Welcome to camp, social media camp.
There are several tents: We have
“Every Platform, Every Day” for those who are on all.the.things.
“One and Done” for those who pick one tried and true place to post.
“I Can’t Even” for those who have created accounts but never, ever post.
Which tent do you stay in?
Let me introduce a new tent for you. It’s called “The Perfect Platform”. Welcome
The Perfect Platform or two are unique to you and your content. A place where you can reach your audience in the most engaging way possible
Though it may not seem this way, each industry and demographic does have a primary platform that they interact with most. While there is crossover depending on the user, most industries gravitate toward one or maybe two platforms for content sharing.
LinkedIn is great for professionals. Government Contractors, Consultants, Coaches and other B2Bs will all do well to share their content on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is NOT the place for highlighting family stories, sharing holiday photos or pictures of your lunch.
Pinterest is a good home for bloggers, vloggers or those who share how-to, actionable content. If your primary audience is the WAHM or SAHM, teacher or DIYer. Pinterest may be for you.
Instagram is ideal for visual businesses. The not-so-little sister of Facebook is a great place for those sharing travel information, fashion advice, product content, real estate, coaching information and more.
Facebook is the almost the original. Ideal for the fun stuff, Facebook is a great hub for event-based companies, those who have a demographic of remote workers, coaches, B2B and product options. Facebook is also a great resource for searching. Having a basic Facebook business page allows a business to appear in search.
Twitter is for those who are brands and businesses that have the ability to engage regularly. Twitter is a real-time conversation type platform that works well if it is interacted with often.
YouTube is clearly for video creators. Brands and businesses that have embraced video creation can utilize YouTube for sharing and engagement.
A variety of other platforms do exist apart from these but for our purposes, those listed above are the best for business use.
Pick Your Platform
Choosing a platform or two to interact with does not have to be a one-shot-wonder.
Here are a few things you can do to find your ideal platform.
-Give yourself 30-60 days to discover and learn your options
-Research your business peers and competition to see where they’re finding success
-Create content specific to each platform
-Test, test and test again. Once you gather enough information you’ll make a decision that saves you time in the long run.
-Pick something you enjoy. As you’ll be the one creating the content and engaging with your audience, do it in a place that brings you joy instead of frustration.
-Be ready to pivot.
The social landscape changes on every platform more often than we’d like. Stay engaged with your audience and your content and consistently seek out new people to follow. This will allow you to see how others are utilizing their skills for content. It may also serve as a space of inspiration for new content.
Finally, when in doubt, ask for help. Follow digital marketers and social media managers who are active. Many of them will gladly assist you with content ideas as well as sharing tips and tricks to improve your digital presence.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start or have specific questions regarding the platforms, check out MOKup Media and Meg Kerns on Twitter and Instagram. @MOKupMedia @Megokerns.
It is easy to stand in front of a potential client and tout all of the wonderful things you’re able to do. It’s difficult to stand in front of that same potential client and be honest about your capabilities. This is why it is so important to have a network of resources you can draw from to meet a client’s needs. This is why you need to know your limits.
You’re Not One Size
“The world is my oyster.”
“My ideal client is everyone.”
“I can do it all, don’t you worry.”
Have you heard these statements? If so, I hope you ran as far away as your business suit would take you. This is the hallmark of a business without a niche, without an ideal client and frankly, potentially, without a clue! This usually means that they’re going to try and fit you into a “one size fits all” business plan. That type of plan may harm the growth of your business. Your business isn’t one-size-fits-all, so why would you choose to delegate tasks to someone who is.
We All Have Limits
Early in the growth of your company you probably reached a breaking point. Sleep was elusive, time was beyond limited and there were tasks you avoided simply because “you didn’t wanna.” Are you still in those days? Are you wrestling with the idea of hiring a dedicated marketing person, accountant or virtual assistant? Think about it this way, you can only fill a cup to a certain point. Once full the glass begins to spill over and you miss out on all the great stuff you could have consumed. Business is similar. Opportunities will continue to present themselves but if you’re bogged down with doing all-the-things (i.e. social media posts, email follow up or invoicing) you’re going to miss out on potential growth. Without knowing your limits you end up restricting your potential.
