Archive for February, 2008


Enterprise open source firewall appliance software!

I needed to setup a content filtering firewall a few weeks ago for an office of about 50 people. The existing firewall was a Sonicwall Pro 4060 which is a very solid firewall and is more than adequate for 50 computers. Sonicwall also has a content filter application that installs on the Pro 4060. The drawback to using Sonicwall’s filter is the price. Their filter is billed on a recurring yearly subscription, and would cost about $2,000 per year to use. $2,000 per year was far beyond the budget for such a project, so I went to look for an open source or lower cost setup, hopefully without any annual fee. My first thought was a custom Linux-Debian computer made only to function as a firewall. After some research and a few recommendations, I found a great out-of-the-box Linux operating system, Untangle, that is designed specifically for dedicated firewall applications. This was a much better solution that custom configuring a Linux server.

The following is a quick guide on how to setup a Enterprise class firewall for a small to medium sized business. How good your firewall performs is dependent on the hardware that you use, but if you copied the specs of the one that I setup, it should easily handle 100+ computers and servers.

Tyan transport GS14

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How to properly use promotional products

Promotional products are something that many businesses use, but few use effectively. I get bags full of pens at conferences, but rarely do these ever incline me to deal with that company ever again. Chances are most promotional product use, ends with similar results.

There are a few key factors in making promotional products work.

  1. Give people something they want!
  2. Don’t skimp out!
  3. Design them properly!
  4. Quality targeting is more important than quantity!

1.) Give people something that they want and need!

When I go to trade-shows, I all to often come away with fifteen lanyards, hundreds of stickers, folders, and other stuff I don’t need and will never use. Not only is the ineffective marketing, but it’s a waste of material.

The best promotional products are going to be ones that people use every day. Sticky pads, note pads, and pens are the most effective promotional products for most businesses. People need them, use them daily, and they are relatively cheap. Unless you have something very unique that people will use very often, or you have a budget that allows you to purchase really cool promo products like USB memory cards, go with pens, notepads, and sticky pads.

Common sense plays a role in promo product selection. If you sell something that requires upkeep or supplies, make sure you send out a sticker or magnet that has your information on it and that supplies can easily be reordered from you.

2.) Don’t skimp out!

When you purchase 20,000 crappy no-name pens that work once before running out of ink or clogging, it doesn’t project your business in a positive manner. Like employees, promotional products are a direct representation of you. Make sure that people associate you with quality and value and not cheapness.

You don’t need to go out and buy $20 Cross pens for every customer (If you sell very high-end products, this may not be a bad idea though), but make sure you get something that your customer wants to use. If someone was to give you a pen and they wanted you to remember them for it, would a plain white bic pen do the trick, or maybe a super smooth gel pen that helps prevent fraud.

Using pens as an example, you should buy and distribute the kind of pens that people will get upset about if they lose them. The kind that write well on most surfaces, that don’t smear, and that feel good in your hand. You want to provide the type of products that are better than what your customer is used to using. This way, when they look for their pen, they look for your pen first.

3.) Design your promotional products properly!

Like a good website, your brand and information on your promotional products should be organized and usable. You can’t possibly fit your entire address on a pen. Sometimes you can’t even fit your logo on them. Make sure your business name or logo is on them clearly, and make even more sure that your website is on there. Chop-up your logo if you need to, but try to get a distinguishing business mark and your website on even the smallest product. On sticky pads and notepads, your information and logo should be on every page, but should still allow the product to be used. An effective way of doing it, is to place your logo in the center of each page, and your website and phone number at the bottom of each page. The logo should be about 80% transparent, and the text about 60%.

You need to be absolutely sure that your information is very clear and professional. Use vector based logos for print. Jpeg and other pixel based images are for the web and computers, and should never be used for print. If you need to, hire a graphic designer to convert your logo to a vector format. Make sure that you choose clean fonts that are easily readable.

4.) Quality targeting is more important than quantity!

There are two groups that you should be giving promotional products to. The first is your current customers who are likely to make repeat visits. The second is non-customers who may make a purchase from you in the future. Not everyone is going to shop with you, and you need to minimize your potential loses by not sending your promo material to the wrong people. Unless you brand is very strong, non-targeted promotional product spam is only going to lose money for you.

Actually figuring out who you need to target can be difficult. For repeat customers, you can use web analytics programs to find who your repeat customers are. You can find trends like purchased products, title, location, etc. You can mail out promo and light marketing material to customers who make similar purchases, or send your promo material with orders when they meet certain criteria. Also, just use some common sense. If someone makes a purchase for a product that requires continuing upkeep or additional supplies, make sure you are getting them promo material. If someone makes even a single repeat order make sure you include them as well. If they made a second order, they are even more likely to make a third.

Trade-shows are going to be tricky, because it would be rude to deny people products and targeting would be nearly impossible. In this case, you need to target only selective trade-shows. Something that many business owners don’t consider is the size of the trade-show. The larger the event, the less likely it will be that someone remembers you. Small trade-shows can be significantly more valuable than large ones.

The important thing to remember is that getting promo products to everyone is going to lose money. But, getting the promo material to the right people will increase your sales and hopefully for a lot cheaper than other forms of marketing.

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