Leading Through Data-Driven Insights: How to Go From “I Think” to “I Know”

I joined the hearing healthcare field about 35 years ago, serving in a variety of sales, sales leadership, and training roles. Historically, it has been a relatively low volume, high margin industry. We have seen more change in the last five years than in the past three decades combined.

Consumers have more choices than ever before due to the advent of big box, internet sales, and discount plans, not to mention the yet-to-be-determined impact of OTC.

The low volume, high margin nature of the field has allowed for inefficiencies that must be addressed in any healthy organization going forward. Too often practice leaders have managed by “I think” versus “I know” when it comes to practice Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

If you happen to be one of them, below are proven strategies to help you change that.

Annual Planning

At the start of each year, most practice leaders set an annual revenue target using a simple equation:

The challenge is that leaders must commit to investment ahead of revenue. This includes leases, equipment, marketing, and other expenses. However, payroll is typically the single largest expense. In an era with increasing downward pressure on margins, it is critical to focus on per person productivity for each staff member. Said differently, when the practice helps more people, everyone wins, including the patients, staff, and practice owner.

Don’t Chase Outcomes

Helping more people is an outcome. More revenue is an outcome. For this reason, the solution to helping more people is completing more opportunity appointments. However, completing, or even creating more opportunities each day, are still outcomes. Therefore, practice leaders must commit to leading their staff each day to the behaviors that will result in more opportunity creation while investing in staff skill development.

Mindset Drives Behaviors and Behaviors Drive Results

Start With The Why

As a practice leader, you must first start with the WHY. Communicate to your staff why it is necessary to have an opportunity mindset and measure daily behaviors that will lead to more people helped.

I Think We Do That

The key part here is “I think.” Daily tracking is the key to creating awareness for the practice leader as well as the rest of the staff. Of course, most will say, our practice management software tracks information such as opportunities created, completed, and other outcomes. However, the problem is that in most practices, no one is looking at this information on a daily basis. The other problem is that, unlike the financials found in a P&L (profit and loss statement), many behavioral KPIs are prone to subjective interpretation.

Starting With Tracking

The first step to tracking is to come up with definitions for KPIs that everyone in the practice understands and agrees to follow and report on every day. For example:

  • What is an opportunity?
  • What is a completed appointment?
  • What is a candidate?
  • What is a hearing aid sale (vs. a fitting fee from discount plan unit sales)?

How CQ Partners Can Help

In partnership with your Account Manager, our experienced Sales Analytics team can help you and your staff to come up with your KPI definitions. We can even help you to plan for a company meeting where you can roll out your plan to do a daily huddle where KPIs are captured each day at the individual provider level. To make this task less daunting, we will start with measuring only the first four data points from the huddle. Your Patient Care Coordinator (PCC) will come to the huddle with the number of opportunities (opps) created. Your individual providers will very likely be able to recite the number for the next three items from memory if measured daily:

Once this is being done daily, we will gradually add the other questions and begin to track on a daily tracking form where one row of data relates to the answers from one daily huddle. Because this tracking form is a rolling sheet, you will eventually be able to spot averages and trends such as:

  • Number of opps created per day
  • Number of opps that arrive per day
  • Number of opps that arrive with third party companion
  • Number of people sold vs. tested not sold
  • Private pay/insurance units vs. fitting fees

Once you KNOW your averages, you will be better able to plan for how many opportunities you MUST create and complete each day in order to reach your revenue targets at the individual provider level based on your arrival rate, third party companion rate, payer mix, and other KPIs.

So, do you think, or do you know? Commit to measuring key performance indicators so you can lead your staff and remain a thriving organization in a rapidly changing market.

Learn more about our industry-leading Business Services & Sales Analyses!

About the Author

Ed Anthony is a Regional Sales Manager and previously served as a Regional Sales Trainer and the Vice President of our Northeast Division. He graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and has over 30 years of experience in the hearing healthcare industry. Ed has worked in a variety of sales, training, and leadership roles for multiple companies, including a hearing aid retailer, a hearing aid manufacturer, and an audiometric distributor. Helping hearing care professionals help more people is his passion. Ed lives in Doylestown, PA with his wife Krista and is the proud father of three—Sam, Luke, and Sarah.

