I’ve just been reading about the technology behind what has been termed “deep fake videos.” I have to say, it’s scary. Our job is to help our clients promote their products and services. Yes, we want them to make a good first impression. Yes, we want them to highlight the best features of who they are and what they do. Yes, we want to increase their customer base and sales. But, we are steadfast in advising all our clients that they need to do so accurately and honestly.

Deep fake videos have mainly been focused on embarrassing celebrities and/or creating ridiculously farfetched content to ratchet up views for profit. Sure, it’s entertaining, and can be hilariously funny. But – there is a down side to not being able to believe what we see with our own eyes.

This video explains how deep fakes are created. You might notice that there is something a little off in the video of Obama. Now, watch this video of David Beckham speaking nine languages in a public service announcement promoting the fight against malaria. It’s pretty perfect.

That video was made by Synthesia, a UK company headed by CEO Victor Riparbelli. He believes that within three years, we won’t be able to tell the difference between fake and actual video – there will even be the ability to create a totally fake human doing and saying whatever.

So, how does all of this relate back to Internet Advertising and what we do for our clients? Obviously, fake is fake if it’s not accurate. We don’t want to create videos that show vacuum cleaners flying all over the house to clean your blinds, door frames, etc., in addition to the floor. That is dishonest. But what if it was easier and cheaper to create a truthful video by computer rather than recording live action? Is that ok? We’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

And, can our honest clients compete against the fakers? We still firmly believe that good will eventually prevail. It doesn’t take long for word to get out these days, so scams are short-sited regardless of your morals.

Conclusion? Well… be aware that you won’t be able to tell the difference between true and fake, so it’s probably best not to buy any flying vacuums; and, have faith that honesty is still the best policy for your business.

Most marketers will tell you that social media marketing is a “must have” in today’s world. While we don’t disagree, we also know that a lot of businesses are not getting the most out of their efforts and expense. Like any other marketing tactics, social media marketing needs to be goal driven, strategic, and part of an overall marketing plan.

It’s important to realize that “social media marketing” is not even one tactic, in and of itself. Rather, it can include posting to a social media account, engagement with potential customers, and paid ads. Those three, can be comprised of any combination of text, images, videos, or audio recordings, and can be the primary content or a divergence.

That said, let’s look at three ways that social media marketing can give a real boost to your business.

You’re launching (or relaunching) a brand

Social media platforms are a great choice for building brand awareness. Whether you’re just starting out or introducing a new product line, social media gives you the flexibility to “layer” shorter and longer content using a combination of text, images, and videos through paid ads and posts. You can target your theoretical consumer market and collect data to tweak that as needed. Social media is also very useful for brand building because you can encourage questions and provide timely responses in the brand voice. You’ll need to make sure that the design of your social media pages reflects your new brand, includes an engaging brand story, and has links to a well-planned website. The most important aspect though, is having your social media feeds monitored in real-time so you can hold virtual conversations with those who show an interest.

You need to create a big splash for a short time

Perhaps you need to move a lot of product at year end, are holding a special event, or decide to offer a flash sale on a slow week – social media is definitely the way to get the word out. You’ll not only reach the social media communities you’ve cultivated over time, but also a wider audience of potential customers. This type of blitz campaign is relatively inexpensive and can have lasting impact. You do need to have a strategically designed website to make sure that there is a smooth path to follow for potential buyers, otherwise, you could end up just frustrating and annoying people.

You need to hold on to your customers for a long time

If you’re in a business with a long sales cycle, sell products or services that last quite a while, or are dependent on after-sales maintenance or consumables, you can build customer loyalty by fostering a customer community. The key here is providing useful content and incentives to get and keep customers following you. Again, you’ll also need a website that makes it really easy for customers to purchase supplies and a way to talk to someone if they’re interested in a new product or service.

Websites are kind of like eye glasses – you can get away with holding on to what you’ve got for a few years, but after that, it gets pretty noticeable.

Two to four years is the current range of time that a website will hold its appeal and value. After that, you can count on fewer visitors and even fewer sales. That said, here are five signs that it’s really time for a makeover.

1. Something is flashing

Animated gifs were nouveau chic 20 years ago!  While there’s a new style of gifs that are popular on social media, having one of the older ones on your business website now, means you are an old-timer with nothing relevant to offer today’s customer.

2. Your site induces vertigo

If looking at your website makes people woozy, you need to have a serious talk with a designer about white space.

3. You’re counting on customers with a boat-load of patience

And there aren’t any on the internet. Unless you’re selling unicorns, no one is going to wait more than 10 seconds for your page to load.

4. Navigation is a search game

No one wants to spend the time figuring out your cutesy navigation just so they can buy whatever you’re selling. An obvious navigational path to conversion means sales. Sales are not a game.

5. You’re unintentionally supporting the Pride movement

If that is your intent, good for you. If it’s not, pick a colour palette already!

There are many, many factors that go into optimizing a website to persuade visitors to become customers. Markets are continuously evolving, and that means keeping up with conversion dynamics as well as general trends. Learn more about Web Design and Optimization on our website, or just give us a call to do an evaluation of your current site.

Thanks to “webpagesthatsuck.com” for some great examples of not-so-golden oldies.

It does get a little murky sometimes, but generally speaking, an advertisement is something you pay for to be placed on someone else’s property. Off-line that could mean a billboard, a newspaper, or the side of a bus. What you’re paying for is to put your ad in that visible space. Online, the rule is basically the same, but gets confusing because you can advertise and market on the same platforms.

For example, you can pay Google to place your ad at the top of a search results list. But when your website is on the first page of results “organically” (because of search engine optimization), that’s marketing.

On Facebook, your own page, what you post on that page, and your conversations with customers, is marketing. You can also pay though, to place an ad on Facebook that will show up on other people’s pages.

Things are a bit more transparent than they used to be, with Google placements marked as “Ad” and Facebook ads marked as “Sponsored,” but the point is that your ad shows up where a lot of people will see it, and you can target your audience to those most likely to be interested in what you’re selling.

You can also place ads on Twitter, YouTube, on news pages and in digital publications, as well as in game apps, to name just a few. Publishing a series of “How to…” videos on YouTube is marketing. If those videos become extremely popular, you’ll likely start seeing other people’s ads at the beginning and end of your video.

The other difference between advertising and marketing is that a marketing campaign will often use a variety of different ads placed on different platforms. Strategically, the combination of ads, the order that they appear, and where they appear, is thoughtfully planned to generate more attention than any single ad could.

Your own website is kind of a hybrid. While it is your property, you pay for hosting and a service provider. Whether your website is an ad or marketing isn’t really important though. What matters is that you recognize your site as the core of all of your promotional efforts.

The most important part of any ad is the “call to action.” In online advertising, the action that you most often want potential customers to take is to visit your site. It’s your site’s responsibility to persuade visitors to take the next step – make a purchase or set up an appointment for your services. Web optimization is the process of creating that persuasion.

In the ideal scenario, you’ll have a great website, and implement a strategically designed marketing plan that includes several forms of advertising. When you put all the pieces together, you get more customers.

It’s officially spring and thank goodness. We can finally put away the heavy coats and fuzzy blankets and enjoy the outdoors. But before you pull out the camping gear, make some time to do your online spring cleaning. It may not be something you look forward to, but it’s important and could save you from some nasty surprises. Here’s your handy checklist!

1. Do a Google search for:

    • Your company name and any frequent misspellings
    • The owner and senior staff by name
    • Anyone who has left the company in the past year
    • Any in-house brand names

Check each of the results on at least the first two pages for any inaccurate, unflattering, or other problematic information. Copy the URL (page address) of anything to you find, and paste it into a document you can send to us or to your own PR professional. DO NOT take any action if/when you first discover an issue. Firing back in an emotional state can make things worse.

Also check on your own website and any directories you’re listed in to make sure the address, phone number, products or services listed, are all accurate.

2. Change your passwords on all accounts, including business and personal banking, email, and social media. If you have online service accounts, such as a physician or lab, change those passwords too.

3. Search for your business name on all social media platforms. Facebook and Google, for example, creating pages for places, which are often businesses. If they’ve created one for your business, you want to claim it and take control of it, as soon as possible. Do a search even on platforms where you have created an account. Also review the pages of any senior staff that non-friends can view, particularly if they have posted who they work for.

4. Clean up your own social media pages. We now know that scammers are using platforms like LinkedIn to gather information. While it’s tempting to be connected to as many people as possible (sounds like good business), that may not be the case. If you have a personal account (rather than a business account), go through your connections and if you don’t know who they are, you can disconnect from them without them knowing. Instructions are here.

(If you also want to disconnect from friends on your personal Facebook page, instructions are here.)

On business accounts/pages, it’s probably a better idea to just review the kind of content that others are posting. If someone is always trying to sell something, being offensive or inappropriate, or constantly complains on a public platform rather than calling you directly, you can take steps to delete these posts and people. You do need to be careful about this though, and we encourage you to talk to us first. There are pros and cons that need to be considered.

Now, where are those sleeping bags?

Search engines like Google offer advertising on their results pages, allowing you to jump to the top spot. There is a fee for this, but you only pay that fee when someone clicks on the ad and is redirected to your website or to a specific landing page created as a follow up to the ad. Even when your website is optimized for search engines, there are times that you’ll want to also use search engine marketing.

You want to increase targeted leads quickly

It takes time for search engine optimization to make an impact on search results. If your site has just been optimized, if you’ve launched a new website or have moved to a new URL (web address), you can generate leads faster by advertising, as these listings are guaranteed to appear at the top of the results right away.

You want to broaden or narrow your market area

There are times when you may want to change the geographic area that you serve. For example, let’s say you are a lawyer and want to focus on cases closer to home for a few months. You can increase local leads by placing search engine ads for searchers in your home community. This will help you fill your roster with local cases, without completely stopping your website marketing to the larger area.

You want to broaden or narrow your products or services

Using the example of a lawyer again, let’s say that you are well known for estate services, but want to attract a wider variety of work. You can place an ad that will show up whenever any of several key words are searched, such as “corporate lawyer,” “personal injury lawyer,” or “divorce lawyer.” You can also run ads like this during separate time periods, to get a better idea of what type of services are most sought after in your area.

Search engine marketing offers great analytics too, allowing us to track the outcome of each ad and to make changes, so you get the results you want.

Paid ads jump to the top of the results list.

As I was researching the last article on consumer trends for 2019, I sensed another theme that no one stated outright, but seemed to be in the middle (or maybe the muddle) of all the forecasts: there is an emerging group of mindful and deliberate consumers, who are demanding more from businesses than their typical products and services.

Integrity, social and environmental responsibility, are now expected from every company, and all of their executives. Transgressions are no longer judged in context of time or industry. Unfortunate comments, even those long passed, are damaging personal and brand reputations. Clothing manufacturers are being lobbied to reduce waste. People who can afford groceries are eating out of dumpsters to demonstrate the nourishing food that is tossed out regularly.

More consumers are becoming activists to drive positive change, bringing attention to causes and to businesses they see as harmful to humanity. They are also driving major brands to use their influence to advocate for issues in the social and political realm.

A few daring CEOs have taken up the challenge, but the dichotomy in results is a lesson in risk. While there was an immediate backlash for Nike, who featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign, supporters quickly countered, making it a big win for the sports brand.

For Dick’s Sporting Goods, who stopped selling assault weapons at its Field & Stream banner stores after the Parkland shootings, and lobbied for more federal gun control, it hurt rather badly. But, they haven’t backtracked and could turn things around long-term, betting that the anti-gun sports enthusiasts will prop up sales on new product offerings for more civilized activities.

Both decisions were a big leap from sharing profits with a charitable cause, which has been the more traditional approach to attracting socially conscious consumers. It will be interesting to see who else enters this politically-charged arena, and how they fare. The lessons for everyone though, are make sure your company is doing its part to be ethical, socially and environmentally responsible; and, know your customers.

While there is lots of technical work that goes into search engine optimization, the content of a website is equally important. The more you know about your customers, the better able we are to produce content that search engines will match with your customers’ searches.

It starts with key words, and your front line staff are in the best position to keep track of what those are. Here’s an example. Let’s say you sell swimming pools. What do customers ask your sales staff most often? Have they already done some research? Do they ask about a particular brand? Do they ask for a particular feature? Do they use terms like “inground,” “fiberglass,” or “infinity?” Or are they more likely to say that they want a “backyard pool” that’s “easy to maintain?”

That kind of information helps us in a couple of ways. First, it gives us a place to start our research. If most customers come in knowing that they want either a fiberglass or concrete pool, we can find out which of those keywords is most searched in your market area. If the results show a ratio of 25 searches for fiberglass pools for every 1 concrete pool, we know that we want to focus on fiberglass. If the results are fairly equal, we’ll probably suggest that you have a separate page for each type, allowing us to optimize the individual pages for each key word.

The other important factor though, is that key words also give us some insight into buyers’ “decision making criteria.” If they are asking about pools that are easy to maintain, we’ll create content on that topic. Since search engines look at far more than just key words, it’s not enough to use “easy to maintain” in a title or tag. You need to have quality content to go with that. So, what we’ll do, is develop a few paragraphs, perhaps an illustration or video, showing what “easy” means, and how that compares to other pool options.

Yes, we are experts in search engine optimization; but, you are the expert when it comes to your customers. And you can help us help you, by paying attention to how your customers ask for what they want.

