Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Checklist: How to Give a Performance Review

The performance review can be quite the nerve wrecking experience for the employee as well as the supervisor. As difficult as it can be to have this conversation with employees, it is necessary to make it as much of a positive experience for both parties. Here are some tips to make the review run as smoothly as possible:
  1. Don't sideswipe your employees
    • Your employees should never hear about a positive/negative performance for the first time in a review. As a manager, you should give regular feedback to your employees and use the formal review to focus on specific parts of their performance.
  2. Remember that a performance review is about setting goals
    • It is important to make sure that the employee has a clear understanding of what is expected of them. You should also work together to determine how these expectations will be evaluated to ensure that the employee can perform to the best of their ability. When setting goals it is also important to discuss the employee's career goals. It not only shows that you have an invested interest in the employee but it also 
  3. Follow-Up
    • While a performance review should be yearly, it is important to make a quarterly follow up to ensure that the employee is on track with the goals that have been set. In order for the review to be effective, the employer must check in periodically throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Truth About BBB and Uber: 10 Facts You Should Know

There is an old saying that you should never get into a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel. That should probably be updated now to say you should never get in a fight with someone who has a huge online following. But whether on paper, on air or online, sometimes the media get stuff wrong… even The New York Times.
In the past few days, Better Business Bureau got a tremendous amount of coverage in both traditional and social media; so much so that we were trending online. As the BBB national spokesperson, I should be thrilled about that. But I’m not, because the way it came about was due to some clever public relations and some less-than-stellar reporting.
Here are the facts:
  • The rideshare company Uber Technologies has an F rating with Better Business Bureau. As they are headquartered in San Francisco, they are rated by BBB Golden Gate, one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America.
  • All BBBs follow the same rating system, which is explained in detail at a link that appears on every one of our 4.5 million BBB Business Reviews (all available for free at bbb.org).
  • The specific reasons for the company’s rating are spelled out in their Business Review: “Factors that lowered Uber Technologies’ rating include: Length of time business has been operating. Failure to respond to 39 complaints against the business.” Details from many of those complaints are also available in the Business Review.
  • On Thursday, October 8, 2014, a public relations agency that represents the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association put out a press release about Uber’s F rating with BBB. They did not consult with BBB before doing so and we knew nothing of the press release until it was distributed online.
  • A blogger with The New York Times saw the release and did an article that did not mention the taxicab association as the source of the story (he didn’t contact BBB either).
  • Within an hour of the article posting, I contacted the reporter by both telephone and email, highlighting four things that were wrong and asking that they be corrected.
    • The article said that Uber had received an F rating from BBB that day. Actually, they have had an F rating for quite some time. The only thing that happened that day was the PR agency’s press release.
    • The article said the rating was based on the number of complaints when in reality the rating was due to Uber’s failure to respond to some of those complaints.
    • The article said that BBB ratings have been “increasingly marginalized” compared to Yelp and other commercial services. In fact, research by Nielsen shows that BBB is trusted by consumers at a significantly higher rate than Yelp, Angie’s List and other for-profit review sites. Our trust scores are comparable with Consumer Reports.
    • The article said that “some branches” of BBB were accused of pay-to-play. In reality only one BBB, the former BBB of the Southland (Los Angeles), was accused and it has since been expelled from the organization.
  • I pointed out to the reporter that other media outlets were likely to use The New York Times as a source and that his story should be as accurate as possible.
  • The reporter responded to me via email and, after going back and forth several times, he said that he was “in transit” (it was by now the end of the work day) but would address the issue shortly. I never heard back from him and he never made any changes to the story.
  • As I predicted, a number of other outlets reported based on The New York Times story. They not only repeated some of the original mistakes, but some took it a step further and said that BBB gave Uber an F rating due to surge pricing or due to the 90+ complaints filed against the company.
  • A number of the complaints to BBB were about surge pricing. However, the F rating is not directly related to the nature of the complaints but rather to the lack of response from the company.

BBB Golden Gate has a meeting with Uber next week to talk to them about a better process for handling their complaints. This meeting was set up before the press release and ensuing media coverage. We are hopeful that Uber will work more closely with BBB in the future and will more readily respond to their customers’ concerns.
Other companies that have an F rating with BBB are urged to contact the BBB where they are headquartered to review best practices and, in particular, discuss improvements in customer complaint handling. BBBs are always willing to work with businesses seeking to enhance marketplace trust.
Working with BBB isn’t just about resolving complaints, it’s also about a business’s reputation – you never know who is going to be utilizing BBB for information.
- See more at: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2014/10/the-truth-about-bbb-and-uber-10-facts-you-should-know/#sthash.jeypQvVj.dpuf

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Protecting Yourself From Future Data Breaches


Last month Home Depot confirmed its computer systems had been targeted in a recent data breach, and up to 60 million customers credit card information and PIN numbers were stolen. While you can't prevent cyber attacks on retailers, there are definitely some steps you can take to minimize your risk should a data breach occur.  

  • Consider a new way to pay. Third party payment methods are much safer than swiping your debit card in the store. Third party services like these have your credit card information stored and do not give the retailer your payment information when you make a purchase. However, many retailers do not yet accept third party services so store valued cards or phone apps are another good choice as your credit card information is not exposed. 
  • If you do choose to swipe your card in the store, it is safer to process the purchase as credit rather than debit. When you process a payment as debit you must enter your PIN into the key pad which then saves your PIN into the retailers data base. Hackers can do more damage with PIN numbers - like creating a second copy of your debit card and withdrawing money directly from your account. 
  • Regularly check your credit card statements. By checking your credit card statements regularly, your chances of catching suspicious activity as it happens increases and you will suffer less damages. Thieves often make purchases in small amounts and then later begin to make larger ones.
  • When the Home Depot data breach occurred many people reported receiving emails from Home Depot offering free credit monitoring. These emails were distributed by scammers looking to gain access to unsuspecting recipients personal information. If you receive an email making claims like this you are better off ignoring it. If the email looks credible you should only move forward after going straight to the source to confirm its credibility. 



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Customer Responsibility

Written By: Rachel Willard

Communications and Marketing Manager

In order to be a smart consumer in a constantly evolving marketplace, one that produces many new products and services daily, it’s important to remember to do your research and know your responsibility as a customer. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the choices when purchasing a new product or service. BBB reminds consumers to do their due diligence by researching, shopping around and knowing the rights and responsibilities associated when making a purchase.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that as a consumer, it’s your responsibility to educate yourself about your rights and to shop around and gather as much information as you can before making a purchase. By doing so, you are able to make the purchase process easier by knowing exactly what you need, how much your budget is, and what you will be responsible for.
Once you have thoroughly researched the product or service and are ready to buy, be sure to ask about return and refund policies, associated fees, warranties or guarantees, and all policies or procedures. It’s important to also ask for and keep any receipts, estimates or contracts that you receive in case of an issue in the future.
BBB recommends these steps to become a smarter shopper:
  • Do your research.  Visit bbb.org to check out a business and read reviews or complaints. Carefully review the product, seller and/or business. Make sure that the business is licensed if necessary.

  • Get it in writing.  Get a written copy of guarantees, warranties, refund and cancellation policies and any verbal promises.  Be sure written documents cover everything discussed and include pricing.

  • Read through the contract.  Whether it be an estimate, bid, or contract, read the entire document. There may be disclosures about fees or refund policies that you’re agreeing to.  Once you sign a document, you have acknowledged the business’ rules and policies and agree to abide by them.

  • Know how warranties work.  If you’re paying for an extended warranty, find out who manages that warranty, if the extended warranty differs from the standard warranty, and how the business deals with claims made.

  • Don’t sign something you don’t understand.  Finally, if you have received a contract and you do not understand what you’re signing, don’t sign it.  The business you’re dealing with has the legal right to take action against you for breach of contract, so be sure to fully understand it. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Blog: How a Small Local Business Went from Good to Great Using Local SEO

Written by: Christian Haberman; Founder, Auctus Marketing

One of my clients who started his own personal fitness business a little over a year ago has done an excellent job at promoting his business online as well as engaging and growing his online audience. For this post, I thought it would be interesting for other small business owners and marketers to learn a little bit about how he did it. 

For a little background, before this venture he was managing a very popular restaurant here in Boston and doing very well at it. For those of you in the hospitality business, you will most likely understand why my friend simply got worn out from this exhausting work. The hours are very long and little time for a break. So due to the tiring schedule as well as lack of fulfillment, my friend decided to follow a passion of his, health & fitness. He really quite honestly felt it was his calling and it was inspiring to observe this relevation come about. 

So my friend, Jake, approached me during this pivotal time in his career and we would discuss his ideas whilst running together or in my office. One day after he had worked for about 10 or 15 days straight at the restaurant, he said “That’s it; I’m done”. At this moment, we started talking about his new venture in a bit more detail and started to lay out a strategic plan for his fitness business. The first thing we discussed was his brand and what it represented. We came up with the brand name TriJake due to his passion for endurance sports and since it incorporates his name. 

