Building Awareness about Cyber Security

Cyber security has been at the forefront of recent discussions. The latest ransomware attack, WannaCry, highlights the critical importance of creating a cyber strategy for your business. Do you know the root causes of most data breaches? Almost half the result of criminal or malicious attacks, however, human error accounts for roughly one-fourth of the breaches.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, small businesses are especially vulnerable since they are viewed as soft targets by cyber criminals.  Even though hackers may not realize immediate financial gains through system penetration, small businesses may provide entry points to other systems with significant advantages. For instance, let’s say a smaller business does contract work for a larger company. If the small business has to log-on for any automated or computer-related activities and their system is compromised, the hacker could use the log-on credentials from the small business to penetrate the larger companies system. Once access is gained, the hacker can launch malware, ransomware, or infect the system with a virus. They could also take the exact same steps towards penetrating another system if  it was felt that an even greater reward was at stake.

An important item to remember is that a breach is not always immediate. Sometimes a system has been penetrated weeks or months before the malicious attack actually begins.

One way to manage your business’ risk is to identify what information your business Cyber frameworkuses and stores. Create a list with each of type of information and ask yourself, ‘what would happen to my business if … ‘. Once you have written down various answers, add a numeric value to each item from most to least important.  Next, identify who has access and control to your business’ information. No matter how small your company is, individual accounts should be set-up for each employee. That helps ensure accountability if something should happen. Remember, identification is the first step in creating a cybersecurity framework to safeguard your business from potential hacks. Additional posts will reflect the other key areas highlighted in the adjacent graphic.

 

Women Entrepreneurs

If you know of a woman entrepreneur, please share this information with her. Ernst & Young is hosting a competition looking for high-potential women entrepreneurs. Their program  is looking for scalable businesses that they can help nurture and grow.

According to the website, the Entrepreneurial Winning Women executive leadership program helps with the following areas:

  • Expand entrepreneurial knowledge with the latest information, research and executive dialogues about business strategies and practices
  • Identify potential partners, strategic alliances, customers and suppliers as well as prospective sources of private capital
  • Provide access to informal, one-to-one guidance and support
  • Strengthen their executive leadership and business skills and identify opportunities to grow through meetings with senior advisors and seasoned entrepreneurs
  • Increase national and regional visibility for themselves and their companies among corporate executives, investors and the media

Don’t procrastinate! The deadline for applications or nominations is June 9, 2017. Here is a link to the website for more information: https://go.ey.com/2r9MH2I. Good luck!

Good Example of Marketing

Here is another great example of effective marketing. Many companies are trying to align themselves with social movements but have been unsuccessful at their attempts (ahem … the Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner that caused such an uproar). A stumbling block for businesses is that their message is not considered authentic nor does it resonate with the intended audience. There have already been numerous critiques of the Pepsi ad – and that is not the point of this post. We want to emphasize how to effectively communicate with audiences in meaningful ways. Here is a great example by Heineken. Notice, that they do not highlight their product until the end of the video.

Price Deception: Have you become a victim?

I hope this post gets shared among your professional or personal networks. It’s applicable for both the business community (you cannot deceive consumers with your pricing strategies) and for consumers (pay attention to the details of your purchase).deception

Like most women, I enjoy shopping … unless it’s for a vehicle. I have never found the process enjoyable, despite our ability to peruse vehicles online. One of our sons has been on the quest for a vehicle and found one he was interested in. We visited the dealership and it appeared to be just what he was looking for. He planned to purchase it and drive it home that evening. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. I won’t disclose the name of this auto group but my favorite search engine revealed they have over ten locations in Illinois and two in the Midwest. Therefore, they have plenty of experience and should not only know the law, but comply with it. The focus of this post is on a term called “deceptive pricing”. If you are not familiar with it, it basically means that you cannot try to influence a consumer’s purchase decision by lying to them or misleading them into thinking they are paying a lower price for something when they are not. Federal law prohibits the use of deceptive pricing (https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/deceptive-pricing). This particular auto group appears to pride themselves on this type of tactic.

