Friday, 19th February 2021 | Management

Protecting your online presence from cybercrime

Small businesses are susceptible to cybercrime attacks. Here's what you need to know to protect your business.

Contrary to popular belief, cybersecurity is not just a problem for big enterprises. In 2019, one in five SMBs was the subject of an attack and 37% of those estimated their damage to be more than $100,000, according to an Insurance Bureau of Canada poll about cybercrime and small- or medium-sized businesses. Worse yet, cybercrime is on the rise in Canada, according to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security’s 2020 National Cyber Threat Assessment Report and the technology is becoming more sophisticated. If you’re a small- or medium-sized business, you’re not immune from attacks but there are things you can do to bolster your security. Read on to learn more about cybercrime and how you can protect your business.

Why SMBs should be concerned about cybercrime

When it comes to cybercrime, the media tends to report on large-scale hacks and major security breaches but Canada’s small- and medium-sized businesses are at as much risk—and may not be as prepared. In the early days of the internet, hackers were mostly interested in mega-corporations and government--organizations that could yield massive pay-offs when breached. These days, though, there’s money to be made from smaller businesses. If you operate un- or inadequately protected, hackers could get into your databases and they’re chock full of identities waiting to be stolen, contacts ready to be exploited, or cash for the taking. Even simpler, hackers might gain entry to your website and hold it for ransom, as happened to a Canadian insurance company in 2019. If you’re breached, the financial cost alone can be crippling, never mind the damage done to your reputation and ability to do business.

Cybersecurity basics: What you can do right now to increase security

Every business, no matter how small, should have security measures in place to protect against cybercrime. Despite this, as many as 40% of SMBs are completely unprotected. One reason for this is the misconception that cybersecurity is highly technical, complicated, and costly, but the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security asserts that this is just not true. In fact, they provide a “baseline” document outlining 13 basic measures SMBs can undertake to bring their cybersecurity practices up to date.

Make an incident response plan
A 2018 Statistics Canada survey found that 87% of respondents lacked a response plan. Plan ahead to make sure your business is able to recover quickly should you become the target of a cyberattack.

Make patching automatic
You know how your systems and applications sometimes show that there’s an update waiting? These updates are usually patches and very frequently have to do with internet security. You can increase your security by selecting “automatic updates” for your systems and hardware rather than having them installed manually.

Use firewalls and anti-malware software
Getting suitable security software can protect your system against cyberattacks.

Use secure your devices Gone are the days of using default passwords.
Configure your devices by changing your passwords, reviewing settings, disabling extras, and enabling any security features.

Codify strong user authentication
Believe it or not, one of the most common ways hackers gain access is through guessing passwords. Develop a password policy, such as using passphrases, having a minimum number of characters, and including a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Also, consider multi-factor authentication where more than one method is required to log in.

Train your employees
Raising employee awareness about the issues and training them on the proper use of company systems and machines will reduce the risk of cybersecurity breaches, many of which depend on the ignorance or haste of the user. “Most cyberattacks are socially engineered, designed to illicit a hasty response from the user, and that is when the real damage can occur,” says Humzah Khaial, Managing Director at Numentis. “Nobody expects a computer to be infected, especially when working from home, which is why it catches most people completely off guard.”

Backup and encrypt your data
If you have a secure, encrypted back-up, you can recover quickly from a security breach.

Secure your mobile devices
Many companies use mobile technologies like smartphones as part of their day-to-day business. These devices need to be secured. Consider a corporately owned, personally enabled (COPE) model or corporately owned business-only (COBO) approach. In either scenario, users should only use apps from trusted vendors.

Adopt basic perimeter defences
Networks, Wi-Fi, and VPNs are all ways to gain access to your system. Implement defences including firewalls, encryption, and two-factor authentication.

Secure cloud and outsourced IT
If you store information in the cloud or use outsourced IT services, make sure you know how sensitive information is handled, and what protections you have. Also, be aware that if your data is held somewhere other than Canada it will be subject to different privacy laws.

Secure your websites
As a customer-facing asset, your website can’t afford a breach. Start securing it with the Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS), a list of security requirements and controls to implement during all phases of web application development.

Enable access control and authorization
Most computers use accounts where an individual must enter a username and password. Make sure you have unique logins for all employees and disable old accounts when employees leave. Don’t use shared accounts. Be sparing with who has administrator access.

Secure your portable media
USB drives, hard drives, and memory cards are all examples of portable media, and they should all be secured with encryption whether they’re in the office or not. Also, be wary of drives received from others (such as at a conference) as they may contain malware. Don’t use them until they’ve been assessed.

This list may seem overwhelming but each of these actions can prevent a costly cyberattack. “It’s critical that Canadian businesses take a 360-degree approach to managing cybersecurity risk,” says Khaial, adding that a framework of prevention, protection, and education is the most effective strategy.

Read Also

How to bounce back from failure (and why that’s important)

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are experimental in nature, guided by a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” ethos, but this same adventurous spirit leaves them open to perhaps more than their fair share of failure. For those at the helm, this can be a discouraging prospect. Understanding how to process and move on from failure is absolutely crucial to your mental health and the longevity of your enterprise. In this article, we’ll share strategies on how to overcome failure to become the next in a long line of super successful business people.

Don’t take it too personally

Failure is almost always experienced personally and this feeling is only amplified in a business setting. If a project for which you are responsible fails, it’s a quick jump to thinking you are the failure. The truth is that everyone fails at some point. It’s a part of the process. 

Consider James Dyson, the vacuum mogul. His wealth is measured in the billions now, but it’s the result of more than five thousand failed prototypes. If Dyson had taken his failures personally, we might still be buying vacuum bags. 

Take responsibility—and move on

Taking responsibility can be difficult (particularly when you’re feeling like a personal failure) but it’s a valuable skill. Being able to accept your own mistakes models integrity and invites learning from the experience. That said, don’t dwell. When you are able to move on quickly from a failure you show the people that you work with that yours is a respectful workplace. 

Reflect on what went wrong 

The biggest gift of a failure is that it gives you information. Resist the urge to shy away from the situation. Conduct a postmortem to determine what caused you to fail and figure out what you’d do differently next time. In addition, dig into your business plan and processes to identify potential issues in order to avoid future problems.  

Before he opened the wildly successful American chain department store, Macy’s, in New York City, R. H. Macy weathered the failure of four dry goods stores. The move to New York was far from other dry goods competitors and his success allowed him to expand into other departments. 

Plan ahead

You have a better chance of success if you stay a few steps ahead. Don’t get bogged down in the details of a failure. Consider what success looks like to you and how will you avoid making similar mistakes in the future. 

Oprah Winfrey is among that small group of people who are known only by their first name—and she’s worth $3 billion dollars. But before she attained her financial and personal success, she was fired from her job as a TV anchor. There are countless ways that Oprah used her failures to find her success but planning ahead and visualizing her goals is certainly one of them. 

Stay focused on your customers

Another classic Oprah strategy is staying customer-focused. In her case, she knew the audiences she wanted to reach and searched out as many ways (television, movies, print) to reach them. 

Your customers are the lifeblood of your business and can’t be ignored or forgotten. Even if you’re embroiled in business turmoil, make sure you continue to serve your loyal customers. 

Manage your cash flow

It may seem mundane, especially when you’re in the throes of a failure, but keeping a healthy cash flow is imperative. Forecast the coming months. If you sense trouble, cut unnecessary spending. You can bring in more money by ensuring your invoicing is up-to-date, by accepting pre-payments or deposits, or by securing a business line of credit, cash advance, or loan. 

Try, try again

It’s not just a proverb—it’s a great piece of business advice. 

Fashion designer Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team and was later passed over for editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. At 40, she began designing wedding dresses and now her business is worth over $1 billion. How’s that for a comeback?! 

Failures take a toll but they’re a manageable—even welcome—part of doing business. When you change your perspective, the positive aspects overshadow the negative and you can move forward towards your next big success.

Management

Self-care tips for entrepreneurs to help manage your mental health

Business ownership is stressful at the best of times but when you add a pandemic that involves operating restrictions and lockdowns, the pressure can be overwhelming. Entrepreneurs handle so many responsibilities and attending to their mental health can sometimes take the backseat when in fact it should be a top priority. Entrepreneurs are actually 50% more vulnerable to mental health problems than the general population, according to a study by University of San Francisco researcher Michael Freeman. 

