Social Power: Using Likes and Tweets to Generate Sales and Grow Your Brand.
A guest article by Ramon Ray, entrepreneur, global speaker and best selling author.
For the past few years, I’ve come to realize the simplicity of social media marketing. Sure, there are some complex parts to it, but it’s really about four key areas.
Frequency, Relevancy, Engagement and Analytics – FREA.
Once you’ve defined your target audience and you know to WHOM you are speaking, the rest fall into place. This doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work, but if you follow these four principles you’ll do just fine.
If you’re out of site, on social media, you’re out of mind. In order to make social media work for you, you must ensure that you’re constantly posting content to educate or entertain your audience.
On Twitter you can post several times a day. On Facebook, more than twice a day might get annoying. LinkedIn, keep that to no more than once every 2 or 3 days. Instagram, like Twitter, you can post frequently.
Whatever you do, definitely post and post often. There’s a lot of content online and posting once is never enough. It takes strategic repetition to ensure a wider audience sees what you’re posting. This same repetition is also important to build trust, credibility and get someone to take action.
If you’re not posting the right content to the right audience you’re wasting your time. Ensure that what you are posting is of value to your audience. It’s easy to post irrelevant content – and just press “submit” on our favorite social networks. Smart marketers know their audience and ensure they are giving them information they really want and find useful.
Engagement is one of the most important pieces to the marketing puzzle. If the content you’re publishing is boring (not interesting) no one’s going to notice it. No one’s going to pay attention to it.
It’s important that you use engaging images, video and headlines. Your content should CAPTURE attention and should be so interesting that whoever’s reading it wants to share it with others. Engaging content doesn’t mean it must be FUNNY. It can be serious. But it’s GOT TO BE INTERESTING.
Now that you’re posting and engaging with your community, it’s critical that you measure your results. You want to know, for example, who is the audience that’s reading your content. Another data point you want to know is what content is being read the most. These questions and others are easily found out with Google Analytics for your web site. Facebook has very rich analytics tools to review the traffic to your Facebook page. Each of the social networks have varying degrees of analytics tools to measure your traffic and audience.
Overall it’s essential that you leverage the power of social media in a strategic and purposeful manner. Not using social media can have the same results as using social media, but not using it correctly. You want to leverage content as a way to BUILD a community of fans and followers. You can then nurture this community to become your customers, brand Ambassadors and champions.
Join entrepreneur, best selling author and global speaker, Ramon Ray in a FREE webinar on August 23, 2017 at 2pm ET hosted by Verizon Business Markets as he shares how to use social platforms to DRIVE your business forward.
Register here to save your place.
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You don’t have to be big to be heard
by Karin Aviles, Creative and MarCom lead at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @Karin_MktgSmart
You have a great reputation with your regular customers. But how can you establish a wider customer base and cultivate even greater loyalty from those who already know you? And how can you do that when you have a limited marketing budget?
Organizations, large and small, are building new customer bases using the tools available to them online — many of which are inexpensive or even free. Digital marketing might seem like an obvious path if you’re an online business, but it’s also important for more traditional bricks and mortar or mail-order businesses. And it’s about much more than just building an attractive website. It’s about using all the channels available to you in a way that’s right for your business.
Five tips for improving your online visibility
When you’re trying to determine the right approach, a good place to start is by looking at what other organizations in your field are doing — check out their social media or even sign-up for their email newsletters. But here are some digital marketing pointers to get you started.
Many SMEs aren’t using social media at all to generate new customers and clients — and that means they’re missing a huge opportunity. Today, when people are looking for tips for a great local restaurant or a reliable plumber, they take to the web. For instance, parents often turn to social media or local online groups for recommendations on rainy-day family activities or child-friendly restaurants — if you’re not online and part of that conversation, you could be missing out.
People expect your business to be online. And when they find you, they expect you to interact with them. So if you’re going to get the most from being on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, don’t just post content regularly, ask your followers questions and answer their questions — get social with them and extend your reach. And be ready to reply to the negative comments as well as the good. Think of that 1-star TripAdvisor review for the hotel you were thinking of staying at. It really put you off until you saw the owner’s response, which put the complaint into context.
Great digital marketing requires great content. A well-written post, blog or even an email can help drive potential customers to your site. If someone’s in the market for a new stereo, your online review of the latest models could send them your way. Your point of view on current market conditions could help develop their trust in you as a financial adviser. Your regular emails mean your dealership is in their mind when they come to upgrade their car. And of course, sending emails means you need addresses to send them to. A customer email list is critical to your digital marketing strategy and could be key to a wave of new business.
Be eye catching
Engaging people isn’t just about the quality of your writing. Paying a little bit of money to promote your post on Facebook, for example, can help you expand your reach and communicate with more potential customers.
And remember, pictures tell a thousand words. Rather than writing detailed customer case studies, some organizations are telling their stories with photographs on Instagram. If you want your post to stand out, accompany it with a graphic.
You should also consider the use of video. Improved mobile connectivity means that people are increasingly consuming short video content. And you don’t need a studio to shoot one — you can record an HD video from your smartphone. So instead of writing how-to guides or product reviews, why not produce videos instead. Many guitar shops are doing just that to promote the latest kit. And the best bit is that Facebook now prioritizes video content above posts with just images or text, so you’d be nearer the top of people’s feeds.
If you want to keep people engaged, you need to post regularly. But don’t overdo it. Providing a regular flow of helpful and insightful content will have more impact than overloading people with banal comments. They’re likely to switch off if all they ever see in their social feeds are posts from you.
Ideally, you’d know exactly when someone was planning to buy a new waffle maker or to book their next holiday. While mind reading is impossible, there are solutions that can analyze data such as customer behavior and purchase patterns to trigger notifications at the best possible time. They also enable greater personalization of content.
You’re using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But where are you sending your customers? What’s the state of your website? You don’t necessarily need an e-commerce solution. Your website might be informative and drive enquiries your way. And you don’t need all the bells and whistles — your site just needs to be easy to use and navigate. But what you do need is to be mobile friendly. Your new potential customer could be checking you out on their smartphone, and they’re going to lose interest pretty quickly if your site is difficult to use on a small screen.
You could grow from local to global
Don’t expect to see immediate returns from your efforts. Even the largest enterprises struggle to link downloads of their latest white papers to sales. But use the tools available to you and digital marketing could help you improve the visibility of your business and boost your customer base. That could even see you grow from a local business to a global one.
911, what’s your emergency? How tech can help first response
by Karin Aviles, Creative and MarCom lead at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @Karin_MktgSmart
A team of first responders arrives at the scene of a catastrophe — with limited communications or connectivity, how can they help survivors or even know where to look? At the recent Operation Convergent Response (OCR) event, Verizon brought together emergency responders and tech innovators to demonstrate the difference technology could make in a disaster scenario.
Welcome Shawn and Jeff. Can you tell us a bit more about the event — what was your aim? Who was involved?
Shawn: We brought together around 200 first responders, public safety officers, and state and local officials with technology providers and businesses for the event. We simulated real-life disaster scenarios — from hurricanes and floods to buildings collapsing and terror attacks — to see how multiple organizations could come together as a coordinated response and how the latest technology innovations could help them respond faster and more effectively.
Jeff: We created the most realistic test that we could. Our participants went in with no idea of what to expect. We wanted an accurate reflection of how response services would work together and use the technology.
Shawn: We were able create a space in which the community of first responders could innovate together, surrounded by a showcase of some really exciting new technology that they might not have otherwise seen in the context of their core missions. For example, in one of the scenarios, we had a robotic device designed by a creative start up provider that acted as a casualty detection platform. It can autonomously roll through a city looking for survivors, tell doctors on the other side of the world where they are, and use GPS to guide first responders to extract the survivors.
Shawn, you mentioned you had businesses at the event — what role do they play in emergency response?
Shawn: Many municipalities and businesses today have security cameras — getting access to provide unique intelligence when responding to an event or putting together the pieces afterwards. It can give first responders a much better picture of what they’re about to face or what happened. And it’s not just video footage they can share to help out. Some businesses are already sharing this info with agencies. They operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and are constantly deploying data connections for commerce transactions. Monitoring when these connections go down can tell responders a lot about the scale of an incident.
Jeff: Imagine if every business provided emergency response units with timely access to that kind of information. If a hurricane struck a coastal city, instead of going in blind, first responders could have access to a library of video footage from local businesses’ security cameras. Businesses can become a real multiplier in this environment — just think about the difference it could make if you could see the eye of the storm before heading into it.
Shawn: Accessing that data relies on having connectivity available. And, of course, connectivity is also vital to keeping communications open between first responders. OCR really highlighted just how important secure communication is in tackling emergencies, and how new innovations can help. A breakdown in communications can be the difference between life and death in these scenarios.
If a city is hit by a hurricane or flooding, regular communication channels are likely to go down. What kinds of innovation were on show to get them back on line?
Shawn: At OCR, we deployed a number of innovative solutions that can be used to tackle this challenge — from a truck-mounted LTE tower to cell sites in backpacks. In addition to our Cell on Wheels (COW) solution, one very popular innovation was the LTE balloon we deployed. We tethered an air balloon to fly around 100 feet above us and provide an instant 4G LTE network for responders’ voice and data communication.
Jeff: With our tech keeping communications up, response services were able to share real-time data about what was happening on the ground. This was vital to success in every single emergency scenario.
Shawn: It’s not just about having open communication channels though — they also need to be secure. Just think how helpful it would be to terrorists if they could listen in on emergency responders’ conversations or see what they could see.
Yes, that could compromise an entire operation. So, how can that data be kept secure?
Jeff: We demonstrated that particularly well in one of our scenarios, where we simulated a VIP convoy being attacked by terrorists. The VIPs were taken hostage in a nearby building. We used a drone and dropped a bouncy ball that let us capture high-resolution, real-time imagery on the roof of the building — we didn’t want this footage falling into the wrong hands. While our first response crews were looking to tackle the situation, we had a group of hackers trying to compromise their communications. We were able to keep those all-important communications between first responders secure using Verizon’s software-defined perimeter (SDP).
Wow, can you tell us a little about how SDP works?
Shawn: Essentially, SDP forms a network from scratch at a specific point in time. It takes whatever assets we have out there — whether Wi-Fi, Li-Fi or LTE, for example — creates a zero-trust environment and wraps it all in a strong security layer. Because the network exists at a particular point in time, even if an attacker manages to find it once, it won’t be there the next time they look. Imagine SDP as a one-way mirror — when cybercriminals knock to enter, or even just stand outside and attempt to look in, we’ll be looking straight at them.
Thanks Shawn, that was a great explanation. It sounds like there was a lot of impressive and innovative technology showcased at the event. Did anything stand out as particularly exciting or effective?
Jeff: I couldn’t single out one particular piece of technology. What was really impressive was how we were able to integrate so many different technologies and give first responders the means to collaborate effectively. It was great to see them all working together, augmented by technology.
Shawn: I absolutely agree, Jeff. I think it’s also really important to make the point that this was never intended as a one-time event to show off some cool technology. We wanted to help facilitate a more involved, more connected community of first responders and technology providers. I think the event really helped to move that forward and hopefully the community will now build on it so we can help make emergency response even safer and more successful in the future.
