Supporting Long-Term Business Success in Alexandria

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016. You may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available… Read more »

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This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016.

Long-Term Business SuccessYou may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available to support and assist business owners to ensure that they can continue to enjoy long-lived success.

Alexandria is distinct for its collegial relationships among business, economic development, business organizations and government organizations. Trends in Alexandria are for more — not fewer — small businesses, and plans in process will generate even more visitors and shoppers.

One of the most beneficial steps an owner can take is to engage with the community. Business owners should join business groups or the city chamber of commerce, interact with other business owners and attend community meetings. All of these actions allow retailers to keep abreast of what’s going on, find common solutions and provide feedback to key stakeholders. When owners don’t choose to take their seat at the table, it often leads to owner frustration, misconceptions and costly errors.

Some business owners may feel like they need additional support. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides a wide variety of guidance to all types of businesses. For our retail and food service merchants in particular, we offer targeted programs and individual assistance, including in-store expert visits.

These one-on-one sessions offer feedback on indoor and outdoor store appearance, merchandizing, customer service and smart operations practices. Experts also advise retail and restaurant owners on establishing hours of operation that are convenient for customers and on making the most of festivals and events.

We are fortunate to be a city with several popular annual events that attract thousands of visitors. This gives retailers the opportunity to make a great impression and to build loyal customers that will return again and again. Window displays should dovetail with the celebration and staff should be welcoming.

Shoppers today are discerning and have many options. To compete, every business must have an online presence. At a minimum, their websites must answer questions that shoppers have about products, services, hours of operation, location and provide contact information. Businesses without an online presence may not survive in the future.

Because small business owners have varying degrees of familiarity with websites and social media, we provide workshops and individual consultations in those areas. Business owners can join our mailing list to receive notices of our free high-quality programs.

Lastly, there may come a time when a business owner feels that his or her physical location is no longer the right fit. Our colleagues at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership can help owners find their ideal space, whether upsizing, downsizing or relocating.

Shoppers are making purchases in stores, and small businesses are more popular than ever. Our thriving community of tuned-in and engaged Alexandria merchants proves that every day. We are glad to be able to support this community and those retailers that make our city so unique.

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Extra, Extra! Read All About Your Business!

Over the next several months, Gloria Flanagan, our Assistant Director, will be writing several posts based on information that she learned at the America’s SBDC Conference in September of this year. This is the second post in this series. In a previous blogpost, we discussed identifying your “perfect” or typical customer as the first step in… Read more »

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Over the next several months, Gloria Flanagan, our Assistant Director, will be writing several posts based on information that she learned at the America’s SBDC Conference in September of this year. This is the second post in this series.

Extra Extra Read All About Your BusinessIn a previous blogpost, we discussed identifying your “perfect” or typical customer as the first step in developing a marketing strategy. There are many platforms for marketing your business, but today we will focus on traditional advertising and editorial mentions in publications.

It is first important to look at your customer and think about what he or she is regularly reading. Most small businesses cannot afford to pay for advertising in major publications such as The Washington Post or Washingtonian Magazine.  However, remember that publications such as The Post and the Washington Business Journal have many print and online readers in the area who would notice an editorial mention of your business in those publications.

Make it a habit to look for articles in those publications that relate to the subject matter of your business, and note the name of the reporter. That reporter is likely to write future articles and may be looking for story ideas and subject matter. It takes a bit of digging, but contact information is often available on the editorial page or the website of the publication.

While it’s not always possible to make one-on-one connections with reporters, make it easy to gain the reporter’s interest by sending timely and well-written information about new or innovative happenings in the subject area, and how you can be a resource for the reporter. Many small businesses who get regular mention in regional publications have taken the time to cultivate these relationships, either directly or by working with a public relations or media firm.

It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with the editorial calendar of the publications that you are targeting. Does your business relate to weddings, and do they have a wedding issue? How about food issues, and who are the reporters who typically write about food? How about an issue focused on pets, or on “back to school”? The publications are preparing for these issues months in advance, and welcome both editorial content and advertising that is geared to the particular topic of that issue.

