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How To Write A Business Plan

How To Write A Business Plan

One of the questions I am asked most frequently by my clients is how to write a business plan. I decided to compile the advice I give into a blog post to help aspiring entrepreneurs get started – first with a few quick tips to keep in mind overall, and next with a breakdown of the sections any good business plan should include.
 

QUICK TIPS

1-KISS It – In other words, keep it short and simple!
Often people are intimidated by the idea of writing a business plan because they have the idea that it’s going to be a long and complicated process – but that couldn’t be further from the truth!

A good business plan, especially for a startup, is going to be twenty pages or less. If you have more to say than that, you may want to work with a business coach to help you simplify your plans and become more precise in the language you use to describe what you’re doing.

2-Consider Your Audience
Many people ask me HOW to write a business plan, but fewer people ask me WHY – and the answer to this question provides a crucial aspect in knowing how and what to write.

Firstly, your business plan may be used to outline your operations for potential partners, investors, managers or mentors. Although you may have advanced technical knowledge of your field, it’s quite possible that you’ll be showing your business plan to someone who may have valuable skills in other areas of business, but who lacks your specific industry or technical training. For that reason, imagine you are writing this business plan for an AP English class in high school – in other words, it should (of course) sound clear and professional, but also be simplified enough that any intelligent person with a general education can follow it.

Pro tips: Ask a friend who is NOT a colleague to read your plan, and then talk to them about the plan to see if they understand what you wrote – in fact, ask two or three friends! It should also go without saying that your document should be edited for grammar and spelling. Even the best writers will occasionally make typos.

Secondly, your business plan will frequently be used by YOU. This is a document you will go back to time and again, both to remind yourself of your vision and direction as well as to re-evaluate your operations vis-a-vis current market needs. Keeping in mind that you will want to be able to quickly refer back to your work, do yourself the favor of breaking out each section with clear, bold headlines, and edit down everything you want to say into concise summaries at the top of each section, with elaboration (if it’s even needed) below your summary.

3-Write The First Part Last
Your business plan should start with an Executive Summary. When most people approach writing their plans, they think they need to write the executive summary section first, and get stalled out by trying to summarize what they haven’t yet written in full.

One of the reasons for writing a business plan is that the process helps you clarify your vision – you my discover things during thr writing process that you didn’t have in mind before you started. That’s another reason why you should wait until the end to summarize your plans.

Capture this basic structure outlined below, but don’t feel locked into writing in a linear fashion. Start by filling in whichever sections you are most drawn to write about first. Feel free to jump around, knowing you are almost certainly going to come back in fill in more details of a section later.

Once the body of your business plan is complete, write your executive summary last, like adding the whipped cream and cherry on top of your finished document.
 

STRUCTURE FOR A BUSINESS PLAN
You’ll definitely want to include most of these sections, but feel free to add, subtract or mix around the sections in whatever way best suits your unique needs.

Executive Summary
One page or less that hits on the main components of your plan: who you are, what market need you are filling, and how you’re going to fill it.

Mission Statement
A deeper look at why you are passionate about filling this particular market need. This is also an excellent place to articulate your values and how your company will embody them.

Business Structure
Will you be a corporation, LLC or sole proprietorship? Who will own the company? Who will be your chief decision-makers? Are there opportunities for partnership or investment in your business?

Operations & Management Plan
This can segue with the section above. Think of this as your longer-term plan for how the business will be structured. What (if any) departments will exist? How will the departments be managed, and who will make decisions for or within each department? How will you set and evaluate performance goals? How you will select, compensate and promote your team?

I would like to encourage all entrepreneurs to use this section as an opportunity to question your own personal values – what do you believe is successful about existing business paradigms, and what would you like your business to do differently? For example, do you want to replicate a hierarchical leadership style, or develop a system for relational leadership instead? If you have moral qualms about racial and gender bias in the way people are hired and compensated, what specific measures will you take to ensure these biases are not replicated in your business?

Business Description
This describes in more detail the products or services you will provide, who you will provide them to, and how you will provide them. This is also a good place to decide whether you intend to establish a physical location for your business, or if your business (especially if it is service-based) will be virtual or location independent.

Competitive Analysis
Who (if anyone) is already in business meeting your market need? If you answer “several companies” then how do you know there is still a need for additional companies in your sector? What will you do differently that isn’t already being done? If you answered “nobody” then how have you validated your concept? How do you know people will even want what you’re trying to sell?

Company Financials
How much do you have set aside to invest in starting your company? What will your initial expenses be? How are you pricing your products or services? What is your timeline to profitability? What are your milestones and longterm financial goals? If you are seeking investors, how will they realize a return on their investment?

Points you may also wish to include in your plans:
What is your receivables timeline (especially if you are a service-based business)?
Map your accounts payable timeline to your accounts receivable – how far into the red will you go (if at all)?
If you need to fill the gaps between these two, how much “cash on hand” do you have set aside to cover expenses, and how much debt are you willing to incur?

Marketing Strategy
Describe any market research you have done to date. What do you know about your target audience? What do they need? How will you intersect their needs with your products or services? How will your company values be reflected in the development of your brand? What is your company ethos, and how will that be articulated in your marketing? Also include specific tactics you will use, such as digital community building, paid advertisements, in person promotions and more.

Timelines
A good business plan will outline the phases of your growth, including the evolution of your business structure, marketing plans and revenue targets for the next 3-5 years (at least). Be sure to include milestones within your timeline, so you can gauge whether or not you are you are on track for meeting your goals. Keep in mind that your timeline can always be adjusted – in fact, it almost certainly will be!

