In this era of high-speed electronic transactions, high-value data and cybercrime, information may be a company’s greatest asset because it can guide you in structuring pricing, targeting marketing efforts, and determining new product offerings. As with any valuable business asset, though, your customers’ data must be protected with great care from hacker attacks. One mistake, one moment of carelessness and it will leave you and your clients vulnerable to an infiltration that can do tremendous financial and public relations damage to your company.
In many cases, small businesses struggle to recover and many go under — 60 percent fail within six months of an attack. I might help to remember that the data you house constitutes a special bond between you and your customers.
Customers generally assume you’ll use their data. Nevertheless, be open with them and seek their consent. Make it clear you have no intention of selling their information; an important point because many customers are concerned about having their valuable data sold to third parties. Ask your customers for permission to use data and be transparent about how it’s used. They’ll appreciate the courtesy and it will go a long way toward building trust. Appoint someone to oversee and uphold data ethics you intend to observe as a company, and engage an outside party to perform a regular privacy audit to ensure your company is following its own ethical guidelines.
Information is such a valuable asset that it can be tempting to hang onto as much of it as possible. But remember, the more data you keep stored in your system, the greater the chance you might be victimized by a cyber attack. Make your company less of a target by eliminating all but the most useful pieces of information, which should be encrypted, so you don’t place your customers at risk unnecessarily. Being able to show that you stored only what you needed will work in your favor if you’re ever forced to account for how you took care of the data you collected.
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There’s no excuse for not having the most up-to-date data security software or for failing to practice a responsible security protocol. It’s your responsibility to install a reputable and reliable anti-virus software program on all computers. It’s also up to you to see that all employees are facilitating regular anti-virus updates, as required by your operating system, whether the updates come from an IT department or a trusted outside source.
Make certain that your staff understands the need to follow responsible security habits every day. Train them to recognize suspicious emails with dangerous links or attachments. No one executive or IT staffer can do this for every workstation, so make sure each employee understands the responsibility they bear to your customers. Set up an ombudsman whose job is to stay apprised of potential threats that come to the attention of employees, and present them to company officers and/or IT staff.
Smaller companies often do quite well outsourcing data security needs. A reliable and efficient third-party payment processor can take some of the security pressure off your company. And cloud-based technology is constantly evolving and improving in terms of security, and chances are it’s a more secure way to store data than your company is capable of.
In the event you’re victimized by a phishing or some other e-based attack, be prepared to seek the help of an external data-recovery company like Secure Data Recovery. The assistance of a company experienced in data recovery is often indispensable, especially for smaller companies that lack full-time IT staff. Outsourcing data recovery can be the difference between ruin and a promising future with customers whose faith in you has been restored.
Treat your customers’ proprietary data as you would your own money. And bear in mind that you’re only as reliable as the effectiveness of your data security measures. Customers trust you to protect their interests, which you must do if you intend to use their information for the aggrandizement of your own business and financial position.
Stacey Riska, aka "Small Business Stacey" is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about saving small business and rebuilding Main Street. She helps small and local business owners become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz by teaching them marketing strategies that get MORE: MORE leads, MORE customers/clients/patients, MORE sales, and MORE money. Stacey is the founder of Small Biz Marketing Specialist, THE go-to place for marketing tips, techniques and strategies that get results. She's also the author of "Small Business Marketing Made EZ" where she shares the 6-simple-step plan to get your marketing into ACTION - literally and figuratively. Stacey is also the creator of the Daily Deals for Massive Profits, an online video training program that teaches small and local business owners how to use daily deal sites like Groupon to skyrocket their business growth and get massive profits. In this program she teaches from experience, as it was the key strategy that transformed her coffee and smoothie business from being $500K in debt to a 7-figure profitable business. When not saving the small business world, she enjoys sipping red wine, eating chocolate (who doesn't!) and spending time with her amazing husband.
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