Online Security for the Small Business Owner

photo of multiply-locked door As a small business website owner, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your online security — within the context of your current setup. Here are ways to keep people out of your accounts in the first place and limit the damage they can do if they gain access.

Limit Access

Your first goal is to keep unwanted people out of your accounts in the first place.

Be difficult. Strong passwords are the key element of limiting access! Lifehacker has a great article on strong but remember-able passwords if you need some assistance. A password manager can be a big help here as well, remembering all your strong passwords for you (except for the one you use to get into the password manager). You can compare various password managers at PC Mag and Lifehacker, or search for “password manager reviews.”

Be different. Never use default usernames: they give someone trying to crack into your account one sublimely easy guess. In particular, on WordPress your administrator account username should not be “admin.” If it is, though, you can fix it. Usernames on WordPress accounts cannot be changed, but attribution of blog posts and pages can be transferred. If you have admin as your username, to change it you’ll create a new account with administrator privileges (and a stronger name), log out of your “admin” account and into the new one, and then delete the “admin” account. As part of the deletion process, you will be able to assign authorship of admin’s blog posts and so forth to your new account. For screenshots and more details, check out BobWP’s post How to Delete Your Default Admin Username Safely.

Be current. Keep your software up to date. Even in the most well-tested software there can be “back doors” that hackers can exploit to damage or access your site. When those are discovered, fixes are implemented and updates released, but those releases amount to announcements that older versions are vulnerable.

Be cryptic. Another sort of access you can limit is access to the communication between your website and its visitors (including you): SSL. SSL secures your website by encoding all information that passes between the site and the user, such as your password when you log in. Your site will become HTTPS instead of HTTP, and most browsers will show a closed lock image in the address bar to indicate to visitors that the site is secure. Note that going “HTTPS everywhere” can require some changes behind the scenes to maintain full functionality, but the benefit is security, increased visitor trust, and a boost to your Google rankings (see HTTPS as a ranking signal on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog). The easiest way to go HTTPS is to buy an SSL certificate through your web host, but you can also get free certificates through Let’s Encrypt.

Side note: Never enter credit card information or social security numbers on non-HTTPS sites.

Limit Impact

The second goal of online security is to limit the damage a hacker can do if one gains access to one of your accounts. There’s only one rule here: least privilege. Everyone and everything should have only as much access as needed to do the required work. This is a process of restriction and separation.

Least-Privilege Passwords: Use different passwords for different sites. If you have the same password for your blog, social media, and email accounts, then obtaining the password to one means gaining access to all. Imagine if losing your car keys meant your house and office were at risk as well! Again, a password manager can be very helpful for this.

Least-Privilege Hosting Accounts: If someone got access to your web hosting account, how many sites could they harm? Having distinct accounts is another separation you can make. There is a convenience cost to having to log into different accounts for different sites, and possibly a monetary cost for not “buying in bulk,” but if you have particularly sensitive websites, consider giving them their own hosting account. Your web hosting company should be willing and able to move the site files for you.

Least-Privilege Site Accounts: WordPress allows user accounts with varying permission levels. The endgame here is to have two accounts on your site, one with full permissions (Administrator) and one with only enough to let you write and edit posts and pages, add media, and manage comments (Editor). Log into the Editor account most of the time, and the Administrator account just at regular intervals – and on trusted internet connections – to apply software updates or edit widgets. Fewer logins means fewer opportunities for someone to grab the account’s credentials, so this way the account from which someone could do more damage is also less at risk. Enacting this change is very similar to changing your admin username: create a new Administrator account and log into it, but instead of deleting your previous account, change its role (permission level) to Editor. You can read more about WordPress user roles and permissions at The Theme Foundry.

Bonus Tip: Restore

You will never achieve 100% security, and damage can occur, so here’s your bonus tip: Make regular backups! An exploration of all the options would be a post in itself, but your web host likely offers backup service – in fact, some degree of backups may be included for no extra fee – and there are many WordPress plugins to assist you as well.

Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

What Small Businesses Need to Succeed

Bow-and-Arrows_Marketing-AimA logo that doesn’t connect with customers. A website that is difficult to navigate or unappealing. Tons of cluttery, poorly-written ads in the Valley News. You see it all the time; examples of poor marketing collateral —ads, business cards, brochures, websites— abound with small businesses in Vermont and New Hampshire. They fail to communicate and effectively interact with their market(s). What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design.

One of the clearest messages garnered from a local survey we initiated was that most people recognize the need for what I call Savvy Design. Savvy Design is design driven by intelligent marketing strategy. Another clear conclusion from the survey was that most people under-budget or don’t budget at all for marketing. As a result, they pay for someone to turn out design which has no guiding principles of marketing or market-specific goals, and, sometimes, is really poorly designed. What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design. Unique Design. And a budget that forces them to think smarter about how and where they invest their marketing dollars. How does a small business accomplish this?

