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20 Posts authored by: Steve Strauss

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Protect your small business from cybercrooks with these tips for software and privacy protection.

 

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About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Does your small business need to be concerned about cybercrime or, specifically, a ransomware attack?

 

Yes. 100% yes.

 

Ransomware is a growing menace, often targeting small business, and its effects can be devastating. Consider these sobering statistics:

 

  • Cybercrime cost the global economy almost a trilliondollars in 2018. Much of that came from losses due to ransomware
  • There has been a 300% increase in ransomware attacks in the last year alone
  • 60% of all cybercrime is now directed at small business

 

So yes, it is a problem of which you need to be aware. Here’s what you need to know:

 

What is ransomware? Ransomware is computer malware that infects systems by blocking access to the computer until you pay up. In other words, cybercrooks kidnap your computer until a ransom is paid.

 

Specifically, an unsuspecting computer user will be lured into either opening a corrupt email attachment or clicking on an infected website link, thereby installing malicious software. Once operational, the malware locks down the computer and a message like this appears on the screen:

 

 

What happens then? Once the encryption software has infected the host computer, a countdown clock starts ticking. Instructions state that the user has, say, 72 hours to pay a ransom or all of the encrypted files on the computer will be deleted.

 

In most cases, the amount of the ransom is not astronomical – something like $500 - $1,000 is typical. The idea is that the owner of the locked-down computer will often decide the easiest course of action is in fact to simply pay the ransom.

 

Cyber Crime: You’ve been hacked – do you know who to call?

 

What are your options? Once your computers have been infected with ransomware, you essentially have three options:

 

1. Pay the ransom: As indicated, this is often the path of least resistance. The way it hopefully works is that the computer user pays the ransom and the cybercriminals then send a “key” to unlock the computer/system.

 

In all likelihood the word “hopefully” just jumped out at you, and for good reason. These are bad guys after all. They may send the decryption key, or they may not.

 

2. Attempt to remove the malware: The idea here is to hire a cybersecurity expert to get rid of the infected software. (Typically, this is not something you can do without expert help.)

 

3. Do nothing and recover your files: If you have an online backup of your data as you should, then the final option would be to wait, have the creeps delete your hard drive, and then start over with your backup files.

 

No, not a pleasant thought.

 

How can you protect your business from ransomware?

 

There are several precautionary steps you can take to keep yourself and your small business safe:

 

First, be sure to install an Internet security software program on your computer system. The best these days are cloud-based systems that monitor your computer in real time.

 

Second, do a deeper dive into how ransomware is spread and teach your staff about safe computing processes and procedures.

 

Finally, as indicated, you must have an online backup system like Carbonite or McAfee so that your data is always safe.

 

Of course, neither losing your data nor paying a ransom is an attractive option and that is why taking ransomware seriously and instituting precautionary measures is your best course of action.

 

Do that.

 

Right now!

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Nearly half of “small businesses had at least one cyber-attack in the past year,” according to the 2018 Hiscox Small Business Cyber Risk Report. Now more than ever, keeping your customer’s data safe is critical to your business success.

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This past year, I saw just how easy it can be for your small business to have a data breach.

 

Let me give you a little background. In October, I was asked by executives from the Microsoft Store to participate in a video demonstration in Los Angeles to show how vulnerable most small businesses are to cyberattacks. We asked Sean Etesham and Richard Idigo, the founders of Quants Bakery (and Microsoft Store customers) to participate, and they agreed.

 

 

Quants Bakery, a subscription-based online vegan bakery, has large collections of customers’ personal data - just like any web-based subscription service - but they were confident in their cybersecurity. “We hired a third-party vendor to handle security and we thoroughly vetted them first,” Idigo said. “On top of that, we use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in order to hide our IP addresses and encrypt our internet connections. So yes, we really believe in security.”

 

On a sunny October day, I sat down with Etesham and Idigo to perform a cybersecurity demo they won't soon forget. Microsoft Store security expert Eric Leonard had “spoofed” their website, duplicating the site exactly with the exception of one letter in the URL that was unnoticeable. Quantsbakery.com became QuantBakery.com, and their data was breached. When Etesham logged in to the spoofed site, it gave the “hacker” access to whatever was needed to potentially compromise the business.

 

(You can watch the short video of what happened that day, here.)

 

This is a hugely important lesson for small businesses. But what does this experience tell you? Well for one, that hackers have the ability to do whatever it takes to get your customers’ data. It also shows the security you have now may need some reinforcements.

 

So, what can you do, as a small business owner, to keep customer data safe and secure?

 

Install a cybersecurity software suite

 

Cyber threats are always evolving, which makes security software especially appealing. These software suites are updated to fight the latest cybersecurity threats and ensure the safety of your business so you don’t have to. PC Mag lists its top choices of 2019 for cybersecurity software suites as Symantec, McAfee and Bitdefender. The cost ranges from anywhere to $50-$150.

 

Train your staff on cybersecurity protocol

 

Avoid what happened to Etesham and Idigo by training your staff. What signs should they look for? They need to know what a phishing scam is, how it works, and what your cybersecurity rules are. Tailor them specifically to your business: what are the data that needs protecting, and how can we ensure its protection?

 

Enable two-factor authentication

 

Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of protection intended to ensure the people accessing your data were given permission to have that access. This means that after you log in to a site, you receive either an email or a text with a designated code (i.e., the second authentication.) When you receive the code, you can gain access to the information. Cybercriminals cannot duplicate this method of authentication, which makes it a favorite for keeping cyberattacks at bay.

