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Economic Forecasts for 2017: How They Compare

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 18, 2017 12:04:55 PM

2017 economy.jpgLooking forward to the coming year, many economists seem confident that the U.S. economy is on fairly stable footing. Current projections for 2017 are generally positive, with sources citing GDP growth at between 2.1 percent and 3.1 percent.

While both numbers are within the desired range for healthy growth, some sources report that the growth rate of 4 percent intended by the pending Trump administration could result in “the irrational exuberance that creates booms and busts.” It is unclear at this time what steps the coming administration will take to encourage the higher growth rate or how effective they will be over time.

Currently, however, the numbers are showing a healthy balance in the 2017 economic projections:

  • The unemployment rate is below 5 percent and is expected to remain there
  • The inflation rate is expected to be 1.9 percent in 2017 and 2.0 percent in 2018, up from the 1.5 percent in 2016. These numbers may have been affected by low oil prices and both are below the Fed’s 2.0 percent target inflation rate.
  • Housing and non-residential construction have both shown increases and 2017 economic projections show those numbers continuing to slowly grow
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures from 2012 estimated a roughly 5.6 million job increase in healthcare and a 3.8 million job increase in professional and business services. Overall, job increases are expected in 88 percent of all occupations.

Not all the projections are positive, however. All sources agree that the oil industry is expected to be a sore spot in the future, though not necessarily in 2017. Crude oil is expected to stay around $50/barrel in the first 6 months of 2017, but will likely increase to over $70/barrel by 2020. These expected increases in oil prices will ultimately impact every part of the American economy, from transportation and food production to household wages and consumer spending.

With any luck, new technological developments, including cleaner energy sources, will become lucrative and result in new jobs and great changes for the overall structure of the market, offsetting the future impact of oil prices and crude oil scarcity. The chances of that occurring with in the next four years, however, are unlikely.

Of course, not all sources agree on future projections and their ultimate outcome for the state of the economy. The 2017 economic projections are generally accepted as favorable for the time being, but Forbes reported a general settling of the market, while the balance anticipates another recession in about 3 years. Unfortunately, market trends often show highs and lows ending with crashes, some larger than others, after the cycle has run its course, so the latter source seems to have historical precedent on their side, unfortunately.

Regardless of long-term projections, which are decidedly unpredictable, since so many factors can influence the economy over time, the short-term 2017 economic projections are actually very positive. All sources agree that 2017 is a good time for playing smart in the market, watching trends and not panicking over fluctuations.

A new administration and changing priorities can sway the market in many ways over the course of a year, but overall projections show that consumers are mostly positive and businesses have largely bounced back from 2008-2009 lows. As long as patterns hold as they are, 2017 should be a good year for businesses and consumers.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Automotive Social @ Flickr CC.

Tags: 2017 Economic Predictions, 2017 U.S. Economy

7 Tips for Naming Your New Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 11, 2017 8:47:34 AM

naming your new business.pngWhen starting a business, the first steps are always the hardest. Determining your product or service, securing a storefront or online merchant system, and working out reliable processes for keeping your business afloat are all big decisions. While it may not seem to carry quite the same weight as some other considerations, naming your business is also a key step in the startup process—one that could have a big impact on your long-term success.

Like most decisions when starting a business, your business name is a tool that requires due consideration. With the right name, you can effectively attract attention from potential clients and stand out within your industry. Below are seven essential tips for selecting the perfect name for your business.