Here’s five first steps towards successful, savvy design in small business:

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#1) Set a marketing budget.

Survey Results: What percentage of a small organization’s revenue should be used towards marketing/advertising? 40% of respondents said they didn’t know, and the rest were divided among the four percentage range options given. 18% of respondents felt budgeting 6-10% towards marketing was appropriate.

Observations: There was no consensus on how much of a small business’s revenue should go toward marketing. With the dawn of the credit card, society relies less and less on budgeting as a tool. This trend spills over into small business and creates challenges that can lead to failures. The SBA recommends, “As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing.” There are many factors which go into determining what is the right amount to budget for your business, but this is a good percentage from which to begin.

What to do: A budget is extremely valuable when creating a marketing plan and making decisions. However, sticking exactly to your budget is less important than using it as a gauge.

A marketing budget can help you stay on track. For example, let’s say a new local bakery budgets 10% of their projected sales for marketing. Halfway through the fiscal year they notice they’ve only spent a quarter of this amount. The owner should use this information as an indicator to review where they should be. Does the bakery have a large-ticket marketing item coming soon, like an exhibition? Is the bakery realizing the traffic and sales goals for the first 6 months? On the other hand, if the bakery has spent MORE than half of the budget at the six-month point, they should assess likewise. Was there a larger-ticket marketing item within the first 6 months? More importantly, if an unplanned marketing opportunity arises, the bakery needs to think twice. Will this new marketing opportunity really hit the market(s) which are outlined in their goals? Is the possible gain worth the investment?

Creating a marketing plan is easier when you know that you have limited funds. Look at all your options for marketing. There are a lot of low and no cost options with inbound marketing, such as social media and writing blogs. Use your limited budget to question each decision. All businesses rely on having a home on the internet, but some rely on it more heavily. If you are selling via the internet, or your product or service requires explanation —think of a non-profit that needs to communicate its mission and vision in order be found worthy of a donation, or unique technology which needs to be understood— you need to place more marketing dollars into your website. If already know that most of your customers come from or will come from a home show exhibition, then you will want to put a good portion of your budget there. Strategizing how and where you spend your money is easier when you know how much you have to spend.

Budgets help keep your finger on the pulse of your marketing —and that will help you determine the best route to long-term success. Set a budget. Remember that marketing is an investment. And THEN, create a marketing strategy to achieve your goals.

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#2) Set market-specific goal(s) to empower your marketing decisions.

Survey Results: How important is high-quality web and print design created with marketing savvy to the growth of a small business or organization? 94% of respondents said somewhat or very important.

Survey Results: What are the purposes of a website? Everyone agreed that a website should communicate, whether that be vision and mission, services offered, or another idea. 94% agreed a website should also brand the company, organization, or product it represents. 76% said websites should sell products or services directly, and 65% said they should solicit an action other than direct sales.

Observations: The reason respondents knew how important marketing was is that most people are consumers too. We KNOW we are influenced by marketing. If you have a favorite brand of anything, whether it be your local grocer, your cell phone, your cereal or your sneakers, you cannot deny being influenced by marketing. Remember, marketing is not limited to ads and websites. Marketing permeates nearly all facets of a business, from customer interaction in person or on the phone to how the product or service is designed. The response above, regarding a website’s purpose, is not far from what all marketing is expected to do —communicate and brand. Marketing is intended to make a connection and solicit a response. How are you going to get your marketing to do this?

What to do: “I want to be successful” and “I want to increase sales” are something that ANY business can say. Set goals which have specific market(s) in mind to guide each piece of marketing you create. A market-specific goal takes into consideration what you want to accomplish and what market will help you get to that goal quickest. Example: A bakery sees strong sales in all items except for gourmet cupcakes. Their goal is to increase gourmet cupcake sales by 20% by year end. With a little sleuthing, perhaps a survey, they determine that they have two major markets to target: people in the 50+ age group and high-end/specialty grocers. With this market-specific goal in mind, the bakery can ask this question with every piece of marketing collateral it creates: Does it reach and communicate to the 50+ age group? Or to high-end/specialty grocers? If you don’t hit this mark, you are likely throwing marketing money in the trash.

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#3) Free and cheap is not a long-term answer.

Survey Results: The majority would expect to pay $50-$90 per hour for graphic design services and $500-$2000 for a owner-modifiable website with unique design and modest functionality including a blog and contact page. That value increases to $2000-$5000 if the website were to included higher levels of functionality such as client login or a store.

Observations: Many respondents recognize the value of design because they do not have the time or expertise to do it themselves. The respondents might not have considered that their need for marketing.

