Author Archive

Choosing the Best Website Platform for Your Needs

Monday, August 15th, 2022

Whether you’re starting a new company or have been in business for a while, when it comes time to design or update your company’s website, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is which platform on which to host your site, says Ronke Bade-Ojo, founder of The Pink Creative, a branding and website design studio.

Bade-Ojo recorded a video on the topic to help women business owners make this important choice.

Popular Platforms

The four most popular website platforms that small business owners select, Bade-Ojo says, are:

  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • Wix
  • WordPress

Which one is best for your business comes down to how tech-savvy you are and which features you are likely to make use of.

Product-based businesses frequently opt to go with Shopify, she says, which is considered “the industry standard.” It is also easy to set up and use, she says. Wix is another option but it is very limited from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective and for that reason, she doesn’t generally recommend it.

Service-based businesses typically choose between Squarespace and WordPress, she says. Squarespace is easy to use “but limited as far as customization goes,” which means that long-term it may not suit your needs. WordPress “is the most robust platform available,” she says, and the only real disadvantage of selecting WordPress is that you’ll probably need a professional to set up and help manage your site.

Factors to Consider

Beyond whether you have a product or service-oriented business, there are other considerations to keep in mind when selecting a website platform, says Bade-Ojo. These are:

  • How often you plan to update the site. The frequency with which you update your site may depend on how often the products or services you offer change. Bade-Ojo gives an example of a photographer and says she has found that photographers prefer to update their websites with their photos regularly. If that’s the case, you’ll want to be sure you are comfortable updating your site yourself or are prepared to pay someone else to do the work for you.
  • How tech-savvy you are. The more tech-savvy you are, the more options you have. If you’re comfortable working in the back end of a website, any of the platforms can work for you. However, if you have no plans to learn web design, you’ll either want to select a platform that is simple to navigate or set aside the budget for someone else to do the work for you.
  • Whether you plan to blog regularly. If you intend to blog on a regular basis, WordPress is likely to be your best option, she says, because of the many built-in SEO features it has.

Startup Advice

If you’re in the process of starting a business and don’t have an existing website you’re working from, Bade-Ojo recommends buying a website template and keeping your site super simple at the outset. The reason is that your business is going to go through many changes over the next couple of years, so there is no reason to overspend or invest too much time and energy in a site that you will undoubtedly outgrow soon. Keep it simple.

When you get to a point where your business has matured and you’re ready to invest in a professionally designed site, Bade-Ojo recommends interviewing several web design firms before making your final choice. She suggests paying attention to:

  • Chemistry. You’ll be working closely with the designer, so make sure you like and trust them. Do they seem to understand your vision for your site? Can they communicate their ideas well? Are you in sync as far as your expectations?
  • Availability. Confirm that the designers you’re considering are able to work within your desired timeframe. Can they complete the work by your deadline, or by a date you agree to? You don’t want to hire someone and then have to wait many months for the finished product.
  • Design style. Most important, have you looked at their portfolio and seen designs you like for your website? Are there examples that are similar to what you envision for your company’s site? It’s better to choose a designer who has already proven they understand your aesthetic than to try to get someone who has more of a whimsical style, for example, to create something that is traditional or elegant; it may be too hard for them.

The good news is that if you select one platform and decide it’s not the best choice for you later, you can move your site. You’re not wedded to a platform forever.

Building a Social Media Presence

Sunday, July 31st, 2022

Having a social media presence should be part of any small business’s marketing strategy, mainly because using social media platforms to connect with target customers can be extremely cost effective. Tia Meyers Grado, founder of Freelancing Females, provides a quick rundown of the primary social media platforms small businesses may want to pay attention to in a recent video for WomensNet, as well as recommendations for building an online presence.

Popular Social Media Platforms

Although new social media platforms are springing up regularly, the most popular right now are:

Facebook. Facebook is where people “turn to update their statuses, talk to their friends and family,” says Grado. What sets Facebook apart is the ability to create Facebook groups, which is a useful tool for finding and connecting with ideal clients and then learning more about their needs and interests.

Instagram. Where Facebook is more about information-sharing, Instagram is “a visual representation of who you are as a business and the type of work you are offering to potential clients,” Grado says.

