Is a Blog Right For Your Business?

Lemmings are cute, but dumb. If you tell them to jump off a cliff, they will. Just like the people who start blogs because everyone is doing it. Guess what happens after a little while? The blogs die.

In managing a list of many Web sites, most of which are blogs, I deleted countless sites from the list because the sites and blogs no longer existed. The people ran out of steam or had no reason to start them in the first place.

How do you know when a blog is right for your business? Learn why people start blogs, how they find their niche and how blogging tools can be used for more than blogs.

Some people like to read blogs, others like to read newsletters, still others like to rely on feeds and some read a few or all of them. No matter the method the information is distributed, each medium has one thing in common: content. Having a blog connects your newsletter and your business with all of these readers and delivers important content in a particular style.

I’ve been blogging since June 2000. If you review my early blog entries in meryl’s notes, you’ll notice they’re more personal. When blogs first hit the scene in the late ’90s, they were personal diaries and journals. Like the blog business, my blog has transformed from personal to business speak, although I still add personal notes here and there.

A few bloggers tend to talk about their work, their products and their little world. That might work for celebrities where fans want to know everything about them, but it doesn’t work for the average business person. Other business people want information on how to succeed and when a blog spends time hawking products offering information of no value, few people will return. The people whose products sell well are the ones who provide valuable information. Readers already know what kind of information they’re getting, so they trust that when they buy something, it will be of the same or better quality. This value must be reflected in their blog. It’s much like people who only sign up for a newsletter after first seeing an example.

No one wants to be a lemming (I would hope). How do you decide whether or not to set up a blog? The answer isn’t black or white (what did you expect?). Ask these questions:

  • Can you regularly update it — at least five times a week?
  • Do you have something to say other than just linking to others?
  • Do you read other blogs or feeds?
  • Can you provide information of value to others not just to yourself?
  • How large is your newsletter subscriber list?
  • How many unique visitors do you get on an average day, week or month?

The big decider is whether or not you can write in the blog almost daily. The people behind the high traffic blogs post multiple times a day. Though resourceful, merely linking to other sites doesn’t give visitors much reason to make the effort to come to yours. Reading other blogs or feeds is a great way to learn how to carry a discussion. Find other blogs covering topics similar to yours and check them out. Disagree with their opinions? Write about it and explain your reasons. Cross-blog discussions are common, and that’s where trackback comes in handy.

Trackback is a blog feature. If you decide to comment on another blog posting in your blog instead of in that blog’s comments page, then you link to the conversation through the trackback link. Trackback is similar to the permalink, the permanent URL for the blog entry, but it has a different URL for copying and pasting in your blog’s trackback box.

Aside from the technical aspects of operating a blog on a daily basis, subscriber list size and Web site traffic are good indicators of what kind of reaction you’ll get when opening a blog. Starting from scratch with little traffic means you have a long road ahead and lots of work to do. There is no magic formula anyone can sell you for $97 to make your blog an overnight success. But with some perseverance and ingenuity, your blog can engage many prospects and clients.

Considering there are numerous blogs out there, pick a niche topic when starting a blog for a better shot at attracting and keeping an audience. meryl’s notes focuses on three areas: webby, geeky and wordy. In reality, this is too much. What I need to do for my readers is create three separate blog entry points, so those interested in writing, newsletters and Internet marketing get nothing but the wordy entries. Those interested in Web design get the webby stuff and the technophiles receive the geeky content.

I also manage a personal blog separate from meryl’s notes. It’s about cochlear implants and deafness. This could fall under the geeky category, but it’s a personal blog and doesn’t belong in meryl’s notes. This blog is written for a different audience.

The blogging tools for both of my blogs come with syndication capabilities so those using feed readers or aggregators can read the content through the software. When sending a new issue of a newsletter, comment on it or link to it in the blog, that way the blog and feed readers will get the goods, so all three bases are covered.

Blogging tools aren’t just for, well, blogging. Such tools are an excellent way to help you update your Web site more often than you otherwise would. I use it to manage the list of tableless Web sites. Using blogging tools is much easier than the way I managed it before, updating the HTML files by hand. Though using a blog tool, it isn’t a blog. In this case, the blog tool has become a content management system (CMS).

Small business owners don’t have a need for the fancy and pricey CMSes out there. They find it easier to use blogging software to manage their sites or hire someone to adapt the tool for their site.