  • It’s ok to sacrifice a little “professionalism” to stand out. No matter what industry you’re involved with, every business owner wants to be taken seriously. That being said, in today’s market, fortune favors the bold. It’s perfectly fine to be professional, but naming your business in a way that comes across as generic or unoriginal could hold you back over the long term.
  • Use wordplay, but avoid puns. Naming your business should be fun, since the process of a starting a business, in general, rarely is. Use creative phrasing, play with themes that are effective for your business, and step outside of the box, but shy back from verbal puns. Generally, puns usually fall flat and that’s not the impression you really want to make.
  • Consider how your name will look. In today’s market, graphics are everything. Your name should tie into your social media and logo, with visuals given a large amount of consideration. If the name sounds good, but looks strange on paper, go back to the drawing board and keep trying.
  • Avoid names that are too similar to anyone else in your industry—or any other, if possible. For obvious reasons, copying names is just a bad idea all around, but another big pitfall to avoid is a business name that is even similar to others. Do your research when starting a business before you settle on a name, so you won’t be disappointed if its too close to others or already taken.
  • Check for URL’s and pick a name that fits with an available domain. Because most of the world operates online, your business name also needs to be web-ready. Before finalizing your plans for naming your business, make sure you’ve settled on a name that can be translated into a URL easily—one that is available. While there are thousands of business online already, plenty of options are still available. Just check before you make definite plans.
  • Don’t neglect social media. Nothing is finished until your business is set up on social media. In the same vein as the URL search, make sure you’ve double and triple-checked that there are no pre-existing social media conflicts for your preferred business name.
  • Make it legitimate. Once you’ve sorted through everything, researched the competition, and really honed in on your industry potential—and selected a name, of course—it’s time to make it official. Lock your name in by registering a “Doing Business As” name or tradename. This information should be logged with your state. You’ll also want to apply for trademark protection, which is especially valuable for protecting your brand, image, logo, and other aspects that are unique to your business.

Starting a business can be a challenging and arduous process, but it can also be fun. Selecting your business name is just the beginning. Once you’ve given your business a real identity, your potential is limited only by your imagination.

  Six Business Functions on an iPad

Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.

 

Tags: new business resources, naming a new business

Protecting Your Business From a Data Breach in 2017

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 4, 2017 9:33:52 AM

business data breach.jpgData breaches in 2016 were at an all-time high, sparking many businesses to develop legitimate concern about the coming year. For that reason, business security is a big priority, particularly for any organization that stores card information and for businesses aligned with the healthcare field.

According to an Identity Theft Resource Center report from December 2016, general businesses experienced the most overall breaches, but healthcare organizations saw the most amount of data actually compromised. Of the 980 breaches that occurred in 2016, 44% of the breaches occurred in businesses, while only 16% of the exposed records came from that industry. In the same timeframe, 36% of breaches occurred in healthcare, while almost 44% of compromised records originated from the industry.

But breaches have occurred across multiple industries, some of which exposed highly private and significant information. According to Identity Force, organizations to suffer breaches in 2016 included the U.S. Department of Justice, UC Berkeley, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Wendy’s, and even the Philippine Commission on Elections.

Needless to say, we all have good reason to be concerned, which begs the question: how do we protect ourselves?

For individuals, the steps are simpler.

  • Don’t store credit card information.
  • Don’t use any swipe card options.
  • Complicate your passwords.
  • Back-up data regularly and store it in a secure location.
  • Don’t click links in unfamiliar emails.

There are more, but the general gist is: be suspicious and avoid predictability.

For business security, the process is decidedly more complicated. Below are some important steps for any business owner to protect from data breaches in the coming year.

Know the Enemy

One important step is to know the threat you’re facing. As a business owner, you need to be hyper vigilant about trends in breaches, types of malware, vulnerable software, etc. One of the biggest threats in 2016 that is predicted to carry over into the New Year is ransomware. This malware gets into your computer and essentially holds your data hostage until you make a payment to the cyber hijacker. They will then give you a code to access your device again.

Other specific forms of malware are being developed all the time. Trojans are an old method, but still true, though most are smart enough not to click on links contained in suspicious emails. Still, it happens. You have to be aware of the type of bug you’re facing to be able to effective prevent it from harming your system or accessing your data.

Protect Your Business

Once you’ve come to understand the threats you face, protecting your business from data breaches starts with preventing access. The standards of good business security apply here:

  • Establish a strong firewall
  • Keep an IT professional on-staff to constantly monitor for infiltration
  • Encrypt where possible
  • Maintain PCI Compliance
  • Be suspicious of open source applications

For some industries, these basics are the first place to focus time and money. Small businesses and certain industries especially have been known to invest less time and money in business security in the past, but the technology and the resourcefulness of cybercriminals is only growing worse. Make sure you’re not the easy target or a doorway for a larger prize. Both can be costly.