TikTok. TikTok is “a little more relaxed than other social media platforms and a place where you’d have fun,” Grado says. Product businesses find TikTok is a good place to talk about their offerings and demonstrate how to use them in short videos.

Twitter. Grado observes that Twitter is less useful for small businesses trying to reach clients, but says it can be effective for users who are trying to position themselves as experts in a specific category or industry.

Once you decide which platform to start with or focus on, it’s time to develop a plan for how to market through them.

Creating a Strategy

People use social media to connect with brands and to find products and companies they can trust, frequently based on what their friends and family are using and recommending, Grado says. Keeping that in mind, you’ll want to design a strategy for connecting with prospects before you start posting on social media platforms. Here are five steps to work through:

Your why. First, she says, “you want to understand the objective of what you are trying to do with your business.” What do you want social media to help you achieve? Are you looking for leads? Customers? Educating the market? Decide what your goal is up front.

Your niche. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it would be nearly impossible to serve every potential customer. To be realistic, you’ll want to narrow your focus to a subset of your total market, or your niche. For example, instead of all women in the U.S., you might serve women in the south aged 18-29. Or instead of all kayakers, you might serve people who kayak in the ocean. Choose a narrow niche for best results. You can expand later.

Your secret sauce. Besides a superior offering, what is your business known for? What is its reputation? Tesla is known for innovation, for example. Target is tops for cheap chic. Yeti has a brand reputation for durability. What word would customers use to describe your company? That’s your secret sauce.

Your uniqueness. What is it that makes your product, service, or business better than your competition? Do your kale chips taste exactly like potato chips? Does your cleaning solution remove stains on anything? Do you ship overnight free of charge, no matter how large the order size? What makes your company a stand-out?

Your ideal customer. When you are clear about who your product or service is meant for, creating a marketing message to attract that type of person becomes easier. That is especially true on social media.

Being clear on these elements makes it easier to design and create social media posts that achieve your objective. However, there are some do’s and don’ts you’ll want to be aware of as you start to share content online.

Do’s and Don’ts

You do want to “find photos that are going to capture your audience,” Grado says, with lighter photos being more popular than darker photos, by 24%.”

Your photos also need to be “honest, elevated, authentic,” she says. They don’t always have to be beautiful, but they do need to accurately represent your brand.

Do use images of people because “adding visuals of people does way better than any other type of content on social,” she says.

She cautions against offending your audience. “Don’t try to hard to make a joke or statement that could offend” people. Cancel culture is a real concern.

Don’t be overly preachy or constantly selling.

And don’t assume that everyone will be interested in what you’re selling. “And that’s okay,” she says.

Creating Content

To connect with your customer base, the key is presenting new content on a regular basis. Grado recommends posting at least five days a week on new accounts and at least three times a week for an existing account. She uses Planoly to schedule social media posts.

Hashtags are also must-haves, to target the correct audience. They are discoverable, meaning people can search for related content based on hashtags and come across your brand or company that way.

Now that you know how frequently to be posting, you may be wondering what, exactly, to share. Deciding on pillars of content, or types of posts, can be helpful. For example, one day a week you might share new product information. Another day might be devoted to case studies of customer success stories. Another day might feature videos with how-to instruction or vendor interviews, for example.

One pillar might be sales-focused while others might be more instructional, educational, or purely entertainment. After all, people frequently turn to social media for fun.

Keep in mind that one way to grow your social media audience is by creating shareable content. Frequently, what is shareable includes beautiful imagery. Offering freebies is another way to attract attention. Grado mentions one client that gave away free iPhone backgrounds to help build its email list.

The best way to get started is to create your first social media post and start engaging with your audience.

Protecting Your Business with Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

What steps can you take to protect the brand name you’ve come up with for your business or product? Can you prevent others from copying the sales page you’ve crafted or the course you just rolled out? How about a product you invented or an app you developed?

The short answer is… yes. The U.S. government provides protections to creators of brands, intellectual property and inventions that can prohibit others from using unique words or phrases you’ve claimed as your own. 

Trademark attorney Nicole Swartz of Sprout Law provided an overview of the basics of protecting your brand and intellectual property in a video in the WomensNet Resource Center.

