Charles Tips – Getting Through a Pandemic Together

Here we are at the 4th of July of 2021 already! The loss of life suffered in 2020 was horrendous. Yet there are people who still do not think in terms of helping their fellow citizens – and themselves – by being vaccinated. The vaccine misinformation mills are in full production.

So think about this: Exactly who benefits when we don’t vaccinate? When more of us are ill and can’t work, the economy suffers. There is no way the government wants that. They want us to all work so they can collect taxes from our labor. Enemies of America benefit when we don’t vaccinate. Who benefits when we do? We all benefit. The economy will return to normal – as will our lives.

At CharlesWorks we all chose to be vaccinated. Each of us employed here cares about ourselves and our clients. So when you make an appointment with us in person you can at least rest assured we have taken steps indicating we care about you.

The CharlesWorks policy is that the COVID unvaccinated need not apply. That is one of the many ways we show we care about others.

Vaccination will help us return to normalcy. It is a small thing to do. It is the patriotic thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

Charles Tips – Importance of Shredding for Security

How we handle security for our sensitive items at home is important. With all of our concern these days about our online security, secure disposal is often overlooked when it comes to home or office security.

Aurora AS1000X shredderI have been using an Aurora AS1000X that I purchased from Staples for many years now. I like to think of it as my “big boy” shredder. It is rated to do 10 sheets of paper at a time. It can be set to work automatically when paper (or a credit card) is inserted into the middle of the feed slot. It also has a “reverse” setting so it can be unjammed if it gets stuck. For safety, the slot is small enough to prevent nearly anyone’s fingers from entering it.

Paper credit card and bank statements and invoices received via mail that are simply thrown away can be a huge security risk. Anything that contains sufficient parts of your credit card or bank account numbers should be shredded or burnt (or both). Also, credit card companies often send those low interest offers in the form of checks that can be used against your credit card accounts. If these checks end up in the hands of the wrong person, you could be in for many headaches. All this can be easily avoided by shredding such items you do not intend to use.

In addition to paper items, most of us have credit cards we need to dispose of on occasion. When credit cards become expired, compromised or simply worn out and needing replacement, they need to be disposed of in a secure manner to avoid giving out the information on them. Just like with paper, shredding is my preferred way of disposing of old credit cards.

Made it through the shredder

That being said, I recently ran into an issue trying to shred an outdated shopping card issued by one of the large banks. Much to my dismay the card had passed through the shredder with the account number still readable. The card appears to be made of metal covered in plastic. In such a case, I had to use a metal shear to manually cut the card into pieces small enough to prevent the information from being ascertained from the card!

Bottom line is that your home office is incomplete if you are without a shredder. A good shredder can save you many headaches in the long run. Also, the output from your shredder makes excellent kindling for getting a fire going in your fireplace, wood stove or firepit! And as an added benefit, you can rest assured it the shredder output is truly unable to be reconstructed after burning.

Charles Tips – Adding Akismet comment spam protection

Akismet provides a convenient and free way to protect your personal WordPress site or blog from spam.

Many times we’d like to allow comments to be left on our WordPress site. The hassle with this can be the tremendous amounts of spam that come through the forms on websites.

Akismet is a compact WordPress plugin that filters the incoming comments. It is pretty straightforward to use and pretty easy to set up as well.

Install the Akismet plugin

The first step in this process is to ensure that the Akismet plugin is installed in your WordPress website:

      • Log into your WordPress website’s dashboard as an administrator
      • Click on Plugins in the left dashboard navigation column
      • Look and see if Akismet is listed – if it is – and it is not activated you can proceed to the Akismet Setup step below – otherwise
      • Click on Add New under Plugins in the dashboard navigation column
      • If you don’t see Akismet in the plugins, then in the text box to the right of the work Keyword in the row starting with Featured type in Akismet – then click on its Install Now button. Do not activate it yet.

Akismet Setup

To set up Akismet you will need an API code from the Akismet site. The first step in that process is to navigate to:
https://akismet.com/plans

This (as of the time of this writing) brings you to a page that should look similar to the screenshot below.

Akismet offering pricing page
Akismet offering pricing page

To get the free version of Akismet comment spam protection, you will need to click on the Get Personal button on the above page.

Once you’ve done that, you should see a page similar to the one below. Before attempting to fill out anything on this page, we need to set that $36 / YEAR to $0 / YEAR. Click on the $36 / YEAR box and drag it to the left.