Thank you both for your time, that was really insightful. For a glimpse of what went on at Operation Convergent Response, take a look at this video.
How to Get Traffic to Your Website
You’ve built it … but they haven’t come.
Getting traffic to your website is an ongoing challenge for many small businesses, entrepreneurs, startups and nonprofits.
The good news is, it doesn’t take a huge budget to attract traffic. Nor do you have to be a search engine whiz or spend all day on social media.
All it takes is the right knowledge to make the right moves at the right times. In other words, you need a traffic building plan -- from someone who knows what it takes to grow traffic on a budget.
Join website publisher Anita Campbell, share her secrets and tips for getting more traffic to your website in a free webinar hosted by Verizon.
Campbell started a website from scratch with just one visitor -- herself -- and almost no money. Today she has several online properties, the largest of which attracts over 2 million visitors each month.
In this one-hour webinar she illustrates the techniques she used and continues to use to continually grow traffic, month after month, including:
- Inexpensive and sometimes overlooked sources of traffic.
- Why content is the foundation of a good traffic plan; and why you need an easy-to-update section of your website or a blog to add content.
- How to create awesome content of your own, and curate content from other sources, to attract visitors and keep them coming back.
- Simple techniques to set up a social media calendar and publishing calendar, because consistency is key to traffic growth.
- 5 easy ways to optimize your website to get more search engine traffic.
- The role of an email list, and how to use your list to lure visitors back to your site.
- Top 7 mistakes businesses make with their websites that let traffic slip away -- and how to fix them.
This webinar session will be packed with practical ideas and inexpensive tips you can put into practice today. Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer, or you want to be able to interact with your website developer as a more effective resource, there’s something for everyone in this session.
Please join this webinar on July 19, 2017, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. It’s free, but be sure to register in advance to save your place.
CX — is it possible to compete with the big guys?
by Brian Stacy, VP of Customer Service Operations at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @brian_stacy44
A great customer experience (CX) can be the difference between a customer coming back to you again and again or them going with your competitor. It’s the compelling reason people buy your product or service and recommend your business to others. Today, CX is a key differentiator for most businesses, big and small. And many are looking to technology to deliver the kind of innovative experiences that will help retain and win new customers.
Take chat bots. At their best, these can help customers get answers to their questions quickly. They can even help train customer assistants to deliver a better service. One beauty brand launched a chat bot on the popular messaging app, Kik, to offer customers quizzes, personalized beauty tips and reviews — you can even buy the beauty products you’re chatting about without ever having to leave the app.
And there are plenty of other ways in which tech is driving better CX. There are the advanced collaboration tools that help call center staff handle queries and orders faster. And there’s the artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics that are enabling organizations to take the vast amounts of data they’re collecting on their customers — online, via social and in-store — and turn it into actionable intelligence.
That all sounds great. It also sounds expensive. If technology is providing an edge when it comes to CX, is it the large enterprises with equally large IT budgets that have the edge? How can small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like you hope to compete?
Tech is levelling the CX playing field
SMBs have a natural advantage when it comes to CX. They’re often closer to the local communities that they’re based in and understand their customers’ needs. But tech can take these experiences to the next level.
You might think tools like chat bots and AI will break the bank or require specialist knowledge. The reality is quite different. Take this tool that enables you to build your own Facebook chat bot in about seven minutes with no coding involved. The best bit is that if you think you’ll get less than 500,000 monthly active users, you can do it for free. Big businesses like Volkswagen and Uber are using this kind of solution to create additional channels for reaching customers. You can too.
Innovative CX solutions are becoming more and more available — no matter what the size of your business. Many of the advanced tools that large enterprise would have developed in-house are now available off the shelf. For example, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are readily available that enable real-time video conferencing from any device — no need for an expensively outfitted office. That means a better experience for business clients you can’t easily visit.
Many SaaS solutions provide more advanced functionality than you’ll find in large enterprises using in-house systems. They’re developed and maintained by experts. And SMBs are often better positioned to take advantage of them than big companies, typically being far less encumbered by legacy IT systems. That means you could actually be the one gaining an edge.
From advanced apps to cheaper cloud storage, from social media to more agile connectivity, technology is enabling great improvements in CX. And it’s not just for the big guys.
Avoid tech for tech’s sake
But technology isn’t the answer to all ills. You shouldn’t just implement new technology for the novelty factor or because someone else has it — this kind of decision could backfire and result in worse CX. You need to determine whether a particular piece of technology will improve experiences and help your customers reach their end goal sooner. You also need to think through whether it’s something your customers will be comfortable using. If they typically avoid social media, a Facebook chat bot won’t do your CX much good.
Start by mapping your customers’ journeys to get a clearer picture of how they interact with you. That means looking at key touch points and identifying any pain points. And not just those that come after you’ve made the sale. The customer journey starts from your very first contact with a customer — through a tweet or advert, say. Think about the experience delivered by the product, the marketing, the selling and the operations. Examine the whole journey and ask yourself, where can tech make a difference? Where can it really improve CX?
Some large organizations are using big data analytics to help them build digital profiles of their customers and understand customer pathways. But this is actually somewhere you could have an advantage. SMBs often have simpler customer propositions — based around one core product or service. And that could make it easier for you to identify where tech will have the biggest impact on CX. These don’t have to be huge changes, but they should be driven by the right motivators. Be led by CX, not by cost savings or novelty tech.
When you’ve identified where to make these improvements, the technology to make a difference is well within your reach. But this isn’t the case of once and done. Products, technology and customer expectations are changing all the time so you need to work with companies that understand the latest trends and can help keep you up to date.
How to Develop a World-Class Email Advertising Program Without Spending a Fortune
In 1978, Digital Equipment Corporation’s Gary Thuerk, a Marketing Manager, sent an email promoting DEC’s machines to a few hundred recipients. This became the first documented case of email advertising in the world, and earned Thuerk the nickname of “the father of SPAM.”
Thuerk prefers to be known as the “father of e-marketing,” and he’s got a case, because that simple act of sending one single email to 397 people resulted in around $13 million dollars in sales for DEC!
Since that fateful day 40 years ago, many other forms of digital marketing have sprung up. Banner ads, PPC, video ads, affiliate marketing, content marketing, and now social media marketing have all become important parts of the digital marketing landscape. Some businesses have even abandoned email as “old-fashioned.”
Neglecting email as a marketing channel is a huge mistake, however. Year after year, surveys prove that email continues to be the most effective form of online marketing, as well as one of the easiest to execute.
Here are some of the main reasons why email remains the bread and butter of online marketers:
• Email is cheap. For small businesses, there is hardly any other marketing channel which offers such great returns with such little investment. Many can do it for free.
• Actions are trackable. You can tell exactly who opens your emails, who ignores them, and who clicks through to your website or landing page. Try that with Google display ads—not going to happen.
• It is easy to gauge results. You can tell whether your emails are working to put money in your pocket in a very direct way: subscribers either click through to your website and buy something, or they don’t. It is much harder to gauge sales from social media posts, generic blogging efforts, or even viral videos, as these are more branding tools rather than direct response mechanisms.
• You own your audience. As Facebook has demonstrated, third party platforms can reduce your visibility with your “fans” at any time. And while it is hard to imagine it going out of business, it could still happen one day. What if the only way to contact your audience is through that platform? Believe it or not, many businesses operate this way, and it is foolish. With email, you retain ownership of your audience, and do not rely on a third-party to communicate with them.
• Avoid ad blockers and display ad fraud. Consumers are increasingly using ad blockers to stop intrusive marketers from interrupting their content consumption. And display ad fraud is an increasing problem, with many firms paying for invalid clicks and impressions with little transparency or recourse from agencies. With email, your customers have opted in to receive your marketing messages, so ad blockers and fraud are a non-issue.
I hope you are convinced of the value of email marketing. If so, please read on for a special free invitation.
Learn the secrets and get BIG results with your email campaigns
Small business owners who fail to leverage email advertising are losing out on many sales opportunities. Fortunately, it takes very little time to set up an email campaign and start generating leads and revenue. The problem is that many do not know where to start – or are afraid of sending something out which falls flat with customers.
In my upcoming webinar, How to Develop a World-Class Email Advertising Program Without Spending a Fortune, I will show you the power of email marketing and provide actionable, real-world tips which will allow any business to dramatically increase leads and revenue using email. I will also show you how to use many of the same tools and tactics used by Fortune 500 companies with huge marketing budgets – for FREE or very low cost.
After attending this information-packed session, you will be able to:
• Choose the right email platform for your business
• Earn new subscribers and retain your old ones
• Properly segment your list into distinct audiences
• Produce compelling offers which generate sales
• Track opens and see EXACTLY what people do when they visit your website
• Automate tasks to save time
• Keep content fresh month after month
• Perform A/B testing to increase opens and engagement
• and much more
Expect to get fired up about your email marketing program and start getting more leads. Tell everyone involved in generating revenue for your business to join you in watching this special webinar, happening June 21st! Register here.
Speaker bio: Willie Pena is a content marketing expert and blogger with over a decade’s experience in digital advertising and content production. He currently runs Pena Media Group, a Los Angeles based marketing, social media and content production agency whose clients include Colgate, IBM, TransUnion, Webroot and many notable business blogs across the web. Connect with Willie at email@example.com, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @willie_pena.
Does your medium business have the cybersecurity basics covered?
by Scott Lerner, Director of Mid Market Sales at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @Coach_Lerner
You might think you can keep your head down and stay out of cybercriminals’ targets — after all, they’re more interested in the big fish, right? Wrong. Cybercriminals don’t just target large enterprises — based on our analysis, almost two-thirds of data breach victims had under 1,000 employees1.
Most cybercriminals don’t care about the size of your business or who you are — they care about money. According to our research, over 70% of breaches were financially motivated1. And they don’t mind where they get it. Many cybercriminals don’t target their attacks at all. They take a scattergun approach, hitting the organizations with the weakest defenses.
That’s the problem. You’re facing the same threats as large enterprises, but you don’t have an enterprise-level security budget to build a state-of-the-art defense.
Cybercriminals are lucky, not smart
That doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Cybercriminals — from the kids operating out of their parents’ homes to sophisticated state-affiliated hackers — are still using the same old tricks to compromise organizations. Mostly, they’re playing an odds game. They don’t rely on their own smarts — they spread their nets wide and wait for you to make a basic mistake. And it’s amazing how many people are still making them.
Surely people aren’t still falling for phishing? It turns out they are. They fall for it time and time again. One in 14 users fell for phishing, and a quarter of those were duped more than once1. And people still haven’t got the message about strong passwords — over 80% of hacking-related breaches leveraged either weak and/or stolen passwords1.
Teach your employees the basics
- Use strong passwords. You should encourage employees to vary their passwords and use two-factor authentication to protect sensitive data/systems. But the strongest passwords aren’t necessarily what you’d expect — four randomly selected words unrelated to you could actually be more secure than an alphanumeric password.
- Don’t get caught by phishing emails. Show your employees what a phishing email looks like. The poor grammar, incorrect branding and “click-bait” messages are easier to spot when you know what you’re looking for.
