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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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How to Use Reddit for B2B Marketing

September 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Because I think the B2B marketing world does not revolve around the social media megasites of Facebook and Twitter, I decided over the summer to start devoting a blog post every month to unsung social media platforms.  In August, I turned the spotlight on Digg.  This month, I’ll be looking at Reddit

But first, what is Reddit?  According to the home page of their website:

reddit is a source for what’s new and popular online. vote on links that you like or dislike and help decide what’s popular, or submit your own!  [The all-lower-case thing is their doing.]

Here’s how it works:

Like Digg, it’s a user-generated news site. Once you create an account, you can submit stories that others can vote and comment on.  (Reddit is a play on words: “I read it on reddit.”)  For the first few hours, the stories do not display a vote tally. This helps prevent manipulation, ensures more organic voting, and dissuades the lemming effect.  The more up votes (as opposed to down votes), the higher the ranking and the more visibility your story will have.  Reddit has a lot of sub-categories (called communities) that users have created.  As a registered user, you can subscribe to the categories/communities that are most appealing to you.

They have a feature that I really like: The more items you submit that people like, the higher your karma score.  I know that sounds a little hokey, but a good karma score is actually validation that you are submitting good content that is worth reading.  The karma score lends you credibility, and it will attract people to your submissions.

Though Reddit is a news site like Digg, I would use it differently, as they really emphasize the news part.  Submit attention-grabbing industry news to help position you as a go-to source for information, and submit legitimate company news that would be of interest to your community’s members.  You can repurpose press releases, surveys and polls you conduct, and articles and white papers you write.  Because of the community emphasis, be sure to comment on other people’s submissions. 

After spending some time on Reddit, I’ve learned that it’s less of a free-for-all than Digg, very community-oriented, and more civilized.  They have etiquette guidelines, which discourage vote-grabbing and campaigning in favor of community preference.  (The guidelines were actually written by community members, not Reddit employees.)    Each of Reddit’s communities also has moderators to set parameters and, well, moderate comments.

Social Media and Competitive Intelligence: What You Need to Know

August 19th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

When you’re posting information to your Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook accounts, anyone can see it. That includes your customers, of course, but it also includes your competition. Social media can provide incredible levels of competitive intelligence — information on what clients you’re working to land, where you’re traveling and even new products you’re going to roll out.

In most cases, it isn’t obvious information. Rather, it’s a case of someone looking at what you’re doing and making a few assumptions. But if you’re traveling to a city where a big client resides, you may be broadcasting what you plan to do in that city without ever saying a word.

Don’t Give Up On Social Media

Using the tools available to gather competitive intelligence isn’t something new — most business owners still scour the news looking for information about the competition. It’s just a case of the tools changing. The big problem is that analysis has improved. We know more about social interaction: we can make an educated guess about why someone changed jobs (whether they were fired or they quit) just by looking at how their LinkedIn profile changes.

You can’t let that sort of improved analysis throw you, though. The benefits of using social media to reach out to potential customers are incredible and worth the chance that you’re broadcasting information your competition can use. But you can minimize the information that your competition can act on by carefully considering what you’re sharing. There’s no particular item that you should avoid posting, unfortunately. It’s a matter of thinking about the whole picture you’re portraying with what you’re posting.

Turning the Tables on the Competition

Especially if your competition is just getting into the social media game, you may have some opportunities to learn about what they’re up yourself. Make a point of following their activities across social networking sites as well as their blogs: that sort of information can help you plan how to respond to their new products or even get a head’s up if they’re in town to try to poach one of your clients. Since this information is out in the open — they’ve posted it themselves — it’s worthwhile to make use of it and learn from it where you can. Don’t let it turn into more of a focus than accomplishing what you need to on those same social networking sites, however: your marketing should come first

It can be tempting to post information that would lead a competitor astray on your social networking profiles. That may be taking things too far, however. Remember that you must balance the needs of those followers who actually want to buy something from you and your concerns about competitors. You want to post the best information you can for your followers and even something that is a little off can turn into a big problem as far as your social media efforts go.

Image by Flickr user Tony the Misfit

Leveraging Your Blog for your Inbound Marketing Efforts

August 12th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

In these days of social media marketing there are all sorts of tools that help you market but the most fundamental is your blog. It is funny that only six years ago all that everyone talked about was blogging. Now it has seemed to fade into the background and that is actually a good thing. A blog has become a fundamental component in an organizations communication strategy that if you do not have it included or have one running you will be perceived as behind the times.

