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Category: Tools of the Trade

5 Ways Your Website Could get Hacked

You’ve spent all this time on creating a kick ass website – don’t let the hackers get you down.. here are some tips to help you combat the worst case scenario (Trust me when I say, it IS the WORST!)

Your Web Host Is Vulnerable

Quite frequently, many websites hosted by the same web hosting company are all hacked together. In these cases, the problem usually lies with the host. Either their servers have some vulnerability which is being exploited by a hacker OR the hackers have figured out a way to gain access to one website on a server and then use that website to infect the other websites hosted on the server. Always file a report with your hosting provider if your site has been hacked.

Your Computer or Your Web Developer’s Computer Has Been Compromised

Sometimes, the root of the problem lies with machine used to access the website and not a vulnerability of the website itself. Hackers can infect a computer with malware, enabling them to steal saved passwords or infect files as they are uploaded to a server.
To prevent this from happening, the computer used to access a website should be regularly scanned for spyware, viruses and malware. Additionally, unencrypted passwords should not be stored in FTP programs.
Finally, when accessing any protected area of the website – control panel, databases — be sure that you are using a trusted network.

Your Passwords Have Been Leaked or Are NOT Strong

When it comes to passwords, they can only protect your website is they are strong. This means that passwords must adhere to the following criteria.

  1. Unique. Passwords should all be different from each other and not used on any other website.
  2. Complex. Passwords should not be easily guessed. The best passwords do not contain words and are a combination of numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters.
  3. Private. Be careful about who you share your passwords with and how you share the passwords. If sending a password via email, consider transmitting it as an image instead of via plain text.
  4. Self-Selected. When you setup a web hosting account, install content management software, or create databases, passwords are typically automatically generated. And while these passwords are often very complex, hackers can sometimes guess these passwords.
  5. Regularly Changed. By updating your passwords, you lessen the chance that a leaked password can be used to gain access to your website.

Your Content Management Software Has Security Holes

Content Management Systems (CMS) (Like WordPress) are used to make it easier to manage content or maintain other functionality. But there is a big downside. Regardless of which CMS is used, there are always security holes that can be exploited by hackers.
To keep your website as secure as possible always make sure your CMS platform is up to date with the latest security patches and versions.
While it may be expensive or time-consuming to keep your CMS updated, it is worth the effort. After a new update is released, details about security flaws in the older version are often released. And what this means is that if you don’t upgrade to the latest software version, hackers will literally have a roadmap to getting into your website.5.

Your Site or a Third Party Plugin is Poorly Written

Poorly coded website forms, dynamic pages, and CMS plugins/modules could result in easily exploitable security holes. To prevent this from happening, make sure that all custom code is fully tested and coded with security in mind. And before installing a 3rd-party plugin or module for your CMS, review the feedback and/or take a look under the hood to make sure that the plugin is well-coded.

Organize Your Home Office to Encourage Productivity

Creating a home office is a huge step towards being able to focus and get work done throughout the day. Unfortunately, if your home office space is a landing pad for other items, or a haven of disorganization, you may not realize just how much it affects your productivity. Creating an organized office space will help you organize your approach to working at home, or at the very least it will cut out distractions in your work zone.

Simplify

The first step to organizing your home office is to remove everything and anything that you don’t need or use on a regular basis. Simplify what goes on your desk surface, the items in your drawers, and everything on your existing shelves. In this step, you need to become a minimalist, and be ruthless about it. Relocate as much as you can out of your work space to keep it uncluttered and basic.

Arrange

Keep all of your most used items in constant, easy-to-access places. You will save yourself time by doing this because you will always know where items are, and because you won’t have to move around to grab them. If you’ve decided that an item is something you need to have in your workspace, but that you don’t use often, put it away so as to avoid clutter.

Organize

Find a system that works for you! Organization isn’t a one-size-fits all undertaking. If you prefer baskets to be labelled by size, colour and contents that is great. If your organization is a little more abstract, that’s okay too; it’s your office and you can organize it in whatever way makes sense to you.

Update

Are you still chasing paper trails and filing cabinets? Consider going all-digital to curb clutter. Keeping your files on your computer is often easier and takes up far less room than collecting paper. While you’re organizing your office, you may consider making this change as well.

You can find unique and interesting folders and boxes to organize your office in a certain style of décor. Try labeling folders and baskets so that you remember where each thing goes, and get into the habit of tidying your space every evening before you finish for the day. This will keep your productivity high as your work space stays uncluttered.

