Small Businesses Are on Alert, FBI Is Watching Social Media

FBI Announces Plans to Monitor Social MediaIn a spooky and telling move, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced plans to start downloading and reviewing the public data available from social networking sites. On the surface, the issue seems benign as its data that is already out there on the Web for anyone to see. FBI, in their statement, “will not focus on specific persons or protected groups, but on words that relate to ‘events’ and ‘crisis,’ and activities constituting violations of federal criminal law or threats to national security.” That sounds like double-speak legalese to me to say that they’ll be watching anything and everything they’ll get their hands on. However, to temper my concerns, I’m glad that there are organizations out there that will be monitoring what the FBI will be doing.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has weighed in on the matter and is quite concerned about the stifling of individuals’ privacy on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and others. They are certainly the organization to watch as this movement by the US government and its agencies begins.

Who is the EFF?

(from their website’s About page)

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people’s radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today.

What are the implications for Small Business?

In a word: tremendous. Businesses are just learning the power of Social Search, using social networks and social media to conduct market research and find their customers on the Web, as well as the benefits of content marketing, using social media to engage with their target audience through content. If people become reluctant to speak comfortably about themselves on the Web, Social Web content will decline and the real-time, real-world experiential knowledge Small Business was garnering from their target audience diminishes in value. Additionally, that means that businesses will draw back adoption of content marketing strategies, which will leave a struggling economy in limbo about how businesses can generate consistently new clients. All this doesn’t even take into account how the FBI will use this data in taking actions against businesses with their data.

So, it seems like we’re on guard and alert that changes are on the horizon for Social Media and how Small Business can depend on content marketing as the next generation of marketing strategy. Summarily I think we, as business owners, should pay attention and not change our plans based on this one announcement, but don’t be afraid to change as the tide does. If you’d like to read the original article from New Scientist, it’s a good background on the matter. And, in the words of the British propaganda poster (which has seen a revival, albeit in the commercial sense), Keep Calm and Carry On.

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Presidential Campaign Fundraising Has Little in Common With Small Business Financing

CNN‘s Tom Foreman explains in the network’s “Explain it to me” video series how the “presidential dash for cash” (in political parlance, campaign fundraising) laws and strategies work in simple terms. While watching the video, I realized that much of this is counter to Small Business financing and funding. Primarily, the subject of access to that capital to start or expand a Small Business. In campaign fundraising, as Mr. Foreman explicates, you can raise your own funds just like most of us who began our own businesses, but with presidential campaigns you can also choose to get matching funding from the federal government. We mere mortals do not get this preferential benefit if we go to the federal government and tell them we’d like to start a Small Business. Something mostly understood is that most funding for these presidential (and likely Congressional) campaigns come from a limited number of large donors and less of the funding comes from small-dollar donors. However, in Small Business, we have more opportunities than ever to find funding in creative ways since most small businesses can start with less than 5,000$ in capital (although 10,000$ is the average amount spent and asked for in small business loans).

If you’re looking for funding for your startup or expanding Small Business, don’t follow the norm by looking solely to financial institutions (and don’t leave them out of the funding portfolio either!) and borrowing money from family and friends (who more and more because of the economic downturn are weary to invest in new ventures). Here are a few resources for Small Business capital resources:

  • Crowdfunding: this is a relatively new concept, where you can ask many people to held invest small amounts to a larger loan amount (keeping their risk and your interest payments low); there are sites like MyMicroInvest.com and Prosper.com but there are many more players out there (so do your due diligence to make sure the sites are legit);
  • Bartering: the age-old concept of bartering with other Small Business owners here in Alexandria and the surrounding area is alive and well; learn more about bartering at the International Reciprocal Trade Association website; and,
  • Sell your Accounts Receivables: not a new concept either, it’s mostly unknown to expanding small businesses; if you have a healthy Accounts Receivable and are looking to grow your business, there are businesses that will help you do what is technically known as factoring.

Do you have other resources for finding capital for your or fellow small business? Post them in the comments!

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Think. Shop. Buy. Local. Join the Movement, Small Businesses!

think. shop. buy. local: join the movement! (c) Retail Merchants AssociationIf you haven’t heard about it already, the Retail Merchants Association has launched a campaign and website, ThinkShopBuyLocal.com, to encourage consumers and businesses to join a movement to support retail business in local communities.

I can’t say it better than them on their main page, so here’s what it says about each aspect of the campaign:

Think:

  • Your local businesses give back more to the community.
  • More of your dollars stay in the community.
  • More jobs stay in the community.

Shop:

  • You can find anything you need locally.
  • You develop relationships locally.
  • You can find affordable prices in our community.

Buy:

  • For every $1 spent at local businesses, 45¢ is reinvested locally. Non-local purchases keep, at most, 15¢ in your local community.
  • Local businesses value, respect and appreciate your patronage.
  • More tax dollars go to schools and roads in your community.

Local:

Join the movement! Take the pledge to show your support: “I pledge to THINK first of my local economy, SHOP first at my local businesses, and BUY first from local companies who give back so much, in so many ways, to my community.”

So, if you know a retail small business in Alexandria that hasn’t joined, please suggest it to them and to have them spread the word to other retail small businesses. And, if you’re a small business in Alexandria, why not patronize your retail small businesses for products you need for your company? It can only help the local economy and the small business community in the City of Alexandria!

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

What He Learned From His Small Business Entrepreneur Dad

I came across this article, Entrepreneurship – What I Learned From my Dad,” (over at the Under30CEO blog) a couple of days ago and really thought it was worth sharing and commenting on for several reasons (even with its technical flaws). My primary interests in his story are how he recognize that starting a business is a very personal, family and creative process, and his remembrance, even from his  youth, of what his father-entrepreneur sacrificed to start this small business.

While I can’t speak for all small business entrepreneurs, I remember my first business and how  as the author describes it as “similar becoming a parent for the first time.” He was able to see his father in action, even worked alongside him. I didn’t have the opportunity to have a entrepreneurial dad (as I was raised for significant portion of my life by my beloved mom) and when my mom and step-dad started their first entrepreneurial endeavor it was after I had already been in business several years. I was not ready for the journey I set out on that first venture, but somehow by grace I was able to make it successful and I learned from my mistakes, good luck and perseverance. My point is to the entrepreneurial parents out there reading this, your children will benefit from you introducing them to the why’s and how’s of starting and managing your small business.

And, speaking of the business start-up phase, for any of you who have been through it, you know how much you must pour into the company in those early days. It’s not just money; neither only time. In my mind, it’s always analogous to a railroad track unfinished with a locomotive barreling down the path. You’re the one who needs to source the track, lay the track and make sure everything’s secure before that locomotive reaches, but in essence with a small business you’re never quite done laying that track. All that said, it’s an intensely joyful process once you learn the ropes, get better with your hammer (be that sourcing your products, or getting that additional certification to woo customers to your service) and the locomotive stops to pick up passengers (i.e., vacations and those “golden goose” client sales moments).

Photo courtesy of KellyB.

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Facebook, Defined for Small Business

Definition of Facebook, the social networking service (c) Dictionary.com

Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t believe it with my own eyes. I was looking for a way to give context to Facebook and a good overview to start developing a Social Media business marketing strategy with Facebook as one aspect of it. So, I used Google’s “define” search function for “Facebook” and, lo and behold, Dictionary.com had an entry, and as you can see from above, it’s pretty accurate for consumers. The external social networking service founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 generally captures the people-spying-on-people mentality that pervades much of social networks. However, there’s more to the Social Media platform than meets the eye for businesses, and I’ll be blogging regularly about the many facets of the global social networking juggernaut. First, I’d like to just give a few definitions to cover some of the regular terms that define Facebook for small business.

PROFILES
The bottom line as to whether you use a Profile or Group for your business’ Facebook presence: never. I know that some will relent and give me all the reasons that their particular reasoning for using their Profile or a Group that they’ve set up for their business is better than setting up a Page. And, some will not that Facebook themselves made Pages as a second thought for businesses. My hope is that by explaining some key features of Pages and key disadvantages of Groups and Profiles, that you’ll go ahead and take the effort to launch your business’ Facebook Page in the not-too-distant future and then try to do away with your other Facebook presence as soon as practicable.

GROUPS
Facebook Groups are wonderful tools but for small communities within Facebook, such as committees, focus groups, boards, and groups of friends. Although it may be tempting to create a Group because you’ve heard of the few “advantages” over Pages, we highly dissuade you from thinking this is true. While you can send messages directly to members of groups, member engagement is higher in groups thanks to generally smaller size, and the discussion thread feature set, Groups are missing the core extensibility of Pages–Applications, analytics and Web coding functionality. Over time, Facebook engagement will be completely about the functionality of your Pages as much as they are about the content you offer.

PAGES
Facebook Pages are the de facto home for businesses and brands on Facebook. Every business should stake their claim to their Facebook Page (especially if you have a retail location). Facebook Ads and ad networks allow you to direct traffic to Facebook Pages, you can have unlimited fans following your Page, and users associate Pages with companies they like and trust. Every business’ marketing needs are different on Facebook, so research your target market well in a variety of Social Media before leaping in headfirst.

Facebook, no matter how you define it, is a commitment to Social Media that warrants close and careful contemplation. There’s no question that your target market is there; with 600 million users and counting, everyone’s target market in the United States is likely there. But, will they pay attention to your brand message while engaging on the platform? That’s the question you have to ask.

Still have questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll be happy to post video responses to my Vimeo account and post them here in the Comments for you.

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Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Have You Resolved to Blog in 2012? Small Business Bloggers Unite in Alexandria, Virginia.

Blogging is for everyone, even small businesses.So, you’ve created a Facebook Page, updated your LinkedIn profile, and you have a Twitter profile, yet you’re not swimming in “Likes” and “Followers” in any social network. While you hear about new Social Media sites launching every month, you feel it’s a waste of time to invest in every tech start-up that hangs their shingle out. And, I agree. Well, it’s a new year and as good a time as any for a strategic marketing plan, that should include a small business blog to help plan, motivate and drive site traffic. In the meantime, I’m going to tell you what I tell every audience I talk to about the foundation of Social Media: blog. Yup, that’s it–a plain and simple strategy to jump-start your Social Media campaign in 2012. Stay tuned for a series of articles here that will cover blogging for Small Business!

If you don’t know how, and you live or run a small business in Alexandria, Virginia, you can get some great assistance by joining the Small Business Bloggers in the Alexandria Small Business .COMmunity here at AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com. It’s not only a community blog about the great things that Small Business is doing in Alexandria, but the products and services they provide, and advice to start, manage and grow your Small Business in general from the folks over at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.