But let’s face it, writing for writing sake can be fun in some cases but in this case you are looking for customers. The term inbound marketing is the opposite of outbound marketing (i.e. cold calls, email marketing) and it is focused on getting the customer to come to you on their own. One of the best way to do this is through blogs.

A few great ways to use you blog for inbound marketing are:

Forms for downloading content – You want to drive leads to your site and the best way to do that is give something away. These can be white papers and ebooks or other types of content that people want. One thing to keep in mind is that your content doesn’t have to be completely new. It can be repackaged blog posts in a new context along with some updated content.

Surveys and polls – This is a great and quick way to engage the reader. People that read your blog have an opinion and if you are looking to learn from them, do a survey or a poll. It can also be a great way to test new features or content types that people might want in the future. Don’t forget to make a blog post about the survey, it will bring people to the site to engage.

Most of all….provide fresh content – This continues to establish you as an authority and search engines love it. They see that as a site that is new and with linking and trackbacks it builds your search engine juice.

So don’t just look at a blog as a necessary evil you have to “deal with” and “write for” but a real communications channel that can engage and make new sales in ways you never thought possible.

Podcasting: The Underused Marketing Tool with Big Potential

August 2nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

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

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

 To quote Jay directly:

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

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

Here’s how you could use a podcast: 

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

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

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

How to Win Friends and Influence People

July 30th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

The lessons and advice imparted in Dale Carnegie’s ground breaking 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People are as useful today as they were then.  Think about the reasons we small business owners spend time and money on marketing, especially social media: We want to connect with current and prospective clients and convince them that they need our product or service.  To do that, we need to know exactly how to connect with them, and this is where the book comes in.

Dale CarnegieThe only way on earth to influence the other fellow is to talk about what he wants and show him how to get it.  Dale Carnegie

Dale’s book is centered on one simple fact.  People want to feel important.  It’s just human nature.  We like praise and hate criticism.  Praise makes us feel important, while criticism makes us feel like losers.  And, as Dale also points out in the book, we spend around 95% of our time thinking about ourselves.  So, when you want to make someone do something, stop and think how you can make that person want to do it. 

If there is any one secret of success, it lays in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as from your own.  Henry Ford

My absolute favorite piece of sales advice, which speaks to Mr. Ford’s quote above, is that you need to show people how you can solve their problem, and they will buy from you.   We all strive to do this, but do we always do it?  Probably not. 

The book is broken down into six sections, but I’m only covering the second and third, because I think are the most important.  All of the following advice is common sense and highly applicable to most any situation (the final section, in fact, is titled Seven Rules for Making Your Home Life Happier).

Here are Dale Carnegie’s Six Ways To Make People Like You:

  1. Show a genuine interest in people. 
  2. Smile!  You’ll feel better and so will the person you are talking to. 
  3. Remember names.  “A person’s name is to him (or her) the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
  4. Be a good listener.  Encourage others to talk about themselves.  After all, we are our own favorite subjects!
  5. Discuss with the person whatever his or her interests are.  Teddy Roosevelt use to study his guests’ favorite subjects before they’d visit him at his Oyster Bay estate on Long Island so he could talk knowledgeably about it with them.
  6. Always make the other person feel important.  Remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?   Make others feel important, appreciated, valued and be sincere when you do!   

And here are 12 Ways To Win People To Your Way Of Thinking:

  1. The only way to win an argument is to avoid one.  Unless it’s a matter of life or death, let the person think they’re right, even if they’re not. 
  2. Show respect for someone else’s opinion.  Don’t tell that person they’re wrong for having that opinion, even if you think it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.
  3. If you’re wrong, admit it immediately.
  4. Begin your persuasive argument in a friendly, not hostile or defensive, way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes” rather than “no” by emphasizing the things on which you agree.  If you can, emphasize that you and this other person want exactly the same thing and that your only difference is method, not purpose.
  6. Let the other person do most of the talking.  (See #4 in the above section!)  Don’t pretend you have all the answers.  Let the person describe their business and problems to you, because they know these things better than you do.
  7. Let the other person think that the idea is his or hers.  Ask for his or her advice or help in solving a matter.  Then you can gently steer that person in the direction you want them to go.
  8. Play the devil’s advocate, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view, not just your own.  Show that you understand that person, what they need, and what they want.
  9. Be sympathetic to the other person’s ideas and desires.  If you want to stop an argument, create goodwill, and make the other person listen attentively, say “I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do.  If I were you, I’d feel the same way, too.”  
  10. Appeal to noble motives, such as honesty, fairness, and honor.  Think about celebrities asking the paparazzi not to take photos of their young children.  “Photos of me are fine, but please respect my baby’s privacy—there are too many creeps out there.”
  11. Dramatize your ideas.  The best Super Bowl ads do this.  You might not like beer, let alone Bud Light, but after watching one of their funny commercials, you’ll certainly remember it.
  12. Throw down a challenge.  Everyone wants to show off the fact that they’re better than someone else.