Stay in Your Lane
This is not to discourage you from stepping out of your comfort zone or discovering new avenues for growth. Stay in your lane in terms of your skills and abilities. If you’re a digital marketer but you don’t excel in Facebook Advertising, don’t go there. If you’re an awesome landscaping company but you don’t design pool structures, don’t. Stick to beautifying the land and leave the aquatics to those who know. This is where the need for a strong network resides. When asked, instead of saying “No” and leaving the conversation there, you can confidently say “That isn’t somewhere we specialize but if you’d like I can put you in contact with two or three vendors who excel in that space.” BOOM! You’ve done three things here:
1 – Helped make your potential client confident that you know your limits
2- Strengthened the relationship with a networking buddy
3 – Lowered the potential for a headache when you’re in over your head down the road
Embrace & Grow
Embracing your limits doesn’t have to mean saying “no” to the fun stuff. It means saying “yes” to all of those things you rock. So always remember: Know (your limits), Delegate (where you can) and Grow (onward and upward)!
If you’re struggling in a potential area of delegation, reach out! I’d be honored to help where I can and put you in contact with a rockstar who could give you more time in your week. Drop me an email at [email protected] or connect with me instantly on Instagram and Twitter!
Safer Internet Day is today. But, your digital personal and professional world are under attack every day. So, it’s with this in mind, here is the advice I give to loved ones and clients alike when asked about how to protect themselves online.
User Account Management
First and most important is to start with the basic security of your user accounts on your desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and mobile tablets. Actually, anything with a username and password should have it enabled.
It’s convenient to have your devices simply have no password or passcode login, but this compromises your security if or when someone covertly accesses your device or snatches it off your table at a café or restaurant when you least expect it. On Windows, you want to make sure your Windows user account settings are activated and updated with a strong password (see below) and, on Mac OS X, walk yourself through each tab within your Security & Privacy settings in System Preferences (especially File Vault).
Password Managers Are Your Friend
Next, with so much of our world being digital today, passwords have become the banes of our existence. We have passwords upon passwords. And, we simply cannot remember them all. So, we cheat and create a password that we can remember, that’s simple, and we use it for all our online accounts. (In case you can’t tell, I’m metaphorically slapping my forehead.) Let’s change this practice through a simple set of security principles.
One, your username is a kind of password, too. When you enter a username into the field on a website, then another, then another, you get to be known by the username across many services. If your password on one site is compromised on one of these sites, hackers know to start checking other sites for that username. If you use different usernames one each site, you create a far smaller digital persona for hackers to track when the inevitable password hacks happen at Target, Equifax, Yahoo, or otherwise.
N.B. This is tough to avoid when your username is your business email address. But, where you’re required to use your email address as your username, you can use multiple business email accounts across the Web; create one for your important accounts, another for public marketing communications (e.g., those on flyers, postcards and business cards), and perhaps a tertiary one for less secure environments (e.g., Social Media accounts).
Two, the complexity of the password doesn’t make it a strong password as much as the length of the password; choose one that is the maximum length allowed by the service.
Third, you can no longer comfortably rely on your memory now to remember your usernames and passwords if you’re making them different on every site you use. The simple solution is a password manager. Now, you can even use randomized usernames and strong passwords without the need to remember any of them! I recommend LastPass (my preferred password manager) and 1Password to all of my clients, because they are available across all major mobile and desktop operating systems, and they have Web browser extensions.
User Two-Factor Authentication, When Possible
Password hacks happen every day in far more frequency than I believe any analysts and journalists are reporting. The main reason is that these hacks are too small in the eyes of the media to warrant grabbing audience attention. But, make no mistake, your passwords are being reaped from sources without your knowledge and you need to take precautions.
