Grow Smart BusinessUMDNetwork Solutions


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

Posts Tagged ‘blogging’


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

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

5 Tools to Make Managing Inbound Marketing Easier

April 22nd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

For most business owners, the problem with inbound marketing isn’t that we don’t want to do it. Instead, it’s an issue that there are only so many hours in the day. Without the right tools, it seems impossible to get the job done. There are tools out there, though, that can help make managing your inbound marketing efforts.

  1. Website Grader: Not sure how your website ranks in terms of social media? This tool from Hubspot will tell you how you’re doing on optimization, content and other criteria. The analysis it offers provides you with actionable information that you can use to decide how to improve upon your website. Hubspot also offers Blog Grader and Twitter Grader, as well as numerous resources on how you can create an in-depth inbound marketing plan.
  2. Cotweet: Twitter can be difficult to manage if you’re trying to use it to connect with potential customers. However, Cotweet offers a set of tools you can use to interact with Twitter, such as posting tweets in advance, managing multiple accounts and maintaining standing searches for certain keywords. There are a variety of similar tools out there, including HootSuite.
  3. WordPress: A blog is considered a necessity by many inbound marketing experts and there are plenty of reasons to use WordPress to set up a blog. There are a variety of plugins that make it much easier to implement your strategies, such as the All in One SEO Pack, which allows you to optimize your posts for search engines as you write them.
  4. Facebook Ads: Even if you aren’t ready to start advertising on Facebook, it’s worthwhile to try out the advertising tool on the site. That’s because you can take a very close look at your target demographics. You can see numbers on how many male 20-to-24-year-olds that live in your area list paintball in their interests, along with other, equally specific groups. Not everyone is on Facebook, of course, but taking a look at how the 400 hundred million users of the site break down can offer some insight that you can use locally.
  5. Google Alerts: Getting an immediate email whenever someone mentions your company’s name online can come in handy. Google Alerts can provide you with that capability, but you can also use it for a variety of other automatic research. Setting up alerts on your competition can give you up to date information on what they’re up to. You can also set up alerts that will bring you industry news, which you can immediately turn around and use in your own marketing efforts. There are also a variety of tools that can give you alerts if your name is mentioned within a specific social networking site. Cotweet, for instance, can provide you with that information for Twitter.

These tools are just a starting point. Depending on the specifics of your marketing strategy, there are thousands of other tools out there that can help you make sure that prospective customers can find you online.

Image by Flickr user Fran Pregernik

Making a Business Irresistible with Liz Strauss

April 20th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Liz Strauss’ list of accomplishments is lengthy: she’s the founder of Successful Blog, which in turn lead to SOBCon, a conference that brings together successful and outstanding bloggers and businesses. Liz also helps businesses to build online communities and brand strategies that will attract not only customers but loyal fans. Liz answered a few questions to talk about what she does in the context of small businesses.

How did you get into blogging and social media? When did it click that this was something you wanted to do?

I’ve been in publishing for most of my adult life. So, when I decided to go freelance “for good,” moving online was a natural progression. It allowed me to use my experience and skill set to take on new and exciting challenges. I think I was hooked the minute I realized that it was about connecting with people in real ways that formed community and lasting relationships.

Why is building a community online crucial to a business? Do you see any difference between the needs of bigger companies and smaller businesses, as far as community goes?

The Internet, particularly the social web, has disrupted many industries and started new ones. These days we can’t rely on a great location — the corner of State and Main — to ensure that the people in our community will see us. The whole changes when the world becomes our marketplace. People no longer have to rely on what we provide them. They can look for exactly what they need by searching the Internet 24/7 anywhere in the world.

By bringing our online customers together where they can participate in our thoughts and ideas and allowing us to help us build something that serves them, we give them a chance to own and steer the choices we make on their behalf. We also give them an opportunity to connect to each other and build relationships. By introducing our offline customers to that online community, we open up our business to even more vibrant feedback and input that makes our business intelligence richer and more customer centered.

