Financial Education

Small Business Scams and How to Avoid Them

Apr 02
2019
worried woman looking at cell phone

Scammers are always looking for new and inventive ways to take advantage of businesses like yours. It is your responsibility as a business owner to be informed and to make sure your employees are informed, too.

The success of your business isn’t something you take lightly. You pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your business every single day, so if there’s something out there trying to take your business down, you’d want to know about it, right? Scammers are always looking for new and inventive ways to take advantage of businesses like yours. It is your responsibility as a business owner to be informed and to make sure your employees are informed, too. While these aren’t the only ways scammers will target your business, these are some of the most common. The best practice is just to stay vigilant and make sure that your employees do the same.

  1. Tax Season Targeting

Around this time of year many fraudsters go for the low-hanging fruit of tax returns. Some scammers will steal information from the servers of tax professionals in order to file false tax returns or make phone calls claiming to be debt collectors. These callers will insist the return was incorrectly filed and that they need direct payment right away. A good way to avoid falling victim to these types of calls is to hang up and call the company being impersonated directly.  Scammers are able to make phone calls look like they’re coming from somewhere authentic, so don’t simply redial the number. Once you’re sure you’re talking to the right people, ask them to verify if the call or email you received is authentic.

  1. Phishing Emails

Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information by disguising as a trustworthy entity. Phishing emails are one of the most common channels used by fraudsters; and they become more and more convincing all the time. Some examples may include a cybercriminal making an email look like it is coming from your Human Resources department asking employees to update their banking information to ensure their checks come through correctly or making an email look like it’s coming from a trusted coworker with a link to what appears to be a good recipe but that instead contains a virus. Look out for emails that ask for your personal information, contain unfamiliar links and attachments, or have slight changes or misspellings in the email address or body copy. Train your staff to look for these signs, and let them know what you will never ask for over email such as banking information and passwords.

  1. Fake Invoices

Sometimes scammers will bet on you having too many invoices passing over your desk and send some through that aren’t legitimate. They’ll make them look like products or services you use, and will often make them for things that are crucial to keeping your business running like bills to keep your website’s domain name or an important supply order.  If you jump to get things paid without taking a closer look, your business could be out the cash in no time.

  1. Business Promotion Scams

These can be especially tricky to navigate as a small business owner. You receive a call or an email promising to boost your business overnight and bring you success you never could have imagined for an unbeatable price. Scammers may even go to the trouble of creating fake websites with made-up reviews singing the praises of this “company.” It seems like an offer you can’t refuse, right? Not so fast. Take some time to do your research. Does this company exist outside of this website?  And be sure to read the fine print of any agreement they try to push you into. You may find that low introductory fee you’ve been promised will skyrocket and leave you with nothing to show for it but a lot of debt.

Financial Education

5 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Effective in 2019

Feb 22
2019
Business people looking at documents

You know the feeling. You walk out of an hour-long meeting shaking your head and thinking to yourself “this should have been an email.” Luckily, there are ways to prevent meetings like this. Check out these tips for ways to get your meetings on track.

You know the feeling. You walk out of an hour-long meeting shaking your head and thinking to yourself “this should have been an email.” A chunk of your day is gone forever, and as a business owner there are few things more valuable than your time. In fact, Salary.com ranked meetings as the number one office productivity killer. Luckily, there are ways to prevent meetings like this. Check out these tips for ways to get your meetings on track.

  1. Send out an agenda beforehand

Your meeting prep shouldn’t start when you walk into the conference room. This goes for not only the organizer but the attendees as well. Too often we wait until we’ve gathered to get into detail about the meeting’s subject matter. Sending an agenda out in advance allows all those involved to consider the topics to be discussed. Not only will this cut down on time at the beginning of the meeting explaining to the attendees what you’ll be discussing, you’ll probably find your meetings coming to deeper, more thoughtful conclusions.

  1. Take notes

Scheduling key players can be a nightmare. It’s likely that you’ll often find yourself missing at least one person from your meeting. Even if everyone is present, it’s good practice to designate someone to take notes at every meeting. At the end of every meeting, have them send a summary of what was covered to all those involved. Keeping notes is a good way to make sure you’re not reworking a problem you’ve already found a solution to. Additionally, it makes it much easier to fill in those who were unable to attend.

  1. Be timely

Marathon meetings kill focus. Don’t set meetings for longer than an hour and avoid going over your allotted time. That means starting your meetings on time and ending them on time, too. Set the expectation with your team that there will be no waiting an extra five minutes for stragglers or going over because of a tangent you weren’t expecting. Your time is valuable and should be respected. Their time is equally important. Showing people that you respect and value their time will get you far.

  1. Leave time for Q&A

Oftentimes question and answer sessions are slated for any time left over at the end of the meeting. If there are several questions this can result in your meeting running longer than scheduled. Set aside time specifically for questions to keep your meeting on track.

  1. Don’t just have a meeting to have a meeting

Sometimes a meeting is the way to go, but don’t rely on a meeting as a knee-jerk reaction. In today’s digital world, you can often communicate effectively without a face-to-face meeting. Can’t decide if an email will suffice? Check out this decision tree from the Harvard Business Review to help you decide if a meeting is the way to go.

Financial Education

Valentine’s Day on a Dime: Some Sweet Solutions

Feb 01
2019
Women arranging red roses

Are you stressed about spending money on Valentine’s Day? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding this holiday. It doesn’t have to be so complicated; we have some tips to guide you through this overly commercialized celebration of love.

Are you stressed about spending money on Valentine’s Day? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding this holiday. You don’t want that special person to think you don’t care, but you also don’t want to spend an insane amount of money on a box of chocolates that any other day of the year would cost half the price.  It doesn’t have to be so complicated; we have some tips to guide you through this overly commercialized celebration of love.

Talk to Your Valentine

Communication is the key component in all sensitive topics that come up in a relationship.  Open up those lines of communication and find out what is important to your significant other.  You don’t want to disappoint your date, but you also don’t want to blow your budget.  Decide on a budget that works for the both of you and then plan accordingly.

Go Handmade

Ditch the gourmet chocolate and make your own chocolate covered strawberries, truffles, or cookies.  Making your own goodies is probably not as hard as you may think and if you search for these online, you’ll find many easy to follow recipes.

Get out the construction paper and scissors and come up with your one-of-a-kind card.  Not only will it be less expensive, but it will be much more meaningful.

Get Creative

Opt for uncommon flowers instead of traditional roses.  You can find many other varieties for more than half of what it would cost for a dozen red roses.  Think about giving a potted plant—not only will it save money, but it is something that will last much longer.

Many restaurants have better prices earlier in the day.  If you can, schedule your dinner a little earlier and save big.  Another great option is simply cooking at home.  You can check weekly ads for discounts on seafood, special drinks and other romantic dinner essentials.

Look for ways to earn back some of that money you are shelling out. Idaho Central will be offering Rewards Cardholders 2X points from now through February 17, 2019, on health and beauty spas, florists, and restaurants when you use your ICCU Visa Rewards Card.

Remember, Valentine’s Day is really just another day. Focus on what really matters to you and your date and know that you can make that person feel special without having financial heartbreak.

Financial Education

Does your business boast a brilliant online presence?

Jan 14
2019
Small Business Owner on Phone

All the moving parts associated with building your brand online can be daunting, but having the right tools to succeed will make it all worthwhile. So, what can you do to make your business stand out from the rest?

The days of successfully running a business without an online presence are all but over. In order to stay competitive in today’s technological environment more business owners than ever are looking for ways to boost their awareness online. All the moving parts associated with building your brand online can be daunting, but having the right tools to succeed will make it all worthwhile. So, what can you do to make your business stand out from the rest?

  1. Have a well-designed website.

A high-quality, mobile-friendly website is well worth the money you’ll put into it. Oftentimes it will be the first part of your business potential customers come into contact with. You want that first impression to be a good one. A website allows you to share your message from a first-person point of view and gives you a chance to show what sets you apart from competitors.  Did you know that over 80% of consumers perform research online before making a purchase? If your website isn’t up to snuff or is nonexistent you certainly won’t be at the top of anyone’s Google searches.

  1. Be engaged.

As important as it is to have a website and a social media presence it isn’t going to do you much good if you aren’t active on those platforms. Many small businesses make the mistake of approaching their websites with the mindset of “set it and forget it.” This won’t cut it. Make sure your website stays up-to-date in both design and content. If your hours are wrong, your links don’t work or your website looks like it was created at the dawn of the internet you’re going to lose your credibility before would-be customers even walk in the door. The same rule goes for your social media accounts. If you aren’t posting new content users won’t be interacting with you. In turn, you probably won’t see much, if any, growth in your following. Social media users want to be engaged with consistently. Make a plan of what you’ll post each month to keep yourself consistently showing up in the feeds of your followers.

  1. Don’t shy away from paid ads.

It’s a common misconception that there’s no need to allot budget for social media because having an account is free. While organic content (your posts not backed by any money) is great, it is much slower-moving than boosted content or paid advertising. Have you noticed your content is being viewed far less than you’d think for the number of followers you have? Social media algorithms are always changing to bring more relevant content to users. This makes it harder for businesses to reach consumers with organic posts. This decrease in reach is driving more and more businesses to explore paid options. Similarly, search engines do the same thing. With Google Ads you can help get your website to the top of the list within certain keyword searches. With this approach, you pay a certain amount for each ad click. Pay-per-click marketing is a relatively low-cost way to generate leads.

  1. Watch the competition…and then do it better.

Not sure where to start? Oftentimes the best place to see what’s working and what isn’t is from your competitors. Who are they targeting? How are they reaching that audience? What kind of content are they looking into? While you can get inspiration from your competitors is great, don’t let what they’re doing keep you in the same box. Don’t just copy those you see succeeding. See what’s working and put your own spin on it. Take it to the next level. And don’t shy away from things no one has done yet. As long as the risks you’re taking are calculated risks, pushing the envelope will keep you ahead of the game. Don’t be surprised if you start to see your competitors following suit.

  1. Why not earn rewards along the way?

Now that you’ve established a few ways to buff up your web presence, you’re ready to put those ideas into action. As a business owner you’re all about putting your hard-earned dollars to work. Why not make them work a little harder? Idaho Central offers two Rewards Visas tailored specifically for your business needs. It makes it easy to separate business and personal expenses, avoid annual fees, and earn extra perks at the same time.

Financial Education

Teach Giving to Kids at Christmas

Dec 19
2018
Child giving a present to his little brother

Do your kids seem more excited about what they are getting than what they are giving for Christmas this year? This holiday season, you can teach your kids the joy of giving with a few of these ideas.

Do your kids seem more excited about what they are getting than what they are giving for Christmas this year? This holiday season, you can teach your kids the joy of giving with a few of these ideas.

 

Giving doesn’t have to cost money. Here are some free ideas!

  • Volunteer somewhere. You can look at local food banks or contact United Way to find some great places.
  • Donate coats or toys to local organizations. Help your kids clear out their closets and toy boxes before Christmas comes. You can find coat drive boxes at some of our branches and other stores or schools. Some toy drives accept only new toys, but some nonprofit organizations and thrift stores accept used items.
  • Winter is coming, and so is the snow. Have kids join you to clear off cars or driveways for neighbors.
  • Christmas caroling. You can carol at some local rest homes or hospitals. Or you can even simply carol to your neighbors. If you feel like your singing isn’t great, you can always supplement with goodies (see next section).

 

Giving can include monetary giving. If you have a little extra to give, here are some ideas.

  • Make goodies for neighbors. It doesn’t need to be something fancy, just a thought to spread Christmas cheer.
  • Buy presents for a local families in need. Some local schools or organizations can help guide you in what to get, from food to clothes to toys. Have your child help choose presents, wrap, or deliver so they can experience the giving.
  • Pick a tag from a Salvation Army Angel Tree. Each tag has a first name, age, gender, and simple wish list for a local child in need. We have Angel Trees at some of our branches including Treasure Valley, Magic Valley, Pocatello, and Caldwell.
  • Donate. The end of the year also means the end of the tax year. You may choose to give back to a local organization, and it might even translate to a tax write off. Talk through options with your kid and why a certain cause is important to you.
  • Prepare simple presents or cards for a hospital or other location. Coordinate with the location to make sure your donation is something they accept and need. Create and deliver with your kid.
  • Pay for the person behind you in a drive thru. Explain to the kid what you are doing and that doing something nice for someone is what Christmas is all about.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Giving doesn’t need to be something exotic or far away. We can support each other in our own Idaho communities in more ways than could be named.

Happy Giving!