By Bruce Penson, Managing Director at Pro Drive IT
As an accountancy firm, you hold a huge amount of confidential and sensitive information. Personal details on clients, banking and social security information, confidential material about businesses and their staff: all of this data presents a massive problem.
Why? Because this information is highly valuable to cyber criminals. They know you hold it, they know who you are, and they will be trying to find ways into your IT systems to get access to it. Today’s cyber criminals are no longer hobbyists or ‘geeks’ sitting in a darkened room behind a computer. They are organised gangs with a considerable amount of knowledge and access to more sophisticated IT resources than a typical SME could ever hope to own.
This presents a real problem for accountancy firms — one for which many are inadequately prepared.
There is good news though. It is possible to make very real improvements to your defences and significantly reduce the risk of a breach without the need for complex technical solutions. In this eBook, we are going to cover five simple changes you can make at your accountancy practice to protect it from cyber criminals.
- Take control of your passwords
With all the different websites and apps we use in both our personal and work lives, we have a lot of passwords to remember. Memorising all of them is an almost-impossible task. Yet with many breaches of firm’s IT systems coming as a result of staff reusing passwords or having easy-to-guess ones, it is an area that accountancy practices cannot afford to ignore.
The UK Government recommends using password managers to address this problem. A password manager stores your valuable passwords in a secure online vault to keep them out of the prying hands of cyber criminals. Our favourite is LastPass, which costs just £3 per user per month for the business version. As well as providing an area for your team to store their passwords, the business edition of LastPass also alerts you to staff storing insecure passwords or reusing them for other websites — ensuring you can maintain best password practice across your firm.
If you are not ready to commit to spending at this stage, LastPass also provides a free of charge service — you can follow our handy guide on how to set this up. There really is no excuse: make sure you setup your password manager today!
- Switch on two-factor authentication
As we have already discussed, the most common form of data breach comes from passwords being stolen. For web-based accounts and applications, this is a problem as once a cyber criminal has your password and email address, they will also have access to any accounts that use them.
Using automated software, they will quickly find these accounts — meaning they will have gained access before you are even aware you have a problem. At the moment, the most effective way to stop this is to enable two-step authentication. You most likely already use this on your online banking — where you might have to supply a randomly generated code in addition to your password. Most websites and web-based applications will have the option for two-step authentication at no additional cost. Where available, you should ensure this is activated and enforce it for your entire organisation.
This is absolutely essential if you use Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps. For more information on two-step authentication, view these simple-to-follow guides from the popular two-step authentication app Authy.
- Use an ‘External Email Banner’
Time and time again, we’ve commented on the fact emails are the source of most cyber security breaches.
As such, it can be very useful to identify any emails you receive that are from outside of your business. If you can do this and you receive an email tagged as being from an ‘external sender’, but it appears to come from a colleague of yours, there is a good chance it is a fraudulent email. Adding a simple banner such as the one below is a very short job for your IT team and should cost you nothing — yet it could save you a fortune.
- Train Your Staff
It is a well-publicised fact that almost all cyber security breaches require some kind of human interaction to be successful. It is, therefore, somewhat puzzling that the majority of SME accountancy firms do not have a regular cyber security training program in place — especially when you consider that CPD courses and anti-bribery training are deemed so important. Part of the issue is that cyber security training is considered expensive, time consuming to deliver and not at all engaging to the people receiving it. But this is far from true. Some systems cost from as little as £2–3 per member of staff per month and deliver cyber security training in short, digestible blocks. These ‘short and snappy’ training sessions will not take up large amounts of your billable time but will still get the message across in an engaging way.
- Keep Your Team Aware
One of the challenges in any firm is keeping the threats from cyber security fresh in the minds of your team whilst they have their day jobs to focus on. Although training undoubtedly helps, often this is seen as a ‘point-in-time’ initiative in response to a breach or security incident occurring. Once the memory of this has faded, awareness amongst staff often does too.