Find Out More
Where can anyone reading your business plan find out more about your operations? (i.e. a website, social media)
 

HAVE I FORGOTTEN ANYTHING?
If I have forgotten a crucial aspect of how to write a business plan, or if there is another section that should be added to this list, please let us know in the comments!

Protecting Your Online Business Against Government Overreach

Protecting Your Online Business Against Government Overreach

Increasingly often, I find myself writing or saying things that sound positively surreal – as if one of my college seminars on the history of the Soviet Union got mashed up with a digital dystopia. Occasionally I check the mirror to make sure I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat. Writing this article is one of those times.

I want my Bijou community to make the most informed and empowered choices possible, but I am self-conscious about sounding paranoid or extremist. For these reasons, I’ve decided to go ahead and compile my findings & recommendations into a blog post, while also substantiating my claims with “legitimate” news sources. Once the information is yours, you can decide what (if any) actions you want to take.

Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, I don’t want my position to be misconstrued, so please allow me to state very clearly – I do not support or encourage illegal activities of any kind.

Let me say it again for the folks in the back:

I only support and encourage organizational and business activities which are peaceful, legal and ethical.

The topic of this blog post is how to protect your business or organization against government overreach – or more specifically, how to protect your online presence – when everything you are doing is peaceful, legal and ethical.

Although the examples I will cite are largely centered around the activities of the United States government, the topics covered here are relevant for people in many other nations.

In fact, even if your activities are completely legal in the country in which you reside and have registered your business, if you have any customers located in the United States or another surveillance state, you may very well be affected by legal practices in any country where you do business. I will cite legal precedent for this as we get further into the article.

Before citing specific cases which illustrate why the topic of this blog post is important, let me first walk you through some technical points.

When most people set up an online presence, they just think about the end result – their pretty website or their social media accounts. In reality, your web presence is the end product of a long chain of component parts. In order to protect your business, every link in the chain of your online presence must be strong. A vulnerability in any one link could allow you to lose control of your entire business.

The first link in the chain starts with ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. They are a non-governmental organization whose job is to “manage the internet” – specifically, they coordinate internet protocol (IP) addresses and our global domain name system (DNS).

A typical website address might look like this:
http://www.example.com

The words after the // and between the dots are your domain name.

In this case, the “www” is the sub-domain, “example” is the second level domain, and “.com” is the top-level domain (TLD).

ICANN is responsible for deciding what words or letter sequences are allowed to be used as a TLD, and who gets to use them. Each country is assigned their own two-letter TLD (for example, .us or .uk or .fr) but there are also many abbreviations and words which are available as generic / international TLDs.

Once ICANN has decided to allow the use of a TLD, they will give permission to a company to serve as the “manager” for that domain. For example, Verisign is the company which manages the famous TLDs .com .net .edu and .gov – an important point which we will discuss below.

A private company can apply to ICANN to create and release a new TLD and then be assigned as its manager – for example, Google manages .how and .meme and Amazon manages .pay and .prime. Additionally, many private companies “speculate” on what TLDs may become popular, and exist only to earn money on licensing those domains.

For example, a company called Donuts, based in Seattle, manages the TLDs .movie and .mba and a company called MMX, based in the British Virgin Islands, manages .yoga and .surf. Want your own TLD? No problem, it will only cost you $185,000 to submit an application! (But there’s no guarantee ICANN will approve it, or assign YOU to be its manager.)

Once a company has become a manager for a TLD, it sets the price for what it wants to charge for the domain and then authorizes domain registrar companies to broker the licensing to end users. A few well-known examples of domain registrars are GoDaddy and HostGator. The domain registrar decides how much of a brokerage fee it wants to charge on top of the manager’s baseline fee, which is why the same domain can cost more to register on one site than it costs on another site.

Once you have chosen an available domain name and leased it, then you have to decide where to host your website. You can also set up customized email accounts using your own domain name, such as mary.smith@example.com – your website host might also offer email hosting and webmail, or another popular choice is to use G Suite (formerly Google Apps) to host your customized email on the Gmail platform.

Next, you will probably want to start building a mailing list, and sending your contacts a newsletter using a system such as MailChimp. Alternately, you may choose to reach your customers using a more sophisticated “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) system, such as Infusionsoft, Salesforce, Hubspot or ProsperWorks.

Lastly, you’ll most likely establish a social media presence, such as a Facebook page or group.

Now that we’ve walked through the entire chain, soup to nuts, of what it takes to have an online presence – let’s go back through the list and discuss the vulnerabilities one by one, starting with your top-level domain (TLD).

As we discussed, several of the most popular TLDs such as .com and .net are managed by Verisign, a company based in Virginia, United States.

Why is Verisign’s location significant? Because if you are using a domain name ending in .com, then even if you are NOT a United States citizen, NOT residing in the United States, and your business is NOT registered in the United States, your business can still be affected by the laws and practices of the United States federal government.

Case in point: in 2012, an online sports betting website named Bodog, which was fully owned by Canadian citizens and operated in Canada – where sports betting is perfectly legal – was seized and shut down by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). (Source: LA Times.)

Without warning and without a trial, the website suddenly went dark, displaying only a notice about the seizure along with the official seal of the DOJ & Homeland Security. In an instant, the legal business of four Canadian citizens was shut down without due process of law.

How is that possible? Because the website was using a .com address, which allowed the DOJ to petition a magistrate judge for a “seizure warrant” which they then took to Verisign, which was legally obliged to revoke Bodog’s domain registration. Without a domain, the entire chain was broken, and their website went dark.

