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2013

FacebookROI_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

The number of Facebook users worldwide now tops one billion—but is it overrated for small businesses?

 

The social network has been a boost for many small companies: a free patch of digital ground on the Internet to communicate with customers, draw upon for ideas or consumer insights, or to use even as a virtual storefront.

 

Yet it’s an elusive medium, too. Updates or contests sometimes draw little response, and few if any “Likes” or comments. For business owners managing their own account, it can be confusing or, worse, a turnoff for potential shoppers. And the return on investment—of time, energy, and resources—can be questionable, even for those lucky enough to have acquired a sizable following.

 

Consider Gentle Giant, a Somerville, Mass.-based moving company. It has more than 1,000 Likes on Facebook and an engaging page full of entertaining photos and snapshots of employees in action at its 20 different locations. There are numerous postings of job opportunities and regular, lively feedback from customers. Great, right?

 

“It would be nice to see a return on investment, but with the nature of our business and the nature of social media it doesn’t look like there will be—but it’s still important to us anyway,” says Mitch Curtis, a PR and marketing specialist for the firm. Instead, he pays more attention to sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, which have shown to be bigger drivers of traffic to the company website and contain fuller, unbridled reviews from actual customers.

 

But there’s an important role that those more service-oriented sites lack. Curtis says Gentle Giant is able to show its human side and internal culture on Facebook, projecting an open, trustworthy image in an industry where that is paramount. “The whole idea of moving is stressful for people,” he says. “We can illustrate that our job is to make this stress-free. Our customers put up testimonials and even our drivers send in pictures, so it’s easy to get our company culture across. With Facebook, it’s right there in your face and you can’t miss it.”

 

It’s that type of strategy that many small businesses sorely need, marketing experts say. Posting with a scattered approach of random images and announcements? Um, no thanks. Entries that have no call to action leave viewers with little motivation to engage.

 

FacebookROI_PQ.jpgAnd in recent months, engaging with clients has become even more difficult. In September 2012, Facebook adjusted the network’s algorithms in an attempt to control spam and cut down on entries from Friends or Pages that users rarely clicked. The result: Visual content and interaction is favored—and many enterprises that once regularly appeared in their fans’ News Feeds seemingly vanished, creating even more frustration for some small business users.

 

Jennifer Shaheen, president of White Plains, N.Y.-based Technology Therapy Group, a digital marketing agency, and a social-media instructor, says she heard from several clients after Facebook implemented the changes.

 

“There’s a lot of moving parts to this application and you often don’t realize it until something changes,” Shaheen says. “People tend to know the tools only to the extent that they use it individually.” She says she helps clients by focusing on tools like Google Analytics, which shows where a company website’s visitors are coming from, and Facebook Insights, which measures which features are resonating with users on their Pages.

 

“What you’ve got to understand is what your audience is looking for on Facebook—not just what you want to share,” Shaheen explains. “What inspires them? What makes them click over from their News Feed to your page?”

 

One client, Weddings in the Bahamas, had garnered about 200 fans on their own, but was struggling to get traction. As Facebook made the algorithm switch, Shaheen’s firm added weekly photo albums of ceremonies the destination-wedding planning business had arranged, as well as floral ideas, venues around the islands, and other items key to bridal shoppers. Then came contests and testimonials from past couples clients. After that, a pay-per-click advertising campaign bumped up the fans total to 2,300—and the owner reported customers saying the new Facebook page helped them seal the deal.  

 

“One thing we did was talk to this company and help them extract a better idea of themselves,” Shaheen says. “What do the customers say makes them buy? What resonated on Facebook? Then we build on that.”

 

It’s exactly that intangible—emotion—that may be the biggest key to success on Facebook. The Pages that are able to evoke a feeling—comfort, familiarity, or even education to help quell anxiety—often find a following with customers.

 

Internet marketing consultant Susan Nefzger confronted a social media challenge with one sensitive client, a radiation-oncology practice.

 

“When you’re dealing with the patient audience, especially with cancer patients, the social media has to be done in a very thoughtful, conservative, value-added way,” Nefzger says. “It’s not exactly the place to run trivia contests.”

 

Her three-pronged approach for the South Florida Radiation Oncology Facebook Page feed: She lists the practice’s services, classes, support groups for patients; then comes updates on research, clinical trials, and interesting, relevant cancer news from sites like The New York Times‘ Well blog; then there’s the professional and personal component, with staff photos and announcements, showing the human side of the medical team’s caregivers, as well as intermingling testimonials and blogs volunteered by patients. “It can’t be just a commercial for the company,” Nefzger says.

 

Since struggling with the Facebook algorithm switch, she’s enlisted the new paid Promoted Posts option and one update “went crazy:” A video of a staff doctor discussing the use of an advanced treatment tool for prostate cancer garnered more than 20,000 views.

 

“It blew my mind,” Nefzger says. “It increased our audience exponentially. It’s really an advantage.”

 

While Facebook may not deliver for all companies, small businesses have some advantages—they’re local, they’re passion-driven, there’s not a huge decision-chain, they’re relevant, and they’re personal. Those are all the elements that should add up to social media success.

“At the end of the day, people are buying from people,” Shaheen says. “If you are using that as part of your strategy, it will work pretty well. But if all you’re going to do is post your products and post your specials, then you’re not really going to see your return on investment."

I’d like to start this week’s post with a story, about a gentleman I met last year named Jay. Jay has owned an industrial cleaning supply company for about a decade and has made a fine living, selling cleaning supplies and tidying offices after hours.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

Mostly he catered to other small businesses and a select few larger office parks in his city.

 

 

 

But then things changed when the Great Recession hit. Due to the economic downturn, many of Jay’s clients were forced to cut back on Jay’s services. What could he do?

 

At first, he panicked and even considered going out of business. Then it hit him— if small businesses did not have the budget to hire him, big businesses might. So Jay started doing some research and ended up at a program called Business Matchmaking


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Business Matchmaking is a program run by the SBA and sponsored by some larger corporations (including Bank of America). Think of it as speed dating for business. Big businesses and federal government agencies have, literally, billions of dollars in contracts that they give out every year to small businesses. They need supplies, services and everything in between. At Business Matchmaking events, corporate and government representatives meet with small business owners who can supply them with the services they are looking for.

 

It was at one of these events that Jay met with a large company that needed a new cleaning supplier. Jay’s successful business history, coupled with the fact that he had served some larger clients over the years, convinced the representative that he was their man. After making the necessary arrangements, Jay got a big, six-figure contract and hasn’t looked back since.

 

It makes sense that, as a small business owner, you should look to larger businesses as potential clients. Many small businesses owners do— in fact, the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report found that small businesses, by a wide margin, like larger businesses because 1) they are seen as customers or potential customers, and 2) even if they are not our customers, larger business inspire us, as small businesses owners, to do things better.

 

If you would like to market your business to larger businesses, then, aside from Business Matchmaking, here are some other ways to do so:

 

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is, of course, a great tool for connecting with potential business partners. The site also has a very sophisticated search engine in which you can search for people by name, industry, title, city, etc., which makes it a great place to start your research. Enter in the type of businesses you are looking for, and also the various titles of the folks who might be in charge of buying what you are selling. Titles might include key words such as:

 

  • Supply chain management
  • Procurement
  • Purchasing agent
  • Buyer

 

Online search: Alternatively, if you already have a corporation or two in mind that you would like to pitch, then dig in online and find out the right person to talk to. Make sure you also do some background research on the company, so that you know their needs and how your abilities might fit those criteria.


Network: Good, old-fashioned networking still works. Figure out who you know that might give you a good lead and ask for that lead.


Check out supplier diversity programs: Many corporations have what are known as “Supplier Diversity Programs.” These are efforts to increase the purchasing of goods and services by select small businesses, typically those owned by veterans, women, the disabled and minorities.


