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2016

One thing that is true in business is that nothing ever stays the same. People’s taste’s change, habits change, customers come and go, the economy gets worse or better, employees leave, new technologies emerge, and more. It’s not a matter of if things will change, it’s a matter of when will things change.

 

This begs the question, “how will you manage that change?”

 

For example, it’s especially important during this time of year to make sure you continue to market your business in new ways, because 1) people are certainly not getting their information they way they used to, and 2) folks are busy outside and on the road doing other things. That tired old marketing campaign that you have used forever might need some freshening up.

 

Indeed, relying on old habits when new and better tools have emerged is only one mistake small business owners can make. There are plenty more, that’s for sure, especially this time of year.

 

Here then are the top traps you need to avoid this summer:

 

Discounting too much: For many businesses, it is easy to get so caught up in the slowness of the season that they are tempted to have, say, a “sidewalk blowout sale!” as a way to grab attention or gain more business.

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Don’t fall for that trap.

 

Customers shop with you for many reasons, and only one is the price. Of course you need to be sensitive to price, but remember that there are other facets that go into the buying equation that are equally, if not more, important. Unless you are the low price leader, your customers are your customers for a lot more important reasons than your low prices.

 

And this leads directly to a similar mistake:

 

Not competing on your turf: We all love big box retailers for a few reasons, generally speaking they offer:

 

  • Great selection
  • Competitive prices
  • Professionalism
  • Reliability

 

That said, we cannot and should not play on their turf, especially in the summer when they may be advertising more to get noticed, and gain more traffic. It is far smarter to make them compete on your playing field. Your friendliness, convenience, and personal touch can’t be beat. That’s your secret sauce.

 

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

 

Not giving or taking time off: If this is your busy time of year, it is understandable that you and your staff will be working hard. Just keep in mind that all work and no play not only makes your employees dull, but also makes them unhappy. If this is not your busy time of year, then it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that employees expect extra free time right about now.

 

Be sure that your team (including you!) get some time off to partake in the great weather.

 

Relying too little on social media: With a little extra time on your hands, a social media marketing campaign just may be that new idea that you need to try this summer.

 

Not being mobile ready: Even if your business does not engage in e-commerce, people will still find you, or be able to look for you, via their phone. This is especially true when customers are out and about more in the good weather. The thing to remember is that right now, at this very moment, people are searching and shopping via their mobile device.

 

Combined, this means you must have a strong Web presence, and your site must be search engine optimized, full of key words and phrases and content, and has to be mobile optimized. Being listed in Google My Business, and Bing Places is similarly vital.

 

Similar to golf, summer is a lot more fun when you don’t hit the traps.

 

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.  ©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Women small business owners are feeling more optimistic about annual revenue and growth expectations than their male counterparts, according to the inaugural Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, a study based on a survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, focusing on the aspirations and pain points of women business owners.

 

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Click here to download a PDF version of this infographic.

One summer, I was interning at a law firm in San Francisco hoping to impress the partners enough that they would offer me a job after I graduated the next year. This was back in the day, when law firms really wined-and-dined their potential associates.

 

Man, I loved that summer.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

They took us river rafting, we had drinks at partners’ homes overlooking the bay, we were invited out to fancy dinners, and we even went hot-air ballooning one day. Oh yeah, we did a little work too. Needless to say, I really wanted to work for these folks. “They really know how to treat their employees well!” I thought.

 

  1. Ha.

 

I thought wrong. What they knew was how to recruit well. It actually turned out to be a terrible place to work, and in that sense is was a lesson in reverse. What employees want and what makes for a happy workplace and great culture is treating employees right – not only right from the start, but all along the way.

 

The savvy business owner knows this. Indeed, one of the smartest things you can do, especially this time of year, is to take advantage of the natural rhythms of the season and treat employees to some summer fun.

 

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

 

Here are a few effective ideas:

 

1. Flexible work hours: I saw a survey not long ago stating that 45% of entrepreneurs surveyed said that they reward their staff with flexible hours and/or they let them work from home. While this used to be a far-fetched idea, it is now easy and commonplace today. Between the cloud, smart phones, apps, and laptops, anyone can work anywhere, anytime.

 

So let them.

 

Especially during the summer, it makes sense to give employees some extra flexibility, some time to enjoy the nice weather and get work done at a time that’s maybe more convenient. They will appreciate it and reward you with their loyalty and hard work.

 

2. Amenities like free lunch, massages, etc. When you see a television segment about successful Internet companies like Google or Facebook, one thing that is very noticeable is the amount of free (or subsidized) things available, like food, massages, foosball and so on.

 

For the small business, you might consider installing a basketball hoop in the parking lot or offering free, healthy snacks like fruit and water. Affordable, and appreciated.

 

3. Team building events: Especially in the summertime, when everyone is thinking about a lot more than just work, a fun event together, away from the office, is often just what the doctor ordered. Whether it’s going to dinner, a game or concert together, a team-building event, well, builds the team.

 

4. Encourage break time outside: One easy, affordable way to recharge the troops is to encourage them to take breaks outdoors with coworkers. Encouraging health and well-being is always appreciated by employees, especially in the summer.

 

5. Mix up the routine: Changing up daily routines reduces stress, boosts morale, and keeps people engaged. Try having a ‘bike to work’ day.

 

6. Unexpected freebies: Have a spontaneous contest and give the winner a pair of seats to a sporting event. Buy gift cards and hand them out. Give everyone an unannounced afternoon off.

 

This is the time of year when people like to take advantage of the outdoors. Let them. You will all win.

 

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.  ©2016 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

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GreatLogo_Body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

 

McDonald’s golden arches. Coca-Cola’s script. Nike’s swoosh. Each of these logos is synonymous with its company name, no other identifier needed. Says Laura Wallis, an online marketing consultant at Webnavigatorgal.com: “A logo is an extension of your branding, and as the key image of your business, it sets the tone for who you are as a company.” Here are five key elements a small business owners should consider when developing a logo:

 

1. Appropriate for your audience

You want your logo to speak to your target market, to let them know your company is for them, says Jessica Lyon, senior designer at Pivot Group, a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Portland, Ore. One exercise she recommends is attributing descriptive adjectives to your key audience and comparing them to the qualities of your logo. For example, a retailer primarily serving tween girls might say its target market is youthful, trendsetting, playful, creative and feminine. “If you compare those qualities to their logo, it would be fair to say they match up well,” says Lyon.

 

2. Thoughtful color choice

Limit the logo to three or fewer colors for design simplicity, Lyon suggests. Also, consider the associations behind color choices. “There are basic attributes we ascribe to most colors, and we’ve learned to make assumptions based on them,” says Lyon. For example, red is associated with passion and power, and blue with peace and loyalty. “It can be helpful to use those complex psychological associations to your advantage when choosing colors for your brand and logo,” she says. If your logo uses more than one hue, make sure they work well together.

 

GreatLogo_PQ.jpg3. Reproducible/functional

The logo should work well in color versions as well as black-and-white, and should be usable in any format and size. “With the advent of mobile, it's very important to test how a logo will look online in thumbnail size,” Wallis says, noting that logos are now consistently viewed at a much smaller size than when they were primarily used in print advertising or on signs.

 

4. Fresh

“Even well-designed logos can look out-of-date eventually,” Lyon says.  So although you may have a design you love, consider updating it occasionally to keep up with visual trends, without being so trendy that it quickly becomes obsolete. A great example of a recent logo refresh is Google, which updated its typeface and other elements.

 

5. Professionally designed

Feeling overwhelmed by the elements described above? Most small business owners quickly discover that professional design assistance can make all the difference. “We often work with clients who have tried to develop a logo too quickly and have moved forward with design work without fully considering their ideal audience and how they can differentiate their company in the marketplace,” Wallis says. “I see so many logos that have been designed by the brother of someone in the accounting department, and it usually doesn’t go well,” adds Lyon. “A professional can apply overall design principals and make sure the result is both functional and aesthetically pleasing,” she 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.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Steve Strauss

The B Word

Posted by Steve Strauss Aug 5, 2016

I have a question for you: Would you ever get in your car, put a blindfold on, and drive away?

