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Brace Your Business for Online Fraud During Holiday Season

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2015-11-29 14:30

The holiday season is just around the corner, and it’s not just the enthusiastic consumers and businesses that are gearing up for it. Online fraudsters are getting ready for the busiest shopping time of the year as well.

According to a new study by ACI Worldwide, retailers and consumers should brace themselves for a higher level of online fraud across channels as online retail fraud attempts have increased by 30 percent in the past year.

The threat is greater because U.S. merchants and card issuers have now switched to more secure chip cards for in-store purchases this year, prompting criminals to potentially go after online transactions.

Danger Looming Large

The study has revealed some alarming trends in online fraud. Some of the key findings include:

  • Fraud rates by volume have increased and in 2015, 1 out of 86 transactions is a fraudulent attempt vs. 1 out of 114 transactions in 2014.
  • Fraud attempt rates by value have increased by 33 percent compared to the same period in 2014.
  • Fraud average ticket value (ATV), or a retailer’s average size of individual sales by credit card, has decreased by $9.00 over the past year from $282 to $273.
It Pays to be Prepared

With the risk of online fraud during the holidays getting serious, you have to prepare well in advance. As Mike Braatz, senior vice president, Payments Risk Management, ACI Worldwide advises, “When it comes to fraud, 2015 is likely among the riskiest season retailers have ever seen; and it is critical that they prepare for a significant uptick in fraud, particularly within eCommerce channels.”

He adds, “Our findings suggest that merchants must be even more vigilant and shore up eCommerce fraud protocols, which may leave online shoppers more vulnerable.”

So what can you do avert the danger?

First, select the right eCommerce platform for your business. Look for a platform that provides excellent risk management support in case you fall victim to a fraudulent transaction. Some of the eCommerce platforms worth looking at include Shopify, Magento, osCommerce and Payza.

Second, audit your site to assess its security features. You must ensure that all confidential information remain safe from hackers. You may also look into programs such as VeriSign and McAfee Secure for additional protection.

Third, invest in a sophisticated real-time software system that immediately alerts you whenever a suspicious activity occurs.

Finally, do not store sensitive customer and transaction data for hackers to find. Be extremely careful to not store CVV2 codes. Remember, the less data you keep – the easier it is to keep the fraudsters away.

The holiday season is a frantic time for your business, so take adequate steps in advance to protect you and your customers’ interests.

Fraud Image via Shutterstock

This article, "Brace Your Business for Online Fraud During Holiday Season" was first published on Small Business Trends

23 Tips for Choosing the Right CRM Software

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2015-11-29 13:00

CRM software has many benefits to small businesses. It can save you time on customer communications. It can offer personalized communications to your best customers. And it can help you improve you sales and marketing efforts.

But that’s only if you choose the right CRM software for your particular business. Below are some tips to help you pick the best CRM provider to meet your needs.

When Choosing the Right CRM … Determine the Problem You’re Trying to Solve

Every business has its own reasons for looking for CRM software. Since there are plenty of different ways to use CRM, you need to determine the exact benefit that you hope it will have for your particular business before you even begin looking at providers.

Brent Leary, co-founder of CRM Essentials said in phone interview with Small Business Trends, “Every business has its own specific challenges. So the best thing a company can do is have a very detailed understanding of what their main challenge is and what it would take to make sure that they can answer that challenge in a way that allows them to stay true to the way they want to engage with customers.”

Don’t Just Choose the Biggest Name

Leary also cautioned against choosing the first provider that you hear other companies talking about or whoever is offering the best deal at the moment. Since each company’s situation is different, another company’s satisfaction with their own provider doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good fit for you.

Find a Solution that Can Solve Your Problem

When choosing the right CRM, you need to focus on the problem you want your CRM software to solve – and make sure that you keep that in mind during your entire search and evaluation process.

Create a Checklist of Necessary Features

Leary also suggested that businesses make checklist of all the important features that will help you solve your challenge. For example, if your business is focused on improving marketing efforts, you should look for features that can help you improve lead generation and initial contact with potential customers. If you’re looking to improve sales conversion, you could look at features that are more likely to help you with prioritizing customers that are likely to buy.

Choose a Program that Allows You to Customize Communications

Regardless of your main challenge, every business has customers who are at different stages of the buying process. So when choosing the right CRM, you need to find one that will let you customize different communication strategies for different customers, based on your particular methods and needs.

Look for Features that Prioritize Communication

Part of that customization means categorizing customers so that you can send different communications to those who are ready to buy and those who may need some more nurturing. Look into how each provider categorizes leads and make sure it’s a method that works for your customer base.

Find a Program that Will Save You Time

One of the biggest benefits of having a CRM program in the first place is its ability to save you time on customer communication. So make sure that your choice is one that’s going to actually accomplish that goal.

Automate When Necessary

A great timesaving feature of many CRM programs is automation. For example, Infusionsoft offers a CRM service that automates communication with leads who may need more time and nurturing to make a decision, while allowing salespeople to focus more of their actual time on people who are ready to buy or need questions answered.

Tyler Zeman, product marketing manager for Infusionsoft said in an exclusive interview with Small Business Trends that this is one of the features small businesses don’t often think about when when choosing the right CRM provider. But it’s one that Infusionsoft’s current customers really appreciate once they get the chance to use it.

Always Keep Conversion in Mind

Every business wants to make more sales. So even if your business’s unique challenge is in another area of CRM, you should consider how those improvements might impact your overall sales. And put a higher emphasis on features that are likely to impact sales in a positive way.

Find a Program that Works Quickly

The timing of your communication can make a big difference in your lead nurturing and sales conversions. So you want a software that is able to qualify leads and determine the right communication strategy very quickly.

Look Into Analytical Features

But you also want to find a program that is smart. Some programs can give you insights into your activities, by making sure that you contact leads on a regular basis and finding any irregularities in communications that you may need to be aware of.

Ensure You’re Able to Navigate the Software

You’ll also need to make sure that your choice of software is something you and your team can easily set up and use. If it’s overly complicated or difficult to navigate then some of the time saving benefits will be negated.

Think About Collaboration Features

Many providers also offer features that allow you to easily collaborate and communicate with other team members when it comes to different customer issues. If that’s something that’s important to you, include it on your list of essential features.

Look Into Partners

When choosing the right CRM, you should also look at any partners, apps and other integrations that different CRM providers offer. There may be some useful ways to integrate your CRM with other programs or solutions.

Integrate with the Programs You Already Use

And if there are any programs you already use to store data or manage communications that you absolutely need to be able to integrate with your CRM provider, make those partnerships a top priority.

Think About Your General Business Goals

When choosing the right CRM provider, you also need to think about the goals you have for business growth and where you see your business going over the next several years. Ensure that your CRM will be able to get you there.

Find a Program that Will Grow with You

When evaluating that growth, you also need to ensure that your CRM is something that can scale along with you.

Zeman says, “A lot of very small businesses are drawn very small CRM providers because they’re free or super low cost. But then they quickly outgrow the features and they have to transfer all of their data to a new program and learn the processes all over again.”

Look at Customer Service Models

Another important consideration is each provider’s customer service. As Leary points out, buying CRM software isn’t a one-time purchase, but an ongoing relationship. So you need to make sure that the company is able to offer you quality customer service.

Consider Your Own Customer Service Needs

Part of ensuring that your provider will be able to provide you with great service is to consider how you’d most like to receive that service. If you want representative to be available via email, find a provider that offers that. But if you’d rather have someone available via phone, live chat, or other methods, consider that in your search as well.

Make Sure Someone is Available When You Need Help

You also need to consider when customer service reps are able to assist you. Some companies offer 24/7 service while others may have set hours when reps are available. If you want the ability to reach someone any time you have an issue, you need to prioritize that availability.

Choose a Price Model that Fits Your Needs

Price is an important consideration for any business purchase. But while choosing the lowest cost option may not be your best course of action, you still need to consider the pricing model that would best suit your business. Some providers just have monthly fees while others require more up-front.

Look for Hidden Costs

Some providers may also have pricing models that make it look like you’d be paying less overall, while really charging other fees on the side. Be sure you really understand what all is covered in the price you sign on for.