Bodog’s story is not unique, or even uncommon. In 2008, the “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act” (PRO-IP) was passed by the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Bush. During the administration of President Obama, PRO-IP became the legal foundation for Operation in Our Sites, which has seized thousands of domains for websites accused of copyright infringement. Notice I say “accused” not “convicted” – again, all that is necessary for the domain seizure to take place is a warrant issued by a magistrate judge.

In the words of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, “The domain name seizure process does not appear to give targeted websites an opportunity to defend themselves before sanctions are imposed. […] I worry that domain seizures could function as a means for end-running the normal legal process in order to target websites that may prevail in full court. […] If the federal government is going to take property and risk stifling speech, it must be able to defend those actions not only behind closed doors but also in a court of law.” (Read the full letter.)

In one notable case, a popular hip-hop music blog provided links to pre-released songs which had been submitted by legitimate copyright holders for promotional purposes. The DOJ sought and received a seizure warrant, took control of the blog’s domain, and held onto it for a year before releasing it without apology or even an explanation. Court documents later revealed that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was involved with the case, and may have been responsible for “dragging out” the proceedings, causing them to last a full year. (Read more on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website.)

In another notable case, a website belonging to a Spanish company was seized by the DOJ, even after a court of law in Spain found that they did not violate international copyright law. (Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation.) One “justification” for this seizure was that the website’s discussion board contained hyperlinks to copyrighted material – obviously a very difficult circumstance for the website owner to monitor and prevent (and an awfully easy way for a website to be targeted, it’s also worth noting).

The proverbial slope, it seems, is slippery. Under the current administration, the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment have eroded even further.

Until recent times, Americans considered the act of protest to be a fundamental aspect of their culture – something not only permitted, but actually celebrated. Unfortunately, the culture has shifted considerably, making civil protestors not only socially suspect, but also legally vulnerable.

Another case in point –

A dissenting group in the United States organized a protest to take place during the current president’s inauguration in January 2017. Subsequently, the DOJ sought and received search warrants, serving both the organization’s web host as well as Facebook. Information demanded by the search warrants included:

* The IP address of every website visitor
* The contact information of website administrators
* Email content sent using the organization’s email accounts
* Photographs of thousands of people who attended the protest
* Access to the personal profiles of every person who liked this organization on Facebook
* Access to the Messenger chat history of every person who liked this organization on Facebook

This search warrant was not merely a creepy act of surveillance, it was an evidence-gathering expedition, and the information obtained from these warrants is being used in cases against more than 260 inauguration protesters, all of whom are facing more than sixty years in prison on “trumped up” charges. Although DreamHost, the California-based web hosting company served by this warrant, tried to resist, unfortunately they were compelled to hand over the information.

(Sources include Forbes, CNN, and NPR – and dozens of others if you search.)

This case began in January 2017, but facts about the case did not begin to emerge until October, thanks to a “gag order” on the court proceedings. I don’t think it is a stretch to wonder whether and how many other, similar cases are currently in process but unknown to the public by virtue of their own gag orders.

So, how can someone protect their website (as well as their site visitors) from the whims of an overreaching government?

It may not be entirely possible, but I certainly intend to implement the strategy I am developing, just for good measure!

The first step of the strategy is to audit every step in my “chain” –

1-Do not select a domain whose TLD is .com, .net or any other TLD managed by a company in the United States. For that matter, you may want to select a TLD managed in a country with ironclad privacy and free speech laws.

If you are currently operating with a .com and you don’t want to confuse your customers, it’s possible to build your site on a “safe” domain and then run a domain mask or place a 301 redirect, so that your site is still “findable” to your customers or constituents.

NB: I’m making a mental note to write a post on how to maintain your search equity when using website redirects, for those who may be relying on SEO for web traffic. If you’re planning to implement a redirect before I write the blog post, please please please seek out reputable guidance, or you could botch your rankings and tank your traffic.

2-Once you have selected your domain and verified that it is available, again – choose a domain registrar in a country whose laws will protect you from domain seizure.

3-Once you have selected and registered your domain, choose your website hosting company carefully. Many companies may be based outside the United States or other surveillance states, but they may have business offices or servers located within its jurisdiction. If your data lives on a server inside the United States, then it is subject to United States search & seizure warrants.

4-Tempting as it may be to use G Suite, just don’t. Google hands over data for 94% of US law enforcement requests, which number in the thousands. (Source: Forbes.) Note that these are merely requests, not demands backed by a warrant. Again, select an email host based in a “safe” country, and make sure your email data will not be stored on a server within the United States.

5-Full disclosure, this is the point at which my strategy reaches beyond protecting against government actions with existing legal precedent (at least as far as I am aware of), and is merely seeking to protect against a logical extension of current activity. However, the email database and customer relationship history of a business or organization is its lifeblood – if this suddenly disappears, it would feel like being cut off at the knees. If you’re going to take the time to protect other links in the chain of your digital presence, why not protect this one as well, and select a newsletter management or CRM system located in a safe country?

6-Social media. Welp. There’s not a lot you can do here.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can and WILL shut off your account without warning and with dubious justification. You have to be aware that when you invest time and money in building a social media presence for your business or organization, you’re essentially throwing a party in someone else’s house, and you don’t make the rules. Social platforms can treat you and your guests however they want. They can kick you out whenever they want. They can allow you to build up a sizeable audience, then suddenly start charging you shocking amounts of money to continue reaching them. They can take all the data they have for not just you, but for every single person who has followed or interacted with you, and hand it right over to the government – and they might not even tell you when they’ve done it. They can and DO also sell that data to private companies. These are the rules of the social media party. You can’t afford NOT to party in their house, but you also can’t afford to be naive.

