Guest Post: Your Company, Privacy, and You: What You Need to Know

Guest post this week coming to you from Cassie Phillips of Secure Thoughts. Here’s Cassie:

There is so much that goes into creating a successful business—proposals, investment, content, marketing—that very often the considerations given to online privacy are somewhat less than they should be. Preventing disaster from striking is a practice that is left, far too often, to the last minute, as most business owners don’t believe it matters to them until it actually happens. For the less tech-savvy amongst us, the intricacies of setting up a functioning online security system may seem a little overwhelming, so it’s easier to ignore it until it becomes a significant problem.

However, when dealing with cyberattacks, if it has become a specific problem, then it is already too late. Fortunately, with a bit of research and insider information, it’s easy to gain an understanding of what is meant by privacy, how it is important and why protecting yourself and your company really matters.
Privacy Matters

The online threat continues to grow alongside our virtual and digital lives. As many businesses take to the internet to sell, share and promote, they are becoming frequently exposed to cyber crime.

There are many types of malware designed specifically to take down businesses and countless malicious hackers who are constantly searching for opportune moments to steal your data and personal information, so failing to take these threats seriously is a terrible decision for your business.Whether you’re facing a traditional “denial of service attack,” in which the server is overloaded in order to bring down your site, or you fall victim to the newest, prolific, nasty threat, ransomware, it’s bound to be a disaster for you and your company.

Many people fail to consider the repercussions of an attack until after it’s happened, but a breach of your website could be a disaster for your reputation. Many cybercriminals are aiming to collect details in order to commit identity theft and, if you or your customers end up falling victim, then getting others to have faith in you and what you’re offering may become nearly impossible.

Similarly, if your website itself looks as if it’s suffered an obvious infiltration, customers will avoid your domain in order to protect themselves. It isn’t just a case of fixing some coding or changing your password; if it becomes apparent that you haven’t put successful privacy practices in place, the name and face of your business could be tarnished forever.

Your Privacy

When it comes to securing your business, your own privacy is equally as important as anything else. As the owner, the amount of company data you store makes you the perfect target and by logging into the site via your admin panel you put your company website at risk if you fail to protect yourself. General good computing practices, such as having an up-to-date firewall and security suite installed are essential.

Similarly, it’s worth investing in storage encryption to protect customer details and business data. If you’re working on the go, be sure to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself on public networks as these notoriously unsecured connections can be a hot bed for hackers. Using a VPN will encrypt all your traffic between your device and the internet and will allow you to browse securely. It’s also important to be stringent with your passwords; ensure every one is unique and complex to reduce the chance of infiltration.

Your Company’s Privacy

When considering your business’ privacy, it’s worth remembering that showing your customer base that you have a good security system in place is just as important as actually protecting yourself. Customers are extremely quick to leave websites and businesses that they don’t trust, so making sure you present a secure face is important.

One great way to do this is by using a secure sockets layer (SSL). These online add-ons encrypt traffic between the server and the browser and are one of the most common protection protocols worldwide. The SSL symbol has become so widely recognized that showcasing the badge on your site will immediately instill trust in users.
Another important privacy point to consider for your business is in payment transactions. Although using third-party companies, such as PayPal, automatically increases your customers’ privacy, those who want to handle their own direct debit payments should be sure to complete a PCI-DSS compliance test. Through this test, the Security Standards Council assesses your privacy systems and works with you to help improve them.

Good Practices

Although many business owners feel that creating a good, working, initial privacy set-up is all that it takes to ensure successful online security, this is far from the case. Internet privacy is an ongoing practice, and as the face of the digital world is constantly changing, the threats and ways we deal with them change along with it; therefore, it’s important to stay up-to-date and knowledgeable about potential threats. There are many websites and blogs that regularly post about new possible attacks so by doing the research you can stay ahead of the game.

More specifically, regularly updating all of the programs you use is also important. This is because new security holes are being discovered and exploited by hackers and, subsequently, companies release software updates with patches to resolve the problem.

