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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
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Marketing Articles

Small Biz Resource Tip:

November 26th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

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.

5 Quick Tips for Boosting Your Small Business’s Holiday Retail Sales

November 26th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Black Friday, Cyber Monday—the Internet is abuzz with assessments of how profitable these crucial selling days will be for retailers this year, and what strategies work best to capture customers. It’s already Black Friday, but it’s not too late to profit from these 5 quick tips and tactics that can help your retail store sell more this holiday season.

  1. 1. Psych up your sales staff. Personalized service is one of the key differentiators a small retailer has to offer. When customers come to your store, make sure they’re greeted with a friendly smile and get helpful (but not pushy) service from your staff. Yes, this can be a tough time of year to be a retail employee—but your employees should be people who thrive on the challenge.
  2. Make it fun. One reason consumers still come out to bricks-and-mortar stores to shop (instead of going online) is for the fun and festive feeling. Make your store a happy place to be with music, décor, or small party favors for children. Host a visit from Santa or an open house with free hot apple cider and cookies.
  3. Be thoughtful. Little things mean a lot to tired and stressed-out holiday shoppers. Something as simple as placing a few comfy chairs around your store (where tired spouses can rest their feet) or making sure checkout clerks smile at customers in line and thank them for waiting can help.
  4. Clarify store policies. Returns are a key concern for holiday shoppers, who want to make sure their loved ones will be satisfied. Figure out a return policy that works for your business during this busy time (it may differ from your normal one). Then make sure the policy is politely and clearly conveyed to customers, whether by in-store signs, on your receipts or on flyers tucked into shopping bags. Customers are more likely to buy—and to buy more—if they feel confident they can return hassle-free.
  5. Give back. Get involved in community or charitable organizations. Give part of the proceeds from a certain item, or sales on a certain day, to a group that customers are likely to care about. Despite the economy, people are more likely to buy if they feel that their purchase is helping a cause.

The golden rule of holiday sales? It’s not all about discounts or deals. Think about how you like to be treated when you shop—and make sure your store treats customers the same way.

Image by Flickr user Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons)

Should You Encourage Your Employees to Use Social Media?

November 26th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

As a small business owner, you are responsible for how your employees spend their time at work. After all, you have to pay them, whether they’re doing something to help your business or just twiddling their thumbs. That means that you have to decide whether or not you want your employees using social media at work.

You can’t, of course, decide whether or not your employees can use social media at home — at best you can support them in the endeavor if you approve of the idea of having them use social media, or you can request that they don’t discuss your company if you’d prefer your employees not use social media.

Should Your Employees Use Social Media?

The big question on the table in many companies is how valuable social media is — or might be. Many small businesses have experienced incredible growth as a result of their social media efforts. Others have found that social media just burns through resources, without providing an equivalent return on investment. It’s difficult to tell where your business will fall until you’ve actually had a chance to try out different social media strategies.

If you do have an employee who is interested in social media, you may have an opportunity to move faster with your online marketing efforts than if you were relying entirely on yourself to handle the work. There can be a clear benefit to having employees who are socially savvy.

However, if you have an employee acting as your business’ main face online, you should be prepared for other businesses to make an effort to recruit that particular employee. As he or she builds up your business’ social media presence, an employee can easily build up his or her own online presence. That’s the price of working with a social media-savvy employee.

Keeping Your Employees in the Comfort Zone

The worst social media nightmare is that a none-too-bright employee will broadcast something unpleasant about your company to the world — and that’s a risk you will essentially be running if your employees are active in social media. But it’s also a risk you run if your employees aren’t active in social media in the office, but they are at home. It’s not a problem that will go away by ignoring it. Rather, the best step you can take is to invest in training for your team to help them use social media effectively.

It’s impossible to keep your employees entirely away from social media. Whether or not you have a social media plan in place in your business, you have to be aware of that fact. It’s impossible to control social media — but you can preempt it with positive campaigns, rather than waiting for something negative to happen. Otherwise, your only option is to prepare a response to that inevitable day when an employee posts something like a choice photo from the company holiday party to Facebook.

