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Protect your business from common email scams

March 11, 2011 by Daniel Offer

There are many types of online fraud, but email scams are among the most prolific. Thankfully, many people are now more aware of online scams, but email fraud is still rife and it often targets small business. Here are two of the most common types of email scams:

1 Domain name expiry scam

Malicious fraudsters have now started targeting .uk domain names with falsified domain expiry warnings. Sadly, many of those who fall for this latest domain name con are small firms, largely because they do their own in-house IT management and are not fully au fait with some of the technical aspects involved.

Unscrupulous online criminals are manipulating this lack of knowledge. Many websites receive emails that warn of an imminent domain name expiry. A lot of small businesses, fearing they’re about to lose their domain name, pay extortionate fees to renew their domain unnecessarily.

The emails are usually called something like ‘Domain Registry Services’. They warn of an urgent renewal being required and will state the charge for a renewal. This charge will be much more than an average renewal. It will also be completely bogus.

Many small businesses don’t keep accurate records of when they bought or last renewed their domain name and they probably will not remember the original charge.  This is probably why this scam works so well. If you receive one of these emails and are in any doubt, contact Nominet.org.uk (the .uk internet registry at www.nic.uk).

2 Phishing and password theft

Most small businesses tend to manage and respond personally to business emails and can become targets for this renowned, but effective, email scam. ‘Phishing’ is the practice of attempting to gather sensitive, protected information by persuading someone to enter their private details online. The most common form of phishing scam is the fake bank email.

Internet criminals clone an official bank email address or manipulate the recipient’s email inbox into believing the email has come from a trusted source. Often the sender of these emails will appear to be the real company. The email will often say that “owing to a recent security threat to the business’s account, to ensure there has been no fraudulent activity”, the business must log in to its account with its username and password.

The email will contain a believable login section that mimics the real bank’s website template. If the business owner enters their details, online fraudsters can access a business’s private accounts and steal money or make unwarranted transactions in the business’s name. Real banks will never ask for personal account information via email, of course.

Trust Your Instincts

Be cynical. If an email just doesn’t seem right – don’t open it. Then report it. Many email providers enable you to report spoof emails and phishing attempts. One of the best things a small business can do is use an email provider with high-end junk and spam filters. Many cheap web-hosting services provide email services, but their filtering software may be substandard. It may be prudent to invest in a reputable web host or use a generic email provider such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!. If you receive a domain expiry email, contact your domain name supplier. It’s that simple. They won’t take umbrage.

There are many more scams other than the two I’ve mentioned. Caution, common sense and a little bit of knowledge will go a long way towards reducing the likelihood you’ll fall for an online dupe.

Daniel Offer is a partner in the Facebook messaging application Chit Chat for Facebook

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Posted in Business IT | 0 comments

How intellectual property can add value to your start up

March 10, 2011 by Maria Anassutzi

Intellectual property – also known as ‘intangible assets’ – comprises patents, copyrights, trademarks, design rights and registered designs.

Some intellectual property rights (eg patents, trademarks and registered designs) need a formal process of registration and payment of fees by the owner to the Intellectual Property Office, to provide protection and monopoly rights to their owner.

Copyright and design rights arise automatically upon creation, but do not protect the owner from a third party’s independent creation – only from actual copying.

Intellectual property rights differ in terms of duration and procedures, but their effect is to ensure the owner has the exclusive right to use its rights and decide how those rights are used and exploited, which includes preventing any other party from using the same rights. This is extremely important for start-ups seeking to protect their assets, to achieve growth and potential investments.

Intellectual property rights only protect the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, so appropriate confidentiality agreements must be put in place to ensure initial actions do not jeopardize future intellectual property.

A start-up must have a process for identifying and capturing its intellectual property. To this effect an intellectual property audit carried out periodically is always useful. Once a start-up has identified its intellectual property, it needs to:

  1. Manage its intellectual property portfolio by deciding which intellectual property to maintain, since intellectual property can be costly to maintain and protect. Remember that even when some intellectual property assets may not be of direct value to the business, they could still be licensed or assigned to third parties, bringing extra revenue and profits.
  2. Adopt effective policies for the capture and retention of innovative ideas, trade secrets, inventions, know-how and confidential information. Intellectual property is not only patents. Although patents can add significant value to an intellectual property portfolio, it is important to use appropriate agreements, such as confidentiality, consultancy or licensing agreements.
  3. Monitor and enforce its rights, which may create an opportunity to recover lost licensing revenue through settlement or damages awards. By contrast, a failure to take action to prevent and address intellectual property infringement may result in lost license fees and royalties. Similarly, being aware of the intellectual property assets of your competitors and implementing clearance policies for new products or services, helps to avoid unwanted and costly infringement claims by third parties.

This article is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You can read more information about protecting your intellectual property here.

Dr Maria Anassutzi, Anassutzi & Co Limited

Posted in Business law | 0 comments

How to get off to a flying start

March 07, 2011 by Jonathan Rodger

Essentially, there two types of start-ups: the ‘pioneers’ that create a service, product or process that is unique and where there is no known competition; and the ‘settlers’, the more common type of start-up where the business enters a market where there are already many competitors.

The more mature a sector becomes, the greater the likelihood a significant number of businesses will be competing in that market, with a few, increasingly dominant businesses (sometimes called ‘Gorillas’) leading the pack.

What is key is the number and strength of competitors in relation to the overall size of the market you decide to target, along with your market’s rate of growth. If it is growing at twice the rate at which new competitors are appearing, your chances of success are high. However, pitch your startup against a growing number of strong competitors in a market that is stagnating or shrinking and your task of winning market share is much harder. And while it’s not impossible to do well, it means your offer has to be extremely compelling.

Market size is not something that increases or decreases in isolation. It is also influenced by the businesses that operate within it. For example, Europe’s air travel market was considered mature, with many established airlines operating within it. Then came along the low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet, which not only took market share off the established players, but actually grew the market they served by encouraging people to take trips they might otherwise not have done if it had not been for the cheap fares on offer. In this way you can change the dynamics of the market you enter if your offer is significantly different.

My own business, Message Horizon, has entered a market that has many established competitors, but the market is still growing, albeit at a slower pace than previously. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Study your competitors. Decide which parts of their offer you want to emulate. What are the things your customers will expect you to offer, too?
  • Then differentiate your product from theirs. This can be achieved through a combination of product innovation, market innovation (eg finding new types of customer not served by your competitors) and economic innovation (eg pricing plans).
  • Think differently from your competitors. If you can’t think of any obvious weaknesses in your competitors, search online for postings made by their disgruntled customers voicing complaints, criticisms and suggestions for improvements. You might be amazed to find that what you considered to be a mighty competitor actually has a significant number of unhappy customers, perhaps because of its service, technical problems or other ways it is failing to live up to its customers’ expectations. If you can nip in and cover the gaps left by your competitors, you will start to pick up the business they neglect.

Jonathan Rodger is managing director of email marketing service Message Horizon.

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Why you’ve got to communicate confidence and professionalism

March 03, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

We never had much money when I was growing up, but whenever my mum bought something, she made sure it was of the best quality she could afford.

I don't think we were alone – and I don't think that attitude is confined to the ‘80s. Most people would rather pay for quality than search out the cheapest. And the old adage "You get what you pay for" is just as true now as it was 25 years ago.

If you're good at what you do, you won't need to compete on price. People will recognise the value in what you offer and they'll be prepared to spend more. Or will they?

Often I meet small-business owners who struggle to earn a living because their customers won’t pay their prices. Consequently, they have to be the cheapest or discount just to make the sale because their customers don't recognise/appreciate the value of what they’re being offered. 

And this is partly down to the small business’s sales process, partly what’s written on its website/ brochure and partly (largely if you're not doing the selling) down to the fact that their brand isn't communicating confidence or professionalism.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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Friends think you have a great business idea? Prove it!

March 02, 2011 by Eric Brandenburg

Who has never impressed their friends and family with a business idea?

But guess what? They’re biased! Your enthusiasm, along with your close connection to them, means this research will not stand up in the real world.

Although many start-ups develop detailed business plans before they launch, much of the research done for the business plan is limited. It’s either secondary research (such as desk research) or it’s biased primary research conducted among family and friends.

Having a great idea is not enough — it needs to be proven. Moreover it must be proven in a reliable way. By simply questioning biased participants, you risk going forward with unreliable figures.

However, many entrepreneurs still do it. Being realistic is the key to business success for start-ups. Objective research is vital; you need real opinions from your target audience. You must target the type of people that you plan to sell your product or service to. This is your opportunity to get inside the consumers’ minds and ask the important questions.

Objective market research delivers unbiased views, reliable statistics and valid results. Proper market research can also help you when you are seeking funding. Start-ups have a series of barriers to overcome when seeking credit. Reliable data is likely to make your business plan stronger and any pitches you make should be more successful.

So don’t make the mistake of just surveying those in your close circle. Independent research should be at the heart of a realistic, impartial business plan.

Eric BrandenburgMarketest

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Nothing personal, it’s business

March 01, 2011 by Darren Leighfield

Many times I’ve heard people say, “I only do business with people I like” – but is this a sensible approach?

Most small businesses operate in markets of limited size. They have a finite amount of potential customers, with a range of competitors doing more or less the same thing.

So, for example, if a rude and unpleasant customer walks into your business, do you do business with them, even if you don’t like them? Would you rather say no and not be too miffed if they head off in the direction of one of your competitors?

You might not mind too much. You might say: “I wanted to set up my own business partly so I could choose who I work with”. The truth is, only doing business with people you like will limit your ability to grow.

Don’t get me wrong, if you can have a good, personal relationship with a customer, that’s the icing on the proverbial cake. To strive for that with every customer will limit the scalability of your business and your revenue opportunities.

Having good business relationships with customers, based on mutual trust, respect and understanding is certainly a goal to strive for. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become best buddies and regularly chat on the phone every day.

In the summer I started working on a project with a guy I got on very well with. Nights out together, drinking beer, good laugh, but the perfect person to do business with? No. When working with him I found him to be unreliable. He talked a good game, but failed on three important deadlines, which ended up costing me time and money.

Would I ever go for a beer with him again? Sure. Would I ever do business with him again? No chance.

Liking me as a person is not the same as liking the way I do business. Only doing business with people you like is restrictive. The best way to know how you’ll do business together is by doing business together. To build a business of scale, it’s impossible anyway to know all your clients personally. Getting on with each and every one of your customers doesn’t guarantee success.

Darren Leighfield, Director at EtcEtc Ltd

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