16 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know

By Rieva Lesonsky


1—How to Identify, Respond to and Monitor Fake Negative Reviews

You’ve worked hard to promote your small business. Then a blatantly fake negative review appears on Yelp and Facebook. You’re devastated.

Considering 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, even one poor review can damage your company’s reputation. Check out the infographic below from Headway Capital to learn how to fight back.


2—The Art & Science of Delegation

At times every business owners feels like they’re being spread too thin. Delegation is one way to get relief. But delegating is tough for many entrepreneurs. The infographic below from ScaleTime explains how you can learn to delegate.


3—6 Steps for a Complete Data Recovery Plan

By David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International, a global leader in data recovery, file system utilities and data security technology.

The typical small business is usually running on thin margins, with every sale and customer interaction taking on great importance for the company’s fortunes. Growing the business and capitalizing on every prospect relies on building, safeguarding, and properly utilizing data. From product specifications to customer information, electronic data comes in many forms, but it’s all valuable and drives the success of the entire company.

Losing data can occur in myriad ways. It could be a spilled Diet Coke on a laptop, employee theft of an external hard drive, or a faulty sprinkler system in the company’s tiny server room. Whatever the cause, it’s vital that the small business have a plan in place to retrieve lost data and most importantly to get back to fully operational.

The first step for small business owners and managers is to commit to making a plan. It’s likely the business has a formal marketing and sales plan, and the same type of effort should be committed to the company’s data. A formal plan provides a roadmap for the company and staff on concrete steps that should be taken to prevent loss. It adds accountability and structure to a part of the business that’s often completely overlooked. Here are six steps for creating a proactive plan for managing data and preventing the instances of recovery:

  1. Determine staff responsibilities. The plan should clearly dictate the role of every staff person as it relates to data. Within the typical small business, many employees might wear several hats and be involved with multiple parts of the operation. Therefore, they access and manage multiple systems and data sets. This is a lot of responsibility, and no employee should take the importance of security and data handling processes lightly. Staff should understand how data is stored, how it can be shared, and how each data set is used to meet business goals.
  2. Gather all the data. Centralization of all of the data can greatly improve security and accessibility. If a small software company has some data on individual laptops, other information on hard drives, and some in the cloud, then its spread too thin. Take the time to pull together all of the data sources and then move the information to a trusted cloud provider while also making backups. The plan should designate how newly-created information will be created and ultimately store.
  3. Manage access. Once the data is centralized and better organized, then the company must put in access controls. Even a small 8-person business should have structure regarding who can access data in the cloud, and who has deletion and data movement privileges. Small companies should consider access and monitoring tools that can alert the owner if staff attempt to access data without permission, or if outside agents try to intrude. Hacking attempts often come from ex-employees or simply are cases of human error. Access controls can prevent or mitigate the damages wrought by hacking.
  4. Look at the risks. The plan should outline the main data-related risks within the organization, and then leave room for suggested fixes. For example, perhaps a small business is growing quickly and records customer data with an on-premise server. Customer data is the lifeblood of the company, and there’s enormous risk in placing so much valuable data on a single server that’s prone to breakage or theft. Other risks can come from employees in the field who save information locally to their laptops and don’t immediately perform cloud backups. Ranking the risks gives the company a priority order so they can tackle the most vital issues and quickly protect the company from catastrophic loss.
  5. Review the plan. Recovering data takes time, especially when it must be re-integrated into various processes or applications. Small businesses can speed up the process by frequently testing their backups and recovery plan. For example, if data is lost, how long does it take to retrieve the data from the cloud provider? Should the company create redundancy by using two or more providers in tandem? Are failures happening frequently? Perhaps some of the systems and applications that are producing data are old or not updated? Reviewing the entire plan can proactively spot small problems.
  6. Find an expert. The recovery plan should include the name of a reputable and previously vetted data recovery firm. If data is held and subsequently lost on a laptop or single on-premise server, then it might not be accessible without specialized equipment. Do some work on the front-end to find a recovery specialist that will use a clean-room environment and specialized equipment to pull data back to a usable form.

Smalls businesses rely on fast growth, but the chances of reaching growth vanish if the company loses all of its data. Taking some time to build a data recovery and management plan will pay off in unexpected way. Beyond protecting the data, an executed plan will also encourage centralization of information, which improves accessibility and the company’s ability to respond to changing conditions. It treats data as an asset, one that should be protected in order to extract its full potential.


4—Travel Alert! 8 Simple Tips That Can Help Save Your Data

Guest post from the experts at Skyroam Solis—the 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and powerbank that delivers a safe, encrypted connection in over 130 countries

Recent estimates showed that 87% of consumers had at some point potentially put information at risk while using public Wi-Fi. And the scariest fact is your data can be compromised by everyday activities, not just online banking, as many people think: Simply logging onto your personal or corporate email from an airport lounge can give hackers access to an alarming volume of your personal data.

How they do it?

Harvard Business Review describes the two most common methods of hacking. “Man in the Middle” allow hackers to intercept traffic between a user’s device and the destination by making the victim’s device think that the hacker’s machine is the access point to the internet. The “Evil Twin” technique means setting up a malicious free Wi-Fi network with a name similar to the one of the hotel or the airport. Travelers , being cost conscious about their data and recognizing the name of the hotel, could innocently connect to the hacker’s network! As you surf the web or do your online banking, all your activity could be monitored by some shady characters.

What can be stolen?

  • Your money—directly through your credit card information
  • Passwords from your email that can help to crack your bank and get to your money
  • Private pictures and videos that can be used to blackmail you for money

What can you do to avoid being hacked?

  1. Never do banking or online shopping on-the-go. That means anticipating all your trip needs in advance, including paying for hotels and train tickets from home. You’ll also need to calculate in detail how much money you will need during your trip, because you may not want to do online exchanges.
  2. Don’t use email or access your social accounts. Postpone communications with your family, friends and business. If anything urgent occurs they still can call you.
  3. Protect yourself with a virtual private network (VPN). It would cost some money and most likely slow down your connection. But better slow than sorry, right?
  4. Implement two-factor authentication wherever possible, so even if hackers get the passwords to your bank, social media, or email, they won’t be able to log in. Unless you lose your phone, too.
  5. Always stay alert while browsing. Look out for the encrypted HTTPS connection on every page you visit—as opposed to a lesser protected HTTP standard.
  6. Turn off the automatic Wi-Fi connectivity feature on your phone. Don’t let your device actively search for and connect to suspicious networks, whether you are standing at border control or relaxing in a bathtub in your hotel.
  7. Turn off file sharing. Your colleagues can wait and get an important document update or invoice a couple of days later.
  8. Use a private Wi-Fi connection—then you are able to keep connected to the important people and information in your life all on your personal, secure network.


5—How to Keep Family-Owned Businesses in the Family

Family-owned and -controlled businesses, which account for 90% of all U.S. companies, rarely outlive their founders to survive the next generation. Only one in three defies the odds, but that requires a well-thought-out transition plan and, in some cases, even a non-family member to step in and lead, according to a new white paper by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

The paper reveals eight lessons learned about building a family business and enhancing its value across generations. U.S. Trust, which helps family businesses live past their founders, partnered with the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to explore the distinct challenges and advantages of owning a family business, particularly when it comes to transitioning leadership, ownership and control. Their findings, outlined in a jointly published report, Family Matters: Cultivating human capital, financial capital and innovation across generations in family businesses, offers insight from proprietary and academic research, case studies, and in-depth conversations with business owners.

“Companies that thrive for multiple generations under the ownership of the same family offer valuable lessons for building sustainable companies,” says Katy Knox, president, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management. “These businesses are strengthening communities, sustaining families, and driving growth and innovation throughout the economy.”

According to business owners recently surveyed by U.S. Trust with family members involved in or employed by their businesses, seven in 10 see family involvement as a competitive advantage. When asked about their transition plans, 52% of business owners hope to eventually sell or transfer ownership of the company to family members or employees. Despite this optimism, history shows the smooth transition of a family business is an exception, not the rule, and the rate of success decreases with each subsequent generation.

Lessons learned from multi-generational family businesses are distilled into eight actionable insights for family business leaders as they consider generational transitions, make strategic investments, work to create an inclusive culture, and innovate without losing their roots.

8 lessons learned

  1. Take a stewardship approach: Leaders should speak publicly and often about the company’s mission and values, and make decisions that show a willingness to place the long-term interests of the employees and community over short-term profits.
  2. Lean on values: Demanding that family members model the company’s values builds goodwill with customers, employees and the community, and helps organizations stay resilient during tough times.
  3. Continuously engage and develop the next generation: Family members are encouraged to learn what the business does and how they might build a career; those not interested in the business remain engaged in other ways, such as philanthropic organizations related to the company.
  4. Balance cohesion with respect for difference: Families practice unity through common purpose, but also welcome diversity of thought and experience; intergenerational differences are a form of diversity and cultivated as a potential source of strength.
  5. Reward innovation: Employees who ask questions, propose new ideas and take smart risks are rewarded. Real-time problem-solving and superior, customizable services increasingly are needed in a rapidly changing business world.
  6. Treat outsiders as well as “insiders”: Every family member may not have the capacity, interest or temperament to succeed in the business. Non-family employees may be better suited to lead and may be encouraged through meaningful career paths and even ownership shares.
  7. Talk numbers: Family stakeholders should understand the company, its risks and performance, and how it integrates with their own financial lives and plans. If possible, they should consider diversifying their investments or funding their own ventures with family support.
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Family members are connected, personally and professionally, and remain in regular contact so that institutional knowledge is shared and there is a common sense of identity and mission.

