Your Company’s Data Can’t Be Breached

Search Seo Online Internet Browsing Web ConceptYou’ve likely seen the stories in the news in recent years about company’s having their personal and customer data breached.

Whether it is major players like Sony and Target or smaller businesses that you have never heard of before, the financial damages have been staggering at times. Worse yet, a company’s trust with consumers can be severely crippled, leading it to have to try and win back many of those customers.

So, have you taken a look at your Internet security procedures, reviewing where you are strongest and where you need to do some work?

If not, think about how just one data security breach against your company could impact how you go about doing business in 2016 and hopefully beyond.

Security System Reviews

In order to lower the odds of your brand falling victim to a data breach, remember these key tidbits:

  • Security protection – First and foremost, do you have the proper security system in place to better thwart identity theft thieves? If not, look to see what is available on the market that will best suit your needs. Just as consumers can turn to an ITP Bureau or other such providers who can offer them critical information to protect against identity theft, business owners must do likewise, especially those who run online stores etc. Such a provider has a rating system in place to assess important factors that individuals would take into account when looking for a service to signal warning signs and ultimately thwart identity theft attacks;
  • Employee awareness – Given the fact those you employ (consider yourself the employee if you run a one-person small business) are your first line of defense against identity theft thieves, it is crucial that those on the frontlines stand guard against any data breach attempts. Yes, identity theft thieves are some of the smartest criminals on the lot, but they can be thwarted with the right security plan. Employees must be aware of and report any suspicious attempts to hack company computers. From questionable emails asking to download attachments to leaving company and customer data exposed in public places when employees might be working in a library, café or while on the road traveling for work, there are myriad of options for hackers to try and break-in to a company’s computer system. It is important that you have the same rigid standards regarding data protection in place for your mobile employees, including those you outsource work to. Whenever any of those employees leave your employ, make sure you change-up username and password entries into your system. While most of those who leave your employ are not ones to worry about, remember, just one identity theft thief can do a world of damage, including those who once might have been on your payroll. Lastly, properly assign customer and company data, so that not all employees have access to the most sensitive items. For example, there is no reason for someone on your marketing team to need access to customer financials, log-ins to customer sites etc. Be sure only those with a need for such data have access to it, along with making sure they do not share it with others in the company;
  • Are your providers truly secure? – Never overlook the importance of partnering with secure web hosting providers and others in the technology chain of your business. Any third parties you do business with should be required to sign a form indicating they have necessary security in place to oversee your company’s pertinent data. Also look at data encryption, including the idea of encrypting your company’s email when sensitive information is being passed around;
  • Review and remove – Finally, it is imperative that your company reviews its security procedures and those you do business with on a regular basis. Just like you should be reviewing your company culture from time to time, the same holds true for your company’s security procedures. Search for cracks in the armor, with the plan to fix such holes. Also remove any online data that is no longer of use to your business. This also means properly discarding any and all paper trails as it relates to company and customer data.

With all the different avenues that data breaches can come from, it may seem at times a tad overwhelming for you and your business to stay one step ahead of hackers.

Given all you and your brand stand to lose if a data breach is successfully committed against your business, make sure you’re prepared to stop hackers in their tracks.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business and technology topics on the web.

Take Your Web Browsing to New and Safe Heights

Safety Vs Risk Choice ConceptWith all the concerns in recent years over website security, you would think more businesses would make it their number one focus.

Sadly, however, there are still too many companies who fail to put the right time and effort into thwarting hackers at the front door of their computer systems.

As a result, these businesses leave themselves open to an attack, an attack which oftentimes has devastating public relations and financial repercussions.

As 2016 enters its second month, is this the year that you and your brand take a stand against hackers? If so, what are some means by which to do just that?

Have a Plan and Execute It

In order for your business to improve its odds of keeping hackers away from your brand, you must have a plan and execute it.

Part of the plan is regularly checking to see where your business might be most vulnerable (your website, in-house computers, social media etc.) and knowing how to limit the odds of being hit.

To start with, having total freedom in web browsing does come with a price, a price that you must be willing to pay.

