Archive for the Small Business Category

How to Focus Your Online Efforts

Posted in Small Business on June 19, 2012 by wolfwomyn

Talk with any entrepreneurs—from the would-be Mark Zuckerbergs to the owner of your local florist or toy store—and I can guarantee you one thing: They’re busy. Really busy.

One reason is that we all know so much about what it takes to build a successful business. It’s out there for all to learn on the Web—in articles, e-books, webcasts, seminars, live-streamed events—you name it.

But in growing my own freelance writing business, and now co-founding a startup called the $200KFreelancer, I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s better not to act on all of that wisdom. Trying to do too much at once can drain your creative mojo and keep you from excelling in any one area.

Doing Too Much

When my business partner, Elizabeth MacBride, and I first started talking about building traffic though social media, for instance, we immediately opened a Twitter account, set up a blog on Tumblr, and began posting links to sites like StumbleUpon.

Each time we did one of these things, we realized we’d only scratched the surface. What about creating a Facebook page? Should we start a LinkedIn group? Who was going to learn Google+? It started to get overwhelming.

Budgeting Our Time

It was around that time that we decided to make a firm commitment to invest three hours a week for tasks that truly moved the company forward; everything else would have to wait. We’re both bootstrapping the business while earning our livings as freelancers.

Three hours a week may seem like a small amount of time if you’re used to hearing about folks in startups living in cubicles 24/7, but when you’ve got two business partners who are both extremely focused and disciplined about sticking to their to-do list, significant steps toward building the business can be achieved in 52 weeks.

A Little Achievements Adds Up

Here are the things we’ve accomplished since January. By taking the aforementioned approach, we were able to get a lot done with very little stress.

Launched a simple website so we could start gathering data on the size of our market and what our readers like to read
Set ourselves up with Google analytics
Established a rhythm of publishing content four days a week and branched out from traditional blogging to also provide reported content from top experts
Began to build a steady audience—from more than 100 countries—including many recurring visitors
Saying no to some great ideas right—like opening a Facebook page and creating a LinkedIn profile—has enabled us to devote more time to others. At the top of our list: Monetizing the site. We’re working on our first salable product now. And once we’ve launched that, we’ll move onto the next thing. That approach may not be the one that a venture capitalist, eager for a quick cash-out, would prescribe. But it’s been working out really well for us so far.

Source: Open Forum ~ Small Business
Elaine Pofeldt

Pay Attention To Your Customers

Posted in Small Business, Uncategorized, Websites on April 10, 2012 by wolfwomyn

You know the more I have contact with potential customers out there, the more I hear that they are angry, frustrated, and just plain tired of hiring people who don’t listen to what they want.  Instead they put their hard earned funds into a person who is insistent on doing what they want and not what the customer wants.  Now this philosophy, doing what I want and not my customer, is applicable (maybe) if you are doing your own thing, creating your own products.  It surely doesn’t apply when you are in a service industry.

When you are in a service industry, one that is there to “serve your customer”, your responsibility is to your customer.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with their ideas, or their style.  You are there to create what they want.  Giving advice is definitely called for, but it is up to your customer if they want to take it.  If they don’t, it is up to you to “serve” them.  And, in the case of websites, it is important that you get their approval before launching it.  Too often websites are put up live before the customer has the option of approving it, which leaves them with something that they potentially didn’t want.  And to make it worse it is out there for the world to see.

So if you are in a service profession remember  the old saying, “The customer is always right.”   It is their time, their energy, their funds which are paying for your services, and that is what will keep your business going.    Listen to your customer, give them the benefit of your wisdom, and design something that works for them.  In the long run you will have happy customers, which means that you will have customers that are more than happy to refer you to their friends which will expand your business.  Word of mouth is one of the biggest reasons that businesses succeed.  And in this time of the world wide web their words go a long long way.

 

Case Studies: How to Use Storytelling as a Marketing Power Tool

Posted in Small Business on March 20, 2012 by wolfwomyn

Every day you and your employees create or update data. You gather customer information, update financial documents or create marketing materials.

Each bit of this data is critical to some part of your business. It might be the up-to-date information you use to ship your products, serve your customers, get new customers or file taxes.

But many small-business owners focus on increasing revenue and forget to protect this valuable aspect of their company. If your server crashes this afternoon, can you recover your data? What will you do if your office burns down tonight?

Security breaches are important part of data protection. Have you taken precautions to prevent a data breach? Craig Blessing, with security company Datacastle says the average data breach costs a company $7.2 million, or $214 per breached record.

Because the stakes are high, make the first item on your to-do list properly protecting your data.

Here are three things you can do to help protect your data. Follow these steps so you can get your doors open again in case of a loss or breach.

Back up your data

One of the most important safeguards is to regularly back up your data. Security experts do not recommend copying unencrypted data to a tape or portable drive each night. The data can be stolen. To prevent theft, all saved data must be encrypted.

