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First, AI came for Sports Illustrated. Soon, it will want to give you sports betting advice

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First, AI came for Sports Illustrated. Soon, it will want to give you sports betting advice

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Real Sports Bar and Grill in Toronto on Nov. 24, 2016.Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

When Sports Illustrated was outed last week for its alleged use of generative AI to create online articles – and, even worse, for topping them with fake bylines and AI author headshots – readers of the legendary glossy were appalled and disappointed at how the mighty had fallen.

But there was one element of the story that largely got lost amid the outrage, and it hints at an even darker prospect of what lies ahead for sports media and fans.

The SI pieces in question were product reviews: Inoffensive rankings of say, seven brands of volleyballs, which included links to Amazon that a reader could click on if they suddenly felt the urge to take up the sport. So, not only was the editorial copy generated by fake people, it was actually fake editorial copy. It was real advertising.

The practice of peppering editorial content with commercial links – known in the business as affiliate marketing – is a mainstay of Internet advertising, from movie reviews that direct readers to online ticketing sites, to podcasters and TikTok influencers giving out discount codes for listeners or viewers to buy merch from specific retailers.

But affiliate marketing has exploded in recent years in one notorious segment of the industry – sports betting, and its gush of ad dollars that are falling on a desperate media sector like rain on a parched prairie.

Affiliate sites that funnel new customers to online gambling operators are raking in the cash because of a quirk in that segment of the business – and they’re doing it on the backs of those new bettors.

In the spring of 2021, the Canadian sports media startup Playmaker Capital went public on the TSX Venture Exchange and quickly began scooping up digital properties with large followings that the company believed could be converted to bettors. When I interviewed Playmaker’s CEO, Jordan Gnat, shortly after shares began trading, he said he wanted to be in “the fan monetization business.”

There were tens of millions to monetize. The company began by buying soccer-focused sites in Latin America such as Bolavip, which targeted fans in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Central America and the United States, then expanded into the English-language North American market with the newsletter publisher and aggregator Yardbarker. Here in Canada it bought The Nation Network, which operates the hockey fantasy site, Daily Faceoff, and the Quebec-based La Poche Bleue.

But last month, Playmaker went from the hunter to the hunted when Better Collective, an affiliate-marketing giant based in Denmark that Gnat had cited to me as an inspiration for his company, gobbled it up for about $260-million.

The flurry of activity is partly because affiliate marketers who funnel customers to sportsbooks are an entirely different beast. They’re not just making one-time commissions, as they would if they were helping to sell concert tickets or tennis racquets or fly traps. Instead, they get a percentage of the sportsbook’s net revenue made from any new bettor.

“Net revenue” is another term for “total lifetime losses by a new bettor.”

Forget the pennies that digital ads are infamous for bringing in. If a site converts a reader or listener or viewer into a regular gambler – that is, a regular loser – the payday can be hundreds of dollars or more.

Here’s where it might occur to you that the incentives for a site to give you good betting advice might clash with that same site’s incentive to get you to sign up with a sports book and then lose a lot of money.

You would not be wrong.

In the social-media industry, there’s a saying that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. In the world of affiliate marketing, you are the product – the one that’s being sold to the sportsbooks. But boy, are you paying for it.

An academic paper published in January, 2020, in International Gambling Studies titled Affiliate Marketing of Sports Betting – A Cause for Concern? points out that many sites aren’t transparent about their duelling allegiances. It also notes that “people assign greater levels of trust to expert advice during decision-making tasks involving financial risk. This may be a particular concern for those who are just beginning to gamble upon sport, as they may be more inclined to rely on expert advice on bet choice due to their lack of experience.” Newbies may be especially susceptible, given that affiliates position themselves as being on the side of the bettor, when in fact they’re being paid by the sportsbook.

Which brings us full circle back to where we started. Generative AI is notoriously bad at a lot of things, including getting facts straight. But it’s very good at sounding confident, even as it bluffs its way through life.

And it’s about to use its charms to lull you into thinking you can beat the house.

Last May, Lloyd Danzig, the managing partner at the New York-based venture-capital company Sharp Alpha Advisors, noted in a piece for Sports Business Journal that publishers doing affiliate marketing for sportsbooks, “will soon leverage generative AI to instantly create thousands of SEO-optimized articles that discuss the current day’s calendar of games, betting trends, stories to follow, and sportsbook promotions. Pregame previews, postgame summaries, and highlight reels can be created on command without the use of specialized software or manual oversight. Articles, sportsbook reviews, and odds comparison pieces can be generated for any audience, with a fraction of the effort required from human writers.”

Think we’re already swamped with sports betting content? You haven’t seen anything yet.

Après ChatGPT, le déluge.

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How I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue By Being More Transparent

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How I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue By Being More Transparent

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s a common nightmare — you’re walking through a busy hallway or giving a presentation only to look down and find yourself completely naked.

We’re inherently fearful of revealing too much about ourselves, and as an entrepreneur, this likely extends to your business as well.

But based on growing my own business from nothing to over $100 million in annual revenue, I can tell you less is not more when it comes to business transparency — more is more. Being open builds trust, and trust fosters customers and relationships in droves. The only exception is not giving away your trade secrets to competitors.

Here are three effective ways to build trust with clients and prospects by being more transparent (without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed).

Related: How Transparency In Business Leads to Customer Growth and Loyalty

1. Increase sales by 18% or more by increasing your Google reviews

Nearly everyone reads reviews before purchasing. One study found a whopping 93% of people read reviews before making a purchase, and on average, reviews produce an 18% uplift in sales. In today’s online landscape, people put almost as much weight on a Google review as they do on a personal recommendation.

The best way to increase your reviews is to simply ask! According to research, 70% of consumers will leave a review for a business when asked.

About four years ago, we had 486 reviews after servicing more than 90,000 clients. We started using Podium to send out texts or emails — based on customer preference — asking to leave a review on Google, the Better Business Bureau and Trustpilot.

By May 2024, we’d accumulated 2,312 five-star reviews, an increase of 375%. Keep in mind that our account managers have been very diligent about sending review requests to clients and only ask the clients most likely to give positive responses.

Another good way to increase reviews is to automate postcards at the close of an order thanking someone for their business and encouraging them to leave a review. A physical mailer is likely more effective than an email — one study that surveyed 1,200 consumers found that 76% trusted direct mail the most as opposed to online methods.

You might be wondering, “What about the negative reviews?” You’re always going to have a handful of bad reviews, but people look at the ratio of good vs. bad. If you have far more five-star reviews than one-star reviews, they’ll disregard the negative ones and assume it’s not the norm.

2. Improve lead generation by 105% by sharing your clients’ success stories

Sharing real marketing results has always been a priority for my business, PostcardMania. We currently have 944 marketing case studies and 139 video case studies that document real people sharing campaign specifics that led to more leads, revenue and new customers for their businesses.

We share these case studies far and wide with prospects via email and postcards in the mail to increase trust. But more recently, we began incorporating these stories into video social media ads. During a recent earnings call by Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 50% of all people’s time on Facebook and Instagram is spent watching videos, so naturally, we went that direction to gain more eyes on our services.

We put our 139 video case studies — real business owners talking about their successful campaigns — to work for us on Facebook and Instagram.

As a result, our social media leads doubled. In 2022, our average number of social media leads per week was 174, and then in 2023, the average lead count increased to 356 a week! That’s a 105% increase.

Of course, our use of social media in this case is part of a larger multi-channel marketing strategy that ties direct mail and digital ads together, so I suggest a similar approach if you want to see the same results (we’ve actually packaged our successful approach into a single affordable marketing bundle called Everywhere Small Business due to high demand from our clients to replicate this method). Campaigns that uniquely combine print and digital advertising using hyper-targeted mailing lists and lookalike audiences have been proven to work time and time again, so I highly recommend them.

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, your customers’ success stories can be compiled and incorporated into your marketing plan to grow your customer base.

Related: How Problem-Solving Case Studies Help You Market Your Business

3. Convert prospects faster by dropping the velvet rope and inviting them in

Being transparent online will help build a positive image of your brand and bring in more customers — but you can also take this one step further and let prospects visit your business and interact with your products or services in person. One report revealed that 79% of customers want brands to go above and beyond what they are required to reveal and give more information, with two-thirds of them saying they would switch brands for more in-depth data.

At PostcardMania, we welcome clients to visit us and take a tour of our in-house printing facility. We also have a marketing conference twice a year where clients can meet their marketing consultants face-to-face and learn more about our business behind the scenes. These clients often end up being some of our best and longest-lasting relationships! You can do the same by hosting an event and opening your doors to the public. It doesn’t have to be a conference — you can start small with something as simple as a night of snacks and entertainment.

Related: 3 Ways to Personalize Your Marketing for Higher Engagement

Free samples are also a great way to show customers exactly what they are getting before they make a commitment. This doesn’t always apply to every business, but you can try to find a way to allow prospects to interact with your product or service on a deeper, more physical level.

Incorporate any of these tactics, and you’ll show prospects the most authentic side of you and your business. Believe me when I say trading in your fears about being super transparent for bold authenticity will reap real rewards in long-term growth and customer loyalty.

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The 10 Best and Worst States to Start a Small Business

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The 10 Best and Worst States to Start a Small Business

There are many important things to consider when launching your own business or side hustle, and location is at the top of the list. Local and state laws can mean different taxes, zoning regulations and licensing requirements, so it pays to be strategic about your choice of state, city and even neighborhood, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Related: 5 Things Not to Do When You’re Running a Small Business

After all, some 20% of new businesses fail within the first two years of being open, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also found that 45% of businesses fail within the first five years. That number jumps to 65% after 10 years.

Capital on Tap, a company that offers a credit card and spending management platform for small business owners, analyzed BLS data to determine the percentage of startups that are still active after three years — and broke down the U.S. states with the highest and lowest chance of survival in three- and five-year time frames.

“There are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S., making up an enormous percentage of the economy, and as this number continues to grow, so will innovation and commercial drive,” says Damian Brychcy, chief executive officer at Capital on Tap. “This research should serve as a positive sign to entrepreneurs in the top ten states who are thinking about starting a business.”

Image Credit: John Coletti | Getty Images. Boston, Massachusetts.

Qualities of business-friendly states

Before diving into the data, it’s important to consider what factors make a state attractive for new business owners. And it’s about more than just starting a business. The following factors can help keep small companies afloat and lead to ongoing success:

Taxes

Perhaps the most important factor of all, a business-friendly tax environment can keep costs down and put more money in your pockets. There are payroll, employment, income and corporate taxes to worry about, all of which can affect decisions around hiring and expansion. Some states also offer tax incentives for small businesses, which can remove expensive hurdles. Reviewing a self-employed tax schedule in your area can help.

Workforce

If you want to run a healthy, growing business, you’ll almost certainly be hiring employees. The best states for small businesses will have a plethora of available talent and a workforce with high levels of college education. Starting a business near a college or university can also attract interest from recent graduates. This is especially prominent in the technology industry.

Regulations

State policies regarding small businesses involve more than just taxes and deductions. Government programs can offer business owners grants and loans and incentivize investment from larger funders. Compliance is another factor. States can lower the costs of business by removing regulatory red tape, such as required government approvals or clearances.

Growth potential

You want to start your business somewhere it can thrive in both the short- and long-term. A number of factors can support this — for example, funding, investment in infrastructure and livability. A close proximity to sources of financing can help your company grow, as long as the area can support your workers and their families. States and cities with a low cost of living, good schools and solid infrastructure will not only attract talent but keep it.

U.S. states/territories with the highest rate of small business survival, per Capital on Tap 

State

1year average (%)

3year average (%)

5year average (%)

Massachusetts

81.91

64.96

54.38

Wisconsin

81.13

64.93

54.97

South Dakota

80.44

64.03

54.88

Minnesota

80.96

63.97

53.51

Iowa

80.85

63.71

53.65

North Dakota

79.55

63.63

53.98

Pennsylvania

80.69

63.51

53.18

Montana

79.60

62.79

53.03

Hawaii

79.37

62.22

52.21

North Carolina

79.85

61.91

51.25

Massachusetts

With elite universities, a thriving tech hub, a strong economy and a highly educated workforce, Massachusetts tops the list. Nearly 82% of small businesses survive their first year. Boston is also a growing hub for STEM jobs and is home to many investors and potential employees. The state also boasts a strong Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) that provides tax and property incentives for job creators.

Wisconsin

Not only does Wisconsin have a relatively low cost of living, but the state has one of the nation’s best public university systems (read: highly educated workforce) and a business-friendly government that offers tax credits, low-interest loans and grants to small companies. Wisconsin also runs a public-private capital initiative through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which recently announced a $100 million investment in the state’s startups.

South Dakota

Taxes are the big selling point for starting a business in South Dakota. With no corporate income, personal income, property or business inventory taxes, the state makes running a small company affordable for owners. The state is highly affordable and has very few regulations, both of which lower overall business costs.

Minnesota

Almost 81% of small businesses survive their first year in Minnesota, a feat that can be credited to the state’s supportive business environment, educated workforce and relative affordability for a high quality of life. Minnesota also has nine small business development centers throughout the state, which offer consulting, mentoring, networking opportunities and access to capital.

Iowa

With a high quality of life and low cost of living, Iowa is an attractive place to start and expand a small company. One of the biggest factors is extremely low energy and utility costs, which is especially important for manufacturing. Iowa cities also offer property tax incentives for small businesses and some of the nation’s lowest workers’ compensation costs.

U.S. states/territories with the lowest rate of small business survival, per Capital on Tap 

State

1year average (%)

3year average (%)

5year average (%)

Washington

75.12

54.60

42.75

District of Columbia

76.04

54.73

43.73

New Mexico

76.64

56.58

45.58

Florida

77.00

56.82

44.95

Nevada

77.18

57.38

46.79

New Hampshire

76.65

57.52

46.63

Arizona

77.34

58.00

46.74

Tennessee

78.46

58.21

46.81

Arkansas

77.64

58.24

47.25

Rhode Island

76.76

58.30

47.75

Washington

Less than 43% of new businesses in Washington are still running after five years, thanks to expensive real estate, complex regulations and the nation’s highest statewide minimum wage ($16.28/hour). The state’s business and occupation tax is also calculated based on gross receipts, not overall profits, so businesses with slim margins will especially struggle.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive metro areas in the country, both in terms of real estate and overall cost of living. That means high salaries and high rents for offices or storefronts. The city’s business income tax and regulatory requirements are also relatively high, both of which can cut into profit margins.

New Mexico

High unemployment rates and limited access to capital make New Mexico a challenging state to open a small business. Skilled workers are lacking compared to surrounding states, and complex regulations can be a burden for business owners. More than 23% of small businesses fail within their first year.

Florida

Although Florida claims to be a thriving hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses, the data tells a different story: More than 55% of small businesses fail within five years. One of the biggest factors is the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes, which has led to rising insurance costs. This affects both the available workforce and a company’s bottom line as premiums skyrocket.

Nevada

Almost 23% of new businesses fail within their first year in Nevada, and that’s despite no corporate or individual income taxes. Part of the challenge is local governments: regulations vary widely depending on your city of choice, with different requirements for specific licenses and fees. A heavy reliance on tourism can also backfire when travel to the state falls off, such as during the pandemic.

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How the Peak Travel Season Will Impact Payment Fraud

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How the Peak Travel Season Will Impact Payment Fraud

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Summer is just around the corner, and with it comes an influx of vacationers ready to explore new destinations. As the summer travel season begins, businesses operating within travel and hospitality must adopt robust strategies to manage the anticipated increase in transaction volumes and fraud risks. These strategies must also effectively manage disputes and chargebacks during a peak travel period that’s expected to break records.

Americans are still choosing to prioritize their vacations despite challenges like international unrest and rising prices. Projections from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggest we’ll see a record-breaking summer travel season in 2024, with officials anticipating the busiest travel season ever.

52% of consumers say they plan to travel as much in 2024 as last year, with another 40% saying they expect to travel even more. These prospective travelers already have significant budgets set aside for these trips.

Millennials and Gen Z are the driving forces behind this trend. People in this cohort tend to prioritize experiences over material goods and seek a healthy work-life balance to explore new places and cultures. They’re also heavily influenced by social media, where many influencers showcase travel as part of an aspirational lifestyle.

This surge in travel drives global business at every level of the economy, but it also creates a heightened sense of risk. For businesses, effectively managing fraud and chargeback risk year-round is crucial to navigating the travel space.

Let’s explore the best strategies and tactics for managing these threats, whether in-house, hybrid or outsourced, and why asking for help might be the most effective course of action this year.

Related: How a Bad Billing Descriptor Can Cost You

The challenges ahead

While a travel boom is fantastic for businesses and local economies, it poses significant challenges that underscore the necessity of comprehensive fraud and chargeback management. An exceptionally busy travel season can aggravate existing chargeback triggers already intrinsic to the travel space. We may see:

  1. Increased Transaction Volume. The sheer volume of transactions during peak travel seasons makes managing and monitoring every transaction closely difficult. This increased volume can overwhelm internal systems, leading to errors and delays in handling disputes, contributing to more chargebacks.
  2. Fraudulent Activities. Fraudsters take advantage of the busy season, knowing that the high transaction volumes can mask their activities. From fake travel deals to phishing emails, the types of fraud targeting travelers are diverse and sophisticated, increasing the likelihood of chargebacks from unauthorized transactions.
  3. Overbooked Flights and Hotel Shortages. High demand can lead to overbooked flights and sold-out hotels. When travelers are bumped from flights or denied rooms, dissatisfaction spikes. So, too, does the number of chargebacks as customers dispute charges for services they didn’t receive.
  4. Poor Customer Service. Understaffing is common during peak periods, resulting in longer wait times, unresolved complaints and poor service. Frustrated customers often turn to chargebacks to resolve their grievances when they feel neglected or mistreated.
  5. Operational Strain. Handling a surge in transactions requires a well-prepared operational setup. Without it, companies might fail to process payments and refunds promptly, further aggravating customers and leading to more disputes and chargebacks.
  6. Financial and Reputational Impact. Chargebacks result in financial losses due to refunds and fees. However, they also damage a company’s reputation with customers and hurt their relationships with financial institutions. High chargeback rates can result in higher processing fees and, in severe cases, the loss of merchant processing privileges.

Considering what’s at stake, you can see why it’s incredibly urgent to prioritize effective chargeback management. Aside from saving time and money, it can also help boost customer trust during the peak travel season.

Managing chargebacks: In-house, hybrid or outsourced?

Travel operators can adopt one of three chargeback management strategies to handle the increased demand and the potential challenges outlined above.

First, they can manage everything in-house. This involves maintaining a dedicated team to manage disputes, enhance customer support and refine fraud detection systems. While this approach offers direct control, it can be resource-intensive and requires constant updates and training to stay updated on new fraud tactics and regulatory changes.

A second option is to outsource everything. This allows travel companies to benefit from specialized expertise and advanced technologies without the burden of maintaining an in-house team. Third-party providers can offer scalable solutions, real-time fraud detection and comprehensive chargeback prevention strategies. However, it can also mean that merchants lack insight.

As a third option, merchants can try taking a more hybrid approach. Combining internal efforts with external support lets businesses leverage advanced technologies and knowledge from third-party providers while retaining some control over the process. This approach provides a balance between direct oversight and external expertise.

Related: How to Fight Fraud and Chargebacks Should Regulation Fail

Industry collaboration

As we gear up for a record-setting summer, it’s clear that improved industry collaboration could be the key to addressing fraud and chargebacks.

We could consider the transformative potential of open data and artificial intelligence (AI) within the tourism industry. Combining an open data strategy with AI can enhance decision-making processes, helping to personalize customer experiences and optimize operations.

By harnessing open data, businesses can gain valuable insights into traveler preferences and behaviors. This insight can be refined using AI to forecast trends and tailor services.

Related: Think You Can’t Win Against Chargebacks? Think Again.

Open data and AI will have a much more symbiotic relationship in the future. The kind of collective effort that open data demands will create a more secure environment for our customers and protect our businesses from the financial strain of chargebacks. These technologies promise to boost efficiency and innovation in tourism, help manage threats and enhance the overall travel experience.

Ultimately, travel operators need to be proactive. By adopting the right strategies and fostering collaboration across the industry, operators can thrive during this busy travel season and create a better experience for all travelers.

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