Business Development

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What to do If You are Victim of a "Windows" Phone Scam

The best solution to any scam of course, is not to fall victim to it in the first place.  Never give out any personal information to anyone who you have not cleared first.  It's okay to give your account number to the bank teller, but don't give it to anyone else. Try not to let your credit cards out of your sight and don't let anyone get access to your computer that you haven't paid to work on it already.  

 

I have a special hate for people who perpetrate this particular scam though, because they prey on people who are elderly and do not have any knowledge of computers.  I do remote technical support on contract and I've gotten several panicked calls from people who have been victimized by this scam.  In one case, the client was lucky because she didn't have any financial information on her computer at all (she did everything the old fashioned way) and she called my contractor right after it happened.   She was still out the $50 that the bank charged and days and days of inconvenience, but that was it.  Most people aren't nearly so lucky and can lose their savings, face immense charges that take months to straighten out and even potentially lose their social security. 

Once the scammer gets a hold of your financial information (social security number, bank account numbers, birth date, credit cards and so on - and they only need one or two pieces to pull the rest), they can open accounts, buy houses and other goods in your name, access your current accounts, rack up tons of charges online or in person, and so on.  They can even collect your social security.

Here is what the scam looks like:   Someone calls you on the phone claiming to be from "the Windows company" or Microsoft or Best Buy.  They tell you that your computer is infected with many many viruses, bugs, etc.  They then tell you that they need to clean your computer and it will cost $199.99.  They ask for your credit card number and then ask for access to your computer via remote control software.   Once they are in your computer, they can get access to everything you have if you keep any financial information on your computer at all.  This includes access to banking sites, online shopping sites like amazon, etc.   Most of these sites may encrypt passwords, but they still leave accessible files called cookies which the hacker can grab to gain access to those sites and accounts.  They can also install a keystroke logger to capture any passwords you may enter going forward.

As I said before, the best solution is not to fall for the scam in the first place.  Microsoft, Best Buy or any other computer company will not ever call you to tell you that you have an infected PC.   A general rule for any scam is never to give anyone financial information online or over the phone who you have not already verified.   You can expect amazon.com to be mindful of how they handle your credit card information, but Joe Schmoe is under no such obligation.

Barring that, if you or someone you know falls victim to a scam:

1) Immediately call the banks and credit companies to notify them that your account information has been stolen and that the card needs to be cancelled and all outstanding charges need to be reviewed.  They will close that account and give you a card with a different number.  Yes, it will be inconvenient but it's better than having to deal with fraudulent charges.

2)  Change every password to every financial institution and online store where you shop or do transactions.  Also talk to the banks and have them change the pin numbers on your debit cards, if they don't issue you a new card (see step 1). 

3)  Change your email passwords immediately and notifiy your provider that your account has been hacked.  If you have google or yahoo, they have special procedures to handle account hacking.  You may want to be sure you have copies of all your emails because they may have to shut your mail account down and create a new account for you.

4) If they got access to your computer and not just your credit card information, make sure you have the computer thoroughly checked over by a professional, if not wiped and re-installed.  Just running a virus scan yourself won't do it.  It's very easy to install malware or keystroke loggers that won't show up on most virus scanners.

5)  Contact the 3 major credit bureaus to notify them of the fraud and have them put a notice on your credit record.  That will put companies on alert to verify any unsual transactions and provide you with some legal recourse in the case of fraudulent accounts or charges.  Also get a copy of your credit report and verify that all the accounts that show up are valid.

6)  Call the Social Security Administration and make sure your social security account is secure.

7)  Call your local police and contact the FTC.  If you were victim of a phone scam, it is a crime and should be reported.  Your local police can also help you with further actions to take.  I realize that most phone scammers don't get caught, but there's more of a chance if it's reported.

There are a number of companies that offer identity theft services.  I have never used them so I can't advise on the best ones, but they will handle many of the actions you need to take in case of identity theft.  Some also insure you against more than X dollars in damage, so that is another advantage. 

Here are some additional resources to help in case of an online or phone scam.

1) The Federal Trade Commission for phone scams

2) US Government Internet Fraud Information

3)  Consumer Fraud Reporting  (non-government site)  I wouldn't report anything here, but they do have good information.