Look at the size of your company and exactly how many employees (you might be the only member) are actively engaged online on a daily basis. With that, see where the cracks and holes may be, problems that could lead you to being the most vulnerable to hackers.

Among the potential problem areas to explore:

  • Working with a web hosting company who does not put an emphasis on security;
  • Allowing employees too much freedom on social media;
  • Falling victim to scams that compromise your computer network’s integrity.

In looking at just these three potential problems, first know who you are working with.

If your web hosting company is lackadaisical when it comes to protecting your website, it is time to find a new provider.

Ask them if they regularly do security checks to see what the latest tactics hackers are trying to implement. Does the provider also monitor your website on a regular basis, looking for anything out of the ordinary? Finally, what protocols do they have in place in the event your website is hacked? A provider that acts right away instead of when they get around to it is the one you want to opt for.

Next, how much freedom do your workers have when it comes to surfing the web during the business day?

Should Your Business Be More Social?

Some companies allow for a reasonable amount of time on social media and other approved sites, while other businesses all but forbid it.

You have to decide early on if your employees will be allowed certain Internet freedoms in the office or if they will be asked to focus squarely on their jobs. Keep in mind that social media usage by your workers can actually help promote your brand, so don’t be too fast to discount how it can help you.

On the flip side, social media can pose a danger to you and your business when used improperly.

For example, if one or more of your employees are using social media to discuss company operations, client data etc., a hacker can easily manipulate the conversation and gain access to your computer system.

The same holds true if someone with ill intent sends you a job application/resume. They could post a fake social media link on their resume, hoping you or someone in your office will download it. Once that happens, malware could be installed in your system, allowing hackers to gain access to company and/or client data that should never go public.

One final area to look at is the sites you and/or your employees browse.

Some sites may look innocent, but they in fact can be downright dangerous for your computer/s.

If you are the least bit suspicious about a site you or an employee comes across or someone proposing you download an attachment that just doesn’t feel right, plot the safer course and just avoid it.

Building and refining your brand takes time and effort.

Staying one step ahead of hackers should never be something you take lightly, especially in a day and age where the web is full of people with misguided intentions.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business and technology topics on the web.

The Business of Helping Former Military Members

Working Together Blackboard Means Teams And CooperatingRetiring from a military position and moving into civilian life can be a challenge.

It’s a big transition, and if a veteran decides to stay in the work force, the question is what is a good career to take a look at?

Because many military personnel retire at a young age, they still want to work.

More and more companies are making it a higher priority to hire military vets; some that are known for doing a strong here are GE, USAA and Verizon.

Home Inspection – An example of a viable option

Some veterans may choose a career that they can do on their own rather than working for a big corporation, and that’s a good option, too.

One career to take a look at surprisingly could be a home inspector.

Here are 4 Reasons Why Home Inspecting is a Great Career Choice for Vets:

  1. Low Startup Cost – You can start with some basic things like a laptop and a clear space to work – which can even be your kitchen table. Many jobs have higher start-up costs, but with home inspection, it’s fairly low. You will have to pay for training and licensing, but that should quickly come back to you;
  2. Low Overhead – Once you’ve got your business going, it won’t cost much to keep it running. You don’t really need an office to pay rent on or anyone else working with you who you’d have to pay. You’re biggest expenses may be keeping your memberships current and paying for tools and mileage;
  3. Education is easy – Licensing is fairly easy and can be flexible. You can do this at your convenience when it makes sense for you and on your own timeline;
  4. Convenience – You can schedule your own hours and take time off when you need it. You can take clients and appointments on as you see fit, and you are the one who can best know what you can handle so you can keep your schedule manageable. You can set your hours and provide the freedom that may work so well for you.

Whether you are looking at a career in a big corporation, a small business or running your own business, you have some great options.

With a military background, you have excellent training and skills at the ready.

Now you can start something new that provides you convenience and satisfaction.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Heather Legg is an independent writer who covers topics related to social media, small business and education.

Don’t Keep Customers Waiting

Different people sitting in a waiting room of a hospitalWhere does customer service rank on your company’s list of important daily tasks that should never be overlooked?

While you would like to think that it is always a priority for most businesses, the truth is that is not always the case.

For whatever the reason, some companies simply drop the ball when it comes to providing consumers with solid customer service. As a result, some of those companies end up losing business, business that could have easily remained with them had they just been a little bit better about taking care of Mr. or Mrs. Public.

With that in mind, there are a number of steps you can take as a business owner to increase the chances of keeping customers happy, not to mention helping to promote your brand through their word-of-mouth efforts.

Solid Customer Service Equals Better Revenue

In order to keep your company’s customer service a step or two ahead of what the competition has to offer, make sure you:

  • Go that extra mile – Consumers expect satisfactory customer service, but what if you take it to another level? It is oftentimes the little things that set your brand apart from others, so go that extra mile for the customer. For example, maybe a customer purchased a product or service from you recently over the holidays. As an added incentive to keep them shopping with you, offer them a discount (maybe 10 to 20 percent off) on their next purchase with you. Given that many consumers probably had to watch their pennies over the holiday shopping season, a nice little reward for those who shopped with you last month could go far in making them come back to you this year and beyond;
  • On-time service matters – How many times have you gone in for a doctor’s appointment and waited and then waited some more? Yes, a doctor’s office is typically going to be busy, but that does not remove the frustration you have with being kept waiting for your appointment. The same holds true for businesses who have timed appointments with customers and also when customers are in line waiting to make a purchase. Whether you run a business office, a store, or even a salon, don’t keep your customers waiting. If you have a salon appointment book, try and stick to the times posted on it as much as possible. It just takes one unhappy customer to get the chatter going about how you can’t stay on top of times. When that happens, others (even if they’ve never been to your place of business) may think twice about doing business with you;
  • Avoid negative tones – Last but certainly not least; go out of your way to avoid customer service conflicts. Honestly, there will be times when you or one of your employees doesn’t meet a customer’s needs. When that happens, do everything possible to make amends, giving you a better chance of retaining that individual’s business. This is also true if you’re getting online feedback from customers. By all means, do not get into a tit-for-tat with customers on your social media pages. No matter how much you try, you will never win those battles. Worse yet, online comments are archived for all to see.

Providing consumers with solid customer service isn’t as tricky as it may seem.

Be responsive, reliable, and of course responsible when treating each of your customers.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business topics on the web.

Keep Internet Thieves at Bay

Online Security Protection Internet Safety Learning Education CoIf you run a business and think that you’re not a target, think again.

Whether your company is small, midsize or large, you have a target on your back simply by the fact that you are an entrepreneur. If thieves can get their hands on your products, services, and especially information that will lead to a financial windfall for them, you can be singled out at any moment.

With that in mind, it behooves business owners to make sure they have their backs and the backs of their customers covered at all times. Remember, it just takes one slip-up for a hacker to make your life and your financial life miserable.

Be Pro-Active and Not Reactive

In order to make sure your Internet security is protected as much as possible from hackers (namely identity theft thieves), keep these tidbits in mind:

  • Be Pro-active – The last thing you want to do as a business owner is always be reacting to things, notably hackers. It is no secret that hacking is a profession for countless men and women, many of whom don’t care if you play by the rules or not. In order to decrease the chances of being financially hit, make sure you update your Internet protection software regularly. Look for cracks and kinks in its armor, thereby hopefully seeing them before thieves do. Just as you would use the appropriate computer software to limit your kids’ access to reaching inappropriate websites on your home computer, the same care and concern must be done for your business site. The goal here is to make sure no one is getting through to your company website without your approval;
  • Watch for employee red flags – While it would be comforting to think that all of your employees can always be trusted with sensitive company and customer data, it has proven time and time again that that is not the case. Even though you might think that the attack or attacks will come from the outside, many businesses have unfortunately discovered otherwise. Lessen the chances your business will become a victim by making sure you hire the best and brightest employees. If during the interview process you catch any red flags (past firings from jobs for disciplinary reasons such as stealing from employers and/or hacking websites, run-ins with the law etc.), think twice about bringing on that applicant as an employee. Also be sure to alert all employees once they are under your employ that in no shape or form will you tolerate illegal activities, notably as they relate to misusing company or customer data. If someone is caught doing just that, let it be known they could lose their job and potentially face criminal charges;
  • Be careful with outsourcing – While outsourcing business tasks is something many businesses do on a regular basis, this is another area where one must proceed with caution. Let’s say you outsource some or all of your accounting or client marketing needs to save on some of the workload for your in-house staff. In doing so, you provide the individual or individuals who will be working on accounting and client marketing sensitive data etc. It could be weeks or even months before you discover someone is then using that data for illegal purposes. Along with the financial hit to you and some of your customers, the public relations mess now on your hands is just as bad. Make sure you thoroughly research who you might outsource work to in order to lessen the odds they will be a problem for you and your clients down the road.

