Tips That Can Help You Be a Better Manager

Yes, the job market is tight, but that doesn’t leave bosses off the hook when it comes to managing staff.

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“There is a management challenge under way,” says professional coach Beverly Flaxington. “There is increasing pressure on managers to be more than managers—to be leaders, psychologists, problem-solvers, relationship-builders, and effective technicians.”

A recent survey found that 86% of employees plan to switch jobs this year—something employers should take note of, because it’s costly and ineffective for companies to keep training replacements, says Flaxington. With companies trying to do more with fewer people “managers have to be creative, they have to pull teams together, and figure out how to meet the (company) goals,” she says.

An ongoing discussion in Citi’s LinkedIn group, Connect: Professional Women’s Network, addresses this topic, spurred by the question, “What makes a great manager?”

“The greatest managers I’ve worked with, and emulated, were the ones who were regularly engaged with their direct reports, fought for their teams when needed, communicated openly, and focused on employee growth,” writes Michelle Sams Marko, a Senior Manager at a wireless communications company in the San Francisco area. “In short, they made me believe they cared about helping me in my career in addition to getting me the right tools to succeed in the current job.”

Some of the qualities of a good manager are fundamental: Knowing how to hire good people and fire underperformers before they drag down the rest of the office, and how to run a good meeting, says Quint Studer, founder of Studer Group, a leadership coaching firm in Gulf Breeze, Florida. But great managers are also engaged with employees and ask them for regular feedback to make sure they have the tools they need and are meeting their goals, adds Studer, author of The Great Employee Handbook: Making Work and Life Better.

Good managers “offer priorities, process, and a clear path for those who need it,” says Flaxington. One-on-one coaching can help with those skills, says Flaxington, author of Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior.

“Good managers should not do the organizing on their own. Their most important job is mentoring and delegating,” she says.

Good managers offer priorities, process, and a clear path for those who need it.

From both the LinkedIn comments and input from Studer and Flaxington, a few common traits of a good manager stand out:

She sees the staff as people.

“A great leader is concerned about results, yes, but is dually concerned that the people striving to obtain the results learn, mature, and reach for greater goals than just the results themselves,” writes Tonisha Swanson, a Business Consultant in the Chicago area.

“The characteristics and skills to being a great manager are the same ones needed to be a great friend. Concern for the other person and leading them to develop,” writes Nancy Winkler, an Independent Real Estate Agent in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.

A manager must get to know their employees personally, especially at a time when people are increasingly concerned with achieving work-life balance, says leadership coach Studer. “You have to know something about the person beyond what they do at work … If you work for me, I need to know what’s going on. I need to know if your father’s ill,” he says.

She lifts obstacles for employees.

“I’ve always viewed my role as a manager or leader as one to set a vision and clear any barriers for people,” writes Nancy Koors, President and Chief Operating Officer of Powerhouse Factories, a marketing agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Give them the end goal and let them get there in their own way, but be there if they need guidance or help,” Koors explains.

Managers need to ask employees regularly if they have what they need to get the work done, says Studer. Employees assume the boss knows when something isn’t working right but often, that is not the case, he says. “I need to say to you: ‘Are the systems that you need working?’ If the answer’s yes, fine; if the answer’s no, I need to know what I can do to fix it because that’s wasted time,” he says.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, says Studer: “Bosses are afraid to do those things because they don’t want to find out they can’t fix it.”

She asks for feedback.

“A great manager must be able to accept feedback, positive or negative,” writes Terri Larry, a Certified Public Accountant in the Los Angeles, California area.

Studer suggests setting up a regular survey asking staffers to submit feedback anonymously: “Ask (on a scale of) one through five: ‘How am I at doing meetings, setting expectations, answering questions, rewards and recognition, professional development, and addressing performance issues?’” This approach is not only helpful for identifying issues, but it will help morale to even ask, he says.

“I think we are all asked to be leaders and followers in some way, shape, and form,” writes Beth Tunis, a Therapist and Life Coach in New York City. Indeed, the managers she has followed and learned from are those who kept employees informed and engaged with humor, respect, and passion for their work—who “walked their talk.”

Tips for Managing Investment Risk

Investments in financial instruments represent a greater proportion of our generation’s household wealth than our parents’. Consequently, financial market volatility can have a significant impact on our family’s net worth, whereas in the past it may not have. So, it’s more important than ever that we understand the different types of investment risk to be able to better manage it. Here are the six key sources of risk in an investment portfolio:

Investment Risks

Market Risk

Market risk is a concern that the rates of return for an entire asset class (e.g., stocks) will expose you to losses and result in less than expected returns over a period. Factor in market risk when evaluating your investment mix and keep the following in mind:

  • Your time horizon, liquidity needs, investment goals, and risk tolerance significantly affect the amount of market risk you as an investor may want to tolerate.
  • Large swings in the market usually don’t last for long periods.
  • Eventually, the market should swing the other way, decreasing the range of long-term average returns.
  • The longer you hold your investment, the less likely you have to worry about losses in any given year.

Industry Risk and Business Risk

Two other sources of risk are industry risk and business risk. Industry risk is associated with investing in a specific industry such as technology, energy, etc., while business risk is the risk that a stock or bond may decrease in value to a greater degree than the industry or market and may never recover. Because it can be very difficult to know which industries and companies will outperform, you can reduce these types of risk by diversifying and balancing your investments among many different industries and companies.

Your time horizon, liquidity needs, investment goals, and risk tolerance significantly affect the amount of market risk you as an investor may want to tolerate.

Inflation Risk

Inflation risk is the danger that the buying power of your money will decrease if the return on your investment (after income taxes and management fees) is lower than the inflation rate. To manage inflation risk, keep in mind that investing in a diversified portfolio of stocks has historically produced returns above inflation over longer periods. In addition, certain fixed-income securities issued by the U.S. government, such as “TIPS” (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) and I-Bonds, also help provide inflation protection.

Interest-Rate Risk

Interest-rate risk pertains to the change in the value of fixed-income investments, such as bonds or bond funds, as interest rates fluctuate. When interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. Conversely, bond prices increase as rates decline. Rising interest rates depress the value of existing bonds because investors can buy new bonds paying higher prevailing yields.

On the other hand, if rates fall, potential buyers will be willing to pay a premium for an older, higher-yielding bond. Either scenario will affect the current value of your fixed-income investments. To manage this type of risk, you may want to consider a diversified portfolio that holds fixed-income securities of various maturities while considering that bonds with shorter maturities are subject to less interest rate risk than bonds with longer maturities.

Credit Risk

Credit risk is the risk that the issuer of your bonds will default (not pay) on its loan to bondholders. To help manage credit risk you should check the financial stability of the issuer before you invest. Investors should manage credit risk by diversifying the investment among multiple credits and investing in low-rated credits to the extent the risk of doing so is tolerable. Again, these are important issues to discuss with your financial professional.

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk, speaking with a financial professional can help you better understand your own tolerance for risk and identify ways to help mitigate these and other risks in your portfolio.

The Surprise Tactic That Fuels Innovation at Work

When you hit a wall at work—when the ideas stop flowing, the solutions aren’t appearing, and you’re clashing with colleagues—your instinctive response may be to keep plugging away until the situation improves. Here’s an alternative: Put your work down, leave your desk, and play.

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In work-‘til-you-drop America, play is sometimes seen as a childish pursuit that adults don’t have time to indulge in. But play is not just pointless recreation—among other benefits, it can help spark creativity, strengthen teams, and give you a space to fail safely. In short, playtime could be just what you need to improve your productivity and achieve breakthroughs that benefit your career.

Here are a few ways to make play work for you:

1. Ditch the work-versus-play idea.
In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown says that the opposite of play is not work—it’s depression. Play is not lazy. It’s essential. And it does not mean you aren’t taking your job seriously.

 Step away from the smartphone and pick up some crayons.

2. Learn about the play habits of top innovators.
Jacky Carter, community manager for Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network on LinkedIn, recently published a blog post highlighting presenters from the TEDWomen  conference who have used play to make huge strides in their fields: MIT professor Dava Newman focused on fun among her engineers when designing a BioSuit for astronauts that allows for increased mobility; and Unchartered Play CEO Jessica O. Matthews created a soccer ball that generates energy the more you kick it around. If these women can prioritize play, so can you.

3. Find purpose in the purposelessness.
Play induces a state of flow in which you become focused on the present experience, not stuck in an overanalyzed past or worried about an imagined future. Being there in the moment feels much purer and more enlivening than the half-present haze that many of us live in. Step away from the smartphone, pick up some crayons, and you might just find the answer to a long-vexing dilemma.

4. Use team play to understand other points of view.
Problem-solving games are great for rallying teams, building social skills, and reminding everyone of the importance of empathy. The idea behind leading a blindfolded colleague on a trust walk is that the sense of triumph and teamwork will carry over to your workplace relationship.

5. Experiment—and fail—with confidence.
Play brings lowered stakes. You’re not negotiating a multi-million-dollar deal here—you’re just having fun and trying things out. This is immensely freeing, and allows you to take big risks without fearing the consequences. (What’s the worst that could happen if you’re terrible at origami?)

Keep Your Money and Identity Safe While You Travel

According to a recent survey from TripAdvisor, 78% of Americans will travel on a family vacation between June and August. While a vacation is always a well-deserved recharge, it may also mean unfamiliar surroundings where you’re paying more attention to fun than to safety.

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With a bit of vigilance and a few careful steps—like separating your cash into small amounts carried in different pockets, wearing a money belt, or just paying attention to your surroundings—you and your loved ones can foil a pickpocket who would otherwise put a damper on your vacation. But keeping your money safe when you’re on the road also takes some pre-trip planning and high-tech help.

There is more private, financial, and even embarrassing information on your smart phone than you ever kept in your wallet.

Lighten Up Your Wallet

The experts at MedJet Assistance, a travelers-assistance company, recommend carrying a small amount of local currency and a single credit card in your wallet. Leave extra cards and large amounts of cash in the hotel safe, along with your passport (carry a photocopy and an extra piece of identification such as a driver’s license instead). They also suggest cleaning out your wallet before the trip and at the end of each day to take out old receipts, which would give out a lot of credit information if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Pack a few envelopes. They can be useful for separating your cash, or if you need to leave cash and documents in the hotel safe they can be easily sealed in your own envelope for additional peace of mind.

Carry the Right Cards

Some banks will charge you a foreign transaction fee for taking money out of an ATM overseas, even if it’s the bank’s own. That can eliminate the advantage of taking out the cash in local currency to avoid currency exchange fees. Be sure to check with your bank about fees before you travel. You may also want to consider a pre-paid card, which you can get from most credit card companies for a nominal fee, or even over the counter at various retailers. Guard a pre-paid card carefully, however, because if you lose one, it’s like losing cash.

If you’re planning to travel overseas, consider getting an EMV chip card. EMV chip cards are standard practice in more than 80 countries worldwide and provide enhanced security when used at chip terminals by adding an additional layer of fraud protection through an embedded microchip. Some U.S. issuers, such as Citi, have begun offering cards with EMV chip technology, and will add the chip to your existing card at no cost.

Give the Kids an Allowance

If you’re traveling with children, hand out small amounts of money daily so they can pay for their own small purchases, like snacks and souvenirs. That way, you won’t be pulling out your cash for every ice cream and postcard and drawing attention to yourself. An added plus: the kids will enjoy doing their own thing, and it doubles as an opportunity to teach them about responsible spending and budgeting.

Skip the Internet Café

Public computers can be infected with software that record keystrokes and capture your passwords, so don’t perform any private transactions on them, says Alan Wlasuk, a security expert for 403 Web Security. And look out for people peeking over your shoulder for your email password—they know most of us (incorrectly) use the same one on all our accounts.

Also avoid public Wifi, which can be compromised by hackers and identity thieves, warns Wlasuk. Many hotels will give you a personal password to use on their secured network when you check in.

Keep your Smartphone Secure

“Repeat after me: It’s not just a cell phone, it’s a desktop computer that just happens to fit in your pocket,” says Wlasuk. “There is more private, financial and even embarrassing information on your smart phone than you ever kept in your wallet.”

To keep it safe, he recommends enabling the password protection feature on your phone, as well as the GPS locator and remote wipe capability. Apps like Find My iPhone and AndroidLost enable you to trace the location of a missing phone via the web or text messages. They can also wipe the phone’s memory remotely, so the thief won’t get access to any information you store there. Consider backing up all of your phone data in a safe place in the cloud before you travel, so you can download it to your replacement phone later.

Or just leave the phone at home: the experts at MedJet recommend carrying a prepaid phone card instead , especially if you’re traveling overseas where international roaming can be expensive and unreliable.

With these few tips, you can maximize your vacation enjoyment while minimizing worry about the safety of your money and personal identification. And that’s what a recharge is all about!

The Biggest Mistake People Make When Managing Up

If you subscribe to the adage that “who” you know is more important than “what” you know when it comes to career success, relationship building is key. Increasingly, women are taking heed of this fact: Female respondents to the Report survey were more likely than men to network with professionals at a level equal to or more senior than their current position, and to have a network with a more balanced distribution of men and women contacts. But sociologist Marianne Cooper points to a vast body of social research indicating that, despite such networking prowess, professional women sometimes face an uphill battle: They tend to be disliked more than men when acting authoritatively in the workplace, simply because being assertive, competitive, or forceful violates traditional gender stereotypes.

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Unfair as it may be, this double standard underscores the importance of embracing and mastering the art of managing up and managing down. Here’s how.

Don’t let who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others, especially underlings.

Be genuine with those above and below you. It all goes back to what you learned as a child: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Approach everyone at work with respect, making any notion of what they can or can’t do for you irrelevant.

In a discussion about this on Connect, Citi’s network of more than 300,000 professional women on LinkedIn, Laura Rottman, founder of Laura Rottman Consulting, offered some advice that’s particularly helpful for managing down: “Be genuine in interactions, and relate to everyone as if they are President/Owner/EVP. Don’t let the dynamics of a meeting or who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others. Listen, and count to five before you respond to let what the person has said soak in.”

Make it about them. Being a good manager isn’t about making yourself “known”; it’s about presenting your talents and ideas in a way that can be of service to others. As part of the Connect discussion, Mhairi Gordon-Preston, a career-change coach and founder of YourSeaChangeLife.com, shared the tale of a memorable female leader who held brown bag lunches for colleagues, transforming her agenda (a volunteer project she was running) into a meeting that was engaging, relatable, and inspiring.

“The overall message was, ‘This was the impact on audiences you work with. If we work together, you could increase your project’s impact, too.’ This got personnel at different levels interested and thinking about how they could contribute. It also raised her profile within the organization; her career trajectory has been very impressive.”

Create a nurturing culture. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, author and career expert, says that promoting a culture of “managing up” among your own reports is another impactful way to give them the support and tools they need to flourish so they can rise through the corporate ranks alongside you.

“Get in the habit of sending a brief monthly email (preferably in bullet-point format) to your boss listing your accomplishments and upcoming initiatives and goals,” she says. “Encourage your direct reports to do the same.”

In the Connect discussion, self-employed consultant Toyin Olowoyo opined on the importance of establishing trust when managing down: “People naturally follow leaders they feel they can learn something from. Selfless leaders are rare, but they are the kind of people you never want to disappoint as an employee.”

When you establish a culture that encourages the growth of every member on your team and provides everyone—regardless of role or title—with the opportunity to essentially “write” their own career destiny, you’re not just giving them support as a manager; you’re staying tuned in to their ever-expanding range of skills and to their future goals—which can only serve to bolster your own success in the end and make managing up that much easier.

3 Tips for Finding the Right Role Model

When I was a little girl, I had a hard time finding the right role model. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, yet the lives of my favorite authors—Jack London, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Steinbeck—couldn’t have been more different from my own.

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The women in my real life weren’t viable options either, since they worked mostly as teachers and nurses. And though I didn’t consider following either of those career paths, it appears many women did. In fact, most of the women surveyed for the Professional Woman Report released by Citi and LinkedIn said that as kids they aspired to work in the educational (23%) or medical (22%) fields. That said, less than half (47%) ended up doing something related to what they dreamed of when they were younger.

I was lucky to find such a powerful role model in my own family, but the truth is, great professional mentors are everywhere.

Meanwhile, my desire to be a writer only intensified as I grew older. But it wasn’t until college, while pursuing a journalism degree, that I connected with someone who did what I wanted to do for a living. My father’s cousin and his wife, Deborah, were both newspaper writers, and she had just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. We met up one day when she was invited to speak at my journalism school. Deborah walked the campus with me and gave me valuable career advice. Her example encouraged me to get a strong foundation in journalism by working at a newspaper before launching my freelance career, and I’ve continued to turn to her for encouragement and practical advice about making my way as a writer.

I know I was lucky to find such a powerful role model in my own family, but the truth is, great professional mentors are everywhere. Here are three tips for connecting with the right person:

1. Don’t limit yourself to superstars. While it seems intuitive that the highest achievers in any field are the best role models, research suggests that it’s better to choose a successful but not exceptional role model. Why? Researchers created a simulation to pit skill against luck and found that those who make it to the very pinnacle of success often took big risks and got lucky. The chances of someone else achieving success by following the same path is low.

