How to Make Money for Your Business With Mobile Apps

When you own a business, it can be a challenge figuring out how to take your company to the next level in the most sustainable, profitable way. Growing your revenues and customer base doesn’t usually come easy. But if you can capitalize on a already established trend, it could help make that process much smoother. This is where mobile apps come in.

These days apps are big business. In fact, according to recent statistics, mobile apps are expected to generate 188.9 billion U.S. dollars in revenues via app stores and in-app advertising in 2020. With roughly 3.8 million apps on Google Play and 2 million in App Store, that number is hardly surprising.

4 Ways Mobile Apps Can Make More Money in Your Business

But how can this help your business to generate additional revenue or gain more customers? Here are four areas to seriously consider regardless of your business model:

1. Sell your app. The most straight forward way an app can provide your business with additional streams of revenue is to sell it directly to customers. As long as your app offers some kind of tangible value that customers would be willing to pay for, you could charge a small fee. The average price of apps is around $.50 to $1.00, so it may not be such a cash cow. But, it could give your business a reliable source of passive income.

Alternatively, you could make the app free to download in its most basic form, but then offer an upgraded option as well that includes premium features or performance. This strategy works well with services that are separated into different service levels or payment tiers, such as business tools, platforms and services.

2. Market your product or services. Knowing that the demand for mobile apps is on the rise, many companies see this area as a marketing opportunity. Create a free or low cost app that your potential customers would enjoy or find useful. When potential customers download your app onto their device and use it, it will help to keep your business and its products or services in their mind.

3. Monetize your app with third-party advertisements. If you don’t want to make your customers pay to use your app, then one viable option is to make money through advertisements. Similar to website advertisements, you would generate money based on impressions or clicks. Of course, you need to consider the kind of business that you are running and whether or not third-party advertisements would be a distraction that would make your business look less professional.

4. Use your app to up-sell, cross-sell, or increase the purchase size. Your app can help your business sell more. For example, if you have an ecommerce business, offering a mobile app could simply make it easier for mobile consumers to complete their purchases. This could increase your revenue, especially if you utilize incentives to buy, such as discounts or free bonus offers.

On a more subjective note, your app can enhance customer engagement by providing a positive customer experience. You can use the app to make the order and purchase process as easy and enjoyable as possible. This can help to build brand loyalty that can ultimately lead to more sales.

In short, mobile apps offer a tremendous amount of opportunity for businesses looking to expand their reach and their revenues.

What Should You Do if Your Small Business has Been Hacked?

When it comes to cyber crime, such as system hacking and malware infections, it is well known that small businesses suffer disproportionately as compared to their bigger corporate counterparts. According to a recent report by the Ponemon Institute, over 60 percent of small businesses experienced a cyber attack in the past 12 months in 2017. That’s up from 55 percent in 2016. Partly to blame for this trend is the fact that small, resource-strapped businesses tend to have more vulnerabilities and are thus open for attack.

If you own a small business, there are certainly precautions you can make to keep most cyber criminals away. But what should you do if you find out that your business has already suffered a security breach?

When your digital data network has been compromised by hackers or malware, a slow or apathetic response can mean even bigger problems for your business. Below, we’ll look at several actions you need to take as soon as you find out your business has been hacked in order to help manage and contain the situation.

6 Things You Should Do if Your Small Business Has Been Hacked

First, take a deep breath and get some composure.

Depending on the scope and nature of the breach, you may have an urge to start doing something, anything right away. While you do want to get a handle on the situation as soon as possible, making impulsive decisions will usually backfire, causing even more harm in the end. Now is the time to take deliberate, measured steps to contain the data breach and minimize the damage.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you want any evidence of the breach to remain intact so it can potentially be traced back to the source of the crime. In particular, that means you shouldn’t erase or alter your system logs in any way until after the situation has been investigated.

Locate and contain the problem.

Now it’s time to contain the threat. Your objective is twofold: 1) to stop any ongoing activity or communication between the impacted devices or areas in your system; and 2) as mentioned above, make sure any traceable evidence is preserved. Where a connected device has been hacked, you should disconnect it from your business’ network, but do not shut it down. With a virtual machine you can take a system snapshot to record the details of the situation while the breach is happening or immediately after. This snapshot can then be analyzed later on.

You should also make sure to change the passwords and/or limit account access on any user accounts, particularly those suspected in the breech.

