Category: Ecommerce

Cyber Security for Small Business

Does the term “Cyber Security” make you think of the CIA, FBI and homeland security? Maybe the thought of Cyber Security sounds a bit intimidating, especially when you hear news about companies being “hacked” and large-scale data-breaches?

Businesses and consumers use online resources for transactions more and more, so look for secure sites and precautions you can do to keep data secure.  Cyber security doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult for small business owners and in today’s blog we’ll talk about what you need to know, and how to get your small business “Secure.”

What is Cyber Security?

Simply put – cyber security is the protection of internet-connected systems such as software, hardware, and data from cyberbreaches (hackers). In small business, this is the practices and tools used to prevent unauthorized entities from obtaining data from your business. So in layman terms, cyber security is how you protect your business information. That may include your financial records, customer database, sales, collections and credit card transactions.

 

Do I really need cyber security in my small business?

It is easy to imagine that hackers will go after big business and all the information they have (especially anything they can steal, like social security numbers and customer’s private information.) However, did you know that 43% of cyber-attacks were directed at small business last year? The most popular business sectors for cyber-attack were:

  • Healthcare
  • Legal
  • Insurance
  • Financial
  • Retail

How do I avoid a data-breech from hackers?

There are several recommendations made by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that can help you secure the data of your small business:

  • Establish safe practices:

    • Train employees to use strong passwords
    • Shred paper information regularly
    • Establish appropriate internet usage guidelines
    • Have a procedure of how to handle and protect customer information
  • Protect computers, networks and software:

    • Use and keep up to date antivirus programs
    • Keep the latest security software
    • Create and use firewalls
    • Install updates immediately
  • Use Firewalls:

    • Check regularly on the installation and use of your firewalls
    • If employees are working from home, make sure they have a firewall
  • Consider mobile devices:

    • Require password protection on all mobile devices
    • Make sure data is encrypted
    • Install security apps
    • Have a plan for stolen devices (lock out, remote erase, etc.)
  • Control access to computers and sensitive information:

    • Have different levels of security, so only the employees who need sensitive information have access.
    • Lock up and protect devices and information when not in use.
    • Have individual access and monitor access frequently.
    • Have a “time-out” function in case employees step away for a time.
  • Secure Wi-Fi Networks:

    • Make sure your WiFi networks have a firewall. It should be password protected and encrypted. Set it up so that it doesn’t broadcast your name or the business name
  • Protect the information from Credit Cards:

    • Work with your bank or credit card processor to ensure anti-fraud systems are in place.
    • Have a separate system for credit cards that is not linked to the same computer you use to surf the internet.

 

 

Lear more about Cyber Security from the FTC:

The Federal Trace Commission has excellent resources for small business. If you aren’t really sure what cyber security is about, or what many of the terms we’ve used in this blog mean, here is a great place to find information:

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Cyber Security Basics from the FTC

Federal Communication Commission (FCC): Downloadable Tip Sheet for Small Businesses 

 

Who can help me with Cyber Security?

*Please note: Paris SBDC does not endorse any of the following businesses, the following is intended as a list of available resources:

Score 

GCA Cyber Security Toolkit

Microsoft Small Business Security

Paris Junior College offers classes and even a degree in cyber security

 

For additional information on cyber security and the steps you need to take as a small business owner,  please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Automation for Small Business

Think of all the daily tasks your business requires to function properly. How many of these tasks are done manually on spreadsheets, by entering data into the computer or through generating individual responses to customers? These repetitive duties can eat up time and bog down a business.

Imagine implementing an app and with the push of a button all your tasks were completed in little time with less effort. Not to mention, the app followed up, scheduled the next marketing email, and tracked useful data that resulted in sales. This is all possible.

Apps have become a necessary part to running an efficient business. These are not finger foods served at cocktails parties, but computer programs built for automating daily tasks. If your small business relies on you to do much of the work at the very least you should consider automation for bookkeeping, a payroll tax and sales tax system, email marketing, and meeting scheduling with automated follow up reminders.

 

What is automation for small businesses?

Automation is the implementation of a computer application or subscription to a service that streamlines workflow and accomplishes tasks that a person would manually have to do. The days of switchboard operators asking how they can direct your call are a simple example of what automation has become. Now it’s an electronic voice giving you a list of choices and numbers to push for service.

 

Does automating really save money?

The goal of automating is to simplify your business. Through automation, a company can reduce effort, time and the costs required to do manual tasks. By freeing up staff, more time can be spent on primary goals that move the company forward. Not only does automation save money it can drive up revenue, complete repetitive tasks faster, at higher quality and without human error. Automating can help with the following:

  • Reduce operating costs by saving time and labor costs
  • Reduce factory lead times with systems that keep production on schedule
  • Improve shipping times and costs
  • Increase returns on investment (ROI) rates by reducing operating costs. Efficiencies in labor expenses means less overhead.
  • Create the ability to compete globally
  • Streamline communications. Plan meetings, set task reminders, follow ups, and work schedules
  • Reduce the need for accounting personnel

 

What processes or things should I automate?

In the Sci fi thriller Independence Day, a giant green-eyed creature sat in the control room of a spacecraft and pushed a single button to launch thousands of ships to invade earth. You don’t have to be an alien creature to instantly launch thousands of online marketing campaigns across all social media platforms. Nor does the result have to be scary. There’s an app for that and you can even add a smiley face to your message if you like. Check out these aps for email marketing:

Take time and review all the manual tasks that your company performs. Look for areas where you can make changes. Consider the following:

  • Bookkeeping especially if you are still doing this manually on a spreadsheet
  • A payroll and accounting app like QuickBooks or a payroll service company with online automation that sends your data for them to process.
  • Invoicing and collections. Keep your cash flow moving with automatic payment due notices that allow customers to pay via credit card, PayPal, Zelle or Venmo.
  • Sales tax collection and payment, especially if your business sells in multiple states. Check out taxjar.com
  • Social media and email marketing apps with a scheduling tool that can launch campaigns across all platforms at once
  • Drop shipping and warehousing automation for manufacturers or print on demand companies
  • Sales and order processing apps or outsource to companies with data and processing services
  • Task management system with follow up reminders and scheduling. This may also include an intercompany communication system

As with any suggestion, do your research and as always do what is best for your company.

 

Top automation tools for businesses:

If you are looking for some proven, great automation tools for your small business, we’ve compiled a list.

*Of course, we don’t endorse or recommend which apps and which automations to use for your business, the following is only intended to get you started and is in no way a complete list:

  • Zapier can automate your work across 5,000 + apps
  • IFTTT is like Zapier. Use this to create automations between apps so you don’t have to bounce around
  • Activecampain for advance email marketing
  •  Hootsuite or buffer are social media essentials
  • Calendly A simple automation tool that cuts out back-and-forth emails for scheduling meetings, phone calls and other appointments with email links to a calendar system (we use that here, at Paris SBDC)
  • Xero As your business grows your accounting needs increase. Xero can minimize the workload otherwise handled by an accounting department
  • Constant Contact Great for emails, newsletters and keeping customers up-to-date

 

 

Are you considering switching a few of your small business tasks to be automated? We can help you evaluate and decide the best processes and automations to have. Contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Do I need a Blog for my Small Business?

What is a blog?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Blog” and you’ve probably assumed correctly that a Blog is 1- found on the web or internet; 2 – a type of personal or business diary; and/or 3 – Usually geared to teach or sell something.  You would be correct on all accounts.

The very first “Blog” began as a descriptive term for logging onto the internet, or the web. In 1997, a “computer nerd” by the name of Jorn Barger from Ohio, came up with the term ‘weblog’ to describe what he was doing on his website: Robot Wisdom. He explained he was “logging the web” as he searched or browsed the Internet, creating a ‘web log,’ with what he found – which was shortened to ‘weblog.’ In 1999 ‘web log’ was further shortened by programmer Peter Merholz when he decided to pronounce weblog as ‘wee-blog,’ or ‘blog’ for short. The term blog was then popularized by the duo who created Blogger (one of the first and most popular Blog websites of the early 2000’s.)

 

Do I need to have a blog in my small business?

The short answer is YES!

Blogs, in their traditional form have evolved to become much more than just a diary of events or web pages looked at and things learned. Today’s Blogs have become major marketing opportunities and offer the following powerful business tools serving to:

  • Inspire sales which increases revenue
  • Improve conversion rates
  • Foster relationships between your business and customers
  • Promote brand awareness
  • Increase your ranking on search engines
  • Educate your audience
  • Grow your overall business

 

What type of blog should I have?

Blogging has expanded to include things like podcasts (a series of spoken word, audio episodes, all focused on a particular topic or theme, like cooking or true crime), vlogging (video blogging) and micro-blogging (done on sites like Tumblr, Ghost or Webflow that are shorter, more personal blogs.) As far as the type of blog you should have for your small business, you need to ask yourself the following:

  • What do I want my blog to do?
    • Are you selling something?
    • Is your blog purely for sharing information?
    • Do you want to get new customers from your blog?
    • Is your blog meant to be educational?

The type of blog you have, depends on the type of business you own and the goals you want to achieve from your blog.

The blog you are reading, for instance, is used (primarily) to help small businesses in our area. Small business is the backbone of not only our service area, but of America. We aren’t looking to “sell” a product through our blog, but to give useful information to help you succeed.

 

What do I say in a blog and how do I start one?

Starting a blog sounds easy (for some business owners). Others struggle to come up with topics or information they want to share. The most popular small business blogs are fairly short (500-850 words) and talk about (you guessed it…) the business! Here are some tips to make your small business blog successful:

  • Have a Plan! Treat your blog like you treat your marketing materials; with a plan of how and when you want to “launch” information.
  • Be consistent with your blog posting: Make a calendar! Pick a day and time and stick with it. You don’t need to blog every week, maybe every-other week or once a month is plenty – maybe you are in an industry where daily blogs make sense. Whichever you do, do it consistently.
  • Lighten up! If anyone wants to read or see something that brings them down, they only need to turn on the news. Keep your blogs light, stick to the facts and avoid political, personal or religious extremes. (Unless of course, your business IS one of these extremes.)
  • Switch it up: You don’t always have to talk about your business. Some of the most popular blogs have short videos or recipes thrown into the mix. Don’t be afraid to toss in something unusual.

 

I don’t sell anything. Do I really need a blog?

Yes, you still need a blog! And if you own a small business, of course you “sell” things.  You may not sell widgets, yard art or crochet unicorns, but if you are in business, you ARE selling something. It might be more service related, maybe your business is consulting or reporting. An extremely popular fashion blogger named Gabi Gregg (Young, Fat and Fabulous Blog) sells nothing, but has become so popular with her blog that promotes body positivity and plus-size women’s clothing, that companies are clamoring to be on her blog (and pay for the privilege) just to get reviewed or even mentioned. She’s done blogs in Glamour magazine, MTV Online, Essence, and Black Enterprise.

Incidentally…this blogger’s “non-business” (that doesn’t “sell” anything) makes over 6-figures a year with her personal net-worth of over a million dollars!

 

I don’t have time to write and maintain a blog!

This may be very true for a lot of small business owners when you already have too many demands on your time. Here are some ideas to help with getting your blog writing done:

  • Hire someone: There are many different blog writers out there who can write the blogs for you. Many bloggers enjoy business blogs, or even those unique niche-market blogs.
  • Have your employees “take turns” writing blogs: You may even find an employee who really loves it and can dedicate the time to doing it.
  • Ask around: Look at the blogs of your business associates and/or competitors. Ask questions and find out who does their blogging.
  • Look at using college interns: College age students make great bloggers. They already understand the internet and what people are looking for, they are also less expensive than professional bloggers. (Just be careful to edit anything a blogger writes before it goes on your site!)

 

 For additional information on starting or maintaining a blog for your small business – we may not be able to bring your blog 6-figures, but we CAN get you started!  Please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

 

How to Grow Your Small Business by Exporting

According to the U.S. Small Business administration, “Two thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries.” On average, U.S. exporters grow faster than non-exporting businesses. Exporting can help small businesses diversify and become less reliant on the U.S. economy or income from any single region. However, there are some risks involved like sudden increases in tariffs during a trade war or countries copying your product to sell locally.

 

What is exporting?

Exports are goods and services produced in one country and then sold to a buyer in another country. Exporting is an easy way to access the buying power of international markets. Exporting is an excellent way to create a sustainable business model.

 

When should I consider exporting?

Looking to grow your small business and develop a diverse source of income? Exporting may be a good choice.  U.S. made products are typically of higher quality than products made elsewhere. If your product is in high demand, the sooner you begin exporting the better. Consider the following:

  • The U.S. exports nearly two-trillion dollars’ worth of goods and services annually.
  • Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers are located outside the U.S.
  • With today’s technology, access to exporting can be easy. E-commerce through the internet, improvements in logistics, free trade agreements with twenty countries and a slew of government export assistance makes exporting achievable for small businesses.
  • Exporting can be profitable. On average companies that export make more than their non-exporting competitors. Sales grow faster, and companies that export tend to see less economic fluctuations or seasonal selling as their business cycles smooth out.
  • Companies that export become more valuable should selling the business be a consideration.
  • Companies that export are more likely to stay in business.

 

Which businesses are best for exporting?

Some of the top exported items are agriculture, clothing and textiles, beauty products, meat and seafood, machinery, chemical products, and petroleum products. It has been proven time and again, that US exports are popular world-wide. If your product has even a moderate interest in the US, chances are it will sell world-wide as well.

 

What are examples of exports?

Ben and Shelby Stilltender make a superb sour mash bourbon. With a recipe passed down since the days when Ben’s grandfather first began making moonshine, the liquor is prized by fine restaurants and retailers across the country. A few years back, a diplomat from Spain discovered the drink during a visit to the U.S. Upon his return, he contacted the Stilltenders and arranged to buy a case of bourbon to be shipped to his home in Barcelona. Never having done this before, Ben and Shelby contacted an export management company or EMC to take care of all necessary paperwork and arrange shipping. Additionally, the EMC sourced out a distributor in Spain and the Stilltender’s one-time order turned into full time exporting. Seeing their profits soar, they began exporting the bourbon to eight different countries.

Other examples of exporting are wheat farmed in the U.S. and then sold to China. Jet engines produced by the Boeing company and sold to buyers around the world.

 

How do I export my business’ products?

The Small Business Association (SBA) can help you get started with exporting products and services. They can also offer loans and working capital if necessary. Paris SBDC is also here to help, check out our resources section on exporting for the following:

Export Management Companies (EMC) are a resource as well. They typically charge a fee or collect a percentage of the exported item.

The government has a list of programs designed to bridge new markets and help small businesses find international buyers.

Before choosing to export a product or service, read through the government’s export regulations at the US Export Regulations Website. This may help you determine if you have a suitable item for export as well as offer guidance on how best to start exporting. There you will also find information on licensing, tariffs and more.

Another resource to help you get started is the International Trade Administration.

 

For additional information or resources on how to export goods in your small business, or on how to grow your exporting business, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

 

Your Web Presence | How to get on Google

You’ve done it!

Your doors are open, you’re doing business, you have a new, beautiful website…but wait! No one can find you on Google.

*SCREECH!*

Stop what you are doing and Google your business!

We’ll wait…

 

Are you on Google? Can customers find you?

If the answer is no – this blog will teach you how to get on Google!

If the answer is yes – have you claimed your business? We’ll tell you how to claim your business profile and how to update your information!

 

One of the biggest mistakes of all small businesses, is they haven’t created and/or claimed their Google listing. You may have the coolest, most unique business on the planet, but if no one can find you, it’s impossible to survive. The best part?  Getting your business listed on Google is FREE!

 

No need to pay extra to get your name in internet lights…we’ll show you the very simple steps to get the most out of your google listing.

 

How to get a Google Listing:

If you are not on Google, at all or if you cannot find a business listing after a thorough search, you need to create one.  Here are some simple steps on how to do that:

  • 1 – Create a Gmail account for your business (this is NOT a personal account.)
    • Type into the search bar in Google: Gmail.com
    • If you already have a Gmail account, but need one for your business, click on your picture or icon at the very top, right of the page. Then click on “add” or the plus (+) sign.
    • Click on “Sign In”
    • Click on “Create an Account”
  • It is VERY important that all of the information you enter here is for your business. Enter your business information and phone number as directed.  If you are the business owner, you can enter your own birthdate.  Your business phone – is what Google will use to verify it is your business. Make sure you are ready to answer the phone number you list.

 

  • 2 – Create your Business in Google: Once you have a Gmail address for your business, you are ready to complete the other required information.

 

  • Go to the top of the page and click on the set of 9 dots. (3 across, 3 down). That will open all of the Google apps.
  • Click on the little house icon that says “Business Profile”
  • Click on “Add your business”
  • Google will walk you through the process and will offer the option of sending a postcard to your business to verify, or to call the business, giving you a special code that will verify the business.  Pick the option that is best for you. You will be entering the Google verification code to claim your business profile.

 

You found yourself on Google!  Now what?

If you found your business on Google, congratulations!  Now let’s make sure your information is correct.  Time to claim your profile.

 

If you haven’t told Google that you own the business, or if you have incorrect information, you’ll need to let Google know.  Here’s how:

  • On the Google listing, there is a place to “Claim your listing” click on that and follow directions.
  • If you see a place that says: “Own this business?” And you don’t think you’ve claimed it, or if the information is wrong, click on that tab. A box will pop up and tell you if it has been already claimed.  More than likely, you haven’t claimed your business yet, and you’ll follow the steps to do so.

 

Now that your Google Listing is Claimed:

Fill in the missing information!

Go back to the little house and click on your business.  You’ll want to fill this out as much as possible. Some key things you really need to enter there:

  • Business address
  • Hours of business
  • Location (double check that they have it mapped correctly)
  • Add in your website if you have one
  • The correct main phone number
  • Biography of the business – just a short summary of what you provide
  • Menu (if you are a restaurant)

 

Google offers tips and tricks (as well as their guidelines) that will help you show off your business to the world!  Here is a handy link: Google Guidelines for your Business:

 

PRO-TIP for getting “seen” on the web:

A bonus tip: One of the added perks to being on Google is to ask for reviews. The “bots” in Google love to see reviews!  The more you have, the more likely you are to show up on Google without paying extra for AdWords or other Google offerings. Ask customers to leave a review for your business.

Google will notify you that you’ve gotten a review.  Don’t forget to click on the review in your Gmail and thank the reviewer.

 

 

For additional information regarding Google, how to represent your business on line and how to claim your Google profile, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Shipping Costs | Order Fulfillment for SMB (Small to Mid-size Business)

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce is buying or selling a product online over the internet. When you search online and buy a new pet toy to replace the squeaky stuffed bunny the dog dismantled, you are ordering from an e-commerce business. Let’s say as a hobby, your Aunt Lucy knits fancy unicorns. Together you start selling them to friends at the local flea market. To grow your business, you decide to start posting pictures online. Soon you are selling fancy unicorns by the dozen on platforms like Etsy or Shopify. Simple as it may be, you now have a small e-commerce business.

  • In 2020 e-commerce topped just over twenty-six trillion in sales globally.
  • Growth in the US alone is expected to increase by eighteen percent to over four trillion in sales for 2021.

 

When does e-commerce make sense?

By the end of 2020 the COVID 19 pandemic had dramatically changed e-commerce. Regarding transitioning to e-commerce, Forbes writes the following from an article contributed by square Inc, on November 18, 2020; According to the PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey, safety is the top priority for 49% of urban consumers. The same survey showed that 86% of consumers are likely to continue shopping online even after pandemic restrictions end.

Consumers are prioritizing both health and convenience. To remain competitive, more businesses are offering services like click and collect and curbside pickup.

A 2020 survey from Incisiv seems foretelling as it showed that:

  • 85% of shoppers have increased curbside pickup.
  • 79% of shoppers say contactless pickup is important.
  • 80% of shoppers expect to use contactless and curbside pickup more in the next six months.

 

When should you automate?

Does the thought of being buried neck-deep in mythical yarn animals sound unpleasant? Let’s say the house is full of shipping boxes with Aunt Lucy’s knitted unicorns and you are renting a truck to haul packages to the nearest click and ship drop off center. It is likely time to automate. If counting trips to the yarn store or postal center hasn’t convinced you, a good standard to follow is when the business reaches a daily fulfillment of thirty (30) orders per day.

As most business owners learned, the term “adapt or dissolve” became an all too real state of business with the continuance of the pandemic. That alone may be the factor for deciding to automate.

 

 Making plans to automate your business:

There are many resources online that specialize in automating a business. Finding the right fit can be a daunting, but a necessary task. Do your homework as all good business decisions require research. Consider the following key areas when automating your business:

  • Marketing: Coordinate changes to your business through all channels via e-mail marketing, short message services (texting), social networks, website upgrades and paid advertising.
  • Finance: Integrating the financial aspect of a business into the automation process can reduce costs and errors. Integrating the invoicing process can also improve the supply chain.
  • Sales: Automate the sales process to track and contact existing customers as well as generate leads for both inside and outside sales to new clients. The goal here is to create more sales while maintaining the current customer base.
  • Product development: Efficient automation should free up more time to develop new products.
  • Product: Working on the business not in the business is the goal here. Automation that creates other means for product manufacturing other than the proprietor doing the work allows for this to happen.
  • Supply chain: Integrating vendor orders, shipping, warehousing, and invoicing will improve the supply chain. For example, Aunt Lucy now has a team knitting her unicorns and they need more yarn. An automated purchase order is sent to the yarn supplier each time an invoice is generated, or a shipment of unicorns leaves the warehouse.
  • Customer service: Integrating things like chatbots on your e-commerce site to answer frequently asked questions can free up more complex customer service issues requiring human contact. Also, scripting these outsourced contacts can further improve customer service beyond the FAQ’s.
  • IT: Automation through things like cloud management platforms can help control computing cost, security, and performance as well as forecasting futures. This helps free up IT personnel to work on pioneering new technology for the company like a computer chip recording that sings a lullaby when you squeeze one of Aunt Lucy’s unicorns.
  • General business function: Automate as many of the companies processes such as HR, payroll, travel scheduling, inventory management and order fulfilment can decrease errors and inefficiencies while improving compliance issues and provide insight to the business.

 

Shipping cost and order fulfilment; a micro-focus on the benefits of automation:

If you are now considering automation for your company, let’s focus on what it can do for shipping cost and order fulfilment.

  • There are many automation tools and companies that specialize in shipping and logistics available in the marketplace. The best advice here is, when possible, find tools that do not require coding or IT skills to implement—that can increase the bottom-line to the companies shipping and order fulfilment costs.
  • An efficient automation of the shipping and order fulfilment can reduce your overhead through eliminating overstock or dead stock and control inventory as well as track costs.
  • Automation can create an effortless process with not only the company’s supply chain, but fulfilment to your customer.
  • Automated shipping with efficient order fulfilment can reduce the need for human intervention in the process. With less labor costs, personnel can be assigned to other processes that do not require automation.
  • Automation can track specific products and market demands globally. So, if Aunt Lucy is still selling unicorns in California but the rest of the world now has a demand for her new calico kitties, the right amount of yarn gets ordered, proper amount of stock is produced, and customers get their orders on time.

Need more information? We can help you with strategies, tips and tricks to get the most out of your order fulfillment and e-commerce strategies.  Contact Paris SBDC today!

 

 

 

For additional resources on order fulfilment strategies, or in deciding if e-commerce is right for you and your small to mid-size business, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.