Lower Your Healthcare Costs with Employee Wellness Plans

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The year 2017 has already started out rocky in the United States. With the new Presidential administration, the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block, and many Human Resource professionals are wringing their hands waiting to see what happens.

If the ACA is gutted, insurance companies could change their contracts drastically. But this could also result in less businesses (especially startups or small businesses with over 50 employees) being required to provide healthcare coverage for their employees. Although this is a hard hit to the workers, this could be a huge budget cut for these small businesses.

However, in all this mix, the gutting of the ACA in terms of insurance coverage could overshadow the loss of another important aspect of the bill: incentives from employee wellness programs for businesses.

Business wellness programs have grown since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act due to the fact that businesses can receive a cut from insurance company premiums if they create or include employee wellness programs. These programs can include gym memberships, in-office yearly health screenings, and more.

But the cut from health insurance companies shouldn’t be the only benefit businesses see from these programs. The profits of healthy and happy employees far exceed the potential savings from the insurance companies.

Evidence in the Programs

Wellness programs vary based on the desired path the business wants to take. According to HIPAA and the designations by the Affordable Care Act:

“There are two types of health-contingent wellness programs: activity-only and outcome-based. Activity only programs require an individual to perform or complete an activity related to a health factor in order to obtain a reward. Examples are a walking, diet or exercise program. Outcome-based programs require an individual to attain or maintain a specific health outcome (such as not smoking or attaining certain results on biometric screenings) in order to obtain a reward.”

These programs rely on employee accountability, but health information cannot be shared from these programs with the company due to HIPAA. Due to the fairly broad nature of these programs, businesses have a variety of options available to increase the activity and health of their staff.

The Wall Street Journal recommends some simple possibilities: replacing snacks with healthier options, offer health assessments, provide gym memberships to employees, and provide tracking software or investing in wearable technology to hold employees accountable. This can be as simple as providing a BMI calculator, or purchasing FitBits for the entire floor.

In fact, wearable technology is considered to be extremely cost-effective for implementing wellness programs and keeping wearers accountable in their day-to-day lives. As Arizona State University notes, they provide convenient access to educational tools for wearers, encourage healthy behaviors, and provide an accurate assessment of lifestyle analysis. Over time, use of these devices can help cultivate healthy habits that reach far beyond office walls.

Why They Work

Research into the overall success of employee wellness programs has shown that these programs result in less sick days, lowered healthcare costs, and increased lifespan for the employee. But the benefits also bleed into the office culture.

Health and happiness are intrinsically tied together, and happy employees make for profitable businesses. As the University of Ohio notes, “the most employee-accommodating companies are also some of the most secure.” They also tend to be the fastest growing; with companies like Google, Intuit, and Salesforce among the top six. These companies offer benefits that focus on employee health and wellbeing, such as guaranteed paid maternity and paternity leave, and compressed work weeks.

Yet one can still argue that these technology-centered businesses are simply a product of their time, and are flourishing in our current economy. What about businesses in other industries? How do they compete in overall employee health and profits?

In a more general sense, any increased effort put into mitigating stress in the office has shown to improve overall profits. Stress, when built up over time, can lead to serious health problems. According to the American Institute of Stress, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to endocrine, nervous, gastrointestinal, and other complications in the body. Heart disease, GERD, obesity, and neurological conditions such as cluster headaches or migraines, can all stem from lack of outlet to diminish stress and overexposure to chronic mental strain.

If not properly given an outlet, these health problems will result in increased sick days, serious burnout, and even negative or harmful behavior, such as theft or insider trading; all of which can directly impact a company’s productivity and profits.

The easiest way to mitigate stress in the office is to provide a healthy outlet. Businesses that promote healthy activities inside or outside the office and create wellness programs can do just that.

Creating a Wellness Culture

Making wellness and employee health a core part of any company’s culture is sure to raise overall profits. Inclusive wellness programs raise morale, productivity, and employee engagement, and reduce sick days that may result from intense overexposure to stress. In turn, this raises production, and the quality of work, and could result in employees staying with the company for longer periods of time.

It’s a cyclical system—promoting health, cultivating employee wellness, and increasing profits—that can help many businesses succeed. It simply requires businesses to invest in their employee’s health.

The push for wellness programs shouldn’t just come from cuts provided by insurance agencies and the ACA. Examples in the business industry such as Google and Intuit prove that making health and happiness a priority can make for a very successful team of personnel. Once the culture is built, the evidence will speak for itself.

Author: Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. She spends her free time being the mother of three cats and a dog named Toby. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter @ktmcbeth. Find out more about happy employees @ohio_online.

5 Ways Managers Should Support Their Employees

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It’s essential that staff receive support or they can’t do their job properly. Support isn’t limited to merely work-related aspects of the job but to other things such as morale and recognition as well.

There are plenty of different ways employers can support their staff. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind in your work environment.

1. Training is vital

It’s crucial that staff receive all necessary training when they start a job and also ongoing training as often as required. It’s also essential that training is consistent for all staff members. It’s not acceptable for answers to vary from one employee to another because this can cause confusion and further problems. Proper training is inevitably what makes better quality employees.

2. Positive work environment

Whether you work in a call center, an office or a retail store, it’s vital that you have a positive work environment. If employees dread the thought of going to work each day, they’re not going to perform at their best and they may even feel resentful for being there.

There are many ways to create a positive workplace. Attitude is essential—people should be respectful and friendly towards one another. Backstabbing should not be tolerated. Not just by supervisors, but among colleagues as well. If anyone has issues, the supervisor/manager should always be available to help resolve such problems so they don’t linger and taint the rest of the workplace.

Décor and proper equipment also contribute to your environment. Do you have ergonomic chairs and desks? Do you have a proper lunch room where staff can take breaks away from the public eye? Is there somewhere you can store your personal possessions if you don’t have a desk? All of these things contribute to a harmonious working environment.

3. Motivation is an individual thing

Employers should know what motivates their staff and use that knowledge to build stronger relationships. People are motivated by different things and so it’s important to learn what motivates each individual if that’s possible and incorporate that into your overall leadership strategies.

Take the time to get to know what motivates each member of your team. Having a staff suggestion box is a great way to get ideas and suggestions. Motivations change over time and if you want to keep your team working at peak efficiency, it’s vital that you learn what’s important to them.

4. Recognition and rewards

Staff have to be acknowledged and rewarded for the good work they do. Financial bonuses are always great if they are available—but they’re not your only option. You could have an employee of the week or month plaque that is presented and then displayed on the wall for everyone to see. Acknowledgment for most improved staff members could be another idea. When staff do something wrong, managers are quick to admonish them so they should be just as quick with their praise, in whatever form they choose. Like motivation, your team can also suggest great ideas on what works for them.

5. Scope for advancement

Most people don’t like to feel trapped in a dead-end job. Internal promotions should always be considered before advertising externally. Staff are more motivated to excel in their work if they have a vision for the future growth and development.

If you’re not seen to be actively supporting your staff, you can’t expect them to perform at their best. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and to be a part of a team. If you do that, you can’t lose.

Influencer Marketing is Hot But Not New

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Influencer marketing seems to be the “newest” buzzword in marketing. If you haven’t heard the term, here are some definitions to review:

“Influencer marketing is the practice of engaging internal and industry experts with active networks to help achieve measurable business goals.” (Lee Odden, TopRank Marketing Blog)

“Influencer marketing is simply the action of promoting and selling products or services through people (influencers) who have the capacity to have an effect on the character of a brand.” (Global Yodel, The Huffington Post)

“Influencer marketing is an approach that seeks to maximize the effectiveness of efforts by targeting individuals who have a large following and whose opinions carry a lot of weight. Typically, the approach is applied in a social media marketing context.” (TechTarget)

“A nonpromotional approach to marketing in which brands focus their efforts on opinion leaders, as opposed to direct target market touchpoints.” (John Hall, Forbes)

So, why isn’t this a novel concept?

It’s a twist on an old marketing term: “Referral Sources” that we now recognize as “Referral Marketing.”

“Referral marketing is a process to encourage and significantly increase referrals from word of mouth, perhaps the oldest and most trusted marketing strategy. This can be accomplished by encouraging and rewarding customers, and a wide variety of other contacts, to recommend products and services from consumer and B2B brands, both online and offline.” (Wikipedia)

BUT, influencer marketing does differ slightly.

Here’s an example:

Years ago, when I led an internal marketing team, we developed strategies to reach the people who could refer our programs and services to prospective clients. One such service was a unique type of physical therapy (developed in Europe) that helped people with physical disabilities become more functional.

How did we acquire more clients?

We went after the healthcare “referral sources” who could recommend us to their patients. That helped narrow our scope considerably, making our marketing tactics more affordable than attempting to reach too wide an audience. The doctors, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals with direct access to our prospects were the ones who could spread the word for us.

Another referral source was our clients who benefited from the therapy program. However, their numbers were very low compared to the healthcare professionals we targeted.

These referrers were very influential in the success of our service. They weren’t famous or had gazillions of followers—mostly because this was before the advent of social media. Yet, they had the power to recommend our service to the very people we wanted to serve.

If we examine the influencer marketing definitions above, the only one that includes a targeted approach is Lee Odden’s: “engaging internal and industry experts with active networks.” What’s the point of getting opinion leaders to promote your products, programs, or services unless their audiences include your target market segments??

Before you run off to try influencer marketing, there are some study results you may want to read. Although these results focus on enterprises, the stats are valuable.

43% of companies surveyed are still experimenting with influencer marketing, and 28% involve influencers only at the campaign level.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of brand marketers rate influencer marketing as a strategic or highly strategic marketing category, while 83% of respondents cited “identifying and building one-on-one relationships with industry key influencers” as a top marketing priority.
55% of marketers surveyed said they plan to spend more on influencer marketing in the coming year.
Only 5% of marketers surveyed are implementing integrated influencer activities across all functions.
57% of respondents said they believe influencer marketing will be integrated into all marketing activities in 3 years.
The majority (94%) of marketers said they would like to explore how influence can improve brand advocacy, 92% want to use it to expand brand awareness, 88% want to reach new highly targeted audiences, 86% to want achieve increased share of voice, and 74% want to improve sales conversion.
86% of B2C marketers used the channel in 2016, with content being the top driver.
Of the B2C marketers who used influencer marketing in 2016, 89% of marketers did so to create authentic content about their brand, 77% used influencer marketing to drive engagement around their brand and 56% used the channel to drive  traffic to their websites or landing pages.

Studies: Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer MarketingThe State of Influencer Marketing 2017

Influencer Types

Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing

My 2 Cents on Using Influencer Marketing for Your Business or Organization

  • If you don’t have a written marketing plan based on sound research and strategy, you won’t know whether influencer marketing is a good option for you.
  • If you believe there are experts with access to your specific prospects, do some research first. Check out their followers, blog posts, and social media connections.
  • Don’t ignore influencers and referral sources who aren’t as active online. If they can refer your biz/org, it may be a good investment to reach them using traditional marketing channels.
  • There are legal and ethical issues surrounding influencer marketing. Being transparent is essential if you compensate your influencers in any way. In the U.S., the FTC requires disclosure of sponsorship within all paid influencer-created content, including social posts.
  • Lastly, set objectives and test your tactics. Tweak them as needed. If influencer marketing is going to work for you, you’ll know soon enough whether it’s worth your effort.

Are you using influencer marketing? How’s it going?

Habits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs

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Small business are hard to start and even harder to run. Most small businesses fail in the first year. The most successful small businesses turn into bigger businesses. The owners of those successful businesses often have traits that allow them to be successful. Some of the most common traits of highly successful entrepreneurs include a love of lifetime learning, adherence to a strict schedule, regular exercise, and a positive outlook on life.

Benjamin Franklin not only adhered to a strict daily schedule, but he also put himself on 13 week self-improvement plans during which he would focus on improving one thing about himself. Mark Zuckerberg keeps himself focused on important things by wearing the same outfit every day, eliminating the need to spend time worrying about what to wear each morning. Elon Musk schedules his time in five minute increments, and he also schedules certain days to work on each of his two companies. Time management is a factor in anyone’s success, but some people take it to the extreme and it really pays off.

Reading is the most surefire way to learn new ideas- you literally have access to another highly intelligent person’s thoughts. Oprah Winfrey credits her love of reading from a very early age- she started reading at three years old- with her massive success. Bill Gates, founder of both Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, still manages to make the time to read 50 books every single year without fail. Warren Buffett spends 80% of his waking hours reading after having built his investing career by reading 800-1000 pages a day. If these very busy business people can make the time to read that much, anyone can.

Physical activity is another very important part of the success equation. You might think it’s about being able to enjoy your success, but that is only part of the equation. Physical activity actually helps keep your mind sharp so you can stay on task. Richard Branson wakes every morning at 5 a.m. and does some sort of physical activity, from tennis to kite surfing. He credits this early morning exercise routine with giving him four additional hours of productivity each day.

Maintaining a positive outlook on life is crucial not only to your own personal happiness, but also to your success. Thomas Edison failed at his inventions thousands of times, but it never discouraged him. Instead he looked at it as finding 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Learn more about the habits of highly successful people from this infographic!

The Habits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs [Infographic]
Source: Habits of Highly Successful Entrpreneurs

NowSourcingAuthorNowSourcing is an award-winning nationally recognized infographic design agency. Founded in 2005, NowSourcing has strong roots in the human and technical nuances of the web.

This Groundbreaking New Device Gets Stores More Customers

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This little device is putting brick-and-mortar retailers back into the consumer spotlight where they belong and helping drive more customers to their stores.

This innovation has the potential to transform the retail landscape and allow even the smallest independent retailer to gain a competitive advantage over online retailers in the digital age.Built by technology company Pointy, retailers simply plug it into their store’s POS, continue scanning their products as usual, and it automatically builds them a page with all the products online, ready to be found by customers who are doing Google searches nearby.

Why Are Retailers Using Pointy?

Well, there are a number of reasons:

  • They provide a quick and completely effortless way for stores to get all of their products online in a matter of minutes. They just plug it in and they’re ready to go
  • They charge a remarkably low once off price of $299 with no monthly fees and offer a 90 day money back guarantee
  • They build each of their retailers a Pointy Page from scratch so it won’t require any work if they have an existing website

An example of a Pointy Page:

What’s The Big Deal About Being Found Online?

Google did some research recently and found that when people use mobile search to help make a decision they are 57% more likely to visit a store and 51% more likely to make a purchase. By having a robust online presence, brick and mortar retailers have the ability to significantly influence in-store purchases.

Currently, most independent retailers rank number one when you search for their store’s name. However, even if someone is 50 feet away from them and is searching for a product they stock, they find the large players like Amazon and eBay on page one instead.

Pointy helps solve this problem. They build a page online with all your products on it which is optimized to do well in local searches. Rudy Nehrling from Good Earth Natural Food Co in Indianapolis—one of the 1,000 stores currently using the service—says Pointy has given his store the upper hand over online giants:

“First and foremost we are a brick and mortar store. We want customers to visit Good Earth and get that unique in-store experience that simply cannot be mirrored online. Thanks to Pointy, when customers do a simple Google search for a product that we stock, we appear high up in the results and they can be directed from there to our store. They are putting independent retailers back in the driver’s seat.”


What Types Of Store Can Use Pointy?

The great thing about Pointy is that it can be used by almost any brick and mortar store. The tech company have customers across all verticals, from the world’s oldest independent bookstore in California to a newly opened electronics stores in London. All the store needs is a barcode scanner, products with standard barcodes and a store front. Pointy co-founder Mark Cummins said they built the service with simplicity in mind:

“Running a brick & mortar store is a hectic job so time is precious for most retailers. That’s why we’ve made Pointy incredibly easy to use. We’ve had stores set up and go live with thousands of products with less than five minutes’ work.”

How Can I Try Out Pointy?

To get started and see if your store is eligible for Pointy, simply visit their website (www.pointy.com) and complete their short survey. If your store is a good fit, they’ll ship you a device right away for just $299. Once it arrives, all you need to do is plug it into your POS and continue scanning as normal. Pointy will take care of everything else. If you’re not completely happy, they have a 90 day returns policy!

How to Handle 5 Common Sales Scenarios

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The most successful entrepreneurs are great salespeople. Have you ever seen Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Mark Benioff presenting in front of thousands of people, all eagerly listening and buying into their vision? If Jobs, Musk or Benioff weren’t true masters of sales and fantastic storytellers, there would be no Apple, Tesla or Salesforce. Here’s an ironic statistic for you: After a presentation, 63 percent of attendees remember stories, and only 5 percent remember statistics.

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham suggests that entrepreneurs do work that doesn’t scale (recruit, delight, etc.), and sales plays a crucial role in what he recommends. Yet I meet many product founders who believe it is not necessary to learn how to sell or craft a story about their product. They think the product is so revolutionary that they can build a great business without selling. This is an illusion. Here are five sales scenarios a startup founder can’t avoid, and how you can hone your selling skills to make the best of each situation.

Selling to Your Family

Why it’s important: Building a startup is hard. You must get your family’s buy-in in order to proceed. Without their support, your life can turn into a nightmare if business doesn’t go as expected, and you’ll definitely need their buy-in during the lean early years.

How to do it well:

  • Read Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends And Influence People. Carnegie teaches soft, non-manipulative techniques that help you find compromises and convince people in a way that won’t backfire or negatively affect your relationships. This is of utmost importance when dealing with family.
  • Plan ahead. I personally had to do a hard “multistep sale” to my grandma. My grandma is very old; the idea that her grandson was going to drop out of school for a chance to go to the U.S. really stressed her out and I didn’t want her to worry. I had to get buy-in from my “champions” (my aunt and mom) six months in advance in order to have them help me convince my “decision maker” grandma.

Selling to Your Team

Why it’s important: Great people are in high demand. How do you get someone who is already doing well to take a risk by joining your company? Well, it takes some serious skills. Selling the upside and your vision requires understanding other people’s motivations and values.

How to do it well:

  • Learn to present really well in front of your team. Frequent presentations and speeches are a great way to deliver your message and vision to your team, and you can simultaneously practice for higher-stakes stages with investors, press and partners.
  • Invest time. It took me over four months to persuade my co-founder that starting a business with me and quitting his job was a good idea. Our marketing director took two months to do a consulting project with us before she decided to join full time. I made this happen by “upselling” them regularly and keeping the lines of communication open.
  • Read the bookPitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It will teach you how to persuade groups of people. Excitement is an emotion — you’ll be unstoppable if you learn to work with not only logical thinking but also with emotional thinking to build excitement.

Selling to Investors

Why it’s important: This should come as no surprise, but investors are a tough crowd. They hear thousands of pitches, so you need to convince them that you’re the best option for them, which—even with a great product or idea—takes a very talented salesperson.

How to do it well:

  • Act on warm leads only. Build a pipeline of relevant angels and VCs, and get personal intros to all of them. Cold call only if there is no other option.
  • Don’t oversell in the initial stages. First calls and meetings are normally used to introduce yourself and build a relationship. Don’t try to sell yourself too hard at first contact.
  • Shyness and fundraising don’t mix. I was shy and humble when it came to pitching investors. This was a mistake. You need to be incredibly confident in order to get buy-in from investors. Remember, you’re not trying to get them to like you; you want them to invest millions in your idea.

Selling to the Press

Why it’s important: Pitching to journalists is, essentially, sales. The only difference is that they don’t buy from you (they write about your startup) and what you’re selling is not a product (it’s the vision). You need to convince them that your vision is relevant to their space and that your startup has the potential to be big.

How to do it well:

  • Leverage your existing network. Get warm introductions to journalists from your connections. I’ve tried going cold; the conversion rate on this type of outreach to journalists is miserable.
  • Be ambitious. Journalists won’t be satisfied with hearing about what your startup is like right now—they want to be part of a story that will have a major impact.
  • Concision is key. Write short yet informative emails. Journalists have no time to read multi-page novels. The same applies to in-person interviews with the press: keep your answers to their questions short and to-the-point. Let them write the story around it (they’re professionals); just give them the facts.

Selling to Customers and/or Partners

Why it’s important: This is the most obvious and straightforward selling you’ll have to do. Even if you don’t directly sell to other business (startups, clients, established businesses etc.), at some point you’ll still need to negotiate on items such as credit card processing and recruiting agency fees.

How to do it well:

  • Bolster your sales. Build a pipeline of potential deals and use a CRM to track your progress.
  • Review your data. Evaluate your historical performance and use it to build a forecast. Track obsessively so that you can make sure to invest in the right resources in order to hit your goals.

Invest in improving your sales skills even if you’re not a salesperson by trade. As a founder, you’ll need this skill set over and over again, at every stage of your business.

Author: Mikita Mikado is a software engineer, entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of PandaDoc, makers of all-in-one software for better quotes, proposals, and contracts. 

What About Business Schools and Creativity?

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I’m generally an advocate of education over ignorance, but there is the issue of business schools and creativity.

A business professor’s wisdom

The best class I took at the Stanford Business School during my MBA years (1979-81) was taught by Professor James March, co-author of the book An Introduction to Models in the Social Science. It was about the same subject. He was funny. He was contrarian. He was brilliant. He had a mathematical model of a cocktail party that predicted how many people would be passed out at the end of the party, based on inputs including how many couples, how many singles, and, particularly important, how many more male singles than female singles. That may be too gender-specific for today’s world, but it was applicable 30 years ago.

I liked and respected Prof. March so much that in the middle 1980s I tried to get him to join me in what would have been a venture to create a game that teaches business. Prof. March didn’t join me and I didn’t create the new venture. I continued with my business plan consulting instead.

I’ve never forgotten the conversation we had over lunch that day. I can’t remember the exact words, of course, but Prof. March reminded me that there is an underlying conflict between education and creativity. He was an educator, but he was also a contrarian and a thinker, so he enjoyed flanking our standard assumptions.

Schools teach conformity

“Schools teach conformity,” he said. “Education is about reinforcing the supposed right way of doing something, meaning the way we’ve always done it, the way the establishment expects us to do it.” Schools taught that the world is flat until a renegade proved otherwise.

“New ideas come from people that haven’t been indoctrinated,” he said. This was of course before the phrase “think outside the box” came along, but he would have referenced that if we’d been later in time. Schooling is about learning how to think inside the box. If you believe this line of reasoning.

Here again, I run into paradox. I believe in education but I also believe what Prof. March suggests. Is the answer that you have to know the fundamentals before you transcend them?

6 Easy Ideas for Better Cyber Security

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Cyber attacks against all businesses are continually increasing in number and frequency; small businesses would be naïve to believe they are safely tucked away from exposure in this area. In fact, data from Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report showed that 43% of all cyber attacks were on small businesses in 2015. According to IBM, both small and mid-sized businesses account for 62 percent of all cyber attacks. In the UK a similar government study found that 60 percent of small businesses had suffered a cyber breach costing between £65-115k. Only a third of the top 350 businesses were found to understand the true threat of a cyber attack and as a result, the Cyber Essentials scheme was set up.

Unfortunately, small business owners remain under-prepared to address and respond to cyber attacks and don’t feel they have cyber risks matching those of a larger corporation. They fall into the hackers’ ideal target market as they have more digital assets than an individual consumer, but also less security than a large enterprise. Poor security, lack of awareness and training leave SMEs vulnerable to attacks which is why it is important to take steps to increase your cyber security.

The cost of hacking can range from a minor inconvenience of reputational damage, loss of customer data, and fines to ultimately company closure. The U.S’ National Cyber Security Alliance found that 60 percent of small companies are unable to sustain their business over six months after a cyber attack.

Many businesses will suffer business interruption from cyber crime. Some will need to close their doors to investigate the source and impact of the breach, as well as suffering lost sales and opportunities. Additional costs can also be incurred in order to update or implement new security systems, as well as any possible concessions that will need to be offered to customers to rebuild trust and loyalty.

So how can your small business guard against cyber attacks?

1. Increase Staff training

Most cyber breaches are the result of an employee accidentally divulging some information or doing something they shouldn’t have done. The first step is to train all of your employees on security policies and procedures and how to protect sensitive data. Often weak or common passwords allow the easy infiltration of systems, or phishing in the form of opening infected emails as well as use of infected external devices. Maintain awareness of these risks to individuals and the business.

2. Create A Business Continuity Plan

Such a plan can be put into effect as soon as systems have been compromised. You should establish an incident response and disaster recovery procedure to limit the damage.

3. Protect All Devices That Connect To The Internet From Malware

Set up boundary firewalls and internet gateways to protect your data. Always install the latest security updates which will scan for and identify any known viruses across the organization. You can also establish data security protocols and create ‘whitelists’ to control traffic through your network and prevent access to certain IP and email addresses.

4. Scan Or Refuse Use Of External Devices And USBs

Scan all removable media for malware prior to importing on to the IT system. It is a good idea to maintain a policy which controls access and limits usage of media types to reduce risk.

5. Encrypt Your Most Sensitive Data

Encrypting sensitive data, in particular financial data, is important and encryption can be hardware or software-based. Encryption will allow confidential data to move from one network to another without being compromised as it cannot be accessed by unauthorized users due to algorithms which render data unreadable by humans.

6. Consider Cyber Insurance

Finally, while you can put measures in place to limit risk, you can’t always stop cyber crime. By insuring your business against the cost of cyber crime, you can cover the losses relating to damage or loss of information from IT systems and networks.

Increasingly, more businesses are buying specialist cyber insurance policies to cover either first party and/or third party losses. First party covers the insurer’s assets (such as loss or damage of digital assets, reputational damage and theft of money) and third party risks cover the assets of others, in particular the customer (such as defense costs, defamation and compensation).

Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to cyber insurance and it is difficult to quantify an organization’s individual risk so it is recommended that you approach an experienced broker in this area.

Author: Colin McCabe offers advice and tips on business insurance as Sales Manager for Bluedrop Services specialist insurance brokers with in-depth knowledge and expertise in business insurance. Follow them on Twitter @bluedrop_uk .

Is Your Business Building Its Competency in Software Development? It Should Be

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You might think you’re in the automotive, architecture, manufacturing, or engineering business. But soon enough, you’re also going to be in the software business.

That doesn’t mean you’re going to start writing code or slinging mobile apps. But whether you’re in construction or precision machining, in the future, your business will need to develop some level of competency in software development. Don’t think you’re alone: Everyone else is in the same predicament because everything is going digital.

Your business might be the furthest thing from a digital or Internet of Things product (for now), but if you want to maintain your competitive advantage, you need to consider your company’s interaction with customers and suppliers, your product development, and your maintenance processes—and where it makes sense to digitize.

Do you remember Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail? In it, Anderson described that, historically, companies were not able to successfully bring a large variety of solutions to market because physical manufacturing, distribution, and promotion were prohibitively expensive. But when the Internet arrived, the marginal cost of distribution and marketing dropped dramatically. And as a result, companies could build highly specific solutions or products to meet people’s needs.

Consider, as Anderson did, movies that appeal to an extremely specific audience—think existential, avant-garde films about chickens (probably in black and white and definitely with subtitles). It would be a waste for a movie-rental chain to carry that DVD in all of its stores, but the Internet provides the means to find the four people in the world who really love avant-garde movies about chickens. With the Internet as a platform, you can aggregate all these special-interest people into a single environment, which adds up to a strong and vibrant community.

In the example of a product manufacturing company, a lot of what that company does to succeed is common among other manufacturers—from customer, employee, and engineering management to shipping and receiving to factory production. Likely, the manufacturer uses some sort of generic, off-the-shelf automation solution (think CRM, ERP, and so forth) to address those functions and meet about 70 percent of common manufacturing needs.

However, that manufacturer still has 30 percent of its business that is unique. Say the company makes shoes. That shoe company needs the ability to deliver customized options to its buyers—say through a point-of-sale application that can scan someone’s foot, provide material choices, enable high-quality visualization, and offer real-time estimates for cost and availability. But much like the avant-garde–chicken situation, the manufacturer won’t find a broad swath of software companies writing shoe configurators. The shoemaker needs to build its own solution to manage that.

And that’s where the software-development competency comes in: To stay competitive in the future of making things, companies need customized digital solutions to meet their unique production, customization, and supply-chain needs—whether that’s a user interface for driving oil tankers or a cost-estimating system. But this doesn’t mean you need to hire a gaggle of developers to start building your own bespoke software.

Today, companies like Amazon, Salesforce, and others already offer digital platform solutions to help you do business: a high starting point that makes the incremental cost of building a custom solution very low. These cloud-based platforms work because they are easy to use and malleable so that every company can make them their own. For example, many companies use Amazon Web Services to write software for SaaS and mobile applications. The platform is undeniably powerful, but it doesn’t understand anything about the physical world.

Industries steeped in the future of making things—architecture, construction, infrastructure, manufacturing, automotive, and so forth—demand a platform that provides the kinds of functions to describe, validate, and make or build physical things.

Much like the fictitious shoe manufacturer, a big auto company recently needed a custom application specifically for its crankshaft supplier. Although the app was for just one supplier, it was an important tool to digitize the process validating the crankshaft design before delivery. The automaker used the Autodesk Forge platform to create that solution.

Likewise, a structural engineering firm needs to run multiphysics analysis for properties such as acoustics, sound, vibration, and stress. So that firm needs to write its own engineering software to support the proprietary algorithms it has built over the years to validate its designs. A platform built for the future of making things can enable the firm to digitize that unique part of their business.

The good news is that any one platform doesn’t have to do everything for all companies—the platforms are designed to work together. For example, if you have the Sonos home-audio system, you can say, “Sonos, I have a Spotify account and a Pandora account.” Sonos doesn’t need to house all of that music to play it back; rather, it uses Web services to connect to your various accounts. Forge, for example, can connect to Proto Labs for manufacturing and machining and Amazon for cloud storage. Just as people can collaborate over the Internet, platforms themselves can connect and collaborate—which was never possible before.

Developing your own software competency to address the unique 30 percent of your business is really about securing the digital future of your company. By now, you know that the whole business ecosystem—the way things are made, bought, and sold in all industries—is changing completely. To stay competitive, you’d do well to change along with it and consider your digitization capacity now—before your closest competitor does.

4 Questions Bosses Should Ask Their Employees During One-on-One Meetings

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As a boss, you have the responsibility to be a leader. Part of being a leader is checking in with individual members of the team. That is because when individual parts of a whole are strong, the group will be stronger and more cohesive as a result.

It is a good idea for you to set aside time every week to check in with each team member individually in a one-on-one meeting. This is an opportunity for employees to address any questions or concerns they have about their job, and it’s also a chance for you to bond with your employees and learn a little bit more about everyone.

To be a great leader, you have to understand whom you are leading. Read on for great questions all bosses should ask their employees during one-on-one meetings:

What can we do to make your week better?

This is a gentle way of asking your employees if there is anything they would like to improve about their jobs. You do not necessarily have to problem-solve here, but it’s a good idea to find out potential for growth. What bosses need to remember is that employees are not simply there to work for money. They also seek opportunities, and part of being a great leader is providing employees with the chances and the resources to grow.

Is there anything bothering you?

Sometimes, employees don’t feel comfortable telling you their true feelings about a certain topic while in a group setting. They may be afraid of being judged, or they may simply be too shy. A one-on-one meeting is the perfect opportunity to allow your employees to process or talk over things that happened that they would only feel comfortable discussing in a private setting.

What did you do this week that you were proud of?

Achievements and accomplishments deserve to be recognized. As the boss, you may be so busy managing all your employees and trying to keep your company together that you don’t notice someone’s hard work. Give your employees a chance to tell you what they achieved and how they did it. You may not realize just how much some employees are doing.

How much direction do you feel you are getting, and does it work for you?

Some employees like to be constantly managed, so they know exactly what to do and how to do it, at all times. Other employees like to work independently and pretty much guide themselves. People respond to different leadership styles. It may be helpful for you to know what leadership styles your employees respond to.

Being a leader encompasses so many things, and that includes understanding your employees. You cannot lead properly without knowing who you are leading.

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