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CONNECTION GROUP

Success in business starts with connections

[Tip] How To Stop Fake News Posts

Stop making fake news real!

From ‘Reality TV’ to ‘Alternative Facts’, it is hard to determine fact from fiction today. If you have family or friends who are professional journalists, you know citing sources and reporting facts is a sacred creed not to be broken. Legitimate news sources may not share news we all like to hear, they may inflate circumstances, they may be guilty of focusing on ratings. Yet, making up stories to intentionally deceive is not a laudable option to this group.

It is primarily the internet, blogs, and social media sites that have proliferated this unnerving practice of fictitious or fake news. Because of the viral nature of the digital and mobile platform, fake news stories are posted and shared many times over, without question of the source.

8 ways to determine if an article is fake news:

  1. Domain Name: Examine the domain name of the site that posted the news. Scams often use a similar name to reputable media. For instance abcnews.com.co is a known fake news site attempting to trick people to thinking they are abcnews.com
  2. Fact-Checking: Run the story through known fact-checking websites. Try the search engine Hoaxy currently in Beta. Or try recently acquired by Facebook, Snopes.
  3. Read quotes: Does the author use  “sources say…” instead of citing true numbers, studies, officials or industry professionals?
  4. Who is the author: Research the author of the story. Fake news writers won’t have other information in browser search engines. Real media reporters and writers have online brands and recognition. Even interns will have the beginnings of a personal online brand.
  5. Who runs the website: Check if there are links that will lead you back to who actually runs the website where the article was posted. Is there an About Us page, or references? Reputable news sites will always include contact and marketing information.
  6. Photos and graphics: Do the graphics and photos look accurate? Could Photoshop tricks be at play? Have stock photos been used? Do they lead you somewhere else off the story?
  7. Videos: If there are videos embedded, check their original source and date. Look for any splicing, videos can be manipulated as easily as graphics.
  8. Posted elsewhere: If you don’t find the video or the actual news story in question anywhere else online that is a strong clue it is fake. News media spread stories far and wide, not just on their own sites. Fake news stories rely on others to share it.
  9. Self-Hosted: Check if the website is a self-hosted Weebly design or WordPress site. Not that all WordPress sites are cause for concern, but WordPress is an inexpensive simple option to post quickly and take down down.
  10. Grammar and Spelling: Real news stories go through many steps of editing and seldom contain errors, especially blatant ones.

Is it Fake? Stop it from spreading!

Once you discover it is most definitely a Fake News story or a fake photo, flag it. Slate has created a Chrome extension, called This is Fake, that you can click if you discover a fabricated news story. The tool allows you to identify a fake story and then report it to your friends.

This is our chance to take back the internet and return some integrity to the real news media. When you connect “This is Fake” to your Facebook account you can flag the fake stories to the Slate “This is Fake” moderators.

Be a good citizen – stop making fake stuff famous!

Learn more about “This is Fake” here.

Tips source Lifewire.

#tuesdaytip

Small Business Responsive Website Design is Easy

 

Free website design Michigan

We all see the ads in our feeds and on tv,  commercials from GoDaddy and WIX and others, with claims to build a small business responsive website design… in a day… for free. We get the business calls and emails daily from companies that say can build custom websites for less than if we shop local.

Thus far this year, 83% of new small business responsive website design orders have been from entrepreneurs who tried building their websites internally.  Some customers have bought into monthly payment plans with a local media outlet promising do-it-yourself training, regular updates and local SEO.  Six months later, the local business owners website is out of date, they can’t  fix it, and they don’t even own the website they paid thousands of dollars for! A quick glance at reviews could have saved them money and time.

Small business responsive website design , tired of pushy sales people? Check online reviews ...When small businesses know it’s time for a professional website design:

  • Website is out of date and there is no time to make updates.
  • Business has grown but the professionalism of the online presence has not.
  • When their “free” website gets hacked and they can’t access it anymore
  • When their customers experience confusion or frustration when visiting the site
  • They have spent more of their time attempting to build a functioning site instead of building their business.
  • Junior or Intern or ____ gets a life and can’t be bothered to keep it current.