Other good practices include enforcing strict password rules to any subscribers or members of your websites and using monitoring software to pick up on any suspicious activity or traffic.

Online privacy is extremely important for any business, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By taking these simple steps, you can easily start to protect yourself and secure your company. If you have any more tips for fellow business owners, then be sure to leave a comment below!


 

Cassie Phillips is an internet security specialist and blogger. She is delighted to share these tips with you and hopes that you will seek out more information on the matter to keep yourself and your company safe online.

How to Find Your Focus (Guest Post from Cat Rose)

I’ve got a guest post for you this week from Cat Rose of Cat Rose design 🙂

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It feels like ever since Gary Keller unleashed his book The ONE Thing on decision making and setting our focus to that ONE thing; we’ve all gone crazy trying to follow his advice.

Most of us are fully aware that we don’t get our best work done when we’re multitasking: we get distracted by the vibrations of our phone, the pings from social media, the 47 tabs in the browser…

It can feel pretty overwhelming to say the least!

However, just being aware of the ‘evils of multitasking’ doesn’t make it any easier to actually find our one thing to focus on – and then stick with it.

If the first step to focussing on one thing is actually deciding on what that one thing is – we’ve already got a problem on our hands.

How many of us can honestly feel assured that we’ve picked the one thing that’s right for us?

The story that hit home for me was the one about the donkey.

If you aren’t familiar with our donkey friend, the tale of ‘Buridan’s ass’ goes something like this:

A donkey (or ass) is standing halfway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Unable to decide which to choose, the ass keels over and dies of hunger and thirst – and, indecision.

donkey

Fortunately, we’re smarter than this donkey!

We can decide on one thing by simply using psychology to overcome our ‘focus FOMO’: our fear that deciding one one thing will mean missing out on all other options we want to have.

To do this, we should approach our decision making in a scientific way. Time to get the labcoats on…

So we start with our hypothesis. That means we decide that picking X will give us the desired result.

Next we set ourselves some boundaries.

Our boundary could be time (for example, when picking a workout routine, we might assign 6 weeks to trial it and commit to it), or money (for example, running an advertising campaign until a set budget is used up).

Whatever you choose: the idea is to measure the results at the end of the experiment.

After that period of committing fully, you can feel free to turn around and either stick with your one thing – or jump ship and try something else.

The point is not to get so attached to the thing you pick and to chill out! Know that there is always the option to try something else if it’s not working out.

If only our donkey friend picked either hay or water – he could always have come back for the other later!

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5 Simple Steps to Focusing:

1) Start with your desired outcome.

By thinking about your end goal, you have something to measure success and progress by. Write this down! It really helps me to physically write it down – I seem to process the goal and remember it better than if I type it.

Then make sure to keep it visible – a post-it on the fridge, a big scribble on a chalkboard. I like to take a picture of my note and set it as my homescreen background on my phone. Not pretty but it gets the job done!

laptop

It’s also worth keeping in mind how realistic you think your goal is in that time. The classic ‘SMART’ goal acronym is my favourite way to remember this.

You want your goal to be:

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Relavent

T = Time-bound

2) Pick your (first) focus

If there are various ways of reaching your end-goal, it can be easy to get distracted and overwhelmed all over again. For example, if your end goal was ‘lose 5 pounds’ then there are multiple things you could do to get there. It’s worth making a big old mind map to get everything out on paper. This is the one thing you’re going to be focussing on each day – so give it some thought! Remember, after the experiment is over, you can always try out your second choice.

3) Set a boundary

As I mentioned, having a boundary will help you know when or if to quit. So it could be a time deadline, a budget – something that gives you a hard date to pause your experiment, and measure your results.

4) Buckle down!

You’ve got your goal, you’ve got your focus for each day, now you have to follow through until you hit your boundary.

5) Review your progress

Once you reach your boundary, take a look back at your desired outcome. Did you nail it? Did you achieve partial results? Was your hypothesis correct? Evaluate and decide whether or not you want to continue or whether you want to try another route. Trial and error at it’s finest!