Consider the Benefits of Community Features

Another potentially beneficial feature that Zeman pointed out is the ability to communicate with other CRM users to share tips and best practices. Since every business uses CRM differently, you could potentially gain some valuable knowledge by having access to others who are finding success with their programs.

CRM Image via Shutterstock

This article, "23 Tips for Choosing the Right CRM Software" was first published on Small Business Trends

7 Must Haves for Your Holiday Social Media Strategy

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2015-11-29 10:00

The latest forecast for this holiday sales season is $965 billion – a number big enough that no savvy business should dare to miss out. Unfortunately, as you’re probably already aware, this rich retail environment results in a lot of white noise when it comes to holiday promotions. With what seems like every other business out there running splashy ads in magazines and on every TV channel, it can be difficult to see where and how you’ll stand out if you don’t have a big budget.

Fortunately, there are other options to explore that don’t have to bust your holiday marketing budget. Social media gives companies of any size and budget access to millions of people through both paid and organic advertising. If you want to build the kind of buzz that leads to sales this holiday season, here are essential elements your holiday social media strategy must have.

To Craft Your Holiday Social Media Strategy. . . Choose the Best Platforms

In order to avoid having your company become a social media holiday horror story, be choosy about which social media platforms you’ll use. Don’t try to be on so many platforms and post so often that you tax your staff and resources beyond their abilities.

Unfortunately, being too busy and multitasking on social media can lead to abandoned feeds or, even worse, nightmare stories of mistakes gone viral. Instead, focus on the platforms where your paying customers are most likely to be, and be consistent about how you’ll engage them on these networks.

Create Social Media Only Promotions

One way to increase engagement over the holiday season when crafting your holiday social media strategy is to offer special deals only to those who follow you on social media. The likelihood is high that people will share these deals with their friends and family by sharing and retweeting, leading to additional followers and brand exposure.

Whether it’s free gift wrapping in your store or a special discount on an online purchase, use social media based promotions to your benefit.

Advertise Free Shipping

Go straight to your customers to find out what they want most. According to one recent survey, 46.7% of consumers said free shipping or other shipping promotions are important factors in their decision of where to shop. And since consumers plan to spend 46% of their shopping dollars online this holiday season, this is an important consideration.

If you’re able to offer free shipping without destroying your profit margins, make sure your social promotions mention this perk, or offer special “free shipping” coupon codes to your social media followers alone.

Use Giveaways to Build Your Email List

Because people interact with businesses so much more frequently during the holidays, it’s a great time to use social media to run a list-building giveaway. People are always interested in freebies and deals, but that interest reaches a fever pitch in November and December. And you can harness this to build a list that you’ll be able to leverage into the new year.

You can take advantage of this when crafting your holiday social media strategy by doing a drawing, creating an online game, or awarding something to followers who share a specific promotion with their family and friends on social media. Just be sure you’re aware of the social media platform’s Terms of Service, as well as any local rules and restrictions, surrounding contests. The last thing you want is for your holiday giveaway to be shut down after running afoul of local laws.

Use Pictures and Video

All social media platforms, even Twitter, report higher user engagement when pictures are a part of the post that’s shared. To take advantage of this interest, find or create pictures and videos that share specific deals, or simply post pictures that give a behind-the-scenes look at your store during the holidays.

Creative companies even use pictures and video to create social media games – anything from a scavenger hunt to an animated challenge – to engage customers and drive additional sharing of their content. Even if you don’t have the resources to create a JibJab-like experience (in 2007, the company’s “Elf Yourself” campaign generated 193 million website visitors for OfficeMax), you can still use pictures and videos on a smaller scale to pique your customers’ interest.

Personalize the Customer Experience

Customers love a personalized shopping experience. When crafting your holiday social media strategy, take advantage of the data available on social media, from your followers’ location to their ages and interests, to personalize their experience accordingly.

For example, use the targeting features of Facebook ads to reach a very specific demographic with your message. You can also refer to you customer by their online name in comment replies and keep up a dedicated customer service presence on social media. Essentially, the idea is to find ways to wow your customers during the holidays to drive repeat business during the rest of the year.

Provide Great Customer Service on Social Media

No sales funnel is complete without the amazing customer service needed to drive repeat business and referrals after the holidays. Just don’t think that you’re limited to launching promotions and facilitating customer interactions on social media. Many companies, including JetBlue and Nike, rock at customer service across Twitter and beyond.

However you reach your customers, it’s crucial that you know how to respond quickly to questions and complaints, and how and when to direct an unhappy customer off social and into a phone call or email conversation. Don’t stop at tracking mentions of your company. Track keywords and hashtags as well to find opportunities to respond to even more customers.

I know you’ve already got a lot on your plate, but a holiday social media strategy helps ensure you don’t miss out on the billions of dollars that will be spent online this holiday season. By incorporating these seven must-haves into your business’ holiday social media strategy, you’ll be well on your way to holiday sales success.

What’s the most vital part of your holiday social media strategy?

Like Image via Shutterstock

This article, "7 Must Haves for Your Holiday Social Media Strategy" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Best Productivity Habits (Hacks) Are Between Your Ears

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2015-11-29 08:00

With all of the “stuff” in our daily lives (emails, meetings, projects, tasks, appointments, etc.), time management is more of an ideal, than reality. Most time-management books spew out the same advice: plan ahead, plan often, and plan smart (along with a few self-help quotes sprinkled in).

What happens, though, if this doesn’t work?

What is “Productivity Habits” About?

The Productivity Habits: A Simple Approach to Become More Productive” is a book that attempts to guide readers through the murky waters of time-management, as it happens in real life. Instead of focusing exclusively on one aspect of time-management, like the perfect to-do list, it attempts to create a system that captures, filters, and efficiently directs all of the “stuff” that’s been sitting on your to-do lists for the past few weeks.

That system is based on a foundation of eight habits, called “productivity habits.” These productivity habits zone in on the “sticky points” of time management that most books often miss.

For example, the fourth habit “Situation” focuses on the environment of your task. It addresses how to handle the less-than-ideal situations, which often find ourselves when planning to spend three hours on a proposal, only to do one. Another section, “Planning” delves into the mental obstacles and opportunities that can occur (but we fail to think about) when deciding to add a task to our to-do list.

About the Author

Ben Elijah (@BenElijah) is a speaker, writer, and coach with expertise in time management, creativity and productivity.

What’s Best About “Productivity Habits”

“The Productivity Habits” adheres to the promise made in the title of sticking to simplicity. Each habit is deceptively simple and the actions required to set up and maintain each “productivity habit” easily fall into the “That’s all I had to do?” category. Author Ben Elijah has a very creative, graphical, and Zen-­like approach to time management that is similar to blogger and author Leo Babauta.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

“The Productivity Habits” does an excellent job at breaking down productivity into easily managed concepts and activities. Most of the graphics in the book helped in this regard, but some (like the “Context Triangle”) may be a little intimidating to look for new readers or readers who just scan the book.

Why You Should Read “Productivity Habits”

“The Productivity Habits” is good for everyone, but ideal for those readers who are acquainted with time management procedures already. If you recognize books by Stephen Covey and David Allen, then this book can definitely serve as a supplement or alternative.

“The Productivity Habits” is a short book, but it does an excellent job of covering issues that books with more content may overlook.The book’s focus on simple, repeatable habits without the need for fancy gadgets is the book’s most powerful and resonating message that will help the overwhelmed procrastinator who needs simple

This article, "The Best Productivity Habits (Hacks) Are Between Your Ears" was first published on Small Business Trends

Events Are Planned From New York to LA During the Holiday Season

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2015-11-28 13:00

From New York City to Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, events abound despite heading into the holiday season. Check the list below for the ones nearest you. Among the events being planned are networking opportunities, free seminars, motivational sessions and more.

There may only be a slight pause between Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season. But it’s worth your time to explore some of what’s going on and to decide whether it will change your business.

Pick the events that prove to be the best fit and shoehorn them in even during this busy season. Welcome to our latest curated list of events, contests and awards for small businesses, solo entrepreneurs and growing companies. To see a full list or to submit your own event, contest or award listing, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.

Featured Events, Contests and Awards More Events More Contests

This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.

