Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Internet Safety: How You Can Protect Your Small Business From Internet Crimes

Small businesses are becoming more frequently targeted in Internet based crimes by hackers who are increasingly sophisticated and threats that are more widespread. It’s easy for criminals to hack a small business's computer system, if it has a weak defense. Putting an Internet security plan in place will help lessen your risk and prevent criminals from accessing sensitive information like banking numbers, email accounts, customer information, financial records, etc.   
We’ve compiled a few tips and resources to help you establish cybersecurity precautions for your small business.
  • Train your employees.
    • Set clear expectations and rules regarding what can and cannot be installed or downloaded on work computers.
    • Make sure employees are backing up their work regularly.
    • Facilitate password changes on a regular basis and make sure employees know what constitutes a secure password.
    • Employees should be able to recognize suspicious links and emails and know not to open them.
  • Assess your computer network and formulate a cybersecurity plan. The FCC offers a Small Biz Cyber Planner that helps businesses discover and protect themselves from “growing cyber threats.”
    • Encrypt any confidential information.
    • Update your security software regularly. Bugs, viruses and malware are ever evolving. In order for your computer to remain secure, you need to stay up to date with security software.
  • Protect your customers by having and following a privacy policy. If you use the Internet to communicate with customers and collect their information, you could be putting them at risk. The FCC offers some best practices which can help your small business safeguard clients from online risks.
    • Keep any data retention to a minimum. Unless you need the information to deliver the product, don’t ask for it. The less sensitive information you have, the less risk to your business and to customers.
    • Talk to your customers and make sure they understand what information you need and why. If you keep track of purchase history to help make product recommendations, explain this. Additionally, try to make policies as simple and clear as possible. Oftentimes consumers skim through the fine print. Break it down into pieces of information that will be easily digested.

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

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reputation Management for New Businesses

Whether you are a large corporation or a small business of one, managing your reputation should be high on your priority list.  Online reviews, word of mouth and customer opinions can make or break your company. It's important to know what is being said about you and what to do in case a problem arises.  Here are a few tips for managing your reputation.

Act Quickly – Set up Google Alerts about your company and do periodic searches for customer feedback to keep tabs on both praise and criticism.  Don’t just ignore the bad reviews or negative comments, address them quickly and professionally.  Customers want to be heard. If they know you are listening –  and more importantly doing something to address their concerns –  you may keep that business you almost lost.

Recognize the Positive - Let consumers know that you hear and value their praise. Consider featuring positive feedback and/or testimonials on your website to publicly show appreciation for happy customers. Highlighting the relationship shows gratitude while at the same time, builds credibility in your community and with prospective clients.

Take it Offline – Keep an eye on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and your own website.  If you hear negative comments being made through a social media site, address them privately, if possible.  Email or call the customer to address their concerns and see what you can do to make things better.  They will appreciate the personal touch and you will save yourself from getting into a potential online battle.

Follow Up – Once a concern has been addressed, make sure to follow up with the customer to ensure they are still happy.  This could involve a simple phone call or email, or perhaps offer a coupon or discount on services.  This will confirm you are continuously working to please your clients and that you do not forget about them even when things are going well.

Take the High Road – Remember you cannot please everyone all the time. Address an unhappy customer's concerns and attempt to fix the problem to their satisfaction. If they are still not pleased, offer an apology, remain polite and professional and do your best to leave the situation in a positive light.

Are you a rising new business less than a year old? Becoming part of the New Business Sponsor Program will help you build and maintain a strong reputation.

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

Written by: Adam Koncius, Koncius Digital Marketing

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How To Write A Professional Email

Email can be an effective tool in business. It allows for efficient communication with customers, co-workers and colleagues in your industry as it does not require both the sender and receiver to be available simultaneously. However, email is often considered informal which can present some difficulty when trying to compose a professional message.
Before drafting an email it's important to consider the following:
  • Do you know the recipient? If you do, are you asking for a favor? Or an introduction?  
  • If it’s a new professional acquaintance, reference where you met and/or a mutual connection to establish rapport. If it’s an intro you seek, include a snapshot of your company and your responsibilities or communicate via a social site with an internal email [InMail] program like LinkedIn to streamline the pursuit.
  • Making a pitch? If yes, get to know your audience. Being familiar with more than just the recipient’s job title is essential for a well-crafted email pitch. Just ask HubSpot.