- Create a culture of security. Your employees should be sending sensitive information over secure networks. And they should extend the same care to physical documents. Develop a culture where printing out sensitive information is frowned upon. If physical copies are necessary, encourage employees to shred documents when they’re finished with them.
- Be alert. Educate your employees about the tell-tale signs of a cyberattack. Is the sudden spike in network traffic really due to increased interest in today’s lunch options? Or are you the victim of a DoS attack? Are your customers encountering problems with your e-commerce site because of a fault or because a cybercriminal has tampered with it?
- Have a clear incident response plan. Your employees need to know who to contact and how to contact them if they suspect an attack or there’s a data breach. Because that’s when every second counts. Your people should know the best way to record a security incident and where to do this. And your IT team should know if an incident needs to be handled by a security provider or if it can be dealt with in-house.
Knowledge is the best defense
The best defense is built by thoroughly understanding your opposition. That means analyzing and learning from your own experiences of cybercrime to avoid falling for the same trick twice. It also means learning from the experience of others. The annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) is based on an analysis of over 40,000 security incidents and offers an unparalleled insight into the world of cybercrime.
You can get a clearer picture of the biggest cyber threats facing your business using the DBIR’s nine attack patterns — almost 90% of the breaches investigated in the report fall into these patterns1. Understanding them can help you prioritize your defenses and mitigate your cyber risks.
1 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, Verizon
Strengthen your brand. Become a #CommunityMaker by doing good.
by Lori Bonenfant, Director of Channel Marketing at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @lorib4599
In the last few months we’ve prompted many discussions about the impact of tech on small and medium businesses — like how lessons learned from Pokemon Go can help revitalize your marketing and why the mobile revolution is leaving many small business owners flat-footed. Get technology right and you can improve your products and customer experience, enhance your brand and extend your marketing reach.
But technology isn’t a golden ticket for success. Your reputation with your customers isn’t based solely on how well you use mobile or your online marketing strategies. Your brand image is a reflection of how existing and prospective customers perceive your business. And you can make a big impression by showing them you care about the same things they do. Your business can do well by doing good.
Show you care
There are many things you can do to start showing customers your philanthropic side. The quickest way to get involved is to donate money to a local charity or sponsor a local community event. If you’re not sure where to start with this, ask your employees. It’s likely that some of them are already involved in raising money or supporting the local community in some way. You could follow the practice of many large corporations that match donations raised by employees for big achievements, like running a marathon.
But this doesn’t have to be about you giving money. Why not organize a cookie sale or a fancy dress day in the office to raise money for good causes? Or you could ask employees to bring in tins of food for the local food bank or donate coats they no longer need to a homeless shelter. Since 2001, HopeLine from Verizon has been collecting wireless phones that are no longer wanted. These are turned into valuable resources for non-profit organizations and agencies that support victims of domestic violence.
You’ll generate more interest the more involved you get. After all, nothing is more valuable than time. Whether it’s helping kids with their reading, keeping local spaces clean and tidy or offering your workforce’s skills pro-bono, donating your time shows that you’re part of the community. And you’ll be engaging with your customers on a whole new level.
An employer of choice
Doing good won’t just boost your external brand; it can boost your employer brand too. Millennials, in particular, want to work for organizations that care about corporate social responsibility (CSR). 62% of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for a “responsible company.”1 That means your philanthropy could help you attract and retain today’s best talent.
Your employees will value the opportunity to get involved with causes they really care about. And engaged employees are more productive. Providing them with the opportunity to spend time volunteering could also help them develop new skills, which will make them a more valuable asset.
By giving back, you can help to build a better future for everyone — the communities you serve and your business.
Tell us what you’re doing
You can find out more about Verizon’s commitment to CSR here. Our major programs include HopeLine and Verizon Innovative Learning — an initiative that provides kids from under-served communities with access to STEM education. #WeNeedMore kids to see the world of possibilities waiting for them.
We’d love to hear what your business is doing to support your community. Let us know by using #CommunityMaker in your Tweet.
1 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study
How tech is improving children’s prospects
by Martin Burvill, Group President at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @burvill_martin
Think back 10 years. If I’d told you then that by 2017 most video content would be watched on a small screen that people carried in their pocket, you’d never have believed me. But it’s true. What if I’d said that many of us would have a little box in our houses that we talked to and it answered our questions, could turn our heating and household devices on and off, and could DJ your music library? You might have actually thought that was more likely, after all it’s the sort of thing that science fiction has been promising us for decades. You might have been less likely to believe that the box would cost less than a pair of brand jeans.
Technology has vastly changed the way we do everything. It’s making life easier in ways that we could never have imagined. I’ve always thought that futurologist sounded like an amazing job, spending your time imagining what might come next. Working at Verizon I get to rub shoulders with many of the people that are building the next generation of networks and making the next wave of technology possible. I recently visited the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for an event and watching the children there made me think about how all this new technology will affect their lives.
From education to learning
Whether you’re from iPod generation, or like me the Walkman one, a lot has changed in the classroom since you went to school. It’s vital that schools keep up to date with technology as everything is changing rapidly and kids need to be prepared for that world when they graduate.
Back when I was in school I don’t think that the job of data scientist existed—I know that social media specialists didn’t. Most of the children entering pre-school this year probably won’t enter the workforce until the mid-2030s. How can we prepare them for jobs that we don’t even know about yet? We need to teach them problem solving skills and encourage and empower them to innovate. And technology has a huge role to play in that.
I wonder what today’s kids would make of it if their teachers pulled out an overhead projector in class? It was a default in my childhood, but would probably look like an ancient relic to them. And the next generation of kids will probably think the same about tablets and 2D video calls. Virtual reality is already starting to appear in the classroom, and that’s opening up incredible new ways to learn.
But that’s not all, technology is also improving access to education. There are apps for just about everything and an amazing range of online learning resources. You can now take an MIT course whether you live in Cambridge, UK or Cambridge, Australia. Billions of people now have the opportunity to try new things and learn new skills: from basket weaving to advanced math. This is helping children find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their “element”—the thing that they love and are great at—and achieve their full potential.
From health to wellbeing
My reason for attending the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh event was to donate two more VGos on behalf of Verizon. These are remote-presence remote-controlled robots with cameras, microphones and video screens connected over the Verizon network. They enable the children who are patients there to attend classes or visit places virtually, while physically in the hospital or house-bound. The feedback on our previous donation was that this can make a world of difference for children with serious health conditions. It can help them to stay connected to their friends, family, classmates and others, which is great for their development and their self-confidence.
Technology can also help kids with chronic conditions. Children with diabetes can now have an insulin pump fitted that tracks their sugar level automatically, and warns them and their parents if it reaches a defined threshold. There are also intelligent teddy bears that can teach children how to manage this and other long term conditions. This can help children lead a more normal life and achieve more.
Of course, it’s not just about when things go wrong. There are also many ways that technology can benefit everyday wellbeing, including tracking fitness and monitoring vital statistics like heart rate and blood pressure. There’s even an artificial intelligence app that can help detect when a child is stressed and notify their parents that they need attention.
Equal education opportunities
There are over 4 million jobs in science and tech and that number is growing. But our youth needs access to education and resources to develop the skills needed to get these jobs and reach their potential. We need to make education, particularly in STEM subjects, better and more readily available to children regardless of their background or physical abilities.
While plenty of excellent online learning tools already exist — many of which are free, like Khan Academy — we need to do more to help give children access to them. Because how can a child take a free online course to improve their math skills if they don’t have a computer or a network connection?
At Verizon, we’re doing our part to give more children from all backgrounds, abilities, and physical abilities access to what they need to succeed. The Verizon Innovative Learning program provides free technology and immersive, hands-on learning experiences to students and teachers from disadvantaged communities across the US. This is giving children who otherwise wouldn’t have access a better chance of getting the challenging, well-paid jobs of tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can achieve: from amazing medical advances to visiting another planet, even the sky isn’t a limit.
Are You Ignoring the Mobile Revolution?
Entrepreneurs like to take pride in the fact they’re leaders, quickly adapting to—or even starting market movements. But the mobile revolution has left many small business owners flat-footed, trailing consumers who’ve embraced mobile with surprising speed.
Part of the problem is many business owners assume they’re mobile-compliant—after all they’ve optimized their websites for mobile viewing. And while that is a crucial component—it’s just not enough anymore. If your goal is to grow your business—mobile sales, marketing, email and payments must also become part of your business practices.
Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. Mobile technology has become so important because it’s increasingly the most common way consumers go online. A report from Zenith Mobile Advertising Forecasts says 75% of internet usage will be via mobile this year. And by “usage” we mean people actually picking up and checking their mobile devices 150 to 200 times a day. Research from Facebook underscores this—it shows 73% of consumers always have their phones with them. And according to the Zenith Media Consumption Forecast, consumers spend an average of 86 minutes a day using the mobile web—compared to 36 minutes on desktop internet.
Now let’s look at some specifics.
Consumers generally start their hunt looking for products and services by going to a search engine—and increasingly that search engine is on a mobile device.
Mobile searches in general are on the rise, and mobile searches for something “near me” are growing by 146% year-over-year, reports Google. Already, 88% of all “near me” searches are done on a mobile device. Those mobile searches get results. Seventy-six percent of people who search online for something nearby visit a business within a day; 28 percent of those visits result in a sale. With the average adult projected to spend a whopping 3 hours and 18 minutes a day on a mobile device this year, mobile searches will only increase.
More generally, according to the report, Realizing the Potential of Mobile Measurement, from Google, Bain & Company and Econsultancy, 69% of smartphone owners search on mobile first when they need something.
So many small businesses rely on email marketing because it’s affordable. And it has great potential reach—Statista reports by 2019 there will be 2.9 billion global email users. In the U.S. alone, it’s projected there’ll be 244.5 million email users by the end of this year —growing to 254.7 million by 2020. The DMA (Data & Marketing Association) reports email marketing has a 122% return-oninvestment (ROI) and “outperforms all other channels.” And 74% of consumers say they
prefer (and welcome) email marketing messages from businesses.
Email marketing today must be mobile-friendly. And yet businesses are lagging consumers in their embrace of mobile email marketing. Statista says more e-mails are being read on mobile devices—in fact, email, it says, is the third most popular smartphone activity—86% of Americans use their mobile devices to check personal e-mail.
Reinforcing these stats, last year’s Adestra Consumer Adoption & Usage Study shows more than 25% of consumers first read their emails on mobile devices. Nearly 75% of them delete their emails if they don’t look good on their mobile devices—and yet only 17% of emails are optimized for mobile viewing. In other words, consumers who want your emails are likely deleting them before they’re read because they are not mobile-friendly. No small business can survive with those kinds of numbers.
2017 is expected to be a “benchmark year” for m-commerce—sales from phones and tablets. Already about 60% of consumers use their smartphones to research products before making a purchase—and 65% use tablets. According to Kahuna, 28% of Millennials (a huge market just hitting its peak purchasing power), prefer to shop on their smartphones. Almost half of shoppers say it’s now easier to buy products on mobile devices. But they want businesses to offer more promotions, coupons and discounts for mobile purchasing.
