Sunday, March 17, 2019

small business

small business


Six steps small-business owners can take to improve cybersecurity - The Columbian

Posted: 17 Mar 2019 05:25 AM PDT

NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses can be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than larger companies because they often don't have sophisticated and comprehensive systems to protect themselves from hackers, viruses, malware and what's called ransomware. And owners who are focused on customers and employees may not ensure that their defenses are up to date.But there are things small businesses can do to improve cybersecurity. Here are six:Don't do it alone. Small companies, if they can't afford their own in-house technology experts, should hire consultants who specialize in helping small businesses build and maintain their defenses.Think beyond your system. Companies can be attacked through other businesses or computer users including vendors and online storage services. Small-business owners should ask anyone who links into their computers about the steps they take to protect data.Back up everything. When Marcos Francos' company, Atlanta-based Mighty Clean Home, was attacked by ransomware, his files were rendered inaccessible. But because he had backed up all of his data, he didn't have to pay the ransom demanded by cyberthieves.The best way to back up files is on an off-site system that continually creates new versions of all of a company's data.Stay current. Software and hardware manufacturers routinely issue updates and what are called patches to improve security. Every device at a small business needs to have all updates and patches downloaded and installed.Get an EIN. Owners need to guard against a stolen identity from affecting their business accounts. So instead of using a Social Security number for business, they should have an Employer Identification Number. It's easy to obtain one from IRS.gov.Beware of phishing scams. These are invasions that are often delivered by email with links or attachments. Owners and employees need to be aware that cyberthieves are sending emails that look legitimate; when the links or attachments are clicked on, malware enters the computer or network.

Social Media Management for Small Businesses: How to Do It - Black Enterprise

Posted: 17 Mar 2019 05:30 AM PDT

For many small business owners, social media is a burden or afterthought. It's a time-consuming hassle that often gets left on the shelf. The internet has 4.2 billion users, 3.4 billion of whom are actively using social media. Clearly, social media management for small businesses is necessary if you want your business to be successful.

Social media marketing is crucial for many small businesses to gain traction in the marketplace. The internet is one of the last vestiges of an even playing field. Big corporations haven't truly figured out how to make social media home runs any more than the small business. They just throw more money at it and hope the idea sticks, and this allows the little guy to move in and create amazing advertising headway with a small budget. Creative ideas can often win the day.

Marketing used to be about telling the consumer what they needed and why they needed it. Today, the tables are turned and the consumer is telling the company what they need, and it is up to the company to meet it. However, the question must be asked, are corporations listening? Is your business listening to what your customers have to say?

Social media is now the main form of communication between company and client. The online conversation between consumer and producer is crucial to a business' success. Figuring out your social media management plan is just as important as your overall marketing plan.

If you as a business owner choose just one place to put your marketing dollars, it should be on social media marketing. Still, this is a daunting task for some. Social media marketing takes an average of six hours a week to cover just basic posting. Many small business owners can't spare an hour let alone six hours out of their week. It might be worth your money to have a social media manager handle this for you. Consider what you charge per hour for your services, then consider that is what you are paying for social media management for those six hours of the week you work on marketing. Too steep of a price? Most likely you can find a social media manager that would cost you far less per hour to handle your online marketing than it costs for you to do it yourself.

Choosing the right social media manager is important. Your social media manager has to have a clear idea of the audience you have and are trying to gain. With that audience in mind, your social media manager should be generating a plan to meet that audience online in ways that create engagement.  You don't want just any old thing posted to your online channels. Postings need to be thoughtful and give an opportunity for your audience to engage. This means curating information to share and creating unique content that allows you and your company to highlight your expertise or answers a question that your potential client is searching for. Meeting the needs of the audience where they are is so very important for true engagement.

Marketing isn't rocket science, but it does take thought and consideration. Always remember that social media is a marathon, not a sprint! Time and patience will help you build the social media engagement you want and need with your customers.


Black Enterprise Contributors Network 

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Wendy Pace

Wendy Pace is the founder of Pace Setting Media, a social media strategy agency. Pace holds a B.A. in Communications and Marketing from Hunter College. She credits her husband and children as motivation for getting up every day to face the world of social media.

Microsoft: Windows 10 Will Auto-Uninstall Buggy Updates...And Other Small Business Tech News This Week - Forbes

Posted: 17 Mar 2019 04:00 AM PDT

© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 — Microsoft: Windows 10 can now automatically uninstall buggy updates.