 

I’d love to know what you’re choosing to focus on right now. Send me a tweet @catrosedesign!

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This guest post was penned by Cat Rose, author and business consultant at Cat Rose Design. Cat helps people reach their goals through step-by-step guides and productivity tips. To receive your free module on how to save time on social media, simply add your email here.

 

 

Guest Post: How to Get an ECommerce Website Up and Running

 

I have another guest post for you this week and it’s all about how to build a successful ecommerce website, quickly. Pascal Culverhouse, who managed to build what became the UK’s #1 website for online sales of electronic cigarettes in just 12 weeks, explains the basics of ecommerce in 2015.

The internet is a blessing for first-time entrepreneurs, as it’s possible to get an ecommerce site up and selling your product in a matter of weeks, all without breaking the bank. Yet at the same time, the competition has never been fiercer, and some commentators have estimated that up to 90% of new online businesses fail in their first year. A firm grasp of ecommerce is a key factor that separates the successes from the failures.

 

How to start building your own ecommerce website

If you have ambitions of making any kind of impact on your market, you will simply have to bite the bullet and hire a professional web developer. This can cost a significant amount of money, so those of you on a shoestring budget should ask around friends and family to see if you can find someone who may be willing to lend you their expertise on the cheap. If you have a lot of web experience, you may be able to build your own website for a fraction of the cost, but you might quickly wish you’d hired someone else if you run into significant coding issues! Using a “plug-and-play” website builder like Shopify is fine for smaller projects, but if you have big ambitions then you probably won’t want to use a system that may eventually end up feeling restrictive.

 

Make an excellent first impression

Engage your visitors from the moment they land on your page with a clear and compelling layout and some extraordinarily good photographs of your product. You should either be a professional photographer, hire a professional photographer, or otherwise have access to professional photographs of your product. Photographs need to be high-quality, and a zoom feature is highly desirable for maximum effect.

 

Have a unique selling point

Remember that there are at least 100,000 other ecommerce websites already. To survive in such a fiercely competitive environment, it is essential that you have a strong unique selling point (USP). In my own business, we were successful not only because we were offering a relatively new product, e-cigs, but also because we were the first place that sold every major brand of e-cig in one place, and shipped them quickly. You should be able to say in one sentence what makes you unique from the competition – and research the market thoroughly to be sure that this is the case.

 

There’s no time like the present

What’s unique today may be ubiquitous tomorrow, so time is of the essence if you think you have a new idea. Your business plan will never be perfect, the timing is never ideal, but the day that you first open for business will always be the most important day in your company’s history. For ecommerce, this often means working very closely with your web developer and not letting deadlines slip. If you can afford to do so, bringing your own project manager onboard is the best way of getting things done on time.

 

Remove barriers to payment

Your website exists for one reason only: to convert visitors of your website into paying customers. To maximise your conversions, you must make it so easy to buy your product that a ten year old could do it. That means that your website must be quick and clear, that there need to be multiple payment options that are easy to use, and that shipping fees need to be easy to understand. A customer should be able to go from the landing to page to making a payment in under ten clicks.

 

Develop a successful shipping strategy

Customers love free shipping even more than they love fast shipping, so think carefully about whether your budget can stretch to accommodate this perk. If you offer free shipping, this feature should be written loud and proud where ever you can tastefully do so, and the same applies to next day delivery. Shipping is where so many ecommerce sites fall down because it is so hard to compete with the major players for cost and speed of delivery. If you can’t afford to offer free shipping on every purchase, think about rewarding customers who spend a certain amount with free shipping instead. This has the added advantage of encouraging shoppers to make that one extra purchase in order to qualify for free shipping.