More and more consumers want to pay for products and services via their mobile devices. BI Intelligence reports mobile payment sales will reach $503 billion by 2020, up from $75 billion last year. And TechCrunch reports by 2020 90% of smartphone users will have made a purchase from a mobile device.
You ignore the mobile revolution at your risk. There’s a lot more to learn. I hope you’ll join me on May 17th at 2 ET for a webinar and join the Mobile Revolution.
It’s only a smart city if it’s secure
by Margaret Hallbach, VP of Public Sector Sales at Verizon Business Markets
When you think cyberattack, do you picture a criminal mastermind launching a carefully planned attack on the White House? Can you hear the dramatic music and feel the tension building as the good guys find themselves with only seconds to spare before the country descends into unmitigated chaos.
It’s a successful Hollywood formula. But the reality is much scarier because it’s not just central government and big businesses that are the intended victims of cybercrime — everyone is at risk. You expect that police security camera overlooking your apartment complex to be operational. But is it? What if it had been infected with malware weeks earlier and was “offline for maintenance” during an assault?
Cybercriminals are often motivated by financial gain, but you could fall foul of hacktivism and cyber-espionage. Cities and municipalities have become targets because of limited resources, insufficient expertise, and unknown vulnerabilities.
Attacks that are simply launched for fun can have a devastating impact as well. What happens if your emergency response systems are overwhelmed by a telephony denial of service attack swamping your inbound call takers at your public safety answering centers?
Manage the risk of more tech
Cities are constantly competing against each other. Do people feel safe? Are the schools good? Are companies thriving and providing jobs? To improve constituent experiences and quality of service, while driving cost efficiencies, local governments are leveraging technology. Many cities are now looking to the Internet of Things (IoT) for smart street lighting to reduce energy consumption, and for intelligent traffic systems that cut congestion — there are even systems that detect potholes. The potential benefits are huge.
But as local government becomes more reliant on digital technologies, the consequences of cyberattacks grow. You’re holding more personal data. Your critical systems depend on technology. That means security can’t be an afterthought. When you’re developing new systems, you need to think security first. Imagine your facilities organization is refurbishing a municipal building with a new HVAC system. The automated detectors for sensing employees in the building allows the system to be remotely controlled, managing energy consumption and cutting operating expense. But it could also provide a new entry point for a cybercriminal.
Understanding the threats
Many municipalities and cities are budget constrained. New sources of funding are hard to find and these funding sources are difficult to maintain. IT professionals are aware of the threats, but they don’t have the support from City Councils to earmark dollars. Cybersecurity funding should be no different than traditional public safety.
The 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) draws on the analysis of over 40,000 security incidents and almost 2,000 confirmed data breaches to bring you an unparalleled source of information on cybercrime. The nine attack patterns we first identified in 2014 still cover almost 90% of data breaches. Understanding them can help you gain insight on where and how to invest your limited resources. We are all trying to stay ahead of the bad guys. Ask for advice and guidance – from a colleague, from another city, from a partner, from the industry. And most importantly, take action. Don’t regret the decision that you did nothing.
National Small Business Week - May 1 – May 6
This week is the time we officially recognize Small Businesses and their contributions. This celebration was started in 1963 by a proclamation by the President of the United States. Small businesses and entrepreneurs take center stage this week, as the Small Business Administration highlights the innovation, job creation and accomplishments of these individuals who move our economy forward.
The SBA will have a host of activities this week that showcase small business owners and an opportunity for you to gather information from their experiences and successes.
Take a look at the events they have planned:
Nominees from each state and territory will be in the running for the National Small Business Week, Person of the Year. The honoree will be named at the NSBW Awards Luncheon. Other winners will be named in the following categories:
- Exporter of the Year
- Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year
- Small Business Subcontractor of the Year
- 8(a) Graduate of the Year
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Awards for Excellence (for large prime contractors who use small businesses as suppliers and contractors)
- Services winner
- Manufacturing winner
- Research and Development winner
If you are not in the DC area, you can watch it live at www.sba.gov/nsbw and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SmallBusinessWeek.
Join SBA administrator Linda McMahon as she has a conversation with Facebook’s VP and Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan, as they discuss starting a business in today’s environment and success tips to keep your business going.
Be a part of the conversation by visiting www.facebook.com/SBAgov.
May 3 – May 5
The SBA is hitting the road and you can join them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SBAgov) as they make stops throughout the country over the course of several days.
First stop on the journey will be, Indianapolis to the Speedway to celebrate the Indy Car racing industry and all of the entrepreneurs that make the business community run.
Next stop will be Texas to speak with business owners and highlight women entrepreneurs that have chosen non-traditional industries.
The final stop will be the Fresno area of California, where the SBA Administrator will be engaging with agricultural industry to discuss their successes and the fruits of their labor.
On this National Small Business Week, celebrate yourself, the courage it takes to go a different path and make an impact on your community and the economy at large.
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- National Small Business Week
Collaboration, but not as you know it
by Jacob Heinz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @jlheinz
Working with people in other offices—whether that’s the other side of the country or the other side of the world—is a reality for most of us now. It might be a distant branch, a home worker, corporate headquarters, or an overseas supplier. The pace of modern business means that we can’t wait to see people face-to-face—that would be massively expensive too—and sometimes email just doesn’t cut it.
94% say video collaboration increases productivity.
But we’ve all suffered bad online meetings, right? People scrabbling around under the table for the right cable, noisy mobile connections, the list goes on and on. Only the other day a friend was telling me how the post-merger integration project she’s been working on has been held up by problems doing something as simple as sharing a large file. She reckoned that close to half of each meeting has been wasted. It’s such a common experience that it’s been parodied many times—like in this great video.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Good technology isn’t a “nice to have”
We all have fantastic communication tools at our fingertips these days. Smartphone messaging and videocalling apps are now incredibly powerful and easy to use. That’s why when we—especially the millennials among us—come across outdated collaboration tools we find it so shocking.
So why are business collaboration tools still such a laughing stock? The answer is that they’re not—at least not all of them. If you’re still suffering from a bad user-experience then it’s time to upgrade. The days of hunting around for dial-in numbers, poor-quality audio or video, and cumbersome reservation systems are gone.
By 2020, the majority of the workforce will be millennials.
It’s not only staff productivity and morale that can be affected by not keeping up. If your technology is out of date then you’re going to struggle to recruit the best new talent. These days candidates aren’t just looking at your latest earnings figures, they want to know about your culture too. And if you haven’t invested in the technology that they expect, then it might be them sending the “thanks, but no thanks” email.
The answer is out there
There’s no need to put up with technology that wastes your time and gets in the way of you achieving great things. There’s no need to leave your desk, the tools available on the desktop are now pretty impressive. And it’s not just the big screen, you can do a lot on your smartphone—including sharing applications.
Services like video conferencing have become much better as connectivity and network management have improved, but some of the biggest improvements have been in the user experience:
- “Call me” services eliminate the need to scrabble around for dial-in numbers.
- Screen sharing and whiteboarding are now easier to setup and more intuitive to use.
- Instant meetings and personal meeting rooms make it a piece of cake to start an impromptu meeting.
- And capabilities are expanding all the time. Products like Microsoft Surface Hub and Google Jamboard mean that conferencing can be almost like being in the room.
So what’s holding you back?
The technology is there, but implementing it well takes skills that many businesses don’t have. And no matter how good the technology, a bad implemention can damage return on investment. That’s where a specialist IT services provider, like a Verizon partner, can add tremendous value. Their experience can help you accelerate deployment, avoid common problems and build better a better user experience.
You Could Be 1 of 5 to Win 1-Million Points ($10,000 Value)
It’s our anniversary, but the gifts are for you. Besides more point giveaways and freebies than ever - like double points all year for attending our live webinars, or surprise 500-point surveys (usually 250 points) - we’re also running a sweepstakes like no other. Small Biz Rewards members can enter for their chance to win 100,000 points ($1,000 value), 500,000 points ($5,000 value) or even 1-million points ($10,000 value).* There’s never been a better time to be a member (or become one).
With prize amounts provided on a reloadable Verizon Small Biz Rewards Prepaid MasterCard®, accepted anywhere MasterCard is, there’s no telling what upgrade you could make for your business (or what well-deserved vacation you could take yourself or your staff on), if you won. And with so many winners from now until our grand prize million-point giveaway in November, the odds are incredible.
These new back-to-back sweepstakes are part of our 5-year anniversary celebration. Beyond chances to win, every entry also comes with Small Biz Rewards points just for trying. So, be sure to take advantage of the earning possibilities and come back each week to up your odds of winning $1,000, $5,000, or the chance to be one of five to win 1-million points. Ready to give it a shot? Enter now.
Not yet a member of Small Biz Rewards? No problem, it’s free (and easy) to join. With this sweeps and even more 5th anniversary fun planned throughout the year, now’s the time. As a member, you'll also receive 1 point per $1 spent on the qualified Verizon services you’re already using. Points can be redeemed for name-brand gift cards to your favorite retailers.** In fact, if you join today, we'll start you off with 250 welcome points. Join for free.
Already a member? Surprise! Here’s a hidden gift for you. Click here, log in and we’ll add 50 points to your account. Seriously. Just like that. We told you this year would be full of fun. After that, head over and enter our sweeps for even more points.
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Visit https://smallbizrewards.verizon.com/culturesweeps/ for official rules by which entrants are bound. Prize value will be awarded in the form of a Verizon Small Biz Rewards Prepaid MasterCard®.
**Members in the Small Biz Rewards program earn 1 point per $1 spent on their qualified monthly Verizon charges, up to 500 points per month. Qualified charges are Landline Phone, Long Distance, High Speed Internet, Fios® by Verizon Internet or Fios TV. Reward program is only available to Verizon Small Business customers that subscribe to 1-20 phone lines (wireline only), High Speed Internet, Fios Internet service(s) and/or Fios TV in select states. Program terms apply.
How to Use Technology to Improve Your Small Business in Just 1 Year.
Technology can make you faster and more efficient in every aspect of your small business. While the array of options may be intimidating, if you focus on bringing technological solutions to one area at a time, you can easily revolutionize your business in one year.
To help you, here are 12 common business areas where technology can play a vital part in contributing to streamlining your efficiency and overall operation. Tackle one per month and watch your productivity and sales soar!
Analytics and Insights
Understanding how your business is performing at any given moment will allow you to make better decisions…but data can be confusing. Fortunately, business intelligence dashboards can simplify the process and enable you to gather analytics in one location and visualize it with charts and graphs. There are many useful tools available; compare features to find which is right for you.
Building a Team
The majority of small businesses are operated by a solopreneur or a small group of workers. When you do add a team member, you can use HR software to keep track of applications and interviews, online background check services to vet new hires, and training software to teach about job basics.
If you are not big enough to hire employees, then outsourcing is a great option. You can use online freelancer platforms like Upwork and 99Designs to find virtual workers for everything from writing blog posts and marketing copy to designing logos and graphics.
Technology can come to the rescue for team collaboration and communication. Instant messaging programs like Skype and Slack are much quicker than calling, emailing or stopping by someone’s office. More sophisticated tools like Asana and Basecamp also allow you to organize projects, assign tasks and due dates, and keep all conversations and files within a common thread.