For instance, The Staples supplier diversity website page states:


“Staples® Corporajan 29 pull quote.pngte Supplier Diversity Program’s mission is to promote and include Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs) in all levels of our supply chain. Supplier diversity strategies are designed to strengthen diverse suppliers within our communities, create job opportunities and acknowledge the vision of HUBs nationwide.”


Our friends at Bank of America also have a Supplier Diversity Program, which you can check out here.


One last important point to consider: Large businesses will want to be sure that you will be able to handle whatever contract you get from them, so make sure you are ready to prove to them that you are small, but mighty.


Do you work with larger businesses to reach your business goals? Tell us how you got there below.


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

by Jeff Haden


The more sales training you've received, the more likely that you've forgotten the most important sales technique of all.

 

Every small-business owner, regardless of his or her formal role, is also involved in sales. That's why many small-business owners constantly seek to improve their sales skills.

 

But some sales training and strategies can do more harm than good, especially if the techniques you adopt take you away from doing what works best for you.

 

Here's an example.

 

My wife wanted a new car. She likes sports cars, so we went to a dealership to check out a BMW 135i. The salespeople were hanging out in the lot--as car salespeople without customers are wont to do--so they all watched us cruise through several rows of cars before parking in front of the 135is.

 

A younger salesman broke away from the pack and hurried over. It was obvious he had been trained to follow a sales-process checklist. "Qualify your lead" was first on his list.

 

That didn't go well for him--my wife isn't really into divulging personal financial information--so he moved on to "Determine customer needs" and asked what we were looking for in a car.

 

Without being rude (she has a real knack for a courteous deflection), my wife asked a few questions. He struggled to answer them, probably because he kept trying to reengage his sales process.

 

That didn't go too well for him either.

 

Then he surprised us: He stopped talking, took a deep breath, and said, "I'm sorry. I really suck at this. Wait here, and I'll go get someone who can actually help you."

 

My wife melted--as wives who are businesslike but also caring are wont to do--and said, "We don't need anyone else. You're doing fine." (He wasn't, but what the heck.) "Tell me," she asked, "have you driven one of these?"

 

"Oh, yeah," he said, brightening visibly. "They're really fast...and I probably shouldn't say it, but they handle better than an M3." Then he looked around to make sure no other salespeople were nearby and said, "Even if you don't plan to buy one, you should at least drive it. They're a blast."

 

She did. It was. And she bought one.

 

Initially, he tried to be a qualifying, relationship-building, features-and-specifications-spewing, commitment-gaining, close-the-deal-and-leave-no-money-on-the-table sales superstar.

 

That approach may work for some people, but in his case it meant giving up his biggest strength: He stopped being a young, enthusiastic, friendly guy who loves cars.

 

He stopped being himself.

 

Think about your sales techniques. Do they take you away from your strengths?

 

If you're naturally introverted, don't try to channel your inner Matthew Lesko. Where selling is concerned, listening can be even more effective than speaking.

 

If you're perceptive and have decent instincts, don't be afraid to skip the qualification process. In our case, we parked a relatively expensive vehicle in front of a row of 135is, so any salesperson could safely assume we had the means and the interest. (In fact, the car you drive onto a lot probably says more about your means than any of the answers you provide to qualifying questions.)

 

After "Hello," the salesman should have said, "Tell me which one you want to drive, and I'll grab the keys."

 

If you're naturally relaxed and informal, don't try to be professorial or authoritative. Speak the way you speak to friends. Be genuine, and your prospects will respond.

 

Play to your strengths. Don't try to be something you're not. Instead, focus on being a better, more effective version of you.

 

That's the best sales strategy of all.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.


ColdCalling_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Cold calling can provoke a range of negative connotations, from puzzlement that anyone in business still practices it today to disdain from salespeople who can find any number of creative excuses to avoid punching in a number. In an age when texting, tweeting, and posting updates on Facebook have eroded the frequency of actual conversations, making overtures to prospects by phone seems hopelessly outmoded. When executed properly, however, cold calling can generate a better response than more contemporary marketing channels. In one study by Vorsight, cold calling resulted in meetings with high-ranking executives 78 percent of the time, compared to a paltry nine-percent success rate using email queries only.

 

Research, then call

"Cold calling works when it is done in conjunction with finding the right information first," says Mark Hunter, a sales consultant since 1998 who goes by the name The Sales Hunter. "It's really kind of informed calling."

 

The first step for cold calling success is to know the purpose or reason for the call before you pick up the phone. One approach for starting the conversation is to focus on something personal, such as mentioning a local sports team in the prospect's area. But Hunter prefers either referring to a bigger business issue—such as the legal or economic angle of a topic relevant to the prospect—or something having to do with the product or service you're selling.

 

"The majority of your calls will go into voicemail, but don't get concerned about it," Hunter advises. "The objective of a voicemail message is to create awareness." Creating that awareness begins with a three-part communication that consists of an introduction, the benefit or core message, and a recap of who you are and your phone number—in less than 15 seconds. A core message might be: "Hey, I've got some new information regarding the trends that could be occurring next year. Love to share that with you. Give me a buzz at [phone number]."

 

"I'm just giving a very quick piece of information. I'm not telling them exactly what I've got because I don't want to give them enough reason not to call back," Hunter explains. While it would be inappropriate to call a CEO every other day, Hunter does recommend reaching out to mid-level managers at least six times over the course of a month through a combination of phone calls and emails, on different days of the week and at different times.

 

ColdCalling_PQ.jpg"A great time to catch people live is right at the top of the hour," Hunter confides. "Most meetings are scheduled for an hour or a half hour. A busy busy person will dash back in their office a couple of minutes before the hour. Suddenly the phone rings, and they pick it up before they realize it's an outside call. I've used this technique for years and it works. I've even reached CEOs with it."

 

Secrets for getting your call returned

"Cold calling is actually the only opportunity-finding or appointment-generating process that is directly under the control of the small business owner," says Wendy Weiss, whose business handle is The Queen of Cold Calling, and who is the author of the free downloadable ebook, The Cold Calling Survival Guide. "You target the company you're interested in introducing yourself to and you do it. It's very direct."

 

Identifying the characteristics of a qualified prospect in concrete terms is the first step, she says, such as prospecting at companies with at least 100 employees. Second, have a compelling message—for example, the problems that you or your product or service can solve—with some type of script prepared beforehand. "I don't mean something the sales rep is going to read word for word no matter what the other person says," she notes. Instead, be ready to handle logical questions or objections that might come up in the conversation. But always focus on getting the result you want from the call, whether it's setting up a meeting or sending information—whatever your desired outcome is.

 

Weiss's clients have had a lot of success following her carefully structured four-part voicemail campaigns, leaving different messages about one week apart, and supplementing with emails if the address is available. If a client hasn't gotten through to the prospect by the last call, Weiss urges them to leave a final message like this: "I've been trying to reach you to discuss X. I haven't heard back from you and I know you're really busy, so I'm assuming this isn't a good time for us to have this conversation. I don't want to make a pest of myself, so I won't be calling you again [for a certain timeframe]. If you're meaning to get back to me, I'll welcome the opportunity to discuss X."

 

"This is actually the most returned message," Weiss admits. "Most salespeople call for awhile and then they stop calling, but they never tell the prospect they're not going to call again, and the prospect expects the salesperson to keep calling. We've found that a good percentage of clients have been able to use this very successfully to get prospects to return calls."

 

Practice makes perfect

In the world of real estate, brokers typically represent either a seller or a landlord. Since 1982, NYSPACE has carved out a unique space for itself. The real estate consultancy represents only tenants looking for commercial space in Manhattan.

