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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
homepreneur

Search Articles

Branding Articles


Small Biz Resource Tip: Logoworks.com

November 26th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Logoworks.com

Creating the logo for your company is as important as choosing your business name. Your logo needs to be original, meaningful and unforgettable all at once. Your best bet is to let the experts take over. Logoworks by HP employs many professional designers and gives you access to their expertise through its website. Pick the level of design you want (the least expensive gives you four original logo concepts and two revisions), fill out a detailed form describing your business and what you want your logo to express, and two or more designers will get to work on your logo. Everything can be done online or, if you purchase a higher-cost package, you can talk to the designers yourself.

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

What Your Hiring Process Says About Your Company’s Brand

November 4th, 2010 :: Karen Axelton

By Karen Axelton

As the economy shows signs of picking up, more small businesses are considering hiring employees. If yours is one of them, take some time to think about your hiring process and what it says about your firm.

While many of us think of the hiring process in terms of how our businesses can be hurt (for instance, if we neglect to do a background check, we might hire a criminal), few of us think about the point David Lee makes in this ere.net article: Creating a poor hiring experience can permanently hurt your business brand.

When you’ve weeded down job applications and resumes to a precious few, what do you do before you contact those candidates? You probably go online and search their names. Well, you can be certain that job candidates are doing the same thing with your company. And if anyone they know has had a bad experience applying or interviewing at your company, they’re likely to share those thoughts.

Before you place your next want ad or start networking for candidates, take some time to assess your hiring process with an outsider’s eye. Here are some basic questions to ask:

  • Is it easy to apply for a job? Your ad should clearly state the process by which people should apply. Specify who to contact and what to do (and not to do). This saves time on their end, and on yours.
  • Are requirements clearly explained? Any applications, tests or projects that applicants need to fill out or complete before a live interview should be clearly explained. The applicant should be able to contact a specific person at your business with any questions.
  • Are interviewees treated courteously? The environment of the interview gives applicants a glimpse into what it’s like to work for you. I’ll never forget one job interview where I was kept waiting for two hours in a chair next to the office copier while my future boss kept postponing the interview because she was swamped. That should have been a sign to me not to take the job.
  • Do applicants receive a response? It’s simple to set up an automated response by e-mail. Everyone who applies should get at least this courtesy. But you’d be surprised how many companies take employees through several interviews, then never contact them again. One of my friends recently traveled to another state at her own expense for a second interview with a major company. After an intense series of interviews with a team of executives, the firm never contacted her again. Not only that, but her voice mail messages and e-mails went unanswered.

No matter how busy you are, taking time to treat job applicants properly pays off for your business’s brand. More than that, it’s simply the right thing to do.

How Are Your Customers Using the Web?

October 28th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you know what your customers are doing online? With the Internet so crucial to marketing today, a clear picture of how your target customers use the Web is essential to success. A recent study by Nielsen, What Americans Do Online, offers some insights.

According to the survey, U.S. Internet users spend more than one-third (36 percent) of their time online communicating and networking, whether it’s by e-mail, instant messaging, social media or blogs.

Use of blogs and social media has increased 43 percent from the same time last year, and now takes up 22.7 percent of time spent online. The second most popular online activity was playing games, which accounted for 10.2 percent of users’ time—a 10 percent increase compared to last year.

E-mail was the third most popular activity, accounting for 8.3 percent of users’ online time—although this represents a 28 percent drop compared to last year. Showing a strong rise? Videos and movies, although they only make up 3.9 percent of users’ online time, grew by 12 percent compared to 2009.

How can these statistics help your online marketing efforts? Here are three tips.

1. Start socializing. If you weren’t already convinced of the value of social media, I hope that “43 percent” increase changed your mind. No small business today can afford to ignore social media—a no-cost way to get the word out about your company, interact with customers from around the country (or the world), and build relationships that lead to sales. Whether you try Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or all three, I urge you to get out there and give social media a shot.

2. E-mail still matters. In fact, while use of e-mail on desktops and laptops declined, use of e-mail on mobile devices increased. E-mail accounts for 41.6 percent of time on mobile devices, compared to 37.4 percent last year. So keep your e-mail marketing efforts going, but integrate them with your newer activities by using e-mail to drive traffic to your social media presence. Also make sure your e-mail newsletters and other marketing messages are optimized for mobile viewing.

