Facebook Dislike Button Debate Rears Its Ugly Head Again

The Facebook Dislike button has been debated for years, requested by many users, and confused Small Business owners on what they should do about it all. As any changes are tested, here is how you should approach your marketing. Let’s

Facebook Dislike Button Debate Rears Its Ugly Head Again - Web and BeyondThe Facebook Dislike button has been debated for years, requested by many users, and confused Small Business owners on what they should do about it all. As any changes are tested, here is how you should approach your marketing.

Let’s start with the facts:

So, what’s a business owner to do about marketing in light of these changes? As I noted in my last article, Is Facebook Really Implementing a Dislike Button?, back in September 2015, about the Facebook Dislike button:

One thing I am sure about and that I’ve counseled all my Small Business clients about is, do not use the feature as a business. This is for a couple of reasons:

1. you don’t know yet how people will come to like or dislike (pun intended) the new feature;

2. unless you really are in a business where showing empathy and invading someone’s personal life makes sense, it’s likely inappropriate for your business (and just plain creepy) to be offering condolences about, say, a family’s loved one passing away; and,

3. if you (again) really are in a business where you have that kind of relationship with your customers or clients, you should be writing a comment to show genuine concern or sending a personalized, private message to your customers or clients. If you’ve lost a loved one or something powerful has negatively impacted your life, how dismissed would you feel to get a click-of-a-button response from your favorite business? I thought so.

A community’s culture changes slowly and any release of a major feature can become an animal of its own kind. There’s no sense in getting caught up in a feature that the media will likely report on only the salacious, shocking and negative. Of course, if there’s a legitimate argument for using these tools (see nos. 2 and 3 above, or if reporting spam/abuse), go for it.

My general recommendation is to do nothing with any Dislike features. Ignore the hype and focus on creating positive, useful content with a coordinated sales strategy.

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain

I’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo,

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain - Web and BeyondI’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or any other free email address that’s not [email protected], you are missing out on an amazing marketing opportunity. And, you’re likely hurting your professional reputation. I’d like to unpack how branding your email address is as important as your business website’s domain, and ways in which you can take advantage of a branded email address by getting and using it.

Professional Reputation and Legitimacy

Think about the ubiquity of email in business today. And you’re telling people implicitly to visit AOL or Yahoo instead of your company’s website by not having a brand-enabled email address. As well, some people look down on your business or don’t see you as stable by using a free email service.

As an example, I get at least one email a week from a purported Small Business owner asking me if we can help them with their website and whether we “take credit cards.” It’s the strange way the senders write their email messages that make it a dead giveaway that it’s a scam, but their email addresses are always from generic email services. Identifying this kind of scam spam is important for everyone receiving email today. I see email from those I don’t know and I immediately don’t give them as much credibility because they so similar to those that aren’t legitimate. We all only have so much time in the day to manage our email and if you decrease your legitimacy factors to not only spam filters, but to the humans trying to identify you as a real business, having a professional email address is vital.

Furthermore, when you create a branded email account and their accompanied aliases, you can setup DMARC records for your email accounts (as well as DKIM and SPF), which is an email-validation system so that when mail exchange servers receive, they know it’s coming from you (or third-party services you’ve approved to send on your behalf, like your email marketing software). This increases chances you get into the inbox of your intended recipient in the first place.

Proper Email Boundaries

Turn off your email when you are away from the office, whether for just a few days or on a multi-week vacation. That’s simply a free bit of life-work balance for you as an entrepreneur.  However, setting good email boundaries and expectations is a form of customer service (which is, in my opinion, a part of the marketing department in small businesses). When you use your personal email account for business email, now you have conflated those two roles in your life. This makes it difficult when you wake the screen on your phone in the morning on vacation and you see an “important” email message from a client. Instead of that client getting a professional automated response noting that you’re away and when you’ll respond (logically), you react (emotionally). Responding to email messages when you’re in work mode is always going to be better than reacting when you’re trying to rest and rejuvenate.

I personally don’t check my personal email accounts that often, but when I’m on vacation I turn off my work email accounts and switch my personal email accounts to notify me as messages come in. I’m usually traveling and wanting higher engagement with my friends and family at those times, and having a separated business email account structure gives me the comfort in knowing those email messages coming in are the right context for me at any given time.

As well, using a branded email, I can add the appropriate persons in my company to contact in my absence via my autoresponder “away” message, or I can forward specific client emails to staff, should they be able to help in my stead.

Marketing Your Website

Your website is where sales happen. And, it takes time, energy and resources getting visitors to your business website. So, why would you squander the marketing opportunity to expose your website domain name to people with whom you share your email address? When someone meets you and receives your email address, this is the chance to get them to become curious in checking out your website. But, you most often than not won’t ask them directly to visit your website. By, giving them a branded email to stay in touch, say, at a networking event, you have planted some curiosity for them to check out your website when they see [email protected]

For different marketing campaigns you can set up forwarding email addresses (which are not real email accounts, but merely fronts for forwarding inbound email along to another email address of your choice). So, when leads and potential clients email you from a business card, flyer, postcard or brochure, you can identify from where they learned about you and/or your business.

As well, your email is more memorable when it’s [email protected] When you give someone a generic email address, like [email protected] or [email protected], it’s harder to remember why they were going to email you or what your name or your business name is.

A good rule of thumb: whenever you have an appropriate chance to share your website domain name, do so.

Present Yourself (as Bigger or Smaller) Depending on your Business Situation

With branded email, you can create accounts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] These represent departmental emails that go to the correct person for handling inbound messages. In a Small Business, all these hats may be centralized to a few people, if not one person–you. But, your clients don’t need to know that!

Also, as I do, I have separate public and private email addresses. I use my public email address for all public-facing marketing materials, such as when I present to audiences at workshops and seminars. However, I have a private email address that’s only used between my staff and me so that those messages can be segmented and focused on our client needs, and not distract me from all the other email I get every day. This public-facing email is also a shared account with my assistant so email I don’t need to deal with can be processed and organized while I’m in meetings, presenting seminars, or teaching workshops. The remaining, non-time sensitive email messages from the public email address will then we be waiting for me when I get to it.

Branded Email Is Low-Cost and High-Value

I think a big concern for most business owners, established and startup alike, is that branded email is going to cost a fortune. And, the reality is, that most branded email today is very cost effective.

By hosting with a proper email hosting service provider, you get technical support. Email is important for your business and free email services don’t have any guarantees about their uptime. But, your email hosting provider will be able to give you 99.9% uptime guarantees.

As you might imagine as the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, I’m a huge fan of G Suite, Google’s business productivity suite. It includes almost every type of software a business owner needs today to get started and grow their business over time; what’s not available in G Suite proper is possible through an integration partner in the G Suite Marketplace. But, to our topic at hand, every G Suite license comes with branded email powered by Gmail. This is substantially and substantively different than consumer-grade Gmail as G Suite email is your business data, owned by you, private, no advertising, and secure. Yet, it has all the features you have come to love about Gmail; it does have the ability to turn off features you don’t like. As well, for those who are in a Microsoft-preferred ecosystem, you can get business email through Office 365 Business Premium or Exchange.

Also, W3 Consulting’s Web Services provides 100 free email forwarding aliases for departmental email addresses (as I indicated above, such as [email protected], [email protected], etc.) with the purchase of any domain registration or Managed WordPress hosting purchase. These will forward to one or several email addresses in your company that cover the appropriate roles. If you’re using G Suite, you can create these within the Admin Console as Groups.

Protecting your Brand with Employee Emails

When you hire new employees, you want them to use your company’s email address when corresponding with clients. This not only positions them professionally and legitimately as acting on behalf of your company, but it also gives some protections for you and your employee.

When an employee leaves, you don’t lose control over that email account. You can change the email alias (which is the yourname in [email protected]) and direct it to your email or another employee’s email account when an employee resigns or the business terminates an employee. This continuity with your client communications is very important in marketing and other operations management areas of the business.

How to Create a Branded Email Account for your Business

It’s increasingly easier to get your branded email account set up for your business today.

If you didn’t know, you can have branded email without having a business website yet. I recommend that you have your business’ branded email account set up as soon as possible when you are starting out. You can plan and launch your website thereafter, but it’s never too early to get your audience aware of your business website’s domain.

So, here are the basic steps to getting your branded email account for your business.

  1. Register a business domain name, which you want to use for your business and email.
  2. Decide on your business email hosting provider, whether that’s G Suite or another email hosting provider.
  3. Set your domain’s MX (mail exchange) records in your Domain Manager to direct to your email hosting provider.
  4. Now, choose an email program that you want to handle your email management on desktop and mobile. From your email hosting provider, get the email setup information so you can establish control over the branded email within your software on both desktop and mobile.
  5. Create a professional email signature for your email account, and you’re ready to go!

Do you have any questions about branding your email address? How about creating a branded email address? Feel free to contact us, or comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer questions or direct you to a resource that can help!

The Storefront Design Process: Architecture? Graphic Design? Signage Design? Display, All of the Above

Anatomy of a Design Concept. For more information or to see image enlargements please contact us here.

Client’s Visions – Clients often call me because they see something  suggestive in the portfolio on our site and want to create a similar look or physical presence for their own businesses. They may entertain visions of compelling displays that increase awareness and transform window shoppers into customers, or perhaps it is about creating and reinforcing an organization’s image, idea, point of view, or brand.

Design is a Process – Whatever the motivation, few would dispute that successful design is part and parcel of equally successful marketing campaigns evolving from resources and collaborations requiring lots of man hours. Design is a process which is always, at least on some level, retail.

Not a Commodity – Yet the business environment, including the traditional “fee for service” world in which most of us work, leads many to conclude that design is a commodity, something to be ordered from a price list. It forces an architect to quantify a client’s vision for a project into a competitive proposal before any serious work is done towards understanding that vision. It can be limiting and is often fraught with undefined expectations. It is not a model that works very well in a collaborative environment. Nevertheless, it always determines if and how a project moves forward.

Reconciliation – Overcoming this disparity has been a longtime goal of ours.  Consider this: if I tell a client that the fee for architectural services on a project will be a fixed amount, he may want to negotiate some concession, etc., but in general he feels secure and accepts the fee. If, on the other hand, I tell this client that the fee will not exceed a certain amount, he/she is thrown into a state of indecision and becomes unsure about how to proceed. Ask your self why? What makes a client back away, sometimes even leaving off an entire project?

Expressing a Vision – The answer is surprisingly simple. Both models require and deliver basically the same thing, that being a new design in which the client has participated. The difference is that, with the “not to exceed” fee for service model, the client is made aware that he is an active participant in the design process and as such has the ability, by effective communication, to affect not only the outcome, but also its final cost. This places some responsibility for a successful project squarely in the lap of the one who launched it. It also increases the chances of success. After all, are not we, as architects and designers, facilitators, charged with expressing a clients vision?

Demonstrating the Process – The concept images shown above demonstrate a design process. They become progressively more complete until the final design is reached in the last image. Each separate image is the result of direct communication, correction and comments from the client, who was involved in every step, beginning with the most basic parti up to final design approval.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Me and My Arrow: Recruiting in the Digital Age Part 3

Here’s a truth for you: You can’t talk about a 21st-Century recruiting strategy without talking about social media. And you can’t talk about social media recruiting without talking about employer branding. So, let’s talk about it. Social media is an ef…

Here’s a truth for you: You can’t talk about a 21st-Century recruiting strategy without talking about social media. And you can’t talk about social media recruiting without talking about employer branding. So, let’s talk about it. Social media is an effective recruitment tool not just because it can reach vast audiences, but because it highlights the values, goals, achievements and ...

Don’t overlook the construction details.

Customers notice the details. They can tell if a contractor has cut corners. The transition detail in B above was installed instead of the one shown in A below. As architects we can observe the construction and point out discrepancies, but it is the client that must insist that a contractor exactly follow the details shown on the construction drawings. It is to their advantage to do so.
This bargain-basement installation detail interferes with the nice contrast between the carpet and tile.

What makes a store look expensive? Way back in 2013 I wrote a post on this site asking if a higher price could be placed on merchandise because the store design looks expensive? The post was about the impact that a curved ceiling might be expected to have on what is generally considered inexpensive merchandise. I concluded that answering the question about pricing was related to how well the design feature performed, which in the particular case in questions was quite well. I bring this up again here because I want to consider the topic in a more subtle, yet possibly more important context, that being what makes a store design look expensive?

Customers notice everything. Answering this questions means that a retailer needs to pay attention to what people notice, which is everything, whether consciously or not. The importance of “creating a shopping experience” has been a fact of retail life for quite a while now. Back in 2013 one of the retail marketers summed it up nicely when she said, “..retailers should use stores to create a brand experience that customers couldn’t possibly get online.” She went on to cite the “old adage” that “retail is detail,” saying, “stores can engage all five senses;” the online world cannot. Few would argue that the perception of quality involves more that just an online image; that tactile contact with a product is critical, including how it is displayed; that successful retailers aspire to demonstrate quality in every possible aspect of their store, because quality sells, often for more.

The refined transition detail in image A above sends a message of quality, It is what we typically specify in this situation. This contractor exactly followed the details on the construction drawings with positive results.
A refined transition strip is barely there, putting the attention on the contrasting finish materials.

The importance of quality. Clearly, since sales are seen as directly effected, most retailers are acutely aware of the quality of products they bring to the market, including a range of related price points. This is their main business and most get it right. Merchandise displays, because they are driven by practicality, are also less prone to failures in quality. Matching their actual store environment, on the other hand, is where things can begin to fall apart. Finishes, In particular, are vulnerable. Think:

  • sagging carpet,
  • old leaks exposed and never repainted,
  • light fixtures with burned out lamps,
  • cheap, broken or mismatched ceiling tiles & floor tiles,
  • stained and dirty hvac supply and return air diffusers,
  • dirty windows.

Is it really possible that customers do not notice these things, that they do not reflect on the perceived merchandise quality, that they do not contribute to a customers notion of the brand? Another marketing pundit put is this way, ” a business should always strive and prove to be the best that money can afford because that solid reputation will establish a top brand that’s reliable and worthy of respect.” I couldn’t agree more.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners

Every year, a small subset of small business owners that I meet lament that they were not prepared for the “holiday marketing season.” That is, they say they were not prepared with their holiday marketing campaign in time to take full advantage of it. Don’t let this be you! Before you know it, the winter… Read more »

The post Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Every year, a small subset of small business owners that I meet lament that they were not prepared for the “holiday marketing season.” That is, they say they were not prepared with their holiday marketing campaign in time to take full advantage of it. Don’t let this be you! Before you know it, the winter holidays season will be upon you. After all, there are less than 12 weeks until Christmas as of the time of publishing this article.

This period is prime time for every type of business—brick-and-mortar retail, service-based, manufacturing, and online businesses alike—to make a plan to reach out to customers, even if it’s not for the winter holidays season. Now is the time to start preparin

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy Visit Alexandria

g and executing the background plans to be ready with your annual marketing campaigns!

Holiday marketing is a year-round event

The first bit of advice is to understand that holiday marketing campaigns are not just for the winter holidays season. Yes, according to the Retail Marketing Federation, the winter holidays (Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and to some extent, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day) spending rings in at more than half-a-trillion dollars (that’s 10 zeroes before the decimal!). But, that’s not the whole story.

Consumers don’t only spend leading up to and for the winter holidays. They spend year-round at strategic times. It’s important for you as a small business owner to know when those times are that your specific consumers are buying. If you look back at your prior sales and revenue reports in your accounting software, you should be able to see where peaks and valleys are in purchasing. As well, speak with your local businesses and/or retail stores that have similar target audiences (and this doesn’t mean you have to talk to your competitors necessarily) to learn about their experiences for when the highs and lows are in their businesses’ sales and revenues throughout the year.

You might learn that the winter holidays season is actually not the best time for you to spend your hard-earned money and your hard-fought time on acquiring new business. (And, it might be and that’s good to have confirmation.)

What are the holidays that you can market to business on?

In that vein, it’s a good idea to find anchors in the calendar to have a reason to reach out to your current and past customers, and do pull marketing for potential customers. There are several events throughout the year and even more holidays than Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

Once you’ve identified the months, weeks, and days that are important to get in front of your audience, you have the background to create an editorial calendar and marketing plan. You then have the opportunity to execute the plan. And, finally, you should track what works and what doesn’t. This will information you for the future years’ planning. Also, beware of confirmation bias; sometimes Small Business owners see a small subset of success or failure and take that as the whole picture.

What’s the message you’d like to convey to your customers, or the goal of reaching out to them at all?

While decorating your front-facing retail spaces, website, email newsletter, and even your Google My Business listing, are important to your holiday marketing campaigns, these are vehicles to a message you want to send to your potential, current and past clients. What are you trying to say?

If you’re reaching out to clients during Thanksgiving, are you sending a message of appreciation/gratitude? That’s not necessarily “buy from me” and may not be as effective for sales, but for goodwill.

Are you networking among your other clients (especially if you’re B2B, but this works with B2C)? You might host an event–doggie happy hour, lady’s shoe club, or wine and cheese open house.

Are you celebrating a big anniversary of being in business? Use this as an opportunity to feature your best clients, because others who are like that best client will be drawn to connect with your business as well.

Is this a special promotion campaign? Be it a sneak peak of future products, discounts, free shipping/handling for your best customers, or something more creative (a la ugly sweater contest benefiting

a local charity), make sure your customers know what you’re offering.

Understand well what you’re trying to communicate and then work backward on the tactics you’re going to use to effectuate that.

If you landed on this article at the tail-end of the holiday marketing season, there are last-minute holiday marketing tactics. And, start planning for next year now, so you don’t get stuck in this position again! Good luck, and happy holidays!

The post Holiday Marketing Campaigns – Some Advice to Small Business Owners appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

It’s not too early to begin holiday planning

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017. Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that… Read more »

The post It’s not too early to begin holiday planning appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017.

Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

It’s never too early to start planning for the season. It’s Alexandria’s time to shine, and a critical time for retail revenue. Our colleagues at Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated a cross section of business, city government and economic development representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria shopping districts face even stiffer competition this year from a broader variety of shopping options, and each of them are putting substantial efforts toward attracting their own shoppers and diners. Some of them are our f

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy ACVA

amiliar competitors but there are new venues for Alexandria to vie with. Washington D.C.’s The Wharf opens soon, billing itself as “the most exciting neighborhood in the history of the nation’s capital” and “a true waterfront destination.”

Many of our competitors have their own business improvement districts that plan, fund and oversee cohesive approaches to holiday décor, promotion and events. That coordinated approach often fashions a sophisticated holiday atmosphere and creates an appealing buzz for shoppers and diners.

Even without a central coordinator, Alexandria businesses and organizations are undertaking to work collaboratively to encourage individual merchants and business groups to up Alexandria’s holiday game with lighting, holiday designs, promotions and events. Holiday efforts are so much more spectacular when they are coordinated.

Alexandria has several things going for it. One of those is authenticity. Ours are the genuine charming neighborhoods and sidewalks where many generations have shopped and dined. Another of our strengths is our concentration of small businesses. Even while large retail chains downsize, there’s a growing appeal to shopping with small and unique, independent merchants.