Akismet Default $36 per year page
Akismet Default $36 per year page

Dragging that $36 / YEAR box to the left should change the page to display something like the one below showing 0$ / YEAR. You can also see that the information to fill in has changed.

Akismet $0 per year page
Akismet $0 per year page

Now fill in the information completely. Note that you need to be able to check all three checkboxes indicating the following:

      • you don’t have ads on your site
      • you don’t sell products/services on your site
      • you don’t promote a business on your site

If these are the case, then you will qualify for a free, personal plan.

All you have to do once you have gotten this far is follow the directions on the page below.

Akismet signup complete page
Akismet signup complete page

Finally, it is suggested that while on that settings page in Akismet, you can choose to show the number of approved comments beside each comment author and choose whether to show a privacy notice or not. Then just click the Save Changes button and you are on your way!

Charles Tips – SEO Scammers

Almost all businesses get the usual spam SEO (Search Engine Optimization) phone calls. Recently, one of my web clients took one. As a result of such calls, she emailed me. She expressed a lot of concern about having been told very negative things about her web traffic and website operation. It sounded like he was trying to get her to spend money. Money she’d never see a return on her investment for.

High-pressure sales tactics are something I have instructed staff in all our years in business to avoid. CharlesWorks policy forbids selling clients anything they don’t need. The difficulty is that there are so many spammers and scammers out there sending the same messages that people believe them. You can tell the same lie a thousand times and it’s still a lie.

Among the thousands of websites we’ve handled, her particular business is very unique – especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. Her classes are limited regarding how many people she can have in them at any given time. I told her that she is the one who knows best what should be on her website. And she is the one who knows best what she has to offer and when she can offer it.

The nature of her business, it seemed to me, is based more on a following she has developed over time. And she is limited as to how many people at a time she can physically handle. And – much as I hate to say this – COVID is going to remain a thought in many people’s minds – at least through this upcoming winter season. Things will change when a vaccine is widely available. However, common sense dictates it will be a while before everyone generally has access to it.

I suggested she shouldn’t spend more than she absolutely has to – to just keep her business operational. Those small business owners who can stay in business through this pandemic will be the ones who do great once they reach the other side of this.

It’s troubling that someone had pressured her enough to do work on her site that she became stressed over it. Sales people who proceed with such a hard sell attitude are clearly desperate for work. Desperate people are not working with their customer’s best interest in mind. My advise is to not talk to these people.

My suggestions for dealing with these really hard line sales calls are:

      • Say to them “Please remove me from your calling list.” Once you say those words, they are supposed to do so by law. I regularly tell spammers this, and they generally don’t bother to call back.
      • Block their number through whatever mechanism your telephone carrier has set up to do that. I do this on a pretty regular basis with the robocalls (which are actually illegal in most cases) and take a few minutes to report them at the https://www.donotcall.gov/report.html site.
      • Go to https://www.donotcall.gov where you can put your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Mine have been on this for many years.

While these suggestions don’t stop all the spam calls you’ll get, they do stop many.

Every small business owner can and should review their website. They should ensure that everything is up to date for offerings and schedules. That only costs them a few minutes. Because CharlesWorks charges for changes by the minute, those kinds of changes only incur those minutes of charges.

I hope this is helpful to you!

Charles Tips – Checking Your Site

Something many folks overlook is occasionally checking their website’s functionality. I recommend doing this every couple weeks, but at minimum once a month.

Most websites and the servers they are on are subjected to ongoing software updates. Unless you are paying an additional fee for maintenance checks, it’s normal for things to occasionally break due to updates.

Most website owners are not paying additional fees for such maintenance. This means you really need to take the time to check:

– that the site appears to work properly
– that your hours of operation are correct
– that any website forms are working
– that email addresses are correct

The site operation and forms are most susceptible to software updates. If you have a good web developer, the fixes will happen quickly and it will not cost you too much.

Website maintenance should be thought of like automotive maintenance. We get oil changes. We get inspections. We even make modifications and do repairs to keep our vehicle operating the way we want. And our older vehicles can cost more to upkeep – just like older websites. As websites age, more work needs to be done to keep them secure and working as originally intended.

So check your site every now and then to keep things working and have the correct information out there!

Charles Tips – Remote Work Tip

Masks help keep us all safe from the novel coronavirus
Masks help keep us all safe from the novel coronavirus

Around mid-March of 2020 the pandemic started getting taken seriously here in New Hampshire. Quickly workforces transitioned to working remotely wherever possible. Now we’re four months into it. We’d hoped the pandemic would be relaxing a bit but it appears to just be getting ramped up these days in much of the rest of the country.

