Clean filters will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving you money and energy.

6. Ditto for the chimney. Now is also the time to schedule a cleaning for your chimney. Creosote build-up must be removed in order to prevent chimney fires.

Source: Pillar To Post Home Inspectors

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Get a Handle on Your Safety Valves

October 16, 2017 1:36 am

Few things are more important to a homeowner than knowing how to quickly and safely shut off utilities, says Paul K. Improta, president and CEO of Connecticut's Underwriters, Inc.

Improta says all of the adults in your home should know how to immediately locate and shut off any gas, electricity and water systems in case of an emergency. Not knowing where to immediately find these shut-offs could put a homeowner and anyone inside the residence at risk.

Improta suggests sharing a few utility shut-off procedures from Ready.gov with everyone in your household to help prevent property damage or personal injury.

Shutting off the Gas - Gas leaks can be life-threatening, so it's important to act fast. If you smell gas, hear hissing or suspect a leak for any reason, open a window and quickly get your family to safety. Call for help, and, if possible, disrupt the gas supply using the outside valve. Procedures vary, so contact your gas company ahead of time for meter-specific guidance. Remember, once the valve has been closed, it should only be reopened by a qualified professional.

Cutting off Electricity - Before making household repairs, stop the flow of electricity by accessing your home's circuit breaker or fuse box. To locate the panel, look for a gray metal box, typically concealed in a garage, laundry room or closet. Identify the main circuit breaker if you need to power down the whole house or use branch circuits to de-energize individual appliances.

Turning off the Water - In the event of a broken pipe or full-blown disaster scenario, find the main shut-off valve. In cold weather climates, the water shut-off is usually placed in a basement or front closet. You can also check the outer perimeter of your home for a hose bibb faucet or meter box. To repair minor leaks to a toilet or sink, cut the water at the source.

While you can't prepare for every possible emergency situation, learning these key utility shut-offs is an easy way to keep your home and family safer.

Learn more at www.ready.gov/safety-skills.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Is Your Pet Prepared for an Emergency?

October 16, 2017 1:36 am

As recent natural disasters have shown us, anything can happen anywhere, anytime. And while the impact can be devastating to life and property, there are also our furry family members to consider. Would you be ready to properly care for your pet should a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other emergency occur? 

In his recent blog for the Pet Health Network, Dr. Mike Paul, DVM, offers some great strategies for keeping your pet safe during a natural disaster:

Microchipping – The best way to make sure you're reunited with your pet should you get separated during an emergency is a microchip.

According to Paul, animals instinctively flee from terror or you could be forced to evacuate and leave your pet behind. These pets are often rescued and end up in an overwhelmed animal shelter post-event. Without the proper identification—at the very least a collar and ID tag—the odds of reuniting with your pet are slim. A permanent microchip implant is the best option, of course, as it can't be lost.

Proper transport – In the event of an evacuation, make the process easier by having the right-sized carrier or cage for cats and small dogs, or a sturdy leash and harness for larger dogs.

Food and water – Just like you have a food and water supply available for you and your human family, make sure you're prepared for your pets, as well. Be prepared with a few sealed gallons of water and a sealed container of food, says Paul.

Make sure vaccinations are current and keep a record with you – Keep a small card or folded document in your wallet so that it's with you at all times. According to Paul, your pet's exposure risk may be much greater after a disaster.

Pet meds – Just like people, many pets rely on daily medications. Have a five-day supply at the ready should you need to leave your home.

Nerve busters – Understandably, an emergency situation can cause great anxiety for pets, so be sure to grab their favorite blanket or toy to help soothe them during the disruption.  

Of course, the best step you could take to prepare is to check with your vet. He or she will have more specific advice based on the particular needs of your pet.  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Choose the Perfect Location for Your Honeymoon

October 16, 2017 1:36 am

For most, a honeymoon is one of the most memorable trips you ever make. Newly married and with the stress of the wedding behind you, you're able to relax and enjoy time with your new spouse. But not every honeymoon spot is created equal, and different locations will be a better fit for different personalities. Are you adventurous and interested in outdoor time, or would you rather sit by the pool with a good book? Below are a few factors to consider, from travel resource Vacation.

Budget: How strict is your honeymoon budget? Do you have enough money available for unexpected expenses on the trip, or would you rather know up front what you will be paying?

Drinks: Do you want to start the day with a mimosa, drink a piña colada by the pool at noon, see the sunset on the beach with a mai tai in hand, and then enjoy a multi-course dinner with wine? Or are you satisfied with just the occasional beer?

Activities: As a couple, do you like time to relax on vacations and forget about the stress of everyday life (and even weddings!), or do you want to be active?

Adventure: Is your dream honeymoon all about a lush, luxury resort, or would you and your betrothed rather focus on sightseeing and just have a comfy place to sleep at night?

Entertainment: Do you love the nightlife scene, or would you rather enjoy quiet evenings away from all the hustle and bustle?

Source: Vacation

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Business Safety: Avoiding Scams

October 12, 2017 1:03 am

Running a successful business is no easy feat. But with today's heavy reliance on technology, businesses are at a higher risk than ever for falling prey to scams.

Businesses can use the following guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities to help protect themselves from becoming the victim of an email scam:

Examine email addresses closely. Scammers may spoof emails to look very similar to a legitimate person's address.

Never transfer money without confirming the request, by phone or in person. Whether it is a matter of walking down the hall to the CEO’s office, or contacting a colleague via phone, confirmation from the person requesting the transfer can protect your company.

Do not use links or phone numbers provided in the email. Contact your trusted partners and colleagues using known contact information.

Think before you click! Do not open attachments or links until you have verified them.

Utilize your IT resources. Work with staff to flag emails with similar extensions to your organization's or create other flags and filters.

Implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication with sensitive information and funds. Require a second (or multiple) staff members to review and approve requests for fund transfers.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Steps for a Healthier Home

October 12, 2017 1:03 am

(Family Features)--As homeowners become increasingly aware of the impact their homes can have on the environment - and on their health - making eco-conscious choices is as important as ever. From controlling the types of materials used within your home to keeping an eye on indoor air quality, these tips can help you create a healthier, more earth-friendly indoor environment.

Use a water filter. Depending on where you live, different contaminants could reside in your tap water. Rather than risk consuming these contaminants or drinking bottled water, which can generate significant waste, consider purchasing a refrigerator with a filtered water option, attaching a water filtration device to your faucet or using a filtered water pitcher.

Ditch plastic food containers. Some plastics are not as high quality as many think and may contain toxic materials, making them potentially harmful - especially when used for storing food. Instead, opt for glass, silicone, cloth or stainless steel storage containers, which are friendlier to the environment and pose fewer toxicity risks. Plus, many of these containers can be placed directly in an oven or microwave to safely reheat food.

Install eco-friendly insulation. Certain materials in your home, such as insulation, can be replaced with sustainable options that also improve indoor air quality. Consider replacing your existing attic insulation with sheep's wool insulation, such as all-natural options from Havelock Wool. This renewable, high-performing and safe-to-handle material excels at managing moisture while improving indoor air quality through the absorption of formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide and other harmful substances. Learn more at havelockwool.com.

Clean "green." Cleaning products can be made with ingredients that are harmful to the environment, as well as your family's health. Make sure you know what is in your household cleaners before using them and, whenever possible, look for cleaners that have been certified as green.

Deal with dust. Even if you don't struggle with allergies or asthma, over time, dust particles can be unhealthy for you and your family. Vacuum frequently and use a wet mop on floors without carpet to limit the formation of dust bunnies throughout your home. Clean and replace your vacuum's filter frequently to ensure you're trapping maximum dust. Also regularly wash towels, linens and other textiles, including window treatments.

Replace air filters. Older, dirty air filters can circulate dust, pollen and other particles throughout your home. They can also cause your air conditioner and heater to run less efficiently, which can result in higher energy consumption. Rather than pushing potentially harmful dust particles into your house and causing your systems to work overtime, inspect your air filter often and change it regularly. You might also want to consider installing a whole-home air purifier or placing portable air purifiers in frequently used rooms.

Reduce energy and natural resource usage. Try installing timers on your lights so they turn on only at specified times. To take it a step further, consider installing lighting with vacancy sensors that automatically shut off the lights when a room isn't being used. Choose energy-efficient appliances, low-flow toilets and consider adding a rain barrel outside to collect rainwater, which can be used for chores such as watering plants, irrigating the lawn or washing your car.

Although it may not be practical to implement all of these ideas at once, little by little you can make small changes that add up to a big difference.

Source: Havelock Wool

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fire Prevention Advice to Save Lives Year Round

October 11, 2017 2:30 am

The words “preventable fire” are tragic when lives are lost. Taking even a few minutes to run down a short punch list of common sense measures with your family could make the difference between life and death in a residential fire.

Tommy Webber at New York's T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning (twebber.com) has compiled the following six-point plan to help prevent fires and ensure your family is prepared for a fire emergency all year-round:

Check smoke detectors – Test and replace smoke detector batteries twice a year at Daylight Savings Time. Or consider adding newer smoke detectors with batteries that can last up to 10 years. If detectors are wired into your home’s electrical system, think about having a professional check to ensure the wiring is in good shape.

Cook with caution – Never leave cooking unattended, always have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen that is rated for cooking-related fires, and NEVER put a grease fire out with water – smothering the fire is the best method.

Conduct heating system and duct inspections – Make sure all vents in the heating system are clean. If you haven't had your heating system inspected and tuned up, Webber says now is the time to do it.

Don’t leave space heaters unattended – And never place one less than three feet from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothes, rugs or other combustibles. And remember it's a safety hazard to run space heaters into extension cords or power strips.

Check electrical cords, receptacles, outlets – Check cords for frays and breaks, minimize the number of cords plugged into power strips, and consider replacing outlets and switches that are not working properly.

Have an escape plan and practice it – Your family escape plan should include a rally point for everyone to meet. Make a plan and then practice your plan regularly.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Prepping for the Storm: Natural Gas Safety Tips

October 11, 2017 2:30 am

Is a storm on the horizon? If so, you may be stocking up on supplies and blocking windows, but have you given a thought to your home's gas? Natural gas provider CenterPoint Energy has developed the following pre- and post-storm natural-gas safety tips that customers should follow:

Before the storm:

Do not turn off your natural gas service at the meter; doing so could allow water to enter the natural gas lines.

Be alert for the smell of natural gas. If you smell gas, leave the area immediately on foot and tell others to leave, too.

If you smell gas, do not turn the lights on or off, smoke, strike a match, use a cell phone or operate anything that might cause a spark, including a flashlight or a generator.

Do not attempt to turn natural gas valves on or off. Once safely away from the area, call your natural gas provider. The company will send a trained service technician.

After the storm:

If your home was flooded, call a licensed plumber or gas appliance technician to inspect your appliances and gas piping to make sure they are in good operating condition before calling your provider to reconnect service. This includes outdoor gas appliances including pool heaters, gas grills and gas lights.

Call 811, the nationwide Call Before You Dig number before cleaning debris, digging on your property or to locate underground natural gas lines and other underground utility lines.

Be aware of where your natural gas meter is located. As debris is put out for heavy trash pickup, make sure it is placed away from the meter. If debris is near a gas meter, the equipment used by trash collectors could pull up the meter, damaging it and causing a potentially hazardous situation. If this happens, leave the area immediately.

Source: CenterPoint Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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