Often, things like tone can get lost in translation in an email. Approaching your message with the following tips in mind can help avoid miscommunication:
  1. Create an eye-catching subject line. It should be succinct and to the point.
  2. Time is money. Be brief! You don't want to lose the recipient the moment they open your message. Assume your recipient has a high volume of emails. In the interest of time, they may skim your message, resulting in missed details.
  3. Address the person directly and be personable. For example: "Hi Jenn, I hope all is well!" or "Good morning, Jenn!" both address the recipient and exude a tone that will be well received.
  4. Speaking of tone. Be sensitive. Are you offering criticism or feedback? Perhaps it would be best addressed in person. Are you worried your email is so concise that it's reading as rude? Close your email with a positive comment or sincere compliment to offset any misconstrued sharpness.
  5. Don't include anything you wouldn't want to see as a headline. In today's world, anything you write is just one click away from the wrong hands. Keep this in mind before hitting "send."
  6. Watch out for grammar and spelling mistakes. Using shorthand in an email is one thing, but making a grammatical or spelling error can hurt the recipient's interpretation of the message and perception of you as a professional. Proofread your message and then proofread it, again.
  7. Be wary of elaborate signatures. When signing off in an email keep things simple. Relying on a corporate logo can be dangerous as they do not always load correctly. Test your signature before you send your message or stick to the basics: your name, title, business and phone number.

Send your next email as an Accredited Business! Learn more about being part of a community of trustworthy businesses.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Importance of Knowing your Competition

It’s a competitive world and nowadays there are more options than ever for consumers.  As a small business owner it is important to know who you are up against and what you can do to stay competitive in the market.  The best way to accomplish this is to know who your competition is and what they are doing.  Here are a few tips on how to stay in the know.

Use the Internet – Set up Google alerts and search for keywords that relate to your industry – or specific competitors  as well as your own company.  You will be kept informed anytime someone pops up in the news.  Also, use social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what customers and the general public are saying.  

Look within the Business – Check out the competition's website to see how they are marketing themselves.  Research who they have on staff and if they are hiring for any new positions. This will tell you how big the company is and what resources they have to run their business.  If they are hiring, you can examine the request and see who they are looking to bring on and for what purpose.  This also allows you to see what benefits and salaries they are offering so you can stay competitive.  

Ask your Clients – One of your best resources for learning about your competition is your customers.  Talk to them about who they have worked with in the past and what they liked and disliked about them, as well as what they are looking for in your business. Likewise, do this if you happen to lose a customer.  You want to know why they may choose to look elsewhere – better pricing, friendlier service, etc – and improve for next time.

Are you a rising new business less than a year old? Becoming part of the New Business Sponsor Program will provide you with the tools you need to keep a leg up on the competition. 

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

Written by: Adam Koncius, Koncius Digital Marketing

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Get Your New Business Off The Ground

Most successful businesses are not overnight successes. This knowledge can make starting a new business seem daunting since you are venturing into unknown territory. The risk of defeat is very real but it’s also important to remember that many success stories are born from failure. Staying motivated and organized could mean the difference between your small business making it and falling apart.

As Jeremy Bloom -- author of ‘Fueled by Failure: Dare to Fail. Dare to Succeed.’ and co-founder/CEO of Integrate -- expressed in Entrepreneur:

Don’t be afraid to aim high. Google wasn’t built in a day, and you won't reach your primary goal in a short time, either”. 

When getting your new business off the ground, there are a few things you can do to ease the stress during this process.

First. Have a mentor. An adviser can provide invaluable insight and constructive pointers. Having someone with pertinent experience -- to act as a sounding board and help you discover which questions you should be asking -- is a great resource to have when building your business. You can find people within your own personal network as well as within your extended professional network. Is there a person outside your network whose work has impressed you? Utilize social media. If you notice this professional replies to direct tweets, try reaching out! Twitter is an easy way to catch the eye of even the busiest of entrepreneurs.

Second. Make a plan. Putting a plan in place is one of your tickets to success. Your idea could be fail-proof, but without a strategy this won’t matter. You should understand what makes you different from competitors, who your target audience is, and how you plan to reach those customers. Additionally, identifying long and short term goals are a great way to stay on track and will leave you feeling accomplished as you cross things off your list.

Third. Define individual objectives. If you aren’t pioneering this business endeavor entirely alone, identify the role of each person involved. Once roles are established make sure there is a clear understanding of expectations. You can hold your employees and yourself accountable by writing out tasks on a team white board and checking things off as you go along.

If you are a rising business less than a year old, consider becoming a part of BBB’s New Business Sponsor Program. This program offers you tools and knowledge for nurturing your new business.

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hiring Tips for Small Businesses

Running a small business can often be stressful and especially difficult to do all on your own. It’s important to surround yourself with trustworthy and hardworking employees in order to grow your business and take some of the pressure off yourself. Here are some tips for hiring the best employees.
Find the Right Fit – Look for someone who complements your work style. You don’t necessarily want them to agree with everything you do, but you also don’t want them challenging you every step of the way. Find someone who is a nice balance you trust their opinions but they have their own ideas as well.

Take Your Time - Allow plenty of time to find the right personnel for your company and don’t just settle because you are in a time crunch. If you are desperate for extra help and don’t have time to search through all the applications and websites, consider using a temp agency. This way you don’t have to commit to anyone in particular and they may end up working out for you anyway!

Define the Position - Make sure you know exactly what you need the new hire to do. Clearly articulate their responsibilities and what you expect of them, as well as what you can offer them (benefits, vacation, etc). This is a two-way street, you want them to be happy working for you so they give you their best work. Consider being more flexible either with hours or allowing some time to work from home. This makes your company more desirable.

Search Outside the Box - Treat everyone you meet and speak with as a potential candidate. This doesn’t mean you are constantly interviewing but you never know who you will meet that might be perfect for a position in your company. Keep track of top contenders and their attributes – they may not work for your current needs but down the road something may open up where they are an ideal fit. Also, don’t put all the pressure on yourself or one person in the office to be the sole recruiter. Allow everyone on staff to keep an eye out for potential new hires as they already have a great idea of what it takes to work for your company.

Are you a rising new business less than a year old? Becoming part of the New Business Sponsor Program will help potential employees see that your company is a trustworthy and reputable business.

For more information you can trust, visit us a bbb.org/boston, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Written by: Adam Koncius, Koncius Digital Marketing

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Effective Communication: External

Communication is an essential component to any business and there are many different facets. Last week we discussed the importance of internal communication and its impact on professional relationships. Communication is also imperative to building relationships with customers and potential customers. 

External communication is comprised of not only reaching out to consumers, but also listening to them. In fact, taking the time to listen to customer requests and inquiries can mean spending less time, energy, and resources on acquiring new business. Building a strong rapport with the customers you have will enhance your reputation and bring in new customers based on the word of current customers. 

The best way to do this is by showing your appreciation. Relationships are about equity - it's important both parties feel they are gaining something that is equitable to what they are giving. Sure, customers pay for your product or service and that alone is an exchange, but customers need to feel confident they can rely on your business.  You can make your customers feel valued in four simple ways.
  • Be accessible. Do your customers know how they can reach you should a problem with the product or service arise? Social Media and email are great facilitators for consumer to business communication. Make sure customers know how and where to reach you, prominently display your contact information online and in your marketing materials. 
  • Respond in a timely manner. "Timely manner" is often left up to interpretation. You as a business owner may feel 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to reply to a customer whereas the customer may feel an immediate response is the only course of action reasonable. Let customers know when your hours of operations are and when they can expect a reply on their inquiry. This helps manage expectations and holds your business to a standard.
  • Follow up with a thank you email. Thank you notes are a great and lasting way to show your appreciation. More and more consumers are taking their business elsewhere because they feel undervalued. Letting the customer know you understand that they have a choice and they chose you can go a long way.
  • Encourage feedback. Feedback provides businesses with a leg up on the competition. A history of good service is important in today's marketplace when customers have countless options to choose from. A positive history also shows a healthy interaction with clients. Even with some instances of poor feedback in the mix, it shows your business is willing to stand behind the product or service and address or correct what's imperfect.
Keep the lines of communication open with your customer base. Encourage customer reviews on your business' BBB Business Review. Not an Accredited Business, yet? Learn how-to become part of the elite group of trustworthy businesses.

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Free Advertising Ideas for Your New Business

One of the most important goals for a new business is to reach clients and promote your mission.   You want to advertise, but you don’t want to spend all of your hard-earned profits in the meantime.  Fortunately, there are several ways to accomplish this goal without breaking the bank.  The following are a few ideas you can utilize to effectively promote your business at little or no cost.

1. Network - The most efficient and productive way to advertise is word of mouth or good old-fashioned networking.  Attend free events such as happy hours or dinners, anywhere you can discuss what you are passionate about and spread the word of your new endeavor.  Use the traditional method of cold-calling on the telephone to reach out and market your business. Technology is great but people still appreciate when you take the time to make a personal connection.  It also gives you a stronger platform to explain your goals.

2. Utilize Social Media – Blogging is a great (free!) way to self-promote.  Start your own blog and follow others in hopes they will return the favor. You can also periodically and methodically have guest bloggers support your site and write pieces once in a while. Establish a professional presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. and keep up with the current social trends.

3. Giveaways - Offer a referral system to current clients where they receive a discount or free services, if they refer new customers to you.  Alternatively (or additionally) offer a loyalty program to encourage return business.  You can also offer a first time discount through websites like Gilt, Groupon and Living Social.

4. Cross-promotion – Advertise and cross-promote with other local small businesses on your website, social media and promotional events. This can cut back on costs and reach a larger group of potential clients.

5. Self-promote - Always have your business cards handy. They are a simple takeaway to leave with potential prospects. Also, include your company website and links to your business’ social media at the bottom of your email signature which will reach everyone you communicate with daily.

Are you a rising new business less than a year old? Take advantage of the New Business Sponsor Program for guidance with topics like technology, marketing and customer service.

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

Written by: Adam Koncius, Koncius Digital Marketing

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Effective Communication: Internal

A good leader knows that it's not what they say that makes a difference, it's how they say it. June is Effective Communication Month and since effective communication is an essential part of professional relationships, we want to offer a few tips for improving communication in the office.
1. Think before you speak. This can be applied to various scenarios, whether you are offering constructive criticism, giving direction, or asking for help. It's important to think about what you want to say and how your tone of voice and body language play a role in how your message is conveyed.
2. Encourage feedback and listen. Being the boss doesn't mean you don't have anything to gain from your employees. Encourage them to voice their thoughts and opinions. You may not always be able to accommodate everything they say, but taking the time to hear your team members’ thoughts and ideas allows them to feel valued. It can also enhance your understanding of their actions, setting the stage for improved interaction in the future.

3. Set regular one-on-ones. Meeting with your employees on a regular basis helps to not only set them up for success but also your business. Find out how they feel about their position and what they want out of their job. Doing this will help ensure that your employees are always working towards a goal, which in turn means your business is continuously making strides.

4. Show your appreciation. Though you may be a respectful and easy-to-work-with boss, it never hurts to say thank you. Whether you have just wrapped up a meeting or finished discussing their thoughts or concerns, the gesture shows your employees that you value their input and their time.

Poor communication in the office can be harmful to employee relationships as well as the growth and success of a business. Taking the time to hear your coworkers and understand how they work and what motivates them is a great way to improve employee satisfaction and productivity in the office.

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