Jan
25
Posted on January 25, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, Ecommerce, Legal) by jennifer

This post was written by Nina Kaufman, Esq., an attorney specializing in small business and an online columnist/blogger for Entrepreneur

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Like lightning, an ingenious e-commerce business idea flashes before your eyes.  Totally jazzed, you boot up your laptop, get online, sign up for a PayPal account, create a template website, slap up some copy, and voila! You’re in the e-commerce business.  No permissions needed.  No annoying regulations or bureaucrats breathing down your neck. The sense of freedom is dizzying: The whole world is open and no rules apply. Right?

Wrong.

“Forget that Wild West metaphor. It’s a myth,” writes Mark Grossman of The Grossman Law Group. “Cyberspace doesn’t exist outside of the legal system,” he cautions in his article, “Employees and Technology.” “The very same laws apply to your Internet connection as to you sitting at your office in front of your keyboard.”

So before you hang out your cyber shingle, get your small business attorney on the phone, and find out how you can avoid these three classic e-commerce business legal pitfalls:

1. Make sure you have a good web development agreement, so your site won’t get hijacked. Plenty of entrepreneurs hire a web developer to (literally) build their brilliant idea. But opening an e-commerce business without having an attorney review the web development agreement is like opening a bakery without reviewing the lease.

“People don’t understand that if the developer buys the domain name or opens the hosting account, he owns it. And you’ve just let your business become his hostage if there’s a dispute,” says Natalie Sulimani, an intellectual property specialist, and principal of The Sulimani Law Firm.  “You need to control those issues, otherwise [the web developer] could shutter your business in a nanosecond.”

2. Identify your intellectual property. Just as you thought (before reading this article) that cyberspace was the wild, new, unregulated frontier, there are plenty of others operating under that same misunderstanding. So again, before you officially open for business, identify what’s your intellectual property, specifically your copyrights and trademarks, and find out how you can protect them.

First, are you using other companies’ trademarks? Imagine going on a major promo blitz and getting a nasty lawyer’s letter from some company in Portland, Oregon, saying “Cease and desist. We were here first.” You could end up having to redo all your marketing efforts, doubling your marketing costs. Ouch!

Second, have you protected what you have? For a mere $45, you can properly copyright your website by submitting it to the U.S. Copyright Office. That’s a necessary prerequisite to filing a copyright lawsuit. But when you do that, you could be entitled to statutory damages of anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 from anyone who ignores your cease-and-desist letter.

3. Have a solid privacy policy. Entrepreneurs have been known to cut and paste their website terms together.  However, as Sulimani cautions, “website terms should be tailored to your business.” And, she adds, “copying them from another site can be as dangerous as blindly using another company’s contracts.”

When it comes to creating the terms and conditions for your website, keep these e-commerce business issues in mind:

  • Consider the highest possible standard when drafting privacy policies to properly safeguard customer information. Privacy policy standards differ from state to state. Sometimes the state with the most restrictive policies wins in a court dispute (and it may not be your state).
  • Look at the long term — and create a privacy policy that you believe will work not only today but years from now. After all, as a business owner, you’re busy, and probably won’t want to revisit your terms and conditions and privacy policies each time you expand your online business. If you do, you’ll be paying the legal fees time and time again.
  • Disclose the terms of any third-party vendors. Whether it’s newsletters, surveys, or shopping carts, your vendors’ policies may differ from yours. By disclosing them, you give your customers the information they need to give their informed consent when purchasing from you.

Finally, make sure you have an attorney who understands e-commerce and your industry. If your business is real estate, are you hearing “FHA guidelines”? If it’s a social networking site, do your terms mention “Safe Harbor Act”? Cyberspace laws are in rapid flux. Make sure you don’t get trapped.

For more valuable small business legal and business advice, check out Nina Kaufman, Esq.’s site,  http://www.AskTheBusinessLawyer.com. You can also get your free copy of her Intellectual Property Info Kit at http://bit.ly/freeintellectualpropkit.

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Jan
20
Posted on January 20, 2011
Filed Under (Email Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

2010 may have been the Year of Social Media Marketing. But email marketing is still alive and well. And, experts say, if you want to truly optimize your small business marketing, you need to use both email marketing and social media. Indeed, one of the biggest small business marketing trends predicted for 2011 is the integration of email marketing with social media.