What to do: Small businesses do not have the large budgets of mega-marts and corporations. But there are many options for no and low cost marketing which should be approached with marketing savvy. For instance, a new bakery may decide it needs a website, but as a start-up it has a very tight budget and needs to spend a larger portion on a wedding exhibition within the first two months. The bakery decides to build a website by itself using the many low-cost, one-size-fits-all web design sites. They have the time now to do this themselves, but won’t as the business launches and grows. Minimum viable product. The bakery is going to do what it minimally needs for a website to get started. Marketing savvy means recognizing that no business starts out saying, “I’m not going to grow.” You should grow. And all your marketing collateral should grow ahead of you. With this in mind, the bakery plans to hire a professional to design their website at the nine-month mark because they know they cannot keep momentum rolling without a website that supports their unique proposition. The benefit is that by the nine-month mark, they will know their market(s) and the business’s identity better. This will guide them in creating a new website that caters to both these things, and thus, makes it a more powerful marketing tool. So, economize and think of less expensive ways to market yourself, but remember to plan for a professional answer. Remember, your job is not marketing, it’s guiding the marketing so that you focus on your product or service. With very rare exceptions, free or cheap is not a long-term answer and not a good investment towards success.

The next concern is time and talent. How much time away from your core business can you dedicate to marketing and designing? And, how much skill do you have in these areas?

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#4) Plan what you CAN do yourself.

There were no survey results that shed light on this step. But I can tell you that I’ve had more than a handful of well-meaning speakers and articles telling me what specific marketing tools I NEED to employ to succeed, and, frankly, they are all right AND all wrong. There is no one answer. Each business and each market is unique.

In October, I went to a very large small business exhibition in Boston. A charismatic speaker had finished his stage “commercial” and was sitting at the edge surrounded by a group of curious small business people. I was in the crowd, but because I felt like his act was more like a car salesman than a knowledgeable professional, I was not as receptive as others in the crowd. He took a look at my business card and, not knowing a thing about me or my clients, spouted off that I needed this or that on my card. Why was this missing on my card? At that moment, I realized that many people, some with more altruistic aims than this man, have great ideas to offer, but in one minute or five minutes, they cannot completely understand you, your market(s) or your goals. It was a valuable realization.

So, listen to and read as much as you can get your hands, eyes and ears on, then sift through it by asking, “What can I do without going insane? What is best for MY business, MY target markets? For what do I have an aptitude?” You cannot do it all, or you won’t have time and energy to do what your business does. And don’t forget that this may take experimentation. Reassess every month or two to determine if your time, energy, and money is being well spent. And then, pick something new to try. Do what you CAN do yourself; don’t do everything.

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#5) Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do.

Survey Results: Respondents were asked to rank the order of importance of seven factors by their influence on the decision to make a high-dollar purchase. 73% of respondents put “quality of product or service” in the top 3, followed by “quality of customer service” and “timeliness or responsiveness” at 65% and 53%, respectively. 75% of respondents indicated “availability of payment plan” in the bottom 3, followed by “convenience or location” at 69%. The remaining factors, cost and whether the business is local, were more evenly spread.

Observations: The responses clearly show a high value placed on the quality of products/services, customer service, and responsiveness. Your business may very well possess these qualities, but this is only part of the solve. You have to communicate this value and marketing is your communication tool.

What to do: Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do…sometimes. The real step should be: take a look at your bucket of what you do NOT have the time and/or skill to do, and pick the items which will provide greatest support to your marketing goals. Take those to the professionals. The rest of the bucket, well, just keep nearby. Down the road, you many find that one marketing idea did not work as anticipated, and you may need to experiment. Or you may discover a new item to put in the bucket and it may require a shift or change-out. The key concept to take away from “go to professionals” is that you are a small business, and there are a lot of hats you must wear; you can’t do it all. You must wear the marketing hat part time. But don’t become a full-time marketer, web designer, or graphic designer unless that is REALLY what your business is all about. And spend your marketing dollars wisely to get the best long-term return.

On-Target-Market-Aquilino-ArtsThe need for small businesses to have quality marketing collateral was the inspiration for our business, Aquilino Arts. Since inception, we have used principles of branding and marketing to guide our production of websites and graphics. As we absorbed the results of this local survey, our team recognizes that small business needs intelligent, unique design to truly succeed and have added to our offerings. Here’s a short list of what we offer to support Savvy Design, including some new twists:

  • One-page website package (with a future-growth option)
  • Payment plans
  • Marketing planning (a campaign, a marketing calendar/plan, or a marketing assessment)
  • Unique, One-Size-Fits-ONE graphic and web design —all original artwork, no clipart
  • Personalized, responsive attention for you and your vision

Talk with us. There is no fee to meet and discuss your dreams. Call Maria at 802-291-3655.

Make every arrow count & Happy Marketing!

Being Present in Business —It’s profitable.

