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

social media Articles


Can Someone Else Tell Your Company’s Story?

May 13th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

The story of how I came to be a business owner is very personal: my own entrepreneurial drive grew out of working for the businesses owned by my parents, grandparents and other relatives. When I talk about my company, those experiences help me to explain why I approach problems the way that I do, why I want to work with certain kinds of clients and even how I’ve chosen the services and products I offer.

But when I need help with marketing — when I need someone to help me tell my business’ story — I can face a problem. Having someone else share that sort of story is difficult, at best. When you consider how many small business’ value is based on the expertise of the founder or trust in one particular person, having someone else market that expertise or make promises based on that trust is incredibly difficult.

But it’s not impossible

Any number of companies have found ways to bring in help with marketing. The big sticking point seems to be be social media: there are plenty of social media specialists who will happily set up a Twitter account or a Facebook page for you. The problem is that asking them to provide content for those accounts day in and day out is not only expensive but ineffective. Social media, just like networking, relies on a deep understanding of how your business operates. Both current and prospective customers may reach out to you through social media, asking for questions that only someone who is involved in your business on a day to day basis can answer.

Furthermore, one of the most critical reasons to build up a presence for your business online is to convince customers that they’re dealing with a real company with real people, rather than with just a series of zeros and ones. You can do so by providing insights into how you operate, what day-to-day activities look like for your company and so on — but an outsider may not know those critical details.

Finding a storyteller

In order for your story to be told effectively by someone who is outside of your company, you need a very talented storyteller. The person that you bring in to help you with marketing, whether it’s online or off, needs to be as familiar with your business as possible. If you’re working with someone who doesn’t ask too many questions about your business, you may not be working with the right person.

It’s also important to be proactive about providing that information. Put together as much information about your business, how you operate — even the reasoning behind your decisions — as you can. If you can educate the people helping you to tell your story about the details that make it up, your social media and other marketing efforts will be that much better, even if you aren’t working with someone who’s been in on that story from the beginning.

Image by Flickr user photobysg

Small Business Use of Social Media up 200% since 2009 says, Small Biz Report.

May 7th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Social media adoption by small businesses has doubled from 12 percent to 24 percent in the last year was one of the big take aways from the most recent edition of the Small Business Success Index™ (SBSI). This third wave of the report, sponsored by Network Solutions® and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business reports that small business are mainly using social media to identify and attract new customers.

Social Media is a Call to Action and not just a Buzzword

If you use social media in any way for your small business you are probably saying “heck yeah” to that confirmation which you have known about for a while. Many small businesses however have been starting to figure this out and in 2009 the buzzword was also a call to action.

The report quotes Connie Steele, Director at Network Solutions, “Tough market conditions mandate small businesses to think and act creatively to sustain themselves”. “Social media can be the best friend for small business owners who constantly seek new ways to attract new customers and retain the ones they have at a relatively low cost.”

Also from the report, the SBSI found that nearly one out of five small business owners are actively using social media in their business. Small businesses are increasingly investing in social media applications, including blogs, Facebook® and LinkedIn® profiles. The biggest expectation small business owners have from social media is expanding external marketing and engagement, including identifying and attracting new customers, building brand awareness and staying engaged with customers.  Sixty-one percent of the respondents indicated that they use social media to identify and attract new customers. Listen to a podcast on how small businesses are leveraging social media for customer engagement at http://bit.ly/JayEhret

Really Cool Statistics

Small business owners use social media to attract new customers:

  • 75% surveyed have a company page on a social networking site
  • 61% use social media for identifying and attracting new customers
  • 57% have built a network through a site like LinkedIn
  • 45% expect social media to be profitable in the next twelve months

Small business owners still have concerns with social media:

  • 50% of small business social media users say it takes more time than expected
  • 17% express that social media gives people a chance to criticize their business on the Internet
  • Only 6% feel that social media use has hurt the image of the business more than helped it

“Social media levels the playing field for small businesses by helping them deliver customer service,” says Janet Wagner, director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Time spent on Twitter®, Facebook® and blogs is an investment in making it easier for small businesses to compete.”

People Are Getting More Creative

The main theme of this edition of the report is “Creativity as a strategy for success”. From the report, the executive summary mentions how “Small businesses are highly successful in getting referrals from existing customers, but struggle to be creative and differentiate themselves.” The major ways that small businesses differentiate themselves from competitors are:

  • Superior customer service (78 percent)
  • Higher quality products and services (76 percent)
  • Creative ideas to address customers’ needs (65 percent)
  • Lower prices (44 percent)

Among these four areas of differentiation, superior service and creativity are correlated with competitive success, while quality and low prices make little difference to small business success.   Perhaps everyone claims to have high quality, making it a marginal strategy for differentiation, while cutting prices is not sustainable for small enterprises that lack the economies of scale to keep costs low.

About the SBSI Report and Other Key Findings

In addition to tracking how small business owners use technology, the SBSI Index measures how they are doing in six key areas of business: capital access, marketing and innovation, workforce, customer service, computer technology and compliance.

Other key findings from the December 2009 Small Business Success Index include:

Small businesses experience positive effects from the economic downturn:

  • 72%  have found ways to operate more efficiently (up significantly from 66% in June)
  • 47% have been led to find new products and services that benefit customers
  • 43% have become better teams as hard times force people to work together

Building online presence continues to be key focus for small businesses:

  • Company Web sites are a top technology investment in the next two years, with small businesses either adding new features/functionality to their existing Web sites or building one from scratch.
  • The ability to showcase their products and services online to attract new customers is second in the hierarchy of technology investments small business owners plan to make in the next two years.
  • Social media investments rank third in small business investments to be made in the next two years.

Come On You Know You Are Dying to Read the Rest of It

To download a copy of the Small Business Success Index and also find out how your business scores on the six key dimensions of small business success, visit www.growsmartbusiness.com.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Social Media in Action Part Two: How a Farm Has Achieved Inbound Marketing Success

May 5th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

My last blog post, Social Media in Action Part One: How a Farm Cultivates Fans on Facebook, looked at one significant aspect of Great Country Farms’ (GCF) successful inbound marketing program.  With the help of public relations, social media, and event planning expert Christine Geno of Geno Communications, GCF grew their Facebook fan page 580% in 8 ½ months—and for 4 ½ of those months, they were closed (not much going on at a farm in northern Virginia during the winter months).

Just to recap quickly: GCF is a 200 acre working farm owned by the Zurschmeide family nestled at the base of the BlueGreat Country Farms logo Ridge Mountains in small, historic, rural, and beautiful Bluemont, VA.  They are part of the thriving tourism industry in Loudoun County, VA that is heavily promoted in and around the metro Washington, DC area and the Mid-Atlantic region.  Though they have gotten promotional help from Loudoun County’s very active tourism board, the Zurschmeides have done a great deal of work themselves to promote their farm.

So what is GCF and why do they attract so many fans?  Their tagline “Buy Local.  Play Local.  Eat Local.” pretty much describes what they are. GCF offers organic farm shares from May through October (list is full for 2010, but you can get on a wait list for 2011); rents their facilities for special events, and provides a fun farm experience for us city-folk, including picking produce, climbing and playing on old tractor and farming equipment, going on hayrides, shopping at their farm market/store, and petting and feeding farm animals.

In addition to cultivating a robust, active, and enthusiastic fan base on Facebook, GCF and Chris Geno (her company’s website is under construction) are successfully using several platforms to drive their inbound marketing strategy.

  • Twitter. Kate Zurschmeide tweets what GCF is currently planting and picking, and, as mentioned in the first post, their Twitter account is linked to their Facebook account, so all GCF Facebook posts are also tweeted.  Chris Geno then retweets via her own Twitter account, and her tweets are also often retweeted by others, including the local tourism board. Chris has a large media following on Twitter and has strategically positioned her Twitter account to follow media, event planners, moms groups, etc.
  • Newsletter. Members of their CSA and Fans of the Farm (aka, season pass holders—yes, there is a daily admission to the farm) receive a monthly newsletter that includes special events and promotions, recipes, farm news, produce information, and more.
  • Theme weeks. To boost attendance during the week, GCF decided to get creative and
    “theme” each week they are open.  “Future Farmers”, “Dirt Dirt Dirt!”, “Flower Power”, Berrylicious”, and “Cowabunga” are a handful of examples.
  • Auction items. GCF sometimes donates gift certificates for birthday parties to local auctions/benefits for worthy causes.
  • Military perks. Entrance fees are waived for anyone with a military ID, which Chris advertises on the USO’s and various moms group Facebook pages.
  • Bumper stickers.  Lots of cars sport black and white oval “GCF” bumper stickers in northern Virginia.  Cheap, mobile advertising!  Can’t beat it.
  • Cross promotions. Directly across from the entrance driveway to GCF is a driveway leading to Bluemont Vineyard, which is co-owned by the Zurschmeides.  Both the winery and farm cross promote each other. This is a unique situation, of course, but one they fully take advantage of.  As a result, the winery is kid- and dog-friendly and full of picnicking families during weekend afternoons.
  • Festivals. Who doesn’t love a festival?  Starting with the Marshmallow Harvest and Egg Hunt in March and ending with the Pumpkin Chunkin Weekend in November, they are holding a total of 14 festivals this season.
  • Other online channels: Chris uses LinkedIn to promote events at GCF and videos of the farm are listed on YouTube
  • Advertising. GCF has moved away from traditional advertising (in local newspapers), and instead utilizes their own website, listings on tourism websites, and word-of-mouth advertising to promote the farm.

