Small Business Tips

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A small business blog featuring tips to help entrepreneurs succeed in the small business world. Topics include family business, human resources, marketing, money, networking, operations, ownership, startup, taxes and technology.
How to Secure Your Business Against Computer Viruses

Bank accounts, client information, protected business processes… all are right there in front of you and can be accessed with the touch of a button. Every business has a least one computer with all the crucial information contained within. Truthfully, a good business can’t run without a computer these days.

So why is it that, despite the obvious threats of hackers and the like that loom out in cyberspace, many business computers (and even personal computers) are not being properly protected? Even if you think you’re taking adequate precautions to protect yourself and your business, chances are, you’re missing one of the crucial elements that will leave a gaping hole in your system, making it fully accessible.

To properly and effectively protect your computer, be sure to follow these steps:

1. It is absolutely critical that your computer have an anti-virus scan program, such as Norton, Mcafee, or my personal favorite used on all my home and office machines Panda Internet Security 2007. Most new computers come with one installed, but only with about a year subscription to their services. Once that year runs out, you no longer have access to the updates required for continued protection, so always keep your subscription up to date. The yearly cost far outweighs the loss you could have if a virus attacked.

2. It is also imperative that you regularly update your anti-virus programs virus definitions. Typically you can set the program up to where it updates the definitions automatically, without even bothering you. This is efficient if your system is connected to the Internet 24/7. If not, be sure that the definitions are updated when you do connect. Without current virus definitions, your system is not protected from the latest bugs.

3. Make sure that your operating system, like Windows, is regularly updated as well. Again, you can set the system up to where it updates automatically, but even then it will occasionally ask you about certain updates. Typically these updates contain software security patches. These patches do exactly that, they patch up holes in the system that may give access to hackers and viruses.

4. Run virus scan often. At the very least, run it weekly, but more often will protect you better. Also, be sure to back up the documents, projects and information you have saved to your hard drive on a regular basis. If you’re using a server, have each computer user back-up their information to the server weekly. If not, I recommend backing-up to a flash drive or CD-R. Save information that you could not replace if the system were to crash.

If you do end up with a computer virus even after taking all the precautions possible (and it can happen at some point), there are steps to take to get rid of the problem. First and foremost, if the infected computer is connected to a network, immediately disconnect and isolate that computer. Some viruses are able to quickly spread to other computers on the network. Train your employees to take proper action when a problem surfaces.

Next, find the removal tool for that particular virus. Your anti-virus scan program can warn you that the virus exists and say that it is deleted, but 9 times out of 10, it’s not completely gone. You will typically need to use the removal tool, most of which can be found by doing an online search with “[virus name] removal.”

Once the virus is removed, be sure to do another virus scan, just to make sure. If the virus crashed your operating system, format and reinstall. This is where the backup that you’ve been running comes in handy. You can always reinstall programs, but cannot replace the information on those programs, such as the client bills for the last three years.

And finally, once everything is reinstalled, run virus scan again, just in case. You can never be too careful when it comes to computer viruses… ever.

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 17th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Technology |

Demand for Healthy Pet Food Presents Business Opportunity

If you’re an animal lover and looking for a niche market to start a business in, then healthy pet food may be the product line for you. Following last month’s pet food recall, pet owners are on the prowl for a healthier alternative for their extended family members.

Canada’s Menu Foods, which produces dry and canned dog and cat food for over 50 brands, pulled over 60 million canned and pouch products off of store shelves after reports that the products were causing the deaths and illnesses of pets across the nation.

Upon further research, Menu Foods and the FDA discovered that the finished products manufactured between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007 contained melamine, which it typically used in making plastics. The contaminant coincided with the switch to a new distributor for the wheat gluten ingredient contained in the products (see Menu Foods’ March 30, 2007 press release).

Since the recall, sales have skyrocketed for a number of small businesses across the country that manufacture organic and/or chemical- and preservative-free cat and dog food. The Honest Kitchen out of San Diego, California reports four times the online orders and a 100% doubling in actual dollar amounts.

Many of these small businesses got their start by providing home cooked meals to their own pets. KosherPets in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida started after its owners couldn’t find anything on the market that would help their Dalmatian’s skin allergies. But once Martine Lacombe started making kosher meals for their dog, they saw immediate improvement.

The neighbors were so impressed they were asking where they could buy the food for their dogs, but there was nothing on the market. So, KosherPets was born in 2001, bringing in $10,000 it’s first year, $100,000 its second and is expected to rake in up to $500,000 this year.

Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen states that, “people’s animals are like their babies…they enjoy participating in creating a meal for their cat or dog, rather than scooping something brown out of a can.”

I have three dogs at home, who are, in fact, much like children to me. I’m not ready to spend the extra cash on organic and preservative-free dog food, but I can definitely understand the appeal.

Many dogs develop skin allergies to the preservatives and chemicals in dog food, including my four year old Lab/Great Dane. Thankfully we have found a dog food that helps alleviate the problem, though not completely. If the organic products were more affordable, we would definitely switch. Maybe it just takes more entrepreneurs tapping into the market to make the products that are the best for our pets more readily available.

• A Growing Appetite for Healthy Pet Food

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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 16th, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ventures |

Aprils Fools Day Office Pranks

I know I am one of the many who are guilty of dreaming up fabulous pranks that would have everyone in the office rolling… but I never have the nerve to actually follow through with pulling them off.’s Top 10 Office Pranks Exposed reveals some very inventive and hilarious office pranks that were pulled off, including the culprits. My personal top three from the list are:

• Placing a sticky-note on the bottom of a co-worker’s mouse that says “April Fools.” It may take a few minutes for her to figure out why his mouse doesn’t work, but it will sure produce a good chuckle.

• All the employees band together and call in sick the same morning about an hour before report time (particularly if a new hire is to start that same day). Then, everyone shows up to work at the same time, maybe with breakfast in tow.

• While the new technical service representative was out of the office, some employees of a printing company sent all of his equipment, including the computer monitor, through the shrink wrapping machine.

A sense of humor in the office is a must to get through the day, but be careful when planning a practical joke, because your job could be on the line. Be sure to think through all possible reactions from your co-workers and the consequences of such reactions. Also, be sure not to do anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or distract the rest of the work day.

And, above all else, be sure you know your boss and how he’ll react well enough before pulling a practical joke on him. Anything that embarrasses him or undermines his authority will quickly cost your job.

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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, February 15th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |