Navigating Cloud Computing

“The Cloud.” We’ve all heard the term. We understand it in the most abstract of ideas. We can store files in it, run programs from it, heck, my fiancé talks about setting up virtual servers (whatever that means). This digital storehouse of sorts can come in very handy; but what is it exactly and how can it be used to its best advantage? Does it have down falls? Let’s define “The Cloud” and what it can do for you and your organization.Cloud Computing

What is it?

Most digital data is non-tangible but is stored on devices that are. As I type this post, the information is saved to my computer’s hard drive. The hard drive is a physical piece of equipment. It can be removed and placed into another device and the information on it accessed. With The Cloud, there is no physical device needed to reach your digital files. By using The Cloud, I am able to create and edit files from practically anywhere. It is a globally connected computer you always have access to.

How does it work?

Information is essentially stored “on the internet”. The Cloud is run by off-site servers that do the majority of the workload. Instead of having software loaded into multiple computers, it can be accessed from the servers by means of online applications. This allows the connection from any device with internet access.

Pro’s

Saves space: By operating office-site servers and not taking loading additional software onto hard drives, you don’t lose physical space in your facility nor storage space on your computers. This means less upkeep and less clutter on your hard drive.

Accessibility: Have an internet connected device? Great! You have access. You have the ability to work from anywhere, as do your co-workers, and you can all collaborate.

Cost: Before cloud computing, you would need to buy software for each computer and upkeep their licensures. Utilizing The Cloud can cut cost on the amount of software you purchase.

Con’s

Accessibility: Though accessibility is a strong point of The Cloud, it is also a downfall. If you have a subpar internet connection, good luck reaching your files. It’s in instances like this that having the software installed on your physical device would be more appropriate.

Security: The Cloud “lives” online and you can access it easily, which means if it is easy for you, it’s easy for others. You need to pay close attention to security protocols to make sure your information does not get into the wrong hands.

Control: Hosting servers off-site or contracting services from an outside source takes control away from your in-house tech team. You are no longer in charge of your own equipment and are unable to service it. You will rely on the integration of services from outside vendors, which can at times be tasking.

So what do you do with all of this information? How does this best work for your organization? What is the most cost effective? These are questions you need to ask before outlining how The Cloud will work into your business plan. If you are just looking to store a small amount of noncritical information or are just looking for email hosting, utilizing cloud services from an outside vendor may be beneficial. If you are looking to create a cloud computing system for a large amount of secure information you may want to look into buying and creating your own system so that you retain control and security options.

The Cloud is only growing. Figuring out how to utilize it in your business plan is essential. How do you already use cloud computing, or how do you plan to use it in the future?

Making an Investment: Tips for Vetting Strategic Marketing Companies

We like to think we have it together and can do it all, but we know that it’s not true. A lot of the times we feel like we are being pulled in 6 different directions. Sometimes this is not far from the truth.

Organizations can spread employees thin on multiple projects in order to save costs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about saving money where you can, but spreading your most valuable resource (yourself and your employees) too thin can be counter productive.

In the workplace, when things get busy some “non-essential” projects get pushed to the back burner. When this happens, marketing is one of the areas that tends to go by the wayside. If you are looking for success and growth, ignoring to set good marketing practices can hurt you in the long run. Marketing is an ongoing project that needs continuous monitoring and evaluation. It is not a one-time thing; it’s an investment. You may think its more cost effective to figure this all out in-house, however, if you don’t have the human capital to concentrate on this, you may want to look for help from a professional marketing group. To make sure you get the best bang for your buck with said investment, here are several tips for vetting a strategic marketing company.

How’s the Fit?

When you start looking into different marketing agencies, one of the first things you need to explore is how well they will fit with your company and its needs. They will be representing your organization; are they capable of echoing your voice and values? Also will their communication styles jive with yours? If your group values face time, you don’t want to work with a strategic marketing company that relies heavily on email communication.

Collaboration

Though you are outsourcing your marketing management, you may not be outsourcing your graphic and web design projects. Or maybe you already have other vendors taking care of those needs. When interviewing potential agencies, discuss how they will collaborate with other groups in the creative process. If they are not willing or will have issues working with the platforms that have already been established, it’s best to know before signing a contract.