 

"The only way to develop new business is to cold call," says Vince Sheehan, NYSPACE's president. "We need to go out and sell our concept, which is alien to some degree, because everyone thinks of a broker as representing a landlord."

 

Sheehan has a team of 15 agents, each expected to make 100 calls a day, though that goal is often elusive. Their message follows a structure advocated by Hunter and Weiss: explain who they are, why they're different, and how they can help the prospect. Sheehan himself leads the company's in-house training process of new hires, then has them sit with an experienced caller, then consult with him again, before letting them make their hundreds of phone calls on their own.

 

While they do follow a script—developed, in part, with Weiss's help—Sheehan admits that it's more a loose guideline than a rigid template. Most of the new hires lately have been middle management people who typically know how to talk with people already. Still, in-house seminars that Weiss has conducted keep the sales team fresh.

 

Other than a few holidays, Sheehan's approach has few off-limits times for making calls. The effort is obviously paying off, as the most productive workers generate six-figure incomes, he reports. "This is a hands-on business," Sheehan concludes. "You want to be talking to someone you trust. You're not going to get that from Facebook or Twitter."

 

There's no doubt that cold calling is still a viable method for contacting qualified prospects and building loyal relationships in ways that surpass other marketing channels, such as social media platforms and email. When done properly, it can be a valuable workhorse for getting through to key contacts and helping to keep the sales pipeline filled. That's a conversation every business enjoys having.

by Tim Donnelly


Sales forecasts are by nature imperfect. But experts say there are ways to squeeze more value out of the projections you're making.

 

Any good business will have a system of sales forecasting as part of its critical management strategy. But most sales forecasts are, by nature, inexact. The trick, experts say, is to know in which direction they're wrong, and turn that into a picture of how your business is doing.

 

"People think the forecast is good or bad depending on how accurate it is," says Tim Berry, president of Palo Alto Software, which creates business-planning software and is—despite its name—based in Eugene, Oregon. "What I think is it's how well it breaks into meaningful assumptions you can look at later."

 

For a small business—say, a restaurant—those assumptions could mean mapping activity in the dining room and keeping track of how many meals are sold at certain times of day. For a larger business, that could mean plotting all activity across departments to see how your products are matching up to industry standards. There's a few ways to test the your sales forecasting to know whether you're getting an accurate read or just dabbling in expensive soothsaying.

 

1. Use separate numbers. One of the biggest misconceptions about forecasting is that there's one set of numbers that represents the "truth" for your business. In reality, multiple forecasts are necessary in order to represent the needs of different constituencies, says David Stephens, director of sales for Right90, a sales forecasting company based in Austin, which has done forecasting for Sharp and Bivo Networks.

 

Your sales team might have a forecast designed to meet its number, but product management is interested in the forecast of a specific product, operations is interested in finding out what it needs to produce and when, and finance needs revenue figures, he says. Someone at the top of the ladder needs to be prepared to put all those together and form a cohesive picture.

 

"Senior management requires the forecast be vetted from all perspectives in order to develop the confidence to make critical decisions," he says.


2. Develop a flexible process. It's impossible to use a single test that will ensure you can track the exact terms, time, and context of every sale. Instead, you should focus on developing a process that can be managed, reevaluated, and modified as conditions change, Stephens says.

 

"This requires discipline, beginning with ensuring that sales forecasts are updated on a regular basis," he says. That means managers have to understand the sales system, customer history, product delivery, and even the history of the individual salesperson to assess with some certainty the forecast's accuracy.

 

Big companies often make the mistake of thinking forecasting is just looking at the sales history and taking an average over time. Instead, they need to look at many additional factors as well, says Glen Margolis, president and CEO of Steelwedge Software, which is based in Pleasanton, California, and has forecasted for GE, DirectTV and Sara Lee.

 

3. Set aside time. Your forecasts won't do you much good if you aren't constantly keeping tabs on them. Berr says it's crucial for companies to set aside a specific time every month (or however often you like) to review the forecasts.

 

Berry says his company does this every third Thursday of the month: managers bring in lunches, review the data together, and make any work on any high-level decisions that may be called for. It's all part of the broader decision making of the company.

 

"If there's a set time, everybody involved knows," he says. "You look at, compare and plan for actual results…you start to see management happening."

 

4. Use a consistent model. Margolis says he believes there's no one model of forecasting that works best for every company. But one efficient method is sometimes one used by restaurant owners: matching this year's sales to last year's and making a guess for the future.

 

"That to me is the best model," he says. "That empowers people who are actually running business."

 

But the key is, whatever model is used—whether it is a weighted average over a few months or bare numbers-tracking—needs to be consistently applied over time.

 

"One of the biggest barriers is people saying 'I'm not qualified to forecast, I didn't take statistics,'" he says. "Well, I do have the degree, and I did take statistics, and still the educated guesses are what really drive the forecast."

 

Consistent application of the same model standardizes the format, and makes it easier to review year after year.

 

5. Don't get too complicated. Your business forecasting doesn't have to be a hyper-complicated process that involves high-level mathematics and projections.

 

"Most businesses are not necessarily very sophisticated," Margolis says. "They don't have a team of statisticians. It's someone with other day-to-day activities who also keeps an eye on forecasting."

 

Stephens says simple, specific software and applications are available for sales forecasting that provide an audit trail, a history of the forecast, and the ability to align the data with customer relations management. The programs also allow you to note changes to any perspective such as product, territory, customer, or salesperson, he says—much more so than just keeping a spreadsheet on your laptop.

 

6. Be democratic. If you aren't including all elements of the business in the forecasting process, you are likely to end up with skewed numbers. Margolis says that if people aren't involved in the process, they won't believe the numbers and won't use them, or will fudge the data to fit their personal expectations. A purchasing department, for instance, may up certain numbers so it doesn't run out of stock.

 

Margolis advocates making forecasting a collaborative process, as much as possible.

 

"There's ways to manage the collaboration so you're getting the benefit not the downside of it," he says. "Because everyone's participating and they feel like their voice has been heard, they trust it. They're more likely to trust it than to game it."

 

7. Focus on exceptions. You can tweak the details of the forecast to death, but your main focus should be looking at the exceptions: where the forecast line diverges from actual sales data.

 

"Don't loose track of the forest for the trees," Margolis says. "You're just constantly trying to improve." Improving forecasting doesn't happen overnight: analysts expect forecasts to include monthly data for about the next 12 months, Berry says, as well as annual data for year two and three. Anything more specific than that is "basically an academic exercise," he says.

 

Experts say it sometimes takes months of tweaking, adjusting and learning before you can have an accurate guess at how the forecasting will look in the future.

 

"There's constant elements and dimensions you can refine all the time," Margolis says. "It has to be a core competency, especially in the world we're in today that's very unpredictable."


Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

AdMarketing_Body.jpgHow to figure out an appropriate ad/marketing budget based on your small business’s revenue and industry


by Iris Dorbian.


It’s a dilemma that many small businesses will confront: To grow and attract or increase customers, you have to spend money on marketing; but if you’re still scrambling to find customers, then you likely don’t have much cash available for a marketing budget. So how do you go about it? Should you hope that the value of your business will be so apparent that word of mouth will go viral, allowing you to invest next to nothing for promotion? More realistically, what metrics should you use to determine how much of your company’s coffers should be dedicated to marketing based on your revenue and industry sector?


Ignore marketing myths

If you want to get an accurate estimate of how much you should spend on marketing, then the best first step is to disregard the standard rule of thumb that says the figure should be seven to 10 percent of your sales revenue. This bit of conventional wisdom might have been true in the past when corporations like Proctor & Gamble sowed the seeds of their dominance by sticking closely to that ratio. But that thinking will likely not apply to your small business, particularly if it’s an e-commerce site or a b2b (business-to-business) equipment manufacturer/supplier.