 

Be mobile-friendly

Your customers want to buy your products with their mobile, so enabling them to do so is a no-brainer. Around a third of online sales are made on mobile devices, and that number looks set to increase in 2015. Couple that with Google’s ‘mobilegeddon’ update which penalises websites that are not mobile-friendly, and you’ll quickly realise why websites that aren’t mobile-friendly are becoming a rarity.

 

Understand internet marketing

Your website will live or die by its position on Google, with the three highest ranked websites getting roughly 90% of all of the clicks. SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the art of doing everything possible to convince Google to move your website higher up the rankings. There are hundreds of ways to move your website up the rankings, and easily thousands of ways to cause your website to plummet. Being aware of the key “dos” and “don’ts” of SEO is the absolute minimum – ideally you’d hire a reputable SEO company to start you out in the right direction.

 

We’ve just scratched the surface of how ecommerce works in 2015, but hopefully reading over these pointers will inspire you to get started on your own online business armed with at least the basic knowledge that you’ll need to succeed.

 

 

Guest Post: 6 Steps to Improve Your Branding Without Spending a Dime

I have a guest post for you all this week and I think you’re really going to like it.

Kelsey Frizzell, Co-Founder of KR Digital Solution, is here to share with us why branding is so incredibly important for entrepreneurs to get right and how you can make improvements to your company’s branding right now, without spending any money. She shares 6 simple (yet not easy) steps that you should take – right away – to make sure that you’re presenting the image you want to be presenting.

Full disclosure: most of the links in this guest post from Kelsey are affiliate links…don’t let that scare you away though, because the tips she gives don’t require any spending; you can implement them yourself, for free, right now. 

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With so many businesses on the market today, making yours stand out from the crowd is crucial to success. A strong brand message and visual identity is the key to your voice being heard above the noise.

So what is branding?

To understand what branding is, we first need to understand the meaning of the word brand. By brand I don’t mean the logo or the color scheme of your company; no, the brand is much bigger and more conceptual. The brand is the promise, the big idea, the reputation. It’s the emotional connections your company makes with its clients that inspire a sense of loyalty.

Therefore, the brand is not something we can create; it is created by the public’s perception. Products may be created in the factory, but brands are created in the mind. This is where branding comes in.

Branding is the process of aligning what the public thinks of your brand with what you want them to think. Just take a minute and think about that; it’s a powerful statement!

We may not be able to create the brand, but we can influence it through creating a clear and cohesive visual system that represents the values and mission of your company.

That way when someone sees something from your company, whether it’s an advertisement, social media account, website or product, they will immediately associate it with the values that you have carefully selected to portray in your brand image, such as customer service, eco-friendliness, consistency or tradition, to name a few.

What is a Visual Identity System?

brandThe diagram above shows all of the factors that go into influencing the public’s opinion about your brand. For a strong brand, it’s equally as important to have both strong customer service and product quality as it is to have a consistent visual language that projects clarity, confidence, and unity.

This visual language is the visual identity system, the combination of all the pieces that work together to maintain a singular voice for the brand. It is made up of the logo, color palette, typefaces, image style, website, printed material, signage, and tone of voice.

When done correctly, the customer will be able to identify your brand without needing to see the logo. This is crucial when your client is passing by a shelf full of different products with a variety of packaging, colors, and typography. Being able to know which is yours with a glance gives your product a huge edge on the competition.

How can you improve your brand’s visual identity?

In theory, all of this may seem complicated, but I’ve included some steps below that you can take on your own (and without spending any money!) to improve your business’s brand identity.

  1. Make a list of your company’s guiding attributes

These are the core values of your company, the kind of message or vibe you want your clients to feel towards you. Some examples would be organic or fair trade, trustworthiness, innovation, community involvement, etc.

Brainstorm as many as you can think of and then choose between 5 and 8 of the most important ones. These will form the basis of your brand message.

  1. Evaluate your current brand material against your attributes

Collect some of your current brand materials, such as your logo, advertising materials, social media profile/cover pictures, website (if you have one), product packaging, or any other visual representation of your brand.

