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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

Setting 10% Goals for Success

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: January 8, 2013

Funny, isn’t it, how the grass tends to look greener from the other side. It’s the same in business as well as in personal affairs.

If I look around, I can spot five companies in five minutes that “seem” to be doing better than mine. They appear to have accomplished more, in less time, and seem to be doing better than my company.

The fact is, that may or may not be true. Often things just LOOK greener.

But there is one good thing that tends to come out of “grass-is-greener” musing: it inspires me to set goals to improve my business.

One technique that we have used with great success is setting 10% goals. Think of it this way if you’re a football fan: instead of going for a touchdown pass on every play (and failing miserably because there’s no way you can make a touchdown every time), you instead go for a series of first downs. If you are successful at those smaller first down attempts, they add up to many yards over a series of plays. When you’ve advance the ball 70 yards down field, THEN you attempt the touchdown pass.

By attempting first downs, your chances of positioning the team to make a touchdown are much better. Compare that strategy to always attempting 70-yard passes that have a high chance of failing and stopping your advance cold in one, two or three plays.

Translated to business, the idea is to set a goal to improve something by 10% ONLY. Don’t attempt to improve something by 50% or 100% in one fell swoop—it probably will be too big to bite off and chew. By being overly ambitious, you just set up yourself, your team and your company for failure.

A 10% improvement is often doable. A small improvement such as 10% each month over the prior month can add up to more than 200% improvement in a year’s time. And because you are attempting something unintimidating and achievable, you and your team feel successful each month because you’re able to meet your goal and continue your progress.

Here are some ideas for 10% goals you can set in your business to improve sales or profitability:

  • Increase sales prospecting calls per rep by 10%
  • Improve throughput by 10% through adopting new software or a new app
  • Improve your quote-to-close sales cycle by 10%
  • Increase renewals of existing customers by 10%
  • Cut company travel expenses by 10%
  • Decrease utility expenses by 10%
  • Increase your newsletter subscribers by 10% by offering free downloads and other incentives
  • Cut server expenses 10% by moving to cloud computing
  • Increase leads captured off your website by 10%
  • Reduce the time for collecting outstanding receivables by 10%
  • Increase traffic to your website by increasing the number of social media shares/posts you make by 10%
  • Develop a new product line that grows 10% per month
  • If you have credit card balances outstanding, cut interest expense by paying down your balances by at least 10%

The list goes on — the above examples are just designed to get you started. Think especially about how to use technology to achieve goals. Technology is your friend in this kind of goal setting. Accounting software, for instance, helps you run reports to compare one period against another. Dashboards in online apps that measure your performance using the app can also help you measure progress. Even a good Excel spreadsheet can help save hours of time to measure progress, and demonstrate how much the team has achieved each period.

As with all goals, they must be specific as to time and other details, and measurable. So whether your goal is to make an improvement of 10% weekly, monthly or quarterly—the point is to set a specific time frame. Then find a way measure progress over that period.

Finally, don’t get hung up on the number 10. Ten percent is really a metaphor for a goal being doable. If 10% is overly ambitious in the context of your business or a particular area, then make it 5% or 3% or even 1%. The point is to set goals that are achievable in a short time frame. Keep building on those goals consistently each period until they add up to big gains at the end of the year.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

Contract Law – How to Create a Legally Binding Contract

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 2, 2013 Updated: September 23, 2016

Whether you are entering into a relationship with a customer, a vendor or an independent contractor, contracts are a fact of business. You need them because they serve as legally valid agreements protecting your interests.

But aren’t contracts laden with legalese? Don’t they have to be blessed by an attorney to ensure their validity? Not always.

In fact, I’ve seen contracts come across my table that are less than one page in length, in plain English, and still legally binding. How?

Generally, to be legally valid, most contracts must contain two elements:

  • All parties must agree about an offer made by one party and accepted by the other.
  • Something of value must be exchanged for something else of value. This can include goods, cash, services, or a pledge to exchange these items.

In addition, certain contracts are required by state law to be in writing (real estate transactions, for example), while others are not. Check with your state or with an attorney if you are unclear, but it’s always good business practice to put every binding agreement in writing.

Here’s how your small business can comply with these requirements and ensure your contracts are legally valid:  

1) The Ins and Outs of Reaching an Agreement

The point when two parties come to an agreement can be a little fuzzy. For example, many businesses will put a standard contract template before an independent contractor and expect it to be signed without any discussion. At that point – and the law is clear on this – a legal contract exists only when one party makes an offer and the other accepts all terms of that offer. So in this example, the contractor is still free to rebut any of the points in the contract and make a counter offer, until an agreement has been reached.

How Long Should an Offer Stay Open?

Offers are rarely accepted immediately and further discussions or amendments may be required. Unless the offer has a deadline for acceptance, it can remain open. It’s good practice to include an expiration date to ensure you have room to maneuver should you wish to change the terms or revoke the offer before a certain date.

Offers that are subject to an expiration date – known as option agreements – are typically price-driven or give the buyer the opportunity to mull the decision without fear of losing out to a competing buyer. It’s important to understand that a seller can place a fee on option agreements. For example, if you decide to give a buyer 30 days to think over a purchase, you can charge him for that. This typically occurs when the product or service is of high value or when the seller pledges not to sell that product to another customer during that 30-day option period. Likewise, a seller can’t revoke the offer until that 30-day period ends.

What about Counteroffers?

Bargaining or negotiating can often lead to a counteroffer. Once made, the legal responsibility to accept, decline, or make another counteroffer then shifts to the original offeror.

2) The Importance of Exchanging Something of Value

In addition to ensuring both parties are in agreement on the terms of an offer, the second element that ensures a contract is legally valid is that both parties exchange something of value.  This is important since it differentiates a contract from being a one-sided statement or even a gift. “Something of value” might be a promise to perform certain services by one party while the other party agrees to pay a fee for the work performed.

Most business transactions are based on this exchange of promises. However, the act of doing the work can also satisfy the exchange of value rule. For example, if you contract with a vendor to provide you X and Y, but you decide you need to add Z to the final deliverable, the vendor can create a binding contract by actually doing Z – something which you can’t quibble or get out of if you change your mind.

More Information and Resources

For more information about the legality of any agreements, consult a lawyer or attorney.  

For insights into what a contract should look like, check out available contract templates from SCORE. Use the search field to find “contract agreements” or other keywords for the type of contract you are looking to create. Also check out these blogs for additional tips:

 

 

 

 

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 Up the Ante and Start Selling to Big, Corporate Clients

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: December 27, 2012 Updated: September 16, 2016

Want to secure your first million-dollar deal in 2013? Crossing that threshold will probably mean that you'll have to start selling to large corporate clients for the first time. It can be tough for small businesses, but not impossible. So what does it take? Here are some tips for upping your ante and selling to big, corporate customers.

Do Your Homework

Breaking into a new market or new client base requires planning. Start with identifying your new target market and then defining the value your small business can offer them.

Use online research to identify businesses that might be the right fit for your products or services. Specifically, try to identify potential weaknesses or threats they may be facing by reading press releases, reviews, media coverage, and financial reports. This will help you determine potential pain points. Check out what your target’s competition is up to – what are they doing that your target client isn’t?

Consider ways in which your business can help these prospects with their pain points and challenges. How can you help them succeed, be more efficient, save money or achieve their business goals? Don’t forget to assemble proof points and examples of how you’ve helped other (perhaps smaller) companies do the same.

Be Clear About Your Differentiators

Now that you know your target clients, what is it about your business that will make you stand out? Build a picture of your company – its culture, values, existing customers, products and services – and think about ways these combine to differentiate you. This blog can help guide you through this process: 5 Tips for Using Differentiators to Increase Your Small Business Sales.

Getting a Meeting

Getting that all-important first meeting will take time and there are many ways to go about it. Which combination of tactics will work really depends on who your customers are and what influences them. Which conferences/networking events do they attend? What information are they seeking online to help them make informed purchasing decisions (this will help define your web-based calls to action)? Which media do they read? You may also want to consider hiring a sales rep with experience selling to larger corporations.

Some techniques to consider include:

For the best result, integrate your chosen techniques so that your messaging and your end goals are consistent across each tactic.

Making Your Pitch

This is your chance to make your homework work for you. Concentrate on your prospect’s pain points. How can your business help them ease their problems? Your pitch should be less about the product and more about why you are different, the value you bring and how you can make your client’s life easier and more profitable. Remember, larger corporations can be reluctant to switch vendors and may think it risky to work with a small business, so it’s vital that your business case focuses 100 percent on why it makes sense for your client to make the switch from another vendor to you.

Be Prepped and Ready for Questions

Aside from the points you make in your pitch, one of the most effective ways to stand out from your competitors is to come ready and prepared for all questions. Your meeting may include senior management and staff from pricing, contracts, legal, operations and procurement, so expect a diverse range of questions about your product, pricing, and terms, and be ready to answer promptly and clearly. If you can’t, quickly state that you will get back to them with a response within 24 hours, or one business day.

Alleviate Any Concerns About Your Being a “Small Business”

Small businesses can be a risky investment for corporations. They may be worried you can’t scale to their production needs or that you may go out of business or be acquired during the life of the contract.

Don’t ignore this concern. Be prepared for it and use your pitch to emphasize the benefits of doing business with a smaller company. Stress your agility, responsiveness, ability to customize products, etc. Mention any partners that can fill gaps that may leave them vulnerable. Act like a larger business by having a product road map or timeline that clearly shows what will happen when and when you anticipate your client will start to see results. By doing so, you’re already starting to prove your value before a contract has even been drawn up.

Have you upped the ante and started selling to larger, corporate clients? Share your experiences below.

Related Blog

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 and How to Implement a Health and Wellness Program for Your Employees

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: December 24, 2012 Updated: December 24, 2012

As you look forward to a new year and new business opportunities, is the health and wellness of your employees at the forefront of your 2013 business plans?

According to a new study of more than 1,000 small-business owners by Humana and the National Small Business Association (NSBA), 93 percent of small businesses consider their employees’ physical and mental health to be important to their bottom line, and 54 percent say it’s “extremely important.” But despite that, only a third of respondents are confident they can manage employee health care needs, citing gaps in information and employee interest.

(Note: This survey defined health and wellness programs as initiatives to encourage employees to make healthier choices, such as getting preventative care, eating right and exercising.)

So what health and wellness issues are small business owners concerned about?

  • High employee stress is the number one concern for small business decision-makers, especially at smaller companies, with stress levels rating more than triple other employee well-being concerns.
  • Employees working when they are sick is second – 57 percent reported that their employees show up for work when they should be taking a sick day.

As this study shows, health and wellness programs can be a win-win situation for small businesses, fostering healthier people and healthier profits. So what’s holding small business owners back from implementing programs?

Employee Interest

A key factor in whether or not to introduce a health and wellness program rests with employee interest. For example, start-ups (many with younger employees) lead the way in providing wellness programs and their employees prefer it this way. In fact, 85 percent of start-ups say wellness programs are worth the investment and 63 percent are already adopting such programs. Interestingly, these start-ups say these programs aid in recruiting and retaining employees.

So with employees actively seeking health and wellness benefits, these programs are likely to become an increasingly important part of any small business owner’s hiring and personnel management strategy.

Employers Need More Information

More than half the small business owners surveyed maintained that insufficient information is available about introducing health and wellness programs at a small business. This is something healthcare insurance providers are increasingly aware of and are seeking to correct by providing tools and resources to help small business owners develop health and wellness programs. The reward for both is healthier employees and a healthier bottom line.

Tips for Implementing Health and Wellness Programs in Your Small Business

So how can you go about planning and implementing a program that makes sense for your business, with the limited resources available to you? Health and wellness plans don’t have to break the bank. With a bit of creativity there are many things you can do to keep employees health and happy.

Here are a few tips:

  • Talk to your employees. Find out what aspects of an employer-sponsored health and wellness plan they would value most. It could be discounted gym memberships, quarterly sponsored walks/runs, or employee-led healthy cooking workshops. maybe it’s just more awareness of free or low-cost preventative care options covered by your healthcare insurance plan.
  • Get ideas for your wellness program. This blog from former SBA guest blogger, Dawn Rivers Baker, offers some creative and engaging ideas for a low-cost or no-cost employee wellness program.
  • Get help structuring specific programs. The Centers for Disease Control provides some great online tools to help you design and structure your wellness programs. For example, CDC LEAN Works is a free web-based resource that can help employers design effective worksite obesity prevention and control programs, including an obesity cost calculator to estimate how much obesity is costing your company and how much in savings your company could reap with different sorts of workplace interventions.
  • Consult your healthcare insurance provider. Many now offer tools and resources to help employers develop programs. Familiarize yourself with the types of programs that make sense for your business.
  • Get help from small business assistance groups. Check in with your local Small Business Development Center or Chamber of Commerce. They may have resources or seminars that can help you build the right program for your business.

Have you implemented a wellness program? Has it improved your bottom line? Have any tips for other small business owners? 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

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