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Category Archives: Business

5 Tech Trends That Will Influence Your Marketing Strategies

No matter what kind of business you run, you need customers to keep growing. Word-of-mouth referrals and repeat clients can certainly help, but most businesses could benefit from a little marketing boost.

While the purpose of marketing hasn’t changed, the methods and trends companies follow to achieve results has evolved drastically in recent years. New marketing technologies continue to emerge, and businesses that want to keep up need to look ahead and prepare for the future.

Business News Daily asked experts about five key tech trends that will shape the marketing landscape in 2017 and beyond.

The rise of social media quickly gave way to a new breed of content marketing— one driven by links, shares and referrals. Although affiliate shopping links have been around for years, today’s companies have started to connect the dots between content and commerce, and assets like sponsored articles and social media posts are continuing to gain popularity.

“Content-driven-commerce is the use of affiliate links within published content,” said Oliver Roup, CEO of VigLink, a platform that helps companies create and place affiliate links. “[This] form of content marketing is helping small business bring in incremental revenue without the cost of a typical marketing campaign. A brand can … incentivize publishers to incorporate their products into their content. Once a consumer purchases the product after leaving the publisher’s site, brands and publishers cash in.”

Roup said this form of marketing is becoming a preferred outlet for many, as traditional advertising (which he notes has been on the decline) can be costly—and isn’t always worth the spend.

Automation solutions — which, as the name implies, automate a process based on data input — have been growing in popularity, and for good reason: They help businesses make many areas of their operations much more efficient. In the marketing world, programmatic ad platforms fill this need: According to Jeffrey Finch, CPO and co-founder of digital marketing and advertising platform Choozle, these tools “turn everyday workers into advertising experts.”

“Programmatic advertising has been taking off for a while now, but it’s poised to greatly expand in the coming years,” said Finch. “[These platforms] do the hard work of finding ad space for you, while you simply provide them the information about who you would like to target.”

Remember the days of, “There’s an app for that?” John Marcinuk, group director of marketing production at Blue Fountain Media, believes those days are winding down: While brands should absolutely still be focusing on mobile development, he said, it’s better to spend time and resources on a great mobile web experience, rather than creating separate apps for everything.

“Asking your customers to download one more app to their phones for an experience that should be available on the mobile web is not only a big ask on their time, but can cost many thousands of dollars for a brand to develop,” he added.

Although customers are more and more comfortable making purchases via mobile devices, many still research on mobile and switch back to their desktops later to complete the purchase. Marcinuk said an optimized mobile experience can encourage customers to whip out their credit cards with their mobile phones in hand.

“For marketers hoping to win back users who don’t convert, we’ll be utilizing technologies that target across devices and properly attribute our advertising success to all touch points along the purchase process,” Marcinuk told Business News Daily.

Any company with an online presence knows the importance of using customer data to inform business decision. Most brands are beginning to make data analytics a priority, but marketers still have a long way to go, said Curtis Tingle, CMO of intelligent media delivery company Valassis.

Today’s data goes well beyond basic demographics, Tingle said. Now brands can access consumers’ online and offline media behaviors and preferences, location throughout the day, purchase history, promotion sensitivity, etc. This, he said, allows you to customize messages, images and offers across channels, even to the household level.

“Marketers must learn how to better use the data that they collect,” Tingle said. “Customers are constantly feeding personal information to the companies they engage with – from purchase behaviors to favorite products to the best ways to reach them through advertising and marketing efforts. With this data share, customers are looking for some sort of return, whether it be in the form of more personalized advertisements or targeted coupons/deals.”

Tingle noted that utilizing a targeted approach to a select audience is much more impactful than a blanketed “spray-and-pray” method of delivering marketing messages.

“Collecting as much data as possible should no longer be the primary goal; leveraging it to reach and activate consumers in unique and meaningful ways must come first,” he added.

Wondering how to analyze all that data you’ve got? Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning might just be the answer.

