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Cyber_Security_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.


The most common mistake small businesses make when it comes to cyber security is believing they’re too small to be a target. In fact, cyber security experts say small businesses may be at greater risk than larger firms precisely because hackers count on them to have lax security.


Most digital criminals use a scattershot approach that exploits vulnerabilities anywhere they can be found. Malware is designed to operate in the background, stealing passwords and other data. Ransomware is even more aggressive: hackers cut off access to your own data and demand money to get it back.


So, how can you protect your company and your customers’ sensitive data? Here are the top five cyber security mistakes small businesses make and what the pros say you should correct now:


1. Not updating software

The first line of defense for any business network is a good firewall and current antivirus and malware software, says Steve Weisman, an attorney who writes about cyber security for USA Today and on his own blog. But a surprising number of companies don’t update their security software or hardware, which exposes them to hackers. Weisman also recommends that sensitive records be kept on a computer that is not connected to the company network or Internet. “If somebody does fall prey to malware, then they’ve segregated what the hacker is going to get,” he says.


2. Not training your staff

Email is the Achilles’ heel of cyber security, according to small business security consultant Jim Stickley. “When you look at every major security breach in the last two years, almost every one of them started with email,” Stickley says. One service of his firm, Stickley on Security, is to educate a company’s employees on security practices. They learn how to inspect every email to ensure it’s really from a trusted sender and to detect phishing attacks. Phishing emails are designed to look like they’re from a trusted party, but they contain attachments or links designed to steal passwords or unleash malware. Stickley even writes his own malware at his clients’ request to test the security of their network—and their employees’ training.


Cyber_Security_PQ.jpg3. Leaving mobile devices unprotected

A stolen laptop or smartphone can expose internal emails, account numbers, customer data and more. But many company devices aren’t even password-protected, says Frank Bradshaw, president and CEO of Ho’ike Technologies, which provides outsource security services to small businesses. Bradshaw says every company should use mobile device management, which encrypts all data and can track a lost or stolen device. He also recommends that firms limit the kind of data employees can access remotely.


4. Overlooking internal threats

As soon as an employee leaves the firm, his or her email account and logins should be deleted, Bradshaw says. His firm uses a cloud-based program to instantly revoke access on all devices connected to that person. And while it’s difficult to imagine, current employees’ activity should also be monitored if there’s reason to believe that sensitive customer information or documents are being accessed without sufficient reason. At a law office where Ho’ike provides data loss and leakage prevention, Bradshaw says, their software detected that one attorney downloaded dozens of files in just two minutes. When confronted, he admitted he was leaving the firm and attempting to take client files.


5. DIY security

If your business can’t afford a dedicated IT person, consider outsourcing the work of setting up and monitoring your security infrastructure. Bradshaw says it’s an insurance policy you can’t live without. And Weisman says there are many affordable options today for small business owners. “It’s doable at a good price, particularly when compared to the price of failure,” he says.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

Social_Media_Communication_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


Today’s customers check their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites several times a day. Every time they do, they expect to see fresh content. That gives small business owners multiple opportunities to connect with current and potential customers. Read on to discover how these five key types of social media communication can boost customer engagement and interest.


1. Announcements and customer service

Think of social media as a hyper-local newspaper. People rely on social media to discover what’s new and exciting in the communities they’re interested in. Announce your special events, sales, milestone achievements, staffing changes, and more via social media to help your customers stay informed. Use it as a tool to notify followers of possible service issues, such as down phone lines or parking issues near your business. Use “save the date” posts in advance of big events so that followers are aware of what’s happening, and send out a reminder as you get closer.


2. Video

Over 80 percent of all online content will be video by 2019, according to a recent report issued by Cisco Systems. Present tutorials, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and funny videos for best results. The most shareable videos are short (under two minutes) and have a strong emotional hook. Remember to be authentic; a video that accurately reflects what your business stands for will provide real value.


Social_Media_Communication_PQ.jpg3. Infographics and imagery

Never forget that the vast majority of people are checking social media on their smartphones or other mobile devices. Images trump text in this environment. Infographics combine helpful or interesting information with eye-catching graphics. Use them as tutorials, to share surprising facts, or to compare different products.


4. Content shares

Linking to informative, educational, or entertaining content is a social media staple. Make sure to share your own content, such as blog entries or popular posts on other platforms, as well as content from industry leaders and influential news sites.

Sharing content is great, but by adding your own insights or commentary, it makes your posts even more valuable to your readers. For the small, local business, linking to information about community events and gatherings is a smart strategy.


5. Lead generation

Periodically, it’s a good idea to use social media to learn more about the people who follow your brand. Lead generation posts offer an incentive, such as a coupon or special report, in exchange for some information. This can be as simple as an e-mail address, or you could make use of the opportunity to conduct a mini-survey.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

Twitter_Dashboard_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


Twitter provides its users with a powerful analytical dashboard. Small business owners can make use of this dashboard to ensure they’re connecting effectively with potential customers, and to double check that the content they’re posting is truly relevant to their audience.


Starting out

Once you’re on your Twitter dashboard, you may be prompted to sign in with your Twitter user name and password. The first thing you’ll see is a summary page that presents, on a monthly basis, your Top Tweet, Top Mention, and Top Follower, which is determined by the number of followers they themselves have. You’ll be able to learn the number of Tweets you’ve made, profile views, follower growth, impressions or views of your Tweets, and the number of engagements or interactions your Tweets have received. Engagements include retweets, as well as clicks on hashtags or Tweets linking to you.


This information is useful because it provides a quick, at-a-glance way to assess overall performance, popularity, and engagement. Numbers trending steadily upward indicate you’re on the right track. If any of these numbers aren’t in keeping with your expectations, you’ll want to delve deeper.


Twitter_Dashboard_PQ.jpg

Understanding the Tweet activity dashboard

Click on the View all Tweet activity links that appears beneath your top Tweet.  There, you will find the data for every Tweet you’ve made during the month, including numbers of impressions, engagements, and engagement rates.


This allows you to assess on an individual basis, which Tweets really resonate with your audience. Look at what makes your top performing Tweets special: do they have photos? Are they Tweeted at a particular time of day? Do you use a hashtag or comment on a particular topic? Once you know what works, focus on creating more of the same.


Using the Followers dashboard

The Followers dashboard can be accessed by clicking on the link under your Top Follower. You will find a demographic analysis of all of your followers, including where they live, their income level, purchasing habits, interests, and more. Compare this data to your defined customer profiles: are you attracting people on Twitter who are likely to be your customers? Or are you interacting with people who influence your customers? If everything is in alignment, great. If not, it may be time to alter your content mix. If your customer profile lines up, but engagement levels are low, look at the data that indicates your followers’ interests. You can use that as a guide to creating Tweets your audience may value more.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

Mobile_accessibility_and_engagement_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

Small business employees might feel like they’re always working, but that doesn’t mean they want to always be at work. With today’s workforce both more connected and more mobile than ever before, the lines between work and leisure continue to blur, especially in small businesses where employees often wear multiple hats.

But a new study finds that despite these realities, many businesses struggle to address the needs of on-the-go employees. The 2015 Mobile Trends in the Workplace survey from theEMPLOYEEapp, found that there is a direct correlation between employee engagement and efficiency and the ability to easily access company information via a mobile platform.

 

Sixty-two percent of employees said that easy access to company information directly affects job satisfaction, and 51 percent said they are more productive when they can work via a mobile device. However, 41 percent indicated they are unable to access company documents and information that way.

 

The disconnect stems from the failure of many companies to keep up with new mobile standards. According to Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of theEMPLOYEEapp, there are two main reasons companies are failing to meet their employees’ needs:

 

  • Mobile_accessibility_and_engagement_PQ.jpgHesitancy to replace legacy systems: Many businesses have invested so much in building and populating a corporate intranet that, even though it is less useful today, it’s challenging for companies to consider abandoning the infrastructure. Corbin recommends that companies assess the reality that today’s mobile workplace will likely surpass the old PC environment, especially for small businesses. While many businesses are trying to avoid the investment of an overhaul by optimizing legacy systems, he compares it to the mid-90s when email was new and prompted a sea change in computing norms. “Companies have to realize the mobile working environment will continue to grow, and they need to invest in it,” he says.

 

  • Security concerns: Corbin believes that most companies’ first inclination is to lock down everything to prevent employees fromFor example if there’s a proprietary manual that employees need to reference while working remotely, consider disabling certain functionality, like note taking and sharing. his doesn’t stop an employee from taking their tablet and photocopying something, in reality, of course, it’s no different than someone doing the same at their workplace,” Corbin says.

 

When employees are engaged, their job satisfaction translates into harder work and better outcomes. “I suspect many small business owners probably underestimate the importance of engagement to revenue generation in their business,” says Corbin. “Employees are the most important constituency of any business, but particularly small businesses. Improving morale and engagement by making it easier for them to work when and where they want can pay dividends that will translate into real profit.”

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Technology_Costs_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


Nearly 40 percent of all business owners struggle to contain technology costs, according to the 2014 SMB Group’s Route to Market Study. Smaller companies feel this burden more than their larger competitors since they spend a greater percentage of their revenues on IT. Alinean Inc., a consulting firm based in Winter Park, Florida, reports that small firms spend 6.9 percent of revenue on technology, while midsized firms spend 4.1 percent, and large firms shell out just 3.2 percent. Of course, spending more money on tech in no way guarantees greater performance. The true measure of return on technology expenditures is whether they, in fact, help you to run your business better and more efficiently. Here are some strategies to keep IT costs down while boosting performance:


Virtualized servers: If you manage a significant amount of data, from client records to inventory control, you’re using a server. For years, the best practice has been for companies to maintain their own server in-house, but this is very expensive. Switching to a secure cloud-based server eliminates many of the associated costs of server ownership while still enabling a business to accomplish needed tasks. Bonus: Because virtual servers are off site they’re less vulnerable to location- based security risks, including natural disasters.


Technology_Costs_PQ.jpg

Try before you buy: Many cloud-based business services offer extended free trial periods. Take advantage of these free trials and thoroughly test the program to be sure it works for you. Involve key team members in this evaluation process. This way you won’t spend money on tech that doesn’t meet your needs and you get the buy-in from your team. This approach can sometimes show that the functionality available at the lower tier or free levels may be all you really need right now.


Upgrade conservatively: New tech becomes available every single year, but don’t feel obligated to supply your team with every new device that comes to market. Base your decision to upgrade around current hardware performance and customer requests. If your tech is struggling to keep up with ever-changing Internet, mobile, and client demands, it’s time to upgrade. You can do this strategically by opting to upgrade the tech of the employees in roles most impacted first, or start with tools that directly impact customer service relationships.


Prioritize security: Data breeches are extremely expensive, both financially and in terms of damage done to your customer relationships. Investing in security tools, such as remote wipe capabilities that allow IT managers to remove sensitive data from a lost or stolen mobile device may seem like an added expense, but it’s actually a strategic purchase that can save significant money and stress in the long term.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

EMV.jpgSwiping a credit card—and potentially its information—will soon become more difficult. Come October 2015, there will be a shift in which party will be held liable for credit card fraud. After that date, merchants who have not upgraded their systems to so-called “chip and signature” technology will be on the hook for any credit or debit card fraud that occurs in their stores, transferring the risk to the business owner from the banks, which currently hold the liability. Read on to discover the next steps all small businesses should take.


Click to download the PDF.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, the fact is that social media has become an unstoppable force in the world of small business. It is used by various businesses in many different ways: interacting with customers, prospecting for leads, responding to comments, or what have you.

 

That said, it’s not all good news; there are both pros and cons when it comes to this new platform:

 

  • On the positive side, social media can be an amazing tool for networking, connecting, engaging, broadcasting, and brand building
  • On the down side, it can prove to be overwhelming, time-consuming, frustrating, and even a waste of time

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

The secret is to harness the good and minimize the bad. How? Here are six steps that can help:

 

Step # 1. Decide on Your Purpose: Getting involved (or getting more involved) because you are supposed to or because everyone else is, will almost inevitably prove to be a losing scenario. Before you dive in any deeper, you need to really think through what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media efforts. It will take even longer and the learning curve will be steeper if you are unclear about your goals.

 

There are many things you can do with social media, but the basic options are that you can use it to:

 

  • Build your brand and/or become a thought leader
  • Prospect for business and meet new people
  • Engage with current customers
  • Promote products

 

So, Step #1, and it is #1 for a reason, is to know what you are doing and why.

 

Step #2. Pick Your Platform: Based upon your answer to the first rule, you need to think about which social media platform offers the best possibility for fulfilling your purpose. Is Facebook actually doing the job for you? Would Twitter be better?

 

I suggest you concentrate on, and master, just one or two. For posting coupons and specials, for instance, Facebook is tough to beat. If you want to show off the visual style of your furniture store, Pinterest or Instagram might make more sense.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

You only have so much time to engage in social media, so pick your platforms wisely.

 

Step #3. Have A Plan: Once you know your purpose and have chosen the platform most likely to accomplish it, then it is time to create a social media action plan. As with any marketing or other business plan, social media requires forethought and proper planning.

 

Plan out content for the month, taking into account both your purpose as well as the various specials, deals, holiday sales, etc. that your company will run. Even though you will more than likely wind up going a bit off script at times, the existence of a plan will mean that you will (almost) always know where you are headed. You will also know what you will be posting, why, how often, and therefore will be far less likely to get lost in the social media forest.

 

One book you might want to pick up is 30 Minute Social Media Marketing.

 

Step #4. Give More Than You Receive: The general idea is, to the extent possible, to post about others a good deal more than you post about yourself. Nobody wants to be friends with the person who’s always talking about him or her self.

 

A variation of the 80-20 Rule applies here – make 80% of your posts about them and only 20% about you and your business.

 

Step #5. Post Shareable Content: People love to share on social media, and when they share your content, that is the ultimate social media compliment. It is also mighty word-of-mouth advertising. You can foster that kind of sharing by:

 

  • Posting content that either helps your customer base in some way (saves them time or money, teaches them something, etc.) or elicits a strong emotion – people tend to share things that are funny, heartwarming, or upsetting
  • Including eye-catching graphics

 

Step #6. Interact With Your Followers: Social media is not a monologue; it is a conversation, so make sure that you are listening to what your followers are saying and responding when appropriate. Retweeting positive messages, responding to customer complaints, answering inquiries, and offering advice are all great ways to show your followers that you are listening and not just talking.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 


Touchpoint

How to Do Mobile Right

Posted by Touchpoint Jun 17, 2015

Mobile_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

On busy sidewalks, in the grocery store, even at the gym, more and more people have their gaze fixed on a tiny, multifunctional screen. According to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ 2013 Internet trends report, people look at their phones up to 150 times a day.

 

At a time when nearly one third of web traffic comes from smartphones and tablets, small business owners must rethink their media strategy to take advantage of this rapidly growing market. A recent report from eMarketer shows that global mobile advertising will hit $101.37 billion in 2016—a 430 percent increase from 2013. 

 

Even small businesses with limited marketing budgets can incorporate mobile into their campaigns. “Look at other mediums you are using and carve out underperformers,” advises Julian Lewis, director of account management for Fiksu, a Boston-based mobile marketing agency. “A small business should understand how their users engage.”

 

Keep budget in mind, as well as the tips to follow, to maximize your mobile ad spend:

 

Native advertising gets results

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms use native ads—ads that match the form and function of the platform on which they appear—as well as publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. A study from software company Sharethrough and marketing agency IPG found that consumers viewed native ads 53 percent more often than display and banner ads. “The format resonates with users because it resembles content that they are used to consuming,” says Lewis.

 

Mobile_PQ.jpgQR codes may not

We see those funny quick response symbols everywhere, but do they work? One study showed that only 21 percent of American smartphone users have scanned a QR code. “A short URL that users can remember easily can be just as effective, if not more,” says Lewis. For example, users may be more likely to visit tinyurl.com/mobile when they see it on a promotion than to scan a QR code.

 

Search engines and social media remain strong

Small businesses can target a highly specific audience through social media as well as find new markets. With a well-placed ad on a search engine, a business can get its name in front of local customers that are searching for its niche.

 

Don’t ignore display and video

BI Intelligence data shows display and video as the fastest-growing mobile ad formats, with a compound annual growth rate of 96 and 73 percent respectively. “For a service that is difficult to describe, a video spot that explains benefits to the consumer can be very effective,” says Lewis.

 

Network and experiment

Connect with fellow business owners to share ideas. Lewis also recommends that business owners test multiple channels and ways to buy mobile advertising. Investigate ad exchanges and demand-side providers, which can put online ads in front of a selected target audience via a bidding process.


Regardless of the path, Lewis recommends small business owners diligently research before launching a campaign. “Don’t spend on mobile just to spend on mobile,” he says. “You have to learn something from it.”


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

You probably know by now that you are supposed to be promoting your business on social media. Many of you may be doing just that; the latest stats indicate that about half of small businesses have gotten with the program.

 

Today what I’d like to discuss is not whether you should use social media, but rather, which social media platform is best for your small business? It is not an easy question to answer because many factors come into play – the needs of your business, its size, your goals, etc. It is really a matter of weighing the pros and cons of each and applying that to your circumstances.

 

To help you, below are the top 7 social media sites and their strengths and weaknesses.

 

1. Facebook. The Big Kahuna. Everybody is on Facebook personally and the steady drumbeat is that your business should be there too; an added bonus is that creating a Facebook page for your business is pretty easy. The challenge may be keeping the page fresh with new content. It takes commitment. But even so, you should have one, right?

 

Maybe. Maybe not. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

The good news is also the bad news when it comes to Facebook. Yes, it is very big, and very popular. That means that you will have, potentially, a big audience. It also means however that you will have a lot of competition for eyeballs.

 

Consider the stats below from StatisticBrain.com. Facebook has 1.4 billion users. Everything else pales in comparison:

 

Facebook:          1.4 billion

YouTube:            1 billion

Google+:            347 million

LinkedIn:            336 million

Twitter:               289 million

Instagram:          302 million

Pinterest:            73 million

 

2. YouTube: The only thing close to Facebook is YouTube and YouTube is nice for a few reasons:

 

  • First, people love video. It is the present and future of the Web.
  • Second, people are engaged when on YouTube. They spend a lot of time watching videos.

 

For that reason, the site ranks consistently high when it comes to redirecting traffic to a website. As such, if your business lends itself to a visual, video presence, YouTube is a great way to both extend your brand and get clicks.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


3. Google+: Google+ has a variety of tools, including Circles, Hangouts, Messenger, and Hashtags. A newcomer on the block, G+ has two distinct advantages over the competition:

 

First, because it’s Google, you can expect to get better SEO and visibility.

 

Second, Google+ Hangouts are great because they offer you the chance to create engagement by broadcasting online. For instance, I have done a series of G+ Hangouts over the past year with my friends here at Bank of America. The conversations are always interesting and (hopefully!) useful for you, our tribe.

 

Here’s an example of our last one.

 

Doing something similar for your business or in your industry could really help you create a brand and a following.

 

4. LinkedIn. I once heard someone describe different social media sites this way: Facebook is the living room, YouTube is the den, and LinkedIn is the home office. It’s a pretty apt description and it describes LinkedIn well.

 

In the past few years, while LinkedIn has added many services, including the ability to post content and polls, join groups and what not, the site still is best for what is was designed to do: Link people up professionally. If you are looking to make business connections, LinkedIn is the place for you.

 

Tip: It is especially important to create a strong LinkedIn profile because it is often what people will find first when they Google you.

 

5. Twitter: Twitter, while it gets a lot of attention, is actually fairly small in the social media universe, based on the stats above. It can also be a challenge as crafting a valuable message into 140 characters (the Twitter limit) is no easy feat.

 

On the other hand, Twitter can really be a powerful tool to set yourself up as an expert/resource and, in that regard, it seems to be especially helpful for professionals and service-oriented businesses. Additionally, it can be an excellent networking tool since it is a great way to meet people you otherwise would not normally meet.

 

6. Instagram: Instagram is sort of like Facebook, but with pictures. You can post graphics and captions and have people follow you. As it is popular among younger people, Instagram really works if that is your intended demographic.

 

7. Pinterest: By the very nature of the site, whereby you create visual storyboards and “pin” things to it (pins can be pictures, videos, comments, etc.), Pinterest is a site that works great for businesses with visual appeal.

 

So, which site is best for your business? As I said, it is tough to generalize. Your best bet is to weigh the pros and cons of each, choose one or two, and jump in.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 


Snapchat_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


Snapchat is a social networking platform that allows users to send each other images or videos, called snaps, which then disappear after a short time period. Hugely popular among younger people—more than 70 percent of users are under the age of 25—Snapchat can also be used effectively by small businesses for marketing purposes.


The social aspect of Snapchat is similar to Twitter; you can follow other Snapchat users, and they can follow you. You can only send snaps to people who are following you, but when you do send a snap, there’s a much higher chance that the snap will be opened, generally within seconds of receipt, says Craig Smith of DMR, a digital marketing statistics website.


That’s good news for small firms that want to use Snapchat to help bolster their marketing efforts. Snaps can inform and entertain customers about a whole variety of topics and can be used by businesses of all types. Here are some of the ways Snapchat can be used to help build your brand:


Show off your merchandise

Use a series of snaps to show off your merchandise “in action.” This can be ingredients being prepared and combined into a restaurant meal, or apparel and accessories coming together to create a stylish outfit. Snapchat allows senders to caption their snaps with text and graphics. Use this caption as a call to action.


Snapchat_PQ.jpgMystery discounts

Reward your customers with a discount sent via Snapchat when they’re about to check out in your store. Some retailers have had great success in varying the size of the discount, leaving shoppers feeling excited about how much their bonus savings are going to be. Use of discounts in this way can help to increase the number of Snapchat followers you have, as people have to add you in order to receive the savings.


Customer service

Snapchat is proving to be a very powerful customer service channel. Create two- to 10-second videos illustrating the answers to your company’s most frequently asked questions to have an instant response ready when a customer snaps you a question. Use Snaps to provide directions to your store, showcase exactly which items are included in the latest sales event, and even to explain a special ordering process.


Why Snapchat matters to small business

Snapchat has 100 million active users, who create over 400 million snaps every day. Snaps are shared enthusiastically, with one in every eight snaps being shared at least once. For a small business, this is an exciting way to get images of your merchandise or incentive offers in front of multiple people quickly.

Snapchat also has the added benefit of relevance: while young people are using Facebook to stay connected to family and friends, it’s not where they look for fun things to do or merchandise they’d like to buy. If you want your younger customers to pay attention to what you’re saying, use Snapchat.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

 

Social_Media_Mgr_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.


Today, social media is an integral part of any company’s marketing strategy, and it’s worth the investment to hire a professional.

 

Effective social media management is a hybrid of marketing, public relations, customer service, and data analysis. Here are the key traits to look for in a job candidate, either full-time or on an hourly basis:

 

The ability to tell a story

Social media tells the story of your brand, so look for someone with strong writing and communication skills, says Jasmine Sandler, CEO and founder of Agent-cy Online Marketing in New York City. “The biggest challenge any company has is engagement in marketing. If you’re putting out boring stuff, there’s no engagement.”

 

Strong blog posts made on a regular basis help drive both website traffic and search results, says Kathi Kruse, owner of Kruse Control Inc., a Los Angeles digital marketing firm specializing in the automotive market. “If you can tell a story with an image, video, or the written word, you’re going to get a lot more people connected to you,” Kruse said.

 

Experience in community management or customer service

Social media is interactive, so you need someone who can build community with a professional but human approach. Kruse says intangibles like patience and emotional maturity are key, because this person may be your first line of defense in a crisis. Ask how they would handle poor online reviews or negative tweets about your business. Kruse advises business owners to respond to all social media feedback, but not always right away. It’s better to respond calmly later than to inflame a situation with a heated exchange.

 

Social_Media_Mgr_PQ.jpgA head for strategy and ROI

A social media manager must go beyond tactics and flesh out a strategy, Kruse says. Ask how the candidate has used the business applications in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other channels to mount a campaign and meet goals. Even the best content will go nowhere if it’s not promoted effectively, Kruse says.

 

Sandler says a social media professional needs to be savvy about traditional marketing, public relations, and advertising practices. And he or she should be able to analyze the data produced by social media metrics to hone strategy and track progress toward goals, she adds.

 

The cost of a social media manager

According to the career website Glassdoor, full-time social media manager salaries range from about $35,000 to $80,000; average is about $51,000. Social media strategist Mack Collier, who surveys consultants about their rates each year, finds most charge $1,000 to $2,000 a month for basic monitoring and reports. For strategy creation and integration, expect to pay $10,000 to $15,000 to establish a plan.

 

The cost of not having a professional in this role is poor social media management that puts both your sales and your credibility at risk. “There are conversations going on right now about your business,” Kruse says. “Do you want to help craft that narrative, or do you want a competitor or the public to do it?”

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

 

Data_Security_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.


Protecting customer data has to be among the top priorities of a small business owner. Hackers and thieves have been known to deliberately target smaller firms because they know security measures tend to be less robust and inconsistently implemented than those at larger corporations. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself:


Minimize the amount of data you store and who has access to it

Be mindful about the type and amount of customer data you accept and store. The less you store, the smaller your risk exposure. For this reason, the majority of business owners don’t store credit card information, choosing instead to pass that data along to card processors who have more robust security systems. However, more general data, including customers’ home addresses, birthdays, and purchasing history still have value and must be protected. Restrict access to this data to those employees who have a legitimate reason for it, and routinely monitor when and how they access that information.


Ensure all web applications are secure

If you’re using a cloud-based system to record and store customer data, make sure the web application you use to access this information from your computer and smartphone is secure. An easy way to determine this is to look at the browser address bar. Secure applications will display a “https:” rather than a “http:” at the beginning of the web address.

 

Also, be sure to check the web application’s policies and terms of service thoroughly to determine what use they’re making of the data you store. Free applications in particular make money by mining the data stored on their sites and selling it to advertisers. Choosing an application you pay for should ensure your data is not used this way – but you’ll want to carefully read the terms of service to be absolutely sure.


Data_Security_PQ.jpgChange passwords on a regular basis

A Verizon RISK study found that 76 percent of data breeches involve weak or overly simplistic passwords, such as “password” or “1234”. Make it a policy for employees to change their passwords at least every 90 days. The best passwords are at least eight characters long, contain upper and lower case letters, numbers, and characters. Discourage employees from using their own name, the company name, or any other easily guessed information as part of their password. And although it sounds obvious, make sure employees know not to keep their passwords posted on or near their keyboards or monitors.


Consider data liability insurance

Data liability insurance, also known as cyber insurance, protects policy holders against lawsuits from customers or employees impacted by a data breech, and in some cases, compensates for lost income that occurs as a result of a hacking event. To determine whether you need data liability insurance, talk with your insurance agent about costs, what specific protections are being offered, what data you’re storing, and the consequences of a breech. This analysis will help you assess whether or not you need to spend the money for this type of protection.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

How_SBOs_can_use_Vine_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.


Do you love Vine but aren’t sure how to make it work for your business? You’re not alone. The six-second length of Vine videos has been a significant hurdle since many brands have not been able to figure out how to share their marketing message effectively in such a short time frame. Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s totally fine to put your own spin on approaches that have proven to be effective for other companies. Here are some tips to make Vine work for your small business:


Embrace the homemade feel

The beauty of Vine is that the videos don’t have to be fancy to be effective. In fact, the homemade aspect to them is what makes Vines so attractive in the first place. It’s a good idea to spend some time watching Vines prior to making your own. Doing so will enable you to familiarize yourself with the platform’s unique feel and quell any concerns you might have about your filming technique or production values.