Great Country FarmsBecause of their extensive marketing efforts, GCF is a known entity in northern Virginia.  They have gotten a lot of coverage in the news media, on local blogs and television stations, their parking lot is packed on nice weekends from spring through fall, and rental demand for weddings, birthday parties, corporate retreats, and group events has taken off.   Not bad for a family farm, huh?

All photos courtesy of Great Country Farms.

How to Use Contest As An Effective Inbound Marketing Tool

April 30th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I love participating in contests.  The idea of getting something great for free has a magnetic pull on me, as it does for many people.   You can sponsor a big contest (Win a Trip to NYC and a $1,000 Shopping Spree!) or a small one (Win a 30 Minute Massage!)—it doesn’t really matter.  As long as you are giving away something people want, a contest is a great way to drive leads and boost your inbound marketing program.

To get the message out as widely as possible, cross-promote your contest on your website, in your e-signature, on the social media platforms you’re using, and in your newsletter and/or blog.  People have short memories, so be sure to mention the contest fairly often.  And remember that the whole reason you are giving something away is to attract new customers.  You’ll want to capture their name, company name (if applicable), address, phone number, and/or email address so you can add them to your database.

I have shoes on my mind as I write this, so let’s say I own a children’s shoe store that specializes in high-quality European and American-made shoes.  I am going to give away a different pair of shoes every month.  Here’s what I’d do:

Set up microsite. I’d add a microsite to my website and use it as the contest page.

Follow me. From my microsite, I’d ask people to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, even though those badges are already on my website.

Subscribe to newsletter or blog. Right under the form that people fill out to enter the contest, I’d ask people if they’d like to receive my e-newsletter and/or blog.

Spread message to friends on FB or Twitter. Once people have submitted the contest form, a new page would open up and I’d ask them if they’d like to tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter about the contest.  I’d provide links to both social media platforms that includes the link back to the contest microsite.

Link contest page to website. When people are done telling their friends about the contest, I’d add a “Finish” button to the page.  When they click on it, they’d be automatically redirected to the home page of my website.

Publicize results of contest. Without revealing too much information about the winner (first name, city, and state at most), I’d publicize the results of the contest everywhere and include a quote from the winner.  Great way to build community!

How to Kill Your Business, Or Lead Generation Gone Awry

April 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

During this past month, we, the Network Solutions bloggers, have been relentlessly driving home the fact that inbound marketing is vital to any business.  The whole point of inbound marketing is to continuously drive leads so that your sales funnel, and by extension, your back account, is always full.

So, I have to ask: Once you get those leads, what are you doing with them?  This is where you say, “I’m talking to them via email, Facebook, and Twitter and answering their questions. I’m also gently feeding them our value proposition while finding out what their needs are.  As a result, I’m converting them to new business.”

But if you’re not saying that, what’s going on?  It can be easy to focus so intently on the needs of your current clients that you forget about cultivating potential clients.  If you want to kill your business, here’s what to do:

