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Tips For Launching a Facebook Store

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 25, 2015 8:48:48 AM

7749079028_9867d8dfed_mYou’ve probably seen the multitude of ads, promotional pages, and general product-pushing that pop up all over the place on Facebook. It makes good marketing sense. People aren’t necessarily looking to shop but they’re cruising Facebook in search of distraction, and your products could be just the distraction they need. With that in mind, Facebook programmers decided to take it a step further.

Drum roll, please . . . . Introducing: the Facebook store.

The crazy thing is that Facebook stores, known as F-commerce, have been around since 2011 or earlier. If you’re new to the entrepreneurship gig, the existence of these stores is probably news to you. Many people know very little about creating a Facebook store or the major selling points, so here’s a bit of information that might help you get started with creating your own Facebook store and getting into the business of F-commerce and social selling.

Why a Facebook store?

Before we get into the how, it’s probably best to address the why. No doubt you’ve already set up a banging website for your business that has all the bells and whistles and will provide you with a great source for online sales and ecommerce. Go you.

And that is definitely a great foundation—ecommerce is the lifeblood of modern sales—but Facebook stores have the added advantage of being plugged directly into social media. They are great extensions of a strong marketing and growth plan and can help your business reach millions more customers than you could with a website and basic marketing promotions alone. Facebook stores also connect to:

  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus

Whether small or large, your business can get benefit from social selling via a Facebook shop, through simple exposure and access to a convenient payment portal. The more convenient, the more likely Facebook perusers are to make that quick, must-have purchase.

How to get started?

  • Pick a creation app or website. There are several to choose from online and basically these sites act as creation/support platforms and will help you connect your site to basic payment processors such as Paypal, etc. Depending on your current payment processor for ecommerce, you may want to ask their advice for a Facebook store creation site/app that supports their payment system.
  • Organize, load product images and descriptions—and make it pretty. Remember that Facebook is a social media site and many people are drawn to attractive images more readily than blocks of text. Also be sure to load up all the important details, like shipping options, and to familiarize yourself with the analytics tools. Managing your orders and analytics are key for ensuring success with your social selling experience.
  • Promote, promote, promote. While your Facebook store will be contained and easily accessible within the social media site, you have to put yourself out there and make it interesting. Consider a funny or interesting social media approach, either with strange or fascinating bits of information or very good graphics/memes. Blogs are also a good way to go when trying to drum up business in a social media setting.

The presence of a Facebook store, a place for commerce with social media, is a beautiful thing for small and medium businesses. Your business, which is probably not a major conglomerate, now has a chance to attract business in an environment that is essentially an equalizer—as long as you’re creative and active in promoting your store.

So get out there and check into your options. You have little to lose and a lot to gain by making social media work for your business in this new world of social commerce, where the most interesting and most persistent business usually wins.

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AshleyAbout 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 Jurgen Appelo @ Flickr CC.

Tags: Ecommerce

How Obamacare Increases Will Affect Businesses in 2016

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 18, 2015 9:19:27 AM

16348712205_ae6ef7e44d_bThe Affordable Care Act (2010), commonly known as Obamacare, created a major ripple effect within the American economy. While the bill was designed to create an environment where healthcare was accessible for everyone in America, it also had some unintended side effects. Many of those side effects included increased costs for both businesses and individual consumers, due to premium increases and spikes in deductibles across the healthcare market.

The bill definitely intended great things, but small businesses seem to be shouldering a great deal of the burden of those changes. Small businesses have been hit the hardest due to premium increases and new laws requiring a healthcare option for all full-time employees, depending on the number of employees a business retains. Under 50 employees, there’s a little more flexibility and the option of certain tax benefits for offering health benefits. But with 50 or above employees, a business must provide health benefits or face penalties.

These businesses, who generally could not afford to offer company insurance, would be required to make use of the federal or state marketplaces to provide employees with coverage. Some small business owners have cited these requirements as their reasons for going out of business when the bill took effect. Unfortunately, it seems the hits might get harder with reports of potential premium increases in 2016.

According to the Washington Examiner, businesses with 51-100 employees will see 64 percent of group members experience premium increases in 2016. Additionally, the members of these groups will see an 18 percent average increase in premiums, as explained by a BlueCross and BlueShield Foundation analysis.

Another issue that many individuals and businesses are facing concerns high-cost deductibles. According to a New York Times (NYT) article, the deductibles from some of the Marketplace plans are so high that many families claim the insurance is virtually useless.

