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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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Social Media Articles


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)

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

Want to Target Wealthy Consumers? Get Social

November 8th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

The very rich aren’t that different from you and me after all—they’re spending time on social media sites, too. So if you’re trying to reach wealthy consumers with money to spend, consider targeting them on Facebook.

That’s the finding of a new survey by SEI Wealth Network, which found that high-net-worth individuals are more likely than the average population to be using social networking sites. To be exact, 70 percent of high-net-worth individuals surveyed said they use Facebook and other social media sites. That’s considerably more than the number of social media users among the general populace; according to a report earlier this year from the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans ages 18 and over use social networking sites.

Here’s a closer look at a few key results from the SEI survey, which polled wealthy individuals with more than $5 million in investible assets, and what they mean to your business:

Result: Of the SEI respondents who use social media, 50 percent use Facebook; 37 percent visit YouTube; and slightly under 35 percent use LinkedIn.

What it means to you: Wealthy Americans are similar to average users in the sites they’re spending time on—so you need to be on those sites, too. Viewing video is growing among the wealthy just as it is with everyone else, so be sure to put video in your social media mix.

Result: While wealthy Americans are more likely to use social media, they’re using it less often than the average person. Just 17.4 percent of SEI survey respondents said they use social media on a daily basis, compared to 38 percent of those surveyed by Pew who do.

What it means to you: Everyone’s busy, and wealthy individuals are even more so. Make sure what you post on your social media sites offers true value that makes them want to return again and again.

Result: In general, high-net-worth individuals consider social media a personal activity, not a business tool. More than half (51 percent) of Facebook users surveyed say their account is for personal use.

What it means to you: Using social media to target wealthy individuals is likely to be most effective for companies that sell a consumer product or service, rather than a BtoB offering. Post information, deals and tips that you think users will want to sharie with their friends.

Image by Flickr user Liam Dunn (Creative Commons)

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 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)

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.