Coronavirus (COVID-19): Relief options and Additional Resources
CLICK HERE Close

Balancing Work and Personal Life with Your Business

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: January 22, 2013

January is the month when we promise ourselves we will change for the better…we say we will eat better, work out more and spend more time with our loved ones. And by February, we find ourselves right back into our old habits.

If you’re really lucky, the holidays may have provided a mental and physical break and rejuvenated your fervor for your business. Hopefully, you were able to spend time with family and friends and were reminded about what you work so hard for, and proved that time away from your work can do your work good.

But as an owner who has dedicated all you have to your business, it can be difficult to know how to juggle work and play. In the 2012 U.S. Bank Small Business Annual Survey, small business owners reported that “more owners in 2012 said their business is their life and their life is their business–up from 34 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2012.”

As with many things, the most important step in achieving work-life balance is to simply be aware of it. Know what your work and personal goals are and regularly take stock of where they stand and what needs to change.

It’s helpful to think of your life as a business, too. Its profits may not be measured in any currency and its benchmarks may not be defined by tangible assets, but it too has goals to achieve and plans to help you get there. Just like a business, to sustain yourself and your personal life over a long period of time, it needs to be analyzed, planned and dedicated time. Only once this “business” is made sustainable and profitable can it properly bolster your actual business.

As an entrepreneur who has laser-focused vision on the ultimate bottom line, it can be easy to forget about managing the personal aspects of your life. Similarly, if you have employees, you may slip into the role of the boss who demands that same 150% dedication from their employees as well. While they are most likely passionate, dedicated and hard workers, they need their own work-life balance as well. Try to make sure they have adequate time during the year to take their own leave and address their own personal goals and needs. The Golden Rule certainly applies: Treat your employees how you wish your boss had treated you.

The question then becomes, “What is adequate time to provide to myself and my employees?” and “How do I let go of some of the business aspects to focus on my own life?” These questions can have varying answers depending upon your personality, needs and the business that you are in. This is where it is helpful to have a mentor—someone who understands your business, but is removed from the situation so that they can see different aspects from you, the owner, who is engrained in all of the components.

Take the beginning of this new year as an opportunity to make a plan for your small business, your personal life and how you will balance the two throughout the next 12 months. Work with a mentor from SCORE or the Small Business Development Centers to evaluate this plan. Don’t beat yourself up if you happen to show up late for dinner or miss that deadline in lieu of a soccer game. If you haven’t already learned this in your small business endeavors you certainly will:

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target.” -George Fisher

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

SBA Announces Changes to Contracting Program to Help Women-Owned Businesses Compete for Federal Contracts

By TiffaniC, SBA Official
Published: January 22, 2013 Updated: December 30, 2013

Are you a woman-owned business looking to get a slice of the more than $400 billion dollar federal contracting pie? Under the new National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, the SBA will make changes to its Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program to help women-owned small businesses get more federal contracts and help the federal government meet and exceed its statutory five percent women’s contracting goal.  

How Will the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 Affect Women-Owned Small Businesses?

Prior to the new law, the anticipated award price of a contract for women-owned (WOSB) and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSB) could not exceed $6.5 million for manufacturing contracts and $4 million for all other contracts. The new law removes these thresholds for WOSBs and EDWOSBs allowing them greater access to federal contracting opportunities without limitations or restrictions to the value of a contract. 

The law also requires the SBA to conduct another study to identify and report industries underrepresented by women-owned small businesses. As a result, more eligible women-owned businesses may be able to participate in SBA’s Women’s Federal Contract Program and compete for and win federal contracts.

How Do You Know If You Are Eligible for the Women’s Contracting Program?

To be eligible for the program, you must meet the following criteria:

Third Party Certification and Self-Certification

Every firm that wishes to participate in the WOSB program must meet the eligibility requirements and either self-certify or obtain third party certification. There are four approved third-party certifiers that perform eligibility exams: El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, National Women Business Owners Corporation, U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

Contracting Opportunities for Women-Owned Businesses

The WOSB Program identifies eighty-three four-digit North American Industry Classification Systems (NAICS) codes where WOSBs are underrepresented or substantially underrepresented. Contracting officers may set aside contracts in these industries if the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price and the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs or EDWOSBs will submit offers for the contract.

About the Author:

Tiffani Clements

SBA Official

I'm a Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Communication & Public Liasion and the media liaison for SBA's Office of Government Contracting.

Business Loans – What Lenders Look for and Tips for Winning Them Over

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 22, 2013 Updated: July 14, 2016

Securing small business financing can be challenging. Whether you are just starting out or looking to grow, banks and lending institutions can be rigorous in their lending review practices.

For example, businesses with few assets to their name may find it hard to secure a traditional loan. Other business owners may not be able to provide the reassurance that lenders seek to alleviate their concerns that your business may fail and the loan won’t get repaid. So when you approach a lender, it’s just as important to understand the basis on which loans are made as it is to stack up your financials and business plan.

So what are lenders looking for in a potential loan applicant? Here’s what you need to know.

Loan Applicants Need to Check off Several Boxes

What are loan officers looking for when approached about a loan? Here are some basic “must-haves” that the ideal candidate might be expected to evidence:

  • That you have sufficient assets, financial reserves and personal collateral to endure business fluctuations (and still pay off your loan)
  • As an existing business owner, you’ll need to show that you have solid cash flow, sufficient to repay the loan
  • New businesses need to evidence that they have a track record of profitability and success in a  similar business endeavor

Let’s face it, that’s a tricky list for any prospective or existing small business! So what are your options? Proving your creditworthiness is still possible, with some planning and preparation.

How to Prove Your Creditworthiness

Bankers need to make money, and while they may have an ideal candidate in mind, even they have to compromise­—this is where your opportunity lies. The trick is to demonstrate, using other means, that you are a creditworthy business owner. For example, if you are new to this business, can you show success in managing a similar business another field (even if you weren’t the owner)? Perhaps you’ve owned or managed a profitable business in a different industry? Lending officers might be more agreeable to your application if you can show that you supplement your own experience with that of someone who also has success in the field.

Putting yourself in the lender’s shoes is a good starting point. It’s much like a job interview, where you form an understanding of the type of candidate the employer is looking for and prepare your application and anticipate questions accordingly. Ask yourself: “Why should this lender think my business can succeed where others have failed?” and have a thorough answer prepared, plus a detailed explanation of how the money will be used and your plan for paying it off.

Step Back and Prepare

Key to this preparation is a solid business plan, good personal and business credit, and some expert help. The following SBA resources and tools can help guide you down this preparation path:

  • Build a Business Plan Online Tool – Putting pen to paper to write a business plan isn’t the easiest of tasks. Check out this new tool from SBA that guides small business owners through the process of creating a basic, downloadable business plan—and offers pointers on essential elements like cash flow and financial projections. The great thing about this tool is you can build a plan in smaller bites, save your progress and return at your leisure.
  • Clean Up Your Credit – Business credit is an asset and considered an economic resource that makes up the financial foundation of a company. Lenders look for assets. SBA guest blogger Marco Carbajo blogs regularly about how to build your business and personal credit to help secure financing. Check out his article, How To Build Business Credit For Your Start Up, and view more of Marco’s articles here (you’ll need to log into the SBA Community to follow this link).
  • Consult an Expert – Whether you need help finding the right loan for your business or a guiding hand that can help you through the application process, don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Local Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, and SCORE (a mentoring organization for small businesses) can help you through the process. Find one of these groups in your community.

Can’t Get a Business Loan? Consider Alternative Financing from SBA Loan Programs

If you or your lender decides that you aren’t the right candidate for a traditional business loan, you still have options. Consider an SBA Loan Program. The SBA doesn’t lend businesses money; instead, these programs take the risk away from the banks and encourage them to make loans to small business owners by guaranteeing part of the loan.

Check out these additional online learning resources that can help you navigate the SBA loan process:

  • How to Prepare a Loan Package
  • Video interviews with successful entrepreneurs who share the lessons they've learned about owning a small business and securing an SBA loan

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to Train Your Sales Reps to be Superior Subject Matter Experts

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 17, 2013 Updated: September 21, 2016

Do all your sales reps sing off the same hymn sheet? Are they all equally knowledgeable about your products and services?

If you’ve ever worked in retail sales, you’ll know how difficult it is to remember your training and apply it in critical moments. After all, products are constantly evolving and inventory is always shifting. This is why it’s critical that small business owners ensure their sales teams are well trained and knowledgeable. It can make the difference between winning and losing a sale.

Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of online reviews from experts and consumers alike, the average customer is more informed than ever—and your sales reps should be one step ahead of them. Here are some tips for ensuring your sales teams are armed with the knowledge they need to support your sales goals.