The next step is to use your knowledge of specific threats against your attackers. For ransomware, the best solution is to keep constant backups that are regularly updated, particularly for precious information you cannot lose. Data that is not hooked up to an internet outlet is much less vulnerable than data on any device connected to a computer. Get into the habit of backing up information and you won’t have to pay to access your files, as you can restore and start fresh.

For threats like basic malware, train your staff to effectively recognize and avoid certain threats. Use your firewall to prevent access to harmful sites and restrict your employees to only those sites you know are not going to be harmful. If your staff is aware and your internal systems primed for the possibility of data breaches, you can better prevent infiltration.

Finally, one big aspect for 2017 is mobile access and infiltration. According to a Lookout and Ponemon Institute report, 67 percent of the organizations involved in their survey reported that data breaches could be traced back to access by their employees via a mobile device. Because of how popular mobile devices have become, businesses in every industry will need to step up their mobile access security, which may include new software and more training.

Business security technology will be vital in 2017 for any business owner who wants to avoid looking like an easy mark for cybercriminals. By investing in your security software and hardware solutions, you can remove your vulnerabilities and convince the criminals to look elsewhere for a less savvy target.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Google CC.

Tags: data security, data breaches, business security

What to Do If Your Business Receives a Form 1099-K

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 22, 2016 9:54:49 AM

form 1099k.jpgNo better way to get your mind off the holidays than to look ahead to tax season. This could be a good (or bad) distraction, depending on how well prepared you are to face Uncle Sam in April. If you are operating a business, accepting credit card payments and receive a Form 1099-K from your merchant service provider come January, you may want to keep reading.

Since the inception of the The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, businesses have been required to report year-end, gross amounts of their merchants’ credit card, debit card, gift card, and e-commerce transactions to the IRS by filing the 1099-K form, an information return. This can be particularly challenging for merchants unequipped with software to help them identify what portion of their sales, in fact, was paid by credit card. Some payment processors have developed handy Settlement Reconciliation Services (SRS) to help ease this burden, but more on that later.

Here are some helpful Q&A’s, put together by the IRS, to answer questions typically asked by merchants regarding the Form 1099-K:

I received Form 1099-K. How do I report it on my tax return?
Separate reporting of these transactions is not required. However, you should follow the return instructions on the form you are completing to report your gross receipts or sales. You should report items that qualify as a trade or business expense on the appropriate line item of Schedules C, E and F.

What information must be reported on the Form 1099-K?
The gross amount of reportable payment transactions for the calendar year and its corresponding months are required to be reported for each payee. The reporting of both annual and monthly amounts is necessary to resolve differences between information returns and tax returns of fiscal year filers. The name, address and taxpayer identification number of each participating payee must also be included on the form.

When are Forms 1099-K due?
Information reporting for payment card and third party network transactions is due to the IRS on the last day of February of the year following the transactions. If filing electronically, it is due the first day of April of the year following the transactions.

Is there a de minimis exception for Forms 1099-K by third party settlement organizations?  
There is a “de minimis” exception from reporting for a third party settlement organization with respect to third party network transactions. If payments to a participating payee exceed $20,000 and exceed 200 transactions within the calendar year they must file for that participating payee.

Where can I call if I have a question on the Form 1099-K?
Payors who have questions about the Form 1099-K itself, may call the IRS at 1-866-455-7438. Payees who have questions about the information on a Form 1099-K they have received should contact the filer, whose name appears in the upper left corner on the form.  

Although the IRS does provide businesses with valuable resources and information to help them understand the components of Form 1099-K, businesses should also be able to look to their payment processing partner for additional support in managing this process.

For example, NTC Texas currently provides its clients with access to the MerchantConnect SRS tool, giving them a quick and easy view of their credit, debit, and gift card transaction activity that was settled and reported to the IRS.