There is no easy button to create a fully functional, attractive, and responsive website design. It takes an understanding of graphic design, color, website navigation, user interface, marketing and coding — yes, knowing a bit of code is a lifesaver!

All content management systems (CMS) are not equal.

Some CMS, like WIX, are proprietary and can’t grow with you, or  take them with you if you go. There are some online registrars with CMS responsive website builders that limit features depending on your monthly budget. You can’t make custom changes or additions. And just try and get them on the phone.

Our customers have come from these examples and more. Our own research  landed us on WordPress as the most comprehensive website CMS choice for us and many of our customers.

Why is WordPress a good choice for responsive website design?

  • Wordpress logo Plethora of plug-ins available to customize and automate features
  • 1,000s of responsive website design  themes
  • Features targeted to e-commerce and events
  • Features connecting social activity and news
  • Attractive user interface (UI)
  • Popular format for developers
  • Ease of updating
  • Hours of YouTube WordPress How-To videosLastly, the ease of training customers for DIY edits is invaluable to those who invest time in keeping content current. For those who choose monthly website maintenance, WordPress administration is fairly standard and  experienced staff can quickly implement most changes and updates.

What are the drawbacks to choosing WordPress for a small business responsive website design?

With all of the capabilities and features offered for small business responsive website design today, the more you add on a limited budget some

  • Software needs to be updated
  • Can be susceptible to hacking if software is not maintained and updated when required
  • Plug ins don’t always play well together
  • Custom plug ins can add one -time or monthly fees
  • Pre-purchased themes do not include support or troubleshooting
  • Can load slow on shared servers

If you’d like a professional website design, shoot us an email or call today.  Let’s connect, you won’t be overwhelmed by the process.

Resort and Vacation Rental Website Designs

 

Love of travel and web savviness had us viewing resort and vacation rental website designs long before it was the standard that it is today. As timeshare owners, we search resort and vacation rental websites regularly for new travel experiences. We seldom stay at the same venue twice – not even our home resorts. Why bother when of timeshare exchange companies like RCI and Interval International and vacation clubs such as Global Connections, offer web portals and we can view thousands of resort and vacation rental website designs all in one spot.

In addition to our timeshare travels and online vacation planning, we list our own vacation rental property. Our vacation property guests book online through our Michigan cottage rental website. We are not in a highly-sought Up-North Michigan location. We are not on any of the Michigan Great Lakes. Lake Michigan is at least an hour and a half away from our rental cottage. Our rental is just a kitschy one bedroom cottage on a small lake in mid-Michigan. Yet, each season we have to turn people away because we get booked up so early.

Amateur or professional, when it comes to resort and vacation rental website designs seeing is believing

Responsive website design for resortWith resort reviews, beautiful photos of every suite, villa, view, and amenity offered, finding a premium vacation rental is just a click away. Sadly, many very desirable resort destinations neglect to present their property and amenities effectively. When resort and vacation rental websites show views of a pristine beach or bright lights of the city with luxury designer furnishings, travelers feel confident booking their stay. When another beachfront resort has a website that doesn’t function on mobile devices, lacks standard features, or has outdated content and photos, visitors are not as confident and they search other options.

Many vacation properties and resorts assume listing with RCI, II, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Homeaway, AirBnB, etc. can serve as their online marketing. When travel or vacation rental referral sites suggest a property, visitors will still visit the actual resort and vacation property website. Even when photos and property descriptions are posted on the referral site, vacationers practice due diligence.

vacation rental property website designRecently, we were seeking a resort destination for spring break. We searched for a resort within driving distance and planned to use some of our RCI points. I searched through RCI and found a resort with availability. When I showed the photos and the resort website to the 13 year old she was mortified. “Look how old the furniture is! Ewww they probably have bedbugs!.”

Granted we stretch our points and seldom stay at 5 star resorts, but this kid has never stayed at a resort where there was a concern about cleanliness, let alone bugs. I share her response only to demonstrate how important visuals are in this world of internet shoppers. Even if resort furnishings aren’t top-of-the-line updating your resort and vacation property website designs can go a long way.

Work with a company who gets you.

It’s time to take charge of your online brand and improve your resort and vacation rental website designs. Give us a call today and let’s review your current website design and functionality. We can put together a cost effective, timely solution, within budget that exceeds your goals.

Connection Graphics is Now Connection Group (CG)

Connetion-Graphics-Name-Change-Connection-Group-old-schoolhouse-building

Why change the name to Connection Group after 20 years?

In addition to the award winning graphic design and web design specialties, marketing services have increasingly been added to bring additional value to our customers. As these marketing services continued to answer the needs of an ever changing business climate, customers and prospects consistently remarked that the name did not indicate the many benefits they received.

From administrators, to designers, to writers, to website and app coders, Connection Group staff and contractors are unified in the effort to achieve the highest results in the most efficient manner. We are dependent on each other and appreciative of each others skills and talents. The new name, “Connection Group” better represents the company mission to help customers reach their goals.

How will the name change to Connection Group impact existing customers?

Connection Graphics, LLC will be retained as the corporate name and we will be doing business as (DBA) Connection Group. The name change will not impact established business relationships. Pricing and agreements will not change.  Payments can still be made to Connection Graphics.

Essentially there will only be minor changes to note:

  • new website address is www.connection.group (connectiongraphics.com will be retained also and will point to connection.group
  • new name will be placed on correspondence and marketing items
  • company email addresses will be forwarded from the old address

What else can companies expect from the new Connection Group?

Founder and President, Connie Sweet said “We know small business owners are busy running their business. Keeping their website updated, designing leave behind materials or determining what marketing and advertising methods offer the most value is not an efficient use of their time.” In answer to this challenge, Connection Group has developed affordable packages that combine design and marketing services to keep small businesses current and connected to their customers. From brand design packages to quarterly or monthly website maintenance, customers can select one package, multiple packages or customize packages dependent on their goals.

How will businesses benefit from this change?

Any business, from start ups, to established businesses, large and small can take advantage of new services. With over 20 years of design and marketing experience, Connection Group dedicates efforts to increase brand image and maintain brand presence affordably and efficiently. From logo design to brand and website maintenance, each business message can be streamline to get noticed.

In 2017, Connection Group will update their marketing materials to reflect the name change. To keep clients up-to-date on industry changes and mandates a monthly e-newsletter, regularly posted content to connection.group, social media outlets, and regular published blog posts will help keep customers informed. Sweet says, “The name has changed but the commitment to bring the highest level of service while continuing to stay connected to our customers and the communities we serve remains.”

A Fresh, Smarter Website On A Safer, Friendlier Internet ?

A Safer, Friendlier Internet AND Discounted Website Maintenance

WordPress rocks as a responsive website solution that non-coders can update easily, the challenge is that, it eats up space. It’s popularity also leaves it susceptible to hackers when it is not maintained properly. New website hosting features, discounted website maintenance and website security solutions are affordable and necessary solutions for small business websites.

Safe surfing for everyone 

Earlier this year we penned a blog about Google’s plans for a safer, friendlier internet. In short, member-based websites, e-commerce sites, any website that requests customer log-in or visitor information will be required to have a secure website (https vs http).  Beginning in 2017, Google will begin putting warnings on all non-secure websites that request log in information or websites that offer items or services for sale. As a result, these warnings will effectively shut down website visitors.

Google prefers all sites be trusted and certified.

Finally, after the initial phase, the plan is to target other websites in an effort to increase security across all of the internet. As a result, it is recommended all websites include an SSL certificate and choose secure website hosting.

Cost for SSL Certificates and Set up

Secure Security Socket (SSL) certificates for small business websites vary from 128/256 bit to 2048 bit encryption. If your website doesn’t retrieve personal information you could choose a lower level of coverage and see a cost savings. If your website accepts payments, customer or member information, and if you have a large amount of visitors monthly we recommend the highest security level.

Additional Benefits of Secure Websites:

  • Higher search engine rankings
  • Increased credibility and relevancy ratings
  • Referrer data – creating more accurate website analytics

Discounted Website Maintenance for Hosting Customers

Website hosting means your website and domain emails are stored on web servers. Web servers share your website content with the world. That is all basic website hosting is. If you would also like to reduce susceptibility to hackers, have regular back ups, and assistance with website updates and staff emails, a website maintenance plan should be added .

