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6 Cyber Security Tips for Small Businesses

6 Cyber Security Tips for Small Businesses

More than half of all business-focused cyber attacks target small and medium businesses — because while large businesses may have more to steal, small businesses tend to have systems more vulnerable to attack. Protecting your business and your customer’s data from a cyber attack is something every small business owner should take seriously — but how? Here are six cyber security tips for small businesses.

Hire an expert consultant.

Chances are, you know more about business than cyber security. Consider contracting a cyber security expert to review your system and make suggestions for improvement. While hiring an expert isn’t cheap, it’s one of the best ways to create a secure system that works best for your business, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution that may have some loopholes.

Consider cyber insurance.

Unlike regular business insurance, cyber insurance protects your company in the event of a security breach. Cyber insurance can help cover the cost of an attack if one occurs — which on average can cost $275,000. Besides the actual loss from the hack, a security breach can create costs in fines and remediation, as well as notifying and assisting affected customers.

Work with your employees.

Employees can create vulnerable points in any security system simply by trying to create a password that they will remember. Work with your employees to ensure they understand best practices for cyber security, such as using a password that includes both upper and lower case letters as well as numbers — and that doesn’t include an easy-to-guess phrase or word. Sharing cyber security tips with employees is an easy way to avoid potential weak spots in cyber security.

Store information safely with a VDR.

Businesses have plenty of sensitive data — a virtual data room is a secure way to handle that data. With a VDR, you can share information with employees, yet VDRs are much harder to access by hackers than more basic storage solutions. If you need to store and save lots of data, a VDR is a good idea.

Keep your security software — and other software — up to date.

Security software, like antivirus programs, is a simple, affordable way to help prevent cyber attacks. Keep antivirus programs up-to-date, without a lapse in your coverage or subscription. Similarly, keep your computer software and operating system up-to-date — as software companies find security vulnerabilities, they release updates to fix the problem, so make updating your computer — and smartphone — regularly a habit.

Protect your internet connection.

Wi-fi can easily be a vulnerability. Protect your business by setting up a firewall, a straight-forward process done by using firewall software. Check with any employees that take work home with them to make sure their home network is also protected. Along with a firewall, encrypt your router and hide the name of your private wireless network from anyone that may come within range.

Small business owners have a lot on their plates — but ignoring cyber security could be a disastrous mistake. With a few simple changes, however, you can better protect your business against attacks.

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5 Tips on Managing Interruptions for Small Business Owners

5 Tips on Managing Interruptions for Small Business Owners

Interruptions are inevitable, but as a small business owner, they can be more than disruptive. Besides cutting into valuable time, interruptions can loose that train of thought and make it tougher to get back into that task. But what can small business owners do about interruptions? Here are five tips for cutting back interruptions and making the most of your time.

Be honest with self-imposed interruptions.

How many interruptions are you responsible for, and not someone else? Be honest with yourself and make a mental note of how often you check your phone, get lost on a web page or unnecessarily check your email. If you find yourself getting lost on Facebook when originally working on social media marketing, try scheduling only a certain amount of time for social media marketing, setting a timer, and getting off the web when that time is up.

Take note of the typical daily interruptions.

What are the usual interruptions during your work day? By answering that question, you may be able to prevent some of them. If employees are always asking the same kinds of questions, maybe a mini training session can help curb repeating the answer over and over again in the future. Other interruptions, rather than being curbed, could be scheduled — a brief meeting with staff, for example, won’t curb the interruptions but will get them all out of the way at the same time.

If interruptions are disruptive, schedule an interruption-free time.

If you have some tasks that are just impossible to tackle with constant interruptions, set up a “do not disturb” time and make sure your employees know when that is. Designate another staff member to manage questions and phone calls, and make sure staff knows not to interrupt unless it’s a true emergency. Make sure to turn off your own distractions too and silence your smartphone during this time.

Don’t be afraid to schedule a different time to handle the interruption.

Some interruptions are issues that need to be dealt with immediately, but if that’s not the case, don’t be afraid to schedule a time to get a handle on whatever that interruption is. Acknowledge the employee, then let them know you’ll have more time to work on the issue if you chat later, set a time, and get back to work.

Schedule intentional breaks.

Research suggests that many people work better with scheduled breaks. While managing interruptions is important, stepping outside for five minutes of fresh air may boost your productivity and speed when you sit back down at your desk. When looking at interruptions, it’s important to recognise which ones are really disruptive, and which ones actually have you eager to work when you return.

Interruptions can break up the flow of the day and make a big impact on time management as a business owner. While you can’t prevent all interruptions, you can put some tips and tricks in place to help manage those interruptions more effectively.

5 unique, affordable marketing ideas for small businesses

5 unique, affordable marketing ideas for small businesses

Traditional marketing like radio, TV and newspapers can be great for boosting business, but sometimes, the best marketing campaigns stem from unusual, outside-the-box ideas. Getting creative with marketing can often help stretch the marketing budget a bit further too. Here are five non-traditional marketing ideas to try for your small business.

Mix with another business.

When small businesses work together, both of them win. Consider working with a non-competing business in your area that caters to the same audience on a special or gift package. For example, as suggested by Vertical Response, a spa and restaurant could work together to create a Mother’s Day package. The restaurant’s regular customers would hear about the spa, and the spa’s regular customers would hear about the restaurant. Advertise the package, and both businesses could see new customers from the partnership as well.

Send out birthday wishes and other greetings.

Don’t always think of marketing as direct selling. Establishing a relationship with customers is part of that, even though the message may not be hard hitting. When customers sign up for a loyalty program or subscribe to your emails, gather a few basic pieces of information. Then, send out a note on their birthday or a thank you after they make a purchase. You can try including a coupon, but make a majority of the message about them. The same idea goes for in-store relationships, and learning the names of your regulars.

Share advice on a blog.

Do your customers know the best ways to use your product? Share advice on how to use your product, or more general tips that reach out to your target audience on a blog or social media. You’ll help build authority in your field, while helpful information is also more likely to get shares on social media and clicks in the search results over a traditional marketing message. A dairy company can share recipes, for example, a print shop tips on design and photography. You likely won’t see results right away, but you’ll build an audience over time without spending much besides your time.

Send out a press release.

Is your small business hiring new leadership, hosting an event, or adding a new product? Take advantage of these big changes by sending out a press release to local news outlets. The bigger the news is and the more unique, the more likely that press release is to gain traction. News coverage isn’t pushy marketing, but gets your name out there in a positive manner.

If at first you don’t succeed, then, try again.

Don’t quit a marketing campaign after the first run — customers are more likely to buy from brands that they’ve heard about more than once. That means you may not get results the first time, but your odds increase with a second run. If you can, try a marketing campaign idea at least twice between determining if it helped grow your business or not.

Marketing is essential for small business, but the options extend well beyond the traditional, go-to, big-budget ads. Try a few unique marketing ideas to reach new customers on a budget.

5 loyalty program tips for small businesses

5 loyalty program tips for small businesses

Many small businesses are built on repeat customers — and loyalty programs can help ensure those same customers keep coming through the doors rather than gracing the aisles of the competition. But there’s more to creating a rewards program than just creating punch cards or signing up for a digital service. Here are five loyalty program tips to consider as a small business owner.

Keep loyalty programs simple and fast.

Have you ever skipped signing up for a rewards program because you were just hoping to check out and get home as quickly as possible? Rewards programs tend to get more traction when kept simple, both in the sign up process and while gathering and counting rewards. Start by keeping the sign up simple, requiring only a few basic pieces of information so sign up is done in a minute or two. Be sure to make using the rewards program easy too — the best rewards programs are ones that customers can figure out without using a calculator.

Ensure you are offering value.

Don’t create a reward program that will simply send out stuff to fill your customer’s junk drawers. Ensure the rewards hold value for customers. There are a few different ways to approach this — you can conduct a survey and find out what customers really want. Or, you can offer discounts on the things that your customers are already buying. A print shop, for example, could offer a free print for every ten prints, or a discount after spending a certain amount of money.

