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2013

AssocRoundup_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

As any small business owner can attest, starting and running your own company takes commitment, hard work, and ingenuity. The good news is that you don't have to do it alone. Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever to find authoritative answers to the questions and challenges that entrepreneurs face. Here are seven organizations and associations to consider adding to your list of resources. Most offer free or low-cost services, but some charge membership fees, so be sure to check first.

 

SCORE: A nonprofit association that provides support primarily through mentorships and education. Small business owners can find a mentor from 62 industries for either a face-to-face or email meeting. There are also free business tools, free confidential counseling, and free or modestly priced workshops and webinars at more than 340 chapters across the U.S. and its territories. SCORE also offers expertise in specialized categories, such as minority, rural, veterans, women, over 50, and youth entrepreneurs.

 

The U.S. Small Business Administration: An independent agency of the federal government that helps in four key areas. The SBA offers a variety of business financing arrangements, provides free face-to-face and Internet counseling, fights for government contracts for small businesses, and represents entrepreneurs before Congress.

 

AssocRoundup_PQ.jpgNational Federation of Independent Business: A nonpartisan, nonprofit association that lobbies in Washington, DC, and in all 50 states for favorable government policies for small businesses. NFIB membership also offers discounts and buying power for small business essentials such as insurance, credit card processing, office equipment, online marketing products, and more.

 

National Small Business Owners Association: Focuses on giving members access to various kinds of working capital, insurance products, and financial education. According to their website, they "partner with leading lending institutions to service small business owners who cannot borrow from traditional banks due to business type, a short length of time in business, or an insufficient credit history."

 

America's Small Business Development Center Network: A network of private, government, academic, and local nonprofit economic development organizations that provide free or low-cost business consulting and training. Operates approximately 1,000 centers around the country. Their website has an extensive list of links to other resources for small businesses.

 

Business Marketing Association: This well-established association helps members meet their B-to-B marketing and communications objectives. It offers a wide range of programs, reports, surveys, and events that bring expert knowledge and people together.

 

National Association of Women Business Owners: The only dues-based organization of women entrepreneurs with 70 chapters across the country. Focuses on increasing the voice of women business owners in political, social, and economic leadership roles.

TwitterSecurity_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

So far, 2013 seems like it will be remembered in part as the year of the hacker. Cybercriminals and other malicious computer malcontents have targeted seemingly every aspect of modern American life. There’s the Pentagon, ATMs, the media, social media, videogaming, and government agencies.

 

With the pace and speed of these attacks growing, how can you stay informed about potential threats to your business? A quick and easy way (not to mention free) is tapping into the Twitter streams from some of the best minds in data security.

 

The experts on this list deliver real-time news and suggestions for action that can help you protect your small business’s computer and financial systems. If you’re interested in this world beyond these experts, just plug in a few hashtags—#security, #infosec, #cybersecurity—to get a taste of the breadth of issues that others are confronting on the information-technology front.

 

 

Naked Security

https://twitter.com/NakedSecurity

@Naked Security

Here’s the feed from the newsroom created by Sophos, a U.S.-British maker of malware protection and security hardware. The articles are smart reminders of things like new upgrades for search engines and applications, malware and scams to watch out for, accounts of how companies were compromised, and newly discovered flaws that you’ll need to worry about. Naked Security can also be followed on Facebook and Google+, but there’s something about their straightforward news and headlines that are best digested within a 140-character limit. (Add on Sophos’s senior technology consultant Graham Cluley—@gcluley—for even more insights.)

 

TwitterSecurity_PQ.jpgBrian Krebs

https://twitter.com/briankrebs

@BrianKrebs

Krebs is a former Washington Post reporter, Security Fix blogger, and self-taught computer expert who became fixated on the world of cybercrime after his PC was infected by overseas hackers back in 2001. These days, he’s an in-demand speaker on computer security and routinely breaks news on his Krebs on Security website, where he reports on his investigations into the sources of the most damaging hacks and scams. On Twitter, it can be exhilarating to watch him spar with underworld elements that have tried to knock him offline. Follow him to be ahead of the curve on flaws and scams that make industry heavyweights scramble to repair—and for his particular attention to the active threats to small businesses. There’s plenty to learn just by reading his interactions with his Twitter followers, too.  

