winding back the clock

Winding back the clock

We all know that technology is a rapidly changing industry and we are constantly being told we need to keep up. Today, I want to do something different. I want to take the time to go through 10 of my favourite Grassroots IT blog posts. I’ve raided the library and chosen the ones I think are still relevant and useful to you. These are the ones you may have forgotten about, or may have never read, but they might just be coming to you at the right time.

So. Sit back. Relax. Grab that mid morning coffee and have a read. All below for your reading pleasure.

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How to get the most out of your IT support team

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How to get the best from your IT Support Team

It’s fair to say that you’ve invested a lot in your IT support team. If you have an IT support team in house, then you’ve spent time and money recruiting them, training them, and developing them with the hard and soft skills necessary to perform at a high standard. You’ve spent money on computers, software, desks, all sorts of gadgets you may not understand, and of course plain old (but not plain cheap) floor space in your office.

Keep reading here!

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The 3 things every business owner needs to know about their backups

 

Brisbane and large parts of Queensland were hit recently by Tropical Cyclone Marcia, with extensive damage and destruction left in its wake. Thankfully none of our clients across greater Queensland suffered any real damage, and by the time the weather reached Brisbane, although it brought with it a heap of rain, there was no real damage or destruction beyond some minor flooding.

Keep reading here!

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Need to know about your backups

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How to Identify Malicious Phishing

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How to identify a potentially malicious phishing email

There’s a lot of risk these days with emails arriving in your inbox, spam that’s essentially carrying some sort of a malicious payload. It’s dangerous in the sense that it will potentially risk installing some bad software or virus or malware … something like that on your computer.

Keep reading here!

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Announcing our free downloadable BYOD Policy Template

The Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend is well and truly here to stay, with employees pretty much expecting these days to be able to bring their own personal choice of mobile device to work with them, and use it to access corporate data and systems, usually starting with email.

Keep reading here!

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BYOD Policy

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How Hipchat can solve your internal communication problems

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How HipChat solved our internal communication problems

Our team cover various functions such as technical support, administration, finance and marketing, and just like more and more businesses don’t necessarily all work from the office, at least not at the same time. It’s normal for us to have at least one or two people working remotely at any one time, either from home, or from a client site.

Keep reading here!

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Going to ProBlogger? Here are our top travel tech tips.

The tickets are booked, clothes are in the suitcase and we’re humming the tune of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (actually we’ll be driving, but you know). But what about the gadgets, widgets, and other technology to make life a little easier whilst in transit? We asked some tech-savvy business travellers what their top travel tech tips.

Keep reading here!

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Top 3 tips to reducing your IT costs

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Top 3 Tips to Reduce IT Costs

Years of IT consulting have taught me where and how people spend unnecessary money on IT and lose their competitive edge. My goal with Grassroots IT is to help small to medium businesses get the most value from their technology investment. Here are three simple tips that can help you reduce IT costs and take charge of your technology today.

Keep reading here!

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Is Your IT Health Check up to Date?

You see, while technology appears to be solving all of our problems, they still suffer from some of their own. With a little forethought and a little TLC, there are ways and means to minimise the impact when technology does fail. There are also ways to improve their function and monitor their health. Simple checks on servers and network systems can save you much time and money in the long run.

Keep reading here!

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Is your IT health check up to date

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how we collect client feedback

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How we collect Client Feedback

From the day we opened the doors at Grassroots IT over 10 years ago we have had a passionate focus on our clients, and how we can best help “keep the light green” for them, so they can focus on growing their business and not be held back by technology problems. We obviously need certain technical skills to help deliver on this, but just as importantly we need to effectively engage with the people involved. Thus our tagline – “IT Help for Humans”.

Keep reading here!

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How to successfully deal with IT problems

Technology can be an amazingly powerful business enabler, pretty much everyone agrees on that point. But it can also be bloody frustrating at times. Its ok, I get it. Even though we’re the experts it happens to us too. In fact not only do we get to deal with our own frustrations with IT, we also get to deal with our clients annoying IT problems!

Keep reading here!

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How to successfully deal with IT problems

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Free Wifi Options in Wilston Village

It’s no secret that we’re raving fans of Wilston Village, the cosy café strip on Brisbane’s inner-north that hosts our office (aka The Garden Shed). The people are friendly, the shops welcoming and the coffee options plentiful. So plentiful in fact that when we were designing the office we didn’t bother including any meeting rooms; they seemed kind of pointless, given we’d always choose to meet at one of the fantastic cafés right outside our front door.

We love our little village, and know that you will too. For the next time you’re looking for somewhere to meet a client, or camp out for a while to get some work done, here are three options you can’t go past not only for great food and coffee, but free wifi!