Merchants are able to access information related to Settlement Reconciliation, including:

  • Tax ID Number (TIN) Validation: ensures that Elavon has the correct TIN and legal business name on file to avoid IRS-mandated backup withholding. If the information does not match, you will be directed to submit a Form W-9 online.
  • Processing Volume: access to monthly transaction activity reports including chargebacks, credits, returns, and other related expenses.
  • Clear and Simple Reporting: reports are easy to understand and roll-up monthly, quarterly, and annually for up to 4 years.
  • Electronic 1099K: merchants can sign up to receive their Form 1099K electronically to avoid postal delays or delivery and security issues.

With proper research and the right payment processing partner, businesses should be able to easily segment their electronic payment activity and protect themselves from any conflict with the IRS. For more information on Form 1099-K see the full General FAQs on Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Pexels at Google CC.

Tags: Form 1099-K, Tax season 2017

Business Tech Trends for 2017

Posted by Courtney Lewis on Dec 15, 2016 9:15:42 AM

business tech trends 2017.pngTech trends in 2016 kept everyone on their toes, but business tech 2017 promises some real enhancements to currently established tech favorites. In fact, many tools that seemed monumental only a few short years ago have lost some of their luster. They’re in need of a good polishing up with new levels of functionality—and companies like Apple are going to lead the charge, along with a thousand brilliant startups across the country. What this means for you: Fun is on the horizon.

Apple is one of the most well-known companies in the world—and you can continue to expect great things from them in the next few years. According to Time Magazine, iPhone sales have leveled out, making only $54 million this year versus the $70 million they made in the same quarter last year. Even so, Apple is a strong company, and they’re in it for the long haul. Currently, Apple is sinking somewhere around $10 billion into the development of new tech.

No doubt, the return on that investment will not disappoint, which means means new, cooler toys for tech savvy men and women the world over. Of course, research and development (R&D) does take time and can spin off into any number of directions. Until we see exactly what 2017 has in store, below is a list of the more predictable tech trends you can expect and anticipate within the coming year:

  • Anything you want at the touch of a button. Basically, by the end of 2017, you’ll be able to get nearly anything you want on demand, most via phone apps to make the process even easier.
  • Big data with a human element. While marketers have made fantastic use of the numbers-only big data that has been instrumental in the market within the last couple of years, business tech 2017 will see a trend towards humanizing that information with more qualitative, anecdotal data collection than ever before.
  • Smarter, better machines. Both machine learning and automation are listed as major trends for business tech 2017. Machine learning speaks to the ability of a computer to utilize data to make recommendations by reviewing trends and responding with predictions and further details. It’s a stepping stone on the path to artificial intelligence (AI). Automation is just as valuable, allowing machines to take on a variety of tasks and complete them automatically. Ultimately, 2017 will see advanced technology making our jobs faster and easier.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Pokemon Go was the phenomena that captured everyone’s fascination for most of early 2016, with over 100 million downloads. The game was based on an AR platform that used reality as a base and augmented the experience with graphic elements. We also saw a huge uptick in VR platforms and options, many of which are possible with just your smart phone and a headset. Look for even more of these tools in the coming year.
  • Smart home tech and interconnected technology. While the technology has been around for years, further development of apps and programs that allow for smart home interconnected tech hasn’t come to fruition yet. It’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, with too few companies collaborating on major projects. For business tech 2017, however, changes will likely arise and new advances will be forthcoming on the smart home front for the new year.
  • Talking systems. First it was Siri, then came Cortana and Alexa. There will likely be more of these talking, interactive systems in the future. Without a doubt, these pre-programmed personalities provide easy, quick, and—sometimes—fun access to information. Are they just step away from full AI? Well, maybe a few steps, but no doubt the development is underway.

While there’s no guarantee that any or all of these trends will take root within the coming year, most have already begun to sprout. They could die out quickly—to be replaced with something far cooler—or they could entrench themselves and dig in deep. Regardless of the outcome, 2017 promises to be a fascinating year for technology development. 