How to Protect Your Business

Swartz explains that “you can’t just pick any word or name you want” and start using it  in conjunction with your business without first checking that no one else has claimed it. For example, you may think attaching a well-known brand to your business would be a good idea, for popularity or credibility. And you would be wrong.

For example, if your name is Catherine Vansandt Smith and you decide you want to use your initials, CVS, on your new management consulting firm, a certain pharmacy would probably send you a cease-and-desist notice to stop you. Or if you’ve started a new landscaping firm and you want to call it Weed Eater, the manufacturer of an established line of weed trimmers might not appreciate that, because it could confuse their clients. Expect to hear from them as well.

  1. So, before you start using that clever name or phrase as your company name, conduct a trademark search.

There are more than 3 million trademark registrations filed in the U.S., Swartz, says, which makes it possible someone else had the same idea as you and has already laid claim to your new name. If you start using a word that someone else has trademarked, you can be sued, which can get expensive very quickly.

In addition to conducting a trademark search at the US Patent and Trademark Office, or hiring an attorney to conduct one for you, it is also a good idea to do some social media sleuthing. Even if a trademark hasn’t been officially filed, if someone else is already using a specific word or phrase, their trademark may be in-the-works. And you will be more likely to have your request for trademark protection rejected because you’re not the first to use it.

  1. If your search confirms that no one else in your state or country is using the same name, you can take the next step of filing an application for a trademark.

Because it costs money, don’t start your trademark application until you’ve completed a search that came up with no competing uses.

Swartz warns that it can take six months or more for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to review your application and 84% of the time, you will receive follow-up questions about your filing.

When you receive questions, you’ll want to make your best legal argument as to why you should be granted the trademark, Swartz says. Many questions have to do with clarifying how you intend to use it, such as on what types of products and services, so be clear about potential future uses, so as not to fence yourself in or limit future applications of your name.

  1. As the application process is nearly done, the USPTO will announce its intent to grant your trademark request in various publications and on websites and will ask for any objections, much like at a wedding (“speak now or forever hold your peace”). 

This is when you may discover other companies have product lines or similar enough names that they would not want you to receive approval. They can speak up and may potentially derail your application.

  1. If there are no objections or the objections can be resolved or dismissed, you will receive final trademark approval. You will need to demonstrate that you are using and intend to continue to use your new trademark, however.

The biggest advantage of a trademark is that you can stop copycats from stealing your name, to protect your brand, Swartz says.

Other Forms of Protection

Where a trademark is used to protect your brand and related elements, such as your logo, your tagline, slogan, or business name, a copyright and patent protect other intellectual property.

A copyright should be applied for if you are asserting ownership of written materials, such as blog posts, articles, books, music, and screenplays, among other types of documents. The purpose of a copyright is to prevent others from claiming your words as their own and using them for their benefit.

And a patent is a similar type of protection afforded inventions, processes, and formulas. Apply for patent protection if you’ve just created a new product or system.

Although filing for these types of protections costs money, you then earn the right to prevent other companies from commandeering your name without compensation, or to prohibit them from its use altogether. Trademark, copyright, and patent protection give you the right to stop others from stealing your intellectual property.

Women and Minority Business Enterprise (WMBE) Certification

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

During fiscal year 2020, the US federal government spent nearly $600 billion on goods and services from US businesses. What many women business owners may not realize is that they have a chance at landing some of that business.

In fact, the government has federal contracting quotas that require agencies and contractors to award business to woman-owned companies. The government’s current goal is awarding “at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year,” according to the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program. There are additional programs for minority-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and companies run by citizens considered “economically disadvantaged.”

However, that $600 billion figure is just for federal work—there is much more business available than that, including small business set-asides, which are government contracts that must be awarded to small businesses, as well as corporate subcontracting, which involves projects larger businesses have won and must delegate portions to smaller businesses, including woman-owned enterprises, plus state and municipal contracts.

So, what is a woman business enterprise (WBE) or woman-owned small business (WOSB)? According to the government, it is small, for-profit venture that is at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more female US citizens.

Marie Pazych, founder of Convergence Coworking, a freelance social media manager, touches on some of the advantages of applying for certification as a woman-owned business in this WomensNet video.

