Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Protecting Your Online Reputation

Rapidly developing tech trends have made it increasingly more important for business owners to maintain a presence online. From engaging with customers on Facebook to rewarding your most loyal patrons with specials on Foursquare; your online reputation can often make or break your business. Engaging with customers online requires the same calculated planning execution as every other part of managing your business. Corporations often hire communications firms often look at case studies and develop strategies for crisis management, but it can be somewhat expensive and is often not an option for small business. 

 Here are some tips for managing the online presence for your small business:



  1. Planning- It is very important to have very clear goals for engagement with your customers.  Look over your mission statement and make sure all media messages fall in line with it. Remember to always have the customer in mind when present on any social media outlet!
  2. Use listening tools- Most major social media outlets have made it very easy to monitor what your customers are saying online. This is a critical part of protecting your online reputation because it gives you the opportunity to address comments and concerns before they are no longer relevant. It can also helps you identify the most valuable parts of your brand for each potential customer. If you are opening a bakery in a new neighborhood, it might be beneficial to know that the local food blogger is gluten-free before you send her a dozen of your new triple chocolate cupcakes.
  3. Engage with all feedback (even the negative stuff)- taking control of your online reputation means highlighting the positive comments and reviews, and taking responsibility for every negative experience a customer may have with your business. This can be a daunting task, but there are ways to make resolving these kinds of issues without it being a major blow to your reputation. Working ahead of time to have a few prepared responses can be a tremendous help to engaging with customers in a timely manner.
What suggestions do you have to protect your small business online?

This original blog post, written by BBB Serving MA, ME, RI, & VT, can be found here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Small Biz Talk: Pros vs. Cons of Accepting Credit Cards

Advances in technology have made the the use of credit and debit cards even more important when it comes to small business commerce. If you are considering accepting credit or debit cards as a form of payment for your business, it is important to take a real look at the pros and cons first:


Pros:

  • Debit and credit cards have quickly become the main form of payment. Behavioral studies have shown that consumers are more likely to spend at your establishment because of the convenience of not having to carry cash. 
  • It is also convenient for the business owner to accept card payment. Data from these purchases can be used as an effective accounting/inventory tool with the right software rather than having to record each transaction by hand.

Cons:

  • Despite the laws and security measures put in place to protect business owners, card payments can come with an increased risk of fraud. Scammers that manage to get over on business owners can leave them responsible for all the loss of revenue. 
  • Accepting card payment will also result in small processing fees for your business. If your business accepts card payments for small purchases it could result in more fees than it is worth.

So, What Should You Do?



Small businesses accepting credit and debit cards as a form of payment that have a huge number of transactions can definitely benefit from this expansion. This decision will initially cost your business money and take a little more time for business operations but the payoff is definitely worth it!

What suggestions do you have for owners accepting card payments? 

Blog post repurposed from BBB Serving Boston. Click here to view the original blog post.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Business Directory Scammers - They Don’t ALL Get Away with It

For years, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been warning businesses about yellow page directory scammers. You know the type; they send you an invoice for a directory listing they claimed you ordered, but never did. When you resist, they claim to have an audio recording of someone at your company agreeing to the listing. Actually, they have proof that the answer was “yes”, although we don’t really know what the question was.

If you don’t pay, they threaten to send you to collections. Unfortunately, fearing a black mark on their credit reports, some small businesses, churches, nonprofits and local government agencies paid, and were bilked out of millions of dollars, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The bad news is that it’s difficult to stop these scammers, mostly because they operate outside of the United States. The good news, however, is that the FTC – along with help from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – just shut down three of these scam companies that were based in Montreal. It may be the tip of the iceberg, but it’s definitely a good start.

The best way to protect your company from these directory scams is to:

  1. Educate employees about the scam
  2. Set up systems to weed out bogus bills
  3. Use free BBB resources and bbb.org to check out questionable companies
  4. Report the scams and file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov, so that law enforcers can stay ahead of the curve.


For more information about this recent FTC action, click here. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Hire a Collection Agency

At BBB, we’re often warning consumers to be wary of overly aggressive, disreputable collection agencies. There’s a reason for that – debt collection agencies are one of the most complained about industries to the BBB. In fact, in 2013, the BBB received almost 21,000 complaints against debt collectors – 334 were from Wisconsinites.

But, we shouldn’t reserve our warnings just for consumers. Businesses need to be wary of hiring disreputable collection agencies, too. After all, a bad debt collector can do some serious damage to your company’s reputation. Your collection agency should represent your organization in a responsible and professional manner, and provide a satisfactory rate of recovery while maintaining your public image. 

Here are four tips to hiring a reputable collection agency:


Do your research
Of course, you’ll want to check out the company with the BBB. A company that’s accredited by the BBB has a track record of being a reputable company and abides by our Code of Business Practices. Also, the collection agency should be experienced in your specific industry.

Verify the Agency’s Legitimacy
Collection agencies are required to be licensed by Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions. Make sure the ones you want to hire are bonded, licensed and adhere to the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. They should also be properly insured, in case the debtor sues. You want to make sure that you won’t be held liable for hiring the agency.

Ask about the collection process
If you hire a collection agency, its training and collection procedures should be an open book. How will your customers be contacted, how often, and in what manner? Will the company provide you with regular reports on its activity?  Does the company screen and perform background checks on potential new employees?

Compare Fees and Costs

Make sure the company’s fee structure is clear and in writing. Is it a flat fee or a percentage of what it collects? Are there any other fees or related costs?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Common Business Scams

Better Business Bureau® (BBB) hears regularly from businesses about various scams. 
 
BBB reminds businesses to protect themselves by learning what to look out for.  Often, it’s only a matter of identifying suspicious situations and asking the right questions.
 
Some common business scams include:
 
Phony invoices.  Businesses receive fake invoices demanding payment for product or services never ordered or received.  Sometimes, phony invoices are disguised as solicitations.  Often, if you look closely, you’ll see fine print that identifies the bill as an actual solicitation for business.  Generally, the amount is small enough to not initially raise a red flag. 

Office supply scams.  Businesses may receive an unexpected telephone call first.  Sometimes an advance call is made to find out what brand of supplies or equipment the business uses.  On the return call, the caller claims to represent a reputable company with which the firm often does business.  The caller may state that surplus merchandise is available at a reduced price due to a cancellation or over-order by another purchaser.  Don’t be fooled.

Directory Scams.  A problem that has plagued businesses for decades involves deceptive sales for directories.  Commonly, the scammer will call the business claiming they want to update the company’s information for an online directory or the scammer might erroneously state he is with the Yellow Pages.  The business is later billed hundreds of dollars for listing services they didn’t agree to or for ads they thought would be displayed in the Yellow Pages telephone book.

Stolen identity.  Here, scammers pretend to be a legitimate company for the purposes of ripping off consumers.  When it comes to stolen identity, the company doesn’t necessarily lose money, but their reputation is potentially tarnished as angry customers who were ripped off by the scammers think the real company is responsible.  They may set up a fake website and “hijack” your company address.

Business opportunities.  Many small business owners are approached to invest in other business opportunities.  Promoters may even claim that the venture will increase customer traffic flow into the current business or that little effort is required to collect high profits.  Before jumping into business collaboration, make sure you know the value of the product and its true costs.  Always make sure to check out the business at bbb.org

Charity pitches.  Most businesses are regularly asked to donate funds to needy causes, from requests to support the neighborhood’s latest fundraising project to appeals for sizeable charitable contributions.  While many requests are legitimate, every year small businesses become victims of fraudulent or deceptive charitable solicitation schemes.  Make sure to check out the charity at give.org

Coupon books.  Small business operators are often approached to participate in coupon book promotions.  The business offers discounts or extras in the coupon books that are sold by promoters to consumers.  Problems occur if the promoters change the terms of the coupons to make them more attractive to buyers, when the books are oversold or when books are primarily distributed outside the firm’s normal business area. Make sure the coupon book is being promoted by someone you trust, and that the terms and conditions are clearly spelled out.

Fax back scams.   Businesses will receive an unsolicited fax, usually offering a great deal on a product or a trip.  They often require that you send a fax back or call a toll-free number.  Be careful.  The high costs when you reply are often not disclosed, and you can be charged several dollars if you fax back.

Overpayment scams.  Be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check or credit card and then asks you to wire transfer extra money back to them or to a third party.

BBB offers these tips to help small businesses protect themselves:
  • Keep good records.  Keep documentation of all orders and purchases. This will help you to detect bogus accounts and invoices.
  • Never provide personal information or financial details to anyone over the phone that you don’t know.
  • Make sure that the business billing you is a business you are familiar with and normally do business with.  If not, question it.  Get the name of the person you speak with, the company name, address, phone and website. 
  • Do not give out information about your business to anyone, unless you know what the information will be used for.
  • If solicited for a product, service or donation, always ask for an offer or for further information in writing.  Also, ask for references, so you may verify with other businesses what their experience is and how long they’ve been doing business with the soliciting company.
  • Set clear procedures for the verification, payment and management of all accounts and invoices. Limit the number of employees that are authorized to place orders or pay invoices.
  • Install computer protection software and a firewall.
  • Don’t click on links inside unsolicited e-mails.  They could spread malicious software or viruses.
  • Check a company on bbb.org.  If you feel you have been scammed, report the scam or file a complaint.  Let others in your industry know of the scheme you’ve come across.  
For the latest tips, alerts and scams follow BBB on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Want to Be Successful? Wake Up Insanely Early

This blog post has been repurposed from Fast Company. Click here to view the original post.

There are so many benefits to waking up early, it's hard to ignore. But, actually waking up at the crack of dawn when your other option is sweet, sweet sleep is another thing.

It seems like almost any successful person you can think of starts their morning insanely early: Square CEO Jack Dorsey rises at 5:30 am, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wakes around 5:45 am, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz gets up at 4:30 am. every morning--good thing he has an infinite supply of coffee at his disposal.

Advocates for rising early aren’t suggesting that you can create more time in the day--surely if you rise early you would also go to bed early.

But when you rise before everyone else, it creates a time in the day that no one can force their expectations onto you, says Paul DeJoe, CEO of software company Ecquire. He rises at 4 a.m. every day and says his early-morning routine leaves him better able to appreciate the tasks at hand and think creatively.

Others suggest waking just a half hour earlier than usual to jot down your thoughts and ideas before even getting out of bed. The idea behind this is that in the first moments after waking, your mind is less inhibited and restricting, making it easier to come up with creative ideas.

What you define as “insanely early” is up to you. If you usually wake up at 8 a.m., then perhaps 6 a.m. may seem like an ungodly hour to try and get anything done. Or maybe even a half hour early seems an impossible task.

Do you know someone who gets up insanely early? Let us know below in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Some Businesses are Suffering

This post caught our attention because like many businesses, this restaurant saw an increase of particular complaints in a relatively short period of time. They did some research and found the problem:


Click here to read.


Do you think this could be a similar issue for your business? Comment below.