A simple way to do this is use what’s known in the cybersecurity industry as multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (TFA/2FA). In short, you install a software such as Google Authenticator, Authy or LastPass Authenticator (separate app from LastPass) on your smartphone and/or mobile tablet; there are also physical 2FA devices available if you feel the need for that kind of security. Then, go to Google, Apple, Facebook, WordPress.com, Evernote, and any other online services you use that allow it, and enable two-factor authentication. (Text messaging (SMS) is not a second factor. Phone-based text messages can be easily spoofed or intercepted, so it cannot trusted as two-factor authentication.)
N.B. If you use two-factor authentication, make sure you print (yes, physically print on paper) the backup codes each service will provide to you. Then, secure those in a very safe place (from theft, fire and water damage). If you lose access to your 2FA app and can’t get back into a service, you will need those backup codes.
Enable Your Routers’ Firewalls
One of the most potent ways to stop hackers is to stop them from ever seeing your devices connected to your Internet. The way to do that is through the use of software called firewalls. So, go ahead, enable your routers’ firewalls and browse more securely.
Secure Your Web Browsing on Public Networks
Your next line of defense when you leave the safety of your private office or home network, is browsing and connecting to public Internet connections securely. Start with a virtual private network (VPN), a tool that creates a secure connection between your computer/device and whatever online services you’re connecting to. (My current favorite service is TunnelBear. They have a free monthly plan for light browsing at cafés, and have reasonably priced plans for those who work at coworking spaces and on public networks often.)
Following on the heels of any VPN, that doesn’t fully protect you. You need to actively protect yourself while Web browsing. Simply clicking on anything on the Web is a surefire way to download malicious content and software. Pay attention to every link you click on while browsing when on public networks.
Backup Your Devices (Cloud & External Drive)
Last but not least, you should backup your devices. It’s been discussed ad nauseum on the Web about best cloud backup solutions, external backup hard drives, and strategies for backing up your data. Sadly, small business owners especially are not listening well. Please, please, please backup your data. When you’re on the frontline, I can assure you it’s tough to answer each and every call or email from a business owner who has lost access to data because of ransomware or some other kind of cybercrime. Please don’t become another statistic.
So, that’s it. Six tactics for Safer Internet Day to help you be more secure on a daily basis. Here’s to keeping your digital identity and data safe!
Do you have a question about something discussed in this article about your cybersecurity? Leave a comment below (or click on Contact Us if you’d like to private message us) and we’ll be happy to see if we can help you out.
I’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or any other free email address that’s not [email protected], you are missing out on an amazing marketing opportunity. And, you’re likely hurting your professional reputation. I’d like to unpack how branding your email address is as important as your business website’s domain, and ways in which you can take advantage of a branded email address by getting and using it.
Professional Reputation and Legitimacy
Think about the ubiquity of email in business today. And you’re telling people implicitly to visit AOL or Yahoo instead of your company’s website by not having a brand-enabled email address. As well, some people look down on your business or don’t see you as stable by using a free email service.
As an example, I get at least one email a week from a purported Small Business owner asking me if we can help them with their website and whether we “take credit cards.” It’s the strange way the senders write their email messages that make it a dead giveaway that it’s a scam, but their email addresses are always from generic email services. Identifying this kind of scam spam is important for everyone receiving email today. I see email from those I don’t know and I immediately don’t give them as much credibility because they so similar to those that aren’t legitimate. We all only have so much time in the day to manage our email and if you decrease your legitimacy factors to not only spam filters, but to the humans trying to identify you as a real business, having a professional email address is vital.
Furthermore, when you create a branded email account and their accompanied aliases, you can setup DMARC records for your email accounts (as well as DKIM and SPF), which is an email-validation system so that when mail exchange servers receive, they know it’s coming from you (or third-party services you’ve approved to send on your behalf, like your email marketing software). This increases chances you get into the inbox of your intended recipient in the first place.
Proper Email Boundaries
Turn off your email when you are away from the office, whether for just a few days or on a multi-week vacation. That’s simply a free bit of life-work balance for you as an entrepreneur. However, setting good email boundaries and expectations is a form of customer service (which is, in my opinion, a part of the marketing department in small businesses). When you use your personal email account for business email, now you have conflated those two roles in your life. This makes it difficult when you wake the screen on your phone in the morning on vacation and you see an “important” email message from a client. Instead of that client getting a professional automated response noting that you’re away and when you’ll respond (logically), you react (emotionally). Responding to email messages when you’re in work mode is always going to be better than reacting when you’re trying to rest and rejuvenate.