 

Don’t forget to have strong passwords

 

You know this, but do you do it? Changing your password may be frustrating, but it truly is one of the best things you can do to protect your business. Strong passwords mean that a hacker is less likely to retrieve your data. In many cases, a password generator may be your best bet in maintaining your cybersecurity, as it uses combinations that would be tricky for a cybercriminal to guess.

 

 

Make sure you have a security expert on hand

 

If you can’t afford an IT staffer, you can use a third-party vendor to help maintain good cybersecurity.

 

Unfortunately, in this day and age, you can’t afford to not to be protected. Luckily, with all the tips we’ve listed here, you are well on your way to maintaining your customer’s data safely.

 

Get more information and tips in our Fraud and Privacy Resource Center.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Managing and maintaining a social media account is not always easy for small business owners. Why? There are a couple reasons:

 

For starters, there is a huge variety of platforms to choose from: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and more. It’s up to you how robust you want your business’s social media presence to be. Depending on what your business specializes in, some social media platforms will be more useful to you than others.

 

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Also, it takes time. Even after you have decided which platforms are important for you and which you can ignore, you will have to make time to maintain your social media presence ... We’re talking daily posts, follower engagement, etc.

 

The good news is that maintaining a thriving social media presence need not be that difficult. Here are a few of our best hacks:

 

1. Utilize video: People watch online videos. They gobble them up. It would therefore behoove you to put your business in that fast lane. The good news is that creating a video presence for your business has never been easier, quicker or more affordable because nowadays, it is not necessary to produce high-quality videos to garner views. We are in the YouTube era. Moreover, with Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook Live in our midst, you can create compelling video for free, and in the palm of your hand.

 

               RELATED CONTENT:  How to use Compelling Video On Social Media for your Small Business

 

2. Show behind-the-scenes footage: What should your video be about? One thing that works is behind-the-scenes footage. People love that. Similarly, your social posts, even without video, should be highly visual as visual content is more likely to gain clicks and shares than pure text. Take and post some photos of your staff, the yummy food at your restaurant – things like that. It’s fun for customers to see this side of the business.

 

               RELATED CONTENT:  Read next: 5 Steps to Use Video to Garner More Clients

 

3. Create connections: One secret of social media is that it is not just about being a megaphone for your business, it is about creating connections, so make a point to share content from other businesses in your sphere. This creates goodwill and can result in some returned shares in the future. This is an especially good idea if that business is similar to yours, so as to provide your followers with content that you already know will keep them engaged.

 

               RELATED CONTENT: 5 Simple Steps to Increase Business Referrals

 

4. Engage: Push content, yes, but don’t forget to also engage with your tribe. Find extra ways to interact with your followers. Respond to people’s questions, retweet followers, show appreciation, etc. Most social media platforms have poll-making technology, which can not only be a fun, interactive activity, but can also provide you with useful feedback you could use.

 

Engagement creates a connection with your brand.

 

               RELATED CONTENT:  How to Engage with Your Social Media Followers

 

5. Create contests: Incentivize your followers. Contests can be great for that, and moreover, contests typically bring new people into the fold. Get creative and make sure people have a clear reason to participate.

 

6. Share tips and insights: Social media is a good way to address common FAQs ahead of time. Think of your most commonly asked questions and answer them in the form of a fun fact or pro-tip. This too is engaging and useful.

 

               RELATED CONTENT:  Facebook Messenger Chatbots Give Small Business Owners an Edge 

 

7. Make announcements: Use social media to announce promotions, sales, and any other relevant news about your business. This is a great way to remind your customers about upcoming events and to get them to think about your business.

 

               RELATED CONTENT:  Why Your Small Business Should Participate in Facebook or Instagram Live Streaming Events. And Tweet Chats, Too!

 

8. Schedule your posts ahead of time: It can be easy to forget to post on social media. Scheduling your posts in advance ensures this doesn’t happen – it’s also a great time-saver. There are a lot of tools out there designed to make this easy for you. Buffer and Hootsuite are probably your best bets, but there are more tools for scheduling posts  if those two don’t fit your needs.

 

Last tip: Ask. For example: Did you like this post? Then please share.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.png

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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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.

Steve Strauss Headshot.pngUnless you've been under a rock the last week, you know ransomware attacks have lead to chaos across the globe. For those that don’t know, ransomware is a form of malicious software (malware) that infects and locks a computer. It can only be unlocked by paying a ransom to cybercriminals. Don’t pay and your files get erased.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SMALL BUSINESS EXPERT STEVE STRAUSS

 

Most small business people tend to think, That’s a problem for someone else. I don’t need to worry about that. Wrong. Consider:

 

  • Gigabit Geek is a small business (an IT business no less!) that was hit by ransomware. The attack started with a single user reporting a missing file. Soon, almost all the company’s files were locked down. Gigabit refused to pay the ransom. Its files were erased. Gigabit then spent several weeks manually restoring its files from a backup.

 

  • The Sheriff’s office in Maine’s Lincoln County also got hit. Sherriff Todd Brackett didn’t want to pay the ransom either, but because of limited resources he soon paid. “We are cops,” he told NBC News. “We generally don’t pay ransoms.”

 

  • In 2016, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital was hit by a huge ransomware attack. “The malware locked access to certain computer systems,” according to a statement.  The hospital decided that “the quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom.”

 

Cybercrimes, especially ransomware, have been growing in frequency and in severity in recent years, and the newest, biggest targets are small businesses for a very simple reason: a small business is unlikely to have the security system of a major corporation, but is more likely to have more money to pay up than a nonaffiliated individual.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: THE EMERGING TECH THAT COULD BOOST YOUR SMALL BUSINESS

 

Because of this, small business owners must be extra careful vigilant as the effects of such attacks can be devastating. Here’s what you need to know:

 

71802534_s.jpgHow does ransomware work?


Ransomware is a form of malware that functions solely to encrypt your files. Ransomware viruses can get onto your computer via deceptive email attachments or infected website links. After the link or attachment has been opened, the virus installs on the computer and can spread across the network. Once the virus encrypts your files, your computer goes into total lockdown mode.

 

What happens next?

From this point forward, a timer starts clicking. The user will be given instructions on how to pay the ransom in an allotted amount of time, usually 72 hours. If you don’t pay, all encrypted files will be deleted.

 

The ransom is typically required to be paid in Bitcoin currency, and is usually between $300 to $500. Cybercriminals try to keep the ransom within a semi-reasonable range so that the user is more likely to pay up.

 

What are your options?

Unfortunately, once your computer is infected, your options are both limited and undesirable. You can:

 

  • Pay the ransom.

 

  • Restore your computer and recover your files from a backup.

 

  • Recover and restore: If you have no file backups, then you can hire an IT pro and try and recover your computer and files.

 

How can you protect your business from ransomware?

The best way to protect your small business from ransomware attacks is to take preventative measures. The good news is that these measures are simple, cheap and easy:

 

  • Keep your antivirus software up-to-date.

 

  • Educate your staff about ransomware. Show your team what phishing emails and links look like so that nothing gets clicked or opened in the first place.

 

  • Backup all your files, and keep your backups up-to-date. You can do this with online cloud software or with a good old-fashioned external hard drive.

 

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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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.  ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Needless to say, Facebook is one of the top social media sites out there and as such, is likely quite important for your business. That then begs the question: Have you refreshed your Facebook page recently (or worse, do you even have one)? If not, you need to really consider giving your Facebook a refresh because it very well may be the most essential social media platform in your small business toolbox.

 

Just look at the numbers:

  • Facebook has more monthly users
  • That monthly number now tops 1.1 billion
  • And that is nearly an entire billion more than Twitter or LinkedIn, which host 310 million and 255 million active users per month, respectively.

 

So yes, in this social media world, Facebook is that important. How then do you make your Facebook page relevant, how do you make it stand out?

 

Here’s how:

 

Make it personal: As a small business owner, you already know that one of our real advantages is that we can be, generally speaking, more friendly and approachable than our corporate cousins. Indeed, merely by being the semantic opposite of “big business,” we small businesses are granted a certain level of trustworthiness by consumers.

 

And frankly, that friendliness should be reflected in our Facebook as well. You have to think of it as an extension of your approachable, friendly brand. 

When looking at your business’s Facebook page, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few key questions:

 

  • Does this look like a page that will make people want to interact, or do we seem too robotic?
  • Is the information easy to navigate?
  • Is our page visually eye-catching?
  • Is it updated often enough?

 

It is important to choose a custom URL, a recognizable profile photo, and a relevant, aesthetically appealing cover photo across the top of your page. Most importantly, remember to include your location, hours of operation, and a catchy, brief paragraph about your business in the ‘About’ section (this sounds obvious enough, but you would be surprised by how many new small businesses neglect this step). These are the key ingredients for establishing a well-liked page.

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Getting your page ‘liked’ is only the first step; the second step is to make sure that your followers are consistently interacting with your business and coming back for more. The best way to do this is to post regularly, daily if possible (see below). It is also vital to like and reply to comments as that creates the all-important “engagement”.

 

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

 

You can also consider hosting a Live Stream video session that your followers can watch live, or later if they missed it. This new Facebook Live feature helps you interact in real time with your fans and puts a friendly, relatable face to your business’s name – again, one of the most significant distinctions between your small business and some other big business.

 

Make sure your page gets seen: With so many users and pages on Facebook, you need to make sure that yours stands out. Doing so is actually pretty easy. As mentioned, your main Facebook duty is to post daily updates that are noticeable and engaging. This is actually the fun part.

 

Here are a few suggestions for making quality Facebook posts:

  • Advertise your sales, specials, or new products
  • Use photos and videos – these are considered to be the most engaging type of Facebook content
  • Post surveys or polls – people love sharing their opinions
  • Announce contests, giveaways, and events

 

As long as your posts are entertaining and welcoming, people are sure to hit ‘like’ and continue to see what your small business has to offer. Gaining likes and comments are important in nurturing a personable brand, and these interactions oftentimes appear on the commenter’s friends’ Newsfeeds, a la “Jane Doe commented on Small Business’s photo”. This is essentially the Internet version of word-of-mouth advertising, which of course is the best advertising there is.

 

If you would like your posts to reach an even wider audience, you can always pay to ‘Boost’ your posts, or even your entire page. The span of your page’s reach will depend on how much you decide to pay, but it can be as cheap as just a couple bucks. And of course, it looks good to have a lot of likes (even if you have to pay for a few of them).

 

Finally, after you have made some progress with your Facebook page, you should check out the ‘Insights’ tab at the top of your page. You will be presented with graphs and charts that measure your posts’ performance over the past day, week, or 28 days. This tool will help you make decisions about what works for your small business.