My first suggestion: tie absolutely ALL your social media efforts back to developing direct leads (email addresses and ideally mobile phone numbers as well), so that if & when your accounts go dark, you can still reach your constituents.

My second suggestion: don’t feel responsible for protecting the information of every person who interacts with you on social media. Everyone who shows up at that party is self-responsible for knowing the house rules, and choosing their behavior accordingly.

Now that I’ve mapped out the strategy, how am I going to implement it?

Firstly, I am going to choose my TLD with care. Top contenders are .is and .no – the country code TLDs for Iceland and Norway. Both countries have laws and judicial precedent coming out strongly in favor of privacy and freedom of speech. (Sources: The Guardian & Al Jazeera, as well as the Government of Norway.)

Also, neither Norway nor Iceland are members of the European Union, and therefore not subject to the “Safe Harbor” decision which deemed the United States in compliance with the EU’s Data Protection Directives. (The Safe Harbor ruling was made before recent revelations about the extent of the United States’ spying activities on European governments and citizens, but the “safe” designation has not yet been revoked.)

Lastly, although these countries do not have hostile relationships with the United States, neither are they deeply enmeshed or dependent on the United States, politically or financially, making them less vulnerable to be pressured into cooperation.

I am also considering creative options with generic TLDs managed by companies situated in similarly “strong” locations.

Once I have selected my new domain name, I am going to register it with a company based outside the United States’ sphere of influence.

I have been using New Zealand based OnlyDomains as my registrar for almost a year, since I first decided to break up with GoDaddy for reasons having nothing to do with domain seizure (and everything to do with the fact that they are just a sleazy company).

Like many divorces, this has been an expensive endeavor, and it’s taking far longer than I’d like.

Expensive why? Because when you register a domain, usually you pay $10-$20 per year (sometimes much more), and possibly you’ve registered your domain for up to five years in advance. If, like me, you’ve registered dozens of domains for multiple years, then it’s not going to be fun to lose your investment by re-registering them all again with a new company, and paying for them a second time when you make the move.

I opted to save some money but to drag out the divorce – meaning I moved my most crucial domains to OnlyDomains immediately, and then I waited for each remaining domain to come up for renewal before moving it away from GoDaddy (when I’d have to pay for them again anway).

Now that the year is nearly done and I only have three domains left to port over, it’s fairly annoying to think about moving away from OnlyDomains to another company.

New Zealand IS a “strong” choice for all the same reasons that recommend Iceland and Norway, but they appear to have a corporate office in Washington, DC as well as several North American servers. Before deciding to stick with them or to move away, I am going to do further research and verify their policies and actual business locations.

In the meantime, I have been looking for alternative companies, and I have found one located in Iceland called “OrangeWebsite” that appears to cater to an international audience looking to move their data to a “safe haven” location. One of the things I like about them is that they request minimal information from you, and don’t store any more personal data than they have to – meaning that even if an Icelandic judge decided to honor a search warrant from the United States, OrangeWebsite simply would not have much information to hand over, anyway.

Another contender for my business is RunBox, based in Norway – but unlike OrangeWebsite, they also have servers in the United States. They claim you can request to keep your data stored exclusively in Norway, but I am curious to know whether a private company would really risk its ability to continue doing business in the United States, just to take a moral stand and protect a customer’s privacy, free speech and property rights. I’d like to think the answer is yes, but I am also cynical enough to wonder if that’s a bet I’m willing to make.

It’s important to note that all three of these companies offer almost everything I need for my online presence: they offer domain registration, website hosting, AND email hosting.

Which leads me to my next dilemma: deciding which web host to use.

I have been using SiteGround, based in Bulgaria, for two years, and I absolutely adore them. SiteGround has a user-friendly website, amazing customer service, great hosting options with great prices (and no tricksy upsells), exceptionally better site load time & very little downtime (compared to hosting with GoDaddy, where my sites were slow as molasses and blinking out literally every week).

I love SiteGround, and I truly don’t want to leave them. However, they have a data center in Chicago, and even if I opt to have my data moved to their servers in Amsterdam, with no data protection policy in place there’s no way for them to guarantee me they won’t mirror my content on their US-based servers (a common practice called “redundancy” which usually protects data, but which in this case ironically could hurt it).

SiteGround’s data protection policy –

Versus OrangeWebsite’s policy –

Totally different vibe, right?

Additionally, Bulgaria is both a member of the European Union as well as a much closer partner with the United States than, say, Iceland, making me think Bulgaria may not wish to evoke the ire of the United States by refusing to comply with a search or seizure warrant.

As with hosting, I am similarly crushed beneath the weight of realizing I need to transfer my Bijou email away from G Suite and over to a protected company. (What the bleep am I going to do with my Drive folders and documents?! Weaning myself off the Googlehol will not be easy.) Of the options, RunBox appears to have the strongest email service – but again, it’s a dilemma to me whether to trust a link in my chain to a company with any kind of business presence in the United States.

Lastly, I need to make a decision about my newsletter database and CRM system. I’m so in love with the simplicity and ease of use provided by MailChimp, which is perfect for my business right now – and when I am ready to upgrade to a CRM system, I know and love Infusionsoft as well, and have always imagined they would be my next choice. Alas.

The good news is, I have found a company called SuperOffice, based in Norway, which offers an “all in one” CRM with marketing email campaign capabilities built in. I am definitely excited to sign up for a free demo and see what their system is like to use. At only $55 per month, they are significantly less expensive than Infusionsoft – so I am very curious to see how their capabilities stack up (the website looks promising).