John Callan, VP of marketing at Boxever, a customer intelligence cloud platform, said brands are now using AI to better understand how a customer prefers to interact with a brand (email, personalized homepages, mobile, call-center, in-person, etc.), and tailor offers and messages delivered via those preferred channels based on a customer’s desires.

“Another example includes being able to ‘interrupt’ a regular campaign offer or message based on some new contextual information — perhaps due to a real-time service issue or a change in a behavior pattern — to deliver a more relevant and timely offer or message,” he added.

To take advantage of AI for your marketing needs, Callan advised finding a tool that will help you connect the dots between channels and provide relevant insights to drive successful marketing campaigns.

4 Keys to a Successful Sales Pitch

Circosta advised approaching sales from a helping perspective. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to make the sale, just focus on what the product means to the buyer, he said.

“If [sales reps] focus on how to communicate effectively and help the person, it takes pressure off themselves, and puts the focus and energy where it needs to be,” Circosta said. “A superior salesperson inspires the buyer to feel the benefits of what they have.”

If you want to craft better sales pitches, here are a few key elements you should focus on.

The first contact with a potential customer or client is crucial to setting the tone for the ongoing relationship. Tom Silk, executive vice president atWorkStride, a provider of employee recognition software, said there is power in the first sentence of the sales pitch. But it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it, he added.

“Use tone, energy — stand up and show enthusiasm,” Silk said. “Energy sets the tone of the conversation.”

Moreover, it’s important to establish a connection with the person you’re selling to, said Brian Stafford, CEO of collaboration software company Diligent Corp.

“Establishing rapport is absolutely critical,” Stafford said. “The best sales rep creates a connection with the prospect as early on as possible.”

Whether in person or on the phone, pay attention to the cues that are happening during the pitch, Stafford said. Pay attention to who is speaking, and if it’s an in-person meeting, note the body language. Look for affirmative cues, such as head nods, forward leaning, and open, relaxed postures. If you are getting the opposite, such as crossed arms or other nonresponses, then take a step back.

“I think sometimes, [sales reps] keep plowing ahead even if they aren’t getting the response they hoped for,” Stafford said. “It can be more dynamic to stop and pump the brakes, ask questions, and force them to say what isn’t working for them.”

It is harder to identify these types of social cues over the phone, but they are there if you listen. Silk advised envisioning what is going on in the room and working through the “noise language.” What is being said, by whom and how? Adjust to the silence, and solicit feedback.

“If the plan is not going well, change and adjust on the fly,” Silk said.

This is perhaps the most important part of the sales pitch: Ask someone to take action at the end of a sales presentation, Circosta said. Even if the prospective buyer isn’t ready to make a final decision yet, leaving them with a clear call to action will at least keep the idea of doing business with you fresh in their mind.

“If you don’t ask them for the sale, they probably won’t go through with it,” he said.

Knowing how and when to follow up on a sales pitch is another factor in its success. It would be nice if every sale were closed at the end of the pitch, but that rarely happens. Decision makers need to take time to evaluate the proposal and ensure what you have to offer is going to fix their problem or improve their capabilities.

WorkStride creates a project plan with its potential clients, defining the milestones for follow-up and the best method to do so.

“The whole purpose of the project plan is to let us know when to follow up,” Silk said. “No ‘checking in’ annoying calls. We can make the follow-up calls with a purpose — after a key meeting of decision makers or at the appropriate time in their budget cycle.”

Diligent Corp. employs a similar strategy: “Follow up, and make yourself be a champion of your key contact in the sales process,” Stafford said. “Problem solve with them. What are the things we need to do to get them over the line?”

Above all else, Stafford said the most important thing you can do throughout the entire sales process is to listen to your prospective client.

How to Create an Effective Marketing Plan

Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company’s course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.

Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:

1. Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, figure out the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Be respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition can.

2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.

3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.

4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.

Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilize.

Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.

Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.

“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.

“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” Farmiloe said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”

The popularity of smartphones and tablets has helped change the way companies target their customers. Since people have the devices with them nearly all the time, companies are looking to implement strategies that reach customers on their gadgets.

“Mobile marketing is interruptive,” Farmiloe said. “It’s because of this power that a marketer has to let the consumer determine how and when to receive marketing material. That’s why almost every app comes with the option to turn notifications on or off. The consumer has to hold the power with mobile marketing.”

Creating a well-defined list of budgets, goals and action items, with appropriate personnel assigned to each item, can help make your marketing plan a reality. Think about how much you’re willing to spend, the kind of outcomes you expect, and the necessary tasks to achieve those outcomes. ACleverism article advised defining three key elements to help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts:

  1. How you want to track your campaign
  2. The channels you want to track
  3. The metrics you want to measure

The metrics — the numerical data that allows you to see if you’re reaching your goals — are the best ways to measure your return on investment, according to Cleverism. This can include wesite visits, lead conversion, click-through/bounce rates, social media effectiveness and referrals. More tips for measuring your marketing results can be found in this BND article.

6 Ways to Ensure You’re Recruiting the Best Talent

The key is selling potential employees on the benefits of working with you. This makes recruiting almost a marketing effort, and in truth, the best recruiting techniques have their roots in the most effective marketing tactics. Here’s how to recruit the best of the best in a job market that favors the candidate.

Social media profiles have become standard tools for researching and evaluating talent. Instead of looking only at candidates’ résumés, thoroughly vet them by looking at their LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media profiles.

“Candidates’ social media profiles [can highlight] personal experiences and interests that tie into professional lives and skills, and may show the person is a perfect fit,” said Pete Kazanjy, founder of Modern Sales Salon and recruiter search engine TalentBin. “[Depending] on the type of job you’re recruiting for, make sure you’re looking at the right social networking sites to find candidates who may be off your radar.”

Kazanjy noted that engaging with potential candidates on social media can be to your advantage, regardless of whether they are interested in the position you’re offering right now.

“Although the person may be content where they are now, you never know what the future has in store,” he said. “Engaging with candidates on their personal profiles allows you to form a relationship.”

Money is important, but it’s not the only thing top talent wants. They want a work environment that challenges them, allows for innovation, makes work fun but also provides work-life balance. This could mean paid time off (PTO), the ability to work from home, time to volunteer in their communities or the ability to take unpaid leave to pursue interests, to name a few.

Personal finance writer Kevin Mulligan said your company needs to create an employee value proposition (EVP) to use as a selling point with candidates. This should describe what sets your organization apart and why people should want to work there.

“The more attractive your EVP is, the more likely you will be attracting the cream of the crop to your company,” Mulligan wrote in a BusinessDictionary article.

One of the best ways to draw candidates in is a mobile-friendly hiring process. Dr. John Sullivan, a Silicon Valley-based author and HR expert, said that more than 43 percent of job seekers use their mobile phones in their job searches.

“That number will continue to rise until the mobile phone is dominant in recruiting,” he wrote in an article on EREMedia.com.

To that end, your app or website should allow candidates to accept offers, hold live video interviews, complete referral tasks and self-schedule interviews. For retention purposes, you can also build in functions for new employees: an interactive employee handbook, benefit registration, access to PTO balances and more.

Even just a decade ago, it might have seemed like a distant dream to have full-time, off-site employees with the same exact technological capabilities as workers in the office. Today, advancements in cloud computing and videoconferencing have opened the doors to hiring remote staff members, so recruiters are no longer limited to candidates in close geographic proximity to the company’s headquarters.

“If your company is located in a competitive hiring market, you’d be better off searching for top talent in a less competitive area,” said Anthony Smith, founder and CEO of CRM software company Insightly. “Technology allows for smooth collaboration and communication no matter where employees are located, so you don’t need to lose out on experts in your field because of where your company is based.”

This goes back to the workforce’s “immediate” expectations. Top talent will move quickly, because it is in high demand. Be ahead of the curve by investigating ways to speed up your hiring process while still demanding high-quality candidates reach a high standard.

“Others may view your slow hiring as a mirror of the speed in which you make business decisions, and drop out because they expect faster decision making,” Sullivan wrote.

