Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

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Market Research Matters

“If you build it, they will come” is a myth. When evaluating the likely prospects of a business venture, new product or service, or entrance into a new market, good market research is your non-negotiable Step One.  The ability to create and sustain profitability must be demonstrated up front, in advance of committing time and money to its launch.  The only way to reliably predict whether your shiny new idea has broad appeal is to carefully research the marketplace and examine the story that emerges.  The good news is that if you are onto something, market research will help you define the size and potential of the market; decide how and when to enter it; reveal how target customers prefer the product or service to be described, packaged and delivered; the acceptable price range; and show you how to achieve market penetration and profitability goals faster.

Many decision-makers are uncertain as to the type of data that is relevant and the advent of big data has unfortunately complicated matters.  There is copious data available, but what will help your team to make the best decision?  Dionne McPhatter is a market research guru and co-founder of The Strategy Collective, a New York City and Los Angeles marketing firm that builds custom analytics that help clients better understand their customers and make more informed business decisions.  McPhatter  recommends that decision-makers identify what is called in market research circles the “path to purchase” and arrange for the product or service to touch as many “landmarks” as possible.

Some relevant data is free, or inexpensive.  Google Trends is free and a decent place to start your search and learn how many people in your city last year searched key words associated with the product or service (I found the now-defunct Google Wonder Wheel far superior, however).  Learning about competitors who provide your service, or something similar or complementary to it, is also revealing.  Tour a few of their websites and figure out business models and marketing messages.  If you are thinking about launching a business, you will write a business plan and do lots of research.  Contact your local library to learn about business reference material such as industry magazines and demographic information.

Further, there is value in spending some money and visiting professional organization meetings and attending conferences, so that you can meet prospective clients and learn the expectations and value they place on your product or service.  Listen and learn and discreetly take notes.

As you collect and examine data, a picture of the target customer groups,  competitors and the overall marketplace will begin to emerge.  The downside is, those who amass a large amount of data can become confused about what is relevant: the data threads may be too numerous to easily prioritize.  The challenge of decision-makers is to discover the relationships and triggers between the data points and eventually see what motivates clients along the path to purchase.  From there, you can confidently develop goals and objectives, strategies and action plans and a business model that will build and sustain a profitable launch.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Customer Data: Collecting and Utilizing

Big data and data mining are buzzwords that have echoed frequently in the business press during the past three or four  years.   The noise level has caused business leaders to feel obligated to collect data from as many customer interactions as possible.   OK,  that’s very ambitious of them,  but now what? There is a lot of talk about big data and data mining and increasingly there is some action,  but the dust has not yet settled.  Many organizations are struggling with how to interpret,  utilize and store the copious amounts of customer data now in their possession.

Customer information is always useful,  but does data collection have meaning for small businesses and Freelance solopreneurs?  What information should a Freelancer collect and what do we do with it once we have it?  Do big data and data mining have any use for the little people?  The answer is yes,  but no.  Big data and data mining are of most use to the bigger players,  who use the costly to acquire information to fine-tune product offers to millions of current and potential customers.

Freelancers and small business owners can start with their client list.  Who has done business with you over the past five years? Who are your repeat customers?  What do they buy from you and when do they buy it?  If you have not done business with a B2B or B2G client in the past two years,  is your contact still at the organization and is s/he still in the same position? Are B2C physical and email addresses current?  Visit company websites and view the staff lists to confirm email addresses,  telephone numbers and job titles.

Customer data might give you ideas on how to improve customer service,  cause you to re-think your pricing strategy,  or help you to discover unexpected talking points for your next email marketing campaign or monthly newsletter.  Your customer data might prompt you to reconsider good customers of years past and get you thinking about how to win them back.  Updated customer information will make it easy for you to send out holiday cards in December to your B2B and B2G clients and do some relationship-building,  an important element of customer retention.

Online customer surveys that are accessible on your website and also emailed to your customer list have the potential to bring in still more useful customer data.  Learn how to devise a survey that makes it easy for customers to share the information that you want.  Keep the questions simple and don’t ask more than 10 to achieve the highest rate of participation.  Freelancers may also want to send out post-project surveys with the final invoice.

Social media outlets are another excellent source of customer data.  Social media have a way of bringing out uncensored thoughts and you might be surprised by what you learn.  Are your customers willing to engage with you on Facebook,  Instagram,  LinkedIn or Twitter?  Will any join in a Google + Hangout and join in a voice and video live chat?