 

Good luck, and happy Facebooking!

 

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

How important is LinkedIn to your professional and/or small business success? Consider this: when someone Googles you, oftentimes the first thing they find is your LinkedIn profile. Try it and find out.

 

If you haven’t thought about LinkedIn for a while, you should. For some of us, using LinkedIn is second nature but for most that’s not the case. But the fact is, a solid LinkedIn page is vital to establishing one’s professional identity.

 

So here are a few tips and tricks to make sure that people like what they see on your LinkedIn:

 

1. Begin with the basics: You want to paint the most vivid picture of yourself as a professional that you possibly can. For starters, that means there should be no blank spaces to be found on your profile.

More specifically:

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  • Include all relevant contact information – email address, all social media pages, your business’s website, your personal website, etc.
  • Create a custom headline. Your headline is what shows up to the right of your profile photo; in other words, it is likely to be the second thing people will see (your profile picture comes first) when they click on your name. Share who you are and what you’re about in a pithy, catchy way.
  • Create a custom URL with your name in it. This builds your personal brand and helps connections find you with ease.

 

2. Beef up your profile: You want your LinkedIn profile to be robust and interesting. It is especially important that the first paragraph outlines exactly what you want people to know about you as it’s what people will see and read first (and what Google sees first). Your summary and work experiences should be crisp, free of error, and display a balance of personality and professionalism.

 

Make sure to add a relevant and attractive background photo, education information, and foreign language skills. It also really helps to use different types of media - PDFs, videos, links, etc. This makes your page much more visual and dynamic.

 

Be sure to add in any new and important skills to your page – the ones that best represent your most important strengths and assets. Don’t be shy about mentioning these skills repetitively throughout your profile; they are keywords that stand out to employers, connections, and customers alike. As you likely know, your connections will also be able to endorse you for those skills, at your request or by their own volition. Having a collection of skill endorsements on your profile looks impressive and will help your page get more views.

 

3. Keep it personal: Remember that your LinkedIn profile is a tool to build personalized human-to-human professional connections; it is not a formal resume. This may feel like a fine line to walk, as you certainly do want to showcase your skills and achievements in a professional manner but you also want to make sure that your personality shines through:

    • Write in the first person, NOT third person. This helps keep things both casual and professional.
    • Mention hobbies, family, etc. – things that keep you busy and happy outside of work.

 

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

 

4. Do not underestimate your profile photo: Your profile picture is one of the first things people see when they’re on your page (as is the case when walking into a room) and constitutes 19% of the total time recruiters spend looking at your page. Furthermore, your page is 14 times more likely to be viewed if you have a profile picture.

 

Make sure the photo is of you and you only (no friends, no logos) and that you are in front of a solid background. Also make sure that you’re not wearing sunglasses or anything else that distracts too much, that the photo resolution is clear and sharp, and, of course, that the photo is flattering. Smile. And here’s a great tip: If you aren’t looking straight at the camera, then make sure you are only slightly turned to the right – that is, toward the information on your profile. This is a psychological trick to direct people’s gaze toward your page instead of away.

 

5. Branch out: Once your profile is polished, then you can start adding new connections and branching out. Join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to you and your small business, make new contacts, and continue to stay active and network. It all goes towards making you and your small business more well-known.

 

LinkedIn is one of the easiest, most useful, and effective tools at your disposal to help grow your small business – if you take advantage of it.

 

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

So, you’ve finally reached your goal of 5,000 or 10,000 followers (or however many it may be) on social media – fantastic! Congrats. That’s a big deal. But it’s also not enough. Sure, having several thousand followers looks great for your small business, but that number can’t actually do you much good if few of those followers are actually looking at your posts.

 

Luckily for you, there are solutions. Strengthening your follower engagement may seem like a tricky task. You can’t exactly force someone to engage with you on social media, however like most things in this digital world there is an algorithmic method to the madness.

All you need to know are these two key ingredients:

 

1. Increase your visibility

 

Increasing your visibility is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a matter of becoming more visible to the human eye while scrolling through any given social media news feed. Remember, most social media users follow hundreds – even thousands – of other accounts. You need to make sure that your small business doesn’t get lost among the pixels.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Generally speaking, the most effective means of increasing your social media visibility is simply to never underestimate the value of good content. Don’t get lazy. Post regularly, of course, but it’s more important to make sure that your posts are consistently eye-catching and engaging.

 

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

 

Here are some of the best tips on how to make that happen:

 

  • Include links in your posts. According to Forbes, Tweets with links get retweeted more than those without.
  • Use relevant hashtags that you think other users are likely to search for. Posts with hashtags get double the engagement.
    • P.S. hashtags are not Twitter exclusive! Take advantage of them on all of your social media platforms.
  • Use images in your posts. The human eye is naturally attracted to pictures and colors, so using images is sure to increase your visibility on any given social media platform. There is research to back this up.
  • Ask for retweets or shares. Data suggests that the phrase “please retweet” can actually generate up to 4 times as many retweets.
  • Vary your posts. Your followers might scroll right past you if your posts become clockwork, predictable and homogenous. Don’t be afraid to post a pithy inspirational quote that is harmonious with your brand and purpose – these are always popular retweets for others.
  • Don’t be afraid to repostthings that you’ve already shared. Apparently, the “lifespan” of any given Tweet is only around 18 minutes, so posting it multiple times is sure to reach as many users as possible and increase your overall visibility.