You can speed up hiring by prioritizing hires for revenue-generating or key positions, surveying past candidates for their perception of what worked and what didn’t, and identifying other unnecessary delays that seem to be common in each vacancy-fulfillment effort.

Sometimes the best way to attract a candidate to your organization is to show off the people he or she will join there. Taso Du Val, founder and CEO of global tech industry network Toptal, advised highlighting your company’s existing talent during the recruiting process.

“Talented individuals want to work with top talent, so showcasing the all-stars already on your team can help validate why other high-quality candidates should hop on board,” Du Val said.

“Ask employees why they like working for your company,” said Sandy Mazur, president of staffing firm Spherion. “When you’re vetting talent, share some of the feedback and anecdotes that your workers shared with you, as those may resonate with candidates and attract them to the job.”

7 Powerful Tips for Using Facebook for Business

While the basics of setting up a page and posting to your business page are relatively straightforward, there are a lot of nuances to managing your page that could help you make the most of your Facebook presence. Here are 7 powerful ways to make your page more robust and engaging.

A key component of branding is consistency. As such, you should be sure you select a @ username that reflects your business. Of course, your ideal pick may not be available, so think of ways that you can get as close to your brand as possible. If you run the Acme Widget Company, maybe you could go with @acmewidgetco. Or even better, @acmewidget.

Remember that whatever you pick will be a part of your custom Facebook URL — shorter is better so it can fit on business cards or other promotional materials.

While Facebook keeps a pretty consistent look across the entire interface, you do have some freedom in how your page looks. You can choose from several templates that have certain tweaks to better match the type of page you have: professional services, business, shopping, standard, venues, politicians, and restaurants and cafes.

The differences are subtle, but they’re important. For example, the restaurants and cafes template places images higher so that you can show off the venue and feature menu items. The professional services option puts a prominent Call Now button at the top so potential clients can reach out to you right away. Spend some time experimenting here to see which is the best fit for your page.

You have quite a bit of control over how the layout of your page is created to fit the needs of your particular business. Make sure you’ve optimized all the right dials and settings that Facebook offers.

For example, you’ll find that the tabs on the side of the page can serve as quick stops for particular actions. Click “manage tabs” to put the photos, events or other items in a more prominent location. Also, if there are some tabs you don’t use, you’re able to get rid of those.

Facebook offers a range of call-to-action buttons that live at the top of your business’s page. You have a few different choices, so pick the one that makes the most sense for your business:

  • Book Now
  • Contact Us
  • Use App
  • Play Game
  • Shop Now
  • Sign Up
  • Watch Video

5. Go with native videos

According to Buffer, one of the top methods for getting the attention of your audience is native videos. The company found some slightly better metrics for uploading your own video instead of embedding it from YouTube or Vimeo.

The beauty of videos is they’re so easy to produce now — all you need is a smartphone and a few minutes of light editing. Even if you’re not a professional video creator, it’s worth trying your hand at it.

Your Facebook page can be a portal for potential customers to reach out to you. A very effective way is through Facebook Messenger. If you add a call-to-action button, you’ll get messages in the Messenger app just as if they were from one of your contacts. Visitors to your page will also notice how responsive you are, which will leave them with a good impression of how you treat customers.

Facebook has rolled out a number of new tools for directing your content to a specific audience. While it will take some time to dig into the dashboard, you may find success if you are willing to target your content at characteristics more attuned to your potential customer base. For example, think about geographic location, age groups and other interest targeting. Marketer Jon Loomer has some more detailed suggestions if you want to dive in.

7 Security Solutions for Small Business

Although the public typically only hears about cyberattacks against high-profile companies, banks and government websites, small businesses make prime targets for cybercriminals, competitors and disgruntled parties. Yet, due to their lack of resources, small businesses have the least-protected websites, accounts and network systems — making cyberattacks a relatively easy job.

To help you protect your business, here are 7 small-business-friendly cybersecurity solutions to get you started.

When it comes to low-cost security solutions, you usually get what you pay for. Comodo is a global, award-winning security provider that offers free and affordable security tools that don’t compromise on features and reliability. Solutions include: Comodo One, the company’s free IT management platform that features Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), Patch Management and Service Desk all in one place; Comodo Securebox to shield apps from malware-infected devices; and Comodo Advanced Endpoint to automatically prevent malware from entering networks. Small businesses can also enjoy free antivirus, free and paid SSL certificates, free Internet security, mobile device management, firewall protection, security for POS systems and many other services.

Looking for a single solution to cover all your bases? ESET lets you choose from a wide range of security bundles to protect your computers, mobile devices, USB drives, networks and servers. For instance, the ESET Small Business Security Pack guards Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPhone and Android phones, file servers and email accounts. The company also offers custom solutions that allows you to build the perfect security tool for your business. You can choose by product type, company size and industry. Choices include endpoint security, mobile security, remote management, two-factor authentication, encryption, file security, email security, virtualization security and more.

Virtualization and cloud computing offer many gifts, including the ability to access your desktop, files and other data anytime, anywhere using any device. Security concerns, however, can complicate the convenience. Cradlepoint NetCloud Engine, formerly Pertino, offers one easy, affordable and super-secure way to virtualize your network and your business. You’ll enjoy a VPN decked with layers of security protection, such as multifactor authentication — a combination of users’ ID, token (i.e., their device) and PKI-certificate — fully cloaked private addresses, micro-segmentation, end-to-end encryption, access policies, industry-leading cloud security, data center protection and more.

It’s not just computers that are at risk for security breaches. Lookout Mobile Security is all about protecting your business from cyberattacks on phones and tablets. It works by predicting, anticipating and shielding businesses against all types of mobile threats, such as malware, data leakages and the risks associated with sideloaded apps and jailbroken devices. Lookout also gives you complete visibility over devices and offers advanced tools to manage risks, vet software and app vendors, investigate incidences and ensure compliance with security regulations and company policies.

According to one of the tenets of cybersecurity, you should create strong passwords for all your accounts and services. These days, even passwords based on your pet’s name or your spouse’s name and birthday come with risks. Random passwords are the way to go. Random.org features a random password generator that automatically creates strong, alphanumeric, case-sensitive passwords up to 24 characters long. Combine results or add your own touch for a super-secure password. You no longer have an excuse to use “password,” “fluffy123” or other ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords.

As a small business, it always helps to know someone has your back. StaySafeOnline.org, powered by National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), is full of tools and resources to help small business owners protect their businesses, employees and customers from cyberattacks, data loss and other online threats. Small business owners can learn how to assess their risks, monitor threats, implement a cybersecurity plan and train employees. They’ll also learn what to do after an attack, and how to report one to the proper authorities to recoup any losses and bring attackers to justice.

Cybersecurity can be overwhelming for small business owners. Want to cover all your bases, but don’t know where to start? The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Small Biz Cyber Planner can guide you in the right direction. Just fill in your information, indicate your areas of concern, and the planner will automatically generate a custom cybersecurity plan with expert advice for your business. Areas covered include privacy and data security, scams and fraud, network security, website security, email, mobile devices, employees, and more.

5 A Small Business Guide

While breaches at big corporations such as Target and Home Depot make the headlines, small business are still very much targets for hackers. Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at antivirus software company ESET, said that small businesses fall into hackers’ cybersecurity “sweet spot:” They have more digital assets to target than an individual consumer has, but less security than a larger enterprise.

The other reason small businesses make such appealing targets is because hackers know these companies are less careful about security. An infographic by Towergate Insurance showed that small businesses often underestimate their risk level, with 82 percent of small business owners saying they’re not targets for attacks, because they don’t have anything worth stealing.

In almost every case, the end goal of a cyberattack is to steal and exploit sensitive data, whether it’s customer credit-card information or a person’s credentials, which would be used to misuse the individual’s identity online.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential cyberthreats, especially as hackers’ techniques continue to evolve, but businesses should at least be aware of the most frequently used attacks.