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The Wilston General

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking that The Wilston General is your average convenience store. Far from it. Under the talented stewardship of Matt Wilkie (of New Farm Deli and Little Larder fame), The General (as the locals know it) is a favourite lunch and meeting spot for locals thanks to the high quality food and coffee options.

The Wifi at The General is free, requiring a password to connect (just ask at the counter). We regularly hold team meetings here, and the wifi has always been rock solid and fast, thanks to providers like EATEL.

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Local Tip: For breakfast ask for the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It’s not on any menu, but damn it’s good.

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Café 63 Wilston

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Thanks to a growing number of locations throughout Brisbane, Café 63 and it’s distinct black and white stripes are become increasingly familiar to Brisbane residents. Characterised by a menu that offers an almost never-ending range of randomly named variants of café staples, Café 63 is a reliable venue much loved by local mums after school drop off.

The Wifi at Café 63 is free, requiring a password to connect (just ask the staff). Performance is generally solid, although some tables do seem to suffer from poor signal strength.

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Local tip: The back courtyard is my go-to for quiet contemplation, but time your visit to avoid the local mothers’ groups!

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The Coffee Club Wilston

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As much a part of Brisbane as the City Cats and Southbank, The Coffee Club at Wilston Village is exactly what you’d expect it to be – and therein lies its appeal. With prime position on the up-hill corner, and reliably open on those public holidays when others are not, The Coffee Club provides a reliable destination with consistent dining options.

The Wifi at The Coffee Club is free, and accessed via a splash page requiring you to accept the usual terms and conditions of use. Performance is generally reliable, although compared to other options in the village can feel slower and less responsive at times, although not enough to be a problem.

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Local tip: If sitting outside, choose your table carefully to avoid full sun on your laptop screen. What was the prime position may become unworkable.

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Wilston Village has numerous fantastic cafes and restaurants, not to mention the fashion outlets, travel agencies, hair dressers and more. Next time you’re looking for a spot to catch up on some emails with free wifi and a great coffee, swing on by and say hi.

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy with Jon Hollenberg

A good web marketing strategy doesn’t have to be hard, in fact, it can be quite simple. You’ve just got to know where to start. Our good friend and digital expert, Jon Hollenberg from Five by Five, answered all our questions and gave us some really awesome and useful tips to get us crafting the perfect web marketing strategy.  You can watch the webinar below and to make sure you get all the notes, they’re all below for your reading pleasure.

Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy from Grassroots IT on Vimeo.

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5 elements of a high performing website

 

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy (5)

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When someone comes to your website, we want to give them the best possible chance of getting in touch. So what should your website look like at first glance?

From a design perspective, this is what you should be doing with your website:

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  • Phone number top right hand corner of each page
  • Be really clear on what you do in the headline
  • Video on the homepage
  • Benefit ridden copy
  • Testimonials
  • Communicate proof and build trust through logos
  • Capture their details
  • Use guarantees
  • Team members photos & videos
  • Load time

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy (1)

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Mobiles are generating upwards of 60-70% of traffic, so you should be thinking of a mobile first approach. Ask yourself if your website has a mobile responsive design ? Test it.

Grab your phone and look it up. Is it easy to read? Are the web forms easy to fill out on your phone?

You can search “Google mobile friendly test” and use that as a guide to know exactly what your website needs to be mobile responsive.

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy (6)

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Content is King.

Creating and sharing your own content can lead to online traction. Using good quality content can build your brand image and brings leads directly to your website.

Content ideas:

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  • Blog posts
  • How to videos
  • FAQs
  • Product Reviews
  • Industry News
  • Lists

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy (7)

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You want some level of interaction with your audience. You want contact details to continue the conversation and ideally in an automotive fashion bringing maximum leverage for you.

Here are some ideas:

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  • Give away something valuable
  • Opt-in
  • Build a list
  • Build a quiz

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Crafting the perfect Web Marketing Strategy (8)

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Everyone has a story to tell. Tell your audience why you get out of bed everyday and do what you do. There is a power to telling a story through your website because it builds an intimate, personal connection with your audience, before ever meeting them in person.

Examples of how you can tell your story:

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  • https://www.nqtc.com.au/
  • https://www.gallantplumbing.com.au/
  • https://www.missowealth.com/
  • https://www.tardisadvice.com.au/
  • https://www.justincoulson.com/

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Can’t get enough of Jon? Neither can we!

Listen to our podcast with Jon here.

Learn how to create a brilliant website with Jon here.

Visit Five by Five’s website and contact Jon here.

Get a copy of Jon’s book, Love at first site: How to build the website of your dreams, here.

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How we use MailChimp and Canva

We believe having active and effective communication with our Grassroots community is an imperative part of our business. We love to share our ideas, current events, and announcements and we want others to do the same. Here is how we design and distribute our newsletters.

