Category Archives: Business Tips

Motivating Employees in Your Small Business

Now that the holidays have come and gone, it’s time to get back to work and start focusing on the new year’s challenges and opportunities. One such challenge (and opportunity) that you may be facing as a small business owner is how you will keep your employees motivated and putting in an above average performance throughout the year- especially if you can not afford to throw a generous benefits package their way.

teamwork-concept-1382435-mMany businesses, big and small, get employee motivation wrong, putting emphasis and money into unproductive areas. But, you can avoid this by keeping in the mind the following five factors:

1. Hire the right people. Having motivated employees really starts here. While skills and experience are certainly important, you want to be as certain as you can be that this person has the personality and passions necessary to work in your business. Keep in mind that you are really trying to build a team. If someone really isn’t a good fit for your business, even if he or she has a resume full of amazing qualifications, then let this person go. It’s not worth it. Even the time and money-consuming task of having to recruit and hire a new person, is a small price to pay to get the right team working for you.

2. Create a clear and compelling vision. But the right team by itself won’t be enough. You need to rally them around a clear and compelling purpose and mission. When everyone is unified around a common goal, big things happen.

3. Give your employees some space. The more authority, wiggle room, and autonomy you can comfortably give your employees, the better. The more they are allowed to make the decisions and take the actions that are needed to get the job done in the best way, the more you will see them rise to the occasion.

4. Provide opportunities for advancement. Static jobs and roles are not only boring, but they are unfulfilling as well. Give your employees opportunities to advance themselves, their skills, and their careers through cross training, continuing educational opportunities, coaching, and feedback. They will be both more well-rounded and more motivated to do their jobs.

5. Randomly recognize achievement. There is a big difference between rewards versus recognition when it comes to motivating your employees. The problem with sticking to a rewards program is that the goal becomes getting the reward itself, while the bigger picture of doing a good job gets lost. A better strategy is the randomly recognize and reward outstanding performance. This keeps your employees focused where it counts while offering come recognition of their efforts.

In short, motivating the employees in your small business is not just about money and rewards. There are a bunch of other factors that can make all the difference between employee motivation being an opportunity instead of a challenge.

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4 Simple Ways to Increase Your Online Shopping Cart Conversions

If you are selling products online, then one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is not just getting visitors to your site, it’s how to get those visitors to complete a sale- especially if they have actually added items to their shopping cart.

cartAccording to the web research company, Baymard Institute, an average of 67.75% of all online shopping carts are abandoned before a sale is made. While that may seem like a pretty overwhelming statistic, the truth is there are many things that online store owners can do to improve conversions and ultimately increase sales. But, this takes some understanding of why people are abandoning ship in the first place.

That said, here are 4 easy ways you can really change the purchasing dynamic at your online store:

1. Make all costs associated with the purchase visible and clear from the beginning. Several studies point to the fact that the biggest reason people abandon their shopping carts is due to unanticipated or overly high expenses for things like shipping, taxes, and other fees. For this reason, it definitely pays to make all these expenses very clear to the potential buyer from the start.

Also, you should try to understand which of the the expenses are putting people off and why. Free shipping, for example, is a very common “service” that many online buyers are beginning to expect. Where this is not feasible, you may want to try some workarounds, such as offering free shipping once a certain purchasing threshold has been reached.

2. Look for ways to re-target shopping cart abondoners. Many online merchants don’t realize that 99% of first time visitors will not buy on the first visit. However, 75% of those people who abandon their carts are doing so with the intention to buy later on. Not only that, but 72% of those who abandoned their cart will buy within the first 12 to 24 hours. To capture the attention of these potential buyers, you can run a series of remarketing campaigns via Google Adwords. If you have their email addresses, then you could even run an email campaign encouraging them to return and complete the sale.

3. Emphasize the unique qualities and features of buying from your store. If you can’t compete on price for the products you sell, then make sure you emphasize any other perks or unique selling points, such as free return shipping and live support, that make buying from your store appealing. Not only should these features be prominently displayed on your site and marketing materials, but you should also make sure they are emphasized in your retargeting efforts.

4. Make it easy to complete the purchase. Many potential buyers are turned off by the “obstacles” that stand in the way of making a purchase. This includes things like: having to open an account to make the purchase, having extremely limited payment options, having to fill in many fields of information, and having poor site and shopping cart navigation.