Women in Business: Marketing Strategy For Everyone! Part 2

July 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Emily RichardsBecause my friend Emily Richards of Drew Consulting, a full-service marketing consulting firm based in Falls Church, VA, had so much to say about marketing strategy and small businesses, I divided my interview with her into two parts.  You can read Part 1 here

Care to share a couple of success stories?

My client’s success is my success. I was brought in last summer to make recommendation on a project in Boston, MA for a residential construction client. The investors were ready to finalize the deal (and it goes without saying my client was as well). After we conducted our market research, the deal didn’t pencil. Our recommendation, while not popular, was to not pursue the deal. They reviewed our research and recommendation and killed the deal. It was a success for us in that while we didn’t provide our client with the information they were hoping to obtain, we contributed to ensuring they maintained a solid portfolio and didn’t compromise on a bad development decision.

Another was a strategy session for a start up client. They brought us in to conduct a session with their employees to ensure that everyone understood the purpose and direction of the company. At the time, the team was only about 10 people. As the session was conducted, you could see individuals making the connection of the business’s passion, their own individual purpose and how the two ‘fit together’. While this certainly didn’t have quantifiable results, the company has continued to grow successfully and is an incredibly close knit organization.

I’m always curious as to how other small business owners market their business. So, how do you market your’s?

Often, I find myself so entrenched in marketing other companies that I neglect the marketing of my own company. Most clients come by way of referral and word of mouth. We have begun branching out in traditional methods of marketing including, eblasts, social media campaigns and direct mail to companies in the area that are identified as growing/expanding companies that could potentially be in need of our services.

If you could give 3 pieces of advice to a small business owner putting together a marketing plan, what would they be?

1)      Don’t neglect the exercise

I’ve seen start up businesses and established businesses, alike, fail to place importance on creating a formal business plan and strategy. It is difficult to express your vision and purpose if you haven’t taken the time to sit down and think through high level goals and objectives for your business. In my opinion, it could make or break your entire vision. These goals and objectives are the premise upon which we build strategies.

2)      Be flexible (to the change and evolution of your original plan)

I had a client come to me last week and apologize. He wanted to make significant changes to a strategy he previously approved. While I certainly don’t encourage serial modifiers, you must be realistic that the strategy may (and will) change dependent on a myriad of factors within and out your of your control.

3)      Be thoughtful (both in current objectives and long term goals)

Don’t haphazardly select strategy initiatives. Just because your largest competitor launched a twitter contest, it doesn’t mean you should (necessarily) go out and implement the same. If you were to replicate their campaign, what outcome would you wish to achieve? If you say ‘just because my competitor has a twitter campaign’ is rarely sufficient to jump in head first without thoughtfully contemplating your desired outcome and overall results.

Using Social Media and e-Mail Campaigns for a one-two marketing punch

July 23rd, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

For the last few years people have been working with social media tools trying to increase customer acquisition and web site click through rates (CTR). Social media is at its very basic a conversation and anyone with an opinion or content can join in that conversation. This is different from e-mail which offers a more personalized and intimate level of contact with your customer.

GetResponse‘s “Email Marketing and Social Media Integration Report” found that the inclusion of social media sharing buttons in email generated click-through rates around 30% higher than email sent with no sharing options. The also says that “a Twitter button proved to be the most effective, increasing click-through rates by 40% but in order to garner the highest rates, around 55%, more than one social media button needed to be incorporated”.