DDoS: An acronym for distributed denial of service, DDoS attacks occur when a server is intentionally overloaded with requests, with the goal of shutting down the target’s website or network system.

Inside attack: This is when someone with administrative privileges, usually from within the organization, purposely misuses his or her credentials to gain access to confidential company information. Former employees, in particular, present a threat if they left the company on bad terms, so your business should have a protocol in place to revoke all access to company data immediately upon an employee’s termination.

Malware: This umbrella term is short for “malicious software,” and covers any program introduced into the target’s computer with the intent to cause damage or gain unauthorized access. More about the different varieties of malware can be found on How to Geek. Business News Daily’s sister site Tom’s Guide also breaks down the myths and facts of malware.

Password attacks: There are three main types of password attacks: a brute-force attack, which involves guessing at passwords until the hacker gets in; a dictionary attack, which uses a program to try different combinations of dictionary words; and keylogging, which tracks all of a user’s keystrokes, including login IDs and passwords. More about each type of attack (and how to avoid them) can be found in this Scorpion Software blog post.

There are a few different basic types of security software on the market, offering varying levels of protection. Antivirus software is the most common, and will defend against most types of malware. For a side-by-side comparison of the best antivirus software programs for small businesses, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.

Firewalls, which can be implemented with hardware or software, provide an added layer of protection by preventing an unauthorized user from accessing a computer or network. In an eHow.com article, author Sam N. Austin noted that some computer operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, come with built-in firewalls. These protections can also be added separately to routers and servers.

Cobb, of ESET, said businesses should also invest in a data backup solution, so any information compromised or lost during a breach can easily be recovered from an alternate location; encryption software to protect sensitive data such as employee records, client/customer information and financial statements; and two-step authentication or password-security software for their internal programs to reduce the likelihood of password cracking.

One important solution that doesnꞌt involve software and that many small businesses overlook is cybersecurity insurance. As mentioned above, your general liability policy will not help you recoup losses or legal fees associated with a data breach, so a separate policy covering these types of damages can be hugely helpful in case of an attack.

Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead at Travelers, a provider of cyberinsurance, said that small businesses often assume cyberinsurance policies are designed only for large companies, because those businesses are the most frequent targets of hackers. But many insurance carriers are beginning to offer tailor-made coverage for smaller companies to meet their budgets and risk-exposure levels, he said.

Francis advised business owners to look for a combination of first- and third-party coverage. First-party liability coverage includes any general costs incurred as a result of a breach, such as legal expertise, public relations campaigns, customer notification and business interruption. Third-party coverage protects you if your company is at the center of a breach that exposed sensitive information. This type of protection covers defense costs if the affected parties sue your company.

Ready to protect your business and its data? These best practices will keep your company as safe as possible.

Keep your software up to date. As stated in this Tom’s Guide article, “an outdated computer is more prone to crashes, security holes and cyberattacks than one that’s been fully patched.” Hackers are constantly scanning for security vulnerabilities, ESET’s Cobb said, and if you let these weaknesses go for too long, you’re greatly increasing your chances of being targeted.

Educate your employees. Make your employees aware of the ways cybercriminals can infiltrate your systems, teach them to recognize signs of a breach, and educate them on how to stay safe while using the companyꞌs network.

Implement formal security policies. Bill Carey, vice president of marketing and business development at Siber Systems, noted that having companywide security policies in place can help reduce your likelihood of an attack. He advised requiring strong passwords — those with upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols — that should be changed every 60 to 90 days. Sixty-five percent of SMBs that have a password policy do not strictly enforce it, according to the Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute report.

 

6 Factors That Keep You from Getting a Small Business Loan

For many entrepreneurs, a small business loan is an essential way to finance a new business or expand existing operations. However, obtaining funding for your business is no easy task. Here are six barriers that can prevent you from getting the small business loan you need and a few tips on how to avoid these roadblocks.

Credit reports are one tool lenders use to determine a borrower’s credibility. If your credit report shows a lack of past diligence in paying back debts, you might be rejected when applying for a loan.