 

Bruce Schneier

https://twitter.com/schneierblog

@schneierblog

This lauded American cryptographer—an expert in making and breaking secret codes— is well-known contrarian and gadfly when it comes to data security and privacy issues. He focuses on the long view and rational thinking instead of succumbing to fear by poking holes in the perceptions of the safety of new products, such as “smart” appliances and Google Glasses. This is Big Picture stuff, and questions that Schneier raises have often become the early warning system for controversies down the road. His tweets point to his own writings and other articles and off-the-beaten-path news that he finds interesting—and you likely will, too.

 

Kaspersky Lab

https://twitter.com/kaspersky

@Kaspersky

If you’re dealing with online commerce, this Twitter feed is a must-have. Its value comes from the fact that it’s not just a corporate site; it’s a smartly monitored source for breaking news on the security of tools that small businesses use every day. For instance, followers can check out flaws in the PayPal system and Drupal programming code vulnerabilities. There’s also a weekly roundup of the latest arrests and scams that have been discovered around the world, and a helpful site for those using the Kaspersky toolbox. It offers a daily supply of tips to harden your internal systems and alerts users to numerous reports of questionable activities that its worldwide user base is encountering. 

 

E.J. Hilbert

https://twitter.com/ejhilbert

@ejhilbert

E.J. Hilbert’s career reads like the Forrest Gump of online crime fighting: A former FBI special agent on the Web’s frontlines against terrorism; MySpace’s chief cybersecurity expert; and now Kroll Security’s top mind against spammers and scammers. He’s now moving on to London to take on hackers from across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. His Twitter feed offers an intriguing inside look at the people and agencies who are going after the bad guys, how the investigations unfold, and the cyber threats he sees occurring on a daily basis.

LogoTips_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

The Nike swoosh. The Twitter bluebird. The Starbucks green mermaid. We’re all familiar with these vivid logos. Now think of your logo. You have one, don’t you? A great logo can attract customers even before they know anything about you or your company. Read on to discover what to keep in mind when designing—or redesigning—your logo to carry your company’s image to the next level and beyond.

 

Know your overall brand personality

You think you know your company and your brand inside and out, but can you describe the feeling and personality you want to portray with your logo? Spend some time detailing your overall brand identity. “I'm often reminding business owners that their logo is only a small portion of their overall brand,” says Vicki James, small business marketing strategist at Stand Out Results. James works with clients for two months, developing an overall brand profile, including the core essence and the personality of their company long before heading to logo-designing stage. This time is vital to create a logo that will portray a company’s essence accurately.

 

Allan Branch, co-founder of LessAccounting, recently redesigned his company’s logo to be sure it was a good representation of his firm’s personality. “We're a boring accounting app, it's not sexy, no one likes accounting,” says Branch, “but we try our hardest to be friendly, fun, and the least boring we can be.” Branch worked with a designer to throw out any traditional accounting logo ideas. “Our new logo has nothing to do with accounting, no dollar signs, no calculator. In a digital world, we're trying our hardest to feel handcrafted and warm, friendly but not silly,” says Branch.

 

Answer the tough questions

After you have specified your brand personality (but before you call that graphic designer) determine what you want to do with your logo from a marketing standpoint. How will you reach your customers and look when compared with the competition? Mark Rushworth, head of search at Blue Logic, a digital design and marketing company based in the UK, reminds his clients to stay objective. “Remember, you’re designing your logo for your customers. Take your personal preference for fonts and colors out of the equation,” says Rushworth. He also asks clients to think about whether their logo will resemble their competitors or stand out. These are issues that Rushworth suggests business owners should address before talking with a designer.