In the last two articles, we looked at seven seemingly innocuous situations and what was really happening. Now, we’re going to look at how scammers are still profiting from our basic trust in others, and what we can do about it.

First though, don’t feel bad if you’ve been the victim of a scam. I dare say it’s happened to all of us. It’s certainly happened to me. Scammers send out millions of email and text messages; impersonate millions of people; post millions of times on social media sites; and have vast networks of their own to create fake profiles and pages, and sell tidbits of information that are later compiled into complete portfolios of real people.

Because they are so prolific, they only need a few people to be fooled by each “project.” And that’s the main reason that we are fooled. Because a few of us do know someone named Maggie Jones, and a few of us did post photos to Facebook earlier today, and most of us don’t want to send a message back to a parent or boss saying, “How do I know it’s really you?” when the message came from their own account. And, as the previous article demonstrated, these internet pirates are getting more sophisticated and are using more personal information to target individuals. So, how do we thwart these criminals? Here are a few tips.

Be mindful of what information about you is available to the public. For example, our website gives the names and job titles for everyone at Internet Advertising. If I get an email late one night from James saying that he accidently deleted his password for a site he has to have finished by morning, my first instinct is to send him mine. But, what I should realize is that anyone would know that we’re colleagues, so I need to make sure the message is actually from James.

Understand that it may not have been you who got hacked. If anyone of your friends on Facebook inadvertently gave someone their credentials, the scammer can now see your feed. Be particularly cautious of posting information about your children, the school or dance academy they go to, when you’re leaving on vacation, etc. Post those cute holiday pics after you get home.

Know that information about you is being compiled. Limiting your personal social media accounts is one way to reduce the amount of info that scammers can collect from different sources. Do you really need accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Google, WhatsApp, YouTube, Yammer, Bebo, Pinterest, Reddit, and Flickr? The data being collected about you now also includes your interests, what you like, how you feel about politicians, recording artists, etc., etc. It’s valuable to marketers.

Change your email settings to not send immediately.  It is very easy to spoof an email address, and in many cases the only way to check that it’s the address you think it is, is by replying. If you are able to change your email settings to not send immediately, (in Outlook, go to File, Options, Advanced, Send and receive, and make sure the “Send immediately hen connected” is not checked), then you can prepare your response, click Send, then go to your Outbox and see what addresses it shows. Here’s an example:

This image shows the message I received from the spoofed James account. It shows that it came from his actual email address.

Even when I click Reply, it shows that the message is going to James actual email address.   

                                        

But when I go to my Outbox, it shows that the message I thought I was sending to James, is actually going to a totally different person.

If you can’t change the settings and are at all suspicious, reply with a test message; e.g. “Give me 5,” then go to your Sent Mail folder and look at the address you just sent to.

Be suspicious of any message that asks for information or contains a link. Scammers use urgency, fear, and playfulness to try to trick us into taking action. They’ll also use the information that’s been compiled about you, your colleagues, and your family to add a familiar touch or try to scare you. In the early days, these scam messages had tell-tale signs like poor spelling, bad grammar, or fuzzy images. Some still do, and that’s a tip off, but many others appear to be legit. So, whether it’s an email message, a text message, a private message on social media, or even a post, if there’s a link, a request for login info or money, double check with who you think the message is from before doing anything else.

Don’t get sucked into “challenges.” And warn your kids and parents! One’s like the cinnamon or salt and ice challenges are downright dangerous. The newer “ten year challenge,” that asks you to post two photos of yourself, ten years apart, is suspected to be a huge data collection scam.

Use all of the tools available to you. Spend the money to purchase a security program from a reputable source. A free one could attack you itself. Turn on automatic updates for your operating system and software programs. Close any social media accounts that you don’t use at least weekly, and delete any apps you no longer use. Don’t share your login credentials, and if you feel you have to, do it by telephone. Take a minute to think, and trust your gut. Even if the message is urgent, give yourself time to process and consider the consequences if it is a scammer.

Do you have a tip for spotting scammers? Let us know, and we’ll we share it.

Oh, those scammers! Just when we think we’re on to them, they come up with an even more sophisticated ruse. In the last article, we listed seven situations that would seem pretty normal. (Review them here if you missed it.) Now, we’re going to reveal what actually could have happened.

What went wrong:

The email from your boss asking you to send the HR files to a consultant wasn’t actually from your boss. When you accepted the network request from the forensic accountant, who isn’t a forensic accountant, they got access to the LinkedIn profiles of all of the staff at your company. They learned that you had just gotten a promotion and who your boss was. They also knew your boss was going on vacation, because she posted a picture on her Facebook page from the airport, on her way to the Maldives. Soooo, someone now has a whole lot of personal information about your admin staff.

The melting snowman from John, wasn’t from John. But we all know someone who is always late, so easy mistake. What’s actually melting down is your company’s internal security, and everyone in the office is now infected with spyware.

The vase for your wife’s birthday never arrives. You try emailing the seller, but the messages just bounces back as unknown. You contact eBay but soon realize that they were not involved in the sale, it was between you and the seller directly, so you have no recourse.

When you clicked the link in the email about the offensive photos on Facebook, you were directed to a page that looked just like Facebook, but wasn’t Facebook. When you logged in, you gave your credentials to thieves, who then diverted you to the actual Facebook and logged you in. It all happened so quickly that you didn’t notice a thing. They now have control of your page and may or may not tip their hand by actually posting offensive photos (or promotional content that appears to be from you, or links that are raising the profile of someone else’s ad campaign; none of which you notice because you don’t alerts of your own posts). What they may do is just spy on you and all of your friends, noting when homes are likely to be unoccupied, private messaging children for nefarious purposes, and all sorts of other info that can be sold and used by evil doers.

That email with the free apps for your iWatch wasn’t from mi-things.com, so you gave your full name and credit card number to an impersonator who just bought themselves a $98.50 Amazon gift card with your money. When you’re statement arrives weeks later, you give it a quick scan and since you did do Christmas shopping on Amazon, it doesn’t catch your attention. If you ever do realize it wasn’t your purchase, the dispute period will be over anyway.

Dang nabbit!! Stay tuned for tips to avoid getting played.

I’m pretty good at spotting a scam, at least I was. But it’s a new day in Scamville, and the residents have upped their game big time. The English is perfect. The graphics are masterful. And collaboration in the underworld is extraordinary. In our next three articles you’ll find out how we’re still getting taken, and how to avoid it.

Are any of these examples things you might do in a typical week?

Monday: Proud of your new promotion, you’re updating your LinkedIn profile when you notice a request to join your network from a forensic accountant. You don’t recognize the name, but being in the financial management business, you sometimes need independent professionals to conduct investigations, so you click the accept button.