Here’s a quick overview of the scenario: Every vehicle has a blue sticker providing a brief description of an automatic “plan” that’s included with the purchase. The price is $995 and supposedly helps protect your vehicle against theft. The salesman proudly claimed that it can reduce your car insurance by $10 per month. After test driving the vehicle, we decided to move forward with the purchase. After all of the additional expected fees (sales tax, license plates, etc.), they added on $995 for that theft protection plan. Realistically, the vehicle in question does not make the top of the list for those reported stolen. And, after all, isn’t that one of the reasons why we insure our cars? I didn’t feel that package was worth the $995 price tag and asked that the device be removed. The car salesman told me they couldn’t remove it. I had no choice in the matter – it was automatically applied to every car they sell. I was shocked to think this was adding almost $1,000 to the cost of the vehicle for our son – and it was something we didn’t want/need. For anyone who knows me well enough, I wasn’t just going to accept that and leave it alone. After all, that was $1,000 being added to the purchase price! If it was $50 or $75, I probably wouldn’t have argued my point. We told the salesman that was a deal breaker and we were leaving. The general manager got involved and proceeded to tell us the exact same story as the salesman. Once again, we said that was a deal breaker. As we were walking away, the general manager came out after us. Guess what? Though he couldn’t eliminate the inflated charge, he could make other “accommodations” that would reduce the price by $1,000. That didn’t change our mind and we left. All along both the salesman and manager were adamant that they have very competitive pricing. What they didn’t want to disclose is what’s really going on here – and that is deceptive pricing. After we got home, we checked other vehicles this particular auto group has online and, sure enough, it appears they use this practice at all of their locations.

I revisited their website and nowhere is this anti-theft package for $995 discussed. Even when I searched their site for the term “theft protection” nothing appears. If this is such a valuable perk, wouldn’t you think it should be part of their marketing efforts or value proposition as to why a consumer should do business with them? Perhaps they could provide customer testimonials of how the device saved their car from being stolen? Maybe that type of benefit would allow them to compete on something other than price. But you and I both know the reason behind that notion. No one would purchase it if it was optional.

Here is what I surmise they are doing. The price of every single car is increased $995 from the advertised price to help cover their operational costs, which positively impacts their bottom line. That way they can say their prices are competitive but that’s not the case. If the real price was revealed, you may take your business elsewhere. The paperwork shows the price you agreed upon and then, boom, your price is automatically increased by almost $1,000. This isn’t fully disclosed until right before finance is involved to complete the transaction. You must pay close attention as it is quickly skimmed over when they are going over the price breakdown. Naturally, this is after you have completed all of the necessary paperwork because they typically have you hooked at that point. Let’s do an easy calculation: if each location happens to sell ten cars per day, that’s $10,000 each store pockets towards their bottom line. Since they have roughly 16 locations that amounts to $160,000 that they could be raking in every single day through deceptive pricing. Multiply that per month and over the course of a year it could bring in several million dollars just through deceptive practices. That certainly adds up to a large amount of money for something that most consumers won’t notice. With the volume levels an organization like this is able to purchase at, I would be shocked if the cost of the installed sensor is more than $100.

Now here’s what you can do. I firmly believe in the power of viral communication. Now that you are aware of this practice, I hope you will start the momentum by alerting people you know. I will be thrilled if I can help prevent one consumer from falling prey to these types of tactics. As they say, consumers beware!

Perhaps the Illinois Attorney General’s office should be notified about this scam or a class action lawsuit should be initiated. I wonder how many thousands of consumers in the northern Illinois area have fallen prey to this fraudulent practice …

Insight into Starting an Artisan Business

Recently an aspiring entrepreneur asked poignant questions about my prior business. He Mandi-Woven Homecoming Dress-croppedalso asked me to shed light on important lessons I learned along the way. Hopefully this same information will be helpful to you or someone you know who is contemplating whether or not to start a business.

How did I start the business? Initially I had a full-time job allowing me to “boot strap” or start the business with my own money. It is best to save money towards the launch of your business or continue with your full-time job for the first year or so. A rule of thumb is to have enough savings to cover your salary and living expenses for at least one or two years. Anticipate unforeseen expenses you encounter along the way!

How much money is required? There is enormous fluctuation in the amount of money required to start a business. Some industries are complex and require substantial investments, certifications or licenses whereas others have minimal required investments. I was lucky in that sense. Since I was launching an artisan business it allowed me to get started for $500. I had already accumulated some of the tools and machinery needed which drastically lowered the costs. Some businesses require $10,000 or more for the initial launch. Be sure and do your research.

How long did it take me to make money? My business became profitable within approximately 1 ½ years. However, I did not collect a salary until about my third year in business. Profits I made were invested into the business, allowing for continued expansion of operations.

How did I build a customer base? Initially my business targeted two separate sectors. Obviously, I was at a disadvantage from the onset due to the low investment I had to get the business off the ground. I thoroughly studied the industry and determined that one particular segment allowed much easier access than the one I wanted to focus on. Therefore, I heavily concentrated on the sector that had a lower barrier-to-entry. This strategy allowed me to quickly connect with consumers and rapidly build a customer base. I simultaneously worked on the other sector as that took much longer to penetrate. The industry I was in had minimal repeat customers so it was important to identify the circles or clusters as well as the influencers. After that, the business was solely grown through organic, word-of-mouth campaigns. The first advertising I did was around year seven when I started expanding my business regionally.

Do I have suggestions for determining a business’ location? If possible, I encourage businesses to initially start with a home-based business. This keeps the overhead costs to a minimum while allowing you to really work through your idea as you build your business. It helps mitigate your risk until you learn whether or not consumers will be interested in your products, if there are seasonal fluctuations to account for, and if your profit margins are what you anticipated. After your model is proven successful and you are ready to expand operations, it is easier to identify the correct type of location that puts you in close proximity to your customer base. With all of the technological advances, it’s tougher to spot if someone has a home-based business.  New businesses tend to make a major mistake by signing a multi-year lease on a storefront that requires a personal guarantee. That means if the business fails, you are required to personally pay for the remainder of the lease.

Would I start a business again in the future? It is dependent upon various circumstances. Right now I am not planning on it, although I have had some pretty cool ideas that I have been curious about exploring. When I was teaching, I told students about niche opportunities within their field and how they could capitalize on voids in the marketplace. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I owned a business and it was at a perfect time for me but it was a lot of work. People underestimate how much time is involved in running a successful business and the worries that accompany it. Yes, the rewards are wonderful but it takes a great deal of dedication.

What important lessons did I learn? There were a ton! But three major ones come to mind. The important thing is to make sure you are always learning. Don’t ever feel that you know it all. I made the mistake of working “in” my business instead of “on” it. Since I was at a disadvantage for the initial lack of investment I had, that meant working that much harder. I became accustomed to handling everything myself. Our city did not allow home-based businesses to have employees which further complicated matters. Obviously, that curtailed my ability to utilize employees so, instead, I was able to supplement work through subcontractors. No matter what, my ability to concentrate solely on growing the business was limited. Instead, I became too involved in the specific details of each project. Business owners need to concentrate “on” their businesses and not be bogged down by the minutia of the projects. You can work on certain aspects of a project, but there should be a hand-off point of which the work goes to employees to finish up.

The second and third points go hand-in hand. Cash is king . . . there is no way getting around it. Your business will likely end if you run out of cash. The biggest lesson I learned is that even though inventory is considered an asset to the company, it drains your cash. Do not look at it as an investment. There is a lot that can happen to inventory causing it to lose its value. My business had a comfortable profit margin but I almost ran out of cash. At the time I didn’t understand how I was profitable and making money yet my cash was being depleted. My accountant quickly realized that I had excessive inventory which was depleting my cash reserves. As a result, I had to adapt how I purchased goods. So another good lesson is to ensure you have qualified professionals working alongside you to assist with areas you may not be as knowledgeable about. Our society has grown accustomed to relying on results from a search engine query to answer specific questions, but there are likely contributing factors that may affect the situation. That’s why professionals, such as attorneys or accountants, are so important.

