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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
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Thought Leadership Articles

Small Biz Resource Tip:

October 14th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

What’s hot in marketing may not always work for your business product or service, but it’s always a good idea to see what the other guys are doing and whether or not it works. eMarketer is a mountain of information you can either choose to spend hours on or a few valuable minutes. From reports and studies you can pay for and download, to interesting quick reads on the latest findings from a marketing survey, it’s worth your time to keep up on what marketing tactics are working to catch the consumer’s discriminating eye.

Using Content Curation To Become a Thought Leader

August 11th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Ever hear of content curation?  Neither did I, til I signed up for another fabulous American Marketing Association webinar on that topic last month.  Pawan Deshpande, Founder and CEO of HiveFire, and Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, collaborated to present the informative, funny, and very interesting webinar.  Here’s what I learned:

Thought leaders share four qualities:

  1. They distill information into key insights
  2. They foresee new directions their industry is taking and set trends based on that information
  3. They are trusted, go-to authorities for information
  4. They look for patterns in trends and news and report on those patterns

Chris Brogan

So, what a thought leader will do is identify a topic they think is worth pursuing.  They’ll do research on that topic and produce a report, article, blog, white paper, or whatever.  Then they repurpose the content for different uses, distribute it, and start all over again.

The reason it’s so important to become a thought leader in an industry is due to the power of influence.  You want to not only influence your prospective clients but, most importantly, have them seek you out, rather than vice versa.  Remember, though, that thought leadership is NOT about tooting your own horn.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: no one cares about you, they only care about themselves.

So let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about content.  Content marketing evolved as the cost of publishing information nose-dived.  Thanks to the internet, free blog software, and numerous social networking platforms, anyone can publish and distribute content for the price of a high-speed internet connection.  This, as we well know, has lead to its own complications. There’s just so much out there!  And because marketers struggle to get found, they publish tons of stuff and distribute it on as many mediums as possible.  So now there’s this vicious cycle going that is expensive, time-consuming, and creating content marketers rather than thought leaders.

Pawan Deshpande

Pawan Deshpande

This is where content curation comes into the picture.  Rohit Bhargava defined it very nicely: “A content curator finds, groups, organizes, and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific topic online.”  Think the Drudge Report, TMZ, the Huffington Post.  Because these companies are so good at content curation, they have become thought leaders.  We go to them for our information.

To become a thought leader using content curation, you have to first decide if content curation is a good marketing strategy for you.  Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is your brand focused on an issue and do you have an innovative perspective on that issue? 
  2. Do your prospects conduct a lot of research on this issue?

If you answered yes, then here’s what you do:

  1. Distill information into key insights
  2. Provide fresh perspective on a topic (or topics) within your industry

As always, easier said than done!

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!

The New Business Plan

June 11th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I did not write a business plan when I started my business.  One of my strengths is also one of my weaknesses: I am terribly impatient. I like to do; I do not hem, haw, and stall.  From my point of view, writing a traditional business plan is a total waste of time for small business people like me. I am a one-woman shop, registered as a sole proprietor, and happy to stay small for the time being.  Traditional business plans are for companies that need a lot of financing, are highly scalable, and entering a competitive—or soon to be competitive—marketplace.

(Before you start posting comments about the importance of having some kind of plan in place, keep reading.  I do agree that it is absolutely important to articulate your business goals, the competitive advantage of your product(s) or service(s), and your sales and marketing strategy.  I will even admit that I wish I had done two things when starting out: researched my competition so that I priced my services appropriately from the get-go, and really thought about which industries I’d prefer to work with and which projects I enjoyed writing and editing the most so that I could build up expertise faster in those areas.)

The always provocative Seth Godin recently wrote a great blog post on a modern business plan.  He argues that traditional business plans are boring and simply demonstrate the ability to do as expected.  His business plan would include only five sections: Truth, Assertions, Alternatives, People, and Money.   Based on his outline, I think his idea of what constitutes a good business plan would be much more useful for people starting and running small businesses.  Seth’s modern business plan really gets you thinking about how to be an entrepreneur and create something new and of great value, rather than just a small business owner who is doing something that’s already being done.

Truth: This part lays out the way your industry operates, for good and for bad, right now.  What needs are there, who are your competitors, how have they succeeded and failed?  Include short case studies or stories, spreadsheets, charts, graphs, whatever it takes to illustrate your point(s).

Assertions: As Seth describes it, this is the heart of all business plans, because this part describes what you’re going to do and how that is going to change things.

Alternatives: Because everything we hope to do doesn’t always work out, this section describes your back-up plans.

People:  No resumes here.  Write what characteristics you and your team possess to ensure things keep moving forward when things are going well and when things are not going well.