A full copy of the Family Matters report is available for free download and can be found here. U.S. Trust’s survey of business owners is part of its 2018 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth®


6—How Freelancers Can Better Manage Client Expectations

Statistics show the number of self-employed professionals in the U.S. could triple, hitting 42 million by 2020. According to FreshBooks, managing client expectations is a critical component of personal and professional growth and something new and seasoned freelancers struggle with.

Here are a few tips for keeping clients happy without losing yourself in the process:

1—Be clear up front: Hash out as many details as possible early on, preferably before quoting an estimate, so there are no surprises and everyone’s on the same page about the scope of work (SOW).
2—Get it in writing: Once the SOW is ironed out create a contract clearly laying out the details. These could include expectations on your time, deadlines that need to be met, and what to do in the event of complications. This protects you, but it also provides peace of mind for the client.

3—Make a plan and stick to it: Freelancers should strive to hit every deadline they can. Proper planning and sharing that plan with the client can help provide realistic expectations on your time as well as deter project creep.
4—Check in early and often: Clients want to know that you’re working hard on their behalf, so provide regular progress reports to show them everything is on track.
5—Clarify, Clarify, Clarify: Nothing is worse than spending hours on a project only to find out something got lost in translation. It never hurts to over-communicate with the client to ensure you understand what they are looking for and that they understand what they are asking you to accomplish.


7—Fastest-Growing Cities in America

I live in one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., according to WalletHub, the personal finance website, which recently released its report on 2018’s Fastest-Growing Cities in America as well as accompanying videos.

To determine where the most rapid local economic growth occurs, WalletHub compared 515 U.S. cities across 15 key metrics. The data set ranges from population growth to college-educated population growth to unemployment rate decrease. In addition, they produced a separate ranking by city size.

10 Fastest-Growing Cities 10 Slowest-Growing Cities
1 Fort Myers, FL 506 Columbia, MD
2 Midland, TX 507 Springfield, IL
3 Pearland, TX 508 Waterbury, CT
4 Bend, OR 509 Montgomery, AL
5 McKinney, TX 510 Cheektowaga, NY
6 College Station, TX 511 Youngstown, OH
7 Lehigh Acres, FL 512 Lawton, OK
8 Mount Pleasant, SC 513 Erie, PA
9 Enterprise, NV 514 Shreveport, LA
10 Irvine, CA (my city) 515 Decatur, IL

You can view the full report and find out your city’s rank here.


8—How 5 Famous Entrepreneurs Overcame Failure

We may know them as some of the most successful people of our time, but the likes of Walt Disney, Colonel Sanders and Vera Wang are not immune to failure—in fact, they have all experienced a great deal of ‘downs’ amidst the ‘ups’.

Check out the infographic below from Smarter Business, showing the failures of 5 famous entrepreneurs and how they managed to overcome them.


9—Understanding Borrower Demand

A new study by Square and economics professors from MIT, Princeton and Berkeley reveals that while many small businesses face confusion when evaluating small business loans, total cost shown in absolute dollars is not only a clear and consistent way to present loan fees, but it helps businesses make more informed borrowing decisions.

You can read more about the study in this blog by Jacqueline Reses, the Head of Square Capital.


 10—SMB Buyer-Seller Confidence

The recently released BizBuySell 2018 Buyer-Seller Confidence Index reveals both buyers’ and sellers’ have an optimistic outlook when it comes to the small-business-for-sale marketplace. More specifically, overall market confidence increases slightly in potential buyers and remains steady for current owners.

