Monday, December 4, 2017

10 Minutes to E-Commerce Success - eBook Gift for Our Clients and Friends

My friend and conversion expert, Grant Segall, has just released a new e-book called "10 Minutes to E-commerce Success". And, yes, I’m one of the featured interviews. I was so impressed with all the content, I arranged for our clients and friends to get a copy for free.

It features 10-minute interviews with leading experts who spell out their single best business strategy or tactic to grow your e-commerce business.

My interview on developing a killer strategy is the book's opening chapter. In it, I explain how an approach based on Porter's Five Forces analysis can be used to drive sales and outsmart your competition.
Other chapters include:

> The "entrepreneur trap" that Dave Hermansen of says all serious e-commerce business owners should avoid.

>Shark Tank alum, Brian Lim shares his one secret to sustainable growth. Without this, even a high-converting website can suffer serious problems and stunt the company’s growth.

> Kristin Marquet of The Haute Rebel reveals which social network she uses to add hundreds of leads and subscribers to her e-commerce store every month. Hint: It’s not Instagram.

Plus business-building advice from more than a dozen other leading experts including (in alphabetical order): Mark Dorsey, Damien Elsing, Michael Epstein, Danielle Lewis, John Logar, Thom O’Leary, Rishi Rawat, Michelle Stinson Ross, Harris Siddiqui and Robin Smith.  

You can get a free copy of this e-book by clicking here: 10 Minutes to E-commerce Success

At just 10 minutes per chapter this eBook is a concise read that's well worth your time.


Friday, November 10, 2017

What You Can Do Now to Avoid a KRACK Attack

A recently discovered vulnerability in Wi-Fi encryption is the tech industry's latest worry.  It's being called KRACK (for Key Reinstallation AttaCK), and it's capable of affecting many types of wireless devices, with potentially disastrous results.  While most of the major platforms like Windows and MacOS have already been patched, there are millions of IoT devices that are unpatched and vulnerable, notably most Wi-Fi routers.

KRACK  targets the third step in a four-way authentication “handshake” performed when your Wi-Fi client device attempts to connect to a protected Wi-Fi network. The encryption key can be resent multiple times during step three, and if attackers collect and replay those retransmissions in particular ways, Wi-Fi security encryption can be broken.

This devastating flaw in Wi-Fi’s WPA security protocol makes it possible for attackers to eavesdrop on your data when you connect to Wi-Fi. KRACK affects the Wi-Fi protocol itself—not specific products or implementations, and “works against all modern protected Wi-Fi networks,” according to Mathy Vanhoef, the researcher that discovered it. That means that if your network devices use Wi-Fi, vulnerability to KRACK is highly likely.

What happens when Wi-Fi security is broken?  For starters, the attacker can eavesdrop on all traffic you send over the network. “This can be abused to steal sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords, chat messages, emails, photos, and so on,” Vanhoef says.  But it gets worse.  The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team also issued this warning as part of its KRACK security advisory, per Ars Technica: “The impact of exploiting these vulnerabilities includes decryption, packet replay, TCP connection hijacking, HTTP content injection, and others.” HTTP content injection means the attacker could sneak code into the websites you’re looking at to infect your PC with ransomware or malware.  This being the case, websites that aren’t HTTPS on a site wide basis (which is most of them) are the most vulnerable.  So if your website has not been upgraded to use HTTPS secure page protocol on a site wide basis, it would be a good idea to schedule this in the near future.

Experts warn that KRACK attacks will largely be opportunistic. Imagine bad guys driving by or walking around your facility scanning for Wi-Fi access points to break into and create mischief of all kinds. By example, I can see eight different Wi-Fi networks from our offices here in downtown Buchanan; apparently, the opportunities for Wi-Fi hackers will be more than plentiful.

What should you do to avoid a Wi-Fi based KRACK attack? Simple: don't use Wi-Fi to connect your computers, printers and peripherals. Hardwiring your network is the sure way to avoid a premises based KRACK attack. 

For businesses that requires the use of a Wi-Fi network at some level (public access for instance), it will be important to verify that your hardware manufacturer has been proactive in analyzing the vulnerability, creating the appropriate patch, making it available for your specific device, and then providing access for security patching.  Once the required patches are applied, it will be important to check for patch updates as the bad guys will keep upping their game; (it's an arms race).  At this moment in time, there are patches for approximately a couple dozen devices.. Feel free to contact us if you need assistance in this regard.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Can Amazing Customer Service Be a Source of Competitive Advantage?