Connection Graphics offers our hosting customers  an exclusive quarterly maintenance plan . Small business customers who do not need a lot of updates or who don’t receive 1000s of visitors each month are eligible for the discounted website maintenance. Small website hosting customers can receive the benefits of website maintenance with all of the services listed in our basic plan for $100 per quarter ($400 annually) instead of paying $75 per month or ($900 annually). Please review the quarterly plan to see if it suits your company.

Benefits of Website Maintenance

  • Increased search engine placement (SEO)
  • Current content on your website helps your visitor stay informed
  • Website updates show visitors that your company is progressive (and still in business!)
  • WordPress version updates helps to keep your website running smoothly
  • Google Analytics integration and access helps you see website visitor trends
  • Daily back ups help protect you in case of unforeseen issues
  • 3rd party plug-in updates keeps your website safer from hack attacks and compatibility issues
  • Email control allows you to create, delete, back up all company email or ask us to help you

Reap the benefits and savings of discounted website maintenance. Websites that have current information instill visitor trust. The majority of websites that get hacked are those that are not maintained. In conclusion, take precautions, maintain your website, have staff check it regularly or outsource the service. The time to clean up a hacked website can take many hours or days. If you sell directly from your website the cost in lost sales alone can be devastating.

Please give us a call today. We’re here to help.

Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan Small Business Marketing Solutions

small-business-marketing-solutions-lansing-michigan

Looking for small business marketing solutions? We receive calls everyday from small businesses looking for answers to their marketing needs. We also receive phone calls from other marketing companies trying to sell to us! I am amazed by the volume of calls (some robo calls, don’t get me started on those-ugh!) from marketing companies. Each call promises increased  Google rankings, website visitors, social media followers, decreased pounds   – wait, no, that is a call that could actually be helpful…

I met with a customer this week who received one of these calls. The call spurred a discussion about Google rankings and how we could help. We’ve also met with a couple of small businesses in Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan have monthly marketing package agreements with Town Square Media. Town Square Media have a large sales forcey, targeting small businesses in mid-Michigan and throughout the country who need help with web design and marketing. They build responsive websites and offer social media management. They also promise search engine optimization (SEO) and monthly edits to small business websites for a set monthly fee.

Marketing Packages for Small Business

Marketing packages are beneficial small business marketing solutions if they offer consistent, fresh, customized content, at a set affordable cost. We were surprised to hear Town Square Media customers were paying twice as much per month as we charge. Plus, their customers were getting a very  small percentage of the service we provide. Some of the small businesses who had WordPress responsive websites built were paying over $200 a month. They also told us that if they wanted to cancel they would lose their website. After over a year of paying for a website the didn’t even own their website!

Fortunately, we have been able to help these Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan businesses. They now own their website designs and have control of their internet marketing. Can we help your small business save money and get more ROI and higher brand recognition?

If you are a Town Square Media customer in Lansing or in the surrounding small towns please give us a call today. We believe in small businesses and we relish the opportunity to help you grow. For those of you who are paying monthly for a responsive e-commerce website or other small business website that you will never own – cut your losses.

Affordable Small Business Marketing Solutions

We will build a custom website for similar or less cost than you have paid and you will own it once paid in full. We will also train you on how to edit your responsive website. Have problems with edits? Call us, we’re here to help and we will walk you through updating your website. We’re here for you if you have major changes you prefer not to attempt. We will provide an accurate time-based estimate to get your website design developed quickly. You don’t have to take our word for it, our reviews speak for themselves.

For small businesses with professional websites who need answers about social media management, email marketing, SEO and getting reviews posted on Google, etc. please give us a call. Don’t sign on with a company you haven’t researched or with a company who doesn’t know you, or your local area.  We will meet with you over the phone or face to face. After the meeting, we can develop a custom plan. Plans can include fee based services, or we train you how to achieve similar results. Take back ownership of your brand, connect with us today!

Get Website Security In Place or Get Penalized by Google

website security for small business michigan

As of January, 2017 website security for member log in websites and all websites that accept and/or store credit card information must be secure (HTTPS). Google will begin to penalize e-commerce and member-based websites if they are not secure.

