Blockchain Is in the Future for Small Business

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. He will also be presenting a workshop on April 17th: “Blockchain for Small Business: What… Read more »

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This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. He will also be presenting a workshop on April 17th: “Blockchain for Small Business: What it is/Marketing/Management Opportunities”. Register here.

Few times in my career as a technologist have I so clearly seen the proverbial writing on the wall regarding a technology that will change the world. And, a technology that is so powerful that it will change the way we do (almost if not) every type of business transaction. But, it’s not the kind of change that you’ll notice on the surface. It’s the type of change that’s subtle. It’s in the way we produce and use the software that is all around us. It’s the way we manage trust among our vendors, suppliers, customers and other parties to business transactions. It’s the way we secure ourselves from the growing concerns of cyber-attacks on our Small Business data and systems. That technology is blockchain and here I explain what blockchain is (in as simple terms as I can).

Invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym used by the unknown inventor(s) of the method behind how it works, in 2008, blockchain is discussed most frequently and popularly as synonymous with the wildly popular and speculative investments in digital currencies today. This is because Nakamoto’s application of the blockchain was used for the cryptocurrency coined Bitcoin in 2009. But, don’t mistake blockchain technology for being only Bitcoin. It’s so much more.

Blockchain is a highly complex way of dealing with digital assets. Thankfully, all of the complicated workings of blockchain happens in the background. Essentially, it is a way of securely validating and sharing data (e.g., digital currency, health records, and contracts) for all parties involved. The way in which you once centralized your data and managed your security, blockchain changes that with the use of many locations where you data is held and some powerful cryptography techniques applied.

If you want to learn more about how blockchain works (and how Small Business opportunities to use blockchain today), attend my upcoming seminar on April 17th. At the seminar, we talk about the real potential for this new technology is to improve security, reliability and validity of data, plus a few innovative ways Small Business can take advantage of this technology today and in the near future.

It’s difficult to fathom but mathematics and algorithms (running atop massive computer power today) has a profound impact on our daily lives. It’s only logical that each iteration of newly-minted, competent technology will also affect business operations and marketing. It’s imperative that you continue to learn about major groundswell changes like that which blockchain brings.

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Small Biz Nightmares: Employees and Security

In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But… Read more »

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In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But what about small businesses?  Studies have shown that 90% of small businesses do not use any data protection at all for company information.  However, last year 61% of cyberattacks were aimed at small businesses, and 60% of small companies that experience a breach go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.

What is a small business owner to do?  The Alexandria SBDC recently presented a webinar with two experts to address what small businesses can do to minimize their cyber threats, particularly the very real threats involved with hiring employees, contractors and vendors.  Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and Elizabeth Moon of Focus Data Solutions set forth in this webinar some concrete and simple steps that all business owners can take today to protect their company data.  It should be viewed by all small business owners and their employees.

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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 their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And,… Read more »

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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 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 offsite 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 – August 15, 2017 – Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage

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.”

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SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security Part 2

This blog was written by Patra Frame and was originally posted on her company website, Strategies for Human Resources. If you missed last week’s video blog on this topic, you can check it out here. Recently Elizabeth Chisman Moon of Focus Data Solutions and I did a seminar on this topic for the Alexandria SBDC. Here… Read more »

The post SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security Part 2 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blog was written by Patra Frame and was originally posted on her company website, Strategies for Human Resources. If you missed last week’s video blog on this topic, you can check it out here.

Employees and SecurityRecently Elizabeth Chisman Moon of Focus Data Solutions and I did a seminar on this topic for the Alexandria SBDC. Here are some basic ideas on managing your risks of security breaches.

Start by developing policies or practices that address the most important security needs of your business. These might include:

  • Use of company equipment and software
  • Use of personal devices for work
  • Social media
  • Basic security procedures (physical and systems)
  • What you consider ‘company confidential’ or sensitive information

Defining what you consider sensitive information is critical. This ensures you know what information deserves extra care in handling and storing so you can protect it. The policy also tells your employees what information you expect them to keep restricted and ensure others do not see. Common types of sensitive or ‘company confidential’ information include:

  • All data relating to services, applications, procedures, and/or products sold by the organization, excluding marketing literature designed for external use
  • Research and/or development materials
  • Information about clients or customers, excluding that within sales or marketing literature produced for external use
  • Contractual arrangements between the organization and its clients or suppliers or vendors
  • Purchasing, pricing, sales, or financial data
  • Personnel data on any employee or ex-employee
  • Information provided by other organizations under confidentiality agreements

Development of basic policies can be done using samples from your professional/trade organizations or your network. However – it is vital to ensure that each policy is designed to support your desired culture. Having such policies checked by your lawyer, appropriate consultants, or vendors is important to ensure you minimize your risks. The policies then provide a basis for orientation of new employees as well as training of all employees and regular reminders on need for each employee to protect the organizations’ assets.

Remember that policies that are difficult or complicated lead to less-secure ‘work-arounds’. For example, all of us have seen the passwords written on sticky notes on the PC or laptop!

When hiring employees, independent contractors, or vendors:

  • Consider security issues as part of hiring process for all
  • Ask questions related to common risks profile in interviewing candidates
  • Check on related issues (impulsive, anti-authority, carelessness) with references

With independent contractors or vendors:

  • Restrict access to your internal networks and to sensitive information
  • Place security requirements and restrictions in contracts.

Security is critical to all businesses.  Cybersecurity is more important than many of us realize as hackers increasingly are targeting small organizations, both for access to their information and as a quick way to make money via ransomware.