Collecting data from many touch points is potentially very useful for every business entity,  but what you make of it and do with it are what matters.  Freelancers and small business owners can use customer info to improve revenue by way of expanding billable hours or sales of current customers;  re-establishing business with lapsed customers;  new customer acquisition and relationship-building.  Small data can yield big results when properly interpreted and utilized.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Marketing 2.0: How and Why You Measure Results

Marketing is an essential function of every business.   Smart organization leaders understand that continually reaching out to current and potential customers,  with objectives to create loyalty and trust in the company,  its products and its services and building a brand,  are integral to sustaining a healthy enterprise.  Like all business initiatives,  marketing objectives and strategies must be periodically evaluated,  to monitor and measure results and determine how to adjust and optimize the program if results do not meet expectations.  Choose your marketing activities based on your knowledge of customer behavior.

The measurement of marketing results can be broken down according to a method recommended by Joseph Raymond Roy,  a marketing consultant based in Meredith, NH,  who gives us the acronym DATA:

1. Defining,  identify the result your marketing will promote (increasing the number of potential customers)

2. Assessing,  measure the dollar value of your marketing program (look at the number of customers and gross revenue)

3. Tracking,  determine if customers came to your business as a result of your marketing activities (ask new customers how they found you, or all customers in a survey)

4. Adjusting,  if it is obvious,  do more of what produces the desired result and less of what does not produce results.  In other words,  optimize your marketing activities.

Begin the measurement by calculating the amount of money invested in your marketing activities.  Obviously there is also time involved,  which should be taken into account,  but  it is usually difficult to attach an appropriate dollar figure to one’s time.  How much is the time you spend networking worth?  What is the time spent on social media worth,  or producing your monthly newsletter?

You may develop good relationships with potential referral sources,  but it may take 5 months or 5 years to receive a referral.  Speaking engagements and webinars  are easier to evaluate.  A well-respected venue always has value,  whether or not you receive referral business or meet a future client,  because the very act adds value to your curriculum vitae.  Calculate ROI by deducting the value of resources spent on marketing activities from revenues generated by customers who have come to you as a result of marketing activities.

Tracking  (i.e., forward tracking),  the process of building an identifying mechanism into each marketing activity before it is launched,  so that you can measure the results derived.  If you present a webinar,   the registration of participants,  which includes an email address for each listener,  is a most accurate tracking mechanism.  Responding to a product offer with a special code is another excellent tracking device.   The marketer will be able to identify which customer was not only impacted by a certain activity,  but also will know if that person eventually does business with the company.

There are various types of tracking methods,   including Point-of-sale tracking,  conducted when new customers arrive by asking them how they heard about you.  You will also use point-of-sale tracking when you tally up the sales results associated with the purpose of your marketing program,  be it bigger ticket items,  referrals,  or other customer actions.   Reverse tracking  is the process of going through your customer list and documenting how current customers became your customers.

If you write a blog or newsletter,  measure your reach by counting the number of subscribers,  email forwards and followers.  Point-of-sale tracking  will let you know if demonstration of your knowledge and expertise brings customers into the door.

The ROI of PR should be measured in at least two ways:  first,  through Media impressions,  in which the marketer counts how many media outlets wrote a story or made a radio or television announcement in response to a press release that was sent (a follow-up phone call will likely boost the response rate).   Second,  through Content analysis one can evaluate the accuracy of what was broadcast as a result of the press release and the prominence of item placements in the chosen media outlets.

Online data analytics systems  will track all visits to your website,  customized to your needs.  How many potential customers abandon your website and how many follow-up with inquiries or engage by clicking on your newsletter or blog? What is the impact of your social media outlets on your marketing objectives? Here is how you’ll know.

The ultimate marketing metric is the percentage of your customer base that result from marketing activities,  or Marketing Originated Customers.

It may take a service provider 6 – 12 months to have results to measure.  Obtaining a contract from a new or returning client is a longer sales cycle than selling ice cream cones.  Metrics make it possible to know which marketing activities yield the best results and that knowledge will give you the opportunity to optimize your marketing efforts.  You will do more of what works,  perhaps launching an advertising campaign during a particular season or increasing your participation in certain business or professional groups.  Other activities may be diminished or dropped altogether.  Gross sales will give a dollar value ROI to your marketing program when compared to the pre-marketing program value.