Can Amazing Customer Service Be a Source of Competitive Advantage? 

A recent discussion with one of our clients brought this question into focus. The client is College Pathways USA, and for them, amazing customer service isn't just a plaque on the wall, it's the reason the company exists. It's also intrinsic to their competitive advantage. 

Explaining the genesis of the company the founder said, "As college administrators, we struggled with our desire to give students the time and service they needed because we were stretched so thin. We launched our company to provide an amazing, personalized service to help students enter and succeed in college."

Illustrating their services she continued, "For one of our clients, the family and even the high school were unaware of the programs that were available to their high school student. With our help and advocacy, this student was able to earn 12 college credits that transferred to her college for free."

She added, "Her parents were thrilled, not only for the free credits, but also for the opportunity for their daughter to begin her college experience while still at home. Now she can choose to graduate early (and save thousands of dollars), or to take a lighter credit load during her sports seasons. We’re proud of her, and we enjoy keeping in touch because amazing customer service builds special relationships with our clients."

And those clients tell their friends. From our perspective, seeing the steady growth of College Pathways USA confirms the value of amazing customer service as an important source of competitive advantage, even in a market with larger, well financed, entrenched competitors. A    

Coincidentally, October 2 to 6 is national Customer Service Week, in honor of which author Shep Hyken is offering his book, "Be Amazing or Go Home" in eBook format at no charge. (You can get the hardcover version for $24.81 if you're a Prime member.) 

His book outlines seven customer service habits that build trust with customers, employees and family members. He makes an important connection between gratitude and being Amazing.  Here's a link where you can download a copy on Amazon:

Be Amazing or Go Home

The free eBook is available this week only.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

My VOBox is a Case Study in Perseverance

Our latest website build project well illustrates the importance of perseverance in turning an idea into an operating business. Case in point: My VOBox is the product of three years of planning, programming, testing, refining, retesting, and repeating the process while knocking down multiple technical, legal and security issues, one after another. It could be an HBR Case Study on perseverance as the key prerequisite for building a business.

The My VOBox concept sounds simple: Scan every piece of your incoming mail (both the outside of the envelope and whatever is inside) and make it available anywhere, anytime, by means of a secure, web portal. It's a solution ideal for road warriors, full time RVer's, truck drivers, snow birds, or anyone inconvenienced by a daily trip to a PO or mail box.

And while the concept sounds simple enough, execution turned out to be quite another story. That's where the founder's perseverance (and "fire in the belly") ultimately turned adversity into opportunity.

Strategically, the new site is the marketing "front end" of the business where we'll focus our long-term SEO and related marketing efforts to build brand awareness and drive targeted traffic to the top of the funnel. It's where the service is explained through an Infographic, screen shots, an FAQ page, with info on subscription plans and special offers. Choosing one of the subscription levels takes you to a separate, secure website where subscriptions, payments, log ins and web portal access functionality are segregated behind a robust firewall.

Looking at the MyVOBox website visitors see no sign of the three years of "blood, sweat, toil and tears" that went into turning this simple (but great) idea into viable business. But working with and getting to know hundreds of business founders over the years, I can't remember a single instance where they didn't point to dogged, never-give-up perseverance as a (or the) key factor in their success. My VOBox is the latest example and our nominee for an HBR Case Study.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Website Design Revolution

An Opinion page piece in today's WSJ* discusses changes in the design of consumer tech products over the last twenty-some years. The writer made some points that got me thinking...

Contrasting the role of engineers with designers he made the point that "engineers tend to focus on sheer technical limits: what can be done. But designers are focused on what should be done... building things that solve actual problems or fulfill real wants." With the advances in computing power over the last two decades he sees design as a "key differentiator and driving force behind billion dollar companies."

We see a parallel in the world of website design. While many web developers have long been entranced by what's technically possible, our focus has moved toward design that provides users with compelling solutions to real problems. Using a defined, business model based design process we've seen firsthand how design works as a powerful source of differentiation (and growth) for clients in multiple industries.

In terms of look and feel, this approach supports a leaner, less cluttered, more elegant design. But, elegance isn't an end in itself. (Apple products notwithstanding.)

Effective web design must also resonate with the target customer through messaging that convincingly answers the (universal) "what's in it for me" question. More than that, effective web design must clearly explain the client's value proposition while building trust in the offer and the client company.