Most have discovered that working remotely is not as simple and easy as it seemed at first. Now we can see some of the true difficulties.

Here is the one major tip I’ll offer today: work remotely like the boss is watching. Remember that the boss probably IS watching. When you are at that remote workstation behave as though you’re at your office workspace. Seriously. Would you go to work without washing or taking care of your personal appearance? Why risk having an unscheduled remote meeting with fellow employees totally unprepared? Poor impressions will certainly not help you when it comes to reviews.

There’s no reason to not really shine at your job remotely. Think about how fortunate you may be at not having to commute to work. And the ability to make meetings allows you to lose far less time previously afforded to travel.

The key to making remote working feasible is tied to communication. You must communicate either via text, phone, email or Zoom type meetings often enough to stay connected to your work force to complete tasks.

Charles Tips – Engagement

Engagement, in military terms, is described as a fight or battle between armed forces. In web terms, engagement could be thought of as the process of getting an idea across to accomplish a goal.

There are a couple major goals with websites, as I see it. One is to simply share information. Another is to sell products. Make no mistake about it – whether you are selling widgets or ice-cream or trying to increase your congregation – the goal is the essentially the same – getting people engaged.

The first, sharing information, definitely is a precursor to the second. I’d like to focus on the second here.

Websites that are more engaging with their visitors will encourage more sales. With that in mind, it follows that engagement is a result of information and aesthetics.

Aesthetics costs for a website can vary greatly. Graphic design can be time consuming. This equates to higher labor costs. Information in written form, however, is usually the least expensive part of website development. Text can usually be pasted into web pages. This is not usually as labor intensive. Having more information in text format on a website usually equates to more exposure to the public. This is because website visitors can arrive using search engines. And the search engines find your site based upon pertinent content – mostly text.

In a nutshell, if you want an engaging website – which will increase your probability of success on the web – make sure there is plenty of information in text form on it. Search engines will help get folks there and your aesthetics can do the rest.

Charles Tips – Blogging

A popular website sales pitch over the past ten or so years has been about blogging. Many web developers believe that blogging is an absolute must to get found on the web. However, believing doesn’t necessarily make it a fact.

Whether blogging will be a benefit your particular web presence is complicated. There are a number of factors to consider.

A major factor is that blogging requires time to be effective. The time has to be spent by someone entering blog material pertinent to your business or topic into your website. Otherwise you have to pay someone to keep up with it.

Keeping blogs interesting to keep site visitors engaged is another ongoing endeavor. Site visitors won’t return if the material doesn’t hold their interests.

The real power of blogging lies with search engine placement. Search engines rank websites on how pertinent they are to a particular topic or search terms. Search terms are generally words or phrases people type into search engines when they are looking for something. The more pertinent – the higher the ranking. Having more pertinent material on a site increases ranking.

So when considering whether a blog is right for your web presence or not, bear in mind that a blog must be an ongoing, continuing effort. It may be just as effective to simply have a lot of static material on your site explaining details about all your offerings.

Charles Tips – Zoom Etiquette

I never imagined myself writing anything about etiquette. However, being in the middle of the web world as I am I get to listen to everyone’s two cents on our new business meeting medium: Zoom. And it is the same for all the video meetings that are happening. Here’s a short list of what people remark about most:

Example Zoom Meeting
Example Zoom Meeting Screenshot
    • Being on time – It appears that people are late more than ever for video meetings. Others notice.
    • Eating – Bad manners at a face to face meeting, most would never think to sit down with a bowl of cereal or a sandwich at a business meeting.
    • Stretching/Exercising – In a lifetime of meetings I’d have never believed this without seeing it happen.
    • Hiding – Everyone knows when you don’t show yourself at a meeting you either aren’t ready or you are doing something else.
    • Bathroom – Do I really need to even mention this? Never take your phone there. Remember Murphy’s Law.
    • Being Unfocused – In most cases private texting is not really private and can be seen my whomever manages the meetings. And what an embarrassment when you text everyone instead of privately. And everyone can see when you’re not paying attention.
    • Kids – We all love our kids. But we just don’t need to include them in business meetings.

Remember this is just a short list of the issues/complaints I seem to hear the most. The bottom line is that if you use video meetings for business you may want to use common sense and take them seriously.

Behaving the same way that you normally would if you were actually present at a face to face meeting will keep your appearance professional – which will help grow your business.

Charles Tips – PPP Pandemic Scams

The pandemic we are dealing with doesn’t always bring out the best in human nature. Such times are when scammers are more apt to take advantage of people. Many people are feeling anxious and helpless. Add economic issues and it’s clearly a recipe for depression and uncertainty.

Phishing
The bad guys are everywhere just waiting for you to click on their phishing traps!

Most small business owners have heard of PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loans. These are to help businesses stay alive and keep people employed during this pandemic. There are incredible numbers of scams involving PPP loans.

Most scams come through email. They also happen over the phone. Unbelievably, calls and email are great mediums for scammers. Emails trick people into loading viruses onto their computers. Both manipulate people into volunteering personal information! The result is identity fraud and/or account thefts.

Internet and telephone scams have one important factor in common: instill a sense of urgency in the mark. If the scammer can make you think you need to act on this right away, you probably will.

I suggest you:

1) Deal with bankers/lenders at respected institutions you actually know. Use the drive-through window if you must to set up an appointment.

2) Call your banker/lender if you get an email or phone call offering their help with the PPP loan – even if the email or phone call appears to be from a legitimate source.

3) Understand that emails and phone numbers can be spoofed – made to look like they’re from a legitimate source.

Be cautious and you won’t have to regret the unimaginable headaches that those who have suffered identity theft and other losses have experienced.

Charles Tips – Scamming Web Developers

Most of the articles I submit are to help the average web user or website owner learn a few web related tidbits. This one is geared toward web developers.

The scam asks about doing web development and whether it can be paid via credit card. It lets you know right away that they have a good budget to make the site. They also tell you they want it to be like a particular other site that you can check out to see what the project will entail.

Then the scam is presented – the scammer needs a favor. When you write back and ask what that favor is, here is a verbatim response I received:

“The favor i need from you is. i would give you my card info’s to charge for $7,700 plus credit card company charges, so $2,000 would be a down payment for my website design and the remaining $5,500 you would help me send it to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he has the $5,500 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you also the funds would be sent to him via Instant Transfer or Cashier Check into his account, sending of funds would be after funds clears into your account And also $200tip for your stress So i will be looking forward to read back from you. Thanks”

Then I indicate my credit card company doesn’t allow such transactions. I never hear from them again…

Most scams are built upon the greediness of the mark – purposely using poor grammar and presenting what looks like it’ll be a easy way to make some quick cash. That’s how they trick you out of your money. We all know the old saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Charles Tips – Working Remote

COVID-19 is dictating much of how we live our lives at this point. Most of us understand we are on the virus’s schedule – not ours. COVID-19 has dramatically changed lives in most communities.

Many attempt to work from home. Some are more fortunate as their work may be more conducive to this. Others can’t and must simply remain home to slow the spread of the disease.

Hopefully some of this info will increase your coping with remote working. I’ve worked remotely on occasion since starting my business in 1998. If there’s a way to get it done I’ve pretty much figured it out. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list and is mostly common sense:

Pros

– You gain your travel time. The importance of this increases with the distance you had to travel to work.

– Travel to work expenses disappear. Gone is the commute wear and tear on your vehicle. Your gasoline cost goes down.

– Driving risks go away. No worrying about being in a hurry and getting a speeding ticket or worse yet having a fender bender. So your car insurance premiums aren’t at risk of going up.

Cons

– Internet service can be slow. During high Internet usage times there can be traffic bottlenecks similar to what happens on the roads. Most people have what’s called asymmetric access to the Internet. In a nutshell this means that information sent from your Internet connection goes away from your device much, much slower than the speed at which it arrives. In techie terms this means your upload is much faster than your download. An example of this is when you type a character on your keyboard and you can see the delay of it appearing on your screen. Add to that the fact that cable Internet service is affected by the number of people online. DSL service is affected by how far away from a connection point you are. Wireless service is even more susceptible to both factors.

– Self-starters do better. Most of us in business for ourselves understand this. We are used to being out on that limb keeping our businesses happening. We understand that working by oneself can take a great deal of focus. It is very easy to become distracted and lose focus. You may need to write out a schedule yourself. It is important that you start work on time and always perform as though you were in an office where others can observe you. Putting on that show for you is every bit as important as putting it on for the boss. And you’ll feel better for it.

– Home computers and laptops can be slow. In the office there may be better machines with more horsepower so to speak to get work done than a machine you are using at home. Be cognizant of things like the number of windows open in browsers, how many programs you have open, and so on. Sometimes spending the additional moments to open and close programs can result in far more productivity and less frustration over the course of a day.

Suggestions for improved productivity

– Separate functions among devices. Let’s say you are connecting to a remote computer. Running Internet based programs from the company workstation uses the Internet connection that the company is physically connected to. Many companies have what’s called symmetric access to the Internet which is faster and considerably more expensive than your home asymmetric service. In techie terms this just means your upload is the same as your download speed. If you have a good data plan on your phone then using your phone separately to look things up on Google or visit sites you need to will help keep your desktop running more smoothly. This is a way of performing what’s called “load balancing” to spread out use across different connections to keep everything running reasonably well.

– Get up and walk around. Not only will you feel a little better but it actually helps to be more productive. If you have multiple bathrooms in your home use the furthest one. It especially feels good for your eyes to look away from the screen on a regular basis.

Setting up your remote services is beyond our scope. However, we can help by referring you to local professionals who do exactly that sort of thing. Feel free to call us at 603-924-9867 and we’ll find a good, reliable local fit for you.

With a little determination, willpower and focus we will all get through this thing. The important piece of this right now is to not overburden our medical systems. Go to https://www.coronavirus.gov for the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) information.

Charles Tips – Another Domain Scam

Explained really simply, domain names are just pointers that convert recognizable words or characters to Internet addresses so we can view a website. Whenever a domain name is created, its creation date and expiration date are publicly available.

There are many domain scams out there. A rather common one I often see is where an unscrupulous company tries to overcharge you for your domain name and get control of it.

The main way they do this is by first scaring you into thinking you might lose your domain name because it is expiring. They do this by sending a carefully crafted letter to you through the postal service. The message appears at first glance to resemble an invoice convincing you to renew your domain name with them. These messages are very convincing.

Reading the “invoice” carefully actually reveals it states it is not an invoice – but in fact it is an “offer”. That statement is what keeps it “legal”. Amazingly, some of the companies that trick domain owners like this have been prohibited from operating in Canada after being legally challenged by the Canadian government.

My advice is to always check with your domain provider when presented with anything appearing to be a bill that appears suspicious. It will save you a lot of headaches going forward.

Charles Tips – Hit and Run

Most of us think “hit and run” refers to a car accident. We’ve been using that phrase in the web world since starting this business in 1998.

Most of our web clients have been victimized by website hit and runs. That’s where a web developer hits you up for the cost of building your website and – if you’re lucky enough to have them complete the project – they run.

The main reason is because that initial developer really doesn’t have a robust grasp of the website development field. They stop being responsive to you because they simply don’t know how to modify or alter their work. This usually happens because they used quick templates that they simply don’t know how to adjust or modify.

In most cases I’ve seen, these so-called web developers are part timers doing a little web work on the side. They may provide what seems like a fantastic deal at the time – but leave you high and dry when the time comes that you need changes made to your website.

Although there are no guarantees you’ll never experience this – there are a few things you can check on. First of all see if they are a legitimate business. You can check this and other factors at https://cwcorner.com and in the upper right corner hit the magnifying glass and type “legitimate” and hit enter.

Don’t be the victim of a hit and run – you can minimize it happening to you by checking the potential web developer out before getting involved with them.

Charles Tips – Persistent Scammers

I’ve written several articles about specific scams that are occurring on a regular basis on the Internet. They seem to subside for a short time – a very short time – and then a wave of them happens again.

One of the worst – as far as I am concerned – are the ones where the email recipient is being told they must verify their email. These have some common traits with most Internet scams:

1) A sense of urgency – they want you to take care of this immediately

2) A time limit – they give you within 24 hours to act

3) A threat – they tell you your email will be locked.

The first thing you have to understand is that nearly everyone gets these on occasion. I have received them myself in which they are made to look like they are from CharlesWorks. So when our clients get these they tend to become very worried very quickly.

I can’t stress enough that most legitimate companies will not send out messages like these. To fall prey to these can be a real nightmare. With access to one’s email these days the bad guys can wreak havoc in one’s life. The worst cases are called identity theft!

Don’t be the unfortunate one who falls prey to these scammers. If you have been “notified” of something serious – call your provider up and speak with a representative. Just like at my company – it’s a lot easier for us to allay your fears than to have to try to clean up the mess that can happen with compromised accounts.