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You may well be using various social networking sites to promote your new business, but are you exposing yourself (and the company) to identity theft and malware attacks in the process?

In March 2010 my company published results from a survey of over 1,100 members of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and other popular social networks. It showed an increasing awareness among social network users of how to keep personal information private, BUT it also revealed how they still put their identities and sensitive information at risk. For instance, 28% of respondents never changed their default privacy settings and over 60% published their date of birth (a key piece of information for identity theft).

What can you do?

To help business owners understand and protect themselves while online, here are some tips as a guide for safer social networking:

  • Make personal information private — Protect yourself by updating privacy settings on all your profiles to restrict or omit access to any personal data. Users of popular geo-location services that allow you to share where you are should be especially careful not to disclose your location to the wrong people.
  • Read between the lines — Familiarise yourself with the social networks’ privacy options to ensure you’re taking advantage of any enhanced security features.
  • Think before you click – You and any employees might know not to follow a link in an email message from an unknown source, but if that link appears in a message from a social networking “friend” or in a tweet from someone the employee is following, it might be a different story. A bad link would result in malware being downloaded to your company network.
  • Protect your password — As a critical line of defence, it is more important than ever for you to choose passwords wisely, and make them different from one site to the next. Incorporating numbers, letters and special characters like !, $, and * into your password makes it stronger. Microsoft has a free password checker. If the green bar doesn’t show “Strong,” change the password.

Use a free password generating tool like LastPass if you can’t come up with a good one yourself. I’d also recommend changing your password at regular intervals, and never use the same password at more than one site.

  • Suite security — Protect your PC with an internet security suite that includes antivirus, antispyware and firewall technologies. Remember to schedule updates daily and to scan the whole machine for malware weekly.
  • Always automate software updates — If you’re already using anti-malware software, be sure to install updates which include the latest malware definitions. Do the same with updates to your operating system, web browser and other key applications. However, watch out for fake software updates like emails that purport to be from Microsoft or Adobe which require you click on a link to update your computer. Try using Secunia PSI, a free tool, to double-check that any automatic update is genuine.
  • Check shortened URLs – Especially on Twitter with its 140 character limit, and Facebook, the use of URL shortening has exploded. But these anonymous links can lead to a malicious payload. If you use TweetDeck then set it to display a preview of the shortened link including the full URL , its page title and number of visitors. Also most web browsers offer a plug-in that shows you the long version of the URL when you hover over a shortened link.

Jeff Horne, director of Threat Research at internet security software supplier, Webroot (www.webroot.co.uk)startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

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Being a mum can be challenging, being a business woman can be challenging too. Trying to do both at once can be mind-boggling. I fight shy of the term mumpreneur, but if it suits you, then that’s what I am. I run my small business from home and I am also full-time mum to two pre-schoolers.

I always swore I wouldn’t and couldn’t run a business, house and family at once and I was right, something had to give and sadly that was housework! If inspiration strikes but you think circumstances prevent you from acting on it, then ignore your head and go with your heart. Running your own business is a rewarding, fun, busy add-on to family life and just the challenge my poor nappy-brain needed. So a few tips if you fancy joining me on a self-employed mum adventure:

  • Plan, plan and plan some more. Time will be the biggest constraint on your business, so make sure you make the most of every bit of time you have. All of the usual business management tools work well: to-do lists, diary systems, electronic reminders. I’ve always preferred telephone contact to email, but am finding email works better for me now. It’s off your to do list, even if the person at the other end can’t help you there and then.
  • If you are house proud then don’t do it! There are not enough hours in the day to do everything and your business and family should come first. If you can’t sit and work at the kitchen table whilst stoically ignoring the pile of laundry and washing-up then this isn’t for you. Ignore the chores and don’t feel guilty, if you’ve got one get your other half to step up his cleaning contribution.
  • Set targets for the day. Aim to actually complete one task a day, that way you will feel that you are progressing your business plan.
  • Keep special family time. Make sure you set aside time in the day that is just for you and the children, no interruptions. Or you’ll get to the end of the day feeling that you’ve done neither job well.
  • Use TV wisely. DD2 still has a nap but DD1 conveniently gave hers up as I launched the business. We now have quiet time, no TV during the rest of the day (hopefully) but she watches for a chunk in the middle of the day while I crack on. Don’t be worried about using the TV to help, all children watch TV, use it wisely to get the most done.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of social media. It allows you to network quickly and cheaply from home, even if there is chaos all around you. Keep your laptop open and logged on and then you can pop in when you have five minutes.
  • Make time for yourself. You will inevitably do most of your work after their bedtime, but make sure there is time in the week for you to do something for yourself: gym trip, coffee and cake out, stroll around the block, whatever. If you don’t, you risk burn out and then you are no use to anyone.

Good luck to you and I’d love to hear all about your experiences.

Rachael Dunseath runs www.myroo.co.uk handmaking all-natural, luxurious skincare products. She also offers a baby range at www.millyandflossy.co.uk.

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If you are an organiser who has recently switched your event booking and payment process from offline to online, then you’ll know that sometimes it takes a little getting used to – both for you and for your attendees.

At first organisers can be a little tentative and reluctant to becoming exclusively online. And attendees? Well, they will continue to use the booking and payment methods that they have traditionally associated with the organiser, no matter how imperfect and unsatisfactory that process is – but only until they are otherwise instructed.

Yet for organisers it is vital to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later – the financial payback of online registration and payment demands it. And you’ll be surprised how quickly even your most traditional attendees will adapt to online registration.

Here’s 10 tips for getting your attendees onboard:

1. Go 100% online
Don’t give your attendees a choice. Stop offering alternative booking methods. When you are booking a flight online, airlines don’t also give you the option of booking your ticket via the phone. As a result we all book our flights online without a second thought.

2. Get your marketing focus right
To maximise your online registrations make your marketing emails short and punchy – a paragraph in length. See it as a short trailer for your whole event. Give a concise overview of the event highlights and make your ‘register now’ button very highly prominent. Make the button impossible to miss and ensure that when it is clicked that it links to the event registration website.

Your marketing email is about persuading your attendees to visit your registration website and not for displaying all your event information.

3. Always be linked in
Always include the URL link of your registration website in your emails. Always send several emails to potential attendees for each event and include the link in every one.

Always include your URL link clearly and prominently on your corporate website. Include the link in emails about your event to your social networking groups such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Talk about your event and include the link on online forums or on Twitter or on your Facebook updates.

Make the link a clear ‘call to action’ for the attendee such as ‘register now’ or ‘register here’ or ‘to register for the event click here’.

4. Create incentives for online bookings
Offering online registration discounts encourages early attendee adoption, so make the ticket price more expensive for offline bookings. Charge a processing fee for manual or paper registrations. Make it clearly financially beneficial to book online. It is, after all, generally accepted that you get better deals via the internet no matter what product you are buying. You need to tap into that mindset.

Similarly, consider offering discounts for early online registration.

5. Refuse phone bookings
If potential attendees phone in to book manually then explain that registration and ticket payment are now exclusively online. Let them know that you will send an immediate email that will include the link for them to go straight to the registration page.

Have the email ready to go and explain the benefits for the attendee of using online registration and payment.

6. Give prior warning
Prepare your potential attendees for the switch. Give then good warning. Send them an email in advance that will explain that your next event will only accept online bookings and payment.

Let them know what to expect and how the process will work.

7. You’ll love it
Let your attendees know how they will benefit from your online registration system, such as ease of use, convenient and quick, more secure, self service, better communication.

Get them on board either with an email or a link to a page on your corporate website.

8. Make it official
Add a message to your voicemail system announcing the newer and more convenient online registration option along with the URL of your registration website for your next events.

Promote your online registration by placing your URL address in all printed materials, e-newsletters, email communications, handouts, signage etc for each event. Or if you run many events devote a page to your events on your corporate website with clear links to the registration website for each event beside each event description.

9. Educate them
Include a short frequently asked questions section or page on your corporate website.

Provide easy to follow numbered steps on how to register for your event. Put it on your corporate website or in your emails to give attendees confidence. Make it along the lines of ‘it’s easy to register and pay – here’s how’.

Offer attendees an online demonstration of how registration works.

10. Get your staff on board
Make sure that your staff are familiar with the online registration process and comfortable explaining it all to potential attendees.

Enrol your staff participants in one of our free, online registration training sessions to answer all their questions and build their confidence.

Alan Anderson, Blue Tube Design

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Like every area of business these days, there’s lots of red tape and ecommerce has its own rules and regulations. Just remember, though, it’s up to you to comply with the law. Here are my tips to help you ensure your online store meets UK regulations.

1 VAT
If your annual revenue exceeds £68,000 you must be VAT registered. If you’re below this threshold, you don’t have to worry about charging VAT and it would actually be against the law to do so. There are some finer points to be aware of, too. For instance, if your products are a mixture of those requiring VAT to be charged, and those exempt from VAT, VAT charged on shipping should be in proportion. Make sure your ecommerce solution can handle all of the tax rules.

2 US import rules
The UK is part of the EU, obviously, so we’re bound by its rules. It’s not the same when handling US orders. The individual US states might want to charge tax on sales into their area, but it’s their responsibility to levy this tax. You don’t have to charge this “use tax”, which is between the buyer and the state where they live. As a UK business, you can sell into the US tax free – but you should make your customers aware that they may be charged tax on the goods when they’re imported.

3 EU Distance Selling Directive
Under this Directive, you must provide full contact details – including an address, phone number, email and company and VAT registration numbers – where applicable. Do it anyway – it helps to build trust.

The same Directive dictates that you must accept return of any items purchased within seven working days and failing to inform buyers of their rights has penalties. But why not make this a selling point?

4 Data Protection
You must register with the Information Commissioner’s Office if you hold data on people (eg customers). Registering takes some time and effort, but is inexpensive and fairly straight forward.

