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      Expert Advice: 11 Ways Small Businesses Can Pivot to Survive a Crisis


      Every entrepreneur knows that starting a small business is never easy. There are a few challenges that are to be expected — from building the perfect team to discovering exactly who your customer is, to creating a social media presence, just to name a few.

      One thing we never expected? Dealing with the economic blowout from a global pandemic.

      No matter what type of small business you have, everyone has experienced consequences from the coronavirus outbreak. That’s precisely why small businesses must be able to pivot in order to survive a crisis.

      “It is important to always listen to customer needs and to respond, but at a time when customer needs and demand is changing, it is critical for small businesses to pay attention to what customers are saying, how they are responding and what their needs are,” says Deborah S. Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. “For small businesses to continue to remain relevant, they have to listen and respond. It is an opportunity to learn and grow as a business owner and to leverage entrepreneurial skills when they are most needed.”

      So, how can you be nimble these days?

      While every type of business has to act according to their market, there are a few universal rules that apply. Here are 11 ways small businesses can adapt to pull through the coronavirus crisis — and practically any crisis.

      11 Ways Your Small Biz Can Pivot to Survive a Crisis

      1. Adjust your offerings based on new customer demands and needs.

      It might seem obvious that entrepreneurs will need to switch up their business model to stay afloat during this crisis. The tricky part is figuring out how to change.

      “These shifts should be made in changing customer choices and industry trends and not simply in response to changes in economics,” says Bob Minhas, Founder and Lead Trainer for eSchool for Entrepreneurs. “Of course, shifting in economics will always lead to shifting customer choices, so they are generally aligned. However, a shift in economics is reactive, whereas a shift from purposeful research is proactive.”

      To figure out how to begin, Minhas suggests starting with market research. First, study what the economic experts are saying and learn what has changed in the national, regional, and local economies. Think about your industry and what the experts in your field are saying about its shift. Finally, talk to your existing and potential ideal customer base to determine what they need and if your skillset can support that.

      “Compiling all the information here will allow you to put something together and then just offer, offer, offer,” Minhas says. “Get people in to test your offer so you can continue to refine until it’s working and bringing in the revenue you need. Keep in mind that in this specific economic situation, it’s not a good idea to make a hard pivot you cannot come back from. You only want to pivot enough so that you are still within the realm of your expertise as that credibility of what you do is needed for customers to still trust you.”

      Plus, once the economy bounces back, you’ll want to be able to return to your initial business, or at least a modified version.  Potentially, this pivot can also stay as a new revenue source.

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      2. Always be prepared to work remotely.

      As a small business owner, you’ve most likely learned that planning ahead is key to success.

      “I always advise companies to plan for certain risks and make contingency plans, one of which is typically being forced to work from home,” says Jaryd P. Kase, Principal at Kase Consulting, LLC. “Of course, you don’t always have the benefit of being able to plan in advance. I would take advantage of cloud-based storage options such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, etc. so that employees can access files from home computers. Take security precautions into consideration and don’t allow sensitive material to flow freely, but you should allow people enough access that they can do their jobs.”

      If your team is struggling with how to stay focused while working from home, these 16 strategies can help.

      Video conferencing enables people to work on team projects and keep the office on the same page. There are plenty of options from companies like Microsoft, Google, and Zoom, among others. “Some are free, some cost a little money,” Kase says. “Compare the features and pick what is best for you.”

      3. Keep up daily team meetings.

      With everything in flux, it’s even more important to keep your employees up to speed. “Normally, team members can sync outside of their regular meetings with a quick desk visit or a water cooler visit,” says Chris Sica, Chief Revenue Officer of The Ronin Society. “Because these no longer exist in a work-from-home situation, you need to supplement them with increased meetings to make sure people get unstuck or remove blockers in their projects.”

      Plus, meetings can actually be a morale booster when the going gets tough. If your team is feeling isolated while working from home, you can even create watercooler moments while working remotely. Plus, chatting on Facebook Live, for example, can be a much-need way of staying social while social distancing.

      “Virtual team meetings let people see that they are still part of a team and not just stuck in solitude,” Kase says. “I usually allow a bit more leniency for going off-topic and joking around just because people have that need for human interaction that they are not getting from working in the office. When it comes to discussing work, though, this is where everyone can give updates on where they are on their tasks, ask for help, and congratulate a team member on a job well done.”

      4. Boost your communication with customers.

      “Communication is an important factor during this time to help maintain your customers’ feeling of confidence,” Minhas says. “However, I find that a number of businesses focus on outbound communication, meaning they’re talking more than they are listening. Communication with customers needs to be a balancing act. Listen to what the most common questions coming in are and create outbound communication related to that.”

