VoIP Phone Systems: Cost, Dependability, Sound Quality and Features.

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Last month’s most interesting project was the installation of a VoIP phone system for one of our clients.  The business owner was frustrated with the lack of features on his aging traditional phones but reluctant to move to VoIP because he believed the sound quality would not be as good.  After we did a thorough evaluation of his existing infrastructure, he decided to go ahead with the install.  The process highlighted some interesting perceptions business owners may have about VoIP, so I thought it would be a good topic for this month’s newsletter. 

In this article I want to define what VoIP is, explore the cost, dependability and sound quality when compared to traditional phone lines as well discuss why many companies are now switching VoIP phone systems.

What is VoIP?

VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. The VoIP Phone is essentially a specialized computer that connects through the same lines as your internet.  It is an alternative to traditional telephone network that runs over a copper wire infrastructure that has been in place in America since Alexander Graham Bell started building the network in about 1900.

Cost, Dependability and Sound Quality

Initial cost of a VoIP phone system will include the phones and installation-prices vary widely depending on the phone features and the size of the network but when compared to traditional phone systems often can save money, especially if existing phones are in need of an upgrade.

Dependability and sound quality are tied to the bandwidth, firewall configuration and wired data connectivity.  When we install these systems, as with any upgrade that will put demand on the existing infrastructure, we do an initial site survey to make sure your network will support the data traffic from the phones and give you the results you are looking for.   If upgrades are needed to the infrastructure, that is part of the initial planning.

There are 3 primary reasons why people switch to VoIP phone systems: Features & Function, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery.

Features and Function-VoIP phone systems offer a much wider range of features that traditional phones do not.  Some features include:

  • Find me/follow me routing
  • Voice Mail to Email Transcription
  • Hold Music of your choosing
  • Bandwidth utilization and inbound/outbound call detail reports
  • Coaching Tools
  • Conferencing
  • Auto-attendant
  • Call Screening
  • Do Not Disturb

Business ContinuityFind me/follow me routing allows calls to be forwarded to your office.  Additionally, since your phone is essentially a computer, it can be treated like a laptop.  Your office phone can be used anywhere you are by taking it with you and plugging it into an Ethernet jack.

Disaster Recoverywith VoIP phone systems, the only equipment that is at the office are the headsets, if those are destroyed, phone services can be accessed via the cloud so there is no need to worry about disaster recovery. If something should happen to your office, employees can continue working from anywhere, numbers can be rerouted to cell phone or another headset and voicemails will still be in the cloud or on email.

Is VoIP right for your business?

If you are thinking about replacing aging phones, are frustrated with your current phone system or believe your business would benefit from the many features of a VoIP system, give our shop a call at 763-229-4467.  We would be happy to answer your questions.



Tech Tip: Answering Security Questions

Answers to security questions must be memorable to you, but they don’t have to be true.

Today online banking, creating new email accounts, health insurance applications and the like often require security questions.  The trouble is, your mother’s maiden name is not a secret. For most, a simple search on Facebook reveals the answer to this security question. Since your credit score may be at stake if someone hacks your bank account, it is worth considering carefully how you may answer these questions.  Think of a memorable alternative to the true answer. For example: If your mother had 5 siblings with maiden name Olson, your answer could be “Oliesixpack.” Since your favorite pet is probably also featured on Facebook-think of a similar unique and memorable alternative for this.


4 Tips for Creating a Risk Free Email Policy

As a means to keep in touch, email is both a must-have resource and a costly liability. Keeping inboxes free of spam and malicious software is just one part of the battle — it is also important to lay down some ground rules governing the use of email in your organization. That’s why every company should have an up-to-date email policy that teaches employees to use company email safely.

#1. Draw the line between business and personal use                            

Though it might seem obvious, one of the first things your policy should make clear is that business email accounts are meant for business purposes only. Many employees don’t think twice about using their business email addresses for personal communications out of convenience. But allowing this can lead to security compromises and reduced productivity.

#2. Make it clear that all emails are company property                             

Since business email addresses are provided by the company and meant for business use, every email sent and received using these accounts are the property of the company. This means employees shouldn’t use company email addresses for sending personal emails since these accounts are owned and monitored by the business.

#3. Train employees to identify phishing scams                                               

Email is the number one delivery channel for social engineering scams. Although the clear majority of them will be picked up by any enterprise-grade spam filter, there are always a few that make it through. These tend to be the most dangerous ones since they’re often targeted towards specific victims and involve impersonation of a colleague or superior.  Provide regular training to help employees identify these scams and report anything suspicious immediately.

#4. Align email policy with your brand                                                      

Your email policy isn’t just about setting strict rules pertaining to security, use, and accessibility. As your go-to channel for conversations with customers, it also plays a key role in your brand. To that end, your policy should provide clear guidelines to help maintain brand consistency and a high standard of customer service.

