Tuesday, March 31, 2015

BBB Warning: Scams Currently Affecting Small Businesses

Scams targeting small businesses are not only becoming more frequent, but are also appearing in many different forms. Most recently, BBB has received reports of office supply scams and Yellow Page spoofs.

Office Supply Scam

How It Works:
Scammers will call your small business claiming to be from an office supply company making offers for limited time pricing, discounts, or going-out-of-business sales. Once you have agreed to make a purchase, weeks later you receive a large invoice for products you did not order. If the scammer is questioned regarding the invoice, they will often back off. However, if your Accounts Receivable staff is authorized to pay any and all invoices, and are unaware of current scams, your business could fall victim.

How to Avoid this Scam:
  • Train your staff and make sure they are up-to-date and aware of current scams and schemes.
  • Make sure your staff does not respond to unsolicited phone offers. All sales pitches should be made in writing.
  • Do not engage with unknown sellers. Make sure they are a trustworthy business by visiting bbb.org.

Yellow Page Spoof

How It Works:
A scammer posing as Yellow Pages might contact your business about updating your directory information. They ask you to confirm some basic information such as your name, address, and phone number. Weeks later you will receive an invoice for an ad in the Yellow Pages. When you call to complain, the scammer posing as a representative tells you that you made a verbal confirmation. They might even play you a spliced recording making it sound like you had agreed to placing an ad.

How to Avoid this Scam:
  • Hang up. Don't confirm information over the phone from unsolicited callers.
  • Don't trust caller ID. Scammers sometimes use special technology to fake the number and name that appear on your phone.
  • The Yellow Pages name and logo are not trademarked, making it an easy target for scammers to impersonate.

If you are unsure if you have fallen victim to a scam, trust your instinct. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. If your business has experience with or has fallen victim to these scams be sure to contact your local Better Business Bureau.

If you are seeking specific information about a business, or simply need assistance, contact BBB serving Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT by info@boston.bbb.org or call 508-652-4800.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Increase Your Facebook Page Visibility

One of the biggest frustrations I see small-business owners having when it comes to social media is figuring out how to reach their audience. On Facebook, a page's visibility is dictated substantially by Facebook's algorithm. Essentially the algorithm decides where stories appear in each user's newsfeed. The good news is, there are a few no-brainer ways to combat this algorithm and maximize your page's visibility.

  1. Use a branded cover photo. Research shows that photos receive the highest amount of engagement on Facebook. Additionally the cover photo is the first thing a user sees when they visit your page. You want to pick something creative, engaging, and most importantly something that communicates your brand message. We used our hashtag #StartWithTrust as the focal point of our cover photo. The hashtag is a vital part of our brand message, which is to help people find and recommend business, brands, and charities they can trust. As soon as a user visits our page this message is the first thing that is communicated to them. 
  2. Include photos in your Facebook posts. As previously stated, photos receive the highest amount of engagement on Facebook. Visual content draws users in. When you include a photo with your Facebook post, users are 39% more likely to click onto your post, therefore increasing engagement and visibility. 
  3. Respond to consumer feedback. It's no secret that the best kind of marketing is consumer word-of-mouth. When you give a timely and informative reply to your consumers you are enhancing consumer confidence. Additionally, do not shy away from negative feedback. This is an opportunity to not only show the consumer that you are concerned about their experience, but it also shows potential customers that you are attentive and you care about the customer. Engaging with consumers on Facebook is a easy way to retain and gain customers. 

Here at BBB of E. MA, RI, VT, & ME we have started a series on our YouTube page called Social Media Minute. You can check in monthly for small-business social media tips and tricks. We also encourage you to submit your own questions to be addressed in an upcoming episode. 

Check out our first episode:

If you have a question about social media you would like answered please submit it HERE.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Selling: Back to the Basics

Written By: Gary S Goldman
Business & Management Consultants to the Construction Trades
New and experienced contractors always ask three questions: “How can I be successful in the industry?” “How do I find prospects and “How do I market?”?” My answer is always the same: get “back to the basics” of selling. It really doesn’t matter what it says on our business cards. We may act as a consultant, but, in fact, we are all salespeople. So, what are the “basics?”

Let us start with the ethic of reciprocity – the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Many times, salespeople forget that 90 percent of selling is listening. It is very easy to tell people what you want them to hear and try to earn their business, but – keeping the Golden Rule in mind – is that how you want to be treated? Do you really want someone telling you what you have to do or buy without asking you what you want to do and why? 

Being a great salesperson is as easy as treating others the way you want to be treated. If you are like most contractors, you spend a good portion of our day on the phone or emailing potential customers whom we may never meet. As we all know, it is very difficult to build trust over the phone or computer. Technology continues to change our daily communication, and we are easily connected to people worldwide. Depending on your niche, your market could encompass one or many states. So as sales people, we are to build rapport with our prospects, whether they are in Boston or Portland Maine.  

Keep in mind during all conversations that the goal should be to treat them with the same respect that you expect from your business contacts. You are your best asset. Sell yourself by using your personality and expertise to earn business. People want to do business with people they like. If they like you, prospects will find it more and more difficult to tell you “no”. When you earn the trust and respect of your potential customers, you will earn their business.

How many times have you heard people say they would rather have a root canal than deal with a salesperson? People as a whole don’t like to be sold, but they really like to buy. Ask yourself what you liked about the people you purchased items or services from. Your prospect has the same right you do in choosing who they wish to do business with. Are you the only person providing this service or product? Most likely you are not the only game in town. So how can you earn the right to be the ONE? Perhaps by allowing people to do what they do best. People love to talk about themselves, their family, pets, hobbies, vacations, etc. Be the one that takes the time to learn about your prospect on a personal level. You just might find out that you have similar interests and can use that information as an opportunity to create a comfort level for you and your prospect. They already know what they want to do; the question is who is going to help them reach that goal? It does not have to be a chore. When done right, it can be a pleasant experience for both parties. When your customers look at the sales experience positively, they are likely to refer you to business associates, friends, and family members. This is a great way to market and grow your business.

Obviously, it is not practical to think that you are able to build a rapport with every prospect that you meet or talk to on the phone. You must determine if they are a true prospect or not, then identify how they operate. Are they a logical or emotional decision-maker? Do they use their heads or their hearts? Are they talkative or do they keep their feelings inside? Are they working to avoid the problem or are they working toward a solution? It is important to remember that it is much more comfortable to work with people that have a similar personality. We have to step out of our comfort zone to connect people that we consider “difficult.” To master the selling yourself method, you have to learn how to customize your message in your own words for all personality types. Don’t stub your toe by not being yourself. The potential customer wants to work with you, but you need to know them, and they need to know you.

Has technology changed how customers behave or operate? Absolutely! People have forgotten how to interact with other humans. Think about it – do you order items from a catalogue? Do you buy things on the Internet? Do you Google for information? Do you interact with a credit card machine or a cashier? What happened to working with people? Whether in the past, present, or future, successful salespeople deliver personal, professional service through human interaction.

As you start to prepare your marketing plan, remember the importance of getting “back to the basics” and start from within yourself. You are the least expensive and most important asset that you have. It doesn’t matter what you sell; your prospects need to like you, and you need to understand and connect with them. 

We work hard to build relationship with our clients. Be confident and feel good about what you are doing to help others. Sell yourself by sticking to the basics. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

New BBB Code of Advertising

Better Business Bureau has made comprehensive changes to its BBB Code of Advertising to reflect the many new ways advertisers reach consumers via websites, social media, texting and other channels. Every business that advertises in North America is expected to follow BBB’s Code, and compliance is monitored by 112 BBB offices in the U.S. and Canada. Industry self-regulation of truth-in-advertising rules has earned the support of federal regulators who take seriously cases referred to their agencies. 

 The Code states that “the primary responsibility for truthful and non-deceptive advertising rests with the advertiser” and that advertisers “should be prepared to substantiate any objective claims or offers made before publication or broadcast.” The goal is to make industry self-regulation track with rules to encourage the most honest and ethical marketing by businesses.

One of the most significant changes to the Code is an update to the section on testimonials and endorsements, to reflect the Federal Trade Commission’s current thinking on the use of them in social media. The most noticeable change to the Code is the elimination of the requirement that advertisers include a range of savings whenever an “up to” price savings claim is made (for instance, up to 40%); the Code retains the requirement that at least 10% of the class of items identified in the ad must be offered at 40% off. 

All BBBs across North America have Advertising Review Specialists who work with businesses in their service area to help ensure truth-in-advertising in all channels. When BBB learns of an advertisement or questionable marketing claim, it notifies the business and seeks voluntary substantiation, modification or discontinuation of the claim(s) in question. In 2014, BBBs conducted more than 11,000 ad reviews at the local level, and nearly 250 national advertising reviews were conducted by various programs at the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Originally published at: http://www.bbbchicagoblog.com/blog/2015/02/19/new-bbb-code-advertising/

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

BBB and Porch.com Join Forces to Provide Homeowners with Trusted Resources

An established and trusted business review organization is joining forces with a new and innovative home network to offer consumers the most comprehensive information available on home improvement and maintenance professionals. Better Business Bureau and Porch.com announced today that homeowners can now find BBB information, including ratings and accreditation status, for millions of professionals right in their Porch search results. 

Porch will display BBB information on home construction, maintenance and repair companies, and the information is updated and refreshed daily. Consumers who wish to see more detail can click through to read the entire BBB Business Review.

Porch is the first website and mobile app in the home services space to offer nationwide integration of BBB ratings and accreditation status.

“Our BBB Accreditation is our best marketing tool and key to our success, bar none,” said Jim Borst, president of West Coast Roofing and Contracting, Inc., a BBB Accredited Business in Clearwater, Florida. “To our prospective clients, it illustrates stability, professionalism, and the ability to work through conditions that our industry inherently produces when disrupting the norm. Now with the agreement between BBB and Porch, our accreditation will gain even greater exposure.”

“We are on a mission to make Porch the place you go to find the best and most trusted home improvement and maintenance professionals,” said Matt Ehrlichman, chief executive officer and chairman of Porch. “Partnering with BBB is a natural fit for us, since consumers have been relying on BBB for more than a hundred years to help them find businesses they can trust. By putting BBB accreditation and ratings front and center across our website and mobile experiences, we can offer homeowners additional confidence in selecting a home services professional.”

“BBB is pleased to partner with an innovative company like Porch,” said Mary E. Power, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “They have based their business model on trust, transparency and collaborative information, and they share BBB’s commitment to building trust between consumers and businesses. BBB’s information on Porch’s sites will allow customers to get more detail prior to hiring home professionals."

The agreement gives Porch six months of exclusive access to BBB accreditation and ratings for the home improvement and maintenance industry for use on Porch’s website and mobile app. The company has matched more than 3.2 million Porch profile pages to BBB Business Reviews, and is displaying the BBB accreditation status in its search results along with the BBB rating. Businesses can learn more about participating at bbb.org/porch-pro.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