Los Angeles photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Events Are Planned From New York to LA During the Holiday Season" was first published on Small Business Trends

Saucon Source is a Local News Site Turned Business

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2015-11-28 10:00

Some say that local news is a dying field. But for Josh Popichak, Publisher of Saucon Source in Saucon Valley, Pennsylvania, it’s really just getting started.

After crowdfunding some startup capital, Popichak launched Saucon Source in October 2014. He’s since used a mix of technology, unique monetization methods, and good old fashioned news gathering to grow it into a site with nearly 100,000 monthly pageviews in an area that has just about 18,000 residents.

Popichak’s journalism career began about ten years ago. He spent a few years working in print media and then made the switch to digital with a job covering local news for When that job ended, Popichak knew that he still wanted to deliver quality news content to his local community. And having seen the power of digital media, he came up with the idea for starting Saucon Source.

But Saucon Source isn’t just unique in that it delivers hyperlocal news content in a digital format. Popichak has also formed a unique business model for the company.

In addition to display advertising, sponsored content and other sponsorship opportunities for local companies, Popichak offers a social media management option for local businesses. He currently has about five businesses that pay him a monthly retainer fee to manage their facebook pages and connect them with local fans. Since he’s already built up a loyal following for Saucon Source, this offering allows a unique opportunity for Saucon Source and local businesses to work and grow together.

Popichak explained in an exclusive interview with Small Business Trends, “I’m able to succeed at this largely because of my own personal Facebook network, which is large and primarily local. I’m also able to harness the power of the Saucon Source site when necessary to direct traffic to their pages, which is an added benefit. So everything works in tandem to give them more ‘bang for their buck’ than they would get from other companies that provide social media management services.”

And in the future, Popichak has plans to further diversify the income streams for Saucon Source through classified advertising, a local deals page, paid tiers for business directory listings and even video listings. He also mentioned the possibility of launching more news sites in neighboring communities that don’t currently have much in the way of professionally run local news outlets.

But Saucon Source’s relative success up to this point doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges. Though Popichak has plenty of experience covering local news for various outlets, he’s learned that running your own business comes with a lot of unexpected work. And since he’s running the business on his own, with the help of one paid freelancer, it mainly falls on him.

For example, since he’s seen as an authority on the community, Popichak spends a lot of time fielding questions from readers. And many of those questions don’t even necessarily go into what he covers for Saucon Source.

Popichak explains, “Partly because I’m so accessible via Facebook in particular, I’ve become the go-to person for any and all questions related to the community I cover. Sometimes these questions evolve into news stories, but sometimes they’re as basic as ‘will our garbage be picked up on (Insert name of holiday)?’ or ‘Can you recommend a good local dentist?’ I try to answer everyone in a timely manner, because I know how frustrating it can be when you can’t find the information you need.”

Being constantly accessible to help his fellow community members is certainly time consuming. But it’s also a part of the job he really enjoys. Popichak believes that covering local news in a way that will really reach readers and encourage them to keep coming back means being a part of the community yourself.

He says, “I’ve been working in local journalism for 10 years now and I am very much a believer in the importance of grassroots-fed, community-based news to our society.”

Although Popichak would like to increase Saucon Source’s readership and revenue moving forward, he has no plans to grow into a company that’s too big to deliver the type of quality local news he currently focuses on.

“I don’t ever want to become too big, however, to lose sight of the people — my readers — who are the reason for my success. I have seen this happen with many media companies I have worked for, and it’s a big part of the reason I struck out on my own.”

Images: Saucon Source, Facebook, Top Image: Josh Popichak, Second Image: Josh Popichak and Richard Fluck, Mayor of Hellertown, PA

This article, "Saucon Source is a Local News Site Turned Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

From E-Commerce to Web 3.0: The Evolution of Home Grown Business

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2015-11-28 08:00

From E-Commerce to Web 3.0: Entrepreneur Journeys” shines a brighter light on the entrepreneurship path to Internet riches through in-depth interviews.

Instead of focusing on the “feel-good” abstract facts, author Sramana Mitra digs into the details of how million-dollar Internet-based businesses grow and maintain their competitive advantage.

What is “From E-Commerce to Web 3.0” About?

Technology and business, as Mitra suggests in the first few pages of her book, is undergoing a revolution. That revolution, Web 3.0, involves around the push toward user participation and personalization.

Before this era (Web 1.0), Mitra discusses, it was simply OK for a business to present its products or services on a website. You didn’t have to tailor your products to a specific subset of users.

The next era (Web 2.0) saw the rise of more customer targeting and personalization. Companies began to initiate and even seek customer interaction through social media and blogs.

The business opportunities presented in the next era, Web 3.0, are the focus of the interviews in this book. In each interview, Mitra asks detailed questions on the resources they used to become profitable. How did they get funding? How did they get customers? When did they get their first employees? What advertising did they use?

Personalization, a feature of Web 3.0 is also a big feature of Mitra’s interviews. In each interview, Mitra focuses on the particular situations in each business owner’s life that led to them create the particular business that worked for them.

About the Author

Sramana Mitra (@sramana) is an author, consultant, and founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a business incubator that wants to help one million business owners exceed $1 million in revenue.

What Was Best About “From E-Commerce to Web 3.0”

“From E-Commerce to Web 3.0” does an excellent job of getting more details than most other “How I built my business” books. Instead of focusing on the warm, fuzzy feelings of the process, Mitra digs deep into the questions and even challenges some authors on their beliefs. This creates a very interesting dynamic and displays her experience in working with business owners.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

The book presents a short discussion on Web 3.0 and then launches directly into interviews without providing any particular take-aways. The book does provide great detail on how the owners in the interviews became profitable, but “From E-Commerce to Web 3.0” doesn’t show how readers can follow along in those footsteps.

Why Read This Book

“From E-Commerce to Web 3.0” is a business startup book with a strategic dose of self-help. It shares the experiences of real business owners who figure out a way to survive in the chaotic business world without the help of angel investors (in most cases) or a fancy business plan. The stories get more in-depth than your average business article and even some books.

This article, "From E-Commerce to Web 3.0: The Evolution of Home Grown Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

FlexJobs Reveals Top Freelance Gigs, Papa John’s Franchisee Gets Jail

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2015-11-27 14:30

From top freelance opportunities to cautionary tales about withholding pay, this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup has something of interest to every type of entrepreneur. Keep reading for the top headlines in this week’s small business news.

Employment Looking For Freelance Work? These 30 Companies Are Possibilities

The freelance economy is complex and ever-changing, but one thing is certain — freelancers are now a thriving force that is changing the way businesses hire. According to a new landmark survey commissioned by Elance-oDesk and Freelancers Union, there are more than 53 million freelance workers in the U.S. alone. That’s about 34 percent of the entire workforce.

Franchise Papa John’s Franchise Owner Gets Jail Time for Withholding Pay

A Papa John’s franchise owner tried to make a buck off his employees’ backs, and now he is paying the price. Abdul Jamil Khokhar, the owner of nine Papa John’s Pizza locations in New York City along with BMY Foods, has pleaded guilty to not complying with the state’s labor laws, which is a misdemeanor, and to filing false business records, a felony.

7-Eleven Introduces Discounts to Recruit Veterans as Franchise Owners

There’s always plenty of talk about getting veterans back into the workforce after their tours of duty are over. And resources for veteran entrepreneurs also abound. The iconic mini-market 7-Eleven is going a step beyond that. 7-Eleven proposes that many returning vets would make excellent small business owners.

Interviews Relocating? Get The Low-Down On a City From Locals on

Periscope’s home page tells you what it’s for: To “explore the world through the eyes of somebody else.” Serial entrepreneur Ray Garcia introduces a time-saving enhancement while staying true to Periscope’s main purpose. Garcia develops digital marketing strategies for brands like HP, Panasonic, Epson, Honeywell, and more. Ranked in Klout’s top 0.

Marketing Tips Meet Aabaco Small Business (the Reincarnation of Yahoo Directory)

The Yahoo Small Business Directory is no more. It’s now part of Aabaco Small Business. Aabaco — whatever that means — is a company owned (for now) by Yahoo and attempts to reach the Yahoo Small Business Directory now direct users to the Aabaco site. Before Google was a household name, many people found their way around the Web by way of the Yahoo Directory.