 

2. Personally interact with your followers

 

Having good visibility on social media platforms will give you maximum results when supplemented with regularly reaching out to, and personally interacting with, your followers.

 

Don’t worry, it’s easy:

  • Make sure your tone is friendly. Nobody is interested in talking to a robot.
  • Reply to tweetsand comments that come your way. People like to feel special and listened to. Make sure to tag them with their @username.
  • Reply to questions and complaints. Nowadays, quick and excellent customer service can be easy and is expected.
  • Ask rhetorical questions. Even if you are not talking to any one follower specifically, phrases like “how many of you folks have wished there was an easier way to…” will invite lots of engagement.
  • Ask your followers sincerely about certain things they would like to see your small business do, or maybe how they would do things differently. Your followers will appreciate the humility and enjoy the opportunity to share their thoughts – even better, you will receive valuable feedback that you can use.
  • Thank people for following you. And if you would like, feel free to follow them back.
  • Get creative. Start contests that require people to retweet or tag you. For example, offer discounts to the first 50 retweets.

 

The great thing about social media is that you have the freedom to completely do things your own way. Be visible, interact, and put your best foot forward. Your business will be all the better for it – and you can be sure people will be sharing about how much they love it!

 

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

I have social media good news and bad news for you today.

 

The good news is that it seems as though most of us small business owners have finally mastered the art of Facebook and Twitter. That’s necessary and great.

 

The bad news is that you’re not done.

 

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to hear is that you need to figure out yet another social media platform. Sometimes it may seem like the latest and greatest in social media keeps bombarding us and piling up like so many unread emails.

 

However, if you have been paying attention you know that aside from the holy trinity that is Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, there is a new kid on the block – Instagram.

 

Instagram is a social networking app that allows you to share photos and videos from a smartphone and is a great way to tap into a younger demographic. Instagram is similar to Facebook and Twitter in that you will create a profile and have a newsfeed. Your Instagram poSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngsts will be displayed on your profile, people who follow you will see your posts in their feed and you will see their posts in yours.

 

If you can use Facebook or Twitter, then you can absolutely use Instagram.

 

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

 

Here’s how to started:

 

1.  Sign up for an Instagram account.

 

2. Choose a recognizable username and profile photo, and make your “bio” pithy and snappy: Don’t forget that we are living in the age of the short attention span. In which case, your Instagram bio should not have a corporate feel, full of detailed description of your business with bullet points and sub-clauses galore. Instead, a catchy sentence or two, an unambiguous username, and a profile photo that speaks for itself are the foundational building blocks of any high-traffic Instagram page.

 

3. As always with social media, provide engaging content: In the Instagram world, “providing engaging content” roughly translates to:

    • Post regularly, if not daily.
    • Add captions to all photos in a tone that best represents your brand. Feel free to use all the hashtags you want, as they are equally as effective for networking as they are on Twitter.
    • Provide a rich variety of posts – photos and videos. (Pro-tip: Download the Boomerang app to create short, looping GIFs, and download Layout to create photo collages. Instagram is the parent company of both apps, so the GIFs and collages are quite compatible).
    • Make your posts aesthetically pleasing. Don’t go too crazy with filters and don’t post poor quality or blurry photos.

 

4. Interact with followers and customers: According to a study from Elite Daily, 62% of Millennials say that brand engagement on social media makes them more loyal customers. And because Millennials make up a huge portion of total Instagram users, this statistic matters.

 

Here are a few ways to personalize and foster that online brand-customer relationship:

  • Reply to comments on your posts, and make sure to tag usernames – otherwise, those users won’t be notified of your response.
  • Create a fun and welcoming cyber-atmosphere by inviting customers to be engaged with your Instagram page. This could mean starting a hashtag for customers to use, or asking your Instagram followers to participate in fun polls about their favorite products.
  • Respond to customer complaints and to customer praise.

 

5. Have fun with it: Get creative and don’t be afraid to think outside the box:

    • Give your followers a behind-the-scenes look at how things run in-house. Who doesn’t want to be VIP?
    • Incentivize engagement by holding contests – e.g., “post a photo at our restaurant with the hashtag #hashtag, and we’ll pick our favorite. Winner gets a $10 gift card!”
    • Have too much leftover food at the end of the day? Post about it on Instagram and offer a discount to the customer who gets there first.

 

Darwin has long since proved that it is not the strongest species that survive, but the ones that can best adapt to external change.

On your mark, get set, evolve!

 

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

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, the fact is that social media has become an unstoppable force in the world of small business. It is used by various businesses in many different ways: interacting with customers, prospecting for leads, responding to comments, or what have you.

 

That said, it’s not all good news; there are both pros and cons when it comes to this new platform:

 

  • On the positive side, social media can be an amazing tool for networking, connecting, engaging, broadcasting, and brand building
  • On the down side, it can prove to be overwhelming, time-consuming, frustrating, and even a waste of time

 

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The secret is to harness the good and minimize the bad. How? Here are six steps that can help:

 

Step # 1. Decide on Your Purpose: Getting involved (or getting more involved) because you are supposed to or because everyone else is, will almost inevitably prove to be a losing scenario. Before you dive in any deeper, you need to really think through what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media efforts. It will take even longer and the learning curve will be steeper if you are unclear about your goals.