Marketing metrics ensure that you receive a solid ROI on your marketing activities.  Appropriately chosen and implemented marketing activities that are tracked and optimized will always pay for themselves.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Big Data and Small Business Marketing

Let’s start with the definition.  When the term  “big data”  is used,  what does it really mean?  Jon Miller,  co-founder and CEO of Marketo,  calls big data a catch-all term for very large and complex data sets that exceed the processing capabilities of the typical available computer software.  In general,  big data refers to the compilation of everything that takes place over the internet: transcripts from Twitter comments or call center conversations,  online videos,  podcast uploads and visits,  webinar broadcasts,   all blog postings,   all website visits,  all credit card transactions,  all ATM activity,  all online purchases,  online advertisements,   downloads of music and uploads of photos.

As regards marketing,  big data refers to all information that details retail sales,  online sales,  market share,  website visits,  blog reads from your website,  newsletter reads from your website,  responses to online customer surveys,  online response to special offers and online advertising,  plus all marketplace and industry data about global,  national and regional  business conditions.

Whatever it is you need to know about customers,  the industry and the business conditions in which you operate is buried within big data.  But in the avalanche of information,   deciding which data to access and interpreting what is brought forth is the marketer’s challenge.  Determining the right questions to ask is the primary imperative,   as the late great management guru Peter Drucker pointed out.

If you want to use big data in your marketing plan,  then  propose questions that will elicit the answers you need to fine-tune your marketing mix.  Maybe you’d like to become more effective in converting website visitors into customers?  A list of the names of prospects who visited your website,  spent more than one minute reading your blog or newsletter,  forwarded the post to someone and and then tweeted some content about what he/she found to others would indicate a serious shopper for your products or services.  Big data can help predict which marketing activities are most likely to convert a prospect who has reached that level of engagement.

Google Analytics can reveal part of the game plan,  but only big data can get seriously granular.  For example,  algorithm-based predictions can forecast the expected impact of marketing campaign activity on those who surf your website,  indicating who should receive special offers via email or who should be invited to join a focus group.  Algorithm-based predictions can also forecast the likely impact of marketing activity on the next quarter’s,  or next four quarters’ revenue.

Based on what is learned through big data,  the marketer can make much more specific and informed decisions about target or niche markets that have the most sales potential,  strategies to build brand awareness and loyalty,  advertising choices and budgets for targeted media outlets,   social media choices that create the most buzz and the ROI of that buzz and the marketing message that drives sales.  Who will be your best customers,   why will they be your best customers,   what is the average amount of money the customer will spend in your business,  how loyal is the customer to your brand,  what types of advertising does the customer respond to best,  what kind of social media does the customer respond to best and will those customers create good word of mouth  (still the best form of advertising)  for your business?

So how can small businesses and Freelance solopreneurs access big data?  It can be done by hiring a marketing firm that we most likely cannot afford.  At this time,  big data usage will be the playground of big businesses.   If it’s any consolation,  marketing firms are still trying to get arms around big data themselves.  For now,  traditional marketing analytics will have to suffice for the 99%.

Traditional marketing analytics are useful and certain data we already own: bricks & mortar sales data,  online sales data,  seasonal sales variations,  customer zip codes,  popular service packages,  pricing and the number of Foursquare,  Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter followers,  for example.  Market testing is expected to remain a vital part of developing a marketing strategy,   even when big data is used.  Business owners and marketers will continue to measure the impact of promotional strategies employed.  Finally, whether big data or marketing analytics are used when devising a marketing plan,  proposing the right questions,   as Peter Drucker advised,  is where one starts.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Before You Use That Free Wi-Fi…

Thank goodness for free Wi-Fi sites.  I’m sure you find them convenient and sometimes even necessary.  I’m happy to be able to duck into a library or nice coffee shop that displays a free Wi-Fi sign in the window and get some work done while between appointments.  It’s all good,  but like with so many good things,  there can be a downside to free hotspots.   Perils may lurk in the in the Wi-Fi shadows and we are advised to think a minute before we click and connect.

Information transmitted on an inadequately secured network can be intercepted by some nefarious someone who can use readily available software and equipment.   If that’s not scary enough,  hackers have been known to create pirate Wi-Fi sites that appear to be legitimate,  to trick the trusting into connecting and giving the bad guys access to whatever is done online.  

 Yet despite the risks,  it is possible to take advantage of public Wi-Fi,  but taking precautions to protect your data is strongly advised.

I.      Know your hotspot

Hotels are hotspots that typically require a password and offer free Wi-Fi only to registered guests,  thus making hotel Wi-Fi very secure.   Neighborhood coffee shops  and the public library may not be so secure.  You can sometimes check the level of security if there is a terms of service page to read before you connect  (a la Starbucks). 

According to the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance,  only use hot-spots that provide security technology known as W-Fi Protected Access 2  (WPA2),  which offers more security than the earlier systems WPA and Wired Equivalent Privacy  (WEP).   Look for this info on the terms of service page before you decide to transmit any sensitive data that hackers may seek.  The ultimate security precaution is to refrain from doing any online banking or credit card transactions on public Wi-Fi.

II.    Encrypt the data

On the other hand,   basically all websites that handle sensitive info,  such as banks,  brokerage houses and e-commerce sites,  use encryption technology known as Secure Sockets Layer  (SSL) that scrambles any data that is entered.   You’ll know that SSL is in effect when the web address starts with  “https”.   Several email and social media sites,  notably Gmail,  Hotmail and Facebook,  use SSL to keep private communication safe from eavesdroppers.  Facebook,  however,  requires that users activate the SSL.   To do so,  go first to Account Settings,   click Security,  then enable Secure Browsing.

III.   Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Network  (VPN)  software is a must for those who regularly transmit sensitive data over public Wi-Fi networks.  VPN software creates an  “encrypted tunnel”  through which your data travels as it sails through the world wide web.  Many large corporations have their own SSL networks in place for their employees,  but Freelancers and other small business operators can get some cover as well.  

Anonymizer Universal  http://anonymizer.com  is compatible with Windows,  Mac,  iPad and iPhone and costs $80.00/year.  PrivateWiFi  http://privatewifi.com  supports Windows and Mac and is available at $10/month or annually at $85.00.   VPN4ALL  http://vpn4all.com  is compatible with Windows,  Windows Mobile,  Mac,  Android,  iPad and iPhone for $6.00 – $20.00/month,  depending on the operating system you run and the amount of data you’ll transmit.

OpenVPN Technologies actually developed the open-source technology that is used by several software companies that offer SSL.  Private Tunnel  http://privatetunnel.com is their VPN service and it caters specifically to small business.  Private Tunnel supports Windows and Mac and costs $12.00 – $50.00/year,  depending on the amount of data transmitted.

Finally,  it’s possible to avoid Wi-Fi networks altogether and connect to the internet through a wireless carrier.   For this totally mobile service you will likely pay $50.00 – $60.00 /month.  Wireless carriers use encryption when transferring data.  For your mobile device you’ll probably need a large or unlimited GB plan.  Laptops will require a special device that plugs into a port like a flash drive.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Mine Your Search Engine Data

What are interested parties interested in when they visit your website?  That very critical marketing intelligence is often not quite obvious when we plan and contract to build our website. We know to include a description of the products and/or services we sell.  Those who sell products on their site know to include an e-commerce function.  Those who schedule on-line appointments know to include a booking function and perhaps also a pay online feature.

But what information,  surveys,  videos,  white papers or whatever grab attention and keep visitors on a certain website page and convey details that prospective customers need to make a decision about doing business with you,  helping to convert prospects into customers?  Well,  you have to build the thing before you figure out the nuances of what information and features best serve your prospects and business,  but once you’ve done that Google Analytics can help in a big way and as of September 29,  even more than before.  Let’s take a look at Site Search Analysis (SSA) and two new Google offerings,  Real-Time Analytics and Analytics Premium.

SSA functions as  Search Engine Optimization  (SEO)  for your website,  extracting  and reporting valuable data about  site visitors that will provide clues on how to effectively fine-tune the sales tool that is your website.  This is not inbound lead generation  (nor is it actual SEO).  SSA analyzes data generated by your website’s own search engine.  Analytics Premium and Real-Time Analytics will make the information more timely and comprehensive.

The big advantage of Real-Time Analytics is that it will produce a set of reports that show what’s happening on your website as it happens.  You will receive instant insight into the visit count and much other valuable information about what resonates with visitors directly from the search engine of your website.  Real-Time will also measure the activity of social media linked to your website and it will allow you to monitor the impact of new content and marketing campaigns.  Once you’re registered with Google Analytics,  you must enable the Real-Time feature by clicking “new version.”

The more traffic your website receives and the more search queries occur,  the more extensive and revealing the story.  The data from this internal search process will identify what prospective customers want from your website and your business.  What are they curious about?  What information do they seek?  SSA internal search data lets you know the ways your website does and does not deliver information and answer visitor’s questions.