What You Need to Know to Make an Informed Decision About Medicare Advantage

At Consult, we believe that information is power and for you to continue to make informed decisions around managed care, we asked, Edward Braun, Senior Vice President, Managed Care, and Corporate Partnerships at Demant, for insight on Medicare Advantage and its continued growth.

Medicare Advantage, often referred to as Medicare Part C or MA, provides Medicare benefits through a private-sector health insurer like United Healthcare, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and others. In a Medicare Advantage plan, a Medicare member pays a monthly premium to a private insurance company (or in some cases no out-of-pocket cost) and receives healthcare coverage for inpatient hospital (Medicare Part A) and outpatient (Medicare Part B) services. Usually, the Medicare Advantage plan also includes prescription drug ( Medicare-Part D) coverage. Many MA plans also offer additional benefits, such as dental coverage, vision, gym memberships, hearing aids, and services.

Under original Medicare, a Medicare member pays a monthly premium to the US federal government and receives coverage for Part A and Part B services, however, generally a member purchases supplemental coverage separately for services and products not covered by original Medicare.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage continues to grow. Participation expanded from 5.3MM members in 2003 and 2004 to 24.1MM members in the 2020 benefit year (see figure 1 below from Kaiser Family Foundation). Estimates are that MA enrollment will increase to between 26MM and 27MM in 2021, and to over 50MM members by 2030. Many of these members will experience hearing healthcare for the first time through one of these plans.

As illustrated in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare Advantage Enrollment pie chart below, for 2020 all major health care companies present Medicare Advantage plans. United HealthCare is currently the largest managed care organization [MCO] offering Medicare coverage to members with over 6MM MA members, followed by Humana, then the Blue Cross Blue Shield organization. At this growth rate, two-thirds of all Medicare-eligible members are choosing Medicare Advantage over the original Government Medicare each new benefit year.

Medicare Advantage plans must offer at least the same level of coverage as the government’s Medicare Part A and Part B allowance while many plans offer added benefits. Typically, MA plans offer what is known as the “big three” – Vision, Dental, and Hearing benefits. Plans may also include coverage for prescription drug coverage, fitness center membership, transportation, over-the-counter medicines, meals, and other health-related benefits.

As the Medicare Advantage growth trend relates to hearing, these Medicare healthcare plans are becoming a new source of patients for hearing health care providers. In the past, patients found their way to hearing care clinics through patient referrals, direct response marketing like newspapers and direct mail, as well as location, location, location. With Medicare Advantage Managed Care Organizations providing benefit coverage for hearing aids and hearing evaluations, patients are now finding their way to hearing clinics through their MA membership, however only if a provider is a credentialled provider for the Medicare Advantage plan.

As a hearing care provider, you must make your own decisions on participating in Medicare Advantage provider networks. Like most business decisions, there are pros and cons to participating in MA plans, yet it is increasingly clear that enrollment growth in these plans continues to expand. Plans are offering hearing care benefits that are appealing to members, along with vision and dental (and other) benefits, and astute members are actively using these benefits.

Consult is committed to ensuring that our Associates are competitive in a constantly changing market landscape. That’s why we created a program that allows Associates to provide alternatives for patients pursuing a lower cost option through internet sales and big box stores, and for patients who have a managed care discount (uncovered during verification, but not referred).

The Consult Competitive Advantage is designed to give your patients the service and product options that compete with these groups while preserving your commitment to providing high-quality technology and care. Many providers see this opportunity to provide a better level of technology which leads to increased patient satisfaction and higher acceptance rates.

Learn More About the Consult Competitive Advantage!

About the Author

Edward “Ed” Braun has more than 30 years of experience in management, sales, managed care, and business development, primarily in the hearing healthcare and the medical device industry. Ed is currently the VP of Managed Care for Oticon where he leads the company’s managed care strategy. Previously, he was Vice President/General Manager for Audigence Inc., a cochlear implant technology start-up and Managing Director, GN Hearing Care Canada, managing GN ReSound, Interton, and Beltone business units. Before that, Ed held the position of Senior Vice President/General Manager for Telex Hearing Instrument Group. Earlier, he served as Senior Vice President, Sales at Beltone as well as Managing Director, Beltone Managed Care Inc. Ed holds a B.S. in Economics and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin and has completed extensive strategic and leadership training at both Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and the University of Wisconsin School of Business.

How to Avoid and Solve Conflicts in the Workplace

Workplace conflicts are inevitable. A group of people with diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and beliefs, aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye. And that’s a good thing!

As the practice leader, it’s your responsibility to maintain a cohesive work environment. Left unresolved, even minor disagreements between employees can hurt staff productivity, engagement, and morale. Developing effective conflict resolution skills is essential to building a desirable workplace culture and thus, a successful business.

Since its easier to prevent fires than it is to extinguish them, here are several tips and techniques managers can use to avoid conflicts in the workplace:

1. Define acceptable behavior and lead by example.

Every member of your staff should know what types of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated, ideally from their first day on the job. And be ready to take action if an employee crosses the line. Remember: it only takes one bad egg to ruin the bunch. Clearly defined job descriptions and chain of command as well as encouraging collaboration and professional development will help to prevent conflicts. Additionally, you should set the right example. You can do this by:

  • Being honest, reliable, and direct in your communication with staff and patients.
  • Not participating in office politics or drama.
  • Checking in with employees regularly to show that you care about them as people.
  • Never publicly criticize or reprimand employees.
  • Displaying a professional demeanor while also showing interest in your team’s overall well-being
  • Showing that you value other people’s input and respect unique points of view.

2. Be proactive and tackle conflicts head-on.

Conflicts rarely resolve themselves. By actively seeking out possible tension in the office and proactively intervening, you’ll not only minimize the severity of conflicts but even prevent some from ever arising. Encourage employees to work out disagreements with coworkers while they’re still small and make sure they know they can come to you with any challenges that are negatively affecting their work.

3. Champion positivity and respect.

It’s amazing the impact one person’s cheerful disposition can have. Your positivity will rub off on your staff, keeping aggressions and squabbles at bay. To build and maintain positive relationships with your employees, ask for their cooperation instead of barking commands, thank them when they take initiative or go above and beyond, and acknowledge their good work. When they make mistakes, miss deadlines, or get into arguments, meet with them in private, explain what they did wrong and what they can/should do differently in the future. If you find yourself lecturing a staff member more than you’re praising him/her, then it’s time to make some personnel changes.

4. Get to know your team.

Taking the time to get to know your employees—their likes and dislikes, their strengthens and weakness—will help you identify personality clashes that can spark conflict. Also, be on the lookout for cliques (one of the most common contributors to a toxic work environment). Keep your ear to the ground. While you shouldn’t contribute to the office chatter, you should have a general idea of what employees are whispering about.

5. Communicate often and carefully.

Most often, conflicts stem from a lack of information, poor information, misinformation, or no information. Communicating information to your staff clearly, accurately, and in a timely manner is guaranteed to reduce the number and severity of conflicts in the practice. Be particularly mindful of your words and tone when communicating with employees via text or email—what may seem like a perfectly innocent emoji or turn of phrase to you may be interpreted very differently by the person/people on the other end. It’s much easier to offend people when they can’t see your body language and you can’t see their reactions.

6. Embrace conflicts as learning opportunities.

Hidden within every conflict is the potential for growth and development. Differing opinions can often lead to innovation and even bring teams closer together. Having to resolve a workplace dispute with poise and diplomacy is good training for an employee looking to move into a managerial role one day.

Now that you know what you can do to try to prevent conflicts, let’s discuss how to effectively resolve the ones that do inevitably pop up.

1. Take immediate action to identify the cause of the conflict.

The root of a problem is the key to solving it. But to get to the root, you need the individuals involved to sit down and engage in a constructive conversation with the goal of finding common ground. Find a safe and private place to meet (i.e., somewhere they won’t be overheard by patients and/or noisy colleagues) then give each party equal time to air out their thoughts, feelings, and concerns regarding the issue at hand. Take a positive but assertive approach to guide the discussion and set ground rules if necessary. Encourage employees to avoid making personal attacks and playing the “blame game.”