“Marketing is an investment that is leveraged against future revenue potential,” explains Jayme Pretzloff, online marketing director for Wixon Jewelers, a Minneapolis-based high-end luxury retailer that has 30 employees. “This is key. When marketing is done correctly, it shouldn't cost you money, it should make you money.”


Bob Shirilla, owner of two 11-year-old e-commerce sites, Simply Bags, which sells custom tote bags, and Keepsakes, Etc, which retails throw blankets and wall tapestries, subscribes wholeheartedly to this maxim. Using inexpensive tools like Google Analytics to monitor performance metrics such as sales conversion rates and Google Adwords for advertising, Shirilla, who maintains a staff of eight to 12 employees depending on the season, likes to keep his ad spend to a minimum until data analysis indicates otherwise.


“We will start a campaign with a very low hourly maximum spend limit ($25),” he explains. “Each morning we look at our analytics and it will show our exact conversion rate and ROI per campaign. If the ROI is good, we’ll increase the ad spend in that space.”


Evaluate your sector and its marketing needs

Different industry sectors have different marketing and advertising needs. If you run a small b2c (business to consumer) business that sells a image-based product like perfume, you might be required to undertake a considerable outlay for advertising and point-of-sale displays, says Katherine Cleland, a marketing consultant who works with small business clients as president of her own firm Cleland Marketing. For this kind of small business, “marketing costs may be the largest part of a company’s budget.”


“I generally advise my clients that marketing, excluding sales, should amount to two to 25 percent of their revenues, on an ongoing basis with greater investment as they ‘start up’ or during testing or expansion phases,” explains Cleland.  “However, I also counsel them that is only a rule of thumb, and all marketing spending planning should be done from a bottoms up basis, looking by category at expense and measuring ROI.”  

 

For instance, if your business is in the b2b sector—for example, a technology company providing equipment or materials to other businesses—then marketing costs can be as small as  “maintaining a website and creating a product brochure, amounting to fractions of one percent of the revenue,” adds Cleland.


AdMarketing_PQ.jpgTrack marketing ROI to see what works and what doesn’t

If you want to determine how much money in your budget should be earmarked for advertising and marketing, then you will need to see which of your marketing initiatives (i.e. print, TV, radio, digital, etc.) generate positive ROI.


“For small businesses that don't have money to play with, it is better to minimize risk and focus first on measurable marketing activities like online advertising, SEO, and email marketing,” advises Ricky Shockley, an independent marketing consultant who works with small businesses and launched his own agency, Shockley Marketing this past October. “These things are all very easy to measure in terms of ROI.”


To illustrate his point, Shockley offers this example: “One of my clients, a cosmetic dermatology practice, was previously spending a couple of thousand dollars per month for a local marketer to handle their paid Google Ads. This is an activity that makes it very easy to measure ROI, but they weren't doing so. After we did some investigating, we realized that the total revenue they were generating each month was about half of what they were spending. We then switched over to organic SEO as a marketing tactic. This reduced costs from $2,000 per month to $700 per month. We also added a prominent call-to-action to the company website in order for us to capture valuable lead information. The practice now sees about a 250-percent ROI every month.”

 

Tyler Sickmeyer, owner and CEO of the five-year-old 5Stone Marketing, an agency that has a variety of small business clients, agrees with Shockley about the importance of tracking ROI rates in calculating one’s advertising and marketing budgets. At the same time, businesses should go that extra granular mile by focusing on “the true cost and profit of a customer” when setting a needed ROI rate of a marketing campaign versus an expected ROI.


Sickmeyer recounts how a b2b small business client of his purchased $48,000 of airtime on a radio station for 2013. “[That figure] seems like a lot, but when you figure that the average client is worth $12,000 annually to the client, they only need to gain five new clients for a 20-percent profit margin on the campaign over the course of the year.”


Not all clients’ marketing needs are created equal. “Another client of ours, a restaurant, was approached to place a $150 ad in a mass coupon mailer,” recalls Sickmeyer who oversees a staff of seven. “Knowing that the restaurant's profit margin is about 30 percent, the restaurant would have to do around $500 in new business from the mailer to break even, which breaks down to about 25 new customers per month. [This was] a figure we deemed unrealistic given the mailer's past performance with coupon redemption in which only 10 or 12 coupons came in.”


Sickmeyer’s experience dealing with these disparate small business clients leads him to offer two key takeaways for companies in a quandary when it comes to figuring out what part of their budget is appropriate for marketing and advertising.


The first, Sickmeyer says, is this: “Small businesses need to make their dollars count by investing wisely instead of simply spending a set amount because it's in the budget.” And second, he notes, “If they aren't able to determine the best ROI rates for their business, a marketing firm that specializes in small business marketing would be of great service.”

Inc.

Online ads: 7 dos & don'ts

Posted by Inc. Jan 9, 2013

by Hollis Thomases


You don't need an agency to manage your digital advertising. But if you're going to go it alone, you need to understand a few ground rules.

 

While many businesses these days want to improve their online visibility, many don't know how to approach it other than to build a website and maybe do some search engine marketing.

 

Yet 14 years after the launch of the first self-serve advertising platform, GoTo.com, I'm still surprised how little many businesses still know about do-it-yourself online advertising opportunities available to them.

 

After all: Even though Google's DIY pay-per-click search, contextual and display ad networks create an 800-pound gorilla, and yet there are plenty of other places to try self-serve online advertising.

 

Why, you might ask, as an owner of a digital ad agency, would I want to tell you about self-serve advertising platforms? There are several reasons:

 

  1. Many businesses do not have the budget for the kind of large-scale advertising campaigns we plan and manage. That doesn't that mean they shouldn't have a shot at doing online advertising, however; some self-serve platforms have minimum buy-ins as low as $10!
  2. An  increase in total advertisers is good for my industry. The growing shift away from traditional, offline ad buys only helps to support improvements for digital ad technologies and for the publishers who post and monetize their content.
  3. Though I'm sharing this information with you, it doesn't come without a few warnings–and I want you to hear those too.

Dos & Don'ts of Self-Serve Ad Platforms

 

Do know that many self-serve ad platforms are networks, which means your ads will be shown across a spectrum of websites and on different placements on any given website page.  Many of these ad networks don't offer you a lot of control, transparency, or detailed reporting. You'll also have to trust the network that your ads did in fact appear somewhere in cyberspace.


Do understand the types of advertising and ad format you'll be buying, because you may need to produce ad creative to meet certain specifications.


Do understand how the payment and cost structures work. (Don't just "set it and forget it," particularly if you've entered your credit card as a payment method–you might have a rude awakening if you didn't set any limits to your ad budget.)


Do experiment. Start out with small budgets. Test different ad messages, and try sending users to different landing pages to compare impact.


Don't forget to develop compelling offers and present calls to action–such as "Click here," "complete this form," or "Buy now!"–to get users to do what you want them to do.


Don't go in with unrealistic expectations. Many of your early efforts will not yield fruit until you have a better understanding of what you're doing and have tested to find out what will work.

Where to Buy DIY Ads

 

As I mentioned already, there are alternatives to Google. Below is just a smattering of options. I've broken them down by category for you, to make things a little easier to digest.


Banner (Display) Ad Networks

 

Contextually Targeted Text & Display Ads

 

Networks Offering Multiple Ad Types

 

Social Media Ads

 

Mobile Ads

 

Video Ads

 

B2B-Focused Ads

 

If despite–or, perhaps, because of–this extensive list, you still feel uncomfortable entrusting your ad budget to technology platforms that will happily spend your dollars, don't feel you have to go at this on your own.

 

But whether you hire professionals or take the DIY route, always remember that if something looks too good to be true ... It probably is.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.



