Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beware of Business Directory Scams

The smooth-talking voice on the other end of the line claims to need some information to “confirm” your existing phone book listing. Fast forward a few weeks and your mailbox is jammed with “invoices” threatening legal action if you don’t pay up. Chances are you’ve been hit by a business directory scam.

How the Scam Works:

The Call. First, con artists make cold calls to offices. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number, and other information, claiming it’s for a listing the company has in the yellow pages or a similar business directory. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone that they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

The Bill. The con artist then sends urgent “invoices” for $500 or more — sometimes including a copy of the “directory.” They’re usually worthless and are never distributed or promoted as promised. Often, they’re just websites with listings of various businesses. 

In many cases, the person paying the bills will simply cut a check, not realizing that the company never agreed to pay the hefty fee for the directory. But if businesses resist, the scammers turn up the heat, threatening collection or legal action to get payment. They may use the name of the person who answered the phone or play a “verification tape” as “proof” that the company owes them money.

At this stage, many companies pay up just to stop the hounding. What they don’t know is that they’ll likely get more bogus invoices — either from the same scam artist or from others who have bought their contact information for a new scheme.

How can I protect my business?

  • Train your staff to spot this scam. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone.
  • Inspect your invoices. Make sure you are paying only legitimate expenses. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.
  • Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at, and read the BBB’s report on them.
  • File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit to complain to the BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Guest Blog: Selecting a Grant Writer

How do you choose the right grant writer, one that will help you achieve your fundraising goals? Easy, pick one who ‘gets it’. 

Most non-profits who are hiring a grant writer are doing so because they cannot afford a full time Director of Development or their development office needs augmentation from time to time. In all cases, organizations need value. And the way to achieve value is to hire someone who not only possesses excellent writing and analytical skills, but someone who can quickly get up to speed – understand what your organization is about and what you are working to achieve. In most cases, clients need someone with programmatic and management experience so they can put the organization’s narrative in the proper context. 

This is the process I suggest organizations go through when choosing any grant writer, and a criteria for selecting the right grant writer: 


  1. Get your ducks lined up. You need to have a clear understanding of what your organization is about and what you want to achieve before hiring a consultant, otherwise you will be wasting a lot of money. Consider this checklist:
    • Is your mission clear and well articulated? Is it going to change in the near future?
    • What program do want to attract funding for? Is it well defined? Does it need changes?
    • Is your program staff on-board with the idea of expanding/ implementing the program?
    • Do you have written materials about the program that the grant writer can reference?
    • Is your program achievable with quantifiable objectives?
    • Have you identified appropriate funders whose funding criteria you match.
    • Do you have a needs statement/data about the population and demographic that you serve?
  2. Think about what you need the consultant to do. Do you have a clear set of tasks you want the grant writer to accomplish? If your program needs development, consider hiring someone with program and possibly strategic planning experience.
  3. What is your long range plan? Do you anticipate needing a grant writer for a one time application or possibly someone that is available on an on-going basis? Be sure to discuss this with potential candidates to see if they match your needs. 
  1. If possible, select someone with experience in your sector, who is familiar with the type of programs that you operate.
  2. If you need someone to brainstorm and help you develop your programs on the fly, choose someone with program or strategic planning experience. Often times during the grant writing process a savvy grant writer will find holes in the program’s approach or other inconsistency that should be addressed.
  3. It is helpful if the grant writer has philanthropy or board experience. This type of person will have the perspective of the funder in mind while crafting your proposal.
  4. Hire someone you get along with! You will be spending a lot of time with this person and it is important you have a comfortable and productive working relationship. Most important – hire someone you feel you can trust.
  5. Look for someone with a wide range of experiences. Don’t hire someone who has only achieved successes (or tells you such). We learn as much from failure as from success, and in the world of development you need to take your knocks and be persistent.

Aaron Rome is the owner of Rome Specialties, Inc., a BBB Accredited Business since 2006.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No Credit? Bad Credit? Beware of Loan Scams

Advance fee loan scams target individuals and small business owners who are desperate to get a loan and often take the victim for thousands of dollars.

Most people stumble upon the scam online or learn about the bogus loan offer from ads in local publications and online through classified sites like Craigslist. Often, an advance fee loan scam website will be created and taken down within a couple weeks only to be replaced by another operating under a different name and fake business address.