What other email marketing trends and tips will be hot in 2011? To find the answer, I spoke with leading email marketers Constant Contact and Campaigner. Here’s the short version of what they had to say.

1. Integrate your email marketing with your social media campaigns.

2. Make your email marketing campaigns mobile.

3. Engage readers — instead of having a one-way conversation.

4. Keep the content brief and to the point.

5. Don’t go overboard on images or design.

6. Tie campaigns to seasonal events or down times.

7. Track email campaigns to determine what’s working and what’s not.

To learn more, including what Campaigner and Constant Contact are advising their customers to do to improve open and click through rates, go to my article, “Top 7 Email Marketing Trends & Tips for 2011” on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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Jan
14
Posted on January 14, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, General Business, Safety) by jennifer

This post was written by Dr. Leonard Fox, a chiropractor who runs Georgetown Chiropractic in Georgetown, Connecticut.

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You may not realize it, but one of the greatest health hazards small business owners and their employees face is sitting in front of a computer for long stretches of time. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, a “desk job” is far from a “cushy job” – and can result in excruciating neck and back pain, headaches, eye strain, leg numbness, and arm, wrist, and hand pain. Or worse.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent or at least minimize these problems. And if years of sitting and working have already caused you harm, the simple steps outlined below will help minimize the effects of sitting in front of your computer and improve your quality of life.

Good ergonomics is crucial. Simply put, this means your workstation (computer + monitor + chair) must be set up in a way that minimizes physical strain.

Have a good office chair. Good office chairs (such as the Herman Miller Aeron chair) allow the back support part of the chair to come forward and lock into position, so that you can sit comfortably, with your back firmly supported by the back of the chair. This minimizes lower and mid-back strain.

Your monitor and keyboard should be directly in front of you, with the top third of the screen at eye level. Looking up or down to see the screen is a major cause of neck pain and headaches. So you need to set the height of your chair so that with the arms are comfortably at your side and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle when using the keyboard and mouse. While seated at this height, your feet should be planted firmly on the floor, not tucked under you or the chair. If you are short enough that this is not possible, use a a foot rest, which can be as low tech as an old telephone book. Just make sure your knees are slightly lower than your hips.

Take frequent mini breaks where you get up, stretch, and walk around. SittingSafe, the ergonomic training program I teach and heartily endorse, recommends a system of mini breaks throughout the day.  As scientists have proved, a 10-second stretch break every 10 minutes or a 20-second break every 20 minutes can mean the difference between a productive, happy, pain-free worker and a cranky, sleepy, in-pain worker one bad day away from a costly work injury.

While there are specific recommended movements, the key point is to force yourself to briefly stop working and move what feels tight.  Your eyes, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, back, and legs are all accumulating stress as you sit.  Movement will allow that stress to dissipate before it can cause you harm.

NOTE: While these tips seem obvious, in my many years of inspecting people’s work stations, I have seen many set up so that comfortable sitting and working is impossible.

Above all, keep in mind: No matter how perfectly you set up your work station, and how tall and straight and lovely you look sitting and working, no posture is good for long. The sad truth is that human beings were just not designed to sit in one position for long periods of time.

Our bodies are meant to move. And while you can force yourself to sit and work for hours at a time, your body will suffer for it in the end. But if you follow my four simple tips, you will be able to significantly minimize and prevent injury.

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Jan
11
Posted on January 11, 2011
Filed Under (Marketing, Video) by jennifer

This blog post, on the importance of small business owners taking an active role in company videos, was written by Bettina Hein, the founder and CEO of Pixability.
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For many small business owners, getting in front of a video camera (even a little Flip) can be scary. Sure, you had enough courage to start a business, but performing on camera, on cue, that’s an entirely different matter. But as the owner — and face — of your business, it’s important when making a video about your company (or your products or services) that you take the lead. Here’s why.

You are the face of your business

As the owner or founder of a growing business, chances are you are the reason (or a large part of the reason) why people buy from you. While you can’t be everywhere, a video of you can. You don’t have to look like a supermodel or be able to act like a movie star, just be the person your customers know and trust. (If you’re worried about looking good on camera, check out this blog post on “How To Look Good On Camera.”)