Running a business these days of course carries risks, risks that you sometimes have little control over.

When it comes to protecting your business website (both from outside and inside threats), you do have more control than you might think.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business and technology issues on the web.

 

Do You Truly Get the Most Out of Your Employees?

Business Man At Computer DeskWhen it comes to getting the most from those who work for you, what practices do you have in play to do just that?

For some business owners, a competitive salary and a strong benefits package will do the trick. Others, meantime, will tout the opportunities for growth up the corporate ladder. Still others will highlight the working conditions at their companies are second to none.

No matter which group you fall into (maybe you even have tricks not mentioned that woo potential employees), always remember that getting the most out of your workers not only benefits them over time, but it is also crucial to obtaining and keeping happy customers.

With that in mind, here are some tips to getting the most from your workers each and every day of the work week:

  • Right tools – Do you provide your employees with the right tools in order to get their jobs done properly? Some workplaces are well-suited with the latest in technology (computers, apps, printers etc.), while others are working with equipment from years ago. In order to present both your brand and employees in the best light to consumers, make sure you give your team technology that is equal to or preferably better than what the competition has. This also translates to items such as their desks, chairs, lighting, cubicles etc. Whether it is time to order new desks or conference room chairs, make sure your staff doesn’t feel like working in your office place is akin to being in prison ;
  • Positive reinforcement – Very few employees will want to work for an owner who is constantly negative. Yes, there are times when you need to be direct with employees and even correct them, but those times should be in small doses, not to mention done via one-on-one terms and not in front of other co-workers. Although the employee is getting a salary (perhaps benefits), giving them positive reinforcement when they do something exceptionally well never hurts. You can take things an additional step by having “fun” contests in the different departments in your office. Put incentives out there for your employees to strive for can do nothing but boost morale and likely results;
  • Periodic reviews – You should also do periodic assessments with your staff, letting each of them know what is working, what may not be working, and how everyone can improve (including yourself) as a team. Some businesses are spot-on when it comes to doing reviews, others all but skip them. One of the advantages of doing such reviews in your workplace is that they can correct any missteps taking place, along with giving employees a goal or goals to strive for sooner rather than later. Keep any reviews professional (no need to browbeat an employee) and reinforce such meetings with positives overtones.

In order to get top production from your employees, make this the year that you truly see what is and isn’t working in your workplace.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business and marketing topics on the web.

Is It Smart to Start a Business Past Age 50?

Business Man Walking To 2016 NumberStarting a small business at any age is a daunting task.

But beginning one after the age of 50 comes with its own set of unique challenges. Fortunately that’s not stopping many of America’s older entrepreneurs.

According to U.S. News & World Report, a 2015 survey found that nearly 26% of businesses started that year were from people age 55 to 64.

For many, their own business provides a means of making the money they’ll need to get through retirement.

Others choose this path because of a passion for work, to explore a second career path, or simply to have more control over their hours and schedule.

But what are some of the specific challenges facing those over 50?

Choosing the Right Type of Business

Younger entrepreneurs, for better or worse, have ample time to fail in terms of choosing the right business to start. Those over 50 have more at stake given looming retirement and need to make more calculated, smart choices.

While you may be deeply passionate about something, if your business doesn’t solve an already existing problem or fill some gap in the marketplace, it may not be viable in the long run. Prospective business owners need to take that into account in addition to assessing what unique skills they bring to the table for a new business.

As AARP suggests, you can get started by making a chart of your skills, past projects, and outcomes to get a comprehensive inventory of your own capabilities.