Blogs have found a place in businesses and people are finding creative ways to use them. Some companies have a blog on the intranet for communicating project status, jeopardies and metrics. They’re used for knowledge management. With information pouring in, blog tools provide a way to share, organize and process the information.

Being a follower can be good or bad. No one wants to walk off a cliff with the lemmings, but everyone wants to succeed. Best practices won’t help, since the decision to blog is based on the organization’s mission, needs and goals along with its target market’s desires and needs. A blog about lemmings? There is one, sort of. Or maybe you’d like to start your own and talk about dumb business moves.

Two-Sided Business Cards – The Pros and Cons

Two-sided business cards have their fans and their vigorous opponents. Some people love filling the extra space on the back of a business card with more information, while others swear by leaving it blank for people to write notes on. So how are you to decide which to go with when you are designing your new business cards?

Here are the pros and the cons for printing on both sides of your cards.

Pros

  • By printing on both sides you can fit in more information about your business without crowding the front. These days there are so many contact details and useful urls to share and you might want to add your Facebook page and Twitter handle. Keep the front of the card streamlined to the most essential information and tuck the rest on the back
  • You can print fun, useful or inspiring stuff on the back of your card that will make people want to keep your cards handy for reference. Value added cards are more likely to have a longer lifespan, keeping your name in front of potential customers.
  • More room for enhanced brand-building. Using the back of your card allows more room for graphics or photos that build on your brand.
  • You can print current special offers, add QR codes linking to a special offer page and any more relevant information, on the back of your cards without cluttering up the front.

Cons

  • At networking events many people like to scribble notes on the back of cards to help them remember your conversation, or to note down follow-up points. When the card is printed on both sides with no white space, they can’t.
  • When cards are filed away in Rolodexes or card filing systems, only the front of the card can be seen. Similarly people only tend to scan in one side of a card. So all the information on the back is lost as soon as the card is filed. Make sure all the essential contact information is on the front of the card if you do decide to print on both sides.
  • It does cost more to print double-sided business cards and it takes slightly longer, as the ink has to dry on one side before the second side is printed. However check with your printer on the additional cost. In some cases it won’t be a great deal more and it may well be worth it to you.

Despite the cons, many people do go with double-sided cards, as they tend to look more sophisticated and allow for more creative graphics. Just avoid the pitfalls mentioned in the cons list: try to leave some white or light coloured space on the back that can be written over (i.e. without a glossy varnish); make sure that all the vital contact information is listed on the front of the card. That way you can have the best of both sides of the debate.

The Business Case for Information Security: Getting Your Security Budget Approved

Information systems security is very vital in enterprises today, in order to curb the numerous cyber threats against information assets. Despite the good arguments that are put up by Information security managers, the Board and Senior Management in Organizations, might still drag their feet, to approve information security budgets, visa vi other items, like marketing and promotion, which they believe have greater Return on Investment (ROI). How do you then, as a Chief Information Security O fficer (CISO)/IT /Information Systems manager, convince Management or the Board of the need to invest in Information security?

I once had a conversation with an IT Manager for one of the big regional financial institutions, who shared his experience on getting an information security budget approved. The IT department was tussling it out with Marketing for some funds that had been made available from savings on the annual budget. ” You see, if we invest in this marketing campaign, not only shall the targeted market segment help us make and surpass the numbers, but also estimates show that we could more than double our loan portfolio.” argued the marketing people. On the other hand, IT’s argument was that “By being proactive in procuring a more robust Intrusion prevention System (IPS), they will be reduction in security incidents”. Management decided to allocate the extra funds to Marketing. The IT people wondered then, what they had done wrong, that the marketing people got right! So how do you ensure that you get that budget approval for your Information security project?

It’s vital for management to appreciate the consequences of inaction as far as securing the Enterprise is concerned, if a breach occurred not only will the organization su ffer from loss of reputation and customers, due to reduced confi dence in the brand, but also a breach could lead to loss of revenue and even legal action being taken against the organization, situations in which good marketing campaigns might fail to redeem your organization.

We try to address the major points management could raise against investing in information security.

1. Information security solutions tend to be costly, where are the tangible returns?

The overall goal of any organization is to create / add value for the shareholders or stakeholders. Can you quantify the bene fits of the countermeasure you want to procure? What indicators are you employing to justify that investment in information security? Does your argument for a countermeasure align with the overall objectives of the Organization, how do you justify that your action will help the organization achieve its goals and increase shareholders/stake holder’s value. For example, if the organization has prioritized customer acquisition and customer retention, how does procurement of the information security solution you propose, help achieve that goal?

2. Isn’t the countermeasure a panic / isolated reaction to a regulatory requirement or recent audit query?

The vast majority of Information security projects could be driven by external regulations or compliance requirements, or could be as a reaction to a recent query by the external auditors or even as a result of a recent systems breach. For example, a financial regulator could require that all financial institutions implement an IT Vulnerability assessment tool. Thus, the organization is required to comply at any cost or face penalties. While response to these regulatory requirements is necessary, just plugging the holes and ” fighting the fires” approach are not sustainable. The implementation of process change in isolation could result into an environment of working in silos, conflicting information and terminology, disparate technology, and a lack of connection to business strategy. [1]

Uncoordinated reactions to specific regulatory requirements, may lead to implementing solutions that are not aligned with the business strategy of the organization. Therefore to overcome this problem and get funding approval and management support, your argument and business case should show how the solutions you intend to procure fit into the bigger picture, and how this aligns with the overall objective of securing assets in the organization.

What are the costs, implications, and the impact of doing nothing?

You will need to communicate to management, the basic business value of the solution you want to procure. You will start by showing/ calculating the current cost, implications, and the impact of doing nothing; if the countermeasure you want to procure is not in place. You could classify these as:

Direct cost – the cost that the organization incurs for not having the solution in place.

Indirect cost – the amount of time, effort and other organizational resources that could be wasted.

Opportunity cost – the cost resulting from lost business opportunities, if the security solution or service you propose was not in place and how that could impact the organization’s reputation and goodwill.

You could use the following pointers and expound on these further:

• What regulatory fines due to non-compliance, does the organization face?

• What is the impact of business interruption and productivity losses?

• How will the organization be impacted, her brand or reputation that could result in huge financial losses?

• What losses are incurred due to poor management of business risk?

• What losses do we face attributed to fraud: external or internal?

• What are the costs spent on people involved in mitigating risks that would otherwise be reduced by deploying the countermeasure?

• How will loss of Data, which is a great business asset, impact our operations and what is the actual cost of recovering from such a disaster?.

• What is the legal implication of any breach as a result of our non-action?

How does the proposed solution reduce cost and increase business value.

You will then need to show how the countermeasure you propose is going to reduce cost and increase business value. Again you could expound more on the following areas:

• Show how increased efficiencies and productivity, of deploying the countermeasure will benefit the organization.

• Quantify how reduced downtime will increase business productivity.

• Show how being proactive could reduce on IT Audit & Assessment costs.

• Quantify the cost reduction that would otherwise be associated with internal audits, third-party audits, and technology.

According to a 2011 research conducted by the Ponemon Institute and Tripwire, Inc., it was found that Business disruption and productivity losses are the most expensive consequences of non-compliance. On average, non-compliance cost is 2.65 times the cost of compliance for the 46 organizations that were sampled. With the exception of two cases, non-compliance cost exceeded compliance cost.[2]. Meaning that, investing is information security in order to protect information assets and comply with regulatory requirements, is actually cheaper and reduces costs, as compared to not putting any countermeasures in place.

Get support from the various business units in the organization

A good budget proposal should have support of the other business units in the organization. For example, I did suggest to the IT manager mentioned before, that probably he should have discussed with Marketing and explained to them on how a reliable and secure network, would make it easier for them to market with confidence, probably IT would have had no competition for the budget. I don’t believe the marketing people would like to go face customers, when there are possible questions of unreliable service, system breaches and downtime. Therefore you should ensure that you have support of all the other business units, and explain to them how the proposed solution could make life easier for them.

Create a rapport with Management / Board, for even future budget approvals, you will need to publish and give reports to management on the number of network anomalies the intrusion-detection system you recently procured for example, found in a week, the current patch cycle time and how much time the system has been up with no interruptions. Reduced downtime will mean you have done your job. This approach will show management that there is for example an indirect reduction of insurance cost based on value of policies needed to protect business continuity and information assets.

Getting your information security project budget approval, should not be so much of a challenge, if one was to cater for the main issue of value addition. The main question you need to ask yourself is how does your proposed solution improve the bottom line? What the Management / Board require is an assurance that the solution you propose will produce real long term business value and that is aligned with the overall objectives of the organization.

References:

1. Thomson Reuters Accelus, BUILDING A BUSINESS CASE FOR GOVERNANCE, RISK AND COMPLIANCE, 2010.

2. Ponemon Institute, The true cost of compliance, 2011.