To gauge the overall SMB buyer-seller confidence, BizBuySell surveyed entrepreneurs either buying or selling a small business. Key insights from the 2018 index include:

  • Both buyers and owners are keeping an eye on trade tariffs. Out of the 75% of owners who feel their businesses will take a financial hit because of the tariffs, 63% still support the initiative.
  • On-the-market buyers are playing the waiting game. When asked what has changed over the past year to make small business sale prices less acceptable, 57% of buyers stated that owners are setting unrealistic asking prices. In fact, since BizBuySell started collecting this data in 2013, the majority of buyers have consistently felt that small businesses currently for sale are generally overvalued.
  • Baby boomers’ are moving towards succession plans. Since 53% of small business owners are still baby boomers, the uptick in listings can be attributed to boomers hitting retirement age. Furthermore, an increasing percentage of owners believe their business’s value would decrease if they waited a year, jumping from 12% a year ago to 16% this year.


11—Finding Social Media Resources

Businesses primarily use in-house staff for social media marketing, followed by social media marketing software and digital agencies, according to a survey from The Manifest, a B2B news and how-to website.

Of the businesses surveyed, 85% rely on in-house staff to do their social media marketing, while 43% use social media marketing software, and 28% hire social media marketing agencies.

The problem is while social media is increasingly crucial to marketing success, many businesses don’t know how to find the proper resources. In-house staff reduce costs, but their talent gaps can leave businesses lacking key skills or short on manpower.

Each solution requires a different approach to the varied social media challenges. Social media marketing software provides functionality to enhance a company’s workflow and social media presence. Digital agencies better serve those seeking to enhance their team’s expertise and execute big-picture goals, such as a new strategy or rebranding.

Businesses primarily use referrals to research social media agencies: 43% of businesses rely on referrals when searching for a social media marketing agency. Peer recommendations better predict a quality partnership, as referred agencies are more likely to have relevant experience and a suitable price point.

When businesses make the final hiring decision, cost is key for 40% of the businesses surveyed, while 31% seek a culture fit. But, agency partnerships often challenge businesses. The core issues in agency partnerships are performance tracking (43%), limited understanding of company strategy (41%), and a lack of innovative or practical ideas (37%).

Businesses and agencies must align their personalities and expectations to create a successful collaboration.

Search for social media marketing tools is less personal, more practical: Then search for social media marketing software is more focused on functionality than familiarity. Though businesses most often use referrals (24%), they also use Google searches (21%), marketing content (17%), and advertisements (4%) to learn about social media marketing software.

Obviously, an effective social media marketing solution offers features that meet the company’s specific needs and marketing goals. Businesses emphasize usability when making the final purchasing decision for a social media marketing software, and choose their software based on features (40%), price (32%), and free trials (27%).

You can read the full report here.


Quick Takes

12—Business Network Grows

Alignable.com, the Small Business Network, just surpassed a major milestone—a  whopping 2.5 million small businesses are now part of its North American membership. In just the last year, the network has grown over 150%, dramatically increasing the number of businesses forging valuable connections, improving their visibility, making referrals to one another, and ultimately increasing their revenue.

To date, 30 million+ connections have been made across North America on Alignable and millions of referrals have been exchanged. At least 400,000 small businesses reach out to each other on the network every week.


13—SEO for E-Commerce

Whether you have a standalone e-commerce site or one that supports your brick-and-mortar store, it’s important to drive as much traffic as you can to your site. SEO helps you do that, of course. Check out this great guide from Higher Visibility that tells you all you need to know about e-commerce SEO.


14—Cyber Habits of SMBs

Small business leaders don’t have as much cybersecurity sense as their employees, which is why cybersecurity attacks on small businesses have become so prominent over the past several years. SMBs represent 58% of all data breaches, according to Verizon. The problem is 51% of SMB leaders don’t think their businesses are targets for cybercriminals, according to a study released by Switchfast.

Here’s what the study found about SMB leaders’ cyber habits:

  • 76% don’t have multi-factor authentication enabled for work emails.
  • 44% connect to public Wi-Fi networks to work
  • 22% have shared their work email password with an assistant or colleague
  • 44% use their work computers to access personal social media accounts


15—The Power of Napping

How does a quick nap during the workday impact performance? Does working from a traditional office or from home change your post-nap productivity? While it might seem counterproductive to put your head down on your desk for 20 minutes, it might actually lead to a boost in productivity.

Take a look at this study about “Workday Naps” from The Sleep Judge. The study makes the case for why sleeping should be an approved office behavior—it has scientific benefits that could help boost overall productivity in the long run.


16—How to Brand Your Restaurant, Cafe or Bar

While TV’s Cheers was the bar “where everybody knows your name,” it can be hard for owners of restaurants, cafes or bars to brand their businesses. Take a look at this article from Nobly which details 5 simple tips for ensuring your business has its own unique character.

Small business stock photo by mangostock/Shutterstock