Tuesday: You get an email from Hallmark saying that a friend has sent you a belated Christmas card. You figure it’s from John, he’s always late! You click on the link to see a melting snowman.

Wednesday: Your wife’s birthday is coming up and you found an antique vase on eBay that she’d love. Unfortunately, you didn’t win the auction with your $150 bid, but you just got an email message from the seller saying that the sale fell through and since they really need money, they’re willing to sell the vase to you for $100. You reply “yes!” and send the etransfer.

Thursday: You send out a tweet saying that you really love your new iWatch for quickly checking incoming messages and they are still on sale at mi-things.com.

Friday: You get an email from Facebook saying that photos you posted have been removed as offensive content. You’re shocked and really confused, wondering if your account has been hacked. You click the link in the email which takes you to the Facebook login page. You enter your details, go to your page and don’t see anything untoward, and no messages from Facebook. Must have been a scam.

Saturday: You get an email from your boss, who’s just started vacation, saying that he forgot to do something before he left. He asks you to send the HR files for everyone in the administration department to a consultant who he’s hired to review the company’s hiring process. He makes a joke about “other related duties” in your new job description. You login to the HR system and send copies of the files to the email address your boss provided.

Sunday: You get an email from mi-things.com with a list of links to 10 iWatch apps that they’re sure you’ll love. They are offering them to you for free, you just have to enter your name and credit card number to verify your mi-things purchase. You fill out the form because they got your card number when you purchased, so no harm giving it to them again.

Do any of these scenarios seem familiar? In the next article, we’ll look at how your week benefited scammers.

There are a lot of predictions about what customers want from us over the next 12 months. What’s interesting this year is that there’s not a lot that’s truly new, and nothing is really “out.” Instead, it seems that what consumers want is a re-balancing of what already exists in terms of how we interact with them. Here are some examples.

Personalization vs privacy

This is going to be an interesting one to watch since both personalization in customer experience and privacy of their data are noted as important issues this year. Can this world really deliver on both? Maybe. But we need to stick to reasonable questions. If you’re providing a free service supported by ads, say so, and go ahead and ask me what kind of ads I want to see. If you’re selling me something, tell me what the benefit is to me of giving you my personal info. And protect any data you do store like your life depended on it (because the life of your business does depend on it).

AI vs HI

Real-time, real-world, human to human customer experiences are going to give some companies an edge in 2019. Balancing your use of automation with human intervenors is the task at hand. Robots in the warehouse might be a real cost savings, but chat bots trying to solve customer problems could send those customers elsewhere. Dividing your business processes into those that do or don’t need the human touch, will keep your customers coming back.

Virtual vs real world interactions

Isolation, loneliness, and depression are impacting those who are only connecting to others digitally. People are deliberately moderating or even unplugging entirely from social media in favour of face to face interactions. What’s more surprising though, is that brick and mortar stores are re-emerging as one component of a strategic mix of retail sales channels. Brands that build community both on and off line, will be more successful in also building loyal customers.

Some other predictions to consider:

  • Symptom to solution apps and clinics will be sought after in the wellness category.
  • Conversational search terms will be important with the increase in virtual assistants like Google Home.
  • Live streaming and unscripted videos will become more persuasive than high production value.
  • Long form content isn’t out, but you’ll also need an abridged version for those who just want the headlines.

Learn more:

Forbes – 2019’s Top Trends To Watch: The Most Important Trends For Businesses And Consumers For 2019

CMO.com – Executives Are Eyeing These 2019 Consumer Trends

Business 2 Community – 8 Content Marketing Trends That Will Fire Up Your Strategy

Mintel – Global Consumer Trends 2019

Adweek – The Return of Retail and 5 Other Direct-to-Consumer Trends to Watch in 2019

It’s exciting, isn’t it? Christmas is coming up fast, and a new year awaits us. We thought you might appreciate this round-up of websites to help you get ready and enjoy both.

So you can finish your shopping
Where you buy is up to you, but these two retailers will give you ideas.
Walmart gift ideas
uncommongoods

Help finishing up at work
No one wants to be even one minute late getting their holiday started! Go to www.noisli.com and put on your headphones to drown out the office noise, so you can focus. Need one last image? Try unsplash.com.And if that info you’ve been waiting for is in some weird file format, check out cloudconvert.com.

This site will tell you which glue to use when the assembly instructions don’t work: thistothat.com

Get to a live customer service person when the glue doesn’t work either: gethuman.com

Instead of watching reruns on TV while you’re chill’n
geoguessr.com lands you in a random location on Google maps, and you have to try to figure out where you are.

ihavenotv.com has some great science related documentaries.

openlibrary.org is a digital book lending site with a wide range of genres.

When you’re tired of turkey (and/or broke)
myfridgefood.com will give you meal ideas based on items you already have in your house.

budgetbytes.com has tons of great recipes that don’t cost a fortune to make.

Setting goals for the new year
Setting personal goals while you have time to ponder is a great way to start the new year on your own terms. Here are two links to get you started.
www.mindtools.com/page6.html
worksheetplace.com/mf_pdf/Start-stop-continue.pdf

Merry Christmas!

The term “client” stems from the client-server model that has been the foundation of the internet forever. The client requests information and the server gives it to them. “Client” by itself can refer to the device or the human user, while “client application” is talking about the computer software the client device or user is using.

Conversely, “server” is the computer hardware, and “server application” is the software. But, client is also used alone to refer to client application. Clear as mud, right?

So here’s the deal, if someone asks you what “client” you use for mail, the answer might be “Outlook.” They might also ask what “application” you use for mail, and the answer would be the same. The point is that the client is of no use without the information from the server. Another example of a client is a web browser, again, totally useless if you’re not connected to the internet and able to retrieve data from a server.

In contrast, a “software application” (or application software, or application, or software, sigh) is a computer program or group of programs created for a human user, which processes data in certain ways based on its programming and user instructions. It’s not a “client application” because it doesn’t need a server. Once you have it on your device, you put in your own data and select the functions you want the program to perform on that data, like Excel.

To make things even more complicated, we now have “web applications,” like Google Docs, which work the same, but actually live on servers rather than on clients. (Are you still with me?)

Even more recently, people are making a distinction between “application” and “app,” which is obviously an abbreviation of the former. But in the tech world, an app has only one function, like a clock, calculator, or game, while an application has many functions. For example, Microsoft Suite, is an application (but so is Word).

Anyway, the purpose of this series on digital lingo is to make it easier for you to communicate with your tech team to get instructions, find a fix, or build something new. So, to summarize, Outlook is your mail client, which retrieves your mail from Shaw’s servers. You add up your expenses on the application Excel, then check the game scores on your hockey app.

This term – net-neutrality – has been driving me crazy for a while. I’ve tried researching it before, and admit that my eyes glazed over before I could wrap my head around it. Now that it’s back in the news again, with California just enacting state legislation, I’m determined to at least get a grasp on the basics. Here’s what I’ve learned.

True net-neutrality means that all internet users and all internet data are treated equally. Everyone signed up with Shaw gets internet access at the same speed to all internet sites and services. You can’t pay more for higher speed, all services count against your data plan, and no particular websites, apps, or services are blocked or slowed down.

Net-neutrality is a defense against being able to control access with money; which can, and is being done now in many countries, and between a variety of Internet Service Providers (or ISPs, like Shaw and Bell) and some online services. For example, one ISP in the United States offers free access (no data charges) to certain music streaming services who pay the ISP, rather than charging the consumer. Some ISPs slow down or “throttle” data being uploaded or downloaded from specific sites or services.

One of the reasons that the term is confusing is because there are varying degrees of net-neutrality. In Canada, for instance, ISPs are not allowed to alter access speeds based on websites, but they are permitted to charge more for higher speed access to any and all sites.

California’s new law implements true net-neutrality, which the federal U.S. government, among others, object to, and are actually taking the matter to court. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Your browser is the software that you use to access websites. Back in the day, Internet Explorer was one of the very few browsers in use.

Today, Explorer has less than 10% of global users, while the newer Google Chrome has somewhere upwards of 40%. Apple’s Safari, preloaded on all iPhones, has about 30%. Firefox comes in third, with about 18%.

There are pros and cons with each browser, but they basically all do the same thing. How they work though, is a bit different, so when we develop new websites, we test the site using all of the top three, and make any adjustments necessary to make sure that your site will appear properly.

A search engine is an entirely different thing, but is so well integrated with browsers that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. While a browser alone will take you to a website if you have the address, it’s the search engine that helps you find the site if you don’t.

Google is, by far, the most popular search engine worldwide, although Yahoo is still around, and the newer Bing, also has its share of users.

If you market to a global audience though, you may want to look beyond Google for your search advertising. Yandex, for example, is the most used search engine in Russia, with an estimated 55% of users. If you’re marketing in China, the search engine Baidu has 302 million monthly active users.

Beyond those mentioned, there are many, many, other browsers and search engines available. Some are focused on privacy. Some are needed to get you into the “deep” or “dark” web. There’s even a search engine built specifically for finding suppliers of illegal drugs. What’s interesting about this is that the internet sites that show up in a Google search, for example, makes up a very small percentage of what’s actually online.

The digital world has a vast number of terms that most of us never need to understand. There are some though, where a common understanding can help us communicate better with the technical folks that we rely on to do those techie things for us. We’re going to look at some of those over the next few weeks.

First up, operating systems. An operating system is the core software, or computer programming, that runs a digital device. It’s basically the equivalent of the human body’s nervous system. Some parts of it operate in the background, like breathing, and some parts are only active when an input command is given, like picking up a cup of coffee.

The most used operating systems for desktop computers and laptops are Windows and Mac. Those are likely terms you know, as they are well branded. If you normally use one, then try the other, you’ll soon realize how different they are in terms of accessing files, using short-cut commands, or even formatting a document.

Smart-phones also have operating systems. The most used at present are iOS and Android. Apple iPhones use the “i” Operating System, abbreviated to iOS. Android is used by almost all of the other smart-phones, including Google’s Pixel, Samsung, and LG. There are many opinions on the pros and cons of these two systems, but most agree that the iOS offers more privacy and security, while the Android system is more customizable and compatible with other devices.

If you’re buying a new computer or phone, do your own research before shopping. Switching from an Apple operating system to Windows or Android, or vice versa, can be a painful process. There are a few links below to get you started.

Android vs iOS

Windows vs Mac

I drove by a church the other day that had a sign out front, like many do. I thought it said “Help available,” followed by a phone number. I realized a few seconds later, that the sign actually said “Hall available.” An insignificant misread, but it made me think of how important branding is to context.

Whatever social media platforms you use to engage with customers, short messages are usually best. A mutually understood context, makes those messages far more understandable and meaningful. Here’s an example. You get a Twitter message that says, “New lawn model is awesome!” Without context, it may not make much sense to you. But, if the message is from John Deer, a well-known manufacturer of lawn mowing tractors, you know what it means, and whether or not it is of interest to you.

Branding, in this sense, means much more than visual identity. It means that the people you are communicating with know what you sell, your reputation, and something about your brand’s character. (Like, John Deer people get excited about lawn mowing tractors!)

What this means for marketing, is that early on, you need to teach your potential customers about what you sell and your brand character in as many ways as possible. Engaging with customers in conversational dialogue on social media is great, but don’t forget about other parts of your business, like customer assistance in the buying cycle, dealing with returns and complaints, and the content and tone of your website and blog.

My misunderstanding of the church sign is also a good reminder that an intensive campaign is in order whenever you introduce a new product or service that goes beyond what others expect from your brand.

With the kids being back in school, it’s a good time to review your rules and strategies for keeping their smartphone use positive and productive. Unfortunately, that is not the aim for evil trolls who find their way into the lives and minds of many a young person. So, let’s deal with that first.

These first three links are articles about phone apps that are dangerous, if not highly suspect, and could very well be on your kid’s phone right now. Please read.

These next three articles talk about apps that help students keep track of homework and project assignments. Avoid those last minute all-nighters this year.

These last two articles discuss tracking apps. One to track physical location, and one to keep an eye on online activity and behaviour. Sometimes, keeping kids safe means spying on them.

Remember to do a review of the basics as well, like location sharing, data usage, and in-app purchases.

Like most other tools, smartphones are great when used with care.

René Descartes uttered the famous phrase in the 1600s, and I have to wonder what he would think about the world today.

Particularly the fond habit of some very well-known people to tweet instead of thinking. What is it about these highly intelligent individuals that compels them to act so very stupidly in front of a world-wide audience? I don’t have an answer for that, but we can still learn from their mistakes.

  • Twitter is not your mother. Your mother is on your side, no matter what. Twitter will judge you.
  • Twitter is not your priest. Confessions tend to be interpreted as excuses by the Twitterverse, so the fact that you’re bipolar, an addict, or were bullied as a child, will not result in the forgiveness you seek for your bad behavior.
  • Twitter is not your bartender. Random, late night epiphanies should not be tweeted.
  • Twitter is not your mirror on the wall. You are not the fairest of them all anyway, so don’t ask.
  • Twitter does not have an open mic night. Even if you think you’re funny, there are no jokes that will not offend someone, somewhere, somehow. Don’t even.

So, how can businesses use Twitter effectively? The first step is setting an objective. Are you looking for new leads? Want to increase brand loyalty? Provide customer support on a more economic scale? Once you’ve set an objective, then you need to create a plan to meet that specific goal.