 

There are many things you can do with social media, but the basic options are that you can use it to:

 

  • Build your brand and/or become a thought leader
  • Prospect for business and meet new people
  • Engage with current customers
  • Promote products

 

So, Step #1, and it is #1 for a reason, is to know what you are doing and why.

 

Step #2. Pick Your Platform: Based upon your answer to the first rule, you need to think about which social media platform offers the best possibility for fulfilling your purpose. Is Facebook actually doing the job for you? Would Twitter be better?

 

I suggest you concentrate on, and master, just one or two. For posting coupons and specials, for instance, Facebook is tough to beat. If you want to show off the visual style of your furniture store, Pinterest or Instagram might make more sense.

 

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

 

You only have so much time to engage in social media, so pick your platforms wisely.

 

Step #3. Have A Plan: Once you know your purpose and have chosen the platform most likely to accomplish it, then it is time to create a social media action plan. As with any marketing or other business plan, social media requires forethought and proper planning.

 

Plan out content for the month, taking into account both your purpose as well as the various specials, deals, holiday sales, etc. that your company will run. Even though you will more than likely wind up going a bit off script at times, the existence of a plan will mean that you will (almost) always know where you are headed. You will also know what you will be posting, why, how often, and therefore will be far less likely to get lost in the social media forest.

 

One book you might want to pick up is 30 Minute Social Media Marketing.

 

Step #4. Give More Than You Receive: The general idea is, to the extent possible, to post about others a good deal more than you post about yourself. Nobody wants to be friends with the person who’s always talking about him or her self.

 

A variation of the 80-20 Rule applies here – make 80% of your posts about them and only 20% about you and your business.

 

Step #5. Post Shareable Content: People love to share on social media, and when they share your content, that is the ultimate social media compliment. It is also mighty word-of-mouth advertising. You can foster that kind of sharing by:

 

  • Posting content that either helps your customer base in some way (saves them time or money, teaches them something, etc.) or elicits a strong emotion – people tend to share things that are funny, heartwarming, or upsetting
  • Including eye-catching graphics

 

Step #6. Interact With Your Followers: Social media is not a monologue; it is a conversation, so make sure that you are listening to what your followers are saying and responding when appropriate. Retweeting positive messages, responding to customer complaints, answering inquiries, and offering advice are all great ways to show your followers that you are listening and not just talking.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 


You probably know by now that you are supposed to be promoting your business on social media. Many of you may be doing just that; the latest stats indicate that about half of small businesses have gotten with the program.

 

Today what I’d like to discuss is not whether you should use social media, but rather, which social media platform is best for your small business? It is not an easy question to answer because many factors come into play – the needs of your business, its size, your goals, etc. It is really a matter of weighing the pros and cons of each and applying that to your circumstances.

 

To help you, below are the top 7 social media sites and their strengths and weaknesses.

 

1. Facebook. The Big Kahuna. Everybody is on Facebook personally and the steady drumbeat is that your business should be there too; an added bonus is that creating a Facebook page for your business is pretty easy. The challenge may be keeping the page fresh with new content. It takes commitment. But even so, you should have one, right?

 

Maybe. Maybe not. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

The good news is also the bad news when it comes to Facebook. Yes, it is very big, and very popular. That means that you will have, potentially, a big audience. It also means however that you will have a lot of competition for eyeballs.

 

Consider the stats below from StatisticBrain.com. Facebook has 1.4 billion users. Everything else pales in comparison:

 

Facebook:          1.4 billion

YouTube:            1 billion

Google+:            347 million

LinkedIn:            336 million

Twitter:               289 million

Instagram:          302 million

Pinterest:            73 million

 

2. YouTube: The only thing close to Facebook is YouTube and YouTube is nice for a few reasons:

 

  • First, people love video. It is the present and future of the Web.
  • Second, people are engaged when on YouTube. They spend a lot of time watching videos.

 

For that reason, the site ranks consistently high when it comes to redirecting traffic to a website. As such, if your business lends itself to a visual, video presence, YouTube is a great way to both extend your brand and get clicks.

 

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


3. Google+: Google+ has a variety of tools, including Circles, Hangouts, Messenger, and Hashtags. A newcomer on the block, G+ has two distinct advantages over the competition:

 

First, because it’s Google, you can expect to get better SEO and visibility.

 

Second, Google+ Hangouts are great because they offer you the chance to create engagement by broadcasting online. For instance, I have done a series of G+ Hangouts over the past year with my friends here at Bank of America. The conversations are always interesting and (hopefully!) useful for you, our tribe.

 

Here’s an example of our last one.

 

Doing something similar for your business or in your industry could really help you create a brand and a following.

 

4. LinkedIn. I once heard someone describe different social media sites this way: Facebook is the living room, YouTube is the den, and LinkedIn is the home office. It’s a pretty apt description and it describes LinkedIn well.

 

In the past few years, while LinkedIn has added many services, including the ability to post content and polls, join groups and what not, the site still is best for what is was designed to do: Link people up professionally. If you are looking to make business connections, LinkedIn is the place for you.

 

Tip: It is especially important to create a strong LinkedIn profile because it is often what people will find first when they Google you.

 

5. Twitter: Twitter, while it gets a lot of attention, is actually fairly small in the social media universe, based on the stats above. It can also be a challenge as crafting a valuable message into 140 characters (the Twitter limit) is no easy feat.