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How we use MailChimp

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There are many different systems that you can use to distribute your newsletter, but we like to use Mailchimp. We love using it for its simplicity to design, edit and track the effectiveness of our newsletter.

With Mailchimp, you can design your own email newsletter or use the service’s professionally designed templates. There are hundreds to choose from. Add your own images to your email and customize the template to your satisfactions. You can save the template and come back to it at a later date, or even send a test email to see what the reader will see when they open it.

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With regard to the database, Mailchimp can easily import your contacts and sort them into Lists so you can send out different types of emails to different groups of contacts. If you need an email to go out on a particularly date and time, you don’t even need to be sitting at the computer – Mailchimp can easily schedule a newsletter to be sent at a convenient future timeslot.

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After you’ve sent out your email, MailChimp will collect and analyze your data and provides excellent visual representations of that data in several formats. You can view subscriber activity, social stats, click performance and advanced reports, or look at an overview of all information. You can see easily view all sorts of information, such as which countries your readers are from, what time they opened the email and even which links they clicked on.

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How we use Canva

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More often than not, people get scared when it comes to designing marketing collateral for their business. They think they’re not creative enough or just simply do not have the skills. If this is you, do not fear – we have a secret to share with you!

Canva is another simple tool we use to design all of the imagery we use for our business. All our social media posts are designed with Canva. Posters, invitations, email headers…the list goes on. Canva has a template for everything and even has step by step instructions on how to maximise their tools to suit your marketing needs.

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What’s more, is that there is an awesome upgrade for businesses that we use called Canva for Work. The key features of this upgrade include being able to use our own brand colours, logos and fonts to brand all of our images. Canva allows you to save in either a digital or print format so the quality of the image is right for its use.

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Not only are these two programs super easy to use, they are huge timesavers for our business and allow us to engage and connect with our community more frequently and easily.

Memorable End-Of-Year Experience

How We Create a Memorable End-of-Year Experience for our Small Work Team

It has become a tradition for the Grassroots IT team members and their partners to gather at the end of each year to celebrate their hard work and reflect on the year that has passed. In our first year of business, our ‘team event’ consisted of Ben and I having dinner with our solitary staff member, but as our team has grown and changed, our event ideas have needed to as well. While going out for dinner is great, we do that fairly regularly throughout the year so we like to create more of an ‘experience’ for our team to end the year on a memorable note.

This year, we invited our team members and their partners (18 people in total) into our home and organised a private chef through At Our Table to cook us dinner. It was a really beautiful night and the food was delicious!

In terms of preparation for the event, we put three trestle tables together to make one long banquet table and just had enough room to fit 18 comfortably in our open-plan lounge/dining room. We hired in the chairs, table cloths, napkins, crockery, cutlery and glassware from a local hire company for the evening. Our place settings looked a little like these Pinterest-inspired napkins with hand-written name labels, and I created the very simple table centrepieces with some jars we had at home and a selection of flowers from a local flower market. I ran out of time to print off the menus, but I had created them using Canva.

Our ‘Chef’s Table’ evening began at 6pm in our backyard with drinks, and some pre-made cocktails and canapés that Ben and I had whipped up and our waiter, Ana, served. Meanwhile, Chef and his assistant Shelly were in our kitchen busily preparing the entrée for our guests.

At 7.15pm, we invited everyone upstairs to be seated for dinner. Entrée was served in an alternate drop, and guests received either a lime crusted lamb rump, sweet potato puree, with garlic spinach and cabernet jus, or sugar cane king prawn rice paper rolls, with fresh coriander and chilli lime dipping sauce. We had a number of dietary requirements, including vegetarian, gluten, grain and dairy free, which Chef happily catered for.

For our main meal, we dined on roast pork belly with creamy mash, Asian salad, apple compote and honey soy glaze; or local King Snapper, with lemon, parsley and pecorino risotto, crisp prosciutto and pineapple salsa.

Dessert consisted of either a chocolate vanilla sable with Frangelico cream and raspberry, or a mini fresh fruit Pavlova, with passionfruit and chocolate filigree.

We kept all the drinks readily available in big ice buckets on the sideboard beside the dining table and our wonderful waiter, Ana, did a great job of keeping us all hydrated throughout the night. Chef and his assistants washed all the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen while we were all happily chatting and feasting on the delicious food, finishing up their official duties and leaving us about 9.30pm. But the festivities weren’t over yet!