3. Think video. It’s still somewhat under the radar, but video can make a big difference in your business. For one thing, including video on your website, blog and/or Facebook page helps you rank higher on search engines. For another, some consumers simply prefer video viewing to reading. And for a third, videos can be a great way to “go viral.” If your video is interesting, funny or useful enough, users will forward it on. Posting video to your website can be as simple as grabbing a Flip video camera and talking about your product, your services or an upcoming event at your business. Now’s the time to start experimenting, so when video really takes off, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

Image by Flickr user Rob Pearce (Creative Commons)

How to Use Delicious for B2B Marketing

October 25th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Next in my monthly series on unsung social media platforms is Delicious.  If you missed my first two posts in the series, check out what I had to say about using Digg and Reddit for B2B marketing.

Delicious is a social bookmarking site that serves up “The Tastiest Bookmarks on the Web.”  (Until their recent acquisition by Yahoo, they were called Del.icio.us.) Their goal is to help you find cool stuff online and save it in one place that can be accessed from any computer.  You can share your bookmarks with others, see what other people are bookmarking, and search for the most popular bookmarks across a range of topics and interests.  To categorize all of your bookmarks, you use tags rather than folders.  So if you like to bookmark funny videos, you can tag videos with both words and they’ll be findable under both terms.

Even before I did research on using Delicious for marketing purposes, it became obvious to me that you can build quite a reputation on Delicious for interesting and useful information.  If your website, articles and blog posts get bookmarked on Delicious often enough, they’ll make it to the front page of Delicious, deliver a lot of traffic to your website, and brand you and/or your company as a source of great information.

With that said, your popularity on Delicious is dependent on the quality of your online content rather than your popularity among other Delicious users (no voting here!).

After you create a free account, here’s how to get going:

1. Create a network. A network allows you to collect your favorite users’ bookmarks in one spot—and vice versa.  You can organize your network in to “bundles” to separate friends from colleagues, etc.

2. Subscribe to tags. Make a list of your favorite tags.  As bookmarks are added with those tags, they’ll be delivered to your subscriptions page.  It’s a great way to find new users to add to your network.  (You can also create subscription “bundles” to keep things organized.)

And here’s how to get use Delicious for marketing purposes:

Post information that makes users’ lives easier. I found a great blog post about Delicious on Traffikd’s blog.  To get a lot of bookmarks, they suggest posting resource lists, guides and tutorials, online tools and useful services.  Avoid humor, gossip, videos, news and opinions.

Spread the word. Add a Delicious badge to your website and blog. Invite friends, colleagues, and people in your professional circle to join your network, and ask people to bookmark your website, blog, articles, etc.

Integrate your Delicious strategy with your SEO strategy. Make sure the pages, articles and blogs posts you want to be bookmarked (and become popular) on Delicious use the keywords or phrases that you are currently found for on search engines.

Using Content Curation To Become a Thought Leader

August 11th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Ever hear of content curation?  Neither did I, til I signed up for another fabulous American Marketing Association webinar on that topic last month.  Pawan Deshpande, Founder and CEO of HiveFire, and Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, collaborated to present the informative, funny, and very interesting webinar.  Here’s what I learned:

Thought leaders share four qualities:

  1. They distill information into key insights
  2. They foresee new directions their industry is taking and set trends based on that information
  3. They are trusted, go-to authorities for information
  4. They look for patterns in trends and news and report on those patterns

Chris Brogan

So, what a thought leader will do is identify a topic they think is worth pursuing.  They’ll do research on that topic and produce a report, article, blog, white paper, or whatever.  Then they repurpose the content for different uses, distribute it, and start all over again.

The reason it’s so important to become a thought leader in an industry is due to the power of influence.  You want to not only influence your prospective clients but, most importantly, have them seek you out, rather than vice versa.  Remember, though, that thought leadership is NOT about tooting your own horn.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: no one cares about you, they only care about themselves.

So let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about content.  Content marketing evolved as the cost of publishing information nose-dived.  Thanks to the internet, free blog software, and numerous social networking platforms, anyone can publish and distribute content for the price of a high-speed internet connection.  This, as we well know, has lead to its own complications. There’s just so much out there!  And because marketers struggle to get found, they publish tons of stuff and distribute it on as many mediums as possible.  So now there’s this vicious cycle going that is expensive, time-consuming, and creating content marketers rather than thought leaders.

Pawan Deshpande

Pawan Deshpande

This is where content curation comes into the picture.  Rohit Bhargava defined it very nicely: “A content curator finds, groups, organizes, and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific topic online.”  Think the Drudge Report, TMZ, the Huffington Post.  Because these companies are so good at content curation, they have become thought leaders.  We go to them for our information.

To become a thought leader using content curation, you have to first decide if content curation is a good marketing strategy for you.  Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is your brand focused on an issue and do you have an innovative perspective on that issue? 
  2. Do your prospects conduct a lot of research on this issue?

If you answered yes, then here’s what you do:

  1. Distill information into key insights
  2. Provide fresh perspective on a topic (or topics) within your industry

As always, easier said than done!