 

Well, of course not.

 

With a blindfold on, you would never know if you were headed in the right direction. You would be unable to see if a red warning light popped up on the dash. You wouldn’t even know if you had enough gas to get where you are headed; you would be completely lostSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png.

 

The reason I bring this up is because this is exactly what happens to small business owners who run their businesses without a budget. Doing so is akin to driving with blinders on. Are you headed in the right direction? Who knows? Do you have enough cash flow to get you there? Maybe. Is there a warning sign of which you should be aware? Hope not. If you don’t have a budget, you just won’t really know – until you crash.

 

Oh, I get it. You don’t want to create a budget. Join the club. People start their own business for all sorts of reasons – epiphanies, freedom, passion, boredom, bosses – you name it. But I think it’s fairly safe to say that one reason is not because they love budgeting (unless of course you are an accountant).

 

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

 

The fact is, there are two parts to any small business: what you love to do (the designer is great at web design, the jeweler makes stunning jewelry) and then everything else (the legalities, budgeting, marketing, and so on.)

 

Unfortunately, the “everything else” is crucial. The jeweler cannot just make rings. Those other parts must be mastered because they are what allow him to do that thing that he loves to do. Without marketing, he won’t have any customers. Without incorporating, he opens himself up to personal liability. And without budgeting, he can run out of money.

 

For many small business owners, the financial part of the business is not their strong suit, yet it’s almost more important than the more glamorous parts of running a business. Getting a loan, forecasting cash flow, having enough money set aside for quarterly taxes are the mundane tasks that are critical to the success of a small business.

 

This begs the question, is there some way to make these less glamorous parts of running a business easier? You bet.

 

Part of the problem is nomenclature; for many people, the word “budget” has negative connotations. A budget is a strict set of restrictive rules and guidelines that dictate certain actions and forbid others. It is a constricting, unforgiving formula.

 

No wonder people don’t like budgets.

 

And that is why I would like to suggest that instead of the word “budget,” you try using the word “plan” instead, because really, that is all that a budget is. It is your plan for how you can best use your money. Instead of thinking of a budget as a restrictive covenant, the better choice is to think of it as a permissive plan.

 

Would you like to spend more money on pay-per-click ads this year? Great, then do so. Look at your plan, decide how much you want to spend on pay-per-click, and then decide how to pay for it. If that means less for independent contractors this year, then so be it. You decide what your priorities are.

 

So go ahead, take the blindfold off. It’s OK. It is your plan after all.

 

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.  ©2016 Bank of America Corporation

MultipleLocations_Body.jpgBy Erin O'Donnell.

 

When your small business expands beyond its original location, consistency and communication are key to continued success. We spoke with Los Angeles-based management consultant Ray McKenzie, founder of Red Beach Advisors, about the best practices for managing a small business with multiple locations.

 

Duplicate success

McKenzie says the first thing a business needs to do before it expands is to determine what already works, and make that the template. In addition, small business owners must be clear on their company culture so that they can duplicate it easily. "They need to make sure that whatever location they branch out to or build, it needs to be exactly like the one they've been successful with so far," McKenzie says. "Use the formula that works. Have a concrete mission, values, and culture."

 

Use consistent systems and processes

And, make sure those processes work for the remote locations. If you have a cabinet full of physical customer files, how will your satellite managers access them? If your business is not already using a digital system for filing, orders, invoices, and the like, it's time to adopt new technology. Then, train all employees to use them the same way. McKenzie says to make sure all managers are reporting on the same metrics at the same intervals. That way, you as the owner or founder can get an overview of the company quickly and make intelligent comparisons about performance.

 

MultipleLocations_PQ.jpgBe present

High touch is critical in the beginning. When your new locations launch, McKenzie says it's important for owners or founders to spend at least three days in person with the new manager and staff. While getting everyone up to speed on your systems and processes, you are also infusing them with your energy and culture, he adds. Going forward, small business owners must be prepared to spend more time with satellite locations than at headquarters. If that gives you pause, it could be a red flag. "You don't ever want to expand if you don't have the home office running smoothly," McKenzie says.

 

Standardize reporting

Plan a weekly one-on-one meeting with each location manager, McKenzie recommends, to assess performance. Then have a meeting or call with all site managers at least once a week. This will give you a chance to give each location individual attention and allow them to discuss common concerns as a group. Be sure to give them clear guidelines on the types of information you want to know: sales reports, client growth or loss, progress on goals and projections, staff issues, customer feedback, and so on. And make sure all managers follow the same standards for their reports. Cloud CRM services such as Salesforce or Domo, or even QuickBooks, can help streamline this, McKenzie suggests.

 

Remain accessible and supportive

Hire managers you can trust with the day-to-day details and resist any urge to micromanage. But make sure they have direct access to you as the business owner whenever they need it, and communicate this clearly. "You can pass along energy from headquarters to the satellite offices," McKenzie says. "They're on remote islands, and you want to close that gap as much as possible." In addition, be clear with your home office staff that the new locations need their full support, and encourage your new staff to ask for help when they need it. "Everyone needs to understand that, for us all to be successful, we have to do whatever we can to help the satellite grow as much as possible."

 

With consistent practices, clear expectations, and robust communication, your new locations will be well prepared to carry on your brand and grow your business.

 

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.  ©2016 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

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A very nasty computer virus that can destroy all of your files called “Cryptolocker” has been in the news a lot recently:

 

“Cryptolocker partially shuts down Pinal County, Ariz. government network” (SC Magazine)

 

and

 

“Internet ransom a booming business for hackers.” (Toronto Sun)

 

and if that’s not enough, this one should really get your attention –

 

“Major Sites Including New York Times and BBC Hit by Cryptolocker” (The Coin Telegraph)

 

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Cryptolocker is a form of ransomware that does exactly as advertised by its very name: It encrypts, locks, and then holds your computer hostage until you pay a ransom.

 

The specific way this happens is unfortunately quite easy (but also quite easily prevented, see below):

 

Usually the bad guys send out what seems to be a legitimate and innocuous email and hope you open the infected attachment. Alternately , they may send you a link to an infected website and hope you click on it.

 

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

 

Either way, once the malware gets into your system, you are in trouble. The virus will go through your entire hard drive and begin to infect various file extensions, like .doc (Word documents) and. xlxs (Excel files), among many others. A popup will then inform you that you have 72 hours to pay a ransom (usually between $300 - $500) or all of your files will be deleted.

 

Many businesses decide that they would rather pay the ransom than deal with the problem. Obviously, a far better step would be to prevent getting infected in the first place.

 

Here are my top 5 ways to prevent a “Cryptolocker” attack:

 

1. Invest in a security software suite: You need to find a cloud-based comprehensive security solution that includes a firewall and anti-spam filter. The software needs to cover all of your computers, tablets, as well as mobile devices.

 

2. Update your software regularly: The bad guys are always trying to figure out new ways to get ransomware on your computer. If you use a cloud-based security solution as suggested, your software will always be up-to-date. You need to also keep your operating system and o

ther vital software current as well.

3.  Create security policies: You need to become educated as to how cybercriminals operate. Then you need to create standards, protocols, and policies for your business with regard to emails, attachments, suspicious sources, software updates, and the like.

 

4. Teach your employees well: Once you have a process and proper policies in place, you need to teach your employees what is and isn’t acceptable. Educate them on how to spot cyber-threats. Let them know what safe computing looks like for your business.

 

5. Back up, back up, back up: It is imperative that you back up all of your data in the cloud on a regular (i.e. at least daily) basis. This will give you a clean backup should you ever unfortunately need one.

 

The reason I suggest you do all of this is that ransomware attacks on business are on the rise, small business owners get this (according to the most recent Small Business Owner Report, almost one in five respondents cited cybercrime as a major issue), and finally, you don’t want to be like the business in this final headline:

 

“Ransomware takes files at attorney's office hostage.” (KPHO Broadcasting).

 

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.  ©2016 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

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