 

On the other hand, Twitter can really be a powerful tool to set yourself up as an expert/resource and, in that regard, it seems to be especially helpful for professionals and service-oriented businesses. Additionally, it can be an excellent networking tool since it is a great way to meet people you otherwise would not normally meet.

 

6. Instagram: Instagram is sort of like Facebook, but with pictures. You can post graphics and captions and have people follow you. As it is popular among younger people, Instagram really works if that is your intended demographic.

 

7. Pinterest: By the very nature of the site, whereby you create visual storyboards and “pin” things to it (pins can be pictures, videos, comments, etc.), Pinterest is a site that works great for businesses with visual appeal.

 

So, which site is best for your business? As I said, it is tough to generalize. Your best bet is to weigh the pros and cons of each, choose one or two, and jump in.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 


I was recently speaking with the head of security for Intel Security and he relayed a chilling small business cybercrime story to me.

 

A small surf shop in Southern California had been in business for a decade (notice the use of the past tense.) The owner’s computer was full of customer lists, vendor information, bank account information, passwords; the whole nine yards. And like most small businesses, the owner gave little thought to the sensitivity of such information, until it was too late.

 

One morning he came into his store, turned on his computer and found that he was locked out of the system. Apparently, a piece of ransomware, a particularly virulent piece of malware, surreptitiously installed itself in his computer. The owner opened an email that was supposedly sent from the FBI. Once he opened the email, the virus installed in his computer which caused the computer to lock up.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

Another way malware installs itself in various systems is by creating phony web pages and then stalking people through social media. For example, the message: “Hey Bill - Check out this amazing Michael Jackson video that was recently discovered!,” may pop up as a social media post. Bill then clicks the link (because it’s from one of his hundreds of “friends” on Facebook) and the malware instantly installs itself.

 

Malware can be a detriment to your business. In the case of the surf shop, it did two things:

 

  1. It made the owner have to pay a ransom to unlock his computers. It’s called “Ransomware” for a reason. Typically, the software demands that the locked out computer owner pay a ransom of say, $500, to get an unlock code. Many small business owners opt to just pay it, like the surf shop owner.
  2. The surf shop owner got angry (of course) in the middle of the transaction and cancelled his payment. By doing so, the malware then deleted all of his records from the past 10 years.

 

It put him out of business.

 

When most of us think about cyber-security, breaches of large corporations like Target come to mind. But the fact is, small businesses are far more likely to be targeted than larger businesses or corporations. There are two main reasons for this: First, small businesses tend to not have cybersecurity software installed. This makes them easier targets, and second, when a small business pays a ransom (or has its bank account cleaned out, etc.), it doesn’t make the news in the way that similar security breaches of larger corporations do.

 

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

 

In fact, the Target security breach (in which the data regarding some 80 million credit cards was stolen) was actually the fault of a small business. Target, like all large corporations, has tons of redundant cybersecurity systems in place. But one of its vendors – a small heating and air conditioning company – had none. So the crooks burrowed into the small business’ computers, and then when that company logged into the Target system to submit its invoice, the malware transferred from the small company’s computers to Target’s mainframe computers.

 

So the lesson is clear: As a small business owner, you simply must protect your computer system with cybersecurity software. And, not only do you need to have this protection on your main work computers, but it’s also just as important   that the programs are  installed on your laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. If you ever access your bank account from your mobile device, you get why that is.

 

So the best advice from the best experts is that cybersecurity is something small businesses need to take very seriously. You need to learn what suspicious online activity looks like -opening unknown attachments, clicking suspicious links, not downloading software or updates from unknown sites and sources, etc.. Teach these best practices to your employees, and protect your systems with a cybersecurity software suite.

 

Do it now. The life of your business may depend on it.


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.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



One of the interesting things about being in business for yourself these days is that not only must you be an entrepreneur, but you probably have to be a content creator too. Between websites, e-newsletters, social media posts, and blogs, creating content has become part of the fabric of owning a small business.

 

I would like to drill down on that last idea today – blogging. If you don’t have a blog, consider getting one, for three reasons.

  • First, a blog is a nice, friendly way to communicate with customers and potential customers alike. By its very nature, blogging is an informal communications tool, and that’s great. As opposed to other forms of business writing, a blog allows you to let your personality shine through and relate to readers in a more personal, less formal way.
  • Second, a blog can help you build your brand and establish yourself as a credible authority in your area of expertise. Your blog will allow you to share what you know, and let readers discover how much you do in fact know. And then, when they need whatever it is you sell, they will (hopefully!) remember you and that great blog of yours. You will be seen as the expert.
  • Third, a blog is keyword rich; You end up creating content full of keywords, and that helps search engines rank your site higher which probably means more page views for your business.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

Given that, the important thing is knowing how to write a great blog post. Here are six tips to get you going:

 

Tip #1 – Be conversational: One of the best parts of blogging is that you can be more personal in a blog. As such, you can write in a conversational tone and don’t think you have to be a “writer” to do so. If you just let you and your personality shine through, and use good grammar, you will be on your way.

 

Tip #2 – Have a point: Share an insider tip. Tell a good story – perhaps about an experience you recently had with your business that somehow relates to your customers. Post some valuable resources. People have plenty to read these days (too much, actually), so the key is to create a blog that they would find interesting, funny, useful, etc. The key is to not be boring.

 

Tip #3 – Make it visual: The Internet is now driven by images, and the more media you have within the blog, the more people will be attracted to it. Pictures can illustrate ideas in the blog, or they can be used to underscore a tone. For example, if you are writing a blog reviewing a product, add in a picture of a person using that product, rather than just one of the product. Readers will relate to the person better than the object.