Main difference between HTTP and HTTPS

HTTP is the protocol that allows the web server to communicate with a web browser. HTTP web data is transferred as plain text. Credit card numbers, passwords and social security numbers can be mined by hackers. Alternatively, HTTPS is not text based. Instead, HTTPS uses SSL (secure socket layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security), data is encrypted and is impenetrable to the outside world. Another benefit of website security is faster page loads.

Website Security Increases Online Sales and Business Credibility

A 2014 survey by Global Sign indicated 85% of people who buy items online will only buy from websites they know are secure. Chrome and Firefox web browsers show a lock in the title bar on secure websites. The lock graphic assures the website is secure and the company is credible.


eventual-google-red-triangleGoogle will begin flagging non secure websites that gather log in and or financial data with a red triangle “Not secure” warning. By adding the red triangle to non-secure websites, Google will effectively shut your website traffic off.

Have you seen a Google warning to stay out or “harm may come to your computer” on a website? As web developers, we know that these sites have been hacked. Even though they may already be cleaned, we still respect the warning and stay away. Often, if a site is hacked once, it will be targeted again. Similarly, the red triangle will be a digital stop sign.

Will Your Company Website be Affected?

Eventually all HTTP pages will be labeled as non-secure. Even if your small business website doesn’t collect member or financial data you’ll need to have website security. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated and even small websites with low traffic are targets.

Google has not released the date in which they will be marking all non HTTPS compliant websites as insecure. They have set January, 2017 as the date they will begin rolling out the penalties to websites that gather personal or financial information. We will share critical dates in emails.

How do you know if your website is part of this first phase?

Organizations and small business websites that accept payments online and websites with membership portals, are required to have website security.

Types of Member-Based Websites:

Trade association websites, non-profit organization websites, website directories, web forums, all websites that ask for a log in. This includes small business websites that may not receive payments. For instance, if you have a website that sells yarn or fabric and all of your sales go to Paypal you wouldn’t need HTTP right away. That same website can be aa member-based website if it requires a member account for free access to pattern downloads. You will need HTTPS designation for your small business website.

E-Commerce Websites or Web Shops

An e-Commerce website is any website that offers products or services for purchase on the website. Selling products online such as photos, handmade art, hunting supplies, and any product available for purchase online falls under e-Commerce. In addition, services like our individual brand consultation and our monthly website maintenance are also. If a website maintenance customer chose to pay online through our website and not through snail mail or Paypal, our site would need website security.

As you can see, it doesn’t matter what items you offer. Your items for sale can be a products or services, as large as an RV or as small as a brand consultation. If customers log in to your site or if they can send payment through your website you need a secure website. If you do not have website security, call and  connect with us today. Don’t wait until your customers get scared away.

 

Business Card Design for Small Business

business card design for small business

As a graphic designer I have been known to break a few corporate rules. However, I choose to play by the rules when it comes to business card design. At least when it comes to the shape and size of business cards. As in most industries, there are standards to follow that help consumers and industry professionals.  Challenges, expense and frustration occur when products vary from  industry standards.  An innovative product may be deemed unusable. A company who chooses to break from the norm may be striving to create a new standard (Hello Apple iphone7 headphone). In other instances they may not have compiled the proper research. Or they are just going rogue!

Lately, when attending networking events the business cards I have garnered are in a variety of shapes and sizes. Creative business card design is a valuable investment for start ups as well as established corporations. But, it is important not to get too far away from the norm.  It is your logo and business card design that people see most. Business cards will be exchanged at networking events, one on one meetings, and cold calls. If your card looks unprofessional, then so do you.

What is the size of business cards?

The standard dimensions of a business card design is 2” x 3.5”. Traditionally the 3.5” is the longer, horizontal measurement. Over the years vertical business card designs have made a mark as well. The most widely accepted business card shape is a horizontal version. Industries such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, and education use traditional, clean designs. Comparatively, vertical business card designs, tend to be used by creative industries such as architects, interior or graphic designers, crafters or arts and craft products, etc.