In summary:

1-Choose a domain with a safe TLD
2-Register your domain with a company based in a safe country (this protects your email as well as your website)
3-Host your website with a company based in a safe country
4-Host your email with a company based in a safe country
5-Choose an email marketing or CRM system based in a safe country
6-Social media, use at your own risk

Contenders for steps 1-4:
OnlyDomains
OrangeWebsite
RunBox

Contender for step 5:
SuperOffice

I hope it is abundantly obvious, but just in case it’s not, let me conclude: nothing in this blog post is intended to promise or guarantee an outcome, nor was it intended to provide legal advice. As is the case with any business practices you choose to implement, you select and use any of these strategies at your own risk.

Was this helpful? Pass it on! Still confused about anything? Leave me a note in the comments!

Are you interested in a group training or course on how to take these steps? If so, please drop your contact info in here, and you will be the first to know when this becomes available!

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Still Making An Impact

Still Making An Impact

As many of you know, life threw me a curveball this spring in the form of a surgical accident that has slowed me down, to say the least. I am currently recovering in the hospital as I write this – my third stay since the accident occurred in March.

Although I have been doing my best to keep my chin up and to remember this is a temporary setback, occasionally I have to admit that I – like any human – have been known to entertain self defeating thoughts for a moment or two. Last night, my thoughts turned into a small pity party of regret, thinking about the impact I wanted to be making this spring, at a time when “service to the greater good” is so needed.

Like a “call and response” game from the internet, I took a break from the ugly talk track in my brain in order to mindlessly browse social media on my iPhone. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I caught sight of this little gem, which instantly put a huge smile on my face:

 

If you have peeked through the Bijou portfolio, you might recall that Orchid Project was a client of ours for several years. When I saw this tweet last night, not only was I celebrating the continuing efforts of a client whose work I still wholeheartedly support, but I was touched by what I saw in the foreground of the photo, on the table: several printouts of the infographics that Bijou created for Orchid Project in the summer of 2012!

I’m not writing this post just to toot my own horn – I’m writing it to share a universal message: when you invest yourself into purpose-driven work, you have no idea the amount of impact you will make. In the nearly five years since we created them, Orchid Project has used these infographics in incredibly impactful ways: they were used in a speech to the House of Lords which influenced a major policy shift and financial investment by the British government, they were used in a presentation at SXSW, they were shared on social media by influencers such as UNICEF, and apparently they are still being used today to educate and inspire change.

Even in the times when we cannot predict or measure our impact, we need to show up for our passions and do our best work anyway. We also need to put to bed the thoughts that “we’re not doing enough” – if we can take an honest assessment of ourselves and say we keep showing up in the best way we can, then it’s simply not for us to judge whether we are “enough” – our best is our best, and that’s always enough.

Few of us will make celebrity headlines, but all of us are contributing a crucial thread in the human tapestry. The point isn’t to make a perfect splash right out of the gate, the point is to be pushing up against our own edges, wherever they lie –always to be refining our approach and expanding our capacity for positive action.

Internet Privacy Takes A Hit

Internet Privacy Takes A Hit

Your internet privacy took yet another hit when Congress voted to make it legal for your internet service provider (ISP) to sell your browsing history, and President Trump signed the bill into law two days ago.

Regardless of whether you clear your browser history or search the internet in stealth mode, neither of those tactics will prevent your private user information from being sold for profit – they only affect what is stored locally on your computer or devices (I hope it goes without saying that your activity on a mobile phone or tablet is included in this conversation), not what your ISP is watching and logging.

That doesn’t mean you are helpless to protect yourself! Here are three strategies to consider, which may help you protect your individual, company, and client data.

Strategy #1: Browse the internet using a virtual private network (VPN) 

This is something you should be doing anyway, if you like to work in coffee shops or if you travel for business (and especially if you’re a digital nomad, and probably doing both).

Internet Privacy VPN

In simple terms, a VPN acts like a bridge between you and another location. The information that passes over the VPN bridge is encrypted, meaning it’s difficult or impossible for your information to be seen or recorded.

VPN services come with different features, different levels of encryption, and (of course) different prices. If you are looking for comprehensive information about how to select the right service for you, this article by How To Geek is your best bet.

If you’d like to receive three quick recommendations on VPN services without doing a lot of homework on your part, I can suggest the following options:

  • Tunnel Bear is a good option for travelers. It has free and low-cost options (plus adorable branding).
  • Surf Easy offers bank-grade encryption and affordable monthly or annual pricing.
  • Strong VPN might be overkill for casual users, but they offer robust services which are still reasonably affordable.

All of these options are easy to use, and the most expensive plan among them is $12 a month – so there’s really very little excuse not to protect yourself using a VPN service.

Strategy #2: Give your business to an ISP that respects your privacy

This is something you should consider doing as a matter of principle, but it also adds a level of internet privacy protection. I realize that many people live in rural areas where there is not a lot of competition between ISPs (the town where my family lives has exactly two ISPs to choose from, and neither are on this list). But if you live in a more populated area, please consider switching your ISP to one of these companies:

  • Aeneas Communications
  • CREDO Mobile
  • Cruzio Internet
  • Davis Community Network
  • Digital Service Consultants Inc.
  • Enguity Technology Corp
  • Etheric Networks
  • First Network Group
  • Gold Rush Internet
  • Hoyos Consulting LLC
  • Hubris Communications
  • Mimir Networks
  • Monkeybrains.net
  • Mother Lode Internet
  • Om Networks
  • Pacific Internet
  • Sonic
  • Tekify Fiber & Wireless
  • Ting Internet
  • TwoP LLC
  • Visionary Communications

Strategy #3: Opt out of targeted advertising

This is definitely the weakest option in the list, but if you’re unable to change your ISP, then contact them and ask them what their privacy policy is, and how you can opt out of targeted advertising. While this step does not provide perfect protection of your data, it’s mostly marketers who want to buy your browsing history anyway, so this at least provides an added layer of protection.

