Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hiring a Business Consultant

Business consultants are great resources that can provide advice and guidance for your business ventures. It’s crucial to hire a consultant with specific experience who knows the industry forward and backwards. 

Use these tips as a guide when hiring a business consultant:

Do Your Research.  Before you start searching for a business consultant, be sure to determine your specific needs so you know exactly what to look for in a candidate. Ask friends, family members, and co-workers to suggest a business consultant. Check out consultants at to read reviews or complaints.

Look at Credentials.  Ask consultants what type of business degree they have earned. Be sure to ask where they earned their degree and make sure it’s from an accredited institution. Although degrees are important, employment experience is even more crucial. Since you are hiring the consultant for business advice, you’ll want to hire someone that has first-hand experience running a business. Look for a consultant that has experience with your specific industry and dealing with your areas of concern.

Interview Candidates.  Once you have compiled a narrow list, meet with at least two candidates for an interview. Look for a consultant that shows organizational skills and professionalism. Ask if the consultant has prepared an outline that targets your specific business needs. If the consultant is associated with a business, ask if that may hinder their ability to cater to your needs in the future. Make sure the consultant clearly answers all of your questions and concerns. Think about if the consultant has relevant experience for the position but can also provide outside objectivity. Since it’s their job to help you, make sure the consultant is a good listener.

Request References.  A reputable business consultant will easily be able to provide testimonials from previous customers and a list of references you may contact. Ask the references about their relationship and experience with the consultant. Ask about the services the consultant provided and if the references were completely satisfied with the job that was done.

Review the Contract.  Be sure there is a written agreement with the business consultant. Make sure the agreement includes: the services the consultant will provide, when the services will be provided, and how much and when you will pay the consultant for their services.

What other tips can you offer?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Making the Best Virtual Impression

You are representing yourself and your business through the World Wide Web on almost every online platform you use: email, social media, forums, e-commerce, etc. So with all the interactions that take place between computers, how are you expressing yourself? In today’s technology obsessed age, often the first place people go to learn more about someone else is the internet. We have kicked privacy to the curb and allowed ourselves to be searchable entities online.  That being the case, it is so important you are presented as your best self.

Open Forum believes this is especially important for professionals.  According to them, “with much business done online today, your online ‘handshake’—the way you answer an email or what you say on social media—directly affects people’s perceptions of you as a small-business owner.” No matter who you, your online image speaks volumes.

Open forum  came up with 6 rules of online etiquette that will help anyone (not just professionals!) make a great virtual impression.

1. Stay neutral. 

2. Follow grammar and punctuation rules. 

3. Know how to use online communication tools.

4. Consider your virtual recipients.

5. Take care choosing your professional user name.

6. Pick up the phone when necessary.

To read the full article, visit

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Avoid These Marketing Pitfalls

When developing your marketing strategy, mistakes can be made on even then most elementary level. Here are some common mistakes that are often overlooked:

Mistake #1: Failure to be consistent in your marketing strategy. If you say one thing and do another, fail to keep a consistent marketing message, or have little follow through, you run the risk of losing trust in building relationships with your customers. 

Mistake #2: Not setting yourself apart from your competitors. Why would anyone want to buy from you if you don't offer anything different from your competitors? Whether it's price or increased value (even if it's only perceived value), if you don't individualize your brand, you may as well work for the competitor!

Mistake #3: Underestimating the power of unhappy customers. Some business owners are more concerned about bringing in new customers than keeping their current ones happy. This method of doing business is more costly, not to mention detrimental to one's image.

Mistake #4: Failing to create trust in the marketplace. Having trust in a particular business, product or service goes a long way when a consumer makes a buying decision.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tips for Finding Legal Services

Many business situations require professional legal advice, such as accounting and labor relations.  An attorney can advise you on your rights under the law as well as provide information on legislation that may affect you.

Selecting an attorney is similar to selecting a physician. Attorneys concentrate on specific types of cases as do doctors. The first step is to define the nature of the matter, and then find the lawyer who can best address your needs.

Where to look for a lawyer:

Most people find a lawyer by asking friends, colleagues or neighbors for a recommendation. Another source of information is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, found online or in your local public library. For over 100 years the directory has provided as complete a roster as possible of the members of the legal profession in the United States and Canada. The directory gives brief biographical sketches of many lawyers and describes the areas of the law in which they practice.

Also check with the Lawyer Referral Service of your state, city or county bar association, usually listed in area telephone directories. Under a referral service, the lawyer will consult with you for a half hour without charge or for a prescribed and nominal fee, and then render whatever services are requested for an agreed-upon fee. If the lawyer cannot handle your problem, he or she will refer you to another lawyer. You should be aware that a lawyer often can ask to be placed on a referral list. Being on the list does not automatically mean that the attorney is qualified to handle a particular area of the law. However, bar association lawyer referral services will attempt to refer you to an attorney experienced in the area of law relating to your problem.

Since lawyers can advertise their services, you may want to check the Yellow Pages of the phone directory. Make sure you verify the information contained in the claims made in these ads concerning both services and payment.

Don't forget to check out the business at!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Time to Make More Money

Once you've established your business and built up clientele, it's time to focus on increasing your profit. The Direct Selling Education Foundation offers these tips for business owners:

Have a detailed plan, but be ready to adapt. Business plans can't anticipate every circumstance, so you need to be flexible and willing to adapt as necessary.

Be a creative problem solver.  Think outside the box to figure out what your business is lacking.

Persevere. Don't let the roadblocks keep you from success.

Have mentors. Seek out mentors who have been successful and pick their brains for ideas you may not have thought of. Most people are happy to share their success stories with others and "pay it forward". 

Stay lean with your budget.  Be careful with how you spend, be aware of every aspect of cash flow and find ways to decrease spending.

Believe in yourself.  If it's in your heart to succeed, you will always find the motivation to continue. It's a good idea to seek out people who can boost your self-esteem when you are facing doubt.

Can you offer any additional tips? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

National Grid Utility Scam Targets Businesses

National Grid is warning consumers about a utility bill payment scam. Scammers are calling National Grid customers and claiming to be a official representatives. They have been calling businesses in the Rhode Island area and claiming that the businesses have a past due account balance. The scammers threaten to turn off the business' utilities if immediate payment over the phone is not received. 

National Grid warns customers that they do call about past due balances, but they do not demand immediate payment over the phone. 

Customers should contact National Grid if they believe they have been contacted under fraudulent circumstances or if they believe they have been victim to this scam.

If you are contacted by an alleged National Grid representative, BBB advises you to end the conversation and contact National Grid. This way, customers will know who they’re contacting and can inquire about any outstanding bills.

As always, never give out personal or banking information to unfamiliar people. For more information, visit,

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is Your Digital Marketing Outdated?

Businesses worry about keeping their computers up-to-the-minute. But what about your digital marketing strategies? Are they older than Windows 07? 

Here are 5 quick tips to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Know that people only skim digital marketing, moving their eyes in an “E” or “F” pattern—not the older “Z” reading formation. 
2. Do give the reader visual stepping stones: subheads guiding the eyes to points of relevance in descending order. 
3. Do use sidebars, quotes, or graphics to break up large chunks of text. 
4. Do keep in mind that your website needs to reflect what your customers want to learn—not what you want to say. 
5. Do link to something your visitors will find valuable.

1. Don’t assume email is the same as direct mail or that people are itching to read it.
2. Don’t treat your website like a brochure, with long sentences, long paragraphs, and no subheads. 
3. Don’t fill your company blog with irrelevant personal anecdotes and lofty pontifications. 
4. Don’t build the top of your marketing page around a pretty, generic image that has little to do with your business or your customers. 
5. Don’t clutter the top of your website by cramming too many elements into it.

What other tips do you have?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

BBB is inviting YOU to write for our blog!

Do you have business knowledge? Want to share? BBB wants to hear from you!

We are looking for Accredited Business leaders and professionals, like you, to offer insight to the readers of our blog. This blog caters to small business owners, offering advice and trustworthy tips from BBB. As a guest blogger, you can write about your industry of expertise or any other relevant topic you choose. We have a few short guidelines to follow.

This is an excellent opportunity to bring more exposure to your business and make great connections. You will be able to showcase your writing skill and industry knowledge.

Submit your blog here, We look forward to reading blog posts!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Helping Customers Find You

When consumers are in the early stages of buying something, they are likely to turn to Google. So how can you use this to your advantage? Here are some ways to make business more visible online and offline.

Online Commenting. This is a very effective way to drive traffic to your website. Write brief but meaningful comments on sites that are relevant to your business. You can also write reviews of books about your industry on sites like Amazon or Google Books. Participating in this type of online discourse will allow you to network with other like-minded people in your field, and eventually make your name more recognizable on the web. Furthermore, frequent commenting on well-chosen sites can increase the likelihood that people will find you on search engines like Google.

YouTube and Podcasts. These are valuable resources for you to use in your search for new customers. Do not dismiss YouTube as solely a website for young people watching viral videos. Many businesses are now using YouTube channels to post all kinds of videos such as tutorials, product demonstrations, and mini-advertisements. Include the link to your website so viewers know where to go for more information. The same goes for podcasts; for people on the go, they are a necessity. Consider using this medium to communicate with not only prospects, but current customers as well.

Smartphone apps. Apps are a must for any brick and mortar business. By registering for popular apps like FourSquare, Google Places, Yelp, and GoWalla, you can take advantage of the ever increasing use of smartphones by current and potential customers. Most of these apps are available for iPhones as well as Android and Blackberry phones. People use these apps not only to find the location of a business, but also to link to the business website and read reviews by other users.

Here are some more ways:

  • Signage on cars
  • Fun signage/banner/T-shirts for your clients to display
  • Testimonials
  • Online/printed Reviews
  • Follow up cards, emails and phone calls
  • Seasonal promotions for your community
  • Sponsor charities and causes in your community
  • Weekly workshops and/or presentations in community hubs
  • Partnering with other businesses
  • Referral exchange – where you refer business to them and they refer business to you.
  • Sporting/community event meet and greet
  • Offer online/offline contest and give-a-ways
  • Joining or starting organizations and clubs
Many of the methods listed above are low-cost ways to help customers find you. Make the most out of your online presence, but don’t forget to also make it easy for your local community to find you offline as well.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

FTC Privacy Rules - What You Need to Know

Small businesses need to know what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is recommending in their report on consumer privacy about how customer personal information should be handled online and offline. 

Here are five points small businesses need to know about the FTC recommendations as U.S. data-privacy regulations evolve:

The report doesn't actually establish any rules. It does make recommendations to Congress for developing new consumer-privacy rules and offer best practices for businesses.

Some small businesses don’t need to worry. If you only collect “non-sensitive” consumer data and don’t share it with third parties, your business is exempt from the FTC guidelines. However, if you are collecting Social Security numbers and financial, health, children’s, and geo-location information, then take notice. Furthermore, if you collect any data from more than 5,000 customers each year, or if you share with third parties, following FTC best practices is recommended.

Common sense goes a long way. If you are practicing transparency and simplicity, you are doing well. Be upfront with customers about what information you collect and why. Keep privacy policies simple and easy to understand. Give customers a chance to opt out when applicable.

“Do Not Track” is coming. Web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox already have privacy tools that allow consumers the feature to limit data that is collected about them. The Digital Advertising Alliance has a tool for members, too.

Pay particular attention to mobile data. The FTC report says, “The unique features of the mobile phone which is highly personal, almost always on, and travels with the consumer have facilitated unprecedented levels of data collection.” As a result, expect more guidelines or regulatory requirements.

Be aware of what information is collected, what happens to it, and how the privacy policy is stated whether you are the business or consumer.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Five Steps to Building an E-Commerce Site for Your Small Business

Expanding your business into the world of e-commerce is a huge step. It can be expensive, time consuming, frustrating and at the same time, the most rewarding adventure you’ll ever take!

Here are five steps to help build an e-commerce site:

1. Start with a plan: Have a 3-year business plan before you get started, and update the plan as your business changes and grows. Local organizations and online webinars are available to assist small business owners with the development of a business plan.

2. Name your site: Creating a website is a primary goal for any e-commerce business. Before you get that far, you need to name and register your website. Choosing a name can be hard; it has to be unique, reflective of who you are and what you are offering, while being catchy and memorable.

3. Assemble your pages: You’ll need pictures and descriptions of your products and services to display on your site. There are copyright laws for pictures and content on the Internet, so be very careful when using anything without permission; fines can be very costly.

4. Setup Payment Processing: Once your web site is active, you need to be able to accept payments for your products or services. Before you start taking credit card payments, you need to make sure you are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant. This means you are able to protect your customers’ credit card information. Online merchants are prime targets for data thieves. If data is stolen and it is your fault, you can incur fines or penalties and may even lose your right to accept credit card payments. Most processing companies take care of this for you, but research ahead of time to avoid issues.

5. Start marketing: The most important part of the e-commerce puzzle is being found. There are many ways to help customers find your site, but most of them involve paying for advertising. Over time, your site will show up naturally in search engines, but the top positions can be purchased (known as pay-per-click). Writing articles and blogs with links to your products is also a free way to increase your relevance online. Lack of a good marketing strategy is the biggest pitfall to an e-commerce site. Spending money that doesn't turn into sales can sink a business. Constant testing of ads and writing information that readers are interested in will continue to build strong foundations for a successful e-commerce sites.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Does Your Business Plan Have ADD?

It doesn't matter how many great ideas an individual, team, or company comes up with. Until you implement one, you haven’t made any progress. Execution is what builds lasting success, and splitting your business’ energy among too many outcomes can hinder your ability to execute good ideas and achieve your goals.

Fragmentation vs Integration: Many organizations go through an elaborate planning process. While their goals may be strategic, their process is lengthy and involved. If your method is overly time consuming, it takes away from more important work. More problematic, reliance on the idea generation phase of planning frequently results in a fragmented outcome. Whether you measure the results of your planning process in goals, objectives, or KPIs, if you’re trying to achieve too many outcomes, your business starts to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s tough to achieve your desired execution when your attention is split in a million directions.

Your Top Three Goals: One of the keys to execution is focus. You may want to achieve a hundred different things, but most of us find it impossible to focus if we’re intent on more than four all-important goals. In fact, four may be too many. I would suggest erring on the side of success: choose your top three goals and be uncompromising in your pursuit of excellence in these areas. A relentless focus makes a positive outcome all the more likely. 

Choose three goals on which to focus: Customer satisfaction, revenue and products (improving existing base or adding new ones). It may not seem like a lot on paper, but executing these three goals is a good focus, as well as, devoting one hundred percent of your efforts into their integration. It’s become a formula for success. Every year you should add or improve your products or services. Every day you should work to improve customer satisfaction. And every moment, you should seek to increase your revenue. For us, a focus on executing these three goals is the key to prosperity.

What's your business plan like? Does it include these goals?