4) Internet Crime Complaint Center (joint FBI, FTC and Dept. of Justice site)

5) Your local police.  They often have a department that focuses on fraud and knows how to help.

Inventory Software Options for Small Business

Are you stil managing your inventory from a spreadsheet or on paper?  That's great when you have a really small business but it isn't really scalable.  At the same time, you aren't ready to jump into Sage or Great Plains or another 5-digit package yet either.   So where does that leave you?

There are loads of inventory packages available, with prices ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There are a fair amount even below $1000.  It can be really confusing to decide what package to choose. 

I went through and reviewed some of the inventory packages available below $1000.  Some of the things I looked at were:  

  1. How easy is the product to use?
  2. How well supported is it?
  3. What features does it have? 
  4. How easy is it to configure? 
  5. Can I test it out for free? (This is significant because you need to see the product in action.)

And yes, I did look at Quickbooks inventory, but it quickly came off the list because it is not easy to use and is not very rich in features.  Quickbooks manages inventory from an accounting viewpoint, so it is fairly limited.

Here is what I came up with:

  1.  inFlow Inventory System  - This package is clearly the best that I found for the price by far.  It has 2 price points ($299 and $499), a demo version that is very strong and the most features for the money.  It is also very well supported.   The Premium version even comes with phone support.  The only negatives for this program that I found are 1) it is Windows only and 2)  it does not print bar codes.  
  2. ABC Inventory Software - This product is pretty good, considering it's free.  It is difficult to set up, but it is fairly flexible and has a lot of features.  It has a very strong user forum for support and can print and scan bar codes, along with many other features.  It is Access-based and Windows Only
  3.  Inventoria Mac Inventory Management  -  This is the only product for the Mac that seems to be in the same classe as inFlow and ABC Inventory.  It doesn't provide as much functionality, but it is pretty close.  It isn't as easy to use as inFlow, but easier than ABC Inventory.  The demo is a 14-day trial, which isn't bad. Inventoria also offers a Windows-based version that is comparable.

There are lots of other inventory packages out there.  Many are industry-specific, which can come with some benefits and usually less setup time because it's already mostly configured to your business. 

Here are a couple more resources to help you on your search:

All giving, no getting. Are you getting frustrated with giving but never getting referrals?

Have you ever noticed that there are people in many of the networking groups that are very good about asking for referrals, but never give any out.  I'm pretty sure they're not even aware that they don't give referrals a lot of the time.  This is actually the norm.  Most people learn to ask, but not to give.  I think it starts in childhood. 

So what's a networker to do?   Give referrals and never get any in return?  I know sometimes it really feels like that,  doesn't it.

Here is how I deal with it:

1.  I give with the thought of helping someone else out, not getting in return.  For example, I just gave a referral this morning to someone looking for an accountant up in the thumb.  I happen to know a good CPA who maintains an office in Saginaw.  This is a natural fit.  I don't know if it will work out, and most likely, I will never find out.   For these kinds of referrals, I'll give the contact and just let it go. 

2.  I believe that the more you give, the more you get, but not from the same place - it will show up somewhere else entirely.  So giving out referrals is never a bad thing if you are comfortable that the person you're referring can do the job.

3.  Remember that your reputation rides on every referral you give.  Don't give a bad referral.  If you don't know the person you're referring, make that abundantly clear.  Also check in if you know both parties and see how it went.

4.  Certain groups don't pass referrals well.  If the reason you're going to the group is to get referrals or business, don't go.  Find another group that fits better.  I find this in a lot of the free networking groups where most of the members are small or at-home businesses.  A  lot of these people never learned how to refer or how to do business.  The higher-end groups that cost more generally don't have that problem, but they also have to be in a position to refer you.  Give it a couple of times and see how it goes.  Don't spend a lot of time with groups of people who will never buy from or refer you if you're there to do business. 

5.  Find a group of people that will be in a position to refer you.  For example, I'm a difficult person to refer if you are not in a position of trust with the business owner.  My best referral sources are the same as my best sources of clients - accountants and attorneys.

In my opinion, networking groups are also an overrated way to get business for many industries.  But that's a topic for another day.