COVID-19 has taken an economic and mental toll on small business owners so now, as restrictions are being lifted, is the time to address and manage stress. Here are some self-care tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners. 

Be kind to yourself

Treating yourself with care is a key foundation to strengthening your mental health but what, exactly, does it entail? Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes. Watch for (and try to eliminate) negative self-talk. Anything that you can do to boost your comfort, security, and self-esteem might fall into this category. We share more specific ideas below.

Limit your social media consumption

Social media invites users to compare themselves to others. Curated accounts foster envy and even posts from family and friends can ignite negative thoughts. Set limits for yourself, bearing in mind that if you use social media for your business (and you should be!), you won’t be able to go completely cold turkey. Plan accordingly. 

Manage your screen time

Social media aside, many people use screen time to relax, tune out, and wind down. Binge watching shows on Netflix is a great way to escape, but like most things, it’s best in moderation. Stick to a set number of tech-free hours every day. 

Get outside

Even a short while in nature can act as a natural mood-booster. Take a tip from the Japanese and go forest bathing to fight stress and recalibrate. Just make sure you leave your phone at your desk.

Schedule “me” time 

Running a business is a 24/7 endeavour. It’s far too easy to go weeks or even months without a break which is why it’s essential to schedule time for yourself. Identify activities that make you feel good and block out time for them. Physical exercise, social time, and creative projects are all effective ways to benefit your physical, emotional and mental health. 

Set boundaries

Saying “no'' can be challenging for many people but when you’re running a business it can feel especially risky. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything for everyone all the time. Manage people’s expectations by being clear about your boundaries. 

Take a deep breath

It might sound silly but you can affect your mood with the way you breathe. When people are under stress they tend to take shallow sips of air. Stopping and allowing yourself a lungful can actually help you calm down and recalibrate your mood.

Develop healthy habits

Mental health is tied to physical health so one of the most effective ways to boost your mood is to break a sweat. Complement regular exercise with a balanced diet, lots of water, and sufficient sleep and you’ll be on your way to overall wellness. 

Entrepreneurs are busy people who have limited time to properly attend to their mental health. By following the tips on this list, you’ll quickly and easily tweak your lifestyle to improve your mental health.

Management

Start your holiday planning now: How to make the most of the 2021 season

Even in the best of times, the winter holiday season is a key earning period for small businesses but this goes double in 2021. After more than a year of uncertainty and lost sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian small businesses will need a prosperous holiday season this year to recoup some lost revenue. Take action towards your end-of-year success by putting the wheels in motion—now. With more than half the year gone by, now’s the time to trade your thoughts of sunscreen and sandals for stockings and snowmen and get your seasonal plans in place. Read on for three key areas small businesses should attend to now for a stellar holiday season. 

Inventory

Inventory is a constant task for retailers. You’ve got to make sure you have enough stock (empty shelves are a terrible look) but not too much that you take a loss on clearance markdowns. This problem can be compounded with seasonal stock—ask anyone who’s tried to sell an Elf on the Shelf in April. 

You can avoid the major inventory pitfalls by having a plan. 

  • Start an inventory document. You’ll have enough on your plate without trying to remember whether you ordered 100 or 1,000 units of tinsel.
  • Review last year’s sales data to refresh yourself on the tactics that worked and those that didn’t, and use that data to anticipate your sales for the upcoming season. Take note of the hot items and remove slow sellers from the list. 
  • Survey existing inventory to avoid repurchasing items you’ve already got.
  • Analyze the current year’s trends to prevent overbuying and overstock, then make a list of what you need. Remember: frequent re-ordering is a better strategy than massive one-time buys to keep your shelves full and your cash flow, well, flowing.
  • Reach out to your suppliers as soon as possible to take advantage of early-order price incentives.

eCommerce vs bricks-and-mortar

Some stores that were originally bricks-and-mortar found new markets online during the pandemic and in the coming year it’s likely that many retailers will be offering an eCommerce and bricks-and-mortar hybrid model. Plan now for how your holiday online shopping and in-store experiences will work.

Consider the following:

  • Will you provide the option to buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPUS), in addition to in-store shopping? 
  • Will you offer delivery or shipping? 
  • What about curbside pick-up?
  • How will you handle exchanges and returns?
  • What restrictions will be in place in-store, and how will you enforce them?
  • Do you plan to offer your customers sanitizer and masks? And if so, you’ll need to order them, now!

Create a logistics plan far in advance to account for the eventualities of your 2021 holiday shopping experience. 

Marketing

Marketing is always a key component for retailers going into the holidays and the 2021 season will be no different. One change, perhaps, is that social media will likely play an even greater role than in past years. During the pandemic, many retailers relied on social media to communicate with customers and sell merchandise. In fact, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research, the global social commerce market was valued at US$474.8 billion in 2020. If you plan on developing a social media content and advertising plan, consider what products or services you will be promoting on social media ahead of time. 

Aside from your social media concerns, there are also countless other marketing tactics to consider:

  • You could run ads in print or online. 
  • Direct mailings like flyers or brochures can attract new customers, as can digital mailings through email.
  • A partnership with another company might allow you to tap into their customer base.
  • Special offers, discounts, and coupons can bring in new leads.
  • A contest or other special event is effective at raising brand awareness and stimulating sales. 
  • Use your data to create holiday-themed promotions. 
  • Branch out thematically and increase sales opportunities by keeping alternative holidays like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday in mind.

There’s no shortage of holiday preparation tasks but advance prep in these three areas will get you off on the right foot and on the way to a prosperous 2021 season.

Marketing ,Management

Customer retention best practices for your small business

It’s common knowledge that it costs less to keep customers than to acquire them, but have you ever put a price on it? According to research from Bain & Company, “a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.” This, they say, is because repeat customers are likely to spend more money with your brand over time. They are also likely to refer you new business. Put simply, investing in customer service to make sure your customers have consistently positive interactions is good for your bottom line. Read on for top tips on retaining your customers.

Maintain consistent business hours

One of the joys of owning your own small business is the flexibility and ability to manage your own schedule. However, unpredictable operating hours could be costing you. Your customers are busy too and wasting their time is a quick way to lose their business. Be consistent with your business hours so customers can plan to visit with confidence that you’re open.

Keep your website and Google My Business listing up to date

If your website lists out-of-stock merchandise, last year’s pricing, or services you no longer offer, your customers may well feel like they can’t trust your business. Make sure everything is up to date, including your hours or location, across platforms. 

Offer online shopping or other options

Even though retail is reopening, many customers have become accustomed to shopping online. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sell your services or products online, but offering the flexibility of custom orders in cases where customers don’t feel comfortable returning in-store shows respect and thoughtfulness. Also, consider offering phone and email ordering with the option to pick it up or have it delivered. Seamless transactions that suit your customers' needs will go a long way to ensuring you get repeat business. 

Communicate with your customers

Your website, social media, email, and even newsletters are all ways to communicate with your customers. Figure out which works best for your industry and reach out. Regular communication keeps your business top-of-mind, but make sure you don’t flood your base with overly frequent messages. 

Train your employees around customer service 

Think of your team as brand ambassadors—because that’s what they are. Your employees are the face of your business and how they interact with your customers will inform your reputation. Make sure your employees are trained to provide top-notch customer service.  

Get personal

Nobody likes to feel like they’re just a number. Take the time to learn your customers’ names and a little about their lives. Encourage your employees to take time with your customers rather than rushing them to the till. A little human interaction goes a long way.

Reward loyalty

Loyalty programs can be as simple as a punch card or as complex as a multinational campaign. Giving your customers a little extra when they return is an effective way to keep them coming back, while showing your gratitude for their business. Points programs and discounts are easy-to-implement strategies that will make your customers feel valued. 

Resolve issues quickly

Perhaps a product doesn’t work as intended or a service doesn’t meet expectations. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things go wrong. These occasions are opportunities to deepen customer loyalty. If you can resolve the issue quickly to your customer’s satisfaction you’ll build trust with your customer so they feel confident enough to return next time. 

Show gratitude

Many consumers have demonstrated their willingness to support small businesses, especially right now. Acknowledge that you appreciate them. A simple thank-you goes a long way and a grateful approach will help ensure your customers keep coming back. 

So much of customer retention comes down to simple customer service. Follow these guidelines to give your customers a positive experience every time they interact with you. Your reputation and your bottom line will thank you for it. 

Management

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