 

Amy Burkert, founder and self-proclaimed “ring leader” of the pet travel website GoPetFriendly.com, thought about what her customers wanted and how to stand out from the crowd. “We have a unique logo—a cartoon dog holding a sign in his mouth that has our web address on it,” Burkert says. “The cute pup with his tail wagging makes you happy and gives the impression that this is a friendly, approachable company [which people want when they are thinking about vacations and their pets].” Burkert has used her flexible logo in a variety of ways for marketing purposes. “We can put him in sunglasses on the beach, show him with a packed suitcase, or give him a big smile with his tongue hanging out and people still recognize him as part of our brand,” she says.

 

LogoTips_PQ.jpgRemember the basics and keep it simple

As much as you would love for that five-color, detailed picture of your grandmother to be the face of your cookie company, it may not be the wisest choice. Angela Nielsen, president and creative director of One Lily Creative Agency, a full-service strategy and web design company, has developed over 500 logos in the last 13 years and knows what works and what doesn’t. “Consider all mediums the logo will be used in—web, print, marketing materials, promotional items, and so on,” suggests Nielsen. She advises business owners to choose logos with “no more than two or three colors,” which keeps printing costs down, an important factor for any business. “[Also], the logo needs to be scalable to large size (think billboards) or very small (think business cards),” says Nielsen. “The [best] logo is simple, professional, and memorable.”

 

Rushworth agrees. “Kill the tiny detail. Like faxes, websites are low resolution, so make sure your logo has bold detail,” Rushworth says, “The most basic, [black-and-white] representation of your logo should work equally as well as a high-resolution, color version.” Rushworth suggests thinking of all of ways the logo may be used—from the upper corner on a piece of paper to “the app icon version of your logo. It needs to work [in all formats].”

 

Get a professional’s help

Though you may be decent at Photoshop, your homemade logo isn’t going to cut it if you want to really stand out. “Your branding should be as brilliant as your business,” says Leslie Ann Akin, owner of Lake Oswego Graphics. “Everything matters. Interview and hire a competent designer to create branding that reflects your business in a style that is significant and meaningful.” Akin warns small businesses against ordering pre-made logo templates found online. “Who wants to do business with someone who has not branded their business with a distinctive style?” Akin asks. “You need to appear worthy of your competitor's clients.”

 

You can find a designer to fit your budget and timeline. “Young and just-out-of-art-school designers are a good choice—they’re up on all the latest software, know all the tricks, and rock at design,” says Akin, adding, however, that more experienced graphic artists “are often able to get through the process with a little more ease and probably faster.” No matter what designer you go with, Akin reminds small business owners to always be sure to check portfolios and references.

 

Lauree Ostrofsky, life coach at Simply Leap, LLC and recent author of I'm scared & doing it anyway, decided to work with a designer to redo her logo and had excellent results. “The movement of the dot above the ‘i’ has become a signature for me,” she says. “With a company name like Simply Leap, it often conjures up the image of a big bold jump. While that is an important element of my work, it truly is the series of small shifts you make in your life that lead to a leap.”

ReputationMgmnt_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

 

Navigating the world of online reputation management services can be extremely tricky. The industry is unregulated and Forbes magazine has, in recent reporting, shared stories that might make any small business owner nervous. All this makes researching the real value of online reputation management services that much more important and it begs the question: for the small business owner, is it worth your time and money to invest in online reputation management services?

 

Small business, high stakes

“Integrity is a platform to market yourself and your business,” explains Marvin Sandberg, a counselor for SCORE, a non-profit small business counseling service. “When your reputation is put into question it can be difficult to bounce back.”

 

“The fine art market is a small one, but there’s a lot of money in it,” Sandberg says, by way of an example. “People pay hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars for genuine and historical pieces. But before they do, they want to have that artwork authenticated appraised and provenance researched. I privately consult with a firm who had a situation in which they were unfairly skewered in the press in a way that made their firm appear unethical. This firm’s integrity was put into question—and it took  time to bounce back—all because this article appeared whenever the name was searched on Google.”