Product Lists Best Gadget Gifts for Geeks, Top Picks for 2015

Tech gadgets can make great gifts for business partners, clients, and tech savvy team members. And with plenty of new innovations being released each year, there are lots of new gadgets to choose from for the people on your 2015 holiday gift list. For the really tech savvy geeks on your holiday shopping list, check out the list of gadget gifts below for some unique gift ideas.

Retail Trends B2B Deals During Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday Abound

The holiday shopping season is an opportunity for individuals to save on the products they need most. But it can be a great opportunity for small businesses to save as well. To make the most of the season, it can be beneficial to look into the sales and discounts that other businesses are offering on days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: Sustainable Living Provides Easy Access to Green Products

These days, it seems like almost every business is looking for ways to be more sustainable. That sustainability can lead to long-term savings and improved brand perception, among other benefits. That’s why Sustainable Living was formed. The business helps both businesses and individuals create more sustainable practices and find more eco-friendly products.

Small Business Operations Time and Expense Tracking Apps: 27 Solutions

The easiest way for a small business to lose money is through sloppy time and expense reporting. In our fast-paced always on the run world, spreadsheets and shoeboxes just won’t cut it anymore. If you’re using either to collect information on these two key business metrics, then you should check out this list of time and expense tracking apps and solutions below.

FCC Overreaches on Fax Rules, NFIB Says

Some regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees not only broadcasting but now some aspects of phone and other communications, may make a lot of sense. But others leave small business owners and small business groups scratching their heads or even crying fowl. Portions of a ruling on unsolicited faxes definitely fall under the latter.

Social Media Webmasters in Uproar Over Missing Twitter Share Counts

Twitter has removed share counts across the board. That’s the number that tells readers of your websites how many times a link has been shared to the social site. The Twitter share counts have been gone since Nov. 20 but reactions — mostly negative — are still filtering in. And those who are upset are using Twitter, of course, to express their frustrations.

Google and Twitter Team Up with #SmallBizSquad for Business

One of the busiest shopping seasons is here and to help small businesses make the most of it, Google and Twitter have teamed up. The two companies have formed #SmallBizSquad to provide useful tips and resources to help businesses win big this holiday season.

Startup 3 Great Ways to Bring Your Business Online

It’s essential for all small businesses to have an online identity in today’s digital world. Whether you’re a successful small business or about to start one, bringing your business online may be the best thing for it. The advantages the Internet offers are exponential and can help a small business not only get off the ground, but thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Are Too Many People Starting a Non-Employer Business?

In 2013, the number of American businesses without employees per thousand people rose by 0.4 percent to hit a record of 72.72 non-employers for every thousand residents, Census Bureau data reveal. In the same year, average sales at these businesses nudged down by 0.2 percent — about $80 (in 2011 dollars) — to $44,357.

Taxes Tax Scams are Once Again on the Rise

Tax scammers are again at work and your small businesses could be vulnerable just like other consumers. Authorities insist calls from scammers claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service are on the rise around the country. Just in case you are not aware of this tax scam, it works on fear and intimidation by the criminals.

Papa John’s via photo by Shutterstock

This article, "FlexJobs Reveals Top Freelance Gigs, Papa John’s Franchisee Gets Jail" was first published on Small Business Trends

“StoreBoost” Allows You to Promote Products, Sell Paid Search

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2015-11-27 11:30

Point Inside, a retail cloud solutions provider, has launched a search marketing program for retailer apps called “StoreBoost.”

The advertising tool, available via Point Inside’s StoreMode platform, enables retailers to promote specific brands or products in auto-complete and brands can as well “boost” their product ads to the top of the retailer’s mobile app or site.

“Shoppers are increasingly using mobile devices for inspiration, discovery, planning and saving during visits to physical retail stores,” Mike McMurray, SVP Marketing and Business Operations at Point Inside said in a company press release. “Now, when shoppers research terms like ‘toothpaste’ in a retailer’s mobile app or on the mobile web, the retailer can boost suggested results alongside relevant organic search results. This experience can benefit shoppers by introducing them to brands, specific products or offers they might not otherwise consider, and enables brands to build awareness and engagement for new or existing products.”

Retailers can use StoreBoost to promote whatever they want, whether it is third-party information, content or house ads. However, the tools ability to offer a new opportunity for retailers to monetize in-app search is what’s most intriguing.

Writing about the new feature, Greg Sterling, the contributing editor at Search Engine Land explains, “My understanding is that no one is currently doing this, but retailers using StoreBoost now have the capacity to charge brands for enhanced visibility in app search results.”

Point Inside says that the StoreBoost service can easily be integrated into the mobile store search experience and customized for each individual store’s products to offer a value-added, relevant shopping experience for shoppers, and a targeted engagement opportunity for brands.

“Search is a key part of a shopper’s inspiration and discovery process,” said Point Inside CEO Josh Marti. “Boosted search not only benefits retailers, but also guarantees brands targeted and prominent placement for their products. Point Inside provides retailers with technologies that bridge the digital and physical retail divide by providing a portfolio of valuable services that can be integrated into a retailer’s mobile app and mobile web. As a retail cloud solutions provider, we help retailers answer their shoppers’ two most important questions, ‘Do you have it?’ and ‘Where can I find it?’ With our new boosting technology, shoppers can now discover new and popular products and deals while they are in-store or as they plan their shopping trips.”

Retailers that have mobile sites and apps with a huge user base will possibly generate more revenues from the in-app paid search advertising.

Image: Point Inside

This article, "“StoreBoost” Allows You to Promote Products, Sell Paid Search" was first published on Small Business Trends

LG Plans its Own Digital Payment Platform, LG Pay

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2015-11-27 09:30

Cash may be king, but having to deal with it is one of the biggest inconveniences for a small business. It is labor intensive and carries with it a lot of security risks. So the addition of one more smartphone manufacturer – LG – entering the mobile payment segment will be welcomed by businesses and individuals alike.

The Korean phone maker announced on its Facebook page it has formed a partnership with Shinhan Card and KB Kookmin Card to launch LG Pay.

Shinhan Card is Korea’s largest, and in the top five globally, credit card companies. Established in 1990, it is part of the Shinhan Capital and Shinhan Financial Group. The KB Kookmin Card is also one of Korea’s largest credit card companies, established in 2002 by KB Kookmin Bank.

The announcement of the partners, which are Korean based, indicates LG is probably going to offer its service in South Korea first, and move to other countries in the region and the rest of the world in the future.

As one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to mobile technology, it will be a great testing ground for LG. However, this means it will take that much longer to introduce the service in other countries, where Apple, Samsung and financial institutions like Chase are making headway.

The company didn’t give details about its mobile payment solution other than, “It’s official! We have partnered with Shinhan Card and KB Kookmin Card to prepare for the launch of LG Pay” on its Facebook page.

When Apple Pay entered the mobile payment segment, it gave the technology more legitimacy, which led some of the biggest financial institutions and retailers signing on to accept the tech giant’s payment system.

Apple was soon joined by Samsung, which came in a little later, but brought with it a large user base to its mobile payment system.

So it was inevitable financial institutions would also start providing their own mobile payment platform, and one of the largest banks in the world, J.P. Morgan Chase, announced Chase Pay earlier this month. Unlike propriety solutions of mobile manufacturers, the Chase platform will work on Android and iOS phones regardless of maker.

The battle between financial institutions and device manufacturers is going to heat up as they compete for the same customer base. Consumers have to make the tough choice of trusting their digital cash to a technology company or a financial organization.

The overall market for the mobile payment segment is expected to grow at double digit rates for the foreseeable future. The analysts at Technavio forecast the global mobile payment market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 36.26 percent in terms of transaction volume, and 18.10 percent in terms of number of end-users over the period of 2014-2019.

Deloitte also has a positive outlook for the platform, and in its TMT Predictions 2015, it said, “Retailers should consider for main benefits: reducing the need to protect customer data, the higher speed of contact-less transactions relative to other payment means, the ability to attract consumers with higher disposable incomes, and the opportunity to provide more personalized experiences, for example by integrating loyalty schemes.”