“Our deductible is so high, we practically pay for all of our medical expenses out of pocket,” Wendy Kaplan, a 50-year-old resident of Evanston, Ill., told NYT reporter Robert Pear.

A few factors in creating this high-deductible situation are the required number of regularly covered wellness exams and preventive visits that are fully funded by all the plans—as in no copay or other out-of-pocket expense for these particular services. The plans must also have an overall limit on out-of-pocket costs, to ensure that serious illnesses do not lead families into financial ruin.

Even so, low premiums with high deductibles are hitting many families hard, but that’s not the case everywhere. Some states are offering plans with lower-to-no deductibles, such as in Newark where some of the plans have $0 deductible, despite the $2,000 median (meaning half the plans are above this deductible amount while half are below). The bill has affected many states differently depending on the unique business and healthcare environments already present in different areas.

With the onset of 2016 and open enrollment for healthcare taking place during the month of November, many businesses are now exploring their options for insuring their employees. In the end, much of the process of finding suitable healthcare plans for employees revolves around weighing pros and cons. A Bill is already in place for the expansion of certain benefits within the Marketplace, which could result in better options for many small businesses moving forward. As of yet, however, much is still developing and changing, and the outlook on healthcare costs for both businesses and individuals is estimated to increase across the board.

While this period of transition is to be expected, let’s hope the growing pains over the next couple of years are minimal as Obamacare settles in, because any efforts to repeal have failed. Small business owners are encouraged to look into all options and invest time researching tax breaks, credits, and every avenue available for establishing a reasonable health plan. While not ideal, there are options out there and the penalties within the next year are likely to be more costly than simply selecting a plan to adjusting the budget.

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AshleyAbout 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 Wellness GM @ Flickr CC.


Tags: Affordable Care Act

Is Your Business Capitalizing On Black Friday?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 11, 2015 10:08:13 AM

4157858997_a30215ed1f_mBlack Friday is only weeks away, and businesses everywhere are preparing for one of the biggest sales days of the year. Is your business ready?

If you’re not sure, double-check your sales plan for the day—and hopefully you have one, since this is one of the best days of the year to capitalize on customer wants and needs. If you’re still shaping a good plan for how to manage Black Friday, here are a few suggestions for honing your sales approach:

  • Check your supplies and inventory. Do you have all your best stock on hand? If not, there should still be time for most merchandise to be restocked. Don’t delay. Your customers will want and need the best you have to offer as they purchase gifts for their loved ones.

  • Have you advertised? At this time of year, especially, advertising really comes in handy. I can tell you from personal experience that my whole family gathers around the sales papers and plans our stops for Black Friday, so we can make sure we’re on hand for the purchases we most want that year. Many families have similar post-Turkey Day, pre-Black Friday traditions. Get their attention. Remind them of what you have to offer.

  • Don’t neglect in-store or online sales potentials. While many shoppers will still show up in stores on Black Friday, not all shoppers prefer this approach. Or, in some cases, they can’t—since not all of us have the day off of work. Sweeten the deal for both online and in-store patrons. Make no mistake, they will be looking.

  • Know what the competition has to offer. Especially if you’re a smaller business, you have the advantage this time of year, because most of the bigger corporate stores have already published their sales papers, and you know what they’re offering. Scope out the competition and advertise how you can undercut the big boxes.
  • Go a different approach. Remember that not everything is about traditional advertising. If you see a way to draw in your customers with a small free gift or free hot chocolate while they wait for the store to open—go for it. If you can offer a service or personalizing that allows customers to beat the crowds while still getting a good deal, they will go for it. Use social media to make it know. Ask everyone to share and spread the word about merchandise or service deals that would make great holiday gifts.

While this time of year is inevitably stressful—and Black Friday is often doubly so—especially when smaller businesses are having to compete with larger ones for sales, remember that what most customers want is actually different based on their need. Some customers might be seeking the cheapest deals and will do their best to get to the lowest prices, battling with crowds and early mornings to get what they’re seeking.

But just as many will also just want a good deal and good experience for their Black Friday. Some families, mine included, consider it a tradition. And while they’re certainly looking for the best deals they can get, they’re also open to shifting their Black Friday plans if a particular business can offer a good shopping experience with fewer lines or less pushing and shoving.

Know your customers and consider carefully what you have to offer. Black Friday, that biggest consumer holiday of the year, could be a new secret weapon for your business’s bottom line.