There is no doubt that big businesses have advantages that small businesses cannot ever hope to match— bigger budgets, more manpower, a diversity of skills, and marketing resources, just to name just a few.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

But small businesses have their own advantages. Namely — a more personal connection to the customer, and less bureaucracy that therefore allows them to turn on a dime.

 

Which brings us to one of the most important aspects of any business, big or small— customer service.

 

In theory, small businesses would seem to have an advantage here because of that personal connection to the customer— if there is a problem, we hear about it and should easily be able to fix it. Yet many big businesses have figured out how to excel at customer service, whereas many small businesses haven’t cracked the code. Oh sure, some small businesses may talk the talk, but it turns out that serving the needs of the customer well can get easily lost in the hubbub of running a business.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

The good news is that there are easy, innovative ways to deliver good customer service that we can take advantage of.

 

1. Text: Great customer service is not just about solving problems. It is equally about giving customers a positive experience when they interact with your brand, and about anticipating their needs and proactively addressing them.

 

One way to do this is through text message; after all, texting has become just about the most popular way to communicate digitally. If you are texting, and your customers are texting, then shouldn’t your business be texting too?

 

So create an opt-in text list and use it to:

 

  • Offer special d iscounts
  • Promote sales
  • Get feedback
  • Ask their opinion

 

2. Use social media: Not long ago, I wrote a piece that dealt with this issue extensively (How to Adapt Social Media for your Customer Service) so I need not belabor the point, except that I do want to share why using social media has become a hallmark of great customer service:

 

Not long ago, a survey  from Harris Interactive, a research organization focused on consumer interests, looked at how various companies dealt with negative online reviews, and found that 68% of those reviews received some sort of follow-up by the company in question. Of that 68%:

 

  • 18% of the complainers were so happy with the efforts by the offending company to fix the problem that they became regular customers again
  • 33% decided to write a positive review after the complaint was resolved
  • 34% decided to delete the original, negative post

 

It’s easy to see here that using social media to resolve customer complaints is a fast and effective way to tip the scales back in your favor.

 

3. Survey customers: Getting feedback from customers on their experience is vital to any good customer service program. Surveys can be done in-store of course, or online using a service like SurveyMonkey. Or what about using e-mail to follow up after a sale or promotion? Sony surveys customers immediately after a sale, and then 30 days later and 90 days later. And, in an MSN Money survey, 85% of respondents called Sony’s customer service either “excellent” or “good.” It’s important to remember, though, that once you receive this valuable feedback from customers you must act on it as necessary to keep your customer base happy.

 

4. Make it easy to work with you: That same MSN survey ranked Amazon.com as #1 in customer service, and it is no surprise why. Amazon is obsessive about offering great customer service, and most of it stems from how easy it is to interact with the business. Whether it is one-click shopping, discounted shipping or no-hassle returns, customers love buying from Amazon because it is easy and affordable. That same ease should be true of your business. Consider, for instance, offering a live customer service chat function to your business’ website via a service like BoldChat.

 

5. Create a customer service culture: Southwest Airlines is routinely ranked as one of the top large companies when it comes to customer service, and the reason for this, too, is evident: they make it a priority in their company culture. Southwest empowers flight attendants and other employees to solve problems on the spot, backs them up and then broadcasts great customer service stories companywide. Prioritizing customer servPullQuote.pngice in this way ensures that it will remain a part of day-to-day company life and will stay engrained in company culture.

 

The bottom line is that to achieve great customer service, it has to be more than a motto hanging in your break room. It has to be part of every move that you and your employees make.

 

Have you used any of these tips for customer service, or do you have some of your own? Share with the community below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

TweetThis_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Errant tweets, Facebook flubs, withered websites. Social media mess-ups are what late-night comedians fill their monologues with most days. Check over your social media output, and see which of these mistakes you are making—and fix them before anyone can make you a punch line. In true “Late Night with David Letterman” style, we have our “Top 10 list” of social media mistakes (and hints on how to make them right).

 

Mistake #10: You go on autopilot

“The biggest mistake I see people make is to just set it and forget it,” says Janet Barclay, founder of Organized Assistant, a virtual assistance business. “They preschedule a number of posts using Hootsuite or some other tool, and that's all they do. They never actually log on to read other people's posts or to see if anyone has commented on theirs.” Social media tools are great, but relying on them to do all of your messaging ignores a huge part of the social media landscape: the connecting and communicating with others.

Mistake #9: You are missing the mobile audience

One of the leading ways folks engage with social media is while they are on the go and on their smart phones. “If your website is not mobile-friendly—especially if you're in the restaurant or retail industry— you set yourself up for failure,” says Ari Herzog, digital strategy and new media marketing specialist. He adds that business owners can get into the mobile world easily by either adding a mobile plug-in or hiring a web developer to configure your web site to be mobile-friendly. A little bit of time and minor financial outlay can reap huge social media rewards.

Mistake #8: Your voice is all wrong for your brand

Are your tweets lively or stuffy? Monique Woodard, entrepreneur and marketing expert, suggests showing the person (or people) behind the brand in your content. “It’s okay to occasionally go off-message in order to give your brand some personality,” she says, “If you own an organic snack company and you love your cocker spaniel, take a minute to share a photo of your dog eating a healthy treat on Instagram or in a tweet.” Matthew Iscoe, marketing manager at Thriving Firm Experience, adds, “[Many companies], even small businesses, assign social media networking activities to the junior staff—typically the least informed people in the organization with the smallest amount of experience. Social media conversations become attractive [to potential customers] when they have an opportunity to hear and speak with people at the top.”

 

TweetThis_PQ.jpgMistake #7: You don’t mind your manners

Eric Alper, director of media relations and label acquisitions for eOne Music Canada, suggests small business owners keep in mind that manners in real life apply to the online world as well. “You can still be authentic on social media sites, and share your persona and personality, but you don't have to share everything. Every post or tweet can possibility exclude current customers or future ones, if they don't agree with your personal views,” Alper says, “Most importantly, don't say anything online that you wouldn't be able to say to one of your customers directly, face to face.”

 

Mistake #6: You’ve picked the wrong social media outlet

“Just like marketing anywhere else—television, email, direct mail, billboards, radio—you need to identify what's right for your business,” says Taylor Aldredge, ambassador of buzz for Grasshopper, a virtual phone system helps entrepreneurs sound more professional and stay connected from anywhere. “Foursquare rocks if you want to market to local customers in your city, especially if you're a restaurant or retail business with a physical location. However, if you're a boutique creative agency, a Foursquare page probably makes no sense for you,” Aldredge points out. Focus on one or two areas of social media and build a solid customer following there. When—and if—you want to add more mediums, that core will follow.

 

Mistake #5: You broadcast rather than engage

Tim Gray, communications director at Blue Fountain Media, sees many businesses failing to do the “social” aspect of social media. “Implement a coherent content plan. Write one or two blog posts a week about things that interest people in your industry,” Gray suggests. An easy way to avoid writing just about your products or services is to focus on content that passes along information. “For example, if you are a florist, try creating a ‘step-by-step’ tutorial that includes basic lessons on creating holiday arrangements and post it on your Facebook page,” offers Gray.

 

Mistake #4: You look only at the numbers

“The biggest mistake I see [small business owners] making is putting too much faith in the Like/Follower count,” says Kimberly Gauthier, founder of Keep the Tail Wagging, an online magazine for dog lovers. “I have over 7,000 followers on Facebook, but only interact with a fraction of them. Focus on the people who follow your page and whom you interact with. Talk to them, ask and answer questions, and seek feedback.” Those owners who engage with that core customer base create the best chance for positive word-of-mouth to spread about their company via social media.