Give training the time and depth it deserves

Training is worth the investment; the nicest sales rep in the world is useless without product knowledge. This means not just knowing your products, but your competitors too.

A single training session is rarely enough, as people learn through practice and from their mistakes. If you don’t have time to handle the training yourself, pair each new rep with a mentor. This should be someone on your team who’s already knowledgeable, and willing to spend several weeks training, shadowing and observing your trainee—before that person ever gets in front of a customer. In addition to teaching, be sure to test, quiz and role play to challenge your trainee’s know-how. And don’t just emphasize product knowledge; for example, if your products are complex or technical, role play situations where a rep’s knowledge may be insufficient and it’s time to bring in the business owner or someone from your technical team. No one expects a sales rep to know everything, but they do expect them to know where to find the right answers, rather than fudge their way through a sale.

Include competitor training

If your product line or similar products are sold by a competitor, be sure to train and test your trainee reps on these. Educate reps on the competing product lines, their strengths and their weaknesses. Have them do their own research and present comparisons of your products versus those available elsewhere. Help them identify differentiators and encourage them to role play a sales pitch that involves a competitive sell.

Monitor, check in and refresh

Knowledge retention and true learning is a fine art, especially in today’s information-driven world where data is quickly consumed and just as quickly forgotten. This is why it’s important to stay on top of your sales reps performance once they are out selling on behalf of your company. Ask your customers for feedback, use customer surveys to gauge satisfaction levels and listen in on sales pitches. Commit to holding regular training sessions with your entire sales team to ensure they are up to speed on new developments, new product lines and new marketing campaigns. (Sales and marketing should always be aligned.)

Encourage continuous learning and sharing

A good rep will always look for further learning opportunities, whether through external classes, industry publications, or trade shows. Encourage this behavior, budget permitting. A low-cost alternative would be to hold monthly “lunch ‘n’ learn” training sessions where you encourage a rep to make an informal 10-15 minute learning moment presentation. This could be about a new industry development that might impact your business; sharing best practices from an external training course (a train-the-trainer concept); or providing insights on a deal or transaction that went well (or otherwise).

For more tips read 8 Tips for Training your Small Business Employees on a Budget.

What training practices have worked for your sales teams? Leave a comment below!

Related Blogs

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

5 Ways to Make the Most of Marketing With Business Cards

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: January 16, 2013 Updated: January 20, 2016

Business cards? Didn't those go out with the dinosaurs? Actually, no. In fact, according to an Ipsos poll conducted last fall, business cards are still one of the most effective marketing methods available to small business owners. Surprisingly, 60 percent of the small business owners surveyed say they currently give out more business cards than they did five years ago.

How can you make your business cards even more effective?

1.      Make them memorable. Use design to make your card stand out from the pack. You can design your own business cards using templates at a host of websites. However, for not much more money, you can enlist a graphic designer to create a template for you. Ask around for a local designer or visit Elance.com, 99Designs.com or Odesk.com to find graphic designers.

2.      Focus on function. Don’t get carried away in your desire to make a card stand out. I still remember a metal business card someone gave me back in the 1980s. Why? Because I tossed it in my purse and one of the sharp corners tore a hole in the lining. Business cards in odd shapes, sizes or materials are often touted as a way to be memorable, but in reality, these cards often get tossed since they may be bulky or don’t fit into card-holders or files easily. Good-quality card stock and good design will make your cards stand out without resorting to gimmicks.

3.      Keep it simple. The purpose of a business card is to get someone to contact you, so focus on the information they’ll need to do so. While in the past you may have wanted to include your business name, address, fax number, etc., today business cards allow for a lot more customization. Depending on how you want to be contacted, you may simply want to have your name and title, your business name, your email address, your URL and your cell number on the front of the card. (That’s assuming, of course, that when they go to your URL they can find all the other information, like address, landline phone number and fax.) Are you a Twitter maniac? Then put your Twitter handle on there, too. If you want to include lots of other information, you can put it on the back.

4.      Share them. You’ve got your cards; now give them out—everywhere. The average U.S. small business owner distributes 40 business cards a month, the Ipsos survey found. And three in 10 say they “always” give out their cards when they meet someone new in either a business or personal setting. Carry plenty of cards with you at all times. Whether you’re in the gym locker room, in line at the movies or at a cocktail party, you never know where you’ll meet a prospect or potential partner.