Podcasting: The Underused Marketing Tool with Big Potential

August 2nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Jay BerkowitzI recently watched a video (online of course) that featured Jay Berkowitz, CEO of the internet marketing firm Ten Golden Rules.  He was talking about social media, which he is wont to do, and mentioned podcasting as a great online marketing tool simply because it is so underutilized.  I found this bit of information intriguing and decided to blog about podcasting for several reasons. 

  • First, as he pointed out, podcasting is a one way social media tool, unlike Facebook and Twitter (when they are used properly). 
  • Second, there are few competitors so it’s a relatively easy market to dominate once you pick your topic.
  • Third, I am sick and tired of hearing nothing but Facebook and Twitter this, Facebook and Twitter that.  At this point, articles on those social media platforms are redundant and boring. 
  • Fourth, podcasting is a creative medium and can be used in a variety of ways.
  • And fifth, a series of podcasts is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader on a specific topic and can really drive some traffic to your site (and hopefully convert some leads into clients).

 To quote Jay directly:

There are very few podcasts on any topic, but there are now millions of iPhones, iPods and iTouches – 25% of users download podcasts. It is a great way to build a following with an audience looking for this content, very few competitors are podcasting. You could also add the shows to your website.

Now, please forgive me if we have gotten this far and you’re scratching your head wondering what on Earth a podcast is.  It’s an audio broadcast, or, to put it another way, a song with no singing, only talking.  You can listen to it online or download it to listen to on your iPod or other MP3 player. A podcast can be short or long, include one person’s voice or a few people’s, and actually, it could include music if you’re so inclined.

Here’s how you could use a podcast: 

  • Distribute a weekly podcast that includes a secret word or phrase to receive a special discount on a product or service.
  • Create a series of educational podcasts on a specific topic that would be of interest to your target market.
  • Use podcasting for PR and release news in a more personal, immediate way.
  • Advertise new products or services using your most persuasive sales skills. 
  • Replace one blog post a week with a podcast. 

To create a podcast, you need some software.  I’ve certainly listened to podcasts, but I’ve never made one.  Google to the rescue!  A quick search on podcasting software resulted in this nice little list of 2010 Podcast Software Reviews, which is very comprehensive.  Underneath the long chart comparing the features of 10 podcast software programs is a tutorial on what to look for in podcast software.  Good information to have for a newbie. 

I’m curious to know if any of you have used podcasts for marketing purposes, and if they’ve been successful.  Leave a comment and let me know!

Logos: Yes, You Need One

July 19th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Logos are a very important, powerful part of a company’s branding.  We mostly associate them with large companies:

  • Nike with their swoosh
  • NBC with their peacock
  • Louis Vuitton with their elegant brown interlocked L and V

Some company’s names are also their logos:

Even my kids recognize McDonald’s arches, and they’ve never been inside a McDonald’s let alone eaten the food.  (Come to think of it, they don’t watch commercial TV either, so I have no idea how they know about McDonald’s.)

Just because you’re a small business owner, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a logo.  It’ll become your symbol, your badge, a memorable part of your company’s identity.  A good graphic designer will put one together for you when they create your stationery, business card, website, and any other marketing materials you might need.

As your company grows and times and tastes change, your logo will evolve.  It should be tied into what you do, though, and not just be some random, pretty picture that has nothing to do with your company or industry (I see this a lot on business cards that people have slapped together themselves). 

Jansen Communications LogoI get comments on my logo all the time, which incorporates my middle initial “c” into a cog wheel, thus pulling double duty: my logo both imitates the copyright symbol and effectively illustrates that I’m an important part of the marketing process. 

Here are other considerations when putting together a logo:

Color.  Greens, blues, and other muted colors are relaxing and soothing, while oranges, reds, and yellows are exciting and energizing.  Black, white, and gray are timeless.  Purple stands out, as most people shy away from it.

Style.  Elegant, simple, bold, modern, gothic, Italianate…the choices are endless.  If you’re a high-tech start-up, you’d obviously go with something modern.  If you are a coffee shop, you can play around a little more, but you’d ultimately want your logo to appeal to your target demographics. 

Tag line.  A lot of companies include their tagline in their logo.  If it’s short and only adds to the logo, go for it.

How to Strengthen Your Brand

July 16th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Coca Cola logoEvery year, Interbrand publishes a list of the best global brands (read more about their methodology here.)  2009’s best global brand was Coca Cola.  If you have ever doubted the importance of branding, consider this: Coca Cola’s market value is $52.19 billion.  Their market + brand value is $121.51 billion.

I’ll let you think about that for a bit.

So now that we’ve established how crucial strong and favorable brand recognition is, let’s step back and define “brand”.  It’s how your audience feels about you, your company, your products, and your services, and it includes both tangible and intangible factors. 

The best brands share the same attributes.  

  • Distinct
  • Bold
  • Address clear needs
  • Evolve
  • Connect with the audience and inspire emotion
  • Indicate the company is the best at something
  • Eye-catching but simple logos

Think about your company’s brand for a minute.  Does it do any of the above?  If not, it might be time to focus some attention on strengthening your brand.  Here are some new trends to keep in mind while you rework things.

Customer-driven.  Make sure your customers are the focus of everything you do and that all decisions are based on their wants and needs.

Sustainability/social responsibility. If you incorporate green practices in your business, include it in your marketing.  No green washing, though! 

Multi-modal engagement. This just means you need to reach your customers in as many ways as possible, especially via social media, which, of course, you already know.

Private labels.  Creating a private label for your products, just as grocery stores and clothing retailers have done, is a great move.  The higher the quality, the more sought-out they will be.

Simplification.  Focus on your core business and forget about any product or service lines that do not support it.

Emotional connection.  This is one of those intangible factors that are so important to have but hard to get.  You’ll gain connections via excellent customer service, memorable marketing campaigns, and high quality products and service that deliver above and beyond expectations.

Breaking against “type”.  Go against the grain in your industry and do things differently.  You’ll definitely stand out.

Concise and plain language.  My favorite trend!  Forget the industry jargon, the SAT words, and the complicated sentences that leave readers scratching their heads.  Your customers speak plain English, just like you do.  Write that way.

Stand Out From the Crowd: How Mission, Vision, and Values Statements Can Energize Your Marketing Program

May 10th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

If you want to really energize and focus your overall marketing efforts, take the time to write a mission statement, a vision statement, and an ethics/values statement for your business.  I’ve been working on these for a client, and I realized that I—and any business owner, small or large—ought to have them, too. 

The simple act of writing these statements has three benefits:

  1. They will help you focus on where your company is and where it’s going. 
  2. They will help you identify and communicate your core competencies and your target market to your employees, stakeholders (if you have any), customers, and potential customers. 
  3. They can form the underpinnings for an entire marketing plan.

Because Whole Foods is one of my favorite stores, I used their statements as examples below.

Mission Statement

This is a broad, one sentence overview of your company.  It clearly and succinctly describes your company’s unique attributes, services, and/or products.  You can use it on your website, business card, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles and in your elevator speech and e-signature.  You can and should update it as your company grows and evolves.

To write one, make a few lists:

  1. Who are your clients? Consumers or businesses, industries, # of employees, revenue or household income, etc.
  2. What problems do you solve for you clients?
  3. How do your services/products solve those problems?
  4. What adjectives and adverbs do you use to describe your company, products, services, clients?   

Tie the best phrases and words together into one coherent statement.

Whole Foods’ Example:

We seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Vision Statement

The vision statement is a more specific, 2-4 sentence overview of your company.  It describes your company’s purpose, values, and future.  This is generally only used on your website and in your company bio for guest-speaking gigs and the like.

Again, to write one, make three lists:

  1. What is your company’s purpose?  What do you do for your clients?
  2. What values do you and your employees embody?
  3. Where is your company headed?  How will it grow (new markets, new products, new services, etc.)?

Write two to three sentences that focus on the company’s purpose and values, and one that focuses on the company’s future.  Tie them together to ensure they flow nicely.

Whole Foods’ Example*:

We search for the highest quality, least processed, most flavorful and natural foods possible because we believe that food in its purest state is the best food there is. We are committed to helping take care of the world around us, and our active support of organic farming and sustainable agriculture helps protect our planet.  While we assist our global neighbors through our Whole Planet Foundation’s micro-lending operations, we also step out the back door of each of our stores to support local non-profit groups and neighborhood events.  We are working towards a sustainable future that honors and respects the planet and individuals, values education, and holds companies, governments, and institutions accountable for their actions.

*I distilled this from several paragraphs to combine their purpose, values, and future.  If I spent a more time on it, I could easily cut this down to 3 sentences.

Values/Ethics Statement

The Values, sometimes called the Ethics, Statement is just that: an expression of your company’s culture, core beliefs, and priorities.  Terms you often see in this statement include customer service, quality, reliability, flexibility, meeting client needs, on-time delivery, value, etc. 

List time again:

  1. Use the values you wrote in the Vision Statement exercise.
  2. What values do your customers appreciate/embody?
  3. What values do your employees appreciate/embody?
  4. What values do your stakeholders appreciate/embody?
  5. What values do the community in which you operate appreciate/embody?

This statement is often a bullet-pointed list of several statements, one or two for your company and one for the other affected/interested parties.

Whole Foods’ Example: