Monthly Archives: December 2016

Let’s Learn About Mobile Payment Security

Consumer technology is supposed to make things easier. Credit cards are the payment method of choice for so many because they’re fast, easy, and safer than carrying cash. Arguably the biggest advance in the technology of payments is mobile payments with a smartphone. Due to its marketing budget, the best-known mobile payment method is Apple Pay but despite the company’s status as a household name, it’s technology is relatively new and unproven compared to more established players in the field like PayPal and Square.

Technology allowing you to pay using only your smartphone is very new and because of that, cybersecurity is a concern for both consumers and the business owners accepting these mobile payments. But most experts advise not to worry.

Mobile payments use NFC or near field communications. It’s kind of like Bluetooth but the differences make NFC more appropriate for mobile payments. Bluetooth signals have a range of about 30 feet while NFC is limited to about 4 centimeters. Because of the short range, the signal is more secure. If a hacker wanted to intercept your data during the transmission from your phone to the payment terminal, they would have to position a device within 4 centimeters of your device.

Second, Bluetooth technology takes longer to connect the two devices and uses more battery power.

The newest mobile payment technologies have multiple levels of encryption. Apple Pay, for example, doesn’t transmit your credit card information. Instead, the credit card processor receives a special number that is valid for only one transaction.

How to Stay Safe

No technology is absolutely safe and regardless of how secure, it’s only as secure as the person using it. Most security concerns come from older but still popular mobile payment gateways like PayPal and Square. Here are a few ways to stay safe:

1. Don’t use public Wi-Fi- If you’re entering credit card information on your phone, either through manually typing the numbers or swiping the card. You never know who is on these networks and the chances of somebody getting your financial information is higher.

2. Don’t store passwords on your phone- Rest assured, as soon as somebody figures out a better way to authenticate your information, passwords will be a thing of the past. They’re already inconvenient but to combat that problem consumers often do everything they can to make them assessable and trouble-free.

But the more convenient you make it for yourself, the easier you make it for a cyber thief to get their hands on your information. Don’t store your passwords on your phone unless they’re encrypted.

3. Strong passwords- Along the same lines, your password should have no link to you personally. Don’t use your birthday, your son or daughter’s name, your street, or anything else linked to you. That information is publically available and hackers know where to find it.

4. Use a Password on Your Phone- If you’re using your phone to do financial transactions, you must have a password—not the month and year of your birthday either.

5. Stay mainstream- Only use apps from official company app stores and well-known companies. Unless you’re an IT expert that understands the under-the-hood details of cell phones, stay away from jail breaking your phone or any app that relies on a jail broken phone.

6. Have a device locator running on your phone- There are apps for all phones that allow you to track the location of your phone if it’s lost or stolen. Make sure it’s turned on and correctly configured.

7. Don’t link to your mobile device to your debit cards- Let’s say somebody gets a hold of your phone and uses it to make payments. If you have the security features of your phone activated, that will be difficult but if it happens, you will immediately dispute the charges because you’re monitoring your bank and credit card accounts with an app of some sort. (hint)

If it happens, you don’t want the thief emptying your bank account. That would mean you have no money until the problem is resolved. That’s why you don’t use your debit card. Use a credit card. At least the only thing you lose is access to your credit card for a brief period.

8. Examine the payment terminal- You don’t have to be a mobile payment expert. If the machine looks tampered with or there are any other items around it, don’t use it. Devices the size of strawberries have been created in labs that can steal data transmitted through NFC but to date, no real reports have surfaced.

What is real are devices being attached to gas pump readers as well as terminals in other stores that can steal your information.

Increase Your Small Business Profits

As a small business owner, you know that sales, alone, aren’t an indication of your business success. The true measure of success is your business’ profits. True, increasing your total profit for the year usually requires increasing sales, but here’s the rub: if you’re not careful, the cost of increasing sales could lead to decreased profit margins or even a loss. So how can you boost your small business profits this year? Here are eight strategies to fatten up your bottom line.

1. Attract new leads with information marketing

Today’s customers are hungry for information. They want to educate themselves before they talk to a sales person or make a purchase. Providing them with that information can make your business more profitable because it helps you win the customers’ attention, contact information and ultimately their orders. Do it by offering information-packed downloadable special reports, white papers or checklists for free. The information doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be informative and promoted with an attention-getting headline. Promote the giveaway on your website and through social media and require at minimum an email address to gain access to the information. Be sure the giveaway includes a call to action to turn the lead into a paying customer. And don’t forget to follow up on the leads.

2. Use the leads you already have to get paying customers

No matter how you get your leads, if you’re like many small businesses, you don’t follow up on them as much as you should. In fact, chances are you only follow up on the leads you believe are hot leads, and then you may only follow up once or twice. The problem with that approach is two-fold. First, you waste the marketing dollars you spent to get the lead. Second, it keeps you from having ongoing communications with prospects who could become customers. Those possible customers include individuals who are just starting to research their intended purchase, and those who are ready to buy, but who have other more pressing things demanding their attention when you call. Ignore them and you’re likely to lose the sale to a competitor.

To solve the problem – and increase your profits this year – formalize your lead follow-up procedures. Have a plan for following up with the hot leads. List the steps you’ll use to stay in touch, including what to do if you don’t get a response after the first call or two. Plan how you’ll handle leads from customers who don’t appear to be ready-to-buy. Decide how you’ll keep in touch, what information you’ll send them or point them to. Have everything written and scripted out, and automated as much as possible so you’ll easily be able to start the process for each new lead. If you don’t already have it, develop a monthly or twice-monthly email newsletter that you can send out to all prospects who have asked for information about your products and services. The newsletter will let you stay in touch with and convert luke warm, not-yet-ready-to-buy prospects into paying customers.

(Sponsored link: Business Know-How uses and recommends Constant Contact for email marketing.)

Related article: Why salespeople don’t followup and what to do about it

3. Increase order size and/or frequency

The math on this is simple. If you have 100 customers who each spend $50 within one month, you take in $5,000. If you get those same 100 customers to spend $70 a month, you take in $7000 for the month – which translates to more profit for you without increasing your marketing budget. To get order sizes to increase, learn (and train your employees) to upsell and cross sell. If you’re a physical therapist, for instance, you might encourage patients to buy stretch bands, icepacks and other equipment from you so they can continue their exercise program at home. You might also be a reseller for nutritional supplements. Fliers in your waiting area and placing posters where patients will see them while doing therapy can all help sell additional services without your therapists having to “sell.” If you sell products through an online shopping cart, add a function that automatically suggests related products to the shopper.

Related: How to get customers to buy more

4. Boost operational efficiency

The way you’ve “always done things” isn’t necessarily the best way to be doing them now. And, change could give your profits a significant boost.

For instance, what actually gets accomplished at those weekly meetings you hold? Try cutting back on them, freeing your time and your staff’s time to spend on other, income-producing tasks. If there’s information all staff needs to get from you, send it to them in email or set it up on a cloud-based document sharing system.

When was the last time you interviewed different vendors to see if you can get better prices or terms on the inventory or raw materials you buy? Or asked your current vendors for better pricing? What about your merchant account provider? Your phone service? (If you’re still using a tradtional phone line in an area with good cable or other VOIP service, you could be wasting thousands of dollars a year.) Cutting your costs without cutting quality gives your bottom line a nice boost.

Related: How to avoid paying too much for business expenses

How about your inventory system? Is it automated? Or is it manual, labor-intensive and prone to mistakes? While putting in inventory and order management software can be a fairly expensive project, if you do significant sales volume, the initial cost will be offset by the longer-term savings in employee time, and inventory accuracy.

What about all those reports your staff is creating, printing out, and handing to you… the same reports your administrative assistant later files in a file cabinet? Do you really need them printed and filed, using up ink/toner, paper, and file cabinet space (and therefore floor space)? Could they be stored on the cloud instead? Or, for that matter, do you really need those reports at all? And what about the orders or emails they are printing out and saving (in more filing cabinets) “just in case”?

These are just a few of the ways small businesses can increase efficiency. One way to find inefficiencies: write down what you do every day, along with why you do it, the time it takes and the results of doing the task. Ask your employees to do the same thing. Eliminate the activities that aren’t necessary. Another way: ask your employees to suggest better ways of doing the work they do.

5. Keep your employees happy

The process of hiring and training new employees takes time and money. Avoid that cost by doing what you can to retain your existing employees. Over the long run, having engaged, knowledgeable employees will increase your bottom line. You do not, necessarily have to hand out large raises. While you should keep pay competitive, small changes like a coffee machine at work, flex-time hours, a discount or a bonus for making sales will help your employees to feel valued. If they feel valued and rewarded for their work, they are more likely to stick around.

6. Offer maintenance contracts

Maintenance contracts and warranties can add a healthy injection of new capital into your business. After someone buys a product, they want to know that it will work. You can reduce some of their worries by offering maintenance contracts or warranties. In addition to bringing in additional revenue for your company, this will also help to create an ongoing relationship with each client that walks into your business. Before you launch a maintenance contract program, carefully work out the numbers to be sure you charge enough for the contract so that providing service or replacements to maintenance contract customers won’t put you in a money hole.

7. Expand to a new area

A small town may only need one cafe or supplement store. If your small business has already reached market saturation in your area, then consider expanding into a new sector. Before you decide to branch out, you will need to research the area first. How many similar businesses already exist in the area? What is the population density? Will overhead costs be similar to your current storefront?

If you are not quite ready to set up shop in a new town, consider setting up an online storefront to sell your merchandise.

8. Talk to your employees and customers

Your employees are your front line and connection to your customers. They have personal insight into what your customers want and current inefficiencies in your business. Ask them to share these insights! They may be able to make suggestions for new products, product changes, or ways to streamline operating processes.

Make sure you personally interact with customers at some point, too. Work a cash register, answer incoming customer calls, send out surveys to customers. Ask questions to find out if they are satisfied with your company’s products and services, and also be sure you ask customers to tell you what you could be doing differently and what they’d like to buy from you that you don’t now sell. Their answers will help you see ways to continue to boost your business and your bottom line.

Lower Postage and Shipping Costs

The US postage and shipping rate increase for 2016 will take yet another nip out of small business’ budgets and profits. The significance of the increase for any individual business depends, of course, on the amount of mailing and shipping they do. Although the cost of a first class letter remains unchanged at 49 cents, Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express have increased an average of 15.6%. Businesses of all sizes should be focusing on keeping their mailing and shipping charges as low as possible.

Here are 14 practical ways for small businesses to minimize their mailing and shipping costs.

Avoid sending documents by US mail. Use email instead. If your customer agrees, consider sending invoices, proposals, presentations, contract terms and even signed documents via email. (Many office printers can scan documents and save to PDF format. So to send a signed document just print it, sign it scan it, save it to a PDF format and send it as an email attachment.

While you’re sending email to customers, include a PS at the end of the email with a promo and link to your website. For example, “PS I thought you might want to know about the special we’re running this week on green and blue widgets.”

When you do send invoices by mail or ship merchandise to customers, insert ads and promotions for other products and services you sell. The ad gets to ride along for free as long as the weight of the paper it’s printed on doesn’t bump the cost of the mailing into the next rate range.

Get a scale. Weigh each piece of mail to determine the exact amount of postage for each piece you mail, then use the exact amount of postage required. If you use stamps, keep stamps in several denominations on hand.

If you’re mailing a document that weighs less than an ounce, fold it to fit in a standard business size envelope instead of mailing it flat. Postage for the business size-envelope is significantly less than the postage for mailing the same document in a 9 x 12 envelope.

Use standard sized envelopes and postcards. You’ll be charged extra postage for odd-sizes.

If your designer suggests very heavy stock for a mailing, get a sample of the paper and envelope you’d mail and weigh it and find out what it will cost to mail the piece. If the weight of the document increases postage, ask the designer to choose a lighter weight alternative.

Send a postcard instead of a letter. Sending a standard size postcard first class saves about 30% over the cost of sending a first class letter.

RELATED: Why Postcard Marketing is So Effective

Use bulk mail if you regularly mail quantities of letters.  Bulk mail is a term the Post Office uses for both first class and advertising mail that is sent in bulk qantities. Items sent as bulk mail require a permit and cost less per piece to mail. Check with your local postmaster to find out about costs and mail preparation requirements to determine if getting your own permit is practical for your business, or if it would be economical to use a third party mailing service to prepare and send your bulk mail.

Consider Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM).  EDDM is a relatively new service from the Post Office which can save small local business money if they want to mail to residents in their service area. What it does is allow you to send mail to every mailing location in an area you specify, which can be narrowed down to just a mail carrier’s route, if desired.  A “retail” version of this service can be used without getting a mail permit. Read this step-by-step guide for using EDDM for more information, or talk to your local postmaster.

Clean you house mailing lists to eliminate bad addresses and duplicates. When you mail to a bad address you lose the cost of the postage and the cost of the mailing piece

Consider Priority Mail if you want to make an impact, but don’t have to have a document  or package delivered overnight. Depending on the shipping location, Priority Mail may only cost a few pennies more than regular parcel rates.

Save on boxes and mailing envelopes. If you plan to ship an item by priority mail, consider using the boxes and mailing envelopes provided by the Post Office and other shippers. They’re sturdy and free. One caveat: weigh those boxes and envelopes. In some cases the priority mail boxes are heavy enought to bump the mailing price up to the next level, making it more expensive to use the free box than it would be to purchase a box and ship priority mail.

If you sell information products, offer a downloadable or cloud-based version of the product or training material at a reduced cost.  You’ll save the postage and handling.