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Let the games begin

Each of our guests had been asked to bring a Secret Santa gift (to the value of about $10) to dinner. After all the eating had concluded, we launched into our Secret Santa gift game. Have you played it before? My family started playing it years ago on Christmas day for a bit of fun and it’s been good at giving some giggles at our end-of-year gatherings for the past few years too. Years ago, I used to buy all the gifts myself but as the team has grown, we now ask the team members to bring their own – I actually think this is better as everyone has more of a vested interest what they have purchased. Here’s the general rundown on the game plan:

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      • All gifts (which are wrapped) are placed on display in the middle of the table.
      • One team member begins (we started with the youngest member, but maybe you could go in alphabetical order or something different) and picks a present from the table to open.
      • Once the first present is opened and everyone can see the item, the next person is allowed to either open a brand new present or take an already-opened present off a previous recipient.
      • If someone has their gift taken off them, they are allowed to open (or steal) another present.
      • Our rule is that no present is to be stolen more than once by the same person (however, there are no rules to say that person’s partner can’t steal it so that the desired present makes it home by the end of the night… just sayin’ ;), but you can make up your own rules.
      • The cycle continues until all presents are open.

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This game kept us entertained for at least a good hour – I think it was definitely the most fun we’ve had in all the years we’ve been playing it!

Our end-of-year team gathering finished up around 11.30pm, with loads of fun had by all. I love watching how the event morphs and develops over time, depending on the number of team member and the different mix of personalities.

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How we have celebrated over the years

Here is a list of other activities we’ve done over the years:

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          • Cocktails, dinner and a magnificent view on the balcony at Topiaries of Beaumont, with private group transfer each way.
          • Lovely lunch on the river at Watt, New Farm. We’ve also hosted lunch at the Hundred Acre Bar at the St Lucia Golf Course.
          • A winery tour at Sirromet, followed by lunch in their signature restaurant, Lurleen’s.
          • Cocktails on the river at Byblos, followed by dinner at the now-closed Restaurant Manx, Portside.
          • The Story Bridge Climb at sunset, followed by drinks (and getting dressed up) in the room of a nearby hotel and then dinner at a local restaurant.
          • Cooking class and lunch at James Street Cooking School, followed by cocktails at Cru Bar, New Farm.

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(Cocktails seem to feature fairly strongly on this list, don’t they??)

I also have a list of ideas for future team events, but I’m going to keep those under wraps for now 😉

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How to create your own

Here are the steps you can follow to create a memorable experience for your team:

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      • Well in advance, give your team members a short list of available dates and find a date when everyone can attend. Ask all your team members to lock it in with their partners too. As the year often gets a bit crazy with social events and busy-ness towards Christmas, we usually plan for a team gathering in November. Obviously the more time you have, the easier it will be to book your chosen activity/event on that date!
      • Brainstorm a list of ideas. Let your imagination run wild. What do you want the event to look like? Will it be during the day or at night? Fun and festive, or a more formal event? Will you have a theme?
      • Write a list of criteria. How many people will be attending? What’s your budget per person? What’s the age group of your team? Do you have any limitations based on who’s attending – e.g. If you really want to skydive, will everyone on your team feel comfortable doing this activity?
      • Focus on one particular idea and write a list of everything you need to organise. Book in any elements you need to outsource and pay deposits. Have you arranged a venue? Catering? Beverages? Decorations? Music? Equipment hire? Group transport?
      • Make invitations for your team members. Are the details of your event a surprise, or can they find out specifics in advance? While our team has the date locked in fairly early, we usually leave more specific details until the week or two before. That way, they get a chance to look forward to all the fun we have in store.
      • Finalise the finer details of your event. Do you want to give out any awards to your team members on the night? Do you have a speech to prepare? Do you need to advise a venue of any specific music or dietary requirements?
      • Attend the event and have lots of fun!

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Meeting the Crew

It finally happened. Oh yes, we met Justice Crew.

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From the moment we shared the exciting news with Sam that we would be meeting Justice Crew at the Arnott’s Family Fun Day, we spent a few weeks listening to JC songs on repeat and watching loads of video clips. I’m pretty sure even Nicholas knew the words to their songs off by heart by the big day!

13 September arrived and Sam was up at the crack of dawn, anxiously anticipating the big event.

Ben and Sam enjoyed a tour of the Arnott’s bakery with both sets of grandparents – the first time the bakery has been open to the public in 25 years. While they were on the tour, Charlie, Nicholas and I took the opportunity to explore the venue and listen to some of the entertainment.

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Our day was filled with balloons, slippery slides, face painting, jumping castles, far too many biscuits (but those Tiny Teddies looked so cute riding in TimTam cars), photos in antique Arnott’s delivery vans, music, getting up close and personal with some Australian wildlife, Cold Rock ice-cream… and then the big moment arrived. At 1.15pm, our little family was greeted by security guards and ushered through to the ‘green room’ to meet Justice Crew.

The JC boys were warm and welcoming, despite all of us being a little starstruck and finding it hard to get any words out. We chatted as photos were taken by the official photographer, then watched the crew practice a few dance moves and record a special message for Arnott’s 150th birthday. All the members of the band signed a CD for Sam, which he proceeded to hold onto for dear life.

Soon after a puppet show and dance party with our friends Kylie and Deano from Camp Quality, we were at the side of the stage, rocking out to the music and watching Justice Crew perform their amazing dance moves. There were lots of squealing tweens dancing at the front of the stage. I had a moment of pride when JC added “and a big thanks to Sam and the Love family” into one of their songs, and I watched the big smiles on Sam and Charlie’s faces as we danced along together to the familiar tunes.

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Some of our nearest and dearest friends and family members came along to be part of the day, and we were so thankful that they were there to share it with us. We are also grateful to the team at Arnott’s and Camp Quality who made the day happen, and especially to the State Manager of CQ, Theresa Scanlan, who went out of her way to make us feel such a special part of the proceedings. At the conclusion of the event, we heard that Arnott’s had raised over $40,000 for Camp Quality through the Family Fun Day.

It was a good day. An exhausting but wonderful, momentous, heart-filling day.

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* A version of this post appeared on Mummalove.
Top travel tech tips for events and conferences

Going to ProBlogger? Here are our top travel tech tips.

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We’re getting a little bit excited around here, with Ben and I off to the amazing ProBlogger event at the Gold Coast in a couple of weeks’ time. This will be our first time attending, but by all reports these events hosted by Darren Rowse are well worth the ticket.

The tickets are booked, clothes are in the suitcase and we’re humming the tune of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (actually we’ll be driving, but you know). But what about the gadgets, widgets, and other technology to make life a little easier whilst in transit? We asked some tech-savvy business travellers what their top travel tech tips:

Active noise cancelling headphones 

John Downs from John Downs Photography swears by noise cancelling headphones.

They reduce the engine noise on a plane so you can listen to music or movies without turning it up so loud it damages your hearing.

If you really are ‘leaving on a jetplane’, noise-cancelling headphones are a must for many travellers to reduce the ambient noise associated with plane travel (engine noise, small tired children…) .

On the more expensive end of the price range, Ben owns (and is really happy with) some larger over-ear Sennheiser battery powered headphones, but there are less pricey models available.  In fact he also owns a super cheap pair of in-ear passive noise-cancelling headphones which are almost just as effective, and far easier to carry around.

USB power packs 

I’m sure we all know how it feels to be out and about, using your phone all day and wondering whether you’ll make it back to a power point and charger before the depleted battery completely dies. Enter the portable USB power pack, which enables you to charge on the go.  While it may not give your phone or tablet a full charge, it will enable you to get a few more hours of life out of your vital devices. From about $30, you can pick up one of these babies so it’s a pretty cheap insurance policy to avoid a flat phone battery. Check out Gizmodo’s Best Portable Powerpack reviews and Techrader’s Best Portable Chargers to research which features you might need.

Handy travel apps

Toby Cumpstay from Simple for Strings won’t leave home without his two favourite mobile apps, TripIt and FlightTrack.

I can’t live without TripIt and Flight Track. Great apps for keeping my travel plans and flights all sorted. Flight Track told me my flight had been cancelled before the airport announce it in Chicago. I was able to get on the next flight without lining up!

There is practically an app for every scenario these days, but there are loads to make aspects of travel easier. Here are our favourites:

  • TripIt – keeps track of all your travel details, syncs it with your calendar and shares with those who need to know. Just email through your itinerary and it will automatically enter all the details!
  • Flight Track – stay informed of your air travel details 24/7 with notifications on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch or keep track of the flight status of your friends and family.
  • Google Translate, including WordLens – overcome the language barrier with the help of this app, which can translate text and interpret voice across various languages. Take a photo of a local sign with your phone and it will be translated into your native language!
  • Viber – allows you to make phone calls and send text messages to all other Viber users for free* over WiFi or 3G. *If used over 3G, you may be charged by your telephone provider.
  • Facetime or Skype – when you have to be away from home, it’s good to stay connected through video calls.
  • LocalEats – find out where the locals eat and get a great meal, whichever city you’re in, with this handy app.

E-Book Reader  

Okay, I may be a little biased with this one because I am not-so-secretly in love my Kindle Paperwhite, but an e-book reader is a definite inclusion in the carry-on for this traveller. Without having to lug a whole library of books onboard, the e-book reader enables me to travel lightly and still have a literary smorgasboard at my fingertips. Kindle reader app on the iPad is a great option if you don’t want to take multiple devices, but after a long day of conferencing or travelling (or both), the front light on the Kindle screen is far more gentle on the eyes then backlit screens and quite nice to curl up with a ‘book’ without having all those other apps and social media distractions quite so handy.

Joe from Yellow Bucket Marketing LOVES travel gizmos and gadgets.

I don’t travel enough to warrant all the things I want to use so here’s a list of products and services I use plus my wish list:

Things I’ve Used and LOVE

  • Air B’n’B, need some last minute accommodation. I love Air B’n’B, the prices are usually really good and because it’s part of the ‘sharing economy’ there are usually really helpful reviews.
  • Uber – don’t want the hassle of hiring a car, a quick search on Uber Estimate shows that a trip from the airport to the event will cost between $48 and $65
  • PassBook or PassWallet for all your mobile ticket management
  • iPad to HDMI adaptor. If you’ve got any meetings or presentations while you’re on the Gold Coast an iPad to HDMI adaptor can be invaluable. This gives you the ability to travel really lightly if you’re proficient at getting work done on your iPad.

Cool Gear I’d LOVE To Use

  • Scottevest – There’s a bunch of different ones but the Q.U.E.S.T is awesomely nerdy. It has 42 pockets that use no bulge technology so that it doesn’t look like you’re carrying all your worldly possessions, it has heaps of other cool features too. It’s a US brand but you can pick one up from ThinkGeek.
  • Tom Bihn Travel Tray – I love this thing, it’s like a key bowl for travel. Keep all your odds and ends in it like keys, sunglasses, chargers, loose change, etc. It acts as a bowl that you can easily put all of this stuff in then when you’re ready to leave you can unroll the top and it turns into a duffle bag. Very cool.

General technology must-haves 

Raylee Huggett from Gorgeous Curves Diary offers some sage advice.

“I always take these two items – an international power adaptor and a 4 or 6 plug power board to plug into it so I can charge my phone, Camera, laptop/ipad each night”

**Editor’s note** This tip could be great to make friends at events like problogger. In my experience, any available powerpoint gets pretty crowded during the break and there’s often a queue to get to a precious powerpoint. You save the day for 3-5 people with the powerboard alone! Who doesn’t love being a hero?

One small piece of tech that goes everywhere with me these days is my small 4G Wifi Hotspot. This magic device charges from any USB cable and will share a 4G internet connection wirelessly with up to 5 devices. This saves me using the expensive data allowance on my phone plan, and also lets me connect all of my devices to the internet with a single prepaid device.

Way back when I was a backpacker in my twenties, internet cafes were thriving, travelling with a mobile phone was rare and it was far easier to get lost in the world. These days, when we are much more used to gathering information online, an uncharged smartphone can mean disaster. With the help of so many handy tools, we can work on the go, keep those devices charged and stay connected, wherever we are in the world.

Are you heading to ProBlogger? If so, we look forward to meeting you there!

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5 tips for a worry free holiday away from the office

5 Tips for a Worry Free Holiday Away from the Office

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, with Christmas only a couple of days away. The weather is heating up, the cricket is on the radio and those Brisbane summer storms have already made their presence known. For a lot of folks a well-earned summer holiday has already begun, while the rest of us count down the days and hours until we can join them.

Whether you’re already relaxing by the pool, or still just wishing you were, worrying about the technology back at the office is not something you want spoiling your down time. Here are 5 simple tips to help you ease on into the break.

1 – Make sure your backups are working

As much as we all hope that it doesn’t, things can and do go wrong. Summer in Brisbane in particular has a history of throwing some particularly curly challenges at us such as raging storms, power outages and of course even floods. Even something as simple as a failed air-conditioning unit in a server room can have a disastrous impact on your business as servers over heat and shutdown or potentially crash.

A full discussion around Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery is very important, however best left for another day. Right now, let’s just focus on this one tip – make sure your backups are working. If worst does indeed come to worst, and your technology does suffer over the holidays, as long as you have a working backup everything should be recoverable.

So how do you know if your backups are working? Well if you have us managing your systems then you have nothing to worry about, because we constantly monitor your backups to make sure their working. If you have your own IT person in house, or work with another IT company for support, just ask them to test your backups for you. The important point to remember is that they must test your backups, and not just assume that having no errors means all is ok. That means they must actually restore some data from a recent backup to ensure that the backups are functioning as expected.

2 – Power off unnecessary equipment

This tip is as much about saving money and the environment as it is about avoiding bigger problems. If you are the last one out the door before the office gets locked up for the break, take a walk around the office and make sure that all non-essential IT equipment is properly powered off, and optionally physically unplugged from the power point.

We’ve all heard the statistics about how much electricity devices can use, even when in ‘standby’ or ‘power saving’ mode. Well if no one is going to be using that printer, or those monitors for a week, why not properly power them off and save some electricity.