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.

 

Tags: business technology, 2017 business tech

Five Key Things That Define Valuable Business Partnerships

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 7, 2016 9:48:35 PM

business partners.jpgBuilding a strong business requires a multi-faceted approach and the ability to juggle conflicting priorities. As with most things in life, balance is the key. That concept is even more important for businesses built around a partnership or several partnerships, which add extra complications to an already difficult task. Through those collaborative relationships, however, business owners can often discover an even greater potential for success.

Business partnerships are a little like a marriage in some ways. First, you need a “getting to know each other” stage. It’s important to take a little time to get to know one another, test boundaries, and develop ideas together before taking the plunge of starting a business. While occasionally two or three people meet and spontaneously generate ideas that end in real success, that sort of thing isn’t common. Actually, that more accurately describes the dream of a partnership than the reality.

In reality, a successful and valuable business partnership typically grows out of a long-term business relationship, where both parties are familiar with the style, expectations, and modus operandi of the other. Business partnerships require constant communication, self-examination, and regular assessment of commitments and professional goals for each partner. The relationship is essentially a melding of two or more peoples’ business lives.

And like marriages, business partnerships have the most amazing potential: they can go amazingly, spectacularly wrong—or they can be gloriously right. To achieve the latter, you need to be honest with yourself from the start, and make sure both parties have certain qualities and expectations in common.

Below are five major aspects of good business partnerships, many of which can and should be applied in other ways across your business.

Share a vision. When embarking on a business venture with a partner, you obviously need to agreed on the nature of the venture and the general shape of the undertaking, but building a successful business partnership is about so much more. A shared understanding of the desired evolution for the business and for the partnership is necessary to get the most out of a collaborative venture, according to the Bridge Strategy Group. Without this vision in common, the partners may find themselves at cross-purposes, enacting decisions and investments that counteract one another.

Discuss the hard stuff. Don’t be afraid to talk about the difficult aspects of the business—and to fight it out a little, if needed. To be successful, you can’t shy away from discussing money, assets, fears, and concerns. These topics are essential, both for personal ventures and professional ones. Especially in the case of business partnerships, you need to be on the same page as one another in order to work through difficulties and plan effectively.

Build a partnership based on history and trust. Jumping into a business venture with a virtual stranger is obviously a bad idea. Similarly, trying to start a business with someone who you’ve only known as a friend, not in a business sense, could also be a mistake. Before launching into a full business undertaking, make sure that you’ve worked with your potential partner on smaller business deals and undertakings prior to a larger one. There are aspects of your partner’s style and attitude that you won’t see until you’ve interacted with them on a professional level. Take the time to feel that out and develop a sense of trust with one another before sinking money and time into a bigger project.

Be authentic and thought-provoking, but be willing to compromise. As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, good business is about playing to your strengths and knowing yourself well enough to understand when to stand your ground and when to walk away. The same applies with a good business partnership. You have to pick your battles and be yourself, but also understand that you are working in cooperation with another. You chose to operate with a partner for any number of reasons, but once it’s done, the only way for that partnership to operate successfully is for both parties to be respectful of the other’s ability to contribute to the partnership and bring something valuable to the table. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, but also pay attention to the topic. Is it really all that important to you? Speak your mind, but be prepared to bend more often than not.

Listen. Finally, the most important quality that both sides of an effective business partnership must embrace is listening to one another. This may be seem like common sense, but consider the business owners and entrepreneurs you know. They’re outspoken individuals, leaders in their respective circles and fields. They are full of ideas and thoughts—and usually, they like to talk. Most of them won’t realize that they’re not listening when they’re passionate about their topic. In the end, however, the most successful master the skill, and the best business partnerships are based around good listening skills and mutual respect.

Whether you’re considering a small business venture with a single partner or you’re developing  a larger web that combines several different entities working together, business partnerships in all spheres operate on the same basic principles listed above.

As with any business decision, think carefully about the outcomes you expect from a business partnership and work hard to communicate those desires prior to getting started. Most importantly, get everything in writing – this practice keeps all parties accountable for deals made and helps avoid potential conflicts and misunderstandings.Once you’ve found the working relationship your feel confidence in, stay focused on communication, a common vision, and creating an environment of mutual respect. The results could be well worth the time and effort. 

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.

Tags: Business Partnerships

How Well Has America's Transition to EMV Really Gone?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 30, 2016 11:07:13 AM

chip card.jpgNo one expected the transition to EMV technology in the U.S. to be easy. Those expectations have largely been met, as the full change to EMV-only terminals and cards, has occurred much more slowly than analysts predicted.

Currently, roughly 80 percent of consumers have chip and pin cards that are EMV ready, while only 30 to 40 percent of U.S. merchants have active EMV devices that are capable of processing them. On the plus side, however, is that Mastercard has already reported a 60 percent drop in counterfeit fraud since the liability shift last year—which means millions of consumers enjoyed a fraud-free year instead of the alternative.

The liability shift occurred in October of 2015, when merchants all across the U.S. were given an ultimatum: either update your payment card processing system for EMV chip and pin cards, or take full responsibility for any theft or fraud that occurs in the course of your business. As you might expect, businesses everywhere have worked hard to transition to the new system, which has effectively limited fraud in Europe for more than a decade.

Unfortunately, despite some results, the biggest problem experienced by many merchants who did update their systems for chip and pin technology is that they cannot use it. According to a report published by the Natonal Retail Federation(NRF), of the 86 percent of retailers who expected to have EMV terminals installed by the end of 2016, 57 percent succeeded in getting the equipment in place, but they can’t use the equipment until it is certified by credit card companies.

While Visa and Mastercard are working diligently to streamline the certification process, a lack of qualified testing staff and other ongoing barriers are limiting their effectiveness. Merchants who find themselves stuck in the middle of this process are growing more and more frustrated as a large number of chargebacks have occurred due to EMV systems that are not enabled.

In the coming year, EMV terminal and chip and pin card use will most likely increase substantially as the lingering issues are resolved. But there are more changes related to payment systems and fraud prevention that consumers and businesses can expect in 2017. Be on the lookout for the following trends:

  • Point-of-sale (POS) systems that have been integrated or semi-integrated with the gateway or processor, as well as internal management systems, will have the advantage in problem-solving and implementing solutions. With this integration, businesses can offload sensitive information directly from the POS to the gateway or processor.
  • While many businesses will continue to upgrade to EMV systems, many small businesses, 70 percent of them according to a CAN Capital study, have no plans to embrace the chip and pin technology. The upfront costs are too great, while the chance of fraud, in their minds, is too low. Time will tell if their decisions pay off.
  • While payment processing using near field communications (NFC), known as contactless payments and other mobile payment options have proven both faster and, with several layers of encryption, sometimes safer than EMV, the demand hasn’t taken hold of the population just yet. One might predict that is the next step for U.S. payment systems, but no one knows for certain.

If your business is awaiting certification for your EMV system, stay vigilant.   If you’re a small business owner who thinks the cost to transition to chip and pin is too expensive, reconsider, the risk far outweighs the cost.  The more layers of defense in place to protect your customers, the better—and the less money you end up paying out of pocket later if you or your client becomes a victim.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Google CC.

Tags: EMV, Chip and PIN, Chip Cards

Black Friday Strategies for B2B

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 16, 2016 9:32:45 AM

B2B Black FridayBlack Friday and Cyber Monday are by far the biggest retail days of the year. Last year, retail shoppers reportedly spent over $4.45 billion between Thanksgiving and Black Friday alone. Cyber Monday saw an additional $3.07 billion in retail sales, according to the Adobe Digital Index. For most retail businesses, the combined three days feel like Christmas and a miniature Armageddon all wrapped in a profitable package.

