Today we're putting the spotlight on our readers and some of the current issues and trends that they've been talking about in our discussion forum. We highlight several recent threads that provide valuable insight from your fellow small business professionals and present them to you for easy digestion.
Our topics this week include adding live chat to your business Web site, preparing feeds for online search and shopping comparison sites, and how to choose a good data backup solution for a small business. Of course you can feel free to add your own comments as we've added a handy quick link to each discussion, letting you easily join the debate in our Small Business Computing forums.
Chat Live Support
Live chat on your Web site can help you better connect with customers and also gather important data about your site visitors, in real time. In this SBC forum thread, member Jamal said he is currently looking to add Chat Live support and wondered if the group might be able to recommend a good product based on recent experience.
Forum member Affearner responded, "We're currently using Live Support to assist online inquiry for the programs we handle. The Live Support we're using is powered by PHP Live. Hope you can check it out."
Moderator TipPro said, "I have had a good experience with this company, Provide Support, in the past."
StarrHorne said, "My company is in the early stages of developing a live chat program, so I've done a fair amount of research on this. LivePerson and BoldChat seem to be the big players. I haven't heard anything bad about either. You can certainly host the chat system yourself. But I would recommend testing the system under load before deploying. The reason is that chat programs can be bandwidth intensive."
- Can you recommend a live chat solution? If so, you can join in on the discussion here in our forums.
Product Feeds to Shopping Comparison Sites
Forum member Sungyangchen said that so far his company feeds products only to Froogle but is looking into Shopzilla, Amazon and other comparison-shopping sites.
Sungyangchen asked, "Is there anything out there like an application or service to make feeds easier, but that's not too expensive?"
InfoSourcing relied, "There are few generic data feed software options that can output to several price comparison engines, but they are either costly or they charge per SKU/product/record, and it gets way expensive.
"If you already have scripts that extract data from your database then I would say go one step further and create a DTS package on SQL Server that will run on a scheduler (monthly/daily) and generate the data feed. You can still automate it to log into their FTP and drop the file, which saves you time and all other hassles.
"This is the simplest and easiest and affordable solution I can think of, and I provide to my clients."
MerchantAdv added, "There are many different ways to submit -- and methods as well. One quick piece of advice; List all products on Froogle, but once you begin formatting your feeds for other comparison sites try to work a filter that will begin taking out items that you are not getting a high return on. Many retailers submit products that burn through click money or don't provide the right amount on return. For example, do not post a $2.00 item at $.25 per click. Using the right management system, you should be able to get your profits moving up quickly. Hope this helps."
Smartfeed said "Managing the data feeds is so important because, quite honestly, you can't trust the shopping portals to place your products correctly. They can mis-map some of your products, and false advertise a product at a price, driving unwarranted clicks to your site for the wrong item, and you would never know."
- If you need advice and knowledge regarding data feeds, check out this SBC forum discussion full of tips and information from our members.
With so many options available, data backup can be a daunting task for many small business owners. In this forum, thread member Unvalidated asked what solutions others recommend for backup.
InfoSourcing said, "I recently bought a 100 GB backup drive from Iomega, which also comes with a backup software that gets installed on your server/desktop. You can schedule your backup time, and it also maintains different versions of the same files, which is pretty cool. Something like Visual Source safe software is good if you want to roll back to specific version. It can be stored encrypted or as is.
Hannah said, "Traditional backup methods like DVDs or tapes will cost both time and money. How about trying online backups, which store data away remotely. Further, you have options to retrieve, edit and share the resources with your partners. We have been using this (ibackup.com) online storage service for years, and it works well."
Volusion added, "Secured hosting is a big deal. To focus only on the backup aspects of hosting is somewhat dangerous to you as a merchant. It is also important to focus on the security of your data. Make sure you are hosting with a PCI/CISP certified hosting company. Being PCI/CISP certified means that auditors from Visa and MasterCard have actually approved your hosting environment is secure and that credit card data is safe from Internet hackers. A simple hard drive in your home or office is probably not the safest route to protect yourself. If this drive gets compromised, you could be out of business.
"In terms of backups, it is good to host backups in an off-site facility that is secured and backed up nightly. When you consider the ramifications of having credit card data stolen (being blackballed by credit card companies, fines, etc.), secured hosting really is the only way to go."
- If you are currently considering a new backup solution or have a recent experience you'd like to share, join the Backup/Recovery/Security discussion here.
The Small Business discussion forums offer advice on data backup, recovery, servers, marketing issues and general discussion related to current trends and practices. Fellow small-business owners can network and share tips, tricks and advice. You can use the forums for knowledge gathering or create a free member account to take part in the discussions and ask your own questions.
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been writing about computers, games and technology since the early 90s. She's also the managing editor of Webopedia.
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