Through the years, I have met numerous people who financed their business with credit cards. Luckily, I didn’t fall into this trap as it can be detrimental to the well-being of your business. Occasional purchases are fine, but only if you can pay off the balances within a month or two. Do not finance your business with credit cards! The interest will begin to cripple your business and, if it keeps accumulating month after month, your business may begin to suffocate. Look for lower cost alternatives, even if that means you have to “settle” for the time being. Look closely at each expense to see whether or not you really need it or if a purchase can be postponed.

In conclusion, it is important to seek the guidance of individuals with relevant industry experience. It may be smart to form an advisory board that can help round out your knowledge. Understand that a business does take a lot of work but generally provides owners with a wonderful opportunity filled with adventures. Don’t be afraid to take that first step!

Importance of Independent Businesses

Our nation has a plethora of skilled bargain hunters. A whopping 79 percent of AmericansMain Street 25 and older categorize themselves as bargain shoppers and 83 percent compare products online before they make a purchase[1]. Roughly 36 percent[2] of Americans admitted to feeling guilty if they pay full price for an item.

Comparisons between various cultures often reveal surprising results when it comes to workmanship and originality. A survey[3] provided insight about intrinsic values driving purchasing decisions between American and Chinese consumers. The survey was geared towards luxury purchases because that is normally where higher quality components or individuality become the forefront compared to items that are mass-produced. It’s amazing the vast differences between how the two distinct cultures view craftsmanship. The Chinese, whose business model is synonymous with mass production, do not solely base their purchasing decisions on price whereas that is a dominating factor for American consumers. An article in the Chicago Tribune[4] highlighted this sentiment revealing that U.S. consumers gravitate towards cheaper items regardless of where they are made. Yes, it’s great to get a fantastic bargain, but at what expense? In many Asian countries, where many of the mass-produced items are manufactured, forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking still exists and allows large companies to sell their products so cheaply. The International Labour Organization[5] estimates that 9.5 million people in the Asia Pacific region are victims of forced labor. The organization also reports that there has been a significant spike in debt bondage.

One of my colleagues just returned from Italy and showed me an awesome pair of hand-made sunglasses he purchased from a street side vendor. I have worked with hundreds of artisans through the years and have never met anyone that hand-made sunglasses! The workmanship was impeccable and the price was in line with what a higher-end pair of sunglasses would cost from a major brand in the United States. I cannot imagine the loss America will face if we lose the craftsmanship that has been the backbone of our nation for centuries.

Luxury products

Recently I was awaiting the arrival of attendees for a meeting and had a bit of extra time. I was in a small Chicago suburb that I hadn’t been in for a while so I took advantage of the opportunity and walked around the downtown area while I waited. This suburb always had a thriving downtown area loaded with independent businesses. Historically, it has been a model community for what successful downtown districts should resemble. I was saddened to see how many storefronts had “For Lease” signs in them or brown paper covering the windows. A vibrant restaurant scene still exists but the independent businesses are disappearing from the landscape. According to data obtained from the U.S. Census, new business formation is beginning to reach pre-recession levels which should be good news for local communities. Yet, the jobs created from these businesses have declined since the late 1990s. This is relevant because it means many remain as non-employer businesses due to limited opportunities for growth. Data indicates there are roughly 7.5 million establishments in the U.S. of which 3.5 million have under four employees. The graphic below represents employment gains and losses from new businesses formed and those that have ended during the period of 1993-2015.

US Census Employment gains and losses

With price solely dominating American’s purchase decisions, no wonder independent businesses across the United States are experiencing difficulty maintaining their profitability or hiring additional staff which, ultimately, leads to a decision to close their doors. It is almost impossible for smaller entities to compete on price with larger businesses, since they primarily purchase mass-produced items in large volumes.