Professionalism

This should probably go without saying, but you want to make sure that the group you choose is professional and educated in marketing skills. You’d like to think anyone who presents themselves as “marketer” is professional and competent, but sadly that’s not always the truth. Before even picking up the phone, do some research, look at their portfolio work, do they list education backgrounds? How long have they been established? Remember you are making an investment; do some leg work first.

Know your Aim

Are you looking for more content marketing management, digital, or both? Be sure you know what your goals are before starting the vetting process or you may end up wasting time vetting marketing companies that can’t provide what you are looking for. Once you have decided, be sure to ask goal-driving questions. Just because a group says they do digital and/or content management, doesn’t mean they do it well. Find out what their strengths are and if they fit your specific needs.

References

Think of this process as you would hiring a new employee. You wouldn’t just hire someone off the street no questions asked, right? Ask for client references and a list of past portfolio work.

Marketing is essential to helping a business grow especially in the digital age. Consumers and potential clients are looking for a brand with a story. Relying on word of mouth can only go so far. Remember marketing is a long term investment for long term rewards. When choosing a marketing strategy and a potential outside company, keep this all in perspective.

Presidents’ Day: How will the Trump Presidency Affect Business?

Monday February 20 is Presidents’ Day and many have the day off (lucky ducks). Originally, this holiday started as the celebration of George Washington’s birthday (February 22) but has since evolved. Now it’s a Monday holiday that celebrates our nation’s presidents past and present. Presently, we are one month into the Trump Presidency, and like it or not, there have been many changes. Trump campaigned with the slogan “Make America Great Again,” with the promise to invigorate businesses and the American economy. Now that he has spent a month in the Oval Office, what can we expect the effect of his proposed changes will be on businesses, nationally and abroad?

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During his election bid, Trump promised to make taxes simpler and to lower taxes for all Americans. This sounds great, but there’s a catch. President Trump’s tax plan for businesses could hurt small business owners. His proposed tax plan would have all
businesses pay a 15% tax, which is higher than what many small businesses pay currently. So the tax plan is great for the private citizen, but not so great for small business owners. There is a bright side to this, however. With more money staying in the hands of consumers rather than the government, that means they could potentially spend more. This could benefit small businesses; if those extra dollars are spent on their products and services.

Growth

Trump is the first U.S. President to never have held a public office prior to his presidency. Much of his campaign was run focusing on his experience as a businessman and how he would make the United States a more profitable nation. The Republican Party typically takes a hands-off approach when it comes to governing and regulations. Trump followed party ideology by reversing many of the previous administration’s regulatory decisions, such as the Keystone Pipeline. His stance on coal, oil, and gas regulations can provide quite a boost for these industries; but deals a blow to the “Green Initiative” companies favored by President Obama. It is the support of industries like coal, oil, and gas which may have indeed won Trump several states like Pennsylvania (a typically Democratic-leaning state), in which these industries are a major part of the local economy.

Global Economy

Another key platform issue during the 2016 presidential campaign was foreign trade and the global economy. President Trump plans to make changes to trade agreements and taxes on U.S. companies that manufacture items outside of our domestic borders. This is in hopes that bringing industry back to the States could help the national economy and employment levels. Many companies that manufacture goods in foreign countries, such as Carrier, have now chosen to return to America to do business due to Trump’s proposed policies, and regulation changes in countries like China. The cost to do business abroad may soon increase and no longer be a profitable option. This will have a direct effect on the countries and their economies in which these industries are pulling out and could have a negative effect on the global economy.

Whether you love it or hate it the Trump administration is poised to make changes. How do you think this presidency will affect business? Will President Trump keep his campaign promises, or will he keep us guessing?

Customer Experience: What It Is and How to Create It

We all have certain stores and brands that we keep going back to time after time. They consistently provide us with great products and services. When our friends and family ask for suggestions, they are a name we quickly and confidently provide. We love these companies, but what brings us back for more?

Yes, they provide quality and a product. Yes, they have great customer service. But it’s more than just those things. They create and maintain an excellent customer experience. What exactly does that mean, though? How do you create it? Is it just something that happens with time? Can it be improved? Let’s discuss.

