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by Hollis Thomases


Google is far more than a search engine. If you know where to look, you can find a treasure trove of free or practically free tools to help grow your business.


Just about everyone uses Google in some form for their business. I'm sure you know about Google Maps, AdWords, Google Analytics, and Gmail. You might also know about Google Drive, Google Calendar, and Chrome, Google's Web browser. I even bet a few of you out there have delved into Google's "Even More" section, where you'll find several dozen Google products listed. But Google provides tools beyond those published in this section, and many of them can help you in your everyday marketing and business operations. Let me take you on a brief tour.


1. Google Trends

You're in the process of evolving your business with the changing times. You need to determine what kind of marketing language and descriptive terminology to use for your sales materials, website copy, and search engine optimization. Consider plugging some of your terms into the Google Trends search bar to see how searches for these terms have changed over time. Look for those still trending upward, and review the additional detail Google provides.


2. Think With Google

Speaking of seeking data to help your company evolve, don't miss Think With Google. It's a free marketing resource loaded with consumer trends, marketing insights, case studies, industry research, and creative inspiration.

3. GoMo

Did you know that 67 percent of people say a mobile-friendly site makes them more likely to buy a product or use a service? (Or that even if these people like your business, 50 percent will use you less often if your website is not mobile friendly!) Don't fall into the latter category. In last year's article about mobile marketing, I mentioned how Google offers a way for you to build a free mobile website for a year. Google's GoMo can also take your existing website through a free diagnostic test to determine to what extent it is (or is not) already mobile friendly.


4. YouTube's My Business Story

Create free high-quality online videos using this Google guide and tool. All you have to do is create a free YouTube account and upload some video clips and photos, and the tool will guide you through templates to add graphics and music.

5. Google+ Hangouts

In my article about GooglePlus, I mentioned that live video chat and collaborative screen sharing tool Hangouts is a fan favorite. Businesses can use Hangouts for small team meetings, virtual office hours, or brainstorming sessions or customer Q&A sessions.


6. Get Your Business Online

Because 97 percent of Americans who use the Internet look online for local goods and services, every small local business needs a website. But according to Google, more than half of U.S. small businesses don't have one. To help solve this problem, Google offers Get Your Business Online free website building, domain name registration, and hosting for up to one year. The site also has free resources to help small businesses grow and advertise online.

7. Trusted Stores

For those websites offering an online shopping experience, Google's Trusted Stores can help alleviate customers' doubts about your site's legitimacy and how well they'll be serviced. Google Trusted Stores have to pass a test for reliable shipping and customer service, and in so doing, they earn the right to display a Trusted Store badge.

8. Google Apps for Business

Competing head-to-head with Microsoft Office, Google Apps for Business software lives in the cloud instead of being server-based. Pricing starts at $5 per user per month depending on the features you select. You can then take advantage of Google Apps Scripts to further empower your business.

So go ahead--dig around Google for a little while. What it can provide your business beyond mere search tools might surprise you.



Article provided by ©Inc.

Youtube_Body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.


Since its inception in 2005, YouTube, the video-sharing site, has exploded in popularity, becoming a media sensation on par with that of its social media siblings, Twitter and Facebook. Consider these following statistics provided by YouTube: Over three-billion videos are viewed a day, while the site (which was purchased by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion) attracts on average 800-million unique visitors each month. Plus, nearly 17 million users have connected their YouTube account to at least one social media service. And here’s the final coup de grace—the site is free and easy to use.


It should come as no surprise then that an increasing number of entrepreneurs are starting to explore YouTube  as a part of their marketing strategy. For small business owners eager to jump into the video fray, the following guidelines—and caveats—should help.


Make your videos look professional

Even if you have a very limited marketing budget, your YouTube videos should look crisp and professional. Anything less than that will lower the impression that prospective customers have of your brand and could hurt your reputation. You’re looking to drive traffic to your site and gain customers—not repel them.


At the same time, don’t go overboard. Tell your story—it can be anything from a customer testimonial to a demo of your product or service—simply and without splashy special effects. Leave the blockbusters to silver screen masters like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.


Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of the five-year-old SixFigureStart, a New York City-based career-coaching firm, is a small business owner who subscribes wholeheartedly to this best practice. Her company started using YouTube as a marketing vehicle following Ceniza-Levine’s appearances on CNN and CBS news segments to discuss various career-related issues. The appearances not only resulted in heightened attention for SixFigureStart but in additional customers as well.


“Don’t feel like you need to have all the bells and whistles in place,” advises Ceniza-Levine, whose firm usually works with a team of six to 10 associate coaches as needed. “Start with some short video blogs. And if you find that your videos are improving your traffic, it might be worthwhile to invest in a professional shoot.”


Youtube_PQ.jpgBe strategic but also realistic

Shooting a video and then posting it on YouTube when you don’t have a story to tell or a clear-cut marketing objective is a waste of time, energy, and resources, however. Think about why you want to do this and how it will improve your company’s brand equity and bottom line.


For Ted Devine, CEO of Insureon, a 12-year-old Chicago-based insurance company that works with small business clients, leveraging YouTube as a marketing tool is an excellent way of reinforcing what’s most important about his brand. Because Devine believes so strongly in the power of this platform to communicate and engage with customers, launching a YouTube channel was one of the first things he did when he assumed the helm 14 months ago. But he also stresses that YouTube, like display ads or his company’s website, is just one element of Insureon’s media marketing mix.


“I think it’s a mistake for a small business owner to go out there and shoot a video, throw it on YouTube [without knowing why they’re doing it] and then think it’s going to help in any way,” explains Devine. Although such an undertaking might make the small business owner feel good, the elation won’t last unless there’s a specific marketing goal behind creating the YouTube video.

“[In our case] the YouTube platform has to reinforce the elements of the brand that we’re trying to establish as we grow our firm from 30,000 small businesses to 100,000 small businesses over the next two to three years,” he says.


Don’t be obscure in your content

To widen your market appeal, produce videos that are approachable and user-friendly, even if your business targets a specific audience or demographic. Avoid esoteric content at all costs.


Mike Salguero, co-founder of CustomMade, an online marketplace that connect artists with buyers looking to have items such as furniture, jewelry, or musical instruments customized to their needs, agrees.


“There are a lot of videos on YouTube that seem a little too smart,” says Salguero, whose company started using the platform a year ago. “For example, if a maker is teaching you how to make a diamond engagement ring, he/she can get a little too technical about the setting. [What he/she should do is] try to appeal to a broader audience instead of a few people.”


Salguero, who purchased CustomMade in 2009 (it began as a website in 1996), points to professional and home blending company Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” videos, in which the company’s founder Tom Dickson blends different products such as iPhones and golf balls as a humorous gimmick. These videos’ surprising popularity is an example of huge success attained as a result of appealing to a wide audience. The campaign, which launched in 2006 and still runs, has become a viral marketing phenomenon, garnering awards, publicity, and as of mid-January, over 220-million views on YouTube.


Don’t obsess about being viral

However, just because one company has experienced tremendous breakout success with YouTube viral marketing doesn’t mean you should emulate it as a business model. Think what’s best for your company and how you can achieve it with YouTube.


“There's a common misconception that a video on YouTube needs to go viral in order to be successful,” says Jason Rich, a small business consultant and author of “The Ultimate Guide To YouTube For Business,” set to be published later this year. “That's not the case at all. If a small business creates a video and it's seen by only 100, 500 or 1,000 people and those people wind up making a purchase or becoming a customer of that business, then the YouTube video served its purpose.”


So far, that strategy has worked out well for CustomMade. According to Salguero, in the year that the company has been using YouTube as a marketing tool, the return has been positive.


“We’ve had over 4,000 hours of people watching [our YouTube videos], which is 180 days of watch time,” he explains.  “So basically we’ve been able to capture hundreds of thousands of visitors who probably wouldn’t have otherwise gone to our site. That plays into brand impressions, getting the word out about what we do, and getting various viewers excited about CustomMade and the possibility of buying custom.”


Brevity is best

To better appeal to busy online users, it helps to produce YouTube videos that are five minutes or less in length. Otherwise fickle viewers will feverishly click off and scan for the next video for additional stimuli.


“Shorter videos, and more of them help retain an audience's attention,” says Rich. “Plus the additional videos on a company's YouTube channel will result in more listings when someone uses YouTube or Google to search for video content. This helps to improve a company's SEO [search engine optimization] results.”


Take advantage of the site’s SEO capabilities

Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google? For small business owners interested in leveraging YouTube to market their business, that’s a goldmine of opportunity that should not be ignored. 