If you have automatically downloaded Windows 10 updates that aren't compatible with your device, there's no need to worry. The company says Windows 10 can now remove "problematic updates" without requiring user interaction—a feature that aims to address updates with more severe incompatibility issues, specifically ones that prevent a Windows 10 PC from starting up. The OS will try to address the failure by uninstalling recently installed updates, but this 'last resort' will only be taken when all other automatic recovery attempts have failed. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your business:

Sometimes we put off upgrading to the most recent version of Windows because…hey, if it isn't broke, why fix it, right?  And let's face it – sometimes those upgrades break more things than they fix. The fact is that upgrading whenever a new version is available is an important thing we need to do in order to protect against malware and data breaches. With this new feature I believe we can take more comfort in keeping current with our Windows upgrades. But…you try first, OK? Then let me know.  (My company, The Marks Group PC is a Microsoft Partner).

2 – A point of sale malware campaign targets hospitality and entertainment businesses.

There's a new malware going around and it set its sights on restaurants and other retailers, particularly those in the entertainment and hospitality industries that use point of sale software.  The idea is to steal credit card information from customers. It's called DMSniff and it's been around since 2016 but now it's caught the attention of more security firms and researchers. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your business:

If you think you're at risk, contact your point of sale provider and make sure they've upgraded their softwares to protect against this problem. According to ZDNet, DMSniff "scrapes information from the magnetic stripes on payment cards when it's swiped through a terminal — but before it's encrypted and sent to the payment processor." Research firm Flashpoint – who uncovered the problem - recommends that organizations regularly update all attack surfaces — including POS machines. Researchers have also provided the indicators of compromise for DMSniff.

3 — Verizon launches 5G in Chicago, Minneapolis at $10 extra cost.

Verizon has beat AT&T and Sprint in the race to launch the first 5G mobile services in two U.S. cities at an additional cost of $10 for customers with existing unlimited plans. The company announced that users in Chicago and Minneapolis will be able to use the 5G wireless network from April 11 by using a Motorola Z3 mobile and a 5G 'Moto Mod'—a physical magnet-like attachment for the phone. AT&T and Sprint are currently building their 5G networks and plan to release 5G smartphones with Samsung Electronics later this year. (Source: Reuters)

Why this is important for your business:

So should you pay the extra ten bucks a month? What, are you crazy? Of course you should. Anything that increases speed will increase productivity in your business and an extra $120 a year sounds like a small price to pay for the performance benefits of 5G.

4 — Fairygodboss raises $10 million to match female job candidates with employers.

This week, Fairygodboss, a social network targeted specifically at the over 72 million career-minded women in the U.S. labor force, announced it has raised $10 million in series A financing. This is in addition to a $3 million venture capital round it raised in May 2018—funds it will use to 'enhance' its existing product suite and expand its team. Founded in 2015, the company hosts a personalized daily feed and crowdsourced databases for companies' benefits, in addition to job listings and employer profiles. (Source: Venture Beat)

Why this is important for your business:

An interesting platform for both you and your female employees – current and potential. According to their website the company "helps women get hard-to-ask questions answered" and also helps job hungers get "the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility" by offering company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.

5— Poor customer experiences will destroy 30% of digital business projects -- Gartner.

Researchers at Gartner predict that, by 2020, poor customer experiences will destroy 30% of digital business projects. As a result, organizations need to be more customer-centric. The researchers note that, due to the pace of technology innovation, customers, users and employees expect more, complain more, are more willing to switch suppliers or employers— and share more about their experiences. (Source: IT News Africa)

Why this is important for your business:

According to Gartner, companies need to understand the unique problems and expectations of their customers as well as the context of those needs and consistently deliver products and services that meet those expectations. The takeaway for me is that we all need to continue our technology investments and leverage AI, bots, workflows, reminders and other automation make sure our customer service response times are minimal.

Small business: Be prepared for leaner times - Newsday

Posted: 17 Mar 2019 03:25 AM PDT

When times are good, businesses can become shortsighted. They may overspend or not look aggressively for cost savings. But it's during healthier times, experts say, that businesses can best prepare for leaner times.

"Every business should prepare for a downturn," said Alice Bredin, president of a content marketing and small-business research firm in Massachusetts. "Nobody knows the timing of course, but to believe that we're going to be in a perpetual boom is naive."

During an economic boom, businesses often don't tend to their companies the way they should and can overlook inefficiencies that could hurt them during leaner times, she said.

Bredin Inc., which tracks small-business optimism, found it's been dipping: 54 percent of  firms  said in January they expect to see growth over the next year, compared with 67 percent in the summer of 2017.

In addition, online reviews site Yelp's index, the Yelp Economic Average, which tracks business health (openings and closings of firms on its platform) and consumer interest (in reviews, check-ins etc.) to help businesses plan ahead, slipped in the second half of 2018.  The YEA  was 100.7 in the third quarter,  98.5 in the fourth — the largest decline, Yelp says, since 2016's fourth quarter.

 The YEA monitors  30 core business sectors, including professional services and retail.  Slumps in the core sectors may be early signs of an economic downturn, according to Yelp, but  it isn't forecasting now whether the YEA will be better or worse in the current quarter than it was in the 2018 fourth quarter, said Carl Bialik, Yelp data science editor. Yelp's next index is due after March 31.

 The purpose of the YEA, Bialik said, is to help businesses understand what the economic conditions are "so that they can make the best possible decisions with their resources that are often limited."

That doesn't mean Long Island businesses have to institute a spending freeze per se.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association, says the Yelp Economic Average can be a useful indicator of  business and consumer activity but doesn't necessarily predict a recession for the local economy in 2019. He believes there's little to suggest that at this point: "I think talking about a recession in absence of convincing evidence of a recession is counterproductive. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... It's probably not helpful to panic."

He noted that in 2018's final period the business community was unsettled over tariff and trade friction and uncertainty about  the Federal Reserve's  stance on further raising interest rates. Both issues have since eased, he said, and he expects business sentiment to improve in this quarter.

Still, it's always good to be forward-looking and cautious. 

Rob Basso, CEO of Associated Human Capital Management in Plainview, said he hasn't seen signs of a slowdown yet, but he's always trying to make sure he's prepared in case there's a downturn.

This includes having access to capital with both an available line of credit and cash reserve. He also believes in diversifying his offerings so he has multiple revenue streams.

So for example, in addition to offering human resources and payroll services, he spun off an insurance agency a few years back and in the next month is rolling out a service to offer firms New York State-compliant sexual harassment training.

You need to "keep your finger on the pulse of where the market's going," says Bredin, noting it's also wise to tighten up billing and collections as a best practice.

Not to be too depressing, but …

While there's no crystal ball to predict when a downturn may occur, 42 percent of U.S. economists surveyed by the National Association of Business Economics think a recession will happen in 2020.

15 Expert Tips for Scaling Your Small Business - Nav

Posted: 15 Mar 2019 03:43 PM PDT

When you're serious about growing your small business it makes sense to get the best advice possible. You can do that even if money is tight by tapping the expertise of Small Business Development Center (SBDC) advisors and consultants. SBDCs are funded in part by the United States Congress through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

SBDC Centers offer free consulting and free or low-cost training. (Find yours here.) Their results speak for themselves: SBDC clients grow sales by an average 18.1%, which is 4.3 times the national average. March 20th is SBDC Day, and to celebrate, we assembled some tips from their experts.

Here 15 SBDC pros share strategies for taking your business to the next level.

1. Leverage Your Competitor's Weaknesses

Make a list of your competitor's strengths and weaknesses. Thoroughly research them so you are able to take their weakness and make them your strengths. You don't want to compete with them on their strengths when you can target their weaknesses and excel there. That's your competitive advantage!

Tamela Darnell, management consultant, KY SBDC at Murray State University

2. Stand Out In A Digital World

It's as simple as it sounds, but sending a handwritten note to customers is one of the best ways to keep customers and get new referrals. Anyone can send an email, but when customers receive a handwritten letter, they know that you took the time to think about them, write the note, and mail it. (Who even has stamps anymore?!) Those notes become treasures for small business owners who many not otherwise receive much deserved accolades and you'll be top of mind next time they or a friend is in need of your product or service!

Gina Woodward, regional director, America's SBDC at WTAMU

3. Develop Disruptive Customer Service

Disruptive customer service is a desired level of service that is delivering a customer experience that is  so exemplary that it literally creates brand ambassadors for your business and blows the competition away. That begins with declaring exemplary customer service as a core value  in your company and supporting that declaration with ongoing training and tools for every member of the organization from the top down.

Mark Collier, business consultant, Georgia's SBDC

4. Groom An Employee to Buy Your Business

Start looking now for a potential person to purchase your business to keep it thriving and growing long after you exit. One of the best places to look is at your own employees.  If you find an employee that shows interest and potential start grooming them now. It may take a couple of years for you to sell (or be willing to sell) and in the meantime you have the opportunity to foster and mentor a great employee to become the next owner.

Susan G Desgrosseilliers, business advisor, Maine SBDC at the University of Southern Maine

5. Cooperate With Your Competition

If you have a bricks and mortar business located next to other businesses, collaborate and promote as a city or neighborhood. The more ways that you can find to work and promote your businesses together, the more ways you will create a friendly and warm environment that your customers will love.