  1. Ignore comments and messages on social media. You already make time every day to reply to email, so set aside additional time to answer direct messages on Facebook and Twitter and reply to comments left on your blog.
  2. Only market your business sporadically. To keep a steady flow of potential customers coming in the door, so to speak, you have to be consistent in your marketing efforts.  That means setting up an online ad program, making sales calls and going to networking events even when you’re really busy, and so on.
  3. Send out newsletters and blog posts randomly. As stated above, you have to be consistent.  Publish your newsletter and blog at regular intervals.  Your newsletter should go out at the same time every month and your blog posts should be published on the same day(s) every week.
  4. Don’t bother with a mission statement. You need to know what problem(s) you solve for your clients, so potential clients will instantly understand why they need your product or service.  You also need to have a concise elevator speech so you can quickly answer the oft-asked question, “What is it your company does?”
  5. Confuse people once they’re on your website. Is your company’s mission statement front and center on your home page?  Is your website easy to navigate?  Do you make it easy for people to reach you by phone and email?  Are the benefits of your product(s) and/or service(s) clearly stated?   If people have to search for any of this information, kiss them goodbye.  They’re busy, and they’re not going to bother.
  6. Keep messaging inconsistent. Use the same language, industry terms, tone of voice, and style in all of your messaging, including on your website and in your marketing materials, newsletter, and blog.
  7. Un-brand yourself. Not only does your messaging need to be consistent, so does your look.  If your company looks sloppy and disorganized, potential clients might think your work is, too.  Find a graphic designer you like, and use them for everything: logo, stationery, business cards, website, brochures, etc.

Social Media in Action Part One: How a Farm Cultivated Dedicated Fans via Facebook

April 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

If you live in northern Virginia and have kids, you have either heard of or been to Great Country Farms (GCF).  It is a Great Country Farms Logo200 acre working farm owned by the Zurschmeide family nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in small, historic, rural, and beautiful Bluemont, VA.  GCF is just part of the thriving tourism industry in Loudoun County, VA that is heavily promoted in and around the metro Washington, DC area and the Mid-Atlantic region.  The undeveloped and scenic western part of the county is bursting with charming bed and breakfasts, numerous award-winning wineries, quaint, Revolutionary War-era towns and villages, and gracious, historic manor homes.

The Zurschmeides have done a great deal of work to promote their farm.  Without even looking at their website, I can tell you that GCF offers us city-folk a chance to experience farming in a fun, innovative way.  I can join their CSA (community supported agriculture) and receive farm shares from May through October, hold a wedding, corporate retreat, or birthday party at their facilities, or visit their farm and pick produce, let my kids climb and play on old tractor and farming equipment, go on a hayride, buy their produce and other delectable homemade goods at their farm market/store, pet and feed animals and sample wine at Bluemont Vineyard, which is directly across the street from GCF (and which the Zurschmeides co-own, too).

Now, farms aren’t normally associated with social media, but GCF have embraced it.  Because the Zurschmeides are so busy running a farm and managing special events, they were smart enough to quickly realize that they couldn’t keep up with social media and PR, too.  Last summer they hired someone to do it for them.  Christine Geno, President of Geno Communications (website under construction) and a Loudoun County-based PR, social media, and event planning expert in the hospitality and travel and tourism industry, stepped in and delivered incredible inbound marketing results with Facebook.

When Chris took over GCF’s Facebook page last summer, they had around 350 fans.  In 8 ½ months, their fanbaseKids feeding goat at Great Country Farm grew by 580%.  When you realize that GCF is basically closed for 4 ½ months (from mid-November to the end of March), those stats are even more impressive.  Chris told me that a couple of weeks ago, they gained 139 fans in one week.  Here’s what Chris does to cultivate such rapid Facebook fan growth:

  • Cross-promote GCF. Chris posts whatever she posts on GCF’s Facebook page to her page (she is very well connected), community and mom pages (of which they are apparently a lot), and a few really popular local pages, like the Northern Virginia Real Estate Times (who knew?).
  • Encourage dialogue. People are eager to share, and Chris encourages it.  She asks people what their favorite feature of the farm is or if they have photos of a recent visit to share.  And they do!  They post photos, videos, questions, comments, and what they did while at GCF.
  • Build a community. When people ask questions, other fans are eager to jump in and answer.  Chris will also do quite a bit of behind-the-scenes research to answer questions, too.  As a result, GCF is becoming an important player in the sustainable, organic, and all-natural food movement.
  • Link to other social media networks. Chris has GCF’s Facebook page linked to GCF’s Twitter account, and she has her personal LinkedIn and Twitter account linked to her personal Facebook profile, so GCF posts get automatically reposted to 2 other networks, too, increasing each post’s reach.  (Chris uses HootSuite to manage all of these accounts.) Other FB users and Twitter followers then repost or retweet, which broadens the outreach even more. The FB posts also help with GCF’s ranking on Google.
  • Links to media: Chris’s Facebook posts are followed by a wide range of local, regional, national, and international print and online travel and news media, thus enabling her to reach them with news of events and updates from GCF.
  • Promote Facebook constantly. “Become a fan” is prominently featured on all press releases Chris sends out, and the FB and Twitter buttons are right on the GCF website’s home page.

GCF’s numerous promotional efforts don’t begin and end with Facebook, though.  In my next post, I’ll share their other highly successful marketing efforts.

All photos courtesy of Great Country Farms.

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

Three Secrets on Effective Social Media that Actually Work

April 20th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Dr. Alan Glazier of Shady Grover Eye and Vision Care here in the Virginia area. They have been in business since 1993 and always early adopters of technology. They registered their domain and built their web site in 1996. Over these last 15 years the web site got them a foothold in search engines and as the web has evolved they have evolved with it. They use the site extensively for customer service and were an early adopter of social media and have seen tremendous value being a small business. This is especially for those customers who are younger and it connects with those patients and potential customers who see that they use the same tools they do. They have gotten rid of all print advertising, even the yellow pages.

Shashi sat down with him recently and discussed the evolution of technology in his small business and how it has changed the way they do business and will carry them forward. He has three great secrets that you will have to watch the interview (or head straight to 6:05 in the video below) and find out. The interview is below:

Integrating Social CRM into your Inbound Marketing Strategy

April 19th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

I am sure you have all heard of the term, CRM which stands for Customer Service Management. CRM systems have been around for the last two decades have taken on all shapes (sales focused, customer service focused), sizes (small teams and enterprises) and technology approaches (local installations and cloud services). They generally have five major functions – lead management, opportunity management, account management, document management and reports/analytics. For the most part this hasn’t really changed, only the processes and approaches to convert those at the beginning of the pipeline as a prospect to the end of the pipeline where they become a customer. Sure there are tools and other stuff to manage the customer when they have issues or want to order more stuff in the future but things in the last two years have seen a shift in the way we view the customer and communicate with them.

I am of course talking about social media.

Gone are the days of one-way communications or a back a forth with emails and phone calls. Social media means two-way engagement and at some times hearing customers talk about your company and your products in ways you might not be happy about. You have one of two choices at this point in time – ignore them and their voices will get louder and you will be considered obsolete or engage and talk to them hearing their concerns and responding in a transparent way so others see you as a company that actually cares about its customers.

So I have talked about CRM and social media. Let me introduce you to the concept of Social CRM.

I know, I know, everybody is slapping the word “social” on everything like they did with “e-” in 2000. I will give you that Social Media is on a groundswell right now but the concept of Social CRM is a great one and true evolution in a technology that needs a breathe of fresh air. Here is a great example of traditional CRM and Social CRM:

(photo: Hurricane Agency)

Barack Obama, the Social CRM president

I was introduced to the concept of social CRM about two years ago by two friends, Brent Leary and David Bullock. They were following the campaign of this freshman Senator from Chicago that had just announced his run for the presidency. His name of course, Barack Obama. Senator Obama had assembled many talented people including young innovative campaign marketing staffers who began leveraging social media tools to build a community and begin what many call a movement to get Senator Obama elected. Over the course of the campaign, Brent and David created a site called Barack 2.0 and tracked all the tools utilized to create a comprehensive Social CRM system to help him get elected. It is a fascinating study and they eventually published a successful book on this entire process and you can check it out at the site Barack 2.0.

The 18 Use Cases of Social CRM

Fast forward two years and many companies have integrated Social CRM into their solutions. Many companies have attempted to implement some form of Social CRM process and last month, The Altimeter Group put together a great paper on 18 Use Cases of Social CRM and it is summarized in this chart below:

You can see that the use cases follow the segments of a typical CRM system the key here. You can read the full paper at http://www.slideshare.net/jeremiah_owyang/social-crm-the-new-rules-of-relationship-management and dive deep into the analysis.

Three Steps You Can Do to Integrate Social CRM into your Inbound Marketing Strategy

1.) Start Talking About it With Your Team – Now if you are a small business that team may be just you and in other cases it might be 50 people. In all cases you should look at the chart above and see which functions could be served by a Social CRM solution.

