Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Make Business Travel Less Turbulent

Despite much of today’s marketplace being well-suited for virtual management, in-person meetings and off site events continue to be a component of maintaining and growing your business. Out of town team gatherings as well as conferences or conventions are an opportunity for both personnel and brand strengthening. Before you check your bags, here are some items to check off the “travel to-do” list plus ideas for making your business travel less turbulent. 


Plan ahead. Research hotels in your destination city before committing to a stay for your business. Utilize online reviews to get a grasp on their reliability and learn past experiences of other guests who have stayed. Plus, plans can change. It’s always wise to understand a hotel or resort’s policies regarding length-of-stay -- make sure to ask questions on topics like cancellation and penalty fees before you book. Using a travel agent? Agencies can be helpful for package deals and learning about hidden gems but it’s crucial to do your due diligence before hiring an agency to avoid scams and misleading fine print. 

Ask away. Your lodging is in the business of hospitality, afterall. When you book your reservation, make requests that might make your stay more enjoyable. Traveling for work -- especially if across different time zones or jam-packed with obligations -- can be exhausting. Inquire about early and/or late check-in and if your routine includes regular exercise, ask for details on the gym. Does your room have a kitchenette? That’s a score, if so. On a recent trip, mine did and I brought along the ingredients to make my daily smoothie. It allowed me to maintain my morning routine despite not being in my own kitchen. 

It’s all in the details (make sure you know them). Are there multiple team members in the mix? Confirm who will be attending which session/dinner/client meeting, etc ahead of time. It also can’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the layout of the event space and/or area you’ll be staying in. If traveling alone, you could reach out to clients or colleagues in the area for tips and suggestions for staying there. Oh, and cell phone numbers -- you’d be surprised how many employees don’t communicate outside of work. Get co-workers' digits before you hit the road so you can keep in touch if edits and or issues arise.

Pack it up, pack it in. Do you literally sit on your suitcase before dragging it down two flights of stairs? Are you pulling things out of your bag at airport check-in because it’s overweight? Avoid the hassle and pack smart. Try not to (I admittedly find it hard to resist) bring too many options. It’s helpful to bring an extra outfit or two in case plans change but bringing three dresses or shirt/tie combos to choose between for that client dinner will only add to frustration courtesy of extra decision making. The time you spend deciding on what to wear subtracts time from something else you could be doing (i.e. networking, sightseeing or taking a nap). Try on and coordinate clothes before you include them in your “necessities” for the trip. With versatility in mind, take into consideration your color palette. Neutrals are your best travel friend! For example, bringing mostly black pieces of your wardrobe could allow you to get away with one pair of business-ready shoes and leaves room for a more casual or cocktail appropriate pair. Think about wearing the heaviest pair of shoes on the plane to save pounds on the luggage scale.

Communicate. Regardless of the role you play for your business, you’re important. An out-of-office signature on your email is the best way to spread the word with external contacts and a direct email and/or in-person conversation is probably best for communicating travel plans with your colleagues.


Organize from the start. Allow yourself time at the train station/airport to get organized. Separate out items you’d like to work on while in transit. This will alleviate the need to repeatedly access the overhead bin. 

Sounds good. You fully-charged your devices before you left home so you can use them during travel, right? Don’t forget your headphones so you can work without the background noise and/or listen to music to politely drown out that Chatty Cathy sitting behind you. Looking to catch-up on sleep? I never (ever) leave home without ear plugs.

More than you paid for. Upon check-in at your destination, why not ask if there are any free upgrades available? All they can say is “no” and if you belong to their rewards program, you’re considered a preferred customer. IF you don’t already belong to their program, ask to join with the caveat that you’d like a perk during your stay. A suite sounds nice. Or maybe it’s a noontime check out in advance of a late departing flight. 

Sleep soundly. You are where you are for a reason. You won’t be the same or nearly as productive without good sleep. What works when you’re at home? I sleep with a sound machine. When I travel, I use a free smartphone app that replicates it. It kind of feels like home and helps filter out other hotel noises in the night (also, see ear plugs above).


Pay it forward. Once back in the office, submit an online review for each of the businesses you interacted with. The hotel, convention center and restaurants you enjoyed during your trip will appreciate the feedback on their performance. These reviews allow other travelers to learn from your experience in preparation for their own. You benefited from someone’s feedback and they’ll benefit from yours. In addition, it gives the business you review a leg up on their competition and a stronger presence online. Via InsightSquared:

88% of consumers are influenced by online customer service reviews when making buying decisions and 58% are more likely to tell others about their customer service experiences than they were 5 years ago.

Reach out. Solidify connections you made via timely follow-up. Suggest that you find one another on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter. Remember, networking doesn’t end with an in-person meeting. Provide new contacts pertinent info from conversations you engaged in or topics you enjoyed at a joint-attended event. Keep the lines of communication open after the trip to avoid being out of sight and out of mind. 

For more information you can trust, visit us at bbb.org/boston, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedInDid you know that 7 out of 10 consumers prefer to do business with an Accredited Business? Learn how to become part of a community of trustworthy businesses. If your business is already Accredited, find out how you can update your business online for free with Google and BBB and make it easier for people to find you online. 

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. Massachusetts, ME, RI & VT.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

BBB Continues to Evolve in an Ever Changing Marketplace

Huffington Post writer, Ann Brenoff recently shared her experience using Twitter for customer complaints and the power that social media has in the all encompassing arena that is customer service.
“Twitter, for all intents and purposes, is the new Better Business Bureau. The ability to publicly shame a company for its bad service is a weapon in the consumer arsenal that shouldn't be overlooked. An unfavorable tweet can ding a company's reputation, something that major businesses have become aware of.”
Won’t you Tweet with Us
As Jessi Hempel pointed out last month for Wired.com, almost 80 percent of the questions people ask businesses on social are happening on Twitter. While it’s easy to agree the impressive influence that social media channels like Twitter have in the marketplace, Better Business Bureau doesn’t consider itself replaced. Rather, BBB embraces social media as a tool to help businesses grow in a trustworthy environment and marvels at business’s success stories via social media marketing. Twitter is part of BBB’s social artillery. BBB tweets to communicate with consumers and businesses on a daily basis including topics like scam alerts, local and industry newsworthy topics as well as BBB specific news. Twitter users can even tweet #BBBHelp during business hours to request assistance from the team.

Better Business Bureau is in favor of consumers having the ability to engage in open communication in the forum of their choice, private or public but also believes in the importance of supporting both the business and the consumer. BBB prefers that the reputation of a business not be judged until both sides of the story are presented, confirmed and addressed. While a consumer may -- and often does -- have a perfectly legitimate complaint or issue, there are times where a simple misunderstanding could elevate to something more than it was by making it public. In such cases, a business could take unfavorable treatment or publicity based off an escalated miscommunication.  

BBB Directory
In addition to being a powerhouse in moderating customer complaints and providing a place for business owners to connect with their customers in an unbiased environment, BBB hosts an online reservoir of businesses. Consumers can utilize BBB’s directory of businesses -- both BBB Accredited and Non-Accredited -- during their purchase decision making process. If a business has been Accredited by BBB it means the business meets 8 standards of trust, including a commitment to answering consumer complaints. In June, Myles Anderson presented his analysis of traffic data for local online directories like Better Business Bureau. The study included 30 of the most prominent U.S. online directories. BBB stood out as one of only 3 directories showing growth with BBB.org up 70% in visits from May 2014 - May 2015. Anderson feels that two factors set BBB’s directory apart from the rest: unique customer review content and high trust factor. 
Technically, BBB isn’t a directory like the others. It is a group of local organizations that champion trust in local businesses and offer accreditation for businesses — which helps consumers know if a business is trustworthy and decent versus low quality and to be avoided.“
Through educating consumers online about local businesses’ transparency, BBB is empowering and helping consumers make stronger, well-advised decisions.

Customer Reviews, Good or Bad News
When users search for a business via Better Business Bureau’s online directory, they get full disclosure on the state of a business and at the same time businesses can show they have dealt with and resolved issues big or small that have come into the fold. A business can also invite its customers to write a review of their experience, which makes up the unique content referenced in Anderson’s analysis. A review might include special insider customer info, a referral program or that hidden easter egg other consumers are looking for...a coupon code. In addition, Customer Reviews provide businesses a leg up on their competition. More reviews draw more attention from potential clients, provides the opportunity to promote positive business attributes and measures common usage of their offerings. By encouraging consumers to share their experience, a business builds credibility with the community. It’s simple. When a consumer searches for a product or service, they want to know how others have fared. The more educated a consumer is, the more confidence they have in their commitment to a business and the investment they plan to make in their product or service. According to Shelf Inc., 70% of consumers reported Customer Reviews as the 2nd most trusted source in purchase decision making. In addition, Customer Reviews -- of which BBB has 46K+ on local enterprises -- allow businesses to interact with customers that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to engage.

No Dinosaurs to See Here
While Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT might be 100 years old, it does not have plans for retirement! BBB’s online resources (over the last year bbb.org/boston saw over 4.6 million visits with over 3.7 million unique visitors) include an active social media presence. BBB Serving E. Massachusetts, ME, RI and VT alone has over 33K followers on social media platforms and this blog sees over 1500 unique visits/month. Plus, BBB is accessible on-the-go. BBB.org was accessed over 1.6 million times on mobile devices in the last year. Both on and offline, BBB assembles a community of trustworthy businesses and inspires consumer confidence in a safe and secure environment. It’s true, BBB isn’t like the others.

For more information you can trust, visit us at bbb.org/boston, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. Massachusetts, ME, RI & VT.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

BBB and Google Partner to Get Businesses on the Map

Businesses encouraged to attend in-person BBB workshops for expert help

Being on the map matters. 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information, like store addresses, business hours, product availability and directions.1 Yet, only 37 percent of businesses have claimed their listing on a search engine.2  And complete business information can help generate economic value to individual communities. In small communities, this could be worth up to +$300k a year; in large cities it can be up to +$7m.3

stasiasbakery.pngThat’s why Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont and Google have teamed up on Google’s latest program called Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map. Our mission: to help businesses in 30,000 cities get the help they need to succeed online, for free. Because stronger businesses mean stronger communities.

Ready to get started?
Businesses are invited to attend free workshops to get online and on the map. Attendees can look forward to giveaways, dedicated staff to help update business information on the spot, and free food and drinks.

Find a workshop in your area and get your business on the map.

Want to see how your business appears on Google Search and Maps now? Head to www.gybo.com/business and type in your business name to see how your information appears across Google Search and Maps.

The tool highlights suggestions for areas that could use attention, including:
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Hours of operation
  • Photos

Want help updating the information? Attend a BBB workshop to learn how to manage your business info across Google.

We’re excited to be partnering with BBB. By working together, we can help our local businesses succeed on the web and make our communities even stronger.

Written by Whitney Lemon, Google Small Business Engagement. Whitney is a marketing manager on Google’s Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map team. She hosts Friday 15: Small Business Tips, Google’s series to help small businesses succeed online. Friday 15 is part of Google’s Get Your Business Online program, providing small businesses with a custom domain name and web hosting–at no charge for one year.

For more information you can trust, visit us at bbb.org/boston, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Become an Accredited Business and get the resources you need to give you confidence and help keep your business safe and secure. 

1 Google/Ipsos MediaCT/Purchased, Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior, May 2014
2 Marketing Sherpa, Search Marketing Benchmark Report SEO Edition, 2012
3 Google/Oxera, The Benefits of Complete Business Listings, December 2014

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Are Weak Passwords Putting your Business at Risk?

Let’s face it, everybody hates passwords. They are a pain and a nuisance, but in today’s connected world, they are clearly necessary. Passwords are multiplying and are not going away any time soon. Most companies have no real password requirement. Everyone has a password but the clarity on what needs to be done and what is appropriate and/or what’s not appropriate is not distributed to the company.

You need to take this seriously, securing your information is important.

Log-in box on computer screen of admin“But Marge does not have anything really sensitive on her computer so we just leave her alone.” – Anonymous Owner

There is often a feeling that certain people need less security, because their work does not deal with sensitive information. Please understand leaving one person’s password unsecured is like leaving a door unlocked to your palace. You cannot make this assumption without paying high penalties.

All passwords need to be secure and updated. Often breaches start by entering a smaller target to gain access to the real target. We see hacks that use smaller companies who service larger organizations targeted because they tend to be very lacking in basic security.

So what is a secure or strong password?

It may sound cliché, but your password has to be strong or there is no point in it. There are plenty of articles and viewpoints out there about how complex passwords must be, but you should always have a minimum of at least eight characters. It should not be a dictionary word (in English or any other language). It should include both uppercase and lowercase letters and a special character or two. A passphrase is a great approach as well, as long as it is not common. Passwords like 123123, letmein, birthdays, sports, names, even password1 are no good. It is like having a key with no ridges.

NOTE: Stop writing your latest password on sticky notes and “hiding” them under your desk. That is a security 101 no-no. Store it somewhere safe, out of everyone’s hands.

The top passwords for this year:

1. 123456
2. password
3. 12345
4. 12345678
5. qwerty
6. 123456789
7. 1234
8. baseball
9. dragon
10. football
11. 1234567
12. monkey
13. letmein
14. abc123
15. 111111
17. access
18. shadow
19. master
20. michael
21. superman
22. 696969
23. 123123
24. batman
25. trustno1

Apparently lots of people enjoy playing baseball with a dragon and driving a superman mustang. Personally, we prefer the bat mobile.

Put your password to the test at this “How Secure Is My Password” website.

Your password policy: 

Create – Implement – Enforce
Your WRITTEN policy needs to define secure and unsecured passwords, sharing rules, frequency of changing and reiterate the importance of them. All those that complain may not be fully educated on the impact that a breach would have on everyone, not just the company. Please explain to your staff clearly why it is a requirement of being employed. Lastly, your employees need to acknowledge they understand it and are responsible to abide by it. They need to also be accountable.

The skeleton of your policy should include:
  1. Minimum password length
  2. Password composition:
    • Character requirements and allowances as well as capitals, lowercase, numbers, special characters or items such as your name and the company name are not allowed.
  3. Password age limitation:
    • The frequency of change required.
  4. Password storage:
    • Passwords are not to be written down, they must be memorized or kept in a password manager.
  5. Reuse of passwords:
    • Do not use the same password at work that you use in any other account.
  6. Sharing and transferring:
    • Passwords are not allowed to be shared without proper authorization.
    • If it is shared, establish what criteria is needed to share.
  7. Electronic transmission:
    • No transmission over insecure networks or communication.
  8. Requirements for System Administrators:
    • Both their permission level and power to control others as well as a clear understanding of how are they held accountable
  9. Enforcement:
    • Roles, responsibilities, consequences and sanctions
  10. Exemptions:
    • Policy and forms for any exceptions

Now let’s be reasonable, you are not Fort Knox, but perspective still matters. If you have anything of value on those systems that you wouldn’t want distributed to everyone: your employees, competitors, vendors, partners, investors, ex-spouse, etc. then you need to protect it. Like your key to the lock on the front building that’s there for a reason.

But really, who is out to get me? I am just a small business owner.

Maybe you are the kindest person with no secrets willing to give away all your information. Even so, you may not realize largest offenders are most often internal or external IT people [who have the largest amount of access to your network]. They have access to your servers, workstations, applications and firewall. Make sure you have a process to verify their compliance as well. Also, be certain that many times these mistakes are simply that, mistakes. If one person unknowingly provides their password to an outsider who has any malicious intent, your biggest asset, and your information could be swiped from you in minutes. In this case you can be yourself, be trusting on other levels, but don’t be naive with your information.

Avoid Reaction, Take Action.
  1. Create a written password policy. It should be part of your computer usage policy. Make sure all employees are familiar with it and agree to abide by it.
  2. Help them understand why it is important. Listen to the groans, appreciate their issues and then insist they do it.
  3. Help them understand what appropriate and inappropriate passwords are.
    • While you are at it, help them understand that their families and personal information needs to be safeguarded as well. They need to keep their interested protected as well. Make it a service announcement for them. Identity theft is booming. Keeping yourself safe is very important.
  4. Make sure your IT support puts the policy in place that requires policy to be followed. Often they will not like this because they will have to spend more time “resetting passwords”. A small price to pay for security.
  5. Make sure your IT people are following the same procedure. We have seen often they circumvent it, because they have the authority.

For more information you can trust, visit us at bbb.org/boston, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Become an Accredited Business and get the resources you need to give you confidence and help keep your business safe and secure. 

Written by Dan Adams, CEO of BBB Accredited Business, New England Network Solutions (NENS).  

Dan is a serial entrepreneur who ran his first retail operation in high school. He founded NENS in 1993 and over the years, owned and managed several start-up companies. Dan is passionate about sharing his success strategies with fellow entrepreneurs.