Every plan should start with research – listening in on what others are saying about the topic and perhaps about you. Remember that Twitter isn’t a billboard for your ads; it’s a way to have conversations with people you’d never otherwise come into contact with. Follow accounts of those in a similar business or on a similar topic, who have a large number of followers, and subscribe to relevant hashtags.

The next step is creating content that your target audience is interested in. Yes, you can Tweet out some tips or links to that content, but you also need to find people who are looking for a solution you can provide. Here’s an example based on our business. By listening in to others conversations, we find a thread of dialogue from those who are unhappy with their graphic designers. Someone then asks a specific question: Does anyone know a design team that goes beyond the fads and uses actual research or psychology? That’s our opportunity to jump into the conversation with: One of our consultants has a degree in psychology and works closely with our graphic designers and web developers to create compelling visual and narrative content. Message us to set up a free consultation.

In general, sharing your knowledge, news about new products, or an industry expert’s predictions for the future, are all interesting. Note, that these types of tweets are neither opinion nor personal.

Twitter is a great tool and can be used very effectively to promote your brand and reputation. It can also hurt it immensely. Like all powerful tools, follow the instructions and use with caution!

In this last installment in this series, we’re looking at geo-targeting – the ability to choose the location of users who will be shown our ad.

Up to this point, all of our criteria (age, gender, interests, platform) to narrow our audience to our target market have remained global. I won’t say that there aren’t any, but I sure can’t think of a single brand or product that would benefit from advertising in every place on earth, which makes it a huge waste of money.

Geo-targeting in general, lets you specify a continent, country, or city where users have to be in order for your ad to be shown. All of the platforms we’ve talked about can do this. Better yet though, some platforms allow you to get even more precise, and, some let you deliver ads based on user movement. (I’m not naming names here because there are continuous improvements.)

So, for example, we can now target people who meet our other criteria, and who live in a certain city or within a specified distance from our business location. We can also target those who don’t live, but are travelling in our location. And, we can mix and match criteria. Here’s a great example of a precise target: a man, aged 46 to 55, who has visited several auto dealers’ websites in the past month, and recently visited a car dealership in your city. Time to reel them in to your dealership with a great offer!

This targeting ability not only means advertising to the right audience, it also allows us to show our ads when they will be the most relevant to our audience. You can target travellers looking for restaurant or neighbourhood locals for a salon special. You can even set up different ads for different criteria – enticing locals to come to your physical store and a different add for online shoppers across the country; or different ads based on age, gender, interests, etc.

Being able to get the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, is what makes digital advertising so effective. If you want to put this power to use for your business, just give us a call.

In this short series, we’re discussing the tremendous value of online advertising. Last week we looked at targeting age and gender, and now we’re going to add platform and interests.

Based on information from spredfast.com and statista.com, I’ve created a chart with number of users and a rough estimate of user profiles that match our target of men aged 46 to 55, for six of the most popular digital platforms. I need to note that there are many (many!) other sites and platforms on which to advertise, so I’m using these only as examples.

The Google user data is only for their search engine, and still has the most users by far. While the percentage in our age group is lower than some others, the volume of users makes up for that. They collect data from search as well as other sources, so can target gender and age fairly well. Their forte though, is tracking interests, what they call “affinity,” based on keywords used in search, sites visited, ads clicked on, etc.

Facebook also has a huge number of users. About half are men, and about 60% are in our age group. In addition to tracking an individual user’s “likes,” “groups,” and ad clicks, you can also target based on conversations using keywords like “new car.”

According to Spredfast, YouTube is the best place to reach a male audience. While men are certainly the majority of users, they don’t have quite as many in the age group we’re looking for. Still, user tracking would allow us to target men in our age group who watched car related videos, subscribed to a car related channel, or even a car brand channel.

Instagram has the next largest user volume, but our chart tells us that it is the least likely to deliver a high number of users in our target group. I’m going to say pass.

Twitter is popular with men, but not so much with our age group; and, may not be the best format for a car ad anyway. Pass.

LinkedIn has far fewer users, but a majority are men. While our target age group is estimated only at 20%, we are still in a pre-retirement age range. In addition, LinkedIn is the most popular platform with Fortune 500 CEOs, and we can target income range, so I’m keeping this one on the list.

So we’ve narrowed it down to Google, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn; targeting men, age 46 to 55, who have an interest in cars; and, we’re going to add income of $100,000+, because we can.

The reason online advertising is so effective is the precision with which we can now target people who have the characteristics of our ideal customer.This short series explains how digital targeting works, and the first two factors we’re going to discuss are age and gender.

While making assumptions based on stereotypes is unfair on an individual basis, it remains the starting point for targeted advertising. The majority of fifty-five year old men are not likely to spend $300 on a kitchen mixer, even if it can also make noodles. There’s a pretty good chance though, that fifty-five year old men may be very interested in the newest Mustang convertible.

Now, we flip that. What are you selling? Who is most likely to make such a purchase? And, within that group, who are the best customers? Example: you’re selling the Mustang convertible. You know that 85% of buyers are men between the ages of 35 and 55. You also know that the 35 to 45 year old group are the ones that cause you the most headaches, want a deal you just can’t offer, complain later about the most minor of issues, are rarely satisfied, and may be hurting your reputation with their ranting. So, your ideal customers are men 46 to 55 years of age.

If you want to advertise on Facebook, narrowing your audience to men in that age group is no problem at all. But is Facebook the best platform for selling cars to this group? Stay tuned.

If you value your privacy, this article may disturb you. If you’re looking for new customers, rejoice! We’ve talked many times about various aspects of target marketing and its importance in getting a strong return on investment.

While “marketing” covers pretty much every type of publicity, I want to focus here specifically on advertising – the paid placement of a thoughtfully crafted message – how targeting works, and how precise it can be.

First, some basics. We recently interrupted our Serial Killers of Business series to let people know what was happening around the European Union’s new privacy laws and why consent was being actively sought for the use of cookies.

Cookies are a tiny bit of programming code that is placed on your device when you access a website, app, or really, any online activity. That cookie then tracks what you are doing – your IP address, which pages you view, which auto part you ordered, etc. On social media sites, like Facebook or Instagram, the site captures more data about you (e.g. your age, gender, high school you attended), and it captures data about the conversations you have, which posts you’ve viewed, which ads you’ve clicked on, what you’ve “liked.”

The recent uproars about data being sold, traded, or stolen, is because this allows bits of data to be combined into an even more comprehensive profile. We, of course, do not approve or participate in any illegal or immoral practices; but we do recommend taking advantage of information that is freely offered and used with consent, and there’s plenty of that.

Starting next week, we’re going to illustrate targeting ads based on five factors: age and gender, interests and platform, and location. So dig up what you know about your ideal client and you’ll see how that information can be used to significantly increase the value of your advertising dollar.

Oooey, gooey, chocolate or fruity, (sadly) those aren’t the kind of cookies we’re talking about. We’re talking about the kind that websites use to track your activities on their site, and sometimes on other sites as well.

If you’ve done any internet surfing lately, you’ve likely seen more popup notices than usual, stating that the site uses cookies. You may also have received emails or other notices asking you to accept a new Terms of Use or Privacy Policy for a site that you have an account on. That’s because of a new privacy law in the European Union (EU).

Following a number of significant data breaches around the world, in May 2018, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Regulation applies to anyone who collects any type of personal data from residents of EU, including the data that cookies collect.

While its intent is similar to BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), the GDPR is more protective and more specific in a number of areas. These include “affirmative consent” for data collection (hence the cookie notices), stringent storage requirements, and the right to “be forgotten.”

While I have to say that we are not legal experts, here’s our understanding of the central issues.

EU Business Activity: If you have an office or agent in the EU, offer products or services to people in the EU, or monitor the behaviour of individuals in the EU, the new law applies to you. This means that if you sell anything to anyone in the EU, you need to ensure that you are fully compliant with the GDPR, and it may be worth your while to engage a lawyer to assist, to avoid significant fines.

If you do not currently fall under that definition, ensure that your home page states your business area; and be aware of the issues below.

Cookies and Analytics: Most websites use cookies to track users by their IP address. Some sites personalize information based on previous use of the site, and information such as referral source and pages viewed, are used in analytics. The use of cookies and analytics should already be in your Terms or Use or Privacy Policy on your site; however, many users would not think to go looking for these documents, the links to which are often in small print in the footer. Under the GDPR, an IP address is personal information, and you have to get affirmative consent for collection. What many sites have done is to display a brief message that links to more detailed information. This example says, “We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site and to analyze traffic. By continuing to use realtor.com/international, you agree to our use of cookies. View our Privacy Policy for more information.”

Beyond this, if you do not do business in the EU, don’t have anyone from the EU signed up for your newsletters, and do not buy, sell or trade data, your PIPA-based Privacy Policy should suffice.

If EU Traffic Increases (or you want to expand into the EU): It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your analytics to monitor traffic from EU countries. If that number becomes significant, or if you are getting inquires, or people from the EU signing up for your newsletter by providing an email address, you will need to meet some additional GDPR requirements.

Legitimate business activities, including things like email marketing, are permitted under the GDPR, but how you store and use the personal information you have to do that is more onerous than PIPA. There are also additional requirements for such things as notifying customers if there is a breach of data, within 72 hours.

Bottom Line: If you are fully compliant with PIPA and do not do business in the EU, just make sure that you have a “cookie” notice and keep an eye on your analytics. If you do or want to start selling in EU Countries, have a compliance officer or a lawyer advise you.

Pepsi thought they could contribute to social justice by having Kendall Jenner give a can of pop to a police officer.

Starbucks thought they could advance race relations by encouraging you to chat with your local barista. Dove didn’t mean to comment on race in their ad “White is Purity,” but, ya, they did. Pushing the limits of making an emotional connection with their audience, McDonald’s suggested a young boy could reconnect with his dead father by eating a Filet-O-Fish. And let’s not forget the 9/11 memorial mattress sale.

We live in an exceptionally sensitive world folks, which brings us to the top of our list – offensive advertising. Those big brands weren’t killed, but certainly lost a lot in recovery. Smaller businesses may not be able to withstand the backlash.

The problem is, none of these ad creators intended to offend anyone. They thought their ad was clever, topical, funny, engaging. Well, yes, it might have been, but it was also offensive! It happens though. The people working on the ad just don’t see the downside. The narrative they create makes sense for their objectives. So how do you avoid these costly and potentially disastrous mistakes?

It’s on you. The brand is going to take the hit, so it’s the owner, president, CEO – whoever’s at the top of the org chart – that needs to take a closer look at any ad before it gets released. Don’t even try to blame the ad agency, or anyone else. That will only make things worse for you.

Get different perspectives. And by “different,” I mean: people who were not involved in creating the ad; as diverse a group as you can find; and, trusted people outside of your organization.

A banana is never just a banana. I know. This is the point where you throw up your hands and say, “someone is always going to be offended,” so let’s just go with it. DON’T DO IT. Your most valuable asset – your brand reputation – is at stake. Send the ad team back to the drawing board.

Beware of placement. Some great ads become terrible ads due only to their inappropriate placement. Like the large poster that says “Come closer” on the far side of the subway tracks. Be sure to request approval of the placement, including venue and adjacent ads.

Never play on heartache. Yes, one of the objectives of a good ad is making an emotional connection with your target audience. Do not take that to mean that you can reference heartbreaking personal situations or tragic events. If you want to support a cause of any sort, get permission and collaborate with representatives.

It is a field of land-mines, but you still need to advertise. Keep it simple. Focus on your strengths. Think it through carefully.

Can you keep a secret? If you collect any information about your customers (and who doesn’t?), the answer better be yes.

Whether it’s a loose lipped employee, a hacker’s thievery, or the offer of pure profit, losing control of customer data is one of the fastest ways to sink a previously thriving business, putting Data Breaches at #2 on our serial killers list. There are simply no excuses anymore. Even if you haven’t broken any laws, public sentiment will take you down fast.

It’s your responsibility to thwart hackers.
Those who hack to steal data are criminals. No argument there, but it doesn’t matter. You will still be blamed. Your only defence is keeping sensitive data in a rigorously controlled environment, with multiple layers of security. And in the mind of the public, all of their data is sensitive. So, ask yourself, what information do you really need? How long do you really need to keep it? Is having that information worth the risk? I suspect most of you are thinking “who would want the data I have?” Yes, you’re a small business, or yes, you’re a clothing retailer, or … Believe me when I say, everyone is at risk. If you don’t have a plan in place specifically to protect information, or you don’t know what measures are in place, call us right now!

Putting it in the fine print doesn’t cut it anymore.
Terms of Use and Privacy Policies are long, often filled with legal jargon, and rather a nuisance for customers who just want to get on with their task. No one reads them. The problem is, everybody knows no one reads them, so using the fact that a customer has agreed to your terms is no longer a valid defence. There is an expectation of privacy around credit card numbers, medical issues, and any other information a client provides to you for the purpose of doing business with you. So again, ask yourself what you really need to know, what you need to keep, and how you get rid of personal data. Learn more about the laws in your province or state, and reconsider and update your privacy policy.