Credit and Money Management
Technology can help you manage your credit and finances, including:
- Credit monitoring sites that will tell you your credit score and monitor it for fraudulent activity.
- Budgeting tools like Mint that give you an overall view of your finances, and also help you create a budget to reach your financial goals.
- Debt repayment calculators and apps that help you manage credit cards and make a plan to pay them down.
Customer service is more complicated today because inquiries are coming at you from all angles: phone, email, and even social media. Platforms like Zendesk can help you funnel all of these messages into one place and create a ticketing system, so everything is answered promptly. This tool and other customer service technologies can also help you set up a live chat feature on your website, and develop a knowledge database for answering frequently asked questions.
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach your customers. Tools like MailChimp and Aweber are user-friendly and great beginner-level tools for small business owners who want to build their list and start sending regular newsletters. For the more advanced, consider a full CRM system like Insightly, Infusionsoft or Ontraport.
Digital file systems reduce the clutter in your office and improve organization, allowing you to find the exact file you need in lighting speed. Microsoft, Apple, and Google all offer cloud storage solutions, and there are other options like Dropbox and IDrive. The latest scanners have tie-ins with these cloud storage systems, so paper files can get a digital home immediately after they come into the office.
Invoicing and Payments
With the right technology, you can have an invoicing system that is not only organized but also conveys your professionalism. Although QuickBooks is perhaps the most popular software available, there are many other billing and invoicing platforms to consider to find the one right for your business.
You can also explore other methods of accepting payments besides the traditional cash, check or credit card. While PayPal is a good option for receiving payment from clients, there are several impressive alternatives. The latest technology can also improve your in-store POS system.
Whether you are a local or online business, your customers will be using the internet to find you. You can put technology to good use by:
- Setting up your business page on Google, so people who search for you quickly find valuable information like address, phone number and hours.
- Using Google Adwords to create pay-per-click ads to generate more business (including using their Keyword Planner tool to target the right keywords).
- Adding your listing to the many online business directories, so people can find you regardless of where they are searching.
No small business owner can afford to take security lightly. When it comes to your website, website security tools can help keep you protected from SQL injection and other threats and attacks. Meanwhile, the technology in your office should be protected by keeping your anti-virus and malware software up to date or even investing in a full security suite.
Social media is a must for today’s businesses, but you can let technology simplify your work. Social media scheduling programs like Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to set up social media posts for days or even weeks in advance. With tools like CoSchedule, you can even schedule social media when you are setting up your company blog posts.
There is no reason for your business not to have a website! Using today’s technology, you can build your own website; Wix even allows you to create one for free. You can also get more visitors by setting up a regular blog. Tools like WordPress make it simple, and with the all the various plugins, you can get help with everything from design to SEO.
When it comes to business technology, there is no shortage of options. Choose the most important area of your small business and work for one month to explore and implement technological solutions that will make you faster and more efficient. Proceed from one area to the next, and in just one year you will become a master of technology!
Channel Champions Part III: What does channel talent of the future look like?
In the final part of our discussion with three of Verizon’s channel leaders, we talk about how you can get the most out of your talent and promote diversity.
We talked previously about how today’s channel leaders need a broad set of skills—they can’t just be sales-driven. Is that true of your people too?
Joe: The channel still needs people with great sales skills, but what we’re looking for has moved on from the days of door-to-door selling. It’s not about one-off sales; we want people who can help us build lasting relationships.
Janet: Absolutely. And, for me, that means they need to be able to engage customers on a human level. What really matters is being able to hold meaningful conversations with people about their needs—not just delivering sound bites about products.
Lori: It comes back to what we discussed before about putting the customer at the heart of your business. We need people that put the effort into understanding what’s important to each customer because every one of them is different. It’s not enough just to be a talented sales person, we need to be all-rounders.
How can small firms compete for the people who have these skills?
Joe: Not everyone wants to work in corporate America. We’re getting to a point where it’s become less about who you work for and more about what you can accomplish, the experience and skills you can gain.
Janet: And that’s why the channel is a great place to be. Think about the best innovations of the last few years and many have come from partnerships—and were informed by customers. If you want to be involved in the most innovative and exciting new technologies, get into the channel.
So why isn’t the channel attracting more great talent?
Lori: My real worry isn’t about sourcing talent, it’s about diversity. I’d go as far as to say that that’s a crisis in the channel right now.
Janet: This is a topic that’s just so close to my heart. My grandfather was Lenape Indian. He grew up on the reservation. My family felt that we needed to hide that part of our history and that makes me so sad. That’s part of why I’m so set on promoting diversity and helping more diverse talent make it into leadership roles.
Why is diversity so important for the future of the channel?
Lori: A diverse team gives you a different perspective on a problem—and that breeds innovation. If everyone’s got the same life experience, you’re much more likely to stick with the same old methods.
Joe: I was having this exact conversation with my daughter the other night. She’s studying engineering at one of the best colleges in the country and she’s the only woman in her class. This is a systemic issue that we’ve got to tackle by nurturing upcoming talent.
How can channel leaders make a difference and help drive diversity?
Janet: First, you’ve got to understand what diversity is. It’s not about women having to think they need to act tougher than men to be successful. It’s about supporting people in being who they are and recognizing that doing that will make your business stronger.
Lori: That’s exactly what we’re looking to do here at Verizon. We’ve set up a range of mentoring and leadership schemes that are helping us promote diversity.
Joe: Verizon is also well aware of its responsibility to go out there and encourage people to get involved with technology.
Janet: That’s so important Joe. We’ve got to put ourselves out there and engage with high schools, colleges and even at the elementary level. There’s a long way to go. But if we can build a foundation of channel champions for diversity, we’ll get there. And remember, for diversity to win, no-one has to lose.
It’s been great talking to you. Is there one message each of you would like to emphasize to everybody out there in the channel?
Joe: The channel is a really exciting place to be. But don’t underestimate the change that’s happening right now. Companies that do could find themselves in trouble pretty quickly.
Lori: This is a team game. Whether it’s finding and developing the best staff or choosing the right partners, you’re only as strong as the team you build.
Janet: Both great points, that’s why I love working with these guys. But if there’s one thing I’d like everybody to take away from this it’s that we’ve all got a responsibility to leave the channel in a better state than we found it. For me that’s better trained, more diverse and more customer-centric. There are lots of challenges ahead, but I’m passionate about the channel’s ability to tackle those and come out stronger than ever.
Vote for Janet Schijns to win her bracket in CRN Channel Madness: Tournament of Chiefs!
How our use of tech is impacting learning
by Jay Coblentz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @strategyJC
There’s rarely been a day in the last few months when I haven’t seen an article about how many jobs will be impacted or replaced by robots in the coming years. Some of the predictions may sound far-fetched, but the kids entering education now won’t be joining the workforce until approximately 2030. Think about that. By that time, I’m expecting autonomous flying cars and home 3-D printers to be widely available. We’re educating kids for a world that we can barely imagine.
But change can also bring opportunity. Technology is already transforming where, when and how we learn.
Making learning part of our daily routine
The internet has totally changed education. When I think back to how I researched projects and papers in college it seems positively antiquated. The volume of information that we all have at our fingertips now would have been mind-boggling not very long ago.
It’s not just academic information. Now when faced with a new challenge—like fixing a broken faucet or setting up a home security system (IoT, anyone?) —my first instinct is to look for an online video tutorial. Within seconds I can have the guidance I need right in the palm of my hand, almost anywhere I am.
The smartphone is also bringing learning into our everyday lives through gamification—the application of game-like ideas, like awarding points and achieving rewards, to increase motivation. It used to be that you’d have to pay a tutor or attend night school to learn a new language. Today, we’re spoiled with the range of apps available to learn this and other life skills at the pace we prefer and the location of our choosing. I can brush up on my Italian while waiting in line for my espresso fix. And because I can choose to compete with family and friends, I’m more likely to complete the course. Not that I’m competitive or anything.
Giving everybody access to greater quality education
Most of us have had at least one great teacher that inspired us. But unfortunately, not every learning experience is like that. What if every student could go to one of the greatest universities and learn from the best teachers? Many of the things that used to be a barrier in the past—like distance or money —are no longer as much of an obstacle.
Many educational institutions, including some of the best universities in the world, are already making many courses available online. This is enabling them to reach significantly more students. Online learning isn’t new, but the richness of the experience that’s now possible is incredible. Immersive video-conferencing services mean that attending online is a lot more like being there in-person, and is becoming more interactive every year. You won’t be safe from a cold call on your tablet for long.
And this is enriching peoples’ lives. Take a boy with spina bifida, for example. Attending school in the traditional sense would be impossible, but if he were home-schooled, he’d miss out on many of the important social aspects of education. With the help of technology, he is able to overcome many of those challenges by attending school virtually. Using a special robot, he can follow lessons, answer questions in class, and even chat with his friends.
In a year or two this experience could be even more immersive, as mixed reality becomes commonplace. Imagine being able to put on a headset and instantly be transported to a class given by a world-class educator. You might be in a class of thousands, but everybody could have a front-row seat. And why limit yourself to a classroom at all? There’s no reason why your class on gas giants couldn’t be held on Jupiter—virtually at least.
Of course, that means that education providers are going to have to invest in IT and recruiting technology savvy employees. In the marketplace of ideas, if they don’t embrace digital education, they risk falling behind and becoming obsolete.
Turning learning into a life-long experience
To keep pace with the changing world we’re all going to have to keep learning throughout our lives. In the past, that might have meant going on the occasional training course or being forced to sit through a tiresome computer-based training session. The compromise between quality and cost for continuing education is being reduced through technology.
Whether it’s an ad hoc team meeting or a planned training session, you can now get together with colleagues around the world without the inconvenience or expense of travel. As well as audio and video conferencing, there’s a growing range of ways to collaborate using the web. The miniaturization of devices and near ubiquity of high-quality connectivity means that an expert need never be far away.
Many manufacturers and utilities have experimented using headsets to provide workers with instant access to technical information. Some solutions even allow you to contact a fellow employee with just a tap or two. Imagine being able to have an expert right next to you, whether you’re atop a jumbo jet or servicing a pipeline a hundred miles from anywhere. That’s possible right now.
It’s a brave new world
As I think about my 5-year-old heading off to kindergarten, I’m truly excited about the future of education and learning. I’m looking forward to working with educators to discover new ways that technology, and particularly connectivity, can create better learning opportunities for everyone.
Channel Champions Part II: What does it take to be a channel leader?
In the second part of our conversation with Verizon’s Channel leaders, we talked about what makes a great channel leader. See the first part, about what makes a great partner, here.
We’ve already discussed how having what it takes to be a great Channel partner is changing. What makes a great channel leader? And is that changing too?
Joe: There’s still a long way to go, but it’s already changed a lot. Good channel leaders know that they can’t achieve their goals alone. They have to rely on the people around them for help and support. And that’s why, for me, a great channel leader is someone who puts their people first and helps everyone on their team develop to their full potential.
Lori: Absolutely. But it’s also about getting the right people on your team in the first place. I strongly believe that to be successful, organizations need teams that are representative of their customer base. People from different backgrounds bring different perspectives to the challenges you face—they stop your approach from turning stale.