2. Listen actively and make sure both sides feel heard.

Let each party speak without interruption. Afterward, summarize and repeat back to them what you heard in your own words. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions that encourage the parties to articulate their thoughts in an open and honest manner, then try to read between the lines. Validating their feelings can also help deescalate tensions. It’s best to go into these discussions with an open mind. Don’t pick a side or make a final verdict until you’re confident you understand the full story. Also, be sure to take notes and save them in case you need to refer back to them at some point.

3. Agree on the best solution and the role each party plays in its execution.

You need to have a common objective, which is resolving the issue and ensuring it doesn’t resurface. After clarifying the source of conflict and talking to both parties, it’s time to brainstorm possible solutions. Once one has been decided on, outline the responsibilities each party has in resolving the conflict. The involved parties may never be friends, but as long as they can treat each other with respect, they can maintain a viable working relationship.

4. Monitor the situation and consider preventative strategies for the future.

Continue to keep an eye on the issue to assess if the solution is working and both parties are following through on what they agreed to. Decide what your steps will be if the issue resurfaces as well as what processes you could institute to avoid this type of conflict in the future. Reflecting on how you handled the situation and what you learned from it, will help you hone your conflict management skills.

Consult helps practice owners mitigate risk, navigate complex issues, and manage their teams more effectively through comprehensive HR support.

About the Author

Dawn Bauer is a Senior Recruiter who has been with Consult YHN since 2003. Previously, she spent 15 years working in banking and accounting, including 2 years in Consult YHN’s billing department. When she’s not at work, you can find Dawn either on the beach, in a shoe store, or at a concert.

How to Build Your Company Brand by Hiring for Culture and Engagement

It’s estimated that there will be 20,000 job openings for audiologists in the U.S. by 2028. Unfortunately, there are not enough licensed professionals in the field, audiology programs in the U.S., or students in those programs to keep up with accelerating demand. In fact, there may be more audiologists retiring from the profession over the next decade than entering it.

When you take this dearth of providers and factor in the cost of hiring new employees (an average of $4,000+ per hire), the cost of employee churn (fees paid, human capital involved with the onboarding process, downtime to train), and the damage done to your staff morale and patients’ perception of your practice, the price of failure becomes quite clear.

Ultimately, for your business to be successful, you need to be competitive in identifying, attracting, and hiring top talent. If you don’t hire the best people, your competitors will—it’s a zero-sum game. The upside is that when you get it right and hire the best, you’ll be in a great position to develop the culture you need to take your practice to the next level and become an “Employer of Choice” in the hearing healthcare field.

Hiring for Attitude & Culture

Your “brand” is who you are. It’s reflected to the outside world through the prism of your practice culture. It’s how your community, patients, employees, and competitors perceive you. For better or worse, it’s best reflected by the team you’ve assembled. The good news is that this is all within your control. Should you desire a different culture, a better brand, you can create it. And you do that by hiring the right people.

To define “the right people” in the context of hiring, we should start by reviewing the difference between skills and traits: skills are relatively easy to teach or develop while traits are very difficult to teach or develop. Now consider how you vet and weigh skills and traits when making hiring decisions. Why are skills so important to you and could traits be even more important? Remember: the traits of your employees will rarely change, the collection of traits across your entire staff is your culture, and your culture is what defines your brand.

Researcher Mark Murphy’s three-year “Hiring for Attitude” study of 20,000 new hires at over 300 organizations showed that most “misses” (bad hires) are not due to issues of technical competence (lacking skills), but rather issues around attitude, attributes, and emotional intelligence (traits). Of the 9,200 new hires that failed, the vast majority—81 percent—failed because they didn’t have the right traits for the job, resulting in poor cultural alignment to the organization.

This shouldn’t be a surprise since skills are relatively easy to vet. Did you ever hire an audiologist who didn’t work out? Did they have the skills for the job? Or was it something else that led to their failure—attitude, work ethic, emotional intelligence (EQ)? You need to identify which traits are most important to your organization’s culture and then vet for them during the interview process.

This is my own personal list (feel free to make it yours!):

  • Work ethic
  • Coachability
  • Empathy (EQ)
  • Respect
  • Self-awareness (EQ)
  • Positivity
  • Passion
  • Energy

It’s not always easy to resist the urge to overvalue skills due to cognitive biases at play. Those same biases can also cause us to minimize the importance of traits when we make hiring decisions. Have you ever described your ideal candidate to a recruiter as someone who can “hit the ground running” because they “have all the required skills” or, one of my favorites, “requires little supervision because I don’t have time to manage them?

I’ve heard these kinds of statements a lot in my 20+ years as a professional recruiter. And when I do, I know that it says far more about the hiring manager and the organization’s culture than about the candidate they’re seeking. If you have a sound grasp of what’s teachable and are willing to teach it, you’ll stand a much greater chance of hiring the right people and building your best culture. While it may seem like an arduous task to build skills in an employee, remember that it’s almost impossible to build or change traits, attributes, or attitudes.

Building & Maintaining Your Culture

As an owner or practice manager, don’t forget that you play a very important role in building and maintaining your desired workplace culture—you’re required to lead! Be mindful of how you carry yourself and how you interact with your staff and patients. All of your actions and behaviors matter. These are the behaviors that effective leaders exhibit:

  • Exude unerring positivity
  • Communicate with utmost clarity
  • Possess a clear vision and work tirelessly to gain alignment to that vision
  • Listen with compassion and empathy
  • Build trusting relationships with words and actions
  • Express gratitude

You should intentionally engage in these actions, behaviors, and attitudes every day. Great leadership is not accidental!

Becoming and ‘Employer of Choice’

You’ve hired all the right people, they’re all highly engaged, and finally, you have the culture you’ve always wanted and known you deserved. Congratulations! All that’s left to do is maintain the culture you’ve worked so hard to build and solidify yourself as an “Employer of Choice.”

The best way to do this is to first, identify your “brand champions” (i.e., the best of the best, the most engaged of all the engaged). They’re easy to find. Simply look for employees who:

  1. genuinely enjoy their job/don’t just do it for the money,
  2. look for opportunities to mentor, and
  3. demonstrate the behaviors of leaders (see above)

Second, give them additional responsibilities! Any good leader loves a good challenge. When you give these employees opportunities to mentor, encourage them to evangelize your practice through social media, community groups, and professional associations, and hold them accountable, they will value themselves even more, and then they will thrive.

Conclusion

Creating a great culture, one that emphasizes growth and development, will demonstrate your organization’s value to candidates. When you offer opportunities to learn and grow, when you can site real-life examples of employee development, and when you can identify an evangelist within your organization who can speak to your culture of growth, you will then be in a great position to attract additional, like-minded employees.

Practices that utilize Consult’s industry-leading human resources consulting and staffing solutions see incremental increases in revenue and the highest levels of measurable engagement. That’s because our experienced recruiters vet candidates for the highest skill level as well as aligned cultural fit.

About the Author

Ernie Paolini is responsible for Human Resources and Recruiting Services at Consult YHN. He has more than 20 years of experience in building and managing technology-driven HR and recruitment organizations. His areas of expertise include behavioral interviewing, employee relations, compliance, and onboarding.

Thinking About Hiring a Practice Development Representative? Find Out What You Need to Know!

When hearing aid dispensing practices first open their doors, most of the responsibilities, including marketing the practice, fall on the owner. But as the practice grows, it becomes healthier for the practice, and the owner themselves, to hand off some responsibilities to other employees.
Ultimately your staff will become a key factor in driving your practice’s success. Excellent products, the latest equipment, and a great location are certainly important, but the depth, quality, work ethic, and attitude of your staff are paramount to the practice reaching its financial goals. It will also greatly impact the number of patients you’re able to help hear well again.
One of the biggest areas for growth in a private audiology and hearing aid practice is physician referrals. Studies show that over 60 percent of people rely on their primary care physician when it comes to choosing a hearing healthcare provider. So, it stands to reason that obtaining referrals from local physicians and through community outreach is essential to your practice’s growth.
A Practice Development Representative (PDR) can be an effective addition to your team to continually drive revenue and patients into your practice. However, like with any new employee, you must first plan effectively for how you’ll hire, train, manage, and compensate your future PDR.

Understanding Their Role

So, what does a Practice Development Representative do exactly? The purpose of a PDR is to promote the services of the practice to all potential referring entities within your market to increase the number of patients entering your practice from those entities. Referring entities can include, but are not limited to, primary care physicians, otolaryngologists who do not currently dispense, large area employers, unions, senior housing, assisted living centers, and nursing homes.

Planning the Hire

Prior to hiring any new employee, practice owners should work with their Account Manager and Consult Recruiter to create a proper job description. Understanding who you are seeking and exactly what you need them to accomplish is not only crucial for the interview process, but also to the new employee’s long-term satisfaction in the role. Define what your PDR will be held accountable to and how he/she will be compensated. For example, the number of daily visits, phone calls, contacts, appointments made (and kept), and the revenue expected from his/her efforts. Using this job description during the interview process is the best way to set clear expectations with potential hires on how their performance will be judged and how they will be compensated.

The Interview Process

During the interview process look for the specific characteristics and qualifications called for in your plan/job description. Here are some key attributes we have identified over the years in successful PDRs:
  • Sales experience
  • Motivated by success and financial reward
  • Self-starter
  • Accountable to numbers in their previous jobs
  • Strong oral and writing skills
  • Strong organizational skills
Find out why each candidate responded to your ad (“Why do you want to do this job?”). Ask how they have been managed in the past (was there a quota or specific numbers that needed to be met? If so, how successful were they at hitting those numbers?). Look for a motivated self-starter who was a significant contributor to his/her last employer. Ascertain what strengths the candidates can bring to the position. Ask them to discuss precise past experiences that are related to your needs, specifically their sales experience. Have them describe the ideal sales job and tell you about a career goal they met and why it was important to them. Additionally, ask candidates to describe their ability as a market developer (did they ever call on medical practices and if so, what were their results?). Ask them to tell you about the two most common objections they faced and how they overcame them. Lastly, make sure this is a person you feel comfortable making the face of your practice in your community.

Training

Let’s assume the person you hire has all the basic skills to be successful in your practice. He/she still needs training that is specific to your practice, especially if he/she hasn’t previously worked in the medical field. Someone in your practice must be responsible for training your new PDR. Create a 30-day onboarding plan that outlines what will happen on each day and who is responsible to make sure it happens. This is another time when you can lean heavily on your Account Manager and/or Consult Recruiter. Like many practice owners, you may be too busy seeing patients to handle training new hires. Nevertheless, the success of your PDR relies on how competently this part of the process is fulfilled. Again, there is no need for you to go this alone—Consult has more than 25 years of experience training employees and getting them up to speed quickly. So, lean on us!

Compensation

Many compensation plans exist for PDRs. In formulating your plan, make sure it controls the cost of dispensing, motivates high performance, and allows for meaningful assessment (and reward) for growing your practice. Compensation plans typically include a base salary plus commission. Commission is usually paid on the profit margin of hearing aids after referrals or appointments generate a net profit that is some multiple of their salary. The right plan, along with the right candidate, will create a win-win situation for increasing revenue for your practice and the service being provided to your patients.

If you’re unsure hiring a PDR is the right decision for your practice or want to learn more about the position, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Account Manager. Or click here to learn more about Consult’s industry-leading recruiting services.

About the Author

Pat Marotta is an Account Manager in the East Region and has been with the organization since 1998. After dispensing hearing aids for six years, Pat became the New England Regional Manager for Beltone where he primarily worked with dispensers to increase market share through advertising and manpower and set up more efficient office processes and procedures. Pat has worked in the hearing healthcare field, on all sides of the business, for over 30 years.

Seven Tips for Protecting Your Business’s Data

It’s Monday morning. You arrive at the office early to get a jump on the week ahead. You log into your computer, take a sip of coffee, and suddenly you have a sinking feeling as you read the message on your screen: “All your files have been encrypted. Pay the ransom within 72 hours or say goodbye to your files forever.”

This is something no business owner ever wants to experience. Maybe you can afford to pay the ransom. Maybe not. Maybe the hacker will send you the decryption key. Maybe not. Maybe you can get by without those files and still stay in business. Maybe not.

