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!
While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little about the platform on which such opinions rest. This is why we discussed our strategy for getting (mostly good) Google reviews. So, if you haven’t read about this yet, I suggest you read that first and then continue on here to learn how effectively responding to Google reviews can be profitable (and mostly painless) for Small Business.
Many business owners don’t know, but you can read and reply to Google reviews. Google gives you this ability from the Google My Business dashboard, and you should use this powerful feature.
Responding to Google Reviews — The Good
The best responses to Google reviews for most Small Business owners are the good ones (three stars or more, in my book). I’m not going to lie; they’re nice to receive, look at, and bask in all your Small Business greatness and glory. The tactic of primary importance here is that you show appreciation. While most business owners don’t see it this way, you add value when you thank reviewers for leaving a good Google review. If you didn’t prompt them to leave the review, these are the people you should thank publicly. Then, move on. Don’t offer a discount. Don’t lavish them with praise. Simply thank them for their kind gesture, and wish them well.
And, if you start to get hundreds of good Google reviews per week, thank every 100th and move on. These reviews are seen by everyone and not everyone at that volume needs a thank-you.
Responding to Google Reviews — The Bad
Now comes the most challenging of all responding to Google reviews—the bad ones (of two stars or less). Why are these the most challenging? Business owners avoid facing reality, asking unhappy customers what made their experience bad, and doing the hard work to fix it.
Good business owners will overcome these challenges. And, I’m here to confess that sometimes these challenges are gnarly. Some, you may have to cut your losses and not fix. But, here are my thoughts about how to deal with responding to Google reviews gone bad.
Publicly acknowledge the reviewer with an apology that they had a poor experience with your company. This isn’t a time to be defensive, since you’re apologizing that their opinion of you is bad, not culpability for first degree murder. Your task is to review the text of what the reviewer wrote to see if you have sufficient information to understand why a reasonable consumer would feel this way, and if you should make it right. When you determine it legitimate, let the reviewer know that you’d like to make it right.
If, on the other hand, the reviewer didn’t provide enough details, in the reply to him or her ask them to reach out to you (perhaps via that same dedicated customer service email address we discussed in “Getting Mostly Good Google Reviews”). Once offline, turn that frown upside down! Within law and reason, help that unhappy customer become a raving fan. Once you’ve done so, ask them to re-review your business on Google. If you’ve done well, in my experience with my clients’ businesses, no reasonable customer won’t edit their Google review to four or five stars.
Handling bad Google reviews is challenging because it takes facing that you have a customer service problem, may have to correct your staff, or realize that there’s some major defect in your operations, product manufacturing, or otherwise. But, if you learn this and fix it, your business is better for it and more resilient through economic downturns. I consider bad reviews a proper service to Small Business owners everywhere.
Responding to Google Reviews — The Ugly
Lastly is actually one of the easiest Google reviews to manage, because they require very little effort. It’s one that probably frightens you. The ugly Google reviews are those that are always one-star and long, sometimes cogent and sometimes rambling prose about how you wronged them.
They hate your business. They’ll never do business there again. You suck. Your staff sucks. Your product or service sucks. And, your logo sucks, too! Hate spews from every orifice of these ugly reviews. There are many exclamation points, question marks, and ellipses.
And, you cringe. You’re a normal, decent human being. And, who wouldn’t cringe at that?
So, what’s a business owner to do? Nothing.
Yes, you heard me right. Absolutely nothing. Ignore that garbage and move on. This is known as “flaring” and it’s similar to if a child has a meltdown on their mother or father in a shopping mall. It gives you pause, and then you realize it’s a child throwing a temper tantrum so you continue on your merry way. Flaring doesn’t deserve your energy, because these are not happy people. And, they won’t ever be happy customers. And, everyone around your business will recognize flaring when they see it.
The only time someone like this should be responded to, is at the request of your legal counsel. If they have stated your business has committed a crime or extraordinary wrongdoing, they’re harassing you or your staff, or posting this not once but everyone they can find a spot to do so on the Web, I’d communicate this to your legal counsel in order to determine the best course of business and legal action.
Responding to Google reviews can seem daunting at first. But, after you know this rubric for how to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly, you start to be able to plow through Google reviews.
Good reviews get simple, plain gratitude. Bad reviews get attention on the unhappy customer and on your operations, product or service to improve for the future. And, ugly reviews get ignored.
None of these are easy, and some of this is downright tedious. But, after starting to manage Google reviews well, my clients tend to see more and better Google reviews from their proper handling. And, I hope you do, too!
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.”
Google commands nearly 80% of Web and 90% of mobile search traffic on the planet. With global search leaders such as Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft), and Baidu (in China) still commanding between 5 and 15 percent each, they are forces not to be ignored, but we know the clear winner of this battle in the war for consumers’ attention. People google things. And, they’re googling your business’ products or services to see Google reviews.
So Google has decided that these local reviews of your products or services are important to the decision-making process for consumers. And, if the search juggernaut thinks this is important, it’s best to take advantage of the opportunity that Google’s review platform provides (which is built within Google Maps and is managed with the Google My Business dashboard).
Often, local businesses don’t understand how to gain traction with Google reviews. Or, they don’t understand Google’s review policy. So, here I’d like to outline how to take your business to the next level with getting (mostly good) Google reviews.
Note: If you have a bad product, service, location, staff or customer service, this methodology won’t help you, unless you decide to fix these management/operations issues. I can’t also help you remove Google reviews. If the problem is deeper than that and not working, I’d head over to the Google My Business community to learn how to handle spam, fraudulent, and other wrongful review issues.
Get Your Google My Business Listing Completed Fully | Getting Google Reviews
To start, get your business listing claimed and verified. Not everyone can have a business listing on Google My Business; I don’t make the rules, but you do need to follow them. You will need a Google account (or G Suite account), so create one or sign in using yours to Google My Business, then follow the “get your business listing claimed and verified” support article. While you can do this on a mobile device, I recommend doing so from your desktop Web browser so you have all functionality available to you.
Set Your Review Capture System Up | Getting Google Reviews
Now that you have your business listing claimed and verified, you can watching the Google reviews pour in, right? Uhm, no. Sorry. There’s still quite a bit of work ahead. But, that’s an important milestone on your way to getting (mostly good) Google reviews! To really start getting the reviews flowing, follow my three-step process for soliciting and capturing customers’ reviews on Google.
Get your Google Review link. I don’t know them, but (for creating such a great tool and being Canadian, I can’t help but think they’re good and nice people) the folks over at White Spark agency have provided the free Google Review Link Generator.
Create a special customer service email address that is handled by someone dedicated to handling negative feedback, preferably you or someone high enough to make substantive, timely decisions and actions to turn unsatisfied customers into raving brand advocates.
A happy customer who buys and leaves your business and says nothing about you to anyone is of no really value in the world of reviews. An unhappy customer that you’ve helped fix their issue is one that will tell many more people about his or her experience and has a great value to you for review purposes! Seize opportunities of unhappy customers turned happy ones, and the meat of how to do this is in Step Three.
Send your customers either upon purchase, delivery or at their highest satisfaction peak in your relationship, a review request. Turn this into a system that is executed precisely and consistently throughout your business operations.
This review request communication will read something like this:
Hi, [Customer’s Name],
We appreciate your business! As part of our process to continually make good on our [product/service] and our customer service promises, we would really appreciate your feedback. This also helps new customers evaluate our [product/service/business] and helps us grow our business to continue living up to our standards. Could you take a few minutes to review us?
Yes, I love our [product/service]! No, I had a bad experience.
Now, the “Yes, I love your [product/service]!” is hyperlinked to your Google Review link that you generated in Step One. And, your “No, I had a bad experience.” link is to your special customer service email address. Mostly good reviews go to Google, while bad feedback primarily gets sent to someone who can deal with it.
Your responsibility is now to handle the negative feedback with “white glove” treatment. That’s a topic we cover in our next blog post. But, it is imperative to solicit these Google reviews well and consistently. Train your staff (and yourself ) to identify appropriate times and places for asking for Google reviews from your clients, including but not limited to:
- by email,
- printed on receipts,
- by phone,
- In-person, or
- on your website after purchase.
Once you’ve managed to get this three-step process in place and tweaked it so that you can see it working consistently in your business, you will start to reap the rewards of mostly good Google reviews while having a pipeline of new reviews coming in regular. And, in doing so, hopefully that will start to bring meaningful, profitable traffic to your Google My business listing and to your business.