      Keep communication lines open during this time. For example, create a space such as a FAQ page and quickly respond to any outreach from clients. “Be sure to invest in a ticket system to track communication effectively among your team,” Minhas advises.

      5. Stick to a daily schedule.

      With the world feeling upside down right now, it’s hard to remember what day it is. But that’s even more reason you should create a schedule — and be strict about following it.

      “It’s difficult to stay on track with so much going on (and not going on),” Sweeney says. “Hence, it’s critically important to plan and strategize and have an organized structure for your day. Have a schedule — wake up, exercise, eat healthfully, stay organized, get work done, communicate with team members and customers, and save time for strategy and organization of yourself for the upcoming day.”

      6. Work on what can be done in the present.

      One of the many challenges of the coronavirus crisis is not knowing when things will return to normal. Since we can’t predict the future — even when we’re not in a global pandemic — focus on the now.

      “Small business owners need to prioritize the survival of their company,” Kase says. “That means making sure that proper financing, communication, staff retention, customer outreach, etc., are occurring. Beyond that, business leaders cannot forget about their longer-term goals. Goals for 2020 might be shot at this point; you likely will not hit your revenue numbers. Your 5- to 10-year goals, however, should be able to absorb a bump in the road, and you need to make adjustments to your strategy and tactics to ensure that you are still on course for reaching those goals.”

      7. Improve your skill set.

      Just like people are using their newfound time to learn a language or start meditating, that self-improvement can trickle over to your business too. There are many areas where small businesses could use a boost.

      “It’s time to learn how to write great articles and emails,” Sica says. “It’s important to learn how to get good pictures and videos of yourself, your team, and your product or service. It’s time to learn digital marketing, how to use social media, and how to build an audience organically. It’s time to learn how to vet digital marketing agencies. It’s time to learn how to manage your finances more seriously so you can be more competitive with your pricing and sales offerings.”

      8. Continue to network.

      It might seem counterintuitive to prioritize networking while social distancing, but it’s a great way to keep your business going strong.

      “Right now everyone is in a similar situation: The economy is struggling, unemployment is high, customers have been told not to leave their houses and businesses have been told to close,” Kase says. “Networking in a time like this can be both therapeutic and educational. It’s therapeutic in the sense that you can commiserate with other small business owners who are dealing with similar problems and educational in the sense that you may be able to learn what has worked well for someone else and try it for your own business. Meeting for coffee may now be talking on LinkedIn or Zoom, but the concept is still the same. There are plenty of places online where small business owners congregate, and a large portion of them would love to network.”

      9. Get feedback.

      It’s always important to know what your colleagues and clients think, but now you might have more time to implement changes based on their suggestions.

      “Feedback right now is the best market research tool,” Minhas says. “Consumers are going through a shift in their buying behavior, so to understand the gap of what they need and what we are delivering is an important way to maintain relevance to them and, in turn, having them continue to spend money with us.”

      It’s not just your clients that you should be touching base with — hearing from your staff is equally important. “Feedback from team members ensures you’re able to maintain productivity as a team and that team members are invested in the success of what your company is trying to achieve,” Minhas says. “They buy into your common goal and mission when they feel heard.”

      Finally, you can also reach out to leaders and mentors within your field for suggestions on how to improve your own personal skill sets.

      10. Stay positive.

      Looking on the bright side is especially challenging during tough times, so remind yourself that there is always a silver lining. “Silver-lining observations are often a hallmark of entrepreneurs,” Sweeney says. “Learning to take the opportunities from challenges is a critical aspect to adapting to change and growth. Business owners need to find order out of chaos … and be the voice of reason, observation, and opportunity when others cannot or do not see it.”

      To help your staff feel more optimistic too, empower them during this difficult time. For example, encourage team members to develop their skills during their downtime.

      “If you have an employee who is looking to grow in the company, this might be a great time to suggest reading up or training on some specific skills,” Kase suggests. “They can come back to the office when the economy is back open and use those skills in their work, showing you not only their dedication but also that they might be ready for that promotion.”

      Another critical way to empower employees is by listening to them. “Your employees might have some great ideas on how to weather this storm, so don’t feel like you as the owner need to have all of the answers,” Kase suggests. “Set up a virtual brainstorming meeting. Even if nothing comes of it, just being invited to sit at the table is an empowering gesture.”

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      11. Ask for help.

      The coronavirus pandemic has changed the economic landscape and created a financial crisis, so there are new government resources available to small business owners. Consider taking advantage of them to stay afloat.

