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Backup WordPress – Don’t lose $1800 like I did

Always backup your WordPress sites.  It doesn’t matter if you have one or 100, backing up the content from the sites you spend a lot of time and money on should never be something you’ll do tomorrow.  Trust me – I learnt the hard way.

Always backup wordpress

I run several airport-related blogs which I have built up over the last three years, with each one being developed in WordPress.  I love WordPress and you’ll hear me talking about it all the time as it is easy to use, has any plugin you could possibly want from a customisation point of view and has many thousands of support options, from forums to specialist WordPress maintenance companies.

Just eight months ago, I lost about $1,800 across these airport blogs.  Why?  Because someone hacked into my sites and for some reason thought it would be funny to delete a whole heap of content.  I had a modest WordPress backup solution (a sorry excuse for one – who’s with me?), but it was quite manual and not lazy-proof.  Like many of you, I’d heard the constant mantra, backup, backup, backup but something else was always more urgent so a better backup solution always fell onto the backburner.

Even to this day, I don’t know how much content was actually lost.  Probably about eight months worth I guess, and that’s a lot of stuff considering there were multiple posts per week.  Some were retrieved from draft Word documents on my desktop, Evernote and the like, but most of it was just gone.  Our hosting company only had a day of backups, and we found out too late for them to be able to do anything about it.  Between my VA’s and I, we probably scraped together about 15 articles.  15!!  Out of over 100!  That wasn’t the worst part either….if you put together all the hours spent in researching, writing, comments left by readers, my team’s responses to those comments, the whole conversation!  All gone!  I don’t know why, perhaps to torture myself, but I just had to know what the rough value of what I lost was.  As I mentioned earlier, the figure I came to was around $1,800!

Months of work disappeared, and with it any SEO value that had been built up in them.  Our visitor numbers dropped considerably and though I can’t tell if this is related, each site’s corresponding Twitter accounts also lost followers over that short space of time.

Since then, having a WordPress maintenance package in place has been even more important to me than the content on the website.  What use is good content, if you’re going to risk it all disappearing after a simple hack?

I read many, many blogs and articles on WordPress site security and spoke to many experts before deciding to pick this WordPress support service.  Some simple tips:

  1. Online technologies change and with it so do online security measures.  Large organisations like WordPress are constantly updating their software in line with the latest security measures so one of the things you absolutely must do is keep all your WordPress versions, your themes and plugins updated regularly.
  2. All standard WP installations produce your admin panel at the following URL: http://www.yoursite.com/wp-adminThis can be changed.
  3. The following code is present by default in WordPress site pages.  Any potential hackers can use this to determine what version of WP you are using which can make it easier to compromise.  Remove this with this simple plugin.
  4. Change your default administrator username.  By default, this is admin.  The majority of people don’t bother and yet its the simplest of all the things in this list to sort out.  Find out how here.

Now points 2-4 are simple tips to implement and are one-offs too but for point 1, if you have multiple blogs and WordPress websites, this can be a logistical nightmare.  Without an easy, single-sign on solution, you’ll be forever spending your time individually logging on to each of your websites, and manually updating the WordPress themes, WordPress plugins and WordPress software versions.

I gave up after just one week of this and went in search for simplicity without compromising security.  And I found this simple WordPress backup and maintenance service.  The price was less than it would cost to hire a Virtual Assistant to do it all manually for me so it was a no-brainer.  And it let me backup and update all my WordPress sites from one place.  No more having to login to each site separately.

Of course, I’m keen to hear what horror stories you’ve had in the past with your WordPress maintenance or lack of maintenance solutions.  Have you found any that are better than the one I use?  Leave your comments below and let us all know.

The social media effect in business

Back in the early to mid 1990’s, business people were being told they needed a website.

In the early 2000’s, business people were being told they needed to have a business website that took online payments.

Now and for the past year or so business people are being told that they need to get to grips with social media.

Some resisted getting a website as they were an off-line business with a traditional bricks and mortar shop front.  Guess what?  They eventually got themselves a website.

Some resisted taking online payments as they didn’t want to manage another transaction channel.  Its true that for some businesses, they may have got that website, but haven’t gone the full hog and made it e-commerce ready.  But many have after resisting early on.

Now we’re seeing the social media age.  Businesses are resisting or putting it off, and its only a matter of time before most bring their businesses up to speed with this phenomenon called social media.

social-media-helpforstartups.biz

Not all businesses listened to the above advice at first, but many did.  It is these companies that listened, learned and adopted this advice that are thriving now.  I would agree with those that say don’t just jump on the latest fad or bandwagon but have the willingness to learn and test something new to see if it is actually a fad or not, or if it is something to be given serious attention.

Doing things the way its always been done can be fine if that’s what your customers prefer (what they ACTUALLY prefer, not what you just THINK they do).  But change in any industry and life in general is inevitable, so learn to keep up with the times or get left behind.

If you are starting up a business, you’d be well advised to at least register your Twitter username and perhaps get a Facebook page set up.  Its not going to cost you anything but a few minutes of your time at the start but it could prove a worthwhile customer engagement channel in the future.

For existing businesses, I would argue its even more relevant.  Providing more channels for your customers to get in touch with you and engage with your brand and business should be seen less as a burden on existing resources, but more as an opportunity to solidify an existing relationship and potentially gain more value from it.

For online businesses, the introduction of Google+ and the +1 button from the same search behemoth has many believing social search is getting more important.  If this comes true, then social media literally becomes a service or business evaluation tool – your customers will be looking for signs from their ‘network’ as to whether they like your product or not and that is something no business can afford to ignore for long.

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Focus on being focussed

As a startup business, it is likely that you have a very small team.  In many cases, that team consists of only one person, you.

startup-helpforstartups.biz

This means marketing, accounting, finance, internet marketing, sales, operations, purchasing, HR and web maintenance is all done by just two hands.  I am sure you have heard people saying the following:

  • Spend most of your time working on your business, not in your business

and

  • Focus your energy doing the work that matters, not on doing the work that doesn’t matter, i.e. understand and follow the 80:20 rule or the Pareto principle.

Now the above bullet points are very important to bear in mind, however when you’re the captain, crew-member, chef and sweeper, it can be difficult to adhere to these lofty ideals.  Usually this is because start-ups tend to be underfunded.

You’ll come across people who will arrogantly tell you that you shouldn’t start a business until you are funded well enough to be able to do the right things, but I would argue that is better to get going when your head is in the right place and as long as that remains the case, other things will fall into place.

Starting up a business is a juggling act.  You will focus on different things on different days.  At the end of each day you will assess your day and on one day, you’ll love that you were productive and concentrated on the right things, and on others you’ll hate yourself for wasting time on admin tasks and not giving time to more strategic activities.  This is the life of a fledgling startup entrepreneur.  Accept that it happens to everyone but also accept that continuing like this isn’t an option.  You need to focus more.

If cashflow and funds in the bank mean you cannot outsource the non-critical activities to specialists in those areas, fine.  But list out the activities on a spreadsheet or piece of paper and then start divying up those items by days of the week in which you’ll be doing them.  This creates a focus for each day.  You’ll move things around to suit your working style but in the end, you’ll have a list with most of the stuff that needs to be done, strategic, admin and everything in between.  Look down this list – what can you actually disregard as its a nice-to-have?  Then disregard it or add it to a nice-to-have list for the future.  Each day’s to-do’s should only have a maximum of 4-5 items on it, otherwise you are over-stretching yourself, and things are unlikely to move in the right direction.

Listing items out for each day creates focus and discipline.  Well actually the discipline part comes from actioning that list day to day.  Don’t be hard on yourself if all items on that day’s list are not done – this will happen from time to time.  But measure yourself and your productivity based on how many of those things you get done each day.  If its less than 70%,  you need to take a long, hard look at your list and your motivation and something needs to change.  If you’re doing well above 70% every week, treat yourself.

Once you have been doing this for a few weeks, write back here to comment on how you got on or what bespoke tweaks you introduced to help you.

When to issue credit notes

As a start-up business, you will be looking forward to the days when the invoices you send out outweigh the bills you are sent to pay.  On some days it may look like those days are far away on the horizon, but believe me that if you are focused and determined, it won’t take long before those days come to pass.  The chances are you’ll be so busy, you may not realise until you sit down to do your accounts!

When I started my first business, I knew all about invoices and when I became VAT-registered, I asked many questions, read many articles to understand how my invoices needed to change to allow for VAT to be added and evidenced.  The one thing I hadn’t realised was how to handle credit notes.

A credit note is similar to an invoice however is normally issued to reduce an invoice already issued.  It is a common misconception that credit notes should be issued for all invoices that have to be reduced, however here in the UK that is not the case.  If you are not VAT-registered, then you can amend an invoice and simply send a revised invoice to your customer.  Credit notes however become mandatory when you are charging VAT or more accurately are subject to VAT.

So if the value of VAT charged on an invoice needs to change downwards, a credit note must be issued to provide the paper trail of this.  If it is agreed between the parties involved that the VAT can remain unchanged, then a reduction in the non-VAT amount can be made without the issuing of a credit note.

I should stress that if you need help on these issues, you should seek the services of a professional accountant.

There you have it, a quick educational session on when to use credit notes.  What has been your experience of credit notes and the like?  Please do share your stories by adding a comment.

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Building a small business into a big business

If you think of a very successful company these days and perhaps draw up a list of your top 10, Google and Apple are likely to feature very highly in most people’s lists.

Now Apple has been around for some time but over the past decade they have really come into their own, even surpassing Microsoft in the latest company valuations.  Google on the other hand is a relative newcomer but has completely redefined the Internet age.  Think of the Internet, and you think of Google, its as simple as that.

Both companies have been very successful and they have done this by focusing on their customers.  This might sound half-hearted and you may be thinking “surely every business focuses on their customers”.  You may be right there, that good businesses focus on their customers but it is a question of degree and perseverance.

Take Google.  Their original aim was simply to create a better way of getting to the information you want online.  Back when they started off, the best you could expect was to trawl through a good directory listing or hope that your search term was popular within Altavista or Yahoo to get relevant results.  Google built an algorithm that made their systems work smarter to find exactly what you were after based on their popular PageRank method.  This algorithm ranked pages based on their content and popularity and then matched this to what you were searching for.  It was almost an immediate hit and the results you’d get from Google were far closer to what you were searching for than what you would get from the other older search engines.

Then came the monitization part.  Simple effective text-based ads on the side of search results directly related to what you were searching for – or in marketing speak – targeted advertising with a capital T.  Better targeting meant less money wasted on advertising to those not remotely looking for your product or service.

So they not only gave the public the capability to find exactly what they were looking for online, but also gave advertisers an excellent way of targeting the customers they were looking for.

And then there’s Apple.  Apple has done brilliantly across almost their entire product range due to a growing customer base that is converted into a loyal customer base.  Their product ranges work easily, sync easily, look stunning, problems are dealt with quickly.  You’ll find most Apple users will not just be content with one Apple device in their homes.  They’ll have an iMac, an iPad, an iPhone and perhaps more.

Its about being great at every customer touch-point.  Apple are great at new product announcements, they make products easy to purchase, each item has a rich-feature set, is intuitive to setup and use.  Regardless of all this, problems are inevitable but then Apple also has renowned customer support.  All this reflects in the money Apple users spend with the company, be it on the products or after-sale apps on their phones and tablets.

This is what you need to emulate to dramatically reduce the time it takes to go from small to big.  You don’t need lots of cash in your armory, but you do need the smarts to ride along the entire customer journey yourself and focus a lot of your energy on where the customer touch-points are, i.e. where do you or your staff interact with customers.  Crack these points along the customer journey, making them painless for both you and them and you’ve just made your plans for the big time that much simpler.

Think positive, set realistic goals and above all get off your behind and start taking action.  This is where the real results will come from.

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Choosing your startup bank

Don’t fall for a flashy marketing campaign or make the mistake of choosing your business bank based purely on who you personally bank with.

Business banking is very different from personal banking.  Firstly, expect more charges for things you normally get for free with your own personal bank such as paying in cash or cheques at a branch, getting your first arranged overdraft, etc.

For startup businesses, there are many offers around where the major banks try to woo your business by offering incentives such as free banking services for 12, 18 or even 24 months.  Some even allow ongoing free banking if you meet certain conditions.

The main things you will want to consider will be based on your own business circumstances.  Do you expect a lot of incoming funds per sale of your product or service?  Will you get paid by BACS, CHAPS or in cash or cheques?  Are you expecting to run close to the bread line for the first few months of your business?  Do you have complex requirements for you which you will need the assistance of your bank manager on a more frequent basis?  How important is online banking to you?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself before going out there into marketplace.  The bigger banks typically offer free introductory offers as mentioned above, however the newer banks and international ones also deserve a close look.  Santander, Halifax, Co-op and Metro Bank are alternatives to the normal set of banks such as HSBC, Barclays, RBS, Lloyds or Natwest.  Each one will have something to offer you so do speak to each one before deciding.  Changing banks afterwards is possible and is now far simpler than it used to be but it will take you away from your main job – the job of running your business.

Oh and don’t get hung up about where your branch is.  Apart from this address appearing on your cheques, a ‘local’ branch means very little these days.  Its the service, costs and features that should be on your shopping list ensuring the business bank you choose matches what your business needs.

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2 simple WordPress tips

Building a few new WordPress sites this week got me thinking about all the stuff I’d learnt over the past 2 years.  Some things I still see many bloggers and website owners doing less well on their own sites, which are pretty simple to resolve.

No nofollow

Image via Wikipedia

No-Follow Links

Many people are unaware that a while back, WordPress made all links that appear in your blog’s comments nofollow effectively meaning that their usefulness in terms of pure SEO is severely limited.  In fact the only reason I can think of for nofollow links being useful is that it tells SE’s that your backlinks are more natural than if they were all follow links.

Generally speaking, if you submit a good post, and have a website in good standing, people will naturally comment.  Adding some controversy in, and comments should flourish.  However, some readers may be on the fence about making a comment especially if they’re link building themselves.  Don’t assume that just because someone is link building that they’re contribution won’t be valuable.  In these cases it would be nice to know that they’ll get back some link juice for adding value to your site.

This is where the Do Follow plugin comes in.  It strips out the nofollow element from the links people leave within their comments.  Will this invite spammers?  If you use the GASP plugin, then this impact should be fairly limited.

Long-tail Web Addresses

Every post you publish within WordPress has its own unique URL.  By default, this normally looks like this: http://www.leadingroute.com/?p=123.

Not exactly pleasing to the eye, nor to search engines.  The ?p=123 part does nothing for your site and gives no information to your readers about what they’re going to find there.

You need long-tail web addresses.  Be careful about implementing this on an existing site thats been around for a few years.  Making the following change without putting proper redirects in place can harm your rankings if its already built up credibility on the web.  If this is you, and you need some help, drop me an email or leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help further.

Fortunately, introducing long-tail addresses is easy as pie.  When you’re logged into your admin panel, scroll down to Settings -> Permalinks.  Click on the Custom radio button and type the following /%category%/%postname%/.  This will now use the title of your post within the URL.  Much better for all concerned.

Let me know if this has helped you by leaving a comment below.

 

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Business that use a free Gmail/Hotmail/AOL/Yahoo/Sky/BT email address

I came across a forum post today which I just had to add some comments to.  It was about how some businesses still use free email addresses to conduct business.  Worse still, they display these email address, e.g. brendra@btconnect.com on their business cards and websites.

In 2011, this just seems lazy to me.  Unlike many, I don’t automatically believe that they’re new to business or not serious about their business.  To me, its more about not caring or not knowing any better.

The reason I think its not necessarily an indication of a new business is because I’ve come across a 20+ year old lettings agency in Scotland who used their ISP’s @aol.com address for their clients.  Most of their clients were local and communicated by phone and post, so email was hardly used.  Even still, for the £5 per year and 5-10 minutes it would take to set up an email forwarding address, it just seems lazy.

They have clearly given at least a little thought to their email address because it was MyCompany@aol.com (obviously I’ve replaced the actual company name with ‘MyCompany’ for the divs out there), just not enough to purchase a domain and doing it properly.  In my opinion, for this family-run firm, it was probably because they don’t know how but had I had another relatively similar lettings agency I could choose to work with that had their own domain-led email address, it may have been the deciding factor – all else being equal of course.

There is a misconception that you need a website to have your own domain-led email address, but this simply isn’t true.  You need a domain yes, but not a website – the distinction is important for old school (read non-Internet age) business people.

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