In short, increasing shopping cart conversions is not rocket science. If you are selling quality products and your site is relatively easy-to-navigate and your prices are reasonable given the overall value that customers are receiving, then a few simple tweaks can really make all the difference to your conversions and the overall buying experience.

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Why You May Want to Think Twice About Working Over 40 Hours Per Week

If you are running your own small business, it can frequently feel like there are just not enough hours in the week. After all, we’ve got many hats to wear, many tasks to accomplish, and limited resources to do it all. Thus, it’s little surprise that the title “small business owner” so often finds itself in the same sentence as “chronically over-worked.”

stressedBut, if you are constantly clocking in over 40 hours a week, then you may want to rethink your workload. Several studies point to the fact that consistently working more than 40 hours a week is just unproductive.

I recently stumbled upon an interesting post over at Salon.com that does a beautiful job of explaining the background behind the tried and true 40 hour work week as well as what has happened in recent years to glorify over-working and ultimately create the perception that more hours equal more productivity. There are a lot of good points in this post, and it’s definitely worth a read.

But, it still leaves small business owners and entrepreneurs with the problem of trying to get everything done in a limited amount of time. Because, let’s be honest here, even with all the nifty technology and tools that are supposed to make our work lives easier, our to-do lists just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Is there any hope?

I think there is. But, there are some tweaks to be made to your work schedule, and though they may seem small, they can really make all the difference.

Get the mindset right. First things first. If you really want to put some real balance back into your life, then you have to recognize the true value of having it- not only in terms of your personal life, but also in terms of your productivity within your business. If you want to accomplish more and do it better, then you have to be running on a full tank of gas, otherwise you’ll just stall out. Once you’ve accepted balance as a priority, you can move forward.

Only go over 40 hours a week in short bursts. One of the findings pointed out in the article mentioned above, is that working over-time for short periods, such as two or three weeks, can and does help to boost productivity. Work levels start to fall in incremental levels, however, as this OT becomes chronic. The take away here is that when you are working on your business, you should try to organize the work or project load in such a way that you are not steaming ahead the whole time. There should be deliberate peaks and valleys in your work cycle.

Take on temporary help. In order to smooth out your productivity without having to strain your personal schedule, one strategy is to bring in temporary help for very defined tasks. You can do this by creating micro-jobs within your business or by temporary hiring a freelance worker.

Bribe yourself. If you happen to be a workaholic, then you need to create situations that will practically force you to take a break from your hectic schedule. If you allow yourself to put in a ton of hours one week, for example, then do it on the condition that the following week you’re going to take off time to spend with family and friends. And, don’t trust yourself to keep to your promises, either. Get others involved to help you stay true to your personal commitments. You’ll be happier… and so will they.

In short, though today there’s a kind of glorification on over-working, it’s an extremely unhealthy way to work or live. By making a few, simple changes to the way you organize your time and to what you make a priority, you can bring back some much needed balance.

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10 Good Online Groups and Communities for Small Business Owners

Knowing where to turn to for advice and support in your business, can really make all the difference between success and failure. I know that may sound a bit strong if you are looking at this statement from the outside. But as small business owners, we see our fair share of ups and downs, questions, set-backs, and high learning curves. It’s the stuff that scares many aspiring entrepreneurs away. The minute they stick their toes in the water and it feels a bit chilly, they’re out in a flash.

In order to maintain some sense of balance, as small business owners, we need a place to ask questions, receive support, and get some much-needed feedback.

teamwork-1-1254520-mIronically, though the Internet is seen as a super connector, bringing individuals together across tremendous physical and cultural divides, it can sure feel lonely if you don’t know where to put yourself. There are all these conversations going on, yet it may be hard to find them or even know where to jump in once you do.

That said, the following are some great online groups and communities for small business owners to check out:

LinkedIn Groups

Many business owners may have some vague idea that Linkedin is a place where business connections happen, but they may not realize the full potential of LinkedIn for business knowledge, support, and advice. This is where LinkedIn Groups comes in. While there are many great groups to choose from, the following three provide a consistent flow of quality posts and discussion:

Small Business Accelerator- This is a great networking and information sharing group for entrepreneurs. You have to apply to join.