Janet: As anybody that knows me or follows me on Twitter will know, this is something I’m really passionate about. We’re currently facing a diversity crisis in the channel and it’s the job of leaders to challenge it. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. First, you need the best people. Period. Second, diverse teams have been shown to solve problems more quickly and creatively. And this isn’t just about gender and race. My father survived polio, but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He was an inspiration to me and instilled in me how important it is to listen to and value different perspectives.
How does that fit with the image of the channel being quite cutthroat? Where what matters is making a sale. Is that image out-of-date?
Janet: Channel leaders can’t just be salespeople anymore. They need to be all-rounders, and they need to build teams that support them in that. Sales are still hugely important, but it’s just as important to have a thorough understanding of the latest technologies and be a marketer. Future leaders won’t be having meetings about their funnel—they’ll be looking at the best technology to build that funnel and the best way to go to market. Lori’s a great example of this—she’s a marketer first and foremost, but she also has a great understanding of tech.
Lori: Thanks, Janet. I agree, channel leaders can’t just focus on making the next sale. The great channel leaders are the ones looking forward and thinking about how they can get their team, and their business, to the next level. I was taught early in my career to constantly focus my people on where they wanted to be and how they could accomplish that. That’s something that drives me every day.
Let’s move on to relationships outside your own business. What’s the key to creating a successful network and being recognized as a great leader externally?
Janet: Lots of people in the channel will still say “I know everybody.” I hear it all the time and they think that means that they are made for life. Wake up. Millennials already make up half the workforce and are quickly becoming key decision makers and they communicate in entirely different ways. The leaders that aren’t engaging with people using social channels will quickly become obsolete.
Joe: I totally agree. To be successful today, channel leaders need to create a visible and engaging social brand. Who today doesn’t check out someone’s LinkedIn profile before they meet them for the first time? This is a relationship business. Your personal brand shows who you are, what you stand for and whether they’d want to do business with you.
Lori: Absolutely. It’s not enough to broadcast. You need to engage with people and listen to them. You have to say things in your own voice too. That’s how you can build a strong personal and corporate brand, and build relationships.
Joe: Authenticity is really important. Your online persona should be an honest reflection of who you are. You’ll get found out pretty quickly if the reality doesn’t match what people see on social media. It’s about living what you say and taking a genuine interest in the conversations that you have.
Janet: That’s so true, and I’ve got a great example. Through talking with people online about our services and what they meant to them, I met Cris Colaluca. He has spina bifida and uses Verizon connectivity and a VGo robot to attend school virtually. He’s a fantastic inspiration, and we’ve helped with his fundraising efforts to give more kids the same chance. For me that’s a great reminder that what we do isn’t just technology, it can change peoples’ lives and as a channel leader I want to share that with everybody.
Vote for Janet Schijns to win her bracket in CRN Channel Madness: Tournament of Chiefs!
Watch this space for the conclusion of our Channel Champions roundtable, when Janet, Joe and Lori will be discussing how you can get the most from your talent and champion diversity.
Channel Champions: How to identify the best partners
Channel Champions: How to identify the best partners
We got three of Verizon’s Channel leaders together to discuss what it takes to be a Channel Champion.
Technology is moving fast. Is that changing what it takes to be a great channel partner?
Janet: Absolutely. And it’s changing faster than many firms think. There are a lot of companies that see themselves as successful; who think they should be courted by industry vendors. But when you look closely at their business plans, what you see isn’t green and growing—it’s past its sell by date. Verizon has the best of the best because we look for the best and invest.
Lori: There are too many channel firms still stuck back in the 1990s. They’re resting on their laurels. Take Voice over IP. It has gone from new to commodity in five years. But there are still channel firms that are behind that curve. And that means they’re failing to bring their customers into the 21st century. Ultimately, they’re the companies that are going to fall behind because they won’t be able to grow their business.
Janet: You need to think about how you’re going to win in the long term, not just today. Channel providers that are still stuck on old paths, that refuse to adapt to new technologies, will have been forgotten in a few years. The companies that will become the channel leaders are the ones paranoid about who’s out there waiting to disrupt them. They’re the ones innovating to help their customers grow.
Joe: Our Verizon Partner Program members are in a great place to innovate. They can be more agile than a company of Verizon’s size. We’re looking at them to add value, to take what we offer and build it into new solutions that deliver something their customers need. Doing that isn’t about turning your back on what you do well. Channel firms need a core set of services, but they’ve got to be flexible enough to adapt to what’s changing in the market. That’s how they’ll survive.
Janet: Just look at all the great innovations in technology. They’ve been developed by a group of channel providers. It takes companies with the guts to extend their leads and evolve. That’s where innovation starts. At the moment, there are too many companies out there saying they want to be solutions providers, but there are few putting those words into action.
How do you make sure you’re picking the best partner program members for Verizon? What are the things that have you saying yes; and what are your red flags?
Janet: I look for three things. The first is being deeply embedded in a community—and that can be geographic or vertical. Second, they need to be as good or better at marketing than Verizon—if you can’t get the word out, how are you going to help those businesses that need you? Third is the human element. When you look at their sales plan, their marketing and business plans, are they able to pivot and evolve long before the need arises? Their mindset needs to be “if it isn’t broke, it’s time to fix it.” They need to be constantly evolving and have the talent to do that.
Lori: For me, that must-have is being customer-focused. The best companies that we do business with think of the customer first. Everything they do starts with a customer and ends with a customer. They’re not just looking at money in their pockets; they’re truly taking into consideration what’s right for the customer.
Joe: I absolutely agree. I get a red flag when I’m sitting in a meeting with a prospective partner and realize that what they’re looking for, how they do their business, and how they view the relationship is fundamentally opposed to our values. That’s when you need to be smart enough to walk away and break ties. We’re looking for channel firms that strive to build long-term relationships with their customers—not simply sell and then move on. Not everything is about winning each time; it’s about winning in the long term.
Janet: That’s right. It’s about their values. The channel firms that stand out are the ones that wake up every day thinking about how they can help their customers improve their businesses. The channel firms that have sustained success long-term have retained customers because they’ve executed on their promises. That’s about starting with the customer and then working backwards to identify the best solution for their needs. It’s about walking in stupid every morning. It’s companies that don’t think they know it all, but are constantly questioning whether they’re smart enough, and are constantly looking to learn.
Vote for Janet Schijns to win her bracket in CRN Channel Madness: Tournament of Chiefs!
Stay tuned for our next Channel Champions roundtable, when Janet, Lori and Joe will give their views on what it takes to be a channel leader.
What You Can Learn About Marketing a Local Business - from Pokemon Go
News headlines blare “Pokemon craze takes over Houston park” and “Pokemon Go Is Influencing Baby Names” and “Bride stunned to discover her wedding venue was a Pokemon Go gym.”
With headlines like that daily on your local news, it’s clear that the Pokemon Go mobile game has burrowed its way into American culture.
Those little digital Pokemon creatures are just too cute to ignore!
Pokemon Go started as a kid’s card game two decades ago and then became a mobile game. As a mobile game it quickly grew to 20 million daily active game players as of July 2016.
As it turns out, Pokemon Go isn’t just for kids. Teenagers, young adults, parents supervising their Pokemon-playing kids, and anyone “addicted” to the mobile game, have all gotten into the action. As of October 2016, Pokemon players had taken 144 billion steps - steps that could lead them right near your place of business.
Whether the Pokemon craze will continue with the same intensity during 2017 is anyone’s guess.
Regardless, there are some great marketing lessons to be learned. In fact those lessons can be especially applicable to small businesses because we’re nimble enough to take advantage of trends quickly. As independent business owners, we have a distinct advantage when it comes to pivoting our marketing quickly.
If you want to learn about how to leverage the virtual world and the consumer’s enthusiasm for mobile devices, into real paying customers in the physical world, then Pokemon Go is a great case study.
Join Anita Campbell, renowned small business expert and founder of the Small Business Trends community serving over 2 million small business people per month, in a FREE WEBINAR hosted by Verizon. We will explore these marketing lessons, including:
- How to leverage the world of local “check in” apps and games to lure in foot traffic.
- What Pokemon Go can tell us about being found in mobile devices.
- How to make your business appear attractive online and on mobile devices -- attractive enough to get people into your shop, restaurant or other place of business.
- Strategies such as hosting Pokemon events, joining teams, buying Pokemon lures, and other activities to participate in the trend.
- What you MUST know about the 5 ways people interact with their phones today, that impact what local places they visit and how they purchase.
We’ll also discuss techniques for how to manage the downsides of Pokemon Go traffic, including security issues and disruption to your business from non-paying customers. And how to turn these issues into positives.
There is much to be learned from the Pokemon craze -- and we’ll explore it all and answer your questions with concrete examples and marketing tips.
So join us for this webinar on March 22, 2017 at 2 pm Eastern time. It’s free, but be sure to register in advance to save your place. Go here to register.
Size doesn’t matter to cyber criminals
Think your business is too small to be a target of hackers? Think again.
43% of all cyberattacks are targeted at small businesses*. You could be the victim of cybercriminals targeting your customer and employee data, which they can sell or use for identity theft. You might find yourself locked out of your systems and facing a ransom demand to get back in. You might be a stop on the route to a bigger target, or you might simply be the victim of some kid having some fun by defacing your website.
The bad news is it’s likely you’re an easier target than the large enterprises that have spent millions on cybersecurity. Most cyberattacks are opportunistic—cybercriminals spot a vulnerability they can exploit. If everyone else has stronger defenses, you could be next on the hit list.
What can you do? As a small company, you probably don’t have the expertise to handle cybersecurity in-house, so you’re most likely going to look for external help. But you can’t just offload the problem and then forget about it. Protecting your company isn’t just a job for IT security experts. Many data breaches are the result of human error on the part of employees. And if you are the victim of a cyberattack, handling the aftermath could involve employees across your business.
If you want to improve your chances of staying secure—and recovering fast if you’ve been compromised—it’s vital that you understand the threats you face without having to wade through a dry report full of technical jargon.
Learn from real-life investigations
The Verizon Data Breach Digest makes cybersecurity more approachable by telling the stories of investigations from actual cyberattack incidents. Each of the scenarios in our 2017 report is told from the perspective of key leaders from across the business, which means they can help you understand the critical decisions you’ll need to make if your business suffers a breach.
Read about the regional water supplier defrauded by a trusted partner. Discover what happened when janitors accepted money to plug infected USBs into a company’s systems. Find out how we helped a software-as-a-service company recover from a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. We walk you through each case, from initial incident detection and validation, through response and investigation, to resolution and lessons learned.
Each scenario includes an at-a-glance summary in the form of Attack-Defend cards. These explain: typical amount of time for threat discovery and containment; who you’re up against and their motivation; the industries most at risk; key stakeholders in the breach response; and the countermeasures you can take.
The Data Breach Digest isn’t just for IT security experts. It’s written in plain English to make it easy to understand. We hope you enjoy reading the latest edition and, in doing so, learn some key lessons on how you can protect your company’s assets and reputation.