 

Tip #4 – Follow the six sentence rule: When writing the text for the post, you want to make sure that you try to follow the “six sentence rule.” Writing online is different than writing offline; online, your paragraphs need to be short, six sentences or less. Save the longer paragraphs for when you are explaining a concept. Also, if you place a picture between the paragraphs it will create a richer experience for the reader and they will be much more likely to retain the information you present. (This paragraph is long, and it has five sentences.)

 

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

 

Tip #5 – Understand SEO: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of having search engines such as Google and Bing rank your site highly in relevant search results. There are two ways your blog can help with this.

 

First, be sure to use keywords and key phrases as needed – don’t stuff your blog with them because that doesn’t work and can in fact be a detriment. Keywords should be adequately supported by the content of the blog so their use makes sense within the post. You should also make sure you are using headings and sub-headings in the text.

 

Second, your blog’s SEO can be increased by links. Having other blogs and sites link to your blog is a signal to Google that your blog is valuable (valuable enough that others will link to it.) You can get links by 1) creating great content, and 2) linking to other sites and blogs and requesting that they link back to you.

 

Tip #6 – Make sure the title is clear: This last tip will help you gain traffic. Make sure that the title of the blog post reflects the content. Instead of a title like “Blue dreams come alive!” when you are writing about pool party ideas, be more specific such as, “5 Ways to Make summers come alive with pool parties.” It’s beneficial to do this because 1) people who are searching for pool party ideas will use the words “pool party” and not “blue dreams,” and 2) it will generate more clicks because people will know what it is they are clicking. Look on top media sites like BuzzFeed or Huffington Post to see how the pros of syndication and click-throughs do it.

Finally, consider using numbered lists in your title; people like them, such as, well, “6 Tips for writing a great blog post”!

 

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.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

 


Steve Strauss

Creating a Great Website

Posted by Steve Strauss Sep 22, 2014

The most recent statistics that I have seen state that almost half of all small businesses still do not have a website. How can that be? Why do some businesses insist on not having a site, or, if they do have one, not having a good site? The usual answer is that it is too expensive, too time-consuming, or unnecessary. All of course are faulty assumptions. These days it is incredibly easy and affordable to create a great, professional website.

 

And as for whether it is necessary or not, just consider this statistic: 8 in 10 Americans now spend as much time online as they do watching television.

 

Or consider this anecdotal experience: Recently, my wife called and asked me to pick up dinner on the way home from work. She mentioned a restaurant we like, so I jumped online to look at its website and check out the menu. But I couldn’t find the menu because I couldn’t find the website because it didn’t exist. I ended up going to a different restaurant. Multiply that experience by many customers, and you can see why even the smallest of businesses must have some web presence, even if it is only a limited one. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Your website is your window to the world, business card, e-commerce store, brochure, advertisement, storefront, brand, and meet-and-greet all rolled into one. As such, you simply must have a great one.

 

Which begs the question: If you don’t have a website, or the one you do have was created by your niece in 2006, how do you make one?

 

You essentially have two choices:

 

1. Hire a web designer: If you need a complicated site for some reason, then one way to go is to hire a web designer, which can be a very smart move if you get the right designer. You can find web developers by doing an online search of course, but also check out Craigslist and Elance, both of which are sites that allow you to post your project and get bids from freelancers.

 

Next, find some designers you like and check them out; there are plenty of irresponsible ones out there. Use Yelp, Google, and old-fashioned references to get the lowdown. What you want to learn about is 

 

  • Their experience and background
  • Their portfolio – you want a designer with the skill to bring your vision to life
  • The platform they will use to create your site (Wordpress is the current popular favorite and a fine choice)
  • Whether you will be able to easily update your site

 

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


One other important point – be sure to pick your website address (your URL) carefully. You want a clear, simple URL for two reasons:

  • First, in this day and age, your website address is an integral part of your brand. As the old commercial goes, “People will judge you by the words you choose.” So pick smart. For instance, an address like “MyGreatBusiness.com” is much better than “MyGreatBusiness.Wordpress.com” (and even if your site is built on Wordpress, you do not need to have a cumbersome URL like that.)
  • Second, you need people to remember your site address, and of course this will only happen if it is easy to remember.

 

 

2. Do It Online: By far the best website creation solution for most small businesses these days is to use an online website-creation portal. Using a site like this allows you to get a website in one of two ways, and both are excellent.

 

First, you can have the portal’s designers build a customized site for you. Many of these types of portals have millions of small business customers and host a similar number of websites, you can be assured that you will get a top-notch result, and at an affordable price to boot.

 

Second, and the solution I probably like the most, is to do it yourself. The great thing is that you don’t have to be a designer to do so. Sites like these offer a slew of templates with which to start your site. You can then easily add, drag, and drop in windows, content, pictures, you name it. You can build a great looking site this way in an hour or two.

 

When using a solution like this, you will want to be sure that the site also offers

 

  • Online or phone support
  • Analytics
  • Submission to search engines (You want Google and Bing to be able to easily find and index your site. This initially happens when the site has been “submitted” to these search engines. It’s a bit geeky, so just be sure that the host site will do this for you.)
  • A mobile-friendly version of your site

 

Whether you use this sort of service or design it some other way, there really is no reason not to have a website, and a great website at that.


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.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 


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.

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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.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here




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