Over the last couple of years in America there has been a stronger push for locally sourced food. Numerous restaurants around the country are striving towards “farm to table” menus which feature products made throughout their area. Hopefully we can carry this concept further to the artisan and independent business community. Everything shouldn’t always be about the best bargain or the bottom line. Other important factors also need to be considered. Hopefully next time you think about a purchase, you won’t solely base that decision on price.

 

[1] Boston Agent Magazine, October 8, 2015. Survey: Americans Bargain Shop for All Things – Except Loans. https://bostonagentmagazine.com/2015/10/08/survey-americans-bargain-shop-for-all-things-except-loans/

[2] Consumer Reports Magazine, April 30, 2014. American’s bargain-hunting habits: What shoppers will and won’t do to save a buck. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/04/america-s-bargain-hunting-habits/index.htm

[3] Jing Daily, December 5, 2014. China’s luxury consumers buy for quality while Americans seek bargains https://jingdaily.com/chinas-luxury-consumers-buy-for-quality-while-americans-seek-bargains/

[4] Leverone, Bob, Associated Press. Article appeared in the Chicago Tribune. April 14, 2016. Poll: Americans prefer low prices to items ‘Made in the USA’, http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-americans-prices-vs-made-in-usa-20160414-story.html

[5] http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_075504/lang–en/index.htm

Avoid Being Personally Liable

This post was written by Justine Bugaoisan, a Springboard Graduate Assistant and is based on information provided by Brie A. Crawford, Esquire, a Patent Attorney registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

This post is for informational purposes only and not for the intention of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

Business owners could do themselves a big favor by taking minimal steps.[1]

The main objective of an LLC, corporation etc. is to protect the business’ owner’s personal assets in the event a lawsuit is filed against the business.  It is a strong trend among business owners that after filing paperwork for this business entity formation, nothing further needs to be done to avoid personal liability.[2] It is important to follow through with an attorney to prepare Operating Agreements, Shareholder’s Agreements, etc.  In Illinois and many states, these “corporate formalities” are necessary to protect the owner’s personal assets in litigation.  A business owner will need to “prove” to the courts and a plaintiff that the plaintiff cannot “pierce the corporate veil” and obtain personal assets that were separate from the business.

Corporate formalities, which prove the rituals of the business are a bona fide corporation[3], include annual shareholder and board director meetings, even if it is just written communication.  Meetings should be held more often and documented by a corporate secretary with meeting minutes that reflect what was discussed.[4]  The substance of a corporate meeting may not be as significant as the actual meeting itself.[5] Meetings act like a city council board where policies and decisions are discussed, voted on, and approved.  In addition, a corporate record book should be kept that includes corporate actions, capital structure issues, and other relevant corporation matters.  This may be tedious and counterproductive in the middle of trying to keep a business running. However, these steps can pay back in dividends, as courts will contemplate whether there were corporate meetings or corporate formalities in determining whether an owner is personally liable.

Consider Gallagher v. Renconco Builders, Inc. 91 Ill. App. 3d 999, 1006 (1st Dist. 1980) where the owners did not observe corporate formalities, corporate resolutions, meetings, or able to produce any corporate books. The court held the shareholder personally liable for fraud and awarded the plaintiff all damages, repairs, and liquidated damages.

Consult a lawyer or ensure you have the documentation necessary to keep your records updated in order to avoid a big loss.  This may be burdensome to keep up with but the cost can be relatively low and save many headaches and money in litigation in the future.

[1] The information is for informational purposes only and not for the intention of providing legal advice.  You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

[2] Based on information by Brie A. Crawford, Esquire. Patent Attorney registered to Practice Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

[3] 7 Charles Murdock, Illinois Practice Series, Business Organizations § 8:17 (2d ed. 2014).

[4] Reda, Ciprian, Magnone LLC.  Illinois Incorporations. 2011.  Web. 25 Aug. 2014 <http://www.illinois-attorney.com/practice-areas/illinois-corporate-and-business-transactional-law/illinois-incorporations/&gt;

[5] 7 Charles Murdock, Illinois Practice Series, Business Organizations § 8:17 (2d ed. 2014).

 

Pricing and the Mistakes Small Businesses Make

The following blog post was written by Kevin McCarte, a Springboard Graduate Assistant with the MBA program.

Focus on yourself. Small business owners get so caught up in the moment pricethat they don’t stop to think about their pricing and whether or not the price they are setting is correct. Sure, the Wal-Mart’s of he world thrive on the prices they charge to their customers, and the competition may sell a similar product at a lower price. However, using a successful company as a benchmark and simply copying their strategies will not always produce the results small businesses want to achieve.

Cost is the primary factor that companies should consider in order to determine what price they should charge the customer. In a successful, established manufacturing company where all jobs are customizable, pricing will depend on a number of factors: how loyal a customer is to the company, the sales volume, the application for the product, and the target price they have in mind. All of these factors should be considered, but cost is paramount. If a company cannot cover its costs with a healthy profit margin, it will likely shut down.

Consider the economic principle of sticky prices. Once a customer and a business agree to a price, barring a chock to the market, why would that price ever change? Surely as a business becomes more efficient and individual costs for production decrease, the customer will not be informed. It would be foolish on the business’ part to inform the customer that the product they are selling became more profitable, but small business owners never seem to consider the inverse. Once the business and the customer agree to a price, it creates expectations in a customer’s mind, dangerous expectations that can destroy a company. As a business, stealing customers through price manipulation can only last for so long. The customer will expect the business to continues to offer better-than-Wal-Mart pricing, when Wal-Mart already has razor thin margins. All things equal, if prices rise, customers will simply move back to Wal-Mart. A majority of businesses would not be able to survive competing on price alone with Wal-Mart, since economies of scale exist. Not only can Wal-Mart sell the product at a lower price because of its size and volume, but it can also offer those prices because the cost for production on all of its products is also lower than what a small business can produce. Competing on price alone is not a viable option in the business world.

Instead of focusing on what the competition is charging for its product, small business owner should focus on what they can provide their customers. Small businesses have the opportunity to negotiate all prices, since each customer is special and unique to them, while large, established companies have rigid pricing structures and bureaucracy to work through to give customers what they need. Since every customer is unique to them they are able to customize a solution faster and with a higher service level than larger companies. In the dynamic world of business, a fast, customized, and accurate solution can be worth more to customers than simply setting a low price. Every company has different profit margins they can operate with and using the price set by anther company can be a critical mistake. It is important to know what the competition offers, but merely setting your price based on a competitor’s price can be a death sentence. What if they are not adequately covering their costs? Appealing to a customer’s pocketbook may be the easiest way to steal business from the competition, but is it really worth it? Business owners  often feel that profit can be made up solely by increasing the volume of sales, but that may intensify a problem.

Pricing for any start-up business is a crucial part of the future success of a company, however, it is not the only part. One of the most common mistakes a small business owner can make is to believe that the price of their product is going to make or break the company. In fact, customer loyalty is based on perceived value of the product offered. A superior product with higher value will always beat an inferior product. It may be easy to look at another company and attribute their success to their pricing strategies, however, the value behind the pricing is what’s important. If your products are priced higher than your competition, be sure to effectively communicate the reasons why through marketing materials.

 

Ooops! Ignoring Business Fundamentals

Remember the old saying about keeping your friends close and our enemies closer? Well the same tactics apply for business. You should always know what your competitors are up to and where they are headed. It’s much easier to anticipate thSpying - imag from cyberalert.comeir next move and determine how it may impact your business if you are keeping tabs on them.