Investigate the security breach and its impact

Now the real detective work starts. You need to figure out what happened, and that addresses three things:

  1. What information was accessed?
  2. What kind of attack occurred? For example, was it a virus, malware, or an unauthorized remote access?
  3. What weak point(s) the cyber criminals exploit in order to get into your system? Did someone click on a bad link? Did someone plug their own, infected device into the network? Did you neglect to update your security systems?

Figure out what needs to be done

There are two main paths that need to be taken care of. The first is a series of technical steps designed to prevent another attack from the same source. This could include running an anti-virus or malware scan, remotely wiping a stolen mobile device, updating your system with security patches, or changing the network firewall rules.

The second area involves communications- though not yet within the public sphere. You will likely need to communicate the details of the breach to some of your staff so they can help the company through the restoration phase. You may also need to report the incident with law enforcement officials. The FBI currently has an Internet Crime Complaint Center that allows your to report online crimes like malware and ransomware attacks.

Make public announcements and prepare for responses

While it may not be a pleasant thing to do, your company may need to make the breach public- particularly where customer information may have been compromised. There should be a series of public statements and announcements about the situation. These announcements can take several forms, such as a press release, a series of emails, or a message on your website, and they should explain what your company has done thus far to repair the security breach. It should also include any relevant steps customers may need to take to protect their information, such as changing their passwords. You should also provide some way for concerned customers to contact your company and get answers to any questions they may have.

Learn from the experience.

If you don’t want to find yourself in the same situation a few years or even months down the road, then there are several things you should do after the storm has past. The first is recognizing where the weak points are that made your business vulnerable to an attack and then working to strengthen them. This may include security training, monitoring employee activity, and improving or upgrading your network security systems, for example, via encryption or user authentication protocols. Plus, if you don’t have a security incident response plan in place, then now is the time to create one!

Bottom line: when your business is hacked, you can’t afford to be passive or slow to act. Only by proactively dealing with the problem and its cause can you hope to move on swiftly and safely.

How to Rebound After a Major Business Mistake

Whether we like it or not, life doesn’t always go the way we planned it. The same is true in business. While most entrepreneurs accept the fact that the journey to success may be a bit bumpy along the way, that same acceptance is harder to maintain when the cause of the turbulence is a personal mistake. Still, it’s those very mistakes (and our response to them) that can make all the difference between the success and failure of even the most promising business venture.

Why Making Mistakes in Business Are a Good Thing

On the surface, it would seem that making mistakes is something to avoid at all costs. But, the reality is most of the setbacks and failures that occur within a business are a goldmine of valuable information and experiences. When they are handled properly (more on this below), mistakes can help business owners and managers discover stopgaps, wastage, and wrong assumptions so they can refocus and realign their priorities and their resources, and ultimately streamline operations. Failure also can lead to personal growth and learning, and it is a vital part of innovation and experimentation.

In short, it’s all a matter of perspective. Smart entrepreneurs expect that there will be some unavoidable failures ahead. But instead of running away from them, they embrace them and turn them into valuable learning opportunities.

Here is an example:

In the late 1990s, Christopher Gergen, co-founded an online tutoring platform for high school and college students called Smarthinking.com. Everything was looking good in the beginning of 2000. The company was experiencing rapid growth and had the backing of investors. But then the dot com bubble burst. Shaken investors pulled out their financing, leaving Gergen and his partner with practically no money to work with. They had failed to foresee the impending collapse of the market and were cuaght unprepared.

Instead of ignoring the problem, the two founders brought their whole staff together and explained exactly what needed to happen to save the company. They skimped and saved for a half a year and were eventually able to raise a $5 million round of financing.

That experience ultimately helped the business to take a much more disciplined approach to their cash flow management, and unlike many of the tech companies of that time, Smartthinking.com still exists today and has survived even the recent recession.

How to Turn Mistakes into Opportunities

In tech oriented circles these days, failure is actually embraced; it’s almost become a badge of honor and a sign that success will come later on. The result is that entrepreneurs looking for outside investors assume that prior failures are a plus in their favor. They make mistakes and just as quickly move on from them.

This attitude may sound more positive, but it is deceptively so. Not all failures are created equal. The kinds of failures that make an entrepreneur more likely to receive the support and backing of outside investors and the ones that will truly lead to future success are the ones that show smart decision-making, a rational approach to solving a problem, as well as real learning and growth. These factors are themselves the indications that success may well be on its way.