*Internet Security Threat Report, Symantec, April 2016
Avoid the Simple Marketing Mistake 9 Out of 10 Companies Make
The world is too cluttered for most of us to use traditional marketing. We're all bombarded with emails, advertisements, phone calls and even people flipping signs on the street corner.
We've been taught for the last century that marketing is all about blasting a message through a bullhorn and, as more people have started blasting their messages, most of us have simply tried to find a louder bullhorn. Or we make our message more annoying so people remember it (we all have a fond place in our hearts for those local appliance store ads, right?). But what happens when we can't find a louder bullhorn? Or we can't afford one? And even if we do find a louder bullhorn, the people we're shouting at are tired of all the shouting and self-promotion.
The market is jaded to our eye-catching headings and sensational subject lines. They're sick of us talking about us all the time. So, they shut down. They don't ever answer their phone unless they recognize the number. They buy program after program to make sure that no spam messages get through. They're subscribed to so many blogs and newsletters now that many have purchased programs that will make it so they don't have to see the newsletters and blog emails they've subscribed to.
So, what do most businesses do? Nothing. Or close to nothing. Marketing isn't fun. It's horrible actually, at least in its old-school form. Constantly talking about how great we are, trying to pry a few bucks out of someone's wallet with a clever twist of words or a sexed-up advertisement that promises the good life in exchange for $39.95.
So many companies with great products and services have given up on marketing altogether. They're frustrated with how hard it is to get anyone's attention so they get by on their own momentum, a bit of word of mouth and client referrals. Nonprofits have it even worse, barely scraping by on a few big events each year that increasingly feel like déjà vu to those who attend.
Many businesses, nonprofits and individuals are in this together. They could grow so much and help so many people. Companies with great products and services, nonprofits capable of enormous impact, individuals with something big to offer the world, or at least their next employer, shouldn't have to struggle to get their message out there and attract new customers, donors and opportunities.
There is good news for these businesses. In our upcoming webinar, we will be discussing how to make marketing work for small businesses. Sign up now for the free webinar.
Getting 2017 Started Right
January is a different month for different businesses. For some it’s reenergizing, as employees and customers get back to work after the holidays. For others it’s a slow time that follows the holiday spending season. Either way, it is a good time to look at your company from different angles and perhaps make some changes or improvements.
Here is a checklist to help you think about what you can do to set up the New Year to grow your business even more.
Make your financial systems all bright and shiny. Take a look at your accounting processes and applications. Is there room for improvement? With tax season upon us, this is a good time to polish up this part of your business. As one part of your accounting process, you can manage your Verizon account via our app. More info>>
Assess your technology risk. If you have hardware or software problems, do you have a reliable solution to get them fixed? The more you use computers to do business, the more you need 24/7 technology support. Verizon Tech Support Pro can provide IT support to help keep everything running smoothly. More info>>
Verify that your internet is working for you. It is so easy to ramp up the use of the internet in the course of doing business. There are so many excellent tools, applications and devices that can help streamline operations and accelerate growth, but you can end up with a sluggish internet if you don’t have enough bandwidth to take on your great new tools. If your network is running noticeably slower than it used to after you’ve added new devices and applications, or you need to grow your business, you may need to get more bandwidth and faster speed for your online activities. We can help make sure you have the internet you need. More info>>
Optimize your online marketing. The way you market on the internet will depend on the type of business you own and the market you serve, but all businesses must be pursuing effective digital marketing. Review your online marketing tactics and make improvements where needed. Revamp the website, ramp up social media participation, rethink your email marketing strategy, and look at all the other places where your company shows up in cyberspace. Then decide what needs to be done to get to the next level, and make it happen.
Commit to continuous learning. There are so many things to learn and master as a small business owner. It can be hard to keep up with what you need to know and to find new ideas, approaches and strategies. The free Verizon Small Business Webinar series is designed to bring relevant experts and information to the screen nearest you, so that you can keep learning about leading edge business practices. Don’t know where to start? Take a look at the webinar archives for some guidance. More info>>
Spend January setting things up for more productivity, and the rest of 2017 promises to be a year of more growth.
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- small business tips
A Legal and Tax Checklist for the Established Small Business
As a small business lawyer and business guru, I am asked lots and lots of legal and tax questions.
Most of these questions are asked by “newbies” – people starting businesses for the first time. But even established businesses should be thinking – always – about the legal and tax environment in which they operate.
Here are some of the tough legal and tax questions you should be asking about your business right this very minute.
(1) Is my legal entity still working for me? Perhaps you started out as a sole proprietor, but are thinking about forming a limited liability company (LLC) but it will make you “look bigger.” Maybe you are an LLC but are thinking about being taxed as a subchapter S corporation. Maybe you are a subchapter S corporation but are thinking about becoming a C corporation so you can launch a crowdfunded offering of your securities, or bring on foreign partners.
Just because you set up your business with a particular legal entity years ago doesn’t mean you should stay locked into that format forever. Maybe it’s time for a change.
(2) Should I consider trademarking my company name? So you’ve built a huge online following for your business on social media. You are now no longer a business but a recognizable “brand.”
Good for you, but without a registered trademark your brand will go nowhere.
And not every name or logo is trademarkable. You will need a really good lawyer here, and will need to spend upwards of $1,000 to do a thorough trademark search to make sure no one can challenge your trademark.
(3) Do I have all the business licenses I need? It’s no secret that state and local governments are desperate for revenue these days. Some of them are getting very creative in passing new taxes or extending old ones. States with sales taxes that apply only to “the sale of goods” are now considering taxing services. States with exemptions for “small purchases” of necessary goods such as food and clothing are expanding their definition of “small,” or redefining what is “necessary” (are Internet services truly essential?)
Consider meeting with your lawyer or accountant at least once a year to learn about “what has changed” in the last year, and how to pivot your business so you don’t get audited.
(4) Am I doing business in any states where I’m not in compliance? Your offices are in only one state. You never cross a state line when you drive from your home to your office. But your business may be operating in places and ways you don’t even know about.
If you are selling stuff on Amazon from an office in New York, but your inventory is being stored in an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky that ships from Kentucky and accepts returns in Kentucky, guess what? You are now a Kentucky business and are subject to all of that state’s business taxes (whatever they may be).
(5) Do I have any tax compliance issues? Did your business have a tax liability of more than $1,000 last year? If so you now have to “estimate” and pay your income taxes four times a year. Are you taking a “mileage” deduction for your personal car but not keeping a log book showing when you use the car for business as opposed to personal purposes? Are you claiming your cat as a “guard dog” and deducting its vet bills (please don’t laugh – someone I know tried doing that a couple of years ago, and given the cat, whom I knew, the guy had a case)?
(6) Am I sure all of my workers are properly classified for tax purposes? Make no mistake – the IRS is auditing BIG in this area. Is your UBER driver an employee or an independent contractor? It depends on whether or not he or she can schedule jobs. If you can tell someone to stop working on one project and start working on another, chances are, that person is an employee, even though he or she works only a few hours each week.
Look at each of your workers on an individual case by case basis. If you’re not sure about any person’s status, now’s the time to get it right, before the IRS reclassifies that person and socks you for tons of penalties. And if ALL of your workers (including you) are independent contractors, and NOBODY’s an employee, well, I strongly suggest you talk to your lawyer . . .
(7) Am I doing everything I can to protect my assets from lawsuits? If you have a corporation or LLC, that’s a great start. But there’s lots of ways you can still be sued and lose your entire business. Do you have all the insurance you need? Do you know the difference between “liability” and “errors and omissions” coverage? Is your intellectual property insured against copyright infringement (did you even know such coverage existed)?
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Making a Good Shopping Experience: A Short Checklist for Online Businesses
Holiday shopping season has begun, and it is going to get busier by the day, especially online. According to Statistics Brain, 90% of holiday shoppers buy some portion of their purchases from web-based storefronts.
Whether your business resides entirely in cyberspace or whether online sales are a subset of overall sales, it is important to make sure your virtual storefront is ready to appeal to buyers and make their shopping experience productive and enjoyable. Here are suggestions that could help you improve revenue this holiday season.
Be prepared for heavy online traffic. Expect to see more site activity starting with Black Friday on the 25th with a ramp-up on Cyber-Monday on November 28th and continued high activity through the rest of the season. Make sure that you have adequate bandwidth to accommodate this traffic without any slowdowns. Test your site speed and call us at (888)611-8090 if you need to increase bandwidth.
Review your site navigation and shopping cart set up. Make sure that the shopping and buying experience is easy and clear no matter what type of device is being used. Run tests on different screens that span the entire buying process to make every interface with the customer the best it can be.
Create or update your digital marketing plan. Review your online advertising and social media marketing activity. Make your promotions easy to share. Consider taking advantage of Black Friday and Cyber-Monday by offering special deals on those days and promoting them online.
Make a special effort to reach out to people who have already interacted with you. Consider sending unique offers or discounts to current customers or email subscribers.
Keep track of results and adjust if needed. Track metrics from your digital marketing and make modifications to it if you are not seeing the results you expected.
Finally, bring the holidays to your site with festive and fun design features. Your visitors will want to stay and buy!
Creating an effortless and satisfying online shopping experience for the holidays will not only benefit your business during the busiest buying months of the year, but will also generate goodwill for the future. Online buyers who have had a good engagement with you will come back for more, and may very well bring friends. So think of these strategies as an investment in your company and the holiday buying season as a stepping stone to growth.
5 Interesting Sources for Seasonal Employees
The holiday season is upon us, and many small businesses must supplement their regular staff in order to meet customer needs and continue to provide excellent service.
Where should you look for qualified seasonal employees? Running an ad in the newspaper or other logical places is an option, as is connecting with a temporary staffing agency. In addition to these “mainstream” sources, here are five sources that you may not have thought of:
Contact your local high school or college. Many students have a long break during the holidays and would welcome the opportunity to make some extra money with seasonal employment. Depending on what type of help you need, a local college or high school could be an excellent source. Contact their main administration office and let them know what you need; they can steer you to the right person or department.
Bring out retirees. At the other end of the age spectrum, people who have retired from full time employment could be excellent seasonal staff. Put the word out in retirement communities or contact local senior centers to find candidates.
Check with your employees. Your employees know your business almost as well as you do, and they are likely to know people who can fit in to operations as seasonal help. They may also be more motivated to mentor and help temporary staff when acquaintances are involved.
Talk to your customers. Your customers may be as familiar with your business as your employees. Let your most frequent patrons know that you are hiring for the holidays and they may step forward or bring in family members or friends to fill out applications.
Look to similar businesses. A catering company may find seasonal help among the wait staff of a restaurant. A computer store might appeal to freelance programmers or tech support experts as employment during a usually slow period. Check out businesses in your community that are complementary to yours and you may find a pool of qualified and motivated seasonal candidates.
Wherever you source your seasonal staff, now is the time to act. Figure out the openings you need to fill, decide how they will be selected and trained, and put the word out in the right places so that you generate interest and action from the right candidates.
Turn 60 seconds into $200
Join hundreds of other small business owners to celebrate Small Business Saturday® in a really special way and you could receive $200 worth of AMEX® gift cards*.
Saturday, November 26, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, is the day that shoppers are encouraged to shop local. Small Business Saturdays have taken place across the country since 2010, and each year sees more communities getting involved in attracting buyers to their neighborhood businesses with special events and deals.