The good news is that this is easy to address and even better, it should cost you no more than a little time to administer it. Here is our suggested approach: Nominate a member of staff to be your ‘cyber threat co-ordinator’. This should not necessarily be someone from IT. Ideally, it would be the person involved in running your office and organising staff communications: most likely your practice manager. Your co-ordinator should sign up to some email feeds on the latest threats — a good starting point is the government backed Action Fraud site and the security training service DynaRisk. Your co-ordinator should also review some online blogs such those from the Independent, which offers an easy-to-understand news feed on the latest cyber security threats. The information from these feeds should then be used to create content in staff newsletters, presented regularly in team meetings, posted to your intranet or circulated via email or an instant messaging feed.
What Every Small Business Should Do
The majority of the difficulties associated with establishing a business stem from failing to accomplish the small things correctly. The basics will lead you to the top, as any competent instructor has stated at some time.
If you’re thinking of starting a small business, make sure you follow these 10 small business rules:
1. You must keep track of your finances.
Lack of capital, is the leading cause of small business failure. You must undertake proper financial planning and fully comprehend the business levers that might affect your cash flow.
Do you purchase stock?
- What amount of cash should you have on hand?
- Do you have a system in place to collect money from clients?
- How long do you have to wait for them to pay you?
- Do you have any loans that you need to repay?
- Do you rely on suppliers whose prices fluctuate according to market conditions?
2. You must create a data-driven culture.
The better your business decisions are, the more data you can track and utilize to make them. Business often necessitates certain “intuition feel” judgments, but it’s preferable to provide your instincts with as much knowledge as possible.
Tracking your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and understanding why they rise or fall may help you make decisions that will help you develop and stay on track.
3. You must participate in Lean Planning.
Rather of creating a long-written document that you utilize once and then file away, it’s critical to create a strategic and financial plan and track it on a frequent basis.
Planning is a continuous tool that should be used to understand the assumptions you have about your business and whether or not those assumptions are valid, or whether you need to make changes and adapt your assumptions.
60 percent of small companies in America fail due to a lack of cash, not a lack of profits—by utilizing Lean Planning, you can rapidly determine if you have made any financial assumptions that will have a negative impact on your cash. Maybe you assumed you’d get paid every 30 days on the dot.
By engaging in ongoing planning and then tracking the actual results of your business against your plans, you can quickly determine if you are getting paid every 45 days, and if so, you can increase your credit line quickly and appropriately, keeping your business cash healthy—before you get into trouble.
4. You must have a strategy in place for attracting and keeping top employees.
We are continuously on the lookout for top talent in our industry, therefore we make it a point to follow talent in our region on a regular basis and design outstanding retention programs and rewards.
Take some time to consider your company’s culture and what you want it to be, and make sure that culture is factored into your recruiting selections. We utilize LinkedIn on a daily basis to follow and acquire talent.
5. Every day, you must listen online.
Even if you just operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, your business is “always on.” Every company should set up internet alerts to monitor what their customers are saying about them, their rivals, and the market in general.
Google Alerts is a fantastic (and free) tool for “listening” to what’s going on online. Be the first to know when a consumer leaves a negative review or when someone praises your company online. Use these methods to remain ahead of the conversation and capitalize on it. You need to get a business phone number too.
6. You must engage in marketing that generates a return on investment.
Small companies frequently tell us that they have no idea what marketing is. What should they spend their money on? Is it effective? Is it better to promote on the radio or on the internet? Should they believe the Groupon or Comcast salesperson who tries to persuade them to distribute discounts to the general public or buy local TV ads? What is it that works?
What does not work?
Small company operators should begin in venues that are both free and simple to access. Begin by forming relationships with local companies and company owners. Find out what it is that they do that is effective. Find out how visitors find your website and where they come from by using Google Analytics and your website.
Customers should be questioned about how they learned about you. And if you do decide to promote, make sure you know how to track it. Make a unique offer and keep track of it. Only provide one type of service or product. Repeat your successful marketing efforts after learning what works and what doesn’t. If you won’t be able to measure the results, don’t invest the money.
8. You must communicate with your clients.
Every company should communicate with its clients as frequently as feasible. If you own a retail store, talk to your customers at least once a week (if not every day). Discover what they enjoy—and what they despise.
If you own an online business, send a brief survey to your consumers or ask a few survey questions after they check out. Make a call to them. People enjoy talking and being asked for their viewpoint. Negative feedback might be difficult to hear, but it’s important to hear it and understand how you can improve your business for your consumers.
9. You need to know your competitors.
Both your direct and indirect rivals must be known and understood. You should always be aware of your rivals’ activities, including what they are doing, how they promote, and how they price their products.
You may be the only one of your kind in your town or sector, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have indirect competition. In my town, a small do-it-yourself tie-dye store has no direct competition.
They do, however, provide activity-based events and compete with all of the other businesses who host birthday parties and group activities. They also compete with other tie-dye merchants at Saturday Fairs and Markets. Even if they don’t have direct competition, they need to know how to position themselves against all of their indirect competitors.
10. You must have a larger goal in mind: a mission.
People like to work for companies that are more than simply a money-making machine. That isn’t to say that you can’t set sales or profit targets; it only means that if your employees believe they are part of a larger purpose, they will work harder and be more loyal.
5 Ways That Businesses Can Get the Most Out of Their Digital Marketing
Everyone knows that the world of marketing has been changing for the last two or three decades. The days of traditional marketing through billboards, radio ads and television commercials are still around, but something new is taking the world by storm. Digital marketing is the way of the future and has proven to be more beneficial for businesses everywhere. It’s not that traditional, offline marketing is completely dead, but it is difficult for business owners to deny the power of digital marketing and what it can do for their businesses.
Because the world has changed so much, people have now moved online, so a business owner needs to learn how to market their products and services digitally. If they do not, there is a huge risk that they will not be around much longer. However, the problem is that most business owners do not understand digital marketing. To begin, most owners do not fully understand marketing altogether, and they go for hiring a marketing agency to do this for them. But now, when you add a digital aspect to this scenario, it makes it even more confusing to the owners. If a business owner starts with simply knowing what digital marketing can do for their business and how to get the most out of it, this is a great place to start.
- Utilize Email
If your business is not using email marketing yet, you should be. It is far from being dead, and many people are just beginning to tap into what it can actually do for their business. To make the most out of your digital marketing efforts, advertising your company through email is essential. It could very well be the foundation of your marketing online. Email is all about keeping the channel open to your customer who you might not have seen in a long time or being available to someone who is simply interested in what you have to offer. Send occasional, nurturing emails to your following and customers to keep the dream alive.
- Build a List
Next, you have to build a list. Many marketers and business owners will tell you that you must have a list in order to survive. Now, the list is nothing more than a collection of information from your customers that includes their names, numbers and email addresses. You need this valuable information so you can email them and get in touch with them when things are dry. To get the most out of digital marketing, you should always be gathering this information from them and storing it for future use. Gather this information by running online advertising to generate leads.
- Do More Videos
To be the absolute best at digital marketing, your business should be using more video. This is because research shows that consumers want to see videos above anything else online. They don’t want to see still images and text, but they want to see you rock it through the camera. The good news is that this isn’t hard to do with modern innovations. Use your smartphone to record simple videos of your business and use these clever videos as the creative part of your digital marketing to catch their eyes and stop them from scrolling. The other great thing is that you will feel more like a movie star for creating videos.
- Build a Following
Now, it’s also important to build your online following. These days, it’s all about how many people you have “following” you online. These people are your audience, which is one of your valuable assets online. Don’t think that these are just virtual people that offer you known value. They are actual people who follow your company because they might be interested in what you have. It’s important to always build your following online. Increase your page likes and your audience, and your products and services will practically sell themselves. YOu can run specific campaigns to increase your following.
- Learn How To Target
To get even more out of your digital marketing, learn how to target the right people. Remember, you are doing all of this online marketing in order to reach people in hopes that they will make a purchase with you. To do this, you have to put yourself in front of the right people, not just anyone. But be happy, because online marketing makes it easier to find your customers. Learn how to navigate with digital marketing to find your right audience, and this will also make you stronger as a whole in your company. You will know your customer’s pain points, what they need and what they’re saying.
If you put a bit more effort into your marketing effort by learning how to do it digitally, you can definitely increase your profit and get the most out of it. With the right strategies and a little education, you can make anything happen online.
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