For your convenience, here is a direct link to the opt-out forms for three popular ISPs:

Obviously, combining Strategy #1 with either Strategy #2 or #3 will provide the best internet privacy protection, but it’s important to remember that no solution is perfect, and your privacy is always under increasing threat from government surveillance as well as private companies and even hackers. Although internet privacy is a less intriguing topic to most people than the topics making sensational headlines, it’s important to keep yourself informed about legislation and technology, both of which are constantly evolving.

Do you have another strategy to protect your internet privacy? Share it in the comments!

Image credit:
Image of VPN from HowToGeek.com – click for full article

 

Integrity Is A Process

Integrity Is A Process

Yesterday I raised Bijou’s prices.

Yep.

Now, I know that’s not something a client ever wants to hear – but before you get too concerned, let’s take a look at a few of my new rates:

  • 12 pages of writing or editing is no longer $1,497 – it’s now $1,500!
  • A standard five-page WordPress website is no longer $1,997 – it’s a cool $2,000!
  • 20 hours of social media & newsletter support used to cost you $749 per month – but now you’re going to have to shell out a whopping $750 to engage Bijou for your communication needs!

As you can see, my price hike was nothing dramatic, just a little tweak.

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “What’s with all those zeros? Doesn’t this fly in the face of all the marketing advice out there saying customers are more likely to buy if you end your prices with a seven or a nine?”

Why yes – yes it does. And I don’t care one whit. In fact, I made these price changes specifically because it flies in the face of “all the marketing advice” – not in spite of that fact.

Wanna know why? Well, I have a couple of reasons.

Firstly, if a client is really so “on the fence” about engaging Bijou that a $3 reduction in price is enough to tip the balance in favor of working with us, frankly I don’t want them as a client.

Our clients are smart (too smart to be swayed by numeric bait), they know what they want, and they’re ready to make an investment. If we have to twist someone’s arm into working with us, how is it serving the highest good for any of us if Bijou pursues that kind of business relationship?

Secondly – and this is directly building on the first reason – I’m just sick to death of marketing gimmicks.

You know what I mean –

  • Signing up for someone’s newsletter, only to receive a sales pitch for some digital product that is almost certainly going to disappear in exactly 16 hours and 37 minutes…
  • Limited quantity “free gifts” that will go out to the first ten people who sign up…
  • Prices that have been purposefully inflated, and then slashed in half with dramatic red font to make it look like you’re getting a super special one-time discount…

I mean, you’re way too smart for these shenanigans, aren’t you?

I know I am… At least, I think I am…

Except, if I’m going to be totally honest with myself here, I wouldn’t be changing my prices right now if I hadn’t fallen prey to gimmicky pricing advice in the first place.

Oh fwack! Isn’t it annoying when the truth smacks you right in the face?

That’s one of the big reasons I am writing this blog post – not to announce the price hikes that almost certainly would have slid right under everyone’s radar, but to point out how insidious “manipulative” thinking is – so much so, that even a person who is specifically building a business to help others develop integrity in their business practices, still managed to be unconscious of how gimmicky one of her own business practices actually was. GAH!

But rather than donning the dunce cap and banishing myself to the corner for the rest of the afternoon, I decided to write this blog post as a love letter to everyone who genuinely wants to build their business with integrity, just to say…

Be gentle with yourself! Unwinding your brain from the perilous net of manipulative business norms is going to take time – and (re)building your business with integrity will always be a process.

If and when you – like me – think you’ve got it dialed, but then you stumble into the discovery that something you’ve been doing is out of alignment with your highest intentions, there’s no need to feel shame. Instead, why not feel excitement? Now that your attention has been drawn to this new discovery, there’s one more area of your business you have the opportunity bring into alignment, one more way you can now be standing in integrity.

 

Bijou Podcast Coming Soon

Bijou Podcast Coming Soon

I am excited to announce one of the newest features we will be unveiling in the new year: a podcast series featuring some of the amazing changemakers we’ve had the privilege of knowing and serving here at Bijou Collective.

Whether artists, activists, thought leaders or social entrepreneurs, our lineup of interviews is sure to inspire you to lace up your boots, harness your passions and get to work.

I can’t lie to you, 2017 is sure to be a wild year with a lot of hard work ahead – but that’s all the more reason why it’s crucial to build a community and support network for New Progressives. I hope the Bijou Podcast will play a role in keeping the wind in your sails and the fire in your heart.

To tune into the podcast, check this space again in early 2017 – or better yet, make sure you’re signed up to receive your Love Letters, and you’ll be the first to know when the podcast goes live!

Small Business Bookkeeping Made Simple

Small Business Bookkeeping Made Simple

If (like me) you’ve ever found yourself pounding a fistful of Advil to quash your bookkeeping headache, I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I was to discover Bench – a new subscription service designed to help small businesses cope with the hassles of budgeting, tracking expenses and preparing tax reports.

I just checked out their website, and what can I say? They had me at, “Let’s agree to never talk about QuickBooks again” …

Digging a little deeper, I discovered that the service includes monthly financial reporting, direct interface with your CPA at tax time, and Q+As with an expert whenever you need it. Their team is rigorously screened (including criminal background checks) and entirely based in North America, so you don’t have to be afraid of your financial data being sold or sent overseas.