Verizon is an enthusiastic supporter of Small Business Saturday and we are getting involved, too. We invite you to tell us and the other members of our small business community about yourself and your business, while having some fun. Using your smartphone, tablet, or webcam, answer six questions in 60 seconds. Then upload your video to our special site and check out what other small businesses have shared.
Here is another good reason to fire up your camera and capture the moment. If you upload an approved video, you will receive a $200 worth of AMEX gift cards (while supplies last). Get the word out about you and your business and get $200 in the process.
Go to this page to get started and we’ll walk you through all the steps to make and upload your video.
Turn 60 seconds into $200. Do it now.
*Offer ends 11:59 p.m. ET 11/30/16 or when supplies of gift cards have been exhausted, whichever is sooner. Open only to legal U.S. residents, 18 or older, who own a business located in a Verizon service area in one of the following states: CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VA. Void outside area listed and where prohibited. Limit one (1) gift card award per company. See Terms at smallbizrewards.verizon.com/amexvideo for complete details. Terms and conditions apply to gift card use. This offer is not sponsored or administered by American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.
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- small business saturday
Sometimes You Can’t Keep a Good thing to Yourself Refer a business and earn 20,000 Small Biz Rewards
The Verizon Small Biz Rewards program is one of the best kept secrets among participating small business owners, like you. The benefits of the program are many but the cost to join is nothing, it is free.
This free rewards program offers small businesses the opportunity to earn points by doing what you would normally do. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on qualified Verizon services you are already using*. Then convert those points into gift cards from favorite retailers like Starbucks or Macy’s.
This is so good, you really shouldn’t keep it to yourself.
As a Verizon Small Biz Rewards member you know the advantages of being a part of this program. Now sharing those benefits with others is rewarding as well. Refer another small business owner to Verizon, and we’ll arrange a personalized visit with your referral to explain how Verizon services can make a difference for their company. Better yet, you both will receive 20,000 points (a $200 value) to be used in Small Biz Rewards when your referral signs up for a Verizon Solutions for Business Internet & Phone bundle or standalone Fios® Internet service with a two year agreement.**
Since it is our 4th anniversary, we want to make sure you celebrate with us. If you make four referrals and all your referrals sign-up before November 30th, 2016 we’ll add 16,000 additional points.
This program offers you and other businesses a great opportunity to earn gift cards that can be used to recognize your employees or buy something for the office. So, don’t keep this to yourself, tell your small business colleagues and let the celebration begin!
*Members in the Small Biz Rewards program earn 1 Point per $1 spent on their qualified monthly Verizon charges, up to 500 points per month. Qualified charges are landline phone, long distance, High Speed Internet, Fios Internet or Fios TV. Reward program is only available to Verizon Small Business customers that subscribe to 1-20 phone lines (wireline only), High Speed Internet, Fios Internet service and/or Fios TV in select states. Program terms apply.
**Verizon Refer a Business program is only open to select Verizon Small Business customers who receive this invite directly from Verizon. Referral must sign up for a Verizon Solutions for Business Bundle with a two year agreement through a Verizon Door-To-Door Sales Rep within 60 days of the referral to be eligible, and must keep the qualifying Verizon services in good standing for 60 days with no past-due balance. Bonus points will be awarded within 90 days of install date. Small Biz Rewards program enrollment is required. Verizon reserves the right to amend or terminate this program at any time without notice. To get your 16,000 anniversary offer points, four qualified business referrals must sign up by November 30, 2016.
The Starbucks word mark and the Starbucks Logo are trademarks of Starbucks Corporation. Starbucks is also the owner of the Copyrights in the Starbucks Logo and the Starbucks Card designs. All rights reserved. Starbucks is not a participating partner or sponsor in this offer.
Macy's is not a sponsor of this promotion. Terms and conditions are applied to Macy's gift certificates/gift cards.
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Start-Ups: The Best Rush Imaginable by Alexandra Wilkis Wilson
Having been active in the start-up trenches for the past 9 years of my career, I can honestly say that there is nothing like the thrill of being a part of a start-up in hyper growth.
Many people often say that entrepreneurship is like a roller coaster, and I couldn’t agree more. There are people who love roller coasters and want to ride them again and again. I’m one of those people. I love the crank part of the ride when reaching the tippy top, because it is filled with anticipation, excitement and the unknown. There’s no turning back at that moment you reach the top. The next few minutes are entirely out of my control and yet feel strangely safe to me. Strapped in, it feels like a calculated risk, not a reckless one. Going down in a roller coaster is the really fun part. I like to scream as loud as I can with my hands in the air. Often I laugh uncontrollably, tears in my eyes from the wind, or from joy, possibly even fear? It is such a rush to go zooming downward at 60+ miles an hour, then back up again slowly, only to confront new twists and turns as the ride continues.
Entrepreneurs will experience some of the highest professional highs imaginable. I have experienced the rush of conceiving of a new business, building the infrastructure and operations, creating the brand, raising capital, launching the business and then scaling it. There is nothing like it. Launching a business with an extraordinary team is an incredible adrenaline rush.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that with those highest highs, come the lowest lows. Start-ups can be emotional. Entrepreneurs can take things personally and in a start-up, things will go wrong—you can pretty much count on that. In those moments when things don’t go according to plan the entrepreneurial “gods” really test us. Can we keep our cool under pressure? React quickly? Be flexible? Own up to our mistakes and learn from them? Embrace setbacks, small or large, to make us stronger and more successful in the long run? In fact, I believe if a start-up isn’t making any mistakes, then it probably isn’t taking enough risks and moving fast enough. Speed plays a necessary role in a start-up. Sometimes you have to be first to market, not necessarily perfect.
In all of the startups I have been involved in directly (Gilt and GLAMSQUAD) or indirectly as an advisor, angel or mentor, the businesses that scale fastest are the ones who push themselves the hardest to a place or a goal that is often uncomfortable and surrounded by uncertainty.
I am a big supporter of entrepreneurship, especially of encouraging female founders to take risks and to think big. I want to help increase the chances of success for more businesses. I would like to see more founders raise capital for their start-ups. I have seen many start-ups fail, not because they were bad ideas, rather because of lacking execution of the ideas. We all have ideas! But how can we turn those ideas into viable businesses?
I would like to highlight some of what I’ve learned in the near decade I have spent in start-up land, experiencing highs like meeting Madonna and enduring lows like suffering from ongoing migraines.
I recommend that if you are an entrepreneur, you be able to describe your start-up in one sentence. Practice, practice, practice explaining your business to others. Simplify the one sentence company description. It should roll off your tongue and be easy for you to share, not cause you to take a deep breath and cross your fingers hoping that your audience will “get it”. Test your one sentence out on loved ones and ask for feedback. Often loved ones can be your toughest critics—that’s ok. They care about you and want the best for you. Tell them to “talk to you straight”. Don’t let them sugarcoat. Can they repeat the one sentence back to you? You never know when you’ll be asked to describe your business. It often happens unexpectedly, so be ready. Never miss an opportunity to pitch your business.
Building the team for your start-up is probably the most critical aspect of creating a business from scratch. Hire for intelligence, passion and relevant experience. A candidate with raw smarts and relentless drive can learn on the job, so I am sometimes open to putting candidates in roles that don’t 100% correlate to their past jobs. I like hiring people who have a track record of dedication and success. Hire remarkable people and together your team will achieve remarkable things.
I have only founded businesses with co-founders, never alone. I have relied on my co-founders, trusted them, respected them and learned from them. I know I would be lonely and less effective doing a start-up by myself, largely because I love being part of a team. My energy and creativity stem from being stimulated by others, rather than operating in a vacuum. Know yourself- your strengths and weaknesses.
Through a career coach named Barry Carden, one lesson I learned in my early Gilt days is to avoid the temptation of hiring similar people. It will increase a start-up’s chances of success to have a diverse team. There are many lenses through which to hire for diversity; one lens we used at Gilt was the Myers-Briggs test. Ideally your start-up team consists of varied profiles. This will help set your team up to be high-performing, equipped to handle challenges.
Creating a culture from Day 1 of a start-up is very important. Certain aspects of a culture may not be scalable from 10 employees to 100 to 1000, so focus on the elements you intend to keep throughout your company’s trajectory.
I have never liked the word “networking” but I believe in it. I think of networking as building authentic relationships over the long term. Some people are naturally prone to meeting new people and connecting with them. If you are comfortable doing this, embrace this as a gift. If you aren’t comfortable building and maintaining relationships, push yourself. Your relationships are valuable and are yours to keep. No one can take them away from you.
Make time for self-reflection. Recognize what you have learned from previous work experiences and concentrate on what you should carry forward to your next role.
The start-up landscape has changed a lot since we launched Gilt in 2007. New York now has a legitimate place on the map as being a city for entrepreneurship, with an ecosystem of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. I am thrilled to see more women creating disruptive companies that have changed industries and consumer behavior. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this community of supportive founders sharing and learning from one another every day. I have several mentors in my life who have been there for me in pivotal moments in my career. I similarly do my best to share many of my lessons learned with fresh entrepreneurs as they come out of the gate, bright eyed, filled with passion and a touch of endearing naiveté.
In my upcoming Verizon Webinar, I look forward to sharing in greater detail my thoughts on these topics including my personal checklists on how to hire effectively, how to create a company culture, how to lead a team and how to build and maintain your network effectively.
-For more thoughts on entrepreneurship from Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, you can look for her book written with her Gilt Co-Founder Alexis Maybank in 2012 called “By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop” (Penguin/Portfolio).
Business Digital Voice: The Big Biz Tool for Small Biz Success
Today, there are still many small businesses that don’t enjoy the advanced telephony features that big-businesses use every day. In the past, on-the-go entrepreneurs had few options for managing incoming and outgoing calls and those proved to be inefficient or cumbersome; they either had to wait to get to the office, which impacted response time to valuable customers, or call from their mobile devices and do without the branding and other features of the in-office system.
Enter digital voice, another name for what is known by techies as “Voice over Internet Protocol” or VoIP. With digital voice, telephony takes place over the internet, which simplifies and expands services for small businesses. With digital voice, a small business has much more control over its telephone system with a lot less complexity.
There are two key benefits of a business digital voice service for a small business: mobility and business continuity.
Mobility is increased. An on-the-go business owner can make and take calls from the office phone or the mobile phone with no change in the customer experience. In fact, a call could start in the office and shift to a mobile device without the person on the other end of the line being aware of it. Calls to the company number can be seamlessly routed to an owner’s or employee’s mobile device, which means speedy response to customers and new opportunities.
Business continuity benefits. There are any number of things that can disrupt telephone service, from an accidentally unplugged jack to a wide-area storm that takes out traditional systems. Businesses using digital voice can take advantage of the use of the Internet to make sure they still receive calls even if the primary system has gone down for some reason. This is done by designating an alternate number to which calls should be routed if the business line has been disrupted.
Verizon Business Digital Voice offers these benefits and more. With over 30 features that allow you to customize your voice connection to prospects and customers, Verizon Business Digital Voice is a big business tool that contributes to your small business success.
See for yourself: