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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

 

 

Article-Banner-649px.gif

Road_Warrior_body.jpgby Cathie Ericson.


As every small business owner knows, the work doesn't stop just because you are out of town. And we’re traveling more these days—a survey from Travel Leaders Group projects a seven percent increase in business travel in 2015.

While it can be hard to focus on the task at hand while worrying about what’s going on in the office, it’s imperative to maximize your time during out-of-town travel. Here are four strategies for staying connected to the home office while on the road:


1. Keep customers informed. Make sure clients know you might not be as responsive as usual. Activate your out-of-office email message and consider adding a buffer day to deal with issues and requests upon your return. Record your outgoing voicemail message so that it directs callers to someone else in the office, or clearly states how they can reach you in an emergency.


2. Make your tech work for you. Tools like Google Docs, Evernote, Nozbe, LastPass and cloud-based storage allow you to stay in touch no matter where you are. Justin Lugbill of Chicago and his wife own two businesses—Redline Digital and Lugbill Design. By using these online tools he says he can work efficiently where he is, accessing and editing files, and staying current on workflow. “In order to maximize my productivity away from the office, I've become ‘device agnostic,’ by implementing systems and services that can be used no matter what device you have in your hands at the moment,” he says.


Road_Warrior_pq.jpg3. Adjust your schedule. Understand that long days may be a staple of your business trip since not all work can be put on hold. Lugbill typically gets up an hour or two earlier to take care of emails and messages to close the loop and start the day knowing he’s addressed unfinished business. You’ll likely have to invest some time at the end of the day, too, since it can be challenging to make calls and respond to email during meetings.

 

4. Make the most of down time. Don’t squander your travel time. Ten years ago, travel days were wasted days, but now of course, work can be done in the airport, on the plane, and in your Uber car or cab. “Five minutes waiting to deplane has become an opportunity to answer an e-mail,” says Lugbill. He also advocates phone and computer tethering, which essentially allows you to turn your smartphone into a mobile hotspot, so you can go online without an extra expense in areas where you can’t access free Wi-Fi. (Check your plan though; some may charge).

 

The key to feeling confident when you’re away from the office is minimizing what your absence means to customers and your staff. Use these opportunities to delegate what you can to employees, and implement tech solutions that enable you to stay as connected to customers as if you were sitting behind your desk.


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.

 

3D Printing Thumb.jpg3D printing has the potential to be a game changer for small businesses. Essentially, the process allows you to produce an object in three dimensions in less time and often at a lot less cost than conventional production methods, such as injection molding. With a reduced barrier to entry, 3D printing can spur innovation—making it easier for entrepreneurs to design, test, and market more products, as well as dream up custom or specialty parts. Yet for all the excitement, some experts say that small business owners should carefully assess the process and do their due diligence before deciding whether 3D printing is right for them.

 

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Wearable_Tech_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


The International Consumer Electronics Show is the annual event where major tech manufacturers like Google, Apple, and Samsung unveil the products they’ll be promoting during the coming year. Much of the focus of the 2015 show was wearable tech, with devices designed to make it easier for people to pay on the go and stay fit capturing most of the attention. While not every device launched is destined to become your customers’ favorite new gadget, some surely will—and this year they’ve got the potential to change the way you do business.


Smartwatches: Put the world on your wrist

Every major tech brand has a new smartwatch offering, from the highly anticipated Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear S, and LG’s Audi. Think of smartwatches as miniature phones. Typically they can accommodate multiple apps allowing wearers to do everything from read email to pay for purchases.


It’s reasonable to expect that the customers already eager to pay for purchases using their smartphone will want to do the same with their smartwatches.


Wearable_Tech_PQ.jpgFitness Trackers: Healthy customers are happy customers

The Fitbit was, for many people, their first piece of wearable technology. Today’s selection of wearable fitness trackers has expanded in many ways. They’re used to record activity levels, the amount and quality of sleep, and more. For small business owners on the go, this can be a convenient and easy way to help ensure a healthy lifestyle. The data on these devices can also guide both lifestyle and purchasing decisions. Someone who learns they aren’t getting enough high quality sleep, for example, may be highly motivated to purchase a new mattress.


Size can be an issue

The smaller size of wearable technology limits how much functionality can be built in. A computer the size of a jacket button simply can’t match the capabilities of a larger model that has more space for memory and processor.  However, the convenience factor may lead people to overlook these limitations. In fact, the Google X development team cites this as the reason we’ll see people wearing more and more devices, rather than trying to find one piece of wearable technology that does it all.

 

Cloud_Computing_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

In its most fundamental form, cloud computing hosts your files and applications at a location separate from your business premises and staffed by trained IT experts that oversee their safety and maintenance. Some small businesses might be understandably wary about giving up a large measure of control over their data when they switch to a cloud computing solution. But others find the lower set-up costs and layers of protection that the cloud offers preferable to the expense of doing everything in-house. As you decide if cloud computing is viable for your business, consider what these experts have to say.

 

Less costly investment

"There's no better tool for a small business to get up and going at a level that previously demanded a lot of investment than cloud computing," says Darran Haessig, an IT consultant at Clarity Technology Group, a Madison, Wisconsin-based IT firm. "You do not need to invest in the resources for this service. And depending on what the service is, [you could save] a large cash outlay."

 

For example, a business that wants to host its own email in-house would have to provide all the components—such as the hardware, backup systems, maintenance, and security applications. But with a cloud computing solution, Haessig explains, "now you're paying a monthly rate to a service provider, such as Microsoft, that will handle all that for you. All you have to worry about is your Internet connection and your basic maintenance for your everyday PC to get access to it." As your business grows, cloud computing also gives you the ability to scale up cost-effectively.

 

Savings notwithstanding, some small business owners are uncomfortable with hosting their files at a remote location away from their direct supervision. Many service providers will let you try their services for free or for a limited time. Haessig says that this is an excellent way to see whether they are a good fit for your business, handle your requests promptly, and have security protocols in place that satisfy your concerns.

 

Secure your devices

While safeguarding your files is certainly an issue, some experts say it's a mistake to think that a cloud solution is inherently more vulnerable. 

 

"Quite the contrary—a data center has to meet compliance standards in the industry," says Charles Henson, vice president at Nashville Computer, a Brentwood, Tennessee-based IT company. "For example, if they are hosting data for a financial institution like brokers or investment firms, they would need to follow the guidelines of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. A facility that hosts data offsite for a healthcare company must meet HIPAA requirements mandated by the government and provide an agreement showing they have met the regulated compliance. Therefore, those machines at the data center are up-to-date, backed-up, and have the kind of security that small businesses or medium-sized businesses don't have with their current server and/or infrastructure today."

 

Henson says that the devices that attach to the cloud—such as a PC, desktop, Mac, tablet, or smart phone—pose more of a security risk than the cloud itself since employees may be opening suspicious emails or visiting questionable websites. It is the responsibility of the small business owner to come up with policies and practices on computer usage. Still, some IT companies "will assist you in securing your desktop devices as well as ensuring you're getting the right connectivity and the right cloud solution for your environment," Henson says. "So really you need to hire an IT professional that does this all day every day because they understand everything that needs to happen to make sure that your devices are secure."

 

Cloud_Computing_PQ.jpgWhen choosing a provider, Henson says to work with a knowledgeable IT consultant who can perform a cloud readiness assessment to see what applications your business is running and whether they are compatible with a cloud environment. As part of your due diligence, you should get references, review case studies of the provider's performance, find out the kind of disaster recovery plan the IT provider has, and how you can get your data if the company goes out of business.

 

Despite these hurdles, cloud computing can be a lifesaver for a small business. For example, Henson says that his firm set up a cloud computing solution for a bookkeeping company based in Franklin, Tennessee that also had employees spread out across the country. When Nashville was flooded in 2010, the bookkeeper called up, panic-stricken because the basement of her building was underwater. She lost everything and wondered what to do. "My engineer told her she didn't need to do anything and not to worry," Henson says. "He told her that her data and her servers were in our data center. She could go home and work as normal. And so they never missed a beat during that Nashville flood."

 

Get employees onboard

Small businesses that have employees at multiple locations around the country or the globe can use cloud computing to bring them together on a common project easily, and maximize their creativity and skills since they can each access the data efficiently.

 

"From the standpoint of a global workforce, the cloud is magnificent for this," says Laurel Delaney, founder of GlobeTrade, a Chicago-based management consulting and marketing solutions company. "The ability to do it all on one platform really saves the business owner a lot of time and headaches in a way that's not going to cost an arm and a leg."

 

Small businesses should look for cloud computing solutions that are easy to use, have a minimal learning curve, and allow employees to log on and have access to files in a minute or less. While some cloud providers offer free service, Delaney warns that it should be clear at what point a fee kicks in—for example, at five megabytes of data—and whether you'll be notified beforehand by email. "You want to know well in advance before you hit that threshold as opposed to getting cut off suddenly or finding that you've reached your maximum capacity. You don't want to get stuck if you're in the middle of working on a project."

 

Delaney also says that business owners should discuss switching to a cloud-based solution with their employees. Rather than make a dramatic announcement without warning, owners should spell out the reasons for the switch, the benefits to the company, the advantages of the new solution, and the positive impact it will have on their performance. "Get them excited and onboard because it's so important to get a companywide commitment on this," Delaney says.

 

Mobile_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.


The amount of time people spend on their mobile devices daily now surpasses the amount of time they spend watching television, according to a recent report from Flurry, a marketing agency which specializes in apps and mobile advertising. Users devote an average of two hours and 57 minutes to their smartphones and tablets every day.


Mobile commerce is booming.

What are mobile users doing for all that time? While social media, email and game playing top the list of favorite activities, there’s no arguing the fact that mobile users are doing a lot of shopping. Tech Crunch reports that 12 percent of last year’s holiday retail sales took place via a mobile device, with Amazon Prime members making six out of every 10 of their purchases via smartphone or tablet.


Smartphones are outpacing tablets as the mobile device of choice.

More than 6 billion smartphones are expected to be in use by the year 2020. Ninth Decimal, a mobile advertising company, has tracked how customers are using mobile devices to research purchases. They’ve found tremendous growth in the use of smartphones for research: there has been a 110 percent increase in number of customers who research retail purchases since 2013. During the same period, the use of tablets to research purchases dropped over 20 percent.


Mobile_PQ.jpgMobile advertising is more effective on smartphones – especially when geo-targeting is involved.

In the same report, Ninth Decimal shared their data on mobile advertising. They found that over 40 percent of customers made a purchase on their mobile device after seeing an advertisement for the item. This was only true for 19 percent of tablet users. Geo-targeting is a powerful strategy for reaching the mobile consumer: ad conversion rates climbed 20 percent when a location is included. Consumers exposed to mobile ads reported visiting stores 65 percent more times than consumers in a control group, who were not exposed to those ads.


Customers buy on the platform where they do their research.

The price of an item or service determines how long a customer will devote to researching a purchase before taking action. If the price tag is less than $50, customers researched 10 days or less, while a purchase that required $1,000 results in an average of 45 days spent researching. While customers would use multiple channels to do this research, it appears that they tend to favor the channel they use most to ultimately make the purchase. In other words, Ninth Decimal says, if a shopper does most of their research in a store, they will buy in that brick and mortar location. If they’re doing the majority of their research online, they will be a mobile buyer.

Protecting_Data_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


As major retail chains struggle with well-publicized data breaches, small business owners may not be aware of a potential security problem that’s much closer to home: employee compromises of sensitive data.