Money: This section is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s the part that puts me to sleep, but it is vitally important to know how much money you need to be viable and how you plan on spending it.

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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Making a Business Irresistible with Liz Strauss

April 20th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Flickr user Geoff Livingston

Pass It Along: 8 Tips for a Successful E-Newsletter

February 22nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

From cocolinda on Flickr

Like blog writing, e-newsletters can be really fun to write while at the same time being a great way to position you or your company as a thought leader.  Make them entertaining, keep them filled with useful content, and give them personality, and you will attract eager readers. 

OK, that last statement was a little disingenuous.  It’s not really that easy.  There are several other things that go into a successful e-newsletter.  (By successful, I mean one that is not only read by people but that also drives traffic to your website.)

Here are 8 quick tips to help you put together a successful e-newsletter: 

  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 Solutions, Constant Contact, Vertical 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. 

11 Things You Need to Think About in an Online Marketing Strategy

February 11th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

If you have a small business these days, chances are you are online in some fashion and looking to leverage that channel and do some sort of online marketing. In order to prepare for your online marketing activities we came up with 11 lessons learned that you should consider with your online marketing strategy.

1.) What is Your Pitch?

Many clients I have met want to run head first into online marketing without asking a simple question – what are we pitching? The art of the pitch revolves around the marketing message you are looking to convey combined with the take action that the person you are engaging will take.

2.) What Are Your Goals with Online Marketing?

Once you have the pitch and the take action down you need to ask another very fundamental question – what do you want to accomplish with online marketing? Some goals can be to get new leads or subscribers or store customers.

3.) Where Are Your Customers to Engage Them? (email newsletters, online video)

Gone are the days of “build it, they will come”. You have to build a web site but also reach out in many different channels to get attention. You have to go where your customers are and engage them. In some cases it can be after the fact when they sign up for a newsletter or subscribe to your blog, only to be brought back to your site when the offer is right. In other cases it is using tools like online video, Twitter and Facebook to engage them.

4.) What Will You Offer On Your Web Site?

When you build your web site you should ask a fundamental question and that is “what will you offer someone that visits your web site?” and that is because people will come there interested in your business and wanting to get something from it. This could be a free e-book, photos, contact info. Something that people need. This can also be separated into specific offers that are tracked and go to a certain place. They are called landing pages.

5.) What is the “Take Action” on Your Web Site? Subscribe to email newsletter, Get Leads, Sell Something, Get an Appointment?

Following up right after you know what you will offer on your web site, you need to ask a follow up question – what is the “take action” of this site? Should my goal be to get an email address for a newsletter? Sell them a product? Make it easy to request an appointment or free consultation?

The site needs to have a take action in some form or because if you spend your time driving traffic and potential customers to your site and there is nothing to take action on, then there is nothing you will gain from having the web site in the first place.

6.) Should Have a Blog?

These days many people are almost expecting a company to have some sort of blog but many companies fail miserably at it using it as a press release dumping ground or worse writing a few things at first and then…..nothing. So you have to ask yourself, is your company the type of place that would benefit from having one? Do you have the resource to dedicate to it? Are you looking to establish your company or you as a thought leader or is this a channel that can connect you with your customers in dialog?

7.) Should You Leverage Social Media Channels? (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, MySpace, YouTube)

I mentioned above that you will need to be where your customers are to engage them. As part of your online marketing strategy is the emerging and hot topic of social media. The core of social media is about having conversations with people and being at various “outposts” where your customers are located. The most popular social media channels are Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. You must explore and research where your customers are spending time and how they like to interact with you.

8.) What is Your Search Engine Marketing Strategy?

Yes, this old chestnut. Search engine marketing is really the tip of the spear in your online marketing strategy. All your activities do one of two things – improve your search engine results so people find you better or you use search engine marketing/advertising so people find you better. All to come your web site and take action in some form that we mentioned above. This works in unison with things like social media that increase your search engine rankings and improve your results.

9.) Will You Advertise? What Types?

There are many types of online advertising, pay-per-click, banner ads, video ads, etc. The main question is, will you advertise to direct traffic to you? It should be some aspect but you need to to your homework on what might work. Most important is to have your campaigns identified and test, test, test.

10.) What Are Your Metrics of Success for All of This?

Each business is different in how they measure success. Before you jump into all these activities we talked about above you need to know what will be a measure of success for your campaigns. If you have an e-commerce site it might be % of visitors converted to sales. If you have a content or services web site you might be looking to maximize your e-mail or blog subscribers so you can market to them at a later time.

11.) How Will You Measure?

That depends on the tools your employ and the metrics you need to gather. If you are looking to track social media metrics, you can utilize a tool like Radian6. If you are tracking pay-per-click or landing page campaigns, you can use a tool like Google Analytics. There are many tools out there and you need to know the metrics of success first and then researching for the tools will be much easier.