Getting Caught Up on Tech

In the article “Starting a Business After Age 50, Chief Coach of Bizstarters, Jeff Williams puts a strong emphasis on older entrepreneurs catching up on how to use the newest technology.

Williams suggests reading reputable business-oriented websites and publications to find technology how-to’s or even check out your local library for software classes or learning how to use specific equipment.

As technology is constantly changing, there’s no shame in not being up to date but prospective business owners need to be proactive with this education.

Consider Your Unique Limitations

For many entrepreneurs, the ultimate goal in starting a business is the chance to eventually sell it for a profit. Your age may expedite that need for an exit strategy. The upside here is that you’re forced to make added bigger picture plans early on in the life of your business.

Older business owners also need to be honest and reasonable when it comes to their level of physical stamina.

For example, if you’re nearing retirement age, it may not be the most sustainable idea to start a labor intensive, one-man landscaping business.

Starting your own dog-walking service, doing independent consulting, or making jewelry on the other hand, may have more longevity.

Putting Ego Aside

When you start a business after age 50, you’re likely coming into this venture with a wealth of knowledge and experience. However, as is the case with all successful entrepreneurs, you need to put ego aside and make choices that are in the best interest of your company.

This may mean that you need to be patient when it comes to a slow-growing client base. It may also mean that you’ll be getting advice or mentorship from professionals that are many years younger than you but have specific expertise to offer.

From putting ego aside to choosing the right business in the first place, those over age 50 can start their new company feeling prepared.

Additionally, hopeful entrepreneurs can use the internet as a tech education resource, making prospective business owners equipped with the tools they need.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Kristin Livingstone writes on a variety of topics including entrepreneurship and starting businesses.

Is Your Association Providing the Personal Touch?

Shaking HandsPersonalization is the key to many marketing campaigns today, especially if you’re newer to the business scene and looking to make inroads.

For organizations that don’t offer a product, they may not see the benefits of personalization. However, associations in all industries can utilize personalization to create a more satisfying experience for their members.

Members join associations for all kinds of reasons.

Some use them to leverage connections or to enhance their own image. They may be looking to network or to gain more industry experience.

Your association can find unique ways of interacting with members based on those reasons and on the unique needs they have.

Go Beyond Basic Personalization

As the article, “Why Personalization is so Vital to Your Association” says, many organizations use a basic form of personalization without tapping into the more advanced options. The article discusses using the individual’s name in correspondence, but you can do so much more.

Associations often attract members from various levels.

For example, in an industry association, members may consist of experienced professionals as well as those just starting out. The information a beginner is looking for is going to be different than what an expert in the field needs.

With modern technology tools, it is possible to show custom content to each user. As a result, you can create content that caters to various types of members.

Filtering for Information

Another method of personalization begins with filtering your members based on specific criteria.

Put them in groups with certain groups receiving information or other tools that benefit them. Create opportunities for networking based on their interests.

You can offer courses or send out special invitations based on the various needs of your members.

Instead of waiting to accumulate data over time, most associations have immediate access to more information than the average business that is trying to sell a product or service.

Just by joining your association, you can ascertain certain facts about your members. You will also most likely have them fill out a form that provides you with even more details.

Benefits of Personalization

Personalization benefits you as much as it does your members.

Instead of offering random or generalized information or opportunities, you create custom options that are geared toward a specific group or person.

This degree of personalization creates a more positive interaction between you and the member. They will be more likely to stay with your association and will be more active.

In addition, you will spend less time and money sending out general content to everyone.

Because you have a target audience and are more specific in your approach, you will see better results.

Personalization is not just for businesses in the retail industry.

Every organization can benefit by personal interaction with their members.

Take your association to the next level and discover that your members are getting what they need when you make your interactions with them more personal and satisfying.

Begin today finding out how you can get personal with your members.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Joyce Morse is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including finance and the business world.

Are You Insured to be a Successful Entrepreneur?

Disaster RecoveryIn business, contracts hold a lot of weight.

A contract is a legally binding agreement that states that you, as the business owner, will fulfill certain obligations to the client. But what if a contract is not enough on its own?

This is where surety bonds come in.