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I bet you’re thinking, customer experience, that’s just a fancy way of saying customer service. WRONG. Though it does include customer service, customer experience is a mix of many things. Think about when you walk into your favorite store, there’s something about the atmosphere and the ease of finding or ordering what you need. Also, you can’t forget about the product or service. You get quality at each turn and you keep coming back.

So, how do they make it happen? Customer experience does not just happen (though if you have a good business plan it may seem like it does); it is created. It’s in the branding and package design, it’s in the materials that go into making the product, and that product’s design. It’s the look and feel of the brick and mortar location. It’s your online presence. It’s in the message the brand exudes. It’s the people and the training they receive. It’s planning. Whether you have an established company or are working to establish a new organization, here are some ways to create and/or improve your customer experience:

Keep It Cohesive

Make sure everyone and everything are on the same page. You take time crafting your mission and message, so put them to work. These should go further than just something employees read in their handbooks; be more than just a catchy tagline. They should mean something to the company and the customer. Everyone in the organization should buy into these messages, and they should carry through all facets of the brand. Also, don’t forget to make sure all branding and imaging carry through the brand as well. You want to be recognizable; make sure your theme is integrated through all platforms.

Make Things Easy

Who doesn’t like easy? Millennials and Generation Z have short attention spans. If it takes too many steps, they are moving on. We are also seeing in the retail world a move from shopping at brick and mortar stores to online shopping. If you don’t have an online presence, you are in trouble. So many locations extend their reach and experience for the customers to multiple channels; online, apps, social media, and physical locations. Each providing ease of access to products and deals. Companies that cannot convert the experience to multiple platforms are faltering. For example, The Limited has just closed all of its physical retail locations–just one of the many recent retail casualties. Though they provided good in-store experiences, The Limited was slow to transition to multi-faceted selling platforms. Only in the past several years did the brand start to offer computerized in-store online ordering, something many other brands had established long before which calculated into their demise.

People Power

Now, I know I said this wasn’t about customer service, but it is part of it. You can make sure that your online platform is easy to navigate, bug-free, and rarely down, but if your customer service is horrible, then forget it. Invest in your people, in their initial training, in their well-being, and their advancement. Happy employees carry their enthusiasm to those they interact with. I am currently planning a wedding and working to interview different “Big Day” vendors. It’s exhausting, but one thing I will say is that all of these vendors get what it means to create a customer experience. I recently said “yes to my dress,” and the experience and service there was amazing. They made sure my pregnant bridesmaids always had water and snacks; the woman who helped me find my dress even gave me her personal cell phone number so I can keep her updated on my wedding planning progress. They added the personal touch and made me feel special. If you can instill the importance of making a connection with your clients to everybody in your organization, you will have them coming back for more time and time again. Make them see the value in your people as well as in your product.

Customer experience is an expansive concept that includes, customer service, good products, easy online navigation, and more. Competition is everywhere. Make a plan that will help you stand out and connect with your client base. Plan for customer experience; don’t think it will happen magically.

The 4 Best Books about Entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well these days, but what exactly does that mean? And what does it mean to be an entrepreneur? In general terms, entrepreneurship refers to the beginning of a business, but there is a lot that goes into making that happen. To delve into the process of becoming an entrepreneur, and a successful one at that, check out some of the below writings. These authors quite literally “wrote the book” on entrepreneurship or they have inspired well-known business gurus.

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The $100 Start Up – Chris Gillebeau

How many times have we heard “find a job doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? This book outlines how you can actually do that, be your own boss, and do it for minimal start-up money. If you have a hobby you are passionate about check this book.

The Effective Executive – Peter F. Drucker

Maybe you already have your business off the ground and running; this could be a great resource for you. This book is actually recommended by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. It discusses time management and decision-making habits that will help you be a successful leader and continue to grow your business.