At the same time, effective design positions the company's brand and clarifies the brand's attributes while providing intuitive navigation to guide the visitor to the next click in the path to conversion. (According to Google, all of this has to happen within six seconds; the time the average visitor spends evaluating a website before they decide to explore further or "bounce" out.)

Clearly, effective web design is hard, but well worth the effort. We think the WSJ piece summarized the principle nicely: "Design is the key to building the next great wave of companies."

Well said.

*See The Design Revolution in Consumer Tech by Steve Vassallo; The Wall Street Journal; August 7, 2017  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How Much is an Internet Business Worth?

How much is an Internet business worth?

The obvious answer is, "it depends". While PE ratios, enterprise value or another financial ratio are typical valuation methods, in the final analysis, it comes down to the number a qualified buyer is willing to pay. And that number is ultimately based on the value creation potential of the business or its underlying assets.

One of our clients is about to get that ultimate answer to the valuation question in a silent, absolute auction for their Internet business. (The founders have suspended operations for personal reasons so the transaction is being structured as an asset sale.)

Assets up for auction include a seasoned web address; a search optimized, enterprise level e-commerce website; related IP including registered trademarks, patterns, social media accounts, customer lists, and more.

The business generated about $250K in cumulative revenue with good gross margins demonstrating solid customer acceptance, well beyond a simple "proof of concept".

As the company's website developers we see significant value creation potential in these assets as a turn-key brand and marketing channel applicable to a wide range of performance oriented products. (Happy to share details if you're interested; just drop us a line.)

Precept is managing the auction process for the owners. The bidding closes at 4:00 pm EST on Friday August 11, 2017. By 4:01 pm that day, we'll have a definitive answer to the question: "How much is this Internet business worth?"

Friday, July 14, 2017

Can Website Design Drive Business Strategy?

Can website design drive business strategy?

Our latest client site launch could be a case study illustrating the role of web design in implementing and driving a well-thought-out business strategy.

The client is American Home Improvements, based in Elkhart, Indiana. In business since 1959, they're a regional leader in kitchen and bath remodeling, replacement windows and doors, deck and garage construction, as well as roofing and siding.

Identifying both a demographic opportunity from the aging population and a gap in the regional market, they decided to expand their services to include a new Safe Bathrooms division focused on the installation of walk-in tubs, accessible showers, and other home safety related products. The challenge would be in developing this new category without sacrificing their hard-won market leadership in traditional remodeling and construction services.

We came on board to update their prior website and, more importantly, to help implement this strategic shift. Our first step was to get a clear read on their competitive advantage, business model and target markets. From this analysis we proposed a web strategy to implement their business strategy.

Next, we focused on translating their new strategy into a website design that would explain their value proposition in a simple, clear, compelling way. In the interest of building trust, we included a prominent reference to their many years in business in the site's header as a point of differentiation from their less experienced competitors.

Top-level navigation was designed to highlight Safe Bathrooms, as well as Interiors and Exteriors as main headings with drop menu access to sub-pages under each.  A grid of six photos illustrating their services was provided as a secondary navigation path to pertinent interior pages.

New content was developed to increase search relevancy related to the Safe Bathrooms division with dedicated pages to explain the benefits of hydrotherapy, share health tips, provide statistics and explain the features and benefits of select products. (Improved organic search results are already evident.)

With the new website launched, our next step in driving their business strategy is to increase targeted traffic to the website with a refined mix of traditional and online marketing.

This is a case of following a three-step process (Strategy + Design + Marketing) we've developed helping clients achieve significant growth in a dozen different industries. We expect like results for American Home Improvements. You can see their new site here: American Home Improvements

Can website design drive business strategy? Based on our experience the answer is, absolutely. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is Email Marketing Dead?

Is Email Marketing Dead? 

The question was raised by an attendee at our "Killer Websites and E-Marketing" workshop last week; (with thanks to SCORE and American National University for their cooperation and support).

I understand why the question was raised: Given the spam and malware issues surrounding email it's tempting to write it off as irrelevant. But that would be a mistake. Consider four salient points:

1) The percentage of spam to legitimate email is in long-term decline, from 91% in 2008 down to just over 50% 2016. And with improved spam filtering, spam is much less of a burden. (We cut spam to our inboxes at Precept by about 99% when we changed email providers; contact me if you want details.)

2) While malware (especially ransomware) continues to be a threat, regular software updates and employee training have gone a long way toward mitigating those risks for business.

3) The average knowledge worker now spends six hours a day working with email. And among business executives it's nearly two and a half hours a day spent on email and text. (In my experience, meetings take up most of the difference.)

4) For context, we (the partners at Precept) started email marketing in 1996 when we launched; (our first online venture). Now, 21 years later, working with clients in a dozen different industries we can confirm that well-crafted, well-targeted email campaigns continues to deliver outsize results.

Then, as now, great marketing (email and otherwise) always starts with one key question...

What do your email recipients care about? Periodic updates? Discount offers? Helpful information? Whatever the case, your email needs to be clearly, immediately relevant to your readers' needs and expectations.

Include a clear call-to-action and the results can be immediate, measurable and highly effective. While we can point to a dozen or so other best practices, it's not that complicated: Put yourself in your customer's place and act accordingly.

For more info on effective email as well as SEO, SEM, PR and social media, contact me to request a free copy of our 80 slide deck on "Killer Websites and E-Marketing"; happy to share the PDF.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Creators Update: Pros, Cons and Windows 10 Troubleshooting Help

After installing Windows 10 Creators Update on most of our office machines (and talking with our clients over the past month), we're in a position to share a few observations on the pros and cons with this latest update along with troubleshooting help if you run into problems.

First, the good news: On the pro side, Creators Update is relatively stable; we're not seeing crashes or "blue screen of death" problems some experienced with the Anniversary Update. (Thankfully!) Importantly, Creators Update adds or improves security measures. Plus, there are useful productivity tools, Edge browser features, new design controls, and maintenance enhancements. And the price is right: CU is free for Windows 10 users.

But it's not all good news: On the con side, Microsoft issued a warning last week saying customers may have "issues" if they download the update manually using their Windows 10 Update Assistant. This caution is rooted in reports of problems with Internet connections, playing audio, plus printer driver and spooler issues. Microsoft suggested waiting until the update is "pushed" to you.

However, in our experience, these kinds of problems have been far more likely on older computers and/or computers using older printers or peripherals. Still, if you do experience problems after installing Creators Update (or many other Windows 10 related issues) we can share a resource for free, step-by-step instructions on using 19 different Windows 10 Troubleshooters. Just send me a request by email and I'll fire over the link.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Top Cyber Security Risks for 2017 - Ignore Them at Your Peril

Preparing for an executive round table discussion I'm leading at IUSB in a couple weeks, I've been updating our cyber security risk mitigation deck. What we're compiling is pretty sobering. Consider:

- 20% of small to mid sized businesses have been cyber crime targets (source: Microsoft)
- Average cost per security breach is $4 million or $158 per lost/stolen record (source: IBM)
- 58 million phishing incidents in 2016; 5,000 new phishing scams/sites per day (source: Ponemon)
- Cyber crime costs are projected to reach $2 trillion by 2019 (Forbes)

Our short list of recent breaches totaled over a billion customers/records compromised by five kinds of malware, DOS and DDOS attacks, spoofing and sniffing attacks, plus multiple server/website intrusions resulting in a significant losses for companies of all sizes.

After identifying the areas of greatest vulnerability we highlight four critical threat mitigation steps every company should take now. It starts with reviewing internal cyber security policies and training procedures so your people can recognize and avoid falling victim to the most common attack vectors.

Three additional threat mitigation steps round out a relatively straightforward approach to protecting most companies from the most common forms of cyber attack and loss. The main point we're making with the executive group is to avoid complacency; ignoring today's risks will put your company in peril.

While attendance at the round table discussion is closed, I'll be glad to share a copy of our slide deck (over 50 slides!) upon request. Just let me know.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 Adobe "Touching the Infinite" Mobile Survey Takeaways

Just finished reading Adobe's 43 page "Touching the Infinite" 2017 mobile survey and wanted to share a few key takeaways with implications for businesses across multiple sectors and industries.

Adobe surveyed more than 4,000 consumers in the United States and Europe and discovered that 92 percent of the respondents now consider their smartphone as their "primary device". Not hard to believe considering the average user reported checking their smartphone 85 times a day. Other points of note:

Mobile is replacing desktop as the primary means of online access in the home. Mobile represents almost two of every three digital media minutes. And mobile accounts for more than 50% of search activity. But while mobile is taking share from desktop in terms of traffic, it's lagging on revenue.

Adobe's conclusion is that this is due to the difference in customer experience on mobile. Frankly, designing a truly great customer experience isn't easy on a desktop website; getting it right on a mobile device is even more difficult, (by an order of magnitude).

But, this is a problem rich with opportunity. Getting your online customer experience right on all screens, devices and platforms is a source of competitive advantage now and an important catalyst for future growth and profitability. Why?

Because we agree with the central premise of Touching the Infinite, that "mobile technology has reached a point where the possibilities seem endless. As capabilities and business models evolve, they enable us to access limitless goods and services, connected devices, and digital experiences at any point and time."

Working with clients in multiple industries we can attest to the high level of interest and investment being made in mobile strategy, responsive design, and targeted marketing campaigns. These forward-looking executives and business owners are positioning their companies for success in this emerging, mobile based, world of opportunity. (And we're having a blast working with them!)

If you'd like to read the entire 43 page report, you can download it at Adobe's website, or just drop us a note and we'll send you the PDF.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Malware Report a Wake Up Call for Every Business with an Internet Connection

Over the last five years, cyber-security has (by necessity) become a growing part of our client practice. The 2017 State of Malware Report (recently issued by Malwarebytes) confirms the trends we see and can be read as a wake up call for every business with an Internet connection.

This data point stood out: Ransomware distribution increased by 267% between January and November 2016, when it accounted for 66% of the malware payload. Their comment: "This is an unprecedented domination of the threat landscape-like nothing we've seen before."

As if that's not bad enough, the United States is #1 among the top 10 countries for ransomware detections, with 81% of those detections hitting companies in North America. (Interestingly, Russia doesn't even make the top ten list.)

Malwarebytes' theory on why the US is the #1 target: "Ransomware cybercriminals concentrated their efforts on businesses, particularly North American enterprises, no doubt realizing that these companies had the most to lose and the resources to pay."  And it pays the crooks well: According to a recent TED talk global cybercrime generated some $450 billion in profits last year.

Beyond ransomware, the report also discusses ad fraud, botnets, changes in distribution methods and 2017 predictions. Here's a link to the report: 2017 State of Malware Report.

Our bottom line is simple: The attacks are getting more sophisticated, more frequent, and more expensive to deal with after the fact. Make sure your company's security hardware, software and processes are as strong as possible before your company's data or systems are compromised.

Want specifics? Contact us and we'll share links to several articles that will point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Is There a Formula for Building a "Killer" Website?

Is there a formula for building a "killer" website?

Based on our 20 years of experience building "killer" (i.e. profitable, successful) websites, our definitive answer is "No." However, there is a proven three step process for building websites with real killer potential.

That process is the subject of our upcoming workshop in partnership with SCORE Michiana. It's set for Thursday, January 12, 2017 from 11 am to 12:30 pm, and will be held at American National University in South Bend.

Note: Admission is $25 but I have a limited number of "courtesy" tickets for Precept guests. These are available on a first come basis. (Let me know if you'd like to attend the workshop as soon as possible and I'll reserve a spot for you if space is still available.)  

Here's an overview of the program from the SCORE website:

In this fast-paced 90-minute workshop you’ll gain important insights on building (or greatly improving) your website and expanding your online visibility using a powerful, proven, three step process:
Step One: Defining the Right Internet Strategy
Using your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) as the starting point, you’ll discover little known online tools to analyze your website’s strengths and weaknesses relative to your competitors. You’ll use these insights to develop an effective Internet strategy based on your company’s unique competitive strengths. 
Step Two: Designing a Killer Website
The second segment is about translating your business strategy into a website design that looks great, and helps you reach your business objectives. Examples of good (and bad) websites illustrate design principles for communicating your value proposition clearly and compellingly to maximize the value of every visitor to your website.
Step Three: Developing an Effective Digital Marketing Plan
The final segment covers the rapidly changing world of digital marketing including SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (pay-per- click), email, and leading social media sites with an overview of the pros and cons of each, along with recommendations on which channels work best, in what situations, based on actual market testing. 
This workshop has been designed to give you the tools you need to reach your target market and grow your business using a website development process that’s been instrumental in generating over $100,000,000 in revenue in manufacturing, services, healthcare, education, high-tech, e-commerce, and not-for- profit organizations. 
More info on registering is at the SCORE website; here's a link. 
SCORE Registration Page