What do you do?

Ideally, you’ll never find yourself in this situation because you’ve taken preventative measures. Sounds complicated, right? Yes, cybersecurity is complicated. It can also be overwhelming and expensive. It’s certainly not fun (well, for most people). And while there’s no guaranteed protection from these types of attacks, the good news is, a few simple measures can greatly reduce your risk.

Let’s put things in perspective: protecting your data is a bit like protecting your home. You have no way of knowing if a burglar will ever pay you a visit or how he/she might attempt to get in, so you’ll need to make some decisions. You already have locks on your doors and windows, but you may also choose to install an alarm system, or video cameras, or get a large dog. Maybe you’ll opt for all of the above. The point is, whatever measures you take are better than taking no measures at all.

When it comes to protecting your business’s data, leaving your front door wide open shouldn’t be an option. At least consider taking these seven basic steps to boost your cybersecurity:

1. Be smart about your passwords.

Use unique passwords for all online accounts, and remember that when it comes to passwords, longer is stronger. Passphrases that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols work well. Something along the lines of “I’m so glad 2020 is behind us!” is far more secure than “mary88.” Using unique passwords for different accounts is important so that a hacker can’t access all of your accounts if he/she gains access to one of your passwords. I know what you’re thinking: “But remembering all those passwords is way too difficult!” That’s where a password manager comes in. Password managers can securely store your passwords so that you no longer need to memorize them. LastPass is a good option, but there are many others out there as well.

2. Use multi-factor authentication where possible.

Huh? Multi-what?? Multi-factor authentication (MFA) simply means a user will need more than just your username and password to access your account. The most common form of MFA involves entering a 6-digit code that has been texted to your cell phone after you’ve entered your username and password. In this case, a hacker would need your username, password, and cell phone in order to access your account. This is an important layer of security for your most critical accounts, including your financial accounts, password manager, and yes, even your email.

3. Keep your software up to date.

When Windows says it has updates to install, don’t put them off. The same goes for your anti-virus software (more on that later) and the operating systems on your mobile devices. The bad guys continue to find ways to hack into various systems. That’s why software companies are constantly releasing patches to plug the holes that hackers have exploited. Be sure to help them plug those holes!

4. Install anti-virus software.

Microsoft Defender comes standard with Windows 10 at no extra cost. Symantec and McAfee are also good options. Choose your software, install it on every computer in your office, and keep it updated. This may be your last line of defense.

5. Never share credentials.

Assign unique accounts (email, practice management software, etc.) to all employees, limit their permissions, and NEVER share your passwords with them. If an employee leaves, disable his or her account immediately. A disgruntled employee with access to your accounts can do a great deal of damage.

6. Lock your screen.

Getting up to grab a cup of coffee? Press the Windows Key and L on your keyboard before you get up. It only takes a fraction second. Never leave your computer unlocked. Remember that disgruntled employee we just mentioned? Don’t take a chance—just lock the computer and re-enter your password when you return. Again, it only takes a second.

7. Educate your employees.

Countless ransomware (and other cyber) attacks begin with a simple phishing email. This is an email that appears to come from a reputable source, maybe your bank, a vendor, or even an employee. These emails typically contain malicious attachments or links, or in some cases, they simply aim to start a dialogue with you in the hopes of tricking you into giving up information (account credentials, social security number, etc.). Learn about phishing and educate your team. Talk about it often. Sure, your employees will probably get tired of hearing about it, but they also might think twice before clicking on a link that promises a $100 gift card.

There are many more steps that you can take to protect yourself and your business from cyberattacks (data backups, secure Wi-Fi, firewalls, etc.). And although no one is ever completely safe from cyber threats, every step listed above will bolster your security and reduce your chances of becoming a victim. You don’t need to have Fort Knox-level security—just don’t leave your front door wide open.

About the Author

Bob Lind is the Director of IT and Project Management at Consult YHN. He joined the company in 2011 and has over 25 years of experience in the Information Technology field. When he’s not trying to mitigate cyber threats, Bob enjoys wine tasting with his wife and playing lead guitar for a local classic rock cover band.