Rather than advertise in every issue of Washingtonian Magazine, for example, check out their editorial calendar for the year and focus both your public relations editorial efforts and your advertising on those issues that will be appealing to your target market. We’ve included a copy of the Washingtonian Magazine’s editorial calendar for 2016 – use this helpful information to your advantage! If you have any questions, feel free to contact Kristen Anderson, the Virginia Account Manager for the magazine.

Local papers such as The Alexandria Gazette-Packet and The Alexandria Times also have editorial calendars and themed issues throughout the year, and they publicize these in the papers. Particularly if your target customers are local residents, an ad in a local paper will often get you “more bang for your buck”. They also generally like to include information about local businesses in their articles. These reporters live here and work here – get to know them! Local subject-matter experts are a welcome resource for these reporters, particularly if you have made a point of giving them reliable information and can be available for a timely comment when they are on deadline.

It only takes a few minutes of your time to peruse these publications, but it is time well-spent to gain familiarity with the subject matter, regular reporters, and writing style – then to be a part of the “local story”. Soon we will all be reading about your small business!

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Giving Presentations People Will Pay Attention To

We’ve all been in a presentation that felt like it would never end. Many small business owners may not have experience giving presentations, but it’s an important skill to master. Whether you’re pitching an idea to an investor or selling your product to a room full of customers, it’s critical that you be able to… Read more »

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Giving Presentations People Will Pay Attention To

Image Credit: James Duncan Davidson, Flickr

We’ve all been in a presentation that felt like it would never end. Many small business owners may not have experience giving presentations, but it’s an important skill to master. Whether you’re pitching an idea to an investor or selling your product to a room full of customers, it’s critical that you be able to give a memorable and effective presentation.

Earlier this fall, Dennis Belmont of Belmonster Creative conducted a workshop on giving good presentations. After the workshop, Dennis sent us a booklet that summarized all of his recommendations and tips. You can find a copy of this booklet in our Interactive Resource Library.

We have taken the summary of all of his points and posted it below, but we encourage you to check out the entire booklet. There’s a lot of good information there, and the summary will be more effective once you have read the rest of the booklet.

  • If you’ve got stage fright:
    • Look yourself over thoroughly before getting on stage
    • Breathe deep
    • Know your material
    • Stand like a superhero
    • Make friends with the audience
  • Understand your audience’s brains and include something for everyone
  • Establish your credentials early
  • Provide a basic agenda
  • Be yourself
  • Don’t just stand there
  • Encourage audience participation
  • In your on-screen presentation:
    • Don’t use bullets
    • Don’t use bullets
    • Don’t use bullets (that one is so important I said it three times)
    • Keep the amount of text on your slides to a bare minimum
    • Don’t worry about how many slides you have
    • Don’t show detailed charts and graphs
    • Include lots of visuals – photos, icons, graphics and color
  • Regarding handouts:
    • Don’t distribute handouts until after your presentation (and let the audience know at the beginning that they’ll be receiving them)
    • My recommendation is to put your handouts into narrative form (like a whitepaper or booklet), rather than giving them a copy of your on-screen presentation
    • If you do go with the alternate deck, include all of the information you gave in person; this will probably mean creating many more slides
    • Include citations and source references as necessary

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Credit Card Liability Changes – The Time to Act is Now

Do you accept credit cards as payment for the goods and services that you provide to your customers? These days, most small businesses answer “yes” to that question. For those who currently swipe the magnetic stripe on credit cards, including most restaurant and retail establishments, there are major changes coming soon that may have serious… Read more »

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Credit Card Changes EMV ChipDo you accept credit cards as payment for the goods and services that you provide to your customers? These days, most small businesses answer “yes” to that question. For those who currently swipe the magnetic stripe on credit cards, including most restaurant and retail establishments, there are major changes coming soon that may have serious implications for your business.

The major credit/debit card issuers have begun to distribute new cards that contain an embedded chip on the front which should make fraudulent card use more difficult. The fraud reduction benefits of the new cards will not be realized if merchants do not have the technology to accept the new cards. It is important for all merchants who accept these cards to upgrade to the new technology because on October 1, 2015 there will be a shift in the fraud liability. This means that, after that date, merchants who swipe chip cards will be liable for any fraudulent transactions, not the bank.

What should you do?

  1. First, if you have not already been contacted by your merchant services provider, payment processor, or financial institution, you should contact them. The solution for each merchant will depend on how they have set up their payment processing, how it interfaces with their POS (Point of Sale) system, etc. At the very least, you will need to acquire new devices that will be able to process the new cards in place of the swipe machines currently in use. There are varying charges and steps necessary, depending on the system that you use. Again, your best source of information should be your current processor.
  2. If you find that the new technology changes will not work with your current POS system, and you want to continue with that system, you may need a change in processing companies. This is why all merchants who swipe cards should be taking action now – October will be here sooner than you think.
  3. There is a great deal of information in the press and on the Internet about these changes. One of the most complete and unbiased resources is emv-connection.com. This site has listings of videos, Frequently Asked Questions, and other information to help you. Educate yourself now, talk with your providers, and begin to determine the best solution for your particular circumstances.

At 9:00 am on September 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will be presenting a one-hour workshop on this issue to clear up and clarify any remaining questions. The presenters will be Chris Harrison and Scott Johnston of WorldPay. We encourage everyone who accepts credit card transactions to attend this free one-hour session. Register for the event here.

Small Business Owners – Don’t put this off!!!  Now is the time to act.

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Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  Most small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of… Read more »

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This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

Marketing on a Shoestring BudgetMost small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of your job as a business owner and always your responsibility to doggedly pursue new business. You never know when sales may stop from one or two prime clients, and you need to have your pipeline well-stocked. Of course, this scares many business owners, and they think this will cost them a great deal of money and other resources. This was the topic of discussion at the recent Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable, “Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” The conversation was designed to first discuss internal marketing/branding, then friends-and-family, word-of-mouth referral marketing, and finally low-cost marketing avenues. The following post is a recap of the topics that were covered.

Internal Marketing

Internal marketing is really about building a culture of sales. And, of course, that starts with yourself as a small business owner. Most people go into business without a sales and marketing background. Instead, you are probably a technician, professional, and/or expert in your field or industry. Sales is an immediate gap for your business that you need to fill. Daniel H. Pink, attorney and best-selling author of several books, wrote in his latest book, To Sell Is Human, that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one out of nine Americans are in a sales position. Below is an in-depth discussion Dan Pink had with University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Professor of Management, Adam Grant, about the topic of sales in everyday society and why it’s applicable. I think it’s well worth the watch.

It’s not a surprise to a small business owner who is spending a great deal of time himself or herself marketing, but you need to learn a sales methodology and then pay that information forward to your entire staff (whether it’s one employee or dozens of staffers). One book that I recommended during the Roundtable was a book by Michael Port, Book Yourself Solid (which recently was also published as a fantastic illustrated guide; there’s also a Book Yourself Solid Creative Live course taught by Michael Port himself available), that teaches you as a business owner how to build a sales method that works for you. From there, you need to empower your culture to pursue sales. Sales should not be seen as a “dirty word” or less-than-savory business practice but should be embraced as what drives the mission of your business or organization. I think all the roundtable participants were in agreement that it was really important to build that culture from the ground up–from the moment you plan to hire someone, the questions you ask during the hiring process, onboarding that employee, and ongoing professional development of your team.

Friends & Family Word-of-Mouth Referral Marketing

Next we discussed the tried-and-true strategy of referral marketing, especially when it comes to friends and family. One of the most effective word-of-mouth marketing means described by roundtable attendees was helping friends and family actually understand what you do and who your ideal clients are. Most just simply don’t know or are not geographically situated near you (in the case of family, typically) to know exactly what it is you provide and who might be able to help you by referring or buying your products or services.

Something else to keep in mind is that you need to keep your existing customers primed to refer you business because they are the largest referrers of new business. It costs you virtually nothing to send thank-you notes, small gifts perhaps around holidays to show gratitude, or to use e-mail marketing software like Constant Contact, Mailchimp or iContact. This puts you at the top of your customers’ minds when they have a repeat need, but, more importantly, when they know their friends, family, or business colleagues need your products or services, your customers will suggest they to reach out to you. Remember to thank those referring, existing customers warmly for their efforts!

Low-Cost Marketing Avenues

Not all marketing is free as I’ve intimated so far. Training yourself and then training your staff are not free, but they can be affordable for your small business. In the last section of the roundtable, we discussed other low-cost marketing avenues available to small business, and some interesting ideas surfaced. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Twitter Ads, etc., all provide low-cost ways to get your business products and services out there in front of audiences that may not know you exist. There are caveats, so it’s best to do your research before you jump into online advertising. Of course, Social Media with an excellent content strategy plan in place and that is well-executed can drive traffic to your business website and reap compound benefits to your bottom line.

There are additional low-cost sales and marketing training options:

  • lynda.com (which you may have a free subscription to through your local library);
  • fizzle.co (30-day free trial then only $30 per month); and,
  • coursera.org (free massive, online-only courses (MOOCs) that have many business marketing courses).

Join us next month for business-to-business (B2B) marketing topic, “My Customers Are Other Small Businesses: How Do I Reach Them?” at the Alexandria SBDC Business Development Roundtable on August 18, 2015 at noon. Bring a drink, your lunch, and business cards! All are welcome.

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From Solopreneur to Entrepreneur

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Many solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneur to EntrepreneurMany solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business than they can handle.

At a recent Alexandria SBDC seminar on hiring, we discussed how to think about what expertise and services you need and whether that should include employees.

The triggers for adding outside services, consultants, independent contractors, or employees are the same main three:

  • Turning away business or work
  • Adding new products or services
  • Improving customer service for retention and growth

Ask yourself these questions to decide what help you really need to hire.

  1. Why are you considering hiring an employee?
  2. What are the main work requirements you need additional help to do? Be specific about both the work and the skills and experience needed to do the work.
  3. What is the time frame for hiring?
  4. What is the estimated amount of work to do per week (in hours) or over another time frame (e.g. short-term needs, seasonal needs)?

Once you have thought deeply about these questions, you can more clearly see what type of help you may need. An employee is the best choice when you have a consistent, long-term need to fulfill and the resources to manage and pay a person. Many solopreneurs start by hiring specialized help for short-term or intermittent needs via an independent contractor or by out-sourcing the work to another company.

If you have not, do check out the Employer Checklist on the Alexandria SBDC website under Resources in the HR and Employer Issues section. It will provide steps you need to take and links to government websites needed in the process to become a legal employer.

Tip of the Month

“You need the same powerful software that large enterprises need to run your business. The good news for small businesses is the emergence of SaaS (software as a service) has made it easy to find a great web content management system (CMS), CRM, email automation, social media manager, and sales automation in one easy package.” Mo Hasan www.shikani.com

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3 Tips to Better Business Development

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. We’ve all heard tips for business development and networking. These three tips aren’t new to you, I bet, but the real issue for most of us is whether we do each consistently – or not… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

3 Tips for Business DevelopmentWe’ve all heard tips for business development and networking. These three tips aren’t new to you, I bet, but the real issue for most of us is whether we do each consistently – or not so much.

Tip 1: Smarter Networking

Research clearly shows that effective networkers have more successful careers and make more money.

Have you evaluated your networking efforts recently? Me neither. But it is on the calendar for this month. What are you doing each week to meet new people who might become clients or refer them? Yes, each week.

Once you do meet a potential customer or contact, how do you follow up? Following up is a vital skill and yet, from the proliferation of articles on the topic, one suspects many of us are not good at it. Contacting people you meet within a week of initial contact helps both of you remember the other. Sending any information promised is a basic skill here. Contacting people 3-4 months after any business discussion to keep the connection alive is another smart type of follow-up.

Networking online has value too. It is a great place to learn from peers, to find the top people in your field, to help people you know by connecting them, and to keep in basic touch with people you already know. But it does not substitute for actual human connections. Imagine my surprise when a well-known HR expert I followed on Twitter actually called to talk with me – a process I learned he does with all his new followers. Although he is not local, we have since met at a conference and exchanged help. Once you connect online, what are you doing to make yourself memorable? To get a connection from the barely-there electrons into a meaningful relationship?

Once you make a potential connection, whether at a networking event or a community/personal one or via a referral, what are you doing to convert that possibility into reality? Telephone calls, a quick coffee, or any other way to make the connection deeper and more meaningful are smart investments of your time for your future.

Tip 2.  Personal Notes

Yes, this tip comes right from what your Mom taught you as a child about thank you notes. Personal notes are fairly rare now. Yet you regularly hear about well-known senior executives and top level politicians who use them consistently. I doubt they know something we don’t – but they do execute better!

Thank you notes are the easiest. Write these in response to something a client or connection has done for you. Remind an old client or boss why you liked working with them. Congratulatory notes are another smart option. Just because you saw an event on LinkedIn or got it via a Google Alert does not mean you have to keep it online, although you certainly can. Advanced points for sending notes once in awhile to send a print article you have read to someone you know will find it of interest – bonus points if you have paid enough attention to do this for a hobby or personal interest.

Tip 3.  Remember the Basics

All of us think our existing clients, past clients, and the people we know well really understand what we do. But ask yours and you will be surprised at some of the answers. How do you combat this?

  • Use a signature for all email and have it say something about your work as well as providing contact information.
  • Use both sides of your business card. A brief description or list of your primary areas of work adds a lot of value and reminds people of all you do.
  • Write a regular newsletter. The difficult trick here is to make and stick to a schedule. Email newsletters are still quite successful marketing tools. Or you can do this as a blog on your website if you remember to publicize each issue on social media or in other ways.
  • Ask your existing and past clients for support or advice. Keeping them involved in your business helps you keep them as clients and referral sources. I recently asked several of my clients two short questions as part of a marketing project and got useful plus surprising answers that have been quite helpful.

Once you have the basics up and running well, then consider whether other social media or marketing materials are useful for your specific audience.

TIP OF THE MONTH

“The best tip I received was learning how to play to my strengths instead of doing what text books told me about building a business. A coach helped me too- so asking for advice and doing some self assessment would be a part of that. For me, this has meant being involved as a volunteer with organizations I like and care about, which in turn lets people see how I work; also going to events and programs that I find interesting rather than going to simply network; and sharing information and strategies and news about the field.” Jennifer Ayers, JL Ayers Consulting

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Securing Your Web Traffic on Google

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  When Google makes changes to its algorithm, technologists and the media take notice. Google is the Search Engine juggernaut responsible for giving you the answers to most of life’s major and minor… Read more »

The post Securing Your Web Traffic on Google appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

Securing Your Traffic on GoogleWhen Google makes changes to its algorithm, technologists and the media take notice. Google is the Search Engine juggernaut responsible for giving you the answers to most of life’s major and minor questions. “What’s the meaning of life?” Google answers, “42.” (If you don’t get the reference, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.) “What is the square root of 345?” Google calculates this as fast as you type the question with, “18.574175621.” Aside from these Google Search hacks, it provides the world with 11.944 billion searches monthly to direct users to information, products and services. This constitutes 75.2% of the United States search market (and 87.1% of the U.S. mobile search market, where most searches take place today)1. In August 2014, Google announced that it was starting to use your website’s security configuration as one of the factors in ranking your website on Google’s search engine results. If you have the correct setup, you won’t be penalized by Google and suppressed on its Search Engine Results Page (SERP). So, in this case, Google made a change to its algorithm…and now small business owners need to take notice.

What Matters to Google Are its Users, and What Matters to Google Matters to Small Business

Google doesn’t often make too many demands of small business websites. It actually goes out of its way to index and show those websites even when most small business websites themselves are actually poorly constructed in the way Google would prefer them to be. After all, their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”2 You can’t do that without scouring websites that can be unsavory, disorganized and sometimes dangerous (i.e., loaded with malicious software). It’s because of this, many computers–your business computers, Web servers where your websites live, and your customer’s computers–are susceptible to being infected by viruses that can be spread to others.

For years, this problem has proliferated and Google users were empowered to report anything that was suspicious about a website that would make Google Search anything less than a quality experience.3 This makes sense as a Google user, that if I have a poor user experience because of spam websites or malicious attacks on my computers, I will stop using Google. And, then a lightbulb went off over at the Googleplex to help Web publishers (i.e., you) secure the data transferred between users and websites they visit from Google Search. A website that secures the data inputted and transferred from their Web host “builds user trust”4 and users who trust Google-referred websites stay happy Google Search users. It all comes down to making Google users contented with safe content so Google will continue to send your business website traffic. Let’s learn a little bit about the mechanics and how to make this Web security happen.

