WordPress security and how to improve it

WordPress is an immensely popular web content platform for small businesses. Un_Standard can’t recommend it enough for ease of use, functionality and practicality. We’ve used WordPress many times before, and highly recommend it to any small business trying to establish a web presence. The system is free, easy to use and provides an immense amount of features that would otherwise drive costs through the roof for many small businesses.

However, with popularity comes risk. We’ve learned (the hard way) that the WordPress platform is prone to attacks from ruthless hackers. It’s happened to us, so it’s important to take necessary precautions when using WordPress. The good folks over at WordPress HQ update their platform frequently to respond to known threats, but it’s nearly impossible to catch every single one. If you are using WordPress, then we here at Un_Standard can’t recommend enough that you take some simple steps to secure your site. After all, if your website is critical to your business, then you should make sure that your site doesn’t have any down time due to a hack. It’s a good idea to tighten your WordPress security settings and protect your hard work.

Benefits of WordPress

One of the great things about WordPress is that you can put up a professional site without knowing the first thing about coding and html. WordPress security is vulnerable to a certain type of hack where the hacker inserts malicious URL parameters to reveal sensitive database content, known as SQL injection attacks. Once a hacker has gotten inside, they can hijack your WordPress site and replace your content with spam or malware. Not good.  One solution is to modify your site’s .htaccess file, which controls the way your hosting server behaves. This can prevent hacker’s parameter requests from succeeding.

Also, it is a good idea to steer clear from dodgy downloaded free WordPress themes. Certain free themes have been laced with files that can include undetectable spam links to malware files. In order to stay safe, it’s recommended to only download files from sources that you know and trust. Paid themes generally have less of a security risk than free themes. But if you must use a free theme, then scan it with an anti-virus program before uploading.

Most importantly, the first thing that you should do to protect your WordPress site is to change the default “admin” login. Hackers can use programs to crack password combinations at the “admin” level to gain access to the control panel. Luckily, there are plugins that can be loaded on to your WordPress site that block IP addresses that make multiple unsuccessful login attempts.

There are numerous plugins available for WordPress that we here at Un_Standard have found to be pretty useful in safeguarding against malicious behavior. Wordfence is one of those plugins. Bulletproof Security is another that we have found to be useful.

These small steps toward securing your WordPress site will drastically reduce the likelihood of getting hacked.

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The Domain Name Game is Changing

It’s a game that many startups play when choosing a name for their business venture. Check the URL to see if the “chosen name” is available with a dot-com extension. Often times, we end up making up names out of the blue so that we can lay claim to that elusive dot com. After all, how do you think that recent startups came up with the names of their businesses, like Etsy, Pinterest or Tumblr? They weren’t necessarily the first choice for those starting their businesses, but their domain with a dot-com extension was available. But now, the domain name game is changing.

The non-profit organization that oversees the domain naming process has recently announced a change to the way that domain names are dished out. Countries that have domain extensions that hold any sort of appeal to businesses can now license the use of their domain extensions in the United States. Startups are now no longer forced to make up strange business names just so they can grab said name with a dot-com extension. The .co extension, which actually hails from Columbia, is catching on with startups. We are starting to see new businesses with extensions such as .ly, which comes from Lybia, .io, which is an Indian Ocean domain and .fm, which is a Federal States of Micronesian domain. Now, startups aren’t limited to naming their company by whatever is leftover on .com. Part of what startups like about the .co domain extension is that it alludes to “company” and small business startups can settle for their original choice for a company name.

The domain name game doesn’t stop with startups though. Larger companies such as Google purchased .google and .goog, therefore giving Google more control over its brand by sending customers to an easy to remember website with a branded domain extension.

There are drawbacks with alternative domain suffixes for small businesses, especially when it comes to SEO and Google, which is currently set to give priority to sites that end in .com, .org and .net. But as small businesses begin taking advantage of this naming structure, you can bet that Google will adapt its analytics to follow the trend. So when you’re starting your small business, you no longer have to play the domain name game. Simply name your company as you’ve originally intended, and incorporate one of the new domain suffixes to match.

More Isn’t Always Better

When the Hard Sell Stops Working

Your small business has hit a wall. That aggressive sales approach that you used in the past to scale up your business has now ceased to work.  Successful businesses know how to grow. They find a profitable niche in a sustainable market, and then steadily increase market share.

But there comes a time when the aggressive sales strategy ceases to work. Doing more of what has been done before starts to produce smaller and smaller results. The reason for this is that growth brings about more things, more people, more everything. And more “things” increasingly become tougher to manage over time.  Complexity can be a drain on profitability for a small business. And selling more adds fuel to the fire.

The answer to this problem can be down to the simple concept of scalability. Put systems in place that scale up when the business grows. This concept is easier said than done. To successfully scale up a business, the small company must learn how to do grown up things like working together as a team and hiring and firing in a professional manner.

Many businesses never make that transition from small to mid-sized. Some of the main reasons that businesses never scale up are as follows:

A Sales Addiction

Closing that deal can lead to an incredible rush for a small business. Selling can be as addictive as any illicit substance. And most small businesses aren’t willing to curb that addiction. This leads to an increase in sales without the proper infrastructure to manage the business. Things get out of hand and many small business owners can lose control over the productivity of the businesses that they run.

A Fear of Failure

Many small businesses have an incessant fear of the unknown. Business owners then start to shy away from those challenges that they feel might be beyond their means or outside of their strengths. They often times fear that if their small business grows beyond the current size, then that larger business will be harder to manage. This leads to stifling growth. And one of the mantras that we here at Un_Standard hold near and dear to our hearts is that a business can’t truly innovate when it stays within its comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to take that chance, but be sure that systems are in place to be able to cope with the changes ahead.

A Resistance to Push Back

We’ve all been there. Afraid to say no to the client. No matter how ridiculously insane those deadlines are. So we end up saying that we’ll turn that project around, even if it means going three days straight without sleeping or going to the toilet. This flexibility is great early on. It helps small companies gain valuable market share. But constantly burning the candle at both ends isn’t something that is going to be sustainable. Occasionally pushing back and saying “no” is part of scaling a business for a long-term strategic growth. Just because you can turn that project around on a dime doesn’t mean that it is a good idea for your business. This is all about taking a strategic and disciplined approach to growing your business.

Tips on Writing the Business Plan

If you have read our previous blog post on getting your initial business ideas on paper (in less than thirty minutes), now comes the next step in business planning, writing the business plan.

Don’t over complicate things

There’s one thing that we here at Un_Standard don’t tolerate very well and that is jargon. Unnecessarily puffing up your statements in order to appear “intelligent” or switched on doesn’t bode very well with those in the know.  Language is all about getting your point across, and since we live in a media saturated society there are plenty of other voices jockeying for our attention. Get your point across succinctly and quickly. Filler in your business plan will end up being just that; filler. If you are using your business plan to raise finance, then those reading your business plan will sense that your plan has a lot of padding and toss your business plan on the rejected pile. If your business plan is for your own planning purposes, then why on earth would you feel the need to round it out or over complicate it? Get your point across as succinctly as possible as quickly as possible.

Know what sets you apart from the competition

There’s a lot of market saturation out there. And businesses that stand out are the ones that stick around for the long haul. Whether it is the business that stands out or the business owner that stands out, often times it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the customer. Celebrate your uniqueness. Find your “gimmick”. And run with it.

Keep your chin up

There is that old saying that goes, “every time you hear the word ‘no’, that means you’re that much closer to hearing the word ‘yes’.” If you’re starting a business, you have to put your personal feelings aside and soldier on no matter what. Many people will give you ‘no’ for an answer and those no’s will come at you from every direction. If you are passionate about your business and your business idea, then don’t let those people get in your way. Pushy people are usually the ones that deliver. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it work. Persistence pays off. Believe me, those of us here at Un_Standard have been through our fair share of obstacles and roadblocks. But we didn’t give up, and neither should you.

What Does Business Planning and the Family Vacation Have in Common?

The Family Vacation

What do business planning and the family vacation have in common? Remember those family summer vacations from childhood? If yours were anything like mine, the one thing that you remember most was the obsessive planning that took place before we stepped foot out of the door and got strapped in to the station wagon. We would get maps from the AAA with the route clearly marked, potential hazards along the way, road construction, alternate routes and weather forecasts.
We’d have blankets in the car in case we had a breakdown on the highway (even in the middle of summer – wouldn’t want to get cold!). Food would be packed for the journey (in case we broke down in an area where there wasn’t a McDonalds or an equivalent – wouldn’t want to go hungry!). Our itinerary would be mapped out to the minute. We’d know where we were supposed to be at every step of the journey, milestones we were supposed to hit, just in case we were going to be running late and needed to phone ahead to the relatives to let them know (wouldn’t want them to worry!). I can’t say that this was a particularly enjoyable aspect of summer vacation, but I do have to say that thanks to this meticulous planning, we never broke down in an area where there wasn’t a food joint and froze to death.

And How It Relates To Business Planning

Now what does this have to do with business planning, you might ask? Well the business plan should serve a similar function to running your business as it did in planning those childhood vacations. The business plan should have the journey mapped out with a clear path to your destination, the milestones you will be hitting at every leg of the journey, potential risks and hazards you might encounter and ways of dealing with those hazards.

When writing the business plan for business planning purposes, was it something that you wrote to raise funding and then stuck in a file folder to gather dust? Or, is it a living document that guides the way that you run your business. Just make sure that when you develop your business plan that it doesn’t have all of that useless fluff in it to make it look like an “important document”. Keep it direct, relevant, to the point, and most importantly use it as a roadmap for your business. The business plan is the most essential part of the business planning process. When done properly, it can be a much more enjoyable experience than being stuck in a station wagon listening to AM radio as a child. The Small Business Administration is a good place to start in business planning for your small business. Un_Standard is another resource to help in the planning process.

Get Those Creative Juices Flowing!

Un_Standard Ways to Get Those Creative Juices Flowing

We here at Un_Standard know the importance of the whole creative process. After all, that’s what we are in the business of. But often times, it can be difficult to get those creative juices flowing. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on your creativity just like you turn on your vehicle? Just insert your key into the ignition, and away we go. There would be no end to what you can accomplish. The reality is that often times, the “car” won’t start, there’s no gas in the tank, and the road ahead is congested and traffic slows to a complete standstill. But don’t get discouraged. There are many little tricks that are easy to set into motion to get those creative juices flowing.
And we’re happy to share a few of those tricks with you.

Be inspired by what’s around you

Inspiration can come from some of the most unlikely of places. Fashion designers often times travel to far away places to get inspiration in designing their next collection. But for most of us, traveling halfway around the globe to get the creative juices flowing is out of the question. So don’t be afraid to get inspiration from your immediate environment. Be aware of what is around you and be open to triggering creative bursts. And if you’re stuck staring at the same four beige walls day in and day out, then don’t be afraid to step outside of that environment to get those creative juices flowing.

Step outside of your comfort zone

Often times, we live inside of a bubble. We’re happy there. It’s comfortable. We’ve decorated it with all of the things that make us feel safe. But unless we venture out of this comfort zone bubble from time to time, we run the risk of stagnation. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Pick up some new sources of reading material. Explore some different avenues. Be curious. Try teaching yourself something that you didn’t know anything about. In order to get those creative juices flowing, we need to open ourselves up to uncharted and unexplored territories.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes

Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have come to fear failure. Fear of failure can hold us back because it prevents us from trying new things. If you’re not failing from time to time, then you’re not challenging yourself. Whenever a mistake is made, it can’t be thought of as a mistake if you learn something from that mistake. So don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Opening yourself up for experimenting is a great way to get those creative juices flowing. When we discount ideas and thoughts right off of the bat, then we run risk of shelving that truly great new invention.

Be sure to question everything

Often times, it’s easy to take things at face value. But those of us know that challenging the status quo is a critical part of the creative process. Question everything. As why and how to determine if there is a better solution to a problem out there. Look at what is missing, what can be improved upon or what can be completely reinvented. When you aren’t afraid to question everything around you, then you’re more likely to get those creative juices flowing.

Get a sounding board

Bouncing ideas off of someone is a great tool to use to spark creativity and get those creative juices flowing. Some truly great ideas come out of brainstorming sessions (and some not-so-great ideas too). Be sure to get a sounding board that isn’t afraid to challenge you when necessary and doesn’t just say what they think you want to hear. When you have a sounding board, you’re not limited to your own perspective and experiences.

Start recording your thoughts in a journal

And finally, a critical tool to get those creative juices flowing is to put your thoughts down in a journal. Record those ideas as soon as they enter your head, because often times those thoughts can exit your mind as quickly as they entered it. Use this journal filled with your random thoughts to kickstart an idea or as a tool to get those creative juices flowing. Your thoughts and interests can trigger solutions to problems later down the road.

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From Catwalk to Sidewalk: Burberry’s Concept of Fast Fashion

From catwalk to sidewalk

Burberry goes the way of fast fashion, a la H&M? Fear not fashionistas! Burberry isn’t planning on competing with Primark any time soon, but they’ve cleverly upped their game in regards to getting their product into the hands of those that want to buy. Call it a “catwalk to sidewalk” strategy.

Burberry is to embrace its own concept of ‘”fast fashion” by allowing consumers to buy items from its next collection online and in-store ahead of traditional drop dates. For the first time, consumers will be able to purchase Burberry’s garments from the autumn-winter collection directly through a campaign gallery and short films on their website to instantly move their garments from catwalk to sidewalk. The campaign will also run across digital platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

Runway to reality

The news follows the launch of the brand’s catwalk to sidewalk strategy called ‘Runway to Reality’, which allows VIP consumers to buy items from its runway collections immediately, via an iPad app. The brilliance of this strategy is that it eliminates the lag time that fast fashion retailers such as Primark and H&M were able to exploit. Previously, a high end designer would show their collection in any of the fashion capitals well ahead of the date that any of the items would end up in retail stores. This lag time allowed the fast fashion bunch to copy the designs, put them into mass production and get them into their stores, often times in advance of the originals. Spanish retailers Mango and Zara were notorious for their extremely quick production times that allowed them to released their knocked off versions of the high end designers before the high end designers had a chance to release their designs to the public. Burberry is a very smart company, and was obviously aware that the  fast fashion retailers were copying their creations. So what better way to avoid that than to make the originals available for sale at the moment that they are revealed to the public?

Now, if Burberry can address the catwalk to sidewalk dilemma, then hopefully next on their agenda would be to address the issue of sustainability in the fashion world by reducing the amount of pollution that their industry generates during the production process.

Global Creativity Gap and The State of Creativity

The Global Creativity Gap

Adobe released another study, called “State Of Create”, that reveals a global creativity gap exists in the worlds top five global economies (US, Japan, UK, Germany and France). We here at Un_Standard love these types of surveys, because they provide a fascinating glimpse into how we perceive creativity and how we as individuals are living up to our creative potential. This bit of research found that 80% of people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to the economic growth of their city/region/country, and 2/3 feel creativity is valuable to society. In contrast, only 25% feel that they are living up to their own creative potential. A true global creativity gap indeed.

Interviews conducted across the five countries revealed surprising attitudes and beliefs about creativity, providing new insight into the role of creativity in business, education and society.

The study found that there is a major global creativity gap in the workplace, 75% feel that they are under increased pressure to be productive rather than creative. “Don’t think, just do”. This is in stark contrast to the fact that respondents are increasingly expected to think creatively on the job.

And ways to deal with the global creativity gap

Over half of the respondents felt that creativity is being stifled by the educational system, and many feel that creativity is being taken for granted. This is most notable in the US, where 70% felt that creativity is being taken for granted. “One of the myths of creativity is that very few people are really creative,” said Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation. “The truth is that everyone has great capacities but not everyone develops them. One of the problems is that too often our educational systems don’t enable students to develop their natural creative powers. Instead, they promote uniformity and standardization. The result is that we’re draining people of their creative possibilities and, as this study reveals, producing a workforce that’s conditioned to prioritize conformity over creativity.”

So who ranked as the most creative in this global creativity gap survey? Japan tops the list, with the US in second place. Ironically, the Japanese largely don’t see themselves as being creative. Tokyo ranked as the most creative city, with New York coming in at second.

The study in its entirety can be found on the Adobe website.