Business card design styles

Business card designs that break away from the normal business card size stand out. But, having an outstanding design is different than having a design that stands out. The goal of a professional business card design is to be memorable, communicate clearly and be easy for the recipient hold onto it. When a vendor hands me a square business card that are all the rage right now I don’t know what to do with it. It doesn’t fit in my business card holder, it doesn’t fit in a pocket folder slit, it doesn’t fit in my phone case! Plus, with square business card design, nearly all are two sided – so now you’ve created more work for the recipient.

Don’t get me started on the small business card designs that resemble the size of keychain loyalty cards. Why would someone choose these to promote their business? Does the small business card save that much on paper cost? I will confess, I do not know the actual printing cost of business cards in this format. Why? The answer is because I would never recommend them to my customers. Consider using them as a small product insert but please don’t use them as a professional business card.

Size matters

In closing, I will share that it is common practice to scan business cards into a customer relationship management (CRM) system. All of those tiny business cards get stuck in the scanner. Additionally, square, two sided business cards must be scanned twice. In one sense you have achieved the goal in standing out to me by choosing an odd shaped business card design. Increased scanning and input time has been created for me. This doesn’t leave me with a good impression of you and your company. Isn’t leaving a good impression the first goal of networking?

We’re happy to take a look at your business card and offer feedback. Fair warning- it will be honest feedback! Email or give us a call today.

Stay connected!

Capability Statement Design for Women Owned Businesses

capability statement design for women owned businesses

Congratulations, now that your company has received certification as a women owned business your work has just begun! Let’s start with your capability sheet design. In Michigan we have regional business summits, MiDiCo meetings, and other meet-the-buyer events. When you attend  networking events, conferences, etc. in your state or region you need a professional leave behind in the form of a capability statement. Capability statements are print pieces that essentially offer your company information at a glance. Your capability sheet should also be uploaded to your website for download. Similar to a product cut sheet or a sales sheet, capabilities sheets are what companies use in the procurement of corporate and government bids.

A successful Capability Statement Design Includes:

  • your company name
  • company logo
  • third party certifier (such as WBENC)
  • core competencies (brief company statement and services)
  • contact information (you would be surprised how often this is missed!)
  • differentiators – how do you stand up to the competition
  • images;  professional logos; professional or stock photos
  • past performance
  • company data:  DUNS number, CAGE, socio-economic status if you are a WBE, WOSB, Minority Owned Business, certified through WBENC, NAICS codes, PSC numbers, Federal Supply Codes
  • Key personnel: ownership, management information, or key account representatives, etc.

Optional Content for Capability Statement Sheets:

  • customer testimonials
  • partial customer list
  • credentials, licenses
  • logos and mentions of professional affiliations /memberships
  • case studies
  • Do you need help writing the copy for your Capability Statement Design?

You may know your business yet not know how to write or now how to identify which content will stand out to prospects. Consider frequently asked questions and reviews from your customers. Ask yourself:

  • What makes your company unique?
  • Why would you be the best candidate for a project?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • Why do your customers continue to hire you?

capability statement sampleAs a full service branding firm we print, write, and design capabilities sheets. Our web specialist posts keyword optimized sell sheets and capability statement information to our website and our customer’s websites. Take a look at our capability statement design sample. We have included design and brand marketing service listings, print and design awards, women owned business certification, corporate logo, WBENC logo, customer case study results, etc.

Industry Specific Capability Statement Content

If your industry requires licensure be sure to include the licenses you hold. Include affiliations, reports and ratings with third parties.

  • Better Business Bureau rating
  • ISO rating
  • Angie’s List award
  • etc.

Especially relevant, do you hold a professional designation within your industry such as a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP)? These credentials establish credibility and set you apart from your competition.

Capability sheet samples include one and two sided solutions. We try to keep our capability statement design one sided and customize it to each service. For instance, if we are responding to a bid for brand development services we will include specific branding experience. For magazine or publication design we include our experience highlighting publication design and production.

Do you need help putting together your capability statement design? We can set up a 10-15 minute complimentary phone consultation. Also, we will ask the right questions to get the most important content about your business on paper clearly and professionally.

Leave behinds and downloadable pdf capabilities sheets are critical. Consequently, don’t miss opportunities because your prospects didn’t remember you or don’t have enough information to hire you. Give us a call or shoot us a note today.