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Tips & Tricks Archives - Bijou Collective
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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!
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org – 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).
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
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!
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).
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:
Davis Community Network
Digital Service Consultants Inc.
Enguity Technology Corp
First Network Group
Gold Rush Internet
Hoyos Consulting LLC
Mother Lode Internet
Tekify Fiber & Wireless
Strategy #3: Opt out of targeted advertising
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!
The four online marketing trends you can’t afford to ignore in 2017 – explained!
If you’ve been a bit startled by New Year marketing checklists filled with buzzwords and little strategic advice, you’ve come to the right place. Bijou Collective offers tangible business advice to passionate individuals, and we’re here to help you cut through all the clutter. In this article, we have selected the four major online trends that will help you stand out in 2017. Read on to discover the next steps to take to grow your business or organization.
Video became a hot topic in 2015, and it really took center stage in 2016, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing that “we see a world that is video first with video at the heart of all our apps and services” – an important announcement coming from the most frequented social network, and one of the most important websites on the Internet.
This year, it is estimated that online video will account for 74% of all web traffic . In other words, if you want your message heard, you’ll need to use video to convey it to your audience. Your business therefore needs to get comfortable creating video content, and not just once a year. But the good news is that videos don’t all have to be artistic films professionally shot with an expensive camera.
On social media, they are widely used to provide users with information in a condensed and engaging format; some contain mostly text, or still images. Many software programs – like Animoto or Biteable – allow you to create your own professional-looking videos without any technical knowledge. And with most smartphones now equipped with high quality cameras, it’s easy to snap a video to promote your business.
And don’t forget that videos can be a great tool for SEO too: make sure to optimize the name of the video and its description as well as the text around it if you’re embedding the video on a website, and provide a transcript or subtitles.
HIGH QUALITY STORYTELLING
2016 has, in many ways, shown the limits and the dangers of fake news and clickbait. Millennials and younger consumers are wary of these unsubtle marketing tactics, and Havas recently revealed that 60% of worldwide consumers think that the content produced by brands is “poor, irrelevant or fails to deliver.” 
In response, marketers have to commit to creating meaningful content, instead of creating content for the sake of it. As the study conducted by Havas shows, brands need to step back from the content they create and ask themselves why they create content. Many brands see it as another way of entertaining consumers, but for many consumers content is an opportunity to get educated about a company’s ethos, operations, products and more.
Content also needs to be more approachable. Many companies use content as a way to lure in customers and get them to scroll through layers an irrelevant blog post or click on several links. Marketers should focus their energy on creating high quality content that will make visitors want to come back for more, instead of forcing them to subscribe to a newsletter or to leave their contact details. As more and more content is produced, companies will have to focus on quality, rather than quantity, to get noticed, remembered and trusted.
Mobile has been on every marketer’s mind since February 2015, when Google announced an upcoming update to its algorithm that would give priority to mobile-friendly websites. While it “only” accounted for 35% of global web traffic back then, mobile traffic now accounts for just over half of all web traffic, with a 30 percent increase year-on-year.
It is therefore crucial that your website should work well on mobile. And that doesn’t just mean having a sleek design and a hamburger menu: mobile-first design focuses on the mobile user experience as a whole, improving readability and loading time. A responsive website not only improves your SEO, it adapts entirely to the device to make the customer experience seamless. Moreover, mobile-first design easily fits in with the minimalist web design trend that has grown over the years. The two keywords you should keep in mind are : seamless experience.
Echoing point 2 about high quality content is the ever-growing search for authenticity. In terms of content, authenticity translates as providing genuine, honest information that truly relates to your business, as well as replacing cringe-worthy, stereotypical stock photos with original pictures and adding more identity to your web design.
In the Information Age, authenticity goes hand in hand with transparency. Be open about who you are and what your company stands for, and make that information easily available. Small companies can use their websites to showcase their crafts (using videos, photos, infographics or beautifully-written text) and break down the walls between their customers and themselves. If there’s anything you’re not comfortable sharing, try changing it rather than hiding it: if you lie about something, it will come back to haunt you sooner or later.
Honesty, accountability and open-mindedness are important for today’s consumers. Don’t fake it: remember to be real, consistent and ethical. Communicate with your customers, be ready to answer their questions and take notes of their suggestions. See criticism as something positive that will help you tailor your business to your customer’s desires and expectations.
CONSUMERS WANT TO HAVE THEIR SAY –
so make it possible for them to interact with you and seek their advice to help you grow, and you will be rewarded with a faithful base of customers who think – and talk – highly of you.
Is a social publishing tool the right investment for your business?
Social publishing tools seem to be a must for any company that is serious about distributing its content on social networks. There is no denying that automation makes life much easier for social media managers and executives, but what about the downsides? Let’s look at the pros and cons of using a social publishing tool and review some of the most popular ones on the market.
THE ADVANTAGES OF SOCIAL PUBLISHING TOOLS
– Managing all your social media accounts in one place
With the help of a social publishing tool, you can publish content on your various social media channels from a single platform. This makes it much more practical than having to log onto each individual website, and also allows you to see your different feeds, notifications and statistics in a single location.
– Scheduling posts to go out at the best time
This means that you can publish content at the best possible time – when your audience is online and scrolling through their feed – without having to be at your desk or even logged in to your account, and easily reach out to audiences on a different time zone. Many applications even suggest the best time to post based on when your followers are most engaged. It makes your life easier, and your posts more effective.
– Organizing and scheduling content
Publishing tools make it simple to organize and schedule content to make sure that you’re posting regularly and have enough posts scheduled to keep you going for a few days (or weeks). Regularly publishing quality content will help establish your reputation as an expert and generate more trust in your business.
But as great as these benefits are, there can be some downsides to using social publishing tools, especially as marketers tend to rely on them too heavily.
THE DOWNSIDES OF SOCIAL PUBLISHING TOOLS
– It might not be the most cost-effective solution for your business
If you run a small business, you might not actually publish that much content every day, have a presence on twelve different social networks or an international audience to talk to. If that’s the case, you can probably handle posting from each site individually. You can organize your upcoming content just as well by creating a content calendar in a Google spreadsheet, and that will not cost you a dime. Sophisticated publishing tools can cost up to $500 a month for a small team so it’s worth considering whether you actually need one before committing.
– You could be missing out on real time conversation opportunities and trending topics
If you’re happy to have all your content automatically published and aren’t actually following the conversations on social networks, you’re missing out on opportunities to engage with your audience and community in a more genuine way. Providing quality content to your customers is good, responding to what they are saying is better. You might also be missing trending topics that you could take advantage of by sharing relevant content and using a popular hashtag, allowing you to widen your potential audience.
– Your scheduled post might end up not being appropriate
If you’re using a publishing tool, you’ll have to keep up with the news to make sure your scheduled content isn’t going to sound inappropriate. After a dramatic news event, for instance, it may not be appropriate to promote your webinar, or your “inspirational quote” may appear to be in bad taste. You’ll need to be quick to react to delete your automated posts if you don’t want to sound insensitive.
Take, for example, Foursquare’s famous faux pas after the 2013 Boston Marathon: they had queued up a post to be automatically published after the race, asking users how the event was. When the bombing happened, they were not quick enough to pull down the message, and it was pushed out to Foursquare users who had checked in at the marathon. Although companies can always apologize for communications mistakes, in situations like this, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
REVIEWING THE MAIN SOCIAL PUBLISHING TOOLS
If you decide to use a paid publishing tool, here’s what you should know about the most popular social publishing platforms.
Buffer lets you schedule and monitor your content across various platforms (including Instagram and Pinterest) and boasts a very user-friendly interface. With premium plans starting at $10/month for one or $99 for a team of five, it’s a very solid standard publishing platform but doesn’t provide many extra features.
Hootsuite’s layout can be a bit difficult to navigate at times, but it offers a wealth of features, especially in terms of analytics. Paid plans start at $19.99/month for single professionals, $49.99 for a team of three or $99.99 for five.
Edgar is a very useful tool, allowing you to organize your content by category (blog posts, quotes, etc.) and recycling your “old” content when you run out, making sure that your social channels never go silent, and saving you precious time. However, Edgar only works with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and is pricier than some of its competitors, with plans starting at $49.99 a month. A good solution for mid-size or larger businesses with high volumes of evergreen content looking to save a lot of time.
Recently released SmarterQueue lets you categorize and recycle your content, like MeetEdgar, and offers an impressive list of features, including analytics, visual calendar and bitly link shortening. They offer a Solo plan at $19.99, a Business plan at $39.99 and an agency plan at $79.99, but you can also choose the Custom plan (starting at $19.99) and decide how many daily posts, categories and queued posts you need.
Finally, SproutSocial has a very user-friendly interface and allows you to schedule, monitor and analyze your activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. SproutSocial also boasts a great reporting dashboard with colorful charts and graphs to help you track your progress, and is a fantastic platform for teams. The main downside is its price – the Team plan for 3 users is $500 a month – but the Deluxe version at $59 per user offers all of the standard features.
With pictures being so easy to share on the Internet, many people don’t think twice about the way they use other people’s work, let alone credit them. While this is just about forgivable for students putting together a presentation, it is an absolute faux-pas for professionals using images to illustrate their website. Following our guide to correct image attribution will help you avoid making a mistake.
HOW RISKY IS IT TO USE AN IMAGE WITHOUT PERMISSION?
Just because it’s on Google doesn’t mean you can use it. Plagiarism laws also protect people’s work online, including images, and using someone’s image online without their consent is theft. Photographers and illustrators who have had enough of seeing their work being used by someone else without permission are trying to fight back. They could contact you to ask you to credit them or remove the image, get in touch with your web host and get them to remove the image, or take you to court.
It’s also worth noting that Pinterest takes Flickr’s rights attributions very seriously, so if you embed an “all rights reserved” image in a web page, it won’t pull through to Pinterest. If you’re using Flickr as your image manager and embedding on your own website, and you want people to be able to pin your content, be sure to change your usage rights to one of the Creative Commons licenses.
HOW CAN YOU CREDIT AN IMAGE’S AUTHOR?
Short of contacting the author to ask for their permission, you can use a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses make it easy to find online resources – not only images but also videos and sounds – that you can use and reuse in all legitimacy. Works that are licensed under a Creative Commons license (look for the “cc” logo) can legally be used, but you still have to provide attribution.
There are six different CC licenses, here is what they mean:
– Attribution (CC BY)
This is the simplest attribution as you can use the work in any way you like. The author only requires that you credit them the way they request, without any suggestion that they are endorsing you or the use you’re making of the image. If you want to be able to use the image without crediting the author, you’ll need to get their permissions first.
– Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)
Images under a BY-SA license can be copied, distributed, displayed and modified only as long as you are distributing the modified work on the same terms.
– Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)
You can copy, distribute or display only original copies of the image. If you want to modify the image, you’ll need to get the author’s permission.
– Attribution NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)
This license means that you can modify and build upon the image but cannot use it commercially. Your new work must acknowledge the original author but the derivative works don’t have to be licensed on the same terms.
This is the most restrictive license, allowing you to share an image if you credit the author, but depriving you of any right to change the image in any way or to use it commercially.
WHAT IS THE ETIQUETTE AROUND IMAGE ATTRIBUTION?
Ideally, you should mention the title of the image, its author (with a link to their profile on the platform where you found the picture), the image source (the original page on the platform) and the license used. You’re still doing a good job if you don’t provide the title or a link to the author’s profile but still link to the original picture and mention the license. If you’re only crediting Creative Commons or the website where you found the image, it’s not a correct attribution.
With many stock photo libraries offering high-quality pictures for free and even attribution-free, there’s really no excuse to use an image without permission. Here are some of the best places to look for free stock images :
Pexels: with thousands of beautiful images uploaded by talent photographers all around the world, Pexels is one of the most popular free stock photo websites out there. You can even do a color search to find images that will complement your website’s colors. All the images on Pexels are attribution-free.
Unsplash, like Pexels, offers thousands of gorgeous high-resolution photographs that you can use for free. Use the search bar or browse the collections organized around a specific theme such as workspaces, pastel or minimalism. All the images on Unsplash are attribution-free, but attribution is encouraged to help the photographers gain recognition.
Nomad Pictures‘ website is full of stunning copyright-free pictures available free of charge. You can also take a look at their premium packs if you want to support their work or find an image that no-one else is using.
Create Her Stock boasts over 1,300 images curated for female creatives, entrepreneurs, and influencers of color. All you have to do is enter your email address to access the free gallery, or create an account to go premium and enjoy unlimited downloads and special promotions.
Burst is a free stock photo site powered by Shopify to help designers, developers, bloggers and entrepreneurs create dazzling websites. You’ll also find whole collections available to download from their Business Idea section to help you kickstart your online selling business, with bonus advice on how to build your brand.
Pixabay is a great resource to find not only photos but also vector graphics and videos that you can use for free. Pixabay isn’t 100% copyright-free, however, so make sure to double check how each image is licensed before use.
Everystockphoto is a search engine for free photos sourced all over the web. Like Pixabay, Everystockphoto isn’t copyright-free but you can filter your search by type of license in the advanced search settings.
Flickr is an amazing photography resource and lets you filter search results by license type. If you’re not looking for images to use commercially or to modify, you can either select “All Creative Commons” or “No known copyright restrictions.” If applicable, make sure you’re crediting the author as requested, if applicable.
Even Google makes it easy to find pictures you can use for free: simply click on “tools” when searching for an image, and filter the results by usage rights. If you’re just looking for an image to illustrate your website that you don’t wish to modify, you can choose the filter “labeled for noncommercial reuse”. Be sure to click-through to the source site to see whether and how the author wants to be credited.
Finally, there is a non-exhaustive list of websites licensing images under the Creative Commons licenses available on CC’s own website.
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.
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:
Look under the video for a right-pointing arrow and the word “Share”
Click once on “Share”
Click a second time on the word “Embed” which should appear on the next line down
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
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
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.
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.
When you’re working really hard, it’s easy to forget about yourself. Sure you know that you can only hope to live a healthy life if you have a balanced diet, and that you need to take care of your body and mind if you want to be productive, but are you actually practicing what you preach? I’ll easily admit that I often don’t, but I’ve been trying to do a little better lately. Here are some strategies I’ve been trying to take good care of myself even when life gets a bit hectic.
GET UP AND STRETCH (DO IT NOW!)
If you’re reading this article, chances are that, like me, you do most of your work sitting down at your desk, looking at a computer screen, and you’ve probably already heard a thousand times that it’s bad for your posture and your body as a whole. You should get up, stretch and move around regularly, but it’s not that easy to just get up and take a walk, especially when you really have to get this report done by tomorrow. The trick is to find excuses to get up and move, even just for a minute. Take regular bathroom breaks. Go fill up your water bottle. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea. If you work in an office, go say hi to your colleagues on the third floor (and yes, use the stairs!).
SAVE YOUR EYES!
The blue light emitted by screens (akin to that emitted by the sun) can be a real strain on the eyes, so try to look away from your screen as often as you can (you could set up an alarm every hour as a reminder). Short of that, if you tend to work late, I highly recommend installing f.lux, a free software that makes the color of your computer’s screen adapt to the time of day: it will be “normal” during the day but will get progressively warmer at night. This will be a real relief for your eyes, and might also help regulate your sleeping pattern as too much blue light in the evening tends to keep you up at night.
GO FOR A WALK
I know I’ve already said you should get up and move around throughout the day, but this time I’m talking about a real walk, one that will be good for your body and your soul. You might think that you only ever have time to take walks on a Sunday, but why not change your midday routine and take a stroll around the neighborhood instead of eating a sandwich in front of your screen? Alternatively, you could walk a longer way home or skip a bus stop and walk the extra distance. If you work from home and find it difficult to take long breaks, organize your walk around something you have to do today, like going to the post office, buying some food, listening to a podcast or giving your best friend a call.
EAT YOUR GREENS
We all know that a healthy diet is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. But have you been eating your greens? Put a fruit basket on your desk, or in the office space you share and try to make your lunchtime meals as colorful as possible. I like keeping some dried fruits and nuts near my desk for a quick, easy and healthy snack, and I’ve been trying to incorporate fruits into my breakfast to make sure I get enough.
DRINK MORE WATER
I usually drink a lot of water, but if I’m busy I can sometimes find myself dehydrated in the evening. As it turns, out I feel much better when I drink water regularly throughout the day. I usually like to have a bottle of water on my desk, and I drink as much as I can. I try to refill my bottle as soon as it’s empty, as it’s an excuse to get up (see point 1) and prevents me from (wrongly) thinking that “I’m so busy I don’t even have time to get up”. Staying hydrated helps prevent headaches too.
BREAK AWAY FROM SCREEN TIME
You know you should take breaks throughout the day, and you probably do. But while broswing Pinterest is great (I love it too), it might not be exactly what you need to freshen up your mind. Try to look away from the screen, go outside, focus on something really different from what you’re doing. I find that manual or creative activities are fantastic because I can literally feel my brain reorganizing all the information (like a Tetris game) when I engage in such an activity. If you work from home or in a creativity-driven office, you might be able to play an instrument for ten minutes or stroke your pet. If not, try drawing, reading, writing, knitting, going out for a brisk walk or calling a friend.
KEEP ESSENTIALS NEARBY
Overheated offices can make your skin very dry. Make sure you’ve got a hand cream on your desk. If you’re too often picking at your lips when you’re stressed, get into the habit of using lip balm instead by putting a stick on your desk. And if you get dry eyes because of your contacts, keep some eye drops handy.
This one is easier said than done, especially when you’re very busy and are facing a tight deadline. But do try to take every opportunity to take good care of yourself. Watching TV might seem like a good way to relax after a long day of work, but if you’re not too tired, taking the time to cook a wholesome meal, bake some cookies, take a bath or do your nails will offer extra benefits that you’ll be able to enjoy for longer. If you don’t have much time to yourself, use it wisely.
ORGANIZE YOUR WORKFLOW
My final tip for managing to take care of yourself when you’re busy? Organize your workflow to limit the amount of pressure you’re putting on yourself. Try to keep on top of your work schedule by allowing enough time each day for what you have planned. Don’t be too strict with yourself, and make sure you account for regular breaks in your schedule.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please leave your tips in the comments and tell us how you find little ways to take care of yourself when you’re busy.
Creating and running your own small business is undoubtedly very rewarding, both professionally and personally, but that doesn’t mean that you can afford to overlook the risks. However, you can reduce those risks and your own personal liability by managing your business the smart way. Although no blog article can replace professional legal or tax advice tailored to your own needs, here are some of the strategies that small business owners generally find useful and easy to implement to reduce business liability.
The first thing to do to reduce business liabilities is to select a business structure that limits your liability : by incorporating your company, you are protecting your personal assets from any debt or liability incurred by the business. Make sure you do your own research to decide which structure is best suited to your business. If you’re just getting started, we recommend using Incfile, an excellent resource for researching options and incorporating your business. Once you’re ready to move forward, you’ll find that their system is easy to use and that they provide competitive prices with no tricky hidden fees.
MAKE YOUR CONTRACTS CRYSTAL CLEAR
In order to avoid any confusion, you should draft contracts or work agreements that very clearly state what you are “promising”, what will be delivered and what is out of scope, as well as payment terms and refund policies (if applicable). Please note that this is an important step, no matter who you are dealing with, even family and friends. Providing a crystal-clear contract doesn’t mean you don’t trust the other party, it means you are doing your best to avoid any misinterpretation. People may overlook the importance of written agreements between family and friends, but it is just as crucial, and may save your relationship should a misunderstanding occur.
REQUEST A LAWYER’S HELP
Leave it to the experts and hire a lawyer to review your contract templates, as well as your liability and privacy policies. In this particular area, a pinch of prevention is truly worth more than a pound of cure. “Hiring a lawyer” might sound like a daunting task with a heavy price tag, especially if you are just starting out in business, but do not be discouraged! If you really need to watch your finances, you can turn to LegalCorps for volunteer legal advice. If you’re on a limited budget but have a little bit of wiggle room, Avvo offers on-demand, fixed-fee legal advice and their lawyers can provide help on a variety of issues. Rates start at $39 for a quarter-hour conversation and you can browse the forum for free advice.
OBTAIN BUSINESS INSURANCE
Even if you think all four strategies above are watertight, insurance is your parachute when all else fails. Business insurance comes in all shapes and sizes, so you should do your own research to make sure you subscribe to a policy that truly suits your needs. If you already have home, car or life insurance, check whether your carrier can offer you a bundled rate. Popular insurance carriers in North America that also offer small business insurance include State Farm, Progressive & Nationwide.