Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hiring Staff: Before You Start the Search

Welcome back to the second installment of a four part mini series of blog posts on hiring staff! Please check back each week for a new entry.

Before you start the search for a new employee, take the following into consideration:

Define the Job. Don't place an ad or start the search until you have developed a job description that defines what your business needs. Be specific about the job duties, the skills set that will be needed, personality attributes that would be helpful to the position, years of required experience or education, and any other information that would identity the ideal candidate. Next, determine the number of hours that will be required to perform the job duties.

Full-time, temp or outsource? Once you know the hours and set of skills that will be required, you can decide whether it makes sense to hire a full-time employee, use a temp or find an independent contractor to perform the required duties. Generally, it makes sense to hire a full-time employee if the work contributes to the core product or service of your business. If the job you are attempting to fill is secondary or not a particularly key one, you might consider hiring a temp or contracting the work to an outside firm. Outsourcing various job projects (Web site design, marketing materials, payroll services, etc.) is one way to obtain professional help without committing to a long-term partnership. If you are seeking lower-level support staff or are attempting to fill a short-term need, perhaps it would make sense to use a temp agency.

Set a Competitive Salary. If you cut corners on salary and benefits, you will short-change yourself. Your goal should be to attract and retain the best-qualified employee for the job. Small business owners can rarely afford the expense and disruption of constant employee turnover. There are a number of salary-related Web sites that can assist you in researching the annual salary range (for your geographic area), that you can expect to pay for a specific job category.

To read part one about when you should hire staff, please visit http://bbb-business-news.blogspot.com/2013/04/hiring-staff-when-to-hire-employees.html.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What Does it Mean to be Green?

Many products advertised as “green” or “organic” can sway purchasing decisions, but companies can also position themselves as socially conscious at a corporate level to attract customers. Such position begs the question though, what does it mean to be green and how can you communicate it in your advertising?

To help promote your company’s green efforts to all audiences, BBB offers the following advice for making “green” claims in advertising and marketing:

Tell the truth. A recent study by a Canadian-based marketing firm found that many products aren't as earth-friendly as they say they are. While most products reviewed made exaggerated claims, a few carried outright lies – mostly involving supposed certification from watchdog organizations. Few things destroy a company’s credibility with consumers faster than false advertising – tell the truth in all marketing efforts.

Make concrete claims. An honest advertiser will not make vague statements such as “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable” without providing solid examples to back up the claim. If your packaging is made from recycled paper, then say so. If your company has reduced energy costs, then brag about! Making fuzzy claims, however, can get you into trouble with any and all consumer segments.

Provide evidence. Being a green company isn't just about putting a recycling bin by the copier. You also need to be able to explain how you’re making the world a better place. Consider creative ways of quantifying your company’s impact such as: How many hours have your employees volunteered? Who has benefited and how have they benefited from your firm’s efforts.

Get a stamp of approval. While there is no universal “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for green claims, there are independent third-party organizations that will certify your environmentally-friendly statements such as EcoLogo (www.ecologo.org) or Green Seal (www.greenseal.org).

Get expert help. As a result of the green-frenzy, many boutique marketing and advertising firms have sprung up that specialize in branding companies as environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Getting professional PR help is typically costly; however, the rewards could be substantial in terms of revenue, reputation and goodwill.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hiring Staff: When to Hire Employees

Welcome to a four part mini series of blog posts on hiring staff! Please check back each week for a new entry. 

Small-business owners may be slow to admit that it is time to add staff. It's not always easy to decide to spend capital on a new hire, particularly if you've leading a one-person (you!) operation. Considering the following issues may help you reach a conclusion on whether to increase the size of your staff.

Overworked. If you find that you are constantly juggling too many tasks, are consumed with handling crises as they erupt instead of focusing on daily operations, cannot find time to attract potential clients or market to new customers, or lack the opportunity to keep your business on track to achieve its full potential, it is time to call for reinforcements. There are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how hard you work.

The same is true for your employees. Employees who are overworked, over stressed and overloaded are going to be under-productive. Burgeoning overtime may be another indication that you need to hire more staff. Excess overtime can be inefficient from a financial standpoint and it may lead to worker burnout. Hiring additional staff could eliminate those concerns.