“Once a business creates a video, it should use the tools available through YouTube to properly title, categorize, and describe the video, and then add highly relevant keywords to it,” notes Rich. “This makes it much easier for people to find the videos via YouTube and Google. Then a company should promote the videos on their own Facebook page, website, blog, and Twitter feed to help promote their videos.”


In this 24/7 digital age, reaching out to customers and prospects via YouTube video can be an effective way of increasing your brand’s awareness and ROI. But without focused messaging and marketing goals, all the clever artistry in the world will not bring you closer to driving up sales and acquiring customers.

by Tom Searcy


Tired of sending out emails and getting no responses back? An email expert shares seven tips to help make sure that your emails get read.


Recently I connected with Jonathan Borge, an email expert who has mastered the art of getting emails answered. Through an email conversation, (how else would you communicate with an email expert, right?), he shared with me seven great tips on how you can ensure that your emails will get noticed.


1. Subject lines: Remember that only 20 percent to 40 percent of your emails will actually get opened, though most of your subject lines will be seen. To boost your open rates, think of short, catchy, and informative subject lines. You should try to dangle compelling information ("The future of sales emails"), and you can even try adding some mystery ("Strange question"). We also recommend personalized subject lines, if possible ("Hunter Sullivan suggested I contact you").]

2. Your tone: Portray yourself as someone that other people can connect to. You'll want to show your recipients that you care about hearing back from them... so you can't simply sound like you're just sending another mass email. Never use "Dear sir or Madam," and stay away from overly formal language.

3. Email content: Make your emails short, simple, and easy to quickly digest. Your leads are busy people with jobs, too, so you need to maintain their interest. Do your research and find out what resonates for your prospects. Try to get an introduction to them or, if that's not possible, figure out in more detail what they or their company do. Tell them why you're emailing them, specifically. Talk about how you can solve a problem for them.

4. Your sign-off: End your emails with a definitive, clear call to action. Make it dead simple for your recipients to say yes—whether it's to a meeting, phone call, or product demo. Don't ask them for permission. If you want a phone call, then say "Call me right now at X for more details."

5. Your timing: Reach out to your leads when they're not too busy. Make sure you avoid heavy traffic times like Monday mornings. Based on our tracking data, we recommend the middle of the week, mid-day, as the best time to send emails.

6. Your image: First impressions are important both in person and online. The tone and formatting of your email is all your recipients have to judge you by. Make sure you are being professional, clear, and easy to understand. Stay away from over-formatted emails that look gimmicky, but don't hesitate to call out important information in bold or bullet points.


7. Your homework: Send yourself a sales email. Put yourself in your leads' shoes. If you were them, would you open this email? Would you spend more than two seconds reading it? If so, what would you do next?

The first time you read this list, you'll probably think "I already knew all that." But, do what I did. Go look at the last 10 emails you sent to prospects or new contacts and read them with a critical eye to see if you followed all seven tips. I scored four or five on all of mine, but not a seven on any one of them.

About Jonathan Borge

Jonathan is a product specialist at ToutApp, a sales communications platform that helps salespeople and sales managers streamline and track their day-to-day email communications. Be sure to read ToutApp's book on how to write effective sales emails.



Article provided by ©Inc.

DigitalSecurity_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

Small business owner, you’re not paranoid—everyone really does seem to be out to get you, judging by recent cybercrime reports.

According to the U.S. Secret Service and Verizon’s forensic analysis unit, in 2009 27 percent of corporate-data breaches involved companies with 100 employees or fewer. In 2010, their analysis put that figure at 63. The most recent data, for 2012, found that a whopping 85 percent of all data breaches targeted small companies, with some 96 percent of those hacks deemed to be “not highly difficult.” Small businesses’ computers are so enticing to criminals that they’re now a go-to crime target. In fact, law-enforcement experts recently told the Wall Street Journal that the number of U.S. bank robberies has decreased as thieves have moved on to easier prospects, like hacking into small companies’ financial networks.

In part, this growing number of breaches at small businesses is a result of criminals discovering that many have very weak security due to limited budgets and small or no technical staff. The cost of all of this cybercrime has been hard to measure—many victims are unaware that they’ve been breached. Security software maker Symantec pegged it at $388 billion worldwide in 2011, though those figures have faced scrutiny.    

What can you do to start making your enterprise a harder target? Here are some of the easier steps that experts say you can implement to make your office’s technology a tougher nut to crack.