A surety bond is an agreement that goes a step beyond a simple contract in that it utilizes a third party that vouches for, and becomes obligated to, the service provider being able to get the job done.

Essentially, a surety bond is a guaranteed agreement between your company, the client, and the bond provider.

The bond provider is telling the client that if your company is unable to complete the agreed upon work, someone will be brought in to finish the job. The client can be “sure” of that

Do You Need a Surety Bond?

Think of a surety bond as insurance.

In traditional business insurance scenarios, the insurance provider will cover costs in the case of damage or injuries. Surety bonds work in the same manner such that, if your company is unable to complete the agreed upon work, the client will be financially rewarded and protected.

Many types of businesses can benefit from surety bonds, including those that work on long-term creative projects.

The truth is that, in such circumstance, a clear resolution is not always available when a conflict arises. When hitting such a crossroads, surety bonds can make a big difference in satisfying the client and avoiding a lengthy and costly lawsuit.

How Do You Obtain a Surety Bond?

In the article, “Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Surety Bond Insurance,” the author discusses a number of steps that need to be taken prior to obtaining surety bond insurance.

The first step is to ensure that your personal or business credit is at a high enough level to receive a security bond.

You should also have all business information, including financials and safety records, available to present to a potential insurance provider.

From there, you will also need to determine whether paying your premium upfront is the best option or whether making monthly payments works best.

In the end, you may benefit more from speaking with a surety bond expert who can examine your individual needs and make recommendations.

Just as no two businesses are the same, no two surety bond options are the same.

By consulting with an expert, you may be able to save yourself and your company time, money, and headaches in the future.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Andrew Rusnak is an author who writes on topics that include business development and insurance.

Keynote Speakers Can Set the Tone for Business Success

Speaker Talking at Business Conference.If you’re looking for a keynote speaker for your next event, you’ll want to make sure you choose the right person.

Keynote speakers can set the tone for the entire event. Getting it right is critical to the overall success of your event.

Here are some key qualities of a great keynote speaker….

Articulate

When interviewing for your keynote speaker, you should be able to tell right away whether or not they are a good speaker.

A good speaker is articulate, and seems to find the right words instantly to communicate the message.

Ultimately, as the article, “what makes a great keynote speaker?” looks at, it’s the ability to articulate the message in a clear manner that will be easily understood by the attendees.

Presentable

Your keynote speaker needs to be presentable as far as physical appearance.

Unfortunately, society does judge others on appearance. If you are putting on a conference about fitness products, your keynote speaker needs to be in good physical shape.

Even if they are a past Olympian, if they’ve let themselves go, they won’t be a good spokesperson for your company.

You don’t need a beauty contestant, but a general modicum of physical health is desirable in a person who is going to be delivering the keynote speech at a corporate event.

Respectful

Your keynote speaker should be a person who respects your organization and what it stands for.

They should be able to address your attendees in a respectful fashion, and embody the ideals that your organization holds dear. Even if they are experts in their field, if they cannot speak to your group in a respectful manner, they wouldn’t be an ideal candidate.

For example, you’d be surprised at how many experts on matters that interest women, such as childcare and gardening, don’t actually respect the women who engage in those activities.

Well-Known

The best keynote speaker would be one who can lend an air of authority to your event.

If they are well-known in their field, you will likely get a lot more attendees to your event than if you hire a keynote speaker whom no one has ever heard of. The value of a well-known keynote speaker is immense.

They can advertise their upcoming keynote address, and perhaps bring in more attendees than you would have otherwise had. A well-known keynote speaker can also breed excitement about the event.

When people who are on the fence about attending your event see who is delivering the keynote speech, they may be more likely to sign up just to see their favorite motivational speaker, celebrity or what not.

Responsible

Once you hire a keynote speaker, you want to be able to cross that task safely off your list.

You never want to have to worry that the keynote speaker won’t show up or will forget. If your keynote speaker is a celebrity, they could potentially be someone less than plugged in to the conventional world where people have to be a certain place at a specific time.

Your choice for keynote speaker should be a person with a responsible attitude to their commitments.

Keynote speakers can often make or break the success of an event.

Choose wisely and carefully, and sit back and enjoy the speech.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Kate Supino writes extensively about best business practices.