But how do B2B businesses leverage Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events to their advantage? As a B2B business, you are in a unique position, regardless of the product or service you offer. Ultimately, you have two customers: the business and the customers they target. Your services, either directly or indirectly, must appeal to both—which is no small marketing challenge.

In the case of a B2B Black Friday plan, you’ll need to be more proactive than ever before, and your most fruitful approach will be finding ways to arm your retail clients for the onslaught of shopping mayhem that will descend on their stores during those Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

Plan Ahead
Unlike B2C, B2B businesses rarely consider the profitability of Black Friday. Taking a proactive approach in developing a plan for this time of year can give you an edge over your competitor. First you may need to do a little research. Reach out to your customer’s in advance, ask specific questions – “Is there anything we can do to help take any burden off the next few weeks? Were there any issues you faced last year that we may be able to address now?” - Asking the right questions can help everyone process the details and begin to anticipate the demand over the next month. 

Try Different Marketing Tactics

Whether your primary marketing tactics utilize email, social media, or Google AdWords, this season may be time to try a different tactic in either the quality, offer, or format of your marketing. For B2B businesses marketing to retail, figure out the most useful product or service you can provide your client, and help them get through their own Black Friday. Then, offer your own discounts or sales tactics to reel in a new contract, referrals, or draw in additional business.

One B2B owner actually offered a free seminar, just one out of the series she normally provides, and found that 41 percent of the individuals who signed up had no previous exposure to her brand.

Adjust to the Needs of Your Clients

One of the core elements in business is anticipating and predicting your customers’ needs. For instance, an overabundance of sales-targeted emails are probably slamming into your clients’ inboxes as you read this. And they’re probably ignoring most, if not all of those messages in a bid for self-preservation and sanity.

Find a way to connect with them through the noise. Step around them, offer solutions, make phone calls to standing clients, and consider creative discount programs to get them engaged. Give a gift. Throw a party. Spread festivity and cheer—and make sure your brand reaches those who can appreciate it most.

Communicate Holiday Availability

Another consideration this time of year: vacation schedules or extended-hour services. Make sure your clients know when you’ll be available. Obviously, they need to be aware if they can’t call on you during a scheduled vacation period. Even more, they need to know if they can should an emergency occur. Depending on the nature of your business, your B2B Black Friday fortune could be made or lost because of availability.

Because B2B businesses vary widely, the best approach for a B2B Black Friday strategy is going to require more creativity than the average retailer. Most importantly, don’t chalk this up as a wasted holiday for your business. Whether you realize it or not, there are business owners out there who need what you have to offer. They just need a little incentive.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Google CC.

Tags: B2B, Black Friday

Sign for Credit Card Purchases—With a Selfie?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 9, 2016 2:47:50 PM

selfie paymentsIn a digital world beleaguered by cybercriminals and hacker elements, credit card companies and consumers are constantly on the lookout for new, more creative methods to prevent payment card fraud. A new card protection idea currently being tested by MasterCard may be the most creative concept yet: selfie ID for online purchases.

The technology being developed right now by MasterCard for online purchases would allow consumers to use either fingerprint or facial recognition to securely authorize credit card payments. By design, these selfie payments or fingerprint scans would actually be fairly secure—if the technology works as they anticipate.

According to a recent CNN article, the designers have created a program that runs a computer scan for timing and authenticity, ensuring the photo was taken at the time of the purchase and not found online previously. Fingerprint scanning could be conducted through new smartphones with finger scanning technology, including iPhone 6 and 6s.

Sources say that MasterCard is even now working on other ways to verify that online purchases are being made directly by cardholders, instead of individuals who may have stolen card information for fraudulent use. They’re taking the pursuit of absolute security very seriously and looking into some creative technologies and ideas, such as monitoring the customer’s heartbeat, iris scans, and voice recognition.

For now, the selfie payment option is still pending release in the U.S. USA Today reported in October 2015 that more than 200 employees of the First Tech Credit Union were putting the software through its paces. All in all, the trial runs must have been a success because a press release from MasterCard was issued on October 4, 2016 indicating a 2017 worldwide rollout date. Already, 12 European countries are working with the new selfie payment technology.