Image by Flickr user Jason Pratt (Creative Commons)

When It Comes to Marketing, Baby Boomers Still Matter

November 24th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

When you think of baby boomers, do you think of gray-haired fuddy-duddies who probably don’t know how to turn on an iPod? The oldest boomers are over 60, and suddenly, in the eyes of many marketers, this once-golden group has been dropped like a hot potato. But if you think of baby boomers as irrelevant when it comes to consumer spending, think again.

There are still 78 million boomers in the U.S., and their purchasing power has not dwindled. In fact, boomers account for 38.5 percent of spending on consumer packaged goods spending, and dominate 1,023 out of 1,083 consumer packaged goods categories, according to Nielsen data reported in Marketing Daily. What’s more, they often purchase products for their children—“double-dipping,” as Nielsen SVP/research and development Doug Anderson calls it.

According to Nielsen’s research, boomers are far more “wired” than they’re given credit for. They are significant purchasers of all types of technology, including computers and cell phones. They account for one-third of all TV viewers, online users, social media users and Twitter users. They watch more video than any other age group (9.34 hours daily on average). They’re also far more likely to have broadband Internet access than are other age groups.

Surprised? You’re not the only one—apparently, many marketers don’t find this market worth their time. According to Nielsen, a mere 5 percent of advertising dollars target adults aged 35-64 years old. This means marketers aren’t just missing out on boomers, but on the older part of Gen X.

Yes, boomers’ purchasing power may have been hurt somewhat by the recession—but so has most other people’s. And as a result of the recession boomers will be working longer—meaning they’ll need technology tools and services to keep current in the workplace. For those boomers who aren’t working, they’re spending money on travel, downsizing and redecorating their new homes, or on their children and grandchildren. That’s lots of money being spent, and if you’re smart, your business will grab a piece of it.

I’m a boomer myself, and one thing I can vouch for: We boomers have never responded well to being ignored. If you ignore us in your marketing, do so at your own risk—because you’ve got lots to lose. Your business success depends on it.

Image by Flickr user Jeremy Carbaugh (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: Constant Contact

November 23rd, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Contemplating creating an e-mail marketing program, an e-newsletter or a social marketing campaign? Constant Contact is one of the leading online marketing solution companies and for a very low monthly cost allows you to create e-mail newsletters and updates, online surveys and more. You can even send marketing e-mails from your smartphone. Try Constant Contact’s free 60-day trial offer and create an e-newsletter for your customers from one of the many templates. E-mail address can be stored directly at Constant Contact. Want to discuss your needs with someone in person? The company has representatives all over the country.

Doing CRM the Old-Fashioned Way

November 22nd, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

CRM software is one of the most useful tools a small business can have to keep customer data close at hand, easily searchable and sortable, and maximize its value. But there’s another aspect to CRM that doesn’t involve cloud computing, networks or training your team on a CRM system.

I’m talking about the old-fashioned way of CRM. Sometimes we forget what CRM stands for: customer relationship management. And that’s a skill that requires more than just software. CRM has been around as long as business itself. And as we’re heading into the depths of the holiday season, I thought this might be a good time for a refresher on the basics of building customer relationships.

  1. Get personal. Whether you’re staying in touch with customers by social networks on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, include a personal touch in your posts and tweets. Use a photo of yourself on the sites—not one that’s “too businessy.” Make it friendly. Just like in the offline world, sharing stuff about yourself helps build bonds.
  2. Get offline. It’s great to meet potential customers or partners online, but make sure you take the relationships offline at some point—that’s how you truly get to know each other. Make plans to meet up for coffee or take the person to lunch.
  3. Be part of the group. I’m sure you belong to some industry associations, and while today more of these groups are forming online communities, it’s important to be a presence at these organizations’ offline events, too. Taking time to travel or spend a day out of the office may seem like a hassle, but these events are often where relationships truly begin.
  4. Put it on paper. In this day of BlackBerry’d tweets and acronymic responses, an actual handwritten note makes a huge impression. Drop a thank-you note in the mail when someone has done you a favor, and send cards on clients’ birthdays or important dates (like the anniversary of their first doing business with you).
  5. Think of the other person first. When you’re trying to grow your business, it can be easy to think in terms of “me, me, me” and what you can get out of a relationship. Try to think of things in terms of how they affect your customer—and how you can help the customer with the problems he or she is having. When you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, your relationship will naturally develop

Of course, CRM software solutions can help you attain all these goals by tracking dates, remembering details and prompting you to follow up. But keep in mind that CRM software is simply a tool in the service of a larger goal. If your heart isn’t in the right place when it comes to CRM, nothing else matters.

Image by Flickr user Yakinik (Creative Commons)

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)

Review: Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps

November 18th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

As a small business owner, blogging can be problematic. There are plenty of reasons why it can be useful for a small business, like improving your ranking in search engine results. But it can also be a lot of work. Even if actually writing posts isn’t an issue for your business, you still have to find time to learn about the blogging process. The learning curve can be speeded up with a resource like Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps.

Annabel Candy, the author of Successful Blogging, comes from a small business background and has created the guide that small business owners need to be able to dive into blogging and succeed.

Blogging By Numbers

Candy breaks down the blogging process into a manageable process of 12 steps, ranging from defining the topic of your blog to creating a guest posting strategy. Those are big steps, admittedly, but each step is organized in such a way as to make it easy to take action.

When defining your topic, for instance, Candy highlights the considerations the owner of a brand new blog must take into account. She includes resources for further research, but doesn’t get bogged down in too much information. Candy provides enough information to let you take action and follows that information up with action steps and a worksheet that will allow you to get everything straight quickly.

Avoid Information Overload

Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps clocks in at 65 pages. When you consider that there are plenty of blogging books topping out over 200 or 300 hundred pages, that can seem a little thin. But that length is something that Candy worked hard to achieve. The average small business owner doesn’t have a week to sit down with a blogging guide and slowly read through it. Sorting through the information that isn’t actually necessary for the type of blog you’re hoping to run just makes matters worse. So Candy skipped all the material that you don’t need. This ebook is something that you can read quickly and take action on immediately. There’s nothing to get in the way of creating and running a blog.

Candy offers Successful Blogging with several options to make sure that buyers get exactly what they need. The ‘Hot’ version is priced at $29 and includes an additional chapter on motivation. The ‘Super Hot’ version adds in an audiobook version, as well as blog case studies, for $39. Candy also offers the ebook packaged with a consulting session to work through questions specific to your business and your blog for $499. The variety of options makes it easy to get as much help as you need for your blog — and not pay for more.

Photo Courtesy Annabel Candy

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

How Much Is Too Much to Pay for a Marketing Tool?

November 16th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

For some small business owners, it’s impossible to pay too much for marketing, provided that the marketing in question brings in at least a little more than you spent in the first place. For other companies, even spending a little more than a set percentage of their budget on marketing is out of the question.

For both of these viewpoints, the many new marketing tools that keep appearing on the scene can be a problem. There is software to help with social media, tools that will show you wherever your business is mentioned online, and so on — all of which can help you market your business. Some are free, some come with sizable price tags, and all of them require deciding how much you’re willing to invest in a marketing tool.

Costs Beyond Money

With a new marketing tool come costs far beyond what you pay to use it. You may need to pay a specialist to handle using the tool in question or to train you so you can manage it. You need to spend time on using the tool, which can easily take time away from other, revenue-producing work. Before you decide if paying for the use of a tool will help you with your marketing, you need to know what it will actually cost you to use. Take that a step further and determine what it will cost you on a monthly basis — many Web-based applications are priced as a monthly subscription, rather than one initial payment.

Once you’ve actually got some numbers in place that you can work with, you’ll be in a far better place to make the financial decision on any given tool.

The Marketing Decision

There’s a difference between the financial decision and the marketing decision, though. A business owner has to balance the marketing needs and the financial needs of the business. Depending on the business owner’s background, it may be harder to see the immediate usefulness of a given marketing tool. For that reason, it can be important to have someone in your business — whether a regular employee or a consultant brought in specially — who can make an effective argument for the different marketing tools you may be considering.

A marketing professional may be able to offer a more in-depth comparison of the different tools that are out there, going beyond what a couple of minutes of Internet research can turn up. There may be reasons for price differences between products that many not be immediately obvious, especially for a business owner who must focus more on management and operations.

There are other reasons to bring in a marketing specialist as early in the conversation as possible. When you’re trying to figure out your true costs for a tool, your marketing specialist is either going to be using the tool or training you to use it. That means his or her recommendation should carry weight, unless you also want to pay for the time that it takes that marketing pro to learn a new tool.

Image by Flickr User House Of Sims (Creative Commons)