Pelland Blog

The GDPR Is Coming, The GDPR Is Coming!

May 14th, 2018

Global Data Protection Regulation

You have no doubt heard about the GDPR, and you may think that it has nothing to do with you. First of all, what is the GDPR? Unlike the DPRK, which is also in the news quite a bit lately, the GDPR is based in the European Union, not North Korea. It stands for the General Data Protection Regulation, and it goes into effect on May 25, 2018, with the intent of standardizing data protection rules across the 28 member countries of the European Union, from Austria to the United Kingdom (yes, despite Brexit, the United Kingdom remains an EU member until March 29, 2019.) With additional countries currently seeking admission, there are only a few European countries (most notably Russia, Ukraine, Norway, and Switzerland) that are neither members nor in the process of joining. The GDPR is designed to protect the personal privacy rights of citizens who reside within the EU, through the implementation of data protection standards by companies based in the EU itself and global companies that either process or control the personal data concerning individuals who reside in the EU.

Although the owner of a small campground in Oklahoma may not think of his business as a global enterprise, the Internet has made this planet a very small world indeed. Campgrounds near international tourism destinations like New York City, Washington DC, or units of our National Park System certainly recognize their percentage of guests from outside of the United States, many of whom originate from within the European Union. In fact, I have written in the past about measures that park owners can take in order to pursue a larger segment of international tourism business. Unless you are going to take the extreme (and suicidal, from a business development standpoint) measure of banning guests from Europe, the new regulations apply to your business. It is better to embrace the standards now because these new standards are likely to be broadly embraced around the world in the coming years. Which one of us, as individual members of the world society, is not in favor of improving standards to protect our personal privacy?

Some people dismissively think that they can ignore the new GDPR rules, foolishly assuming that they cannot possibly be enforced or that their small business would certainly never be targeted. As Americans, we get inundated with a daily barrage of telemarketing phone calls and junk faxes despite the fact that they are prohibited by the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and we have all been the victims of widespread security breaches where companies like Equifax get virtually slapped on the wrist. Well, change is in the air.

What Does It Mean For You?

The new rules require a higher standard of consent in the gathering of personal data, broaden the rights of individuals to demand that their personal data remain private, and establish enforcement powers that include some substantial files for violations. If your website, like many if not most, is running Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, or similar analytical software, you have probably received notices from Google, requiring that you update your agreement and provide your company’s legal name and contact information, a process that shifts the burden of ultimate legal responsibility from Google to your business. If you are familiar with Google Analytics and have evaluated your analytical data, you know how it can map your website’s traffic volume down to the local level, based upon the IP addresses of individual computers and mobile devices. The information falls just short of identifying a specific visitor to your site as Liam Andersson, at 211 Svarvargatan in Stockholm, Sweden; however, the IP address of a user’s computer constitutes personal information under the new regulations.

If you are advertising your business using online tools such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads or Facebook Advertising, you are probably fully aware of how that advertising can be targeted toward specific countries. Targeting any EU countries identifies your company as one that is specifically processing data from individuals who come under the protection of the GDPR. Although many American campground websites have dedicated French language versions (if they cater to a French Canadian clientele) or Spanish language websites (in order to reach out to the growing numbers of bilingual Americans), having dedicated website content (not simply the availability of a Google Translate tool) in French (even FR-CA, as opposed to FR-FR) or Spanish could also be interpreted as an effort to market to individuals in France and Spain. Clearly, this gets complicated.

There is no question that companies like Google and Facebook will be modifying the ways that they gather and process personal data, in order to safeguard their own interests; however, your individual business is also going to have to take certain measures in order to comply with the new GDPR rules. If your park belongs to a franchise that has its own assets to protect, such as Leisure Systems’ Yogi Bear Jellystone Parks, your compliance needs to be assured. None of this is particularly easy, but it is all unquestionably necessary.

What Do You Need to Do?

First of all, you need to recognize that, even if you are not specifically targeting or marketing to consumers in the European Union, people residing in the member countries are likely to be visiting your website. For that reason alone, it is necessary that some modifications be made to your site, particularly if it involves the sale of any type of merchandise or has any sort of form that compiles personal information. This would include reservation request forms or any third-party software that processes reservations on your behalf. Those forms must be modified so that users specifically consent (opt in) to the gathering of their personal information (in other words, no permission boxes that are checked by default), and they must have a clear option to withdraw their consent. These processes must be very clear, specific and unambiguous, and you must have a means to immediately halt any data processing upon request.

Your website should also have a privacy policy that is associated with any e-commerce or form that gathers personal information. That privacy policy must be updated to reflect the new GDPR requirements. If it does not already do so, your privacy policy should specify that your website is not directed toward children (although, unlike alcohol-related sites as an example, an age gate does not need to be in place), whether or not it is using cookies or tracking technologies that might be out of compliance, how your website is identifying user locations (Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager, for example), whether you are collecting email address for marketing purposes (again, clearly specifying opt in and opt out procedures), whether you are collecting phone numbers and for what purposes, and how and where your data is stored.

Your level of exposure to the new GDPR rules should also address a series of European-specific questions. These include whether or not your site accepts payments in currencies other than U.S. dollars (it should not), whether your site is advertised or specifically marketed in any way toward European consumers (if so, you may want to reconsider this practice for the time being), whether your site blocks or diminishes content to European users (for example, disabling reservations – a rather extreme measure), and whether or not your site gets any significant traffic from users in Europe.

Although it is your responsibility to update any agreements with companies like Google and Facebook, many of the necessary steps will require either assistance or implementation by your webmaster or third-party reservation service providers. Keep in mind that this will involve additional services that will almost certainly incur additional fees. Maintaining standards that respect personal privacy go beyond your website and must influence your internal business practices, including the secure storage of customer data. We are living in a complicated world where, ultimately, we are all consumers with rights that need to be protected.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Help Wanted, Apply Today!

March 21st, 2018

One of the perennial challenges facing campground owners is the struggle to find high caliber seasonal employees. Particularly when unemployment is as low as it is these days, it is not easy to find people who are anxious to clean toilets, mow lawns under the mid-August sun, or rake pieces of broken glass out of campfire rings. You understand because these are the types of jobs that you do yourself whenever necessary.

There is no question that those of us who run our own businesses think it is entirely normal to work 60+ hour weeks, to be on call when we are not working, and to grow accustomed to income uncertainty. I doubt that there has ever been a campground owner who has not at least occasionally been able to divide income earned by hours worked to find that his compensation calculated out to a fraction of minimum wage.

With that perspective as a backdrop, campground owners must nonetheless face the challenges of recruiting a qualified workforce. Larger parks that need to hire a hundred employees clearly face a more formidable task than smaller parks that get by with a half dozen multi-tasking workers. Complicating recruitment is the fact that most campground jobs are temporary and seasonal, forcing parks to compete against theme parks, golf courses, landscaping firms, farms, and any other businesses that are concentrated within the same limited tourist season.

Students on summer vacation and recent college graduates quite naturally come first to mind; however, many of them are still fantasizing that they should be earning six-figure incomes while doing nothing but sitting behind a desk. Then, there is the problem of schools resuming their fall sessions, often even before Labor Day, while your business is still at its peak. It is no wonder that I noticed the local Six Flags theme park holding recruitment days as early as January, hoping to fill up to 1,000 jobs prior to the park’s soft opening in April. I have also noticed over the last several years that the majority of lift attendants at U.S. ski resorts are South American college students who were recruited from the southern hemisphere to work in the cold during their summer vacations.

There are plenty of other businesses that face seasonal workforce challenges. Perhaps the most well-known is Amazon, a company that must recruit armies of warehouse workers to meet the demands of the spike in business that occurs during the holidays each year. In fact, Amazon has set up its own recruitment organization, called Amazon CamperForce, a name that has its origin in the fact that most of those workers are full-time RV’ers who have traded in their home mortgage payments for the freedom of the open road. Some the victims of corporate downsizing or plant closures, some former professionals who have grown restless with retirement, and others simply natural-born nomads, these mostly older folks tend to supplement their retirement incomes with seasonal employment.

When the holiday season is over at Amazon, that at-will workforce hits the road and heads in the direction of its next seasonal jobs, often found through advertisements in publications like Workamper News and Workers on Wheels or booths at camper rallies and outdoor festivals. Amazon CamperForce itself has partnered with campgrounds in 27 states – from Alaska to Florida – that help to provide a degree of employment continuity for those warehouse workers who are no longer needed after December 23rd.

When it comes to temporary seasonal employment, most businesses have a strong preference for the work ethics of older employees, and the job at your campground is much more appealing than running the concrete floors of a regional Amazon warehouse or harvesting crops under the sweltering sun, according to “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century”, a 2017 book by author Jessica Bruder that paints a somewhat biased and less than flattering picture of the “work-camper” movement.

Seeking practical advice from campground owners with long histories of hiring experience, I asked several to share a few of their recruitment secrets. Those owners were Jack Robinson, the second generation owner of Four Seasons Family Campground, a New Jersey campground that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017; Leslie Baum, a second generation owner of Otter Lake Camp Resort, a larger park in the Poconos of Pennsylvania; Beth Ryan, the owner of both Lake Huron Campground in Michigan and the Keystone Lake Jellystone Park in Oklahoma; and Cathy Reinard, who has owned several parks, most recently New York’s Copake KOA.

The common thread among most of these park owners is probably Workamper News, a service that has been providing frameworks for connecting RVers with employers throughout North America since 1987. Workamper News is a bi-monthly printed publication, and Workamper.com is its online companion, each offering a wide range of free listing services and paid advertising options. Reinard says that Workamper News works best when her park is looking for employees at least six months in advance. The primary market here consists of older folks, often retired professionals who could be real assets to their employers, but the employee who you want to start working in April could be committed to another position thousands of miles away until then. Both Reinard and Ryan mention how providing a free full hookup site and free electric are real incentives for employees who are living out of their RVs and would otherwise have to pay to stay elsewhere. Ryan also offers an end-of-season bonus as incentive for workers who stay for the intended full term of their employment. On the other hand, Reinard points out that she still prefers local hires, where she does not have to lose the income that a seasonal site would otherwise generate, while gaining a greater likelihood of continuity of employment from year to year.

To find these local hires, three out of these four park owners turn to the guidance departments of local high schools and community colleges, even posting flyers on campus bulletin boards when permitted. Bulletin boards in general can be highly effective. There is a bulletin board outside of the pharmacy in my small town that is widely read. Reinard relates how she posted a job opening on the bulletin board in a local laundromat, leading to the hire of a new member of her housekeeping staff. The park owners say that they have also posted classified ads in local shopping guides (controlled circulation newspapers that are found in many local markets), Craigslist (where employment adds incur a $15.00 fee but typically generate many qualified responses), and Indeed (where employers can post jobs for free or pay per click for premium listings.)

Although many parks have a habit of posting job openings on their Facebook pages, Reinard cautions against this practice. She very succinctly states, “You do not want to appear to be one of those parks that are always looking for help (sending a wrong message to your guests who follow you on Facebook). If you are one of those parks, you need to take a hard look at your business and figure out why you have a problem.”

Some park owners also implement their own personal recruitment efforts that are loosely based upon the CamperForce model, except without the wheels. For example, Baum’s son is working a winter job at a nearby ski area, where the park is hoping he will be able to recruit a seasonal employee for the upcoming summer. She also mentions that her park pays higher wages than most other seasonal employers in the area, which also helps to encourage employees to return from year to year. Although the park owners also mentioned that they sometimes hire seasonal campers as employees, Reinard makes the point that she would rather avoid “mixing customers with employees”, preferring that they be one or the other but not both.

In addition to recruiting prior season employees for return engagements, Robinson summarizes employee recruitment at Four Seasons as “being visible in and interacting with the community” as the secret to his park’s success. The Robinson family has a strong presence in the Grange, the local fire company, the church, and the community in general. Their interactions with the families in these organizations spreads the word that they are in the market to hire young adults (primarily high school and college students.) According to Robinson, “There are families having three or four children, where all the children end up working for us – for many years.” This is a classic example where word of mouth has proven to be the most effective form of advertising.

With these peer insights as guidance; let’s hope that your park’s next recruitment effort will be its most effective ever!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Give Your Guests More of What They Want

February 24th, 2018

I opened a box of breakfast cereal recently, and the inner bag of contents reached about half the height of the packaging. It was a classic example of the disclaimer that warns us that “contents are sold by weight, not volume”. If the packaging properly matched the size of its contents, it would have been half the size, have far less visibility on the supermarket shelf, and I probably would have passed on a purchase that did not appear to represent a very good value. You might say that I was deceived into making the purchase. Even though I liked the cereal, I am unlikely to purchase it again.

There are so many instances where corporate marketing decision-makers seem to underestimate the ability of their customers to make informed buying decisions and to alternately choose substitute products. Then there are instances that border on collusion, where companies follow the lead of a competitor who trail-blazes a reduction in product size without a corresponding reduction in price. For example, it only took one orange juice company to shrink its half-gallon container down to 59 ounces before every other company quickly followed suit. The same thing happened with ice cream, where the half-gallon container somehow evolved into a quart and a half. Perhaps the greatest offenses to consumer intelligence are meaningless comparison claims. I recently purchased a 50 ounce container of liquid laundry detergent where the label prominently stated “25% more ounces” (in a 36 pt. bold font) “vs. 40 fluid ounces” (in a 6 pt. light font). Needless to say, that claim did not influence my purchase.

Respect Your Guests’ Intelligence

People who feel that they have been somehow deceived into making a buying decision are almost never going to be return customers. When it comes to the outdoor hospitality industry, one of the biggest complaints is when guests feel like they are being “nickeled and dimed” during their stay. Although it is far preferable to avoid the imposition of add-on fees for incidentals like showers, Wi-Fi, or your planned activities, it is very important that any such fees be fully disclosed at the time of reservation. (One of my pet peeves is the imposition of so-called “convenience fees” for the making of reservations themselves!)

My best advice is to bundle as much as possible into your basic fees, promote the value within your rate structure, and stop presuming that people are comparison shopping for price without reading the fine print. One trend that I hope does not make inroads with the outdoor hospitality industry is the growing practice of hotels to impose so-called “resort fees”. This practice is so deceptive that it has generated lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers by 47 state attorneys general, who had recently negotiated an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, until the Trump administration ordered the FTC to back off, siding with the hotel industry rather than the interests of consumers. Nonetheless, guests have little or no tolerance for deceptive rate embellishments.

Consider the All-Inclusive Approach

A far better – and opposite – approach is the all-inclusive concept, where guests are willing to pay a premium for the privilege of avoiding add-on fees. The all-inclusive concept originated with Club Med way back in 1950. It is the rule rather than the exception in some vacation destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. The concept has since been embraced by resort operators, cruise lines, travel agencies and online booking companies, several major airlines (including United, JetBlue, and Southwest), hotel chains (including Marriott and Hilton), and even wholesale buying clubs like Costco.

With all-inclusive pricing, as the name implies, guests willingly pay a premium fee for the privilege of vacationing without having to pull out their wallets throughout the course of their stay. All-inclusive pricing is most popular with destination resorts and highly competitive, saturated tourism markets. Probably the best known and most broadly marketed of these practitioners is Sandals Resorts International, which now promotes the tagline of “more quality inclusions than any other resorts on the planet”. Their all-inclusive stays include accommodations, dining, wine and spirits, golf, water sports, scuba diving, land sports, and entertainment. Even here, there are fee-based options such as spa treatments, premium wines, and scuba certification, as well as some restrictions on golf that vary from one resort or level of accommodations to another. The bottom line is that guests feel that they are being offered far more than they would otherwise expect.

Unfortunately, when I perform a Google search for the terms “all-inclusive campgrounds” or “all-inclusive camping resorts”, the results are pretty limited. I am more likely to find dude ranches, cabin resorts, and family resorts that do not fit the definition of a campground. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a small but growing list of campgrounds, ownership groups, and franchises that are discovering and beginning to capitalize upon the “all-inclusive” buzz words.

When I clicked through to the website of a campground in Michigan that calls itself “all-inclusive”, I found that it did not charge extra fees for most of its planned activities (something that is not all that uncommon); however, it charges extra fees for bike rentals, boat rentals, boat launching, and a few other “add-ons”. Another park in Wisconsin is promoting its all-inclusive pricing but is also charging for a short list of optional services that include boat and golf cart rentals, its laundry, and honey wagon service. Finally, a Jellystone Park in Texas is really promoting an all-inclusive pricing concept that includes full use of a wide range of recreational amenities – from miniature golf to a jumping pillow to a splash park. In each instance, the point of emphasis is not the list of fee-based options but the list of what is included at no additional charge.

The key to growth in the family camping industry has always been to draw in a new wave of guests who do not currently consider themselves campers. To reach them, offer them the unexpected and create the perception of overwhelming value that they have come to appreciate elsewhere. An all-inclusive approach to pricing may prove to be an idea whose time has come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Who Is Answering Your Phone?

December 24th, 2017

For campgrounds in Canada and the northern states, winter is the off-season. Whether or not the owners are fortunate enough to spend their winters in Florida or other Southern climes, their parks are usually operating with skeleton staffs or are totally vacant, with hopes that off-season income will cover their utility bills and mortgages. Either way, the off-season is the prime time for campers to make reservations for the upcoming season, and it is also the time when you, as a campground owner or manager, are likely to have the least number of interruptions competing for your attention.

We all tend to think that technology makes life easier, believing that it can simplify the task of generating a new stream of business. While there is some truth to that idea, the fact is that the most effective technologies require a commitment of both time and old-school business practices. If you are a small business owner, the time that must be invested is quite likely to be your own.

The Internet is often seen as a technological panacea with respect to the harvest of a new base of customers. For campgrounds, the entire online process is typically funneled toward online reservations, the outdoor hospitality industry’s equivalent of e-commerce on Amazon. Unfortunately, many people still buy into the “if you build it, they will come” concept that was the mantra of the 1989 fantasy-drama film, Field of Dreams. Things are not that simple in real life, and the reservation process rarely flies on autopilot.

In many instances, prospective online customers have pre-purchase questions that must be answered prior to making their decisions. These inquiries are almost always going to involve either email or a phone call, with the customer expecting a prompt response (in the case of email) or an immediate response (in the case of a phone call).

If somebody is determined to camp exclusively at your park, they may be more patient in awaiting a response to an immediate question; however, a camper who is seeking a park in your local area may very well be contacting you and several of your competitors. Being the first to respond is the equivalent of getting your business to appear at the top of the Google or Bing search results.

If you are away from the office, either make arrangements to access and respond to your emails or delegate that responsibility to a trusted employee. Never use an auto-responder, which simply encourages the recipient to look elsewhere. Try to use personalized templates that will streamline the response process and that will minimize the number of back-and-forth emails that must be exchanged. Next, check to ensure that the sender name on your emails is clear and intuitive to the recipient. It should include the name of your business. I am amazed at how many emails arrive in my inbox identified solely by vague sender names such as ‘info’, ‘reservations’, ‘office’, or some other generic term. If a customer has contacted several parks, ensure that he or she will immediately identify the source of your response. Finally, your emails should always include a “signature” that includes the full range of alternate contact information, including your mailing address, phone number(s), and social media addresses.

Beyond listing alternate contact information in your email signature, consider offering your online visitors one or more truly alternate means of contact. Online chat is great, as long as you have somebody available to respond at any given time; however, the single most important alternative is a telephone number. In 2018, there is no question that well over 50% of your online traffic will be coming from users of mobile devices, and according to a Google AdWords report, 70% of users of mobile devices are likely to “click to call” either prior to or rather than completing an online purchase. This statistic equally applies to online reservations at campgrounds.

A smartphone user may be ready to make a reservation but would prefer to do so over the phone rather than fumbling through an online process. Are the phone numbers listed on your website properly linked to allow smartphone users to simply click the number to call you? It is otherwise awkward to try to read a number and then call it from the same device. Make the process easy!

It is essential for the business phone number to forward directly to either the owner or manager of a campground and that the call be either immediately answered or returned within minutes. Do not include an alternate phone number “for a faster response” in your outgoing message. If another number will reach you more directly, forward the call to that number, rather than expecting the caller to be able to immediately transcribe that number and then place a second call. Nobody likes to needlessly jump through hoops, and that second call is highly unlikely to be made.

What happens when someone calls your campground in the off-season? Do they get a message telling them that you are out of the office and will reopen in May? If so, you can almost be certain that you have lost a sale every time your phone rings. Of course, callers might expect to reach your voicemail during off-hours and on weekends; however, if you are available to take a call during those times, do so. Big companies that have the poorest ratings for customer service are almost always the companies that are notorious for putting callers on hold, forcing them to navigate through complex phone menus, or make it extremely difficult to get through to a live operator.

What callers do not want to sense from you is a lack of response, whether that is an unanswered phone, a non-reassuring outgoing message, or a phone that is answered in an unprofessional manner. When was the last time that you called your own number to listen to your outgoing message? Does it clearly identify your park, is the sound clear and friendly, and is the message current? I am amazed at how many businesses use a default outgoing message that only references the phone number. I will not leave a message in that instance because there has been no confirmation that I have even reached the correct number. In other instances, the recorded message might include long pauses or background noise. Use a written script, record it in a quiet space, play it back, and do it again if it is less than perfect. I have even called parks with outgoing messages that say that they will reopen at a certain date that was two months in the past, not to mention parks where it is impossible to leave a message because the mailbox is either full or not set up properly.

 

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Keep Your Passwords Secure

November 26th, 2017

If you attended my “10 Steps for Securing Your Digital Identity” seminar at the 2017 Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, you learned that my lead segment involved the importance of keeping your passwords secure. Passwords have been around since ancient times, when the first sentry asked “Who goes there?”, becoming essential for admission to a speakeasy during Prohibition, and playing a vital role in military security during World War II.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the doors to our house had old mortise locks and keys that gave our family a sense of security. I recall that the logic when the doors were locked at night was to keep the key turned 90 degrees in the keyhole on the inside of the lock, under the presumption that this would prevent a thief from inserting a key into the outside of the lock and gaining entry. Of course, if somebody got locked inside, we knew that it would only take a couple of minutes to jimmy the key out of the lock. When we were away from home, the key came with us, leaving the lock even more vulnerable.

If a key got lost or broken, we simply walked to the neighborhood hardware store (yes, they existed back then!) and bought a skeleton key for 50¢ that would probably open every lock in our house, including the outside entry doors, as well as the locks on most every other house in the neighborhood. It is no wonder that we relied on neighbors to keep an eye on our houses back then. Sadly, many people today do not even know the names of their neighbors.

Nowadays, passwords are almost exclusively associated with computers and Internet security, and a lame password is essentially the equivalent of a skeleton key. Like those families sleeping soundly behind the security of a mortise lock, a majority of computer users think that their passwords are securely protecting their accounts from getting hacked.

Before I go any further, I would like you to test one of your passwords. Go to this URL and enter your password: https://howsecureismypassword.net/. As an example, I just tested “JBDayton62”, which is exactly the type of password that many people use, so falsely confident in its security that they use it on every account that requires a password. According to the test, a computer could crack this 10-digit password in only 8 months; however, anybody who researched the Internet and social media and already knew that John Brown was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1962 could crack this password in no time flat. If a password is convenient to remember, it is easy to crack!

What Constitutes a Secure Password?

Quite simply, for a password to be secure it should consist of a minimum of 16 characters; never contain a word or a combination of words found in the dictionary; never contain the names of family members, friends, pets, sports teams, and the like; and be made up of a random combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. You can also often use spaces in passwords, although it is unfortunate that many websites still prevent users from choosing truly secure passwords, by precluding the use of special characters, for example.

The next rule is to always use a unique password for each and every site, and then to change each password on a routine and frequent basis. Apply even stricter standards for sites that provide access to highly secure information, such as your online banking or the IRS’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) website. The time to change your old, reused, vulnerable, weak, or compromised passwords is now, not next week or “when you get around to it.”

Before you naively presume that nobody is out there trying to crack your password, consider the fact that password cracking software is readily available online for use by hackers (and occasionally by companies that are on the lookout for weak passwords being used by employees.) Those programs include L0phtCrack, Cain, and John the Ripper … all designed to crack passwords (and sometimes credit card numbers) using brute force, dictionary attacks, rainbow tables, and other means.

How to Create a Secure Password

Never trust yourself to generate your own secure password. Our brains are simply not programmed to think randomly, and any password that makes sense to you is easy to crack. Some people even think that including a foreign-language word in their password will make it secure, perhaps presuming that hackers only reference English language dictionaries (even though English may be far from their native languages.) My recommendation is to use a secure online password generator such as the Secure Password Generator: https://passwordsgenerator.net/

The Secure Password Generator will allow you to choose any length of characters (from 6 to 2,048) and choose the types of characters that will be allowed (or excluded, if a site does not permit certain characters), then generate it on your own computer.

How to Store Your Passwords

Once you generate a highly secure password, keeping it written down on a sheet of paper or in a Word document on your computer is like leaving the keys for Fort Knox at a lost and found counter. You need a way to store and access your passwords safely, relatively easily, and securely. I recommend the use of a password safe. Three of the best are LastPass, Dashlane, and Keeper.

LastPass – https://www.lastpass.com/
Dashlane – https://www.dashlane.com/
Keeper – https://keepersecurity.com/

All three work with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android operating systems; have plugins for popular browsers; include two-factor authentication; include form-filling; offer fingerprint login on mobile devices; and have free versions.

The idea with a password safe is that you have only one highly secure master password to remember. Thanks to geolocation, if you login to your account from an unfamiliar IP address, the two-factor authentication will kick in, requiring you to confirm your identity before being allowed access. In my own instance, 12 attempts to login to my account over the last 6 months have been thwarted – 3 from Vietnam, 2 from China, 2 from Brazil, and one each from Argentina, Georgia, Ukraine, The Philippines, and the United States (North Carolina). Do not think for a moment that there are not people out there actively trying to hack into your accounts. They are out there and they are everywhere.

Access to our personal data is far too important to be left to chance, and I am hoping that this article might help to open the eyes of a few disbelievers. People who are ahead of the curve when it comes to planning are already taking measures to ensure the longevity of access to their data, even as new biometric methods such as fingerprint and iris recognition are coming into play. According to a survey taken by the University of London and cited in Wikipedia, one in ten people are now including password access or recovery information in their wills. My best advice is to think toward the future, but to start changing your way of thinking today.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Equifax Security Breach: Your Response

October 22nd, 2017

Every so often, a truly important news story breaks into the public consciousness through an information overload that seems more and more obsessed with partisan issues, celebrity news coverage, and YouTube videos gone viral. One of these recent stories involved the unfolding cybersecurity breach at Equifax, one of the three American companies that compile the personal information that determines your credit-worthiness, your ability to obtain a loan, and the interest rate that you will pay for that privilege.

Of course, a legitimate question could be asked regarding what gives Equifax, Transunion and Experian the right to gather hyper-sensitive personal and financial information on every American citizen alive today. We have certainly come a long way from the idealized days of George Bailey and the Bedford Falls Building and Loan, when financial decisions were local and finalized with a handshake. In our modern times, it would seem that the minimum responsibility on the part of credit reporting agencies would be to maintain iron-clad security standards to prevent our personal information from falling into the hands of malevolent third parties.

In the recent Equifax incident, the personal security information of 143,000,000 Americans was compromised. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, there are only about 125,000,000 households in the United States. Without question, you were personally impacted. Essentially, the names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers and more for virtually every adult citizen in the United States were compromised. In addition, investigations have disclosed that credit card numbers of 209,000 individuals were hacked, along with personal identification numbers (PINs) for another 182,000 consumers.

According to testimony prepared for a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Equifax CEO Richard Smith admitted that the breach was the result of a failure to apply a software update, despite warnings from the Department of Homeland Security, followed a day later by a warning from the company’s own security team. The company’s policy was to apply such patches within 48 hours, but this failed to happen. The patch was designed to repair the vulnerability in the open source Apache Struts software that the company was using in one of its systems. Even following the company’s internal software policies, hackers would have had three days to exploit that vulnerability – a virtual lifetime in the world of hackers. The Apache Software Foundation had issued a patch for the flaw in March, two months before hackers began accessing sensitive information on Equifax’s servers on May 13. Clearly, Equifax had no excuse for its failure to have taken immediate corrective measures.

This all occurred two years after a similar, but smaller, security breach occurred at Experian, compromising “only” 15,000,000 Americans. What did the credit reporting industry learn over that time? Apparently how to wait months before reporting the incident, while providing an opportunity for three top Equifax executives to unload $1.8 million worth of company stock, after the breach was discovered but prior to its announcement. It also forced Smith to resign, albeit with an over $90 million golden parachute, according to Fortune Magazine.

The impacts of the Equifax security breach upon individuals have been well-documented, including advisories to subscribe to free credit monitoring services, change all of your passwords to unique strings of characters that are more difficult to crack, to pay to freeze reports on your credit (only unfreezing the reports in specific instances, such as when applying for a loan), and to join into one or more of the class action lawsuits against the company. As a small business owner, on the other hand, what measures should you take to ensure that you are safeguarding the information of your customers to the best of your ability? There is no question that international cybercriminals tend to pursue the larger and more lucrative targets; however, every business that conducts business online (not necessarily through its website, but through any Internet-based transactional application) is vulnerable and bears a responsibility for protecting its customers.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a series of five areas of recommendation for how businesses should handle their customers’ personal information.

  • The first is an assessment of how your company handles personal information that is gathered from a variety of sources, including credit reports, employment applications, and customer-provided data. How is it delivered to your business, how broadly is it accessed within your company, and how and where is it stored? A particular area of concern is the processing of credit cards. Above all else, cybercriminals are looking for credit card information, social security numbers, and banking information. There is no reason for most businesses to maintain records of that information in any form.
  • Stop gathering information that you do not need. With the exception of very specific matters including employee tax accounting, there is no reason to ever ask for anybody’s social security number. Do not maintain records of credit card numbers. Those should only be gathered through a secure point of sale terminal or via a secure online payment gateway, where you do not actually see the number, its expiration date, or the security code. Never ask people to provide that information via email, and discourage the common practice of taking that information over the phone. Because “we’ve always done things this way” is no longer an excuse.
  • Keep all physical and electronic records secure. Paper records and backup files should be stored in locked rooms or file cabinets, with limited employee access to a limited number of keys. Electronic files should be encrypted and password-protected. Individual computers should be password protected, put into password-protected sleep or screen saver mode when left unattended, and shut down at the end of each business day. Scan the computers on your network for vulnerable open network services. For example, if a computer is not intended to be used for the sending or receipt of email, the ports for those services should be closed on that computer. Every computer should also be running real-time anti-malware and anti-virus software that includes scans of incoming email messages for malicious content that might be disguised as routine file attachments. Never allow an employee who is untrained in basic security precautions to access and open email messages.
    A highly secure password is almost worthless if an employee is allowed to write it down on a Post-It Note, typically attached to his computer monitor. Educate employees (and yourself!) on the importance of password security, use a “password safe” application with a highly secure master password, and lock out users after a limited number of incorrect login attempts on any computer and any online application. Laptops and mobile devices are particularly vulnerable due to their portable nature. They should never be left where they would be even momentarily visible to thieves, and their access to secure information should be carefully limited. Using unsecured Wi-Fi access at airports and other public places is an extremely risky practice.
  • Always maintain proper disposal practices. We have all heard the old adage about one man’s trash being another person’s treasure. That was never as true as it is today. Paper records and disposable electronic media containing sensitive data should never go into the trash. These need to be run through cross-cut shredders or incinerated. When disposing of old computers and storage devices, all data must first be removed with a data wiping utility. Simply deleting files leaves them recoverable by a thief. Did you realize that your office copier or fax machine contains a hard drive that stores its data? That data probably includes copies of your tax returns, and that data also needs to be wiped prior to the disposal of any such device.
  • Finally, maintain a response plan in the event of a security breach. If a computer is compromised, immediately disconnect it from Internet access, remove it from your network, and then shut it down. Bring in an expert to identify and correct the vulnerability and assess any threats to personal information. If there have been compromises, immediately notify your customers and anyone else who may have been impacted by the breach of security. Do not repeat the Equifax mistake of hiding disclosure for months.

This is a brief summary of what occurred in the recent Equifax security breach, how you should react to that breach, and some of the measures that you should implement to tighten the security standards at your own business. If you would like to learn more, be sure to attend the “10 Steps for Securing Your Digital Identity” seminar that I will be presenting at the Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, in Raleigh, on November 8, 2017.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

A Fresh Look at Pets and Rentals

September 6th, 2017

There is no question that Americans love their pets. In most instances, they would not think of taking a road trip or weekend vacation where their furry “family members” were left behind. Most campground owners have capitalized nicely upon this trend, making their parks more pet-friendly than ever. Campground dog parks have become very popular (in many instances with two parks, one for smaller and one for larger breeds), waste stations and litter bags are commonplace, and many parks are installing dog-wash stations. Entire businesses, such as Dogipot, have been built around the combination of pets and parks, while other suppliers have added pet-related items to their product lines.

According to the American Pet Products Association, U.S. pet owners spent over $66 billion on their pets in 2016, with those same expenditures expected to approach $70 billion in 2017. Not only do they want to take their pets with them just about everywhere, they are not hesitant to pay for that privilege. Campgrounds, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and even luxury hotels are attempting to find ways to increase their share of this lucrative market.

With luxury hotels embracing the demands of the market, most campgrounds remain somewhat more cautious and hesitant to allow pets in their cabins, cottages, yurts, park models, and other rental units. Just this past week, one of my campground clients asked for my thoughts on whether or not she should allow pets in her new glamping tents and, if so, she was wondering about a waiver and how to handle security deposits. I suggested that she touch bases with her insurance provider, but it became clear to me that some guidelines might be needed.

One of the first things to bear in mind is that it is important that you avoid alienating guests who do not own pets in your efforts to reach out to pet owners. When I booked a reservation for several nights at a luxury hotel in Colorado ski country this past winter, the property’s website indicated that it was pet-friendly and included a prominent photo of a St. Bernard lying on the bed in a guest room. I almost booked my stay elsewhere, prior to being assured that I would be staying in a pet-free room.

Back to my client with the new glamping tents, how can a park owner make these decisions in a deliberate and informed manner? First of all, decide whether potential damage is a risk that you are willing to incur, keeping in mind that those instances are likely to be fairly infrequent. In those instances where damage might occur, both the repair costs and the lost revenue during the time of the repair must both be taken into consideration. What if a unit has been reserved by a subsequent guest during the repair timeframe? What if that unit is unique or it is a time of year when a suitable substitute is unavailable? It is probably due to questions like these that most parks tend to limit their pet-friendly accommodations to older units or rentals that would not otherwise realize full occupancy.

According to the Irons Family, owners of Ole Mink Farm in Maryland, a park with a long history offering pet-friendly accommodations, “For several years, guests at Ole Mink Farm Recreation Resort had been requesting Pet-Friendly lodging, and with some hesitation, we began accepting ‘fur babies’ in 2002. Initially, we allowed pets in our basic cabins, but as demand increased, we slowly included a few luxury cabins as well; choosing ones with wood or tile floors to allow for easier clean up due to shedding and potential accidents. Pets are required to be on leash, and we charge a nightly pet fee as well as a refundable security deposit to cover any damage that may occur; however, our experience has been largely positive! Becoming pet friendly has increased revenue for our cabins and increased our target guests with minimal overhead and upkeep.”

One way or another, you must be covered against even the remote potentiality of losses due to damage. Usually these risks are covered by either deposits or fees that are outlined in a signed agreement. Have your attorney check to see if your state allows you to collect pet deposits or fees, whether or not there is a limitation on those fees, and whether or not you are allowed to restrict animals according to breed or size. Keep in mind that you will NEVER be allowed to apply any charges to designated service or companion animals. This latter issue is an entirely separate problem. My Google search for “how to make your pet a companion animal” just returned 17,600,000 results, including explanations of how any pet can be fraudulently designated as a service dog for a $50.00 fee.

Subject to any limitations in your state, a “pet fee” is simply an added charge for a pet. Similar to charging fees for extra persons or visitors, these pet fees may be higher for rental units than for conventional campsites. Such fees do not cover damages, and the fees are not refundable. You might think of them as a type of self-insurance. On the other hand, a “pet deposit” must be refunded upon inspection and confirmation that no damage has occurred. If damage is found, you will be responsible for providing an itemization that will justify keeping all of part of the deposit. Since it might be impractical to perform immediate and thorough inspections at the time of check-out, your agreement should outline the timeframe and manner for return of the deposit. Also keep in mind when setting your deposit that it will be very difficult to collect damages that exceed the amount of the deposit itself. Unless you are prohibited from doing so by your state laws, there is no reason why you cannot collect BOTH a non-refundable pet fee and a refundable pet deposit.

Whatever you charge, a signed agreement between your park and the pet owner(s) is essential. At minimum, that agreement will:

  • Clearly identify the pet(s) that are covered by the agreement.
  • Clearly – and in great detail – list your applicable rules and regulations. (Just because a fee has been paid does NOT mean that an animal cannot be evicted for just cause.)
  • Clearly outline the liability for damages. These will include damage to your property, damage to the property of other guests, personal injuries, and the costs of cleaning and repairs both inside and outside of the rental unit.
  • A clearly delineated outline of the associated fees.

A series of pet agreements, some of which are designed for landlords and tenants but easily modified for campgrounds and related properties, may be downloaded on the Sample Forms website. I would suggest finding one of these that appears to be a good fit for your business, customizing it to your specific needs, and then doing your best to capitalize upon this growing market.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Family Farm, Reinvented

August 3rd, 2017

Years ago, farming was a much less complicated way to earn a living. Concepts like agribusiness, patented GMO seeds with resistance to herbicides, and acres planted in soybeans and inedible corn were futuristic nightmare scenarios. With the exception of tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples, most of our food was locally grown, field ripened, and harvested in season. As economies of scale, shifting consumer preferences, and the influences of the chemical, pharmaceutical, and transportation industries came into play, more and more small farms turned fallow or were parceled off to real estate developers. It had become a pretty depressing time for family farming.

More recently, times have changed, thanks to a further evolution in consumer preferences and some innovative thinking on the part of a new generation of farmers. Gone are the days when farmers could literally put all of their eggs in one basket. When those eggs would otherwise cost more to produce than the price that they command in the marketplace, there is a significant market for people who are willing to pay a premium for colorful eggs that come from free-range hens that are raised without cages, antibiotics, or GMO-based feeds. If they are purchased in a farm share, farmers’ market, or at a farm stand, consumers are often willing to pay even more because they feel good about the farm-to-plate concept. Most importantly, if that farmer has more than eggs to offer, sales and profits will multiply. The secret ingredient has become creative diversification.

Expand the Experience

Farming today is about much more than crops, livestock and harvests. Particularly for a business that is subject to the vagaries of the weather, it is mission-critical to have more than a single product. Just think of the long list of words that can make a farmer shudder in fear: drought, flooding, hail, frost, disease, insect pests … the list goes on. Other types of businesses long ago caught on to the concept of diversifying the experience that they offer. In the beginning, cruise ships simply provided a means of trans-oceanic transportation, ski resorts had a brief winter season, and concerts and festivals were nothing more than music venues. Even movie theaters, which were once decimated by the advent of television (which has since been devastated by the Internet and live content streaming), are reinventing themselves with luxury seating and food and drink selections that are served by an on-demand wait staff.

Reinvented business concepts share one thing in common: They increase income and profits by getting consumers to stay longer, return more frequently, and buy more. There are few things that consumers today value more highly than their leisure time. We have even invented new terms like “quality time.” According to the Collins Dictionary, this term did not exist prior to 1985 but is now one of the 30,000 most commonly used phrases in the English language, with equivalents in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The importance and value of quality time should not be underestimated.

Back on the Farm

That expanded, quality time experience can take many forms on a small farm operation. Anything that can turn a farm visit into an “event” will work, while a multitude of events can turn a farm into a destination. The possibilities are nearly endless and include:

  • Pick-your-own – from berries to tree fruits, your customers will pay you to bring in part of your harvest.
  • Petting zoos – ever-popular with toddlers (and their grandparents), you can even sell small bags of feed.
  • Prepared food concessions – from bakeries to restaurants to ice cream stands, people will pay a premium for freshly-prepared foods with natural ingredients.
  • Hayrides and walking trails – give visitors a chance to get to know your property better, perhaps learning of crops that they did not know you produced.
  • Music events – a singer-songwriter or acoustic duo will extend the stay of your guests throughout their sets of music, especially if you have outdoor seating with a view or an indoor seating (and dining) space.
  • Off-season offerings – from Christmas trees and accessories (where tag-your-own or cut-your-own become variations of the pick-your-own concept) to maple sugaring to scarecrow making, corn mazes and pumpkin decorating, there are a variety of ways to extend your season.
  • Breweries and wineries – expanding like wildfire, craft breweries and small wineries have the potential to draw tremendous crowds, especially when combined with other on-location activities.
  • Wedding receptions – sometimes a unique location with a terrific view can be in high demand.
  • Farm stays – if you have guest rooms available, this is another way to expand your income, whether simply a bed & breakfast (with fresh-from-the-farm products for breakfast, of course) or a work and stay opportunity. Over the years, my wife and I have enjoyed stays everywhere from an orange grove in California to a winery and vineyard in Tuscany.

Regardless of which of these options – or others – that your farm chooses to pursue, there are a few basics that will make your endeavor more consumer-friendly and successful.

Successful Marketing Basics

First of all, stop thinking that you are competing against other nearby farm operations. Your competition for consumers’ attention will now be major events and attractions, and your reach will extend far beyond the home base of your farm stand customers, most of whom are drivers who stop on impulse. If you are planning one or more events, choose your dates far in advance, allowing time for promotion and avoiding conflicts with other, more established events. Then promote your events as extensively as possible, most heavily in the 7 to 10 days beforehand.

Here are a few additional tips:

  1. Negotiate trades with local media, particularly newspapers with weekly event schedules and local TV and radio stations. Ask a local TV station to cover your event. They are often eager to cover a local human interest story, particularly on a weekend, which is an otherwise slow news period.
  2. Avoid the temptation to save money by doing it yourself. It seems that every farm family has a relative who attended art school, but leave your website and print advertising to professionals who can provide a cohesive branding.
  3. Maximize your use of social media. Promote your event on a Facebook page that is dedicated to your business. Respond to questions and reviews, and don’t neglect other social media apps.
  4. Always give something away for free. Whether a free petting zoo (again, you can sell the feed!), free parking (of course!), free hayrides, or free samples, “free” is an incentive to attend and an incentive to stay longer and spend more.
  5. Accept credit cards. There is never a rational excuse for limiting the amount of money that visitors can spend to whatever cash may be on hand in their wallets.
  6. Use every event as an opportunity to promote subsequent events. Have a calendar or other handout so that people can “save the date” and return to the venue that they are enjoying today.
  7. Partner with other businesses in the area that are marketing to the same clientele. A “tour” of businesses along a 20 or 25 mile stretch of highway helps to extend your efforts into an all-day destination event. Develop incentives for visitors to one participant to stop at the other businesses as well.
  8. Capitalize upon signage. It worked for Burma Shave and it works for Wall Drug. For a one-day event, post signs along the route to encourage travelers (who may have been otherwise unaware of your event) to stop by. Be sure to incorporate the word “free”.
  9. Have plenty of parking, along with ushers to flag drivers into available spaces.
  10. Make your event photo-friendly, encouraging guests to share photos on the social media, and be sure to take plenty of your own photos to promote the “second annual” event next year.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Free Websites vs. Free Websites

June 28th, 2017

No, that is not a typo in the title, but it did catch your attention, didn’t it? In the campground industry, most park owners choose a website design and hosting services provider with a track record and industry presence. Others choose to affiliate with a franchise, where they can benefit from corporate branding and marketing expertise that has been proven effective. Yet others choose to go it alone, taking the D-I-Y route with so-called “free websites” from companies like Wix, Weebly, Homestead, and Vistaprint.

Sometimes the do-it-yourself people are simply “hands on” business owners who feel uncomfortable with delegating responsibility. I often wonder if they also build the washers and dryers in their laundry, make the ice cream that is sold in their store, and provide each weekend’s entertainment, performing as a one-man-band every Saturday night. Other folks seem to resentfully think that professional services are overpriced, failing to acknowledge the legitimate costs and years of education, training and experience that are the foundations of those services. Finally, there are park owners who truly cannot afford to hire outside services for something that they would admittedly prefer not to do themselves.

This post is intended for the people in that last category, park owners who recognize that they need assistance in marketing their parks but believe that help is out of reach.

One of my company’s clients, based in New Hampshire, had wanted to replace the old website that we had built for them back in 2009, but a new mobile-friendly site was just not in their budget regardless of how creatively they juggled their finances. That changed about a month ago, when they received funding through a Micro Enterprise Community Development Block Grant that paid for most of the project. Funds were awarded by the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority to Grafton County, which then sub-awarded funds to the Northern Community Investment Corporation. Yes, it can be a complex process! The new website is already live, generating positive customer reviews and new business for our client’s park. Your park might also qualify as a beneficiary from this type of funding.

In our client’s instance, they were located adjacent to what has been identified as a REAP Zone. That acronym stands for Rural Economic Area Partnership Program, an area that the United States Department of Agriculture has identified as facing economic and community development issues. Many, if not most, campgrounds are located in rural areas. By definition, many of these locations are geographically isolated and face population loss and economic distress often due to declines in agriculture. According to the USDA, the REAP Initiative was intended to address such issues as stagnant or declining employment, constraints in economic activity and growth, and disconnection from markets, information and finance. Pilot zones were designated in parts of North Dakota, upstate New York, and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (which can also benefit parts of New Hampshire.) Despite the current political climate, agencies continue to develop similar programs for other disadvantaged regions across the country, including the more recent Promise Zone Initiative.

The key to qualification for the CBDG Micro Program is generally to be located in an economically challenged area, to have a number of employees within a specified range, and for your household to fall within specified income requirements. Not every small business qualifies, but many might be surprised to find that they do. With goals that include the expansion of employment opportunities, a variety of projects that help to strengthen or grow a business might be funded, including marketing assistance and even social media training.

To determine if grants are available in your area, you will need to do a bit of research, with the understanding that small businesses do not directly apply for such funding. You must identify the local non-profit economic development agency that will apply for funding on behalf of the local businesses in your area. Start by performing an online search for “(name of your county and state) economic development agencies” or “(name of your county and state) small business development center”. Then call that agency to find someone who will assist you in determining what programs might be available in your local area at this particular time. Depending upon the organization that will be administering the program, you may be required to complete a brief application form to determine eligibility, with the agency assisting you every step of the way, approving an outside vendor, and authorizing the commencement of work.

In addition to Community Development Block Grant resources, you may also contact the Cooperative Extension Service office at your local land grant college or university or even ask your local banker to put you in touch with an organization that can provide the financial assistance that you need. Without taking the initiative, you will have no idea what resources might be available, and there are literally staff members who are waiting to be of assistance in helping you to grow your business. To paraphrase a famous newspaper editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a free website.”

This post was written by Peter Pelland

There Is a Test for That!

June 14th, 2017

Here in my home state of Massachusetts, a problem in recent years involved elementary schools (already considered to be among the best in the country) that were concentrating too much effort on teaching students to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Test, commonly known as MCAS. More recently replaced by newer testing that is in line with the national Common Core Standards that have been adopted by most states, the problem with MCAS was that teachers had to devote far too much classroom time teaching students to score highly on tests rather than actually learning. I am not a teacher, but is seems to me that it is more important for students to learn effectively than to be taught to pass tests with the highest possible scores.

A similar issue takes place when companies that market their website services run bot-based tests that present audits of potential website errors, warnings and load speeds. There is no question that it is important to have a site that renders properly and loads quickly across a full range of browsers and devices; however, all speed tests have their limitations. To run an automated test that purports to present the final word on the quality of a website and the experience that it offers to visitors is a flawed concept at best and a competitive potshot at worst.

No bot can effectively measure the quality of the end-user experience because that is an inherently subjective process. There is a tradeoff between a site that is visually exciting and a site that loads instantly, and many of the “errors” that bots identify account for mere milliseconds in the scope of initial overall page load times. A site that consists of nothing but text will usually run a perfect score, but how many reservations do you think such a site might generate for a campground or outdoor resort? My advice is to avoid falling for the bait, particularly when it is offered by companies that fall short themselves when it comes to overall quality and integrity of design – factors that directly influence human-based decisions rather than bot-based tests.

Let me offer an analogy that relates to the family camping industry. Many parks have begun offering one of the many “wine and paint” sessions that have become popular in recent years. They all follow a similar formula, where an artist whose career has never caught fire leads a session where attendees drink just enough wine to encourage their creativity but not so much wine that they can’t find the end of the paintbrush with the bristles. The idea is for everybody to copy the painting that the session leader paints. The order of the day is uniformity, a lack of originality, and the building of self-esteem. If Pablo Picasso was still alive and attended one of these sessions, his work would be the laugh of the evening.

When it comes to websites, the single most important consideration is whether or not a site is mobile-friendly. A site that is not optimized for display on mobile devices – particularly smartphones – presents an impediment to the end-user experience. What is most important is how long it takes before a user is able to read and navigate your site. Whether some images might take a few seconds to load is not an impediment to that experience.

If you are wondering whether your website is up to par, ask for a human, personalized evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. That will take some time and effort to prepare, but it will offer results that are based upon the actual experiences of human end-users, not the bots that will never contact you to make a reservation for Site 127 for the second week of August.

Times change, along with the ways that websites are viewed and the algorithms that determine how they are ranked in search results. The one thing that is consistent is the importance of working with a knowledgeable and reliable company with a trusted track record to stay on top of things and to represent the best interests of your company.

This post was written by Peter Pelland