Paul Steck, former president and CEO of the international franchise restaurant Saladworks, has worked with hundreds of small business franchisees, many of whom have bad personal credit as a result of illness, divorce or other extenuating circumstances.

“Sometimes, very good people, for reasons beyond their control, have credit issues,” Steck said. “And, unfortunately, that’s a real barrier to entry in the world of small business.”

Cash flow — a measure of how much cash you have on hand to pay back a loan — is usually the first thing lenders look at when gauging the health of your business. Insufficient cash flow is a flaw that most lenders can’t afford to overlook. Therefore, it’s the first thing business owners should consider when determining if they can afford a loan.

“Really thinking through that cash-flow equation is like preventative medicine for your business,” said Jay DesMarteau, head of regional commercial specialty segments for TD Bank. “You can either wait until [your business] gets sick, or you can do things to prevent it from getting sick.”

One of the preventative measures DesMarteau recommends is to calculate cash flow at least quarterly. If business owners take that step, they may be able to optimize their cash flow before approaching potential lenders.

Having a plan and sticking to it is much more attractive than spontaneity in the finance world.

“Banks require that business owners have an organized, detailed and quantitative business plan in order to move forward with the loan process,” said David Goldin, CEO, president and founder of Capify, an alternative small business lender.

However, Goldin noted that it’s common for very small businesses to not have a formal business plan or any plan at all, for that matter. In these situations, he recommends that business owners at least forecast their future earnings before applying for a loan, so lenders will have an idea of your profitability.

“Lenders’ … biggest single complaint is that small business owners aren’t able to articulate very well how they’re going to use the capital that they’re looking for, how they’re going to make repayment and what impact they think [the loan] is going to have,” said Ty Kiisel, who writes about small business for online lender OnDeck.

When it comes to approaching potential lenders, business owners should have their act together. That means having all the paperwork you’ll need for your loan application on hand.

“One of the things that can be a problem when applying for a loan is if [business owners] don’t have the documentation that the bank will require [such as] back tax returns,” Steck said.

There are plenty of resources that business owners can refer to when putting together their loan applications. The Small Business Administration, for example, provides a highly detailed loan application checklist for borrowers. Using these resources can decrease your likelihood of coming across as disorganized or unprepared.

When it comes to making financial decisions for your business, lenders want to see that you’ve sought guidance from knowledgeable advisers.

“Accountants can be an important source of advice for small business owners. That’s why Bizfi has partnered with theNational Directory of Certified Public Accountants,” says Stephen Sheinbaum, CEO of alternative lender Bizfi. “But there are many other places to find good people to talk to, such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a free mentoring service that is supported by the Small Business Administration.”

He also recommends that business owners get financial advice from business networking groups and conduct research on the websites of the leading alternative funders, since many have detailed resource sections for small businesses about the many kinds of available capital and the best ways to prepare for funding.

Too many business owners approach lenders with an apathetic attitude, Steck said. In other words, they simply don’t demonstrate why they, rather than someone else, are a good candidate for a loan.

“You have to exude a passion,” said Steck. “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to be the best in the whole wide world. You have to go into it with that sort of mentality, and a lot of [potential borrowers] don’t do that.”

Small Business Snapshot Cabeau

Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. David Sternlight, CEO and founder of Cabeau, explains how this image represents his business.

Cabeau is a world leader in consumer travel products dedicated to “Travel Made Better.” Available in more than 110 countries, our brand is committed to creating exceptional and affordable products for all of life’s journeys.

Our company began with one simple mission: to create a travel pillow that actually works. During my career playing professional basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv, I spent long hours on the road. I’m 6’8″ so as a tall athlete, travelling could be very uncomfortable. With that in mind, I was inspired to create a better travel experience for others.

Our goal was to create a high-quality and functional product that addressed a common issue most travelers can relate to – finding comfort. We were also determined to prove that style and performance were not mutually exclusive. We surveyed thousands of travelers at airports around the world, understood their needs and listened to their feedback when developing the Evolution Pillow. It is a product created by the people for the people.

What started with the Evolution Pillow, one of our signature items, has now evolved into a technologically advanced assortment of solution-driven products. We also offer a smart collection of travel necessities including a Midnight Magic Sleep Mask, travel blanket, The Better Umbrella, backpacks and more. Each uniquely crafted accessory is designed to make travel easier, more manageable and infinitely more comfortable.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is paramount to our brand. Our Cabeau Cares program is committed to giving back — both in our local community and on a global scale. In addition to partnering with large philanthropic organizations, we also shut down our office one day each month so that Team Cabeau can give our time to a local charity, organization or neighborhood.

Our latest activity was Feel Good Friday in January 2017, during which the team at our headquarters in Woodland Hills, California, joined together to spread happiness, joy and laughter in our local community. Our team gathered at a high traffic intersection holding signs that relayed different messages for all to see, such as Choose Happiness, Dream Big, Give 3 Hugs Today and It’s Friday, Smile. Our main goal was to give the community something to smile about and what resulted was nothing short of amazing. Throughout the morning, dozens of people came up to us for hugs and let us know that our small gesture brought a small to their face or lifted their spirits. Simple acts of kindness can oftentimes be the most powerful.

The bonding experience that happens through Cabeau Cares has also led to a higher employee retention rate. Our team becomes invested in the fabric, spirit and comradery of the company and giving back. Meanwhile, the monthly initiatives are structured in a way that really encourages meaningful involvement. Each month a different team member plans and executes a charity event or idea that is near and dear to them.

More and more, the travel experience is corroding with upcharges, cramped spaces and other inconveniences. As such, our passion is fueled all the more to creating a first class experience for travelers across the globe. We are investing in innovation and our extreme growth goals challenge us to find the smartest production solutions. We have been committed to securing the right partners that will assist us in providing tools needed for continued success. These partners will enable us to further grow our infrastructure, compete for new business and meet demands for future orders.

7 Creative Ways to Show Employee Appreciation

Anyone can perform a task at work knowing the end result is a salary. However, passion and hard work often stems from affirmations employees hear from their boss or manager. Workers don’t just crave a paycheck — they want recognition, verbal appreciation and encouragement.

Of course, it’s easy to say “thank you” or “good job” and be done with it; but there are countless ways to show your support and respect for your employees. Business News Daily asked business owners and experts to share the best ways to make your employees feel more appreciated.

“[Put] the power of recognition and reward in their hands. I use apps and programs like YouEarnedIt to give my employees the power to give each other kudos for good work done. I let my team members choose their reward, too, because not everyone wants a cash bonus or a gift card.”

“It could be done as a request to share. When we let people know we value what they have to offer by asking if they’d share their story, tips, methods, etc. with others, it provides validation to them that they do have something of value to offer, and it boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem in the process. This doesn’t mean we add a training function to their currently overloaded job, but it could be sharing at a team or organizational event, award ceremony or even in a newsletter.”

“Let them make decisions that matter and can impact the company. Verbal appreciation is important, and bonuses or other perks are appreciated, but ultimately, showing someone that you trust their opinion and expertise is far more valuable.”

“My favorite forms of appreciation include unexpected treats like group lunches or a shortened workday. I also like activities that add value for both the individual and the company, including team-building challenges and fully paid continuing-education courses.”

“Leaders need to be specific in expressing their appreciation so that it reinforces behaviors through positive feedback for the employee. Instead of a generic ‘great job,’ be specific — for example, ‘I really like how you’ve pulled the discussion back together – You’re an exemplary collaborator.’ Being specific also adds meaning and inspires the employee to further develop their skills in that particular area.”

“I think the most valuable way to recognize an employee today is through time —that is, time off, time to do something else besides work. It could be family, a hobby, or a charity, or a short vacation. I don’t think it needs to be routine or regular, and has the most value when it’s unexpected.”

“Company leadership [should let] employees know what’s really going on with the company. Granted, there are some things that can’t be discussed, but for the most part, keeping people informed goes a long way toward making them feel involved. It generates a ‘we’re in this together’ environment, as well as team ownership of the operation.”