Davinci Virtual Blog



Tips for Small Business Owners Who Need a Vacation

A vacation? What’s that? Many small business owners don’t get a vacation, but more are beginning to take some time off. So says a new study from American Express’ OPEN Small Business Network.

Sixty-six percent of business owners are planning summer vacations that are at least a week this year. That’s an increase of 15 percent over 2002. But it seems that it’s not all fun and no work. About 30% of small business owners say they try to link vacations with business trips to save time and money. What’s more, 73 percent expect to grapple with business worries while they travel.

What exactly are they going to worry about?

  • 24% worry important clients/customers won’t be well-served

  • 18% worry about who will manage the business

  • 18% worry about missed opportunities to land new business

  • 15% worry about staff judgment calls

  • 12% worry about equipment or operational breakdowns

  • 8% worry about security at their business

"Business owners are often reluctant to take vacations because they fear the company will suffer if they are not minding it. The irony is that vacations can be a long-term investment in the success of the business by helping owners re-charge and return to work invigorated," says Alice Bredin, Small Business Advisor for OPEN. "Since business owners don't always have the luxury of time, it is important for them to do some careful planning to ensure they can create the time they need to get away."

Bredin offers some tips for planning summer vacations:

  • Schedule a vacation well ahead of time. Especially important for those who think there is never a "right time" to get away, putting a vacation on the calendar early will enable you to appropriately prepare for it. This includes preparing your staff to cover while you're away.

  • Consider using a professional to handle your travel plans. Working with a travel counselor to book your trip can save you time and money and make planning a vacation easier. Travel professionals can find good values and can also help if plans go awry.

  • Schedule breaks during business downtimes. Consider planning some time away this summer when your business may be slowest—or the least hectic. If your business is seasonal, consider vacationing during the off-season.

  • Commit yourself financially to your vacation. Consider putting a deposit on a rental house or a trip. Committing to take that time off and setting up financial consequences if you back out (lost deposits, cancellation penalties, etc), can help ensure you actually take the vacation.

  • Budget your workload. Once you decide how long you'll be away, figure out exactly what needs to be done before you leave and build in this extra work into the days or weeks leading up to your vacation. By leaving with a "clean plate," you can reduce your anxiety about leaving the office and give yourself a greater chance of relaxing.

  • If you must work on vacation, do it in brief spurts. Ideally, you don't want to take work with you on vacation, although working on vacation is better than no vacation at all. If you must work, do it in short spurts, perhaps in the early morning, so you can quickly get back to the business of relaxing.


Small Businesses Lean on Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is officially a top contending small business marketing tool. A whopping 73 percent of small businesses are using social media to market their business—and usage is trending upwards. So says a new study from Constant Contact.

What’s up with the 27 percent of small businesses that aren’t using social media to market their businesses? Well, they are beginning to open their eyes to these tools as well. Specifically, 62 percent expect to start using social media marketing in the coming year. What’s more, 81 percent of small businesses that are already using social media marketing plan to use it even more this year than they did last year.

"The value proposition that social media marketing offers to small business makes it a no brainer for time- and resource-starved small businesses. They simply need coaching and know-how to use those tools in the best way possible," says Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact. "Our assessment of this data is that more education will only improve small businesses' results with social media marketing."

Facebook Reigns Supreme
Of the small businesses that are engaged in social media marketing, 80 percent have used the tools more in the past year. And, not surprisingly, Facebook is the most popular way to get their message out. Ninety-five percent of small businesses that use social media marketing are using Facebook compared to 63 percent a year ago. Eighty-two percent find it effective today compared to 51 percent a year ago.

While Facebook rules, though Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Vimeo are getting some action from small business marketers. But how effective is it? Forty-seven percent of small businesses using Twitter and LinkedIn find it effective while 73 percent of small businesses that use YouTube and Vimeo found these video options effective.

Mixing E-mail and Social Media
OK, so where does e-mail fit into this picture? Small businesses still turn to e-mail, Web sites and event marketing. Indeed, the Constant Contact survey results reveal that social media marketing complements rather than replaces other marketing activities. Despite the growth of social media, other marketing tools aren’t seeing any usage decline:

  • 91% of small businesses use e-mail marketing

  • 95% use Web site marketing

  • 77% use print advertising

  • 69% use online advertising

  • 53% use event marketing

In fact, respondents also reported that e-mail is the first—and most frequent—tool that small businesses turn to when trying to connect with current and prospective customers. Eighty-three percent report that e-mail is the first tool they check when going online for their business each day and 72 percent check their e-mail six or more times a day. By comparison, 13 percent check Facebook, 6 percent check news sites, and 4 percent check Twitter more than six times per day.

"We've seen our small business customers improve their results by integrating tools, such as e-mail marketing with social media marketing," says Goodman. "Email is still the most obvious choice to make sure your message gets out, and social media puts that message in front of a wider audience. We like to say that email lights the fire, while social media fans the flames."


Fear Is The Biggest Problem In Your Career

Everyone is afraid of something. And, fear is normal. Without fear we would do all sorts of crazy things like walk off a cliff or into oncoming traffic.

Fear can also hold you back. It can keep you from taking chances or risks in your career. It can keep you from asking for a raise or following up on a job you know you would be perfect for. Allowing fear to hold you back will lead to career dissatisfaction because you are not on the court playing a game that means something to you. Instead, you are sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by.
When you look at your career in the future, what do you see? Excitement or unhappiness? Joy or sorrow? Do you know what you need to do to make your career more positive? If you have not acted yet, what are you afraid of? Have you identified your fear or would you prefer to not face it?

Fear, used correctly, can help you move forward. It can help you plan wisely. It can prevent you from jumping in and acting too quickly. But using fear as your excuse for not moving forward can hurt you.

So, how do you not let fear become the biggest enemy in your career? Follow these three steps:

1. Recognize Why You Keep Fear In Your Career

Fear does serve a purpose. It keeps you safe. As long as you are not taking action in your career, you might believe that you don't have to experience disappointment, rejection, or failure. But aren't you experiencing these things anyway? What brings career satisfaction, momentum, and excitement into your career is movement and having something to shoot for; something to look forward to that gives you a reason to get out of bed every day. Fear kills this. You may have many reasons for not taking a chance and they may be good ones. But, know that these reasons are why you are unhappy.

2. Decide That Fear Has To Go

There comes a time in your career when you say to yourself that, "Enough is enough!" "I know that I am afraid and I don't know how things are going to turn out. But, I am done having a career that is making me unhappy. I don't want this anymore." These words are your defining moment. It's when you decide that what you are afraid of is not as bad as staying where you are. It's when you make a decision to move forward despite being afraid. It's an internal shift and calmness because you know inside that whatever happens in the future, you will be OK.

3. Begin While You Still Are Afraid

Who says you have to wait until you are no longer afraid to act? We all want to wake up in the morning and have fear magically disappear. (It would be so much easier that way.) We tell ourselves that we will act then. But the truth is fear is misplaced energy. When you begin to act, this energy will work for you; the fear will burn off, and you will have an intensity that will push you forward. Each step that you will take helps you feel more comfortable with the next step, and so on. This is why goals are not reached overnight. It would be too scary and overwhelming to handle. You have to take it piece by piece. Your goal is to take one action step every day. This action will start to build momentum. Little by little your confidence will rise, and you will take more steps until you reach your goal. And then, you can be proud of yourself because you were a person who was once afraid but you went after your dreams anyway. Good for you!

So, what do you say? You only have one life to live, so it might as well be a life you love!

Deborah Brown-Volkman, PCC, is the president of Surpass Your Dreams, a career, life, and mentor coaching company. She is the author of "Coach Yourself To A New Career", "Don't Blow It! The Right Words For The Right Job" and "How To Feel Great At Work Everyday."

Check out this video on living for the What-if Scenario:


Is Your Small Business a Cybercrime Target?

New cybercrime statistics are enough to keep Internet-savvy small businesses up at night.

According to YourMoneyIsNotSafeInTheBank.org, small-business accounts suffered more than $40 million in cybercrime losses as of 2009. The Web site also cites FDIC figures indicating this type of crime increased five-fold within a 12-month period. The FBI is tracking hundreds of related cases.

Want more bad news? Small and medium-sized organizations have become the primary targets of the Eastern European hacker gangs. These cybercriminals tend to prey on smaller businesses and banks that lack the cyber-fraud controls many larger institutions have in place.

And here’s the last scary thought. If your small business caters to travel, education, financial services, government services or IT services, you could be a target of cybercriminals. So says a recent phishing study from KnowB4.

KnowBe4 sent out a simulated phishing e-mail to employees at more than 3,500 small to mid-sized businesses. Individuals who clicked the link were directed to a landing page that informed them they had just taken part in phishing research. A whopping 29,000 people at more than 3,000 businesses opened the e-mails—and at least one employee at 500 of those firms clicked the link. If it had been a real cybercriminal, those small businesses would have been infected with malware, malicious software that aims to steal information for criminal purposes.

"Any business that provides access to e-mail or access to its networks via the Internet is only as safe from cybercrime to the degree that its employees are trained to avoid phishing emails and other cyberheist schemes,” says Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4. “The more employees within an organization that use e-mail or go online, the greater the risk of exposure to cybercrime.”

As Sjouwerman sees it, these cybercrime statistics should serve as a wake-up call to small- to mid-sized businesses around the country. That’s because these businesses are not only at risk for financial loss through a cyberheist—their susceptibility to phishing tactics could compromise sensitive customer data such as credit card, bank account and social security numbers.

With so many headlines about hack attacks, why are so many small businesses susceptible to the phishing tricks of cyber criminals? Sjouwerman explains it this way: a false sense of security. "Most people assume that antivirus software and an in-house IT team provide sufficient data security,” he says. “But considering that IT is among the most phish-prone industries, it's clear that's a very dangerous assumption to make."

How can your small business protect itself? Understand the sophisticated tactics cybercriminals use. For starts, these World Wide Web bad guys tend to send e-mails that look like they are coming from official, trusted sources. Those sources include government agencies, business partners or even company executives.

"Many of the top phish-prone industries are regulated and subject to compliance rules, so well-meaning employees can be tricked into clicking a link if they believe an e-mail was sent by a government or law enforcement agency, or by someone they know and trust,” Sjouwerman says. “And with just one click, malware can be instantly uploaded to a system, bypassing both antivirus software and IT firewalls. A cyberheist can be underway within minutes."

Want more insights? Sjouwerman recently published his fourth book, Cyberheist: The Biggest Financial Threat Facing American Businesses Since the Meltdown of 2008.

Check out this video on how to avoid phishing scams.


Six Tips to Help Your Small Business Thrive

As we conclude National Small Business Week, it’s important to head into the rest of the year strong. After all, more than half of Americans own or work for a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. And if we don’t own a small business or work for one, it’s likely that someone close to us does.

With that in mind, Optimum Business, a high-speed broadband Internet service provider, is offering 12 tips—and not just tips but ‘proven tips’ to help small businesses thrive in 2011 and beyond. So without further ado, here are the first six tips, with my thoughts and reactions along the way.

1. Build a Team: Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, writes that having the “right people on the bus” is the single most important determinate of success for any business. Ask yourself, do you have the right team in place?

2. Be Optimistic: Optimism is the fuel that drives most entrepreneurs when all others would lose hope. In fact, a study among small business owners by Cablevision’s Optimum Business unit shows that over 75 percent of small businesses believe optimism plays a critical role in their on-going success.

3. Reward Hard Work: Once you’ve built a team, remind them regularly how much you value their contributions and to celebrate their accomplishments. It never hurts to use cash, but there are other incentives. Even a kind word will do.

4. Plan for the Future: It is hard to get anywhere if you don’t know where you want to go. Imagine where you want your business to be in two years, five years or even 20 years. Studies show that if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them.

5. Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Value: Watching every penny like a hawk seems to be wired into the DNA of most entrepreneurs. But be careful not to cut costs at the sake of quality. Look for vendors who can deliver value, providing the quality you need at a rate that works too.

6. Be Accessible: For better or worse, we’ve moved into an era of 24/7 accessibility, in which customers have come to expect interaction on their schedule, not necessarily yours. While it is up to you to decide how accessible you want to be, technologies like e-mail and “find me” telephony give you lots of options.

Stay tuned on Monday for six more tips to help your small business thrive.