      “Additionally, there are a few other programs that are potential options,” Sica says. “The Main Street Lending Program is a four-year loan with interest and principal payments deferred for one year. There are a number of large corporations offering special grants, and federal taxes have been delayed until July 15th for both personal and business. Each individual city seems to have a list of solutions applicable to their citizen businesses; search ‘[your city + COVID resources + small business].’”

      Ready for a Successful Pivot?

      No doubt about it — this is an uncertain time for small businesses. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from hosting websites for the last two decades, it’s that entrepreneurs are a scrappy (and smart!) bunch.

      You’ve got this, and we’re here to help.



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      Cloud Security Tips for Financial Services: 5 Key Takeaways from an Industry Expert


      Today we are pleased to welcome guest blogger Tony Bradley, Senior Manager of Content Marketing for Alert Logic, INAP’s trusted managed security partner and expert in cloud security for financial services customers.
      – Wendy Williams, Product Manager, INAP

      Show me the money, and I’ll show you a cybercriminal ready to attack.

      The sophistication of digital financial services and mobile banking have greatly expanded the attack surface criminals can exploit. While technology has given us the luxuries of quickly depositing a check via our mobile device or shopping online, it has also created ever evolving security challenges.

      Planning your cloud security strategy? Below are five key takeaways for IT infrastructure pros in the financial services space:

      1. Moving to the cloud changes the entire approach to security. A comprehensive view of your environment is critical, so choose a partner who can provide security monitoring of the environment, as well as network intrusion detection, vulnerability management and log management.

      2. The level of expertise and the amount of people needed to maintain compliance using exclusively in-house services is cost prohibitive for all but the rarest of enterprises. The best options are to evaluate a trusted managed services partner or adopt technology that integrates services as part of the solution.

      3. eCommerce has paved the way to unprecedented growth and revenue but opens doors to exponential compliance and threat risks. Using public cloud providers calls for 24/7 platform security. It is important to understand who has what security responsibility when utilizing cloud platforms and service providers. Furthermore, it pays to spend time evaluating whether or not your solution provider and partner have a deep understanding of your preferred platform. If they don’t, look elsewhere. This approach will ensure hard-to-detect web attacks such as SQL injection, path traversal and cross-site scripting risks are mitigated.

      4. A solution may complement in-house capabilities, however, sometimes getting the right resources becomes a balancing act. As the hottest market today, security experts are scarce. In fact, according to (ISC)2, a non-profit IT security organization, there are an estimated 2.93 million cybersecurity positions open and unfilled around the world. The best advice is to develop a relationship with a service provider and a partner who can truly be an extension of your internal team and who has both the technology and resources to ensure constant surveillance, as well as the ability to stand up to any rigorous compliance audit.

      5. We’ve only just witnessed the beginning of technologies touting AI capabilities. If you’re ready to adopt an AI-based solution for cybersecurity, ensure that it can draw on data sets of wildly different types, allowing the “bigger picture” to become clear from not only static configuration data and historic local logs but global threat landscapes and concurrent event streams, as well.

      It’s more important than ever for businesses in the financial services industry to have the right tools and partners in place. Remember: Any solution you choose should be more than widgets and a slick UI. Too much is on the line. The road to holistic cloud security begins with proper implementation and infrastructure design, detailed, best practice configuration, and a plan for continuous monitoring and threat response. Chat with our partners at INAP today to get started.

       

      About the Author

      Tony Bradley is Senior Manager of Content Marketing for Alert Logic. Tony worked in the trenches as a network administrator and security consultant before shifting to the marketing and writing side of things. He is an 11-time Microsoft MVP in security and cloud and has been a CISSP-ISSAP since 2002. Tony has authored or co-authored a dozen books on IT and IT security topics, and is a prolific contributor to online media sites such as Forbes and DevOps.com.

      Wendy Williams
      • Product Manager, Private Cloud and Security Services


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      How to Start Your Own Food Blog: An Expert Guide


      Admit it — you know your way around the kitchen.

      Whether you’re wielding a whisk, perfecting paella, or creating the next culinary chef-d’oeuvre, it’s clear: Food is your gift, talent, and passion. And if you’re ready to take your compliments-to-the-chef recipes online, it’s time to set up your own blog. But where to start?

      Don’t get your garlic in a knot. We’ve got you covered.

      In this handy food blogging guide, we provide all the technical know-how you need to get your own food blog up and running, plus first-class advice from experts in the blogging biz. What’s more, we’ll share the best website builder tools for WordPress and all kinds of resources, so you can start showcasing your culinary chops and drool-worthy photography to bring in some dough. You provide the ingredients, and we’ll make your food blog restaurant-ready.