Need for Specific Skills or Expertise. Many small business owners mistakenly assume they can do it all. Eventually, they reach the point where they must acknowledge they lack the time or expertise to perform a function critical to the success of the business. Be honest. Is there an area of your business operation that is suffering because you lack an employee with the right experience and knowledge base?

Sales Backlogs. Order backlogs may indicate the need for extra help. It may be worth your while to add an employee now to take advantage of a surge in demand for your product or service, even if you cannot yet determine whether the surge is temporary.

Spotty Customer Service. Take an honest look at how well and how quickly you are serving your customers? Are you exceeding or even meeting your customers' expectations? Satisfied customers are repeat customers and will often refer others to businesses that do a good job. Hiring extra staff could boost your ability to be responsive to your customers and market to new customers.

Check back for Hiring Staff: Before You Start the Search, where we will cover what to do BEFORE you start the search.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Fake FTC Emails are Tricking Business Owners

A new phishing scam is making the rounds disguised as a consumer complaint notification from the FTC. If you receive it, just hit "delete."  

How the Scam Works:

You get an email that appears to be from the FTC with the subject line: "Notification of a Consumer Complaint." (Sample email below) The email states that a complaint has been filed against your business, and you need to review and respond to the allegations. 

The email provides a link for you to supposedly click through to the FTC website and download a PDF of the complaint details. The link really goes to a third party website, and the file you download is actually malware that scans your computer for personal and banking information.

Like most scams, this one is not set in stone. Several variations already exist, and scammers will continue to alter the emails as news of the con spreads. Watch out for changes in the subject line and the complaint details. Older reports of the scam involve emails that urge recipients to call a fake FTC help hotline or complete an online complaint form.  

How to Spot a Phishing Email:  
  • Don't believe what you see. Scammers can make links look like they lead to legitimate websites (as in the example above) and emails appear to come from a different sender. It's also easy to steal the colors, logos and email header of the FTC or any other established organization.
  • Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments.Do not click on the links or open the files.
  • Check a link's true destination by hovering over it and looking in the lower right hand corner of your browser.
  • Try Googling the organization or the contents of the email. If the email is a scam, this is likely to reveal an alert or bring you to the organization's real website, where they may have posted further information.
For More Information  
Check out the Federal Trade Commission's official warning about the scam.
To find out more about scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tips for Boosting Office Morale

Many small business owners are struggling to stay afloat and are being forced to make tough decisions—such as instituting layoffs or budget cuts. In the wake of these decisions, office morale can dip as employees face uncertainty about their jobs. Better Business Bureau offers guidance for small business owners on how to keep office morale high in a tough economy.

BBB offers the following advice to small business owners on how to maintain office morale in a tough economy:

• Enlist management in setting the right tone.  In the wake of layoffs and budget cuts, it can be difficult to strike the right tone that will inspire trust with employees. Small business owners and management need to be on the same page in expressing optimism for the future.

• Acknowledge individual achievements. When morale is low it’s more important than ever to encourage employees and recognize the work that they do. Consider starting an Employee of the Month program or rewarding employees for completing projects or meeting goals.

• Be open and listen. Talk to employees and listen to their concerns and recommendations. Sometimes little things can have a big impact on office morale; talk to employees to find out what keeps them happy and what they would like to change around the office. Keeping the lines of communication open with employees can also help quell rumors that can undermine office morale.

• Provide an extra day off or a flexible schedule option. Especially around the holidays, employees will appreciate an extra day off, the opportunity to work from home or flexible hours.

• Many businesses have had to cut office parties altogether because of budget concerns, but events like office parties are a way to show appreciation, boost camaraderie and inject levity.  Consider less expensive options for a party such as hosting a lunch instead of a dinner or instituting a volunteer day to get everyone out of the office and working together.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Business Blogging – Why Every Business Owner Should Do It

Between Facebook posts and Twitter tweets, it seems like there are a thousand and one ways to communicate virtually these days. However, what many in the business world overlook is blogging. BBB is recommending that business owners consider some simple blog implementation strategies to heighten their business’ visibility on the web. 

A blog dedicated to the thoughts of a business’ president or CEO or a business’ mission can serve as a meaningful way to attract potential customers – and allow business owners to establish themselves as a thought leader in their respective market(s). Business blogs can be linked from the business’ website, Facebook page and Twitter account and are a great way of sharing the longer, more thought provoking messages. 

BBB recommends that business owners consider the following when implementing a blog for their business:

Heightened visibility is always a plus. When you blog, you get more eyes on your business and increase your search engine optimization (SEO). 

Voicing your passion gets your customers noticing. Letting your customers see how and why your business came about and sharing what it is you love about doing what you do is a great way to make a connection with your audience. With (almost) no length limits, a blog is a great platform to share exactly what it is that makes your business different from the rest. 

A blog can serve as a great networking tool. A blog is a great place to inspire your constituents and build a subscriber base. By giving your voice a platform and reaching out to other fellow business bloggers, you have the ability to establish a solid business-to-business network.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

BBB Warns of Charity Scams, Offers Giving Tips in Wake of Boston Marathon Bombing

At least one poorly-conceived charity scam has already emerged in the wake of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, and more are likely. BBB Wise Giving Alliance (“Alliance”), the national charity monitoring arm of the Better Business Bureau, and your BBB cautions donors about potential red flags concerning tragedy-related philanthropy.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others:

BBB Wise Giving Alliance: Ten Tips for Giving with Confidence

1. Thoughtful Giving

Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.

2. Help Spread the Wise Giving Word

Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well. People are emotionally moved by events like these and may react before they have time to carefully consider.

3. State Government Registration

About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.

4. Respecting Victims and Their Families

Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater and Newtown school victims did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.

5. How Will Donations Be Used?

Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

6. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?

Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)

7. Online Cautions

Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

8. Financial Transparency

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

9. Newly Created or Established Organizations

This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

10. Tax Deductibility

Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

Other Resources:

BBB Wise Giving Alliance is asking anyone who receives a suspicious charitable solicitation to report it to BBB Report a Scam.

The FBI has the lead investigative role following the bombing. Anyone who has information, visual images and/or details regarding the explosions should call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324), prompt #3. The FBI says no piece of information or detail is too small.

The American Red Cross says it has enough blood and financial resources committed to Boston at this time, but asks that people make appointments to give blood in the weeks and months ahead.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino offers the Mayor’s 24-Hour Hotline at 617-635-4500 for anyone with concerns about their family members or friends who were at the race.

The Mayor’s office also suggested resources from the National Association of School Psychologists to help children deal with tragedies.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Turning Warm Leads Into Hot Prospects

No matter what your business, you need two things: a happy, loyal customer base and a steady stream of new prospects. The Direct Selling Education Foundation (DESF) offers some great suggestions in its free e-book, Business Owners’ Road Map to Success.

Although DSEF focuses on companies that offer direct selling opportunities for consultants, the information in their e-book is relevant to just about any small business. Here are their tips for turning warm leads into hot prospects:

  • Create a “warm market list” of everyone you can think of who might be interested in the products or services you are selling.
  • Narrow it down to a “most likely” list of those who could purchase from you immediately.
  • Invite your “most likely” list to a small party, BBQ, open house, etc. Don’t try to sell them anything, just make this about introducing your business to them. Ask if you can set a follow-up appointment.
  • Make the follow-up appointments and keep narrowing down your list to the most supportive and interested potential customers. These are the people who not only will be most likely to buy from you, but also to refer new business to you.
  • Offer excellent customer service consistently, especially to your loyal and repeat customers.
  • Use social media to connect with people on your “warm market list” and to continue to build relationships. Also use social media to offer solutions, tips and useful information related to your products or services. Think of your social media networks as a subtle way to introduce new products and services, not as e-commerce.
  • Meet prospects for coffee or breakfast to discuss your business.
  • Keep your appointments social, friendly and pressure-free. Ask questions and show people how your products or services can help meet their needs or solve their problems. Even if they are not interested for themselves, they may refer other potential customers to you.
  • Always have your appointment book handy so you can book follow-ups whenever you meet a potential customer, even at social and family gatherings.
  • Don’t leave requests for information open-ended; get contact information and follow up promptly.
  • Get involved in organizations and causes that are important to your warm market list.
  • Keep track of everyone you meet and use quantity of contact
    s and prospects to grow your business. You will encounter “no’s” along the way, but stay positive and keep connecting, networking and making appointments.
For more tips from DSEF, download the free e-book at www.dsef.org or Like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheDSEF.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guest Blog: How Can Unique Website Content Help Your Local Business Succeed Online?

Creating unique website content is a crucial aspect of any local internet marketing campaign. Google and the other major search engines are geared toward custom web content that is well-written, compelling, informative, and addresses issues that your audience cares about. There are many ways to do this, and when you are writing in different online settings (such as blog vs. social media), you need to have the ability to modify your approach based on the medium you are writing for.

Let’s look at how to develop unique website content in each of the most common settings:

Blog: For years, writers have created blog content primarily for search engines rather than people. While proper keyword selection and careful placement within a post is essential, you really need to focus on providing a valuable resource for current or potential clients. A successful blog should not only educate the audience, but also entertain them. Think about what you would want to read! Providing the most up to date, relevant information with links to reliable sources in a concise way is the way to write online content today.

Press Release: Press Releases are a great way to get your content out there via online media publications. This writing must be headline-grabbing and newsworthy above all, and you must provide citations to established news sources.

Website: Your website is your online persona. It not only pushes your brand image, but it also gives potential and current clients the information they need to make a decision on your product and/or service. While you want to keep your website clean and streamlined it is important that you are creating content that addresses the following areas:
1. Education on a problem: What is the need?
2. Education on the solution: How can your product/service meet this need?
3. Education on your product and/or services: Let visitors in on your process and what they can expect once they buy from you.
4. Information about your company: What is your business all about? You want clients to feel a connection with your business, as it helps them make a decision about whether to go with your services.
5. Contact information: Make sure the potential or current client has easy access to your contact information (Company name, physical address, phone number, email contact).

Social Media: This is a concise but effective form of content writing. You want content that is not only drawing readers, but resonating with them to the point where they want to turn around and share your content within their networks. Use your language skills to engage readers with short bursts of content that will grab their attention. Asking a question is one of the best ways to get readers involved.

Create Custom Web Content Using Your Unique Perspective
The best tool at your disposal is your voice as a writer. Don’t try to write like someone else. You’ll end up fighting against your personal writing style, which makes your job that much more difficult. Above all, you need to dig deep and articulate what you feel is most compelling about the subject you are presenting. You don’t need to be interested in everything you write about, but you do need to be able to understand and convey the most important aspects of a given topic.

Developing these skills will help your writing and your ability to create unique web content for any local marketing campaign.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Maine Secretary of State Warns Businesses of a Deceptive Mailing Scam

The Maine Secretary of State, Matthew Dunlop, is warning local businesses and nonprofit organizations of a deceptive mailing scam sent from Corporate Records Services, located in Augusta, ME.

Corporate Records Services has sent mailings to local businesses and offers to complete corporate meeting minutes for a $125 fee. Many businesses are being misled because the documents look official.

BBB encourages business owners to do some research on any solicitations they receive that ask for payment, even if the document looks official.  Do not provide business information or a payment until you have completely checked out the offer and organization.

Corporate “Filing Requirement Reminders” are available on the Maine Secretary of State Office website at: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/corp/helpful.html.

Similarly, other states including Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio and Indiana have issued warnings against another deceptive mailing scam from Compliance Services.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Choosing a Domain Name Service

Domain names are used in URL's to identify Web pages. For example, in this URL  http://www.bbb.org/boston/Accredited-Business-Guide/, the domain name is bbb.org.  

It's important to choose a domain name that will be easy to find and navigate. These factors depend upon the registrar where the domain name is purchased. The domain name is reflected in its registrar; when the registrar provides direct and fast service, so will the purchased domain name.

Tips for Finding a Domain Name Service: 

Look at Different Registrars.  Searching domain name registrations online will provide many links to buy a domain name. Make a list of a few of the registrars and investigate them at bbb.org.

Check for ICANN Accreditation.  ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, gives accreditation to registrars after their applications are accepted and they sign an agreement. These registrars pay an annual fee. ICANN accreditation assures consumers that when they purchase a domain name from the accredited registrar, the domain name will officially be part of the Internet. Only purchase domain names through registrars that are ICANN accredited.

Carefully Review the Contract.  Each registrar policy is different. When registering, make sure you will be the owner of the domain name. The domain should list you as the administrative and technical contact. This allows customers to have full control over the domain name.

Check Out the Prices.  Compare costs of buying a domain name at different registrars and look at the time period the domain name is owned. Look for a registrar that is known for good customer service and is easy navigate; not just one that has the cheapest price. On occasion, a .org or .net name could be less expensive than buying the .com version. Be careful when purchasing the domain name for longer than one year. If the registrar does not provide good service or goes out of business, you do not want to be restricted or left with an unhosted domain name.  

Pay Online.  Paying with a credit card or through PayPal is the best method. Customers cannot use the domain name until payment has been received and cleared. Paying online allows customers faster access to the domain name that has been purchased.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guest Blog: What are the Differences Between Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents?

This article provides a simple, easy to understand, summary of the differences between Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents.

1. Trademark rights protect the WORD, NAME, SYMBOL or DEVICE.

In order to qualify for Trademark protection, the word, name, symbol or device must be used in trade with goods, to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.

However, applications for Trademark Registration may be filed, prior to such use.

Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but NOT to prevent others from making the same or similar goods or from offering or selling the same or similar goods or services under a clearly different mark (generally, where a reasonable person would not confuse the two marks as being derived from the same source).

Trademarks which are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The terms "trademark" and "mark" and “Service Mark” are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

2. Copyright protects the EXPRESSION.

Copyright is a type of protection provided to the authors/creators of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. Generally, the 1976 Copyright Act provides the owner of copyrights with rights.

The copyright protects the form of expression, NOT the subject matter of the work. For example, a description of a robot could be copyrighted, but this only prevents others from copying the description; it would NOT prevent others from writing their own description or from making and using the robot.

Copyrights are registered at the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

3. Patent rights protect the INVENTION.

Patent registration provides the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States.

What is granted is NOT the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.

A Patent Registration for an invention, is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office for a term of 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office.*  Note, patents granted by the USPTO are effective only within the United States, US territories, and US possessions.

* In special cases, the start of the 20 year period commences on the date an earlier related application was filed (subject to the payment of applicable maintenance fees). 

Click here for a FREE EASY TO UNDERSTAND CHART, showing a side-by-side comparison of the differences between Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents.

* This article is published with permission granted by Grenier Law Offices, PC.  To view the entire article, go to http://www.contactmylawyer.com/Business-Law-Blog/bid/94893/Ask-a-Business-Lawyer-Part-15-Trademarks-Copyrights-and-Patents.   This article is provided for information purposes only and is not legal advice.  Also, it does not contain an exclusive list of issues. Do not rely solely on this checklist. Consult a qualified attorney with regard to the specifics of your situation.

Michelle L. Grenier, Esq. is a business lawyer and founder of Grenier Law Offices, PC, a Better Business Bureau Accredited Business since 2002.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Providing Excellent Customer Service

With an increasing number of large, national chain stores popping up everywhere, small businesses sometimes find it difficult to compete. Mastering the fine art of providing excellent customer service is the best way to attract customers to your business and your products.

Oftentimes, customers are willing to pay a little more if they are getting that little something extra along with the product or service they are purchasing. There are two basic rules to follow: 

  1. Treat your customers as you would want to be treated.
  2. Treat every customer who walks through the door as an individual. 
Also stress the importance of simple tasks like being courteous, greeting customers with a smile, and respecting a customer's decision. Develop training programs that will make your employees knowledgeable on all aspects of your services and products. Nothing impresses customers more than realizing a store's employees are knowledgeable their product or service.

Some customers want to have a "relationship" with a salesperson, or just want to know where a product is located. Others want a little courtesy and even a little pampering. Teach your employees how to read a customer's needs, and treat him or her accordingly.

When dissatisfied customers present problems, make certain you know how to handle the issue. Acknowledge your customer's complaint, apologize and respond quickly. Don't forget that if you resolve the problem reasonably and fairly, the customer is likely to tell others about the wonderful customer service at your company.