3 Reasons to Read Online Reviews before Hiring Them

Before the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s, people conducted business on a face-to-face basis or by speaking on the phone. Many times, customers could gather a lot of information about the integrity and reliability of a company by simply walking through the front door of the company's retail store or offices. When people realized the power of the internet, companies began doing more business online and personal contact was sacrificed. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Doing Business Online One of the primary advantages of using the Internet to advertise and/or conduct business is the ability to efficiently and effectively reach more people. The related advertising costs savings for many businesses have been significant enough to help business owners expand into other areas with other services or products. However, nothing comes without a price. The price of interacting business over the Internet is losing the ability to get a gut feel for how a business operates. For many consumers, that's a significant disadvantage. 
A New Level of Trust It's quite remarkable that so many Americans are willing to transact business online. The amount of trust that comes with ordering goods and services without physical contact between parties has absolutely changed the way that customers interact with retailers and service providers. When you factor in the notion that most customers are going to offer up personal information and access to their credit/debit cards in the process, it elevates the need for trust far beyond anything that was ever required pre-Internet. Researching Before Buying It's sad to say, but there are far too many predatory companies operating in the business world, especially on the Internet. Unscrupulous businesses have been around for centuries, but the Internet provides a substantial curtain behind which they can operate. The fact remains that customers have an obligation to themselves and/or their businesses to do the proper levels of due diligence prior to purchasing goods or services no matter where they purchase them. This isn't a new notion. 
The Better Business Bureau has been operating since 1912. It's a non-profit organization that provides ratings for companies in almost every industry. That said, the Internet has made it easier to research companies via a wide range of other watchdog and review sites that provide information about companies and the way they conduct business. Best Ways to Avoid Commerce Issues If an individual is planning on hiring a company to provide services, they need to make sure the services offered come as advertised and that the people offering those services are qualified to do so. If they are looking to purchase products, they need to know the products being sold are real, reliable and come with some sort of guarantees and/or protection such as good customer service. Keeping in mind that no method is going to be 100% reliable, the three most popular methods for determining the reliability of a retailer or service provider are: 
• Word of mouth from friends, family or acquaintances. 
• Business ratings from organizations like the BBB and Consumer Reports. 
• Online reviews provided by review sites like Google Places, Yellow Pages, Yelp, Trip Adviser, etc. 

Over the past several years, online reviews have increased in popularity. According to BrightLocal's 2013 consumer survey, it was determined that 85% of Internet users were reading online reviews prior to hiring or purchasing. Also, it was reported that 79% of respondents say they trust those reviews. While online reviews are subject to some scrutiny for a variety of reason, they still provide a useful tool for choosing the best companies with which to do business. The three most important reasons to read online reviews are: 
1. Help Identify Potential Rogue Companies - If you see a negative comment or two about a particular company, you should take note and perhaps contact the company about what those reviews are saying. By doing this, you offer them a chance to explain prior to eliminating them as a prospect. If you see reviews that indicate a company might be involved in some type of unethical or criminal business practices, you should simply move on and find another company to use. There are plenty of reliable companies that provide goods and services in every industry. There is no sense in taking unwarranted risks. 
2. Gain Confidence in The Company's Reputation - It becomes quite reassuring when you consistently read positive reviews about a company with which you are considering doing business. When you hire a company under these circumstance, you are awarded great peace of mind that you are going to get what you're paying for as advertised. This helps provide great rationale for your hiring or purchasing decision. 
3. Time Savings - It might take a significant amount of time to call enough references and referrals. Also, the company is assuredly going to point you in the direction of only satisfied customers. 

Online reviews give you a place to go where you can read a number of diversified opinions in one place at one time. These reviews are being offered by folks who are freely taking the time to offer advice with nothing to lose or gain. This makes the decision making process easier to complete. When providers and consumers do business, some level of trust comes into play. The tools are in place to protect consumers if they know where to look and want to protect themselves. Online reviews are becoming the most prominent method for consumers to go for meaningful advice. This is a great tool that shouldn't be ignored. 

Bio: Brad Smith is CEO and co-founder of Rescue One Financial, headquartered in Irvine, California. Rescue One Financial helps individuals resolve unsecured debt during troubling times and have settled over $3.1B in debt. Brad's 18-year financial services career includes Wall Street with Merrill Lynch, where he helped pioneer the restricted stock diversification business at Morgan Stanley.
Smith still holds all of his licenses today (Series 7, 31, 63, and 65).

Monday, February 2, 2015

BBB Top Ten Scams of 2014

Better Business Bureau hears from thousands of consumers and business owners every year about a variety of scams and frauds. Many are new twists on existing scams, but scammers get more sophisticated every year in how they spoof trusted names and how they fool consumers.

While BBB doesn’t have specific numbers about how many people were defrauded or for how much, here are the scams we think were most pervasive this past year:

#10 Sweepstakes Scam: You’ve won a contest! Or the lottery! Or the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! All you have to do to claim your prize is to pay some fees or taxes in advance so they can release your prize… This is not a new scam, but it is a perennial problem.

#9 Click Bait Scam: This one takes many forms, but the most notorious of the past year was when the Malaysian Airline plane went missing (“click here for video”). Other click bait schemes use celebrity images, fake news, and other enticing stories to get you to unintentionally download malware.

#8 Robocall Scam: The notorious “Rachel from Cardholder Services” made a resurgence in 2014. This scam claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates and takes personal information – including your credit card number – and then charges fees to your card.

#7 Government Grant Scam: You get a call saying you’ve been awarded a government grant for thousands of dollars. It may even mention a program you’ve heard about in the news. All you have to do to collect your grant is pay a couple hundred in fees by wire transfer or prepaid debit card…

#6 Emergency Scam: This one is sometimes called the “grandparent scam” because it often preys on older consumers. You get a call or email from your grandchild or other relative who was injured, robbed or arrested while traveling overseas and needs money ASAP.

#5 Medical Alert Scam: Another one that preys on older folks. You get a call or a visit from a company claiming a concerned family member ordered you a medical alert device in case you have an emergency. They take your credit card or banking information but you never receive anything.

#4 Copycat Website Scam: You get an email, text message or social media post about a terrific sale or exciting new product. You click through and it looks just like a popular retailer’s site. But when you order, you either get a cheap counterfeit or nothing at all… and now they have your credit card number!

#3 “Are You Calling Yourself?” Scam: Scammers can make a call look like it’s coming from anywhere. The latest trick puts your number in the Caller ID, which piques your curiosity and gets you to pick up the phone or return the call… and then they’ve snagged you in whatever scam they are running.

It was almost a tie for the top spot this year, because BBB sees this one every day:

#2 Tech Support Scam: You get a call or a pop-up on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton, or Apple) about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.

And the top Scam of the Year, because it’s just so terrifying, is:

#1 Arrest Scam: You receive an ominous phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer or government agent (often the IRS in the United States or the CRA in Canada). They are coming to arrest you for overdue taxes or for skipping out on jury duty… but you can avoid it by sending them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Another variation on this is that you’ll be arrested for an overdue payday loan. Whatever the “violation,” it’s scary to be threatened with arrest, and many people pay out of fear.

Why Scams Work:

There is a science to scams, and it may surprise you to know that scammers use many of the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. The difference, of course, is that their “product” is illegal and could cost you a fortune. Here are the major techniques they use to draw you in:

Establishing a connection: The scammer builds rapport and a relationship with you. This is usually used face-to-face, as in home improvement scams and many investment scams, but also online romance scams.

Source credibility: The scammer uses techniques to make themselves look legitimate, such as fake websites or hacked emails that come from a friend’s account. Most email phishing scams spoof real companies, and many scammers pretend to be someone they are not in order to add credibility.

Playing on emotions: Scammers rely on emotion to get you to make a quick decision before you have time to think about it. An emergency situation or a limited time offer is usually their methodology. They count on emotional rather than rational decision-making.

What You Can Do:
Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
Take time to research the organization. Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.
Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.
Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.

For more information:
For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). Sign up for our weekly Scam Alerts to learn about new scams when we do. You can report scams here, too.
For more information on investment scams, go to BBB Smart Investing, a partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
To search for a business in the U.S. or Canada, or to find your local BBB, go to BBB.org.
For information on charities, go to Give.org (BBB Wise Giving Alliance).
For information on U.S. government services, go to: USA.gov.
For information on Canadian government services, go to Service Canada.