According to recent reporting from the Identity Theft Resource Center, which tracks data breaches across industries such as business, education, government/military, medical/healthcare, and banking, employees were intentionally or accidentally responsible for 28.5 percent of data breaches. That’s more than one in every four occurrences. Given these numbers, what can a small business owner do to keep their customers’ data safe from their employees?


Hire carefully

Small businesses can reduce their risk of data breaches by carefully screening all new employees before hiring them. “I would recommend business owners use all available resources to them to research any potential employee,” says Patrick Regan, an engineer with Single Digits, a company that provides managed networks, data/phone lines and managed IT services. “With the internet you can find out just about everything you need,” he adds. “Check Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking pages, and call previous employers. Lastly, if it’s a role where they would have access to proprietary passwords or corporate infrastructure, spend the money on a criminal background check first.”


Costs for a criminal background check average around $100, although minimal information gleaned from public records can be purchased for as little as $30 online, according to Hire Right Express, a global provider of criminal background checks located in Irvine, CA. How much do you need to spend? It depends on your business needs, according to Rob Beatty, project manager at UMass Memorial Medical, Worcester MassachusettsIf your business is installing alarm systems, then a rather extensive background check would be something I would use,” he says. “If you’re a landscaping company, then its far less likely that your employees will have access to something that puts you or your company at risk.”


Strategically restrict access to data

The easiest way to prevent your employees from intentionally or accidentally breaching data security is to never grant them access to it in the first place. “Find out what’s absolutely essential for employees to know and share that,” advises Beatty.


In a report entitled Protecting Against Insider Attacks, the SANS Institute, which provides computer security training, recommends determining who currently has access to your company’s sensitive data. From that information a company can then determine which employees actually need that access to complete their job functions and responsibilities. Everyone else should lose access to that data, even if they’ve had access previously.


Conduct regular data back up

Data security is an ongoing responsibility, similar to the security of your company’s physical location. Every day, you lock the door and set the alarm to keep intruders out. Data security requires similar vigilance.


Protecting_Data_PQ.jpg

“If you have large amounts of data changing daily, and it’s important to keep that data accurate and up to date, then you need daily backups,” Beatty explains. If the data doesn’t change as frequently, then weekly or monthly backups are sufficient. Data backups should be either cloud-based or to a remote location if possible. If backups can only be performed on site, then keep backups stored off-site in a secure location. “Never leave your physical backups sitting in the same location as your data,” he warns. Not only does storing backups with your data make it easy for an ill-intentioned employee to snatch both, but “a disaster such as flooding or fire will take out your data along with your backup ensuring that recovery is impossible.”


Use ongoing monitoring

One of the most important components of internal data security is being vigilant about how your employees are accessing and using data on a daily basis. “If you're concerned employees are misusing data in any way, there are two ways to handle it,” Regan says. He recommends businesses consider investing in a firewall, which is a network security system that creates a barrier between your company’s computer network and the rest of the internet, thereby protecting a company against external attack. The other route he recommends is checking employees’ browsing history. Robert Moskowitz, a data security expert for Verizon, writing for the RSA Conference, an information security trade event, points out that business owners want to watch for changes in how their employees are accessing data. For instance, if an employee’s data access had been moderate and then suddenly he or she starts transferring five or ten times as much data, or accessing hundreds of database records, a business owner will want to investigate further and review user activity. Moskowitz also points out that most intentional data breaches are caused by disgruntled employees, such as those who have been passed over for promotion or recently laid off.


Terminate access quickly

Whether an employee quits, is fired, or is laid off on a temporary or permanent basis, terminating access to all of your company’s data is an essential task that must be completed immediately in order to protect your business. The first step is to disable the former employee’s user accounts and passwords. It’s also a good idea to change the passwords on any other company accounts the former employee may have had access to.


Data security is an ongoing commitment

Protecting your sensitive data from internal threats in an ongoing responsibility. It begins before you hire a new employee, continues through their employment with you, and extends to smart post-employment protection strategies. Being vigilant does take time, energy and resources, but these costs are far less than the tremendous expense associated with a data breach.

 

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