      Blog More with Managed WordPress Hosting

      Our automatic updates and strong security defenses take server management off your hands so you can focus on creating great content.

      Why Start a Food Blog?

      Food bloggers are some of the most influential people on the internet. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the stats:

      • More and more, people are ditching grandma’s recipe box and seeking food info on the web. It’s estimated that 50% of consumers now use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to learn about food, while another 40% learn from websites, apps, or blogs.
      • A massive 89% of consumers go online for recipes; 79% trust blogs for recipes and food information.
      • Food bloggers are the cool kids on the block, boasting four times as many followers than any other niche.
      • 59% of 25- to 34-year-olds head to the kitchen with either their smartphones or tablets.
      • Consumers are not only consuming food content online — they’re sharing it. Fifty-four percent say they share info and recipes with friends, family, and strangers.

      Millennials use mobile devices in the kitchen.

      Food blogs have rapidly become popular, credible, and sharable ways for talented, passionate (and normal) people to share their passion for food and recipe creation — and to make big $$$. Food bloggers influence consumer food trends and social discussion and are pioneering the modern food experience. Many have even used their taste-ful content to ink cookbook deals, score cooking show hosting gigs, and amass large and loyal followings that share their content globally.

      So if you’re a dish-developing foodie who wants to own a digital presence while becoming an influential voice in food conversation, there’s potential for you. It’s time to bring your kitchen online.

      How to Start a Food Blog (8 Steps)

      Let’s break it down. What do you even need to create a food blog, grow your traffic, and start making money with your recipes? Consult our handy guide below!

      1. Determine Your Niche

      When you’re ready to get busy in the kitchen, what’s your go-to creation? Do you specialize in vegan creations? Excel in gluten-free goodies? Are you the queen of 30-minute Instant Pot meals for busy moms?

      Whatever you do best — and what you enjoy most — is where you want to start. Finding your niche allows you to distinguish yourself from the millions of other bloggers out there and identify a target audience — which, in turn, helps you understand how to market your content and build a following.

      The Pioneer Woman food blog home page.
      Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman discovered her niche and developed a wildly-popular blog following by appealing to down-home, comfort-food eaters.

      “… blog about what you are passionate about. Don’t start your blog because you want to make money off it. Start your blog because you feel like you have something unique to share with the world. If you truly have the passion and drive, and you are constantly looking for ways to make it better, your blog will eventually succeed and hopefully, turn into a career.”

      Tieghan, blogger at Half Baked Harvest

      2. Create a Blog Name

      Time to get those creative juices flowing. What do you want to call your blog? Take time to brainstorm ideas, keeping in mind some typical internet behavior. Your best bet is something memorable and unique, but easy to find (and type) online. It should be related to your niche or help establish your brand.

      The Minimalist Baker home page.
      Dana Shultz of The Minimalist Baker distinguishes herself as a food blogger by choosing a blog name that clearly identifies her target audience — cooking enthusiasts who want simple, easy-to-follow recipes.

      3. Choose your CMS

      A content management system, (as the name implies) manages the creation and modification of digital content, making your dream of running a food blog dream a hassle-free reality.

      As far as CMS options go, we heartily recommend WordPress — and the love is mutual. At DreamHost, we wear our own WordPress-approved badge with pride. This powerhouse blogging platform fuels more than 30% of the internet and can power your blog, too.

      4. Purchase your Domain Name and Hosting

      Listen up. Getting a domain and choosing a web host are some of the most crucial decisions you’ll make when you start a blog.

      Your domain is an essential building block of search engine optimization (SEO), and a good domain name helps you get found online. Domains should match your blog name and can be purchased through a registrar.

      Or better yet: pair the purchase of your domain name with web hosting service. Your hosting plan will provide you with server space to store your files so online browsers can visit your site.

      WordPress hosting plans through DreamHost combine the best of tech, tools, and service at a budget-friendly price to help make creating your food blog a snap.

      DreamHost’s WordPress Hosting

      Plus, DreamHost isn’t just a smart option for all the behind-the-scenes setup. Our customers get access to WP Website Builder an easy-to-use drag-and-drop site builder tool for WordPress that simplifies the process, allowing you to customize without coding and make the perfect food blog fast. *chef’s kiss*

      With WP Website Builder, we include a suite of premium themes, tools, and plugins — built by our friends at BoldGrid — to help simplify the start-up process and make it easier to edit and manage your website as it grows. Rest easy because you don’t need to start from scratch. Starter content is packed into every beautiful, responsive, and customizable design.