Present-is-a-PresentA few days ago, a prospective client said to me, “We would like to compensate you for the all the time you’ve spent.” They had reached out to our team and asked for help, but hadn’t had the time to move forward.  To be acknowledged for time, effort and talent is a gift itself. I explained that we believed in investing the time in a relationship from the beginning and there was no need for compensation. Our team had spent approximately 8-10 hours tailoring a proposal for their business —from rough sketches of logos, to website, to logistics and functionality. That time translates into a lot of money; why would we approach our business this way?

It is all about being present. These small businesses put all their passions, work and, in many cases, personal financial support, into their business. They’ve put so much presence into these dreams; don’t they deserve the same? So, we are present; we treat or clients and potential clients like they are all that matters. Why? It’s personal. If you have ever called a customer service line or walked into a mega-store and felt like you were just another number, then you understand. We all desire to be treated as significant, worthy people.

From a purely business perspective, why would it matter? Wouldn’t we lose money in some instances? If you are a start-up you probably hear this phrase time and again: “It’s an investment.” Every time you work on marketing your business, there is no guarantee —it’s an investment. This is no different; it is a long-term investment in a relationship.

Nearly all of our clients return time and again for new projects. Aside from relationship building, this approach is valuable; we need to insure we design the best for them. If we hadn’t taken the time and energy to get to know them and understand their vision, how could we create great design for them?

And, last, but not least, it’s about honesty. We need relationships with our clients that nurture honesty. We need them to tell us what they think and feel. Just recently we were designing for a gentleman who had directed us to create a logo with a specific style and approach in mind. We spent several hours and submitted two different logo designs. He apologized and said that he wanted to take a different approach. Because he was honest, the resulting logo speaks more boldly about the identity of the business than before. It wasn’t just good design, it was great —and all because he wasn’t afraid to say, “let’s take a different direction.”

Think about your business. Are you present with the people with whom you interact? Are you rushing to the next thing, or do you give them the gift of your time and energy right then and there?  Being present may not make you the richest person in terms of a bank account, but you WILL BE rich and so will all those whose lives intersect with yours. No matter what the world tells you, being present is profitable.

 

Exploring Website Components: Domain

Exploring Website Components: Domain on Aquilino Arts | Example of domain brainstorming Your domain is the main address of your website, the part that ends in .com, .org or similar. Domains are registered with a central agency so that everyone across the world reaches the same website if they enter the same domain name in their browser.

The domain came late in There’s No Page Like Home, but can be very early in your actual process: in fact, you can register domain names well in advance of securing a hosting account, much less building a website. This allows you to reserve domain names for business ideas even if their timeline is years long. Domain names typically go for about ten dollars per year, so it’s an inexpensive investment to make sure you can get the name you want.

How do you go about securing a domain name?

  1. Start with your business name plus .com – that is what your customers will expect your web address to be. If your business’s name is more than three words long you may want to abbreviate or truncate it to avoid a superlong web address, but make sure people will recognize it as the same business.
    For example, if your business were Sue Ann Joseph’s Deep-Dish Pizzeria, SueAnnsPizzeria.com would be a recognizable shortening; JosephsDeepDish.com would likely be confusing.
  2. Check that domain’s availability. Your hosting provider should be able to do this, or you can visit a site like Whois.com and type the domain into the search bar.
  3. If the domain is available, register it! WhoIs does those transactions, and every web hosting company I’ve encountered does as well. You are free to have your domain registered through a different company from your web host; having them together simply gives some additional convenience, such as having a unified bill.

Sidetracks: When it’s not as easy as 1-2-3

There are three cases where you’ll have to consider alternate or additional domains:

  1. Your business name is unavailable.
    Smucker Companies, an insurance, rental, and construction business in Ohio, is at smuckercompanies.com. Whether they tried for smucker.com is unknown, but that domain belongs to the J.M. Smucker Company, of Smucker’s preserves.
  2. There are multiple versions of your business name people are likely to type in to a browser.
    The aforementioned Smucker’s owns both smucker.com and smuckers.com.
  3. Your business name leaves something to be desired as a domain.
    Essentially every non-Spanish-speaker needs Aquilino spelled for them.

If your business name is available as a domain, we recommend registering it, even if you also want another domain. You can have multiple domains pointing at the same website, an idea we’ll revisit later in this series.

In brainstorming additional domains, consider alternate shortenings of your company name, your products, location, tagline, and other terms and phrases used in your marketing materials. For example, compare apple.com and applerecords.com, or sunrisefarm.com and sunrisefarmvt.com. When we looked for a domain that was easier to communicate orally, we turned to our tagline and registered OneSizeFitsOneDesign.com as an alternate route to our website. It’s long, but shorter than spelling out Aquilino.

Just keep in mind that your site is for your clients or customers. As long as it’s easy for them to remember and to associate with the correct business, it’s a great domain.