It’s slightly easier for smaller companies to do that, because they more easily form and communicate their message and brand, which allows them to open up the whole company to speak with customers easily and with confidence. Some larger companies may have to start more slowly to adapt their “big company” culture to retrain their evangelists to reach out and listen rather than broadcast.

You’re known for making companies irresistible to customers. Can you break down what you might do with one of your clients to make their business irresistible?

I always start with the basic principles of business, particularly leadership. Leadership has a strategy — knows where it’s going and which customers it wants to work with. We make sure that we can articulate those two points clearly. Then find and honor heroes and champions: people inside and outside the company who love what the business is doing. We listen and learn from the heroes and champions how we might align our goals to grow together. Leadership that loves the people who helps the business thrive, invites them in to participate in meaningful ways, and does that with intelligence, heart, and vision is irresistibly attractive.

How has bringing together businesses and bloggers at SOBcon changed those business’ efforts in promoting themselves online? Have there been any particularly key take-aways from the conference?

SOBCon is more of a think tank and business retreat than an all out conference. We keep it in an intimate mastermind format where content is presented then teams immediately discuss what they heard and apply it to their business. That sort of interaction ignites a high-trust environment, attracts serious business people, and develops deep networking relationships. I think we all walk away knowing that we do better when we test and try our thinking in a room of great minds who want to help us. A number of businesses have been born in the room that is SOBCon and from the network that it has become.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a small business owner trying to figure out how to build a brand online, what would it be?

Look to combine your passion with your skill set. Then weave your personal values and integrity throughout all of that. You choose your brand and live up to it and you choose your customers by the values you put into your brand.

Image by Flickr user Geoff Livingston

10 Inbound Marketing Strategy Tasks a VA Can Handle

April 16th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

The tasks that make up an inbound marketing strategy are known more for requiring constant attention than some of their outbound counterparts. With a trade show, for instance, you’ve got some prep work to do, but once the show is over you can relax. With a blog, though, you have to keep adding new content at the very least. Working with a virtual assistant who specializes in that sort of work can help you focus on running your business while still getting the benefits of those inbound marketing strategies. It’s just a matter of deciding what tasks to outsource to your VA.

  1. Writing blog posts: Depending on your VA, she may be willing to simply write the posts and other materials you need for your inbound marketing efforts. That can be one of most time-intensive parts of a strategy like blogging, freeing up your time significantly.
  2. Finding freelance writers: If you need more content than your VA is ready to put together, you can have her handle the process of finding more posts and articles.
  3. Managing social media profiles: Twitter, Facebook and all those other social networking sites can make a big difference in your ability to connect with potential customers. Setting up and maintaining those profiles is a job that a VA can take off your plate.
  4. Publishing posts and newsletters: Even if you’re comfortable creating content for your site, the time it takes to get your writing ready to publish could be better spent writing even more. That’s why it can make sense to have a VA handle the publishing process.
  5. Creating online events: Want to run a webinar to bring in leads for your business or, perhaps, another kind of online event? Hand your ideas over to a VA and she can set up the tools you need as well as help you promote it.
  6. Sourcing photos and images: Need a stock image to go with a newsletter? Have your VA find a few options to help you get the right picture without spending hours looking.
  7. Commenting on other sites: One of the fastest ways to build up traffic on a blog is to comment on other sites, a task that a VA can do just as easily as you can. Your VA can use her own name, just as long as she links those comments back to your site.
  8. Respond to comments and emails: A good inbound marketing strategy will generate comments and responses on your website, as well as through email. Responding can quickly get out of hand, especially if you need to focus on the day-to-day details of running your business.
  9. Optimizing search engine results: There are pages and pages of tactics you can use to help improve your search engine results, and most of them are not ‘set it and forget it’ approaches. Many VAs specialize in SEO tasks, however, making the process easier.
  10. Creating ebooks: Creating informational resources can be crucial to helping leads find you. While you may not need to put together entirely new material, a VA can help you gather information for an ebook, as well as edit, design and promote it.

