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Blog_Platforms_body.jpgBy Heather Chaet.


Propelling your brand to the forefront of your field takes much more than a functioning website and a loyal social media following. You need to establish yourself as a thought leader to maneuver your company to the top of the pack. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through a blog, an online hub linked to your website with content of interest. It has become a vital tool to establish your credibility as an authority in your business arena. We set out to explore the top blog platforms out there and the best ways to decide which one may be right for you.


Choosing a blog platform

From WordPress to SquareSpace, there are a number of blog platforms to choose from. However, before writing any content, evaluate your ability to launch and maintain a blog. The responses to these questions will dictate which blogging platform you should choose.


I think the most important aspect to consider when choosing a blogging platform is the ease of use for the bloggers,” says Ben Larcey, digital marketer for Bluebird Global, the certified reseller of Revel Systems, an iPad POS technology for the hospitality and retail industry. Larcey suggests that business owners have a discussion about the technical abilities of their team first, and then evaluate the relevant blogging platforms that match those ability levels. Once that is established, think about the audience for your blog. Cultivating an idea of where those customers are and what kind of platform they are more apt to enjoy makes a huge difference in the reach and impact of your blog.


Blog_Platforms_PQ.jpgBlogging leaders

Talk to most small business owners with a blog, and they will likely point to WordPress, the most popular blogging platform. Estimates are that WordPress powers close to 20 percent of all the websites online,” says Scott Chow, owner of The Blog Starter. “This figure includes blogs for small businesses as well as the sites of several large companies, including the Wall StreetJournal, Ford, and CNN.” While WordPress is Chow’s preferred blogging platform, he says there are several other interesting options.



Because of its ease-of-use and powerful functionality, Chow places WordPress at the top of his list. “It has an easy, intuitive interface for business owners that aren't technically-minded,” says Chow. “This allows you to get a simple blog up and running relatively quickly and easily. It has an immensely powerful platform, which you gives you the ability to customize and change your blog in the future as your business grows.”



For those businesses that want to highlight pictures and shorter content, Tumblr is a good choice. “Tumblr is a microblog platform, where the focus is more on visual content,” explains Chow. “It is best suited for businesses that want to illustrate their value through pictures or short videos, such as a floral shop that wants to showcase their arrangements.” Other Tumblr features emphasize a sharing component, making it ideal for businesses reaching a younger demographic. “Tumblr has more of a social aspect to it than WordPress,” says David Bakke, a writer for Money Crashers, a web site that offers financial, money management, and small business advice. “It’s more like Twitter in that way.”



Blogger was one of the first blogging platforms on the scene at its launch in 1999 by Pyra Labs (the platform was bought by Google in 2003). It has lasted over time due to the ability of a user to jump right in and start a blog in a matter of hours. “Blogger might be a better option than WordPress for beginners,” says Bakke. “It’s a bit easier to use for those just starting out.” Chow agrees: “It has a similar interface to WordPress and is just as easy to use.” Keep in mind the simplicity of the platform means somewhat limited design customization. Chow also points out there is less functionality to monetize your blog on Blogger, making this easy-to-use platform an option for those businesses not trying to sell product directly from their blog.



If you are also building a new website or want to revamp the look for your brand, SquareSpace is an attractive choice. “SquareSpace is not a traditional blog platform, but rather more of a website builder,” explains Chow. SquareSpace’s Layout Engine allows the user to easily click-and-drag features into the site templates, yet Chow notes that, “adding unique features that aren't included in the Layout Engine is difficult, limiting the functionality of your site.” However, this relatively new platform offers small businesses sleek and fresh site designs, which create a much more modern brand look. “Squarespace allows you to give your blog an air of sophistication, something you typically won't find with WordPress,” says Bakke.