Why Get Certified?

The government has set quotas to encourage and incentivize organizations to hire smaller businesses owned by women, people of color, military veterans, and other disadvantaged individuals. To ensure that the companies being awarded subcontracts are actually owned and managed by individuals who fall into one or more of those classifications, the government created a certification process designed to confirm that owners are who they say they are.

By becoming certified, your business can qualify to bid on the government and corporate opportunities that are out there.

Certification Organizations

The type of organizations you want to do business with—meaning government agency or for-profit company—will point you to which type of certification you should apply for.  There are certification programs through the federal, state, and local government, as well as through WBENC, which is a third-party certifier that works primarily with corporations. Google your state or city and the word “WBE certification” to discover which agencies in your area offer certification programs.

Some agencies do accept “self-certification,” which means you’re swearing that your business is woman-owned and operated. There is no paperwork and no fee, only a signature to that effect. To start, you may opt to self-certify.

Disadvantages of Certification

The only real disadvantage of getting certified is the cost, both in terms of time and money. 

In addition to the WBENC, which spearheads WBE certification for many corporations, state and local organizations may also offer help with certification. They may also charge a fee for their time and guidance.

Perhaps even more inconvenient, however, is the amount of paperwork required for consideration. The government wants to see proof that you started or purchased your business and that you are in charge of its daily operation. The level of detail required can seem overwhelming.

First Steps

Before you jump in to pursue certification, start by setting up an appointment with your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which you can find on the website of the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC). One of the agency’s services is advising you regarding whether your business would qualify for certification and whether it might be worth your time to pursue it.

Your PTAC should also be able to tell you what kind of contracts are currently available for which you may want to bid, the value of federal contracts for your type of business, and the agencies that are looking for service providers. That information may help you determine if it makes sense to pursue certification.

What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Coach

Friday, June 17th, 2022

Depending on who you ask, the size of the coaching industry in 2022 is worth anywhere from $2.85 billion to $22 billion. Of course, that number includes all the various coaching niches, from executive coaching to life coaching to career coaching, and more. The field continues to grow as a result of people realizing the value that a coach can provide, whether that involves mapping out a career, making important life decisions, or deciding how to best grow a business, just to name a few.

Coaches can help with any and all of those challenges, as well as many other life decisions.

Coach Megan Shekleton, founder of Wider Visions, a personal development and membership platform, offers help in distinguishing between coaches, therapists, and mentors in this video for WomensNet.

She says that all three provide “important avenues for growth and healing but differ in their approach and focus.”

Which Do You Need?

Before you decide to get help from any of these three types of advisors, make sure you know which will be the most helpful for your particular situation.

  • Coaching. “Coaching is future-oriented,” Shekleton explains. A coach can help you define and craft a vision for your future, setting goals and identifying shifts you want to make. Then they can help you create a plan to achieve those goals. A coach “is about maximizing your potential,” she says.
  • Therapy. “Therapy focuses on your past to understand how it is impacting your present,” says Shekleton. A therapist is most useful for working through your past traumas, to clear away any mental roadblocks or issues you are currently having. It’s about finding a new path forward after dealing with and processing past life events and experiences.
  • Mentorship. And mentors are consultants who specialize in a certain skill. Working with a mentor can be most useful when you are trying to skill-build, such as polishing your presentation or negotiation capabilities. Mentors help you strengthen your existing skills or add to your knowledge in preparation for new experiences you’d like to have.

Are You Really Ready?

Because there is overlap across the three types of advisors, Shekleton recommends before engaging that you ask yourself:

  • Am I looking to make a big shift connected to a vision or goal?
  • Do I need a coach, a mentor, or a therapist?
  • Am I all in? Am I willing to commit?

Potential Reasons You Could Use One

Entrepreneurs may decide that a business coach who can help them develop a more effective marketing or sales strategy is what they and their company really need now. That might involve talking through where you are, where you want to be, and then mapping out a process and a plan to get you there, with your coach giving you tough love when needed to keep you progressing.

Other entrepreneurs may realize that the blocks they are encountering in their business are the result of an early experience with money, perhaps, or a previous partnership that went bust. Before venturing forward again, they may decide that it’s important to heal from those bad experiences and learn how to proceed with a more positive mindset with the help of a therapist.