These ideas are just starting points. There are thousands of virtual assistants out there, many of whom specialize in inbound marketing. It’s just a matter of finding a VA who will be a good fit with your business.

Image by Flickr user gmahender

Get Great SEO Results with Your Small Business Blog

February 17th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Blogging has become a staple in every company’s marketing strategy yet, very few understand it. Still, people upgrade their web sites to include a blog, they might start out with trying to publish every day and after a week or two realizing that this is actually work, they give up. The blog then languishes dead on arrival and people wonder if you even care about your business. Yeah, it can look that bad.

The upside of utilizing a blog goes beyond thought leadership, communicating with customers or whatever mission you have set for the blog. The biggest upside is that it can help your small business get found far easier and faster with the right people coming to your site. You want traffic to your web site, but you want the right kind of traffic. A blog is catnip for search engines and we have put together some great tips from our experience and a few from some other places to help get great SEO results and get your business found.

Do Your Setup Right from the Beginning

Get Your Titles and Blog Links Right – You should closely look at your titles because great blog links to great SEO results. Glen over at the viral marketing firm, Viperchill, has a few great points in the blog setup:

  • Tweak the Permalinks – Permalinks are simply the URL’s of your blog posts and pages. By default, your URL’s are setup like http://www.viperchill.com/p=8 which isn’t very pretty and doesn’t give an indication to what the page is about. In Settings >> Permalinks I use the custom option and type %postname%. This means that my URL’s can be something like http://www.viperchill.com/launching-new-blog/ which is both pretty and informative.
  • Enable Threaded Comments – In the past I would have installed a plugin for this, but now WordPress offers this as standard. In Settings >> Discussion you can choose to enable nested comments and select how many levels deep you would want these to go. This enhances the conversation in your comments and allows you and other readers to reply to specific comments directly.
  • Add Ping Services – You probably won’t have to do this, but when I installed my blog there were no ping services in the Options >> Writing section of my WordPress admin panel. Adding ping services means that you can send trackbacks to other blogs which lets them know when you link to their posts. It also gets your site listed in Technorati and other blog aggregation services.

Add Some Critical Functionality

Once you are setup on your blog, there are a few basic things I usually do with a blog for a client. First is to add a few pages. If this is a self-standing blog, you should have an about page or a navigation that leads to your about section. You should also have a contact page and form especially if you are trying to gather leads. This should be extensive and in different places if lead generation or specific landing pages are a part of your marketing campaigns.

You also should have a few posts right out of the gate that do two things – give people something to read when you launch the blog and tell everyone about it and to show people what kind of stuff you write about along with the style/voice you will have on the blog. People will want to subscribe if they like what they see and you usually only have one shot at getting them.

Speaking of subscribers, join Feedburner and hook your blog up to it. Feedburner allows you to keep track of how many subscribers your blog has and what services your readers use. You can easily setup email subscriptions and insert social bookmarking links directly into your feed. Plus, if you need to change the blog address on the backend you can do it without impacting the readers who subscribe through the Feedburner feed.

Use Killer Plugins

There are so many plugins out there for your blog, especially if you use WordPress. I found this great SEO plugin list from Michael Wolf of Graywolf Consulting. I have used many of these and create a short list below:

  • Meta Robots WordPress plugin – Adds meta tags automatically to posts
  • Aizatto’s Related Posts – Adds related post information to posts and feeds
  • Cross-Linker – Set up commonly used words to link to posts or redirects (also useful for affiliate links)
  • Sitemap Generator – Automatically builds and HTML style sitemap
  • Google (XML) Sitemaps – Automatically build and ping multiple sitemap services with an XML file
  • HeadSpace 2 – A monster plugin that lets you rewrite titles, meta data, and host of other features watch the video on the page for the full list of features
  • SEO Title Tag – Don’t need all the power of Headspace try SEO title tag
  • SEO Slugs – keeps slugs from becoming too long

For my WordPress installations, I also really like the “All-in-One SEO” plugin which has quite a lot packed into one plug-in.

Ramp Up the SEO Juice

This is final step in the getting the blog operational for great SEO results. Glen over at the viral marketing firm, Viperchill, did a great job covering this part, so I will let him do the talking. Here you go:

  • “No Follow Certain Links – Adding the nofollow attribute to certain links tells search engines not to pass Pagerank to them and not to give any ‘benefits’ to the receiving page or site. This attribute was created due to the influx of spam on the Web and is used by default in WordPress comments. I also not follow links to pages that don’t need my link juice such as About or Contact and even things like my RSS feed. Google engineer Matt Cutts wrote that Google frowns on this sort of activity so use it at your own risk.
  • Change Your Title – Anyone with a clue about SEO will tell you the most important thing to optimise for on-site SEO is your title tag. By default, the WordPress title tag is backwards. What I mean by that is it will show you the website name first before a post title on individual post pages. Instead, I prefer to simply show the post title by itself and then choose my own title for the homepage. My code for this being: <title><?php if(is_home()) { echo ‘Viral Marketing : ViperChill’; } else { wp_title(”) ;} ?></title> The title of your homepage should include the keyphrase you choose from the next point.
  • Choose a Keyphrase – Tons of people like to simply name their website after what it’s called, and not what it offers, and that’s fine. I, on the other hand, like to kill two birds with one stone by choosing a title that is both descriptive and has the potential to get me search engine traffic. Head over to the Google Keywords tool and find a term that is relevant to your niche and gets a lot of searches. Once you have decided on a phrase, put it on your title and try to get backlinks to your site with this as the anchor text. For example, if you ever write guest posts then you can link to your website with this term as the hyperlink. There is a lot more to SEO and getting rankings than this, but that should get you started.
  • Get My Social Media Profiles – If you’re hoping your site will become a well known brand in your niche then it’s important to get accounts on the top social media sites with your site name to stop people hijacking your brand in the future. These should also help you ‘dominate’ the search results for your name. To start with, I recommend signing up to: Twitter, Technorati, MyBlogLog, YouTube and Flickr and any other sites that are relevant to your niche.”

What Are Your Results? Need some assistance from SEO professionals?

Have you implemented any of these tips? What have been your results? Do you need some additional help from some SEO professionals?

Photo: Jay Lopez

10 Powerful SEO Tips for Your Blog

February 9th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Everyone these days with a web site has probably heard words like “blogs”, “SEO and “Search Engines”. I am sure if you are on the web you are using a search engine every day. Over the last few years people have used blogs to communicate in a more engaged way with their readers. With the millions of blogs out there it is a bit tough to be heard and while search engines love blogs (each new post looks like the site is new and that is great for rankings) there is a challenge in how to properly tune your blog and optimize it for the search engines. Therefore we have put together this list of 10 powerful SEO tips for your blog.

1.) Leverage great SEO plugins

On WordPress, there is a plugin called All-in-One SEO pack which you can do the required optimization such as adding titles, tags etc. and obtain higher search engine rankings for your blog. Another is called Google sitemap plug-in and when you update your blog, its URL is submitted to the Google index by Google Sitemaps, which will help search engines to index the same. You can also use related posts plug-ins like Simple Tags as these generate deep links under each post linking to related posts within your website owing to the presence of common tags. This fetches a great number of visitors from search engines as these love internal linking of pages within your website. If anyone integrates full RSS feed in a website, the links will be directed to your pages. This increases the usability of your blog manifold thereby enabling search engine crawlers to index your previous blog posts too.

2.) Create Great Headlines

There is nothing better than a great headline. It has worked for newspapers since they were invented and if you are like me you have a feed reader and scan the headings to see what to read and what to pass over. Headings have a lot to do with that. So you might have the most awesome content in the world but if your heading stinks, no one will even go further in your post.

3.) Use Alt Tags on Your Images

Freelance Folder has a good write up on using Alt Tags in your images -”Putting alt attributes on your images actually serves two purposes. In terms of SEO, putting a brief yet descriptive alt attribute along with your image, places additional relevant text to your source code that the search engines can see when indexing your site. The more relevant text on your page the better chance you have of achieving higher search engine rankings. In addition, including image alt attributes help the visually impaired who access web sites using a screen reader. They can’t see the image, but with a descriptive alt attribute, they will be able to know what your image is.

4.) Create Relevant Content

Freelance Folder also talks about how important relevant content is to a blog. “You can put all the keywords you want in the meta tags and alt image tags, etc — but if the actual readable text on the page is not relevant to the target keywords, it ends up basically being a futile attempt. While it is important to include as many keywords in your page copy as possible, it is equally as important for it to read well and make sense. I’m sure we’ve all seen keyword stuffed pages written by SEO companies that honestly don’t make much sense from the reader’s point of view. When creating your site copy, just write naturally, explaining whatever information you’re discussing. The key is to make it relevant, and to have it make sense to the reader. Even if you trick the search engines into thinking your page is great — when a potential customer arrives at the site and can’t make heads or tails of your information and it just feels spammy to them — you can bet they’ll be clicking on the next web site within a matter of seconds.

5.) Leverage Social Media Channels

Everyone these days are using Facebook and Twitter in some way. Social media channels range from social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — to social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon and many more. There is a lot of relationship building involved, but as you build your own networks and build quality content on your web site or blog, you’ll see traffic to your web site increasing, as well. However, that with any relationship, it is a give and take. Don’t just expect to join a site like Twitter for the pure sake of pushing your content. That isn’t going to work – your true intentions will be very apparent and people will turn you off and ignore you.

6.) Use Your Awesome Headlines in Your Permalink Structure

That term might sound a little foreign if you are not familiar with blog administration. The permalink is a code that tells the blog software how to structure your hyperlink. Like, domain name/year/month/title/. In this case you will want to look at your blog software for more specifics. Most important and the point of this tip is to use the post title in your permalink structure. SEO-friendly permalinks that include the post title get indexed faster by search engines.

7.) Get on Blog Directories and Site Submission

About.com has a great tip here – “If you haven’t already submitted to blog directories, you are missing out on some great one-way links. Many of the top directories can be found onRobin Good’s Top 55 list. But before you head over there and start submitting, you should know a little about how to optimize your blog. Then your new listings can help your site get the best keyword placement in the major search engines.

8.) Frequently Update the Blog

Another thing the About.com talks about is updates and spiders – “The more you post, the more food for the spider, which can cause the spider to react by splitting up its job into several visits, whereupon you have even more content, and so on, until the spider just adds you to a more frequent schedule of returns.”

10.) Work Steadily and Consistently – The Most Important Tip

To get the results you are looking for, you don’t have to slave over long blog posts several times a day. You do things like writing in a big chuck and scheduling them so that you can have posts show up daily even though you might only be writing once a month.

What Things Are Working For You?

So have you applied any of these tips already? Did you learn anything new? What tips work for you that we should share with fellow readers? Leave a comment.

BlogCritics and Technorati’s Dawn Olsen Gets #SmallBizCool

December 1st, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I’m really excited to bring you another #SmallBizCool, thought up by the great Jill Foster of WomenGrowBusiness, from the floor of BlogWorldExpo 2009. I met so many great people there, but I really got a great interview Entertainment Editor of BlogCritics and Technorai, Dawn Olsen. Dawn and I shared a lot of laughs, but she gave a great insight into what BlogCritics is all about and a little into what’s new with Technorati.

You can learn more about BlogCritics and Technorati at their websites and learn more about Dawn.

You can also reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways if you have been reading, and this time watching, thank you and stay wicked.