Just asking can get you into trouble.
Housing renters in BC have started complaining about the information being asked of them on rental application forms. I’ve had the experience myself of being asked to complete such a form simply to book a time to see the place. I get that the property managers don’t want to waste their time showing a suite to me if they’re never going to let me rent it. But I’m also pretty reluctant to give them all my personal and financial info, housing and employment history, etc.., if I don’t even like the apartment! It’s a great example of what should come first, and a reminder that if you collect such info, and “rent the suite to someone else” so to speak, it is your responsibility to destroy that information – the emailed version, the one you saved to your device, the one you printed, the one you sent to the owners, etc.

My best advice here is to take a step by step approach to asking for information. Only ask for what you need to get to the next phase of the interaction, and only keep what you absolutely need.

Create a Data Breach Response Plan now.
Remember that misplacing a phone or laptop that can access data could result in a data breach. Keeping a customer file in a car unattended could result in a data breach. These types of situations require an investigation to determine whether or not a breach occurred; and if you cannot say with absolute certainty that a breach did not occur, you need to make the appropriate notifications.

Sending an order confirmation to the wrong email address is a data breach. Leaving a detailed message at the wrong phone number or at a number accessible by more than one person (e.g. home number instead of cell number), is a data breach. Most of these type situations are far from disastrous, but may still require notifications, and should certainly be investigated to make sure they don’t happen again.

Bottom line: Do your research to know what you are legally required to do if a breach is suspected, then create a plan that meets those, as well as the ethical standards of your brand, and the expectations of your customers. Give us a call if you want some help.

 

Remember that CEO who had to resign after kicking his dog in the elevator? Or the one who had to resign after commenting that his clothes were only meant for certain body types?

Or…? In fact, there have been so many public relations nightmares in the past few years that it’s hard to give it a name. Most often, it’s the “poor choices” of a manager or employee, but the publicity can also stem from an unhappy customer, or even a troll spinning fake news. You can fight back, but you’ll need a stellar reputation as a solid foundation. Coming in at #3 is Bad Behaviour, either from your company or attacking your company.

Protection Strategies:

  • Control Your Brand – If any of your employees, management included, are identifiable on their off hours, by a uniform, fleet vehicle, or public recognition, make sure you have policies in place to protect your brand. That expensively wrapped car is great advertising until it cuts someone off in traffic, causes an accident, or parks over the line marking the stall. If you want your brand volunteering in the community or such, be sure that you have control of the situation and that employees know that they are still “at work” and all rules of behaviour apply.
  • Deal with Unhappy Customers – A friend of mine is the ultimate consumer advocate. Whether it’s been her personally or something she’s witnessed, bad service or a defective product is not tolerated. I’d estimate she contacts somebody’s manager about once a week. When the problem is taken seriously and quickly resolved, she remains loyal and promotes the brand. If not, everyone in her very wide social media circle hears about the unacceptable occurrence and response. My friend is one of an increasing number of consumers who demand excellence. With obvious abuse as the only exception, do whatever it takes to keep your customers happy.

  • Keep “Social” Media Professional – Social media has such a casual and spur of the moment feel to it that it’s sometimes hard to remember that your posts can have very negative consequences. Readers are unlikely to have the full context leading up to your comment; impetuous remarks can be made without the poster understanding the whole story; and just about any opinion will be construed by someone as inappropriate. Corporate social media accounts are potential explosives that can work for or against you. Posts need to be planned, carefully considered, and reconsidered, to ensure they are purposeful and will land with positive benefit to your company.
  • Don’t Overreact – Whether it’s a bad review or an outright lie, be careful not to overreact to a negative narrative. Consult a professional (like us!) before you do anything. Getting into a war of words on the internet will work against you.

 

 

In the last article we talked about having a contingency fund for cash flow crunches. Unfortunately, lack of cash flow is only one of many possible issues can spell disaster for a business. Calamities without Contingencies, #4 on our list, should be a wakeup call for any entrepreneur or manager that hasn’t written a Contingency Plan. There are several different types of issues that are more or less important, depending on your business, facilities, and number of employees. Here, we’re going to focus on a few operational disruptions, but we hope you’ll investigate further. Public Safety Canada is a good place to start.

Threats to Plan For:

  • Utilities – What will happen if the power goes out? What if you don’t have water or the sewage system backs up? Are you dependent on natural gas? In each of these scenarios, plan for short, medium, and long term outages, considering what you could do in advance to mitigate the impact. For example, have all of your computers plugged into a battery backup system, allowing files to be saved and computers to be shut down properly – procedures that should be documented in your plan.
  • Natural Disasters – Fires, floods, and earthquakes are happening with increased frequency, and sometimes in areas with little history of such incidents. Your plan should cover protecting your business assets, including employees, to the extent possible, as well as alternatives to getting back up and running as soon as possible. Also think about your major suppliers, distributors, and customers. What if they are impacted?
  • Illnesses – This has been the worst flu season in North America, and flu is just one of many contagious diseases that can impact on the work place. Employee illness can be an even greater concern if you have staff that travel frequently, particularly overseas. Your plan should consider the sudden loss of workers, and the cost/benefit of mitigating risk with paid sick leave, or foreign travellers staying home for a day or two following their return.

Equipment – How quickly can you make repairs or replace essential equipment? Consider production, transportation and communications. Remember that you may need to protect yourself from disasters that happen to your vendors and suppliers as well.

Everything seems to be running smoothly. You’re busy, which means you must be making money. A fabulous opportunity lands in your lap and you just need a bit of cash to make it happen. That’s when you suddenly realize, you don’t have any. Sometimes it’s just bad timing. Whatever the reason, you have no money in the bank and it’s frightening. The businesses that die from lack of cash flow, are the ones who don’t see it coming or ignore it when it happens. There are things you can do to get over that hump.

Protection Strategies:

  • Setting up a contingency fund and saving a percentage of every dollar you earn, is a great way to protect your business from cash shortages. Borrowing from yourself is easy and interest free. Just make sure you pay it back, so the fund is always there when you need it.
  • If you don’t have a fund, consider borrowing, with the understanding that it may be a long shot unless you have assets for collateral or receivables greater than the amount you need to borrow.
  • A better option might be to make some really quick sales. To do that without spending money takes effort, but is possible. Here are a few ideas:
  • Use social media to announce a deep discount flash sale that starts immediately and ends within 48 hours. Don’t sell at a loss, but keep your profit margin low to generate a greater volume of sales, and some quick cash.

  • Use social media or a direct email to clients to announce referral incentives, sharable discount codes, buy one – get one, or similar inducements, again with a short timeline.
  • If you belong to a networking group, tell them the problem and offer them the best discount you can. Most people are happy to help a friend, particularly if they get something out of it too.
  • Pop-up stores are pretty popular these days, and if you can find a busy location that doesn’t require you to pay for the space up front, you can hold a sale on products, or services to be provided in future.
  • Use any excuse you can up with, and all the contacts you have, to encourage immediate sales – your birthday, customer appreciation, etc.