Don’t stop at just using the loyalty program to drive repeat customers.

If you solely use the loyalty program to drive repeat business, you aren’t getting all of the benefits from the program. Digital rewards programs can help track customer data to improve your store, send out coupons when a customer hasn’t visited in some time, and more. By looking at which customers are buying what, you’ll have more data to drive decisions to move your business forward.

Encourage social sharing.

An easy way to boost your rewards program? Offer extra points for users that share the program on social media. You’ll generate a social media buzz, while customers can earn more points. By encouraging shares, you’ll find more new customers as well as more customers signing up for the loyalty program.

Keep listening to loyal customers, even after the loyalty program launches.

Surveys and customer feedback are a great way to design a new loyalty program — but don’t ignore feedback after the launch either. Continue to ask for feedback, both on the program and customer service in general, and integrate customer feedback into your business. When you ask and respond, you build a better relationship with loyal customers and offer a better experience for new customers.

Loyalty programs help encourage customers to continue to frequent your business — and maybe even buy more while inside too. From keeping rewards simple to listening to customers, when done right, a loyalty program can be a big boost for business.

4 reasons for small businesses to try digital signage

4 reasons for small businesses to try digital signage

Small businesses today often dip their toes into both physical retail stores and digital storefronts — but businesses could be missing out on one of the best mergers between the two mediums. Digital signage brings digital advertising into the physical storefront to boost sales, upsell, and keep customers coming back. In fact, a recent study by Nielsen found that 80 percent of grocery stores that switched to digital signage saw sales jump by as much as a third.

So how can small businesses use digital signage, and what are the benefits of making such an adjustment? Here’s what small businesses need to know about digital signage before making the investment.

Unlike printed signs, digital signs have time on their side.

Digital signs don’t have to be still images — integrating video into digital signage is eye-catching and opens up several different possibilities. First, using video on a digital sign can help tell a brand’s story better than with a single still image or even slideshow of images. A story about your business spans time — and since digital signage can also span time, it makes a great medium for sharing your business’ story.

Consider the possibilities of sharing video in store — you could demonstrate a product’s features, show a product from all angles, or offer tutorials on how to use an item.

Digital signs can be interactive.

Digital signage isn’t limited to photos and video. Touchscreen digital signs encourages customer interactions. A product finder questionnaire can use customer feedback to help them find the right product, for example. Digital signs can also be used to help drive social media marketing or to display your most recent posts.

Digital signs can house the same features as online platforms.

Online, customers can see a product outside the box from every angle with 3D models, read customer reviews, find similar products, and more. A digital sign allows business owners to bring those same features into a physical store. Besides adding helpful information, that means digital signs don’t always need extra effort to come up with new content, when the content you are already using online may already work.

Digital signs are more likely to capture customer’s attention.

The human eye is automatically drawn to movement — which means digital signage tends to draw more attention than traditional signage. The movement on screen is more eye catching, and stands out among the more common printed sign. That can be a big perk for small businesses working in crowded places, such as in malls and busy shopping centres. Businesses with a storefront window can even use digital signs to grab the attention of those walking by.

Digital and retail storefronts don’t need to remain segregated — by bringing digital signage into physical locations, small businesses can capture customer’s attention, increase sales, share details about products and more.

The top 5 reasons small retail businesses fail

The top 5 reasons small retail businesses fail

Around a third of new businesses fail in the first two years, and half in the first five. But many businesses fail for the same reasons. In the independent retail sector, business failure could be prevented by recognising some of those potential pitfalls. So what do small business owners need to recognise in order to continue thriving for years to come? Here are five common pitfalls for small retail businesses.

Limited marketing.

While word-of-mouth marketing is great, businesses that rely on it tend to go broke faster than the small businesses that invest in other areas of marketing. You simply can’t bring in new customers if those customers don’t know that you exist. While small businesses don’t need a multi-million dollar marketing plan, some marketing is essential to survival. Low cost marketing, such as social media marketing, online ads, email newsletters, and advertisements with local news and radio outlets, can help keep the doors open — and customers coming in — for years to come.