 

Mistake #3: You don’t proof your content

Typos in your tweets and or grammatical errors on your website makes your quality control look less than stellar, which reflects poorly on your business. “Social media channels help us bring our brands into a living and breathing form, and if your posts contain spelling or grammatical mistakes, that puts a negative impression into the marketplace about your brand,” says Eric Thiegs, CEO and founder of StageofLife.com, a blogging community for families, “If a customer sees that you can't spell correctly in a Facebook post, will she have confidence that you'll get her order right if she buys from you? Maybe. But maybe not. Why run that risk over something as simple as spelling or grammar.” The fix for this is simple: be sure those folks handling your social media are solid writers—and always, always look over your post/tweet/update before hitting the “send” button.

 

Mistake #2: You are an inconsistent presence

Nika Stewart, co-founder and CEO of GhostTweeting.com, says one of the biggest mistakes she sees is how small business “ignore their Twitter and Facebook presence for days at a time and then suddenly flood their feeds with a dozen posts.” Whether it is one post or two tweets a day, find that manageable, consistent presence you can keep up. One way is to use those great online tools to your advantage (but beware: see Number 10 above).

 

Mistake #1: You put the same content on every social media platform

Dustin Nelson, marketing director for (Le) Poisson Rouge, a multimedia art cabaret in New York City, points to a hidden, yet ubiquitous social media mistake. “[Many small businesses] engage customers across all platforms with the exact same content. Customers who are very engaged with your business, and follow you across multiple platforms, may start to unfollow because you've overwhelmed them with the same information—repeatedly,” Nelson says, “It's lazy and people notice. Content needs to be reworked and made unique.”

by J.J. McCorvey

 

Our second installment of advice for small businesses on using social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and how to integrate these tools into the marketing and recruiting efforts of your company.


Social Network Promotions


Remember, it's called a social network, not a 'business network.' Coming off as a pushy or shrewd salesperson peddling a product could scare away your Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. Remember to be genuine and personal.

Here are the things you should do when promoting your company or product through social networking sites:
1.    Make it benefit-based. Make the customer feel that they need to participate in the promotion. Is the product or feature available for a limited time? Are you offering exclusively to your followers on a particular network? 

2.    Talk about new or uncommon features. Even if you have a relatively popular product, there may be some things consumers don't know about it. What are some new or different ways it can be used?

3.    Include some discounts and savings. Offering discounts on products is usually a shoe-in to grab customers' attention. Krissman, of Outdoor Technology, says he posts promotional codes that users can fill out on the company's website and get up to 30 percent off a product. Not only does it drive more buyers to your product, but it also brings more followers to your page.

Here are the things you shouldn't do when promoting your company or product through social networking sites:
1.    Don't continually have sales-related messages. There are other ways to promote besides selling your product. Comment or ask questions about news or topics in your industry. 'They will easily ignore you or unsubscribe you if you continue to push a sale,' says Tobin.

2.    Don't set up an expectation, then cheat on it. If you announce to your followers that your purpose is to give advice, don't turn around and start selling. 'If you violate that expectation, people are going to get upset and they're going to leave,' says Tobin. Again, make the sale subtle – how can your product help them achieve the advice you're giving?

How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Social Network Recruiting

 

Social recruiting is an effective way to utilize social networks to find the best candidate for any open positions at your company. While the past few years saw the rise of job boards like Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com, the growing prominence of social networks have transformed the way businesses build their best team. Instead of relying on the 'come one, come all' approach, the detailed personal information contained in profiles, such as interests and job history, allows businesses to employ social networking sites to target the specific audience or skill set they want to pull from.

 

According to an annual social recruitment survey published by Jobvite, an online service that helps businesses consolidate the resources of social media sites, 80 percent of companies used or planned to use social networking to find and attract candidates in 2009, with LinkedIn being used by 95 percent of the respondents and Facebook usage growing from 36 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2009.

 

'It's like what's happened to the ad industry,' says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite and former general manager of Yahoo! HotJobs. 'It used to be that you would buy a big ad to get the consumer's attention, but more and more companies are relying on online advertising software that puts that ad right in front of them based on data, like the other ads they click on. Social recruiting is analogous to that.'


The Benefits of Social Network Recruiting


Here are some of the primary advantages that social recruiting affords small businesses:

1.     Empowers your employees to distribute job information. These days, most, if not all of your employees probably have a profile on a social networking site. By enabling them to post information about open positions, you multiply your searching reach by the thousands.

 

2.     Helps you put the passive job candidate in your crosshairs. Job boards are mostly used by people who are proactively looking for positions.  But what about the perfect potential employee who may not be scouring Careerbuilder.com every day?

 

3.    A low-cost method of finding high-quality candidates. When looking for job candidates, it takes time to sift through resumes of unqualified applicants, and many job boards charge fees to post openings. Social recruiting helps you zone in on the best candidates, for free.

 

Tools to Help You Socially Recruit


1.    Custom searches. Searching only by name and location doesn't cut it when looking for the perfect employee. LinkedIn has one of the most thorough searches of all the sites, allowing you to sift through profiles by company, industry, college, and even how many 'degrees' you are from the person.

 

3.    Updating your status message. When you or your employees update your statuses, it pops up on your friends' home page, and sits atop the profile until it's changed. 'My company is looking for … ,' is sure to snag replies.

 

4.    Linking to stories and external content. Both Facebook and LinkedIn enable users to post external content to their profiles. By linking to articles and blogs that contain positive news about your business, you show potential candidates that it's not just your social network connections that adore your company.

 

How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Privacy and Legal Issues

 

Though social networking can certainly be a fun way to help you expand your company, there are plenty of issues surrounding privacy and legalities that you should always be aware of when searching for employees, and even after you've hired them. 'The laws [regarding online privacy and or hiring online] generally apply the same [as existing state laws],' says Megan Erickson, an associate at Des Moines, Iowa-based Dickinson, Mackaman, Tyler & Hagan law firm and author of Erickson's Blog on Social Networking and the Law. 'But now that there are all these different kinds of social media, they combine to make it a very unique environment.'

 

Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind to help you steer clear of legal trouble when dealing with potential or current employees and social networking sites:

1.    Don't use fake profiles. Using a fake profile when adding employees to monitor their activity can constitute as an invasion of privacy, Erickson says. 'That's just asking for lots of trouble,' she says.

 

2.   Add a social media section to your handbook. Including language about social media in your personnel policy is paramount, especially if you plan on integrating it heavily in your company's operations.

 

3.    Beware of existing federal and state laws. It may help to prep yourself on the many federal and state laws regarding anti-discrimination and privacy, Erickson says, so that if you do come across an employee's wayward photo or disparaging status message, you'll be knowlegeable about how to proceed with disciplinary action.

 

Resources

To learn more about using social networking sites:

 

•    The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success, by Lon Safko and David Brake, is a great guide for business owners and executives who want to use the power of social media to grow their companies. Visit the website, TheSocialMediaBible.com, to connect with other professionals looking to do the same.

•    Megan Erickson's blog, Erickson's Blog on Social Networking and the Law, posts up-to-date news on legal issues surrounding social media sites.

•    Mashable is a great resource for news, advice, and jobs concerning all things social media.

•    John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing – The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, also runs a marketing blog for small businesses called Duct Tape Marketing. Check out what he says about the 7 Truths of Social Media Marketing.

Some sites to consider joining for social networking:

•    Facebook: The most popular social networking site, it allows you keep up with friends, colleagues, and classmates and features a stream-lined, easy-to-use interface.

•    MySpace: Geared toward the younger crowd, this interactive site lets you connect with friends and tweak your profile with extras like themes and music playlists.

•    LinkedIn: This site is strictly professional, and for good reason. You can keep up with colleagues, find employees, and network with others in your field.

•    Bebo: Another primarily social site for friends that allows users to express themselves through media and interactive environments.

•    FastPitch: This professional site serves as a great platform for growing companies to market themselves, allowing you to post events, press, and submit keywords to increase your profile's SEO strength.

•    Friendster: A social networking site for friends that promotes connections between international users and also boasts "Fan Profiles" similar to Facebook's.

•    I-Meet : A professional site where you can establish valuable contacts and potentially save money on event planning.


Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.

QAmattbailey_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

The pressure on small businesses to keep up with the seemingly endless explosion of online tools and trends is relentless. Making an informed decision about what's right for your particular business can be frustrating, costly, and eat up an inordinate amount of time. As founder and president of SiteLogic, a Canton, Ohio-based online marketing consulting company, Matt Bailey has been demystifying these problems since 2006, and teaching clients how to make more money by knowing what's working and why. He is the author of Online Marketing: An Hour A Day, which has garnered glowing customer reviews on Amazon. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose talked with Bailey about managing your business's online experience.

 

RL: What are some of the common mistakes that small business make when it comes to their websites or marketing strategies?

MB: They'll go to a local web development company, tell them they want a website, and sign a contract. A couple of weeks later, the development company puts three different designs in front of the business owner, and the owner is supposed to choose which one looks best. That immediately is the start of their problems.

 

RL: How so?

MB: Because you're allowing the web design company to interpret what your business is all about and you're allowing an artist to determine what your website should look like. At that point, the business owner is essentially surrendering the soul of their business to that company. What should happen is to determine how you're going to make money with your website. What makes money is when people fill out a contact form and set up an appointment. If that's the case, then everything about that website—the content, the navigation—should focus on that specific action. The functionality and core of the business need to come first rather than designing a pretty picture.

 

RL: What are the first steps a small business owner should take concerning their online strategy?

MB: They need to take the time to learn about the process, what the pitfalls are, what some of the terminology is, and be ready to challenge what they're being told. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there that will take advantage of their ignorance. I've talked to so many business owners who say they feel that whenever they ask a question, [it's like] they're asking for top-secret information or they're told that they'll never understand it. If you're ever treated like that, then take your money and go.

 

RL: You've said elsewhere that marketing a website is about much more than ranking well in the search engines. It's about building a reputation. What did you mean by that?

MB: It's so easy to get distracted with the little things like rankings or social media. People get caught up in the trend of the month and spend a lot of time and money trying to do the latest thing. They tend to forget the basics of marketing, such as a better customer experience and a clear call to action. Rankings provide a lot of eyeballs, but you're not necessarily getting sales off of them.

 

QAmattbailey_PQ.jpgRL: Still, social media marketing generates a lot of buzz today, and many businesses likely feel pressure to be part of it. What advice do you have for them?

MB: Do what works for your business and don't feel guilty about saying no.

 

RL: About saying no to participating in social media?

MB: About everything. The social media realm is so filled with experts telling people you've got to be on Twitter, on Pinterest, on Facebook. It never ends. The thing to remember is, social media was not made for marketing. Social media was made for like-minded people to share information with each other. The trick is to identify what social media is good for your business. There are certain businesses where YouTube is a perfect channel for them because they've got video capability, they've got the resources that make sense. Twitter is an immediate news medium. There are some businesses we work with that have a time sensitive or time unique product or service, and Twitter's a great way to push it out there. But if a social media channel doesn't jive with what your business is good at, then don't feel guilty about saying no to it.

 

RL: In other words, you need to do what makes sense for your business.

MB: [Right.] Your time and attention are valuable. A lot of people like to use the example that Dell made $6 million in two years using Twitter. But when you look at Dell's overall revenue—which is $30 billion—$6 million is .01 percent of their total revenue. How much are you willing to spend [in your business] for .01 percent revenue? It's the iceberg effect. Social media people are rarely the best when it comes to measurement, revenue, and profit analysis.

 

RL: Final advice for a small business concerned with optimizing their website?

MB: Learn about search engine optimization and keyword research. The cool thing about keyword research is that you can see what people want to know about your business and your industry, and also when they want to know it, so you can see when the trends take place. Keyword research is really the core of search engine optimization, of pay-per-click marketing, and of social media marketing because knowing the what and when are key to doing your online marketing.

 

RL: Do you have a favorite tool for managing and researching keywords?

MB: One of the tools that we use is called Linkdex. It integrates with your Google analytics so that you can see which words are ranking and how many visitors they bring. It will also track how many websites are linking to your site, which is another side of things.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

by J.J. McCorvey

Advice for small businesses on using social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and how to integrate these tools into the marketing and recruiting efforts of your company.

 

Consider this: It wasn't until 1997 that the Internet reached 50 million users in the United States. Facebook gained over 100 million users in the U.S. from January 2009 to January 2010, marking a 145 percent growth rate within one year, according to research by digital marketing agency iStrategy Labs. If you're a business owner that hasn't embraced social media networking as a major component of your success strategy, it's due time to hop onboard.

 

'When you've got 300 million people on Facebook, that's a huge business watering hole,' says Lon Safko, social media expert and co-author of The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success, of the site's global reach. 'The profile is like an index to your company.'

 

While Facebook has become the most popular social media site, there are plenty of others for your company to explore. LinkedIn, for example, houses 55 million professionals seeking jobs, employees, or basic business or networking opportunities. MySpace, which allows users to tinker with music, themes, and HTML code, is targeted toward youth and teens. All of these sites have one primary thing in common: the profile.

 

The user profile is generally what distinguishes social networking sites from other social media platforms. It helps set the stage for building relationships with people who share the same interests, activities, or personal contacts, as opposed to primarily disseminating or digesting information feeds. This also means social networks enable companies to invite audiences to get to know its brand in a way that traditional forms of marketing or advertising can't.

 

But what, exactly, are the methods that businesses should use to effectively leverage the burgeoning userbase of these sites as a tool to grow their companies? The following pages will detail what to do – and what not to do – in order to maintain a viable presence in the realm of social networking.

 

How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Developing a Social Networking Strategy

 

Before opening an account and becoming active, it's important to consider what each site offers and how you can benefit from their resources. 'Take some time and really analyze what your existing social media strategy is,' says Safko. 'Figure out which tools are best for your demographic.' Without a fully developed plan for your social networking activity, you could end up meandering throughout the sites and wasting a lot of time.

 

Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself when forming your social networking strategy:

1.    What are the needs of my business? Hopefully, you're not putting your company name on a social networking account just to send messages back and forth to former high school classmates, so there has to be an impetus. Figure out what your needs are. Are you short-staffed? Is your advertising budget running thin?

 

2.    What am I using the site for? After you've established your needs, consider the primary goal of your social networking strategy. Do you want to recruit employees for a certain department? Do you want to market a new line of products? Do you want to connect to more people in your industry?

 

3.    Whose attention am I trying to get? Okay, so you want to market that new line of products, for example. You still need to know your target audience for that product, and with more than 300 million users on Facebook, you'll need to narrow your focus.

 

Got those answered? Good. Now, consider these questions:

1.    Which sites do I want to take on? If you have enough staffing power to handle multiple social networking sites, that's great. If not, it's important to focus on one or two, or you could spread yourself too thin and fall victim to the 'gaping void' perception, where you end up going days without activity. Your followers will notice.

 

2.    Who's going to manage my page? Would your social networking activity fall under a current employee's responsibilities, or do you need to bring on new talent? If you ever find yourself without the staffing resources to manage your page, don't stick your head in the sand, says Safko. 'Find some interns,' he advises. 'In most cases, they'll do it for free.'

 

3.    Who has access to my page? What type of trust level do you have established at your company? Will all of your employees have access to the social network account, or a select few? Take the time to assess the skills and character of those who can log into your page, or you may run into unsavory situations down the road – especially when dealing with former workers.