Small Business Online Community- An engaged online group for small business owners. Like the group above, you have to apply to join this group.

Social Media Marketing Networking Club- This group originally got it’s start on Social Media Examiner and has since moved over to LinkedIn. It’s one of the best LinkedIn groups there is for small business owners and has a very helpful, supportive community.

Google+ Groups

Google groups are a relatively recent addition to Google’s G+ social network. But, they are all abuzz if you know where to look. Here are my top three picks for small business owners:

Building a Company- Content and discussions around the nitty-gritty of building a business.

Entrepreneurs, Self-Employed, and Small Business- An active community for new and upcoming small business owners

Social Media Strategy- Active discussion on social media for small businesses and non-profits

Notable Forums

Compared to the fast-paced flow of information and constant changes that have come to characterize social media, forums may seem like an old school tactic that has past its time. Not so! There are plenty of vibrant forums to turn to for advice and support. Here are my two top picks:

Open Forum- This well-known online community and forum is hosted by American Express. Ask and receive advice and keep up to date on the latest in small business news.

Small Business Brief- This forum has been around for a few years, and it still supports an active community

Business Blogs and Social Bookmarking

We can’t leave out business blogging communities and social bookmarking sites from this list. Many niche sites have an active and helpful following. The two best in my opinion are:

Firepole Marketing- “Marketing that works!” This blog has a very active, loyal, and cohesive following. It definitely pays to spend some time there not only to absorb the insights, but to learn from and connect with the other readers.

BizSugar- This is a social bookmarking site for small business news run by the same people behind Smallbiztrends.com, and it supports a pretty active community.

Last, but not least, one other option that I didn’t mention above is Facebook groups. The reason I’m not including examples here is due to the fact that you’ll be better off finding a smallish group on Facebook that is specifically targeted to your niche or interest. There offer a lot of potential engagement, though, so it pays to search around for something relevant and not spammy.

Now it’s your turn. Where do you hang out online for inspiration, support, and advice?

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The Traits of Successful Authority Business Bloggers

After Google started changing the search game a couple of years back, there’s been a lot of discussion about blogging “authority.” Now, plenty of people throw around the term indiscriminately. But what does being an authority within a given blogging niche look like? And, how do you get there with your business blog?

If you examine the most well-known A-list bloggers, you’ll find several traits and characteristics in common:

They communicate with authority. Just about any known authority blogger will agree that the biggest names out there are not necessarily the ones who know the most about their chosen niche. Part of what sets them apart from the rest is how they give over the knowledge and observations that they do have. Now, there is a paper-thin fine line between talking with authority and sounding like a know-it-all. To find that balance just keep this in mind: someone who is truly an authority in a particular subject won’t try so hard to get others to acknowledge it, and he or she will be open to further knowledge and understanding. Having a question, needing help, or even making a mistake won’t seem threatening.

They are connected to other authority bloggers. The top bloggers in any given niche know each other, work with each other, and promote each other’s work- even if they seem to have competing websites. Unless you are working in a hyper small niche, there is enough of an Internet traffic pie that you don’t have to worry about another site stealing your traffic. On the contrary, there is definitely strength in numbers, and you’ll frequently see top bloggers mentioning, promoting, working with, and in general supporting other top bloggers.

They have large follower numbers across channels. Take a look at the online social profiles of successful bloggers and you’ll no doubt see that they have an active presence on several different platforms and mediums and a pretty significant following in each. Now, obviously, what constitutes as “large” will really depend on your niche, so take that into consideration. Also, I suspect that many top bloggers hand over some of their social media maintenance to their hired staff or virtual assistants.

They have Klout. Put simply, it’s not just that people share your content, it’s also that those who share your content are influential in their own respects and have large followings themselves.

Their content is about relevant and timely issues. Top bloggers know their audience really well. They know what topics to discuss and how to discuss them. They also excel at content curation, using services such as Paper.li and Scoop.it.

They know where to promote their content, products, or services to get the biggest impact. The minute a successful authority blogger has a new product, service, or announcement to promote, he or she just sends out a few emails and instantly has recommendations and several links back to his or her site. This last trait is really a build up from all the points above, and it allows the blogger to instantly get targeted, quality traffic to his or her site.