“While we recommend that you have onsite backup, it’s absolutely critical to keep an encrypted copy of your data off-site as well,” said Amanda Harper, president of Gaeltek Technology Solutions in Northern Virginia. Harper wrote Business IT 101: A Business Owner’s Guide for Finding Hassle-Free Computer Support.

If a disaster or theft makes it impossible to access your computers or servers, the onsite backup is useless says Harper.

Jeff Hoffman, a small-business data-security specialist with ACT Network Solutions, recommends backing up any data that would hinder your business if it is lost.

“Identify the information that you can’t live without to operate your business, like the accounting system, the client-tracking system, any contracts, your quoting system if you have one, your customer-support files,” said Hoffman. “Sometimes people go overboard and try to back up everything, including pictures of last year’s company picnic.”

Get advice on which online backup services are recommended for small businesses.

How often should you back up your data? The answer to this question depends on your specific industry and business needs. If your data changes dramatically during the day, then back up throughout the day as critical information changes. For most companies, a nightly back up is sufficient.

Often, companies will set up a backup system and then not check on it until they have a data loss. Only then do they realize that the backup stopped working six months ago.

“After you have a good backup system in place, you need to test it regularly to make sure it works,” said Harper. She recommends testing the backup at least once a month and more often if the data is critical to business operations.

Develop data-recovery and disaster-recovery plans

“If your building burned down, what steps would you have to follow to get your business up and running?” asked Jeff Hoffman, with ATC, a small-business security company.

Write out a plan for data recovery as well as what you would do after a disaster. Remember that if you ever have to use either of them, you will be under stress and most likely you will not have access to company resources. Be as detailed as possible and include all phone numbers and websites you need to execute your plan.

Keep a copy of the plan in several locations, both onsite and off-site. Hoffman said two businesses he worked for were involved in a fire. “One was up and running within 48 hours and one had to close their doors,” he said.

Educate employees

Train each of your employees on the importance of data safety.

Make sure they password-protect their laptops and mobile devices with strong passwords. Require that employees not use passwords that contain the word password since Password1 was recently found to be the most common password.

Data protection should be an ongoing priority in your office. Each quarter, set time aside to review your data-protection policy and make adjustments. You may have added a new location or a new technology.

The time spent on data protection is much less than the time it will take to recover your losses, after something goes wrong.

Photo credit: Thinkstock, Jennifer Gregory

What Your Email Campaign Can Learn From Direct Mail

Posted in Small Business, Social Media on December 6, 2011 by wolfwomyn

“Though direct mail certainly isn’t as popular or as effective as it once was, email marketers can apply many of the theories used for direct mail campaigns to increase the value of their email marketing campaigns,” writes Ryan Morgan in an article at MarketingProfs.

For one thing, a direct mail piece and an email both need to make a strong first impression. That’s because a recipient sifts through her email in the same way she sorts direct mail: making arbitrary, snap judgments about what she’ll read and what goes in the trash.

A plain white envelope with an unfamiliar return address won’t intrigue her—and neither will its generic email equivalent. So give her a subject line that piques her interest, a “from” address she trusts and an appealing, eye-catching mix of text and graphics, Morgan advises.

Beyond that, he offers this direct-mail-inspired advice:

Give your subscribers something of value. This might be monetary (a discount), informational (a how-to guide) or an opportunity not available to everyone. “I want to be an insider, and I want to feel special,” Morgan explains.
Be considerate of their frequency preferences. This is where you can learn something from direct mailers who may not get it right for each recipient’s preference. Morgan wryly notes that “you could probably build a small home out of ‘20% off’ coupon postcards from Bed Bath & Beyond.” But email marketers have an advantage in the frequency debate: They can simply ask subscribers how often they’d like to receive messages.

The Po!nt: Email is direct-to-consumer, too. Although direct mail might not be a part of your marketing mix, understanding its principles could help you improve your email campaigns.

Source: Get to the Point / MarketingProfs.

Profits, not Traffic

Posted in Business, Small Business, Websites on November 29, 2011 by wolfwomyn

One mistake that many new webmasters and online entrepreneurs make is to focus on generating website traffic.

This is the logic they follow: build a website, work until it is getting a huge amount of traffic, figure out how to monetize that
traffic.

While this might actually work if you get lucky, it is definitely not the best route to follow. There are plenty of cases of websites
and Web 2.0 companies that went bankrupt despite having millions of monthly unique visitors. How so? Simple: they couldn’t monetize the service efficiently, and sustaining the servers and the staff was consuming far too much money.

Traffic is certainly vital on the Internet, but it should be seen as a means to an end, and not the end itself. Just think about it:
would you rather have a website that receives 10 million unique visitors monthly and that makes $5,000 in profits, or a website
that receives only 20,000 unique visitors monthly but makes $50,000 in profits?