I personally don’t check my personal email accounts that often, but when I’m on vacation I turn off my work email accounts and switch my personal email accounts to notify me as messages come in. I’m usually traveling and wanting higher engagement with my friends and family at those times, and having a separated business email account structure gives me the comfort in knowing those email messages coming in are the right context for me at any given time.
As well, using a branded email, I can add the appropriate persons in my company to contact in my absence via my autoresponder “away” message, or I can forward specific client emails to staff, should they be able to help in my stead.
Marketing Your Website
Your website is where sales happen. And, it takes time, energy and resources getting visitors to your business website. So, why would you squander the marketing opportunity to expose your website domain name to people with whom you share your email address? When someone meets you and receives your email address, this is the chance to get them to become curious in checking out your website. But, you most often than not won’t ask them directly to visit your website. By, giving them a branded email to stay in touch, say, at a networking event, you have planted some curiosity for them to check out your website when they see [email protected]
For different marketing campaigns you can set up forwarding email addresses (which are not real email accounts, but merely fronts for forwarding inbound email along to another email address of your choice). So, when leads and potential clients email you from a business card, flyer, postcard or brochure, you can identify from where they learned about you and/or your business.
As well, your email is more memorable when it’s [email protected] When you give someone a generic email address, like [email protected] or [email protected], it’s harder to remember why they were going to email you or what your name or your business name is.
A good rule of thumb: whenever you have an appropriate chance to share your website domain name, do so.
Present Yourself (as Bigger or Smaller) Depending on your Business Situation
With branded email, you can create accounts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and s[email protected] These represent departmental emails that go to the correct person for handling inbound messages. In a Small Business, all these hats may be centralized to a few people, if not one person–you. But, your clients don’t need to know that!
Also, as I do, I have separate public and private email addresses. I use my public email address for all public-facing marketing materials, such as when I present to audiences at workshops and seminars. However, I have a private email address that’s only used between my staff and me so that those messages can be segmented and focused on our client needs, and not distract me from all the other email I get every day. This public-facing email is also a shared account with my assistant so email I don’t need to deal with can be processed and organized while I’m in meetings, presenting seminars, or teaching workshops. The remaining, non-time sensitive email messages from the public email address will then we be waiting for me when I get to it.
Branded Email Is Low-Cost and High-Value
I think a big concern for most business owners, established and startup alike, is that branded email is going to cost a fortune. And, the reality is, that most branded email today is very cost effective.
By hosting with a proper email hosting service provider, you get technical support. Email is important for your business and free email services don’t have any guarantees about their uptime. But, your email hosting provider will be able to give you 99.9% uptime guarantees.
As you might imagine as the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, I’m a huge fan of G Suite, Google’s business productivity suite. It includes almost every type of software a business owner needs today to get started and grow their business over time; what’s not available in G Suite proper is possible through an integration partner in the G Suite Marketplace. But, to our topic at hand, every G Suite license comes with branded email powered by Gmail. This is substantially and substantively different than consumer-grade Gmail as G Suite email is your business data, owned by you, private, no advertising, and secure. Yet, it has all the features you have come to love about Gmail; it does have the ability to turn off features you don’t like. As well, for those who are in a Microsoft-preferred ecosystem, you can get business email through Office 365 Business Premium or Exchange.
Also, W3 Consulting’s Web Services provides 100 free email forwarding aliases for departmental email addresses (as I indicated above, such as [email protected], [email protected], etc.) with the purchase of any domain registration or Managed WordPress hosting purchase. These will forward to one or several email addresses in your company that cover the appropriate roles. If you’re using G Suite, you can create these within the Admin Console as Groups.