You can also:

·         Include cards in correspondence

·         Include them with invoices or bills

·         Include them in packaging when you ship a product

·         Give someone two cards: one for them to keep and one for them to pass on as a referral. (Ask first. Don’t just assume they’re willing to pass your cards out for you.)

·         Put cards in public places where your clients are likely to visit or ask if you can leave them at other (noncompeting) businesses

5.      Organize them. The cards you collect are as important as the ones you give out—75 percent of small business owners keep contacts’ cards at their desks for easy reference. While I myself still have a Rolodex, you can speed things up by using tools such as the Neat Desk Scanner to scan business card information or import it into your digital contact list quickly and easily.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

How to Craft a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 16, 2013 Updated: September 12, 2016

If your business interacts with consumers via email or on the web, then it’s likely that you have an online privacy policy that governs how you collect, use and store consumer information. But do you have policies or guidelines that govern how your business uses social media to engage and interact with your followers?

Social media opens up new avenues for communication and engagement with consumers, but it also brings with it an element of risk. For example, perhaps your employees have access to social media at work, or are posting on behalf of your business. How can you be sure they aren’t releasing confidential company information, slamming the competition, or breaking copyright by posting images or user-generated content without permission?

Blogging also falls under the social media umbrella and is one of the Internet’s biggest sources of copyright abuse. Blogging is also subject to certain product endorsement laws that you should be aware of.

Crafting a social media policy or code of conduct can help protect your business and your employees.  Here are some considerations you should bear in mind, plus some policies developed by other businesses that can help you craft yours.

Start With Your Employees

Do you allow employees to access social media in the workplace? The choice is yours, although the law does provide some guidance on just what you can restrict employees from doing. For example, last year the National Labor Relations Board ruled against employers who fired workers for complaining on social media sites about their workplace conditions during non-work hours, stating that these cases “…interfere with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act, such as the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers.”

It’s hard to avoid employees gaining access to social media in the workplace; smart phones or tablets provide anywhere access. However, it’s a good practice to develop a clear policy about which instances warrant access to social media during work hours and for work purposes, and if you intend to discipline employees who abuse your code of conduct.

If you choose to permit access to social media, be sure your social media policy guidelines outline your expectations with regard to sharing company confidential or proprietary information such as photos, videos, or documents.

Laws are changing constantly, so it’s a good idea to work with lawyer to ensure you are complying with federal, state and local laws as they pertain to social media and employment law.

If You’re Not Sharing Your Own Content – Be Warned

Social channels (including blogs, social networking sites, and image sharing sites), are a potential minefield for intellectual property abuse. So it’s critical that your policy clearly details what can and can’t be shared online by employees who post on the company’s behalf. For example, if a Facebook moderator wants to use a wholesaler’s image of a product to help promote your newest line, be sure to get written permission from the wholesaler first, unless permission was previously granted.

Endorsements Must Be Disclosed

Many companies reach out to other bloggers or social media page owners to solicit reviews, mentions or endorsements. If you offer cash, freebies or any other form of compensation for this favor, then the Federal Trade Commission requires that the “endorser” clearly state in their post that the review or mention was in exchange for a fee or other compensation. 

Likewise, if you ask employees to promote your product or service on their social networks or blog, they must disclose their affiliation with your business.

What Should Your Social Media Policy Look Like?

Your social media policy doesn’t need to look like a legal document; it should simply outline how your business and its employees will represent itself in a virtual social world.

Such policies often include rules on when and how employees will be using social media, plus tips for adopting a social media voice and reminders to respect customer service policies and intellectual property. Some also set forth expectations for courteous and respectful engagement from social media followers themselves (a good defense should you ever need to remove offensive posts).

Many businesses have implemented social media policies and guidelines targeted at employees only. While these don’t have to be published in the public domain, if your policy addresses points of consumer concern, then you should consider posting it on your website and social networks.

Here are a few useful examples that you can refer to as you craft your company’s social media policy:

  • Walmart – Breaks down engagement guidelines by social media network, such as Twitter and Facebook, while separately addressing corporate concerns such as intellectual property or employee disgruntlement.
  • Best Buy – Offers clear do’s and don’ts for company employees engaged in social media
  • Environmental Protection Agency – A good example of more formal employee-centric social media guidelines

Related Articles

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to File and Provide W-2s, W-3s, & 1099 Forms – Plus Important Updates for the 2013 Reporting Season

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 14, 2013 Updated: January 14, 2013

It’s that time of year again—W-2, W-3 and 1099 reporting season.