5 Email opt-in
If you want to email newsletters or offers to prospective customers, you must gain their consent in the form of a statement that the customers agree to receive communications. You must also give them an option to decline.

Emails involved in fulfilling orders or answering specific sales enquiries do not need this provision. When you send marketing messages there must be a free method of opting out each time you send an email. This itself can be by email. The regulations apply to communications with individuals, not businesses.

6 Disability legislation
Since 2004, by law, businesses have had to take “reasonable” steps to provide access to people with disabilities – and this includes your website. Ensure all images have alternate text tags, so visually impaired people can still navigate your site.

7 Libel on social media
Libel laws also apply to blogs, Twitter, Faceback, etc. Remember also that your words remain on record forever – so think before you type that competitor put-down.

8 PCI DSS
Protecting payment card data is crucial and the banks require compliance under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Compliance is compulsory for anyone who accepts and stores debit/credit card details either on computer or on paper.
More information on PCI DSS can be found at https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org.

You can meet PCI DSS in one of two ways:

  • Use a payment service provider (PSP) such as PayPal, WorldPay or Actinic Payments (if you use my company’s shopping cart). Your customers and employees only ever enter card details into the site of the PSP. That way, the PSP does most of the worrying about compliance and you are left with some straight forward actions. This is the best option for small retailers.
  • Make your own infrastructure fully compliant. This is a difficult route and for the majority of smaller businesses, achieving proper compliance will probably not be practical or cost-effective. The total one-off cost is likely to exceed £45,000 plus ongoing fees.

9 3D Secure
3D Secure – known as “Verified by Visa” and “Mastercard SecureCode” – is a sort of online chip and PIN system. Online buyers are prompted to enter a password whenever they use their card. The password is sent directly to Visa or Mastercard and they approve the transaction (or decline). This is gradually becoming compulsory and you should consult your bank and PSP on how to comply.

10 Let the world know
Finally, assuming you are legal and decent, let the world know. Anything that adds to your credibility will help you online, so list all of the things that you have done under the heading “We comply with the following legal and tax regulations”.

If you are a start-up, these rules may seem to big a mountain to climb. But there are two things to remember. Firstly, do your best to comply. Secondly, if you’re correctly challenged, then immediately take corrective measures. With the exception of VAT transgressions, in most cases this will be enough to avoid business damage or prosecution.

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So you’re starting a business? There’s plenty to think about, and you’ll be spinning lots of plates all at once. But one thing you should really have lined up is a smart social strategy. What does that mean? Hear what Louis Gray had to say on a recent trip to London …

Please share you thoughts on this advice. Is it helpful?

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Our clients, and most people we’ve met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES.

In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought’s revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:

  • Hooked up two people met through Twitter with paying B2B clients.
  • Received two good quality new business enquiries, both of which are now at proposal stage.
  • Sourced experts willing to talk to us about their business as part of market research projects.
  • Enhanced relationships with prospective businesses using online nurturing techniques.
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel

From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following:

To generate awareness: ‘Be There’ find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there.

To convert awareness in the interest: ‘Be Relevant ‘ provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content.

To make it through evaluation: ‘Be Proven’ provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf.

To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support – particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started.

10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:

  1. Ensure your company & all employees have a LinkedIn profile.
  2. Join or set-up an interest group on LinkedIn.
  3. Set-up a SlideShare space, link it to your LinkedIn profile.
  4. Set-up a YouTube Channel or Facebook page (if appropriate).
  5. Set-up a company Twitter Feed.
  6. Bookmark your content (StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, etc).
  7. Set up a BT Tradespace profile.
  8. Set-up Google, BlogSpot and WordPress identities.
  9. Comment on, or become a contributor to, blogs and forums.
  10. Regularly update email signatures with new content.

10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:

  1. Post snappy links to content via Twitter, Status, Email footer, etc.
  2. Post regular interesting short blogs (10 mins).
  3. Prepare deeper content like pressos, papers and articles (20 mins).
  4. Give each of your team an area of expertise to track and comment.
  5. Post details of other people’s content relevant to your audience.
  6. Comment on industry news and happenings… in real time.
  7. Make sure all employees regularly update online statuses.
  8. Follow-up traditional touch-points with online contact.
  9. Gather permissions to send email updates.
  10. Ask intelligent questions in online forums.

10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:

  1. Provide written case studies on your site, blog, etc.
  2. 140 character lines to link back to your case studies, articles, etc.
  3. Post case study videos on your site, YouTube channel, etc.
  4. Post webcasts and presentations on your site, SlideShare, etc.
  5. Post product demos on YouTube, SlideShare, etc.
  6. Re-use the words of others about your products and services.
  7. Provide intelligent answers to questions posted in Forums, Groups
  8. Run live Q&A sessions via Twitter.
  9. Add a customer feedback / rating system (like Kampyle) to your site, blog, etc and re-use the positive feedback.
  10. Ask LinkedIn contacts for endorsements.

Note: In this blog, we’re focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more.

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