Although not always included as part of a formal email policy, consider including a section offering guidance on things like etiquette, forwarding, and response times. For example, employees should ideally feel obligated to reply to both internal and external emails within a specified time frame.


Guest Article: When a DREAM is bigger than a DIY

As a provider of IT services and computer repair for the Twin Cities business community we often run across interesting and helpful stories for our clients.  In this guest post, Justin and Jenna Bakken, owners at XtraMile Construction link their daily work life in construction to the big dream they are pursuing by building an entrepreneurial center for impoverished youth in Guatemala.

by Justin and Jenna Bakken, XtraMile Construction

Have you ever seen a DIY (do it yourself) video and left feeling empowered?  The vision, the urge to create was so strong. The dream kitchen was so close, you could see the family meals being shared and countless parties being hosted. You only needed to take that intrusive wall down to open up the space. Maybe add a window for more natural lighting, install new cabinets, replace the wood floor, add a trendy backsplash, a few strokes of paint, and of course top of the line stainless steel appliances!  Motivated, you fuel that dream and it gets way bigger than the simple DIY project. Yet, undeterred you embark on a journey.  Perhaps, a few short hours, days, or even months later you come to the realization that this dream kitchen was a job for a team, a group of skillfully suited people?

The truth is, big projects and big dreams need teams of people to be completed or come to life. Being in the field of construction, I (Justin) have often noticed after a project comes to a close, the contractor or project manager get all the praise. What many people don’t see are the hours of hard work by skilled tradesmen. Yes, the contractor needed people skills to sell a job, he needed vision, and an ability to bring together dedicated, hardworking, skilled individuals to complete the dream. Yet, the dream and the kitchen came to life because of everyone who worked on the project.

What does your dream look like? We started dreaming after backpacking around Guatemala for 3 months for our honeymoon. Over the course of our travels we have spent about 2 years in Guatemala. Each time we returned  we  had the privilege to volunteer our time by helping at local churches, meal programs, rural schools, and orphanages. We have many dreams, one is to create a dream and entrepreneurial center for youth living in poverty.  We will be providing a safe and fun environment, where youth will be equipped to think big and create businesses to better their lives and communities. Now, we are surrounding ourselves with driven and generous people who want to make a difference in the lives of others. One day we will have reached and changed the lives of thousands of youth, but it will not have happened without the help and expertise of hundreds of people.

Dream big friends, whether it is to impact your community or to create that Pinterest worthy kitchen! Just remember when to go the extra mile in your DIY endeavors and when to call us at XtraMile construction. Check out XtraMile Construction at:    www.xtramileconstruction.com



May: Shiny New Gadget of the Month

Tech Gadgets that improve productivity, efficiency and security in the workplace.

512GB  MicroSD cards: Samsung and PNY

A great way to increase the internal capacity of your portable device

The thought of packing the equivalent of nearly 1,000 CD-ROMs on something barely bigger than the average human fingernail would have been unimaginable only a decade ago.

Now storage companies like Samsung, Sandisk or Integral are slowly pushing 512GB microSD cards in the market, fueled by demand from mobile devices.

PNY is one of the latest to do so with the Elite. At  $125 it is comparable in price with other products in the same category but far more expensive than the 400GB SanDisk Ultra which is about half of the price for three quarters of the capacity.

The 512GB card, the highest commercial capacity available,  allows you to dramatically increase available storage on your smartphone, great for 4K footage of field visits or business videos.


Storm Season Is Just Around the Corner…Are You Protected?

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Storm season is coming! If you are like most people, you are probably thinking “it will never happen to me.” But if it did, how long would it take your business to get back up and running?  One of the most valuable assets for any company is its data.  Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot. This is a great time make sure you are prepared for those powerful storms that roll through Minnesota in the spring and summer, often resulting in everything from lightning strikes to tornado damage.

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers and even theft is very real.  As a reminder to all of our clients and friends, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster.

  1. Back Up Your Data Remotely! Everyone knows that data should be backed up on a daily basis, but many people still use in-house backup systems that will get damaged in a natural disaster or fire, and can easily be stolen. We recommend backing up all data to an off-site location, and we offer this as a service to our clients.
  2. Use A Quality Surge Protector With Uninterruptible Power Supply Battery. A high-quality surge protector combined with an uninterruptible power supply battery backup will go a long way in protecting sensitive electronic equipment from surges and other electronic irregularities that can destroy your computer’s circuitry.
  3. Make Sure Your Servers Are Off The Floor Or In The Cloud. If your office gets flooded, having your equipment off the floor will prevent it from being completely destroyed. Server racks can be purchased and installed very inexpensively.Or consider moving your critical server equipment to the cloud and be protected no matter the weather!
  4. Have A Disaster Recovery And Business Continuity Plan. Every business should have some type of plan in place for continued operation after a disaster. Would people know where to go? Who to call? How to log in and access data remotely? Hopefully you’ll never need it, but having a simple plan will make you sleep a lot easier at night knowing you have a way to continue to operate when disaster strikes.