6 Must-Haves for a Great Business Plan

When you start a business, whether it’s the first or fifteenth time, it often feels daunting. In order to drum up support and capital, you need to have an impressive business plan package that shows investors that you are on the mark. There are very distinct parts of a business plan that you will need, so let’s run through these aspects.

Overview or Summary

You’ll want to start by creating an executive overview of the items contained within your business plan; it’s okay to do this after other sections. Consider this as an elevator pitch for your business.

Overall Business Strategy

In this section, you will want to lay out your business idea, growth plan and potential, current stage of growth, industry research and position and your business model. Be sure to put effort into understanding and explaining the competitive advantage you have over others in the field and offer a complete and realistic timeline of expectations. You may also want to break down your long and short term goals in this section.

Overall Marketing and E-Commerce Strategy

This is where you will lay out any and all aspects of marketing that you have thought out. Marketing is an extremely important part of business, especially in a competitive market. What are you going to do that will set you apart? Who is your ideal client? How can you appeal to that client directly?

Strengths and Weaknesses

A business plan must be realistic, above all. It’s important to assess the situation and identify any risk factors. This allows you the opportunity to create a backup plan.

Environmental Impact Plan

More and more in the business world, entrepreneurs are taking inventory based on how socially and environmentally responsible their company is able to be. Including a social responsibility and environmental impact plan within your business plan is a good business practice and will allow investors to feel confident in your company.

Financial Forecast

Financial forecasting is very important for any business owner. This gives your investors and lenders an idea of how much capital you’re looking to gain, how you will pay funds back and what your sources of income are going to be. It also lays out your plan clearly to determine their expectations in your business.

It’s important that you have a business plan both for yourself and for any potential investors; but don’t be afraid to revisit and change things as time goes on. Flexibility is as important as planning when it comes to owning a business.

Remote Collaboration Using Skype

As technology becomes more widespread and reliable, one thing that businesses are taking advantage of is the ability to hire a team remotely and work together, while not physically being together. For many, the best person for the job isn’t necessarily going to be the closest. When it comes to employing a team remotely, or even hiring a consultant or getting business advice, there are tools that can make collaborating easier despite geographically being apart. Skype is one of these tools.

Skype calls and meetings offer the ability to be able to see your team, to check in and read body language during conversations. This is an obvious advantage over using the phone, as it gives management teams a better idea of how things are going and what may need to be addressed.

Skype calls can be great for more than just video conference calling; they also offer your team the ability to share documents, share work screens and instant message one or more members of the team. The potential that this holds is nearly limitless, as you can easily work together on team projects in a way that is otherwise extremely difficult. Send out the agenda via Skype before your meeting starts, or even set the agenda for your next meeting before you finish up.

If you’re working with people from multiple time zones, there are days and times that a video meeting will not be plausible for everyone. Skype is great for this in that the video option is exactly that; just an option, and you don’t have to sign on to video in order to attend. If some of your staff wants to weigh in on voice only, that’s easy to achieve with just the click of one button on Skype, and it doesn’t impact the quality of call for anyone else.

Holding Skype meetings is an excellent way for each member of your team to feel as though they are being heard as an important member of the team. Not only that, but connecting visually tends to connect remote members better to your workplace and projects, which in turn leads to more focused work.

Navigating the Confusing World of Product Photography

You made this beautiful creation. You have spent time, energy, gave this piece a little slice of your soul and created it with love. Now you have to photograph it too???!!!

If any of you are like me, having to create this item but then to try to take these amazing photos so you can share and sell it online, is frustrating, to say the least. 99% of makers I have talked to have some kind of frustration dealing with shooting their product. Some just don’t know where to start, or have trouble figuring out how best photograph their specific product.

Others find that there are so many tutorials, products and suggestions on how to shoot their product it feels overwhelming. There are so many aspects of taking photos of your products, but it can be fairly simple, and I am here to help. Over this series I am going to share some tips and tricks of the trade to help you navigate this crazy world of photography so you can really focus you creativity on making and selling your creations – without tears and stress.

Over this series I am going to walk you through a number of different aspects of product photography, including:

  • Lighting – how to find the right light and use it advantageously
  • Basic Composition techniques
  • Backgrounds and product placement
  • Editing
  • Styling images to your brand
  • Equipment suggestions and how to DIY your own tools

I hope you stay with me over the course of this series and please feel free to leave comments below with any questions or suggestions that you may have.

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Follow along with our Maker Member Meghan from Sew Shenanigans as she takes you through the wonderous world of product photography.

How To Use A Virtual Assistant and Free Up Your Time

If you’re considering using a virtual assistant for your business, chances are that you already how well a VA can free up your time. For busy entrepreneurs and CEOs, a virtual assistant is often the perfect solution to poor time management; the truth is that you really can’t do it all on your own. If you’ve found things slipping through the cracks, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that you have to tackle throughout a day, then a virtual assistant is probably the right choice for you.
A well-trained virtual assistant will work with you to handle your administrative needs so that you don’t have to; freeing up your time and allowing you to bring your business to new heights. A virtual assistant will work with you on a number of different tasks to ensure that the tasks that you need done are handled professionally and in a timely manner.
Wondering where to start with your virtual assistant? Begin by deciding which things you can let go of; this can be harder for some people than others, but consider tasks like invoicing, transcription and website population. Are you ever overwhelmed by social media outreach? Your VA can handle that. Do you fall behind on answering emails? With access and a little guidance, your VA can do that. What about keeping appointments or keeping track of where you need to be? Your VA can set up a calendar for you to ensure that you’re never double-booked.
If you keep clear lines of communication open, your VA will be able to carry out your administrative needs as well as if you had done them yourself. Of course, you’ll be out schmoozing with potential clients and landing new accounts which is what you love to do. Delegate your needs concisely and keep your expectations structured, and you will find working with a VA frees up plenty of your time to focus on the other stuff.

Optimizing Your Images for Web Use

Everyone knows that well placed images draw hits to your website or blog, but possibly the most overlooked way to speed up your site loading times is by optimizing your images specifically for web use. Not only does web optimizing your images make for lower load times on your pages, but it can save you oodles of bandwidth consumption, which can save you a great amount of money as well.

Many people believe that optimizing images for the web is something that will take up too much of their time, or require fancy photo editing software that they can’t afford. While Photoshop remainsthe market standard for people who use graphics in their day-to-day work, there are plenty of great options for people who want introductory programs.

Here are a few great tools for web optimizing tools for your images, as well as an oft-overlooked method for shrinking images with Photoshop.

Smush.It!
For those who are short on time, Smush.It! is a great tool to quickly convert images, either through the web-application or as a Firefox plug-in. This program is a great way to convert files in bulk, and it also quickly turns gif images into png images, which are virtually the same, only much smaller. You can also find Smush.It for WordPress by searching the plugins page.

Online Image Optimizer
The Online Image Optimizer is a very simple and straightforward tool for optimizing images either by uploading them or through entering a URL. With this web-based service, you are able to select the type of image that you would like to convert your file into, and optimize quickly.

PicMonkey
Many novice image editors choose Picmonkey for their image beautification. On top of easily optimizing images for the web, PicMonkey is a service that allows photo editing online unlike no other. PicMonkey is full of effects to enhance your photographs in the most artistic of ways, even with a very basic knowledge of photo editing. PicMonkey is the perfect choice for anyone needing to casually edit their pictures for free and with easy access to filters, frames, collages and text. As long as you’ve got Flash, you can run PicMonkey to ensure your photos come out he way you want them at a size that’s great for your site.

Photoshop Optimization Tools
Anyone who uses Photoshop regularly already knows that there’s a sliding scale option of image quality when saving an image in a useful web format; the higher the quality you choose to save your photo at, the bigger the file is going to be. Did you also know that there’s a specific option in your file tab for optimizing your photos for the web and mobile devices? Under the File tab, you want to look for the option that either says “Save For Web” or “Save For Web And Devices”. You will then be able to specify the file format that best suits your needs from the drop-down. You’ll be able to see your original image as compared to the way that your web-optimized images will appear, and select the one that best serves your intents and purposes.

The main point is to make sure your images are as small as they can be (file size-wise) but as large as they can be visually. It’s a hard balance to nail down.

Do you have any tips that you can share? Please leave a comment so we can try them out too!

How to Collaborate Using Evernote

If you, like most small businesses today, are taking advantage of remote employees in a number of different locations, you may be looking for easy ways to streamline projects and share notes. Evernote is an excellent tool for collaborations because it offers a great way to view and share notes, notebooks and ideas with other team members in real time.
To begin using Evernote, sign up at evernote.com. Once you have signed in you can create as many notebooks as you like. In order to share, simply click on the share option and ask your team members to do the same. This is the best way to manage evernote, though you can also send out the URL to a note to allow non-users to see it. Non-users will not be able to make changes or edit notes unless they sign into an account of their own. Evernote allows you to invite team members to notebooks, which can only be viewed by those who are invited, and which keeps sensitive documents more or less protected.
Probably the most reliable and efficient way to share notes across a remote team, Evernote is an excellent way to allow your team to be heard and informed on business issues. Evernote is easy to set agendas before collaborative meetings, or to allow employees to make note of concerns that they may have. If you have multiple members working on a project, it’s also a spectacular way to keep up with who is working on what aspect of your collaborative efforts, as well as offering practical and relevant advice as things take shape.
For managerial staff especially, Evernote is currently the best way to streamline your involvement on collaborative projects within your workplace. It allows you the opportunity to remotely oversee exactly what is happening, and give pointers on changes that you would like to implement. Evernote can give you a good idea of how well your team is working, and it can offer insight into the ways that you can all work more effectively together, even when you physically can’t be.
My favourite part about Evernote is that it can be installed on multiple devices and syncs with each one. I have it installed on my desktop computer (yes those still exist), my laptop, my Ipad AND my IPhone – AND they all sync together so whenever and wherever I have an idea or even a blog post, I can write it down and then when I get a chance, I can finish it off on any device.
I’ve hooked up the family and even they use it to create things like Christmas lists, party plans etc. The best part is that you can add in links and it live connects to the site the link lives on, so you can add Pins, Amazon products etc. and compile all of your info in one place.
Do you use Evernote? How has it changed your business practices? Do you use an alternative? What is it and how is it better than Evernote?

How To Create A Basic Editorial Calendar That You Can Stick To

An editorial calendar is a great tool for anyone who uses social media or blogs. It allows you to get a handle on your content by answering some of the most important questions about who you’re planning to reach, when you should be writing, what you have to say and where you’re going to say it.

If you’re running a site with multiple contributors, an editorial calendar will also help you keep track of who is responsible for generating content at what time. It’s likely the best way to keep publishing streamlined and organized, and to set time restraints for yourself and your team.

Use A Template

You don’t need to make a complicated calendar for your editorial needs; in fact the simpler the better. All you need to do is find something that you’re familiar with and run with it. If you’re most comfortable using Google Calendar, you can create new calendar and make that into your editorial one. If you like using a day planner, by all means, use that. We even have a weekly planner you can download for FREE!

Brainstorm

In order to create your editorial calendar, You need to have a number of post ideas that fit in with your marketing plans. Take some time to research others who are blogging in your field to get some ideas of what you feel is relevant or irrelevant to your business. Once you have a list that you’re satisfied with, you can start to plug those blog posts into your calendar.

Use and Update

The point of an editorial calendar is to keep you organized and on task. It’s great to wake up each day and know exactly what needs to be written, or to be able to advise your staff in kind. For an editorial calendar to be effective, you need to update it on a regular basis; write, publish, brainstorm, repeat.

An editorial calendar is an excellent way to keep from feeling rushed or overwhelmed when it comes to blogging, newsletters and other outreach. When keeping up with an editorial calendar, you can sit down and write your posts for the week in a matter of hours because you know what needs to be done, and that will free up your time for so many other important things.

Leave us a comment and let us know how your Editorial Calendar turns out!

How to Cope with Social Media (And Not Feel Completely Overwhelmed)

If you’re feeling stretched by the time and organization it seems to take in planning and using Social Media, you’re not alone. The market today is changing, and now more than ever before, business owners are faced with the need to sell themselves on a daily basis, while not being obnoxious or annoying their target audience. That certainly sounds overwhelming; especially when you consider the sheer volume of social media networks that are out there. Don’t start breathing into a brown paper bag just yet, there are some things that you can do to keep yourself from spending all of your time managing social media.

Utilize Tools

One of the benefits to the social media world is that there are a lot of people out there facing the same struggles that you are. In light of this, some very clever people have developed tools to help the rest of us streamline our social media outreach. Some of these tools include Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Ping.fm. Take a look at each one to see which platform you like better.

Stick With What Works

Depending upon your target market, you may not have clients on every social media platform. The good news is that you really only need to post on the platforms that your clients frequent. Facebook and Twitter tend to be the most popular, with LinkedIn and Google+ serving a different crowd. Instagram and Pinterest are very visual mediums, and Youtube works well for those who are looking to establish expertise. Familiarize yourself with your audience, and then go where they’re going to be. This is where a social media strategy comes into play.

Outsource

If you’re truly overwhelmed, it may be time to consider hiring a social media manager or virtual assistant. With someone else’s expertise on board, you can rest assured that your social media marketing is handled reliably and professionally without taking up loads of your time.