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73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
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Promotional Ideas To Help You Get a Head Start on the Holiday Shopping Season

November 22nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

As a small business with a marketing budget that is miniscule compared to huge, global companies, how can you stand out this week, the official beginning of the frenetic holiday shopping season?

People are shopping online before and after Thanksgiving dinner now, and because so many people have access to high speed Internet connections, they’re not waiting til Cyber Monday to hit the keyboard, fill up their shopping cart, and click “check out.”  The focus, therefore, is on this entire week, not just Friday, and on doing something a little different.

It’s not too late to put together a special Thanksgiving Weekend Promotion Plan-or tweak the one you already have in place!  Decide on what you want to promote (see my list below for some ideas that are a little different).  Schedule several messages to go out all weekend long, beginning on Wednesday, at different times each day.

This goes without saying, but be sure to put your promotional messages where your customers will see them, whether it’s on Facebook, in an e-mail, and/or on Twitter.  And don’t forget to update your website’s home page to include your special promotions!

Here are some different promotional ideas beyond the usual discounts and coupons:

  • Promote small items as ideal stocking stuffers.
  • Offer gift certificates, even if you typically don’t, as the ideal gift for the hard-to-buy-for person we all have in our lives.
  • Remind your customers to buy something for themselves when they’re done buying for everyone else!
  • Donate a percentage of all sales made during the holiday shopping season (or just for a specified period) to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or other worthy charity, whether it’s local or global.
  • Put together a special holiday giveaway, such as a stocking filled with products, for one lucky winner chosen at random from all customers who shop during a specific time period.
  • Bundle products or services in a special holiday package.
  • Offer daily specials.

Image by Flickr user notenoughbricks (Creative Commons)

From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Proven Strategies to Convert Web Visitors into Customers

November 17th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

One of my favorite sessions at the GrowSmartBiz Conference on November 5 was a Technology Track panel discussion that offered valuable, no-nonsense ways to convert Web visitors into customers.  Thanks to Jennifer Shaheen, President of the Technology Therapy Group, Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, and Walt Rivenbank, VP of the Mobility Applications Consulting group at AT&T for such great information!

Their strategies are fairly easy to implement, but they will require some time.  Here’s what to do:

1. Check Google Analytics to find out whether your Web visitors are staying.

If you don’t have an account yet, get sign up for one today (it’s free, natch).  One of the things Google Analytics looks at is your website’s bounce rate.  If people are visiting your website but not staying long and not moving from one page to the next, it’s not good.  It means you are probably not supplying them with the information they are looking for and you are definitely not converting them into leads, let alone customers.   It also means you need to update your website.

2. Have a clear call-to-action (CTA).

Update your website by offering a consultation, white paper, how-to guide—anything that is both educational and valuable.  As Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, said, “Give away your best stuff.”  But you’re not giving away anything for free!  Before they get that free consultation or white paper, ask them for their name and e-mail address.  Your web designer/programmer can help you set this up.

3. Be sure your CTA is easy to find.

Don’t hide your CTAs!  Add them to every page in the form of a big button that is hard to miss (it need not be a garish eyesore, just prominent).  If you have a shopping cart, make it a really big button that is easy to click on.

4. You have 7 seconds to convince your Web visitors to stay.

Your website is your home base and most visible online presence.  Because you only have 7 seconds to grab the attention of your Web visitors, your home page must be especially well-written.  As you are writing—or re-writing—your website content, also keep in mind that your website is not a book—people do not read it from beginning to end.

5. No handouts.

When you give a presentation or workshop, do not hand out information that elaborates on your topic.  Instead, ask attendees to visit you online at your website, Facebook page, or Twitter account to receive some great information that they will find useful (really sell it!).  You can, however, give them a one-sheet (a one-page brochure) that acts as a CTA.  It should only include some information to pique their interest.  Your goal is to get them onto your website or connected to you via social media so you can continue to engage with them and convert them into customers.

Photo Courtesy Shashi Bellamkonda

GrowSmartBiz Conference: How to Multiply the Effects of SEO With Great Content

November 15th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

One of the Marketing Track sessions I attended at the GrowSmartBiz Conference had a great title-Stories, Content, and the Search Engine Sword Over Your Head-and delivered useful information in spades.  No matter how new or established your business, this session was a great way to learn exactly how to improve your search engine optimization efforts and results.

Ben Cook, the SEO Manager at Network Solutions, moderated the panel of 4 pros, including Tinu Abayomi-Paul, principal of Leveraged Promotion, Dr. Alan Glazier, founder and owner of Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care, Deborah Ager, principal of ClickWisdom, LLC, and Liana Evans, CEO of LiBeck Integrated Marketing.    (You might be curious as to why there’s an optometrist on the panel.  Dr. Grazier has successfully implemented SEO at Shady Grove Eye and become a prolific blogger in the process.)

Here are their tips on using great content to boost your website’s search engine optimization:

Write for your audience! To produce great content specific to your audience, you need to understand what they search for when online.  Use Market Samurai, a keyword analysis tool, to help you figure what people are searching for.  Then you will be able to write content that addresses their needs.

Use long-tail search terms in your content. Long-tail search terms are the descriptive keywords people enter in the search box when they’re conducting research online.  For instance, “children’s navy blue cotton jacket” rather than “children’s jackets”.  The more pages your website has, the more content you’ll have, and the more chances you’ll have at being found for long-tail terms.

Content type is important. Blogs, videos, and podcasts are great for search engine optimization, thanks to plenty of chances for back linking (aka, links from other sites).  All search engines, including Google and Bing, measure how often content is linked and how many views it gets, so the more varied your content, the better.

Make it easy to share content. Twitter makes sharing content and getting links easy as your content is spread from one person to the next.  On your blog, make sure you add “tweet this” and “like” buttons.  Google rewards websites that have links back to it from both new and established websites.

Optimize video and podcasts. Because search engines cannot read videos or podcasts, add a transcript.

The importance of the URL. You can create custom URL shorteners for branding purposes (I had no idea!).  Awe.sm is the first company I found in search results that does this.  Also be sure that your blog’s URLs contain the title of the blog post rather than numbers.

Photo Courtesy Shashi Bellamkonda

From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Customer Service as a Differentiator for Small Businesses

November 12th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

‘There is a general cultural of bad customer service in this country.”

Barry Moltz began his presentation, Customer Service Is the New Marketing, at the GrowSmartBusiness Conference on November 5 with the above statement.  As a prolific author and sought-after speaker on entrepreneurship (he has started three companies and founded an angel investing fund), Barry focused on the incredibly important role customer service now plays in a company’s growth and success.  (His engaging and entertaining presentation was based on his newest book, BAM! Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World.)

As he alluded to in his presentation, small business owners have a competitive advantage over large companies because we consistently deliver exceptional customer service to our clients.  I can only name three large companies that have built their cultures around customer service: Apple, Zappos, and Nordstrom.  (Maybe this is a trick question, but are there any others you can add to the list?)

Following are excerpts from Barry’s presentation, per my furiously scribbled notes:

“In a world with no boundaries, the only sustainable competitive advantage is excellent customer service.

‘There are a lot of myths associated with customer service.  These myths have to be busted, because the customer is not always right.  Under-promising and over-delivering is not a customer service strategy.  Unhappy customers are not part of doing business.  Customers do not only care about low price….

“Good customer service is whatever a customer says it is in a particular instant on a particular day.  Instead of asking, ‘How can I help you?’, ask ‘How can I make your day better?’

“To ensure your customer service is as good as it can be, put together a customer service manifesto to clearly explain what your customers can expect from you. It should include the following:

  • Deliver on what you promise
  • Listen to your customers
  • When things go wrong, be reachable
  • Resolve issues in a reasonable amount of time
  • Admit mistakes
  • Empower employees to resolve issues
  • Make it easy to stop doing business with you (in direct contrast to cell phone and cable companies, as Barry pointed out)
  • Don’t charge nuisance fees or surcharges
  • Treat your customers with respect and dignity
  • Don’t change the rules without prior notification (cough—credit card companies—cough)

“To get useful feedback from your customers, ask the following four questions:

  1. Why did you choose to do business with us?
  2. Did anyone do a good or bad job servicing you?
  3. Do you plan to use us in the future?
  4. Can you tell any friends, colleagues, or business partners about our business?”

How to Apply Marketing Strategies to Attract the Best and Brightest When You’re Hiring

November 10th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Though I currently have two superb interns, I know that eventually I will have to write a job description and craft an ad to hire my first employee.  Because I’m a marketing person, why not apply some marketing strategies to attract only top quality applicants?  Why not indeed!  Finding great candidates for a job opening is basically lead generation.  You need to define your target market, position the job and your company in a way that is most attractive to your target market, and promote it through select channels.

Here is how to apply marketing and lead generation strategies to attract the best and brightest candidates when you are hiring:

Define your target market

Write a profile of your ideal candidate, and make it as detailed as possible.  Include:

  • All job experience, education, and certification requirements
  • How much supervision they will need
  • Traits they’ll need to thrive: motivation and energy levels; creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills; familiarity with specific technology, tools, and methods; sales and business development skills, etc.

Sell that job!

Write an energetic, attractive, and clear one-page description of the job that lists all responsiblities and expectations.  Action verbs, adverbs, and adjectives are your friends!  Be sure to specify what, if any, job requirements are non-negotiable.

Include a request for a cover letter and portfolio of work, if applicable.  If the job is a creative one and/or requires a great deal of critical thinking or problem solving, create a hypothetical situation and ask all candidates to describe (within a specified number of words) how they would address the situation/solve the problem.

Position your company as a great place to work

If your company is growing; the job is challenging; there is a great opportunity to learn new skills, lead projects, and grow with the company; the work environment is casual; employees can bring their dogs; telecommuting is allowed…mention it!

List all aspects of the company that make it especially attractive.   Start with your location and include information on your office building, qualities of the neighborhood, access to public transportation, and convenience to restaurants and shops.  Discuss salary and benefits in as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing.

Promote the job

Skip the large online job boards.  Post the ad on your website, relevant professional interest listservs, niche job boards, your Facebook page, and industry-specific LinkedIn groups.  (I would avoid Twitter unless you have a very industry-specific following.)  E-mail the ad to clients, business partners, and professional associations; include a note requesting that it be forwarded appropriately.

Image by Flickr user HiredMYWay (Creative Commons)

How to Build an Awesome Team

November 3rd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Though The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was written for people working and leading teams within a large organization, the advice in this book is perfect for those of us who are building teams at our small businesses as we grow into larger businesses.

The author of the book, Patrick Lencioni, has learned that genuine teamwork is elusive because many organizations fall victim to five natural, but ultimately dangerous, pitfalls or dysfunctions.  Instead of getting into those, I’m going to instead share Pat’s list of how members of a functional team behave:

  1. They trust one another.
  2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

Trust

Pat defines trust as the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good.  If there is full trust among all team members, they will focus their energy and attention on their jobs (rather than political maneuvering).

As you build your company, you can encourage trust by demonstrating vulnerability first and creating an environment that doesn’t punish vulnerability.

Conflict

Ideological conflict, or conflict that is limited to concepts and ideas, results in the best possible solution in the shortest period of time.  It’s OK if that conflict is passionate, emotional and even frustrating.

As you build your company, let your team engage in conflict and allow them to resolve the conflict naturally.  You should also continually set an example of appropriate conflict behavior.

Commitment

Commitment refers to both buy-in and clarity around direction and priorities.  A team that is committed to a decision understands the priorities, embraces common objectives, and takes advantage of opportunities before competitors do.

As you build your company, be comfortable with the idea that the decision could be a wrong one.  Push your team for closure around issues, and make sure the team sticks to its schedule.

Accountability

A functional team is not afraid to point out performance or behaviors of other team members that might hurt the team.  When team members hold each other accountable, they demonstrate respect and high expectations for each other’s work.

As you build your company, encourage your team members to build accountability among themselves, rather than you imposing it on them.

Results

Results are really about outcome-based performance, which drives profits.  To perform well and achieve great results, your team needs to be focused on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes.

As you build your company, set the tone for results.  Be selfless, objective, and reward and recognize only those team members who make real contributions to the achievement of the team’s goal.

Founder at Work: Joel Spolsky, Cofounder of Fog Creek Software

November 1st, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

In this month’s “Founder at Work” installment (based on the interviews in Jessica Livingston’s book Founders at Work), I decided to write about one of my favorite past columnists at Inc. Magazine, Joel Spolsky.  Ignore the fact that he’s a programmer, because this guy can write. As a small business owner, you have got to love him when you learn that he and his friend Michael Pryor founded Fog Creek Software in 2000 without a product in mind.  They just wanted to create a company where they’d like to work.  That simple premise has kept them profitable and privately held for 10 years.  (In case you’re curious, Fog Creek helps developers make better software.)

What you can learn from Joel Spolsky, Cofounder of Fog Creek Software:

Your blog can generate clients and fuel your business. Fog Creek started out as a software consultancy, and their first clients came on board via Joel’s blog, Joel on Software, which he still publishes.  After 2 months of writing the blog and building an audience, Fog Creek was launched.  Their first 3 clients all read—and were fans of—the blog and contacted Fog Creek rather than vice versa.

Maybe your Plan B should be your Plan A. When consulting totally dried up in November 2000—2 months after Fog Creek was founded—they decided to package and sell an internal bug-tracking application called FogBugz.  It immediately took off and remains the company’s core product.

Create a great company culture and you won’t have to worry about hiring and retaining awesome employees. Since I am not a programmer, I did not know this, but though programmers are paid well, they are usually treated like crap and are typically lined up desk-to-desk in a huge room like a bunch of sardines.  Fog Creek’s programmers have private offices with comfy Aeron chairs and doors that close.  Programmers report to other programmers, and they get 4 weeks of vacation plus 1 week of holidays.

Don’t fake it. Because both Joel and Michael are programmers, they knew nothing about sales and marketing. To get around that little problem, they came up with all sorts of marketing ideas that didn’t always work, and they ended up wasting valuable time and effort.  What they should have been doing, they later realized, was improving their products.

Your customers are smarter than you are. If you want to grow your business and increase your sales, just talk to your customers and find out what they need and what would make them buy more of your product or service.  Ask customers who walked away before buying why they went to the competition. And ignore the competition.

Photo Courtesy of Joel Spolsky

How to Manage Twitter When You Have a Zillion Followers

October 28th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

By Monika Jansen

Every time I get a new Twitter follower, I look to see how many people they follow and how many people follow them (I’m at twitter.com/monikacjansen—feel free to look me up).  When I see numbers in the tens of thousands, I think, how the heck do they manage all those followers?

I did some research and found the answer.  Three answers, actually:

  1. Good tools
  2. Selective communication
  3. Regular housecleaning

1. Good Tools

An online application or platform that helps you manage your social networks is absolutely essential, because it will organize your Twitter feed for you.  I thought everyone used one, but based on what I read, that is definitely not the case! I happen to use Hootsuite, which I really like.  Every morning, I log in to check Twitter and Facebook.  My direct messages (DMs) and mentions (@s) on Twitter are aggregated in their own columns, so I look there first.  I’ll briefly skim what other people are posting, too, but I only visit Twitter briefly and once a day since I also have to work.

Two other popular tools that can help you manage Twitter are Seesmic and Tweetdeck.   It doesn’t matter what you use, just use something!

2. Selective Communication

I do not strike up a conversation with everyone who follows me.  I use Twitter to share information on B2B, social media, and small business marketing, not to make friends.  The first thing I do every morning is check my personal and professional e-mail.  Then I spend around 10-15 minutes checking Twitter and Facebook.  I reply to most DMs and mentions, which doesn’t take long, and look for new people to follow.

3. Regular Housecleaning

Because quality, not quantity, of Twitter followers is important, it’s a good idea to regularly clean your Twitter house.  Friend or Follow creates three lists for you: who is not following you back, who you are not following back, and who your mutual friends are.  Simply plug in your Twitter user name, and the first thing that pops up is a list of people who are not following you back.  (I was shocked by who was not following me!  But then I realized most of them are not active on Twitter.)

Use Who Follows Whom to find more people whom the power users in your circle follow.  It is a really great way to increase the quality of your followers.  You can type in up to five names.

Image by Flickr user yushimoto_02 (Creative Commons)

Book Review: The Power of Pull

October 27th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

As I read through The Power of Pull, I realized something: This is written for people who work for or lead medium-sized to large companies, because we small business owners and entrepreneurs already know everything in this book.  As fabulous as it is—it is very well written and has some awesome endorsements from Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Eric Schmidt, among other big names—you don’t need to read it.

In the book, authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison argue that we’re moving from a push world to a pull world.  In marketing, we talk about push and pull often.  In the old days, companies pushed messages out to a huge audience, some of whom were in their target market, some of whom were not.  You just hoped your potential customers were getting it.  Now, companies pull in their target market to their messages via social media, blogs, and interactive online experiences, like games.

So, we’ve been living in a push world, where needs are forecast, efficient systems are designed, and scripted and standardized processes are de rigueur.  (Think the public school system.)  The pull world, on the other hand, in the one small business owners and entrepreneurs live in: It is flexible, changes quickly, and uses digital technology to turn challenges into opportunities.

An entire section of the book, in fact, could have been titled “Why You Need to Network.”  Instead, it was devoted to three definitions of pull:

  1. Pull helps us find and access people and resources when we need them. We use platforms like social networking and search engines to significantly increase our access.
  2. Pull is the ability to attract people and resources to you that are relevant and valuable, even if you’re not looking for them.  This is more about serendipity than search: Simply increase the number of encounters you have (more networking!) and then set up meetings with the people you could potentially partner or work with.
  3. Pull is tapping into our ability to achieve our potential and grabbing onto new opportunities, partnerships, and collaborations that emerge.

As I said, we small business owners and entrepreneurs are already doing all of the above.  But here’s something to keep in mind.  There are three factors that feed into the power of pull: trajectory, leverage, and pace.  In other words, we need to know where we’re going (have your business and marketing strategy in place!), be able to connect with others when needed (be an active player within your network, and for Pete’s sake, keep networking!), and move as quickly as the change that’s happening around us (social media and technology, anyone?).

P.S.—Eric Schmidt, mentioned in the first paragraph, is the Chairman and CEO of Google.  But you knew that, right?

Mobile Marketing Is the Next Big Thing

October 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

By Monika Jansen

Mobile devices are very hot in marketing right now (think apps and website-mobile browser compatibility).  So I figured mobile marketing would be the next big thing.  I did some research.  What I found really surprised me.

Based on my research, the key to a successful mobile marketing strategy will not rely on push marketing (text messages or e-mails), but rather geo-location social networking sites like Gowalla, Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Yelp.  According to a recent survey by JiWire, more than 50 percent of mobile users would like to receive location-specific advertising and another 39 percent would like to receive location-based coupons.  Coupled with the popularity of the above-mentioned sites, there is a huge marketing opportunity in the mobile space, especially for small businesses. Here’s a closer look.

Gowalla

Gowalla is a mobile app that lets users find and share information on businesses and hotspots and pick up coupons from restaurants, stores, and venues when they’re out and about.  Users can collect stamps in a passport for the places they visit, share photos with friends, and comment on the places friends go.

Mobile marketing possibilities: Coupons and special promotions are a great way to attract new customers.

Foursquare

Like Gowalla, Foursquare is a mobile app, but there is less emphasis on traveling.  Foursquare users “check in” at restaurants, stores, clubs, and other locations, which is then broadcast to other Foursquare users. If you check in to the same business a lot, you can become a “mayor” of that location, which is a big deal.

Mobile marketing possibilities: Awesome!  Offer coupons to mayors and/or people who check in, but be creative.  Users can access area maps to see other specials being offered at nearby businesses and which businesses are the most popular.  Foursquare also provides information on the people who check in at your business, which can only benefit your marketing efforts.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places was launched this year to compete directly against Foursquare. When a Facebook user “checks in” to a business, their location is published on their Facebook wall, and they can then see which friends have also “checked in.”

Mobile marketing potential: 500 million users and counting.  Enough said.

Yelp

Yelp is a user-generated website featuring reviews of businesses, services, locations and events. The mobile version has an interactive map that allows users to “check in” at locations. After “unlocking” your location, you can offer coupons, update your business’s information, and promote events.

Mobile marketing potential:  Because so many businesses hate Yelp due to their very secretive process of choosing which reviews to display, I am not sure how many businesses will use them.  But with 33 million users, the potential to reach a lot of potential customers is pretty good.

Image by Flickr user dennoir (Creative Commons)