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AshleyAbout 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 David Porter @ Flickr CC

Tags: Business

Five Ways to Prepare Your Business For The Holidays

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 4, 2015 2:24:00 PM

15798612758_70e785a256_mYes, business owners and managers, it’s that time of year again—that time of year we all anticipate with both wonder and dread. Perhaps, it’s just the joy of the season and the fear of expanding waistlines. Or, perhaps that pool of tingling apprehension in your gut is the knowledge that this season could make a world of difference for your business.

Tis the time of year where nearly anything is possible, including growth, increased sales, and new clientele—things that are only ever potentials, unless you can make the holiday rush into the gift your small business needs.

To do that, you need to be prepared.

Below are five steps you can take to make sure your business is ready to go for the holiday season—and ready to give your customers exactly what they’re looking for.

  • Get your inventory ready. If you haven’t started already, you’ve got to begin stocking shelves now. This means checking inventory and prepping displays to draw in the best crowds with all of your best sellers. This is also a good time to do your research on other big sellers and think about expanding on your wares a bit. If you’re a specialty store, make sure you’re catering to the customers you know will be frequenting your store this holiday season and make any new items easy to see and catching to the eye.
  • Make it easy for them. You know what your best sellers are, but how about sweetening the deal. This doesn’t always mean cutting prices, but sometimes creating a pretty package deal and offering gift wrapping or a small markdown can have a big effect. If a big ticket item is going to need additional accessories or parts to make it function in the best way possible, then make sure you offer a chance at a bundle and—again—make it visible and attractive. While the holidays are all about family and expressing gratitude and appreciating love ones and the fellow man, let’s be realistic—the more attractive the packaging, the greater the draw.
  • Use all creative means at your disposal. Come one, come all events, contests, and other festivities are always popular around the holidays. You can do this by hosting a special event for your most loyal customers or you can just put out the call for an all hands sales event. Make sure to offer some kind of gift or draw to sweeten the attraction. Contests are great. Raffles are fun. Kid and family friendly events usually go over well—with the right exposure.
  • Social media: if you post it, they will come. Do not forget to use the easiest and most effective marketing tool out there—social media. Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr—whatever your business finds most effective. Or heck, all of them is probably best. Once you get your bundles, deals, creative contest ideas, and/or festivities together, let everyone know. Make sure to include graphics or memes or other creative and catchy ways to appeal to your customers. You know your customer base better than anyone, so make sure they know what you’ve got to offer in a way they won’t forget when it comes time to round up their holiday gift items.
  • Start now, think big—but cheap. The trick for smaller businesses during the holidays is a combination of good preparation and dogged exposure. Make sure you get your plans and ideas together soon, so you know what you can offer your customers as the gift-giving season draws near. And if you’re falling short of fun ideas, get the whole crew in on it. Consider having a brain storming session with your whole staff on ways to draw customers or present your wares in the best light. Your employees and staff could have great ideas and getting their buy-in on the whole experience will make it fun for everyone.

While this special time of year is certainly about more than just the items we purchase for one another, there’s no denying that we’re all drawn to giving the right gifts to the people we care about. For some, it’s an obsession that started months ago. And for your business, it’s an opportunity to expand, grow, and increase sales, as well as offer your customers the right gifts for the people they love.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It


AshleyAbout 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 CODnewsroom @ Flickr CC.

Tags: Business

Using Better Tools Means Less Time Managing Your Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Oct 28, 2015 12:46:00 PM

talech_iCT220-V2-1-1024x593We all grow up with some notion of the American Dream—this dreamy concept where we can own our own businesses and be our own bosses, if we work hard enough and stay vigilant. It’s a beautiful dream—and anyone who has set out to make it a reality knows that it’s a heck of a lot harder than it looks.

Running a business means long hours, constant management of numbers, figures, and sales strategies, and a host of other difficulties that few people consider when they follow their passion and open up shop. As amazing as it can be to see your baby flourish, getting there is a struggle for many business owners, who often find that the business takes over their lives.

The good news: it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today’s technology offers amazing management solutions for struggling business owners—and even those not struggling. Even if you have a firm hand on your business and the direction you hope to take it, the right management tools can give you even more freedom and insight into making your dream business into a reality.

Anywhere, anytime managing. For most of us, that childhood dream included a lot more flexibility than the reality of a business typically provides. However, with new cloud-based software programs, a greater degree of flexibility is now easily possible. The right software can allow you to review inventory, sales figures, employee performance, and variety of other details from any place you choose (as long as it has wifi, of course). The kids are sick and you need to work from home today—no problem. Ready to take that two-week vacation but you’re worried about being gone so long—worry not, as you can check in on your business any time you like.

Less time locked away with the numbers. The right software can also provide you with additional tools for tallying and tracking your sales data and other business details. Instead of spending hours locked away behind closed doorscrunching numbers, creating reports, and reviewing trends in order to get a better view of how your business is performing, management software and cloud-based systems linked to your Point-of-Sale (POS) data can add it all up for you. You can run reports and get a better grasp on how your business is functioning with a just a few clicks, and then, you can spend your time with customers or employees, building up your business in person instead of behind the scenes.

Increased understanding and perspective. How often do you check on your sales trends? Do you review monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly trends to better understand your customers and areas for improvement? If you don’t currently take these steps, you should. And if you don’t currently possess software to help with these tracking details, your life would be lot easier if you invested in them. Instead of tallying this information on a spreadsheet or by hand, the right software tools will track everything for you. This way, you can look at trends for the week, the month, the year, for previous years, etc. whenever you feel the need. This information can be essential for making certain business decisions and for ensuring your business is on track with your life’s goals.

If you’re not currently using management software, it might be a good time to start. You can save time, money, and much needed energy by letting technology do most of the tedious work for you. And then—just maybe—you can take some time to enjoy owning your own business, without feeling like your business owns you.

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AshleyAbout 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. .

Why Staying Connected with Customers is Great for Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Oct 21, 2015 10:01:56 AM

8464661409_32aa7a26a6_mEmails, blogs, phone calls, newsletters—businesses have a myriad of options for reaching out to customers these days. Technology makes it easier than ever to spend fifteen minutes on an email that pulls from a digital database and suddenly you have individualized marketing for every customer who’s ever signed up for more information.

Keeping in touch and updating customers on sales or changes in inventory is essential. Reaching out to your customers regularly can:

  • Stir up interest in your business
  • Remind customers about upcoming events or sales/price reductions
  • Entice customers with new merchandise or seasonal inventory
  • Inform customers about pertinent changes or news that might relate to them.

The best part is that there are nearly a hundred ways to approach your preferred customer-business relationship with today’s level of technology and connectivity. Some prefer to reach out more aggressively and regularly, using lower costs and sales to drum up business. Others prefer edgier, unique approaches, through social media or email, to emphasize the business’s personality and elicit a response from curious clientele.

The exact nature of your approach is really up to you and how you want your business to interact with customers. Consider the following options for connecting with your customers:

  • Newsletter. This can be a very flexible tool for regular communication. They can be printed for snail mail, sent by email, and shared on social media. Newsletters are also versatile in terms of content and can include details about events and products, as well as informative articles about products or services offered by your business.
  • Blog. Many websites use blogs to generate site traffic and attract interest to their ecommerce sites, which will in turn draw interest in the items there for purchase. Blogs can cover topics of interest and, with the right frequency of common keywords, your blogs can be within the first few options on any internet search, thereby drawing the right kind of interest based on your clientele.
  • Phone calls. For many small businesses, phone calls can be an effective tool, but should be used sparingly and not en masse. These should be reserved for special customers or frequent returnees. The days of excessive telemarketing need to remain in the past, but for certain purposes, a phone call can be more personal and complimentary.
  • Personalized notes/letters/invitations. As with phone calls, sometimes the personal touch will have the greatest impact, depending on the business and the occasion. Don’t be afraid to use this when it will most benefit your purpose.
  • Social media sites. Probably one of the greatest tools available for common, casual marketing purposes is social media. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, tumblr, and other sites are incredibly effective ways to create a “brand”, of sorts. Through use of these social media tools as a general projection of your company’s goals, products, services, and uniqueness, you can draw in business without using a more direct sales approach.
  • Email. Another effective, underutilized tool is email, which can be used in an un-intrusive manner to communicate and establish a connection between consumers and your business. By using interesting language and attractive concepts in both the subject line and the body of the email, as well as graphics, you can remind customers of what your business has to offer.

Any of these tools can be utilized, depending on your need. The most important trick is selecting those that are best suited to your needs and the “personality” you wish to convey about your business. From there, you must evaluate the frequency at which you feel reaching out is ideal. Too frequent and you risk annoying customers or having them disregard your messages entirely; too few and you might not catch them at just the right time.

Regardless of the methods you select, the effort of connecting with your customers is well worth the time. By dedicating only a few hours each week (maybe a bit more or less depending on your approach), you can increase sales and customer satisfaction, as well as the overall presence of your company in the general ecommerce arena.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

AshleyAbout 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 Tanja Cappel @ Flickr CC.

Tags: business tips

Why is PCI Important to Your Business?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Oct 14, 2015 9:37:00 AM

2294144289_a54db90ac5_mSecurity has become the major topic of discussion today with regard to credit cards. Just the word, “security”, calls to mind the hundreds of major, and even the minor, breaches that have occurred within the last 5 years and resulted in the theft of millions—maybe even billions—of card numbers or other Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

If that buzz word has been bouncing around in your head lately, then the concept of Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance should also have popped up. These standards, which are put forth by the PCI Security Standards Council, are designed to help businesses protect consumers from theft or data breaches by setting forth rules and regulations for handling credit card and PII information safely.

So why should PCI be important to your business? The following reasons are just a few:

Consider your customers. As business-owner, you understand better than most the reciprocal nature of the relationship between business and customer. The only way a business can be truly successful is through commitment to serving and caring for customers well. Consistently offering high quality products and services are part of the ways any business maintains a constant stream of revenue. Do you really think your customers would be interested in returning if they’re credit card information or PII details were stolen because they visited your business? Maybe, but many would seek out competitors who have invested in better security—the kind described in the PCI Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).

Failing to comply can be costly. The PCI DSS are not just arbitrary rules put forth as “suggestions”. Essentially they’re guidelines created by the major credit card companies for establishing the best possible strategies for preventing electronic theft. Failure to comply with these standards basically means that you’ve ignored the standards for basic security set forth by experts in their fields. It also means your data will be ineffectively protected and, essentially, at risk for a breach. The fact that your business is not PCI compliant and the potential loss of money to customers and financial institutions can not only affect your bottom line due to fines, lawsuits, insurance claims, etc., but it will also damage your business’s reputation. As stated above, customer confidence is huge for any business. If you fail to protect your customers by every means reasonably available—and the PCI standards are both smart and reasonable—then how can your customers have faith in your ability to protect their personal information?

Maintaining compliance also means keeping up with the times. Another major concept to consider is the fact that technology is advancing all the time. PCI compliance is the bare minimum that any business should have in place to protect its customers. Falling behind on compliance standards means that as technology advances you’ll be two steps behind the required level, which is that much farther to travel for you to catch up. You have to stay current when it comes to technology if you hope to protect your customers. As a business owner or manager, it’s a huge part of your job to keep abreast of changes as they occur—especially if you hope to maintain a successful ecommerce area in your business. Think of hackers as a new nation that has discovered iron while you are still just whittling away with sticks to make your weapons. You’re outmatched and outgunned if they decide they want to take you on. Don’t let your customers suffer because you weren’t paying attention or felt disinclined to meet up with the standard security requirements.

While there are a lot of ways to cut costs today, mostly through more efficient processes and better training, don’t try to cut costs where your technological security is concerned. It can be expensive to maintain high security standards—and some threats may require even better protection than PCI standards require—but the cost of a lawsuit or loss of business would be even more costly. Technological security should be top priority for any business today if you hope to avoid a slot on a hacker’s hit list.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

AshleyAbout 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 David Goehrig @ Flickr CC


Tags: PCI Compliance

Ransomware: Modern Day “Computer-Nabbing”

Posted by Ashley Choate on Oct 6, 2015 9:50:00 AM

382403680_15aaca38f6_mModern day hackers are a creative bunch. In the last decade, they’ve found ways to infiltrate various high level computer systems and nab countless bits of personal information for their own purposes. More recently, they’ve taken their efforts to individual computer owners using viruses called Ransomware—and they’re pretty absurdly genius, as well as a low blow to the common consumer.

Here’s how Ransomware works: instead of digging into your computer like regular Trojan horses and corrupting your files, the Ransomware viruses lock them down and charge you a regionally appropriate fee to access your information again. In a nutshell: it’s computer-nabbing. Genius, right? Undeniably so, but it’s also pretty obnoxious.

More than that, many consumers are actually paying the ransom amount because the hackers creating these viruses are setting costs at between $300 and $700, a not entirely unreasonable amount for some people—especially people who might have one or two worries about illegal downloads and prosecution.

Depending on the region, the charges will vary, almost as if the hackers intended to adjust the “ransom” to a reasonable amount for cost of living in the area. And it’s worked. According to Candid Wueest, a threat researcher with Symantec, “One group made $34,000 in its first month—that’s a pretty good income for a small group.”

Wueest also stated that there are around 30,000 infections per day around the globe. In many cases, once the Ransomware has seized a device, there’s little to be done to recover the data without payment since these groups are using state-of-the-art cryptography techniques—the same ones used by banks and online retailers all the time. Without the exact, individual decryption key to unlock the device, there’s little that can be done.

With that in mind, the most important thing for consumers is preparation. Below are a few precautionary steps you can take, in order to prevent hackers from taking your photos, documents, and other computer files as hostages.

  • Back up your data. This means more than just a cloud drive that automatically links to your computer and downloads your information to an online server. A better method is to keep an external hard-drive to regularly back-up all or most of your documents, photos, and other files. These items would be much safer without easy accessibility to the internet.
  • Make sure you’re using anti-virus software—and keep the updates current. Good anti-virus software is essential for protecting your system and your data. Without the right firewalls and protections, you’re basically open and ready for an infiltration. While it may not stop every invasion, the right software will keep all but the most advanced efforts from getting through.
  • Keep your operating system up-to-date. Don’t ignore the system updates as the reminders come in. Those updates usually contain modifications to the operating system that will help keep your data safe. Often, companies like Microsoft will analyze the different viruses as they occur and create patches that protect your system from intrusion. These patches will usually be meshed up in other little operation system fixes and adjustments, so make sure you take the time to keep your system current.

While it’s almost impossible to be completely hack proof, hackers tend to operate much like bullies or petty criminals. They are looking for easy marks. Don’t let yourself fall into that category by ignoring simple protections that could stop Ransomware from holding your computer hostage.

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AshleyAbout 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 Buster Benson @ Flickr CC.


Tags: cybercriminals

Chip Cards: Blowing up or Lagging Behind?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Sep 29, 2015 9:26:03 PM

3323417297_154f5f66b3_z-1It’s time—finally. Chip cards are becoming the new norm in the U.S., after several years of usage in Europe and other industrialized nations. Replacement cards are being sent out for accounts all across the nation to make sure cardholders are current on the new chip card standard and to ensure banks don’t take on full liability for any breaches that might occur with magnetic strip cards—which is the penalty if banks don’t update to chip cards by October 1, 2015.

Unfortunately, many experts and analysts are finding that the chip card transition is encountering more challenges than expected.

For the sake of perspective on this transition to chip cards in the U.S., consider the following statistics. They’ll give consumers and business owners a little more insight on why it’s so important for the U.S. to make this transition—and why it’s so long overdue.

  • As of 2014, 83 percent of western Europeans used cards with chip and pin technology, compared to only 7 percent of U.S. consumers.
  • France, the first country to make the switch, adopted chip card technology in the 1980s.
  • In 2014, 49 percent of data breaches involved theft of personal identifying information (PII) and cardholder data (information that could be protected by the use of chip cards, which encrypt data utilizing random purchase codes before transmitting any sensitive details).

Now, consider the current hang-ups:

  • Analysts expected a huge number of banks to spend 2015 getting caught up on issuing new cards, but as of late March 2015, JPMorgan Chase had only replaced 34 percent of its 50 million cards while Bank of America did not provide an exact number, only stating that a “majority” of its cards will be replaced by the October deadline.
  • Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that only 23 percent of all debit and credit cards will actually be replaced by the end of 2015.

In a nutshell, the majority of banks will be taking on full liability for the possibility of breaches on a large number of cards. Shops, too, run the risk of being held liable for any breaches that occur as a result of card readers lacking the necessary upgrades to process chip cards at checkout. Since time is nearly out, many banks and stores will be taking on a higher level of risk between now and a full transition to chip card technology—which might not happen until as late as 2017.

The scariest thing, though, is that many analysts say the planned approach for the U.S. isn’t even going to result in the secure, breach-proof system that the chip cards were designed to create.

Apparently, according to some credit card issuers, Americans are expected to be resistant or incapable of using the new systems in their entirety, which require a “dip” (instead of sliding mechanism) and a pin. The U.S. will be using the signature system to start with, since remembering a unique pin for purchases at a checkout terminal (different from the ATM pin) is being considered by some as too much to expect in the beginning.

At the very least, the new chip cards make it almost impossible to make physical card copies for use at retail terminals, as the encrypted chips are far more difficult to recreate than magnetic strips. Unfortunately, online retail purchases are still at risk if hackers are able to get their hands on card numbers, expiration dates, and other details.

Until a complete chip card transition is in place, many consumers are still at risk for data breaches and card information theft—and even when the system is fully installed, it’s not completely theft-proof. Still, the data from European retailers, who all switched by 2005, shows a significant decrease in stolen information. At this point, U.S. retailers and consumers would benefit from at least making it a little bit harder for hackers to make millions by stealing it from hard-working U.S. citizens, who, at this point, seem to be experiencing greater levels of theft without any way to make it stop.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

AshleyAbout 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: EMV

5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Credit Card Processor

Posted by Ashley Choate on Sep 23, 2015 11:26:00 AM

mobile_commerce2Selecting a credit card processor is one of the big decisions you’ll make when getting your business started or upgrading your business technology. You might ask yourself questions like, “Aren’t all credit card processors the same?” or “Is it really that important as long as I can accept credit cards from my customers?”

Let me give you a better question to consider:

Will your choice of credit card processor affect your bottom line?

The answer is yes. Not all credit card processors are alike and you will need to do some research to find the best one for your business. Since not all businesses function in the same way, there are many different credit card processors to choose from, each offering a slightly different system, set of fees, customer service support structure, and various other fine print details that you need to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Below are some more questions you will need to ask yourself and the credit card processor you’re considering, if you hope to end up happy with your choice in the long run.

How compatible is the card processor’s system with your store’s retail model?

I have a friend who is struggling right now to build an individualized Point-of-Sale (POS) system because his credit card processor’s system doesn’t interact well with his website. This process really stinks, and he’s had a ton of difficulty moving products online because of this challenge, which was ultimately cost him money in the long run. You need to make sure that all points of the card processor’s system match up with how you hope to use that system to make sales.

What is the fee scale and how does it work?

If you don’t ask this question, your chosen credit card processor might not explain the exact details of how they charge their fees. And make no mistake—there are different fee scales and different ways of charging. Some companies charge per transaction while others charge a percentage of total sales, and some even charge flat rate fees. If your company does much of its business through several smaller transactions, the first fee scale would be the poorest choice, because you’d end up paying more in the long run. Think smart and make sure to select the company whose model benefits your business the most.

What kind of customer support does the company offer?

Do not underestimate the value of good customer support. You never know when the system might go down or you might experience a malfunction that will require a complete reboot. Technology can be a jerk sometimes, so you need to make sure you have a backup plan. A company that offers 24/7 customer support is worth its weight in gold (but never pay them that— always negotiate). Seriously, there are good companies out there that offer great support to their clients at a good rate. Make sure you select one of those.

What is the fine print?

This question actually breaks down into a few smaller details that you should know, most of which actually relate to the contract you would ultimately sign for service. Is there a cancellation or early termination fee if things don’t work out? You need to know this just in case unforeseen incompatibilities or issues arise. If there is and you have any hesitations, you may still want to shop around. You’ve got to weigh priorities and options until it feels right. A second fine print item is the questions of processing and transaction times. You need to know when to expect deposits into your account and if there will be any delays so you can plan accordingly regarding your ability to access your funds for the business. This information should be discussed in a contract and if it is not, get it in writing so that the company is legally required to adhere to the expectations any sale rep has set for you.

What protections does the company offer regarding data breaches?

Most credit card processing companies should already have switched to EMV chip and pin processing systems or have systems that process both older magnetic strip cards and the EMV cards. This is important because it’s a new standard that all credit card companies are being required to follow and because it helps to prevent theft. You will also want to make sure the company has some kind of system in place for dealing with data breaches, some kind of backup or liability insurance—so you don’t get stuck taking all the pressure in an instance of theft or fraud. Find out what your liability is in those situations, and especially make sure you understand any circumstances under which your company might be held fully liable for any situations that might arise. Yes, it can happen to you—in fact, you should plan for it to happen so you know what you do if the worst occurs.

Part of making good choices about a credit card processor is just asking the right questions. With the information above, you should be able to get a good idea of how a credit card processor works and narrow down your options to a solid list of viable candidates. Definitely keep in mind that there are options out there and that you should shop around before you make any final—and irreparable—decisions.

  Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

AshleyAbout 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. .


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