Medium is the perfect choice for the entrepreneur who wants to highlight his or her writing. “The idea behind Medium is to keep the design and layout elements very simple in order to let the content shine through,” says Chow. “This format lends itself well to those who see themselves as ‘information marketers’ and want to build up their trust and credibility by posting great content.” Chow notes that due to its simplicity, other functions such as selling products is limited, making Medium a good secondary blog for a business.


No matter which platform you choose, once you begin blogging, consistency is essential. “Far more important than the technical details of the software is the ability for the business owner or staff to be able to quickly and easily publish posts,” says Larcey. “There's nothing worse than a company blog that hasn't been updated in six months, a year—or even longer.”


Note: All of the aforementioned blog platforms except SquareSpace are free for the user, though many also offer premium add-ons and enhanced packages or templates for additional fees. SquareSpace’s prices range from $8 to $24 per month, depending on the user’s preferences and needs.

Cybersecurity_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


If you believe that hackers target only large companies, think again. Small businesses represent a fertile feeding ground for cyber criminals. According to the 2014 Internet Security Threat Report from security giant Symantec, 30 percent of small businesses received a spear-phishing email—a legitimate looking but fraudulent message seeking confidential information—in 2013. Experts say that it's only a matter of time before a small business is breached. Being fully engaged in the protection of your business now can help reduce your risk and liability later.


Take sensible precautions

"There is no such thing as true security. Security is a journey, not a destination," says Ted Claypoole, a senior partner at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, and co-author of Privacy in the Age of Big Data. "If you get breached but you were reasonable and rational in the way you protect your data, you are likely to recover from it."


Some hackers will try to infiltrate your business in a roundabout way by attacking your vendors directly. Claypoole says to work with only reputable outside service firms and question them about their data protection plans, the way they treat their information, and, in some cases, whether they are certified by a recognized monitoring agency. "Build into your contract an indemnity so that the vendor or vendor's insurance company covers you if there's a problem that's caused by them," Claypoole explains.


Another way to minimize risk is to put your sensitive information on separate unconnected computers. "There is no reason that everything you have in your business needs to be connected to the Internet and certainly no reason to be connected to the Internet when your business is not operating," Claypoole says.


Claypoole favors having a data security specialist on call—either someone on staff or an experienced outside contractor—who can review your security plans and procedures and deal with any weaknesses in your preparations before they can be exploited by hackers. "From a legal standpoint, it proves that you were doing what you should have been doing, because you had an expert come in and tell you how to set things up," Claypoole explains.


Focus on critical assets

Hackers target small businesses and steal information for a variety of purposes: to commit identity theft of your customers and employees, to infiltrate businesses that you work with, to generate unauthorized bank transfers of company funds, or to create phony employees and collect salaries.


"One of the keys to cyber security is to never look at it as being static," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a non-profit public-private partnership specializing in safe online behaviors. "The leadership of the company needs to put cyber security on their regular review process and ask questions of the employees tasked with it."



Kaiser says that every Internet-enabled device at a business—PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile devices—should be updated regularly with the latest anti-virus software as a necessary first step. Next, employees should be educated in responsible ways to handle data, process email, and not assume that the IT department will handle everything. "A lot of companies don't even have policies about Internet use in the workplace: what websites you are and are not allowed to go to, changing passwords periodically, and making sure that workers are being thoughtful about what they do online," Kaiser adds.


Kaiser admits that the threat landscape is constantly evolving and that small businesses can easily get overwhelmed trying to keep up. He suggests focusing "on the critical assets that would be harmful if they were somehow lost or breached, such as personal information or intellectual property. You really need to protect the things that are vital and critical to you and your business. Not every threat out there is necessarily going to impact you."


Act in good faith

Being aware of security requirements in your state should be a key part of your risk protection strategy, as they may vary across the country. Certain industry standards might also apply, depending on your type of business. For example, a medical company or clinic that processes insurance claims may be subject to HIPAA requirements.


"Businesses that take credit cards are required to be compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)," says Heather Engel, vice president of Sera-Brynn, a Suffolk, Virginia-based cyber security firm. "If they do few transactions, a small business can do a PCI DSS self-assessment. But if they do a lot of transactions, they're required to have an external auditor."  


The consequences of a security breach can be staggering. "The average cumulative cost a business could expect to pay for each record lost in a data breach is about $220," Engel says. "That includes forensic investigation, notification and credit monitoring for victims, legal fees, downtime, and the cost for new equipment or upgrades to existing equipment. Depending on the industry, the extent of the breach, and whether the company is judged negligent, this average cost will escalate quickly. Sixty percent of small businesses close within six months of a data breach just because they simply can't afford the cleanup cost and the cost to bring their system back online."


Engel's team was brought in to do a forensic investigation for a company when its credit card data was breached. The investigation revealed that key parts of the business's computer network—their point-of-sale system, and the hardware and software on their servers—were outdated, leaving them vulnerable to attack. 


"We counsel clients to remain alert for anything suspicious and to understand who is responsible for maintaining the security of systems that process credit cards," Engel says. "In some cases, it may be the vendor who sold the system. In some cases, it is the system owner."


Making a good faith effort to comply with regulations and staying vigilant can help limit your liability—and possibly save your business.


Recently, I participated in a Google+ Hangout with my friends here at Bank of America, as well as representatives from MasterCard and Kim Dushinski, author of The Mobile Marketing Handbook. It was an interesting and timely discussion for a number of reasons, but for me, a main one was this: Mobile generally, and mobile marketing in particular, is the future, and the sooner small businesses get on board, the better off they will be.


Yet, while the mobile writing is on the wall, the fact is that many small business people tend to be late adopters of change - and technological change in particular. The reason of course is that we usually are spending so much time running our businesses that finding the time to learn (let alone master) a new medium is a challenge. So we roll along, doing what we’ve already been doing.


But, adopting late, especially when it should be obvious that mobile is the “Next Big Thing,” can be a big mistake.

First of all, if we want to stay in business, we have to put our business in front of potential customers. With so many people spending their time in front of their smart phone and tablets, then it is incumbent upon us to be there too.


Example: Ed owns an auto repair shop in a small college town. His shop is somewhat out of the way, so getting traffic and customers have always been a challenge. That is, until Ed embraced mobile marketing. Ed realized that most of his desired customers – the college kids in town – spent most of their time on their smartphones, and if he wanted to reach them, then that is where he needed to be too. So, Ed worked with his local phone company to create a mobile ad campaign. When people searched on their phones for auto repair in his city, his ad was the first thing that popped up. His business increased by 29% year over year.


Ed took advantage of one of my favorite mobile tools for small business – something called “click to call.” You have seen it of course, but you may not have realized that businesses pay for it. Do a search for some type of business in your area on your phone or tablet and you will notice that the top search results are often paid ads that allow you to call the store just by clicking on their number. Businesses pay for this privilege. Statistically, click to call is one of the most powerful and affordable ways to increase traffic for a business using mobile.


The other important thing to realize is that almost half of all searches now are being done on mobile devices. By putting your business in front of that huge audience, you automatically increase your odds of being found.


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


Or, what about creating a text campaign? This is another easy and affordable way to tap into the mobile revolution. Here’s how you do it: Ask customers to opt-in by giving you their mobile phone number. Explain that if they do, they will get periodic text messages from you with discounts or notices about special sales. The beauty of this is that by opting-in, people are giving you permission to market to them. Getting this sort of permission is a privilege though, so use it, but don’t abuse it.


Example: Dunkin’ Donuts tested a text campaign telling people that they would get 15% off their next donut purchase if they opted-in. Many did. Dunkin later sent them a discount code via text, and business in that test store jumped 18% that month.


The biggest mistake that I see small business people making these days is not realizing that mobile is the future and that they will, sooner or later, have to master it. My advice? Sooner is better than later.


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

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