There are many small businesses that think they can’t get away from just being cash only, but that is no longer the case because of mobile payment systems. Everyone from flea market operators to street vendors, which have been traditionally cash only, can use mobile payment to bring even these ancient forms of commerce to the 21st Century.

Image: LG/Facebook (From left: Wi Sung-ho, CEO of Shinhan Card, Juno Cho, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Company and Kim Duk-soo, CEO of KB Kookmin Card)

This article, "LG Plans its Own Digital Payment Platform, LG Pay" was first published on Small Business Trends

With Enough Good People Around, Can a Company Run Itself?

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2015-11-27 07:30

One day, I was reading through a stack of new business books in the library and one of the handy tips I ran across was, “Surround yourself with good people.”

Okay, it’s good advice. It’s not new. I see it in almost every business book I read, but it is good advice. I played with having some fun with this idea’s omnipresence. I played with surrounding yourself with bad people instead.

But in the end, surrounding yourself with people like this guy suggests made me giggle to myself and annoy the person next to me in the library.

So, it won.

This article, "With Enough Good People Around, Can a Company Run Itself?" was first published on Small Business Trends

51 Ways to Say Thank You – A Gigantic List (Bookmark It!)

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2015-11-26 11:30

Saying “thank you” is good manners. And it brings with it satisfaction that makes you happy. Since it’s the time of year when individuals tend to show gratitude to one another, it’s a great time for your business to do the same.

Below are ideas for ways to say thank you to your customers, clients, partners, suppliers and anyone else who has helped you along the way.

Creative Ways to Say Thank You
  1. Send out hand-written Thank You cards to your top clients and be sure to make each one specific and personal.
  2. Invite members of your community to a party at your local store or restaurant.
  3. Offer free samples of your products to holiday shoppers.
  4. Consultants, package your best advice together in a free eBook and give it away.
  5. Hold an online contest to give away a free product or service to one (or more) of your most loyal customers.
  6. Bakeries and coffee shops, host a free tasting event.
  7. Award a shopping spree or free gift card to one of your customers and ask them to pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else.
  8. Call up your best clients and take them to lunch – just because.
  9. Send a discount to your customers on the anniversary of their first purchase from you.
  10. If you have customers around the country (or the world), host a coffee meetup when you visit a new city and invite customers who live nearby.
  11. Publicly thank your customers individually on social media.
  12. Let customers share their input on which charities you support over the holidays.
  13. If you offer any membership based services, offer surprise upgrades for the highest membership level to a few of your lower-level subscribers.
  14. Send a gift or card to your customers on their birthday or other dates that are important specifically to them.
  15. Host a meet-and-greet event to offer customers the chance to get to know the people behind your business.
  16. B2B businesses, send more business to your clients by giving them relevant referrals whenever possible.
  17. When customers share suggestions, send them a personalized note letting them know how you implemented their feedback.
  18. If you have customers who pay a regular monthly fee for your services, discount a small percentage off their fee for one month.
  19. Send a gift card or discount code from one of your partner businesses to your customers.
  20. Host an after hours event like a reading or an open mic night.
  21. Promote your partners or business clients with a quick shout out on social media.
  22. Create a section of your website specifically to showcase your partners and business clients. Highlight different clients on your main page every week.
  23. Send out some branded gifts like t-shirts or tote bags with your company logo.
  24. Offer complimentary coffee and other treats in your entryway or waiting area.
  25. Find a book that you think would be useful for your clients or partners and share it with them.
  26. Reach out to customers on a regular basis just to make sure they’re satisfied with your products or services.
  27. Highlight standout customers in a blog post or video on your website.
  28. Share relevant articles or other resources from sources that aren’t your own with your customers on social media or via email.
  29. Bloggers, offer free ad-space or sponsored posts to loyal readers who fit with your content.
  30. Host educational seminars or online classes and invite your existing clients early.
  31. Offer up your space for local groups or charity organizations when you’re not using it.
  32. Sponsor local meetups or networking events to help your clients meet others in their industries.
  33. When you launch a new product or service, publicly call for customers to help you name it. Give a prize or public shout out to the winner.
  34. Create a video that says thank you to customers and shows them a behind the scenes look at your company.
  35. Send individual thank you messages to customers who share your products or nice experiences about your business on social media.
  36. Retailers, offer complimentary giftwrapping with purchases over the holidays.
  37. Send a gift card or coffee via Starbucks’ mobile app to customers you can’t meet with for coffee in person.
  38. Create a personalized eCard to send to your customers on holidays.
  39. Plan a happy hour outing once a month and invite your clients, partners and employees out for an informal get together.
  40. When a client mentions a unique hobby or interest, make a note of it and use that to pick out any future gifts, rather than just sending generic items.
  41. Host a giveaway when you launch a new product or service, giving your best customers a chance to try it for free.
  42. Send your clients a basket of their favorite baked goods or other snacks just to let them know how important they are to your business.
  43. Be open and honest with your customers when your business goes through any changes, good or bad.
  44. Local businesses, include a bulletin board in your location that customers and community members can use to share information about local causes and events.
  45. Use your social media accounts to promote or highlight important local issues and keep community members informed.
  46. Send a free gift, along with a thank you note, to customers along with their purchase.
  47. Offer a loyalty program that gives customers a discount or incentive for repeat purchases.
  48. Send cards to people on holidays other than the major ones, especially if you have clients who don’t celebrate things like Christmas.
  49. Hold a flash sale, just for an hour or two, to give deep discounts to customers who are ready to buy – now.
  50. Pick up the phone and call your clients just to check in and see if there’s anything you can help them with.
  51. Say thank you in person. Every time a customer does business with you, say “thank you.”

Using the above creative ideas for ways to say thank you will really show your appreciation. And remember – it’s important to show gratitude and say thank you on a regular basis as well.

Be sure to check out our gift giving guide for a slew of gift ideas as well!

Thank You Image via Shutterstock

This article, "51 Ways to Say Thank You – A Gigantic List (Bookmark It!)" was first published on Small Business Trends

6 Creative Retail Ideas to Boost Customer Experience

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2015-11-26 09:30

The face of retail is changing. With constantly increasing competition from eCommerce websites and shoppers able to buy from their mobile devices any time they want, it’s become more and more challenging simply to get customers into your store – not to mention keeping them there.

With that in mind, below are some ideas and ways you can attract more customers and boost your retail sales.

How to Boost Customer Experience and Sales Open a Store Within a Store

I recently visited a coffeehouse that devoted part of its space to a small bookstore, owned by a separate entrepreneur. The same tactic can work for many types of retail products.

For example, the owner of a women’s clothing boutique could rent some space to a jewelry designer. Renting space provides you with some steady income, while the additional product line can draw different customers who may shop at your store as well.

Sell Food or Beverages

This area can be a little tricky, because depending on what you sell, you may not want the potential disaster of food and drink spilling on your wares.

However, if you plan carefully and choose to sell foods with minimum mess potential, refreshments can be a way to keep shoppers in your store longer. For instance, if you own a children’s toy store, a coffee cart to keep the parents’ spirits up while kids play could be a great idea.

Set Up a Vending Machine

Search online and you’ll find many services that provide vending machines to be installed in local businesses. Vending machines don’t just sell candy anymore. These days, you can find vending machines that sell everything from cosmetics to consumer electronics.

Look for a product that’s complementary to yours. Place the vending machine where it can be seen from your store window to draw in curious customers.

Offer In-Store Charging Stations

Keep customers in your store longer by providing free charging stations for their mobile devices. This is also a great way to prevent impatient companions (men) from dragging shoppers out of the store. If Steve discovers he can charge his phone while Sue browses, he’s likely to be much more patient.

Provide Entertainment

Poetry readings, book signings, puppet shows or musical performances by local bands or singers – depending on what you sell and who your target customer is, there are many types of entertainment you can provide.

Hosting entertainment is also a good way to get publicity in local publications or on community websites that might not normally write about a retail store. Promote a weekly entertainment event, and you could find a whole new audience of shoppers.

Try a Pop-up Shop

Opening a temporary, secondary space for a limited time is a great way to test new markets. If you’re considering opening a second location in a nearby town, you can test the waters with a pop-up shop to see if consumers in that area like what you’re selling before committing to renting a full-on retail store.

