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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Social Media Content Curation Using Feedly

You’re a business owner and you have a business to run. However, creating content for Social Media is important, if you have the right sales infrastructure in place! It’s sometimes a distraction to focus solely on content creation when other

You’re a business owner and you have a business to run. However, creating content for Social Media is important, if you have the right sales infrastructure in place! It’s sometimes a distraction to focus solely on content creation when other

Be Prepared… You Never Know…

We received the following notice last evening from SBDC friend, colleague, and social media guru, Ray Sidney-Smith.  It is important information on being prepared for any emergency, and how being prepared can save your business.  All small businesses and organizations should take note: Dear Clients and Colleagues, As some of you have heard, our office… Read more »

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We received the following notice last evening from SBDC friend, colleague, and social media guru, Ray Sidney-Smith.  It is important information on being prepared for any emergency, and how being prepared can save your business.  All small businesses and organizations should take note:

Dear Clients and Colleagues,

As some of you have heard, our office building, located across from the GMU Arlington campus, experienced a fire last evening. I wanted to send this (hopefully) brief message to explain a few things that will be useful to everyone.

First, the fire was on the fourth floor and so our office suite was not directly in the blaze. Unfortunately, water and smoke we are presuming did the worst it could. It’s an active investigation so we’re unable to enter the building or office suite to see the extent of the damage. No one died or was injured during this ordeal, thank goodness.

That said, thanks to my sometimes manic imperative that everything be done in our Web-based infrastructure, no data was lost or is compromised. Our business operations will continue to function as normal, perhaps with a few delays in responding as we manage around the situation. We thank you for your understanding.

Finally, I cannot impress upon everyone the importance that these “acts of God” (or, acts of arsonists, hackers and other criminals) can and will happen…it’s simply a matter of time. Please make sure you have backups (cloud and offsite) and disaster response and recovery plans in place, as we did. These are always emotional experiences, but knowing what to do and how in writing was a gift from my past self to my present self. I really hope that this experience sparks some of you to do what’s needed to be prepared.

Best regards,
Ray Sidney-Smith
W3 Consulting

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There’s No Age Limit for Success

Ageism is a real problem in hiring, and yet it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Let’s start with the numbers. A 2017 study, “Age Discrimination and Hiring Older Workers” conducted by David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button, was p…

Ageism is a real problem in hiring, and yet it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Let’s start with the numbers. A 2017 study, “Age Discrimination and Hiring Older Workers” conducted by David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button, was particularly damning in its findings. Neumark, Burn, and Button discovered that there exists a statistically significant difference in ...

Responding to Google Reviews — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little abou…

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little about

Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From?

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community. As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?”… Read more »

The post Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community.

As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?” “How much money are they spending?” “On what are they spending their money?” and “How important is visitor spending to the Alexandria economy?”. In the past, we answered these questions by relying on data sources like website analytics, advertising tracking pixels, visitor center traffic, and survey data.

Out of all these methods, survey data provides the most detail on how money is spent, but it is imprecise and reliant on human recall. Let’s say we ask someone if they’ve visited Alexandria in the past year. They respond, “Yes, I visited 8 months ago.”  We can ask them what they spent on lodging, restaurants, shopping, etc., and they almost certainly won’t be able to do better than a rough estimate. Furthermore, this method is subject to sampling error.

For several years, Visit Alexandria has been looking at ways to gather more reliable information.  We discovered that the nation’s largest credit card provider, Visa, has a “big data” product known as VisaVue. This product provides spending data for a given location in 24 different merchant categories. Perhaps most interestingly, the spending is broken down by the cardholder’s source location (at the metropolitan statistical area level). By partnering with Virginia Tourism Corporation and Visit Virginia Beach, Visit Alexandria was able to purchase the VisaVue product recently at an affordable price.

Visit Alexandria breaks its marketing campaign into two broad categories: 1) Destination, targeting those overnight guests from outside of the DC region, and 2) Regional, targeting those daytrippers that live outside of Alexandria but within the DC region. Our destination campaign is by far the larger effort, as our primary mission is to drive overnight stays in Alexandria and increase visitor spending. According to a 2014 survey-based study conducted by Destination Analysts, on a per person basis, overnight visitors to Alexandria spend about 3 times as much per trip as day visitors. That said, we were excited because the VisaVue data could give us a better understanding of how big the spending (and thereby tax revenue) impact is in key sectors from locals, regional visitors, and destination visitors.

The VisaVue data represents all domestic Visa credit and debit transactions, which were over $1 billion in City of Alexandria spending in calendar year 2016. This represents about 1/3 of all spending in lodging, restaurant, and retail categories.  Because Visa is widely used for both business and consumer spending at many income levels, we feel that this data is generally reflective of spending in Alexandria as a whole. And, because it is an accounting of ACTUAL consumer spending, it does not have the limitations discussed earlier that relate to self-reported data from surveys.

By determining Visa spending patterns according to source location, we can then extrapolate these patterns out to all spending (under the assumption that Visa spending in Alexandria is generally reflective of all spending behavior). Then we can apply these patterns to tax collection data from the City of Alexandria in order to determine the estimated share of local taxes that are paid by Destination visitors (from outside the region), Regional visitors (people from the DC region but outside of Alexandria), and those local to Alexandria. The results are below:

The headline here is that 71% of consumption taxes (restaurant, lodging, and sales) paid to the City of Alexandria come directly from people who are non-residents.  That $44 million translates to a savings of about $590 per Alexandria household. The revenue generated by visitor spending reduces the pressure on other taxes on residents like property taxes. You’ll notice that the consumption spending by destination visitors is roughly the same as that by all Alexandria residents.  And perhaps most surprisingly, spending from regional visitors have the largest impact, with 43% of all spending in these categories.

As you might expect, when it comes to lodging, destination visitors do the vast majority of the spending. However, there is still a share of spending that comes from within the region, presumably for staycations, business travel booked by companies within the region for those travelling to Alexandria, or locals booking a hotel for friends and relatives staying in Alexandria.

For the meals tax, which includes spending at both full-service restaurants and quick-service establishments, half is paid by regional visitors and 19% is paid by those visiting from outside the DC region.  Remember that this data is citywide; we would expect that the share of destination visitor spending would likely be much greater than the chart above in Old Town, and smaller than the chart above in locally-driven neighborhoods (e.g., Potomac Yard, West End).

The story is similar when it comes to the sales tax. Since the sales tax is applied to a wide range of spending, we combined VisaVue data from a whole host of retail and restaurant categories for this calculation.  This chart shows us that while retail is a bit more locally driven than lodging and dining, it still owes the majority of economic activity to non-Alexandrians.  That’s remarkable given that a huge portion of this tax is paid at places like supermarkets where spending is predominantly locally-driven.

There’s much more to learn from this rich data set. In the coming months, we’ll be doing a more detailed analysis at the metropolitan area level to inform our advertising marketing selection for the upcoming year.  Does Norfolk provide more visitor spending per capita than Philadelphia? Once they arrive, do people from New York City spend more per trip than people from Atlanta?  How much of our visitation comes from a closer, smaller city like Richmond versus a more distant, large metropolis like Chicago? We’ll be using the VisaVue data, among other sources, to better understand the answers to these questions.

What we already have learned, however, is significant. Marketing to destination visitors will always be our primary task, but given the scale of the impact on our tax revenue from regional visitors we are looking for opportunities to increase our efforts there as well. And the broader finding that 71% of retail, restaurant, and lodging spending comes from non-residents tells us that Alexandria’s economy is dependent on being welcoming to all, whether they are from Arlington, Virginia or Arlington, Texas.

Vito Fiore is the Director of Marketing and Research at Visit Alexandria. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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Getting (Mostly Good) Google Reviews

Google commands nearly 80% of Web and 90% of mobile search traffic on the planet. With global search leaders such as Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft), and Baidu (in China) still commanding between 5 and 15 percent each, they are forces not

Getting Mostly Good Google Reviews - Web and BeyondGoogle commands nearly 80% of Web and 90% of mobile search traffic on the planet. With global search leaders such as Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft), and Baidu (in China) still commanding between 5 and 15 percent each, they are forces not to be ignored, but we know the clear winner of this battle in the war for consumers’ attention. People google things. And, they’re googling your business’ products or services to see Google reviews.

So Google has decided that these local reviews of your products or services are important to the decision-making process for consumers. And, if the search juggernaut thinks this is important, it’s best to take advantage of the opportunity that Google’s review platform provides (which is built within Google Maps and is managed with the Google My Business dashboard).

Often, local businesses don’t understand how to gain traction with Google reviews. Or, they don’t understand Google’s review policy. So, here I’d like to outline how to take your business to the next level with getting (mostly good) Google reviews.

Note: If you have a bad product, service, location, staff or customer service, this methodology won’t help you, unless you decide to fix these management/operations issues. I can’t also help you remove Google reviews. If the problem is deeper than that and not working, I’d head over to the Google My Business community to learn how to handle spam, fraudulent, and other wrongful review issues.

Get Your Google My Business Listing Completed Fully | Getting Google Reviews

To start, get your business listing claimed and verified. Not everyone can have a business listing on Google My Business; I don’t make the rules, but you do need to follow them. You will need a Google account (or G Suite account), so create one or sign in using yours to Google My Business, then follow the “get your business listing claimed and verified” support article. While you can do this on a mobile device, I recommend doing so from your desktop Web browser so you have all functionality available to you.

Set Your Review Capture System Up | Getting Google Reviews

Now that you have your business listing claimed and verified, you can watching the Google reviews pour in, right? Uhm, no. Sorry. There’s still quite a bit of work ahead. But, that’s an important milestone on your way to getting (mostly good) Google reviews! To really start getting the reviews flowing, follow my three-step process for soliciting and capturing customers’ reviews on Google.

Step One

Get your Google Review link. I don’t know them, but (for creating such a great tool and being Canadian, I can’t help but think they’re good and nice people) the folks over at White Spark agency have provided the free Google Review Link Generator.

Step Two

Create a special customer service email address that is handled by someone dedicated to handling negative feedback, preferably you or someone high enough to make substantive, timely decisions and actions to turn unsatisfied customers into raving brand advocates.

A happy customer who buys and leaves your business and says nothing about you to anyone is of no really value in the world of reviews. An unhappy customer that you’ve helped fix their issue is one that will tell many more people about his or her experience and has a great value to you for review purposes! Seize opportunities of unhappy customers turned happy ones, and the meat of how to do this is in Step Three.

Step Three

Send your customers either upon purchase, delivery or at their highest satisfaction peak in your relationship, a review request. Turn this into a system that is executed precisely and consistently throughout your business operations.

This review request communication will read something like this:

Hi, [Customer’s Name],

We appreciate your business! As part of our process to continually make good on our [product/service] and our customer service promises, we would really appreciate your feedback. This also helps new customers evaluate our [product/service/business] and helps us grow our business to continue living up to our standards. Could you take a few minutes to review us?

Yes, I love our [product/service]!              No, I had a bad experience.

Thank you,

[Name]

[Business Name]

Now, the “Yes, I love your [product/service]!” is hyperlinked to your Google Review link that you generated in Step One. And, your “No, I had a bad experience.” link is to your special customer service email address. Mostly good reviews go to Google, while bad feedback primarily gets sent to someone who can deal with it.

Your responsibility is now to handle the negative feedback with “white glove” treatment. That’s a topic we cover in our next blog post. But, it is imperative to solicit these Google reviews well and consistently. Train your staff (and yourself ) to identify appropriate times and places for asking for Google reviews from your clients, including but not limited to:

  • by email,
  • printed on receipts,
  • by phone,
  • In-person, or
  • on your website after purchase.

Once you’ve managed to get this three-step process in place and tweaked it so that you can see it working consistently in your business, you will start to reap the rewards of mostly good Google reviews while having a pipeline of new reviews coming in regular. And, in doing so, hopefully that will start to bring meaningful, profitable traffic to your Google My business listing and to your business.

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.