Using your new list of guiding attributes, cross reference your collection with your desired brand message. Does your current visual identity support the guiding attributes of your brand? Is there any conflict in the messages you are sending to your clients? If so, what are these conflicting messages?

If you have several different styles conveying different messages, the client may become confused as to what your brand stands for. When it comes to branding, consistency is key.

  1. Create a strategy for your brand’s visual identity

This doesn’t have to mean you design a completely new logo and visual identity; however, in some cases this may be necessary. On a simpler note, it means reevaluating your visual identity by choosing only the styles that match your guiding attributes.

It may mean culling some of your other artwork, but it’s for the best! Try to choose the direction that best fits with your core values, choosing a consistent font, color scheme and image style for all of your future brand materials.

For example if you’ve chosen earthy tones and a handwritten-style font to reflect your company’s all-natural product nature, an advertisement using red and big block letters probably wouldn’t be a good idea!

  1. Develop your tone of voice

Something often overlooked when it comes to branding is the tone of voice, which you can think of as your brand’s personality. If your brand were a person, what kind of things would it say? Would it be funny and witty or more reserved and serious?

Write out some phrases that you think capture this personality. One of these may even become your next tagline!

  1. Draft up a basic mood board of your visual style

This is a great way for you to stay consistent with your future publications. I like to use Pinterest for this since it offers tons of great images and resources at the click of a button, but you can use other websites, magazine clippings, your own photography or anything else!

Make a collection of 8-15 images that reflect your brand’s new visual style that you’ve refined based on your guiding attributes. If you’re familiar with a photo editing software, bring all the pictures in and start arranging. If not, you can always print out the images and do it the old-fashioned way!

Add your color scheme (between 4-8 colors), font selection and your tone of voice phrases. Arrange all of this together as if it were a big scrapbook page.

Your mood board will serve as a great reference for you in the future when you are creating new brand material. Remember to always check to see that something is consistent with your brand values and identity before publishing!

  1. Echo this style through your online platforms

If you have a website, now is the time to evaluate if it fits with your new brand message and visual style. If not, it might be time to consider some improvements – your website is, after all, your most important conversion tool!

This also goes for social media – your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media profile pictures and cover photos should be in line with your visual identity.

And there you have it – 6 easy steps to help you improve your brand’s visual identity and message consistency. Your annual reports – and future clients – will thank you!

 

 

kelseyKelsey is a graphic designer, developer, and co-founder of KR Digital Solution, a branding, web and online consulting agency. She has worked on a huge range of projects, from local businesses to multinational organizations like Greenpeace.

An entrepreneur that gave up everything to become a digital nomad, she is passionate about helping people turn their dream businesses into reality through beautiful visual identities that tell their brand stories. You can find her on Facebook or on her boutique branding site, Wild Side Design Co.

Mind Your Stress, Increase Your Revenue: 7 Strategies for the Powerful Entrepreneur

This is a guest post from Julieta Macias, LCSW-C, Ph.D. See below for her bio and contact information. 

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Do you find yourself energized?  Busy?  Juggling a wide myriad of projects?

Are you multi-tasking and staying up late hours to get everything done? Are there just not enough hours in the day?

Yes, you are busy, powerful, and engaged in your passion and vision. You are managing your company and serving your clients. Have you taken time to appraise your most valuable asset? Have you taken time to consider your health and wellness market value?  You may say, “I am young, energetic, and powerful; I do not have time for that.” Do your friends and loved ones tell you to slow down? Are you getting or feeling sick? Do you feel off balanced and overwhelmed?

In the article Stress, satisfaction, and the work-family interface: A comparison of self-employed business owners, independents, and organizational employees, published in the  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2006, the researchers found that self-employment allows business owners to achieve greater autonomy as compared to people employed by someone else (employees). Yet, the greater pressure and demands of owning one’s own business may detract from the advantages. Therefore, business ownership truly may (can) be a “double-edged sword.”