But, how do you get to this place in your business- especially if you’ve made some big blunders?

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Start with acceptance. Being in the wrong does not mean you are weak or bad; it just means you are human. Once you can get that into your head, it becomes much easier to be transparent, honest, and to take personal responsibility for the error. The worst thing you can do is to try to pin the blame others- even if there were other people involved. Also, in situations where someone was hurt, make the effort to make amends.

Feedback is key. Realize that by nature it will be hard to look objectively at your failure. The urge to either gloss over the mistake or overreact to it is extremely difficult to overcome. For that reason you need an outside perspective.

Do not ignore and actively seek out critical feedback- from mentors, customers, employees, peers, and partners. Successful entrepreneurs assume some adaptation and change will be required, so they actively seek feedback, spot failures and fix them early. They avoid the instinctive reaction of denial, or the stubbornness of charging straight ahead despite evidence that a strategy is not working.

But a caveat: not all feedback is created equal. Even though it’s important to seek out the advice of others, you at the same time need to sift out the golden nuggets of suggestions, advice, and even complaints while throwing out or just putting on the side, the ideas that are not currently applicable.

Look failure in the face. Listen to feedback, and then have the courage to explore the root cause of the mistake. What was in your control to change, and what factors were outside of it? Define the mistake in a non-defensive way so that everyone involved can better understand what happened and how to avoid it in the future.

By going through this process, you are more likely to end up fixing the real problem, and not just a symptom.

Look for the silver lining. Now it’s time to reframe the whole situation. Determine not only what went wrong, but also what went right and how you can learn from the experience. chart your own path. New paths are the key to success for an entrepreneur, but unless you listen and do your homework, you will be unable to recognize the old proven paths to perdition.

Take action. The last step to this process is to implement change based on what you learned from the experience. Your goal is to not only try to rectify the problem, but to get things back on track. Failures should result in better processes and better documentation, or they will become mistakes repeated. Moreover, the process of change needs to be implemented quickly before negative and hard to change assumptions get in the way of progress.

The key take away to all of this is that failure is very much a matter of perspective. Mistakes happen. They’re an unavoidable part of life, but failure is in the eye of the beholder. To the extent that you can turn a blunder- even a major one- into a learning experience that forever changes the way you do things- both now and in the future- then the truth is there was no real failure after all. Instead, it becomes just another opportunity for success down the road.

 

How Much Sleep Do You Need to Run Your Small Business?

A short while back, I saw an interesting infographic over at Small Business Trends that shows the sleeping habits of over 20 successful entrepreneurs and small business owners. It got me thinking…

How often do we hear about the crazy hours entrepreneurs and small business owners put into their companies- especially at the beginning when the business is starting up or during a period of rapid growth? In fact, being able to function on as little sleep as possible is often glorified.

But, many studies point to the negative impact of chronic sleep fatigue on a person’s health and well being. Since sufficient sleep is related to sustainable success, that brings up some vital questions:

  • How much sleep is enough?
  • Should you be taking naps?
  • When is the ideal time to go to sleep?
  • Does sleep broken down into smaller chunks of time have the same benefits of sleeping straight through the night?

Any entrepreneur or small business owner looking for some balance between work and life should know the answers to most if not all of these questions. The continue success of their business or their endeavors may depend on it.

Why Adequate Sleep is Important

Even if you may be out of commission, when you sleep your body is getting a lot done. While you are sleeping your body goes into maintenance-mode. It restores muscle tissue, removes harmful waste, and strengthens the memory of events that occurred during the day. While you sleep you are also helping to regulate a host of vital processes that support your immune system, metabolic functioning, and appetite.

Lastly, sleep is an essential factor in regulating the so-called circadian rhythm. This is your inner “body clock” that governs when you feel alert and awake versus tired and sleepy.

Some Sleep Research

According to recent research from the National Sleep Foundation, adults ages 18 to 64 should be getting on average 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults over the age of 65 need a bit less sleep, only 7 to 8 hours. But there is a bell curve. Some people can truly function on less than 7 hours, while others may consistently need over 9 hours a night. However, most sleep experts hold that regularly getting less than six hours of sleep a night compromises a person’s health as well as physical and mental performance.

Research shows that people who are chronically sleep deprived tend to have a number of negative effects:

  • They show signs of insulin resistance, a disruption in the way the body normally processes glucose for energy that can eventually lead to diabetes.
  • It compromises cognitive performance, meaning individuals are less capable of making good decisions, display less creativity, and their physical reflexes are also impaired
  • Sleep deprivation also leads to emotional negativity, lack of enthusiasm, and less productivity.
  • Studies have further found that sleep deprivation is linked to the appearance of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.

Tips for Improving Sleep Quality

The quality not just the quantity of your sleep can also impact how much a you need. Someone who sleeps poorly can still feel tired even when he or she has technically been sleeping enough hours. Even if you don’t have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, there are many things that can adversely affect the quality of a your sleep, namely:

  • Curb the Consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine: researchers have linked caffeine, alcohol and nicotine use to poor sleep quality.
  • Don’t sleep at odd times.  Going to bed at the same time each night helps regulate your circadian rhythm mentioned above. Following an irregular sleep schedule will lead to poor sleep quality.
  • Cut out electronics and electric lighting before going to bed. Electronic lights, such as those from a computer screen or phone, act like a stimulant which interferes with your circadian rhythm as much as physical stimulants, such as caffeine and alcohol. Even exposure to bright room lights before bed may negatively affect your sleep. And for heaven’s sake keep your phone away from your bed!
  • Being repeatedly woken up. Waking up multiple times in the middle of the night can leave you feeling exhausted. (If you’re a parent of small children, then you know this very well.) But, at least do your part to ensure that you room and bed are as comfortable as can be. Sleeping in a quiet, darkened room, in a comfortable bed and at a comfortable temperature can help you sleep better.
  • Learn about sleep cycles. Recent research suggests it’s not the hours we sleep that matter the most; it’s that we don’t interfere with the natural sleep cycles we go through during that sleep. The brain actually has a pattern of sleep. It goes through cycles containing both non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and REM sleep. Each of these cycles lasts roughly 90 minutes, and you should pass through five or six of them during the night. Waking up mid-cycle can leave you feeling exhausted. The goal is the time your wake up for the period between cycles. To help you figure out when that is, there are a few “sleep calculators” that do the work for you. Here is one you can try.

In short, how you sleep can set the tone for the whole day. If you want to be successful, in business and in life, then this is one activity you should learn how to maximize.

5 Ways Small Businesses Are Using AI

With rapid advances in technology, we are edging closer to the time when Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be able to perform many tasks and even whole jobs currently done by human workers. Though the full realization of this transformation is still far off, the affects of AI are already been seen and felt today, allowing companies to perform more effectively and efficiently and to do so a fraction of the cost.

AI Isn’t Just for Big Corporations

Over the past few years, a lot of attention has been focused on the use of AI technology at big corporations, such as Amazon and Facebook. But many smaller businesses are reaping the benefits of AI, too. Nowadays, small businesses can plug an assortment of AI-ready tools into every part of their business operations. If a task involves data, then AI has their back.

The result is that small businesses are already using sophisticated AI to help their employees do their jobs better, improve the customer experience, and make operations more efficient. Plus, AI has meant great leaps and bounds in the area of data analysis, allowing small companies to instantly draw useful business insights and accurately predict customer behavior and fit.

In short, as competition heats up in countless markets and industries across the globe, AI is giving small businesses a much needed competitive advantage.

How AI is Being Used in Small Companies

Since smaller companies are often working with limited resources, one of the keys to successfully introducing and implementing an AI solution in a small business is to prioritize the areas that will offer the biggest ROI. Here are five such uses of AI among small companies:

1. Customer Service. Customer service has two aspects to it: one client-facing, the other back office. AI has been making a tremendous impact on both. In client-facing customer service, small businesses have been using automated chatbot systems on their websites to help scale and streamline their customer service experience. As natural language processing continues to advance, developers have made been leaps and bounds in the ability of a chatbot to answer more complex or detailed questions. Unanswered customer inquiries are then fowarded to the appropriate person or department

Chatbots not only provide businesses with an around the clock virtual customer service representative, they also allow the small companies that use them to gather important data from their customers. This data in turn helps the business to improve various phases of the sales and support process.

While some customers may object to non-human support, chatbots at the same time create a less confrontational way for them to air their grievances and offer vital feedback to the business about the product, service, or customer experience.

In the realm of customer service, there is also Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM systems gather information about consumers across email, phone conversations, social media, and other channels. They then both present and analyze that data in a way that helps customer service and sales department representatives to take the most effective and efficient marketing and lead generation activities.

2. Market Research. Even if a small business has narrowed in on their ideal customers, often the market that is being served is greater than those core clients. Knowing which consumers are buying their products or services as well as how they are feeling about their purchases, can help business owners craft more effective marketing and sales strategies. Product and/or service features can also be smartly added or tweaked based on consumer sentiments and attitudes.

Up until now, collecting feedback from customers required sifting through written, verbal, video or image-based data to determine where and if there are any patterns. These days, small businesses can give AI platforms raw customer data in various forms and get categorized customer sentiments in return.

3. Marketing. Most small businesses take a hit or miss approach to their marketing. They try a few different strategies to see what “sticks” and then just keep doing the same things as long as the sales conversions keep coming in. It often doesn’t matter how good the ROI on these methods really is. Small businesses often have limited time and tools to invest in the oversight.

With AI, much of the guess work is eliminated. Some AI platforms are starting to collect, analyze, and learn from an assortment of customer data, and then assist marketers and sales team members by making effective suggestions. Content creators also use these insights to craft content and advertisements that speak directly to their target audience.

Best of all, this complex analysis is not only pretty accurate, but it is conducted in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing.

4. Competitive intelligence. Not only is a typical small business generating a tremendous amount of data, but so are their competitors. Thus, staying on top of the movements of any competing companies can be practically impossible. Luckily, there are many AI-powered competitive analysis tools on the market that are designed to track a company’s activities across multiple channels, such as social media, online media, and their company website.

This is a real goldmine for small businesses in particular, since these AI tools can not only recognize variables, such as price changes, PR activity, and online reputation, but they can make savvy suggestions, too. Some platforms can also reveal product gaps, competitor strengths and weaknesses and untapped market opportunities. This helps small companies quickly adjust their business strategy and marketing tactics.

5. Time Management. The final area where AI is having the biggest impact on small companies is time management. Thanks to the surge in personal assistant applications, such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, small business owners and their employees are better managing their schedules, accessing pertinent information on the fly, and having an easier time staying focused on the things that matter the most.

In short, when it comes to small companies and the integration of AI-enabled tools, the possibilities are practically limitless. AI is fast becoming a prevailing and necessary component of any business’ operations.

Gathering Market Intelligence for Your Small Business

In today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-connected world, where just about any transaction can be tied to a data point, market intelligence is fast becoming an indispensable business asset. But how can cash-strapped small businesses make gathering marketing intelligence a priority, and where should they even begin?

What is Market Intelligence?

The typical business is sitting on a wealth of data. Not only are many businesses maintaining an online presence, but most interactions with customers, vendors, employees, or partners are being recorded in some way. This is due to the fact that an increasing number of vital business tools, such as POS systems, accounting software, and CRM solutions are generating treasure troves of information that can be accessed, manipulated, and analyzed on demand.

This goes hand in hand with the shear amount of information about the economy, market trends, and even the competing businesses in the industry that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

This data, or market intelligence, is now being leveraged by businesses to spot trends and opportunities, confirm productivity and market reach, and improve operational efficiency.

Are Small Businesses Relying on Market Intelligence?

The short answer is not so much. According to a recent report by Market Intelligence company Crayon, unlike their big competitors, small companies struggle to invest in market intelligence in any form. Large enterprises, they found, actively invest in people, software, and services dedicated to market and competitive intelligence. A full 89% of these large companies have a team of people focused on the task, and 26% use three or more competitive intelligence (CI) software tools. This compares to just 13% of small businesses of 1 to 10 employees who have a team dedicated to market intelligence. It is probably safe to assume that this tiny percentage of small businesses are offering some cutting edge technology in a highly competitive industry that demands their ability to shift and evolve with changing market conditions.

For the majority of small businesses, the idea of having an entire team of people, let alone even one individual, spending their days tracking the business’ online presence, as well as competitor websites, news sites, content from industry experts, and social media accounts, may seem totally unrealistic.

How to Bring Market Intelligence into a Small Business… on a Budget

The Crayon report concludes that small companies will still struggle to invest in market and competitive intelligence in the near future.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Not only are there a number of budget-friendly solutions in the market that cater to small businesses in particular, but there are a host of platforms that can make the gathering of market intelligence much more doable.

For example, instead of hiring a dedicated market intelligence team, small business owners could turn to freelance platforms, such as Fiverr and its alternatives. These platforms are host to many professional internet and market researchers who offer their services at a discount.

And, precisely because their resources are limited, small businesses have to be much more focused than their bigger counter parts. That means each piece of market intelligence can be tied to a specific goal, such as using company websites and social media profiles to understand how competitors describe themselves and their products or services in order to gauge how current and potential customers respond that those messages.

In the end, armed with relevant market intelligence and the picture it paints, even the smallest companies will have the ability to compete, grow, and succeed today and tomorow.

What You Need to Know About Google’s Speed Update

 

A few weeks ago, Google announced that it is going to be factoring in page loading times on mobile devices when it ranks websites for mobile search. The so called “Speed update” is expected to be fully implemented in July of this year. That means you have about six months to figure out how to get your business website ready for the fast mobile web.

Why is Google Rolling Out a Speed Update?

Ranking websites based on loading times is nothing new. Since 2010, Google has been giving search rank priority to sites with faster load times. But that was for the “desktop” version of the site. According to Google, more than 50 percent of global search queries are now being done on mobile devices versus a standard desktop computer. As mobile-based search and other transactions increase, Google wants to give mobile device users a better experience. This is in part fueled by mobile users themselves who are complaining about slow mobile page loading times and mobile sites that are awkward hard to navigate, or don’t fully work.

Will the Speed Update Affect Your Business Website?

The short answer is maybe yes… maybe no. According to Google at first “Only a small percentage of queries will be affected.” But, if past behavior is any indication, small business owners would do well not to ignore the call for a better mobile experience, since it is only a matter of time before the mobile UX performance will be baked into the search rankings for all sites. We can think of the upcoming speed update as a heads up to developers and to those who hire them, that major changes are on the horizon.

What is Google AMP?

In order to make it easy for site owners to get their websites up to speed, Google has been a major force behind the Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) project. The AMP Project is an open-source initiative designed to make mobile pages load much faster. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are “consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”

AMP is basically a stripped-down version of HTML. Fast loading times occur because the pages are designed for static, though enticingly clickable, content. Since the AMP project is built with existing technology, adding it to your website is actually pretty painless. All the major content management systems, such as WordPress, have plugins that generate AMP content automatically, and the best part is that it’s free, unless you are looking for premium support.

It’s important to note that Google started highlighting AMP enabled sites in its search results in 2016.

How Can You Test Your Website for Loading Time?

There are several tools that can help you see just how quickly your site loads on a mobile device. Usually, these platforms run a test and then offer not only a rundown of the results, but helpful suggestions for improvement. Some of the suggestions can be a bit technical, though. The two tools to start out with are:

  1. PageSpeed Insights from Google
  2. Website Speed test from Pingdom

Bottom line: the mobile web is only expected to growth in coming years. It is certainly the future of the internet, communications, and all kinds of commerce. But, with this trend comes the need for quick loading, seamless, and well-designed content. Whether or not Google’s July update with affect your site, you can’t afford to ignore it.

How to Use LinkedIn for Recruiting in Your Small Business

With half a billion members across 200 countries, over 10 million active job listings, and access to over 9 million companies, LinkedIn has become the “de facto tool for professional networking.” Thus, it isn’t surprising that many smaller businesses in particular are trying to capitalize on the social network as a relatively painless means of recruiting talented candidates. After all, LinkedIn has been working hard over the past few years to make the business of locating and engaging potential candidates as easy and as cost-effective as possible.

But, all of this doesn’t take away from the fact that as useful and as powerful as LinkedIn is as a recruiting platform, there are still several drawbacks and pitfalls that small businesses need to be aware of before dipping their toes in the water.

Why Use Use LinkedIn as a Recruiting Tool

When it comes to hiring within the business world LinkedIn is where it’s at. Recruiters, head hunters, and hiring managers are increasingly turning to LinkedIn in order to find potential candidates. In fact, recent statistics indicate that over 90 percent of recruiters use the social network to vet candidates. Driving this trend is LinkedIn’s set of advanced search tools that allow any recruiters and business owners who are looking to fill a position to easily find users based on specific keywords and other variables. They can then make a connection request or send potential candidates a message via InMail about a specific job opportunity. LinkedIn groups, which are typically centered around a common skill, interest, or industry, also gives recruiters and hiring professionals the ability to locate potential candidates and create connections.

So, the fact that LinkedIn has an appeal among smaller businesses is to be expected.

The Challenges to Recruiting on LinkedIn

Small businesses tend to turn to LinkedIn for recruiting as a way to save time and money during the hiring process. But, herein lies the biggest challenge. Small businesses have fewer resources to confirm that the information provided in a given profile is in fact accurate. Consider a recent survey conducted by LendEDU which reported that 34 percent of respondents lie to some degree on their LinkedIn profile, with over 10 percent responding that their LinkedIn profile is completely made up!

Another issue is the amount of noise and competition already happening on the platform. Long gone are the days when merely posting a sentence or two about a job opening would be enough to attract the attention of talented candidates. Now recruiters and those involved in hiring need to both actively reach out to potential hires and ensure that the company’s own presence on the platform accurately portrays the unique brand, culture, vision, and opportunities available to employees. Job titles and their descriptions must also be carefully optimized around the search phrases most likely to be used by potential candidates.

How Small Businesses Can Win at LinkedIn Recruiting

One of the biggest factors to successful recruiting at LinkedIn lies in how businesses view the platform in the first place. LinkedIn can’t (and shouldn’t) do all the vetting work for you. Business owners and their managers should see LinkedIn as powerful tool in their recruiting toolbox. But, at the end of the day, it is nothing more than that- a tool that comes with its own set of limitations.

When recruiting efforts on LinkedIn are combined with responsible vetting techniques, such as writing a clear job description (to attract the right people), checking references, conducting a smart interview, and being clear about the kinds of people you really want to bring on board, then good hiring decisions are much more likely to follow. In a certain sense, LinkedIn hasn’t really changed the rules when it comes to hiring; it’s just made following them all the more important.

Why Outsource the Fraud Protection in Your Growing Online Business

If you are doing any kind of business online these days, then fraud protection has to be one of your top concerns. It’s no secret that incidents of online fraud and significant, high profile breaches in data security have been on the rise over the past decade. In fact, ecommerce fraud rose a whopping 30 percent in 2016, and according to a recent survey of executives, over 80 percent reported that their companies were the targets of cyber attacks, originating both from within the company and from the outside. That’s up from 75 percent in 2015, and 70 percent in 2013.

As more and more financial and commerce-based transactions move online and on mobile devices, cyber criminals are setting their sights on these channels. Many of these individuals are armed with a sophisticated toolbox of bots and stolen consumer data that includes credit card numbers and other identifying information, which they can use to hijack or create customer accounts in order to make purchases.

Online fraud can not only lead to lost revenue, but it can compromise sensitive customer or business data, lead to expensive charge-back fees, the loss of merchant accounts, and put a big dent in a business’ reputation. The bottom line is succumbing to a cyber attack is just like any other business emergency or disaster and should be treated that way.

Why Outsourcing Fraud Protection is a Smart Move

In an effort to save money, many smaller online companies typically try to manage their fraud prevention in-house. But more often than not the numbers don’t support this approach. The reality is that fraud protection can get very expensive. For example, recent research suggests that fraud and charge-back management can consume between 13 to 20 percent of a business’ operational budget. There are also numerous significant limitations inherent to many in-house fraud prevention programs and systems, such as being able to keep up with the constantly changing tactics, tools, and platforms being employed by cyber criminals. For businesses that operate world-wide, in-house systems must also be able to keep up with a large-scale set of transactions that may vary by region. Without this ability, many legitimate orders may be rejected, leading to a significant loss in current and future sales.

While letting go of in-house systems may be hard to do for something as sensitive and as important as fraud prevention, they are many benefits to outsourcing this function. Here is a rundown of the three biggest pluses:

  1. They use the latest technology. By outsourcing fraud prevention to an outside company, the business will gain access to the latest technology and screening techniques, as well as up-to-date industry knowledge. So, as the world of cyber crime evolves or consumer behavior changes, the business will still enjoy protection.
  1. Sales are processed more efficiently and accurately. Today, online consumers have come to expect instant results. Whenever an order is flagged for further verification, a dedicated, outside service can quickly move to confirm customer details. Furthermore, a good fraud protection provider will use more accurate screening tools for global and regional sales so that fewer legitimate orders require verification in the first place. This can lead to a better customer experience and the ability to enter more markets.
  1. Businesses can free up precious resources. When a growing online business diverts significant resources to in-house fraud prevention that means fewer resources are available for things like product research and development and strategic management. By passing this responsibility off to a qualified fraud prevention service, business owners and their staff are then free to focus growing and developing the business.

Now, it almost goes without saying that the quality, level, and extensiveness of service among fraud screening providers will vary, so business owners and their management teams need to be exercising their full due diligence before agreeing to work with a particular company. But, once an appropriate fraud screening provider has been found, relying on their services can bring a dramatic, positive change for online sales and business growth in general, and that’s something any business would want.

Is Your Small Business Benefiting from the Sharing Economy?

Over the past few years, the term “sharing economy” has been increasingly grabbing the spotlight. It’s not just the breadth of available products and services that are drawing attention, it’s the fact that these emerging markets, which allow people to share resources with one another, are disrupting the status quo of some of the world’s oldest, most enduring industries.

The question now arises: how much will the sharing economy shape the future of business- especially the smaller, more agile entities?

What is the Sharing Economy?

The sharing economy refers to an evolving web of markets and communities (most of which are based online) that allows people to share resources, such as equipment, services, and skills- often at a significantly lower cost than traditional retail or employment arrangements. These exchanges tend to benefit both sides of the transaction. It allows people and entities to use valuable resources, such as cars, office or residential space, and credit, without having to own these resources or go through an extended process to access them. At the same time, it creates opportunities for others to get additional value from their possessions, talents, or efforts.

For smaller companies the sharing economy means that they can now get a loan directly from peers or small lenders, get professional services, such as copy writing, app development, and graphic design, share office space, hire someone to drive them to their destination, and stay at someone’s house instead of a hotel when on business travel. And, the best part of it all is that it costs them a fraction of the price and requires significantly less time to conduct the transaction.

Five Areas Where the Sharing Economy is Helping Smaller Businesses

Let’s take a closer at each of the five areas mentioned above and how small businesses are benefiting from them:

1. Business financing. In some respects, after the Great Recession the traditional financial world has been upended. In order to fill a small business funding gap left by many mainstream banks, an assortment of platforms and products, often backed by powerful proprietary technology, having been cropping up in recent years. These products and platforms include: business cash advances, short-term microloans, peer-to-peer lending, crowd-funding, and peer-to-peer banking, to name a few. Collectively, these products are known as alternative financing, and their streamlined approach to getting money to the businesses, organizations, and individuals that need it are starting to turn heads even among the traditional financial institutions.

2. Professional services. Freelance market-places, such as Fiverr, Odesk, Guru.com, and assortment of alternatives, have been a game changer when it comes to connecting businesses to freelance workers offering affordable professional services, in areas such as writing and translation, graphic design, app development and web development. These platforms all help to match buyers with the sellers of desired services. Service providers generally are asked to create a profile where they include a description of the services which they offer, examples of their work and in some cases information about their rates. Buyers register with the platform and then post projects outlining their requirements or search through seller profiles before settling on a particular service provider.

3. Co-working.  One of the biggest expenses new small businesses have is maintaining a physical presence once they get too big to run out of a home office. Trying to rent office space can get very expensive, quickly eating up their profit margins. Enter co-working. Co-working allows freelancers and micro businesses to work in a dynamic office environment at relatively low cost by spreading overhead expenses, such as rent, utilities, storage, mail, and office supplies, as well as sharing some equipment and other resources. Businesses typically pay a weekly or monthly fee that’s based on space requirements as well as the amount of time spent onsite.

4. Business Travel. Ridesharing and carsharing has forced traditional taxi services and rental car companies to adopt to technology, such as the ubiquity of smartphone apps, and may actually lead to lower industry-wide prices over time. With apps like Uber and Lyft, you can hail a ride from drivers in their personal vehicles. With services like Car2Go and Zipcar, you can rent a shared vehicle and only pay for the time you drive it. Depending on the time and location, rides with ridesharing companies can cost half the amount of an identical trip made by a taxi, and since carsharing companies mostly charge for the actual time and distance you drive, they are much cheaper than rental car companies, which typically charge by the day.

5. Business Accommodations. The online home-sharing network Airbnb has given the hotel industry a run for it’s money by allowing private home owners to open up their properties to paying guests. While business travelers by and large may still prefer a stay at a hotel as opposed to overnight accommodations at a private residence, there seems to be increased interest in using the service for business trips, particularly since prices tend to be more affordable.

In short, the sharing economy has been a boon for small businesses, and all indications suggest that its influence is set to grow in the coming years.