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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The security breach at Equifax a few months ago left many people thinking once again about identity theft. The best thing is to do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you. Here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of being a victim of identity theft as well as how to reduce the damage from security breaches of your personal data from sources you can’t control.

Discontinue paper statements that are mailed. 

Paper bank, brokerage, and credit card statements that are mailed can be misboxed, intercepted, lost, or stolen, and the information can fall into dishonest hands. Instead, discontinue paper statements, and access them via your online account where you can review, print, or save them each month for your records.

Rent a private mail box.

If you have trouble with mail theft in your area and can’t check your mailbox as soon as the mail is delivered, consider renting a post office box or a private mail box. These are especially handy if you travel a lot or have many packages delivered and no one is home to sign for them. They cost up to $300 per year, and you can find them at places like The UPS Store, Mailboxes Etc., Postal Annex, or your local post office.

Shred your trash.

If you throw out junk mail offers for new credit cards or bank accounts, be sure to shred that paper and anything else that might contain private information.

Don’t email secure data. 

Credit card numbers, social security numbers, and passwords should not be sent via email unless the email is encrypted or secure. The odds of something happening are low, but could happen.

Use different passwords for different account groups. 

Even the most secure-minded person uses the same password for many different accounts. You can too, but be smart about it. Use a unique password for your bank that you don’t use anywhere else. You might use the same password for all of your social media accounts because it’s just easier. Or another one for all of your free accounts; just don’t use those for any banking or credit card activity. Be smart about your password use, and make your password difficult based on the level of information that is at risk.

Choose hard passwords.

It’s painful, but choosing long, hard passwords can help throw off thieves. Include at least one capital letter, one special character, and one number in your password.  Make it nice and long. And don’t use common words, your birthday, parts of your social security, or your phone number in your password.  When it’s provided, use a random password generator.  And don’t let your browser automatically save your banking passwords for you.

Close inactive accounts.

If you no longer use an account you signed up for, close it rather than let it linger. It will reduce your risk. Be mindful, though; if you close some credit card accounts, your credit score could be adversely affected even if there has been no activity for a while.

Consider freezing your credit.

If you don’t need a new credit card or loan or are not planning a large purchase soon, consider freezing your credit. When you credit is frozen or secure, no one can run checks against it. Any identity thieves would not be able to take a loan out in your name.

Avoid unsecure wifi.

Although the ambience is nice at a Starbucks, the wifi is not secure, and connecting and doing your work all day long there is a big security risk.

Monitor all account activity.

Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently, and turn on all alerts and fraud notifications. You can turn on alerts for when transactions exceed a dollar amount and when your bank balance goes below a certain amount. Getting emails or text messages on your activity can help you stay on top of things.

Consider identity theft insurance.

Identity theft insurance is now common, and you can get it and fraud protection for your business as well as for individuals. If you are a victim, it reimburses you for the cost of restoring your credit. Check with your local insurance agent for more information.

We hope it never happens to you. Try these tips to reduce your risk of identity theft.

Giving a Workshop? How to Short Yourself in One Easy Step

 

Pricing your workshop by using your materials cost as a point of comparison is an approach that is likely to leave money on the table and keep yet another entrepreneur playing small-time by default, all for lack of design.
Long ago, I made the mistake of using my costs as a determining factor for my price point. I practically gave away my product because my materials cost was tiny…but my expertise was exceptional.
Consider the following:
Charge what the market will bear.
See what other people in the area have charged for similar workshops. If it’s more than you were contemplating, yippee! Charge market rates if your audience is the same and your value proposition is the same.
Be aware of who you’re attracting to your workshop and what’s in it for them so you can decide who you want to attract and put together language accordingly.
When you attract people to your workshop who stand to make a financial gain (make or save money) by coming to your workshop, this can drive up the price.
When you attract people to your workshop who stand to save time by coming, then if the opportunity cost of their time is worth anything, this can drive up the price.
Your opportunity here is to decide who your audience is and then tailor your workshop message to help them realize the real value that’s on offer.
Take into account the relationship of risk to price.
The lower the risk for the attendee, the higher the price can be. There are many ways to lower risk, such as guarantees. If you want a list, I can start a list.
Take into account the social value of the event and the relationship to price.
Price something at $10 and you’ll attract people who are willing to pay $10. Nothing wrong with that. But you’ll have to generate a lot more volume to cover your house nut, much less create a real profit. If you’re a volume-generating machine and you want to make the results of a $10 workshop available to many people, go for it.
However, don’t believe that this is your only option.
Price the same thing at $5,000 (and have the value proposition aligned with that) and you’ll attract people who want to be in the same room as other people who can pay $5,000 for a workshop.
My point is that you can design how this goes and not assume that it has to be a certain way.