Pop-up shops also enable you to take advantage of seasonal marketing opportunities, test new product lines and benefit from the excitement of a limited-time concept. Pop-up shops can be set up in empty retail spaces. But you can also use the pop-up concept in a slightly different way by opening a kiosk or cart in a local mall, shopping center or busy Main Street retail zone. Make sure your pop-up shop succeeds by staffing it with an experienced and trusted employee.

What creative retail ideas have you tried in your store to attract more customers and boost customer experience?

Coffee Image via Shutterstock

This article, "6 Creative Retail Ideas to Boost Customer Experience" was first published on Small Business Trends

41 Things to Do on Small Business Saturday

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2015-11-26 07:30

This weekend is Small Business Saturday (November 28, 2015).

Small businesses depend heavily on their local communities.  As a customer, “pay it forward” and support small business in the way it matters most to them — through your wallet.

41 Things to Do on Small Business Saturday How Consumers Can Support Small Business

Spending your money at local businesses improves the local economy.  So it’s not just about supporting a business — you’re supporting your community, too. Here are things to do on Small Business Saturday:

1. Look and feel your best with a new holiday hairdo. Support your local beauty shop instead of fixing your own hair – you’ll love the way you look. And get a manicure or a pedicure at your local nail salon.

2. Is your home in disarray after that big Thanksgiving dinner? No worries. One quick call to a local house cleaner should have your domicile neat as a pin — and ready to entertain through the rest of the holiday season.

3. And who needs a trip to a national grocery chain? Buy fresh fruits and vegetables for your dinner table from the local farmers market.

4. Don’t forget the flowers. While you’re at the farmers market, buy some fresh flowers from the local flower vendor. They’ll be great for your holiday entertaining.  You’ll feel good every time you look at the flowers, too, knowing you supported a local vendor.

5. Feel like splurging on some bling? Visit your hometown jeweler. Buy something sparkly for yourself or someone special in your life.

6. Or just take care of your existing bling.  There’s more than one way to support a small business. If a new jewelry purchase isn’t on your list, how about dropping off that watch or necklace that’s in need of repair at the local jeweler?

7. Will you be traveling and visiting relatives this season? Call the local pet sitter and make sure “Spot” has some company and is well cared for while you’re gone.

8. Add to your collectibles or pick up something nice for the house. Visit the local antique mall and treat yourself to a special treasure. Make it an outing and include your out-of-town guests, also.

9. You’ll need wheels to do all that shopping. So keep those “wheels” greased and get your oil changed at the local mechanic’s shop.

10. Uh-oh. Is it snowing where you’re at? Better call the local snow plow company.

11. Planning on wearing that great outfit for the holidays? Good news – you’ve lost weight (lucky you!). Time to visit the local seamstress to have that dress taken in.

12. Or maybe your holiday best is still in good shape. The trouble is, maybe it hasn’t been cleaned in a while.  The local dry cleaner can help you with that.

13. Your printer is running low on ink and paper. Better stop and pick up some office supplies from the local, privately-owned supply store.

14. What if you don’t want to cook when entertaining this year? Order something dangerously delectable from a local caterer for your upcoming Christmas party.

15. Here’s a bright idea about holiday lights! Pay your landscaper (who’s probably experiencing a slow down at this time of year) to do your exterior holiday decorating.

16. In need of an evening out after slaving over a hot oven on Thanksgiving? Hire your local babysitter for the evening. Take friends or your significant other out to dinner.

17. No need to shop in a grimy car. Stop at the local car wash or detailing shop and put a shine put on it.

18. Plan to do some shopping online. But don’t just hit the Amazons of the world. Purchase a handmade craft from an Etsy artisan or eBay entrepreneur.

19. And speaking of artisans, here’s something else to consider. Doesn’t a flatbread pizza from the local pizza parlor or bistro sound good tonight?

20. Looking for a special gift for a special someone? The best place to find something artsy or clever is a local craft show or boutique that carries unique gifts you won’t find in a Big Box.

21. Say thanks with a huge potted plant. Need to bring a hostess gift to an upcoming party? Or what about a “thank you” to the individual who provided Thanksgiving dinner?  Visit your local florist and pick up a gorgeous locally-grown poinsettia — or have it delivered.

22. Don’t let lack of sun get you down – get a tan!  For those in colder climates, brighten your day even if you can’t get away for a tropical vacation. Visit your local tanning salon for 20 minutes of warm “sunshine.”

23. Want your home in tip-top shape for holiday entertaining? If you’re finding it hard to work around that broken drawer in the kitchen, don’t worry. Hire a local handyman to come and make repairs before the big day.

24. Homemade holiday cookies sound good.  If you simply do not have the time to bake cookies yourself, never fear. Ring up the local “cookie lady” (every town has one, you know you do) and place your holiday order in time.

25. If you ate too much turkey, consider it an opportunity. Maybe it’s time to have a work out with your local physical fitness trainer or visit that locally-owned gym franchise today.

26. Avoid a doggy dilemma. If you have a pooch that will be alone while you’re out for the day supporting small businesses, here’s an idea. Hire a local dog walker to get your pup out and about, too.

27. And here’s another idea for man’s best friend. Picking up Spot’s uhhh … “spots” in the backyard is no enjoyable task. But that’s what the local pet waste cleanup company is for.

28. Dogs need pampering, too. While you’re doing all of the above, Spot could use an appointment at the local pet groomer as well. (Don’t forget that pretty little bow or bow tie!)

29. Make beautiful music. Have a piano collecting dust that you’d like to play when company visits, but haven’t played it in years? Call the local music teacher for a brush-up lesson. Or two.

How Small Business Owners Can Support Other Businesses

If you yourself own a small business, you know how important it is to support other business owners. You, too, can support Small Business Saturday. Here are ways  to meet your business’s needs with the products and services local entrepreneurs provide.

30. Order in for lunch. If Small Business Saturday isn’t a day off for you and your employees, at least try to enjoy it.  Call the local deli and have a lunch tray delivered.

31. Remember those delicious cookies? Don’t just order them for yourself and your family.  Place a cookie order with a local bakery.  When you get the cookies, put them in pretty boxes or festive bags, and deliver them to clients and customers as holiday thank-you gifts.

32. Get a little artsy. Retail store owners, hire a local artist to paint your store display windows with nostalgic holiday scenes that evoke emotion for the holidays.  You’ll be helping your business and supporting another!

33. Just relax. Call and schedule a day outing at a locally-owned spa to treat your team.  Or schedule a masseuse in for chair massages for the entire office one afternoon.

34. Nothing says thank you like caffeine. Consultants, buy one of your cherished clients a gift certificate to a local cafe. Send it to him or her as appreciation for the support of your business.

35. Is your computer at work running slow? Make a note to hire a local IT specialist to come in the following week and give it a boost.

36. Kick that holiday party up a notch. Hire a local event planner to plan for your upcoming office party.  Hurry!  You don’t have much time left, so call today.

37. Order branded calendars and holiday cards.  Visit your local printer or locally-owned UPS Store franchise and order calendars and holiday cards.

38. Decorate your website for the holidays.  Send an email to your Web designer. Hire him or her to design a festive holiday “skin” or header for your website.

39. Order Amish goodie boxes.  The Amish are a very entrepreneurial group and have websites where they sell Amish cheese, meats, gifts and more.  Place your order for gift boxes for employees and clients, today.

40. Contribute to a local cause.  Even small non-profits need money to survive, pay their workers and perform their good works. So support a small non-profit in your area. Mail a contribution check today. You’ll be putting money back into your local community … and doing good.

41. Get started on next year’s marketing strategy.  Get serious about next year’s goals. Email your marketing or PR agency — before you forget — to schedule a meeting to work on some marketing initiatives for next year.

Last but not least – don’t stop buying after Small Business Saturday.

Make this list of things to do on Small Business Saturday come alive 365 days of the year.  When it’s time to make a purchase, shop your local area first. “Shop small” online whenever you can.  And “dine small” at local restaurants and eateries, too, throughout the year.