In short, being an authority business blogger involves having the right mindset, realizing the importance of networking with other bloggers and being in touch with the needs and wants of your target audience. Understand this, and you’ll rise up in the ranks of blogging authority in no time flat.

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10 Factors that Can Be Preventing Your Business from Growing

Even though most topics in business tend to be rather technical and dry, the truth is a business is a lot like a living organism. It’s why many organic terms, such as growth, development, and maturity have found their way into the business vocabulary. An implicit aspect of the organic business model is that you have to make sure that your business gets what it needs to survive and thrive or else it will just whither away.

But, how can you tell if your business is being nurtured enough? Here are 10 factors to be on the lookout for that can quickly stunt the growth and development of your business:

1. You’re too focused on short-term gain. At their core, many of the factors below really can be traced back to a lack of long range foresight. Business owners end up eying instant payouts and in the process compromise on their long term gain. Sometimes this happens because the owners are too financially dependent on their business’ performance; other times owners just aren’t considering the long-term ramifications of the decisions (or lack of decisiveness) they are making today.

2. You have no or limited access to outside financing. If you don’t have ready access to funds- whether it’s a line of credit, a business loan, or even a pool of your personal financial resources- then you will have any extremely hard time growing and developing your business. You won’t have the capital needed to cover a cash shortfall and you won’t have the money to invest in necessary equipment, supplies, and even additional workers.

3. You’re not investing enough in your employees. Your employees make your business go round. If your employee satisfaction is at an all-time low, then it will hold your business back in several ways: your employees will be less productive, they’ll be less likely to offer their ideas about how to do things better and they will in general take less initiative on the job; their dissatisfaction will also effectively push customers away.

4. You’re not investing enough in your equipment and furnishings. Your physical assets, such as equipment and furniture, will eventually, become outdated, obsolete, or just plain too old to be put into service. If you don’t make a sufficient effort to revamp or replace those assets that have gone past their prime, then you may be exposing your business to an assortment of added expenses, such as repair costs, down time and lost productivity.

5. You’re not paying enough attention to the competition. There are two main reasons why you will be missing out by not looking at what your competitors are doing: looking at the strengths and weaknesses of these companies and how this is effecting their performance can give you vital information about your target market’s preferences; you can also use the information you get about your competition to help you differentiate your products and services from those of your competitors.

6. You aren’t cultivating customer feedback. If you aren’t actively trying to get your customers to tell you how they are feeling about your business as well as what the overall customer experience is like, then you are missing out on a golden opportunity to improve your business and strengthen customer engagement and loyalty.

7. You aren’t delegating enough. If you want your business to grow then that automatically includes bringing in other people to help you run your operations. These people will take care of the tasks that you have neither the time, interest, nor the expertise to complete. There are several ways to delegate jobs: You can give your current employees more autonomy and input; you can hire additional workers to complete certain roles: you can hire contractual workers for specific jobs.

8. You aren’t reaching out to other businesses and professionals. Similar to the factor mentioned above, if you are not actively perusing a bit of synergy with other business and/ professionals, then you may be missing out on countless, amazing opportunities to expand your reach ( via co-promotion), reduce costs (via group purchasing), and increase your product or service offerings via some strategic partnership.

9. You are not paying enough attention to industry trends. The minute you take your eye off the road, you are susceptible to crashing. If you don’t have your eyes and earns trained on key market and industry trends, then you will be setting yourself up to miss the boat on significant industry shifts and leave a wide opening for competitors to gain valuable market share.

10. You have a negative attitude. Last, but certainly not least, your own attitude can hold your business back big time. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you are putting out negative vibes, if you are cynical, argumentative, and unyielding then rest assured your employees and customers will pick up on it and send that same negative energy right back at you. That is most definitely not the kind of environment that will foster your business’ growth and development.

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15 Resources to Help You Create and Update a Social Media Policy for Your Business

As social media continues to evolve and expand, the business world has been hard pressed to keep up. Not only must businesses be concerned about what is appropriate for employees to post about their company within social networks, both at work and privately, but they also need to be mindful of a whole host of murky legal issues, such as how social media can be used to screen job applicants. Taken from a different angle, a business’ policies on social media usage can set clear guidelines that direct employees on how they can use social media to achieve business goals.

That said, if you are creating a social media policy in your business for the first time or you need to make a major overhaul on your existing policy, there are many resources online that can help you along the way. The following list are some of the best out there. Just make sure that you also consult with a qualified legal professional before you initiate any policies on social media usage in your business.

Sample Social Media Policies

Social Media Goverence

Socialmedia.biz

Social Media Policies Directory

Davefleet.com

Informative Articles on Social Media Policies from Around the Web

Social Media History Becomes a New Job Hurdle- New York Times

10 Tips for Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Business- Social Media Examiner

Legal Response to Newcomers’ Concerns in Launching Social Media Campaigns- kbhilferlaw.com

Tips for Updating Your Company’s Social Media Policy- Mashable

Acting General Counsel releases report on social media cases- National Labor Relations Board

How to Write a Social Media Policy- Inc

Does Your Social Media Policy Violate Federal Law?- Social Media Today

How to Develop a Social Media Policy- About.com

Other Helpful Online Social Media Resources

Policy Tool Generator for Social Media

Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit

Collection of social media policy resources

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The Secret to Getting Things Done

Have you ever looked in amazement at one of those super doers? You know who I’m talking about. Those people who seem to defy the confines of time to get a seemingly insurmountable list of things done, day after day. Have you ever looked at these people and wondered what you are doing wrong?

Even if you accept the fact that some people are by nature multi-taskers, this still doesn’t explain all the highly productive people out there who aren’t. What is it that they are doing differently?

The big secret to being exceptionally productive in your business and other areas of your life is not to try to change who you are, but to recognize how you process information, how you make decisions, and how you approach tasks in general. Once you’ve figured this out, you can then look for ways to either fill in the gaps or purposely set up some natural opposition in those areas where you tend to go astray.

With this is mind, here are several steps to consider:

Identifying the problem areas. If you really want to improve your productivity, then one of the first steps is figuring out where in your daily routine you are slowing down or getting held back. Are there certain tasks that you always seem to push off? Are there activities that you are doing that are not providing enough payback- not in the short-term, nor in the long-term? When are your least productive hours of the day? Sometimes a slow down in productivity can happen at certain times of the day or in particular venues.

Determine why things are not getting done. Once you’ve pinpointed the problem areas, try to figure out the causes behind them. Trying to fix the problems without identifying the root cause won’t get you very far. Are there tasks you just dislike doing or aren’t good at? Do you get very tired towards the afternoon? Are there too many distractions in front of you? Are you working too many hours or trying to accomplish too much in too short a time? Are there any external factors that may be affecting your productivity, such as health-related issues, money stress, or marital problems?

Getting to the right tools and techniques. There are many groups out there from time management “experts” to productivity app developers all proclaiming that they have the definitive list of tips, tools, techniques, etc to make you productive beyond your wildest dreams. But, the unavoidable truth is that some things will work, but others won’t because everyone and every situation is different. If you are in touch with who you are, where you are not being so productive and why, you can then devise methods to help alleviate the situation.

So, for example, if you tend be a bit scattered and forgetful by nature, then having a good time management app or productivity tool could be a real plus. If you find that you are more productive in the early morning or late by night, then you could try to re-arrange your schedule so you are doing some work during those peak times. If you are having a hard time being productive and motivated at work in general then you could tweak your break schedule and make sure to get some time away from work. If there are tasks that you dislike doing, you could break the tasks down into small increments, you could hire someone to do those tasks for you, or initiate some other changes to make the task a bit more fun or enjoyable… You get the point?

Get others involved. Where possible, getting others involved in your daily routine can make you a lot more productive. But here “getting involved” can mean a few different things: hiring someone to do the task for you, working alongside other people who are doing similar things, asking a co-worker or friend to help push you through the task by checking in on your progress, or even just having the emotional support and encouragement of others around you.

In short, the secret to getting things done is being in touch with yourself and the work that needs to be accomplished and being able to sift out the very unproductive tips, tools, and techniques that claim to increase your productivity, yet will only worsen it.

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February 12, 2012

4 Easy Business Networking Tips That Anyone Can Do

Unless you’re one of those uber confident people who just loves to work the crowd, business networking can be one of the more daunting aspects of running a business. If you are not a natural networker, there are nevertheless several things you can do to make the process more feasible. Finding an effective combination of self-promotion and relationship building may be hard, but can come with a little practice; the same is true of putting aside any fears of rejection.

 

 

Even if the thought of networking makes your heart race, here are four easy business networking tips that anyone can do: 

1. Be yourself. The biggest, surprisingly unspoken, rule of networking is to stop trying to network in the first place. Both online and in face-to-face interactions, people will be more receptive to you if you don’t try to be something (or someone) you’re not. Be true to yourself and be genuine in your efforts to connect to others. Every person has his or her strong points and areas of expertise. Find out what they are and put those forward. 

2. Focus on building trust. These days any mention of business networking is often quickly followed by trust. For example, even though many studies point the fact that consumers spend inordinate amounts of time on social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter they aren’t exactly sitting there waiting to be sold to. In fact it’s quite the opposite- many have become jaded at best and down-right irritated at worst at the attempts various companies make to promote their products and services via social media platforms.

If you want to get in on the action, you should first to look for ways to offer assistance, solve a problem, provide other constructive input. Once your intended targets recognize the value of what you have to offer, they will be much more likely to do business with you- whether online or off.

3. Join like-minded groups of people. If you want to be successful at networking then you have to be seen. But, you should specifically seek out groups and meet-ups with people who share your passions, world views, or some other connecting factor. Why is this important? Because it gives you an “in,” some common ground upon which you can go about building future relationships.

4. Be educated about those around you. One of the fundamental truths to being successful in any relationship is that you need to be aware of the other person. What does this person like and dislike? What makes this person happy, sad? Before going into any situation where you expect to network, make it a point to do a little research on the people or organizations you want reach out to or at least express an openness to want to learn about them. Being too self-centered will likely not get you so far in your networking efforts. 

In short, if you want to be a successful business networker then be yourself, be helpful, and be open to appreciating what others have to offer.

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Reduce the Risk of Filing Your Business Taxes Electronically

As the year comes to an end many small businesses owners may already be thinking about the upcoming tax season. If you are among that population then here’s one more thing to think about: If you plan on filing your business taxes electronically or will be working with sensitive personal and financial information online in preparation for filing tax documents, then make sure you take enough precautions to ensure the safety of your data. There is an eager population of online hackers, fraudsters, and identity thieves hoping to turn your tax season into a lucrative fishing season.

 

Cyber-crime has been on the rise keeping pace with advances in technology that are pushing more and more transactions and sensitive personal and financial data online. According to the latest annual report by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the number of recorded cyber-crime related complaints were the second highest in 2010 since the organization’s inception. This trend was also reported in the 2010 CSO Cyber Security Watch Survey, sponsored by Deloitte & Touche.

That said, here are a few tips to help you reduce the security risks involved in preparing and filing your tax return electronically:

  • Keep your security software and settings up-to-date. Make sure that you are using the latest version of any security software that you have installed. Most services have a setting that allows for automatic updates.

 

  • Stay wired. Where possible, avoid sending sensitive information via wireless Internet connections. If you must file wirelessly, make sure your wireless network is locked and data is encrypted, and use a WPA2 connection if possible.

 

  • Avoid transmitting sensitive information via email. Email as a general rule is not a secure way to send sensitive data so be very selective about the information you send. Be wary of any sites or services requesting data such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and information, bank account information, or passwords via email. Even if the message claims to be from the IRS, you should refrain from sending anything that could be exploited by identity thieves Where a sensitive document needs to be sent, then make sure it is password protected.

 

  • Watch out for scams. As tax time approaches, scammers get busy sending out official-looking email, supposedly from well-known tax preparers and tax-prep software vendors, such as H&R Block and TurboTax. They use these messages to lure people into providing sensitive personal and financial data. Again, as mentioned above, a legitimate site will never request such information over email.

 

  • Keep tabs on your credit reports and accounts. Shortly after filing your taxes make sure to take a look at your credit report for any suspicious activity that might show that your identity has been stolen. You should also make it a point to constantly review banking and credit accounts for any fraudulent transactions.

In short, if you want to avoid getting burned by cyber criminals this tax season then make sure you’re not taking their bait or inadvertently sending data into their awaiting nets

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