 

Brent Franson, vice president at Reputation.com says, “There are numerous statistics that show reviews materially impact a company's financials.” Franson cites a recent Harvard Business School study of Yelp.com that found a one-star difference in a business’s online rating impacted its bottom line by between five and nine percent.

 

The need for reputation management varies tremendously based on the type of business you’re in. Customers don’t research all purchases with equal diligence. If you’re in a business where you’re selling expertise and trust—think professional services, or very high-end retail—the odds are much greater that your customer is going to be researching you online before they do business with you. Think of reputation management as a life jacket for a certain kind of business: if you’re a ferry boat captain, you’ll want one, but if you run a bowling alley, probably not.

 

Reputation management services promise to provide a range of services, including reputation monitoring and repair. The former provides small business owners with notification whenever their business is mentioned online, whether that’s on a news website, blog, review site, or social media. Reputation repair takes the process a step further, promising to remove or mitigate unfavorable commentary so it doesn’t appear on the first page of search engine results.

 

ReputationMgmnt_PQ.jpgThe Internet is written in ink

Erasing content from the Internet is not an easy task. Independent review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp—often a small business’s biggest source of external reviews—seldom, if ever, take down negative commentary. These sites warn reviewers of legal issues, but stand behind the mantra that reviews are freedom of speech. Content removed from websites, blogs, and social media platforms can often be found by a determined searcher using an archival site like Wayback Machine, and once the searcher has found the content, there’s absolutely nothing to stop them from reposting it all over the Internet.

 

Rather than removing negative commentary, reputation repair services focus their energies on ensuring the search results related to your company are more positive in nature. These techniques can include high-volume targeted searches, generating positive content and commentary regarding your company, acquiring negative domain names, and redirecting traffic from these sites to your company site, and more.

 

Pricing for these services range from a one-time fee of a few hundred dollars to address problematic content to more than $25,000 for an ongoing reputation repair campaign. Is this money well spent? That’s a question that’s often hard to answer, as there’s no sure-fire way to track all the sales you might have missed because of a critical review. So, for every small business, the reputational risk and potential return on investment will be a unique equation.

 

Considering the DIY approach

DIY reputation management can be a valid option for the small business owner. If you are uncertain about the value of reputation management services for your company, take the time to discover what you can find out on your own. “Many small businesses can be very surprised by the results that show up on the first page of the search results, especially if they have never really done a search for their business online before,” says John Souza, president of Social Media Magic University. “Also, not all the information will be positive or true.” 

 

Free tools, such as Google Alerts and Social Mention, can help you determine who’s talking about your business online and what they’re saying.

 

Lower cost options may already be at your fingertips. If you are paying for a social media management tool like Sprout Social or Raven Tools to manage your day-to-day social media, be sure to check out their extended features for social monitoring.

 

Repairing a reputation

If you discover problematic content, you have options. Exercise restraint before you respond to negative postings on review sites; adding your commentary can actually boost the visibility of the complaint by making it appear more active. The best response to negative publicity is positive publicity: make strategic use of media connections and solicit positive commentary from your best customers on social media to organically boost your online image.

 

Once you’ve developed a baseline understanding of what your online reputation is, the next step is to monitor the web for any changes. Google Alerts and Social Mention will deliver emails to your inbox daily, letting you know what is going on. Take the time to read these emails. Social media management tools often have graphs and charts to show you positive and negative feedback. Awareness is key to assessing the seriousness of the situation and crafting an appropriate response.

 

If you don’t have the resources to handle these tasks in-house, you may want to outsource the content development to a reliable pro, says Souza. “Most businesses do not have time to continue having fresh, original content published week after week so a professional service will help you with everything from blog posts to press releases,” he explains. “A good web reputation management agency will work one-on-one with you to produce maximally effective content.”

 

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