1. Watch your point of sale systems. In the Verizon report, food, beverage, and hospitality businesses sustained more than half of all the reported attacks in 2012. The reason: Hackers around the world have been finding IP addresses that stem from remote credit-card readers and determined that many have easy-to-crack passwords. With numerous staffers needing such codes to process payments, passwords are often written right on the machines—so that even passing customers can see them. Once cracked, POSs have been used to steal customers’ credit card information and resell it on the black market. (The Verizon team was so alarmed, they made a clip-and-save note that customers can hand to waitstaff with their cards—Page 62 of the PDF.) Be sure to re-set the password after installation on all of your Internet-facing devices, change them frequently, and never use them to browse the Web.

DigitalSecurity_PQ.jpg2. Be smart about WiFi. At the office, stop broadcasting your WiFi network ID and protect it with a strong password. This will make the network more difficult for bad guys to spot and can even help keep them out if they find it. Companies that have guests can invest in affordable dual-network routers and create an unprotected guest network. If you’re on the road and have to use public WiFi, like at Starbucks, McDonald’s, or a public library where it’s impossible to control the network, consider using VPN to secure the connection between your computer and the office.

3. Erase your photocopy machine’s memory. Now this is scary. If you lease a photocopier, multipurpose fax/scan/copy combo, or just bought your own, it turns out that these machines have quite a memory—since the early 2000s, everything printed gets stored on the hard drive of photocopy machines. (Watch this CBS News investigation.) If you’re leasing and switch one out for an upgrade, you should know that many of these multi-function peripherals (as they’re known) are often resold overseas, containing a log of every document you ever printed, faxed, or copied. Even if it is scrapped, you can still pull out the hard drive and download all information within, which could include Social Security numbers, medical information, employee records, and who knows what else. Consider (again!) strong passwords for users, securing network access to the machines, and keeping the hard drive from copiers you’re trashing.

4. Shred everything.

5. Install security software on everything and update regularly. It’s not just PCs and laptops that you need to worry about: Tablet computers and smartphones also need protection. (Forget the myth that Macs are safe from being compromised.) Deploy antivirus software on all of your devices and ensure that everything, servers included, is configured to automatically check for updates daily and keep definitions current. And sign up for the FBI’s email alerts about new online scams to stay informed.

6. Know who you’re dealing with. Got a service person working inside your business or near your technology? Be sure to make a copy of their credentials, get their photo, and don’t hesitate to verify their identity with their company. Establish a sign-in process for visitors that need access to secure areas (e.g. computer equipment rooms), keep a trusted escort with them, and, sad to say, watch out for impersonators of authority figures. Never allow customers to use your computers, laptops, tablets, or cellphones.

7. Argh!x99, those passwords. Change them once a month, don’t repeat them, and individualize them for each machine.Strong passwords have upper and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation marks, and don't use common names, dictionary words, your children or pet’s names—or anything easily discovered in a Facebook profile. Think about two-step authentication, which would turn text messages into a verification-code token.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and sources noted.  You should consult a qualified security professional to assist you in determining the most effective security measures for your business.

BizIdentityFraud_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

When the owner of a small computer and electronics supplier in Northern California started getting irate calls from vendors who hadn’t been paid, he was baffled. Given his up-to-date credit history, this made no sense. Then the small business owner began to investigate. What he learned shocked him.

“He found out that crooks had almost completely cloned his business, placing tens of thousands of dollars worth of orders from his suppliers, and then disappeared,” recounts Neal O’Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council, a nonprofit that provides support to identity theft victims.

“They had a completely cloned version of his website, but with a domain name slightly different than his,” O’Farrell explains. “The thieves provided an 800 number that answered in the name of his business and included voicemail boxes for all his key employees so anyone calling that number would recognize the key staff and therefore assume the number was legitimate. They also created an e-mail address very similar to that of the business owner and included it in every correspondence with suppliers.”

The grand-scale deception finally ended after O’Farrell and his team started deleting some of the domains registered to the thieves. But it wasn’t easy. No sooner would one disappear than several other domains similar to the original legitimate one would pop up out of nowhere.

“It was obviously organized and targeted, with the thieves devoting a considerable amount of time researching this very small business and planning their attack,” continues O’Farrell. “We still have no idea who was behind the attack and why they picked on this largely unknown business.”