Protecting your Brand with Employee Emails
When you hire new employees, you want them to use your company’s email address when corresponding with clients. This not only positions them professionally and legitimately as acting on behalf of your company, but it also gives some protections for you and your employee.
When an employee leaves, you don’t lose control over that email account. You can change the email alias (which is the yourname in [email protected]) and direct it to your email or another employee’s email account when an employee resigns or the business terminates an employee. This continuity with your client communications is very important in marketing and other operations management areas of the business.
How to Create a Branded Email Account for your Business
It’s increasingly easier to get your branded email account set up for your business today.
If you didn’t know, you can have branded email without having a business website yet. I recommend that you have your business’ branded email account set up as soon as possible when you are starting out. You can plan and launch your website thereafter, but it’s never too early to get your audience aware of your business website’s domain.
So, here are the basic steps to getting your branded email account for your business.
- Register a business domain name, which you want to use for your business and email.
- Decide on your business email hosting provider, whether that’s G Suite or another email hosting provider.
- Set your domain’s MX (mail exchange) records in your Domain Manager to direct to your email hosting provider.
- Now, choose an email program that you want to handle your email management on desktop and mobile. From your email hosting provider, get the email setup information so you can establish control over the branded email within your software on both desktop and mobile.
- Create a professional email signature for your email account, and you’re ready to go!
Do you have any questions about branding your email address? How about creating a branded email address? Feel free to contact us, or comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer questions or direct you to a resource that can help!
If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And, these cyberattacks were not even the primary targets of most attacks in the world. Hackers today find it lucrative to target businesses and, more specifically, North America-based small businesses.
Hackers have breached about 14 million small businesses in the last year, and most don’t know it. Cybersecurity for Small Business might sound obscure if you’re in business on “Main Street” and don’t sell online. However, it’s one of the most important management areas of your business to focus on today. Cybersecurity itself means protecting your digital world from attacks in a variety of forms so you can focus on running and growing your business.
Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can buy antivirus software for your desktop computer and all your digital worries can go away; it’s part of the solution but it’s not the whole solution. There are many ways in which hackers can penetrate your personal, your business, your employees, and your customers’ machines and access data with intent to steal or get access to that equipment for nefarious reasons. Frequently, the reasoning doesn’t make sense on the surface so you aren’t suspicious, and this can be the most dangerous cybersecurity breaches because you are unaware for so long.
I’ll use the colloquial term “cybercrime” throughout this discussion to cover the wide variety of crimes, unethical tactics, and downright immoral practices of individuals and companies against personal and business systems and their data. These cybercrimes include, but are not limited to,
- hacking your digital devices (which could be your smartphone, computers and laptops, Point of Sale terminals, credit card machines, and similar devices),
- hacking your digital services (think about your website, email, cloud storage, and online services),
- blatant physical theft (ergo, larceny) of digital equipment to get the underlying data,
- data theft,
- identity theft,
- wire tapping,
- denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your servers to shut down your websites,
- email bombing (the equivalent of a DoS/DDoS attack, but with a volume of email messages sent to you instead of HTTP requests to the server), and
- injection of malware (malicious software), ransomware (taking data to make you pay to gain get it back), and other types of software that do dubious actions to your digital environment.
Now isn’t this a Charlie Foxtrot, eh? I know it’s daunting and it might scare and overwhelm you. It’s understandable that you may feel this way. But, as a business owner in the Internet Age, you must head cybercrime off at the pass, or risk losing time, money, and clients. Thankfully, there are some common sense ways to deal with cybercrime, so you can rest at ease knowing your digital world is safe and get back to running your business.
Physical security of hardware
Every Small Business should have physical security protocols for all digital devices (phones, external hard drives, computers should be secured in place so they cannot be easily picked up and run away with, laptops / tablets / credit card readers should be secured in locked storage when not in use.
Your next best defense since people are fallible, is to have an off-site backup. This can include making a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive and taking it someplace away from the business location, and/or using a cloud storage backup service such as Carbonite, Crashplan, or even Google Backup and Sync.
Something that some businesses are starting to do as well, when all else fails, is to make sure their business liability insurance cover physical theft. And, you should know that there are cyber security risk / liability insurance policies available for damages and losses from digital means.
Physical access to systems (users)
When it comes to physical access to systems, your users should be guided by an effective Digital Device Policy and include protocols for:
- How to create employee user accounts and assign only the administrative/user privileges needed for them to perform in their role.
- Give users physical access to systems only at the times needed to satisfy their assignments, and not give access to unnecessary systems at all. If employees don’t need access to your server room, don’t give it to them.
- For how to allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) employees at your business. You should have in place a policy for managing BYOD’s. Employees must use and abide by these security protocols on their mobile devices, if they use personal devices at work.
Separation of personal and business devices
You separate your business and personal finances, because you need to track what is yours and what is your business’, even if only for tax purposes. The same goes with cybersecurity. You need separate personal and business logins for online accounts. This may also include hardware, like the phone you use to make and receive personal or work calls. Will your ISP or telecommunications provider have protections in place if you’re using your consumer service for business purposes? Probably not. The fine print matters here.
Since the late 1990s there has been antivirus and anti-spyware software. And, yet, business owners resist installing reputable antivirus software on their business machines. While some have costs associated with them, many are free and built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender. You simply need to activate them. But, if you have purchased a license for one not built into your operating system, please make sure that your license is still valid and the software are kept up-to-date (including your mobile phones and devices). Also, firewalls keep your computer, and any devices or routers connected to the Internet safer, especially your Web browsers (all of them, even if you don’t use them all, all of the time), must have firewall protection. Again, on Microsoft Windows, there’s Windows Firewall that simply needs to be enabled.
VPN when on WiFi on anyone else’s network
If you spend much of your time on other people’s WiFi, then you need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your business data trafficking across the network. This includes any open WiFi network at your local cafe and if you’re working at a coworking space or even at your client’s site. No network outside your firewall can be trusted to be secure. A VPN product you can try for 500MB per month for free is TunnelBear and if you use more data than that per month across your business, then you can upgrade.
Web browsing and email protections
As a business owner (and advising your staff similarly), don’t open suspect emails and don’t transact any personal or private information about yourself via email. Period.
At the core of most Web and email protection is antivirus and spam-filtering software, so it’s definitely recommended that your ESP (email service provider) and/or ISP (Internet service provider) give you options for protecting and securing your Web and email traffic. However, that’s simply not enough for a business today.
In addition to such protective software, you should also seek out information on implementing SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC as available through your ESP.
It also doesn’t hurt to enable two-factor authentication (a/k/a 2FA or TFA) on all online services that have the capability. Where possible, use a password manager, such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, to not only use unique passwords for every online account you have for the business, but also long passwords with unique passwords to increase its resilience to attacks.
As more and more computing happens on mobile devices, security on them will become the dominant concern for small business owners. But, mobile doesn’t simply stop there. With the advent of Internet of Things (embedded “smart” technology in everyday things), wearable technologies, smart vehicle systems (Android Auto, anyone?), and voice assistants (like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home, and, the newcomer, Apple HomePod), cybersecurity needs expand to have to meet those new frontiers.
It’s so important for Small Business to have their representatives’ support when it comes to combatting cybercrime against them and their customers. In April, a bipartisan small business cybersecurity bill was introduced by nine senators—the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act of 2017. Sadly, this bill, according to Skopos Labs as detailed on GovTrack.us, has a 3% chance of becoming law. This is a commonsense piece of legislation to get the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), “to disseminate resources to help reduce small business cybersecurity risks, and for other purposes.” Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you support S. 770 and they should support their small business voters by supporting this bill.
Also, if you’re scared senseless and you need help, never fear. Contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and we can refer you to professional security consultants who can help you.
Next Roundtable – Sizing Up the Competition
Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts a monthly Business Development Roundtable from January to November. We meet in our main conference at noon on the third Tuesday of the month, and you can bring a beverage or your lunch, for a different business marketing or management topic that’s pertinent to Alexandria Small Business. Join us on August 15, 2017 at noon, when we gather to discuss “Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage.”