Here in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, several independent restaurants joined up to market together. And CLE Urban Winery had an event where it offered the product of another local small business, Brewnuts. They are both advertising for each other, and making more sales.

Katie A. Van Dyke, director, Ohio SBC at Cleveland Heights Library

6. Really Know Your Customers

One of the biggest missteps that a company can make is thinking that they know who their customers are. Research shows us that most businesses have not taken the time to truly understand their customers. The easiest thing to do is to survey your customers, let them tell you what you are doing right— and believe me they will tell you what you are doing wrong.  

You also need to look at demographics, geographics, and psychographics to obtain the full picture of who your customers truly are.  If you master this concept, you will be better at catering to their needs and making them your customers.

Carleen Dotson, training specialist/business consultant, Ohio University SBDC

7. Don't Fall In An Email Trap

Sell yourself, not just your product or service. Face to face contact, as well as a phone call, are powerful ways to establish trust and maintain that confidential relationship.  Email has become the sad standard of sales in 2019; although important, it lacks the personal touch. Don't fall into that trap!

Mary Kay Della Camera, microenterprise business advisor, Connecticut SBDC at

UConn School of Business

8. Make Your Website Pop

Revamp your website if it is more than 5 years old. Website design has evolved, internet users are more savvy and you don't want to be considered "obsolete" in a glance. Simple changes like placing your logo and call-to-action in the upper left corner; using concise, keyword-rich content that is understood easily; and the addition of hyper-linked buttons to your product or service page placed above the "fold" or "scroll" line can make a big impact in user experience and bounce rates.

Laura D. Katz, area director, Athens, University of Georgia SBDC

9. Stop Taking Customers For Granted

It's a commonly accepted business fact that it is easier and less expensive to keep an existing customer than it is to get a new one. As small business owners we have to make a concerted effort not to take the customers we have for granted. Small simple things can make a big impact, so do what you said you would do, go the extra mile and follow up, asking for feedback. Start with these things and loyal customers will follow.

Bill Burnham, growth acceleration specialist, Florida SBDC at USF

10. Schedule Downtime

The reality of running your own business is that you can work 24/7 and there's still more to do! When helping clients prepare an operating plan, I always recommend scheduling at least two weeks for vacations. I also recommend taking breaks during the day – for a short walk or meditation – for rest and renewal.  

Ann Garbarino, NYS certified senior business advisor, SBDC at Stony Brook University

11. Leverage the Power of Partners

Look around for key partnerships in all aspects of your business. Are there ways to partner with supplies, distributors, wholesalers or retailers that would cut your cost of goods sold (COGS) or marketing? For instance, your organic dog treats require vegetable pulp, is there a juice bar that regularly throws out pounds of pulp?

Kim Sherman-Labrum, associate business consultant/training coordinator, Idaho SBDC  in Boise

12. Plan Your Cash Flow

Map out your cash flow for six to twelve months. As your sales increase, it's even more important to do this, since your inventory and payroll expenses will probably occur before your customers' money hits your bank account.

Karen Goldner, managing director, Illinois SBDC at Women's Business Development Centers

13. Go Broad In Your Search For Financing

Businesses need to explore all options when looking for financing. Usually the front line of financing sources are the banks and rightfully so. That is what they do best. There are some who use the SBA guarantee programs and others who don't.

But there are other entities involved in that universe. Starting at the neighborhood level, there are the Community Development Corporations (CDCs). Their mission is to improve their own business districts and have funding to do that from tax abatements to grants. Then there are municipalities. They also have an economic development component helping businesses located within their jurisdictions. Then you have the counties which have the economic development officers and then state programs.

Honeycomb and non-profit Kiva have crowdfunding options. There are also online lenders. Business owners need to explore as much as possible in their quest to get financing.

Brent G. Rondon, certified global business professional (CGBP) manager,

Duquesne University SBDC

14. Learn How to Delegate

Whether you have employees, subcontractors or family pitching in, learning how to delegate effectively can be the difference between reaching new heights and burning out. Many small business owners are accustomed to doing a variety of things themselves instead of enlisting the help of others, so it can be challenging to identify the tasks you don't need to do yourself and assign the work to someone else. Once you overcome the challenge, though, you will have more time to dedicate to what you do best — grow your business.

Denise Whitford, business advisor at the Connecticut SBDC

15. Add "Smile Makers" To Your Product Line

These "smile makers" are four categories of target-audience products almost guaranteed to be a selling success. Add products for children, grandchildren, family and pets, the fastest growing purchasing categories.

Rita A. Mitchell, certified counselor, USM SBDC

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