The Affordable Care Act has changed things a little this year in terms of the information you must provide your employees on their W2s. Read on for an update and a refresher of other reporting obligations and how to file the right forms.

Reporting Employee Wages and Taxes – What’s New on Form W-2

If you paid an employee any amount in wages in 2012, you must issue an annual W-2 form to report the wages, income tax, and FICA tax withholding, along with certain other employment-related payments. You should provide this information to both your employees and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

*New for the 2012 Tax Year* – As a result of the Affordable Care Act, businesses that provide health insurance to their employees are required to report the cost of coverage on employee W-2s. However, in order to allow businesses to update their payroll systems to support this requirement, most small employers are exempt from this requirement for the year 2012.  The criteria are as follows:

  • If you filed fewer than 250 W-2 forms in 2011, you are not required to report the cost of coverage on 2012 forms (filed with the SSA in early 2013). You do have the option of doing so, if you wish.
  • If you filed more than 250 W-2s, you will be required to comply with the new reporting requirements starting with the 2012 Form W-2.

If you are required or choose to report, the amount you report should include both the employee and employer contribution to the healthcare premium so your employees have a view of the true cost of this benefit. 

Read more on this topic from the IRS: Employer-Provided Health Coverage Informational Reporting Requirements: Questions and Answers.

How to File Form W-2 and W-3 With the Social Security Administration

As an employer, you must file Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA by February 28, 2013. If you file electronically, the deadline is April 1, 2013. Here’s how to file:

  1. Electronic Filing – If you have less than 20 employees, you can file your W-2s online and print copies for employees. You’ll also need to file Form W-3 form at the same time showing total earnings and taxes withheld for all your employees. To avoid errors, you can verify names and SSNs online to ensure your records align with SSAs.
  2. Paper Filing – Follow these instructions for filing a paper W-2.

Provide Your Employees with W-2 Forms

In addition to filing Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA, you’ll need to give your employees a copy of their W-2s with a postmarked data of January 31 or earlier. If you filed your W-2s online, these employee forms can be printed out automatically or you can download paper versions from IRS.gov.

Ask your employees to check that all the information on the form is correct. Any errors can be corrected using Form W-2c and Form W-3c.

For forms and updates about W-2 filing requirements, check out this W-2 Wage and Tax Statement Guide on IRS.gov.

Report Payments Made to Independent Contractors on Form 1099

If you used the services of an independent contractor in 2012 (i.e. non-employees), you’ll need to report compensation of $600 or more to the IRS on form 1099-MISC (downloadable here) and provide a copy to independent contractors by January 31, 2013.

Got Questions?

Always consult a knowledgeable tax advisor in matters of business taxation, as errors and mistakes can result in costly penalties.

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Why Your Business Needs to Get a DUNs Number

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: January 10, 2013

Did you know that a DUNS number is the most widely used number for identifying companies in the United States?

Did you also know that suppliers and creditors alike pull a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) credit check on your business when you apply for credit?

Part of establishing a creditworthy company includes establishing positive credit ratings with major business credit reporting agencies such as D&B. If you are serious about establishing credit for your business, then the first thing to do is get listed in D&B’s database and set up your company’s credit file.

When you apply for a DUNs Number with D&B, the Data Universal Numbering System issues a nine-digit number that is unique to your company. This DUNs number is used to create your business credit file, similar to how your social security number is used to identify your personal credit reports.

To obtain your DUNs number, first enter your legal business name, city, and state in the search box on the D&B website and click on the search tab. This will verify if your company is already listed with D&B and has been issued a DUNS number.

You’ll see a list of possible matches, but click on the tab only if you believe there is a match to your company name. Doing so requires that you verify specific information about your business.

Once you gain authorization, D&B provides you access to your files via iUpdate, where you can review, update, correct and add company information. If your company does not show up in the search results, then most likely you do not have a DUNs Number.

The next step is to apply for one.

It is important to note that once you apply for a DUNS Number at no charge, your file will be created. But it will be considered an incomplete file (marketing file) if you have no trade references reporting. If this is the case, you can either add trade references to your file by enrolling in a monitoring program or you can apply for credit and wait for a supplier to report your company’s payment activity.

Remember, once you obtain your DUNS Number, the next step is to start establishing business credit by adding positive trade references to your file. This only happens when you start making purchases with creditors that report payment activity.

With more than 500,000 suppliers in the U.S. and less than 6,000 that actually report to the business, credit agencies don’t get caught up in the mistake of applying for credit with non-reporting creditors when your chief aim is to build your company’s credit file.

Ultimately, a creditworthy profile will help creditors, lenders and suppliers assess the creditworthiness of your company when you apply for credit.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

4 Ways to Safeguard and Protect Your Small Business Data

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 10, 2013

Are you doing enough to safeguard and protect your small business data?

Small businesses are widely adopting data back-up practices to ensure data is retrievable should a disaster occur, but gaps remain. According to a July 2012 study by accounting software company Sage, the bulk of small businesses are backing up key data such as financial information, but most businesses back up that data on-site only. Furthermore, the study found that only 38 percent of surveyed small businesses have a formal emergency or disaster preparedness plan.

Given the brutal impact of Superstorm Sandy and other disasters that affect small businesses on a regular basis, these are worrying statistics.

Backing up on-site may not be sufficient to protect small businesses from natural disasters – particularly if the business is located in an area prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires or flooding – or more common crises, such as theft or hardware malfunction,” said Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of Sage Small Business Solutions, in a company press release.

The development of a preparedness plan that includes solutions for protecting critical information, such us backing up off-site, could be the difference between getting a business on its way to recovery and worrying about its survival.”

So what’s the best way to make sure your small business data is secure and available at all times? Here are four tips:

1. Automate Your Back-Ups and Build in Redundancy

Whether you’re a freelancer or a 50-person firm, an automated back-up system is a must. Many of us know the value of backing up to a local hard drive (you can buy one that will store terabytes of data for under $100) or server.  But you should also consider backing up to a third party or off-site service. If your business property (along with your back-up device) is destroyed in a disaster, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that your data is retrievable.

Cloud back-ups are increasingly popular, whereby companies such as DropBox, Symantec and Carbonite will securely replicate, back up and store your data in the cloud (basically a shared computer hosted by a third party on the Internet). Cloud services are particularly beneficial for small business owners who may not have an in-house IT team to help them manage and administer server back-ups.

To help you determine the best approach for your business, read this blog: Finding the Best Backup Option for Your Small Business Data.

2. Consider Server Virtualization

According to a survey by CDW, 25 percent of small businesses have virtualized at least some of their servers, with improved data protection cited as a direct benefit. But what is server virtualization? Server virtualization allows you to take one physical server machine and run several virtual server environments (for example, your email, database, and web servers) on it. Essentially, one server performs the work of many. Along with cost benefits, virtualization also makes disaster recovery easier.   Read more about the ins and outs of server virtualization in this Server Virtualization Guide for Small Business on Small Business Computing.com.

3. Run a Full Service Security Suite

Safeguarding data is about more than backing it up. Intrusion attempts, computer viruses and malware all can compromise business data and threaten your systems.

Consider installing a hardware firewall. Most firewall systems protect your software, but by the time most firewalls are activated, the threat is already inside your network. But a secure appliance-based firewall between the Internet and your business data will block intruders and threats before they enter your network.

Anti-virus and spam filters represent another security layer that protects incoming and outgoing data. Use content filters; they protect local computers from malware threats by blocking entry to potentially harmful websites.

4. Have a Big Picture Disaster Preparedness Plan

Approximately 40-60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster (source).  While the value of our business data is incalculable, protecting your business and your employees by ensuring you are prepared for the eventuality of a natural or man-made disaster is equally critical. Create a plan of action to lessen the impact of disasters, and a disaster recovery plan to ensure you are up and ready for business sooner.

Check out SBA’s guides, tools and templates to help you prepare and improve your chances of recovering quickly should the worst happen – Small Business Emergency Preparedness Guide. You can also visit the SBA Learning Center for online courses, webinars and other tips to help you with your disaster planning.

Related Blogs

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

SBA Learning Center

How to Write a Business Plan

Interested in starting a business plan? Developing and maintaing your business plan is like your roadmap to entrepreneurial success. After you watch this short video that describes how to write a business plan, get started with our step-by-step guide here at www.sba.gov/business-plan.

Pages

Subscribe to The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov RSS