As soon as you start working on the idea for a new website or company, you need to figure out where the profits are going to come from. Here are some of the questions that you might wanna ask yourself: Who is going to gain value from my service or product? Who is going to pay for it? How is he going to pay? Will my costs be lower than my revenues?

This principle should also affect the type of website and business model you end up choosing. For instance, do you know why experienced online entrepreneurs prefer to sell their own products or to work with affiliate marketing instead of building advertising-based websites? Because the first two models need a lot less traffic to  make decent money.

The takeaway message is: you are ultimately aiming for profits, not traffic.

Source:
Daniel Scocco
Daily Bog Tips

The Four-Step Plan for Word-of-Mouth Lead Generation

Posted in Business, Small Business on November 17, 2011 by wolfwomyn

“Here’s the big news,” writes Andy Sernovitz in the book Social BOOM! “It’s not social MEDIA. It’s SOCIAL media. It’s about real people and the conversations they have.” In other words, a presence at online networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn isn’t enough. To generate word-of-mouth leads, you’ll also need excellent social skills—and here’s how to go on the charm offensive:

Be interesting. Do you tell friends about dull companies, products or advertisements? Do you arrange introductions for people who bore you silly? Of course not. According to Sernovitz, there’s a good way to gauge your word-of-mouth potential. Simply ask: Would anyone tell a friend about this?

Make it easy. Word-of-mouth relies on a simple message—a single, memorable line that people are likely to repeat when describing your product or service. “Anything longer than a sentence is too much,” he says. “It’ll get forgotten or mangled.”

Make people happy. Customers who love your company will enthusiastically share their experiences with friends. “You will get more word of mouth from making people happy than anything else you could possibly do,” he notes.

Earn trust and respect. No one will risk her own reputation by recommending a company with a reputation for iffy business practices. But when you’re known for treating customers, partners and employees with great care, referrals become a no-brainer.

The Po!nt: Like it or not, word-of-mouth marketing is a popularity contest. And you’ll win when you get people can’t resist you, your product or service and your integrity.

Source: Get to the Point-Business to Business &
Social BOOM!

What Drives Small Business Social Media Engagement?

Posted in Small Business on October 18, 2011 by wolfwomyn

Both Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular platforms for small businesses. Unlike big brands that are already established, have a following and clout, small businesses have to earn each follower one by one. A new eMarketer study shows that small businesses would rather turn to Facebook (86 percent) than Twitter (33 percent), but both can be used to build brand awareness, customer acquisition, customer services and various other functions. It’s a challenge for a small business owner to invest time making social networking profiles on top of writing a business plan, pitching investors and potential customers, working on the strategy and day-to-day operations. A new study came out this week by Roost, a tech company focused on helping small businesses go social, about the best ways for small companies to achieve maximum engagement on social networks. In the study, ten thousand Facebook profiles and Twitter handles from 50 industries were evaluated.

1.  Publish photos

The photos that you publish on your Facebook fan page generate 50 percent more impressions for small businesses than any other post type. Facebook is one of the largest photo sharing services in the world. Photos can generate a lot of discussion because you can capture a moment, hundreds of words and emotion in a single picture. Small businesses should take pictures of their offices, of employees, and of the community around them. This way, your fans can get a better sense of who you are as brands and have a deeper connection with your company. You can also post pictures of things that relate to your company. For instance, if you own a restaurant, take pictures of the food, or if you own an online store that sells camping goods, take pictures of those products and people using them.

2.  Ask questions

One of the best ways to generate a discussion is to actually start the discussion and leave it open ended. This way, you welcome your community’s voice, without having to dictate. Questions generate almost two times as many comments as any other post type too. You should ask questions that challenge your fans and one’s that relate to the news. Hot news topics can create a lot of buzz and room for discussion. When fans comment on your page, it helps build your brand through their news feed.

3. Share quotes

The great thing about quotes is that they are informative, can prove your point, and also inspire your followers. As a small business, most people haven’t heard of you and probably don’t trust you. They do know and trust established brands that you can quote though! Quotes drive an average of 54 percent more retweets than any other type of tweet. Regular status updates are the second highest driver of engagement. From my experience, I found that quotes are easy to retweet because a lot of people agree with them if they are coming from a public figure.

Of course, there are other ways to create a strong brand on social networks such as publishing links, sharing free resources and promoting your page on other pages, groups and other channels. Building a fan base takes time and since you don’t have the marketing budget like Coca Cola, you’re going to have to work every day to earn each fan. In order to keep people engaged, you need to make sure you have fresh content every single day and that you’re paying attention to fan updates as much as possible. We live in a real-time world right now so the faster you engage with your audience, the more they will want to be part of your community.

Source: Dan Schawbel, Personal Branding Expert, Millennial Branding