Blog, and They Will Come: 5 Tips for Great Blog Writing

February 10th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I remember when blogs first appeared in the late ’90s.  They were generally written by regular folks who were sharing essays, thoughts, feeling, what-have-you on the internet.  I immediately thought why on earth would I want to waste time reading that stuff?   Who cares?  And then businesses started wising up to the fact that it was a great way to become a thought leader and a go-to source of industry information.  Et voila, here I am, writing for Network Solutions.  Funny how things can go full circle!

If you’ve thought about starting a blog for your company, cool!  The first thing I would do, though, if you haven’t already, is find a bunch of blogs both inside and outside your industry that you enjoy reading on a regular basis.  What is it you like about them?  Their style, technique, tone of voice, subject matter?  How often do they write?  What do they write about?  My point is that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  Incorporate your favorite elements from these other blogs into your own.

And remember: Be sure to promote your blog via social networking, in your email signature, on the home page of your website, and on your business card.  If no one is reading it, what’s the point in writing it?  And if you want people to read it, follow my 5 handy tips for great blog writing. 

From moodeous on Flickr

Share useful information.  I cannot stress that point enough!  Tips, challenges you’ve overcome and how you overcame them, and industry news all qualify as useful information.  The better your content, the more people will read it, share it, and look forward to getting it.

Provide value to your reader.   Don’t use your blog to promote your company.  Mention it here and there, but only occasionally.  No one wants to read what amounts to an infomercial.

Find your voice.   Give your blog personality!  I tend to write in a conversational style. I use slang and exclamation points, because that’s how I talk.  You want to keep readers engaged and eager for more, and you want new readers to go back into your archives to read what else you’ve written.

Short and sweet rule the day.  Remember that everyone is crunched for time, so keep your posts short (less than 500 words).  Don’t ramble, and be sure whatever point you are making is clearly stated. 

Make it personal and entertaining.  Include funny stories that are relevant and have happened to you.  People love to laugh and be entertained, especially if they’re slogging through a tough day at work.

Keeping Up With the Marketers

January 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Marketing is one of those fields that is constantly evolving, and trying to keep up with it all can be exhausting. I think that is especially true if you have to do the marketing for your own business yourself, when all you’d you’d rather be doing is what you actually do.  But learning something new is fun, and fun is good.   And learning is even more fun when you can take short cuts.  So, to save you time and help you learn, here are some great companies and organizations that I turn to regularly to keep up with the rest of the marketing peeps out there.

American Marketing Association: You need not be a member to receive emails from them announcing free marketing-related webinars.  I have learned a lot from these webinars, though just a word of caution: some speakers are far better than others.  I have listened to a couple of people read their presentations—for 45 minutes.   However, if you sign up for a webinar and miss it, a link to the presentation will be emailed to you so you can watch or listen to it at your leisure.

451 Marketing: Founded in 2004 and based in Boston, 451 is an interactive marketing and PR agency that specializes in inbound marketing.  The team at 451 publishes a fun blog, is active on Facebook, and sends out a steady stream of useful tweets.  If you want to learn more about marketing 2.0, PR 2.0, and social media, check them out.  

Hubspot: Another Boston-area inbound marketing company (they’re actually across the Charles River in Cambridge), Hubspot creates software that facilitates the inbound marketing efforts of its clients.  I just logged onto their website, and I was met with a message stating that over 2,000 businesses use their software to grow traffic, leads, and sales.  Pretty impressive!  I follow their VP of Marketing, Mike Volpe, on Twitter, get their newsletter, and read their blog posts as often as I can.

Marketo:  I learned about both Hubspot and Marketo through AMA webinars.  Marketo also makes software, but theirs focuses on lead generation and collaboration between the marketing and sales departments.  They publish a great blog called Modern B2B Marketing that is always full of interesting information.  I signed up for an RSS feed, so it arrives as an email in my inbox.  In a really smart marketing move, they make it super easy to share their blog via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, del.ici.ous, Reddit, and StumbleUpon.

Web Marketing Today:  This website is a clearinghouse of sorts on web marketing and e-commerce.  They publish a short newsletter that is always worth reading, and many of them contain short “how to” videos.   The only thing that tends to rub me the wrong way is the founder’s use of “God bless” this and “God bless” that.  But because of the high-quality information he disseminates, I ignore it.

Inc.: Last, but definitely not least, is Inc. Magazine’s website.  If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, Inc. is basically required reading.  They do a whiz-bang job covering sales, marketing, strategy, finance, operations, and so on in an engaging manner.  I learn a lot from them every month, and their website is loaded with great articles (plus blogs and newsletters) that are not published in the magazine.  Sign up for an RSS feed today.