The Third Wave – Steve Chase

Many recent start-ups are tech based. This publication examines where tech is going in its “third wave” of evolution. Written by AOL co-founder Steve Chase, it looks to the future of tech and how it can be further integrated with established enterprises like healthcare and finance. If tech is your thing, this a great read to see what may be ahead.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Steven Covey

This is an oldie but a goodie I think. I remember this being taught in my 9th-grade Civics class, and though I didn’t understand its usefulness at the time, I understand it now. Developing the habits outlined by Covey like “Be Proactive” will assist in making your new venture effective and successful. It’s also probably the reason we are all sick of hearing the word synergy.

Throughout life, there are many things that shape our outlook on how we view the world and many times those things are books. These four texts can help shape how we look at business and entrepreneurship.

What are some of the books that helped shape you? Do you have a favorite book about being an entrepreneur not on this list? Let us know!

Beware the Office Time Wasters!

Look out! This Friday is the first of two Friday the Thirteenth’s the year. The second is in October (because that’s not ominous or anything). Many people get wrapped up in the superstitions on days like these and are throwing salt over their shoulders left and right. However, there is something we should beware of more than Friday the Thirteenth; office time wasters! You know, those little things that derail your concentration throughout the day–stay away from them! Here are a few superstitions you should be mindful of on Friday and every day so you steer clear of bad luck and office time wasters.

img_0027Don’t let a black cat cross your path: I love animals, especially if they are fuzzy, but superstitions say that if a black cat crosses your path on Friday the 13th that’s bad juju. I think black cats get a bad rap (Thackeray Binx was a pretty sweet and helpful black cat); but watching cute kitty videos that are ubiquitous online can be a major time waster. Resist the urge to get sucked deep into the void that can be YouTube videos while at work. Don’t open that silly text, or email titled “I haz hamburger.” Save that for weekends when it is below zero outside and you can snuggle under blankets and binge all you want.

Don’t break any mirrors: Ever break a mirror? It’s a chore to clean up; those shards can go everywhere. So, this is more a PSA than a superstition I think. But, people think its unlucky nonetheless. To avoid any bad luck try and avoid the bathroom (and the bathroom mirror) at work. Now, I’m not saying not to go when nature calls, but maybe you should avoid that greasy burrito you know will give you bubble gut the rest of the day. By planning healthy lunches you can avoid you running to the bathroom multiple times a day. You also will save time by not running out for said food and have more time to enjoy your lunch break.

Don’t walk under any ladders: I think this is just a common sense rule right? Apparently, this particular fear is linked to an antiquated belief that walking under a ladder is blasphemous; as it is an insult to the Holy Trinity, and means you are in league with devil. Though we don’t believe this these days, it’s just not safe to walk under ladders. In the office try to avoid walking under metaphorical ladders by getting involved in water cooler gossip (the devil of the office). Not only does this distract you from your work, we all know how damaging gossip can be. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friendly with those you work with, but we all know that one person who always has some “juicy” news about someone in the company. Don’t engage this person; simply smile, exchange pleasantries, and move on. And by no means should you repeat their stories!

Don’t start any new trips: It’s also bad luck to start any new trips on this superstitious day. Though I don’t think traveling on Friday is a bad idea, it can cut into your productivity. Be it wasting time in traffic or in airports, if you can lessen your travel time and concentrate on work more you can get more accomplished. Instead of flying back and forth for meetings try to have them virtually if possible. This will save time, frustration, and money.

There certainly can be many things that distract us during the day and pull us away from our work. What are some the time wasters that trouble your work environment? How do you avoid the temptation? Do you have any superstitions around the work place? What are they and why do you have them? If you are looking for some good ways to avoid distractions in the office check out our previous post “No Interruptions Day” for more tips.

It’s No Interruptions Day!

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The last days of the year are ticking down, soon it will be time to ring in 2017. I bet you’re thinking, “But I still have so much to do in 2016!” and are rushing around to finish up those last few projects. We all have so much on our plates that time just tends to get away from us. Some days we get so distracted we can’t remember what the original project we started on was. If this sounds like you join us in celebrating No Interruptions Day!

No Interruptions Day celebrates the last work day of the year and aims to help us all concentrate and round out the year feeling accomplished, as well as allow us to walk into the office in the new year with a clean slate. This year, No Interruptions Day is Friday, December 30 (unless you work weekends too, by all means, celebrate on the 31st). So let’s take some time to get centered and finish this year out right!

Here are some ways you can celebrate in the office this year:

  • Make it an office-wide event–Get the word out and let the office know about No Interruptions Day. Broadcast it through your company intranet and encourage clients and/or family to take part as well. By making it a group effort you’ll be able to accomplish more. This also lowers the likelihood being distracted by co-workers, family, or others (unless it’s an emergency) as you’ll all be focusing on year-end projects.
  • Turn off your cell phone–Our cell phones go everywhere with us, even to bed. On the 30th (or whatever day you decide to celebrate), leave your phone at home, or shut it off and keep it out of sight. This way you won’t be tempted to check any of your social media accounts or personal texts that tend to derail your focus.
  • Shut your door–If you are lucky enough to have an office door, shut it and place an educational note about No Interruptions Day and how you are celebrating on it. This way others will be less likely to intrude on your “work holiday” and you’ll be able to concentrate better by having the noise of normal office commotion deadened by the door.
  • Noise canceling headphones/Music–Not lucky enough to have an office door? If you are distracted by background noises consider bringing in some noise canceling headphones to help you focus. Are you motivated by music rather than silence? Bring in your headphones and shuffle your favorite playlist. If you are looking for playlists that will help you concentrate check out this list for some inspiration.
  • Make a plan–Much of our day in the office is taken up by replying back and forth to emails or returning phone calls. Try and make a plan to best manage your time and optimize it. Set aside a specific time period when you will check your messages, address them, and then move on to your next project.

We wish you all productive last days of 2016 and hope you have a successful and prosperous 2017. If you are planning on celebrating No Interruptions Day let us know! If you have suggestions on ways to participate share them with us!

New Year, New Office: 5 Resolutions for the Workplace

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Looking out my window, the snow has finally begun to fly. In a few weeks, Christmas will be upon us and after that New Years. With the ringing in of 2017, we all want to start fresh. New year, new you, right? What about new year, new office? Here are five office New Year’s resolutions to help get you started with your list.

1. Get and stay organized–If you are anything like me and your desk looks like a tornado hit it, this might be a good idea. I am always digging through piles hoping the document I need hasn’t been thrown away. I can’t imagine how much time I’ve wasted just looking for a Post-it with a phone number I wrote down days ago. By taking the time to organize your desk each evening before you leave and developing a better filing system, you can help save your sanity and save time.

2. Stay Positive–We all have days that try our patience, and sometimes all we want to do is complain. Though venting serves a purpose, it can spiral out of control and create a culture of negativity. This hurts productivity and quality of work. By trying to look at challenges in a different, more positive way it can change your mood and your work. When presented with a challenge instead of outwardly expressing your irritation, take a second to breathe and reform your thoughts.

3. Get Healthy–Many people include a health goal as part of their resolutions so bringing that to the office is only logical. If you have snacks in your desk take inventory and try to remove any bad temptations. Take it a step further and organize a workout challenge group in the office and cheer each other on towards your goal.

4. Give More–There’s something about giving a present to someone or contributing (time or money) to a good cause that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Taking time to give more in the workplace can help build better relationships with your co-workers and create a culture of caring. This can be a two-part resolution, internal and external. Part one: Start by giving more within the office and making small gestures among co-workers. If you know a co-worker is having a bad day, buy him or her a snack to help cheer them up. Part two: Take things outside of the office and volunteer as a group for a non-profit of your choice. For help and ideas on how to do this visit the Tapolci Foundation.

5. Focus on the Mission–The new year is always a great time to evaluate and re-focus your mission, be it organization-wide or just departmental. Getting everyone on board and moving in the right direction will help you conquer the year ahead effectively.

Making New Year’s Resolutions is a tradition. We’d love to know what you have done in the past and what you are planning for in the future. What office resolutions did we miss? Do you have any suggestions on how to successfully keep them?

5 Ways to Prioritize Your Time During the Holidays

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Thanksgiving is behind us. We all returned to work this week with full stomachs and a growing to-do list. This time of the year always seems like a whirlwind, in the office and at home. If you are like me, you make a list of all the things you need to accomplish before the holidays and the end of the year, all the events you have coming up, and what you still need to run to the store to pick up. As I make this list, I grow anxious, and at times overwhelmed. We’re busy all throughout the year, but there’s something about the holidays and the coming new year that makes it seem even more urgent. How can we make the most of the last month of 2016? Here are five ways you can prioritize your time, fit in all your holiday activities, and make strides in the office as well.

1. Make a List – “He’s making a list and checking it twice…” we all know how the rest of the song goes. Hey, if it works for Santa it should work for us too, right? We all have multiple to-do lists; one for work, another for home, shopping lists, and more. Keeping lists is a great way to organize your thoughts and get a game plan together. I know it’s a simple suggestion but that’s the beauty of it.

2. Keep a Routine – This time of year is all about traditions; try to keep to your routine as much as possible during the day. This will help you stay focused, especially in the work place. Not deviating much from your normal routine will help you be less stressed and able to work more effectively.

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3. Delegate – During this time of the year there is usually family around; or maybe you have/know some kids who are looking to score a few extra brownie points before the big guy in red comes down the chimney. They may not be able to help you with office work, but you can definitely use those around you at home as a resource. One less thing on your mind and your to-do list will help you concentrate on bigger more pressing tasks.

4. Categorize – When you made your list I bet you noticed that some overlap. When working through your list, complete tasks that are related rather than jumping all over the place, it’ll save you time, energy, and even some sanity.

5. Reflect – Another big part of the holiday season is reflecting on the year that was. As you rush to finish all your work, take a moment, step back, and reflect. Take time to evaluate what truly needs to be completed and what can wait until the next year. Some things you will not be able to complete in this short period of time. Recognizing this will help you be less stressed and more successful in completing the projects that are time sensitive.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of the season. We all feel pressure from many directions–from work, from our family, and from ourselves. We want everything to be perfect. By taking time to step back and prioritize our work, hopefully the holidays will be less stressful and we will be able to enjoy the season and each other.

Do you have any other suggestions for prioritizing during the holidays? What type of tasks do you have on your to do list in December and how are you conquering them? Let’s help each other create a strategy for the best way to accomplish our goals in this last month!

An Office Thanksgiving: 7 Ways to Show Employees You are Thankful for Their Work

img_4130The start of the holiday season is upon us. In just about a week we will gather with family and friends and gobble down as much turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing as our belly will allow. We will enjoy each other’s company and be thankful for many things. We know how to celebrate with our family but what about our work family? What are we thankful for in the office? How can we show our employees we are thankful for them?

You and your staff have worked hard during this year and are starting to look forward to the holiday break. Before cooking the turkey and hitting the Black Friday sales, take inventory of what your office should be thankful for this time of the year. Ask for input from employees. Make it an office community activity. Most importantly, don’t forget to thank your employees! While free turkeys are great, here are some other ways to show your fellow workers you are grateful for them and all they do.

Tell Them! It sounds so simple and it is, but everyone likes to know they are appreciated! You can write a card, send out and email, or give them a pat on the back. Just say Thank You!

Give a Small Gift: Again, this can be super simple, maybe it’s a gift card for gas or coffee, or a catered lunch or surprise dessert bar.

Celebrate Accomplishments and Milestones: Have employees who have been furthering their education and earned new degrees or certifications? What about those in the office who have gotten engaged/married or had a child? Take time to congratulate them; be thankful for their accomplishments and new beginnings.

Have an Office Thanksgiving! This is the time of year we loosen our belt buckles and share meals together. Take time to relax; celebrate as a work family for all the things you are grateful for as an organization.

Give Them Time Off: It’s a busy time of year. If possible, be flexible with employee schedules and let them take the time they need with their families. Take it from a former retail worker, breaks during the holiday are needed and greatly appreciated.

Donate on Their Behalf: Many employees burn the candle at both ends, working to support their family during the day, then working to help others in their free time. Show you are grateful for their hard work and sacrifice by donating to their cause.

Relax the Dress Code: Within reason, say thanks for your great work by letting employees let their hair down and relax while continuing to be productive.

What are you and your organization thankful for this year? How do you show employees they are appreciated and you are grateful for their hard work? Let us know what we’ve missed.

Most importantly have a great Thanksgiving and eat as much turkey and pie as you can!