The websites look professional and might even put the victim through the rigors of filling out loan application forms—often requiring the victim’s bank account and Social Security numbers. Eventually victims are told they are approved for the loan and just need to pay as much as thousands of dollars upfront via money order or wire transfer to pay for insurance or collateral. Those that pay, never get the promised loan and are even sometimes tricked into giving the scammers even more money. 

BBB advises cash-strapped individuals and small business owners to recognize the red flags of an advance fee loan scam:

  • The lender has a bad reputation—or none at all.  Research the lender thoroughly online and with your BBB. Most trustworthy lenders have an established track record; be wary if you can’t find much information about the lender online.
  • The lender is not registered in your state to do business. Check with your state financial or banking regulators.
  • The lender asks you to wire money or send a money order—such as for insurance or collateral—before you can receive the loan. You might be told to wire money to another country, consider this yet another red flag.
If you’ve become a victim of an advance fee loan scam, contact your local Better Business Bureau and report the incident to your police department.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Post a Discount Coupon

You are a BBB Accredited Business because you operate with integrity, openness, and trust. Now you can leverage those attributes to set yourself apart from the competition.

Consumers are always looking for a good deal. Offering special promotions and coupons are an excellent way to attract new customers.

Posting a Discount Coupon is a way for you to maximize your marketing dollars by reaching out to potential customers, while capitalizing on your association with BBB. It will also help maximize your Accreditation benefits. And, the best part? It’s FREE!

Discount coupons are located on your BBB Business Review and in the local BBB Accredited Business Directory.

Coupon types accepted:
- Text
- Image

Coupon specifics:
Click here for Advertising Guidelines & Recommendations
- All coupons must have an expiration date

Submit your Discount Coupon:
- Or send us your image based discount coupon to

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Guest Blog: Local Online Search Success for Small Businesses

Here are 5 tips for local businesses who want to succeed and grow are always looking for an edge over their competition. 

Unearthing advantages can be a challenge, but the emergence of local online search marketing over the last few years presents new opportunities to create a competitive advantage for those companies who are willing to educate themselves and take the correct steps. This article will examine 5 ways that businesses can use local online search marketing strategies to distinguish themselves as local competition elevates.
  1. Get Your Business Listed: Presenting detailed and correct listings via online directories is essential. You need to display accurate and consistent business information to make it easy for customers (and Google) to find and recognize your local business. Furthermore, since Google has said in the past that a growing percentage of mobile search is related to location and local information, it is important to claim, update, and enhance online information about your business immediately.
  2. Google Photos For Business: Google has designed their Google Business Photos program to offer a 360-degree virtual tour solution to businesses. It uses the same platform as the highly useful and successful Google Street View, so you can walk into a participating business right off the street virtually. Photo tours can be embedded your website and through social media from any number of starting points. They can also be viewed on all mobile devices. Since people search online because they want to know what to expect before going somewhere, utilizing this feature appears to be a great way for you to really showcase your business in a striking way. 
  3. Manage Your Business’ Reviews: Developing a quality online reputation can really help customers validate your business, and reviews are a large part of this. People will seek to gather all the information they can about your reputation before choosing your business. They want to know what you do and how good you are at it. They don’t just want to trust the information on your website; they want to see what others are saying about your business, location, products, customer service, and more. Many businesses have no reputation online at all! To be successful, this needs to change. Actively seeking reviews and interacting productively with reviewers is an essential part of developing your business's online reputation. 
  4. Nurture Your Current Customers: Many businesses tend to overlook their past or current clientele. You need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Once you have a few customers, you should invest in things like remarketing, nurturing and email campaigns. Keeping up with former customers is a crucial aspect to any local marketing campaign. These are people who’ve liked your product or service enough to come to you at least once. Make sure they keep coming back by showing you care!
  5. Be Visible With Mobile Marketing: Americans are using mobile devices at a rapidly increasing rate. The tendency for people to perform local online searches for business and directions while they are on the road means that if your business’ website is not mobile–ready, you are probably missing out on a significant number of potential customers. To get an idea of what changes need to be made, sit down and look at your own site from a mobile device. Navigate as though you were a customer who doesn’t have time to wait around and determine what changes need to be made.
These are just a few of the strategies you can pursue to get your business found at a higher rate online. While online marketing may not come naturally to you, looking further into these tips is a great way to take your local business to the next level.

Ryan Paul Adams is the CEO of PME 360, a BBB Accredited Business since 2012. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Watch Out for These Small Business Scams

Consumers aren’t the only victims of fraud. Every year, thousands of small businesses are targets of fraudulent or deceptive sales practices. Protect your business from scams by learning what to look out for. Often, it’s only a matter of identifying suspicious situations and asking the right questions.

Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection have put together a list of some of the top business scam situations:

Business opportunities. Many small business owners are approached to invest in other business opportunities. Promoters may even claim that the venture will increase customer traffic flow into the current business or that little effort is required to collect high profits. Before jumping into a business collaboration, make sure you know the value of the product and its true costs. Always make sure to check out the business at

Charity pitches. Most businesses are regularly asked to donate funds to needy causes, from requests to support the neighborhood’s latest fundraising project to appeals for sizeable charitable contributions. While many requests are legitimate, every year small business people become victims of fraudulent or deceptive charitable solicitation schemes. Make sure to always check out the charity at

Coupon books. Small business operators are often approached to participate in coupon book promotions. The business offers discounts or extras in the coupon books that are sold by promoters to consumers. Problems occur if the promoters change the terms of the coupons to make them more attractive to buyers, when the books are oversold or when books are primarily distributed outside the firm’s normal business area. Make sure the coupon book is being promoted by someone you trust, and that the terms and conditions are clearly spelled out.

Overpayment scams. Your firm usually receives an unexpected telephone contact first. Sometimes an advance call is made to find out what brand of supplies or equipment the business uses. On the return call, the caller claims to represent a reputable company with which the firm often does business. The caller may state that surplus merchandise is available at a reduced price due to a cancellation or over-order by another purchaser. Don’t be fooled. Accepting this gift may mean other obligations have been accepted as well, and you’ll be left with demands for payment and threats to turn your account over to a collection agency or attorney.

For more business tips you can trust, visit

For more fraud prevention tips, check out the FTC website.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Guest Blog: Why Facebook & Pinterest are More Popular Than Other Social Media

Have you ever wondered why Facebook and Pinterest are more popular than other platforms like Twitter, Linked In and Google +? 

I’ve been traveling a lot over the last few weeks and noticed that when I get online, after email, Facebook or Pinterest are the first places I go. 

Then, as the flight attendant was about halfway through her announcement, it hit me. . . 

Facebook, Pinterest and this particular flight attendant make it fun and entertaining: 

  • Facebook keeps us interested with games, connections with friends from all aspects of our lives, pictures, videos, and more. 
  • Pinterest depicts our lives and desires via pictures. It’s like a huge storybook. . .and fun. 
  • And the flight attendant on my flight home from California kept us engaged by promising to confiscate and sell any electronics not turned off as a contribution to her retirement fund. 

Compare it to the more business-like, less-things-to-distract-us Twitter, Linked In and Google +. Now you’re likely thinking that Twitter is one big cocktail party with lots to grab our attention and you’re right. . .but there are no games, no immediately-get-our-attention-pictures and LinkedIn and Google + "feel" more like business than fun. 

Nike has teamed up with Apple to allow us to track our exercise, have it auto upload and let us “compete” with other people or even cities. . .all while going for our daily run. 

LoseIt allows us to track our exercise and food intake and awards us badges for doing so consistently. 

FitBit does the same and interfaces with Facebook so you can share with your friends or even have friendly competitions to see who walked the most steps in a given day. 

They combine fun rewards with optional accountability. 

Wondering how you can further engage your community, customers and clients? 

Ask yourself, how can I make it fun and inviting. Here’s just one of the things I’m tweaking in my business: 

  • The Get It Done Right program will include badges and rewards for seniority, helping others in our forum and more. 
Just because it’s work/business, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. After all, that’s great customer service and Extreme Client Care™

Sandra Martini is the owner of, a BBB Accredited Business since 2004.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Baby Boom Your Branding Strategy

When looking to create or update the branding strategy foryour business, it’s always important to take every demographic intoconsideration. According to the International Council of Active Aging (ICAA), the majority of adults over the age of 55 feel that advertising does notreflect their current lifestyle, and they are turned off by marketing messages targeted to them. Better Business Bureau is reminding business owners toinclude aging baby boomers in their branding and marketing.

Creating ads that work is one of the top goals for allbusinesses. And while many boomers are much more apt to rely on referrals thanthe younger generation, 90 percent of adults 50 and older also rely on andcomfortably use email, according to ICAA. Forrester Research found that 49 percent of consumers who are 66 or older rely on personal emails to direct themto sites, compared to 28 percent of non-seniors.

One of the problems in today’s marketing world is the fact that many businesses don’t even have a viable strategy for targeting thenation’s 77 million baby boomers, ICAA notes. When creating or sprucing up yourbranding strategy, the best way to make sure that it doesn’t neglect the agingpopulation is to get input from them directly.

BBB and ICAA recommend the following four steps tobusinesses that are looking to make their branding strategy more baby boomerfriendly:
  • Create ads that work. Don’t assume that you’ll reach the aging population by default. Actively design ads to portray babyboomers in a positive, uplifting light. Don’t use negative stereotypes of older adults to humor younger audiences.
  • Deliver the message effectively. Tell a storyinstead of lecturing. Let your ad arouse emotions and tug at the heart stringsof your audience. Help your audience understand the message by breaking uplengthy facts into short snippets.
  • Use terms that work. The key to tugging at thehearts and minds of older adults is to speak their language. Make every wordcount. Business owners should focus their advertising using language thatimplies health, well-being and productivity.
  • Focus your ad photos using realistic images. Accordingto a recent study by AARP, researchers discovered that images showing exercisethat looks like too much work turns off older adults. Grimacing, sweaty, straining models won’t entice many 50-plus adults to become engaged. Make sureyour business branding strategy uses images that are both realistic and fun.Baby boomers are more likely to engage with your brand if they feel accuratelyrepresented.
For more information on engaging the aging population visit theInternational Council of Active Aging,

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Choosing a Credit Card for Your Business

For small business owners, now is actually a good time to research how a business credit card can benefit operations, or to re-evaluate existing business credit card plans to take advantage of best rates and current offers in the marketplace. 

Basically, there are two options for business credit cards - small business and corporate credit cards. The decision on which option to choose is based in large part on the size of the business and who is responsible for the debt. 

As the names imply, a corporate credit card is for large businesses and corporations and the burden of debt typically falls on the corporation. A business credit card is intended for smaller businesses with sole-proprietors and the burden of debt is on the owner. Unless the business is producing more than $2 million annually in gross income, a corporate credit card isn’t an option.

A business credit card is very similar to a personal credit card and carries a credit limit and minimum monthly payments. Business owners and any employee who will use the card will typically undergo a credit check.

BBB offers tips for choosing and implementing a new business credit card approach:

Do your research. Many banks and credit card companies are making various offers, with some attractive perks that may fit nicely with your business needs. But offers run the gamut, so be choosy. You’ll want to find out about offers from both your local banks and national credit card companies.

Don’t get burned by special offers. As noted, there are many offers and plans available for small business owners, but pay specific attention to business credit card plans with introductory offers for 0% APR. While this may be a good option for an immediate, high-end purchase to support your business, you need to find out what the conditions for the APR are – under what conditions will it rise, and what are your options if it does rise. Beware of getting stuck with a high APR after the introductory period.

Consider the rewards. Many cards will offer perks for both you and your employees including discounts with preferred vendors and airlines, as well as rewards points. 

Lay the ground rules. Make sure your employees know exactly what can and cannot be charged on the credit card. Some cards will let you adjust the credit limit on individual employee cards, as well as limit where the cards can be used. 

For additional tips on managing your business’s finances, go to

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Six Tips to Build Relationships

Every business owner wants their company to succeed. While many factors contribute to the success of a business, the leadership team has great influence on internal and external factors that can make or break a company.

To help businesses strengthen relations and build trust, BBB offers the following six tips:

  1. Start from the inside out. Focus on your employees. Employees are the backbone of a business and taking time to communicate with them daily, could help foster a positive company culture. Remember, employee respect is just as important as customer respect.
  2. Get to know your vendors. To help build trusting relationships with vendors right from the start, review lists of BBB Accredited vendor companies at Choosing vendors who are committed to ethical behavior will help create strong, lasting relationships that could, over time, ensure you are getting the best service for your buck.
  3. Protect your customers’ identities. Make sure all customer information is handled properly and securely. Ensure your business is protected from a security breach by having the right security measures in place.
  4. Advertise honestly. Adhere to established standards of advertising and selling and always represent products and services truthfully, including clear and adequate disclosures of all terms and conditions.
  5. Connect on social media. While many businesses use social media for marketing, these platforms provide great opportunity for engaging the online community. Connecting with consumers and organizations on social media can create awareness about your brand and help build trust.
  6. Be a community advocate. Participate in the betterment of the community. Customers are loyal to businesses that are involved in programs that support their local community, such as philanthropic groups, chamber organizations and business networks.