No, this is not a sequel to the Bourne Identity franchise, even though it certainly has the makings of an action-packed thriller. It really happened. And if you’ve ever had any doubts as to what constitutes business identity fraud, which is when the identity of a business is stolen and then used to establish several lines of fraudulent credit, leaving the real business with the bill, the aforementioned case is a classic example.

In the small business world, business identity fraud has become surprisingly common. According to 2011 Javelin Strategy & Research's Small Business Owners Identity Fraud Report, in 2010 small businesses lost roughly $8 billion to fraud. Unfortunately, because of the easy accessibility of business information, including website data, company name, and staff rosters, O’Farrell says it’s “almost impossible” to prevent these types of crimes from occurring. But there are ways that a small business owner can minimize the risk of being a target for business identity thieves. The following is a sample of eigth important tips:

Limit computer use at work for business purposes

When there’s a work lull, an employee might use his or her computer to download music and games or dabble in social media. Although these may seem like harmless activities, it could open the door to a modern day cyber-evil—hacking.

“All too often these employees unwittingly download keystroke logging malware when they search for these items,” explains Steve Weisman, a business identity fraud expert who’s the author of “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age” and the publisher of the Scamicide blog, which provides updated information on identity theft schemes. “This malware is able to steal all of the information from their computer.”

BizIdentityFraud_PQ.jpgSteer clear of using paper checks

Frequently, a business identity theft perpetrator might be a current or former employee, someone who might have access to sensitive financial documents or information (such as a CEO’s signature). In this instance, an unscrupulous employee could alter the amount of a company check, forge a signature and then cash it at a bank, pilfering the amount for him or herself. It’s a kind of theft that Christine Lee Smith, who runs CLS Photography, a wedding portrait and photography business in Long Beach, California, knows about all too well, having experienced it a while back.

“An independent contractor we hired to do some photo editing cashed a check we used to pay his invoices for $200 more than we wrote it for, at a local hardware store,” she recounts. The experience was an eye-opener for Smith, who has been operating her business for nearly seven years. Although she was lucky enough to get her money back, she now uses secure electronic payment for all business-related matters. She also advises other small business owners to use credit cards for purchases as well. 

With these options, “you protect your financial information without sacrificing efficiency,” insists Smith. “They can also help you keep a more accurate account of what is coming in and out of your account, as transfers may occur more quickly than paper check processing.”

Google your business name regularly

O’Farrell strongly stresses doing this as a safeguard to protect your small business against identity fraud. Also, “check your domain name regularly, just in case someone else is using it or something similar publicly,” he suggests. “Maybe create a Google Alert for your business name.”

Befriend a local banker

Chances are more than likely that you, as a small business owner, may not know what to look out for when ferreting out identity fraud. Your banker, as a skilled financial professional, might know the telltale signs that could surface in your business documents. He or she “can help you navigate difficult situations, should identity fraud occur,” advises Smith.

Shred all-important documents set to be discarded

When looking for their next target, thieves feed on information. Don’t give them any ammunition. Or as Weisman, a lawyer by trade, says, “Identity thieves are dumpster divers.” If you no longer need them or require them in your possession, then you should destroy all documents either about your business or customers that contain any “identifying information,” such as tax identification numbers, passwords, bank account information, and credit card information.


To underscore his point, Weisman suggests using a “cross shredder” because “identity thieves have actually been known to piece together vertically shredded material.”


Review your business credit report

As in the case of Googling your business name, O’Farrell recommends this as an important best practice. “This will help detect any suspicious credit activity,” he says. Examples of the latter include new credit applications and accounts as well as changes to phone numbers, office addresses, and key personnel.


“These all suggest that thieves are already committing fraud in the name of the business or are doing the groundwork,” notes O’Farrell.


Change computer passwords frequently 

Cyber thieves are specialists when it comes to stealing passwords to vital business information and then using it for their own illicit gain. Protect yourself by changing your business password frequently. Also, immediately deactivate passwords for terminated employees, urges Weisman.

Hire a trusted accountant or bookkeeper 

To further shield your business from identity fraud, having an additional set of eyes on staff is another key takeaway. In this vein, an accounting professional can be instrumental in “helping you catch suspicious account activity so that the responsibility is not solely on your shoulders,” notes Smith.

Preventing your small business from being hijacked by thieves might be difficult given the persistence and cunning of hucksters; however, you might be able to keep the possibility at bay by observing the above measures. You’ve worked hard to build up your business. Why sacrifice it all to accommodate criminals? 

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