Lantern, Antique, Flowers, House, Dog, Spa Images via Shutterstock

This article, "41 Things to Do on Small Business Saturday" was first published on Small Business Trends

Check Out the Top Pinned Products on Pinterest

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 18:30

As we get into the holiday season, the visual bookmarking tool Pinterest is looking to help those who may be running short on gift ideas, publishing a list of its most-pinned products of 2015.

Some of the top pinned products are pretty great gift ideas. Here they are, from one to ten:

  1. A new wave water bottle
  2. A solar charger for your smartphone
  3. Lace-up boots to hit the pavement 
  4. Glow in the dark leggings take athleisure to a new level
  5. Asymmetrical coats
  6. Artful gemstones 
  7. A smarter way to pack your bag
  8. Stylish swaddle blankets
  9. Graphic tees and tops 
  10. Tapestries to transform your bedroom

While the listingof top pinned products itself offers shoppers some pretty awesome suggestions, ideas and inspiration, it also highlights the type of products and content that is resonating best among the Pinterest audience.

If you are marketing products that are similar in theme or style to any of the products on the list, you should be considering using Pinterest as a marketing platform for your products, borrowing ideas from the products on the list on how to do just that.

According to a CivicScience survey, Pinterest users shop more on Black Friday and Cyber Monday than the average online user. Pinners spend four times more on games and toys, three times more on accessories, housewares and clothing and 2.2 times more on media and electronics. The study also found out that Pinners will shop across more types of stores, including small businesses.

With the findings in mind, any brand, advertiser or small business that seeks to increase their sales this festive season should therefore seriously focus on Pinterest.

The social networking site has immensely grown in the past year, recently announcing that it had hit a major milestone — 100 million monthly active users.  With the addition of individually relevant search tools and improved on-platform buying options, Pinterest is on track to become an e-commerce giant.

Pinterest Image via Shutterstock

This article, "Check Out the Top Pinned Products on Pinterest" was first published on Small Business Trends

Dojo: Pebble Shaped Device Provides Home Network Security

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 16:30

It’s called Dojo and it looks like some kind of pebble-shaped contraption with no buttons.

But what it is, in actuality, is a different kind of security device. Instead of protecting your premises from physical intruders, Dojo is designed to keep cyber attacks out, providing home network security.  

This video gives a brief overview of the device and its functions:

There are an increasing number of “smart” devices on the market, all connecting to your network with access to your information. This presents a security problem that the makers of Dojo feel has not yet been properly addressed. An especially daunting concern for the small business owner with a home office.

So how does Dojo propose to help?

What Dojo promises to do is continually scan the connected devices on your home/office network. By learning your patterns and “getting to know” your devices, Dojo finds common vulnerabilities and then blocks security and privacy risks.

Dojo sits on a dock, presumably to charge as there is little information regarding just what functions the dock performs. The dock does have ports to connect to your network but the Dojo device itself is wireless. It can be picked up and carried around your home/office if you so desire. There seems to be little call to do so though as all security issues are addressed through a companion app.

You control Dojo through a “chat” app, as the company calls it. The app doesn’t talk to you, but notifies you of detected threats in a simple text format. Much like chatting with a friend over text message. The company claims all notifications are sent in plain language that is easy to understand with no technical knowledge.

Through the app, you are supposed to be able to control what is blocked and what information is shared and with whom. Dojo’s idea is to put security in the hands of the consumer, as the company states on its Amazon page, “There is no other technology that exists for consumers today. There are enterprise and state technologies that thwart hacks and safeguard data, but there’s nothing that helps the everyday consumer manage these types of vulnerabilities. And nothing that anyone could understand without some kind of security knowledge. We set out to build something that will define this market.”

If you are interested in Dojo you can preorder the device for $99. The wait isn’t too bad for it either. Dojo is set to be released March 8, 2016.

Image via Dojo-labs

This article, "Dojo: Pebble Shaped Device Provides Home Network Security" was first published on Small Business Trends

8 Quick Ways You’ll Lose Followers On Social Media

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 14:30

Social media is an effective place to find and engage with the tribe of people who understand the message and product that you’re developing. They’re not just your ideal target audience, but loyal fans who want to spread the word about what you’re doing.

By sharing relevant updates and engaging with followers, you can rapidly build your email list, develop buzz for a launch, connect with strategic partners, and much more to give your business a boost.

Unfortunately, social media is also the perfect place to alienate people. A poorly timed joke, a customer service meltdown, or a disgruntled customer can lead to a mass exodus of followers. Even your most loyal fans can be lost in the crowd.

To avoid a global snub across your social media channels, you’ll need to avoid certain traps and stay in tune. Here are eight surefire ways you can lose followers on social media.

How to Lose Followers on Social Media 1. All You Talk About is You

It’s normal to want your social media followers to care about you and buy your products and services. But if that’s all you talk about, you’ll find yourself hemorrhaging followers until there’s no one left.

Operate under the assumption that no one is really interested in you. Instead, they’re really interested in themselves and how you can help them. If you don’t talk about your audience’s pain points and how you can help them solve their problems, they’ll find someone who will. Approach your conversations about yourselves in a way that shows how you can best help serve your audience.

2. You Post Way too Often

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to post frequently, especially on Twitter. But don’t overdo it and saturate your feed without giving your followers a chance to catch up and care enough to respond. The life of a tweet is only 24 minutes, but that doesn’t mean you need to be posting something new several times an hour on Twitter. Even on Facebook, you’ll likely be better off posting just once or twice per day.

Think about it from your own perspective as a consumer – if you followed an account that posted more often than that, wouldn’t you find it annoying and stop following the profile?

3. You Post the Same Thing Over and Over

Sometimes companies worry that their followers aren’t seeing every post, so they say the same thing over and over on social media. This practice is especially rampant Twitter.

However, keep in mind that repetitive posts give the impression that your company is lazy, uncreative or just clueless. It’s even worse if the repeated content is promotional in nature — you’re essentially making two dangerous mistakes with one set of tweets.

Another way that companies make this mistake is using the same source for posts repeatedly. Your industry may have a great blog with thought-leading posts, but if you share those posts over and over, you’ll get a “me-too” reputation that will cause people to stop following you.

4. You Don’t Use Pictures and Videos

It’s amazing how much of a difference graphics and video make when you’re engaging followers online. Visuals are a central part of how we consume information, and tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more likes, and 150 percent more retweets. A picture really is worth 1,000 words, and if you don’t use pictures and videos, you’ll find that your fans stop following you and look for accounts with more interesting content.

5. You Don’t Engage Your Followers

Social media has become the arena where consumers feel comfortable interacting directly with brands. Whether it’s replying to comments, thanking fans for shares, or providing amazing customer service, your company has to interact with followers on social media or risk losing followers in droves.

6. You Overuse Hashtags

#Not #every #word #in #a #post #is #a #hashtag. If your posts look at all like the preceding sentence, it’s not only annoying, it’s really difficult to read.

Use hashtags sparingly and judiciously if you want your messages to stand out and make an impact with your audience. The reason you use hashtags is to find targeted followers and extend your reach, so only incorporate them with relevant keywords in your headline or post.

Certainly, some platforms – Instagram, in particular – allow for extra hashtags, as they’re used more for commentary than for customer reach. A good rule of thumb on other platforms, however, is to use no more than two in one update on Twitter and Facebook.

7. You Ask But Never Give

Repeatedly asking followers for shares, retweets, referrals, sales, and more without offering a single thing in return is alienating. People won’t follow accounts that feel like they’re simply leeches looking for people to do their legwork for them. If your company doesn’t offer value, you won’t be able to keep followers on social media.

8. You Mass-Tag Without Permission

Mass-tagging without permission isn’t just annoying, it’s also against the Terms of Service on most platforms and could get your account suspended. If you post something and tag everyone under the sun without their permission, you’ll ended up on their spam lists or be accused of being a social media bot. Regardless of why you’re mass-tagging without permission, the end result is still the same. You’ll end up losing followers in waves.

Running a powerful social media presence for your company is relatively simple in theory, but surprisingly difficult to execute. It takes time and patience to build a following, engage those followers and turn them into fans and customers. By avoiding these eight mistakes that’ll lose you followers quickly, you’ll avoid sabotaging those efforts and protect your growth online.

What other mistakes have you seen companies make online to lose followers on social media?