Over the last several weeks, a scenario has played out amongst the Republican candidates reminiscent of the business lessons I have taught so many times. It’s about business fundamentals and the importance of competitive intelligence. Here’s the recent scenario. A “tweet” is sent by Donald Trump stating that Jeb bush’s domain name became available and he bought it. Jeb Bush’s website was now being redirected to Donald Trump’s. Funny scenario and it highlights how vulnerable businesses are in today’s online marketplace. As the story unfolds, it wasn’t Donald Trump after all who bought the rights to the website, but someone posing to be Donald Trump. And it wasn’t Jeb Bush’s main campaign website (www.jeb2016.com) but an alternative (www.jebbush.com). Originally I was even duped as we have turned into such a visual society. When I saw the tweet and Donald Trump’s name next to it, the post seemed legitimate. Even the tween itself was worded in such a way that you could imagine the presidential candidate making that kind of statement.

The intent of this post is not to delve deep into the intricacies of web domains, cross-pollination of names and AdWords, but to highlight the importance of business fundamentals in an online world. The person that secured the domain name http://www.jebbush.com thought things through, just like a competitor. When Americans search Google with a name that has an easy recall, they will likely use the whole name. The graph below reflects this. The red line, which represents actual searches for the term “Jeb Bush”, has significantly more traction than those searching for “Jeb 2016”, which was the presidential candidate’s primary website.

Jeb bush Searches

I am baffled that Jeb Bush’s campaign did not secure the website http://www.jebbush.com and redirect that “url” to the candidate’s main website. First and foremost, protect your online identity! Ensure domain names to your website are up-to-date and you have secured as many relevant names as possible.

Secondly, protect your intellectual property. Imagine if this scenario had transpired with a competitor from another country. We are all familiar with stores of fictitious storefronts in China illegally pretending they are famous international brands. Imagine if a foreign competitor had bought the rights to a domain name reflecting your business or products and redirected it to their site. It could easily resemble your brand and consumers likely would be unaware that they were ordering from another company.

Lastly, even though this scenario wound up not being one campaign against another, it depicts the power that is now in consumer’s hands. Be diligent. Monitor your company and brand. Your business and reputation depends on it.

Snowstorms Instill Fundamental Skills

I love snow, especially when I learn of a pending storm that may produce totals in the 12-18″ range with temperatures in the mid 20’s. It’s the same routine . . . a quite smile comes over my face followed by a quick little giggle. I especially love when large snowfalls start on a Friday night and the first thing you wake up to Saturday morning iSnowstorms a beautiful fresh blanket of white snow with the fireplace going and a cup of ho cocoa.

Large snowfalls remind us of simpler times. We have time to stop and talk with our neighbors while outside shoveling snow. Everyone is not in a rush to meetings, sporting events, or running errands. Younger neighbors gain fundamental business skills as they carefully hustle older neighbors by shoveling driveways and walkways in order to make some extra money. Snowmen dot front yards and snow angels are scattered about. Nature is truly at one of its finest, purest moments. Nighttime snowfalls are especially peaceful as a calm hushes the hectic world in which we live. It’s amazing to catch a glimpse of snow when the light barely hits it and illuminates a field of diamonds as each snowflake twinkles about.

Snowstorms enable us to maintain essential skills that seem to be fading the in the fast-paced world we live in. Patience, team building, communication, and planning become paramount. The blizzard that halted the eastern part of the United States earlier this year is a perfect example. People helped complete strangers by providing them with food, drink or items to keep them warm. Some families took shifts shoveling the heavy, continuous snow. For all of the good deeds that come to the forefront in events such as this, it’s amazing to watch a few people become unglued. Frustration takes hold when a situation is out of their hands and they cannot control it – whether it is because their streets haven’t been plowed quickly enough or the delivery truck could not make it through the storm to deliver essential supplies to the supermarket. Instant gratification that has infiltrated our consumer-based world is suddenly usurped by Mother Nature.

In times such as this, curling up with a good book, knitting, crossword puzzles, family games, or other hobbies move to the forefront when life is halted for a day or two. It reinforces the fundamental skills needed throughout life.