Entrepreneurs have autonomy and job satisfaction. Yet, they can suffer from work exhaustion or job-related stress. To maintain your business venture, it is important to focus on reducing/managing the stress.

In the article Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial, in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2012, findings were consistent with the results of other mind-body worksite stress management programs indicating reduction in stress symptoms. Improvement was found in mood, resilience, and  psychological well being of participants. In addition, the researchers found decreased stress reactivity and sympathetic nervous system activation.

Science tells us that we hurt ourselves when we overload and abuse our bodies and minds.  When we bombard our psyches with too many “balls to juggle” and artificial stimulants to perform our jobs and tasks faster, we are causing damage to ourselves.  For instance, if  we skip meals and/or lose sleep just to get through that extra email, phone call or meeting, we are abusing our body and mind.

You pay the price.  You cannot afford to run yourself into the ground. Do not overload your creative mind and your precious body.  You are your number one commodity. Therefore, an investment in a mental health audit will produce a high return. The more calm and steady you allow your mind to be, the clearer and more productive your business will be. Consider this process, your capital improvement. When calm, you will be productive and earn more.  It makes good business sense.

You say, “Tomorrow,  I’ll do it differently.”

I say, “Tomorrow is today.” I say, “Less stress = more revenue!”

I recommend seven tips to keep your stress levels at a healthy level. Realize, believe, and see yourself as your most important business asset. Stay encouraged, take care of yourself!

  • Take Inventory – Begin by keeping track of your stress level on a daily basis.  On a scale of 0 (calm and peaceful) to 10 (so stressed that you can’t function), where are you today? Take that inventory and keep track for 7 days.
  • Partner with a Health/Medical Provider – Discuss how much water to drink and starting or maintain your exercise program. Work collaboratively on prevention care.
  • Relax Daily – Carve out time to use your five senses: Nurture your eyes by looking at beautiful pictures or live scenery. I love Cate’s pictures of her travels. These beautiful places bring calm and enjoyment. Nurture your sense of smell by smelling roses, spices, and oils; they have benefits. The field of aromatherapy supports the value of scents. Nurture your sense of touch by feeling the texture of a tree, a leaf, or the skin of a loved one. Nurture your sense of taste by giving yourself edibles of fruits, veggies, or a carb that you love and enjoy. Nurture your sense of hearing by listening to sounds (natural or on iTunes), calming music, or energizing music that will give you pleasure.
  • Sleep – Sleep is a powerful tool you cannot ignore.  Factors of age, heath, and genetics influence the number of hours of sleep we need.  The Mayo Clinic website report studies found that getting less than seven or more than nine hours of sleep per night increases the risk of health problems, psychiatric disorders, and a higher mortality rate. How many hours do you need? Work towards a range of 7-8 hours per night.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes – If you are already practicing meditation, you are on your way. Bringing the breath to an easy, steady in and out flow will boost many endorphins. Your body will thank you and reward you.  Dr. Herbert Benson, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has researched the relaxation response. The techniques for relaxation include deep abdominal breathing, visualization, yoga, and tai chi.
  • Love – Relationships offer valuable connections, whether you love your pet, friend, or family member.  Visualize them whether close or near. Spend time with them if you can. This will generate pleasure hormones.
  • Exercise – Get your body moving in a sport you love or through walking.  Get in touch with your pulse and  heart beat.; keep it at a good rate. Start or maintain a minimum of 30 minutes per day, three days per week of your favorite activity.

These seven strategies will help reduce your stress, thereby making your thoughts clearer and your management more effective.  You will find a more optimal balance in your life between work and play and have more peace within yourself. Additionally, you will find that you have more time and energy to effectively problem-solve. Keep me informed, I look forward to hearing about your success.

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Julieta MaciasJulieta Macias LCSW-C, Ph.D. is a stress coach and psychotherapist dedicated to helping successful professionals champion over their daily stress. She keeps clients accountable and empowers them to reach personal and professional goals.

Find Julieta at: www.maciasconsultingphd.com and on Twitter and Facebook.