 

4.    Who's going to be the personality of my page? Does your company already have a public representative that usually handles speeches, press, etc.? It may be beneficial to rein in that person as the voice of your social networking site. 'People buy from other people, not from other companies,' says Safko. 'In order to solidify trust, pick someone to represent your brand.'

 

How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Choosing Your Site

After you've answered those questions, you can choose which social networking site, or sites, would best fulfill the requirements of your strategy. Though many of the sites are similar in nature, they can all be categorized by the different purposes they serve. These are the basic types of social networking sites:

1.    'Free for all' social sites: Some sites that fall under this category are Facebook, MySpace, Ning, and Friendster. Each of these sites primarily serve as a nexus of friends and associates who want to socialize. Ning, for example, has become popular for connecting classmates and helping to set up reunions. The profiles are usually personable, inviting, and can be customized with add-ons and apps.

2.    Professional sites: Examples of these include LinkedIn, FastPitch, and Plaxo. The professional site can be utilized as an online professional contact database, or 'rolodex,' but it's also where people go to update employment information about themselves.

3.    Industry-specific sites: These sites allow you to connect to people who are in your industry. I-Meet, for example, is specifically geared toward event planners, while ResearchGATE is a community for researchers in the science or technology field. Industry sites help you to narrow your search when looking for services, or people with skills in certain fields. You may even want a particular department of your company, such as IT or advertising, to open an account on one of these sites.


How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Setting Up Your Profile

 

Your profile is the online representation of your brand and company, so it's important to know what to add and what to avoid. Here are a few tips to be mindful of as you create your profile:
1.     Don't be afraid to get a little personal. Facebook profiles, for example, allow you to include things like hobbies, favorite music, etc. Including tidbits like these can make your page warmer and more personable. 'Some personal information is valuable, because it may create a bond with a customer,' says Safko.

 

2.     But not too personal. Don't be the 'TMI' poster boy or girl, (i.e. 'The wife and I are on our way to have dinner – kids are with the grandparents'). Create another page that's just yours, sans company activity.

 

3.     Share photos and videos. Adding multimedia to your page gives flair, and offers customers an exclusive look inside your company. LinkedIn even has an add-on that allows you to post presentations and slideshows.

 

4.     But no office party snapshots. Though the atmosphere of Facebook is still relatively laid back, you want to maintain the perception that you're serious about your product and customers. Pictures involving Santa hats and alcohol probably shouldn't be in your albums.

 

5.     Set privacy settings. On most of these sites, you can control what people see on your profile, such as pictures and blog posts, and you can even limit what other people post. Depending on the nature of your company, you should consider these restrictions. Are there any embarrassing pictures of you floating around that you might not want linked to your page?

6.    But don't be a blank slate. Imagine coming across the profile of one your favorite brands, and all that's there is a picture and headquarters location. A little disheartening, right? If and when you do enact some privacy settings, try to keep the page lively.


How to Use Social Networking Sites to Drive Business: Social Network Marketing

Marketing through social networks isn't as much about selling your product, as it is about engaging your followers. 'A lot of people have started Facebook fan pages with no clue to how it can benefit them,' says Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media, a social media marketing agency based in Cary, North Carolina. 'You have to think above your product.' The goal of the community-based environment of social networking sites is to provide a platform for an open, honest conversation.

 

The companies that are most successful at converting followers into dollars are those who interact most with the users and frequently post content related to their brand. Facebook's Fan Page is probably the best example of how you should be marketing you company through social networking sites. The page acts as an upgraded user profile for brands, companies, and organizations to be as involved as the users, and has plenty of tools to help you do so. As users become 'fans' of your page, all of your activity appears in their News Feed each time they log on. There's also a useful feature called the Insights tool, which allows you to analyze page views, the demographics of your fans, and the number of people who view (or stop viewing) your News Feed posts.

Outdoor Technology, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of clothing and gear for skiers and snowboarders, initially sold merchandise directly to retailers. But after the company began actively using their Fan Page last September, revenue from e-commerce went from zero to $25,000 in three months, says CEO Caro Krissman. The page has now amassed over 11,000 fans. 'We saw Facebook as sort of a sweet spot for where our target market is,' says Krissman. 'With the ability to target users in such a focused way, we felt like there really wasn't a better forum to go about [marketing online].'

'Fan' features your company should be using:

 

1.    Comment on other users' content or profile posts. By responding to what your followers post to your profile, you show them that you appreciate their interaction. If they know they have your attention, they'll keep coming back.

 

2.     Ask questions on your wall. Facebook users love to be heard. It can be surprising how many responses one question can elicit. 'It starts to snowball,' says Safko. 'What you'll find is that the conversation will branch off and start another one.'

3.     Posting links or threads. 'One thing fan pages lets you do that Web pages don't is encourage viral spread,' says Tobin. If you have any content that you want to circulate quickly, the fan page is the perfect tool.

4.     Posting relevant events. By posting upcoming events your company may be part of or hosting, you can help drive more attendees to the function. And for those who can't come, they get a glimpse at how active your business is within the community or industry.


Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.



A while back, I wrote a column called What is the DNA of a Small Business Owner? In it, I shared what I have found to be the most salient characteristics of entrepreneurs, namely that we tend to be an enthusiastic, optimistic bunch who have the ability to handle adSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngversity and uncertainty well.

 

Certainly those traits have been tested and needed the past few years as the economy has slowly emerged from the Not-So-Great-Recession. But the good news is that things are turning around and the forecast for 2013 looks to be clear. Small business owners are, as usual, at the forefront of this turnaround. According to the fall Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), 92 percent of small business owners surveyed stated that they expected their revenue to either increase (54%) or stay the same (38%) over the next 12 months.

 

That optimism also translates into that all-important issue: jobs. The Small Business Owner Report tells us that one-third of small business owners plan on increasing their hiring, and more than half say they expect to keep their staffing levels the same in 2013. This creation and sustainment of jobs is a reason why small businesses are imperative to America’s economic success.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

 

So, given all of this optimism, what do you think was the issue that was of most concern to the small business owners? Logical answers might be the deficit, or competition from abroad, or health care costs. But none of those topped the list. It turns out that small business owners are worried most about the effectiveness of our political leaders.

 

Certainly anyone watching Washington over the past few years would have a hard time arguing with that analysis, but again, even though small business owners are concerned about political foibles, they also see the overall economy, and their local economy in particular, improving in 2013.

 

The upshot of aJan 1 Pull Quote.pngll of this is that small business owners – those folks who are on the frontlines of the U.S. economy – see things improving and to me, that means that opportunity is at hand; opportunity that should be taken advantage of. While the recession and its after-effects went on much longer than anyone wanted or most people anticipated, that means that there is a lot of pent-up demand. Consumers, entrepreneurs, big businesses – everyone is itching to get out there and move things forward. And that means that spending will very likely increase in 2013, and in turn, you need to have your business ready for this boom once it begins.

 

How do you do that? Not surprisingly, the SBOR is a good guide here as well. According to the Report, the best tool small business owners have in their marketing tool chest is word-of-mouth advertising (87%), followed by networking (49%). But what about that darling of the press, social media? Only 32% of small business owners counted it as an effective marketing tactic.

 

Whatever the case, whether you rely on word-of-mouth, chamber mixers or your Facebook page, the important thing is to get out there – now – and start marketing your business. Then, after that, market it some more, and then try something new, and then try something else. The time to get ready is always now.

 

Finally, let me say thank you. Because of readers like you, I too have plenty to be happy about in the new year – I get to do what I love. I wish you a Happy New Year and hope your 2013 is a healthy and prosperous one.

 

What marketing tactics do you have planned for the new year? Share your stories below.


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

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