      5. Setup

      To get started, you’ll need to select “WP Website Builder” as an option during your DreamHost purchase. Then, we’ll automatically install WordPress and website builder tools, BoldGrid’s Inspirations and Page and Post Builder, for you.  Once you’re logged into WordPress, you’ll see the Inspirations setup page.

      Inspirations “Welcome” page

      Three simple steps? We knew you’d like the sound of that. And it really is that simple! Click Let’s Get Started! to continue.

      Designs for WordPress

      At this stage, you’ll select a theme. You can narrow your options by specific industry-related categories or browse them all to find your perfect starter site. (Hint: There’s even a collection of food-tailored themes under the Restaurant category.) For this guide, we selected the “Hifidel” theme.

      Hifidel Theme

      Next, you’ll decide on basic pages and add the functionality you want. You can also view how this theme looks on other devices, like smartphones and tablets. The easy-to-use, drag-and-drop editing paired with design blocks (over 100 options!) helps you build faster and edit easier. It’s simple for beginners, with advanced options for seasoned professionals, making it possible to create the perfect site.

      Now, you’ll click Next and enter additional details that help populate your website with social media icons and contact info.

      Easily add social media icons to your site.

      Then, click Finish and Install. Easy as (your famous cherry) pie, right?

      Installation is now set up on your WordPress account. From your dashboard, you can continue customizing your website. You’ll want to adjust your site design and add essential elements.

      Customize Your BoldGrid Theme

      For increased functionality, you’ll also want to install useful plugins. We install a handful of valuable plugins, like SEO, Gallery, and Backup, but you should consider additional tools, like plugins for controlling spam or building forms. (There’s even one for recipes!) Be sure to check out our list of the most essential plugins this year.

      With a form-building plugin, you can set up a simple contact form to help you turn your traffic into an email list — a powerful (and critical) way to market your blog content to readers.

      6. Create Content

      This step is where it gets really gets good. Time to enrich your website with your one-of-a-kind recipes, heartfelt blog posts, and gorgeous food photography. Your food blog isn’t going to do you much good if it’s empty, so prioritize high-quality content.

      Set up a blogging schedule to continually outfit your blog with fresh, consistent, relevant, and yes, delicious content — and to keep yourself organized. Content is what’s going to draw readers to your site, so make it good and keep it coming. When it comes to content, you should always be cooking up a fresh post (or repurposing an oldie but goodie).

      Hint: Kate of Cookie + Kate has a bunch of excellent food blogging resources here.

      High-quality food photograph.

      “You have to publish high-quality content every single day. Readers hitting your site for the first time should see consistently updated, fresh content, and they should know that if they come back the next day, there will be something new to read. That’s the only way to get people returning to your site several times a day, checking to see if you’ve updated yet. These can’t be throwaway posts, either; everything you publish to your site needs to be a carefully crafted, professionally-photographed piece of content that will either teach or inform. Then, the next day, you need to do it all over again, and be comfortable with pushing the previous day’s work out of the spotlight after just a brief 24 hours.”

      Julie, blogger at MealHack

      7. Spread the Word

      Promote your blog by creating content that’s optimized for search engines. Market your content through an email list and social media, such as an Instagram account, Twitter, Facebook, and even a YouTube Channel. You can also consider pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

      And don’t forget about increasing traffic through SEO improvements (we can help with this — the WordPress website builder has on-page SEO tips built right in!) There are lots of hungry people out there looking for your unique expertise — plan a marketing strategy that helps them find you.

      BoldGrid’s SEO Window

      SEO isn’t black magic; it’s about making your quality content findable. It’s important to understand and implement the basics. Here is Google’s SEO starter guide [PDF] and Bake Your Day’s SEO For Food Bloggers Guide.”

      Kate, Cookie + Kate

      8. Monetize

      It’s true — your blog posts can make you money. But likely, it will take time and lots of stellar content. So keep producing. Advertising, networking, affiliate marketing programs, and pitching are all ways you can bring in $$ from your blog.

      Hint: Julie of MealHack has great info on monetizing your blog.

      Cutting board with fresh ingredients.

      I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to make money off your blog, but don’t align yourself with a brand or project that isn’t a good fit. You are the company you keep. Focus on producing your best content and building your audience, and the opportunities will come.”

      Kate, blogger at Cookie + Kate

      Starting a Food Blog: The Last Course

      For all you foodies looking to share your culinary talents with the world, it’s time to get blogging! We make starting a blog easy. Sign up for WordPress hosting through DreamHost and take advantage of WP Website Builder to enter the food blogging scene with an appetizing (and easy-to-whip-up) site.



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