Some entrepreneurs recognize that they’ve set effective business goals, but they lack certain skills required to achieve them. Maybe they need to figure out how to cold call, or to write RFP responses for government bids, to raise their rates, or to present in public comfortably. A mentor can guide and instruct them to hone those specific abilities.

To Protect Yourself

Asking for help is always smart! But be sure you’re turning to someone who is qualified to guide you. No one wants to spend money for advice that is useless, after all.

Shekleton points out that coaching is an unregulated field, which means that almost anyone can call themselves a coach and start charging people money for their opinion. To increase the odds that that opinion will be worth what you pay for it, she advises that you work with a certified coach, who is someone who has been formally trained as a coach and who has agreed to abide by the industry’s code of ethics.

Whether you’re looking for short-term answers or a long-term plan, paying for the services of a professional coach, therapist, or mentor may be just what you need to make progress in your business.

Check Out the New WomensNet Resource Center

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

As part of its new alliance with Freelancing Females, WomensNet has launched a Resource Center with useful videos on a range of topics women business owners frequently ask questions about.

The educational video series addresses:

  • Business bookkeeping and accounting for beginners
  • Choosing the best website platform for your needs
  • Coaching and capacity building
  • How to incorporate your business simply
  • Influencer marketing
  • Pay-per-click: Facebook vs. LinkedIn vs. Google
  • Search engine optimization—DIY guide
  • Social media presence and social media marketing
  • Trademarks and patents
  • WMBE certification

The videos were all recorded by members of the Freelancing Females community.

If you have expertise to share on any of these topics, to supplement what is already there (versus creating a new topic area), please get in touch with us at info@womensnet.net.

WomensNet was one of the very first online organizations to give women-owned businesses grants. Starting in 1998, the Amber Grant was created to honor the memory of Amber Wigdahl, who was a special young woman who died at just 19 years old, before realizing her business dreams.

Today, we carry on that tradition by giving away a $10,000 Amber Grant every month, plus an additional $25,000 Amber Grant to one of the preceding 12 monthly Amber Grant winners.

Success as a Solopreneur

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

Where solopreneurship, or operating as a one-person company, used to be perceived as a starting point to entrepreneurship, today many start-ups are opting to remain as solo ventures.

Approximately 73% of U.S. small businesses are categorized as solopreneurships, reports Podia, which equates to 41.8 million companies. Rather than being merely a stepping stone, for many entrepreneurs solopreneur is now frequently a preferred destination. 

Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020/2021 Global report found that “the rate of US adults expecting to remain as the only employee in their business was up by nearly 20 percent from 2020.” Further, “A strong characteristic of Covid-19 era entrepreneurship is that is appears to be accelerating the rate of single-employee companies…a trend that started a few years earlier.”

Said another way, more people are starting one-person businesses and opting to keep them as such.

Pros and Cons of Being a Solopreneur

Starting a solo venture is a big step, whether you intend to eventually expand it or not. As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages of remaining a solopreneur:

Pros

  • Ease of start-up. Getting a one-person venture up-and-running is much easier and potentially faster than having to take into account the preferences of partners or investors. 
  • Low cost. When you’re only responsible for yourself and the equipment and materials you need to run the business, you can typically keep expenses low. Once you begin to add staff, costs can rise exponentially.
  • Speed. When you’re the lone decision-maker, you can make choices quickly and make progress faster.
  • Control. Similarly, when you own 100% of the company, what you say goes. No checking with anyone else about their opinions.

Cons

  • Limited capacity. Although you can keep costs low when you’re the lone employee, when you’re the CEO/janitor/delivery person/production supervisor, your capacity can be limited. There are only so many hours in a day for you to work.
  • Less room to scale. A result of limited capacity is that it’s more difficult to scale a solo business without converting it into a larger venture.
  • Stress. When you’re the person responsible for everything in the business, that can cause stress and anxiety. Being in charge isn’t always good news.

For an increasing number of Americans, running a solopreneurship makes a lot of sense. Often called “lifestyle” businesses because the companies are built around the owner’s skills, abilities, and interests, one-person businesses can still be both lucrative and successful.

Here’s how to make solopreneurship work for you:

Focus on Growth, but Not Expansion

While outsiders may see your one-worker venture as limiting, don’t let that discourage you. There is plenty of growth possible through non-traditional strategies.

  • Rely on contractors and freelancers. You will eventually need support if you plan to grow your business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire permanent employees. Retain your flexibility by relying on workers as-needed—a.k.a. freelancers—as well as consultants and coaches. That way, you can ramp up the business without incurring hefty fixed costs.
  • Allow remote work. The majority of solopreneurs work from a home office, which is great for keeping the cost of rented space to a minimum. If you decide to pay for expertise, such as a bookkeeper, scheduler, or web designer, permit them to operate from their homes, thereby eliminating the need for commercial space.
  • Partner with sales reps. If you produce a product, consider working with manufacturer’s representatives rather than hiring your own sales crew. They earn a commission with each sale, which reduces your company’s costs; in many cases, you don’t produce until you get an order.
  • Invest in marketing. Although many solopreneurs opt to keep the business small and manageable, often relying mainly on word of mouth, that doesn’t mean you should keep your business a secret. Getting the word out, even if you’re working part-time, can increase demand and allow you to raise your rates, even if you limit supply.

As Elaine Pofeldt states in her book, The Million-Dollar One-Person Business, “the vast majority of self-employed people have barely begun to unlock their potential in making the most of their businesses.”

How to Win Back Lost Customers

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

Most businesses focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on attracting new customers, when their resources would be better spent on trying to win back previous customers. That’s because you actually have a better chance of winning back a lost customer than you do of converting a new prospect. 

Research by Marketing Metrics found your odds of converting a prospect to a customer are 5-20%, while the odds of convincing a former customer to buy from you again are 20-40%. And, of those customers who are wooed back, their customer lifetime value doubles. That is, they can become among your most profitable buyers.

In many cases, the reason the customer stopped buying from you in the first place are factors you, as the business owner, can control and correct. Some of the biggest reasons customers become former customers are rude staff members, an unresolved problem, and uninformed staff members, says customer service strategist Adam Toporek

The good news is that all of those reasons can be addressed and corrected. That is, you have control, and you can turn things around.

So, how do you go about convincing customers to give your business another shot?

Ask why they left

Of course, the first step in winning back lost customers is finding out what drove them away. Unless you’ve been conducting regular market research, or have already inquired, it’s time to explore why customers are not returning.

You can do that in a number of ways, depending upon whether you have their contact information:

  • Pick up the phone and call or text them
  • Email them
  • Send out a survey by mail
  • Email out a survey link (SurveyMonkey is cheap and easy to use)
  • Conduct a poll on Facebook of local residents

You may hear that there was, in fact, a problem, such as that you never had their favorite product in stock, or your turnaround time was too slow. And you may also hear that your customers’ needs changed, such as if they bought a new car and didn’t need your dealership’s services, or decided to become a Silver Sister and gave up hair color. Ask around to see if there is anything you can do.

Give them a reason to come back

Even if you don’t know exactly why they haven’t bought from you lately, you can still send out an incentive of some kind to invite them back. There are a number of potential approaches, including:

  • Advertising an open house event to get people to stop by
  • Offering a discount or special promotion to the general public
  • Sending out direct mail coupons or offers to people on your mailing list
  • Emailing a special offer to your customer base

What, exactly, you offer is up to you, but make it substantial enough to be enticing to almost everyone. For example, if you own a restaurant, how about a buy-one-get-one-free meal deal? If you’re a consultant, how about a free 30-minute consultation?

Pursue publicity

Perhaps the reason some customers haven’t returned is that they simply haven’t thought about your business. If their need is only occasional, such as with website redesigns, interior painting projects, or professional photography, you may not be top-of-mind.

The solution, of course, is to change that. The most cost-effective way to raise your company’s visibility is through publicity. Some of the best ways to do this are:

  • To scour national publicity opportunities to see where you might be a source (Helpareporter and Qwoted are two free platforms)
  • To reach out to a local newspaper reporter with positive news about your company
  • To send out a tip sheet related to your business to relevant media
  • To offer to write an article for your local newspaper or magazine on a topic related to your business, but not about it

You can also hire a local public relations firm to help identify opportunities to get your company’s name in front of your target market.

Invest in a customer database

Once you’ve reconnected with past customers, even if they don’t buy from you again immediately, keep better track of your interactions and their purchases by leveraging technology. 

A simple customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you identify your best customers, as well as those who haven’t been in recently. That kind of information can help you proactively reach out and reconnect before a customer fades into the distance and onto another provider.

The fact is, if a customer had a need for your product or service at one point in the recent past, odds are good they still have that need. Your challenge is to convince them to let you try to meet their needs once again. If you’re successful, those customers are likely to become your most profitable and most loyal.

Time is Money: Here’s How to Find More

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Many entrepreneurs often waste time. Of course, it’s not intentional, but they spend time they shouldn’t on tasks that don’t require their direct involvement. Reducing that wasted time is the key to getting more done in less time.

By focusing on maximizing productivity, by managing your time better, your business has the potential to become more profitable. Here are some tips and tools that you can use in your daily work to optimize the use of your time.

Plan your day

Making a daily and/or weekly calendar to plan out what you need to get done on a daily basis is the most important step in managing your time. Either at the start of your day, or the evening before, spend a few minutes writing down the top three tasks you absolutely must complete that day. Those essential tasks should then guide how you schedule the rest of your day.

However, you should also build in breaks and rewards. Try to create a day where you can both be productive and feel good about what you’ve accomplished. For example, if you have a big project to complete by the end of the day, don’t just put that one item on your calendar for the whole time. That can either seem overwhelming or too easy, and if that’s the case, it’s very likely you’ll add in other smaller tasks due to overconfidence about your availability.

Figure out what your three must-do’s are and slot them into your day first, to ensure the most important tasks get done. Then, when you do, reward yourself with a walk outside, a fresh cup of coffee, or a social media break.

Rely on technology

Typically, many of the tasks that you complete in a day are handled manually. That is, without the use of technology. However, there is an opportunity to use technology tools that will get those tasks done faster, and maybe even better.

A great example of this is recording and then transcribing your interviews. If you are currently manually transcribing your interviews—stop! That is not a task you should be completing. Transcribing is a time and energy-exhausting task that can make it harder for you to get other tasks done. Not to mention, there are online services that will do it for you.

Otter, Rev, and Speechpad are all good options for having transcripts done, though some are more expensive than others.

Also, using Google Workspace or other browser-based platforms make working on collaborative documents a breeze. Google Docs is a great example of this. Instead of uploading every little change you make to a document, share the document with team members and work on it together.

Focus on high-value tasks

Since we know (thanks to Pareto) that 20 percent of your work will yield 80 percent of your results, make sure you take the time to identify which of your tasks are going to generate the most value for your business. Frequently, we use smaller tasks as excuses to procrastinate and avoid the larger to-do’s we actually don’t want to do.

While this strategy is helpful in avoiding your work, it doesn’t do your business any good. Let the smaller things wait and focus on what really matters. For example, a high value task for a copywriter might be drafting an article, for a product distributor it might be negotiating a contract, and for a caterer, it might be helping clients choose a menu for their big event.

What is considered a high value task will be different for everyone, but being clear about which yours are can help you focus your time and energy on the activities that have the biggest payoff for your company.

Delegate or outsource business activities that don’t require your expertise

Similar to focusing on high value tasks, don’t waste your time on a task that someone else could just as easily handle. You’re adding no value in that case and preventing yourself from addressing some other, more important, task.

For example, if your area of expertise is business management, don’t spend your time crunching numbers or designing websites. Similarly, if you’re not a graphic designer, don’t waste your time trying to replicate what a skilled graphic designer could create for you. Your brochure, logo, or flyer will be much more professional and done in less time than if you tried to cobble something together.

Instead, do what you excel at and hand off the other work to people who excel in those other categories.

Don’t drive, get it delivered

Entrepreneurs and business owners who started small are used to doing it all themselves, from landing the business to doing the work to billing, and everything in between. Sometimes, that work includes administrative tasks like ordering coffee, dropping off packages at the post office, or running out to buy a toner cartridge because the printer ran out of ink.

However, thanks to Covid, we now know that it’s possible to get almost anything delivered to your door. Why get in your car and drive, or take the subway, to run time-consuming errands when all you need to do is head online to make arrangements for what you need?

Have packages to go out to clients? Schedule a pick-up at your business. Need office supplies? Place an online order at Staples or Amazon and have it delivered. Ordering sandwiches for a working lunch? Use Grubhub or DoorDash and have it made-to-order and brought to you, rather than spending your valuable time leaving your office to pick things up. Convert that time to productive work time.

Running a business is hard, but by making better use of your resources and your time, you can increase your odds of massive success. The more you make use of available people, technology, and resources in running your business, the more time you will save and the more money you will make.

Simple Steps to Protect Your Business from Cybercrime

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Reports of cyberattacks are increasing in frequency, with small businesses becoming bigger targets because they typically have not invested in security technology to the degree that larger corporations have. Many also lack internal policies and procedures designed to thwart access to sensitive data. The FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report found that the cost of cybercrimes hit $4.2 billion in 2020 and were up 38% from 2019.

A recent Small Business Administration (SBA) survey found that 88% of small business owners believed their business might be vulnerable.

So, what can you do if your budget doesn’t have a line item for pricey IT security solutions?

Understand Your Threats

The first step is to understand that cybercrime consists of several different types of online attacks, each of which requires different strategies to prevent malicious activity. Most cybercrimes fall into three broad categories:

  • Phishing. Perhaps the most common type of attack involves emails that look like they are coming from a legitimate organization or individual, and ask you to take some action that will then give them access to your computer or to financial accounts. They can also infect your computer with viruses.
  • Ransomware. This type of malware, or malicious software, infects your computer and then restricts access to the computer or to files until a ransom is paid. It usually gets into your computer through phishing emails.
  • Viruses. Another type of malware involves infecting your computer with software that often gives hackers access to your computer. Other times viruses tamper or modify data on your computer. Once in, viruses can control what your computer can do, including steal sensitive information.

The common element in all cyberattacks is gaining access to your computer system, usually through email. That means that your best defense against getting hacked is by setting up protection systems and training employees in how to spot phishing attempts.

Stopping Cybercrime

Although it’s very difficult to outsmart sophisticated cybercriminals, there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the chance that a hacker can get access to your computer systems. These include:

  • Installing computer security systems

Just as your home and office likely have some kind of exterior security system, even if it’s a locked door, you can purchase protection for your computers. This layer of security, called a firewall, is a software program that prevents outsiders from getting into your system. Installing antivirus is another must-do, to keep malware from activating on your computers.

  • Using secure wifi networks

With so many companies and individuals relying on wifi networks to stay connected and get work done, it’s essential that your business use a password-protected router and an encrypted, hidden wifi network. It’s harder for hackers to gain access to a network if they can’t easily find it.

  • Keeping software up-to-date

Sometimes older versions of programs have vulnerabilities that can unintentionally allow access to your system. As soon as software developers discover these access points, they fix them—called a “patch” —and provide them through updates sent to customers. Making sure that you’re always running the latest software version on your computers is one way to reduce the chance that a hacker can get in.

  • Requiring strong passwords

Provide employees with guidance or training in setting up more complex passwords and then require that they update those passwords regularly, at least every 60 to 90 days. You might also consider implementing multi-factor authentication, to make it even more difficult for a hacker to gain access.

  • Performing data backups, backups, backups

Make sure all the computers on your network, and any off-site devices, are being backed up regularly. Store copies of important files or paperwork in the cloud, off-site, or both. If your computer is hacked, you’ll want to be able to clean off any viruses and then reload all of your programs and data. That’s only possible if you have a clean copy somewhere else.

  • Training employees to recognize phishing attempts

Since the majority of cyberattacks begin as phishing attempts targeting employees (KnowBe4 claims the percentage is as high as 91%), to reduce the chance that hackers have to break into your system, you need to train employees in how to recognize phishing attempts. Security training can increase awareness and help prevent data breaches. KnowBe4 has a phishing test you can share with employees to see how vigilant they naturally are. 

Although little can be done to prevent cyberattacks themselves, taking these steps to prevent access to your computing network and the sensitive information stored there will help reduce the chance of harm done.

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