A bad location — online and off.

While marketing is essential, some customers will find you simply by driving by your business — if you choose a good location, that is. Convenience is a big factor for brick-and-motar customers, and an out-of-the-way location negates that. Make sure customers can find you easily — and that they’ll come back often — by choosing an ideal location.

Similarly, your business should also be easy to find online. Creating an SEO-friendly website with a simple URL is an important part of building a successful business.

Not charging enough.

Yes, small businesses still have to compete with the big box stores — but many small businesses fail simply because they don’t charge enough to cover overhead costs and leave room for growth. Don’t make what should be a limited time sale a 24/7 deal, or you could end up closing your doors.

Struggling through the slow seasons.

Every business tends to have a slow season — but that’s not the time to put your feet up on your desk and relax. Don’t just sit and wait out the slow season. Build up your marketing tactics, plan a sale or event to get customers in the door, expand your social media marketing efforts. Work  to build a more predictable cash flow, and your business is more likely to succeed.

Buying the wrong merchandise — or too much of it.

What you sell matters, but navigating what to sell and how much can be tough for new business owners. Be sure to look for a product that’s in demand with your particular customers. Understanding trends is your industry helps tremendously when choosing stock. Along the same lines, avoid investing too heavily in a new product before you know how well it will sell.

Small businesses are quick to blame big businesses for their struggles — but if that were the case, the rise of retailers like Amazon would have eliminated every small business. More often than not, it’s the choices that the business makes that determine whether or not the retail company succeeds. By understanding the potential pitfalls, small business owners can navigate their way to a long-running, successful business.

QR codes are far from dead - here’s why your small business should use them

QR codes are far from dead – here’s why your small business should use them

When QR codes first launched, marketers hoped the black-and-white scannable codes would bridge the print and digital world. But despite all the hype, QR codes didn’t meet see explosive growth early on. The codes required a special app to use, which besides eliminating the people that didn’t know how to use the codes, could even take longer than simply typing in the URL address itself.

QR codes may not have had the rapid rise originally hoped for, but in 2019, QR codes are no longer underused, funny looking graphics. Now that most smartphones can scan QR codes without a dedicated app, the use of QR codes are on the rise. A report by Juniper Research suggests the scan-able codes will reach one billion smartphone users by 2022.

So how can small businesses integrate the now hot QR code into their marketing campaigns? Here are five QR code marketing ideas, besides just sending customers to your website.

Use a QR code to link to a digital coupon. Clipping paper coupons are a thing of the past. With QR codes, shoppers can scan a code from a printed advertisement and save a digital version to their smartphone wallet, easily recalling the offer when shopping later. Besides saving a few trees by not printing off all those paper coupons, QR coupons are easier to manage and harder to loose. You can even use the element of surprise and use a code that says “scan to see how big your discount is.”

Use as QR code to encourage social media followers. QR codes can be linked to a number of different things — including your social media profiles. Most major networks will allow you to generate a QR code linked to your social media page. Integrating an easy-to-scan QR code allows shoppers to easily find your social networks, which can increase your followers, and that’s never a bad thing.

Give shoppers more details on your products. The packaging only has so much space. A QR code can help customers easily find more information about that specific product. Think outside the box — link to a how to video, a page of customer reviews and more, simply by adding a QR code to the package.

Send shoppers to a dedicated app using a QR code. Does your business have its own shopping app? A QR code can lead shoppers right to downloading the app, simplifying the process of shopping with an app.

Use a QR code to make your physical location — or even contact information — easy to find. Did you know you can link a QR code to your physical address, phone number or email? If you are using QR codes in marketing placed outside your business, a QR code can help potential shoppers find directions to your location, or even dial in your phone number with a quick scan.

QR codes may not have been successful right off the bat, but thanks to improvements in the technology and widespread use, QR codes are gaining traction. Small business owners can use the scanning codes to do more than just send shoppers to their website.