After we developed his brand a bit and discussed his mission of trying to helping others to enjoy and experience the joy of being active, we talked about some of the fundamental components that he would need to do to first set up his business. For example, he needed his trainer’s license, to register his company with the state, set up a website, find a studio and develop an initial business plan so his new venture has some structure, and of course call a lawyer.
My friend Jake works incredibly fast so he took care of all of the off-line set up in what seemed a heartbeat and in the meantime we started crafting his website. In regards to his site, it was clear that displaying his passion for endurance sports & helping others was very important as well as of course making his program very inviting to all (eg. someone new to running or an expert marathoner). Finally, and most important he wanted to make sure that his online visitors could easily contact him so he could generate leads and clients. 

One of Jake’s real strengths is that he is very outgoing, approachable and a natural at sales & PR; so he was signing up clients before he even had his studio. Once he found the ideal location for his studio and put money down, he immediately immersed himself into the town’s community. For example, he joined their local chamber of commerce, introduced himself to all of his business neighbors, and started hanging small posters in various coffee shops & restaurants which introduced his service. In regards to his online growth strategy which I formulated with him, we focused on 
1. Local Targeted SEO Program 
2. A Small AdWords Campaign 
3. Content Marketing via his blog, other blogs & social media 
4. Local PR 

In regards to his local SEO program, I did a lot of local competitive research to learn how his local competitors positioned themselves online and to understand their keyword strategy. From this and looking at some keyword research + search trend data, we developed his top keyword phrases which would serve as the base of his online content strategy. Utilizing these phrases I set up the PPC campaign to give his site an immediate traffic boost since his brand was new.

The next thing of course was his content strategy which I helped him a lot by showing him some successful examples of some other blogs and then breaking down how these blogs achieve this success into simple actionable components. By breaking down his overall online marketing strategy into simple daily/weekly action items or tasks, Jake was able to see that if he followed this simple program and did the work, he would get results. (below is an overview of his 2014 Traffic Growth). 






From the above Google Analytics data, it is clear that his overall online traffic experienced a 2x growth jump through the months of January to March. How did this happen? Well if you were to take a look at his website www.trijake.com you would clearly see that his site is very well optimized for local search, he clearly posts a fair amount on his blog and that he is very active in his social media channels. He even received an award due to the quality of his posts. But there was something he did along the way that really took his online game from good to great. He incorporated video.Why was this so beneficial to his online performance & results? 

Well first off, for a personal trainer utilizing video is a great way to offer instructions & workout tips for your clients which they can access at their leisure. It’s also of course great content that can be easily shared to further promote your brand and its wonderful for SEO, especially when all of his videos are posted on the town’s .org site. Funny enough, he even does a local weather forecast for the town that his studio is in now and he received PR for it to boot! Check – Move over Al Roker: Have you seen Wellesley’s awesome new weatherman? 

So to sum it all up, today my friend’s site pretty much owns all of the local search results for the top search engines in his local area for his main keyword phrases. His site is about a year and a half old, so he has managed to do this relatively quick. (He actually broke onto Google’s 1st page in about 4 months.) Some of the things that really helped his traffic & rank were optimizing his site with a very local focus, having a mobile site using responsive design, his frequent posts on his blog & social media channels and his use of video. So if you are running a local business or in charge of online marketing for one, please try incorporating some of these online tactics and I would bet you will start to see a positive return in your overall online performance & results. Of course, if you have any questions about any of these tactics, please give us a holler. 

Happy Marketing! 

-Christian

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Simple Website Designs Just Work

Written by: Christian Habermann Founder; Auctus Marketing

"The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.” - Steve Jobs 


Ever wonder why we all seem to just love simple homepage designs or simple designs in general? I was pondering this the other day as I was looking at some of the furniture in my apartment. When my father was retiring a few years ago, he offered me a desk that he had in his office for many years. It was actually an architect’s drafting table and I loved it ever since I first laid eyes on it. The design of this table is true simplicity. It is very basic and plain. Essentially, it’s like a coffee table or a desk, but with very long legs. I was thinking, what really has drawn me to this table or other things in my life that are designed with no thrills, but with just simplicity and grace.



Take for example my Apple laptop, which is a MacBook Pro I adore like so many million others around the globe. Its design shares many of the similar attributes and aesthetics as the architect’s table if you think about it. Their designs are simple, symmetrical and balanced. Many of my most favorite sites on the web share these similar characteristics as well. Why do we seem to like things that are designed with balance and order? It seems like we are drawn to things that have these traits right? For example, in website design its no surprise that some of the top revered sites in their respective vertical (e.g. Google, MailChimp) present a very simple design and message. Now I have to profess that I am not a psychologist, sociologist or PHD in design, but it is intriguing how many of us around the globe from different nationalities and cultures gravitate toward these simple and balanced designs. In fact, why we love simple designs and proportions that have symmetry might in fact just be a part of us it turns out. 

For more than 2,000 years, philosophers, mathematicians and artists have marveled at the unique properties of the “golden rectangle”: subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on — an infinite spiral. These so-called magical proportions (about 5 by 8) are common in the shapes of books, television sets and credit cards, and they provide the underlying structure for some of the most beloved designs in history: the facades of the Parthenon and Notre Dame, the face of the “Mona Lisa,” the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod. 

note: Golden Rectangle image experiments going back to the 19th century repeatedly show that people invariably prefer images in these proportions, but no one has known why.

Then, in 2009, a Duke University professor demonstrated that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle. For instance, it’s the ideal layout of a paragraph of text, the one most conducive to reading and retention. This simple shape speeds up our ability to perceive the world, and without realizing it, we employ it wherever we can. Website design is no stranger to this as well. Just think of all the golden rectangles that make a website truly stunning. I would argue that more simple a site’s layout and overall design is, the more we are able to capture these so called magical proportions that appeal to us so much. 

So the next time you are designing a homepage for a client or your company, try this exercise out. Try to keep the design, the message and the overall functionality as simple as possible. Take a step back and simply look at the page and see if you really need all that copy or links. Are you just trying to fit in too many messages and the end result is clutter? This is very common and rarely works. I encourage you to look at great sites like MailChimp, Google, AirBnB and of course Apple that are simple. Their raw simplicity makes their functionality seem so intuitive. This is a great goal to have and is well worth it. Remember, less is more. 

Now, let’s take a look at a common homepage layout for many B2B companies. As one can see there are many golden rectangles in the overall layout of this design, but when you step back it’s clear that these shapes are not in harmony. They are really creating visual dissonance. With that being said, B2B websites are often achieving a somewhat different goal than B2C sites, but at the end of the day, all of these sites want their visitors to simply understand their concept and move them as effortlessly as possible to a sale. 

When Steve Jobs was growing up in California he was heavily influenced by the simple home designs that were ubiquitous in his region. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of simple modern homes for the American “everyman,” developers such as Joseph Eichler and his imitators built houses that featured floor-to-ceiling glass walls, open floor plans, exposed post-and-beam construction, concrete slab floors and lots of sliding glass doors. Jobs said a while back when being interviewed while walking around his old hometown “Eichler did a great thing his houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people.” His appreciation for Eichler-style homes, Jobs said, instilled his passion for making sharply designed products for the mass market. “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the Eichlers. “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.” So perhaps my love for this architect’s drafting table is somewhat similar to Job’s affinity for the Eichler homes. Without a doubt, it is apparent that like so many around the globe we both love and appreciate simplicity in design. So let this be a simple reminder that you can do more with less. Try it out in your next design and see what happens.


Monday, September 8, 2014

September is National Emergency Preparedness Month


In 2009, the Citizen Corps National Survey revealed that only 57% of Americans surveyed report having supplies set aside in their homes just for disasters, and only 44% have a household emergency plans. In an effort to spread awareness nationwide, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared September as National Emergency Preparedness Month. Here are some ways you can encourage your employees, family members, and yourself to be better prepared for emergency situations:

1. Build a basic disaster supply kit:
When faced with an emergency, this kit will serve as your first line of defense. You kit should be tailored to the needs of your household/business, but should also include the following items:
  • Water and non-perishable food
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Cell phone with charger or solar charger
  • Weather radio with extra batteries
2. Enable wireless alerts on your mobile device
Wireless alerts are a quick and easy way for officials to inform the public during an emergency. These notifications appear in the form of a text message and require no additional downloads or subscriptions. These messages will appear to alert you of:
  • Extreme weather
  • AMBER alerts
  • Presidential Alerts during a national emergency
3. Form a Family Emergency Plan for you, your families, and your employees.
This plan should include instructions about where you will meet, both inside and outside of your neighborhood. How you will contact each other as well as any other situation-specific instructions. You should also aim to run family evacuation drills similar to those performed in school or at your workplace to make sure everyone is comfortable with the emergency plan.

For more resources on you to protect yourself and your loved ones when faced with an emergency please visit: http://www.ready.gov/ and http://www.bbb.org/boston/emergency-preparation/