The actual operation of the system may be the most ingenious part. It relies heavily on mobile technology, similar to a password verification text that you would receive from your bank or another online account when you log in from an unfamiliar device.

In this case, MasterCard users would make sure to download a special Identity Check app. Then, each time they log in to make an online purchase using their credit card, a push notification will be transmitted to the app requesting an immediate selfie verification photo. They snap the photo, then and there, and they’re done.

By all accounts so far, the selfie payment app and verification process seems to be effective and easy-to-use. It would provide the following benefits for both consumers and businesses:

  • Additional payment security
  • Fast, easy identity checks
  • Seamless purchasing power
  • Fewer abandoned shopping carts while waiting on a third-party secure site for payment processing and verification
  • Less chance of identity theft
  • More functionality for tools like contactless payment, which are currently a major concern for security-conscious card users

As card companies continue to explore new biometric options for payment verification, consumers can expect new and more interesting security features to be developed over time. The technology we have available at our fingertips today can be dangerous, as we’ve seen with the myriad of security breaches within the last several years.

But, as the technology companies continue to develop and leverage new tools to further secure mobile payment and card payment options, consumers will discover new and innovative weapons to combat cybercriminal activity. Most likely, selfie payments are only the beginning.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Hannesdesmet Flickr CC.

 

Tags: selfie payments

How Architectural and Engineering Firms Can Better Manage Cash Flow

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 2, 2016 1:34:51 PM

architecture.jpgLike many industries, the architectural and engineering markets have had a rough few years. With the recession in 2008 and the role the housing market played in that particular economic downturn, most architectural firms have only recently started seeing profits swing back around to pre-recession levels.

According to Architectural Digest, architectural firms lost an average of 30 percent of their payroll employees during the recession and saw profits decline by roughly 40 percent in the three years following the crash. Fortunately, the process of rebuilding has helped firms realize some areas where they could improve, particularly in the arena of cash flow management.

Below are some helpful tips for any firm looking to expand or improve. By streamlining internal processes with the right technological tools for project and finance management, your firm could see improved billing returns in a fraction of the time.

Utilize technology to manage your projects more effectively.

Better cash flow management begins with removing any processes that might be damming up your revenue stream. Doing everything manually would definitely be considered part of the problem. Many firms are still stuck doing things the way they always have—but there may be a better way. New software is now available to help you improve planning management, project outcomes, and billing processes. With the right program, you can easily plan your project and effectively divide up the labor for specific milestones. While you could do that manually, many of the project management programs available make it much easier and have built-in tools to help you calculate and easily adjust plans according to unforeseen complications.

Know your customers and plan accordingly.

Your customers are all different, each with different processes for delivering payment. Make sure you understand a client’s billing process up front. You should know, for instance, whether or not they process invoices quickly or if they hang on to them until a statutory limit is met. Knowing your customers will allow you to plan and anticipate your revenue stream accordingly. Cash flow management means good planning for incoming and outgoing funds, in order to appropriately balance the ebb and flow of money within your firm. To do that, you have to know what you’re getting into with every client.

Bill monthly and stay on top of payment processing technology. 

Your customers can’t be expected to make a payment if they have not received a bill. Unsurprisingly, some architectural firms struggle to get invoices or bills out to their clients. It takes time and money to print and mail out paper bills. Today, all of that struggle can be avoided with the use of paperless technology. By using email to send out invoices and correspondence, your firm can enjoy easier billing at less overall cost. Similarly, with automated payments, your client could be charged based on a certain monthly minimum or make arrangements for past due bills. In this way, cash flow management can become a well-oiled process within your firm through the use of effective payment technology.

While many architectural firms are starting to find more solid footing within the economy again, building stronger and better is always the goal. If your firm is still lagging behind in cash flow management technology or project planning software, update sooner rather than later. You will see remarkable changes once the tools are fully implemented and integrated into your firm’s operational processes.

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Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Google CC.

 

Tags: cash flow, architectural firms