If you have questions or concerns about the security of your company’s data in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, we have developed this special report to help small business owners think through 10 essential disaster planning steps.

10 Disaster Planning Essentials For Small Businesses

Don’t lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve in an instant! This report will reveal important planning strategies you should have in place now to protect yourself from common data-erasing disasters including natural hazards, human error, cyber criminals, hardware failure, software corruption and other IT failures.  Download your free report instantly here.




Don’t Panic! Identifying Social Engineering Scams Before It’s Too Late.

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Last week I got a call from “Verizon” stating that there was a problem with my account and my service would be disrupted if I did not take action right away.  The automated voice invited me to simply “Push 1” to be connected to a representative to take care of the issue.   I have seen more people then I care to count get taken advantage of in this type of situation and I know exactly what happens next.   A friendly, legitimate sounding, voice will ask for my Verizon account number and answer my questions about the problem, furthering trust and credibility then WHAMMO!-“I will need  is a credit card to secure this and make sure there is no interruption in your cell phone service.”-This is how easy it is to be swindled out of sensitive credit card information by a social engineering scam.

Social Engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.

Simply planning ahead will go a long way in  helping you identify and respond appropriately to a social engineering scam.  Here are  a couple of  things to consider:

Don’t Panic! These types of scams are designed to push your panic button, so you aren’t thinking clearly.  Disruption in cell service (such as Verizon) or any other service related to running a business can easily throw many business owners over the top.  This is no secret to scammers!  If you are in panic mode-pause, stay calm and keep a logical head.

Hang Up the Phone and Verify!  If a call like this sounds legitimate enough that you are tempted to divulge sensitive information on the spot, it only takes a few minutes to hang up and verify the claim with a second source.  In the Verizon example above, I logged into my Verizon account with my own password and found that there was no problem at all.  There is always a way to verify the legitimacy of a call like this with your own information.  Furthermore, legitimate companies are aware that many scams develop around their brand name.  So, they steer clear of practices that make customers uneasy, like making automated  robocalls when there is a problem.

We have been providing computer repair and IT services to small businesses in the Twin Cities since 2004 and it seems like the variety and sophistication of scams increases by the day.  We field many calls each month from clients who wonder about different scams they have come across.  Don’t hesitate to call us if you need an opinion on a suspicious phone call or email-we will be happy to offer you logical steps to verify the legitimacy of any call or email that produces panic or requests sensitive information.


Guest Article: The WOW Factor

As a provider of IT services and computer repair for the Twin Cities business community we often run across interesting and helpful stories for our clients.  In this guest post, Ross Johnson, owner and founder of SnackBOX, teaches about the value of wowing our clients.

I want you to think back to that time when you bought your first house or moved in to your first apartment. That time in life can be filled with so much emotion! Joy, excitement, fear and worry all coming at you in waves. I will never forget my journey to purchasing our dream home. We had been living in our sisters home for two years and had saved up a proper down payment. We were all set and ready to go, all we needed was a realtor! I had a good friend that had done a great job on social media telling her story of how she was helping others find their dream homes and I knew she was the right person call. The day we made our offer she invited us over to her home to start the negotiation process and long story short we got the home! We out bid the other buyer by $100! No kidding! Here is where the wow factor comes in. After we had been in our home for a few days we received a card in the mail from our realtor with a handwritten message and a $50 gift card to Target to start off the decorating process. I was IMPRESSED! You just don’t see that anymore in business today! We also ended up referring her a month later to some friends. To our surprise she sent a warm cookie basket to our home to say thank you! No kidding they were warm and delicious! To this day 5 years later we still get Christmas cards and those constant customer touches that are vital for referrals.


As a business owner myself, sometimes I think we get so obsessed with trying to acquire new customers when our best sales teams are our happy customers. We also need to take the time to re-market to our current customer base. They are a very warm audience that has already spent money with you and they trust you!


At SnackBOX we work with companies that are serious about the wow factor and re-marketing to there faithful customers. We have a client that that buys cases of our snackbox’s and takes them on the road. She brings them to her client meetings as a way of saying thank you for doing business with us! We have a hotel client that places a snackbox on the bed pillow of every guest that spends a week or more at the hotel.


We also have large phone manufacture (the biggest in the world) that uses SnackBOX to send thousands of boxes to their home based employees as a way to say thank you! What a great way to create an amazing culture among their staff.


Take the time to thank your best customers!  They trust you! They have spent money with you and they do talk about you! You have worked so hard to bring them in to your business! Think about what it costs you to acquire a customer! If you want to take your business to the next level you gotta give em’ the “WOW” factor!

Ross is the owner and founder of SnackBOX! They work with some of the biggest brands in the snack industry and provide pre-packaged SnackBOX’s available on Amazon.com, walmart.com and their website www.snackboxusa.com.

April: Shiny New Gadget of the Month

Tech Gadgets that improve productivity, efficiency and security in the workplace.


AirBar is a sleek, lightweight device that instantly turns your regular laptop into a touchscreen! Simply attach the bar to the bottom of your laptop display via magnets, plug in via USB, and use anything from a paintbrush to a gloved finger to interact with your screen.

It is compatible for both Windows 10 laptops and Macs.

Small businesses can invest in an AirBar to use on laptops to improve interactivity in video conferences, meetings, and client presentations.

Air Bar is available on Amazon for $59.99 + shipping.

It’s always fun to see what’s next in technology innovation!  Your Computer Hero is an IT consulting company that helps business increase profit by leveraging technology for increased productive, security and efficiency since 2004.  If you are looking for ways to shift your business in high performance gear call Your Computer Hero today at 763-229-4467.

Weighing the Risks of Using a Free Email Account for Business

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

In 15 years of serving business clients, I have seen free email accounts such as MSN, Yahoo and Gmail get hacked dozens of times.  So much, that I do not recommend using free email accounts for business purposes.  Having said that, some of my clients choose to use these accounts because of the obvious upside: it’s free.  All business owners have to make hard choices about where they are going to spend money and free email can be very alluring.  I respect that-just go into it with eyes wide open.  Know the risks. I want to give you an insider look into why these email accounts are an attractive target for hackers, explain common tricks that we see hackers use to exploit these accounts, and share best practices for decreasing your risk if you choose to use a free email service.

Why Free Email Accounts are an Attractive Target for Hackers

Ironically, the thing that makes free email accounts a hot target for hackers is the same thing that makes them attractive for consumers: they are free.  Hackers know what good data security looks like on the back end and they know very well that it’s not free.  Manpower and sophisticated firewalls are necessary to protect sensitive business data. In this model you are getting what you pay for, so those resources are slim at best.

Tricks that Hackers Use

 Before we go into a recent example from one of our clients, I want to give you a couple definitions:

Phishing: the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Spoofing: the act of disguising a communication, usually email, from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source. You can usually identify.

a spoofed email by looking at the header of the email.

We recently had a business client with an MSN account that got hacked. The hacker attempted to steal to both money and credit card information by reroute the payment of invoices.  This is a common phishing scheme with hacked email accounts.  First, they identified where legitimate invoices were being emailed out by the company.  Then, followed-up with illegitimate emails explaining a change in their payment processing and requesting that the payer simply “click this link” to pay the invoice. Scary! The hacker’s follow-up email was spoofed so it appeared as though it was coming from the business owner.  The emails could not be found in the account’s “sent items” folder so the business owner had no way of detecting this activity until they were alerted by a payer who called to confirm the change in their payment process.

Best Practices for Decreasing Your Risk of Being Hacked

I want to reiterate that I do not recommend using a free email account for business purposes.  I include this discussion, not to endorse their use but because I know many small businesses use these types of accounts and there are a few ways to decrease the risks.

Password is king! Your password MUST be very strong and unique to the email account! It should not include your dog’s name, your brother’s name, your old phone number, social security number, birthday or any other name or number that is or has ever been associated with you.  It should not even include any word that can be found in the English dictionary.  See below for how to generate long randomized passwords that are easy to remember.

Keep in mind that free email servers are a hot target for hackers, so making sure your password is unique to the email account adds another measure of security. If this one gets hacked, you will minimize the damage to your other accounts and the headache of having to change all passwords for all accounts.

If you get hacked and lose control of your password there are no deep pockets for customer service with free email accounts, so recovering your email is an impossibility.  The only option is to abandon the hacked account and create a new email.  As for the money lost to hacker schemes and headache of notifying your clients to the change in email, you are on your own.

Tech Tip: Generating Strong Passwords-Randomized, Long, Memorable.

An easy way to generate long secure passwords that look random, but are memorable, is to think of a sentence that means something to you, then use it to generate a password.  For example, the key sentence “I ate ice cream daily in Rome in June 2000,” easily generates a 14 digit password: “I8icdiRi6.2000.”  If you can remember or write the sentence, you can remember the password.

If you are using a free email service such as MSN, Yahoo or Gmail for business purposes such as sending invoices, there are more secure options. Your Computer Hero has been providing IT consulting  to small businesses in the Twin Cities since 2004, we have expert technicians on staff to answer your questions and facilitate a smooth transition.  Call our shop at 763-229-4467 today to discuss options.