Aweber has some great tips on how to leverage social media and e-mail campaigns together:

  • Occasionally, you may want to broadcast a brilliant newsletter beyond your list. Follow these steps to tweet your newsletter and show the Twitterverse the value of your emails. Put a sign-up form in the newsletter for new converts.
  • Post a sign-up form on your Facebook fan page. Your fans’ contacts will see any posts they make about you, and potential fans can also find your fan page via search. If they click over to your page, a sign-up form instantly invites them to join your list.
  • People who start following you via social media need a reason to subscribe by email, too. Make your web form is clearly visible, and try offering an extra incentive for signing up.
  • You aren’t the only one who can hype your campaign: your readers can, too.Buttons to share your emails on social networks offer opportunities to promote your message – and give you a chance to go viral. also has some great tips on making the most of your social media and e-mail marketing mix:

Make the most of the social media and e-mail marketing mix.
E-mail and social media marketing can work together to build on what each does best. Here are five things you need to know so you can make the most of the social media and e-mail marketing mix:

  1. Be where your customers are. You won’t know whether your customers are on social media sites, and which ones in particular, unless you test the waters and look for them. Different people prefer different means of getting their daily info and opinion fix. Millions like the streaming feed of Twitter. Others prefer the posts on Facebook. More professionally oriented people may use LinkedIn. You want to swim in the channels that are frequented by your customers and prospects.
  2. Use your e-mail list to build a social media presence. The big question we get from e-mail marketers is how to get that snowball rolling down the social media mountain. Here’s the good news: The secret is your e-mail list. Use it to jump-start your social media presence by inviting your subscribers to follow you on Twitter and become your fan on Facebook. They will get the ball rolling for you. How do you engage prospects on social media websites? The same way as with e-mail marketing: valuable, relevant, interesting content.
  3. Repurpose content from your newsletter. Content is still king. That applies to social media, too. You don’t need to create brand-new content to engage people on social networking sites. Instead, repurpose snippets of articles you’ve already created (or aggregated) for your e-mail newsletter. Think of these as “microcontent”-one tip, one idea, one article you found interesting. A teaser and a link back to your archived newsletter or blog is all the content you need to get started posting on social media sites.
  4. Invite people back to your website or blog. If your website is your online hub or headquarters, then think of social media sites as your satellites. They allow you to extend your business presence. When you post on social media, be sure to include frequent links back to your website, newsletter archive or blog, where interested people can learn more about your business. Then you can engage potential customerson a deeper level, away from the distractions of the social media world. Just be sure you’re not always selling; social media is better-suited for sharing information and expertise.
  5. Ask for mailing list sign-ups on multiple channels. Use your e-mail list to build a presence on social media sites, then use your presence on the sites to invite even more people to sign up for your mailing list. Put a link to your sign-up form on multiple channels, including your website and Facebook fan page. Tweet about your newsletter articles on Twitter, linking readers back to your newsletter archive, where they can sign up for your mailing list.

Your Email and Social Media Tactics

Have you tried any of these methods with your campaigns? Are you seeing a change in the relationships you have with customers and email newsletter subscribers?

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Tweetchat Recap on Blogging Effectively to Market Your Small Business

July 7th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Shashi Bellamkonda wrote this great recap on the Tweetchat held on June 24th where the topic was about blogging effectively to market your small business. It is over at Small Business Trends but here are a few highlights:

  • When thinking about blogging, companies should think about goals first. What info you want to share and who will blog?
    • Content creation  -getting in habit of looking at daily business from blogging perspective (@eyeinfo)
  • Reasons to blog: Thought leadership, education, seo, branding, customer service and event promo
    • The blog is the hub or center of your business community, usually. Another key reason to maintain a blog w/social links (@CreativeSage)
  • Should SEO be a top consideration when starting a Blog?
    • SEO is a great goal but for a business blog, I feel that producing content that is useful to the reader is most important (@bethschillaci)
    • SEO should be a constant consideration for your blog, but content is always King. SEO is a tool.

Go to the full article to check out the whole recap.

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5 Tips for Integrating Ecommerce into Your Blog Content

June 8th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

A blog can be an effective way to sell products if you have an ecommerce store. You can provide readers with a reason to look at your products week after week, as well as convince them that your product is exactly the tool that they need. But promoting products through a blog must be handled carefully: if your blog is nothing but posts about how great your product is, not only won’t you make any sales, but it’s likely that you won’t have any readers, either. These tips will help you integrate your ecommerce efforts into your blog without scaring off your customers.