Possibly best of all, I fell in love with the Bench About page – see here – a classic example of what it looks like to build a relationship with your prospective clients by offering transparency and a glimpse into your company’s culture. So now, I’m not only feeling a “glory hallelujah” over the service they offer, but additionally I have a giant branding crush.

I’m not signed up as an affiliate or earning any referral credits by saying this, but –

If you’re ready to invest a modest monthly fee into having your bookkeeping hassles lifted from your shoulders…

If you want to work with a company that employs actual humans you can speak with (as opposed to subscribing to yet another software program that ultimately leaves you still “doing it yourself”) …

If you want to know you’re not undermining the value of someone’s professional skills by paying them with a Saltine cracker and a song (which so often happens on sites like Fiverr and Upwork) …

– then I recommend checking out what Bench has to offer: a highly needed service at a fair and reasonable rate!

Pop-Up Penalty Coming Soon

Pop-Up Penalty Coming Soon

To pop-up or NOT to pop-up, this has long been the question of digital marketers and entrepreneurs who understand how crucial it is to build a large and thriving database of email subscribers. Google’s new pop-up penalty, which they will be rolling out in January 2017, may become the factor which finally sways the debate.

I spent several years batting for Team No Pop-Ups, believing them to be a nuisance to website usability. Why would I want to build a list on the basis of annoying my site visitors or badgering them into subscribing, instead of building my list on the basis of having great content that visitors are eager to sign up for?

I still think great content is king, but when I found Nathalie Lussier’s PopUpAlly plugin, which purports to offer a “polite” pop-up experience, I decided to soften my position a bit and give it a try. I have, in fact, received additional subscribers via the front page pop-up, but I’ve yet to prove out that these subscribers – who only see the pop-up if they have decided to abandon my site before viewing deeper content – are likely to convert into active community members or clients.

One of my professional mantras is that “nobody needs all the customers they can get” – meaning, your business is much more likely to thrive, grow, and be of service (both to your clients and to YOU) when you commit yourself to staying laser focused on connecting with your target audience. In other words, you can’t be everything to everyone, and you’re going to hurt your business if you try. So why not grow a list of people who love what you have to say, instead of casting a wider net and scooping up subscribers who didn’t fall in love with your message, and were in the process of abandoning ship?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually *love* Nathalie Lussier’s PopUpAlly. I discovered that the plugin offers a robust and versatile set of options for creating embedded forms as well as pop-ups, and I felt the tool was intuitive and easy to use, so I’ve gone ahead and purchased the pro version and converted all my opt-ins sitewide to PopUpAlly forms.

That said, I remain unconvinced that pop-ups (even the “polite” ones) are the smartest strategy for growing my list. In light of Google’s new pop-up penalty, which they will be rolling out in January 2017, I’m almost certainly going to delete my own pop-up in the near future.

Even if SEO rankings are not currently a part of your distribution strategy, I believe there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of “just saying no” to the pop-up. But I also recommend everyone to keep the long game in mind – although SEO may not be a focus for you today, how you build your site now will affect how easy (or difficult) it is for you to change your strategy in the future. Bearing in mind that when your business grows, top-of-page search rankings may become possible – or even crucial – for your business, the impending penalty is one more reason to avoid pop-ups in the first place.

Compensation With Consciousness

Compensation With Consciousness

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen small businesses struggle with is knowing how best to compensate their employees.

On one hand, small business owners – especially those with heart – want to be as generous as possible with their employees, and often start compensation for a new employee at higher than the market average. This can present challenges down the road, starting with the obvious (too high of a payroll burden has been the sinking stone for many small businesses), to complications that may not emerge until some months or even years later, for example –

  • If your employee turns out to be a rockstar, how do you reward them for their excellent work when you’ve already maxed out the level at which you can compensate them?
  • If your employee turns out to be average, and you later bring on a rockstar to join the team in a similar role, how are you going to reward on the basis of performance versus seniority?
  • As your company grows and you open up new roles with varying levels of responsibility, are you going to be able to afford to pay *everyone* proportionately the same amount above market average?

On the other hand, I have seen unfair employee compensation functioning as a huge blind spot for small business owners, even those who say they have the intention of operating with conscious business practices.

Just as one example, I recently had a client with four receptionists working at their front desk, all of whom had nearly identical job responsibilities, length of time with the company, levels of education and prior work experience, and all of whom were making a different hourly rate.

You could line up those four employees in order from the highest paid to the lowest paid, and I kid you not, the employee with the highest rate of pay was also the employee with the lightest complexion, and their hourly rates of pay decreased in exactly the same order as the darkness of their complexions increased.

I am certain my client did not intentionally set out to pay their employees on the basis of skin color, and in their mind, “That’s just the way it worked out.” After auditing their business, I made the recommendation to standardize the criteria they were using to set their rates of pay, and their response was, “We think it’s appropriate to have ‘a range’ for each role and to use our discretion when hiring.”

While that might sound appropriate, I strongly believe that it’s actually NOT, and here’s why –

When a company has a “range” of compensation they are willing to offer a new employee, if they are acting in the company’s self interest, they will start negotiations at the bottom of that range, or maybe even slightly below the range they anticipate will be the final agreement point.

Conversely, when a potential employee is acting with confident self interest, they are going to negotiate for a higher rate of pay than what they are initially offered.

Sounds like a textbook case of two parties advocating for their own interests but knowing they will eventually reach a fair agreement somewhere in the middle, right?

But here’s the thing: when entering a negotiation, every person is going to have a different sense of their “worth” to the company, a complicated equation that factors in not only their individual history and personal attitude, but what they know their chances are of finding a position on the basis of their gender, ethnic background, and other factors.

In other words, if you’re not a straight-presenting white male, you may not feel your “self interest” lies with negotiating the highest rate of pay possible, but rather your “self interest” may be to accept what is offered now, because you don’t know when another door of opportunity is going to open – in short, you’re going to believe yourself to be in a weaker bargaining position. This may or may not even be a conscious decision, so much as an unconscious operator that governs your levels of confidence while negotiating your rate of pay.

In my opinion, this dynamic plays a big role in shaping why we still have a significant pay gap on the basis of gender, race, and other aspects of identity and appearance – and it’s not good enough for employers to say “that’s just where the negotiations ended up”.

Although this problem of systemic pay inequity may be too big for any one person or small business to solve, if you have the intention of bringing consciousness to your business practices, then with some planning and forethought there is a way you can at least do your part in working towards a system of transparency and justice in the way you compensate your team.

I also know that if you are like most small business owners, you’re probably already so overwhelmed with the amount of work you have and the number of details to think about, that adding yet another system to your business might feel like it’s going to send you into overwhelm.

Believe me, I can relate to the feeling of overwhelm and I sympathize, but I also SO strongly believe in using business as a vehicle for creating justice. That’s why I’ve decided to create an easy-to-use tool that will help you standardize your compensation structure with a LOT less of a time commitment from you!

I’ll be including the Salary Transparency Tool in my monthly video training series, which will launch in early 2017, so please stay tuned. Better yet, make sure you’re signed up for my Love Letters, and you’ll hear from me the moment the tool goes live.

Vertical Video: No Longer A Pariah

Vertical Video: No Longer A Pariah

Vertical video is here to stay, friends, and I am about to tell you why – as well as give you a few tips on how and when to jump on the vertical video bandwagon.

Vertical Video Stigma
Since the dawn of YouTube, it’s been an unspoken rule of the tech savvy that if you’re going to shoot your own video, you’d best remember to rotate your mobile phone and shoot the video in landscape mode.

The vertical stigma was understandable considering the way most online video was played: computer and laptop screens usually mirror televisions in their landscape orientation, and many videos were embedded into websites, which traditionally also favored a horizontal orientation.

Until recently, vertical videos viewed directly on YouTube and in other players, or embedded into a website, would inevitably display horizontally with two ugly black lines to each side of the video, essentially making it harder to view the content, irritating the viewer and making the content producer look like a tech dweeb.

The New Normal
If attitudes about vertical video are changing, it’s because the use of technology has changed, and people are beginning to realize there’s a time and a place for both video orientations.

According to YouTube’s own statistics, more than half of all video is viewed on a mobile device, and the number of hours viewers spent on mobile has increased 100%, year over year. Just last month I read a study by Litmus Software who tracked statistics for over a billion emails and noted that mobile opens have now reached 56% percent. We’re also well past the tipping point where mobile internet use has eclipsed desktop browsing, according to recent reports.

Intuitive Filming Decisions
If it’s safe to assume that your video is going to be viewed on a mobile device, more likely than not, then the only relevant question you should be asking yourself is, “Which format makes more sense for the type of video I am shooting?”

Deciding whether to shoot your video in a horizontal or vertical frame should be as intuitive as taking a portrait: if there’s a reason why you need more horizontal footage in the frame, by all means, continue to shoot that way. But (for example) if you’re filming a close-up of somebody speaking – a common scenario for anyone using video in an internet marketing context – then the obvious choice should be to utilize vertical video just as you would most likely choose a portrait layout when taking a headshot.

The Technology To Back It Up
“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “didn’t you just say my vertical video was going to display funny and make me look like a tech dweeb?” Well, yes, until recently that was the case. But today there are several options for using your vertical video that are downright slick!

The first bit of good news is that YouTube now allows users to embed video in other websites using a vertical orientation (although, unfortunately, when the video is played within YouTube it’s still going to appear with awkward black bars to each side).

To embed vertical video in a website, first grab the regular embed code and then manually edit the dimensions:

  1. Look under the video for a right-pointing arrow and the word “Share”
  2. Click once on “Share”
  3. Click a second time on the word “Embed” which should appear on the next line down
  4. Click again in the rectangle that appears beneath the word “Embed” – this is your embed code, which you should highlight, copy, and paste into the text editor of the webpage where you want to display your video
  5. Skim through the embed code to find the dimensions, and then change the width to 540 and the height to 960 – i.e. w=540&h=960
  6. If you want to change the display size, you can change it to anything you want, but in order to avoid the “black bar syndrome” you’ll need to keep the 540×960 (9:16) ratio the same.

Unfortunately, even though Vimeo continues to outshine YouTube with its “arthouse hipster” factor, the site continues to lag behind with its technological capabilities.

Essentially the same process described above can be done for a vertical video on Vimeo, but the best you’re going to get is a square embed shape, not a fully vertical shape, meaning your video will be slightly easier to view with slightly less embarrassing black bars on either side, but Vimeo does not yet offer a true vertical solution to its users.

Emerging Platforms
Snapchat and Periscope both offer unique platforms for sharing vertical videos, but your strategy for using these platforms will need to be different than with players such as YouTube and Vimeo, as both Snapchat and Periscope offer a more ephemeral experience.

Lastly, I have high hopes for Vervid, the newest kid on the vertical video block. They may be a little hyperbolic on the point that you’ll “never turn your phone to watch video again” – firstly, yes you will, and secondly it’s not that hard – but Vervid does offer a gorgeous “in app” experience for sharing and consuming videos, with easy and intuitive uploading and editing options, and the app also allows users to embed vertical video using VervidTV – check out the Vervid blog to learn more.