Show you’re ready for business

Use Vine to demonstrate that you’re ready, willing, and able to deliver exactly the experience the customer is looking for. For example, in six seconds, a restaurant could show, in rapid progression, the dining room, a chair pulled out, the lovely table, the menu, and a plate of delicious food.


Unboxing: Great for e-commerce

Your customers can be your best salespeople. Encourage them to create and share “Unboxing” Vines, which showcase their excitement and happiness as they unpack their latest delivery—your products. Suggest a hashtag (#YourCompanyNameUnBoxing) and include prompts to create these Vines via your other social media platforms, your website, and in packing materials. Don’t forget to share the best Unboxing Vines with your own followers.


How_SBOs_can_use_Vine_PQ.jpgDemonstrate product features

Put your employees in the spotlight by having them demonstrate one or more of your product’s best features, such as how much sports gear can be packed in a bag or how quickly a particular blender crushes ice. There’s a lot of power in visually presenting your product the way the customer will actually use it.


Explain the how-to

How-to Vines are among the most popular, as amazing transformations are explained in three or four simple steps. For example, a garden center could show how to transform a few flats of annuals into a cheery window box or a prom retailer could highlight a blue jeans to ball gown transformation.

 

Use these techniques to get started on Vine and remember to have fun. Social media experts say the most popular Vines are quirky, playful, and put a smile on your customers’ faces.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Five_Twitter_Tips_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

What can you say in 140 characters on Twitter that your customers will find interesting? How can you build loyalty, drive traffic, generate awareness, establish credibility, or nurture a sale when you're limited to a relatively small number of words?

 

The brevity of a Tweet trains you to zero in on the heart of your message immediately. So what are some ways that small businesses can leverage the power of this social media vehicle? Consider these suggestions from LocalVox, a web-based marketing platform that helps local businesses market themselves online:

 

1. Use Twitter lists to make strategic connections

Twitter lists can help you organize information into categories, such as influencers that you want to follow. Go to the profile of someone relevant in your business niche, scroll down to "Lists" and hit "Member of." You'll see the lists that they frequent, which will enlarge your network of relevant connections.

 

2. Enhance your credibility with testimonials

Provide a link in your outgoing Tweets to the testimonial to prove its authenticity. You can also embed the testimonial in your website by clicking on "More" in the lower right corner of the Tweet and following the prompts.

 

Five_Twitter_Tips_PQ.jpg

3. Boost the response rate of customer inquiries

Conventional customer service operations can sometimes be slow, cumbersome, and impersonal. Establishing a Twitter account to handle customer complaints, questions, or comments and having a protocol in place for a rapid response builds customer loyalty. Bonus: you can receive and respond to Tweets from your smart phone.   

4. Find customers in your neighborhood

Using the search option on Twitter is one of the little-known ways for finding customers in your area. Go to search.twitter.com and look for the "Advanced Search" tab. Fill in the fields to identify the prospects and geographical area that you're looking for and you'll find any Twitter users that match your criteria. You can then send them a targeted message, such as a coupon, special offer, or just a shout out to stop by your business.

 

5. Enlarge your employee talent pool

You can also use Twitter to post job listings and, more particularly, find potential employees that possess sharp social media skills. For example, come up with a Tweet for the job position you're looking to fill and highlight the critical keywords with a hash tag (#). After your Tweet is posted, you can combine your original hash tags with other words or phrases, such as "résumé" or another term that is relevant to your business sector, to expand your search.

 

These strategies can help you maximize the power of 140-character Tweets and keep your business in front of social media conscious customers.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Video Replay of the Live Google Hangout: How Small Businesses Can Take Advantage of the Biggest Technology Developments

 

 

Welcome to the Small Business Social Series sponsored by Bank of America. The panel discusses top technology trends and how small businesses can take advantage of them at a relatively low cost and with low effort. Topics include smart ways to manage your customers and your transactions, big data, and leveraging mobile tools.

 

The panel is moderated by Carol Roth and you will hear from:

  • David Solis, National Sales Executive, Bank of America Small Business
  • Jason Teichman, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Web.com
  • Steve Strauss, Small business columnist, USA Today

 

 

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