2. Look beyond your field. It may be helpful to broaden your search to include women or men you admire from other walks of life, especially if you work in an industry with few female leaders, such as technology. Focus more on finding someone who inspires you, regardless of their profession.

3. Tap into your support network. Perhaps surprisingly, Facebook Chief Operating Officer and women’s leadership guru Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t recommend that women ask someone to be their mentor. Mentors select their mentees based on potential, not because they were asked, she says. But that doesn’t mean women should just sit back and wait to be discovered. Sandberg recommends forming or joining a circle of peers who meet regularly and support one another. From there, a natural mentor/mentee relationship may begin.

Who’s your role model, and how did you choose him or her? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Do You Still Love Your Career?

Regardless of your profession or the amount of time you’ve spent in it, your work has a significant bearing on your quality of life. Based on the Professional Woman Report survey released by Citi and LinkedIn, working women have plenty to celebrate. Some highlights: The number of women who say they’ve reached their professional goals increased from 31% to 37% over the past year, and 84% of women who asked for a raise last year got one. The women surveyed also feel more financially secure, too. The percentage of those concerned about owing money on student loans and credit cards, as well as those concerned about saving for retirement, decreased across the board compared to last year’s responses.

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Despite these successes, many respondents noted that their career motivation has waned—or changed. As the number of women who equate “having it all” with “reaching the height of success in their field” continues to decline, the percentage of those who equate success with having a job they enjoy has risen from 64% to 73% in the last two years. Yet, the majority of respondents across all age categories think their happiest days on the job are just behind them.

Instead of dwelling on what’s ‘not’ in your career or skill set today, look at what could be.

It’s a good thing careers are long and winding: You can reclaim that loving feeling for your work and help ensure that your best professional years remain in the present. Here’s how.

Focus on connecting. Clara Piloto is an executive coach and director of MIT Professional Education’s Online X Programs, which provide lifelong learning for science, engineering, and technology professionals. She says one of the real reasons people often fall out of love with their jobs stems from a lack of connection—with colleagues, supervisors, and even the vision of the organization. (In fact, the women who responded to the Citi/LinkedIn survey named “office politics” as a key source of their workplace frustration.)

Before you start looking for another job, consider how you communicate at work, and if that method fosters connection. Do you let your words come from the heart in a way that shows people your true personality, and the passion behind your ideas and solutions? Or do you rely purely on your “head,” which can make communication feel rote and devoid of feeling, and create an environment where you’re working alongside many but “with” no one?

Find ways to connect better with your colleagues. Swing by someone’s desk to inquire about progress on an initiative or invite someone on your afternoon coffee mission.

“Show up.” Survey respondents weighed a good salary, doing what they love, and being challenged as equally important contributors to job satisfaction. Piloto says you may be able to recapture all these things—even in a career you’ve lost interest in—by simply making a conscious choice to “show up” to work each day. She explains that when you commit to being truly present at work, you make people feel “heard.” In turn, they hear you.

“Engaging others through your focus, energy, and communication is crucial for giving and receiving constructive feedback, and increasing your power and influence,” says Piloto. “These encounters might open up new and great opportunities and projects to work on—and you might just fall in love with your job again.”

Be honest about your feelings. You have different interests throughout the course of your life; it’s perfectly natural for a job that once excited you to lose its luster. If that’s your reality, career coach Jennifer Chow Bevan suggests taking a step back: Reflect on your skills, values, and interests; then consider whether they’re aligning with your current path, and how they might be “transferable” to new opportunities—whether that means a new employer, a new role, a different industry, or maybe other initiatives at your present company that aren’t related to your job description. Instead of dwelling on what’s “not” in your career or skill set today, look at what could be.

“Our careers are long, and no longer linear,” says Bevan. “Career transitions and reinventions allow you to bring a fresh perspective and life experiences to new roles.”

How to Navigate Networking with Confidence

If you want to advance your career, you know the standard advice: Go to networking events! But attending an unfamiliar event (with unfamiliar attendees) can be intimidating, so much so that many of us shy away from attending altogether. With a few tips and tricks, you can confidently approach networking events and make career-lifting connections:

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Do your homework. Some event organizers will share a guest list in advance. If so, search attendees’ LinkedIn profiles to scout out whom you’d like to meet. Reach out to a handful of people beforehand to mention you’ll be attending and would love to connect. This way you’ll know a few faces and names—and will have a much more productive evening.

Get there early. “I always try to arrive early, before people have paired off,” says Jenny Powers, founder and CEO of Running With Heels, a professional women’s networking group. With only a few people hanging around at the name-tag table, it’s far easier to approach someone by whom you might otherwise feel intimidated. And when others arrive, Powers adds, “you feel like a greeter.” You’ve already made yourself comfortable.

Do unto others… Unsure who to approach? “Walk up to someone who’s by herself. I wouldn’t want to be by myself!” admits Powers. “And everybody likes to be complimented.” (A statement necklace or great shoes are both safe topics.) Better yet, ask how the person learned of the event or if she’s heard the evening’s speaker before.

Focus on how you can help. Networking can feel inauthentic, but if you focus on how you can help other people achieve their goals it’s a lot more fun. “It’s really about listening for cues for how to continue the conversation,” explains Powers. If you’d like to connect with the person after the event, you can offer your card, or ask if you can send a LinkedIn invitation (be sure to add a note to the default invite so the person remembers who you are). If you’d like to see the person again, ask if there are other networking events she’ll be attending that you should know about. Or mention one you’re going to yourself—it’s a low-key way to lobby for another meeting.

Consider hosting your own networking event. You won’t be intimidated if you’re running the show! And the type of event all depends on what you want to get out of it:

  • You can do this on a small scale with one or more key people at a restaurant. If you go this route, make sure you choose a restaurant that is quiet enough to have a conversation and can seat you at a round table to encourage discussion. Also, since you’ll likely be the one footing the bill, communicate the price and menu options to your guests in advance so everyone knows what to expect. Bonus tip: Reward yourself for being the host by using a credit card that will earn you points. The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, for example, allows cardholders to earn 2X points for dining at restaurants – that’s two points for every dollar spent.
  • Another good option, especially if there’s a particular topic you’d like to explore, is to plan an event on a slightly larger scale with a little help from your community. Connect, Citi’s network of professional women on LinkedIn, has a SlideShare presentation on “How to Host a Professional Meet-Up.” You can approach local businesses and authors about speaking at your get-together, and share the guest list beforehand to build buzz.

Also consider how to break the ice for other people: “I always, always introduce a person arriving at the dinner to someone who’s already there before welcoming the next arrival,” suggests Michele Langer, Director of Brand Marketing at Summit Professional Networks.

7 Tips That Can Help Beef Up PC Security for Your Office and Home

There are lots of bad guys out there in the cyber world. And those bad guys have created viruses, bots, worms, trojans, spyware, rootkits, and all sorts of sophisticated malware, in an effort to steal your data. According to the Nortn Cybercrime report there are over 1.5 million victims each day. Yet, most people can protect themselves simply by beefing up their computers and reducing their vulnerabilities. Here are seven tips and tricks for keeping your data and online identity safe and secure.

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1. Keep your operating system updated.

When it comes to having Windows running smoothly and securely on your computer, too many users neglect to keep their software updated. But it’s important to keep your operating system refreshed with the latest security updates and patches, so that your system isn’t vulnerable to the plethora of new attacks that pop up every day. In both Windows 7 and 8, this can be easily done by turning on “automatic updating.” This will let Windows install important updates as they become available. Alternatively, you can manually install updates on your own, but this way Windows takes care of the updates for you.

2. Always have firewall and antivirus software running.

Most new PCs come with some form of pre-loaded firewall and anti-virus software inside of an Internet security suite, but too many people neglect to keep paying for the suite past the included free trial. The result is a neglected computer running an Internet security suite that is not up-to-date with the latest virus definitions and security patches. Even worse, many security suites will stop working once the free trial is up, leaving your PC unprotected.

I highly recommend Norton Internet Security for both home and small business users looking for an unobtrusive Internet security system. It comes complete with a firewall, antivirus, and anti-spyware features and costs just $49.99 when purchased online via a download. For that price, you get one year of updates, as well as the ability to run the software on up to three computers at once. That is an average savings of $30, compared to store shelf prices.

However, if you’re not willing to shell out that kind of money, I suggest downloading a free alternative such as Comodo Internet Security. That said, there are significant benefits to paying for a service like Norton’s, such as technical support. Furthermore, most free anti-virus and firewall software are meant for home use only, and are not intended for business use.

3. Keep your system updated.

If I had a penny for every computer I sat down at that wasn’t running an updated Internet security suite, well, I would have a lot of pennies. So it’s not enough to have a good system running; you also need to make sure that suite is updated with the latest virus definitions and patches.

4. Protect yourself from phishing scams.

Phishing scams happen when identity thieves try to steal your usernames, passwords, and other details by masquerading as trustworthy entities in an e-mail or on a website. Unfortunately, these days the fakes are starting to look more and more genuine than ever—so much that we can all use some help discerning the good sites from the bad ones. Fortunately, Internet security suites like Norton include phishing protection for your browser, while web browsers like Google Chrome also offer built-in phishing and malware detection that are turned on by default.

Alternatively you can use a free browser extension like the Netcraft Anti-Phishing extension, which offers extra insight into the site you’re visiting, so that you can make informed decisions before submitting your data and clicking on links on unknown websites. The Netcraft extension is compatible with both Firefox and Google Chrome.

There are over 1.5 million victims of cybercrime each day.

5. Practice safe computing.

There are some simple online practices that can easily help prevent hackers from getting access to your data. For example, never pay your bills or access highly confidential financial accounts while using a public WiFi hotspot.

6. Use a password manager.

For an extra level of security when it comes to protecting your passwords, using a secure password manager is the way to go. In particular, LastPass is one of the most secure online password managers out there, and it’s free. The service encrypts your password database and automatically logs you into your account on the site you’re visiting. This system helps further protect you from phishing scams and malware.

7. Choose a secure cloud storage provider.

Speaking of password-protecting your data, the number of cloud storage users is growing at a fast pace. According to a press release by IHS Suppli, cloud storage subscriptions are expected to jump to 625 million . So it’s especially important to use extra secure cloud storage services, especially if you’re using these services to store important business documents.

SugarSync is one such cloud storage service that excels when it comes to keeping your data secure. As a matter of fact, it uses 128-bit AES, which is the same level of protection used for most online financial transactions. It also offers a special plan for businesses which costs $29.95 a month for 100GB of storage that can be shared with up to 3 users. Last but not least, SugarSync has a free personal plan with 5GB of storage and is fortunately just as secure.

Looking For Cheap SEO Services? Beware Of the Risk!

SEO is definitely one of the most important aspects for the success of your website. You get the best results when you hire a professional. However, professional services come at a cost, which is why lots of people look for “cheap” SEO services. Well, hiring such a service is definitely great on your pocket. But then, how good are these services for your website? More importantly, are the services reliable, especially when Panda and Penguin are so actively creating havoc on the SERPs?

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Before you read on, bear in mind that not all cheap services are unreliable. The pressure of competition does force a number of efficient and reliable services to slash the rates of their service. So, before you hire a $50 per month SEO, do look into the quality of service the company offers instead of simply going by its costs.

Real SEO would not have suffered the Panda epidemic

Search engine optimization is a process and not exactly an action. When done right, it gets the rank of your website to scale gradually and stay there. An interesting survey conducted in the aftermath of the Panda and Penguin epidemic showed that a majority sites that dropped in ranks used some degree of unethical SEO such as keyword stuffing or invisible SEO text on the page. When you get it cheap, such tricks are likelier.

Black hat is cheap; but black hat is not SEO

When someone promises excellent results within the shortest possible time and within the lowest possible costs, it usually means that there is some black hat involved. Usually, organic SEO takes time. Black hat SEO does get you great results, but then, your drop is equally likely.

Experience comes at a price

An experienced SEO professional is not likely to offer services at a cheap rate because his or her experience demands value. Amateurs, on the other hand, almost always offer low cost services in order to scale their business. Considering the current volatile SEO scenario, experience definitely wins over experiment.

Cheap could mean limited

Let’s simply say that you get what you pay for.  In several cases, cheap services could have hidden terms and conditions that could limit scope of service. You might have to bear numerous additional charges that cumulatively turn out to be higher than the one time cost charged by an expensive SEO service.

Calculate the duration vs. cost

Cheap SEO services might not be able to get you sustainable results. You have to invest more time and money in the long run to keep your website stay put on the higher rungs of SERPs. A better option is to pay higher and obtain sustainable results.

Finally, it all comes down to ROI. Getting low returns on small investment is not as good as getting great results at a slightly higher price. So, before you hire a service, do take some time out to understand its capabilities. Check out testimonials, talk to previous clients and check the Google rank of the SEO company’s website. Make sure that you make the right choice.