You will be able to evaluate website content—do you provide enough of the right information,  do you tell the right story in the way that prospective customers can understand?  Or you may have the right content,  but analyzing search data can tell you if visitors to your site somehow become frustrated and wind up exiting the site,  perhaps because the desired information is hard to find because it’s buried somewhere that prospects don’t expect to find it,  meaning you need to re-arrange and re-configure pages.  Maybe your information needs to be presented in a more eye-catching fashion or the text and terms used should be clarified,  expressed in language that your clients use and will better understand?

Analytics Premium is a paid service that reportedly will produce more specific website traffic data than the free service.  Premium will offer more customizable variables and downloadable reports.   There will also be guaranteed service level agreements for data collection,  processing and reporting,  plus  24/7  customer service reps available to assist with installing the program.

In closing,  I offer you a caveat:  SSA provides much intriguing data about how prospective customers respond to your website,  but you have to interpret the meaning of it all and decide what smart thing to do with the information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Data Driven Payoff

Because the February-March session sold out,  I have been invited to reprise my three-part workshop  “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”  at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston MA on three Mondays,  May 9, 16 & 23 from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM.  For more information or to register please visit http://bit.ly/becomeyourown59  or call 617.267.4430.

As Freelance consultants,  we know that information is nearly as valuable to us as our skill set.  Information leads us to make smart decisions about all aspects of business: what services to offer,  identifying target client groups,  determining a profitable business model,  understanding how to market our services,  gaining a competitive edge.  That good information is integral to all that we do comes as no surprise,  but until now there was no scientific evidence to support that belief.

New research done by Erik Brynjolfsson,  economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business,  Heekyung Kim,  graduate student in economics at MIT Sloan School and Lorin Hitt,  economist at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business proves that good information really does put money in your pocket.

The three studied 179 large businesses and found that when decisions enacted were based on reliable data,  companies achieved a 5+ % higher productivity level than businesses that relied more on “experience and intuition” for decision making.  The higher productivity could not be attributed to other factors,  such as the use of more sophisticated technology.

In the study,  data driven decision making was not primarily based on merely collecting data,  but was closely linked to how the data was utilized.  In the April 24, 2011 New York Times,  Mr. Brynolfsson stated that business decisions based on data and analysis “have huge implications for competitiveness and growth”.

Thomas Davenport,  professor of information technology and management at Babson College in Massachusetts supported the conclusions reached regarding data driven business decisions in a book written with Jeanne Harris and Robert Morison, “Analytics at Work: Smarter Results” (2010),  concluding that companies that rely heavily on data analysis are likely to outperform those that do not.

The big question is,  which data do we choose to collect and analyze and how do we best apply it?  Curating data is big business.  “The biggest change facing corporations is the explosion of data”,  said David Grossman,  technology analyst at Stifel Nicolaus in the April 24 NY Times.  “The best business is in helping customers analyze and manage all that data”.

How does a Freelancer decide what to do with data available to us?  I propose that data presented here would guide readers with excellent proficiency in mathematics and possessed of an advanced degree in the subject to become data analysts!  All others might take a look at our P & L statements and examine gross revenue and fixed and variable expenses and analyze how much it costs to generate income and what can be trimmed to make the bottom line better.

Speaking of revenue,  do some research on the services that your target clients are contracting for these days.  Are you retaining clients and signing new ones, too?  How does your 2Q 2011 active client roster compare to 2Q 2010?  Do you need to tweak your business model to maintain your competitive edge,  or might it be wiser to seek a strategic partnership?

To help figure things out,  do a free online search of Google’s Key Word Tool or Wonder Wheel and type in a descriptive phrase of your core service.  How many prospects in your locale are searching for what you sell?  Next,  type in a phrase that describes the service you think might interest clients and see how many local searches it gets.  There you have it,  data driven analysis to guide your business decisions.

Use Google Analytics to track hits to your website and report which pages receive the most attention.  You can correlate that data to the number of follow-up requests you receive and  the conversion of that follow-up to new business.  Make further use of that data to evaluate the efficacy of your website and learn how you can enhance this important marketing tool.  Will adding multimedia to your website be useful?  Or will adding pages to give more information do the trick?  Or maybe you should just simplify the text and clarify and strengthen your message?  Listen to the data and find your answers.

Thanks for reading,

Kim