  1. Provide tutorials for your products: If you can show your prospective customers how to use your product to its fullest potential, along with some of the great results they can expect, you can avoid your posts looking like just another product example. Taking tutorials a step beyond and bringing in past customers to talk about their experiences using your products can provide social proof that your products are particularly useful.
  2. Write about specific problems: Your prospective customers have specific problems that your products (hopefully) will solve. Those problems can provide extensive topics for blog posts. You can write about how those problems can occur, the right mindset with which to tackle them and other information your audience will find useful. Then, at the end of such posts, you can give a quick mention tying in your products.
  3. Review relevant products: Go beyond your own products and discuss those tools and services that work will with what you’re offering. If, for instance, you’re selling pianos, you could review piano tuners, piano movers, piano teachers, sheet music and much more. You can also review the competition, but that can be a tricky proposition — you don’t want to look like your bashing the other guys, but you also don’t want your customers to think that the competition is actually better.
  4. Discuss the process behind the product: If you have a story about how you came to be in business, tell it to your customers. Put up profiles of the people involved in your company. Explain how you operate. Your customers want to know about what goes on behind the scenes — why you do the things you do. Give them that information and they’ll quickly come to feel like they know you.
  5. Explain problems: It’s a rare business where everything goes right every day. If something goes wrong, though, you shouldn’t try to ignore it. Instead, bring it out in the open on your blog and explain how you’re resolving the issue. You can actually come out ahead with a problem, provided that you can show your prospective clients that you take their concerns seriously and are willing to move heaven and earth to make sure that they’re happy.

There are plenty of other ways to discuss your products on a blog without overwhelming your readers, but these five approaches will offer plenty of variety in your posts, no matter what you’re selling online.

Image by Flickr user inju

Finding Nirvana – Book Review of "The Zen of Social Media Marketing" by Shama Hyder

May 14th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

So are you a “Zen Master of Marketing”? Most likely, no. However, I am confident that after you sit down and read “The Zen of Social Media Marketing” by Shama Hyder Kabani you will feel like you have got a handle on this “social media thing”.

Learning how to get social media to “ACT” the way you want it to

She starts the book with the required basics to lay a foundation for even the newest of social media practitioners. What she then does is lay a foundation for how you approach social media in a 1-2-3 phase methodology called “ACT”. “ACT” stands for “Attract, Convert, Transform” and that forms the core of how you should look at each tool in your social media marketing toolbox. If it can’t help you do that and you don’t have a plan to make it happen then you need to revisit why you are using that tool and get a plan of action together.

Who is this book really for?

From Shama’s introduction she says “if you are responsible for marketing in any shape or form, this guide is written for you. Perhaps you are a small business owner responsible for attracting your own customers or clientele, or perhaps you’re an employee at a huge firm who is responsible for your company’s social media efforts. Maybe you want to get the word out about your nonprofit. It doesn’t matter; the principles are all the same.

While I would agree with that, I would add that if you are new to social media or have just dabbled in it then this book is perfect for you. If you have been doing this for six months or more you have probably learned many of these things through trial and error. However, in each social media area she covers, there are some in-depth looks that everyone should read. I really like how she dives into the user experience and layout of these applications explaining what each thing is for and why it might be relevant or not for you and your business.

My favorite part of her “who this is for” is how she lays it out for those who the book is not for at all. She says “This guide is not for those who want to become overnight millionaires, internet marketers looking to turn a quick buck, or those looking to grow their Facebook friend count so they can spam those friends.” Love that.

There is Much to Learn and This Book Delivers

As you move through the book you will notice many real life examples and case studies from real small businesses who have seen what works and what doesn’t. That approach makes a book real. Not a lecturing diatribe like some other social media books out there nor a 50,000 fly over of major sections with the usual toolbox suspects (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Digg). What I really like the most and what I think you will get out of this is that using social media is one part toolkit and two parts conversation/community. It is very clear that not everything will work for you and that you must find your own social media voice to create a solution that is successful for your small business. You will fail but I have saying “if you haven’t failed then really haven’t tried hard enough”.

For More Info and To Buy the Book

As someone that practices what she preaches she has a great online and social media presence for the book. You can find the web site for the book at

She also has provided bonus resources for those who know the secret passphrase, but you will have to buy the book to find that out. You can find the book online at all major outlets below:

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