Your passion shows

Video is the perfect medium to leverage the passion that you have for your company. If viewers see and feel that you love what you do, they will pick up on it — and will want to buy from you.

People trust you

Surveys show more Americans trust in small businesses than they trust in their church or synagogue. Your customers buy from you because they believe that you are being honest and straight with them. They know their loyalty is important to you and that you will respond to their questions or problems. That’s why you see so many owners of local furniture stores and car dealerships featured in those local cable TV ads. They know that being on camera helps build a relationship with their company or brand before you enter their store or dealership.

To demonstrate what I’m talking about, here’s an example of a video for a furniture store called Bernie & Phyl’s, featuring Bernie & Phyl’s whole family:

You don’t have to go it alone

What the Bernie & Phyl’s video shows is that even though you may be the face of your business, you are not the only face. And it’s good business to get others involved. Ask customers that rave about your product to say so on camera. And include team members that service your customers. For example, we recently created this super simple but polished looking team video that introduces our customers to the Pixability team. And it was a huge hit. (And I only had to be in it for a few seconds!)

For more great video production and video marketing tips, or to find out how Pixability can help you, visit Pixability at http://pixability.com.

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Jan
07
Posted on January 7, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, Email Marketing, General Business) by jennifer

Follow these 10 simple tips to create emails people will actually open, read, and respond to.

1. Have your own email address, which displays your name. It costs nothing to have your own email account. Yet a surprising number of people still share an email address (typically with a spouse) – and use the other person’s name instead of their own. That can confuse recipients, causing them to ignore or delete your email. Eliminate any confusion by having your own email address.

2. Know when to use To, Cc, and Bcc. When composing your email, figure out who really needs to see it — and list those people on the To line. People whom you need or would like to keep in the loop but whom you do not require a reply from put in the Cc line. And if you are emailing a group of people (and are not using an email marketing service like Constant Contact or Campaigner) who have not given you permission to share their email address with others, use Bcc (for blind carbon copy).

3. Fill in the subject line. Yeah, yeah, I know Facebook is doing away with the subject line in its proposed email. But in the world of here and now, many email services will categorize an email as junk or spam if it does not contain a subject line. Similarly, many recipients will do the same unless they know the purpose of your email, upfront. So take an extra few seconds when composing an email to include a short, to-the-point subject line, using 10 words or fewer.

4. Don’t always change the subject line when you reply to an email. There’s a reason the sender used that subject line, and if you change it some email services (such as Gmail) will categorize it as a new/separate thread, possibly confusing the original sender and making it more difficult for her to keep track of the conversation.

5. State the purpose of your email in the first or second sentence. People have short attention spans, and often skim email (or stop reading after the second sentence). And are increasingly checking their email on their mobile devices, which have tiny screens and are a pain to scroll. So put important information and/or questions at the top of your email.

6. Include your name and contact information. If you are looking for the recipient(s) to call you or write you back, don’t assume they have your contact information. If your name and contact info — phone number and, yes, the email address you would like them to respond to (as many people have more than one email address) — is not in your email signature, be sure to include it at the end of your email.

7. Do not attach large files (e.g., photos or videos). Most Internet service providers will reject emails with files (e.g., photos or videos) 5 MB or larger. So play it safe by linking to videos (as opposed to attaching them) and sending small or low-resolution versions of photographs.

8. Know when to use Reply vs. Reply All – and respond promptly. When replying to an email where you are one of many recipients, before you hit Send, determine if the whole group needs to see your reply or if only the person who sent you the email does. If the former (whole group) needs to know, use Reply All; if not, just use Reply. Also, try to respond to emails within 24 hours, or sooner when an urgent reply is requested.

9. Just because you think it’s funny doesn’t mean everyone else will. Use caution — and common sense — when forwarding those funny jokes and pictures to everyone on your email list, especially business associates. And if you do forward those emails, make sure the subject line explains what it is you are forwarding — and the first line of the body of the email indicates whether it is Safe for Work, aka SFW, or Not Safe for Work (NSFW).

10. Proofread your email before you hit Send. Even if you are in a hurry, it pays to review what you wrote before you hit Send. Better to catch a mistake (or worse) before you send your email than afterward, when it’s too late.

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