The other potential benefit of unplugging devices from the power point is avoiding power surges that can sometimes happen, particularly during summer storms. Computer equipment likes nice, clean, steady power, so unless you have surge protectors or UPS protection on every device, a power surge has the potential to physically damage or destroy your expensive technology.

The exception to this though, is your servers and communications equipment such as internet routers and switches. Turning these off incorrectly can actually cause more problems than it avoids. Not only that but if anyone requires access over the break to email, software or documents stored on your network, with the server and communications equipment powered off they won’t be able to access it.

3 – Set an Out of Office message on your email

Setting an Out-of-Office message on your email is extremely easy to do, and a great way to make sure others are aware of when you will be away from the office and not responding to emails. This not only helps to manage their expectation as to when they may hear back from you, but also gives you the opportunity to provide them with alternative contact details if the matter is urgent.
To turn on an Out-of-Office message in Microsoft Outlook 2013, click on the ‘File’ button, and then select the ‘Automatic Replies (Out of Office)’ button from the main screen.

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In the window that appears you can enable your Out of Office message, set what dates you want it active to and from, and of course enter the message itself. Some points that may be worth including in your message are:

  • Thanking the sender for their email.
  • Let them know that you may not reply in a timely manner.
  • Tell them what date you will be returning to work.
  • Who can they contact in your absence if the matter is urgent?

4 – Let your IT Support team know who to contact in an emergency

If your servers, networks and office locations are managed and monitored either by your own internal IT person, or an IT provider such as us, how should they respond in the event that they identify an emergency with your computer systems while your business is closed for the break? Should they ignore it? Who should they call from your office? Do they have that person’s mobile phone number? Or do they have their own key to your office and permission to access services in your absence?

There is no right answer to this question, but it is worth considering. At the very least, let your IT people know what dates the office will be closed so that they can manage their responses accordingly.

5 – Relax!

Most important of all, give yourself permission to relax. If your computer systems are well setup, maintained and professionally managed then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, and you can focus on making the most of your time away from the office to rest and recharge ready for a great year in ahead.

Merry Christmas!

Free Council Wi-Fi in Brisbane CBD

Free Council Wi-Fi in Brisbane CBD Not Ready for Prime Time

Public Wi-Fi in Brisbane seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance in recent times, with the poster boy (in my opinion) being the free public Wi-Fi available at the State Library of Queensland. The Brisbane City Council has a project underway to roll out free Wi-Fi to selected areas, starting with some public parks, and key CBD locations, and in more recent times Telstra has announced the rebirth of its venerable (and largely redundant) public phone boxes as Wi-Fi hotspots (although we’re yet to learn more about the business model behind this).

The promise of free public Wi-Fi is a marvellous one, particularly given the rapid rate at which so many common services are heading online. Free public Wi-Fi would be a substantial boon not just for back packers and professional nomads, but for people of all persuasions.

Unfortunately, to date, the promise is outstripping the actual delivery of services. On a number of occasions I have tried to use the Brisbane City Council free Wi-Fi made available at Post Office Square in the CBD, and been sadly disappointed.

Signal strength was solid, and the process of connecting my laptop extremely quick and easy. All that was required was to select the “Council Wi-Fi” network from the list of available Wi-Fi networks, and then click on the “I Agree” button on the web page that automatically appears, to accept the standard conditions of use.
Unfortunately that’s where the dream run ended. Although my laptop was happily connected to Wi-Fi, for all intents and purposes it may as well have not been. The internet speed was barely better than back in dial-up days, and too slow to open pretty much any web page that I tried to access. My email did ultimately download, but only after a substantial wait.

Performance did improve at various times of day, but at best was only just usable for basic internet activities, and far from sufficient for any high bandwidth use such as multimedia, streaming, or voice/video calling.

It’s quite clear that the current system is simply overloaded and unable to cope with the demand being placed on it. This is particularly clear given that performance was at its worst when the streets and cafes were most crowded, and improved as people migrated off the public areas into their office buildings. That demand is outstripping supply is both a source of frustration, but also a source of encouragement that the service is so actively sought after by the target audience.

I’m a strong advocate of public Wi-Fi, but unfortunately the Brisbane City Council’s offering, as it stands today, is unusable. I’m quite certain that the answer is simply one of increasing the budget for this service, as large scale Wi-Fi deployments, although complex, are perfectly achievable. My hope is that the BCC continues to see the value in this service, and allocates sufficient funds (or finds sufficient private sponsors) to increase capacity and make the service the amazing enabler for Brisbane visitors and residents that it could be.


 

A day in the life of IT support

A day in the life of IT Support

Have you ever wondered what our Brisbane IT support team does when they’re not sitting around playing computer games waiting for your call? There’s rarely a quiet moment around the garden shed, with a constant stream of support issues, projects and client queries to respond to.

We followed Cameron around for a day to give you a peak into what life is like as part of the Grassroots team.

6.30am

  • Leave home and try not to curse excessively while sitting in traffic for 45 minutes.

7.15am

  • Arrive at our Grassroots IT office and make the strongest coffee that is humanly possible to ingest. Skull coffee!
  • Complete my morning checks for all equipment and hardware. Confirm all of our managed IT services client networks and servers are online and that no errors have emerged overnight. Check that backups were successful and that no viruses or threats have appeared that require immediate attention.
  • Mentally prepare for the day ahead.

7.30am

  • Check new tickets and complete morning checks for clients. Tickets are what we call ‘new client jobs’ that need a techie to the rescue. They are usually emailed or called in by the client but some register through automatic alerts.
  • During my client morning checks two automatic alerts appear registering failed backups. I logon remotely to each client’s server and fix the problem, then initiate an immediate backup for security.

7.45am

  • A red alert ticket appears – a server is offline and no business can last long offline these days. It needs to be handled immediately.
  • After confirming that it isn’t a false alarm, I phone the client contact to both notify them and discuss appropriate next steps.
  • OOPS client is having a scheduled power outage at their office and forgot to tell us about it. Sigh.

8:00am

  • Look at tickets on the helpdesk and prioritise.
  • Find several quick tickets that can be completed easily – a password reset and a permission change. Login to client servers, make changes, update the tickets and close.
  • In-house we call these kinds of jobs ‘low hanging fruit’ since for a techie who is immersed in technology all day, some jobs are as easy as plucking low hanging fruit from the tree. It’s nice to close a few jobs quickly and easily early in the day.

8:30am

  • By this stage the rest of the team have arrived and the workday starts in earnest, but not before the coffee machine takes a hammering.
  • I start my first assigned ticket for the day – a complete rebuild of a laptop in the workshop. Install windows and configure laptop ready to connect to client’s network. It’s amazing how many little fiddly steps are required in rebuilding a computer! Thank goodness for checklists.

9:30am

  • Working a ticket that has been emailed through – a Microsoft Word issue.
  • Using the error screenshot sent through by the client, I research the cause of the error and find details of a similar issue. Call client and connect to their computer remotely. Check settings and resolve issue so that Microsoft Word now working correctly.

10:00am

  • Next job is a scheduled on-site job to replace a failing modem.
  • With all the necessary research, information and equipment, I drive out to the client premises loving that peak hour is over.

10:30am

  • Arrive on-site and greet client. Ask for a coffee…. NOT!
  • Start setting up new modem, configure with clients internet details and configure correct address on router. Replace modem and check all Internet services and email are running correctly.
  • Check if there is any other issues the client needs attended to while I am on-site. Yes there is! Fix WiFi connection on laptop and add additional mailbox to users Outlook.

11:30am

  • Head back to office and wonder what to have for lunch. Did I bring lunch? Can’t remember.
  • Input notes in the ticket for the on-site job I’ve just completed.

12:00pm

  • Solve lunch problem with a salad and a pat on the back for my healthy choices (until tomorrow when I devour the steak sandwich I really want)
  • Eat lunch, catch-up on social media and IT news. Is facebook getting more annoying, or is it just me?

12:45

  • Phones rarely stop ringing around here. I’m usually flat out on the Help desk most afternoons.
  • Working on a particularly challenging problem with a client database unable to connect to the internet. After much research and trouble shooting I change settings, test application, and connect to the database successfully. Woot!
  • Answer phone call – user cannot login and password not known. Reset.
  • Urgent email notification advises there is an error with a client’s Exchange Server (email server). Uncover that free disk space is getting low. Geez it’s a good thing we monitor for these issues so we can fix them before their email broke. Remove logs not required and check disk space again. Presto, back to normal.
  • Install software for client. You’d be amazed at some of the dodgy software floating around, so it’s brilliant when a user checks with us first before installing something random!
  • Start assigned ticket – new user creation.
  • Answer phone call – user cannot send email from Outlook. Recreate users Outlook profile and test by sending email. Now working.
  • Receive call from 3rd party support advising resolution to client issue. We regularly work with other support organisations on behalf of our clients, for example, with their photocopier support provider. We often call this ‘vendor management’.
  • Every ticket is like an exercise in problem solving. Looking at the problem and researching and testing different possible solutions until I find the fix.

4:30pm

  • Check all assigned tickets have been completed or set to correct status. Some will be pending more information from the client or a third party. Schedule tickets not completed to next day and it’s home time!
  • I have to say my drive home completes what is usually a satisfying day’s work. It feels good to fix things. It feels good to solve problems.