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Census Business Builder: Data for Small Businesses

We know how important good data is for small businesses as they develop their business plans or look to grow their businesses. In the past, it has been challenging to get the information needed from a single source. Now, there’s a new tool available to help small businesses with their research needs. Earlier this month,… Read more »

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Census Business BuilderWe know how important good data is for small businesses as they develop their business plans or look to grow their businesses. In the past, it has been challenging to get the information needed from a single source. Now, there’s a new tool available to help small businesses with their research needs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released a tool to help small business owners explore data on demographics and economic information. The tool is called the Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition and provides information that is useful to new small businesses and to those looking to expand. The video below, from the U.S. Census Bureau website, provides an overview of the tool:

The tool was designed to be easy to use and allows each small business owner to select their type of business and anticipated business location. Because the tool is map-based, it is easy for business owners to look at surrounding areas to compare different jurisdictions to their neighboring areas.

The tool also allows users to download and print maps, data, and reports that can then be used in developing business plans or for other research purposes. The tool includes data from the American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, the County Business Patterns, Nonemployer Statistics, the Economic Census, and ESRI data on consumer spending.

Currently, the tool provides information on 49 business types in six categories: construction, food services, health care, personal services, professional services, and retail. The U.S. Census Bureau plans to continue adding business types in future iterations of the tool. Quarterly updates are planned and will include additional content and functionality.

In order to make the site user friendly, the U.S. Census Bureau has developed several video tutorials to walk users through the tool. These answer common questions about how to use the tool and demonstrate several of the features that business owners will find useful.

We are excited for this new tool and the potential it represents for our clients. If you have any questions about this tool or would like more information, please feel free to reach out to us. Happy researching!

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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 »

The post Marketing on a Shoestring Budget 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. 

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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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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Podcasting for Small Business

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.  Terrestrial radio started in the early 20th century when broadcast technology became a reality for the first time. It was then that wartime broadcasts could literally be heard around the world and… Read more »

The post Podcasting for Small Business 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. 

Podcasting for Small BusinessTerrestrial radio started in the early 20th century when broadcast technology became a reality for the first time. It was then that wartime broadcasts could literally be heard around the world and were taken by the United States military for its sole use. Commercially viable radio followed just a few decades later. In 1990s Internet radio broadcasting became a reality, through an now-ancient but then-innovative process of recording and pushing audio to the listening audience in far off places that couldn’t be touched by local broadcasting radio waves in the past. Fast-forward to 20 years ago and a new form of Internet broadcasting was developed out of a need to access audio broadcasts when Internet might not be available and wireless broadband was in its infancy. Podcasting (a portmanteau of Apple’s “iPod” music listening device and “broadcasting”) was born; although, it was called netcasting (as the iPod didn’t exist, combining the words “Internet” and “broadcasting”) until podcasting became the term of popular choice.

Podcasting allowed you to download audio files through a Web feed (think, how a syndicated newspaper column  is placed in many newspapers around the country with modern technology called RSS) into a computer or a mobile listening device. From there, you are able to disconnect from the Internet and consume the broadcast. Podcasting had a heyday because of the unique circumstances (say, technology limitations) of the era. When broadband and the proliferation of streaming audio took off over the next decade, interest in podcasting waned. Many but the ardent podcast listeners thought the medium was dead. And they were wrong.

Podcasting since 2008 has nearly doubled in listening audience, specifically here in the United States and I’m sure those numbers are much larger if taking into account the developed and developing nations. The waxing nature of podcasting comprises several possible factors, including American love of urban sprawl and increased work commutes to our increasing demand for customized news and entertainment. With podcasting you get to choose the programs you listen to, and when you can subscribe to shows as specific as a type of cuisine and as broad as how to fix your car, the options seem endless. Therein lies the business case for podcasting. This cultural and technological Renaissance provides a fantastic opportunity to market your business. Businesses are able to emotionally connect with your audiences one-to-one. You’re literally in their ears and have a good portion of a listener’s attention; in a world of fragmented focus it’s like a California miner striking pay dirt during the Gold Rush Era.

On March 19, Alexandria Small Business Development Center held its first workshop focused solely on podcasting for Small Business. The day was built around helping business owners get most of the requisite strategy and technical/technological skills (or know which they need to further develop them) to launch their first podcast. It was an intense day full of downloading information about Web presence and content market strategy combined with copious laughter, seeing a podcast episode recorded live as a demonstration, and a few tears of sorrow as business and organization leaders read their heartfelt scripts in their rough, first drafts.

The Podcast Workshop was refreshing, and yet surprising.  I knew social media was a powerful platform, but it was not until I took this workshop that I realized just how much this form of communication reaches the masses.  Ray’s enthusiasm while explaining how this method of connecting with millions was infectious.  By the end of the day, I, too, was excited by the many possibilities for my small business using podcasts as well as the opportunity to work with Ray on this next step in growing my business.

Laetitia Pryor, Owner, My Time Feminine Care

If you haven’t yet contemplated podcasting for your small business or organization, the playing field is ripe for local and national Web presence building. The time to invest in a multimedia, multi-channel marketing and engagement strategic campaign is hard work, and totally worth it. You can impact your local communities, increase your brand exposure, and add profit to your bottom line with podcasting. Here’s an free, introductory course on YouTube to podcasting to get you started.

[Watch the entire playlist of podcasting tutorials. It’ll only take an hour!]

Podcasting will only grow over the months and years as more smart technology is infused with the ability to download and play rich media like audio and video in almost every environment you spend time: cars, kitchen (in your refrigerator), smartphones, bathrooms even, and more. Take advantage of this time and prosper by doing so. I look forward to listening to you on my smartphone while running or driving soon.

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