“Compensating” Volunteers in Your Not-For-Profit Organization

Volunteers have their own reasons for devoting their time to your organization. If you’d like to offer them some perks but need to watch the cost of those perks, watch out.
If you have someone in charge of volunteers, it can be tempting for that person to start creating a lot of rules around those perks. Although some people will do this for a power trip or because that’s the only example they know, most people do it out of a well-intentioned desire to keep costs low for the organization.
However, beware: This will chase away volunteers, guaranteed. Don’t overcomplicate and overadminister something that is a huge arbitrage opportunity.
If your organization provides meals, for example, giving a free meal and beverage is a tiny price to pay for the labor required to make it all happen. Tiny. There’s your arbitrage, turning a tiny financial cost into a huge benefit. Don’t go making rules about which food they can eat or how many cups of coffee they can drink.
Find other ways to increase revenues and reduce costs. When reducing costs, choose expenditures with the greatest financial impact and the least benefit impact.
Start by looking at your financial statements for the greatest cost areas.
Typical cost areas that are worth looking at include:
* office supplies
* leases
* number of users for a technology subscription
* memberships that aren’t being utilized
* items that get renewed automatically on a monthly or annual basis
* insurances
* penalties being paid for being out of compliance
* bank fees
* costs related to having everything on paper instead of paperless back-office operations
* income tax preparation and/or independent audit services – can cost less if your internal staff does work that doesn’t require correcting by the tax preparer and/or auditor (who typically cost more)
* any outside services for which you are paying someone hourly – this is a misalignment of the service provider’s interests with your organization’s interests
* lost opportunities to get not-for-profit rates on technology, products, and services
Which areas might be available to help your not-for-profit save some money this budget cycle?

After the Storm

 

Be careful of working with contractors and repair professionals who might be overwhelmed with business after a natural disaster.
Not everyone has a solid business model; many small business owners act without planning and then get into trouble. There are too many entrepreneurs who say “yes” to too much work, they don’t manage their receivables, they don’t forecast and plan their cash inflows and outflows…
…they’re paying for labor and materials on time but the insurance companies or other customers are slow to pay them…
…and then *your* project stops without warning because this has multiplied in a dramatic business uptick and they’re insolvent.
There’s a name for this. It’s called “growing themselves out of business.”
Business owners aren’t going to tell you about this. So when you choose someone, do it on a warm referral, not just based on their quality of their work and the timeliness with which they keep their promises, but also how solid the business itself is.
If YOU’RE the owner of business with a sudden uptick, share your own successful business model with potential customers. Mention your consistent stream of employee candidates who want to work for you, your automated hiring and vetting process for employees, your diversified supply chain, your sparkling accounting records and low/no receivables that make your cash flows work, mention that you get a good night’s sleep daily because you have an amazing administrative team, not just the people on the front lines providing the services. (And if you don’t have these, you know how to reach us…don’t you??)
They’re shopping around. You know they are. So share with them the above warnings. Educate them as to what to watch out for with others in the industry, build credibility while you’re doing so, and position you own business as the one to trust.

The Power of Influencer Marketing

One of the hottest buzzwords in marketing this year is influencer marketing. Influencer marketing uses key people in thought leadership positions to spread the word about your brand.  These people may be paid or unpaid spokespersons for your brands, products, and services.

The profitable thing about influencer marketing is the leverage.  Instead of marketing or selling to one person at a time, you are marketing to key leaders with followings who can influence many people at once.

Influencer marketing varies by industry; here are some common examples:

  • Locating photos of your product already on social media and reaching out to those people to do more
  • Hiring a social media expert with a large following to talk about your clothing line
  • Having a prominent lifestyle blogger post a photograph containing your juice product
  • Starting a referral program for a makeup company so “regular” women will spread the word

The common theme to all of the above examples is finding people who have a huge number of followers that just happen to be your ideal customers.

To take advantage of this marketing method, ask yourself who is influential in your industry that has the ear and respect of your customer base. How could you partner with them so it’s a win for you, them, and their following?  You may or may not need to compensate them, depending on their revenue model.

There are plenty of apps to help you locate influencers relevant to you. A favorite is Ninja Outreach at ninjaoutreach.com.

Try reaching out to influencers to leverage your existing marketing and make your marketing dollars go farther.

Ready

contributed by Jaime Campbell, CPA, MBA, CGMA, CTT, MCT

 

 

You started your business with a vision.

You thought.

You worked.

You inspired.

You produced.

Sometimes, you slept.

 

You planned.

You hired.

You executed.

You delighted.

Sometimes, you cheered.

 

You strategized.

You managed.

You invented.

You chose.

Sometimes, you laughed.

 

You are growing.

You feel freedom calling

And you feel the squeeze

The bottlenecks

You hear your legacy calling

And you hear the competing voices

Of overwhelm

Of not-fast-enough

Of why-not instead of why-yes

Of not-enough instead of here’s-how

 

Join the community

Join the circle

Join the visionaries

The leaders

The possibilitarians

Across every century

Join the pathmakers

Welcoming your creation

Into creation

 

Get clarity

Get it real

Get your team

Get your legacy

So You Think You Can Scale (Part 2 of 2)

(6) Set up team-based communication systems and share information freely with your team leaders.
You heard me. I said team leaders, not team. Even if you think you don’t have enough people to have team leaders, let this sentence be the last time in your business life that you think that.

You relate differently with your team when you recognize that they’ll be leading the next people you hire:
· You’ll train them on your decision-making frameworks, not just give them your decision. You’ll give them resources, not just answers.
· You’ll make sure that their compensation plan aligns with being and becoming a leader.
· You’ll be crystal clear about where they need to follow your lead to the letter and where they have the freedom to create.

(7) Make your calendar strategically reflect reality.
Huh?
There are five classes of activities that fill the life, and therefore the calendar, of every successful business leader. Everything, yes everything, fulfills one of these functions:
· Administrative
· Sales
· Marketing
· Operations
· Personal

Use your calendaring system to block out all of the appointments and classes, and assign each class a color.

If your inner voice is saying, “I don’t have time for that!” then I assert that you’d rather be busy than wealthy. Go get a job and beef up your volunteering. You’ll be happier.
If your inner voice is saying, “I do three or four of these in any 15-minute block!” then I assert that you’re letting other people, each person with a separate set of individual priorities, dictate how you live your life. Whose organization is this, again? Whose life is this, again?

It’s time to design your time to scale.

That means designing your schedule.
That means grouping similar activity classes.
That means creating expectations with others so every block begins and ends on time.
That means reviewing your weekly calendar at a 10,000-foot level to make sure each color is represented in alignment with a scaling organization.

You’ll need to do some research that, or work with a consultant, if you don’t already know what the Scaling Palette needs to look like for your industry, business life cycle stage, and goals.

(8) What is your favorite technique for growing your organization without your life getting busier? Write it in the comments below.

The Death of the Annual Performance Review

If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

After-Action Review

An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall.  For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What did happen?
  • What worked? What should we keep doing?
  • What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
  • What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
  • What personal lessons did you learn?

You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific timeframe. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall? Some opportunities to use the AAR include:

  • Technology changes / additions or training
  • Staffing changes
  • Hiring process changes
  • Marketing changes / additions or training
  • Operations changes / additions or training
  • New service or product development / new niches
  • Changes in your existing services or products
  • Customer retention
  • Sales cycle changes or development
  • Pricing evaluations
  • Client surveys / communications / service level changes

The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want.  You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind.  Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help.

 

Five Digital Marketing Trends to Get More Customers

Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses.  There are many aspects to online marketing that you’ll want to consider for your business.  Here are just five for your consideration.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is huge, and it consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from.

You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service.

Video

Video has become incredibly important.  It’s no longer enough to generate text.  Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.

The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore.  A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage.

Directories

It’s no longer enough to simply have a website.  Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility.  Some common directories for small business include:

  • Yelp
  • Angie’s List
  • Manta
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Yellow Pages (online version)
  • Thumbtack
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Craigslist
  • Google for Business (Google Places)

Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews.  Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.

Social Media

Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today.  Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.

If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representation of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.

Public Relations

Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.

Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.

Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends.  Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business.

Is There Really a 4-Hour Workweek?

Tim Ferriss made the 4-hour workweek a popular concept in his 2007 book.  But is there such a thing, and more importantly, can business owners like you and me cash in on it?  As the last of the Baby Boomers approach retirement, the topic of working less while making the same or more income is popular.

Here are five ideas to help you work fewer hours while making the same or more income.

Active vs. Automatic Revenue

Some business models allow you to generate automatic revenue.  Automatic revenue is revenue you can earn and leverage over time by doing something only once and not over and over again.  Active revenue is earned while doing something over and over again.  Showing up for a teaching job with a live audience is active revenue while producing and selling video recordings of the same teaching is automatic revenue.

A goal of a 4-hour workweek concept is to increase automatic revenue while reducing active revenue.  You may have to think out of the box to do this in your industry, but the payoff can be huge.

Delegation and Outsourcing

One traditional way to move to a 4-hour workweek is to have others do the work.  Hiring staff frees up your time and allows your business to become scalable.  When it runs without you, it’s more salable too.

Time Batching

If you have a lot of distractions in your day, you can easily double your productivity by learning time batching, which is grouping like tasks together in a block or batch of time and getting them done.  For example, if an employee interrupts you with questions multiple times a day, train them to come to you only once a day to get all their questions handled at one time.  Take your calls one after the other in a group, and then stay off the phone the rest of the day.  Do the same with email, social media, running errands, and all of your other tasks.

Automation and Procedures

New apps save an amazing amount of time. List all of your time-consuming chores and then find an app that helps you get them done faster.  For example, a scheduling app can reduce countless emails back and forth when setting meetings and appointments.  To-do list or project management software can cut down on emails among you and your staff.  And apps like Zapier can connect two apps that need to share data, reducing data entry.

Leverage

The key to working less is to embrace the concept of leverage.  How can you leverage the business resources around you to save time, increase staff productivity, and improve profits?  It takes discipline and change, two difficult goals to accomplish.  But when you do, you will be rewarded.

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