2.) Evaluate Your Social CRM Software Options – There are many Social CRM tools available for your small business. Some products, like BatchBlue CRM were launched from the beginning as a Social CRM solution. There are many others like Salesforce.com and Siebel that are adding Social CRM functionality to their solutions. If you already use these tools see how you can utilize these functions and if not, look around the web and search on “Social CRM software” to see your options.

3.) Integrate Social CRM practices into your inbound marketing processes – The only way to start using this is by doing it. If your company isn’t on Twitter, sign up. If it doesn’t have a fan page, make one and start promoting it. Learn what customers are using social media tools and engage with them. Social CRM software can help but ultimately your inbound marketing activities will use your Social CRM tool as a hub.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

How to Make E-Mail Marketing Core to Inbound Marketing Success

April 16th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

We have all used e-mail in some capacity for our online communications, almost all have received emails promoting something and many of you reading this have used e-mail to market a product or service.

There are great e-mail marketing companies like Network SolutionsConstant Contact, MailChimpCampaign Monitor and Blue Sky Factory to name a few. There are many others so we are not recommending a particular one, only to let you know that you can find one that serves your needs and your price point. These days, they all address the needs of social media and as in my interview with John Arnold of Constant Contact, John says “Share, is the new Forward button”.

Power of e-Mail in Your Inbound Marketing Efforts

You might think that e-mail is an old technology and not part of this “inbound marketing” thing but you would be wrong. In fact, it is one of the most important components you can have in your inbound marketing strategy. One of the core things you can do as a small business is create an e-mail newsletter. It could contain products you sell, knowledge you have or things you have found across the web. Whatever it is, Monika Jansen, one of our talented writers here at GrowSmartBusiness, mapped out eight great ways to have a stellar e-mail newsletter and they are:

  1. Send it to the right people. Know who your audience is (hint, it is not everyone in your address book!).  Unless you put together a solid list of people who would find your newsletter useful, few people will read it.  Keep in mind that whether you use Network SolutionsConstant ContactVertical Response, or someone else, you cannot buy a list and use it with their programs.
  2. Keep it short. Just like with blogs, no one has time to read a long article, let alone several long articles.  Include one article/topic of no more than 300 words.  If there is more information to share on that topic, write about it in your next e-newsletter or provide a hyperlink to your website in case readers would like to learn more.
  3. Make it easy to pass along. Be sure it’s easy for people to forward and subscribe to your newsletter.  Email marketing programs provide ways to do this in their templates.  Use them!  Remember, the more readers the better!
  4. Include graphics. Photos, illustrations, even charts or graphs will make your newsletter more interesting to read and look at.  Just be sure they are relevant to your topic.  I like to pull photos off of Flickr for this blog (type in Creative Commons in the Advanced Search box—you can use any of those photos), but most email marketing programs allow you to use photos in their gallery (you’ll have to pay for that feature). Be sure you give the photographer or artist credit for the graphic you are using.
  5. Use your logo and your logo/company colors. This is just good branding.  You want your readers to recognize your newsletter as yours.
  6. Keep format and delivery timetable consistent. People like consistency.  If you’re going to share a tip, an interview with a client, or a coupon, do it in every newsletter.  Figure out a delivery timetable and email your newsletter out around the same time, whether it’s every month, every other week, or every week.
  7. Let content build on previous topics. This will keep readers eager to hear what else you have to say on a subject, and it’s easier for you—you don’t have to keep thinking up new topics.
  8. Use attention-grabbing subject lines. The subject line that shows up in your readers’ inboxes must be intriguing.  It can be witty, sarcastic, silly, a little out-there, whatever.  It just needs to be compelling enough to get your reader to click on it.

Making E-Mail the Center of Your Inbound Marketing Hub

Here is the beauty of e-mail marketing as the center of your inbound marketing hub. Follow me on this one…

  • Use web site, Facebook Fan Page, and every other place to sign people up on newsletter
  • Make blog e-mail enabled for people that want that kind of delivery
  • Use e-mail delivery to bring people back using various promotions you can track
  • Enable social media sharing tools so readers can spread the word
  • Measure, Rinse, Repeat

On a related note, Amy Garland over at Blue Sky Factory wrote about e-mail and inbound marketing last year and has great advice on three question you need to ask first so you can effectively run an e-mail marketing campaign.

Are You Using E-Mail In Your Inbound Marketing Efforts

Are you currently using e-mail in your inbound marketing efforts? What do you find to be successful? Any best practices or lessons learned? Please leave a comment.