Website Security 101

When you are browsing the World Wide Web, you are doing so by a connection to the Internet through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The World Wide Web itself is merely a small portion of the Internet that’s public and available to mostly everyone in the world. They are connected by links to and from other Web pages and files that can be downloaded. When you browse to a website, you’re actually downloading a series of files that are displayed in such a way that you can consume the information or interact with it. You see this happen usually, instantaneously, and seamlessly through a Web browser like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and/or Apple Safari. The magic happening in the background are hundreds of thousands of lines of Web programming code swimming around Web servers, routers and other hardware, and your computer or mobile device. It’s along this river of information that malicious programmers create programs that lurk in the background to take unsuspecting Web-goers by surprise. It’s as disgusting as a gun-wielding criminal in Central Park, waiting in the bushes after dark to steal your wallet or cellphone, or worse. But, there are things we can do to protect ourselves and our website visitors against these would-be attackers.

From the dawn of digital technologies, there were concerns about privacy and security and so there were people who built protocols for protecting our binary lives. Today, we have several security options (Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) Web protocols). Using the prior analogy, it would be like walking through Central Park and having two police escorts with you along the path letting ne’er-do-wells know that you’re protected and they should stay hidden in the bushes. Enabling these security protocols verifies with an independent, trusted third party that you (as a consumer) are connecting to the website you intended to. Then, it enables that data to be transmitted to and from that website in an encrypted mode.

Encryption can be really complicated and confusing, but in its most basic form, encryption is changing the data to a format a would-be digital villain cannot understand. So, to give an example, let’s take an analog situation. You want to send a secure message to a friend. You swap around the vowels and consonants of the English alphabet, write a letter using this new combination of alphabet, and then you create a chart showing the normal alphabet with your version next to it (a “cipher”). To transfer the message, you give your friend the letter in its encrypted form, and separately you hand the cipher to that friend so they can translate your encrypted messages easily (and future messages perhaps). In the Web world, we have many different strategies similar to this. We add characters, we swap them and several other methods, in order to make sure that someone intercepting that data sees nothing but gibberish and cannot decipher the encryption algorithm.

By enabling SSL or TLS on your website or Web application, in essence, you’re taking advantage of these security techniques for your Web visitors. These visitors to your websites are potential, current and past clients who you don’t want to distrust you, or worse, be infected by malicious software by visiting your website. Again, this makes Google happy because it makes Google users happy.

Note to Government Contractors

Having a secure website is particularly important for anyone hoping to contract or be a subcontractor with the Federal government. Agencies and most large primes, particularly those in the defense and intelligence arenas, are automatically blocked from viewing any website that is not secure. If you do not have a secure website you will be invisible to them.

Next Steps

So, what does this all mean on a practical level? To start with, you will need to obtain an SSL certificate with your domain registrar / Web hosting service (also known as a “CA,” for Certificate Authority). If you don’t know who that is, just type “whois.net/whois/” (no quotation marks) followed by your domain name/URL (e.g., “whois.net/whois/alexandriasbdc.org”) and it will give you some information to lead you to know who you are registered with for domain services. Once you know who your domain registrar is, you will need to purchase a SSL certificate (approximately $30-40 per year). You will be asked to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). This is a bit of code that your server will create that hosts a public key for the SSL certificate; the private key that will also be generated should stay private only to your business.5 Again, don’t share that private key with anyone. After you have produced your CSR, you’ll hand that over to your domain registration service and they will issue you the SSL certificate, and then offer you instructions to apply the security configuration to your website. Every website domain/hosting service is a little to drastically different, but they should provide you with detailed direction to make that happen. You will know you are successful when your website loads with a lock symbol next to your domain name in any Web browser and it shows a HTTPS (secure HTTP) instead of HTTP (not secured) in the URL field.

Subsequent to initializing SSL on your own Web domain, you should now be able to browse to your website and see a lock symbol. This shows you are secure in your data transfer between you and the server, but this is not where the process ends unfortunately. Finally, you will need to make sure all your links to and from your website are themselves HTTPS links (meaning they too have SSL certificates). There are tools for doing this, but I would recommend that you call your Web hosting service and ask them if they have an internal tool for speeding up the process.

After all is said and done, securing your website is not just for Google. It’s so that you are secure in your business data on your website, your customers and Web visitors are safe, Web criminals are discouraged from continuing their malicious efforts, and in the end, this means a safer Internet, and hopefully more business sales for you.

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