There’s another trend toward experiential retail, and several of Alexandria’s merchants are regarded as destinations for their marketing and shopper experience. Hopefully, others will attain that status by refining their products or services, improving customer interaction, and upping their merchandising and marketing.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides specialized retail resources including store visits by retail, merchandising or food service experts; and educational programs on a variety of timely topics such as retail hiring, retail trends, and advertising on social media platforms. This fall we’ve engaged a window display and merchandising expert to guide merchants in developing their holiday decorating, lighting and merchandising strategies.

It takes extra effort to get into the spirit of the holidays in the dog days of summer, but the success of our long holiday season is worth it. As was said by that great philosopher, Roger Staubach, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to have spectacular results in both business and football.”

Happy Holidays.

The post It’s not too early to begin holiday planning appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Cybersecurity for Small Business: It Doesn’t Keep You Up at Night? It Should!

If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support

Cybersecurity for Small BusinessIf you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And, these cyberattacks were not even the primary targets of most attacks in the world. Hackers today find it lucrative to target businesses and, more specifically, North America-based small businesses.

Hackers have breached about 14 million small businesses in the last year, and most don’t know it. Cybersecurity for Small Business might sound obscure if you’re in business on “Main Street” and don’t sell online. However, it’s one of the most important management areas of your business to focus on today. Cybersecurity itself means protecting your digital world from attacks in a variety of forms so you can focus on running and growing your business.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can buy antivirus software for your desktop computer and all your digital worries can go away; it’s part of the solution but it’s not the whole solution. There are many ways in which hackers can penetrate your personal, your business, your employees, and your customers’ machines and access data with intent to steal or get access to that equipment for nefarious reasons. Frequently, the reasoning doesn’t make sense on the surface so you aren’t suspicious, and this can be the most dangerous cybersecurity breaches because you are unaware for so long.

I’ll use the colloquial term “cybercrime” throughout this discussion to cover the wide variety of crimes, unethical tactics, and downright immoral practices of individuals and companies against personal and business systems and their data. These cybercrimes include, but are not limited to,

  • hacking your digital devices (which could be your smartphone, computers and laptops, Point of Sale terminals, credit card machines, and similar devices),
  • hacking your digital services (think about your website, email, cloud storage, and online services),
  • blatant physical theft (ergo, larceny) of digital equipment to get the underlying data,
  • data theft,
  • phishing,
  • stalking,
  • identity theft,
  • wire tapping,
  • denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your servers to shut down your websites,
  • email bombing (the equivalent of a DoS/DDoS attack, but with a volume of email messages sent to you instead of HTTP requests to the server), and
  • injection of malware (malicious software), ransomware (taking data to make you pay to gain get it back), and other types of software that do dubious actions to your digital environment.

Now isn’t this a Charlie Foxtrot, eh? I know it’s daunting and it might scare and overwhelm you. It’s understandable that you may feel this way. But, as a business owner in the Internet Age, you must head cybercrime off at the pass, or risk losing time, money, and clients. Thankfully, there are some common sense ways to deal with cybercrime, so you can rest at ease knowing your digital world is safe and get back to running your business.

Physical security of hardware

Every Small Business should have physical security protocols for all digital devices (phones, external hard drives, computers should be secured in place so they cannot be easily picked up and run away with, laptops / tablets / credit card readers should be secured in locked storage when not in use.

Your next best defense since people are fallible, is to have an off-site backup. This can include making a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive and taking it someplace away from the business location, and/or using a cloud storage backup service such as Carbonite, Crashplan, or even Google Backup and Sync.

Something that some businesses are starting to do as well, when all else fails, is to make sure their business liability insurance cover physical theft. And, you should know that there are cyber security risk / liability insurance policies available for damages and losses from digital means.

Physical access to systems (users)

When it comes to physical access to systems, your users should be guided by an effective Digital Device Policy and include protocols for:

  • How to create employee user accounts and assign only the administrative/user privileges needed for them to perform in their role.
  • Give users physical access to systems only at the times needed to satisfy their assignments, and not give access to unnecessary systems at all. If employees don’t need access to your server room, don’t give it to them.
  • For  how to allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) employees at your business. You should have in place a policy for managing BYOD’s. Employees must use and abide by these security protocols on their mobile devices, if they use personal devices at work.

Separation of personal and business devices

You separate your business and personal finances, because you need to track what is yours and what is your business’, even if only for tax purposes. The same goes with cybersecurity. You need separate personal and business logins for online accounts. This may also include hardware, like the phone you use to make and receive personal or work calls. Will your ISP or telecommunications provider have protections in place if you’re using your consumer service for business purposes? Probably not. The fine print matters here.

Software protections

Since the late 1990s there has been antivirus and anti-spyware software. And, yet, business owners resist installing reputable antivirus software on their business machines. While some have costs associated with them, many are free and built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender. You simply need to activate them. But, if you have purchased a license for one not built into your operating system, please make sure that your license is still valid and the software are kept up-to-date (including your mobile phones and devices). Also, firewalls keep your computer, and any devices or routers connected to the Internet safer, especially your Web browsers (all of them, even if you don’t use them all, all of the time), must have firewall protection. Again, on Microsoft Windows, there’s Windows Firewall that simply needs to be enabled.

VPN when on WiFi on anyone else’s network

If you spend much of your time on other people’s WiFi, then you need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your business data trafficking across the network. This includes any open WiFi network at your local cafe and if you’re working at a coworking space or even at your client’s site. No network outside your firewall can be trusted to be secure. A VPN product you can try for 500MB per month for free is TunnelBear and if you use more data than that per month across your business, then you can upgrade.

Web browsing and email protections

As a business owner (and advising your staff similarly), don’t open suspect emails and don’t transact any personal or private information about yourself via email. Period.

At the core of most Web and email protection is antivirus and spam-filtering software, so it’s definitely recommended that your ESP (email service provider) and/or ISP (Internet service provider) give you options for protecting and securing your Web and email traffic. However, that’s simply not enough for a business today.

In addition to such protective software, you should also seek out information on implementing SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC as available through your ESP.

It also doesn’t hurt to enable two-factor authentication (a/k/a 2FA or TFA) on all online services that have the capability. Where possible, use a password manager, such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, to not only use unique passwords for every online account you have for the business, but also long passwords with unique passwords to increase its resilience to attacks.

Mobile security

As more and more computing happens on mobile devices, security on them will become the dominant concern for small business owners. But, mobile doesn’t simply stop there. With the advent of Internet of Things (embedded “smart” technology in everyday things), wearable technologies, smart vehicle systems (Android Auto, anyone?), and voice assistants (like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home, and, the newcomer, Apple HomePod), cybersecurity needs expand to have to meet those new frontiers.

It’s so important for Small Business to have their representatives’ support when it comes to combatting cybercrime against them and their customers. In April, a bipartisan small business cybersecurity bill was introduced by nine senators—the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act of 2017. Sadly, this bill, according to Skopos Labs as detailed on GovTrack.us, has a 3% chance of becoming law. This is a commonsense piece of legislation to get the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), “to disseminate resources to help reduce small business cybersecurity risks, and for other purposes.” Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you support S. 770 and they should support their small business voters by supporting this bill.

Also, if you’re scared senseless and you need help, never fear. Contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and we can refer you to professional security consultants who can help you.

Next Roundtable – Sizing Up the Competition

Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts a monthly Business Development Roundtable from January to November. We meet in our main conference at noon on the third Tuesday of the month, and you can bring a beverage or your lunch, for a different business marketing or management topic that’s pertinent to Alexandria Small Business. Join us on August 15, 2017 at noon, when we gather to discuss “Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage.”