Follow Image via Shutterstock

This article, "8 Quick Ways You’ll Lose Followers On Social Media" was first published on Small Business Trends

Best Gadget Gifts for Geeks, Top Picks for 2015

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 13:00

Tech gadgets can make great gifts for business partners, clients, and tech savvy team members. And with plenty of new innovations being released each year, there are lots of new gadgets to choose from for the people on your 2015 holiday gift list.

For the really tech savvy geeks on your holiday shopping list, check out the list of gadget gifts below for some unique gift ideas.

Gadget Gifts for 2015 Bluesmart Suitcase

Business travel can be a pain. But this smart suitcase offers a number of features to make it easier, like a battery charger, digital lock, location tracking and a built-in scale.

Currently available for preorder, the Bluesmart suitcase sells for $399. So it’s likely not something you’d pick up for your entire team. But for your business partner or jetsetting top client, Bluesmart offers a unique gift option.

IZON 2.0 WiFi Video Monitor

The latest version of IZON’s video monitoring system comes with several useful features to help people monitor their home or business. The camera works with both iOS and Android systems to allow you to access footage from your smartphone.

Starting at $79.95 on their website, IZON offers options that work for both home and business. And they have monitors made for keeping an eye on babies and pets as well.

Wocket Smart Wallet

Carrying around a leather wallet with multiple credit and gift cards is so 2014. The Wocket smart wallet allows users to input information from multiple credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards onto one Wocket Card, with added security features like voicematch technology and password storage.

At $179 the Wocket wallet is a unique new option. And the company plans to begin offering different wallet accessories in the near future as well.

Helios Smart Solpro Charger

This solar powered smart charger allows you to keep all of your different mobile devices charged and ready while you’re out and about. It has a 5,000mAh battery, three high-efficiency solar panels, two USB output ports and one USB input port.

Helios Smart chargers start at $119 and come in a few different colors. With so many people carrying multiple mobile devices with them at all times, this is a safe bet for pretty much any tech savvy person on your list.

ZUtA Portable Pocket Printer

Mobile devices make it easy to do business from anywhere. But printing out actual documents hasn’t always been so easy, until now. The ZUtA portable pocket printer is a small device that connects to your smartphone or computer and prints on any size paper.

With a pre-order price of $199, the printer’s second batch is already sold out. But the company is accepting orders for a January 2016 batch. So if you’re willing to wait until then, this could make a useful gift for the techies on your list.

Nyrius ARIES Home+ Wireless HDMI Transmitter

This device allows you to wirelessly stream HD video and audio from your cable box, Blu-ray player, computer or gaming console to other devices within your home.

For the tech geeks with busy families or with a strong interest in TV and movies, this could be a great solution for those times when multiple family members are fighting over one TV. Prices start at $200 for a transmitter with two HDMI inputs.

TrackR Bravo

Everyone has that friend or family member who’s always misplacing their keys or wallet. This coin-sized device can go on keychains, dog collars, or other items and connects to your smartphone to transmit a noise when you’re looking for your belongings.

One device costs just $29.99, so it’s a low-cost option for the people on your list. Or you can even order multiple devices at a discounted rate.

Gifts Image via Shutterstock

This article, "Best Gadget Gifts for Geeks, Top Picks for 2015" was first published on Small Business Trends

Papa John’s Franchise Owner Gets Jail Time for Withholding Pay

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 11:30

A Papa John’s franchise owner tried to make a buck off his employees’ backs, and now he is paying the price.

Abdul Jamil Khokhar, the owner of nine Papa John’s Pizza locations in New York City along with BMY Foods, has pleaded guilty to not complying with the state’s labor laws, which is a misdemeanor, and to filing false business records, a felony.

Instead of paying employees the proper minimum overtime wages as required by New York State law, Khokhar paid them the minimum wage rate they would receive for working regular hours. He tried to hide his illegal activities by creating false identities under which he filed employees’ overtime hours, making it appear as if other workers were actually working those extra hours, so he wouldn’t get nabbed for not paying the overtime. Fortune notes that about 300 current and former employees were affected.

“Wage theft is a crime, and a Papa John’s franchisee is now going to jail for cheating his employees and trying to cover it up,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press release. “My office will do everything in its power to protect the rights of New York’s workers and make sure that all employers — including fast food restaurants — follow the law.”

New York’s minimum wage is $8.75, and this is expected to increase to $9 by the end of the year, per the state Labor Department.

Both the federal and New York law require employers to pay their workers at least the minimum wage for 40 hours per week and any extra hours should be paid time-and-a-half, the regular rate. However, Khokhar along with BMY Foods tried to game the system, paying his employees regular wages for overtime hours, by creating the fake workers that were part of the alleged scheme.

As part of a separate settlement with the Labor Department in July, Khokhar agreed to pay $230,000 in back pay for his workers, $230,000 in damages and $50,000 in civil monetary penalties. He will also spend 60 days in jail as part of his sentence.

This could all have been avoided had Khokhar done the right thing in the first place.

The Labor Department and Schneiderman’s office have been aggressively pursuing wage-and-hour violations by fast-food operators in New York State. In October, Bizjournals published a story about four Papa John’s franchisees that were asked to pay half a million dollars to 250 workers who were allegedly shorted their wages at nine restaurants in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. In another case, two other Papa John’s franchisees were asked by the court to pay nearly $3 million.

Papa John’s Image via Shutterstock

This article, "Papa John’s Franchise Owner Gets Jail Time for Withholding Pay" was first published on Small Business Trends

Spotlight: Sustainable Living Provides Easy Access to Green Products

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2015-11-25 09:30

These days, it seems like almost every business is looking for ways to be more sustainable. That sustainability can lead to long-term savings and improved brand perception, among other benefits.

That’s why Sustainable Living was formed. The business helps both businesses and individuals create more sustainable practices and find more eco-friendly products. Read more about the company in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Helps businesses become more sustainable and provides a green product marketplace.

Web developer and co-creator of the site Grant Lane told Small Business Trends, “We began by helping businesses reduce energy, water and waste outputs, substantially cutting the cost of doing business in the process. We have since expanded into the online market where we provide people with streamlined access to energy efficient and all natural goods, as well as cutting edge news concerning residential and commercialsustainability. We have researched top rated, eco-friendly businesses who actually live by what they believe in and delived this information in an easy to access fashion.”

Business Niche

Providing the most up-to-date information on high-quality eco-friendly products.

How the Business Got Started

By helping businesses be more sustainable.

Lane says, “Since we first official began in 2011, we have helped a number of businesses reduce waste, energy and water usage, saving them thousands of dollars monthly, per customer, strengthening community networks and building more efficient businesses.”

Biggest Win

Becoming more sustainable themselves.

Lane explains, “The biggest win in our history has been becoming self-sustaining our self, learning how to implement our own strategies in our daily lives and operate as a self-standing entity that allows us to continue to pursue our passion.”

Biggest Risk

Leaving previous jobs and opportunities to form Sustainable Living.

Lane says, “What has led us towards ever increasing success is the teamwork and strengths of our individual members to problem solve through further risks and issues that lay ahead.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Marketing and developing their own sustainable product designs.

Favorite Team Activity

Outdoor meetings.

Lane says, “One of the ways in which we usually hold meetings or brainstorm sessions is by getting outside and going for walks or hikes. We feel that this really gets people thinking in new ways and improves creativity.”

Favorite Quote

“There are three things which build and maintain civilization throughout time: pristine air, pristine water and pristine food. And as an eternal truth I say unto you, that there are three things which bring the end of civilization, even the mightiest that have ever been and shall ever be, from the beginning-less beginning to the endless end of all time: impure air, impure water, and impure food.” ~ Zenda Avesta (3,000 BC)

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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program.

Images: Sustainable Living. Top Image: Mr. P (Administrator), Jude Frates (Sustainability Consultant and Environmental Expert), Mike Frates (Web Design), Tristan Whitman (Business Strategy and Marketing) and Grant Lane (Web Design and Business Strategy). Second Image: Oliver’s Market, a client who we advised for cutting operating costs. Third Image: Jude Frates getting an award for his sustainable consulting work.

This article, "Spotlight: Sustainable Living Provides Easy Access to Green Products" was first published on Small Business Trends