 

 

Looking for Clients in All the Wrong Places

Who doesn't need more clients?   Isn't it great when you've good a full practice and can't take on any more clients?     But then, you get too busy to market, finish up with a few clients and all of a sudden you don't have enough clients.  What do you do then?  First off, don't ever STOP marketing & business development, but that's a topic for another day.   Most of the people I meet with start networking a whole lot and drive themselves crazy.  They are trying to find clients from people they don't know and groups they've never been involved with.  This is good if you aren't a member of any groups and don't know a lot of people - but if you've been in business for more than a few years that isn't going to be the case.  It also really takes time to build quality relationships and become known and respected in an organization - more time than you probably have if you really need clients.  It's a very good long-term strategy and can sometimes pay off in the short-term, but it won't reliably get you clients NOW.

So where is the best place to start if you have been in business more than a few years?  Your desk!  That's right, the file of your existing clients, friends and contacts that's on your computer or your rolodex.   This sadly neglected area is where most businesses fall flat.  They don't do a good job of staying in touch and following up.

Following up with people is how you maintain and grow relationships.  It's also the best way of getting clients quickly.  Start having conversations with people who you know and who already know (and hopefully like) you.    Catch up with them and find out what's going on in their lives.   Rekindle and strengthen that relationship.  See if there's something that  you can help them with (not making a sale).  Who do you know that can help them?

You're a lot more likely to get business from someone who already knows and likes you than from a complete stranger.   If you haven't talked with them in a while, there's a good chance they really need some reminding of what you do and what  you're working on right now.  Once you remind them, it's also a good chance that they know someone who needs something similar, or perhaps they could use some services from you themselves (especially past clients and people who have referred you before).

Make it a point to talk to good clients (past or present) and referral partners at least quarterly on the phone or in person.  Send out newsletters.   Send personal cards for major occasions.   Keep in touch.   It's fairly easy to do once you get in the habit of it, and it pays huge dividends.

Endless Referrals, by Bob Burg, is an excellent resource if you want more information on how to follow up.

The best place to find new business quickly is people you already know.

 

A Good Example of BAD Customer Relations

Facebook has been all over the web this week with their unexpected and sweeping changes to the user interface.  Oddly enough, there doesn't seem to be any rationale for the change.  And talk about really poor client communication - no one knew until they looked and their feed had been changed to stories that facebook chose based on something other than the user's desires.  I don't know about you, but I had to go in and make some changes to get back what I wanted to see.  Even worse, on the iPhone where I check facebook most often,  they changed the feed today and I have no way of changing it back. 

I saw a lot of people moving to Google+ this week.  This is not a good way to grow your business, especially for a company very dependent on ad revenue - where the more users you have, the more money you make. 

It was a great move for Google+, that's for sure.

Lesson:  talk to your customer base and find out what things they would like, or ask them what  you think they might enjoy before you change their services.  Test it out first with a smaller group of volunteers to make sure the customer experience will be a good one. 

COMMUNICATE!

 

Book Review: What Clients Love by Harry Beckwith

I found this book a little difficult to get through, as it's kind of all over the place, but it's really well worth it.   Harry's style in this book is similar to an experienced salesman mentoring someone new - he is imparting advice and concepts that made him and could make you successful in selling services as he thinks of things and not necessarily  in a particular order.

There's lots in What Clients Love, from what to call yourself, how clients perceive you and what they really buy when purchasing a service to how important the relationship is to selling a service (everything).  He also talks about what goes into building a relationship and how to maintain it.   He addresses issues like how to deal with mistakes and how to listen.

I'd recommend reading this book, and then going back and focusing on a section here and there slowly until you really absorb his points.   Mr. Beckwith isn't correct on everything - His predictions on the Internet were certainly off and you can tell that his target audience is white middle aged men, or white male wannabe's - a normal bias for most traditional salesman.  And yet there are pearls of wisdom, even in that. 

So many things struck me in this book, it's hard to list them all so I'm not going to even try.  Here's just a few highlights.

  1. From page 129 - "Prospects choose service providers who share their tastes."  Remember the advice - "dress like your clients, just a little bit better."  It's excellent advice, but not if you pretend to something that you aren't, such as dressing like a farmer if you aren't one.  That ends up offending worse than the silk suit.  Mr. Beckwith addresses this very nicely with a clear story and better advice "Dress honestly and a little up."
  2. From page 182 - Imagineering's Six Commandments.  These are great reminders of what's important when designing a space, a sales presentation, or anything affecting your image or marketing.  My favorite commandments are "Avoid overload" and "Tell one story at a time."
  3. From page 237 - The Ten Rules of Business Manners.  These alone will make a big difference in growing your business and developing relationships.  If you do nothing else from this book but practice these, you will have made a huge impact on  your business.  My favorites are #1 - Wait until the other person has finished talking before you speak. and #9 - Be kind.   These all seem to be so obvious, yet very few people really practice these behaviors.
  4. I'm a coach and trainer, so I really like great questions.  The questions in the appendix starting on 260 are wonderful.  If you answer them yearly, you will really have a great guide to growing yourself and your business.

In short, buy the book, read it and re-read it.  Then start practicing bit by bit.  You'll really notice a difference in your business and your clients.

I'd love to hear what you get out of What Clients Love by Harry Beckwith.  Leave a comment here.

Book Review: Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin

Meatball Sundae was not as easy a read as most of Seth Godin's books are.  The book as a whole was messy (The title should have warned me) and definitely not up to his usual quality.

The main point of this book is that running your business the old way, which Seth defines as selling mass market products targeted at as large a demographic segment as possible does not work with what he calls the New Marketing - online and social media marketing.  An example of the old way would be Walmart or Coca-Cola.  Amazon and Google are excellent examples of New Marketing, as is Seth's own Squidoo.com.   The meatball sundae is two things that don't work together at all, even if they're both good. 

While I agree that most traditional brick and mortar companies aren't structured to really benefit fully from what online and social media marketing, I disagree that they can't benefit at all.  As a matter of fact, one of the points Mr. Godin makes later on in the book, which I fully agree with, is that any company ignores social media at their peril.  With social media, everyone becomes a critic of the company, for good or bad as many examples illustrate.  And you never know what story will catch the attention of the public, whether or not it's true.  One damaging story can have a huge impact on the company's bottom line.   Seth gives the example of Delta throwing a woman off a plane for breastfeeding, among several others.  If we thought about it, we could all come up with similar examples.  Your company may not be posting anything on social media, but they should be monitoring at the very least.

He also makes an excellent point  that you can't use online and social media the way TV, radio and print advertising work.  It's a completely different medium which requires a completely different strategy and orientation. 

Another difficulty I had with Meatball Sundae is working out how to apply it to my target market, independent professionals and small service firms  who traditionally don't benefit from traditional advertising or marketing campaigns such as direct mail.  

What I concluded is that what he describes as the trends of the New Marketing actually favor the independent professional and small firm. You don't need a huge budget anymore to make a substantial niche.  Online and social media allow a small company or independent professional a much wider voice and outlet than was ever available before.  He goes into detail on what he calls trends of the New Marketing.  These trends, such as the long tail, outsourcing, infinite communication channels, amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities work in the favor of the small independent more than the big firm.

According to Seth Godin, the small businesses with very high quality service,  like those that were put out of business by the large discount houses (Walmart, for example),  can now compete against the big firms by having a much more targeted audience that is both large and more dispersed than ever.  A great example would be Blendtec (you can check out their videos on YouTube).

All in all, Meatball Sundae did have a fair amount of useful information, even if it didn't seem to tie together well enough to support his main point.  It's worth reading, even if it's not what I would consider among his best. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Meatball Sundae as well.

More on Why You Should Have a Narrow Target Market

I had a very short conversation with a salesperson from a sales training company last week.  It was less than 5 minutes.  He listened to me describe my target market and only heard as far as attorneys, independent financial advisors and chiropractors.   He heard those three word and only saw that he had clients that were attorneys and financial advisors.  At that point he stopped listening.  He really didn't have a target market and focused on everyone who sold anything - which is everyone, by the way.  Even if you work for a company you are a free agent who sells their services to one client.  Because he only saw the overlap in our demographics, he didn't see any opportunities for us to help each other.

He lost out on the referrals I could give him, and by trying to appeal to everyone, he loses other opportunities as well. 

There's two parts to this - you have a brand and an image whether you like it or not and you develop that image and brand every single time you interact with anyone in any way, whether it's direct contact, personal, email, mail, word of mouth, etc.  Your brand will attract a certain kind of client, whether you want it to or not.  Nothing works exactly the same way for everyone.  There is no single product on earth that appeals to everyone.  If you don't create your brand deliberately, the world will create it for you and you will have an extremely difficult time changing it.

The second part is this - by trying to appeal to everyone, or thinking that your product or service works for everyone, you will alienate people instead of attracting them.  People are much more attracted by the idea of being a member of an exclusive group than by being treated just like everyone else.  It's the other side of the same principle that Harry Beckwith states in Selling the Invisible (see my last blog post).  Narrowing your position ( another word for brand) broadens your appeal.  So trying to have too broad a position or brand limits your appeal.

Wouldn't you rather be seen as belonging to an exclusive club?  Think about all the restaurants and country clubs that thrive on this principle.

Had the sales training person spent more time with me and seriously considered whether we could work together, he would have found out that in reality there is no overlap at all.  Our clients might have the same demographics in general, but they differed greatly when you looked closer.  My clients would never hire him and his clients wouldn't be interested in me at all. We appeal to very different segments of the same market.  I was very clear on that, he wasn't. 

I make much more efficient use of my time and pick up clients that aren't related to my target market at all because they get the appeal, even though I don't market to them.   And I have other associates that do what he does and get the referrals that I might have given to him.

That's one of the side benefits of being very focused.

So how can you further focus your marketing efforts?

Book Review: Selling The Invisible by Harry Beckwith

Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith is not aimed at the small or solo professional.  It is directed at salespeople and marketing in organizations that sell services.  And by services, he's talking about companies like Federal Express, American Express, Levi's and Dayton's (The book was written in 1997, so you need to make some allowances.).  

So why am I even bothering to review this book, when it is clearly not aimed at my target market?  

Because Selling the Invisible should be required reading for all professionals. 

Mr. Beckwith has a clearer understanding of what is going on in the minds of your clients and prospective clients in regards to your service than any other author I've read.  In order to really be successful, you need to understand what people are thinking before, during and after they do business with you.  Most marketing books focus on product, and even the ones that focus on servicea don't really do a good job of explaining WHY people prefer one service over another or what can impact the decision, or why they buy or don't at all.  Selling the Invisible not only explains what's going on in the minds of your current and prospective clients, he also details what you can do about it.   Some of the things he says don't apply to the independent professional, but the reasoning and understanding do.

The examples Harry Beckwith gives are also clear and explicit, so that you can easily understand the point he's getting at.  This is especially important for things like branding and niche marketing, which are often the opposite of what most professionals believe.  Narrowing focus (Harry calls this positioning) is probably one of my favorite examples in the book because it's one of the main things I work on with many of my clients.  He gives the example of Scandinavian Airlines in 1980.  They decided to position themselves exclusively as "The Business Traveler's Airline" after sustaining massive losses.  The airline focused it's marketing and advertising on business travelers and developed their brand in that direction.  As a result, they gained not only business travelers, but more tourists. They had the highest percentage of business travelers and the lowest tourist fares in Europe.

There are many other great examples for understanding marketing and business development for services in the book as well.   You will really be able to understand what works for you and more importantly, why.  This book won't tell you how to market your practice, but it will give you a much better understanding of what works - which can only improve your business development and growth.

Read this book once, twice, even more and you will really grow as a result.

Let me know your thoughts here on Selling the Invisible as well, after you've read it.

21st Century Leaders Program "Apprentice" Presentations

This past Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of serving on the  Panel for the "Apprentice" portion of the 21st Century Leaders program sponsored by the Birmingham Community House.  The program runs from September through April and is modeled on the Leadership Oakland program.   3 seventh grade students are nominated by about 10-13 schools in the Birmingham & Bloomfield area to participate in the program.  It was quite an amazing experience.  For this portion of the program, the students were broken into 7 teams to get a crash course in entrepreneurship, culminating in a presentation to request resources.   The Panel was responsible for determining what resources each team would receive based on their presentation and what they requested.  All seven teams were amazing.  We had a wonderful time seeing what products they came up with and how they put together the business cases. I was very impressed.  It was really quite an accomplishment - this four-session process was the first introduction that the majority of the students had had to everything that goes into a business plan -- marketing, operations, product development and finance.  These are not things that are taught in school, for the most part.  Each team was impressive and did very well.  The products were unique and innovative and the presentations were very good.  I had a wonderful time.

George Marsh, Elisabeth Garbeil and Phillip Seaver

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